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 Craig.
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.