Autumn is here! And so is the November LibraryReads list, featuring the 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about sharing with their patrons.
Coming out on top is Us, and we were luck enough to talk to the author, David Nicholls, this month! You can read the interview here. We also got to chat with Lydia Millet about her highly anticipated Mermaids in Paradise, and Bradford Morrow wrote a Behind the Book essay about his new novel, The Forgers. The mystery The Burning Room by Michael Connelly, which picks up on long-delayed murder trial, also makes the list.
You can see the full LibraryReads list for November here!
Our October Top Pick in Cookbooks is Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More! This collection of vegetarian recipes is inventive and indulgent, and this recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Orange Bitters comes just in time for your roster of holiday side dishes.
Sweet Potatoes with Orange Bitters
Preheat the oven to 425ºF/220ºC.
Place the orange juice in a saucepan with the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down the heat to medium-high and simmer fairly rapidly for about 20 minutes, until the liquid has thickened and reduced to scant 1 cup/200 ml (about the amount in a large glass of wine). Add the bitters, olive oil, and 1½ teaspoons salt.
Place the potatoes in a large bowl, add the chiles, sage, thyme, and garlic, and then pour in the reduced sauce. Toss well so that everything is coated and then spread the mixture out in a single layer on a baking sheet on which it fits snugly, about 12 by 16 inches/30 by 40 cm.
Place in the oven and roast for 50 to 60 minutes, turning and basting the potatoes every 15 minutes or so. They need to remain coated in the liquid in order to caramelize, so add more orange juice if the pan is drying out.
At the end, the potatoes should be dark and sticky. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before arranging on a platter and dotting with the goat cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.
National Geographic's Guide to the World's Supernatural Places isn't as "spine-chilling" as its subtitle suggests ("More Than 250 Spine-Chilling Destinations Around the Globe"), and it's far more likely to educate than to spook. But it's a fun book, to be sure, and would make great Halloween reading for those who are bigger fans of conspiracy theories, myths, legends and world history than of horror fiction.
It's somewhere between a travel guide and an encylopedia of the weird. With strange and suprising stories like these, the book will appeal to a wider audience than your seance-conducters and UFO-spotters:
Anyone up for a roadtrip of UFO hotspots throughout the U.S.? Anyone?
Happily married writers
In Hollywood, marriages between actors are almost commonplace (think Brangelina). But in the publishing world, it’s still a bit unusual to find two authors who are married to each other. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon and Cassandra King and Pat Conroy are among the examples that come to mind.
Add to that list Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant, who merged their households and their occupations when they married in June 2010. Grant, who was born in Birmingham, England, had published his first thriller, Even, earlier that year. Alexander grew up in South Bend, Indiana, the daughter of two college philosophy professors, and published her first Victorian mystery, And Only To Deceive, in 2005.
Both Grant and Alexander are currently busy promoting their new books, Run and The Counterfeit Heiress, published this month. In a Q&A with BookPage, they explain what it's like to share the so-called "lonely occupation" of writing. The two admit to having very different working habits, but say they each use the other as their first, and most trusted, reader of every new book. Readers can learn more about “what it is like to have two writers in one house” in their joint Q&A, “A marriage made in publishing heaven.”
We know who the killer is (or do we?) in the new thriller by Japanese author Nakamura (The Thief), so the question at hand—it would seem—is why. But even that doesn't really sum it up, as this dark and twisty thriller dives to nightmarish depths to explore the ugliest parts of the human mind.
Photographer Yudai Kiharazaka has been sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were incinerated in two fires. After becoming fascinated by one of Kiharazaka's photographs—of black butterflies obscuring a possibly female figure—the story's narrator sets out to write a book about the murders. The story unfolds through letters from Kiharazaka to the narrator and to his sister, and through the narrator's eyes.
When reading Last Winter, We Parted, it feels like I'm exploring the minds of characters in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss. It's a creepy feeling. An excerpt from one of Kiharazaka's letters:
I would look away from the butterfly. For that instant, the butterfly was no longer mine. Or when I photographed it from the right side, I couldn't capture its left side. That's why you think it would make sense to film it, right? Wrong. What I wanted was a single moment. I Wanted a single moment of that butterfly. Yet for the butterfly, that moment was one of countless moments. And there was no way that I could capture all of them.
I spent entire days clicking the shutter at that butterfly. I must have fallen in love with it. I don't know. I put it in a cage and kept it, but I was in despair over the fact that I could never completely possess the butterfly. Well, actually, it was probably despair about the way that the world itself works. Why, when a "subject" is right in front of us, are we only capable of recognizing, of grasping, that one small part we see? That butterfly was the reason I was hospitalized the first time. I don't remember, but apparently I wouldn't stop taking photos—not even to eat—and when I collapsed, my sister was the one who took care of me. Then I went to the hospital. I was given a psychological diagnosis. Anxiety neurosis, I think it was. In the medical field, I guess they like to be able to put a name to it when people deviate from the norm.
I wonder if I've made myself clear about the fact that I have no interest in butterfly specimens. I don't understand why those guys like to collect and mount them. I mean, they kill their butterflies, thereby preventing any further possibility of their motion. Which means they will never possess the butterflies in their beautiful flight . . . Do you know what I mean?
What are you reading?
In honor of National Reading Group Month, we asked best-selling author Chris Bohjalian to share a story from his many book club visits. What we got was certainly unexpected—and a heartfelt tribute to the indomitable spirit of readers!
