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The Reading Life

We love to talk books with our in-store customers, so this is just a way of continuing the conversation and opening it up to a wider circle If you watch this space over time, you'll get a feel for our tastes, and maybe come to share our enthusiasm for these books.
Books Building Bridges
Visit the website of Books Building Bridges, an organization inspired by The Librarian of Basra, promoting Iraqi-American dialogue and understanding through books and literacy.

2666 Cover Image
By Roberto Bolaño, Natasha Wimmer (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780374100148
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - November 11th, 2008

Here is an edgy baggy monster of a novel from the author of The Savage Detectives. And if that seems like a contradiction, welcome to Bolano's universe. Few other writers are so steeped in the romance of the literary life , putting writers and writing at the very center of their plots, while marrying the literary to criminality, gangsterism, and general street-seediness--a fusion that Bolano himself lived. Few American authors would have the courage to depict the writer's life as driven by such corrosive passion, beyond good and evil, but this theme runs throughout Bolano's work. The book, on his instructions, has been released in two formats: an 898-page hardcover, and a boxed 3-volume set of paperbacks. It's not beyond possibility that each format will result in a slightly different experience of the work--or that Bolano would have foreseen just that.

Pretty Monsters: Stories Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780670010905
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Published: Viking Juvenile - October 2nd, 2008

Pretty Monsters is Northampton's own Kelly Link's collection of wonderful and strange short stories for teenagers. Kelly's books for adults, which include Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners, have received wide praise, and her unique style and imagination are evident in these stories as well. Publisher's Weekly said of Pretty Monsters, "With a quirky, fairytale style...the author mingles the grotesque and the ethereal to make magic on the page."

The Gift of Rain Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781602860247
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Weinstein Books - May 1st, 2008

Permeated by the sounds and scents of Malaya, with its jumble of British, Chinese, and Malay cultures, this extraordinary novel is narrated by Philip Hutton, half English and half Chinese. Most of the story is set in the late thirties and told in flashback, as Japan invades China and casts its eye on other territory, including Malaya. Endo-san, an enigmatic Japanese teacher of aikido, comes to inhabit an island near Philip's home, becoming Philip's aikido master and revered friend. As war develops, Philip 's close relationship to a Japanese makes him and his prominent family vulnerable, causing painfully divided loyalties. Philip begins to play a dangerous double game to protect his family, unaware that he is himself the victim of another double game. This remarkable novel, nominated for the Man Booker prize, is suffused with a sensuous feel for Malaya: the sea is a constant presence, and Tan Twan Eng is especially deft at conveying the sense of multiple cultures-- each with its specific etiquette architecture, food, smells--living in close proximity but never really mingling. The novel manages to combine this sensuous specificity with a calm clarity that may owe something to the spirit of aikido that is a central component in the story. And you'll remember the friendship between Philip and the mysterious and highly attractive Endo-san long after you close the book.

Night Train to Lisbon Cover Image
By Pascal Mercier, Barbara Harshav (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780802118585
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Published: Grove Press - December 1st, 2007

Night Train to Lisbon, a European bestseller written by a Swiss philosophy professor Pascal Mercier, centers on a man named Gregorius, a professor of classical languages in a Berne lycee. One foggy evening he hears the word "Portugu

The Quiet Girl Cover Image
By Peter Hoeg, Nadia Christensen (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780374263690
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 30th, 2007

Peter Hoeg, best known in this country for Smilla's Sense of Snow, offers up a new novel that combines the airily cerebral with the elegantly violent. The protagonist is Kasper Krone, a nationally famous clown blessed with the ability to "hear" the vibrations of personalities (as well as an outrageous amount of sheer cool under pressure). He undertakes to rescue an extraordinary young girl named KlaraMaria who shares Krone's abilities and is wanted by a sinister branch of the government. Brooding Dansk philosophical speculation (Kierkegaard is invoked more than once) combined with nimble wit and Mission Impossible effects make this an intensely satisfying experience.

