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What To Read

A collection of recent books particularly recommended by Chris Hall.

This is a selection of our current What To Read titles. To find other titles or authors, or just to browse, please use the search box.

All We Shall Know

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by Donal Ryan - $22.00 - Add to Cart

A breathtaking and redemptive novel from the award-winning and Man Booker nominated author Donal Ryan Melody Shee is alone and in trouble. At 33 years-old, she finds herself pregnant with the child of a 17 year-old Traveller boy, Martin Toppy, and not by her husband Pat. Melody was teaching Martin to read, but now he's gone, and Pat leaves too, full of rage. She's trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming, while the past won't let her go. It's a good thing that she meets Mary Crothery when she does. Mary is a bold young Traveller woman, and she knows more about Melody than she lets on. She might just save Melody's life. Following the nine months of her pregnancy, All We Shall Know unfolds with emotional immediacy in Melody's fierce, funny, and unforgettable voice, as she contends with her choices, past and present.

The Art of Rivalry

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by Sebastian Smee - $27.00 - Add to Cart

Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists--Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon--whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights. Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary--one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde. Jackson Pollock's uninhibited style of "action painting" triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. After Pollock's sudden death in a car crash, de Kooning assumed Pollock's mantle and became romantically involved with his late friend's mistress. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain's most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their intense but asymmetrical friendship came to a head when Freud painted a portrait of Bacon, which was later stolen. Each of these relationships culminated in an early flashpoint, a rupture in a budding intimacy that was both a betrayal and a trigger for great innovation. Writing with the same exuberant wit and psychological insight that earned him a Pulitzer Prize for art criticism, Sebastian Smee explores here the way that coming into one's own as an artist--finding one's voice--almost always involves willfully breaking away from some intimate's expectations of who you are or ought to be.Praise for The Art of Rivalry"Gripping . . . Mr. Smee's skills as a critic are evident throughout. He is persuasive and vivid. . . . You leave this book both nourished and hungry for more about the art, its creators and patrons, and the relationships that seed the ground for moments spent at the canvas."--The New York Times"With novella-like detail and incisiveness [Sebastian Smee] opens up the worlds of four pairs of renowned artists. . . . Each of his portraits is a biographical gem. . . . The Art of Rivalry is a pure, informative delight, written with canny authority."--The Boston Globe"Bacon liked to say his portraiture aimed to capture 'the pulsations of a person.' Revealing these rare creators as the invaluable catalysts they also were, Smee conveys exactly that on page after page. . . . His brilliant group biography is one of a kind."--The Atlantic "Perceptive . . . Smee is onto something important. His book may bring us as close as we'll ever get to understanding the connections between these bristly bonds and brilliance."--The Christian Science Monitor "In this intriguing work of art history and psychology, The Boston Globe's art critic looks at the competitive friendships of Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon. All four relationships illuminate the creative process--both its imaginative breakthroughs and its frustrating blocks."--NewsdayFrom the Hardcover edition.

The Lonely City

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by Olivia Laing - $25.00 - Add to Cart

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism#1 Book of the Year from Brain PickingsNamed a best book of the year by NPR, Newsweek,Slate,Pop Sugar, Marie Claire, Elle,Publisher's Weekly, and Lit HubA dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of iconic artists, by the acclaimed author ofThe Trip to Echo Spring.When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her midthirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to David Wojnarowicz's AIDS activism, Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes ofloneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.Humane, provocative, and moving, The Lonely City is a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.

Magic and Loss

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by Virginia Heffernan - $23.00 - Add to Cart

Virginia Heffernan "melds the personal with the increasingly universal in a highly informative analysis of what the Internet is--and can be. A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet's past, present, and future" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) from one of the best living writers of English prose.This book makes a bold claim: The Internet is among mankind's great masterpieces--a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. But its cultural potential and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet, just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television. Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world. In "sumptuous writing, saturated with observations that are simultaneously personal, cultural, and strikingly original" (The New Republic), Heffernan presents "a revealing look at how the Internet continues to reshape our lives emotionally, visually, and culturally" (The Smithsonian Magazine). "Magic and Loss is an illuminating guide to the Internet...it is impossible to come away from this book without sharing some of Heffernan's awe for this brave new world" (The Wall Street Journal).

The Noise of Time

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by Julian Barnes - $19.95 - Add to Cart

A masterful novel dedicated to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, from the bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending.The book begins in 1936, with Dmitri Shostakovich petrified at the age of thirty and fearing for his livelihood and even his life. His opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District has just been denounced in Pravda in an article that certainly reflects the opinion of Joseph Stalin himself. Every night he waits on the landing outside his apartment, expecting NKVD agents to come and whisk him away. Shostakovich reflects on not only his predicament but also his own personal history, his parents and his various women and wives and his children, and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate.      When the interrogation he fears does eventually arrive, a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming a casualty of the Great Terror that claims so many of his friends and contemporaries--"chips that had flown while the wood was being chopped." Still, the spectre of the government hovers over him for several further decades, forcing him to constantly weigh the merits of appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music. Barnes elegantly guides us through subsequent stages of Shostakovich's life, from being ground into the dirt under the thumb of despotism to being made to serve as a figurehead of Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York, and finally being forced into joining the Party. The trajectory of his career illuminates the evolution of the Soviet Union, with Nikita Khrushchev assuming its leadership, this providing no great joy to Shostakovich. The Noise of Time is both a heartbreaking account of a relentlessly fascinating man's experience and a brilliant meditation on the meaning of art and its place in society.

