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Fascinating…disturbing…erudite…poetic…detailed…richly historical…painfully honest, and revealing all describe Garber’s memoir. I read her story with rapt attention as her brilliant, but often maniacal father, renown architect Woodie Garber relentlessly bent and enslaved his family to his will and whims.
Woodie Garber was a Modernist and adherent of the French architect Le Corbusier. His designs were flat roofed, and glass walled, making use of wood and stone in the interiors. Elizabeth Garber describes their home, when viewed from a distance at night, as being like an ocean liner with all lights blazing. Woodie’s designs can be seen around the city of Cincinnati. He designed the city’s public library as well as the towering, and much criticized Sander Hall, a 27 story glass-paneled dormitory, at the University of Cincinnati. Years later it was imploded.
Elizabeth’s father educated her in the realm of architecture from an early age. His ardent attention was intoxicating and she basked in his praise when she showed her aptitude and interest. Her younger brothers were often berated for being lazy, incompetent, or worse. Woodie was a big man with unpredictable behavior and a violent temper. His mental health deteriorated as his professional fortunes dwindled and his family could no longer tolerate his tyranny and out of control actions.
Woodie celebrated the naked body and was frequently nude at home. If he answered the door, whatever magazine he was reading provided cover. Bathroom doors were not allowed to be closed. The children were called on to tickle his back, a feeling he greatly enjoyed for extended periods of time. Throughout Elizabeth’s teens, he reciprocated, touching both sides of her body, claiming it was OK since he avoided the sensitive areas.
I have not nearly covered all the heartless and sometimes moving events and interactions that took place. Elizabeth will always have the emotional scars from her life with Woodie, but she has come to terms with the fact that she loves him. At the end, when she briefly describes her life with her first husband and children, it is a tranquil relief to the reader. She evolved into a creative communicator of the human condition with skills to offer a balm through the practice of acupuncture.
I highly recommend this book. It will cause readers to reflect on their own father and the dynamic between them even absent the abuse. Elizabeth resides in mid-coast Maine.
Kim Young-ha is an acclaimed writer in Korea. His works
have been translated into English and other languages. Diary of a Murderer
is a collection of four short stories ranging from suspenseful thrillers to
ruminative explorations of human nature.
The book opens with a thrilling titular story about a
seventy-year old man, Kim Byeongsu, who is a former serial killer suffering
from a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease. Kim Byeongsu has not killed in a
while, and when he meets his adopted daughter’s new boyfriend, he knows exactly
what he is—a fellow serial killer. Battling with short-term memory loss, he
makes it his mission to protect his adopted daughter and to kill one last time.
“Diary of a Murderer” portrays a person who is slowly losing control of
his faculties. Written in short snippets that resembles diary entries, one can
get a sense of the paranoia, claustrophobia, obsession, and neurosis that is
gradually seeping into the protagonist’s psyche.
It is evident that Kim has a knack for creating
captivating and flawed characters. He enthralls by letting his readers into the
troubled mind of his characters. For instance, in the second story, “The Origin
of Life,” Kim interweaves unrequited love and abusive relationship with human’s
need to survive. When the romantic protagonist, Seojin, comes back to his
hometown, he begins to wonder the origins of life and gets involve with his childhood
friend, Ina, who is married to an abusive husband. Then, in the third story,
“Missing Child”, Kim explores how environment can mold a person’s identity by
delving into parenting. The story chronicles the tragic journey of a married
couple, Yunseok and Mira, whose child was kidnapped while they were in a
supermarket. Ten years later, they discovered that their child was alive,
living under a different name, and was raised by another woman who had
committed suicide. Together, these two stories and the struggles of each
characters add pathos to a book filled with visceral fervor, creating a
To make Diary of a Murderer more compelling than
it already is, Kim crafts a final story where the search for passion and
inspiration takes on metaphysical concepts. “Once there was a man in a mental
hospital convinced that he was a cob of corn” is how “The Writer” begins. Kim
subtly pokes fun at the relationship between the writer and the publisher as
well as the writer and his works. At one point, the titular character, “the
writer,” receives an advice from an old friend to “write an
unintelligible, chaotic book that’s unpublishable. Write something like James
Joyce’s Ulysses”. “The Writer” questions what makes a writer a great one. The
story ends with characters transforming into “two enormous chickens” and the
protagonist repeatedly saying, “I’m not a cob of corn.” “The Writer” is a
well-told mind-bending narrative with searing black humor and uncanny
Kim Young-ha’s Diary of a Murderer is unconventional, original, and refreshing. It taps into the intrinsic instinct of human nature, and it depicts a distorted reality where serial killers are lovable fathers, where love stories become survival stories, and where obsession and passion don’t have a definitive distinction. Diary of a Murderer is only 200 pages long with the titular story taking half of the book; and yet, each story feels as though it could have been turned into a standalone novel.
