Bookseller at Lake Forest Park
Adam's thorough reading of Scandinavian literature is the stuff of legend amongst the Third Place Books staff. He takes an interest in literary fiction and religion, but enjoys a good discussion of film and little-known and forgotten writers of fiction.
A born-loser protagonist and dry southern wit. Comparisons to Charles "True Grit" Portis are inevitable. Like Portis, Whorton has a surprisingly honest, strong feeling for his comic characters. But Whorton has his own strengths and transcends the comparison. And his hero here, Don, feels so very, very familiar. With each chapter you hope against hope that he'll finally make the Better Decision. (I almost feel like I knew this poor guy, growing up. More accurately, though, I think I grew up with people who knew him - if that makes any sense.)
It's a perennial debating point for the literati: 1984 or Brave New World? But the case is pretty straightforward, Orwell produced a finer piece of Literature, and Huxley gave us, in one packaged, wordless satire and chillingly accurate prophesy. Huxley's skewed Utopia is a peaceful land dominated by consumerism, instant gratification, and reductive sound-bite philosophy. In the phrase of C. S. Lewis, Huxley prophesied "men without chests" - a society of desire and gut, of appetite and effortless satisfaction, with no heart any longer to guide and elevate the human animal.
A truly gripping narrative based on historical events, this novel has a very similar appeal to No Country for Old Men and The Road. You're constantly asking yourself: can this man possibly survive one more hour?
Read it. Take the challenge. And bring a strong stomach.
There's something weirdly cozy about Mills' workaday absurdism. I probably read the entire book wearing an oblivious and stupid grin. I loved every minute I had with these amiably suffering impotents, these cogs in a long-broken machine. There is a guileful system or anti-system at work here, bent on an agenda of cognitive amputation, of excising free will or at least utterly undermining the reason of our heroes. But always they soldier on, determined with good humor to find the position of least discomfort beneath the threatening, evil clouds of entropy.
In a perfectly sane, settled world where all frontiers have been (or are being) conquered, a single outbreak of mystery, of the inexplicable, will bring chaos and bewilderment to countless onlookers. Joan Lindsay's novel calls attention to the taboos, shadows and other limites that hem in our weary daylight world of Enlightened Reason. Lives, she suggests, spent in denial of these things are sure to be crushed by bereavements occurring in a haunted landscape unmarked by human ken.
What do you find in Dinesen's fiction? The ordinary crammed with miracles and the world of legend exporting nourishment and hope to our lands of the Mundane. The spark of eternity, the soul's language, is ever-present in Dinesen.
Here we see Spark in one of her best roles: a literary subversive exposing the extreme narcissism of the social and intellectual elite - or, even better, faux elite. And in this novel she demands the reader pay close attention to subtext, to puzzles, to her game of conspicuous names and mysterious doublings and triplings of characters. Ultimately we ask: how reliable is our narrator - and, how sane?
This gonzo tall tale is the only other book Goldman has written in the style of "The Princess Bride." And it's a thing to behold: the way he takes a seemingly scatter-shot mode of storytelling and funnels everything into a hair-raising and absolutely satisfying climax. A book best read in one delirious sitting (or, as I did, read aloud in a day to a bookish and giddy 6th grader).
Who would have imagined that a Canadian author, virtually unknown in the U.S., had written a Lost Generation memoir twice as compelling as Hemingway's "Moveable Feast"? The book gave me chills when I first read it and has done so for more than a decade since - whenever I think of it. I don't expect ever to find another book of its kind that so convincingly deposits you in a similar time and place of renown, allowing you to rub shoulders with legends (albeit quirky, quirky legends).
Less a novel than an exercise in poetic monologue, in Voice and Character a darkly playful dirge-for-marriage shot through with surprising laugh-aloud gallows humor; an engine burning the dense and dangerous fuel of bitterness; a book only for the very brave and the unhurried, for those willing to take a careful, Orphic expedition through an unsettling landscape where, perhaps, nothing at all may be rescued.
A truly brilliant book (even if the title is less than brilliant). A few years ago Ward authored a dense scholarly work on Narnia that functioned as nothing less than a seismic event in Lewis studies. This is the more accessible, popular edition of that book. But watch out - after just 30 or 40 pages, you'll never look at Narnia or Lewis the same way again!
In a sense, the exploits of young Ms. Sloan occur in a landscape no less fantastical than that of Oz or Wonderland. This is the uncanny milieo of Watergate, hippies, anarchic radicalism, and the insane serpant-eating-its-own-tail, Ouroboros, of the espionage world. Whorton's writing is unpredictable, and touch melancholy, and filled with deliciously wry, deadpan humor. A must-read for fans of Charles Portis's "True Grit."
