We'll be closed all day Sunday (January 6), as we count the books and tidy the shelves.
We love all our books, of course, but we can’t help loving some of them just a little bit extra. Here, then, is an idiosyncratic list of our favorite books of the past year.
As I tell everyone that picks up a copy of anything written by Zora Neale Hurston, she was the entire reason that I majored in Anthropology in college and this work here explains exactly why. The first renowned black woman to be an anthropologist Hurston displays a new methodology of study that has created new avenues for anthropologists of color that preserve the parts of history that might have been lost under the washing of white supremacy. The use of the subject's dialect was the controversial aspect that prevented this ethnography from being published initially but humanizes the victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to showcase the traumatic impact of being stolen into slavery. A must read for more reasons than I'm given space to display here.
Here’s a book that manages to combine a good adventure story with stunning photographs while doing the important work of calling attention to the imminent and very real threat of proposed sulfide mining at the edge of northern Minnesota‘s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. To increase public awareness of the relentless efforts by foreign companies to allow copper-nickel mining in the watershed of the BWCA, the Freemans spent an entire year traveling there by canoe and dog sled. Their book is a labor of love; it invites the reader along on their fantastic adventure, provides context for the environmental issues at stake, and powerfully illuminates the need for preservation and stewardship of natural places. It will be a welcome addition to the libraries of wilderness enthusiasts everywhere.
Pretty sure you have never read a book like this. Think George Saunders meets Ta-Nehisi Coates set in a dystopian near future a la 'Black Mirror'. The surreal short stories in this collection from newcomer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, present a powerful indictment of racism, consumerism, classism and other social ills in funny, strange and horrifying ways. Sometimes you laugh, cry and are sick to your stomach all on the same page. Kind of like the holidays.
Kate DiCamillo’s newest book, Louisiana’s Way Home, reconnects us to delightful and complicated Louisiana Elefante with humor and compassion. As Louisiana searches for her long-lost family and her own true identity, old friends, instantly-loveable new acquaintances, and some mean people, too, help her realize just how beautiful the world really is and how forgiveness helps us discover who we are and what matters most. A story with hoots of laughter, a few scary bits, and heart and soul for kids and also for you and your book group.
You just can’t make this stuff up! The Pulitzer Prize-winning author tracks the sensational rise and fall of the 2004 multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley biotech startup Theranos. The company’s blood testing device promised to revolutionize the field of medical testing. The technology never worked but before the false claims were finally exposed, founder Elizabeth Holmes kept money flowing into the company for 14 (!) years by seducing investors with promises of huge profits. Engrossing investigative reporting of fraud, deception, greed, and legal intimidation in one of the biggest scams in Silicon Valley history--it reads like a psychological crime thriller.
"One of the greatest writers of our time" Toni Morrison
An important book by one of the greatest of American artists. A never before published manuscript about a man who was one of the last slaves known to make the transatlantic journey. Powerful and necessary. Hurston's skill as an anthropologist, historian, writer, listener, and witness shows throughout. A vital book in the cannon of this important writer. Must read.
Pancakes! Who doesn’t like pancakes? This interactive charming board book cooks up smiles and a trip to the frying pan.
Washington Black is an expansive adventure novel in the Vernean mold. It’s a compelling commentary on the history of science, a history that too often writes out the contributions of researchers of color. Lyrical yet rooted firmly in the horrors of plantation slavery, epic yet deeply psychological, this novel will delight and challenge everyone from your precocious preteen to your history-buff great-uncle. Plus there’s a giant flying machine--- what’s not to love?
This book bleeds beauty. Emily Jungmin Yoon explores the female Korean body as it learns to expect and escape notions of “comfort.” She focuses on sexual violence, and through her wrenching language, she confronts a male history commodifying women.
Michael loves Ellis, Ellis loves Annie, and Annie loves them both. Yet Sarah Winman’s blistering novel Tin Man is anything but the usual love triangle. Instead, Winman asks us to consider what remains of love after its object is gone. She crowds this spare little book, set in London, Oxford, and the south of France, with vivid portraits of loss and mourning. At once terse and expansive, Tin Man is a firework flashing in the night--gone too soon but burned forever into the reader’s memory.
Booksellers love to recommend books to our customers. It's a thrill to see a book we enjoy going home with an enthusiastic reader and to know that it's found just the right reader.
If you come in and talk to me in the next few weeks, I'm going to chew your ear about Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I fell in love with this novel last year, and I am pretty sure you will, too. It's a smart and inventive novel that also manages to be a fun pageturner. You might read it on the beach, but you won't feel like you're just filling your mind with junk food.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the story of Eva, a Midwestern girl who grows up to be a world-class chef. Along the way, you'll meet a range of foodie types, from the rural to the rarified. J Ryan Stradal roasts them, but only to bring out the best in his cast of characters. This is a gentle satire, and you will enjoy seeing the culinary world through Stradal's kind eyes. I can't recommend it enough.
(And if I've already talked you into reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest, then ask me about The Jesus Cow. That's another great tale from the middle of the country and another perfect summer read.)
Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Common Good Books Poetry Contest.
