The Gentleman Recommends: Ling Ma

Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 by Chris

While zombie-story-as-critique-of-capitalism is nothing new, Ling Ma’sSeverance” still manages to earn this gentleman’s recommendation. I’m always a sucker for a good post-apocalypse story, plus it’s Halloween season 2018, and fictional accounts of the end of the world are a particularly welcome respite from nonfictional ones.

Severance” is the story of Candace Chen, whose parents brought her from China to America when she was a child. As an adult, Candace works for a publisher in New York, but rather than some book related task that brings her fulfillment, she oversees the production of Bibles. (Naturally, to keep costs down, these Bibles are produced in China, where workers are apt to die from the gemstone dust they inhale while affixing said baubles to fashion Bibles.) Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ling Ma”

The Gentleman Recommends: Joe Mungo Reed

Posted on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 by Chris

Like most gentlemen, I traverse the thoroughfares of my city via the most elegant means: the humble old-timey unicycle (or penny-farthing, if you prefer). (The modern one-wheel unicycle is a circus performer’s tool: fine for agitating depressed exotic animals, but certainly not an elegant way of traversing the boulevards between peer’s parlors and unicycle repair shops.) Sure, strong crosswinds and gawking motorists present hazards, but one large wheel, one ridiculously tiny wheel, two pedals, a steering apparatus, a medium-sized handheld bell, and, should you require luxury, a seat, are all one needs to travel in style and in possession of the higher moral ground. Armed with this obvious truth, it’s to be expected that I turn a skeptical eye on bicycles. Two wheels, sure, but making them the same size is downright ostentatious, and you do not need me to explain why. So gentleman rec-heads (what my fans refer to themselves as, I assume), may be surprised to find me recommending a book so tied to a device that replaced so many unicycles in the homes of undiscerning pedalists. But, first, look at that author’s name: Joe Mungo Reed. There are three names, two of them are mundane, and one of them is Mungo. It makes for a quailty name. It’s fun to say. Mungo.

We Begin out Ascent book coverAlso, the book is really good, even if, as this positive review points out, Joe Mungo Reed doesn’t always nail cycling parlance, and as my positive recommendation currently points out, he never pays tribute or even mentions a penny-farthing or old-timey unicycle despite there being, at times, dozens of cyclists in his scenes, at which point any one of them could organically say something like, “While I’m being sufficiently transported by this racing bicycle I am currently riding, I’d be remiss if I failed to pay tribute to the first excellent two-wheel vehicle, the penny-farthing, or, if you prefer (and I do), the humble old-timey unicycle. Now there was an apparatus upon which one could travel elegantly!” Clearly such dialogue would have enhanced the novel (and it’s up for grabs if Joe Mungo Reed is compelled to produce a sequel), but there is still much to recommend the book.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Sergio de la Pava (again)

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Chris

Sometimes you read a book that’s so good you want to recommend it every month, or at least quarterly. (But then you reflect on the swarms of rabid library blog readers and their hunger for fresh recommendations and the quiet disappointment they would feel should the same recommendation with slightly different wording and a varying quantity of references to the recommender’s fondness for snacks and monocles be what greets them as they enthusiastically “ask Jeeves” to retrieve the latest recommendation from “that book recommending gentleman,” and the recommender realizes, variety, even when what varies pales in comparison, can be useful, particularly in diets and reading material, and so you do the noble thing, and recommend a different author, at least until the author of that astounding novel you want to constantly recommend writes another book deserving of the recommender’s unhinged enthusiasm.) “A Naked Singularity” the first novel by Sergio de la Pava is such a book. Fortunately, his third novel, “Lost Empress,” is similarly magnificent, and so now I can recommend it and him again.

