2017 Wasn’t All Bad: Let Me Sell You Some Books!

Hi everybody … it’s your friendly neighborhood bookseller, back for my semi-annual post about new books and such. As ever, my tastes have a certain lean, and I make no apologies for that. But I think I’ve cobbled together a list of books from 2017 that I not only loved, but suspect have broad appeal.

In no particular order:

** Jorge Carrión’s BOOKSHOPS: A READER’S HISTORY. — I read this late in the year, but I’m definitely going to sell so many more in 2018. A sort of RINGS OF SATURN through the bookshops of history. It’s delightfully smart, and doesn’t slip into the kind of boring fetishizing that can happen with such.

** Martin Lee Mueller’s BEING SALMON, BEING HUMAN. — Similarly, I didn’t pick this up until very late in the year. (Sue me … I was busy buying a bookstore the first nine months.) It’s very curious, in its manner & tone. A Norwegian philosopher by trade, Mueller strives for literary elegance as well. It packs an invaluable, rewarding ecological punch. Would that being fully human meant that we weren’t human fully.

** Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS. — I forget if I wrote about this debut collection of poetry in my post this summer, and I’m as lazy as you when it comes to clicking to find out. Even if you’re not really “into” poetry, whatever that means, give this a look. It’s poetry through & through, I just mean it’s good. And, really, you should fucking read contemporary poetry, you barbarians.

** Dawn Lundy Martin’s GOOD STOCK STRANGE TONGUE. — Did you think I was kidding about wanting you to read poetry. Think again, punk. Dawn Lundy Martin is a “difficult” poet, I guess … but life is hard. What’re you go do? Her latest is one of those collections that reminds you that life, by definition always careening toward its end, is also worth fighting for (every lost & found inch along the way).

** Barbara Jane Reyes’ INVOCATION TO DAUGHTERS. — Damn but damn, this book burns — away, around, through, under & over. She takes aim at brutality & articulates a profound anger w/ the mothers & daughters forced to hold their tongues,

** Elena Passarello’s ANIMALS STRIKE CURIOUS POSES & Hernan Diaz’s IN THE DISTANCE. — Very different books, these, bound by the fact that I loved them enough to give them as gifts to the fifty-some lenders who helped me buy the bookstore. Both are startlingly original takes on classic forms.

** Bill Knott’s I AM FLYING INTO MYSELF. — I’ve heard stories about Bill K. going to libraries & changing the text of his poems. His wry sense of it’s all bullshit / accept no bullshit is all through Lux’s selections.

** Every damn thing Transit Books published this year.

** Eve Babitz’s BLACK SWANS. — I’m cheating. Counterpoint is re-releasing this in 2018. But hey, pre-order it now from your a independent bookstore. Babitz’s sentences are some of my very favorite. Los Angeles’ answer to Muriel Spark (which L.A. didn’t know it needed).

** Katie Kitamura’s A SEPARATION. — Certainly not “overlooked.” The folks at Riverhead are good at what they do, and would never permit that. That said … it’s still not gotten the attention I believe it deserves. Finished Ferrante, and need your new fix. I got it right here, baby. Pestered out of Ferrante like me after the first book, Kitamura’s got you covered, too. (It’s out in paperback very soon, too. Gobble that up . . .)

** Valeria Luiselli’s TELL ME HOW IT ENDS. — Amidst the feeding of the trash fire that was 2017, Luiselli’s book offered neither fake hope nor grim cynicism nor artistic escape. I gave this book away more than any other book this year.

** Mac Barnett’s THE WOLF, THE DUCK, & THE MOUSE. — Because you don’t have to be or have a kid to like picture books. Hell, you don’t even have to like kids to like picture books. This one is fucking fantastic. Basically, Mac has written a new Aesop fable. This book is a feast on so many levels — I keep feeding on it.

** Claude Ponti’s MY VALLEY. — The good folks at Archipelago Press are doing picture books now! Their first has blown me and my customers away. Ponti’s whimsical fairy tale would suggest he doesn’t see the world quite like most of us do. This may be true, but I’d add that this is because he sees more in the world than most of us dare.

** Dorothy Hughes’ IN A LONELY PLACE. — Feminist California noir of the absolute highest order. The New York Review of Books Classics’ choice of mysteries is impeccable, and they have continued their stunning run here.

(I should note, I’m trying to avoid books I’ve already recently discussed elsewhere — e.g., The Dorothy Project’s LEONORA CARRINGTON, Tongo Eisen-Martin’s HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES, and Meagan Day’s MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT.)

** Walter Scheidel’s THE GREAT LEVELER. — Holy shit, this is a depressing book. An argument might be made that its thesis — that only catastrophe ever adequately addresses inequality — mutes our resistance to it. I’m inclined to say to that: “Meh, your inability to change the world doesn’t get around the fact you still live in it and shouldn’t be an asshole.”

** Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN SEVEN CHEAP THINGS. — Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives . . . it’s hard to argue we’ve managed to cheapen them all, and have sold the world short in the process.

** Eric Karpeles’s PAINTINGS IN PROUST. — One of the hallmarks of Proust’s literary vision is that it is as minute as it is expansive. Karpeles aligns text and art in a way that illuminates both.

** John Richardson’s PICASSO: MINOTAURS & MATADORS. — Bullfighting is brutal and abhorrent. Arguably, Picasso was too. And yet … and yet … in spite of … no, somehow by way of it all, this book is mesmerizing.

& finally

** The good folks at Wakefield Press are releasing a translation of Marcel Schwob’s IMAGINARY LIVES this spring. Calm your excited pulse, you who made it this far in the list, by reading Kit Schluter’s fantastic translation of Schwob’s THE KING IN THE GOLDEN MASK.