There are few things in this world so mysterious as a Vesaas novel. Though he published both fiction and poetry, in the novels his poetic gifts surface in mood and bold imagry rather than labored and ornate language. In this story of a moderately mentally-handicapped man, Vesaas explores the human mind's primitist impulses - our need to discover significance (indeed, omens) in the mundane and our need to barter with blind, deaf fate.
After the success of his "Bonhoeffer" bio, Metaxas gained overnight fame with his February 2012 appearance (catch it on YouTube!) at the National Prayer Breakfast in which he preceded Pres. Obama with a poignant/hysterical speech that suggested an amalgam of Woody Allen and Billy Graham. In this book he collects about a decade's worth of events in N.Y. at which he hosted public intellectuals (most with international reputations) for riveting lectures on topics concerning religion and the publice square.
Mamet is one of our finest writers and a true, tough-talking, no-nonesense Chicago-ite, but nothing could have prepared me for this. With incisive brio Mamet tears into the modern America's political double standards, the sacred rows of Progress and our current, unhinged, grow-government mania. The intellect and rhetorical skill on display here left me - I'll admit it - just a little in awe!
This novel shows us one of our most generous writers in top form. Helprin just gives you so much! The book is a tale of grim war, impossible loves, and, most of all, soul-stealing Beauty. It's a novel that will take over your life for a week or two and, if you're not careful, leave your expectations toward modern literature forever changed.
Sowell lays out a beautifully researched case and, step by step, proves his thesis that many intellectuals in recent history have carried out a carried out a campaign of attempts to subvert democracy in favor of oligarchy and cultural imperialism. Both fascinating and devastating, this may well be the best book I read all year.
Yes, this is an NPR commentator's memoir of the "personal journey" sort, but there's nothing typical in her approach - no awkward exhibitionism, no sense that life is being filtered and processed, turned into cultural commodity. In fact, this reads like a wagon-train tale of a couple driving their children and their future off into an untamed frontier. And that frontier just happens to be- to American eyes, at least - the most mysterious and most radically traditional form of Christianity. An utterly charming inviting read.
Imagine observing a highly-proficient artisan specializing in balloon animals or origami. Twist and fold, twist and fold. Then there's that last turn and the obscure creation suddenly pops into being, large as life. But Ben Loory is a tad more skilled than most and when his bizarre inventions abruptly open their eyes, gain consciousness of their artificial existence, and then scream wildly (or saunter up to you for a cuddle) - well, it's at that moment you realize you've hit on something extraordinary.
Of the 3 highly-influential early American horror writers, Poe and Lovecraft far outstrip Bierce in popularity. But for me he's more readable than either of them and evokes a more intimate and unnerving brand of terror. Also, Kurt Vonnegut esteemed Bierce's story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" so highly that he declared anyone who hadn't read it a "twerp." (And you don't want to be a twerp, do you??)
At their best (as in "on the Honeymoon" or "Broken Binoculars") these stories have enough wicked, cynical verve to rival Roald Dahl's adult fiction. And even the lesser stories are darned good: Marias is frequently nightmarish (occasionally featuring actual ghosts) and sometimes almost upsetting. One of two stries even feel like the set-up to a Hitchcock film.
Discovering the classic port-and-leather-armchair ghost stories of M.R. James is like first reading "Dune" or "The Lord of the Rings." The tremendous possibilities of an entire genre suddenly open up to you, and you end up reading dozens of similar books but only rarely find that original thrill-so inevitably you come full circle, content to read (over and over) "Oh Whistle," "Number 13," and "A Warning to the Curious." And the stories never lose their magic and menace.
We've all known them - those troubled souls who can't seem to make a single sane decision. But to go so wrong, so fast over a couple of days, and call it a vacation! Never before have I so wanted to jump into a book and actually grab hold and restrain a character. An almost impossible to put down and horrifying nosedive into the Land of Death Wish.
Forget about all the clowns and comedians today posing as valid pundits, the man to clarify the American political debate is Thomas Sowell. For me this was the sort of tremendously-challenging book I came across only a couple of times in a decade that really makes me shift my assumptions and rethink my worldview.
I don't know the last time that I enjoyed a mystery novel so much! This is the first of Stout's Nero Wolfe novels, and somehow he combines the appeals of a Sherlock Holmes-like detective in a Raymond Chandler "hard boiled" world. The plot is fantastic but you read Stout just as much for the characters and the dialogue.
A neurotic undertaker finds himself compelled to take part in a bizarre scavenger hunt tailored entirely to him. If you enjoy post-modern, existential suspense, this book may keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. Every twist and turn of this labyrinth is completely unpredictable, and yet Zivkovic masterfully pulls off an escape for the hero in the end. Sort of!
