Recommendations from Daniel Goldin at Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
By Tom Franklin; hardcover, 288 pages; William Morrow, list price: $24.99
Larry Ott is the outcast of rural Chabot, Miss. He's a bit of a geek, but not the kind with technical skills. He keeps up his deceased dad's car repair place, despite having no customers, and visits his mom in the nursing home. Maybe it's because when he was in high school, he was accused of killing a fellow student. That legacy comes back with a vengeance when another woman in town disappears.
The area constable helping out with the crime is Silas "32" Jones, a onetime high school baseball hero who knows Larry a lot better than most of the town imagines. They were friends as kids, at least of a sort. There are lot of secrets to be discovered, and much figurative baggage to be unpacked.
Franklin's Mississippi is richly atmospheric, and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of those books that work both as a mystery and as a novel. I can even imagine a sequel with Silas Jones, but the obvious title (Humpback, Humpback) seems to come with its own baggage.
By Benjamin Percy; paperback, 288 pages; Graywolf Press, list price: $23
Three generations of a family (grandfather Paul, father Justin, young son Graham) plan one final hunting trip in the wilderness area, slated to become a golf resort, outside of boomtown Bend, Ore. There are ill winds ahead for this expedition, alas. For Paul has revealed to an angry local at a convenience store that he had a hand in the resort deal, and this guy's out for revenge. Left behind, Karen has inadvertently caught the interest of a troubled Iraq war vet and is now stalking her. And did I mention that there is a bear in the woods?
Percy maps the harsh terrain between father and son, husband and wife, and wilderness and civilization, creating the tension of a horror novel minus the supernatural. In the original story that was the genesis of this novel, the bear was feared to be Bigfoot. It turns out that a wild bear and a sharpshooting soldier are no less spooky, and perhaps, being real, are more so.
The Cookbook Collector
By Allegra Goodman; hardcover, 416 pages; The Dial Press, list price: $26
Two sisters during the 1990s tech boom find that love and happiness are not so easily sorted out in their lives. Emily is the determined head of a startup company while Jess flits from cause to cause, working at a secondhand bookstore while she pursues a graduate degree. Emily is dedicated to Jonathan, her cross-country boyfriend, who is head of a rival tech company, while Jess has dumped her save-the-trees activist boyfriend for the organization's leader. Life seems pretty good, but the tech bust is just around the corner.
Goodman's newest novel plays off Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but it's as much that as The Gate at the Stairs is Jane Eyre. It's important to know that the title is a bit misleading; this is not one of those foodie stories with lots of recipes. But most important, you should know that this is a glorious novel, infused with insight and joy.
Wordcatcher: An Odyssey Into The World Of Weird And Wonderful Words
By Phil Cousineau; paperback, 202 pages; Viva Editions, list price: $15.95
It's my thought that every book lover is also a lover of language; why else would there be so many language books released every year? But the thing I love about Wordcatcher is the way every word becomes a story with the help of author Phil Cousineau, who has been writing stories for some time now, about mythology, travel, design, spirituality and, yes, riddles. It is his breadth of knowledge and storytelling skills that bring this book to life.
The entries are a mix of the everyday, such as honeymoon and fury, and ones you probably don't think about, such as portmanteau and gorgonize. I love the way he captures the spirit of a culture, from the Portuguese saudade and fado to the Japanese wabi/sabi and Irish kibosh. I want to ask someone, "Where's the craick?" I want to apologize for my "borborygmus" and be called out for my "fribbling." This kind of book is the kind you dip into, but I read it cover to cover, not wanting to miss an entry.
My Year Of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man's Journey Deep Into The Heart of Cinematic Failure
By Nathan Rabin; paperback, 288 pages; Scribner, list price: $15
Rabin writes for the A.V. Club, the arts and entertainment section of The Onion, and this column revisited some of the most notorious critical and financial failures in the film world. Rabin revisited each film, offering some background into why it got made and what likely went wrong. He then rates the movie — failure, fiasco or secret success. Films are divided into calamitous comedies (like Scenes from a Mall), musical misfires (such as Glitter), unsexy sexy films (including Exit to Eden) and so forth.
Though the website focused on relatively recent films, the book ventures into such older fare as Otto Preminger's hippie comedy Skidoo, with noted counterculture icons Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing, and Preston Sturges' The Great Moment, the world's first "dental-ether tragicomedy." The thing that's great about My Year of Flops is that it's both funny and fascinating, even if you haven't seen the films, and I hadn't seen most of them. And how in the world did some of them get financing? The world is a strange place.