Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irresistable Fiction

For this week's staff favorite update, here is a subject near and dear to my heart, that great romancer of aspiring writers and lifelong readers: literary fiction. Here are some great picks; a classic and two new novels. (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is out in paperback next week!)

Betty Smith
There's a lot of talk these days about how “these are the hard times” and we're all “struggling to get by.” I always think of Francie and her beautiful, flawed, complicated family, and what their version of a tough time was. And then I want the fellow on the TV to hush up. A triumph and a tragedy, this novel will be on my top ten list for the rest of my life, and now is a perfect time to re-read it.

Samantha Harvey
Set in the moors of Northern England, this story of an endearing Jewish architect diagnosed with Alzheimer's is one of the loveliest novels I've read in a long while. The author's imagining of Jake Jameson's mind as his grasp of reality gradually slips away is extraordinarily told. And through her masterful interweaving of the threads of Jake's persistent long-term memories and brief flashes of clarity, we come to understand and love Jake and the remarkable people who shaped and shared his life. These pages offer up a beautiful and deeply felt reading experience.


Helen Simonson
An unlikely romance is blossoming between stodgy widower Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali, an elegant Pakistani widow who reluctantly tends her family’s general store in a small British village. Both families are MOST unhappy with developments, and their chagrin, along with much of the town, is hilariously portrayed in this delightfully wry, witty and moving novel. (The Major’s son and prospective daughter-in-law are particularly amusing horrors!) While the setting is contemporary, there’s a lingering old-fashioned charm throughout the story. Everyone I’ve given this to has been thrilled.

Now I would just like to add a little anecdote about my very own favorite staff favorite.
Sometimes I am amazed by this common phenomenon: people are reading the books we recommend! Strangers (but some friends and family, too) read our tiny blurbs and make the magnificent decision to trust our judgment, to open their wallets, and to devote at least a few hours to reading a book that one of us loved. Every time someone buys a book I've recommended, I get overly excited, but I usually try to keep it to myself. I look up the sales history and think, there's X number of people out there in Seattle and beyond who have this book! Maybe they hated it, maybe they got through ten pages and then left it on an airplane, but of course I imagine it has provided a life-changing experience.
An example: when I first started working at the bookstore, I wrote a card for James Dickey's Deliverance. It sat and sat on the shelf, collecting dust, until one day it was pulled. I said a quiet eulogy and swore vengeance, feeling not unlike one of Dickey's hillbilly villains. When the Staff Favorites section came under my jurisdiction, I decided to gamble on another Dickey title: his third and last novel, To The White Sea. There were no copies in stock when I first ordered it earlier this year, but now I'm happy to report that it's selling well. This makes me feel like a proud, encouraging parent. My love of James Dickey only further stereotypes me as a “dude novel” enthusiast (thanks Anna!) as his novels are about men confronting nature and the unknown in manly ways. But if you've never read his writing, it's a stealthy concoction of action-poetry, and obviously, I recommend it.

--Seija, Staff Favorites


  1. Anonymous3:26 PM

    You're welcome, Seija. Hey, you convinced me to read the wang-filled Sophie's Choice, and I enjoyed it (definitely dude novely- even if a woman is a central character it's definitely all Stingo all the time).

  2. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Agreed, the title of Sophie's Choice should be changed to Stingo's Wang. (Too inappropriate?)

  3. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Why did Dickey's 'To The North Sea' capture me is such a disturbing way? I wanted to stop reading it many times but couldn't – it is strangely compelling. Muldrow’s amoral/immoral journey of survival remains embedded in my literary psyche and it’s not comforting at all. This read is disturbing, moving, exciting and memorable. Thanks (I think) for leading me to it.

  4. Dear Seija,
    It's a great pleasure to see such an enthusiastic appreciation of my father's work. Now if you can get some people turned on to the poetry!
    All the best,

  5. Christopher did not fall far from the tree himself, you know, Seija. Great memoir. You should give that a try if you haven't.


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