Lost Empress Book coverDevoted DBRL blog readers will no doubt remember de la Pava’s bio, and thus how massively deserving he is of his talents and success, but I will deliver a brief version: he is a public defender in New York, and he writes big, brilliant novels when he’s not publicly defending people for a slim fraction of what he could make if he was privately defending corporations. Given that he is a public defender, it’s logical that the justice system plays a large role in his fiction, and it’s even more logical that he would enumerate on the horrifying injustice that dominates our justice system. What might not seem logical is how his enumerations on injustice could be simultaneously compelling, hilarious and heartbreaking. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Sergio de la Pava (again)”

The Gentleman Recommends: Nicole Krauss

Posted on Monday, July 16, 2018 by Chris

Before I donned the gentleman’s cloak, back when I was still a wayward scamp who held doors open for people with nary a bow or doffing of a top hat, I recommended the work of Nicole Krauss. “The History of Love” and “Great House” are recommended enthusiastically, but those recommendations have disappeared into the unending chasm of the internet, and while a government agency undoubtedly has copies on a floppy disk, I am unable to link you to those recommendations, and rather than use words to elaborate on those previous recommendations (when said words are clearly better spent doing whatever it is I’m doing now), I merely urge any reader with a taste for what folk call “literary fiction” to read those novels.

Forest Dark book cover
I also recommend Krauss’s most recent novel, “Forest Dark.” But I concede it may require a more voracious appetite for fanciness than her previous novels. “Forest Dark” alternates chapters between Epstein, a retired lawyer, freshly divorced, whose parents recently died and who has developed a condition his lawyer refers to as “radical charity,” and Nicole, an author wrestling writer’s block and a dying marriage. Epstein gives away expensive paintings and timepieces. Nicole fancies she has a double. They go, separately, to Israel. Epstein loses his coat and a cherished book in a coatroom switcheroo. Nicole is informed that Kafka faked his death and is asked to finish some of his unfinished work.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Colin Winnette

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2018 by Chris

Is there something happening in the world causing me to gravitate to strange stories told by unreliable narrators which offer little to no resolution? There is no way to know, but I’m here to recommend another story that, while thrilling many readers, has left others scratching their chins and polishing their monocles while they try to unearth the key that they missed which would unlock the mystery and allow them to go about their merry ways confident that they’ve completed a sensical story and fully absorbed what it has to offer.

The Job of the Wasp book cover
Perhaps I need to polish longer, but I haven’t been able to make total sense of “The Job of the Wasp” by Colin Winnette. But like riding a ferris wheel or eating a bucket of street food, the pleasure is in the journey rather than the destination. That said, where the book takes you is absolutely worth it, and the final sentence is a doozy, but just as one rarely finds themselves coming to any epiphanies while hosing out a freshly emptied bucket of street food, you’re unlikely to exclaim “A-HA,” upon finishing this novel.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Kirsten Bakis

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018 by Chris

It’s neat when a novel reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of fiction. It’s also neat when it reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of reality. If you’d like to be reminded that one can not only write a fictional account of a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, but that, given the time, brilliance, resources (robot arms, 19th century Prussian fashion, etc.) and willingness to ignore a slew of ethical concerns, one might even create a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, read “Lives of the Monster Dogs” by Kirsten Bakis.

Lives of Monster Dogs book cover

As a gentleman who is nearly as enthusiastic about dogs as I am about cravats and monocles, Bakis’ debut novel seems engineered to appeal to me. But while there are plenty of dogs dressed in the fashion of 19th century Prussian aristocrats, there is also a fair bit of animal murder, human murder and gruesome experimentation. One cannot build a race of dog soldiers without first trying and failing to attach wings to a squirrel or swapping the rear and front legs of an unfortunate cow. So, a century before the monster dogs make their home in Manhattan, Augustus Rank experiments wildly on all sorts of critters. Fortunately for the reader, rather than follow this path to its natural culmination of serial killing, Rank begins to achieve success and earns a patron. His patron funds him, and eventually, as an adult, Rank sets up an outpost in the Canadian wilderness where he can nurture a cult, mandate that the cult maintains 19th century Prussian customs, and continue to follow his dream of creating a race of dog super soldiers complete with robot arms and robot voice boxes. Though he dies before achieving his goal (but not before promising he would return from the dead when the time was right), his followers eventually complete his goal for him. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kirsten Bakis”