Out Stealing Horses: A Novel Cover Image
By Per Petterson, Anne Born (Translated by)
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ISBN: 9781555974701
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Published: Graywolf Press - April 17th, 2007

Out of Norway has come one of the most beautiful novels of the last several years, in a superb translation by Anne Born. Told retrospectively in the voice of a man of sixty-seven named Trond, it is the story of a series of events in his adolescence, events that he barely understood at the time, and their repercussions in the present. It is the story of unknowability of fathers, and ultimately, about the lifelong task of telling the difference between appearance and reality, and of accepting the unbridgeable distance between them. Petterson's tightly woven, reticent yet marvelously expressive prose can remind one at times of Cormac McCarthy. This is a novel of commanding authority and power.

Tree of Smoke Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780374279127
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - September 4th, 2007

The considerable demands this novel makes are justified by its sheer scale and ambition, unmatched by most of the fiction currently on offer. It begins in Vietnam, just as the news of Kennedy's assassination reaches the troops, and ends in 1983. It's centered around a CIA operative named Skip Sands, whose riveting downward moral journey displays all too nakedly the addictive power of war. The story features a generous cast of supporting characters, Vietnamese and American (especially Skips's sinister uncle and superior officer, Colonel Francis X. Sands, a counter-insurgency expert). Tree of Smoke is a raw, sprawling, un-pretty but grittily real story, with whiffs of Norman Mailer, Robert Stone, and just plain brimstone. With this serious and important work Denis Johnson just may have written the Great American Vietnam novel.

Endless Things: A Part of Aegypt Cover Image
ISBN: 9781931520225
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Published: Small Beer Press - April 1st, 2007

Endless Things, the capstone to John Crowley's monumental Aegypt series, combines several alluring elements: a personal quest, fascinating metaphysical speculation, and vivid historical detail. It follows scholarly, meditative Pierce Moffat as he retraces the footsteps of novelist Fellowes Kraft. His wanderings take him to many of the sites where visionary Hermeticists such as Giordano Bruno and John Dee worked and died. In doing so he opens himself to a dimension of long-ignored wisdom, the "endless things" of the title. The novel is exquisitely written, full of sentences that take you aback with their insightfulness.Crowley has done his homework: the historical scenes are riveting and intelligently done. If you liked John Fowles' The Magus or the novels of Umberto Eco, you will find much to delight you here.

Call Me by Your Name Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780374299217
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 23rd, 2007

This is an exceptionally beautiful novel about a 16-year-old Italian boy's deep attraction to a slightly older American college professor named Oliver who visits his family one summer on the Italian Riviera. It captures as have few recent novels the torments of youthful love: the idealization, the yearning, the obsessive desire, and in this case the provocative forbiddenness in loving another man, whose worldliness and glamourous insouciance render him all the more erotically desirable: the reader falls in love with Oliver just as the narrator does. Aciman, whose Out of Egypt was one of the most beautifully written memoirs of recent years, brings to this novel great psychological acuity as well as prose that is at once soberly precise and deeply passionate.

Black Swan Green: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812974010
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - February 27th, 2007

Here's a book that captures uncannily what it's like to be a boy just on the cusp of adolescence. Jason Taylor, just turning 13, is growing up in a small English town during the Thatcher years (the Falklands War has a walk-on role in Jason's education.) The book brilliantly captures some of the delights of boyhood--exploring forests all alone, creeping through a chain of neighbors' back yards to prove yourself worthy of club membership--as well as the unspoken but ironclad pecking order governing social life with peers. Jason, a stammerer and a closet poet, lives in dread of the merciless public contempt and derision his peers are capable of inflicting. On top of it all, his family is slowly imploding. But he's nobody's fool, and the way he confronts his problems forms the drama of this wonderfully satisfying, bittersweet and memorable novel.

The Night Watch Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594482304
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Published: Riverhead Books - September 27th, 2006

This novel is constructed like hand-finished marquetry by a master carpenter. Sarah Waters interweaves the stories of four people whose lives intersect in World War Two London. In addition to its interesting play with time, it features sensitively drawn relationships and amazingly evocative and atmospheric period effects. The moments just before and during a bombardment have seldom been more convincingly rendered. Its structure helps block predictable reactions and invites one to think, making for an absorbing and satisfying novel.

