It’s not often I get to write one
of these on an actual holiday. I hope you’re enjoying a day of costumes,
candlelight and too much sugar. Personally, I have a strict no-costume
clause in my contract, but there are some impressive ones in the office
today. Here’s what we’re reading:
20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill.
Stephen King’s son has made quite a name for himself in the same genre
as Dad. He decided to strike out without the family connections and any
of his three novels, Heart-Shaped Box, Horns or NOS4A2,
would make a dandy Halloween read. But I’m recommending this collection
instead. A gathering of pre-first novel creepiness, it was published in
England first, launched here when Heart-Shaped Box
made us all pay attention. It’s tempting to offer spoilers, because so
many of his ideas are ingenious and fresh, but it’s better to not know,
enter the darkness alone, and let the stories unfold - like shadows
closing in on you in an unfamiliar dark hallway.
Horror in Architecture - Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing.
I simply don’t know what to make of this book. On the surface, it’s a
serious study that combines architecture, psychology and literature to
illustrate how buildings can, well, give us the creeps. Not in a
haunted house way, but private and public structures that have something
“off” about them – strange additions, odd angles, weird appendages –
and the unnerving feelings they evoke. It reminds me of my very favorite
horror story, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House,
in that it creates a subtle, growing uneasiness rather than startling
or shocking the reader. Subtly distorting the perception of our
environment in an uncomfortable way was Ms. Jackson’s stroke of
brilliance, and this book echoes that feeling.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking - Anya Von Bremzen.
The author left the former USSR in 1974. She was eleven, and landed in
Philadelphia with her mother, a staunch anti-Soviet willing to leave
everything she’d known behind. Ms. Von Bremzen’s memoir is on one level
her family’s story, going back to her great-grandparents under Lenin,
her grandparents and mother under Stalin, up to her own childhood in the
Soviet era. On another level it works as an enlightening street-level
view of Russia's turbulent history. What brings these two levels
together so seamlessly is food. The combination of multiple wars and
mismanaged collectivism meant food shortages for most of the population
for many decades. We’ve all heard the stories of bread lines, rationing
and scarcity, but the beauty of this book is the author’s description of
a shared food culture that took a lot of determination and creativity
to keep alive for the next generation. There was never a surplus for
most folks, and many years of serious deprivation, but the human
compulsion to create family and community at the table never waned.
Solo - William Boyd.
Bond, James Bond, just keeps on ticking. Spydom’s most enduring
character was handed off to John Gardner for sixteen books after Ian
Fleming’s death, then to Raymond Benson for six more novels. Things went
dark for six years or so, until Ian Fleming Publications decided to
carry on with a rotating cast of thriller authors. Mr. Boyd is the third
of these, following Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver.
So how is it? It’s still Bond, moved back to 1969 and sent to Africa to
stop a rebel-led civil war. The violence is more in line with today’s
more graphic style, another unusually named femme fatale makes an
appearance and the power-mad killers never get old. And the pages never
stop turning. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably find it no more difficult
to recognize 007 than you did when he became Roger Moore or Pierce
Brosnan, although I’d say this newest edition is a bit more Daniel
Thanks to all of you who offered feedback on our idea of presenting a
live version of Notes in our stores. You’ve given us some great ideas to
include in the planning. Stay tuned.
Until next week,
is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler
Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many
different hats - and lots and lots of reading.