Emily Katzman’s Staff Picks
Emily K's Staff Pick (November 2013): A mystery, a treasure hunt, and a love story: this book is so cool! Undergrad student Jen picks up an old, worn book left behind by a stranger in the library. The book, Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka, has been heavily annotated, so Jen responds with her own margin notes and leaves the book again for the stranger. So begins the intellectual partnership and romance of Jen and Eric, as they continue to communicate—without meeting—through this old book. As the third reader, you’ll have to read the actual mystery/adventure story by V.M. Straka, and then follow Jen and Eric’s annotations of their readings. Tucked inside are various ephemera—memos, letters, postcards—that are all part of the story.
Emily K's Staff Pick (November 2013): Before you see the movie: read the book! Originally published in 1853, this is the memoir of Solomon Northup, a black man born free in New York. In 1841, a band of criminals who profited from the “speculation of human flesh” drugged, captured, and sold Northup into slavery in Louisiana. Separated from his wife and children, Northup was dehumanized and brutalized, until his rescue in 1852. Solomon Northup’s recollections are important and powerful, and they remain relevant 160 years later.
Emily K's Staff Pick (November 2013): What a brilliant collection of short stories. Humorous and honest, dark and suspenseful: these are the stories of fallen men—gamblers and carousers, conmen, cheaters, and tweakers—all loosely connected by the place of Spokane, Washington. One of my favorite stories—“Virgo”—is about a washed-up newspaper columnist who, in order to torment his ex-girlfriend, tinkers with her horoscope in the newspaper each day.
Emily K's Staff Pick (November 2013): This haunting, gorgeous novel chronicles the dangerous, passionate
marriage of Serena and John Pemberton. During the Great Depression, they
move to Western North Carolina to build their lumber empire. This book
is about the lives the Pembertons destroy to claw their way to the top,
hand in hand—as they battle the burgeoning National Park Service and
struggle to start a family—until their marriage reaches its shocking
crescendo. It’s about destruction, power, sacrifice, and love.
Emily K's Staff Pick (August 2013): What a lovely book. Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of the best from the beloved, trusted advice column, “Dear Sugar.” Cheryl Strayed, “Sugar,” has been through a lot, so if anyone is qualified to provide perspective on other peoples’ lives, she’s the gal. People trust her with questions about love, grief, friendship, life decisions, etc., and Sugar responds with compassion and candor. This advice column reads like a memoir; it will hold your attention through even the questions that on the surface might not seem relatable.
Emily K's Staff Pick (August 2013): Benediction is a slice-of-life story that takes place in a fictional high plains town, Holt, Colorado. Dad Lewis has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. As the novel unfolds, Dad confronts his life regrets, memories, and lessons as he begins to understand the fullness of his life. Dad, his wife, Mary and their daughter, Lorraine are comforted and supported by their neighbors, all of whom face their own challenges and pains.
This book is about the bonds that form in small-town communities (very relatable!), regret and hindsight, and the pain that accompanies suffering and loss. It’s about gratitude, and the small things that keep us going each day.
Emily K's Staff Pick (August 2013): Boobs! Finally, an excuse to think and talk about breasts—and do so with intelligence. Author Florence Williams bares theories about the evolutionary development of human breasts, explains how the plumbing in this organ actually works, and reveals why we find these round sacks of fat, tubes, and nerves so sexy. Williams delves into the cultural ideals behind the augmentation trend in America and the increasing demand for lingerie stores to carry size HH bras.Most importantly, we learn what this organ reveals about overall human health. I was particularly unsettled to read about the cocktail of environmental toxins in breast milk, the trend of increasingly early puberty in girls, and how breast cancer has rapidly become one of the leading causes of death in women worldwide.