Paper

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by Mark Kurlansky - $22.95 - Add to Cart

Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. One has only to look at history's greatest press run, which produced 6.5 billion copies of Máo zhuxí yulu, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong)--which doesn't include editions in 37 foreign languages and in braille--to appreciate the range and influence of a single publication, in paper. Or take the fact that one of history's most revered artists, Leonardo da Vinci, left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. And though the colonies were at the time calling for a boycott of all British goods, the one exception they made speaks to the essentiality of the material; they penned the Declaration of Independence on British paper. Now, amid discussion of "going paperless"--and as speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society grows rampant--we've come to a world-historic juncture. Thousands of years ago, Socrates and Plato warned that written language would be the end of "true knowledge," replacing the need to exercise memory and think through complex questions. Similar arguments were made about the switch from handwritten to printed books, and today about the role of computer technology. By tracing paper's evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology's influence, affirming that paper is here to stay. Paper will be the commodity history that guides us forward in the twenty-first century and illuminates our times.

Pond

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by C.l. Bennett - $22.00 - Add to Cart

"A sharp, funny, and eccentric debut ... Pond makes the case for Bennett as an innovative writer of real talent. ... [It]reminds us that small things have great depths."-New York Times Book Review"Dazzling...exquisitely written and daring ." -O, the Oprah Magazine Immediately upon its publication in Ireland, Claire-Louise Bennett's debut began to attract attention well beyond the expectations of the tiny Irish press that published it. A deceptively slender volume, it captures with utterly mesmerizing virtuosity the interior reality of its unnamed protagonist, a young woman living a singular and mostly solitary existence on the outskirts of a small coastal village. Sidestepping the usual conventions of narrative, it focuses on the details of her daily experience--from the best way to eat porridge or bananas to an encounter with cows--rendered sometimes in story-length, story-like stretches of narrative, sometimes in fragments no longer than a page, but always suffused with the hypersaturated, almost synesthetic intensity of the physical world that we remember from childhood. The effect is of character refracted and ventriloquized by environment, catching as it bounces her longings, frustrations, and disappointments--the ending of an affair, or the ambivalent beginning with a new lover. As the narrator's persona emerges in all its eccentricity, sometimes painfully and often hilariously, we cannot help but see mirrored there our own fraught desires and limitations, and our own fugitive desire, despite everything, to be known. Shimmering and unusual, Pond demands to be devoured in a single sitting that will linger long after the last page.

Reservoir 13

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by Jon Mcgregor - $21.99 - Add to Cart

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside.

The Return

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by Hisham Matar - $19.95 - Add to Cart

WINNER OF THE 2017 PULITZER PRIZE: from Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Hisham Matar, a memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father's disappearance.In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years.       When he was twelve, Matar and his family went into political exile. Eight years later Matar's father, a former diplomat and military man turned brave political dissident, was kidnapped from the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and is believed to have been held in the regime's most notorious prison.        Now, the prisons are empty and little hope remains that Jaballa Matar will be found alive.  Yet, as the author writes, hope is "persistent and cunning."       Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for biography/autobiography, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, France's Prix du livre étranger, and a finalist for the Orwell Book Prize and the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, The Return is a brilliant and affecting portrait of a country and a people on the cusp of immense change, and a disturbing and timeless depiction of the monstrous nature of absolute power.

Shot-Blue

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by Jesse Ruddock - $19.95 - Add to Cart

'Shot-Blue is that rarest species, a genuinely wise novel.' - Rivka Galchen Rachel is a young single mother living with her son, Tristan, on a lake that borders the unchannelled north - remote, nearly inhospitable. She does what she has to do to keep them alive. But soon, and unexpectedly, Tristan will have to live alone, his youth unprotected and rough. The wild, open place that is all he knows will beoverrun by strangers - strangers inhabiting the lodge that has replaced his home, strangers who make him fight, talk, and even love, when he doesn't want to. Ravenous and unrelenting, Shot-Blue is a book of first love and first loss. The road was like a portage: an opening that lets you in but makes no promise to bring you out on another side. Maybe the road narrowed to a dead end or was blocked by a swamp raised by a beaver dam. Maybe it ledto a place they weren't welcome. She walked through the cut slowly and stopped, her dark hair falling across her shoulders heavily, and Tristan imagined that she meant to let her hair sweep the ground as it did. Most boys would have run out to meet their mothers. But he knew he couldn't understand. She was always telling him,you can't understand everything.