NWPR Books

Northwest Public Radio loves to read! Below, you will find our editorial reviews and personal recommendations for literary works we think you, our listeners, would love.

We are also receive station support from many Northwest Independent Booksellers, who provide their own recommendations here.

And, if you have any great reads you would like to share with us, please let us know, by emailing your review to NWPR@wsu.edu!

Pier 54 on the Hudson River in Manhattan is padlocked and forgotten now. Like whispers of the past, the engraved names of the shipping companies Cunard and White Star remain barely legible atop its rusted iron gate. Few of the present-day joggers and cyclists who pass by might recall that a century ago, on May 1, 1915, the Lusitania set sail from this berth on her last doomed voyage.

30 Seconds That Echo Through History In 'Epitaph'

Mar 7, 2015

Three pages, and really not even that.

Really, 46 lines. In a book of nearly 600 pages total. 46 lines to describe the action of 30 seconds — which would become 30 of the best-known seconds in American history. Which would, whether true or false, become one of this country's foundational myths: The gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

I recall with a certain fondness a summer evening long ago at the Bennington Summer Writing Workshops, when Montana resident Richard Ford opened a reading from the work of Montana writer William Kittredge by saying, "Well, it's Montana Night at the workshops, and it's just like Montana. Hours will go by, and all you will see are two people."

We start with a pyre: A young woman and three men are to burn, condemned as heretics. In vivid, often graphic prose, C.J. Sansom uses this horrific scene to set the stage for Lamentation, the sixth installment of his Matthew Shardlake mysteries, set in Tudor England. It's 1546; the dying King Henry VIII — having broken with Rome a decade before — is wavering on religious policy, and supporters of his previous reforms fear for their lives as the hunt for heretics intensifies.

There are some writers whose books you anticipate for months before they're published. For me, Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those writers. Whenever I hear he has a new novel coming out, I start to imagine what it will be about, knowing that, with Ishiguro, I can't possibly have any idea. His previous novels have been strange, beautiful, and, in some way ... stealthy. This was true of the devastating novel The Remains of the Day, narrated by a proper English butler, and it was also true of the very different but equally devastating Never Let Me Go.

Ever since Michel de Montaigne hit on the winning mix of frankly personal and broader philosophical reflections in his 16th century Essays, the personal essay has attracted those for whom the unexamined life is — well, unthinkable. In recent years, we've seen a spate of auto-pathologies — minutely observed meditations on the tolls of often strange ailments. A newer trend is the meta-diary — short autobiographical entries that frequently explore the writer's relationship with time, memory and identity.

Sartre famously wrote that hell is other people. For many fantasy writers, though, it's a bureaucracy. In fact, the whole hell-as-bureaucracy theme has become hackneyed over the years — as much of a cliché as, well, bureaucracies being hellish.

Here's only a partial list of great American writers whose names came to mind as I was reading T. Geronimo Johnson's new novel, Welcome to Braggsville: Tom Wolfe, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, H.L. Mencken, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer and Ralph Ellison, Ralph Ellison, Ralph Ellison. Johnson's timely novel is a tipsy social satire about race and the oh-so-fragile ties that bind disparate parts of this country into an imperfect and restless union.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: There's this guy, a dude in a bathrobe and a tangled mess of a beard who refuses to go outside. His wife left him nearly two years ago for a man with Greek god's jawline and a glamor job. Shortly before that? The guy's mom died of a painful, debilitating form of cancer, not long after his burgeoning rock band became a moldering pile of rubble. Oh, and that refusal to leave his house? That's just his blooming anxiety — paranoia, even — about the vast and uncaring world around him.

Hilarious, right?

It's difficult to pin down the exact day when post-racial America was born. Maybe it was when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, or when Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American member of the Supreme Court. Maybe it was when Barack Obama was elected president, or the first time a white person claimed to be "colorblind." It's honestly hard to tell, because as we keep seeing proved again and again, "post-racial America" is completely indistinguishable from what came before.