Emily K's Staff Pick (July 2013): In Bringing Mulligan Home, Pulitzer Prize-winner Dale Maharidge blends memoir and military history on this quest to understand his late father’s experiences as a Marine in the WWII Pacific Theatre, and by extension, the root of the anger that hung heavy on his own childhood. With help from twelve Marines from the company, Maharidge retraces Love Company’s involvement on Okinawa and Guam in an attempt to recover the true circumstances of the death of Mulligan, whose ghost seemed to haunt the author’s father. This is a lively, accessible, and non-glorifying history of the Pacific War, one that acknowledges war’s traumatic effect on combatants’ lives and the lives of their families’ long after the shrapnel stops falling.
Emily K's Staff Pick (July 2013): Readers who loved Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin will be swept up in this ambitious work of historical fiction. McCann tells three different chapters of Irish and global history, each of which cross time, generations, and the Atlantic Ocean.
In an effort to transcend a global sense of despair at the close of WWI, two former POWs become the first to cross the Atlantic by plane. Eighty years prior, Frederick Douglas voyages to Ireland as an escaped slave-turned-political rock star, to promote freedom and democracy to a people burdened by the bondages of poverty and hunger. In 1998, US Senator George Mitchell is charged with the responsibility of helping the Irish and British, Catholic and Protestant, negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland after so many hundreds of years of tension and violence.
At the heart of this novel—the thread that weaves together these snapshots of history—is a four-generation line of women whose stories likewise cross the Atlantic and intersect with those of the male celebrities. The stories of these women show how anyone, however ordinary, will make her own small dent in history.
Emily K's Staff Pick (July 2013): To scientists, a theory that is “elegant” or “beautiful” is one that explains a deeply puzzling question with a simple set of principles, in a simple way. This book is a collection of essays written by scientists, economists, and mathematicians in response to the question: “what is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” From Darwinism to déjà vu, these essays revisit classic theories and point to new intellectual frontiers. Because each essay is short and simple—“beautiful,” if you will— I was able to fly through the book and learn quite a bit in the process.
Emily K's Staff Pick (June 2013): This is the story of the sea—beginning billions of years ago when the oceans were just dense clouds of swirling vapor above the earth—and so too the story of modern humans, who have existed a mere 150,000 years. Callum Roberts demonstrates how the stories of the sea and humans are inextricably intertwined, and how the fates of both are in severe peril due to humans’ impact on the seas. Roberts, a marine biologist and talented writer, describes the devastating impact of fossil fuel extraction, climate change, chemical and noise pollutions, and over-fishing, and does so in an accessible way. Refreshingly, Roberts contends it is not too late to change course and mitigate the problems we have created. He offers ambitious yet realistic suggestions to reverse this course of destruction we have set upon the seas and ourselves.
Emily K's Staff Pick (June 2013): Sonja, Akhmed, and Havaa are three ordinary people whose lives are linked together like the lines of constellations. The story takes place mostly in 2004, during the Second Chechen-Russian conflict, when ordinary Chechens were caught between Russian occupiers and the equally brutal rebel forces, and when thousands of these civilians arbitrarily “disappeared” at the behest of the Russian government. I love this book—and have been sharing it with others—because Anthony Marra so artfully presents a well-researched dose of Chechen history in a deeply human way.
Emily K's Staff Pick (May 2013): Simple, profound, disturbing. Wash tells the intertwined stories of Washington, a man held in slavery as a breeding sire in early-nineteenth-century Tennessee; Richardson, a debt-laden war veteran and Wash’s owner; and Pallas, a midwife and healer enslaved on a nearby plantation. There is a prevailing element of African spirituality in the narratives of Wash and Pallas; Wash, for example, has internalized the spiritual lessons his mother shared with him as a child. He draws on that strength in order to transcend the sexual degradation, brutality, and dehumanization that Richardson in particular, and society in general, impose on him.
I enjoyed reading Wash and want to share it with others because it tells an important story that will complicate readers’ understanding of American slavery.