In these wildly imaginative, devilishly daring tales of the macabre, internationally bestselling author Mariana Enriquez brings contemporary Argentina to vibrant life as a place where shocking inequality, violence, and corruption are the law of the land, while military dictatorship and legions of desaparecidos loom large in the collective memory. In these stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar, three young friends distract themselves with drugs and pain in the midst a government-enforced blackout; a girl with nothing to lose steps into an abandoned house and never comes back out; to protest a viral form of domestic violence, a group of women set themselves on fire.
But alongside the black magic and disturbing disappearances, these stories are fueled by compassion for the frightened and the lost, ultimately bringing these characters—mothers and daughters, husbands and wives—into a surprisingly familiar reality. Written in hypnotic prose that gives grace to the grotesque, Things We Lost in the Fire is a powerful exploration of what happens when our darkest desires are left to roam unchecked, and signals the arrival of an astonishing and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.
The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.
From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country.
These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.
Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.
The eleven stories in Will Mackin’s mesmerizing debut collection draw from his many deployments with a special operations task force in Iraq and Afghanistan. They began as notes he jotted on the inside of his forearm in grease pencil and, later, as bullet points on the torn-off flap of an MRE kit. Whenever possible he incorporated those notes into his journals. Years later, he used those journals to write this book.
Together, the stories in Bring Out the Dog offer a remarkable portrait of the absurdity and poetry that define life in the most elite, clandestine circles of modern warfare. It is a world of intense bonds, ancient credos, and surprising compassion—of success, failure, and their elusive definitions. Moving between settings at home and abroad, in vivid language that reflects the wonder and discontent of war, Mackin draws the reader into a series of surreal, unsettling, and deeply human episodes: In “Crossing the River No Name,” a close call suggests that miracles do exist, even if they are in brutally short supply; in “Great Circle Route Westward Through Perpetual Night,” the death of the team’s beloved dog plunges them into a different kind of grief; in “Kattekoppen,” a man struggles to reconcile his commitments as a father and his commitments as a soldier; and in “Baker’s Strong Point,” a man whose job it is to pull things together struggles with a loss of control.
Told without a trace of false bravado and with a keen, Barry Hannah–like sense of the absurd, Bring Out the Dog manages to capture the tragedy and heroism, the degradation and exultation, in the smallest details of war.
The Traveling Dustball is the second book in the BIG WORDS small stories series written by Judith Henderson and illustrated by T. L. McBeth. It is a graphic novel series of very short stories/chapters with one BIG WORD sprinkled in each tale. The Sprinkle Fairy likes to sprinkle big words around the book for kids to learn, so readers get introduced to words like “brouhaha,” “lollygagging,” and “phenomenon.” Each word is sounded out on the page and defined at the end of each story.
The drawings in this graphic novel are simple and silly, reminiscent of Captain Underpants or Dog Man’s stick figure illustrations. Each story is short and very silly. The main characters, Davey (a boy) and Abigail (a dog) get into a bunch of funny situations, starting with the discovery of a giant dustball that can take them wherever they want! Written for kids aged 5 through 8, kids will enjoy the funny stories and drawings and might pick up a few BIG WORDS along the way.
“Without her girls, all she had was this breathlessness. Terrible as it was—and it was, it was—it was all she had left to mother.”
This is the loss upon which Julia Phillips’ breathtaking debut novel Disappearing Earth pivots: two young sisters on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula go missing, and while rumors of a kidnapping swirl, their mother Marina faces a desolate horizon without her beloved daughters. The story that follows could become a thrilling rush through the investigation, but instead, Phillips takes the ensuing year month by month, each chapter a glimpse into the life of a different woman in the orbit of the tragedy. Marina herself does not appear until ten months in, though her daughters are a thread throughout each story as a news headline, a haunting in the back of the women’s minds, a cautionary tale, the fixation of someone convinced she witnessed their abduction.
The women’s stories focus on the personal, but both the physical terrain of the peninsula and some of the stories’ underlying concerns have strong social and political implications. Phillips is attentive to the tensions between the white Russians and darker-skinned natives and the intergenerational conflict born of the older residents’ memory of a time when the peninsula was a closed military zone and protected from perceived external threats. The structural racism is made manifest in the experience of Alla Innokentevna, an indigenous woman whose own daughter’s disappearance received nothing of the media frenzy brought about by the that of the white Russian girls at the book’s open. There is an additional layer of misogyny throughout—men’s impulses and decisions falling like a shadow across the women’s paths.