By Chris Bohjalian
It was 13 years ago this autumn that I vomited in front of a lovely reading group from Illinois. When I’m with a book club, I hold nothing back.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was on my third plane of the day, this one a Dash 8 turboprop from Denver to Steamboat Springs. The next day I was joining Jacquelyn Mitchard, Andre Dubus III and Sena Jeter Naslund for the Bud Werner Memorial Library’s annual Literary Sojourn, an all-day celebration of what words and reading and books can mean to the soul. It’s a terrific event and lots of book clubs make a pilgrimage there—including, that year, one from Illinois that was on the Dash 8 turboprop with me.
Now, I really don’t mind the Dash 8. But that day I had been traveling since about six in the morning in Vermont, where I live, and there was the usual Rocky Mountain clear air turbulence. I was on my third flight of the day. The book group on the airplane recognized me instantly as one of the authors they were coming to hear, despite the fact that soon after takeoff my skin was airsickness green. And so we chatted and I sipped a Diet Coke and set the air vent above me on “wind tunnel.” Surreptitiously I kept reaching into the seat pocket, trying to find an airsickness bag amidst the magazines and Sky Mall catalogues. Somehow I had two of each, but no airsickness bag.
The group was, like most groups, all women. We talked about books as we flew to Steamboat Springs, and the unforgettable brilliance of the first sentence of Sena’s new book, Ahab’s Wife: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” We discussed the heart that fills all of Jacquelyn’s work. And we shared the page-turning dread we had all experienced as we read Andre’s House of Sand and Fog.
At some point I reached into the pocket of the seat beside me for an airsickness bag. There wasn’t one there, either.
Looking back, I really thought I was going to make it to Steamboat Springs with my dignity intact. I fly a lot and it’s rare for me to feel like I’m going to lose my lunch. I was sure I could remain in this book group’s eyes an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete.
It was on our initial descent that we hit the bump that finally did me in. Now, I did feel it coming. And so without an airsickness bag handy, I showed an instinctive skill with origami I hadn’t known existed somewhere deep inside me: I ripped a few pages from one of the catalogs in my seat pocket, twirled them into a snow cone, and folded the bottom into a seal. Yup, somewhere around 15,000 feet in the air, I created a snow cone of vomit.
"I was sure I could remain an author they found charming and open, the sort who didn’t vomit on Dash 8 turboprops. This is called hubris—and, in hindsight, naïvete."
Now, here is why I am sharing this story with you. The woman in the book group beside me actually offered to hold my handmade Sky Mall biohazard so I could wipe my mouth and rinse with the last of my Diet Coke. So did the woman behind me. That’s support. That’s kindness. That’s the sort of heroism that is way above any reader’s pay grade.
But people in book groups are like that. I’ve been talking to book groups via speakerphone (and now Skype) since January 1999. I began because one of my events on The Law of Similars book tour was snowed out, and a reading group that was planning to attend contacted me with questions. (A lot of questions, actually.) And so we chatted via speakerphone. These days, I Skype with three to six groups a week. Some weeks I have done as many as 12.
I do it for a lot of reasons. I do it as a way of thanking these readers for their faith in my work. I do it because it helps me understand what makes my novels succeed aesthetically—and, yes, what makes them fail. (Most book group readers share with me exactly what they think of a story.) I do it because it is one small way I can help the novel—a largely solitary pleasure—remain relevant in an increasingly social age.
And, yes, I do it because once upon a time a book club member offered to hold my snow cone of vomit on a Dash 8.
Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was published this summer. If you would like him to join your book group via Skype or speakerphone, simply visit his Reading Group Center.
author photo by Aaron Spagnolo
Go ahead and judge a book by its creepy cover. If you've got chills just looking at the cover art, you know you're in for a frightening treat when you crack the spine on these reads. Happy Halloween, readers!
Well, at least her hair is lovely.
Here we have a dementor on the way to the gym.
There is nothing creepier than creepy children.
. . . OK, except maybe creepy children's handwriting.
There's something to be said for the subtly sinister approach.
"Be right back, just checking on the bodies upstairs!"
If you do not think space is terrifying, you are wrong.
Oh, I'm sorry. Were you at home and feeling safe?
Have a good night's sleep, everyone!
Karen Trotter Elley has always been a writer, turning her everyday experiences into inspirational essays that have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. She has also tried her hand at writing books, in genres ranging from inspirational stories for children to paranormal romance. Formerly a production designer at BookPage, Karen has been able to devote more of her time to writing since retiring in 2011, and is now working on a memoir.
Much of Karen’s writing deals with inspiration, faith and motivation, so we weren’t surprised to learn that one of her essays has been selected for inclusion in a new Chicken Soup for the Soul collection: Touched by an Angel. This uplifting volume includes “101 Miraculous Stories of Faith, Divine Intervention, and Answered Prayers.” In powerful stories, various contributors describe being touched by strangely coincidental reminders of friends and family who have died, receiving “urgent but gentle” commands from unseen voices or finding solace in final gifts from loved ones.
In a Behind the Book essay, Karen describes for BookPage readers how pluck and persistence (and maybe a little divine intervention!) helped her achieve her goal of becoming a published author. Any aspiring writer who’s struggling with rejection notices and unreturned calls will want to check out Karen’s inspiring story here.
Looking for a darker story, but not into over-the-top horror? Try Stephen Collins' subtly menacing graphic novel, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
A too-perfect suburbia ("Here") and its creepily-regimented group of inhabitants attempt to live their lives free of the threat of the unknown, unseen and untidy world known as "There."
Dave—a quiet fellow with a boring office job— is happy with his routine . . . until he experiences something very strange. An ominous, rapidly-growing beard suddenly sprouts from his face: an untidy, evil beard from There.
Panic quickly spreads, and the government decides that the only way to remove the threat of untidiness and anarchy is to get rid of Dave completely.
Check out an excerpt below:
Any of you readers interested in checking out this Tim Burton-esque tale for Halloween?