Mortal Lock (Book Acquired, 5.02.2013)

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Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss seems like a good choice for anyone who digs short, punchy crime noir stories. There’s also a screenplay in here. Random House’s blurb:

A hit man stalks his mark at a race track. A sociopath crosses every moral boundary to become a published author. An ex-mercenary obsessively defends his “perimeter” from a dangerous interloper. A man for hire grudgingly accepts help from a teenage girl to track an online predator. In a dystopian future, young people struggle for survival underground, forming themselves into vicious gangs with only the graffiti of the “last journalists” accepted as truth. Andrew Vachss collects twenty tight, powerful stories—all from the past decade of his career, including some now published for the first time—along with an original screenplay. Together, they form Mortal Lock, a searing portrait of the criminal underworld, with both its depravity and humanity on display.

 

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Book Acquired Some Time Last Week)

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Publisher Random House’s blurb:

In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.
For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenais a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

 

Win a Copy of Maurice Sendak’s Nutcracker

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The good people at Random House are giving away a copy of ETA Hoffman’s Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak to one lucky Biblioklept reader. The book is beautiful, so you’ll have to work for it. The first person to answer all of the following questions correctly will be sent a copy of the book (sorry, US addresses only). Email answers and your mailing address to biblioklept.ed[at]gmail[dot]com.

Okay, folks, we got a winner. Congrats to Mihaela Geaman who was the first to send in a set of correct answers. Answers below:

1. Which Sendak book most often appears on the ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books list?

2. Which two American Renaissance era writers did Sendak frequently cite as favorites?

3. What English artist did Sendak “borrow” images from for his collaboration with Robert Graves?

4. What fictional character did Sendak consider his “twin”?

5. What tragic news story inspired elements of Sendak’s book Outside Over There?

ANSWERS

1. In the Night Kitchen

2. Emily Dickinson & Herman Melville

3. Beatrix Potter

4. Mickey Mouse

5. The Lindbergh baby kidnapping

The Great Partnership (Book Acquired, Some Time Last Week)

 

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Jonathan Sacks’s The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning is getting a hardback release in the US from Random House (it’s been out in the UK for a while now). RH’s blurb:

An impassioned, erudite, thoroughly researched, and beautifully reasoned book from one of the most admired religious thinkers of our time that argues not only that science and religion are compatible, but that they complement each other—and that the world needs both.

“Atheism deserves better than the new atheists,” states Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “whose methodology consists of criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity. Religion has done harm; I acknowledge that. But the cure for bad religion is good religion, not no religion, just as the cure for bad science is good science, not the abandonment of science.”

Rabbi Sacks’s counterargument is that religion and science are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. Science teaches us where we come from. Religion explains to us why we are here. Science is the search for explanation. Religion is the search for meaning. We need scientific explanation to understand nature. We need meaning to understand human behavior. There have been times when religion tried to dominate science. And there have been times, including our own, when it is believed that we can learn all we need to know about meaning and relationships through biochemistry, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. In this fascinating look at the interdependence of religion and science, Rabbi Sacks explains why both views are tragically wrong.

Look, I’ll be frank—I’m hardly a fan of the so-called “new atheists,” but that’s not what this book is really about. It’s really about trying to restore an anchoring metaphysical center—a god, namely, Sacks’s god—despite the progress made by science and philosophy. What I find repellent about Sacks’s book is the idea that only religion can provide a logical, meaningful answer to “why we are here.” I have no problem with the coexistence of religion and science, but that’s not what Sacks wants. He wants religion to dominate. Anyway, clearly I’m not enthusiastic, but if you’re interested, here’s a proper review.

 

Pym (Book Acquired, 8.16.2012)

 

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I wanted to read Mat Johnson’s novel Pym when it came out last year, so I was pleased when Random House sent me a copy of the forthcoming trade paperback. Random House’s blurb:

Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel,The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole, armed with little but the firsthand account from which Poe derived his seafaring tale, a bag of bones, and a stash of Little Debbie snack cakes. Thus begins an epic journey by an unlikely band of adventurers under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.

 

The Age of Miracles (Book Acquired, 6.08.2012)

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The design folks at Random House has been killing it lately with good hardback designs that integrate dust jackets in handsome ways. Check out what’s under the jacket for The Age of Miracles 

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I know I should write about what’s in the book, but, jeez, I hate dust jackets so much, so when the designers do something cool or innovative, it’s worth remarking on.

So, what’s in Karen Thompson Walker’s (much buzzed about) debut? Here’s the pub’s copy:

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

Walker’s book has been compared to The Lovely Bones by the publishers (Kakutani compares it favorably as well in her gushy review) as well as Margaret Atwood. I dunno. First 20 pages were not for me. It’s likely the book’s not for me.

Proving Darwin (Book Acquired, 4.23.2012)

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Gregory Chaitin’s Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical is forthcoming in hardback from Random House. It’s a great-looking book, slim and neat with graphs and plenty of explications of the math for fellas like me. There’s also illustrations from Biblioklept fave Ernst Haeckel:

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Random House’s copy:

Groundbreaking mathematician Gregory Chaitin gives us the first book to posit that we can prove how Darwin’s theory of evolution works on a mathematical level.