Phillips herself is from Brooklyn, NY and traveled to Kamchatka to live for two years. To write a novel so beautifully and profoundly connected to its landscape—to the people, to the culture, to the earth—is a testament not only to the power of a writer’s craft but also to the power of the human mind and body to be fully present and aware of the world. During her time in Kamchatka, the author conversed with the people, engaging with them in order to understand their perspectives. In the resultant work, she does not try to lay claim to a people or a culture, but rather mines their experiences for elements of the universal. With these larger frameworks in place, Phillips fills them with particularities—the minutiae, sometimes odd, that comprise a life as lived.
By the end of the book, so many lives have passed through that it’s almost possible to forget a character who appears early on, like the composed Valentina Nikolaevna, a mother whose brief doctor’s visit suddenly finds her vulnerable on the operating table. But this is the magic of Phillips’ prose: just the mention of Valentina’s name toward the end of the novel brings back a flood of details, small moments—a surge that surrounds the shores Kamchatka and defines the land.
In one chapter, a nurse becomes widowed for the second time in an almost rhythmic disorientation that seeps into the narrative. She returns home to a space populated by evidence of her husband’s life: “On the bedside table, there was his book. His glass of water—she picked that up and drank it. She put the empty glass on his side of the blanket, and the book there, too. They made little dents in the wool.” Disappearing Earth has a sweeping feel, but it these little dents in the wool, the impact of small details, that hold the novel together and define its topography.
Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize and 2019 National Book Critics Award for Fiction, Anna Burns’ Milkman follows the story of an eighteen-year old unnamed narrator, exploring what her life is like in a community living under oppression and divided by conflict.
Even though Anna Burns did not specify where and when the novel is set, one could easily surmise that it took place in Northern Ireland in 1970s during the height of The Troubles. In fact, Burns’ novel is devoid of any specific details or proper nouns. The eighteen-year old unnamed narrator is referred to as “Middle Sister”; her younger sisters are “wee sisters”; her potential lover is “maybe-boyfriend”; communities and countries are known as community “over the border” or country “over the water”. By choosing not to give any names or specifics, Burns depicts a fractured community stripped of their identity. The political conflict and tension force people to put each other into categories— “us” against “them”—which then leads to the depersonalization of violence. Any digression from what is considered “normal” is an act of rebellion. For instance, when Middle Sister takes the habit of reading while walking, the community placed her under the category of “beyond-the-pales”.
Bombings and shootings are considered mundane by the community where Middle Sister lives. Everyone sees and hears about these kinds of horrendous acts that they become part of the daily gossip, desensitizing people to them. Even though Milkmanis an exaggeration of a besieged and conflicted community, one could easily compare it to current times. Reminiscent of the today’s social climate specifically dealing with sexism and violence towards women, Milkman deftly examines how these acts—regardless of physical contact or not—psychologically and physically affects a woman.
In the book, Middle Sister becomes the target of stalking and sexual harassment by a paramilitary potentate known as “Milkman” who took an interest in her. As Middle Sister contemplates while being stalked at and harassed by Milkman, “At the time, age eighteen, having been brought up in a hair-trigger society where the ground rules were – if no physically violent touch was being laid upon you, and no outright verbal insults were being levelled at you, and no taunting looks in the vicinity either, then nothing was happening, so how could you be under attack from something that wasn’t there? At eighteen I had no proper understanding of the ways that constituted encroachment.” As the novel progresses, Milkman relentlessly pursued Middle Sister—as she observes—to the point of feeling that she has been “thwarted into a carefully constructed nothingness by that man.”
Milkman’s triumph lies in the voice of its narrator, Middle Sister. It is fresh, original, witty, funny, and satirical without losing the seriousness and urgency that the story is trying to convey. The narration is dense with long sentences that takes a bit of settling into; but, don’t let this dissuade you into reading it. Once you’ve gotten used to it, you will find that the book is incredibly absorbing and engaging.
At its core, Anna Burns’ Milkman is about the importance of freedom and one’s personal identity—how easily both can be stripped off by a person or an outside force inciting fear. In a society rife with violence and separated by political conflict, survival means being aware and not losing sight of one’s humanity, even if it means being one of “beyond-the-pales”. Milkman deserves all the acclaim it received.
