STPL’s New and Notable Reads

 

In this disquieting new work from award-winning novelist Rabindranath Maharaj, a man awakens in a strange institution called the Compound with no memory of his past. Struggling to make sense of his surroundings, he is skeptical of the administrators who try to convince him he is mad and dangerous, and suspects he has been the subject of recurring experiments, which have caused episodes of amnesia.

In dreamlike prose Maharaj weaves a story of fragments, where the narrator comes to believe that he was once a comic book writer who warned that the reliance on artificial intelligence would make the imagination obsolete and subversive. As the narrator searches for clues he may have left for himself before his memory loss, both he and the reader learn of Adjacentland, a primitive land of misfits and outsiders. It is only in Adjacentland that the imagination has survived. With a motley group of inmates from the Compound, the narrator decides to make his way there, but during the journey he discovers a terrible secret about himself and his companions.

 

 

36230726Cross Henry James with M.R. James and you might end up with a writer like Robert Aickman, though his self-described “strange stories” remain confoundingly and uniquely his own. Aickman’s superbly written tales terrify not with standard thrills and gore but through a radical overturning of the laws of nature and everyday life. His territory of the strange, of the “void behind the face of order,” is a surreal region that grotesquely mimics the quotidian: Is that river the Thames, or is it even a river? What does it mean when a prospective lover removes one dress, and then another—and then another? Do a herd of cows in a peaceful churchyard contain the souls of jilted women preparing to trample a cruel lover to death? Published for the first time under one cover, this collection offers a generous introduction to a sophisticated, psychologically acute modernist whose achievements have too long been hidden under the cloak of genre.

 

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The Heart Begins Here is the story of the ever-optimistic, earnest Sara Requier and her disintegrating seven-year relationship with the cynical Wanda Wysoka. Along with her relationship struggles, Sara must contend with the drastic changes in the book industry that threaten her feminist bookstore, as well as a mother who refuses to accept her daughter’s lesbianism. Then, just as Wanda decides to leave Sara, Wanda’s new young lover, Cindy, is murdered. The story takes place in a western Canadian city in 2001 — much of it in Sara’s bookstore, Common Reader Books — in the shadow of the disturbing political climate that followed the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. This is a transitional point in the Canadian book industry: the proliferation of big box stores, the expansion of the Internet — and Sara is caught up in the concomitant changes in her community. The book explores themes of love and loss, of the lingering effects of a dysfunctional childhood, of misogyny, of personal and societal homophobia, and especially the challenge of integrating the personal with the political.

Marilla of Green Gables 

A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness.

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

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From the author of Hild, a fierce and urgent autobiographical novel about a woman facing down a formidable foe.

So Lucky is the sharp, surprising new novel by Nicola Griffith—the profoundly personal and emphatically political story of a confident woman forced to confront an unnerving new reality when in the space of a single week her wife leaves her and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Mara Tagarelli is, professionally, the head of a multi-million-dollar AIDS foundation; personally, a committed martial artist. But her life has turned inside out like a sock. She can’t rely on family, her body is letting her down, and friends and colleagues are turning away—they treat her like a victim. She needs to break that narrative: build her own community, learn new strengths, and fight. But what do you do when you find out that the story you’ve been told, the story you’ve told yourself, is not true? How can you fight if you can’t trust your body? Who can you rely on if those around you don’t have your best interests at heart, and the systems designed to help do more harm than good? Mara makes a decision, and acts, but her actions unleash monsters aimed squarely at the heart of her new community.

This is fiction from the front lines, incandescent and urgent, a narrative juggernaut that rips through sentiment to expose the savagery of America’s treatment of the disabled and chronically ill. But So Lucky also blazes with hope and a ferocious love of self, of the life that becomes possible when we stop believing lies.

 

 

A powerful, intimate look at the life and music of a beloved folk icon and activist.

Folk hero. Songwriter icon. Living legend. Buffy Sainte-Marie is all of these things and more. In this, Sainte-Marie’s first and only authorized biography, music critic Andrea Warner draws from more than sixty hours of exclusive interviews to offer a powerful, intimate look at the life of the beloved artist and everything that she has accomplished in her seventy-seven years (and counting).

Since her groundbreaking debut, 1964’s It’s My Way!, the Cree singer-songwriter has been a trailblazer and a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, an innovative artist, and a disruptor of the status quo. Establishing herself among the ranks of folk greats such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, she has released more than twenty albums, survived being blacklisted by two U.S. presidents, and received countless accolades, including the only Academy Award ever to be won by a First Nations artist. But this biography does more than celebrate Sainte-Marie’s unparalleled talent as a songwriter and entertainer; packed with insight and knowledge, it offers an unflinchingly honest, heartbreakingly real portrait of the woman herself, including the challenges she experienced on the periphery of showbiz, her healing from the trauma of childhood and intimate partner violence, her commitment to activism, and her leadership in the protest movement.

