Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby  #booksweRreading

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A masterpiece of spellbinding suspense, where evil wears the most innocent face of all…

Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor husband Guy move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and mostly elderly residents. Neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet soon come nosing around to welcome the Woodhouses to the building, and despite Rosemary’s reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, her husband takes a special shine to them. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant, and the Castavets start taking a special interest in her welfare. As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castavets’ circle is not what it seems… (from the Publisher)

Why are we reading Rosemary’s Baby?

It never occurred to me to pick up Rosemary’s Baby and I always assumed the movie was the final word on a novel which wasn’t very successful.

You know what happens when you assume?

I picked up Rosemary’s Baby at Hub City Book Shop in Spartanburg, SC simply because it was recommended by a staff member in the shop. I’m so glad! This fiftieth anniversary edition has a fantastic foreword by David Morrell that illuminates the book’s importance at the time it was published, and now.

Critical Praise for Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby

“Suspense is beautifully intertwined with everyday incidents; the delicate line between belief and disbelief is faultlessly drawn.”
– The New York Times

“A succession of solid and quite legitimate surprises. The suspense is admirably sustained.”
– The New Yorker

“A darkly brilliant tale of modern devilry that induces the reader to believe the unbelievable. I believed it and was altogether enthralled.”
– Truman Capote

 

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Domesticated Wild Things, by Xhenet Aliu #booksweRreading

Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories

17680996Just down the highway from Connecticut’s Gold Coast is the state’s rusty underbelly, the wretched, used-up sort of place where you might find Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things: the reluctant mothers, delinquent dads, and not-quite-feral children, yet dreamers all. These are the children of immigrants who found boarded-up brass mills instead of the gilded streets of America; they’re the teenaged girls raised in the fluorescent glow of Greek diners, the middle-aged men with pump trucks and teratomas. These are people who have fled, or who should have. And if they are indeed familiar, it is because Aliu writes what is real, whether we ourselves, her readers, have seen it up close or not. And her stories make sense in a way that matters.

A young mother buys into a real-estate investment seminar offered on an infomercial, only to be put back into her place by a bully in foreclosure. A closeted wrestler befriends a latchkey seven-year-old neighbor who harbors secrets of her own. A YMCA counselor tries to reclaim shoes stolen by a troubled young camper.

What they share is a biting humor, an eye for the absurd, and fumbling attempts at human connection, all rendered irresistible—and as moving as they are amusing—by a writer whose work is at once edgy and endearing and prize winning for reasons any reader can appreciate. (from the publisher)

Why we are (re) reading Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things

It’s no secret that Xhenet Aliu is my best friend and I won’t pretend to be impartial. What’s indisputable, though, is that Xhenet’s debut novel BRASS (Random House 2018) was sold by her agent at auction —editors were clamoring at a chance to publish that book!

In anticipation for BRASS, I’ve decided to revisit Xhenet’s deadpan, gut wrenching, I-can’t-believe-I-just-laughed-at-that story collection Domesticated Wild Thingswhich won The University of Nebraska Prairie Schooner Prize for Fiction. For a reason.

My favorite story has always been “You Say Tomato.”  In Domesticated Wild Things, flawed characters make perfect stories and the portraits Xhenet paints are so devastatingly real that they inspire both empathy and discomfort. Xhenet’s fiction hits close to to the bone and makes me yearn for home but grateful that I never have to go back. Funny. Heartbreaking.

Critical Praise for Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things

“Aliu’s debut collection, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, looks at a variety of characters living on the outskirts as they wrestle with their circumstances or impulses . . . Aliu’s colorful characters, both resilient yet troubled, bolster the 11 spirited tales.”– Booklist Online

“Xhenet Aliu’s stories evoke with fierceness and a resilient compassion what it means to be disadvantaged and self-destructive, her characters negotiating the kind of homes in which your bed and your mother might be missing, or in which your husband might be raising venomous snakes in your bedroom closet. Her protagonists live at that intersection of the ethnically despised and the economically demolished, but they’re not ready to quit, and they never stop believing that everyone, everywhere, is entitled to a little something special.”—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad

“There is a lot of the body in these stories: stink and rot and perfume and dead skin. Often out of control and goofy, Domesticated Wild Things is also extremely funny and mordant. The wild energy of Aliu’s diction mocks and illuminates the English language.”—Sherman Alexie, author of Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories

“Offering sharp dialogue and a sense of the absurd, the book’s 11 stories evoke compassion rather than pity for this cast of wretched souls. Humorous and vibrant.”—Publishers Weekly

“Aliu’s colorful characters, both resilient yet troubled, bolster the 11 spirited tales.”—Leah Strauss, Booklist Online

“Filled with both humor and compassion these original stories reflect the bog which sucks the hard up and those living on the edge deeper into the quicksand of life. . . . The stories will appeal to the adolescents and the bewildered young who will recognize their own ruminations so aptly expressed by the emotionally tortured characters.”—Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review

Bluets, by Maggie Nelson #booksweRreading

Maggie Neslon’s Bluets

bluetsThis week, we are reading Bluets, a long-form lyrical essay by 2016 MacArthur Fellow Maggie Nelson. Composed in numbered fragments, Nelson’s cross-genre consideration of love, introspection, and intimate struggle is sparked and threaded by the color blue. Nelson discusses her relationship to the form in an interview with continent.

Nelson says:

“[Bluets] seems to me hyper-aware of the fragment as fetish, as catastrophe, as leftover, as sample or citation, as memory, and so on. Many of the anecdotes in the book (such as about the decay of blue objects I’ve collected, or my memory of a particularly acute shade of blue, or the recountings of dreams) perform these concepts quite directly.”

And they do. Through histories both global, personal, and surreal, Nelson demonstrates the multifaceted nature of fragmented prose. Bluets is poetry, as it is a criticism, as it is a collection of little meditations on “the robustness of being a female human” that coordinate a complete work, which is nothing short of stunning.

We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories, by Clare Beams #booksweRreading

Clare Beam’s We Show What We Have Learned

The literary, historic, and fantastic collide in these wise and exquisitely unsettling stories. From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality. Ingénues at a boarding school bind themselves to their headmaster’s vision of perfection; a nineteenth-century landscape architect embarks on his first major project, but finds the terrain of class and power intractable; a bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown; and a teacher comes undone in front of her astonished fifth graders.

As they capture the strangeness of being human, the stories in We Show What We Have Learned reveal Clare Beams’s rare and capacious imagination—and yet they are grounded in emotional complexity, illuminating the ways we attempt to transform ourselves, our surroundings, and each other. (from the publisher)

Why we are reading Beam’s We Show What We Have Learned

we-showA few years ago, Lookout Books — along with Co-founder and Publisher Emily Smith and Editor Beth Staples—served as my biggest inspiration to go back into the book business as an agent. The Lookout team made my passion for publishing seem tangible again and their enthusiasm for important writing is contagious. What Lookout is doing, offering “a haven for books that matter” is abundantly clear with every title they publish and their most recent outing matters a lot!

We Show What We Have Learned transcends pen-to-paper storytelling as Clare Beam’s characters start inhabiting the reader’s mind and soul. I felt everyday choices being pulled into question while reading this book and kept longing to inhabit the fantastical worlds that Beam creates. Not since Kelly Link have I by been so moved, troubled, and delighted by short stories.

Critical Praise for Clare Beam’s We Show What We Have Learned

“A dazzling story collection—as if, by a rare sort of magic, Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson had conspired together to imagine a female/feminist voice for the twenty-first century that is wickedly sharp-eyed, wholly unpredictable, and wholly engaging.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, The Lost Landscape

“A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Beams is an expert at providing odd and surprising details that make her stories come alive, and the result is a powerful collection about what we need from others and, in turn, what we can offer others of ourselves.”
Publishers Weekly

#booksweRreading Tuesday 10/11/2016

shopcraft2bas2bsoulcraft2bcoverWhile writing a pitch for a fantastic memoir we are getting ready to submit to some lucky editors (It’s about a very special vintage British motorcycle!) we were lucky enough to rediscover Matthew Crawford’s inimitable Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.

Crawford’s philosophies still ring true and reading this book felt a bit hypocritical after spending long days in an office, especially the chapter titled “The Contradictions of the Cubicle.” But it was a good reminder of what lies beyond the halogen lamps and the power we all might possess in the strength of our hands.