Walking around the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show this year, I had a task at hand. I needed to corner my fellow book-loving cohorts and ask “What’s the one book you read this year that floored you?”
If you want to see a book lover stopped in his tracks, just ask that question. He’ll try anything to get out of having to answer. “Do I have to answer right now?” Yes. “Can I give you two books?” No. I started getting a sick pleasure out of watching my peers squirm in obvious discomfort, like having to name their favorite child. It was all fun and games until the tables were turned and Cheryl McKeon, formerly of Third Place Books, asked me to answer my own question. I froze. “The Age of Miracles!” I stammered. Then I laid out my spiel about the book: “Karen Thompson Walker does an incredible feat of writing an apocalyptic novel, minus all the explosions and riots. It’s like Armageddon meets The Virgin Suicides.” Okay, maybe referencing a movie that spawned a hit single by Aerosmith will turn some people off, but it was the best I could do on the spot. Now I understood why everyone I asked shifted their feet and begged me to allow them to list more than one book. But rules are rules. And so, without further ado, here are the top picks for the “The One Book You Read This Year That Floored You & Why?”—Lindsey McGuirk, Village Books, Bellingham
Duane Wilson, science fiction buyer, University Bookstore, Seattle
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (release date: February 2013)
“A great steampunk adventure.”
George Carroll, independent publishers’ sales rep
Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
“This was originally published in 1985, but was just translated this year. It’s an apocalyptic read about people whose lives are awful. Then a man moves into their village . . . and cons the crap out of them. It’s so good!”
Vladimir Verano, the man behind the curtain of the Espresso Book Machine & voice behind @3rdplacepress on Twitter, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park
Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman
“Who needs post-apocalyptic lit when you have 14th century Black Plague and demons?”
Jamil Zaidi, manager at Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
“Definitely the one book that made me say ‘holy shit!’ It was so smart, insightful and funny.”
Suzanne Droppert, store owner and the voice behind @LIBERTYBAYBOOKS on Twitter, Liberty Bay Books, Poulsbo
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
“It’s a celebration of life in books. I loved it.”
Katie Mehan, Random House sales rep
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs (release date: February 2013)
“I’m trying to think of words that aren’t so cliché, but can’t. So here goes. It’s a rip-roarin’, compulsively crazy and trippy world. Definitely trippy.”
Jim Harris, happily retired sales rep
Death at the Chateau Bremont: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery by M.L. Longworth
“It’s a wonderful story that makes you feel like you’re actually in Provence.”
Colleen Conway, Random House kids sales rep
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
“It’s a murder mystery set in the South. I won’t be surprised if it ends up a Newbery winner. It’s fabulous!”
Bob Belmont, Penguin sales rep
The Frost on His Shoulders by Lorenzo Mediano
“An incredible story that takes place during the Spanish Civil War. It’s told in the form of an old Spanish folk tale. It was translated into English beautifully because the language is so simple.”
Cheryl McKeon, Former Third Place Books book club coordinator
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
“Exquisitely written piece of a time and place that was spot-on accurate. Unforgettable characters like I’ve never read before.”
Chris Satterlund, Scholastic Sales Rep
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
“It’s set in the Congo and is about a 14-year-old whose mom is researching bonobos. I don’t stay up late, but this book was compelling enough that I stayed up to finish it, then immediately started re-reading it.”
Morley Horder, co-owner of Eagle Harbor Book Company, Bainbridge Island
Wilderness by Lance Weller
“A great Northwest story. Well-written and evocative.”
Colin Rea, Fern Ridge Public Library Director
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
“I’m really enjoying this book. It reminds me a lot of when I read The Art of Racing in the Rain.”
Reed Oros, Macmillan Sales Rep
Grain Mains: 101 Surprising and Satisfying Whole Grain Recipes for Every Meal of the Day by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough
“The writing is great and the authors tell you things like, ‘Sing Happy Birthday two times when sautéing this.’”
6 responses to “What’s One Book That
Floored You This Year?”
I am thrilled to be a part of your clever survey — and to have more recommendations on my list, too. It was great to see you!
You too, Cheryl! Such a wonderful surprise to see you there.
I read an old book recently that floored me with its cleverness, erudition, and compelling story: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, published in 1988. It’s a novel about a small group of people who work for a publishing house that decides it is going to publish a series on occult, esoteric topics like Masonry, Rosicrucianism, black magic, etc. After reading a lot of manuscripts and interviewing a lot of authors who seem borderline nutty or just weird, and after some intensive exploration on their own, they decide they have learned a tremendous amount and could put together their own story that is a synthesis or mashup of some significant things they have learned. As part of this, they pretend they have discovered a huge secret. For them, initially, it is just a lark — something fun to do — a joke even. But, when others who are heavily invested in this realm of knowledge find out about this, they take it seriously and things turn very dark after that. People die.
Having found Foucault’s Pendulum so interesting, I read another of Eco’s novels, Name of the Rose, published in 1994, which is completely different, but also very good. It’s more of a period piece that takes place in the 1300s, when the Inquisition was in full swing. The main characters, Adso of Melk and William of Baskerville, are visiting a very wealthy Franciscan abbey in northern Italy on a political mission for the Holy Roman Emperor, but they soon find that some kind of struggle is going on within the Abbey as several monks are found murdered in mysterious circumstances, all of it somehow related to a secret stored in the abbey’s tightly controlled library. The head of the abbey asks William to investigate, since he is a former inquisitioner well known for his expertise at carrying out investigations. Though the story takes a very long time setting up the background of the story, it is well worth sticking with it. William turns out to be as clever as Sherlock Holmes (hinted at in the “Baskerville” part of his name?) and Adso to be the analogue of Dr. Watson. All in all, it’s a lot of fun and can be read on many levels, from political satire to a commentary on the illusive nature of truth. As well, one gets a very strong sense of what life might have been like in the Dark Ages.
Hi Craig. Don’t you love when a book by an author leads you down the rabbit hole of other books by that author? That happened to me with Tom Robbins and Douglas Coupland.
Years ago I got to hear Umberto Eco speak. He was so incredibly charming in that grandfatherly sort of way. What a joy it was to experience that. Thanks so much for sharing your stories!
I agree on The Age of Miracles. It wasn’t so much the scenes or the characters, but the way the whole concept got into my head. I thanked the author at the Elliott Bay sponsored reading (at a library near me due to the Capital Hill block party) that I appreciated her work for doing just that. For a couple weeks I noticed that as I walked down the street I looked at things a little differently–it was unsettling, but beautiful, too. That doesn’t happen very often (with any art form) so it was impressive to me that a book could still effect me that way.
I agree, Mark. Karen Thompson Walker did an incredible job of writing a super-creepy novel by keeping an apocalyptic premise in the background, rather than shoving it in the faces of the readers. It’s like watching a horror movie, and nearly having a panic attack every time a door opens, because you know the killer is lurking somewhere…waiting….