Emily K's Staff Pick (May 2013): In Bringing Mulligan Home, Pulitzer Prize-winner Dale Maharidge blends memoir and military history on this quest to understand his late father’s experiences as a Marine in the WWII Pacific Theatre, and by extension, the root of the anger that hung heavy on his own childhood. With help from twelve Marines from the company, Maharidge retraces Love Company’s involvement on Okinawa and Guam in an attempt to recover the true circumstances of the death of Mulligan, whose ghost seemed to haunt the author’s father. This is a lively, accessible, and non-glorifying history of the Pacific War, one that acknowledges war’s traumatic effect on combatants’ lives and the lives of their families’ long after the shrapnel stops falling.
Great Father’s Day read!
Emily K's Staff Pick (February 2013): New in paperback! Murakami’s play on Orwell’s ‘1984,’ this book is a dystopian fantasy, a mystery, and at its heart, a love story. This tale takes place in Tokyo in 1984, and then the parallel reality of 1Q84. It follows the dubious lives of Aomame and Tengo and their quests to find one another. This book is like a dream: mysterious, ethereal, but completely enthralling.
Emily K's Staff Pick (February 2013): An old favorite:
Jonathan Safran Foer ingeniously synthesizes philosophy, science, and memoir in his probing exploration of American eating habits in relation to the modern factory farm. Far from morally imposing, Foer is sympathetic of those who, for whatever reasons, like to eat meat. We are, after all, animals who must eat—we are “eating animals.”
‘Eating Animals’ is by far the BEST BOOK on vegetarianism I have read. Vegetarian or not, please read.
Emily K's Staff Pick (January 2013): I’ve been loving short stories this winter, and Alice Munro has only encouraged this fondness. Dear Life is Munro’s showcase of fourteen new stories that are diverse, in terms of characters and subjects, but when assembled as a whole, remind readers of the universality of love and loss, and the inevitably of unforeseen twists in life. To longtime fans of Munro: the last four pieces are semi-autobiographical.
Emily K's Staff Pick (January 2013): Each vignette is a portrait of a friendship that has influenced Sonnenberg in a small or significant way. She Matters is not a celebration of friendship (many of the relationships divulged have sour endings), but a testament to the power of deep emotional bonds between women, be they flash-in-the-pan girlhood friendships, the mentor-mentee relationship, the motherhood support group, etc. So relatable, this book is haunting. Sonnenberg is profoundly ruminative, and her writing is so beautiful and thoughtful, she is able to perfectly capture the intricacies of female friendships.
Emily K's Staff Pick (December 2012): This steampunk faery tale/murder mystery/coming-of-age story takes place in a dark, fantastical Victorian England, where faeries make up the underclass and changelings (aka “peculiars”)—the offspring of humans and faeries—are the most scorned of all. Changelings have been mysteriously disappearing from their homes, and Bartholomew, a thirteen-year-old changeling, finds himself on an unlikely adventure to save the changelings, and the world. A great crossover novel, adults will enjoy this story just as much as young teens. I’m especially excited about The Peculiar because it is the debut novel of Colorado-born, 18-year-old Stefan Bachman, who is already being compared to Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, and Brian Selznick.
Emily K's Staff Pick (November 2012): This ambitious, powerful work of literary fiction comprises six seemingly disparate novellas written in different styles/genres (diary, letters, mystery, memoir, sci-fi, dialect) that span from the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. This book is a puzzle: David Mitchell artfully inserts each story into the preceding, suggesting that perhaps the characters and the worlds he’s devised are not as disconnected as they first appear. Cloud Atlas is a challenging read, and not for everyone, but trust me: it’s worth it.
Emily K's Staff Pick (October 2012): This collection of short stories—half new and half Alexie classics—is swift-moving, irony-laden, and above all, compelling. With honesty and keen perception, Alexie addresses issues of race and ethnicity, reservation life, love, poverty, gender, and sexuality. This is the kind of writing that consistently made me pause, either to re-read a perfectly crafted sentence or to consider the weight of Alexie’s words. “The Search Engine” was my favorite story.