December 18, 2015

Season’s Greetings—and suggested reading—from the Melville House team



MobyLives is going on a short holiday hiatus—we’ll be back and debuting our Spring 2016 titles on Monday, January 4th. In the meantime, check out recommendations from the Melville House staff for your winter reading list. 

Happy reading! 


Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality Gift Edition white
One of the most significant, culture-changing Supreme Court decisions since the days of the civil rights movement deserved to be a book, we thought. Actually, we decided two books: The opinion itself—written by Justice Anthony Kennedy—is one of the most memorably eloquent opinions in the history of the court, so we made a special gift edition of it. For history buffs that want the full story, we made a separate edition with Judge Kennedy’s opinion along with the dissenting opinions, which are revealing of what this particular civil right—now the law of the land—was up against. As Alexandra Alter noted in the New York Times, Melville House has a rich history of making hit books out of “pivotal public documents,” from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture to the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality … This one is in keeping with that, and yet is the one that may make the best Christmas gift—a gift of hope and change for the better. —Dennis Johnson, Co-Publisher

Patience and FortitudePATIENCE AND FORTITUDE: Power, Real Estate, and the Battle to Save a Public Library, by Scott Sherman
The book that Vanity Fair called a “major feat of reporting” and that Maureen Corrigan described as “grippping…packed with a colorful cast of moguls, celebrities, intellectuals and Internet crusaders,” Patience and Fortitude tells an all-too-rare story of successful citizen activism in the new New York. In a series of cover stories for The Nation, Scott Sherman uncovered the hush-hush plans that would forever alter the iconic New York Public Library, and the dedicated group of activists that fought to stop it. His book expands on the original reporting that was, according to Salman Rushdie, an essential part of that victory. An only-in-New York story that actually resonates all over the country, Scott Sherman’s vital and incisive reporting on the Central Library Plan, hastily conceived and only vaguely understood, raises questions about the purpose and future of libraries, but also about the value of historic preservation; architecture; print vs. digital; and political and civic power in a time when money and real estate can seem to overpower everything else. —Julia Fleischaker, Director of Marketing & Publicity

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THE DOGWALKER: An Anarchist’s Encounters With the Good, the Bad, and the Canine, by Joshua Stephens 
As tender as it is profanely funny, Joshua Stephens (a devoted anarchist and activist) gives us a guided tour of his ten-year stint as a professional dogwalker, and the myriad surprising ways it changed his life and his outlook. Stephens probes into every aspect of the trade, from the hundreds of humorous and affecting encounters with man’s best friend (as well as their owners), to the socioeconomic reality that creates and sustains demand for dogwalking, to the secret tricks of successful dogwalking (who know WAY more about you than you think). It’s a delightful and irascible trip through a job that hides surprising profundity—and as Stephens shows you, you just need to know where to look. —Liam O’Brien, Sales & Marketing Manager



When we first published Greg Hrbek’s Not on Fire, but Burning at the end of September, Charles Yu’s review for the New York Times called it “an impressive achievement: a narrative that is changing even as it is still taking place, still being reshaped by the news, by our collective and individual memories.” In the weeks since that review—and many others that praised Hrbek’s sensitive treatment of a post-9/11 world—the novel’s depictions of prejudice and extremism have become brutally resonant.  At the heart of the book are two young boys—one Muslim, one not—who become the agents of horrific violence, and the flickers of hope and sympathy that very nearly end the disaster they’ve set in motion. It’s a novel built on emotional scale and cinematic details: cicadas emerging from underground cells in a way that makes the soil appear to tremble; an army veteran eating ice cream straight out of the carton after a failed pool party; a decision that pivots at the sound of a baby crying in the next room. But more than anything, Not on Fire, but Burning is a chilling vision of post-catastrophe America, an indictment of religious intolerance, a devastating family drama, and it feels more essential now than ever. —Taylor Sperry, Editor