Set in Lithvas, a fictional country in Eastern Europe, Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver follows the story of a moneylender’s daughter as she strives to survive in medieval England. Living in abject poverty, Miryem decides to take over her father’s failing money-lending business. She is quite successful at it that soon she attracts the attention of the Staryk king (the king of winter), who wants Miryem to turn his silver into gold.
Spinning Silver is ambitious in both its writing style and its themes. Novik heightens the plot of the classic German folktale, Rumpelstiltskin, by playing with fairytale tropes—romance, fantasy, curses, magic, monsters—and deconstructing them by writing a more involved and complex story. Novik’s narrative skillfully weaves reality and fantasy, forging a path where one can easily identify with the novel. Readers will recognize each characters as they chart their own fate and overcome obstacles such as abusive relationships, persecution, social prejudices, and poverty. Spinning Silver employs multiple point of views, and Novik manages to give each of the characters an original voice.
At its core, the novel emphasizes the strength, intellect, and tenacity of women facing insurmountable adversities. Three of the main voices in the book are women—Miryem (the main character), Wanda (daughter of a farmworker who ends up working for Miryem), and Irina (the tsarina, who married a tsar, Minartius, with a demon trapped inside him). The common thread among the heroines are their struggle with social restrictions and expectations based on race, class, and gender. Remarkably, Novik lets the heroines be strong, bright, and beautiful as well as be vulnerable, devious, and as equally monstrous as the villains.
Interestingly, Novik compels her readers to empathize with both the heroines and the villains by portraying the latter as people (or creatures), who, like the heroines, are merely trying to survive.
Novik’s Spinning Silver is a fantasy novel full of nuanced ideas that highlight our complexities. Novik might have set her novel in an imaginary world and peppered it with fantastical elements, but it deftly reflects our own.
In Station Eleven, author Emily St. John Mandel creates a convincing vision of humans struggling to survive after the collapse of modern life. The narrative moves back and forth between two eras, the pre-pandemic world of the 21st Century and the broken aftermath, twenty years later.
Arthur is a successful actor playing King Lear in Toronto. He dies on stage from heart failure just as a deadly flu begins to decimate the world. His former wife, Miranda, is the creator of a self-published graphic novel called Station Eleven. In the future, copies of this sci-fi comic survive, becoming a private touchstone for various characters.
When the Georgia Flu hits, Kirsten is a child actor performing at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. By Year Twenty, flu survivors and their children have formed isolated settlements. As an adult, Kristin travels the post-apocalypse Great Lakes region with a caravan of performers whose credo, taken from Star Trek: Voyager, is that “survival is insufficient.”
When Kristin and her theatre troupe encounter a messianic leader named The Prophet, the author reveals the curious links between her characters that lead to a satisfying, yet open, conclusion. I would enjoy reading a sequel to this novel—many of the characters have stayed with me through the years.
Winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2015 Toronto Book Award, Station Eleven was also nominated for the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
If it’s possible to encapsulate a story within one sentence, Julie Otsuka’s 2011 novel The Buddha in the Attic rises to the challenge. The short volume borders on prose poetry as a collective voice tells the experience of Japanese mail order brides coming to America in the early 20th century. Strung together with the pronoun “we,” every sentence seems to hold a tale unto itself and melds the individual experiences of boat passage, first meetings with husbands, work life, letters home, and child-rearing in California into a shared journey of suffering.
success of Otsuka’s narrative lies in her ability to weave each collective
sentence as a filament into such a strong web that when she breaks her pattern,
the moment is decisive and impossible to ignore. Once the young Japanese women
have begun to settle into their homes and have children, the “we” describes the
experience of laying them in ditches in the fields as they work, of losing them
often to illness, and ultimately of losing them to the English language and an
American identity. But while the children are introduced and grow up as “them,”
there is a distinct moment when they become individual: when their mothers
allow them to dream in a way that they have themselves been denied: “One swore
she would one day marry a preacher… One wanted to become a star. And even
though we saw the darkness coming we said nothing and let them dream on.” To
let their children blaze ahead singularly seems like the ultimate sacrifice
until Otsuka admits the entrance of history’s sweeping tide, as the Japanese
families are sent to internment camps and effectively erased from memory.
The Buddha in the Attic is preceded by Otsuka’s debut, When the Emperor Was Divine, which in a
way picks up where her later novel ends, telling the story of a Japanese
American family’s experience in the internment camps during World War II. While
both novels are embedded in history, the voices contained within resonate with
our present moment—the task of being “othered” in America that so many now
face. Otsuka’s innovative style captures the erasure of identity that occurs
through the dominant culture’s denial of marginalized groups, while in the same
stroke managing to remind us that a collective narrator feels foreign precisely
because whether we are Japanese or American, we do act, speak, and feel in a
profoundly personal way.
