The Library Book

Susan Orlean     Recommended by Anne    

true crime / literaria

This is one of those hard-to-classify non-fiction books, a satisfying mix of history, reportage and true crime which made me feel proud to have a library card. Book people recognize one another, whether they’re librarians, booksellers or readers. Susan Orlean describes her own childhood experiences at her local library and later, the enormous Los Angeles Public Library in central L.A., which in April 1986 was almost completely lost to a spectacular conflagration. Orlean describes the fire and talks with librarians past and present, as well as historical (and sometimes controversial) figures involved in the library’s history. The man accused of starting the fire was a slippery confabulist who may or may not have been involved, and his character is fascinating. Well researched, well written non-fiction.

Atlantic 2018



Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World

Marcia Bjornerud     Recommended by Alan    


An elegant book about earth’s geology, and through the prism of this time-scale, points to the changes humans have wrought since the Industrial Revolution. Apart from geologists, few people can conceive of the enormous amount of time there was before humans came onto the scene, and how long-lasting are the changes we are making now will be. Bjornerud argues that having an understanding of the vast amount of geological history is essential to knowing more about our environmental situation in the present. Its a fascinating look at some of the patterns and processes around us, from the raising of mountains over millions of years to the tidal ebb and flow over a single day.

Princeton University Press 2018


Água Viva

Clarice Lispector     Recommended by Alan    


A book which tries to touch all the senses at once, Água Viva is a painting in prose form which rearranges language and form in an ecstatic stream of consciousness. It has been said to have the qualities of a piece of music, with passages repeating like a chorus. Meditations on life, time and familiar objects unfurl and flicker between observation and inference. Its exceptional, like Pessoa through mercury. First published in 1973, this Penguin Classics edition can be found next to her collected short stories in Fiction.

Penguin 2014 


The Overstory

Richard Powers     Recommended by Alan    


Structured like the rings in a cross-section of a tree’s trunk, The Overstory traces the tales of nine strangers, each meeting a tree which leads them to apprehend the environmental catastrophe looming over us. They are bought together, scientist, artist, soldier alike, to save the last few remaining acres of virgin forest left. The problem is that actually we can’t see the trees for the wood. The Overstory lays out the full human folly of deforestation. Part lament, part call to arms.

Vintage 2018


The Mars Room

Rachel Kushner     Recommended by Anne    


A novel where the setting is like one of the characters, from San Francisco’s seedier districts to the bleak hinterlands where the prison towns are. We first meet Romy Hall on a prisoner transport bus, handcuffed to a manic babykiller who won’t stop talking, as they hurtle through the night to life in a women’s maximum security facility. Romy is a small cog among others in a big and unsympathetic machine, desperate for news of her son. The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks intersecting with the daily tedium and casual violence of prison routine. Romy’s time as a stripper in club giving the book its title, The Mars Room, is where she meets her stalker, and how she earns her life sentence in Stanville Correctional Facility for his murder. Other characters are elements in the story, like the embittered English literature teacher Gordon Hauser, or her trans cellmate Conan.  Its a vivid, immersive world, shocking for its realness, a faithful transcription of life as an impoverished woman in contemporary America. Its one of my favourites for and exactly what good fiction should be.

Jonathan Cape 2018


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