BookBlast® presents our curated monthly top 10 reads, a little late because of taking time out in New York and Rhode Island to see my brother and family.
Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’Rol
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (Da Capo, Boston)
The definitive biography of one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands of the twentieth century. Though they hated punk bands that is how they were on and off stage.
Reclusive singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family of late guitarist Bob Stinson opened up to Bob Mehr. Described by Alfred Soto in The Chicago Reader as being “A roaring rock ‘n’ roll adventure, a heartrending family drama, and a cautionary showbiz tale,” the book features new interview material and 72 rare photos.
How To Set A Fire And Why by Jesse Ball (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne)
Sixteen-year-old Lucia Stanton’s father is dead, her mother is catatonic in a mental institute, and she lives in an unheated garage with her elderly impoverished aunt. She’s all in black and angry at our materialistic, capitalist society. Expelled from school for pencil-stabbing a boy who invaded her space, she is intelligent, interesting and impossible to be with, which comes clear as she relates the events of her life in a series of diary entries. To Lucia, arson is a form of class warfare. “I . . . thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life.”
These first two books are recommended by a bookseller&lover working at one of the best bookstores in NYC: The Strand, 828 Broadway (& 12th Street), NY 10003.
Food and Drink
An essential guide, blending cookery and travel, if you are on Spanish roads this August. The Romans taught the Andalusians how to cultivate wheat and vines; the Arabs used irrigation systems and taught them how to grow fruit and vegetables. Known for its gazpacho and sherry, Andalucia’s eight provinces yield all manner of mouthwatering dishes to discover and savour, including the fishy delights of azuela de fideos and moragas de sardinas. Some of the the best Spanish wines come from Andalusia. Jerez in the Province of Cádiz is internationally renowned for its Fino and Palo Cortado.
Dystopia and the End of Politics
Helen Phillips offers an idiosyncratic series of “what-ifs” about our tenuous human condition.
What if you knew the exact date of your death?
What if your city was filled with dopplegangers of you?
What if your perfect match existed on another planet?
Her characters navigate bizarre scenarios searching for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, increasingly strange world.
In dystopias that are exaggerated versions of the world in which we live, these characters strive for intimacy and struggle to resolve their fraught relationships with each other, with themselves, and with their place in nature. We meet a wealthy woman who purchases a high-tech sex toy in the shape of a man, a rowdy, moody crew of college students who resolve the energy crisis, and orphaned twin sisters who work as futuristic strippers; and no one is quite who they appear. Some Possible Solutions is the perfect read for Margaret Atwood fans.
What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy by Tom Slee (OR Books, New York)
“The Sharing Economy looks more and more like a bubble, as companies offering delivery services, home services, and goods-for-rent through Internet and mobile platforms have struggled to grow and/or attain profitability. It turns out the Internet does not add much, after all, to the world of informal neighbor-to-neighbor sharing, and the tool libraries and other community initiatives have remained small, their success depending more on the strength of their underlying community than on the benefits brought by a software platform,” from the Foreword.
Lyft, Airbnb, Uber and others are supposedly the vanguard of a rethinking of capitalism and claim a mandate of disruption and upending the “old order.” Technologist Tom Slee argues that the so-called sharing economy damages development, extends harsh free-market practices into previously protected areas of our lives, and presents the opportunity for a few people to make fortunes by damaging communities and pushing vulnerable individuals to take on unsustainable risk. Plus ça change: it’s business as usual, capitalism as usual.
Immigration & Exile
On Mount Gurugu, overlooking the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the North African coast, desperate migrants gather before attempting to scale the city’s walls and gain asylum on European soil. Inspired by first-hand accounts, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel has written a moving novel, by turns funny and sad, bringing a distinctly African perspective to a human tragedy of our time.