If Otsuka’s experimental novel motivates you to further explore literature related to Japan, or you seek a different book to fit the bill, our collection offers a variety of authors and narrators to take you on a Travel the World with Walker trip to Japan. Try your hand at the whimsical and nostalgic journey of a man and his beloved cat in Hiro Arikawa’s recent Travelling Cat Chronicles or one of the many works in Haruki Murakami’s often surrealistic oeuvre. For those interested in a directly historical approach, John Hersey’s 1946 Hiroshima, originally published in The New Yorker and shortly thereafter in book form, blends journalism with the riveting sensory and emotional experiences of six survivors of the atomic bomb. As The Buddha in the Attic implies, there are a wide variety of voices within every culture and nation.
Do the seasons have minds of their own? When winter
unleashes snow, does it contemplate the transience of its most transformative
action? Or are such complexities merely the imposition of the human mind as it
observes the landscape’s seasonal changes? In Winter, Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, best known for his
multipart autobiographical My Struggle epic,
deftly walks the thin line between poetic detail and tedious miscellany as he
traces the months of December to February through snowdrifts and the secrets of
In sixty short essays, Knausgaard frames contemplations on a myriad of phenomena within letters to his unborn daughter. He begins the letter in his preceding volume, Autumn, the first of a seasonal quartet that takes us through her birth and into the early stages of life. Knausgaard uses language itself to rise to the ultimate tasks of parenting: guiding a child to know and understand the world and recognizing the very soul of one’s child as “small, soft, good and faithful.”
The ruminations focus generally on physical concepts, covering a spectrum that includes personal acquaintances, otters, chairs, and ears but extend sometimes to the less tangible: winter sounds, habits, and “the social realm.” While Knausgaard allows the dark and unpleasant a space in his work, his fleeting essays serve primarily as a symphony of thoughtful attention. He tells his daughter, “It’s strange that there is a first time to see a face, a tree, a lamp, pyjamas a shoe. In my life that almost never happens anymore.” But through Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer, Knausagaard imbues his surroundings with the sense that it is possible to live for forty-six years and still view the world through the lens of fascination. To have a father who is so attentive to the intricacies of the world as to find it worthwhile to uncover the quirks and profundities of q-tips, who can approach life as a quiet celebration of noticing : this is the ultimate gift for a newborn child.
If Knausgaard seems at times to place a grating amount of
value on his own thoughts, Winter ultimately
serves as a recognition of smallness in the face of enormous love, the act of
writing the collection perhaps mirrored best by Knausgaard’s fumbling attempt
to apologize for upsetting his older daughter by wordlessly making good on a
promise to hang a string of paper lanterns in her bedroom that “will hang above
her bed like a garland.” Knausgaard’s four books hang like a garland for his
newest born, the reverent observations of a man and father who recognizes his
own futility but, as we all do, forges ahead through the seasons.
Volumes from Knausgaard’s seasonal quartet can be found among the biographies, now housed in our newly re-opened historic wing.
For all who enjoyed Sam Kean’s 2010 The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements you will be pleased to learn a Young Readers Edition is now available. For the budding scientist, historian, or even someone who is having a difficult time understanding the table ( illustrations and side comments help clarify some aspects of the Periodic Table), you will want to recommend this book to them. The book introduces the scientists who discovered and organized the table and the elements themselves, but also includes stories (often humorously told) of how the elements have helped shaped human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts and medicine.
Speaking of elements, DK has issued a 2018 edition of “Elements,” which delves even deeper into the properties and histories of the elements of the periodic table and their discoverers. In DK fashion, the book is richly illustrated and uses text that is very accessible to young readers.
If you’re interested in learning more about the periodic table of elements, you might like these…
The Periodic Table introduces budding chemists to the world of the elements as it’s never been seen before. Designed to resemble popular networking Web sites, the pages of this book feature “homepages” for each of the chemical elements — complete with witty and informative profiles written by the elements themselves, plus a personally chosen picture.
The elements in the periodic table are the ingredients that make up our world. Explore elements such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and learn why they are essential to our survival. See how precious gold protects astronauts in space, and why the metal mercury can be both a solid and a liquid. Find out about man-made elements, which the smartest chemists are busy figuring out how to use. Learn about scores of other elements, including silver, the alkaline earth metals, the nitrogen elements, and the noble gases, such as helium and krypton.