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Don's Picks

Book Cover for Shadow Tag Erdrich, Louise
Shadow Tag

Fiction
Irene, desperate to get out of her destructive relationship with her husband, discovers that he is reading her personal diary. She decides, therefore, that it's time to keep two: the Blue Notebook and the Red Diary. Soon it occurs to her to "cook the books" and, like a corrupt emotional accountant, manipulate him through what she writes, thus beginning a slide down a slippery path to oblivion. In another first-rate novel by one of our finest storytellers, Louise Erdrich powerfully chronicles the dissolution of a marriage, a relationship, and a family.
Recommended March 2010

 
Pollock, Donald Ray
Knockemstiff

Short Stories
Knockemstiff is the kind of tiny hamlet in southern Ohio that, if you're smart, you don't stop in for food, gas, or lodging. It becomes quickly apparent in this spare, precise set of thematically linked short stories that the hell you've always feared is just a waiting room for Knockemstiff, Ohio. As noted in a recent New York Times review, Knockemstiff is a Winesburg, Ohio for the trailer park set, all accelerator and no brakes. Roll up the rugs and push the furniture to the walls, honey, 'cause this is Chuck Palahniuk territory and daddy's coming home.
Recommended by Don, May 2008

 
Bukowski, Charles
The Pleasures of the Damned : Poems, 1951-1993

Poetry
Selected by the founding editor of Black Sparrow Press and personal friend of Charles Bukowski, The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993 is a career-spanning collection of Buk’s best work through the years. For those that have heard much of the legend surrounding this prolific small press poet and have been put off, here are two words for you: honesty and heart. The honesty is unstinting and the heart enormous. Not for everyone, you say? Perhaps, but then you might be missing one of the most heartbreaking of modern odes, to “Carson McCullers,” of all people.
Recommended by Don, February 2008

 
Book Cover for Yiddish Policemen's Union Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Fiction
If you hate "alternate history" novels as much as I do, the The Yiddish Policemen's Union is the alternate history for you. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is set in a world where the founding of the state of Israel is unsuccessful and the result is a Jewish homeland in the Alaskan territory. Incredibly, Chabon grafts onto this unlikely scenario a riveting mystery, replete with the scintillating word play of Raymond Chandler minus the sexist baggage: a noir without the no. A real literary anomaly, the The Yiddish Policemen's Union is bound to take home more than one award, including the Edgar it's been nominated for.
Recommended March 2008

 
Book Cover for Book of Sketches, 1952-57 Kerouac, Jack
Book of Sketches, 1952-57

Poetry
More a companion volume to Kerouac’s recently released Book of Haikus than the bottom drawer material one might expect all these years after his death, the Book of Sketches is for every Kerouac fan who loves his poetry as much as his prose. Written between 1952 and 1957 and culled by Kerouac himself from fifteen handwritten notebooks, this volume is an endless stream of imagery studded with brilliant flashes of poetry and insight that can only be described as vintage Kerouac.
Recommended by Don, January 2008

 
Book Cover for The Valley of Fear Doyle, Arthur Conan
The Valley of Fear

Fiction
This short Sherlock Holmes novel is one of the best stories in the whole canon and, without a doubt, the single finest example of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The story takes place in the coal mining district of Pennsylvania and is divided into two parts, the first being the mystery and its solution and the second the back story. A thrilling variation of a locked room murder, The Valley of Fear concerns a secret society’s terroristic hold over an entire community and how that hold was finally shattered. A jim-dandy, crackerjack of a tale.
Recommended by Don, August 2007

 
Book Cover for Cold Mountain Han-shan
Cold Mountain

Poetry
A classic translation of arguably one of the most important books of Chinese poetry, Cold Mountain put the Zen into poetry for a whole generation of modern Beats. A mountain, a hermit & nature: can pure, lyric philosophy be far behind? Translated by Burton Watson.
Recommended by Don, August 2007

 
Book Cover for The Raw Shark Texts Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Fiction
Eric Sanderson is having a very bad day. He wakes up not knowing who he is, discovers he has a rare form of dissociative amnesia (this is the 11th occurrence), receives daily letters from "Eric Sanderson the First," and is being hunted by a lethal, voracious conceptual shark. And that's just for starters. Gaiman meets Nabokov (by way of L. Frank Baum) in a tour de force of metafiction with that rarest of rare commodities: a heart.
Recommended by Don, July 2007

 
Book Cover for Call Me By Your Name Aciman, Andre
Call Me By Your Name

Fiction
This tender, lyrical love story follows the emotional ripening of 17 year old Elio, who falls gloriously hard for older visiting scholar Oliver, a research assistant for Elio’s father. Set during an idyllic Italian summer, Aciman’s story chronicles the subtle nuances of desire, fear and illogic known to all as first love. Early comparisons to a modern Proust not withstanding (a modicum of the insight balances out a fraction of the difficulty), Call Me By Your Name captures all the beautiful passion and fine, demonstrative detail of young love at its obsessive best.
Recommended by Don, June 2007

 
Book Cover for Averno Gluck, Louise
Averno

Poetry
Former Poet Laureate Louise Glück, in her tenth collection, delves once more into the rich subject of mythology, both personal and classical, presenting a sequence of poems revolving around themes loosely connected to Persephone and our fascination with the idea of an Underworld. Terse, literate, and powerful, like much of her previous work, this volume seems an extended elegy for life itself.
Recommended by Don, June 2007

 
Book Cover for Flowers of Evil Baudelaire, Charles
Flowers of Evil

Poetry
If you have always wanted to know, or thought you already knew, what the Baudelaire fuss is all about, this is the volume for you. This brand new translation by Keith Waldrop eschews the pretense (no forced rhymes or stilted meter here) for the pure power of direct speech and modernity. A word of caution, however; given the right circumstances, this is life-altering verse. Translated by Keith Waldrop, Wesleyan University Press, 2006
Recommended by Don, May 2007

 
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
There are few books that come along that are simply profound in their execution; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is one of those books. The style and diction used to communicate the apocalyptic scenario are so basic that certain words at once jump out at the reader and resonate long after the page is read. The Road, like The Great Gatsby before it, is a prose poem, a lyric masterpiece whose horrific beauty is underscored by a stark, relentless vision.
Recommended by Don, April 2007

 
Book Cover for Moral Disorder Atwood, Margaret
Moral Disorder: Stories

Short Stories
Atwood’s latest, a collection of stories linked via shared characters, is a master class in short fiction writing by an artist at the height of her powers. And, if you like this volume, her earlier Wilderness Tips, a collection of stories linked via theme, is just the ticket.
Recommended by Don, March 2007