We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and three of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can email them to us here.
It’s finally spring! Well, it is most places. Here in Chicago, we aren’t so convinced. But with the arrival of spring comes the arrival of a ton of book releases. Here are a few slated for April 2014.
Emma Donaghue’s first novel since 2010’s book-group staple Room is titled Frog Music and is on the way. Frequent provocateur Ayelet Waldman is back with a new novel, Love & Treasure—which happens to be her second whose title begins “Love And…” On the promising debut front, Justin Go’s The Steady Running Of The Hour is generating some talk. Following a critically acclaimed debut, Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me looks to be an April book to watch. National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen has a new novel, In Paradise. Lemony Snicket proves he’s a fount of delight and whimsy with a new All The Wrong Questions book, File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents. In the graphic arena, there’s Bohemians: A Graphic History by Paul Buhle and David Berger, The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and Caanan White, and Relatively Indolent But Relentless by Matt Freedman. On the non-fiction side, Matt Taibbi’s scathing new book, The Divide, looks to examine the ways wealth determines rights in America. Scott Eyman has written an extensive biography of The Duke, John Wayne: The Life And Legend. An oral history of 1980s new wave, Mad World, is set to arrive soon. But the real flood may be in the number of memoirs slated for an April arrival: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has Things A Little Bird Told Me: Confessions Of The Creative Mind. Comedian and writer Carol Leifer has How To Succeed In Business Without Really Crying. Music journalist Lisa Robinson has There Goes Gravity: A Life In Rock And Roll. Bob Saget has Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles Of A Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian. Rob Lowe has (another) memoir, following the success of 2011’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends, titled Love Life. And all-around TV utility player Judy Greer has I Don’t Know What You Know Me From. That was but a sampling of new books available for the reading. Go to it.
I’ve been reading a lot for assignments, so my pleasure reading has taken a serious hit this last month. I’m tending toward two genres that tend to require a little bit less of a time commitment: poetry and comics. That said, I did read two poetry books that I have to mention some place: Kevin Powers’ Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting and Kevin Young’s Book Of Hours. Powers’ novel from last year, The Yellow Birds, was a devastating look at the Iraq War from the perspective of a young soldier, and this small volume of verse follows in that same vein. I’ve been a fan of Kevin Young for more than a decade, since I read Most Way Home, and his non-fiction book on race and culture, The Grey Album, is also worth seeking out. That these two books affected me as much as they did probably indicates a need for more poetry in my life, yet as far as I am from the experiences depicted therein—I’ve never been a soldier composing a love letter and I’ve never been a father watching his son’s head crowning as the child is born—but I was right there with both of these writers. Or maybe I just dig poems written by dudes named Kevin. Who knows?
My wife got me Drew Magary’s Someone Could Get Hurt last year, because she reads a lot of books about parenting and I think she thought I should, too. Though I’ve never been the rager that Magary seems to have been, I could definitely relate to his constant worrying. It led me back to his 2011 novel, The Postmortal, which is about an altogether different kind of worry: In the book’s near future, scientists have discovered a cure for death. And while that sounds wonderful at first, it naturally leads to a nightmarish hellscape of diminished resources, poverty, and depression. But it’s no slog: Magary keeps his main character, whose story is told via “found documents”—though not as annoyingly as that might sound—relatable and compelling, depressed but more or less determined to live, and occasionally to do the right thing. I wouldn’t call it “brilliant” by any stretch, but it’s a great premise backed up by a solid story and some crackerjack writing.
On either Halloween 2009 or Super Bowl Sunday 2010 (it’s been so long, the details are starting to get blurry), a friend loaned me his copy of Scott McCloud’s Zot, Book 1, a reprint collecting the first 10 issues of the Understanding Comics’ author’s breakthrough superhero series. I put the paperback on the top of my to-read pile—and proceeded to pile on top of it, to the point that I hung onto Zot through a thoroughly un-fun passive falling-out with its owner (Erik’s Pro Tip: Working with your friends rarely works out, kids!) and two moves. In between the moves, I attempted to return the book, only to have the USPS send it back to the Onion Inc. offices some six months later. Taking this as a sign that I wouldn’t be rid of Zot until I actually read Zot, I finally cracked it open after removing it from its second moving-box home, promptly devouring issues #1–4. Already feeling like such a putz for hanging on to the damn thing for so long, that feeling increased as I got deeper into McCloud’s alternate Earth of futurist cityscapes, Art Deco-inspired villainy, and a teen hero with the outwardly cheery look of Golden Age Superman and the inner turmoil of every age Batman. It’s one of the funniest, most entertaining superhero books I’ve ever read, informed by the history of the genre and powered by the author’s aim to perk up the grim-and-gritty world of 1980s comics—without sacrificing the era’s sense of invention and maturity. It’ll be sad to finally part with the book, but at least that parting will come with a sense of accomplishment. (Justin Davis, if you’re reading this, please send me your current address so I can exchange Zot for my copy of Street Gang: The Complete History Of Sesame Street.)