Looking for a little literary leisure? Molly Coogan, manager at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, has got you covered. With her insightful eye and passion for reading, Coogan assembled a slate of must-reads for the end of winter/start of spring season. Be sure to check out these recently released and forthcoming books that Coogan has read recently and can wholeheartedly recommend.
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride, available now
South Brooklyn, 1969. The Cause Houses housing project. The often-drunk church deacon, known as Sportcoat, ambles into the courtyard and shoots the project’s drug dealer (who also happens to be Sportcoat’s former baseball protegee). The story unfolds from there into the church, the docks, and the surrounding neighborhood, then all the way out to Queens and Staten Island, uniting a rich tapestry of characters — black, brown, Irish, Italian. McBride’s expertly woven novel is infused with humor, heart, and a good helping of surprises. Wholly satisfying!
“A Burning” by Megha Majumdar, out June 2, 2020
Jivan, a young woman from India’s slums, witnesses a deadly terrorist bombing at a train platform. The government ties her to the event by mining her social media and twisting her words and the words of those who knew her best, including PT Sir, her self-serving former gym teacher with his eye on a position of power in the rising right-wing political power, and Lovely, a hijra with moviestardom aspirations Jivan tutored in English. Jivan is imprisoned and her case becomes a lightning rod for a country in transition, highlighting issues of class, ambition, corruption, and justice. This riveting and propulsive novel, told in the alternating voices of the three main characters, will linger in your mind long after you’ve put it down.
“Weather” by Jenny Offill, available now
Believe the hype. Contained in this slim novel are brief chapters bursting with perfectly tuned prose and big ideas. Offill’s writing is precise and disconcerting, witty and wise. Her protagonist, Lizzie Benson, is a librarian by chance, a shrink by hobby, a mother and wife, and a sister and aunt to her recovering addict brother and his infant daughter. Civilization is in decline; viewed through the lens of climate change, right-wing end-of-days conspiracies, or intimate family dynamics, the deep despair and feelings of helplessness unite a city and a polarized world in crisis, and Lizzie tries her best to save them all.
“Life for Sale” by Yukio Mishima, out April 21, 2020
This book is bonkers. Originally serialized in Japan in Weekly Playboy in 1968, this pulp fiction novel is being released in English for the first time. After a botched suicide attempt, salaryman Hanio Yamada decides he might as well try to sell his life in the classifieds. Interested parties contact him with increasingly complex and bizarre requests, from a jealous husband to an organized crime caper to a vampiric mother looking for a live-in lover/food supply, Hanio finds himself unable to die in spite of his — and everyone else’s — best attempts. This is a fun read (but do yourself a favor and don’t look too deeply into the author’s bio — don’t say I didn’t warn you).
“The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories” by Sam Pink, available now
Dishwasher, cook, assembly line temp, ice cream truck driver — if you have or have had this sort of job, you will nod in recognition and appreciation as you read each of Sam Pink’s spot-on stories in this funny and familiar collection. Pink nails the sounds, the smells, the boredom, and the banter that envelops the workaday life of the low wage laborer. He also captures the poignancy of those small moments of connection and grace that keep us hanging on just when we might question why we should.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, out June 2, 2020
This story begins in Louisiana in 1968 in a small town whose population is made up entirely of light-skinned black families, many of whom could “pass” as white, especially the beautiful teenage twins Stella and Desiree. They are raised by their single mom after witnessing their father killed by a racist mob, and are forced to drop out of school to get jobs cleaning houses. The girls — for different reasons — run away together to New Orleans, where ultimately their lives diverge in completely opposite directions. The book covers miles and decades as the sisters’ lives compress and expand to include issues of race, belonging, deceit, class, wealth, and loyalty.
Books are available/will be available at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore at 23 Main Street in Vineyard Haven.