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WE, ROBOTS: Staying Human in the Age of Big Data, by Curtis White
We’ve all heard the argument before: technology is changing our lives, and not always for the better. In We, Robots, Curtis White takes this rather tired observation and injects it with new life. Starting with the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, who declared that “what we call truth is really only the most expedient form of error,” White shows how the narratives about how robotic technologies will restructure our world are simplistic and achingly stale. I was delighted by his astute, line-by-line readings of economists and journalists so blatantly sold on technological inevitability. Skepticism, imagination, and humor: these are the antidotes White offers to narrow-minded conceptions of what the future will look like. We, Robots is a rousing, inspired book for the new year. —Kait Howard, Publicist

Wittgenstein Jr is like Brideshead Revisited but with added booze and better jokes. No, it’s like The Trip but with more impressive impressions and superior insults. No, it’s like The Art of Fielding if it were set in soggy, underwhelming Cambridge University. The genius of Lars Iyer‘s novel is that it’s akin to all of these things but still manages to be wholly unexpected, and the most original novel you’ll read for a long time. Buy it for the relative that believes British fiction should be quiet and conservative; buy it for the friend who thinks they know experimental fiction. Buy it because it has a baby on its front cover: a baby in nappies, with the head of Ludwig Wittgenstein — and who doesn’t want to unwrap that on Christmas morning. —Zeljka Marosevic, Managing Director, Melville House UK

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Kirk Lynn‘s pack is certain there’s a better way to live and love in the suburbs. But utopia is hard, and the realities of Power, Violence, Fear, and Biology (we get hungry, we get horny, etc.) don’t make things any easier going.  I should say that I totally thought I had Rules for Werewolves pegged. Hearing the elevator pitch for it—this here is a story about a gang of suburban squatters told almost entirely in unattributed dialogue—I knew it was my kind of book. But then I read it, and it defied all expectations—again and again and again. I recommend Rules for Werewolves to anyone who is young and frustrated, anyone who is old and frustrated, anyone who likes bold new voices in American fiction, and anyone in the habit of looking for answers or solace in precarious places like books. Yeah, that’s just about all of us, I think. —Chad Felix, Manager of Direct Sales & Library Marketing

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SOPHIA, by Michael Bible
I should probably start this off with a disclaimer: If you have churchgoing relatives, do not give them copies of Sophia for the holidays, unless you are a real trouble-maker; in which case, give all your churchgoing relatives copies of Sophia for the holidays. Because this is a nasty, debaucherous, hilarious and ecstatic firecracker of a book. It is The Lives of the Saints, ghost-written by a monk sucking from a tank of nitrous oxide; all the dirty bits of Augustine’s Confessions summarized by a handful of Quaaludes. As The Right Reverend Alvis T. Maloney and his right-hand man Eli stagger through a cross-country train trip, a series of chess-tournaments, a wizard-powered raid on the mayor’s house, and a desperate flight into the loving arms of Lady Liberty, Michael Bible manages to transmute profanity, degeneracy and the off-label use of prescription painkillers into something approaching the sublime.—Simon Reichley, Assistant to the Publishers & Office Manager


Philip K. Dick: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations
In Philip K. Dick: The Last Interview, we follow PKD on the wild rides he’s been on, from the mysticisms in Taoism to the problems with Blade Runner‘s screenplay, to the trippy symbols in his Hugo Award–winning The Man in the High Castle, now made into a television series of the same name. His influence and paranoia are everywhere, both full-blown and contagious: “If you’ve got something growing in your backyard,” he says in the book’s 1977 interview, “you’re going to be paranoid all the days of your life, until you get the damn thing out of your yard.” —Wah-Ming Chang, Managing Editor

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THE NEXT NEXT LEVEL: A Story of Rap, Friendship, and Almost Giving Up, by Leon Neyfakh
Is Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level a weird book? The thought hadn’t occurred to me until a couple of months ago, when I sat in on a meeting of the Melville House book club, at Rough Trade NYC. Everyone loved the book. But they also thought it was weird. Weird because, for one thing, the book doesn’t quite belong to a single genre. It is, all at once, a memoir, a work of music criticism, a generational cri de coeur, and a chronicle of one man’s obsession with a rap-rocker named Juiceboxxx. And also weird because its author, Leon Neyfakh, doesn’t try to explain himself. The Next Next Level offers no mission statement, no letter of intent—Neyfakh writes as if every other book in existence were similarly promiscuous in its approach to form and content, so why account for the obvious? It turned out that the book clubbers were right—a unique book that takes its uniqueness for granted really is a weird and rare thing. In my time editing The Next Next Level, I had already found so many things to like and praise about it, and now here was one more: Neyfakh had made audacity look like no big deal. —Mark Krotov, Senior Editor

