Book Passage President Elaine Petrocelli selects her favorite new books and provides a review about her selections in each issue of the Book Passage News & Reviews.
These books are also displayed in each branch of the Bank of Marin, as part of the program Partnership for Literacy sponsored by Book Passage and Bank of Marin. Visit any branch of the bank to find out more about this program.
Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, doesn't ever take the easy way out in getting inside the lives of his characters and developing a story. Purity is the given name of Pip Tyler, who is saddled with a huge student debt, working a minimum wage job, and squatting with a group of anarchists in Oakland. But that changes when she meets a group of activists with underground international connections and a strong determination to penetrate information networks around the world. What follows is a brilliant tale of moral ambiguity, as the characters - all of them flawed, all of them compelling - interact in a world where official power and unofficial power collide. Some autographed first editions available.
There are few science writers who can rouse readers out of their apathy and generate controversy like Richard Dawkins. Partly, that’s because he can really write. Or, as Bill Maher puts it, “Richard always writes like he’s telling you a story, which is why so many of us non-science people understand science better than we used to. But when the story is his own life, it’s doubly compelling.” In this autobiography, he describes the path that led from his provocative early book, The Selfish Gene, to the even more controversial book, The God Delusion, that solidified his role as one of the leading thinkers of our time. Some autographed first editions available.
There is something about John Banville’s writing that is utterly compelling. If you’ve ever read any of the books by this Man Booker Prize-winner, you’ll know what I mean. The narrator of Banville’s new novel is a reasonably successful painter, a philanderer with his best friend’s wife, and a thief. His name? Oliver Otway Orme (“O O O. An absurdity. You could hang me over the door of a pawnshop.") You may not admire Mr. Orme, but you can’t stop reading what he has to say—not as long as the dialogue is crafted by incredibly talented John Banville.
Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award in 2009 for Let the Great World Spin, has now released his first short-story collection in over a decade. It is utterly captivating. The title story is really a novella in length, and it explores an issue that most of us have lurking in the back of our minds: what do the many recording-devices that we encounter each day have to say about us? Here, a retired judge is attacked on the streets of New York, and the many cameras that have recorded him reconstruct his life. This is not to be missed! Some autographed first editions available.
Anyone who has ever read A Drunken Botanist will know just how funny Amy Stewart can be. And since she is a fellow bookstore owner (Eureka Books in Eureka, California), we’ve had plenty of opportunities over the years to see her wit in action. Girl Waits with Gun is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, who became one of the country’s first female sheriff deputies in 1914. The story began when a man ran his car into a buggy driven by Constance and her sisters. Things escalated to the point where the sheriff issued guns to the sisters to defend themselves. That’s all that’s needed for Stewart’s storytelling ability to spring into action in this delightful novel. Some autographed first editions available.
Who better to write a book about memoir writing than one of the most celebrated memoirists of our time? Mary Karr, author of The Liar’s Club, explores every aspect of memoir-writing, frequently citing examples from many other writers, such as Frank McCourt and Vladimir Nabokov. She includes a appendix of the best of the genre. What I like best about Karr’s writing is what she calls “carnality”—the ability to transform memory into a multisensory experience for the reader. Some autographed first editions available.
Jay Winik writes with passion and anger, and at times those traits threaten to overwhelm the heartbreaking story he has to tell. Most of us are familiar with the crucial events of W.W. II, but Winik gives them an emotional, visceral twist that illuminates them in a new way. He is at his best when he talks about the personal agony of the participants, from FDR battling a series of debilitating medical crises to the lowliest G.I. facing the horror of Omaha Beach. However, it is the Holocaust that is the main theme of this book. The unprecedented brutality of the Nazis seemed to freeze the U.S. government into a bureaucratic ineptitude that probably cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Adam Johnson has followed up his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, with a brilliant collection of stories. You hesitate to call the six tales in this collection “short stories” because each is so intense and memorable. In the title story, two North Korean criminals adjust to post-defection life in South Korea; in “A Dark Meadow,” a pedophile tries to resist a series of temptations. In all of them Johnson’s magnificent talents show through. Some autographed first editions available.
There’s a framed letter in my office, attesting to the love affair between Salman Rushdie and independent booksellers ever since the tense days following the publication of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie takes chances with each new book, and this one is a surprise-filled treasure. A key is the title—1,001 Nights. Only a storyteller with Rushdie’s prodigious skills would even attempt such a magical-realism tale that begins when a jinn princess, Dunia falls in love with the real-life 12th Century philosopher Averroes. Their progeny change the course of history for the next millennia. Breathtaking!
In the annals of imperialism probably no events conjure up as much utter disgust as the “Opium Wars.” For most of us, however, those battles were just an historical footnote. That will change when you read Amitav Ghosh’s beautifully written new book, the third in a trilogy that began with Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke. It’s 1839, and the Imperial government drags its Indian allies into a war against China to force that country to open its borders to the British drug trade. The memorable characters in Ghosh’s books spring to life through the strength of his storytelling. Some autographed first editions available.
In her new book, Alice Hoffman, the acclaimed author of The Dovekeepers, conjures up a world that seems remote until you realize she is describing the early life of Camille Pissarro, father of the Impressionist Movement. Rachel Pomié, Camille’s mother, grew up on the island of St. Thomas in a refugee community of Jews that had escaped the Inquisition. She ends up following her passions in a way that shocks her community but also sets the stage for the ground-breaking artistic career of her son.
This book practically explodes in your hand, with one startling revelation after another about the Dulles’ brothers and the pernicious role they played in U.S. foreign policy. Before the war, the law firm led by Allen and John Foster Dulles represented high-level German industrialists, and they continued that practice zealously long after it was clear that their clients were deeply involved with Nazi interests. During the war, Allen, as an O.S.S. agent, ran his own rogue operation in Switzerland, negotiating with high-level Nazis, contrary to U.S. policy. This set the stage for many of Dulles’ out-of-control operations after the war as C.I.A. director, ultimately leading to a showdown with President Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs operation. David Talbot, author of Season of the Witch, brings us a real eye-opener. Some autographed first editions available.
Napa Valley may be known for its delicious wine and gorgeous vistas, but beneath all that beauty runs a river of deceit and obsession. Frances Dinkelspiel takes a compelling look at the reality behind the wine business, focusing on an act of arson in 2005 that destroyed $250 million dollars of some of the most collected wines in the world. Dinkelspiel untangles the history behind this avaricious scheme in a way that leaves the reader thirsty for more. Some autographed first editions available.