An inspirational, uplifting, and life-affirming memoir about passion, resilience and living life to the fullest, from Dr. Dave Williams, one of Canada’s most accomplished astronauts.

I had dreamt about becoming an astronaut from the time I watched Alan Shepard launch on the first American sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961. Eleven days before my seventh birthday, I committed to a new goal: one day, I would fly in outer space.

Dr. Dave has led the sort of life that most people only dream of. He has set records for spacewalking. He has lived undersea for weeks at a time. He has saved lives as an emergency doctor, launched into the stratosphere twice, and performed surgery in zero gravity. But if you ask him how he became so accomplished, he’ll say: “I’m just a curious kid from Saskatchewan.” Curious indeed.

In Defying Limits, Dave shares the events that have defined his life, showing us that whether we’re gravity-defying astronauts or earth-bound terrestrials, we can all live an infinite, fulfilled life by relishing the value and importance of each moment. The greatest fear that we all face is not the fear of dying, but the fear of never having lived. Each of us is greater than we believe. And, together, we can exceed our limits to soar farther and higher than we ever imagined.

Like our bodies, our brains have very specific food requirements. And in this eye-opening book from an author who is both a neuroscientist and a certified integrative nutritionist, we learn what should be on our menu. 
     
Dr. Lisa Mosconi, whose research spans an extraordinary range of specialties including brain science, the microbiome, and nutritional genomics, notes that the dietary needs of the brain are substantially different from those of the other organs, yet few of us have any idea what they might be. Her innovative approach to cognitive health incorporates concepts that most doctors have yet to learn. Busting through advice based on pseudoscience, Dr. Mosconi provides recommendations for a complete food plan, while calling out noteworthy surprises, including why that paleo diet you are following may not be ideal, why avoiding gluten may be a terrible mistake, and how simply getting enough water can dramatically improve alertness. 

Including comprehensive lists of what to eat and what to avoid, a detailed quiz that will tell you where you are on the brain health spectrum, and 24 mouth-watering brain-boosting recipes that grow out of Dr. Mosconi’s own childhood in Italy, Brain Food gives us the ultimate plan for a healthy brain. Brain Food will appeal to anyone looking to improve memory, prevent cognitive decline, eliminate brain fog, lift depression, or just sharpen their edge.
Pops

“Magical prose stylist” Michael Chabon (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times) delivers a collection of essays—heartfelt, humorous, insightful, wise—on the meaning of fatherhood.

For the September 2016 issue of GQ, Michael Chabon wrote a piece about accompanying his son Abraham Chabon, then thirteen, to Paris Men’s Fashion Week. Possessed with a precocious sense of style, Abe was in his element chatting with designers he idolized and turning a critical eye to the freshest runway looks of the season; Chabon Sr., whose interest in clothing stops at “thrift-shopping for vintage western shirts or Hermès neckties,” sat idly by, staving off yawns and fighting the impulse that the whole thing was a massive waste of time. Despite his own indifference, however, what gradually emerged as Chabon ferried his son to and from fashion shows was a deep respect for his son’s passion. The piece quickly became a viral sensation.

With the GQ story as its centerpiece, and featuring six additional essays plus an introduction, Pops illuminates the meaning, magic, and mysteries of fatherhood as only Michael Chabon can.

How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

In the face of a President who lobs accusations without facts, evidence, or logic, truth tellers are under attack. Meanwhile, the world order is teetering on the brink. North Korea is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon that could reach all of the United States, Russians have mastered a new form of information warfare that undercuts democracy, and the role of China in the global community remains unclear. There will always be value to experience and expertise, devotion to facts, humility in the face of complexity, and a respect for ideas, but in this moment they seem more important, and more endangered, than they’ve ever been. American Intelligence–the ultimate truth teller–has a responsibility in a post-truth world beyond merely warning of external dangers, and in The Assault on Intelligence, General Michael Hayden takes up that urgent work with profound passion, insight and authority.

It is a sobering vision. The American intelligence community is more at risk than is commonly understood, for every good reason. Civil war or societal collapse is not necessarily imminent or inevitable, but our democracy’s core structures, processes, and attitudes are under great stress. Many of the premises on which we have based our understanding of governance are now challenged, eroded, or simply gone. And we have a President in office who responds to overwhelming evidence from the intelligence community that the Russians are, by all acceptable standards of cyber conflict, in a state of outright war against us, not by leading a strong response, but by shooting the messenger.

There are fundamental changes afoot in the world and in this country. The Assault on Intelligence shows us what they are, reveals how crippled we’ve become in our capacity to address them, and points toward a series of effective responses. Because when we lose our intelligence, literally and figuratively, democracy dies.