Bookseller at Ravenna
Theo is our most recent addition here at the Ravenna store, although it feels as if he's been part of our crew for a while now. He shelves the music, movies, drama, transportation and Pacific Northwest sections.
Between her two latest books — this story collection and her similarly excellent 2015 novel Eileen —Ottessa Moshfegh has become one of my favorite fiction writers working today. The stories in Homesick for Another World are dark and unredemptive; they find humor in misery and relish abjection. They are peopled with characters riddled with shame and self-loathing, leading to bizarre and sometimes cruel behavior. They are, in short, probably not for everyone. But readers with a taste for the bitter stuff will find Moshfegh’s writing delightfully distasteful and full of surprising moments and incisive commentary.
Sing, Unburied, Sing opens with thirteen year-old Jojo and his grandfather, Pops, killing a goat for the boy's birthday dinner. The scene, like all those in Jesmyn Ward's excellent new novel, is beautifully rendered; brutal and matter-of-fact in its violence, yet touched with a mythic quality that elevates it, turns it into something more. Ward's view of her characters is deeply compassionate and symbolically rich while always remaining honest and naturalistic in showing how the intergenerational effects of racism and poverty shape their lives.
Rick Perlstein's Nixonland does something remarkable, similar to what was accomplished in last year's Oscar-winning documentary O.J.: Made in America: it takes as its focal point a single, familiar figure while also offering a panoramic view of a critical moment in American history and culture. The book makes an compelling case for the career of Richard Nixon, with all its caustic rhetoric and manipulative machinations, as setting the course for the next half-century of American politics. Perlstein defines the titular “Nixonland” as a place where “two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans." As for the man at the center of it all, Perlstein draws Nixon as a sort of tortured Richard III type: cynical, manipulative, and very much a villain, but not without a certain underdog charm. And while you might be forgiven for wanting to escape from our own noxious political climate, Nixonland will at least let you escape to a time when our leaders were just as malevolent but quite a bit more competent.
Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty is one of my very favorite works of criticism, an incisive and wide-ranging consideration of the aestheticization of violence across a host of media. Nelson excels at finding intersections between genres you never thought bordered one another; between criticism, poetry, and memoir, for example. And while The Art of Cruelty is closer to pure criticism than some of her more experimental books, it shares the freewheeling style and adroit attention to language that mark her very best writing.
In the near future, a brain-implanted device called the “feed” has connected vast swaths of the American population in a telepathic network, a descendant of the Internet. But while the “feednet” has allowed for incredible wonders of convenience and hedonism, it also serves to blind its users to the violence and injustice that permeate their society. Fifteen years after its publication, Feed is heralded as a classic of young adult fiction, and M.T. Anderson’s insights about adolescent life in a technology- and information-inundated landscape feel more ominous and prescient than ever. Marked by wit and cynicism (the good kind of cynicism), Feed is a wonderful introduction to the potential of science fiction as social commentary.