Adua by Igiaba Scego translated by Jamie Richards (New Vessel Press, New York)
The Italian-born daughter of Somali parents, Scego’s novel is, in part, the story of a Somali young woman who becomes a film star in 1970s Italy. Her realities of racism and shattered expectations fuse with the fate of Somali immigrants today who find anything but security in the “mother country” the travel to, enduring all manner of dangers and humiliations.
The Natural World
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (Fitzcarraldo Editions, London)
Part prose fiction, part stream of consciousness, this offbeat short story collection portrays a woman’s solitary life when she rents a cottage by a pond in rural Ireland. Her soliloquies on nature, childhood, domesticity and arranging a party, are imbued with a dark humour redolent of Beckett. Its twenty sections are of varying lengths, some just a paragraph.
Farm by the Shore by Thomas A. Clark (Carcanet, Manchester)
The poet, Thomas A Clark, explores the landscape and culture of the Scottish highlands and islands; the juxtaposition of sea and land, wilderness and civilisation; all dominated by the weather. He lives in the small fishing village of Pittenweem, on the east coast of Scotland. He has published four previous collections of poetry, and numerous small books and cards with his own Moschatel Press. In the summer months, with the artist Laurie Clark, he runs Cairn, a project space for minimal and conceptual art.
Among the Living and the Dead: On the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks (Pushkin Press, London)
Inara Verzemnieks grew up in the US, but never forgot her Latvian roots. After the death of her grandparents she travels to her grandmother, Livija’s hometown, Verzemnieks, which was a crossroads for armies throughout the centuries, from Vikings to SS troops. Paths in and out of the region were known as “war roads.” Livija had managed to escape from Russian troops while her husband was conscripted into battle. The mirroring narrative is that of her grandmother’s sister, Ausma. She helps the family survive after Livija has fled; first on their rural farm, then later in the Siberian camp where they are exiled. World history fuses with personal history in this grim, vivid and cathartic account of loss, survival, resilience and love.
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh (Halban Publishers, London)
The political memoir of a Palestinian Professor of Philosophy and former President of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Until December 2002, Sari Nusseibeh was the representative of the Palestinian National Authority in that city. In 2008, in an open online poll, Nusseibeh was voted the 24th most influential intellectual in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States).
Sari Nusseibeh writes in the opening pages of his memoir: “The idea of writing about my life and the life of my family came to me by sheer accident. I was trying to open a computer file containing my fairy tale when I mistakenly selected a different file. It was a memoir my father had written about the 1947-48 Israeli-Palestinian War. Unbeknownst to me, my son Buraq had scanned the original mimeographed text and put it on my computer. I hadn’t looked at the manuscript since my father died, twenty years earlier, and sitting in my office at the Radcliffe Institute, I was even more astounded at his account of the war . . .”
BONUS BOOK | 4Translation from the French
Les Belles Âmes (Beautiful Souls) by Lydie Salvayre (Le Seuil, Paris)
I read Salvayre’s La Médaille (The Medal) back in 1993 and have been a fan of her penetrating, acerbic writing ever since.
The travel agency Real Voyages offers tours of the most desolate and impoverished inner cities of Western Europe. A motley group of middle class travellers bored by conventional tourism is looking for a different kind of experience. Lafeuillade, a cynical and vulgar entrepreneur; Flauchet, a pretentious writer; and Miss Faulkircher, a journalist, are particularly hilarious in their self-importance.
The group embarks on an eight-day coach trip from Paris destined for Brussels, Berlin and Italy, to see how poor people live for real, instead of sitting comfortably at home gawping at reality TV programmes focusing on their filthy homes and bad diets. The guides are a former student of theology, and Jason, an angry unemployed youth who struts his stuff and whose table manners offend bourgeois sensibilities. Jason’s browbeaten girlfriend, Olympia, good for blowjobs and little else, tags along. Tensions mount as the real-life spectacle of miserable lives in concrete jungles increases in gritty intensity, making a mockery of the humbug and hypocrisy of the opportunistic visitors. A discomfiting and timely read in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and Charlottesville riots.
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