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Ernest Hemingway: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations 
Hemingway continues to have a lasting impact on readers the world over—most recently, his posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast, has become a symbol of cultural defiance in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. To quote William Faulkner: “One of the bravest and best….He is not dead.” In this collection of interviews, ranging from 1954 to 1958 and including his conversation with George Plimpton of The Paris Review, the American literary icon delves into issues of craft, love, war and, of course, fishing. The interviews demonstrate his vitriolic wit, as well as his passion and unrivaled influence. As Papa himself recommended, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” —Ena Brdjanovic, Director of Digital Media

The Ghost Network

The Ghost Network, by Catie Disabato
Do you have a friend (or maybe, you are that friend) who claims that jamming to Miley Cyrus is as worthy an intellectual pursuit as trying to understand [insert-heady-theorist-here]. You may groan, and ask yourself: “How is it possible to have these disparate interests, how will I ever please this insane person?” Fear no more—Catie Disabato‘s The Ghost Network ingeniously weaves together conspiracy theories, pop music, and philosophy into the meta-mystery novel that us pop-culture fanatics dream of. —Julia Irion Martins, intern

Future Days2FUTURE DAYS: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music, by David Stubbs
An engrossing study of important so-called “Krautrock” groups of the 60s and 70s like Can, Neu!, and, of course, Kraftwerk. While Americans and Brits have tended to view these bands with anxiety or derision—seeing in their matching outfits and droning synthesizers an unsettling echo of the Third Reich—Stubbs shows Krautrock to be ideologically progressive and optimistic. In their innovative experiments with electronic soundscapes, these musicians pushed back against the conformity of post-WW2 Germany, and at the same time influenced a myriad of rock icons, from David Bowie to U2 to LCD Soundsystem. Best read with headphones and an open YouTube tab. —Emma Ingrisani, intern

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SEEING POWER: Art and Activism in the Age of Cultural Production, by Nato Thompson
In the post-industrial world of speculative finance and austerity politics, a theory of performative aesthetics has been increasingly difficult to enunciate and is rarely found within the parameters of activism. The curatorial criticism of Seeing Power departs from there—diagnosing the state of contemporary art as precarious and its solutions as immanent, Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time NYC, intersects decades of art and activism in articulating a fragmented history of cultural production and notes for future mobilization. Thompson employs numerous examples of subversion—all of whcih serve as invitations to critique and discuss, deconstruct and interrogate, the disjointed contingency between art and activism. —Leo Zausen, intern

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The New York Times called Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality, “An urgent call to action . . . intended to persuade followers around the world to change their behavior, in hopes of protecting a fragile planet.” This beautiful, inspiring document should be read by everyone, regardless of belief. —Valerie Merians, Co-Publisher


noraephron-whiteNORA EPHRON: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations
In a display of stunning naivety, I moved to New York earlier this year with no set plans, and, honestly, little intention of making any. The only knowledge I had, the only undeniable facts I felt I knew about the city, came from Nora Ephron movies. As a result, I was wrong about almost everything. Luckily, NORA EPHRON: THE LAST INTERVIEW is just as warm and humorous as her films, but slightly more practical. In a tone that is characteristically wry and self-deprecating, she recommends hard work above all else. For a woman with such a long and varied career—a career she fiercely earned—she is refreshingly unpretentious. Her only advice to young writers? Do something. She was modest. On rereading THE LAST INTERVIEW, it occurred to me that she is possibly the only writer who can make baking a Thanksgiving turkey sound not only funny, but oddly profound. The grind is admirable but, occasionally, it is nice to spend time in the company of a total natural. —Nicole Flattery, intern