Some days isn't this exactly what we all want to do - just ditch the rat race and walk off into the Finnish wilderness with an animal companion? (Okay, maybe not all of us.) Vatanen, a journalist turned mountain man, drifts from one quirky adventure to another, gradually learning to view civilization from the outside and, all the while, nurturing a new passion for independence and untamed nature.
Author-artist Deutsch not only delivers a great story & strong heroine, he also creates an entire family of great characters and a fantasy world I couldn't get enough of. Packed with little insights about Jewish culture and language, as well as irresistible humor, this is one graphic novel I can't wait to see sequel-ized!
This was just what I needed at the time: a perfect antidote to "serious" reading. It's a novel filled with characters cursed (or blessed?) with an excess of personality and for whom the world offers one big fat rainbow-colored Redneck Life. It's a life of inexhaustible country-fed wit and unlooked-for adventure, the latter arising from chance encounters and asinine schemes. I wish I had a dozen books like it!
Here is a fine, short existential novel about an aging everyman, a sort of solitary "born loser" working to eke out a living as a tile-layer in Uppsala, Sweden in the early 1980s. The book employs wry humor to offset the haunting Beckett-like seriousness at its heart.
In this novel 3 men get up close and personal with a pair of lions, finding the king of beasts to possess certain unnerving and quasi-mystical qualities that connote its majesty, its indomitable spirit. This mysterious, episodic marvel of a book will delight anyone who wishes that Borges was still alive and writing.
This story collection is not only utterly charming but also a rare and refreshing outbreak of old fashioned fantasy storytelling, complete with a winsome high Victorian tone. Never does Clarke allow herself to indulge in modern anachronisms of theme and "social conscience" that mar so many contemporary fantasies and that suspect new genre, the revisionist fairy tale.
The people in these pages are so irresistibly ordinary, so petty, hopeful & crazy - most of the time. John Brandon is constantly expanding his convincingly detailed & riveting backdrops, the character histories that lull us repeatedly into a false sense of security while we know that inevitable explosions of violence loom close at hand. This is a unique debut with an Elmore Leonard exterior than thinly conceals a bleak core owing much to Samuel Beckett.
The depth and erudition to be found in Hart's essays on Christianity and modern culture revitalizes every topic that falls under his scrutiny. Hart is quite simply one of the most articulate and thoughtful voices in contemporary Christendom - an Orthodox author not to be missed!
For my money, this is the ultimate vacation, read-anywhere, pick-up-and-put-down book. It also has a nearly universal appeal, so it's also the ultimate gift book. Many of these very short, true stories have Twilight Zone-like eeriness to them, and every story gives you something unexpected, whether that is a gut-wrenching poignancy or an episode of laugh-out-loud humor.
It takes a talented writer to pull off an extended maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn't mindgame between two characters. And it takes something close to a genius to turn the tables, aim the mindgames at his readers, and leave us begging for more. This book reads as rapidly as a play or screenplay, but one written by an heir to Borges and Kafka.
Wilcken accomplishes the strange trick of raising his novel's "subtext" and injecting it into the surface of his story. So there's something very puzzle-like about this book, but for the careful reader the puzzle pieces are all out there in the open. Will the man character - a penal colony prisoner - realize his ambition to "become someone else" in order to escape? Wilcken elaborates on this theme with a stunning number of instances of doubling, partnering, modeling, and replacing.
So richly imaginative, positively brimming with wit and unexpected surprises - if I had to pick one book from American children's literature that was clearly on par with "Alice in Wonderland" for the sheer pleasure it gives, this would be that book. One difference is that this story can be read in one long sitting, but that simply means I will re-read it more frequently.
Unforgettable scenes & an exceptionally convincing talent for capturing the dialogue of the streets - these are the signature elements established in this debut 1972 crime novel by George Higgins, a lawyer-turned-novelist. It would be difficult to provide examples of comparably crisp & edgy dialogue, outside of a Tarantino movie or a David Mamet play.
Overstreet accomplishes the surprising feat of fully convincing us that the earnest film-goer can't help but frequently have profound, even spiritual, interactions with this much abused, much misused art form. The cinematic insights here are fresh, unpredictable and spiced with material from Overstreet's interviews with some of the today's most thoughtful filmmakers.
Is he nuts? Is he a genius? If only the issue were so simple. Somehow I doubt that any other film director has given his fans a more tantalizing, and occasionally infuriating, glimpse into his creative process and idiosyncrasies as Lynch does in this book. As with any other cultural artifact he produces, here Lynch leaves us with many more mysteries than he clears up--but what a read!
