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The Year in Books
December 13, 2011  
A stack of books

Hear a conversation about the best, and the overlooked, books of 2011. Host Keith Shortall leads a discussion about the books that should go to the top of your 'must read' list. Guests include author Brock Clarke, and bookstore proprietors Chris Bowe, Marc Berlin and Jacob Fricke.

(42:46)

LiveCell Book Jacket

Some books can be read on more than one level. Eric Green’s LiveCell, as well as being an engaging novel, is also an allegory—an expression through fictional characters and actions of a fundamental human belief. It can be read and enjoyed simply for the story it tells, which is exactly what 99% of its readers do. But that hundredth reader picks up on one of the clues Green has sprinkled through the story and suddenly realizes that the characters and their actions and experiences have symbolic as well as literal interpretations.

Cadent Publishing is offering a contest for readers to uncover the central allegory and the twelve clues that reveal it. Send your final solution as well as the substantiating clues to contest@cadentpublishing.com. If correct, your name will be entered up to 12 times — once for each correct clue – into a $200 cash prize drawing. The winner will also receive an autographed copy of the book. Runner up will receive one of Eric Green's Boston lithographs specially inscribed.

The serialization of LiveCell will be available for all to enjoy in the Herald Gazette over the coming months. If you can’t wait that long, the novel is available wherever books are sold. The contest will close one week after the last serial appears, and winners will be announced 7 days later.

Chris’s Book List

The Iron Giant, by Ted Hughes, Illustrated by Laura Carlin

From Amazon: When a towering giant made of iron appears out of nowhere, young Hogarth sees him not as a monster, but a friend. The townspeople are terrified of the giant and devise a plan to bring him down. But Hogarth believes in his friend, and rescues him when no one else will. Together, they teach the people of the village and beyond to conquer their fears, for beneath the giant's rough armor there beats a mighty heart.

The late Ted Hughes, former poet laureate of England, wrote this modern fairy tale in 1968 (which went on to inspire the popular 1999 Warner Brothers animated feature). This illustrated edition, featuring the complete text, special effects such as foldouts and die-cuts, and striking full-color artwork on every page, offers the perfect family read-aloud.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht

From Amazon: In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harback

From Amazon: At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.

American Nations, by Colin Woodard

From Amazon: An illuminating history of North America's eleven rival cultural regions that explodes the red state-blue state myth.

In American Nations, Woodard leads us on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, and the rivalries and alliances between its component nations, which conform to neither state nor international boundaries. He illustrates and explains why "American" values vary sharply from one region to another.

Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, by Donn Fendler, Illustrated by Ben Bishop

From Amazon: Donn Fendler's harrowing story of being lost in the Maine wilderness when he was just twelve, was made famous by the perennial best-seller, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. In Lost Trail, more than 70 years after the event, Donn tells the story of survival and rescue from his own perspective. Lost Trail is a masterfully illustrated graphic novel that tells the story of a twelve-year-old boyscout from a New York City suburb who climbs Maine's mile-high Mt. Katahdin and in a sudden storm is separated from his friends and family. What follows is a nine-day adventure, in which Donn, lost and alone in the Maine wilderness with bugs, bears, and only a few berries to eat, struggles for survival.

Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss

From Amazon: In 1891, 24-year-old Marie Sklodowska moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism. They fell in love. They took their honeymoon on bicycles. They expanded the periodic table, discovering two new elements with startling properties, radium and polonium. They recognized radioactivity as an atomic property, heralding the dawn of a new scientific era. They won the Nobel Prize. Newspapers mythologized the couple's romance, beginning articles on the Curies with "Once upon a time . . . " Then, in 1906, Pierre was killed in a freak accident. Marie continued their work alone. She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911, and fell in love again, this time with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Scandal ensued. Duels were fought.

In Radioactive, Lauren Redniss links these contentious questions to a love story in nineteenth century Paris. It draws on Redniss's original reporting in Asia, Europe and the United States, her interviews with scientists, engineers, weapons specialists, atomic bomb survivors, and Marie and Pierre Curie's own granddaughter.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

From Amazon: On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination—a thousand page tour de force.

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt

From Amazon: Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Non-Fiction

Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie

From Amazon: The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith

From Amazon: From the creator of the national bestseller It's a Book comes a timeless story of family history, legacy, and love.

