There has been a large range of books on our staffroom coffee tables recently – highlighted here is everything from science fantasy & cult fiction titles to luminous memoirs. At the top of this list are titles chosen by our head cataloguer Pauline, who is leaving Wellington City Libraries. She will be sorely missed by us all!
The faraway nearby / Rebecca Solnit.
A meandering set of almost-essays (the centre of which is about some grippingly told episodes of the author’s own life) which focus on storytelling, and whizz off into literature, art, the Polar Regions and many other fascinating “tales”. I haven’t yet finished it because I don’t want it to finish. If you like Sara Wheeler, Olivia Laing and Robert McFarlane’s books, you’ll like this one. (Pauline)
Romany and Tom / Ben Watt.
Ben Watt, of Everything but the Girl fame, has written his second book and it’s a brilliant and elegantly written memoir of his parents: Tommy Watts, a jazz musician & Romany, actress, feature writer and broadcaster. Their story, and Ben’s own, is compellingly told – in much the same way as his song lyrics are moody, melancholy and edgy, so is his writing. Best read before, with, or after, his first (and also compelling) book “Patient“. (Pauline)
Letters of note : correspondence deserving of a wider audience / compiled by Shaun Usher.
What a fascinating collection of letters! From different periods in history up to modern times, written by people you may or may not have heard of. They are often informative, sometimes surprising and occasionally very moving – this is the perfect coffee table book. (Sandy)
Julio’s day / by Gilbert Hernandez.
A tender and sometimes tragic and episodic history of one man’s life in a small Mexican town during the turbulent 20th century. Almost a collection of disconnected surreal short stories in graphic novel form, that accumulate towards one heck of a finish. Pulitzer prize winner Junot Diaz calls Julio’s Day, ‘an unflinching biography of a community, a country and a century. A masterpiece,’ and I think I agree. (Monty)
The end of your life book club / Will Schwalbe.
I just read The End of Your Life Bookclub by Will Schwalbe. Amazing read about a brilliant woman with terminal cancer and her conversations about books with her son, while she is undergoing chemo. (Sylvia)
The thirteenth tale / Diane Setterfield.
The best modern “gothic” tale I’ve read yet. Ghosts, family secrets, a decripet house, and a plot that carries you along with each twist. (Nicola)
Dreams of gods & monsters / Laini Taylor.
This is the final in the “Daughter of smoke and bone” trilogy and wraps up the story pretty well (there are always a few threads left for your imagination at the end of most fantasy novels). This saga of angels vs chimaera (hybrid monsters) and the breaking down of long held hatreds is exciting and imaginative, travelling between Earth and Eritz finding love and despair for Akiva (seraph) and Karou (resurrected chimaera). The first book “Daughter of smoke and bone” is amazing, with some fascinating new concepts and the second “Days of blood and starlight” introduces more complex issues into the mix and brings things to a climax for the last book to unravel (or not). (Raewyn)
Virtual light / William Gibson.
William Gibson’s ‘Virtual Light’ is the first book in his renowned San Francisco trilogy. Gibson constructs a dystopian California that is all too reminiscent of the socio-economic situation today. Gibson wrote the book in 1994 and focused on the evaporation of the middle class, the power of information, and the emergence of the internet. Gibson threads such a social criticism through a racy detective plot. The novel follows a lowly bicycle courier and a lowly rent-a-cop. Each character weaves towards the other through their disastrous interactions with the extremely wealthy.
Following on from the literary kingship of metafiction in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Gibson turns in a different direction. Rather than references to television existing outside of the main narrative, televisual references are now part of the fabric of the text. Both the characters, the narrator, and the implied author make sense of their world through television. If you understand a reference, then you are forced to realise that such a television show is part of the fabric of your reality too! A fast-paced read filled with Gibson’s characteristic sardonic cool tone. (Andrew)
Tales of the city / Armistead Maupin.
I’ve had this book recommended to me a few times and I have finally kowtowed to the pressure and read it. Though I didn’t so much read it as consume it one evening. It is an entertaining story that follows the interwoven lives of a sundry group of characters living in 1970s San Francisco. I found it to be compulsive reading which made navigating the sometimes rambling and convoluted narrative enjoyable rather than tedious. It certainly has soapy moments but that didn’t stop me from admiring it. I have already made it through the two follow-up books and am looking forward to the continuing tales in Armistead’s other books. (Caleb)