The Road Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307265432
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Published: Knopf - September 26th, 2006

This novel--so spare it is almost a fable--requires of the reader something like the virtues its characters are forced to develop: fortitude, the capacity to endure, the ability to ration hope from moment to moment. That said, it is a magnificent achievement: its purity of language is the only adequate vehicle for its starkness of vision. A father and his young son move through drifting ash in a postapocalyptic landscape, only just surviving on what they find, dodging the bands of marauders who travel the same roads. Civilization, along with law, has vanished, and empathy is simply too costly. While there is much less overt violence in this novel than in, say, McCarthy's earlier masterpiece Blood Meridian--a violence bearable only because of its impersonality--one reads The Road heart in mouth. We live the experience moment to moment, because McCarthy allows us access to the inner life of the father, who must not only keep the two of them alive, but remember fleetingly the vanished ease and loveliness of the past, all the while watching his son grow thinner. The relationship between father and son is the source of much of the beauty and a great deal of the poignancy of this beautifully wrought, haunting novel.

The Eagle's Throne Cover Image
By Carlos Fuentes, Kristina Cordero (Translator)
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ISBN: 9781400062478
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Published: Random House - May 16th, 2006

If any writer can be said to give voice to the self-consciousness of Mexico, that writer is Carlos Fuentes. In The Eagle's Throne, his latest novel, he takes on Mexican politics. The story takes place in the near-future, when communications technology breaks down and everyone is forced to write letters. Fuentes dares to take on the challenges and constraints of this formal conceit, and what results is an epistolary novel of intrigue recalling Dangerous Liaisons, except that the stakes are not just love and revenge but high office. It is also a meditation on the Mexican political character and on the proper exercise of power. It takes a world-class writer to pull this off, and Fuentes succeeds brilliantly.

Absurdistan Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781400061969
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Published: Random House - May 2nd, 2006

Irreverent, poignant, and exceptionally funny, this novel by the author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook is the story of Misha Vainberg, an endearing big-hearted (and waisted) 300-pound Russian melancholic known to his American college friends as "Snack Daddy." Unable to get out of Russia because of a murder committed by his father, Misha tries fruitlessly to get a visa back to America--specifically the Bronx, the only place Misha feels truly at home--and his adored Latina girlfriend. His quest takes him a roundabout route through the oil-rich nation of Absurdistan, a country that embodies all the exuberant corruption of Eastern European capitalism. Rapping Russians, cheeky irreverence, and a lovable hero make this one of the most appealing books of the year.

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq Cover Image
ISBN: 9780152054458
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Published: HMH Books for Young Readers - January 1st, 2005

This is the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Basra, Iraq. When the war begins, she is afraid her library, with its thirty thousand books, will be lost forever. Heroically, she moves every single book to safety, preserving them for her community. Exquisitely illustrated in a style suggesting Persian miniatures and narrated with simple beauty, this story will speak to children and adults alike of the barbarity of war and the preciousness of books, learning, and courage.

Saturday: A novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780385511803
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Published: Nan A. Talese - March 22nd, 2005

Ian McEwan's new novel is a virtuoso narrative performance. The action is compressed into one day--a day full of events and not without menace--in the life of London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, whose wide-ranging, observant mind we inhabit during the course of the novel. Through this supple vehicle McEwan manages to touch on the global and social, the scientific and the domestic, using these multiple lenses to give a rich sense of what it means to live in the world in the 21st century. Acutely observed and satisfyingly rich in detail, this novel is a worthy successor to Atonement.

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming: Book II of the Brotherhood of the Conch Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781596430679
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Published: Roaring Brook Press - August 11th, 2005

In this sequel to The Conch Bearer, the apprentice Anand has a vision that his mentor Abhaydatta is in danger. He embarks on a journey through time as well as space to save Abhaydatta and all those endangered by an evil magician and a jinn. The book is set in both contemporary India and India under Moghul rule. This book, suitable for older elementary and middle school readers, is beautifully written, has both emotion and humor and is full of adventure. (NF)

Ordinary Wolves Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781571310446
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Published: Milkweed Editions - April 1st, 2004

In prose that's stripped-down yet capable of nuance and fine-grained detail, Seth Kantner tells the story of Cutuk Hawcly, a young white boy living with his brother, sister, and artist father in Whole Earth catalog self-sufficiency in the Northwest Alaskan wilderness. Growing up, Cutuk wants more than anything to be an Eskimo, a great hunter. But the Inupiaqs' contempt for whites makes it impossible to forget what he is, and the easy consumerist abundance of the white way of life both attracts and repels him. As Eskimo culture disintegrates under the impact of white ways, and the land is slowly invaded by corporate interests, Cutuk comes to an ethical resolve and makes a complicated, fragile peace with himself. Wrenching and haunting and beautiful, this book offers a perspective on the white bourgeois way of life rarely available in current American fiction. Not to be missed.