Grandpa Green wasn't always a gardener. He was a farmboy and a kid with chickenpox and a soldier and, most of all, an artist. In this captivating new picture book, readers follow Grandpa Green's great-grandson into a garden he created, a fantastic world where memories are handed down in the fanciful shapes of topiary trees and imagination recreates things forgotten.

Lane Smith explores aging, memory, and the bonds of family history and love; by turns touching and whimsical, it's a stunning picture book that parents and grandparents will be sharing with children for years to come.

 

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children: A Novel, by Sarah Braunstein

 

From Amazon:"A magnificent debut filled with characters so vivid, strange, and richly imagined, you emerge feeling changed."--Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

In New York City, a girl called Leonora vanishes without a trace. Years earlier and miles upstate, Goldie, a wild, negligent mother, searches for a man to help raise her precocious son, Paul, who later discovers that the only way to save his soul is to run away. As the narrative moves back and forth in time, we find deeper interconnections between these stories and growing clues about Leonora--this missing girl whose face looks out from telephone poles and billboards--whom one character will give anything to save.

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children is a suspenseful novel about the power of running and the desire for reinvention. It explores the terror and transcendence of our most central experiences: childhood, parenthood, sex, love.


Brock Clarke’s Recommendations

Trophy, by Michael Griffith

Trophy is a brilliant novel; I can’t think of another book like it, another book that loves its characters so much that it can’t allow them to die, even when one (Vada, the novel’s beautifully written sad sack car washing hose associate) has been crushed by a stuffed bear. Trophy is powered by Vada’s desperate attempts to stay alive, and you can't blame him: you wouldn't want to die, either, if you were part of this wickedly funny, allusive, word happy, tender novel. Think of this book as the best kind of life support; while I was reading it, the world seemed like a much more brilliant place, a place worth living in, a place I didn’t want to leave. You won't want to leave it, either. -Brock Clarke.

The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson

From Amazon: Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.

Stone Arabia, by Dana Spiotta

From Amazon: Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s moving and intrepid third novel, is about family, obsession, memory, and the urge to create—in isolation, at the margins of our winner-take-all culture. In the sibling relationship, “there are no first impressions, no seductions, no getting to know each other,” says Denise Kranis. For her and her brother, Nik, now in their forties, no relationship is more significant. They grew up in Los Angeles in the late seventies and early eighties. Nik was always the artist, always wrote music, always had a band. Now he makes his art in private, obsessively documenting the work, but never testing it in the world. Denise remains Nik’s most passionate and acute audience, sometimes his only audience. She is also her family’s first defense against the world’s fragility. Friends die, their mother’s memory and mind unravel, and the news of global catastrophe and individual tragedy haunts Denise. When her daughter, Ada, decides to make a film about Nik, everyone’s vulnerabilities seem to escalate.

The Call, by Yannick Murphy

From Amazon: The daily rhythm of a veterinarian’s family in rural New England is shaken when a hunting accident leaves their eldest son in a coma. With the lives of his loved ones unhinged, the veterinarian struggles to maintain stability while searching for the man responsible. But in the midst of their great trial an unexpected visitor arrives, requesting a favor that will have profound consequences—testing a loving father’s patience, humor, and resolve and forcing husband and wife to come to terms with what “family” truly means.

The Call is a gift from one of the most talented and extraordinary voices in contemporary fiction—a unique and heartfelt portrait of a family, poignant and rich in humor and imagination.

 

Love and Shame and Love: a Novel, by Peter Orner

(Brock hasn’t read this one yet – he’s looking forward to it).

From Amazon: Alexander Popper can't stop remembering. Four years old when his father tossed him into Lake Michigan, he was told, Sink or swim, kid. In his mind, he's still bobbing in that frigid water. The rest of this novel's vivid cast of characters also struggle to remain afloat: Popper's mother, stymied by an unhappy marriage, seeks solace in the relentless energy of Chicago; his brother, Leo, shadow boss of the family, retreats into books; paternal grandparents, Seymour and Bernice, once high fliers, now mourn for long lost days; his father, a lawyer and would-be politician obsessed with his own success, fails to see that the family is falling apart; and his college girlfriend, the fiercely independent Kat, wrestles with impossible choices.

Covering four generations of the Popper family, Peter Orner illuminates the countless ways that love both makes us whole and completely unravels us. A comic and sorrowful tapestry of memory of connection and disconnection, Love and Shame and Love explores the universals with stunning originality and wisdom.