First place poems:
- "Flight" by Charles Atkinson
- "Still Life with Gratitude" by Dean Rader
- "Gratitude List" by Laura Foley
Second place poems:
- "Ode to the Pull-Out Couch" by Sonja Johanson
- "One Summer Day on the Number One Train" by Anne Whitehouse
- "Still I Give Thanks" by Marie Reynolds
- "Bounding Flight" by Chera Hammons
Congratulations to everyone who entered. Click here to read the winning poems.
A lot of big books are getting attention this week, but there's also a little novel that you might not hear about that's still worth a look. If you enjoy a bit of armchair travel, this book could be just the ticket. The feckless narrator of Guillermo Erades’ novel Back to Moscow arrives in the Russian capital with a fellowship to study the country’s literature and a yen to study its young women. His plan to combine the two tasks, if a bit suspect academically, nonetheless makes for an entertaining read, as Erades combines the formless grad school noodling of Leaving the Atocha Station with the clubbing and casual relationships of Bright Lights, Big City. Erades’ portrait of expat life in a newly capitalist Moscow is crisp and memorable.--David
Kate DiCamillo's new novel Raymie Nightingale comes out in April. Here's a preview:
And you can meet Kate at Common Good Books on April 30. Details are here.
Our bookseller David isn't alone in loving Paul Goldberg's first novel. He said, "The Yid is a very serious farce, a philosophical novel larded with pitch black comedy. Fans of City of Thieves and Absurdistan will love Paul Goldberg’s ambitious new novel." Maureen Corrigan agrees, as you can hear here.
We've already posted our staff picks for the best books of 2015. They're here, if you want to see them again. But what were the most popular books here in terms of sales? What did you, our esteemed customers, choose to take home in the past year? We've crunched the numbers, and here are the results:
Yes, we love all the books equally. But there are a few books we love just a little bit more. Here then, is Common Good Books' very subjective, very idiosyncratic list of our favorite books of 2015.
The narrator of Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake loses everything in the days following the Norman conquest of England. His home is burned, his farm his destroyed, and his family is killed. Retreating to the green woods, he quickly descends into a fever dream of revenge.
It takes a few moments to learn to parse the language of The Wake; it is written in a simplified version of Old English, after all. The effort is richly repaid, however, by an engrossing and immersive reading experience unlike any other historical novel. Kingsnorth's vividly imagined medieval tale is an ancient story that throbs with life.
"Nothing short of brilliant describes this companion to Life After Life. It is Atkinson at her very best. It's not a sequel, so go ahead--read and enjoy. Loved it!"
A young lady philosophy scholar literally wanders into the world of mixed martial arts fighting. This book kept leaving me dumbstruck. It's like an ice cube down the back.--Peter
"The story tugged me along relentlessly--complicated, life and death stuff, myriad varieties of women, those mistakes in remembering that are so dangerous, effects of the past on the present, wide range and serious depth of loving and being loved. It's a great read and it all stays with you."
"One of Minnesota's finest poets, and certainly its finest poetry translator, herein whittles a world's worth of poetry into one beautiful, fine point. The overarching theme of twofold consciousness is perfectly suited to Bly's voice, thought, and career. I recommend this to anyone who's ever liked anything."
"To crib Toni Morrison's blurb, Between the World and Me ought to be required reading. Ta-Nehisi Coates says he doesn't 'want to be anyone's expert,' but that isn't to say there aren't some crucial truths inside this book. Poetic and tragic and timely."--Sam
"Still the best account of Shackleton's famous adventure, complete with Frank Hurley's stunning photographs. My favorite book of all time."
"Patti Smith continues her successful sucession of books that includes the National Book award winning memoir Just Kids, as well as many earlier books, poetry publications and exhibition catalogs. I settled into M-train and felt like she had opened a door to her world, not the music world, but her everyday life--Patti's apartment, Patti in the cafe, Patti hanging on the stoop. On the cover image, she sits, and looks out the window watching the world go by. I imagine she is fabulously famous, and yet, can go quietly unrecognized in New York City and this gives her space in her cafe to muse, capture the muse and filter it back to the reader with all the ephemeral sweetness of the best truffle you have ever eaten. Forget the hard facade, this is pure butter, chocolate and bliss.Take it slowly and love every bite."
My favorite book of the year.
"Each story follows a stressed-out, often over-medicated adult as he or she fails, hilariously, to carry out an everyday plan: buy flowers for a spouse, go for a pleasant walk, relax at a party of peers. A great pick for fans of George Saunders, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Lorrie Moore. All nine stories appeared first in The New Yorker."
"Beautiful in every moment! This is the kind of book that reminds you why people and things are so enchanting. Easily the best book I have read this year."
An amazing new photobook from Soth. Wonderful pictures that capture the strange beauty of America. Beautifully designed. Destined to be a classic. Highly recommended! For fans of Frank, Evans, Adams, etc. . . . Published by the great MACK Books!
"Learning about the storied life of this nigh-mythic sex symbol of mustachioed manhood was possibly the most satisfying reading I've ever done,--let alone done this year. It was invigorating to track his movements through friends and colleagues, through cinema and television, like one would track a bounding stag through a forest primeval. If I had a billion thumbs, I would upturn them all. Burt, after all, remains king."