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...

'Heap House' Is A Treasure Of A Trash Tale

Oct 25, 2014

How do I even begin to talk about this exceptional, astonishing book? I could show you the notes I made while reading: they begin with bullet points, neat and tidy, saying things like "very good voice work — distinctive, moving" and "fantastic characters, riveting perspectives" and "enamored of commas in a way I find pleasing." But as I read on, the notes devolved; they grew riddled with exclamation points, acronyms that didn't exist before the internet, wild typographical flailings that...

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...

'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. But the transition from a haphazard kingdom ruled by inconsistent medieval ideas to a modern, secular, efficient bureaucratic state wasn't easy. In 1603, when King James I united the crowns of England and Scotland, the House of Commons began debating what kind of...

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: 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. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Guess who's coming to dinner? It's a cold evening in London in 1817, and John Keats and William Wordsworth turn up at the door - separately, of course. Keats is only 22, and he's about to abandon his medical...

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. Peter Bebergal, however, remembers. In his new book, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, he summons the long shadows of rock's past, when bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well as solo artists like David Bowie and Donovan —...

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." Nafisi is alarmed by the marginalization of the humanities and book culture she sees in America today, and her goal is to show...

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. If you missed Three Kings , think Kelly's Heroes . Same deal. These movies are of a type (grunts find treasure) and of a style (war stories where the war is just a backdrop), and Greg Bear's newest novel, War Dogs , is itself very much of...

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. I knew him in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he wrote a column for the eXile , a punk/anarchist English-language paper Mark Ames and I edited in Moscow. (He'd been brought in by Ames, who was a fan.) Edward back then was the...

"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...

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.) Now, I'll be frank: Scenes such as these...

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. "The mnemonic American mush" — it's one of many poetic turns of phrase that pepper 300,000,000 . As with his previous books, like There Is No Year and Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia , the Atlanta-based alt-lit author employs dense, gorgeous prose in the pursuit of dream-haunted darkness. But in 300,000,000 , he...

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...

'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...

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. Could there be a tougher assignment? If you avoid gross errors in depicting halal meat or headscarves, you might lurch in the other direction and fail to endow the heroine with any meaningful cultural signifiers at all. And then there's the matter of her struggle to define herself as she approaches adulthood....

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. The BBC is filming an adaptation of Wolf Hall for airing in 2015, and Mantel's original short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher , was printed in The New York Times Book Review in September. That story is from Mantel's new short story collection...

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. I can't say I'm among them, though — partly...

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. The separate scandals of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have come on the heels of football's ongoing concussion revelations, the travails of its leaders , renewed uproars over insensitive team names and the league's tax-exempt status. Politicians have written letters. Whether or not any of this will convince viewers to switch off their televisions (the evidence so far seems to be that it won't), football news lately reads like a...

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. Sharply observed, nuanced family dynamics are always on Tóibín's menu — whether he's writing about an estranged family re-united by...

"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...

"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?" These perturbations provide a grim rhythm for Porcellino's health problems in The Hospital Suite ,...

Here's everything you need to know about Consumed in one sentence: This is a book that is unmistakably written by David Cronenberg. Not so much the newer, grayer Cronenberg either. Not Eastern Promises Cronenberg or A History Of Violence Cronenberg. No, this is something that feels more like the young, perverse, freakishly laser-beam-obsessive and deeply, deeply strange Cronenberg. The unblinking, insatiable Cronenberg who made Scanners , Videodrome (especially Videodrome ), Crash , and Dead...

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. (In fact, the whole issue was ignited by reaction to Claire Messud's novel, The Woman Upstairs , which features as its protagonist a rather glum elementary...

(For stories are necessary lies.) That statement comes as a seeming afterthought, tossed off at the bottom of the page toward the end of Stephen Collins' slyly exquisite graphic novel The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. The book's absurdist narrative climax has come and gone, and in the quiet that descends in its wake we readers sail on, blithely navigating the glass-calm waters of dénouement until we strike that tiny, astonishing parenthetical. And as we've done so many times on our way...

"Oh, tree! Eat the fish! This granite folds a peach!" Last year, Anne Leckie's Ancillary Justice introduced Breq, the reanimated-corpse soldier (called an ancillary) separated from her starship's hive mind, out for revenge against the Radchaai Empire that made her, and stymied by the terrible inconveniences of conscience. It went on to win the Nebula, Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards, which means two things: One, this is the sort of space opera audiences have been waiting for; two, all eyes...

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." Indeed witchcraft was a common sin, for a list of distinctly secular sociopolitical reasons that often overlapped. But in The Penguin Book of Witches, whose dry title belies a...

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. Which makes it an ideal time to read Mark Costello's 2002 novel, Big If . It is, so far as I know, the only great novel ever written about the Secret Service. Part thriller, part black comedy, it belongs...

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. That's easy with the Calvino volume. The story writer, born in Cuba and raised in San Remo, Italy, near the French border,...

'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. In the spring of 1968, my aunt Elizabeth Rice was about to start her first term as a teacher at Virginia's Petersburg High School. "I remember driving there in my red Volkswagen," she told me when I called to ask about it. "And Richard was with me, and when we got close to the school he said, 'Well, Betty, looks like you've got a welcoming...

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