The Gentleman Recommends: Samanta Schweblin

Posted on Monday, April 16, 2018 by Chris

As a gentleman more concerned with sufficiently starched top hats, photographs of cats, and the total dearth of responsibility for young humans and the constant bowel movements that accompany them than I am with propagating my lineage, one might presume the full impact of Samanta Schweblin’sFever Dream” (translated  from Spanish to English by Megan McDowell) would be lost on me. This would be an erroneous presumption, as I, like all true gentlefolk, am not only capable of empathy, but indeed often overwhelmed by it. So, when the ceaseless dread generated by Schweblin’s powerful and brief jolt of a novel occasionally crescendos and a child is in peril (or a mother imagines her child to be in peril), my heart pounds and my worry kerchief is vigorously applied to my creased and dread-sweat blighted brow. I paused in the consumption of this terrifying story only to swap one sopping worry kerchief for the next temporarily dry portion of silk.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Brooke Bolander

Posted on Monday, March 12, 2018 by Chris

Once you’ve exhausted all the content on dbrl.org/adults, and you’re looking for a nice single-sitting read, consider “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander. In the time it takes your butler to press your evening wear and prepare your evening snacks, you can consume the novella, perhaps with time to spare for contemplation over a succession of treats.

The Only Harmless Great Thing book cover

The novella combines two real tragedies (“The Radium Girls” and Topsy the Elephant) and adds the story of trying to prevent a third (future generations inadvertently entering radioactive land). Regan, like the real Radium Girls, is dying of cancer because her job is to paint watches with a paint that makes them glow and gives her cancer. Her bosses encourage her to use her mouth to moisten the paint brushes in order to save on time and cleaning materials. Unlike the real Radium Girls, she is trying to train Topsy the elephant to take over her job because her bosses appreciate the fact that it will take longer to give cancer to an elephant. When Topsy murders a cruel man, she is sold to a carnival so that she can be executed for the entertainment of an audience. Unlike the real Topsy, this one has a trick up her trunk.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Ben Loory

Posted on Monday, February 12, 2018 by Chris

Given the current limits of technology, the best way to escape this reality is to get lost in a great book. And while there’s no greater reading pleasure than getting lost in a novel massive enough to accompany you through the course of several sleepless nights and a charity gala or two, it’s also rather grand to gently pummel one’s imagination with 40 very short and strange stories one after another until you’re a little dizzy from the off-kilter sweetness humanity is capable of.

These stories will bring a variety of smiles to your face. You’ll do a happy smile, a wry smile, a sad smile, you may even get to display the smile of the nonplussed. These stories are magic.
Tales of Falling and Flying book cover

But where does one find 40 great, very short, strange, sweet (if also sometimes menacing) stories? I, too, wondered this, until I found “Tales of Falling and Flying” by Ben Loory, the second such collection of exactly 40 great, short, strange, sweet stories he’s written. Loory has compared his writing to “an animated version of The Twilight Zone,” and I think it’s a fair comparison. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ben Loory”

The Gentleman Recommends: Juan Martinez

Posted on Friday, January 19, 2018 by Chris

Best Worst American” by Juan Martinez is another delightful and weird collection of short stories published by Small Beer Press. (If you haven’t read the previously recommended works by Kelly Link, I reiterate my recommendation to do so.) (Apologies to Mr. Martinez for immediately hijacking his recommendation to re-recommend another author.)

Best Worst American book cover

Proceeding, then, with the career boost this post inevitably provides and which Martinez indubitably deserves, “Best Worst American” will be appreciated by fans of McSweeney’s (where several of the pieces were originally published) and the sort of stand-up comedy performed by people with hip glasses.  (Not the glasses you think are hip, the ones that actually are hip: I do not know which glasses these are; though, of course, the monocle will never go out of style.) Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Juan Martinez”