Fuzzy Nation

Based around the discovery of a possibly sentient, but more importantly endearing and adorable alien species, this book is a real feel-good read. Jack Holloway is morally ambiguous in a rapscallion-disbarred-from-being-a-lawyer kinda way; we are constantly reminded by his words that he isn't such a great person, but do his actions speak differently? The real stars are the Fuzzies, whose charm is just sweet and wild enough to be believable, and the dog, Carl, who enjoys blowing things up. Add to this some grandstand courtroom drama, and you've got a fun, easy read. Also check out Little Fuzzy, the 1963 Hugo-nominated book that Fuzzy Nation was inspired by.

- Alec

On Audiobooks

I recently finished listening to Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I also read the book. That is to say that when I left the car, I didn’t want to leave the story so in addition to the audio I got a copy of the book. I opened it here and there and read portions that I had already heard and then continued reading. Weird, perhaps, but it filled my need to have the story available when I wanted it rather than only when I was driving.

Other books I have enjoyed listening to and recommend: Faithful Place by Tana French (and what a reader Tim Gerard Reynolds is! I kept looking over at the passenger seat expecting him to be there.); The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee and The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, both excellently read by Orlagh Cassidy.

I’m afraid that I’m overly discriminating when it comes to how a book is read. There are readers who do it well, while others only succeed in making me flinch. If a book is read too slowly (argh, just that one-second-too-long break between sentences; Christina informed me that turning music on and off for a beat or two is used as a method of torture); or too melodramatically; or when some readers attempt to make each characters’ voice unique, I just can’t listen. I am silently screaming, "Read to me; just read to me."

Books read by their authors are a 50/50 deal: Hosseni reading The Kite Runner was exceptional; Sue Miller reading Lake Shore Limited was nice – not too this, not too that. Just right. Others are not so adept. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson was great, but then with At Home, I liked the content, but not his voice. It’s a gamble.

Picky, picky, picky, that’s me. Still, I like listening. Here are a few more I’ve enjoyed listening to:

  • Any Jane Austin
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • (Actually, most classics)
  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
  • Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  • Heat by Bill Buford
  • Anything by Alan Furst
  • Any Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspeare
  • Any Donna Leon (English with an Italian accent, but still okay).
  • The English American by Alison Larkin (Read very well by the author!)

Alec suggests listening to Acacia by David Anthony Durham. Whether he will staff pick it is yet to be determined, but here again, the narrator, he says, was fabulous.

Linda recommends David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. She says: “The voice is so special. Hearing him read it was exciting – and I learned French that way!”

Now I’m going to drive home listening to Rachel Maddow’s Drift. She is one energized woman and a good reader so I’m going to listen up. You, too, I hope.

- Ellyne

For Fans of Fuzzy Creatures

How many of us were around for the original publication of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy in 1962? I admit that I hadn't heard of it until recently, even with it's Hugo Award in '63. I mention this because I picked up Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi a few days ago and it has been leaving me with a warm feeling the entire time.

The thing about Fuzzy Nation, though, is that it is not a sequel but a reboot of Little Fuzzy. Reboots, so typical of the film and television industry, are rare to find in the book world, the most contemporary of which seem to involve zombies. The question then becomes whether or not Scalzi managed to write a legitimate reboot instead of a blockbusting lampoon.

I am currently halfway through Fuzzy Nation, and Little Fuzzy is on its way to my mailbox. I will finish both and then have an opinion, but so far I would say the entire thing is too good a story - and too adorable - to write off.

Tax Holiday This Weekend



Saturday 8/11 and Sunday 8/12 are sales tax holidays in Massachusetts; an excellent time to strategically splurge on all those fancy books you've been coveting. Might I recommend a limited autographed copy of Walton Ford's Pancha Tantra, or a stunning 32"x50" mounted wall map of Berkshire County? Or if quantity is the name of your game, come choose a stack of 1/2 price sale books - we are alway stocking new & quality titles. We are open Saturday 9:00-6:00, and Sunday 11:00-5:00.


The Story Board and Singularity & Co.

Premiering tonight as part of Geek & Sundry's fantastic lineup is Patrick Rothfuss's new interview series, The Story Board. Concerned with all things Story, it will be a series of hour long panel discussions (and expect some general tomfoolery, besides) with storytellers of all kinds. Tonight, at 8:00 PM pacific time (that's 11:00 on the 7th of August) look for Emma Bull, Jim Butcher, and Diana Rowland, and of course Rothfuss himself in a Google+ hangout where they will be discussing Urban Fantasy! If you can't make it tonight, no fears, for it will eventually be uploaded to Youtube. Here's to hoping that this is only the tip of the iceberg. For more information, check out his blog.

Some good news for fans of independent book stores, also: the folks at the newly established Singularity & Co. are going into the past to save our alternate futures. Remember all of those good science fiction books that have been out of print forever? Wish you could get your hands on some of Frederick Pohl's older works? Singularity & Co. is making it their mission to obtain the rights to many older and in-demand sci-fi titles in order to convert them into eBooks. Subscribers can even vote on which book will be the next pursued! With plans for both and internet presence and a brick and mortar store, keep a lookout.