For years it has been received wisdom among most scientists that, just as Darwin claimed, all of the Earth’s life-forms evolved by blind chance. But does Darwin’s theory function on a purely mathematical level? Has there been enough time for evolution to produce the remarkable biological diversity we see around us? It’s a question no one has yet answered—in fact, no one has even attempted to answer it until now.

In this illuminating and provocative book, Gregory Chaitin argues that we can’t be sure evolution makes sense without a mathematical theory. He elucidates the mathematical scheme he’s developed that can explain life itself, and examines the works of mathematical pioneers John von Neumann and Alan Turing through the lens of biology. Chaitin presents an accessible introduction to metabiology, a new way of thinking about biological science that highlights the mathematical structures underpinning the biological world. Fascinating and thought-provoking, Proving Darwin makes clear how biology may have found its greatest ally in mathematics.

Books Acquired, 4.10.2012

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Subliminal by Leonard Mldodinow is new from Random House. Their description:

Leonard Mlodinow, the best-selling author of The Drunkard’s Walk and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), gives us a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world and how, for instance, we often misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates, misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions, and misremember important events.

Your preference in politicians, the amount you tip your waiter—all judgments and perceptions reflect the workings of our mind on two levels: the conscious, of which we are aware, and the unconscious, which is hidden from us. The latter has long been the subject of speculation, but over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the hidden, or subliminal, workings of the mind. The result of this explosion of research is a new science of the unconscious and a sea change in our understanding of how the subliminal mind affects the way we live.

Employing his trademark wit and lucid, accessible explanations of the most obscure scientific subjects, Leonard Mlodinow takes us on a tour of this research, unraveling the complexities of the subliminal self and increasing our understanding of how the human mind works and how we interact with friends, strangers, spouses, and coworkers. In the process he changes our view of ourselves and the world around us.

Read a profile of Mlodinow at The Los Angeles Times (dude used to work on MacGyver, so . . .)

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Also new from Random House is Against Wind and Tide, a collection of letters, journals, and other documents by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Jacket copy:

Why, as an eager and talented writer, has Anne Morrow Lindbergh published so relatively little in forty years of marriage?” asked reviewer John Barkham in 1970. “After a promising start with those first books on flying, she tapered off into long silences broken by an infrequent volume of verse or prose.”  Many years later, Lindbergh replied with a quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe, who claimed that writing, for a wife and mother, is “rowing against wind and tide.”

In this sixth and final collection of Lindbergh’s diaries and letters, taking us from 1947 to 1986, we mark her progress as she navigated a remarkable life and a remarkable century with enthusiasm and delight, humor and wit, sorrow and bewilderment, but above all devoted to finding the essential truth in life’s experiences through a hard-won spirituality and a passion for literature.

Between the inevitable squalls of life with her beloved but elusive husband, the aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, she shepherded their five children through whooping cough, horned toads, fiancés, the Vietnam War, and their own personal tragedies.  She researched and wrote many books and articles on issues ranging from the condition of Europe after World War II to the meaning of marriage to the launch of Apollo 8.  She published one of the most beloved books of inspiration of all time, Gift from the Sea. She left penetrating accounts of meetings with such luminaries as John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Thornton Wilder, Enrico Fermi, Leland and Slim Hayward, and the Frank Lloyd Wrights. And she found time to compose extraordinarily insightful and moving letters of consolation to friends and to others whose losses touched her deeply.

More than any previous books by or about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Against Wind and Tide makes us privy to the demons that plagued this fairy-tale bride, and introduces us to some of the people—men as well as women—who provided solace as she braved the tides of time and aging, war and politics, birth and death. Here is an eloquent and often startling collection of writings from one of the most admired women of our time.

A Partial History of Lost Causes (Book Acquired, 3.06.2012)

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A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois. Publisher Random House’s copy:

In Jennifer duBois’s mesmerizing and exquisitely rendered debut novel, a long-lost letter links two disparate characters, each searching for meaning against seemingly insurmountable odds.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest. With his renowned Cold War–era tournaments behind him, Aleksandr has turned to politics, launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. He knows he will not win—and that he is risking his life in the process—but a deeper conviction propels him forward. And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life—she struggles with a sense of purpose. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father had asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed against a lost cause?—but never received an adequate reply. Leaving everything behind, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.

Spanning two continents and the dramatic sweep of history, A Partial History of Lost Causes reveals the stubbornness and splendor of the human will even in the most trying times. With uncommon perception and wit, Jennifer duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.

Book Acquired, 1.06.2012 — H.G. Adler’s Panorama, A Lost Modernist Classic

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Like Kafka, H.G. Adler was a German-speaking Jewish writer from Prague. About a year ago, Adler’s Panorama was released for the first time in in English (by Peter Filkins); The book is now available in trade paperback (Random House). Adler survived the Holocaust, forced first into Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz, where his wife and mother were murdered in the gas chambers. Panorama is an autobiographical bildungsroman, with its hero, young Josef Kramer, standing in for Adler. While the book clearly works its way into grim territory, the beginning is bucolic and sweet and strange, an account of young Josef at home with his family. There’s a cinematic scope to Adler’s prose – Panorama is a Modernist work, one where the narrative freely dips into its protagonist’s mind. By the bye, W.G. Sebald references Adler in Austerlitz, a book that tries to measure the continental memory of the Holocaust.