Debuts of 2010
Posted December 23, 2010
As we come to the end of the year and we reflect on the best the world of literature had to offer, we would like to take a moment to welcome all the fresh voices who debuted their first novels in 2010.
There were some that caught early buzz and garnered impressive reviews including Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This debut tells the story of the retired Pettigrew and the unexpected romance that develops between him and the Pakistani woman who owns the village shop where he buys his tea. Library Journal was particularly lavish with its praise stating, "This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson's debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next."
Another title that caught our eye was The Imperfectionists, a novel about the very timely subject of the dying newspaper industry. Publishers Weekly noted, "…there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels."
Finally we'd like to spotlight Bloodroot, a title that hit a few top debut lists. The novel, set in Appalachia, follows three generations of women in the Lamb family from the Depression era to the modern day. Booklist raved, "This stunning debut novel is a triumph of voice and setting." Kirkus Reviews agreed noting, "Pitch-perfect voices tell a story loaded with lyric suffering and redemption."
Interested in more debuts? You can find all of Booklist's Top 10 First Novels (listed below) at the Library:
Anthill by Edward O. Wilson
Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa
Bloodroot by Amy Greene
Born under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne
Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz
Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni
The Year in Music
Posted December 21, 2010
LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening takes the #1 spot on Paste's list, followed up by Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid at #2. And yes, Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy did make an appearance at #4. One place where Paste diverges from other "best of" lists is with their #10 pick of Frightened Rabbits' The Winter of Mixed Drink noting that "A cardiac pulse animates many of the songs, a mightily thwacking unison at the core of all the kaleidoscopic embellishment. Sprightly rhythms still canter through the drafty corridors."
The British publication NME made a bold #1 pick: Hidden by These New Puritans. In reviewing the album, NME called the band's sophomore effort "brilliant" and noted that the band was "living up to their name and dragging a fresh clarity of sound into the world."
Rolling Stone's top spot goes to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy followed up by the Black Key's Brothers. They had a unique #3 pick with The Union, a collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell produced by T-Bone Burnett, noting that it's "filled with shining steel guitar, chortling brass and gospel-time choirs."
The album that moved Spin the most was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West (no surprise there: despite his prima donna antics, Kanye is a critics' darling and he deserves the accolades). But their #2 album was a more novel pick: Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest. Spin noted its "expansive warmth" and said that the album's "mournful rapture radiates like the beacon the Atlanta band always imagined."
Kanye West and LCD Soundsystem take the #1 and #2 spots over at Pitchfork, with Deerhunter dropping in at #3. The #4 spot went to Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi, half of the Outkast duo, stating that it "sounds like a right-album-at-the-right-time classic, it sounds like something lesser artists are going to keep catching up to half a decade from now."
And finally, we'll share the top album from our favorite critics, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ's Sound Opinions: Both Kot and DeRogatis agreed that Janelle Monae's ArchAndroid was the best album of 2010. Writing about the album in the Chicago Tribune, Kot noted that "The Atlanta singer's boundary-busting debut album has ambition to burn. It's a self-empowerment manifesto couched inside a futuristic "emotion-picture" about an android's battle to overcome oppression – got all that? The music is equally adventurous, touching on everything from lounge jazz to hard funk. A star is born." We agree.
Book Covers of 2010
Posted December 16, 2010
Once again we're amazed at the rich bounty of stunning, clever, beautiful and outrageous book covers we spotted this year. Having looked over (and borrowed from) some other bloggers' lists of the year's highlights, we know this should only be considered a small sampling of the year's many highlights. After all, there were so many excellent covers this year. Some of the covers below reward close scrutiny (for example, the subversive Half Empty or the portrait of the prison librarian created entirely with 'date due' stamps on Running the Books). For a closer look at any of the following, click on the cover to go to the book record, then click on the cover again for an enlargement.
D.I.Y. Film Fest: Holiday Films
Posted December 14, 2010
The holidays are upon us. What better time to take a break from the daily grind and curl up with a good movie? You can find many holiday favorites at the library. There are the true classics like the 1935 A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim and the family favorite Miracle on 34th Street. Then there are the more modern classics: A Christmas Story and Home Alone. And what would the season be without Jimmy Stewart running down the streets of Bedford Falls yelling Merry Christmas in It's a Wonderful Life? You can find these and many other holiday hits, new and old, at the library.
