Each month we turn to some of our favorite indie sellers for advice. We love to hear about what they are reading and the books they are currently pushing into their customers’ eager hands. This month, we turned to Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore that first opened its doors in Washington, D.C. in 1984. Booksellers Brad, Janice, Cristina, Mark, and Alan give recommendations about everything from financial nonfiction to zombies, memoir to short stories.
By John Lanchester
The 2008 financial collapse had a profound impact on the thinking and writing of John Lanchester. First, in I.O.U., he provided a very shrewd and literate analysis of the crisis. Then, in the social novel Capital, he depicted how the easy-money era had affected not just greedy speculators but played out in the lives of residents of a representative London neighborhood. Now he’s gone back to basics and written a sort of glossary for economic and financial jargon. His aim, as he says at the start of How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say—and What It Really Means, was to enable people to read the business pages or watch televised economic programs and understand what they’re seeing and hearing. With his journalist’s knack for writing lucidly and making the abstract concrete, Lanchester is particularly well-suited to help us navigate through the obscure terms and arcane concepts that have shrouded the workings and institutions of the financial world. As he showed in his previous books, and does again here, he can present economic principles and financial matters in clear and often entertaining ways.
By M. R. Carey
This is the zombie survival novel for people who hate zombie survival novels. The Girl With All the Gifts takes a tired genre and adds new perspective while mixing believable science and relatable human relationships. While the story closely follows the struggles of a young undead girl, Melanie, learning how to cope with what she is, the narrator hops between characters giving depth and authenticity. Epic disasters and narrow escapes will keep you glued, but it’s the characters that will have you thinking about this book for weeks after finishing it.
By Marilynne Robinson
Lila joins Home and Gilead in Marilynne Robinson’s moving trilogy about the lives and faith of an Iowa town in the 1940s and ‘50s. This third novel is a prequel to the first. Lila is the young wife of the elderly Reverend John Ames, the woman whose look of “furious pride, very passionate and stern,” Ames sees in the face of the seven-year-old son he addresses in Gilead. Much lies behind that “look”; Lila’s fury stems from the mystery of her parentage and why she was abandoned as a child, her subsequent rescue/abduction by the itinerant Doll, and their impoverished years on the road. Lila’s pride makes her a self-sufficient survivor and a woman of high moral standards; she’s seen too much of low ones, and while she may be poorly educated, she has a passion for understanding “why things happen the way they do.” This quest for wisdom, along with compassion and loneliness, draw Lila and the old man together; both are thunderstruck at the good fortune of their unexpected marriage. Robinson is eloquent about this unlikely couple, showing how their mutual attraction was physical, emotional, and intellectual—an inevitable match or, as Ames believes, one made in heaven—a sure sign of grace.
By Ishmael Beah
Beah’s memoir offers true accounts of his experiences at a young age fleeing Sierra Leone and being forced to become a rebel fighter in the early ’90s. Soon enough, Beah is brainwashed as a child soldier to rely on guns and drugs until he is rescued and sent to a rehabilitation program. A Long Way Gone allows readers to attempt to understand the truth behind child soldiers, as Beah continued in his career to recount his story and shed light on his experiences. His memoir, though traumatic, is a beautiful expression of the hope for humanity and self-forgiveness despite a life of crime and unforgettable hardships.
By Hilary Mantel
In addition to her Cromwell novels, both of which focus on the same protagonist, Hilary Mantel’s work shows off a range of styles and a rich diversity of subjects. Consistent throughout, however, is a commitment to quality. Her new collection of short fiction, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, is as dazzling as her previous work. The opening story, “Sorry to Disturb,” is a complex sketch of an English woman living in Saudi Arabia. She is frustrated and bored by the strictures of Saudi customs and the complications that arise when simple courtesy encourages unwanted advances. The story “How Shall I Know You?” recounts the overnight adventure of an author who agrees to speak before a neighborhood literary society; Mantel describes how expectations crash into reality with very funny results. These fictions are rich in predicament and flawless in execution.
By Denis Johnson
If Graham Greene were writing his boozy, pointed, and insect-infested thrillers in a post-9/11 world, they would be like The Laughing Monsters. The novel tells the story of a veteran spy with fluid affiliations and fickle loyalties attempting to monetize instability in Central Africa. Operating in a socio-political atmosphere defined by sectarian interests and a War on Terror, Denis Johnson’s spy must navigate both this new paradigm and his feelings for his partner/target/fixer’s fiancée. As in his previous work, notably Tree of Smoke and Train Dreams, Johnson demonstrates lyricism and emotional agility, coupling his elegant prose with a plot soaked in grimy realism. The Laughing Monsters provokes as it entertains; this is a literary journey not to be missed.
By Caitlin Moran
I’ve been a huge fan of Caitlin Moran’s non-fiction since reading How to Be a Woman a few years ago. When I found out she was writing a novel, I was ecstatic. She did not let me down. Laugh-out-loud funny and heartrendingly honest, How to Build a Girl is the story of Johanna Morrigan’s climb out of the English projects and into London’s world of music journalism. In short, it is a fictionalized account of Moran’s life. (Fans of How to Be a Woman will particularly enjoy the novel because of this . . . I would even call the two books companion pieces.) This is a tale of a girl growing up and includes all her “firsts”—her first sexual experiences, first job, first love, and the first time feeling the heavy weight of responsibility. Perhaps it is a bit trite to say that I laughed and I cried, but nevertheless, that’s what happened. I wish I could read this book again for the first time.
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