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!

'Beautiful You' Makes Sex And Death Boring

Oct 25, 2014

At first, I wanted to write this review of Chuck Palahniuk's new book, Beautiful You, as a letter. A lament, really, from a former fan and dedicated Palahniuk loyalist to the author who brought Fight Club to the page like he was writing in fire. Because I am a man, and because I was once a younger man, I loved Fight Club for its apocalyptic depiction of the wasteland of modern masculinity and its viciously smart skewering of consumer and service culture. I read Choke and liked it. Less than Fight Club, but still. Read Lullaby, too.

'Heap House' Is A Treasure Of A Trash Tale

Oct 25, 2014

How do I even begin to talk about this exceptional, astonishing book?

In less than two weeks, Americans will go to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. At least, some of them will — about 40% of eligible voters, if past elections are any indication. This year's races have already made stars — some rising, some falling — out of Americans hoping to represent their states and districts.

Some, like Kansas Senate hopeful Greg Orman and Georgia governor candidate Jason Carter, may pull off surprising victories. Others, like Wendy Davis in the Texas governor race have seen their once bright lights fade.

'Rebellion' Charts A Tumultuous, Formative Century

Oct 24, 2014

The 17th century was one of the most radical periods in all of English history. It was an era of enormous change, upheaval and debate, and extreme violence, which saw the evolution of the modern British state as we know it today.

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This is FRESH AIR. Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, says a new book about an almost 200-year-old dinner party serves up plenty of food for thought. Here is her review.

Rock 'n' roll was built on rebellion, but too often today, that's about as deep as the conversation goes — especially now that rock is so completely woven into the mainstream, it's hard to imagine a time when it wasn't pop-culture wallpaper.

In her surprise 2003 bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Iranian emigré Azar Nafisi made clear why fiction matters in totalitarian regimes. With The Republic of Imagination, she seeks to demonstrate the importance of great literature even in a democratic society, one threatened not by fundamentalist revolutionaries but by the danger of "intellectual indolence."

Better Off Red: 'War Dogs' Puts Marines On Mars

Oct 22, 2014

First things first: You remember that movie from a while back called Three Kings? It was a David O. Russell picture about Gulf War soldiers who find a map that leads them to a treasure, which they then have to smuggle out of Iraq in the middle of a war.

I had a typical first experience with famed Russian emigre-turned auteur-turned neo-fascist revolutionary Edward Limonov: I misunderstood him.

Everybody misunderstands Edward at least once. Usually, they underestimate this slight, bearded man with the mild manners.

"Although it was only nine o'clock he had already gone once around the pharmacological wheel to which he'd strapped himself for the evening, stolen a tuba, and offended a transvestite; and now his companions were beginning, with delight and aplomb, to barf. It was definitely a Crabtree kind of night."

That, my friends, is one of those lines for which books were invented. For which awards were invented — to bestow temporary graces upon those lurching, bourbon-sodden romantics and idiots who believe that a life spent telling stories for nickels is worthwhile.

Outside a corner storefront in Buffalo, six men tumble from a parked Mercedes. Most of them are ex-cons, some of them are armed and one of them — the polygamist — is packing his machete, to be ready, in his words, "when I run out of bullets." Not one of them weighs less than 240 pounds, and they're all keyed up for a confrontation with a suspected crook — which, as it turns out, goes down in a small storage closet. (Don't worry: No one gets injured.)

Blake Butler's new novel, 300,000,000, is not for the squeamish. Then again, it's hard to imagine anyone whose blood won't curdle reading it. Or their brain. Or possibly their soul.

A Collection Of Poems That Offers An Unlikely Kind Of Hope

Oct 18, 2014

If further proof is needed — though of course it is not — that the tensions exploding in Ferguson have been brewing for centuries, this book is, among other things, proof enough. In the clean, clear lyrics of his second book, Jericho Brown, who was born in Louisiana and formerly worked as speechwriter for a New Orleans mayor, laments, with no small sense of sad resignation, a muffled kind of anger, and a pinch of sarcasm, that, as an African-American man he finds himself admitting, "Nobody in this nation feels safe, and I'm still a reason why."