A Christmas Tale
Disney's A Christmas Carol
The Family Stone
Nothing Like the Holidays
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Posted December 9, 2010
Please join us on Tuesday, December 14 for a discussion and book signing with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edmund Morris at the Harold Washington Library Center. His recently published book, Colonel Roosevelt, is the last volume in his critically-acclaimed trilogy on President Theodore Roosevelt. Janet Maslin at the New York Times has stated that the work "deserves to stand as the definitive study of its restless, mutable, ever-boyish, erudite and tirelessly energetic subject." And John Barron at the Chicago Sun-Times concedes that it is probably "impossible to write a bad book about Theodore Roosevelt. Morris has written a great one." The first two titles in the trilogy, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, are equally illuminating. We also recommend checking out Morris' biographies on Ronald Reagan and Beethoven.
The Great (Jewish) American Novel
Posted December 7, 2010
There is an amazingly rich tradition of American Jewish writing that extends from legends such as Bernard Malamud and Chicago's Saul Bellow to the present day with writers such as Allegra Goodman and Jonathan Safran Foer. This year (especially this season), we've seen a number of impressive novels published by Jewish authors who are unabashedly serious in their literary ambitions, including new works from major writers such as Philip Roth and Elie Wiesel.
Like Adam Levin's The Instructions, Joshua Cohen's Witz: the Story of the Last Jew on Earth is a sprawling novel that takes up sweeping themes. Library Journal notes that the young author Cohen has "certainly outdone himself in this epic, a postapocalyptic whirlwind of a novel that features Benjamin Israelien, the world's final Jewish man." Nicole Krauss's latest, Great House, a finalist for the 2010 National Book Awards, concerns a group of characters variously connected together by a single writing desk. The New York Times wrote: "Here [Krauss] gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall."
Cynthia Ozick, a passionate admirer of Henry James, has written a new novel, Foreign Bodies, that is a kind of playful re-working of James's The Ambassadors, and critics have been generally enthusiastic. Salon praises the author's "prose of arresting vigor and clarity" and the Times calls it "an absorbing achievement." Though not American, it's also worth mentioning that (Israeli) author David Grossman's To the End of the Land has been quietly gathering some of the strongest reviews of the season. A critic writing for the Guardian declared it "without question one of the most powerful and moving novels I have read." There's certainly been plenty of great writing recently for all literary fiction lovers to enjoy. Following is an extended list of recent highlights:
Witz: the Story of the Last Jew on Earth by Joshua Cohen
Great House by Nicole Krauss
The Instructions by Adam Levin
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
An American Type by Henry Roth
Nemesis by Philip Roth
The Sonderberg Case by Elie Wiesel
The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer
Around the World With Mysteries: Moscow
Posted December 2, 2010
In our latest tour of the world in search of mysteries we've come to a stop in Moscow. One of the long running series to feature the Russian city as a backdrop is Stuart M. Kaminsky's Inspector Rostnikov series. Kaminsky, a native of Chicago, had written sixteen novels featuring Rostnikov before his death last year. The last entry, A Whisper to the Living, has the Inspector on the hunt for a serial killer who has amassed 40 victims. Booklist gave it a starred review noting, "Kaminsky captures Rostnikov's mix of cop bleakness and Russian romantic sensibility."
Another detective who calls Moscow home is Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko. If the name rings a bell for movie buffs it could be because the first entry in the series, Gorky Park, was made into a feature film back in the 80s starring William Hurt as Renko. The titular park is an amusement park in Moscow where Renko is called in after the discovery of three mutilated corpses. In the latest installment of the series, Three Stations, we find Renko investigating the death of a young prostitute who he believes has been murdered.
A debut that received a lot of praise earlier this year is William Ryan's The Holy Thief. By all accounts this promises to be the start of a thrilling new series featuring Capt. Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia's Criminal Investigation Division. Ryan has drawn comparisons to Tom Robb Smith who penned Child 44. Set in 1930s Moscow, Ryan's first outing had Publishers Weekly hailing it for its impeccable period detail and calling it "a series to watch very closely."
Finally, for those just looking to dip their toes into the darker side of Moscow we suggest Moscow Noir. Part of Akashic's noir series, this anthology presents 14 Russian authors writing in a style that is not traditional in Russia, but they nonetheless deliver the goods. Publishers Weekly notes, "Story after story offers haunting images."