What I read: literary fiction, short story collections, YA, science books (mainly about physics & space travel)
What you think your job is at Left Bank Books: Official Spike photographer.
If you had a Super Power, what would it be? I don't need a super power, but I'll be Captain America's BFF
What sound do you love? The sound of cars driving past in the rain; the sound of the television on very low so you can hear the cadence of voices but not the words; The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
What’s in the trunk of your car? A penguin salt and pepper shaker set, a Matt Holliday bobblehead, an IKEA blanket, and at least two pairs of shoes.
Author you love to hate: Franzen
Favorite smell: Thanksgiving
What’s your sign?
Luis Alberto Urrea's "The House of Broken Angels" is a tapestry of a novel. You follow all these little threads—the lives of the de la Cuz family members, coming together for the last birthday of their patriarch, Big Angel—as they weave together, in and out of each other's stories, until you step back and see the big, beautiful, sprawling finished product. This novel will make you laugh, cry, and move you with its meditations on death, family, redemption, and the timely idea of just what it means to be American in this day and age. This is an immigrant story, an American story, and a story about messy, wonderful families with messy, wonderful stories of their own.
There's real magic in "When Light Left Us," and not just in the form of Luz, the otherworldly presence that inhabits (and just as suddenly abandons) the Vasquez family. Leah Thomas's storytelling is magic in itself, taking us through three days in the life of Hank, Ana, Milo, and Maggie Vasquez while slowly unfurling the mystery of Luz and his effect on their lives. It's impossible not to love the Vasquez family and the characters that surround them as you're immersed in their lives, their struggles, their encounters with pain and self-doubt, first loves, second loves, old friends and new, and their palpable affection for one another. "When Light Left Us" says so much about how to deal with loss, how to move forward and let go and embrace change. Set aside time for this one - once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down.
What an absolutely adorable debut picture book! Simon the house cat tries to convince some of his, erm, MUCH larger relatives that he, too, is a cat just like them! But they're skeptical - how can he be a cat when he doesn't look anything like them? "I Am A Cat" has a great lesson about how, though we all may look different, we can always find similarities between us, along with delightful text and gorgeous illustrations. You'll want to read it to your kids - and yourself - over and over again!
In their extraordinarily fun book "We Have No Idea," scientists Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson explain that we only understand about 5% of the universe we live in. We know that the universe has a speed limit, but not why. We know that antimatter exists, but not why. We know that 67% percent of the universe is made of something called "dark energy," but we don't know exactly what dark energy is. And we know that particle theory and general relativity are both proven, but can't seem to get them to work together. This book explains all the things we don't know about the universe by explaining all the amazing things we DO know (accompanied by fun cartoons and puns and easy-to-grasp explanations of impossibly difficult concepts), and how we might someday go about filling in the gaps.
"The Female Persuasion" is the kind of novel that, once you pick it up, becomes nearly impossible to put down. No one writes thoughtful, literary, big-hearted epics quite like Meg Wolitzer does. It's the kind of book that spans decades and weaves through characters and bounces from city to city and yet, at the end of it all, leaves you feeling both a bone-deep sense of intimacy and pondering big questions about the world at large, about feminism and love and friendship and purpose and grief, how to grow and change and be a women—flawed and strong and weak and wrong and alive in a world so hostile to you. Wolitzer's novel is, as her young narrator Greer says, "a big, long story of women pouring what they had into one another," and I cannot think of a more appropriate and necessary time for it.
A few times while reading "A Lucky Man," I simply had to stop and marvel that this is Jamel Brinkley's debut collection. His prose is beautifully rendered, his observations so visceral and true, it's hard to believe this is his first book. Reminiscent of Junot Díaz, Brinkley tackles complicated topics like race, class, gender, violence, and sexuality with all the care they're due, and in a way that feels so skilled, so specific to his characters, so alive. Brinkley also has a real talent for painting a striking image that sticks with you: a teenage boy dancing through a street carnival, two brothers about to engage in a dance of combat, an old woman and a younger man arm and arm in a crowded bar. I can't wait to see what Jamel Brinkley does next.
As soon as I got a copy of Fredrik Backman's "Us Against You," the sequel to my favorite book of last year, "Beartown," I immediately hugged it to my chest. That's how excited I was to return to this little town in the woods and the characters who inhabit it, who have lived with me ever since I turned the final page on "Beartown." And I'm happy to say that I've fallen even more in love with Beartown's residents, whose struggles and joys and heartbreaks are so vivid, they feel like your own. But even more than that, "Us Against You" taps into some of our most prescient fears, the things and the people who seek to exploit our weaknesses and divide us with hatred, and show us that the only way forward is through unity, through love.
Sarah Sentilles' "Draw Your Weapons" is unlike any book I've ever read. It's a meditation on art and violence, a collage of memoir, history, philosophy, and politics that spans centuries. When so much of our daily lives is bombarded by images of violence and war, Sentilles zeroes in on both the way we react to and our understanding of those images, and the images and art we create in response to them. We glimpse into the lives of a conscientious objector to WWII and a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib turned artist, and along the way look at the different kinds of images of violence we're subjected to, and the ways we can respond. "Draw Your Weapons" believes art can save the world. I encourage everyone to read this book.
SHE WOULD BE KING is a magnificent, magical debut novel. Moore retells the story of the formation of Liberia -- a West African country founded by freed slaves and free-born black Americans -- through the eyes of three extraordinary characters: Gbessa, an immortal woman exiled from her village when she is presumed to be cursed; June Dey, a man born in captivity with supernatural strength; and Norman Aragon, the biracial son of a Jamaican slave and a British colonizer who can disappear at will. Brought together by the spirit of a former slave carried on the wind, these characters and their stories are impossible to forget. SHE WOULD BE KING is a moving, timely testament to freedom from oppression, and a riveting, sparkling debut novel from an exiting new author. I can't wait to see what she does next.
I never thought I'd cry reading a physics book, but Carlo Rovelli's "The Order of Time" is just that beautiful. Rovelli is as much a poet as he is a scientist, and his insights don't fall simply to the study of time, but to the metaphysical, as he ruminates on how our understanding of time can reveal the nature of humanity itself. This is a science book first and foremost, though, and the science itself is just as stunning. If you've read Rovelli's other books - "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" and "Reality is Not What It Seems" - you know he has a knack for walking you through very theoretical and complex concepts without ever watering it down. (He even gives you multiple places to opt out or skip ahead, if the hard data isn't to your liking.) If you haven't, get reading. You're in for a treat.
If you've listened to the McElroy Brothers' hilarious & emotional so-much-more-than-a-D&D-podcast The Adventure Zone, I shouldn't have to say much to convince you to read this graphic novelization. If you haven't, 1) what are you waiting for? and 2) are you looking for a rousing adventure story following three adventurers barely holding it together, narrated by a witty and snarky Dungeons and Dragons DM, filled with gorgeous art and characters you'll instantly love, that's simultaneously hilarious, riveting, and surprisingly heartfelt? Then look no further. (And if you love it - which I know you will - Here There Be Gerblins is just the beginning of a even funnier, more dangerous, more emotional larger arc. There's so much to look forward to!)