A Different Review of A Wolf at the Door

A Wolf at the Door by K.A. Stewart

I want to do a different sort of review here; not the normal nudging staff pick or excited first impression, but a few words that will hopefully bring an author's name to your attention. A Wolf at the Door shot immediately to the top of my list as soon as I got a hold of it, and it isn't the normal sort of book that does so. It beat out Colson Whitehead's Zone One, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, and Juliet Marillier's Wolfskin. What book has the power to do this?

A little straight-to-mass-market urban fantasy by K.A. Stewart.

We've heard of the snarky and single protagonist just trying to make ends meet while fighting the mystical underworld of a given city before. They're a dime a dozen in urban fantasy. Stewart has given us a novelty: her main character, Jesse James Dawson, is three dimensional, a husband and a father, and is mainly concerned with the safety of his family, all while making industry standard tongue-in-cheekiness his own.

The revitalization this provided has been refreshing. After A Devil in the Details, I waited twitching like a little boy for A Shot in the Dark, and then A Wolf at the Door. Now I have settled in for the next wait. I encourage you to give Stewart a try - she deserves some more attention.

- Alec


Do you remember the transmogrification device from Calvin & Hobbes? How about the many attempts at the transmutation of lead to gold, or the transfiguration magic of Harry Potter? Why was Jesus transfigured, and not transmogrified? Because these are extremely important distinctions, I went on a harrowing quest through the Oxford American Dictionary to find the differences.

Transmogrification is a real word, and it refers to a change of form of surprising or magical nature; if a gnome suddenly turns into a bipedal beetle with ape arms, that would be transmogrification. Its roots are somewhere in middle English. This is as opposed to transmutation, which is defined simply as "a change in form, nature, or substance," and seems to have a much more utilitarian usage. Transfiguration is a change into something more beautiful or elevated than its previous form, and is more appropriate for the art and spirituality realms.

I know there has been a lot of confusion about this all over the English-speaking world, so I propose an easy fix: all three words will be condensed into one, easy to spell and pronounce: Transmogrifigumutation. Or, transformation for short.

- Alec

Continued Comments on "Room for Debate"

In a continuation of our response to the New York Times' Room for Debate about the shifting path of fiction, Alec weighs in. You can read Ellyne's response here.

Is fiction changing, for better or worse?

Of course fiction is changing, as any art form does. I think of fiction as a series of ever-expanding balloons in an infinite bubble of experience; many writers have the literary lung capacity to continue to fill them, though not all do.

What is a novel's purpose, then? Jane Smiley references their ability to provide an exercise in "freedom and empathy," Thomas Glave sees them as opportunities "to experience other people's stories," William Deresiewicz recognizes them as compilations of "the atlas of private experience," and Robin Sloan sees them as cultural time capsules. However you want to put it, novels push the envelope of our thoughts in directions that no other media can.

"This may not be the best of times for fiction, but it isn’t the worst, either," claims William Deresiewicz. Perhaps we are in the middle of fiction's stagnation into mediocrity, but I am sure it is neither the first nor the last time this has occured. Is it because the rising generations have shorter attention spans, as many have referenced? I doubt it, as I have seen very little evidence of this besides sabre-rattling. Perhaps it has more to do with the recent downturn in the economy and the general depressed nature of current events; this leaves little room in our brains for new ways of thinking (and, as Matt de la Pena says, we are "terrified of sadness and self-reflection, and we actively avoid ideas that challenge"), so we gravitate towards the easy and the comforting. Thus, those who control what's available to read, in the interest of staying in business, play the industry conservative and publish novels that break little ground because that is what we are saying we want. This is much like Hollywood and television producing fewer films that break the mold with polarizing things like interracial relationships and homosexual characters when times are tough.

Can we actively break this stagnation, then? (Should we? Is consciously changing the direction of an art akin to censorship?) James Gunn advocates science fiction's place as a genre for expanding the mind, seemingly at the exclusion of everything else. Even as a fan of sci-fi, I was caught trying to wrap my head around exclusionary mind expansion. Still, a more moderate position in the same vein could be that, during times of mainstream stagnation of the novel, looking towards the fringe, the "new weird" (see Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville), the areas that are not traditionally as constrained, could lead to a revivification of the novel and the expansion of those balloons.

If we are indeed experiencing a stagnation.

- Alec

The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, The Age of Miracles, has been generating a lot of buzz in the industry for the last few months, hitting the larger fiction circuits but also courting the speculative and science fiction crowds. If you don't believe the hype, here's what Ev has to say about it.

Even the quiet, signifying beauty of this novel's dust jacket, the awed (envious?) blurbs that grace its first pages, and the poignancy of its exquisite epigraph did not prepare me for the profound wonder of The Age of Miracles. That a debut novelist has managed to reflect the enormity of an apocalyptic world in the raindrop of an ordinary twelve-year-old girl's life is a miracle in and of itself. Another, perhaps, is the likelihood that you'll never again gaze upon a sunrise or sunset without thinking "What if...?"