Austerlitz Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780375756566
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Published: Modern Library - September 3rd, 2002

A richly-layered exploration of the aftereffects of buried events, and a meditation on memory and place of almost Proustian evocativeness. In Sebald's signature anti-linear style that mimics the movement of the mind in meditative free-association, the nameless narrator tells the story of Jacques Austerlitz,an architectural historian who sets out to understand his past. Architecture, dream, botany, and memory all play their part in the poetics of this novel, arguably Sebald's masterpiece, unquestionably one of the finest books of the last decade. Now in paper. (picked by RDM)

Eldest: Inheritance, Book II (The Inheritance Cycle) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375826702
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Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers - August 23rd, 2005

The Eldest is a worthy sequel to Eragon. The action shifts between Eragon as he continues his training as a dragon rider in the land of the elves, and his cousin Roran, who is facing his own challenges from the Empire. The two strands come together in a huge battle scene at the end of the book. The story has wonderful characters and the sweeping scope of a struggle between good and evil. Both Eragon and Roran must struggle within themselves as they face difficult moral dilemmas. A book to keep you enthralled. (picked by NF)

The Quick and the Dead (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375727641
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Published: Vintage - January 8th, 2002

The Quick and the Dead uses the story of three adolescent girls, each odd in her own way, to explore our relationship to nature and the line between living and dead. Quirky, ferociously intelligent, full of arresting dialogue, and at times near-visionary, this novel will show you why many consider Joy Williams one of the most exciting writers in America. (picked by RDM and LW)

The Cave Cover Image
By José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780156028790
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Published: Mariner Books - October 15th, 2003

Saramago is not a Nobel-winner for nothing. This latest novel centers around Cipriano Algor, a rural potter in his 60's, living with his daughter and son-in-law and trying to make a living selling his wares to an urban mega-complex called The Center, which seems to have the power of economic life and death over everything in its vicinity. This is the quietly powerful story of Cipriano's struggle with forces much crueller and darker than anything he has ever known. But the book is filled with Saramago's wry sweetness: one comes to love these people. The book engages on many fronts, offering levels and levels of allegory to be pondered. The sentences are beautiful, too, sprinkled with asides to be savored like small wrapped chocolates. A wholly lovely book. (picked by RDM)

Snow Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375406973
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Published: Knopf - August 17th, 2004

This latest novel by Orhan Pamuk manages to ask large questions while confining setting and incident within a very tight compass. A poet and journalist named Ka comes to the tiny, obscure Turkish border town of Kars, to report on the suicide of young girls who are forbidden to wear their head scarves in observance of their Muslim beliefs. During his few days in Kars--as snow falls relentlessly-- he falls in love, becomes a key player in a political coup, and writes poem after poem. Although Pamuk invokes Turgenev more than once during the course of the story, this novel's intensity, its exploration of the temptations of Westernization, and its portrayal of religion as both a deep inwardness and the power that mobilizes multitudes, gives it affinities with Dostoyevsky.

The Birth of Venus Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781400060733
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Published: Random House - February 17th, 2004

This exceptionally fine historical novel brings alive late fifteenth-century Florence through the eyes of a lively and intelligent fifteen-year-old, Alessandra Cecchi, who becomes intrigued by a painter, rather gruff and standoffish, who has been commissioned to decorate the chapel in the family palazzo. Meanwhile, her parents have arranged a marriage with a much older, worldly man, through whom she becomes aware of the tensions brewing in Florentine politics, as Savonarola fulminates against the luxury and artistic brilliance of the city, whipping the populace into a frenzy and making certain opinions extremely dangerous. Alessandra lives out her own unconventional artistic and romantic life against this turbulent backdrop. Not to be missed.