This novel was "retro" when it was first published - 50 years ago. A homage to the Gothic adventure tales of the 19th century, Kirk's novel provides an intricately-plotted and atmospheric background against which his - by contrast - brash, lively characters stand out vividly, much like the ancient Scottish castle of the title looming over its isolated and ominous isle.
At a time when there is a notable lack of perspective in the public square regarding religion, Monda gives us a book demonstrating that some of America's most fascinating cultural figures are also people who've carefully & generously considered the challenge of faith, whether they themselves believe or not. Warning: interviews like Elie Wiesel's may be about enough to rip your heart!
In this dark, melancholy, but beautifully written novel, the unrelenting whirlwind of Islamic fundamentalism is the daily terror of the "swallows of Kabul" -- those Afghans with no freedom and no power who can only dream of life without the Taliban. One woman finds that though she has no freedom, she can still make a great sacrifice, but what effect will it have in a land where tragedy is commonplace?
Like Jonathan Lethem & Michael Chabon, O'Nan here gives a literary gloss to genre fiction. And O'Nan mutes the horror-novel overtones of his story to follow a sort of mystery-novel structure (peeling back various narrative layers to finally reveal what happened That Night). In addition to all of this, a neo-Americana atmosphere underlies everything: Norman Rockwell meets Ray Bradbury meets the 21st century.
This is just what Thomas Covenant fans were waiting for. Returning to the Land after 21 years, Donaldson marshals many unique elements of the previous 6 novels and revisits questions raised by those books. Whatever became of the Ramen and the Ranyhyu, the ur-viles of Waynhim? What was made of the Staff of Law after Covenant died and Lindon Avery left the Land? A great kick-off to the new four-part series!
Murakami is just oh-so-casual about dropping you in the exact center of Weird Country and leaving you to find the way out all on your lonesome.
It's funny because it isn't happening to me. That's what you tell yourself when you watch Fawlty Towers, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or when you read Lucky Jim. You root for Jim Dixon to come out on top because he really isn't a bad guy -- he just has such bad instincts ... and his greatest talent is for making any bad situation worse!
A piece of Southern fiction set in Northern California (!), "FUP" mainly takes place in the 99th year of Kentuckian Jake Santee's life, whose household also includes a young mountain-man grandson and a 20-pound duck named Fup. Yes, Fup Duck. Part yarn, part fable, part tall-tale, part stumper (what an ending!) - this is an always funny and often crass little miracle of a book.
Here, in one of Garnder's first novels, domestic warfare between 2 spirited, overl opinionated senior citizens -- brother and sister -- brings chaos to their community of friends and family. Gardner's story says much about that vital tension at the heart of American line -- the conflict between tradition and progressivism -- and about the difficult business of pushing beyond this conflict to find a place where one cant stand, secure and untroubled beneath the haunted, holy light that comes with an autumn in the Land of the Free!
Even if Dana weren't a co-worker here at Third Place I'd still see similarities between this and favorite books by Kazuo Ishiguro, Shusaku Endo and Ivan Klima. Lessons is an eloquent novel of mounting desperation, occasional eroticism, intense inwardness, and a crisis of cultural identity occurring while Teacher Li's Taiwan continues to hang suspended tenuously between China and the West. Imbued with a richly perceptive voice and engrossing tension.
Burgess' talent for rhythmic prose & the "novel of ideas" makes, here, for a farcical dystopian story with tremendous narrative momentum and dark humor, a book that will suggest associations with "Brave New World" and "Dr. Strangelove." On one hand it has the patina of "old Sci-Fi," on the other hand Burgess was well ahead of his time on topics such as carbon footprint mania.
Like the work of Dashiell Hammett, this stunning 1935 character-driven noir novel bears the minimalist stamp of a true Hemingway disciple. More about how criminals live between their acts of violence and theft, the novel is a clear precursor to modern literary crime noir like Barry Gifford's "Wild at Heart." Maybe best of all, Anderson here did a phenomenal job of capturing the sights, sounds and idioms of 1930s.
Sure, I thought, maybe there's some fuzzy little thread of ancient and medieval cosmology stuff running through the Narnia books. Then I read the first chapters of Ward's book and had the rug ripped out from beneath me. I've been reading the Narnia series since I was a kid, over and over - how can it be that there was a whole other level (another galaxy)of meaning there that I'd missed? But it most certainly is there.
When young slacker and military-history aficionado Ray Midge has his wife and Ford Torino stolen by his best friend, he heads south of the border determined, whatever the cost, to get that car back! A modern country-cousin to "The Odyssey," this redneck quest novel was a revelation... never before had I realized that redneck humor was so full of dry wit and could be just as hilarious as Wodehouse or Douglas Adams.