Recommendations of Jacob Fricke of Mr. Paperback

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

From Amazon: At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize.

Made for You and Me, by Caitlin Shetterly

From Amazon: Shetterly, who chronicled her cross-country trip from L.A. to Maine for NPR's Weekend Edition, offers this deeper look into her emotional and geographic journey. The recession hit Maine hard in late 2007. Shetterly and her husband, caught off guard, struggled to make a living. Friends in California beckoned the pair, with tales of a sunnier, more prosperous, and stable life. The optimistic young couple, together with their dog and cat, set out for Los Angeles in 2008. A year later, depressed and broke, toting a new baby and minus one pet, they drove back home to Maine, settling in with Shetterly's mother.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harback

 

From Amazon: At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.

Trespasser, by Paul Doiron

From Amazon: In Paul Doiron’s riveting follow-up to his Edgar Award–nominated novel, The Poacher's Son, Maine game warden Mike Bowditch’s quest to find a missing woman leads him through a forest of lies in search of a killer who may have gotten away with murder once before.

While on patrol one foggy March evening, Bowditch receives a call for help. A woman has reportedly struck a deer on a lonely coast road. When the game warden arrives on the scene, he finds blood in the road—but both the driver and the deer have vanished. And the state trooper assigned to the accident appears strangely unconcerned. The details of the disappearance seem eerily familiar. Seven years earlier, a jury convicted lobsterman Erland Jefferts of the rape and murder of a wealthy college student and sentenced him to life in prison. For all but his most fanatical defenders, justice was served. But when the missing woman is found brutalized in a manner that suggests Jefferts may have been framed, Bowditch receives an ominous warning from state prosecutors to stop asking questions.

For Bowditch, whose own life was recently shattered by a horrific act of violence, doing nothing is not an option. His clandestine investigation reopens old wounds between Maine locals and rich summer residents and puts both his own life and that of the woman he loves in jeopardy. As he closes in on his quarry, he suddenly discovers how dangerous his opponents are, and how far they will go to prevent him from bringing a killer to justice.

Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wildnerness, by Donn Fendler

From Amazon: Donn Fendler's harrowing story of being lost in the Maine wilderness when he was just twelve, was made famous by the perennial best-seller, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. In Lost Trail, more than 70 years after the event, Donn tells the story of survival and rescue from his own perspective. Lost Trail is a masterfully illustrated graphic novel that tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy scout from a New York City suburb who climbs Maine’s mile-high Mt. Katahdin and in a sudden storm is separated from his friends and family.

Recommendations of Marc Berlin of Bookmarc's in Bangor

Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Anne Hunter.

A new children's book: Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? by Maine author Ellen Bryan Obed with illustrations by Anne Hunter answers the question by showing month by month how birds, mice and other creatures of the forest find non-ornamental uses for the much taken-for-granted Christmas tree.

The Inner Life of Empires, by Emma Rothchild.

For the non-fiction readers who like to peak behind the curtain of history Emma Rothchild's The Inner Life of Empires tells the story of the Johnstone's, seven brothers and four sisters who, Zelig-like, travel all over the world of the eighteenth century and witness the real workings of the British empire.

Mr Speaker! by James Grant recounts the astonishing life and career of Maine's own Thomas Brackett Reed, House Majority Leader and man who broke the filibuster.

Nominee for overlooked author: Wendell Berry, a Kentucky poet, essayist and novelist whose work chronicles the quiet challenges and rewards of rural American life. His work, I believe, has particular relevance in today's difficult economic times.

Paul J. Fournier's Tales From Misery Ridge, One Man's Adventures in the Great Outdoors. Falling in love with the Maine woods is not new but Fournier describes his life-long infatuation in simple, evocative prose.

 

Recommendations from Listeners

 

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, by Jon McGregor

 

The Greater Journey, by David McCullough

 

Stone of Tears, by Terry Goodkind

 

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, by Charles J. Shields

 

The Pig Scramble, by Jessica Kinney, Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

 

This Life Is In Your Hands, by Melissa Coleman

 

This call-in program was hosted by Keith Shortall, who, along with the listening public, directed questions to the guests about their opinions about books published during 2011.

 

Visit author Brock Clarke's website

 

Visit Longfellow Books' website

 

Visit Bookmarcs's website

 

Visit Bookmarcs's website

 

Visit Mr. Paperback's website

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