Under the Radar: Books Not to Miss Plenty of books find a few devoted readers but leave the rest of us unaware that they were even there. Librarian Nancy Pearl reviews some of these "under the radar" books, including fiction, short stories and poetry.

Under the Radar: Books Not to Miss

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Oh, my goodness. Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl is back with us again, and she's brought us another list of recommended reading. This time, she's brought us books from recent years that she believes were overlooked. But not by you, Nancy. Hi.

NANCY PEARL: Hi. How are you, Steve?

INSKEEP: I'm doing okay. Let's go right through the stack of books here. There's one called "Kings of Infinite Space" by James Hynes.

PEARL: Well, these days, I have to say that I think some of the most exciting and interesting writing is being found in an area called speculative fiction. And "Kings of Infinite Space" is a wonderful novel.

If you can imagine Stephen King writing satire, you might get close to what "Kings of Infinite Space" is. So a young man named Paul Trilby who was a college professor. Things went south very rapidly. Not to offend any of the cat listeners listening, he drowned his wife's cat, Charlotte. And things went even worse after that. So not only is Charlotte now haunting his life, but he is reduced to working in one of those cubicles in a Texas state office building. And among his co-workers are a dead person, several zombies, and various other denizens of the real and imaginary world.

The best part is Charlotte who is haunting Paul. So that the only things Paul can ever watch on television are cat-influenced TV programs and commercials.

INSKEEP: So when you say speculative fiction, it starts out being realistic but then things turn out to be a little skewed.

PEARL: Yes. In America, we put many of these books in the science fiction and fantasy section, which is sad to me because many people think automatically that they just don't like that kind of book and miss out on all of these wonderful books. This is really, I think, our version magical realism, which the South Americans Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende do so well.

INSKEEP: What shelf would this be on in Europe, or in South America for that matter?

PEARL: Well, I would hope, my hope is always that everything is just in one big alphabet.

INSKEEP: Well, let's go right to the letter P for Michael Perry. The book is called "Truck: A Love Story."

PEARL: This is an absolutely fabulous memoir. Michael Perry lives in a small Wisconsin town. He's an EMT and a nurse. A lifetime bachelor, never thought that he would ever meet anybody that he wanted to marry. His 40th year, two things happen: He and his brother-in-law decide to put his 1951 International Harvester truck back in running condition and he falls in love with the woman who comes to one of his readings, because he is also a writer.

But what's so wonderful about this book is it's arranged month by month throughout the year, and it's a kind of book where I can't imagine anybody not liking it because there is so much in it and Michael Perry is one of those kind of Renaissance men who not only loves Greg Brown music, but is a gardener, is a hunter. And life in this small town and his experiences working on the truck and falling in love are just wonderful and he's...

INSKEEP: This is a memoir? It's non-fiction.

PEARL: It's a memoir. Yeah, non-fiction and...

INSKEEP: Did he know anything about trucks before he started reassembling one?

PEARL: Not a lot. And there's a wonderful - I have to say, when I was reading this book, there's - early in the book, he's talking about reading seed catalogues, trying to figure out what he wants to plant that year in his garden. And if anything could make me get up off my couch, I was so tempted to just get up and go buy a hoe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PEARL: But then I regained my senses and decided I better go on reading. This is - can I just read you this long quote?

INSKEEP: Please go ahead.

PEARL: I think you would love this quote. And actually it's about public radio, too. He says, "I split my time pretty evenly between public radio and Moose Country 106.7. I like that Moose Country, they play the one-namers, Waylon and Willy, Buck and Merle, George and Tammy, Loretta. It is silly to say bad things about popular music, but for the record, Johnny Paycheck is to Kenny Chesney as corn whiskey is to wine coolers."

(Soundbite of laughter)

PEARL: "This new stuff suffers from over grooming. Even the redneckiest names ring tinny. I look at the pretty cowboy on the Jumbotron and think, it is one thing to polish your craft, it is quite another to wax your ass."

(Soundbite of laughter)

PEARL: And then he goes on from there. I mean, that's fabulous writing.

INSKEEP: Well, let's move right down the list here, we've got another book with - well, it looks like a comic book cover...

PEARL: (unintelligible)

INSKEEP: It's called the "The House on Boulevard St."

PEARL: One could argue that poetry is always under the radar. And one of the poets who I think more people need to read because he's just remarkably wonderful in his ability to communicate the joy and the excitement of words is David Kirby. And his new book is "The House on Boulevard St.," which is new in selected poems. These are poems that play with the power of language to really entrance us.

I called David Kirby a kitchen-sink poet, because his poems include everything and the kitchen sink. I'm sure that there's a poem that he's written that does have the kitchen sink in it.

INSKEEP: I just opened this at random, you're talking about throwing in the kitchen sink, here's a poem called "Twist and Shout."


INSKEEP: Which seems to include every rock lyric you could think of. A reference to Wilson Pickett and it ends with, good God, y'all.

PEARL: Yes. I think these are great poems for people who sometimes think poetry is a little bit - they're uneasy with poetry or feel a little bit awed by it or put off by it and think that it has nothing to say to them. David Kirby is really speaking to them.

INSKEEP: Well now, what caused you to add to this stack of books "Confessions of a Teen Sleuth," which is described as a parody by Chelsea Cain?

PEARL: Because I knew that you would ask me that question.

INSKEEP: Oh, well I have.

PEARL: "Confessions of a Teen Sleuth" is one of those wonderfully funny books where there is a laugh on every page. It begins with the "Nancy Drew" books, and this is Nancy Drew's real story. Carolyn Keene, who we have always believed wrote the "Nancy Drew" books, indeed stole Nancy's life, basically. And in her last year Nancy Drew sat down and wrote the true story of her life, sent the manuscripts to Chelsea Cain. We are so fortunate Chelsea Cain published it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PEARL: Now, this is a perfect for fans of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Trixie Belden and the Bobbsey Twins. All the characters are there. So Ned Nickerson, of course, Nancy's boyfriend in high school. She goes on to marry him, but I have to say, Steve, the true love of Nancy Drew's life was Frank Hardy.

INSKEEP: Of the Hardy...

PEARL: Of the Hardy Boys.

INSKEEP: Hardy Boys.

PEARL: Yes. And there is some question about the father of Ned Nickerson Jr., Nancy and Ned's son. Now I'm not giving anything away, but the last line of the book, very late in life Nancy and Frank finally get back together. We're all so grateful that they did. And the last line of the book is - they don't call him Hardy for nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is with us. Thanks for coming by, once again.

PEARL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of "Book Lust," "More Book Lust," and - I don't know, you've got something else coming up?

PEARL: It's just out, "Book Crush: Good Books for Children and Teens."

INSKEEP: There we go. And this really is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

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