Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas wrap: Last-weekend holiday gift suggestions from Bellemeade Books

Author Jesús Ángel García,
leading the last-weekend holiday charge

You've waited this long and now here it is, the last weekend to join the holiday throngs in their final shopportunity. (You'll be too busy running out for rum on the 24th to do much gift shopping next Saturday.) Here are some suggestions from reviews here at Bellemeade Books in the past year -- with the Amazon box at the right for easy ordering, it couldn't get much simpler. Now get to work on knocking out those last names on your gift list ...

Jonathan Evison's new novel about the Pacific Northwest, West of Here, is a comic and sprawling story that is equal parts Edward Abbey and Ken Kesey. It's the fictional tale of events in the town of Port Bonita over the course of one hundred years as the townsfolk try to reclaim the land from the effects of a dam across the Elwa River, an ecological history of the Olympic Peninsula told with an evolving cast of characters.
The book is populated with a wide assortment of idealists, ex-cons, adventurers, politicos and romantics. In the fictional town of Port Bonita there is the very real story of the Pacific Northwest struggling to reconcile the past with the present.

To a current generation that has just witnessed the instant combustion of revolts in Egypt and Libya and beyond, the idea that music can carry the weight of a revolution may seem obvious, but 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day (Ecco) is a good history lesson on the challenges presented by "protest music" over the past sixty years, and the threat some well-turned and sharp lyrics posed to contemporary standards and social expectations.This book is about those scattered messages and the impact they had on audiences, from Billie Holiday's stunning revelation of "Strange Fruit" to Guthrie's Okie dustbowl tales, from Dylan's incendiary folk to Sam Cooke's smooth croon, from the Clash to Green Day. What these songs and singers have in common is that they reach beyond the conventions of popular music of their day to deliver specific, and very pointed, contemporary messages.

Even in the anything-goes decade of the 1970s the work of film-maker, author and playwright
Pier Paolo Pasoliniappeared over-the-top. His art was too much for some, who found his open homosexuality too challenging, and yet his Communist politics didn't go far enough for others. His life and work didn't hew to perceived boundaries, and his polemics challenged even revolutionary ideologues to the point of anger.
In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology presents the first translations of much of Pasolini's work in English, and although the book covers a dizzying amount of ground from poetry to polemics, it's a valuable resource toward an understanding of the Italian multi-media artist, who relished confronting realism with firebrand idealism and constantly questioned the effect of mainstream culture on human values.

For readers who have always resolved to read those hefty Russian novels sooner or later, Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them is a great starting point. Batuman's best talent is creating the desire to get the books off the shelf and begin reading, a feat in itself for a literature most Americans consider oblique and daunting. Her essays, detailing her own reading post-graduate experience, delve into reasons why these books continue to intrigue and thrill readers beyond their labyrinthine plots and tongue-twisting patronyms. Politics, intrigue, adventure, romance, deception, and more politics: the background of Russian literature is a vortex that drew Batuman to read Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky over a seven-year period. While her shaggy-dog stories don't always lead to great insights, it certainly makes scaling the heights of Russian masterworks easier to contemplate.

Jesús Ángel García's first novel badbadbad is "a transmedia novel" aimed right at the heart of weird America. The novel is its own experiment in splicing together elements of religion, technology and 21st century personality crisis. The story of badbadbad (or 3xbad, in the author's own shorthand) is the age-old conflict between want and need, of the search for paradise and lunch, one man's sudden awakening to life's duality ... In short, after his wife unexpectedly leaves with their infant son, there's the realization that, for the book's fictional Jesús Ángel García faced with no options, everything becomes an option. It's a novel, a CD, a film: badbadbad is a total package of media immersion that beats corporate American culture to the punch.

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