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What To Read: Winter 2018

by Tyler Vitt - Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018 at 7:57pm

A collection of recent books particularly recommended by Chris Hall. Look for our in-store What To Read display tables.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. $24.99. With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, this historical novel takes us into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, and union men during WW II. America is at war and Anna Kerrigan works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to the men who have gone overseas. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America fight the war. Manhattan Beach is a deft exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men. (Scribner. October)

Wonderland by Steven Johnson. Softcover. $27.00. Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused. Heintroduces us to the colourful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows. He compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. You'll find the future wherever people are having the most fun. (Riverhead. November)

See more What To Read suggestions after the jump...

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. Softcover. $23.00. It’s called an information economy, but now that access to information is unlimited, our attention has become the ultimate commodity. In every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of efforts to harvest our attention. This condition is not simply the byproduct of recent innovations but the result of a century's growth in the “attention industries” — from newspapers to radio and television to Internet companies. The basic business model has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your time, sold to the highest-bidding advertiser. Wu lays bare the true nature of “paying attention,” a reality we can no longer afford to ignore. (Vintage. September)

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine. Softcover. $22.95. This novel follows Yemeni-born Jacob as he revisits his life over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psych clinic. We see his upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse, his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Jacob is taunted mercilessly by the presence of alluring Satan, who urges him to remember his painful past, and dour Death, who urges him to forget and give up. A profound story of the war between memory and oblivion, set within the portrait of a man and an era of deep political and social upheaval. (Grove. November)

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee. Softcover. $27.99. What happens when one attempts to exchange the life one is given for something better? This novel explores two defining currents of our century: displacement and migration. Five characters, in very different circumstances — from a domestic cook in Mumbai, to a vagrant and his dancing bear, and a girl who escapes terror in her home village for a new life in the city — find out the meanings of dislocation, and the desire for more. Mukherjee delivers a haunting vision of people defined by that most unquenchable of human urges, the striving for a different life. (Chatto & Windus. November)

Why Time Flies by Alan Burdick. Softcover. $23.00. "Time" is the most commonly used noun in the English language; it's always on our minds. But what is time, exactly? Why does it seem to slow down when we're bored and speed by as we get older? This witty and meditative exploration takes readers on a quest to understand how time gets in us and why we perceive it the way we do. In the company of scientists, he visits the most accurate clock in the world; discovers that "now" actually happened a split-second ago; lives in the Arctic where one can lose all sense of time; and makes, for one fleeting moment in a lab, time going backward. (Simon & Schuster. January)

The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani-Smith. Softcover. $23.00. We have a lot to be happy about and yet we're more dissatisfied than ever. Smith argues that we've been chasing the wrong thing. It's not happiness that makes life worth living, it's meaning. Drawing on the latest cognitive science research, as well as insights from literature and philosophy, Smith moves effortlessly from George Eliot and Aristotle to Monty Python, spelling out the four pillars of the meaning mindset. She then shows us how we can lean on the pillars in difficult times, and how we might begin to build a culture of meaning in our families, our workplaces, and our communities. (Penguin. January)

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo, translated by Len Rix. Softcover. $21.95. In prewar Budapest three families live on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only one family survives intact. The new regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment where they struggle with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a ghostly afterlife and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events. (NYRB Classics. September)

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guoberger Bergsson and translated by Lytton Smith. Softcover. $25.95. Considered to be the "Icelandic Ulysses" for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what's possible in writing, this bawdy novel is like nothing else Icelandic you thought you knew. A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he's going to write his own. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas’ rants subvert the idea of the memoir itself, something that's as relevant today in our memoir-obsessed society as it was when the novel was first published in 1966. (Open Letter. July)

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. Softcover. $22.95. From 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Journalist Tanya Talaga focusses on the lives of these students and this city while also providing a history of Canada’s residential schools and the damage they’ve done to the lives of their Indigenous students. In so doing she offers a larger picture of Canada's long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities. (Anansi. October)

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