'Accidental Highwayman' Stands And Delivers

Oct 17, 2014

The unfortunate thing about The Accidental Highwayman is that it looks too much like something it's not. From the gorgeously designed cover and elaborate title to the apologetic editorial front matter and interior illustrations, it looks like a book aware of its place in a specific history: namely, 18th century England's high demand for stories about real, live highwaymen, stories about their dreadful deeds and doleful demise, packaged in layers and layers of moralizing justification for the muckraking glee in which the reader was about to indulge.

Consider the ways you could misstep in updating a classic comic-book superhero. Now imagine that your protagonist is A) female, B) 16, C) a Pakistani-American and, oh yeah, D) Muslim.

A new Hilary Mantel book is an Event with a "capital "E." Here's why: The first two best-selling novels in Mantel's planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, each won the Man Booker Prize — that's a first.

This book really could have used some more cannibalism.

Strange to say it, I realize — especially about a novel that contains no fewer than three scenes of graphic dismemberment. Teeming as it is with hordes of rats, winged infants and sex scenes that rage and roil with all the romance of a Rob Zombie flick, Chase Novak's Brood isn't lacking for gore. It's got so much, in fact, that a few prim readers may even find the novel to be in poor taste.

When Roberto Bolaño died in 2003, he left behind a body of work that would later distinguish him as the most commanding writer to have emerged from Latin America in the last few decades. Although he gained international acclaim for epics like The Savage Detectives and 2666, his novellas and short stories have been equally provocative. Bolaño managed to pack in all the angst, detail, and disillusionment that make his longer book such a permeating force into works of one or two hundred pages.

This was not the way America wanted the NFL season to start.

Colm Tóibín's writing is the literary equivalent of slow cuisine – and I mean that as a compliment. In this age of fast everything, sensational effects, and unremitting violence, he uses only the purest literary ingredients – including minutely focused character development and a keen sense of place — and simmers his quietly dramatic narratives over a low burner.

"Most of us fans fall in love with baseball when we are children," writes Roger Angell. At any age, though, the ballgame is better with a friendly and knowledgeable companion. I can't think of a better one than Angell.

Now 94, he has written about baseball for over half a century, beginning when the New Yorker magazine sent him to spring training in 1962.

"I have covered this beat in haphazard fashion, following my own inclinations and interests," he writes in Season Ticket about the game in the mid-'80s.

"A plague of tics": That's how writer David Sedaris described his experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but for others the enigmatic illness is more like a storm of thoughts. "Did I lock my [storage] locker?" broods John Porcellino in The Hospital Suite. "Did I turn the living room lights off? What if the force of removing my hand from the [refrigerator] door caused it to open a little?"

Here's everything you need to know about Consumed in one sentence: This is a book that is unmistakably written by David Cronenberg.

Last year, the big debate in the world of books was over the question of whether or not a novel has to feature "likeable" main characters in order for readers to identify with them or make us want to stick with their stories. The debate had a sexist tinge to it: Female characters seemed especially burdened with the need to be pleasing.

(For stories are necessary lies.)

"Oh, tree! Eat the fish! This granite folds a peach!"

This 'Book Of Witches' Casts A Fascinating, Sobering Spell

Oct 5, 2014

In William Perkins' 1608 A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, he opens with a list of the reasons such a treatise is necessary, beginning with one that now reads as far more astute that he intended: "First, because witchcraft is a rife and common sin in these our days, and very many are entangled with it."

Secret Service agents, like referees, make headlines only when they would rather not. They are ordinarily anonymous, expressionless, as easy to ignore as the bulletproof glass in front of the Mona Lisa. They only pop into visibility when something has gone very, very wrong — like this week.

This month sees the publication of posthumous collections of short fiction by two 20th century literary giants, the Italian fantasist Italo Calvino, and the American science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Reading these two books is like partaking in one of those fabled banquets of desserts. I seized the opportunity to read as many of the stories as I could in one sitting.

'Lies' May Be Fiction, But Its Story Rings True

Oct 2, 2014

Editor's Note: This book review includes a passage in which a racial slur is used. The word is key to understanding the point the author is making.