November 27, 2013

Melville House holiday staff picks 2013


People always ask us for holiday recommendations from our list. Tough one! The beauty of working at an indie is that you don’t have to work on books you don’t get excited about. But we asked the staff to describe one title they had a particular fondness for. See the wildly varied results below. All are available now, by the way, and for a discount. 

All will also be available for our annual Black Friday Sale, which will be taking place from 6PM on Thursday to midnight on Saturday. All books, bags and merch will be 50% off!!



by Alejo Carpentier
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Carpentier has uncovered a truth here: that those same qualities we might enjoy in a novel—flashes of humor, moments of pensiveness or grandiosity, unalterable momentum, recursion, doubt, all floating on a dark and ancient ocean of brutality—are exactly those attributes we might fear in our leaders. Reasons of State takes a Flaubertian scalpel to the Latin American dictator, and the result is perhaps the greatest novel I’ve read this year.— Dustin Kurtz, marketing manager



by Rudolph Herzog
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Here’s a fun parlor game to play with your family this holiday season: can you guess how many nuclear weapons have gone missing since the start of the Cold War? (The answer is forty. Forty!) In this surprisingly entertaining book by Werner Herzog’s son Rudolph, the story of nuclear armament reads like a black comedy, albeit one in which the very existence of life on Earth is at stake. Will we even make it to next year’s holidays? Who knows! In the meantime, this book is perfect for your dad, who sends you multiple emails forecasting atomic apocalypse every day. Keep ’em coming, Dad!—Christopher King, art director



by Edward Jay Epstein
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In 1964, Edward Jay Epstein published his Cornell University thesis on the Warren Commission–Inquest—to rave reviews. As Calvin Trillin wrote in The New Yorker, the book was “generally considered the single greatest contribution to making criticism of the [Warren Commission] Report respectable.” The book began with a letter to the Chief Justice Earl Warren, who connected Epstein to the staff and commissioners of the Warren Commission—he was the only writer to have access to the Commission’s files. Epstein concluded that too many open questions remained, that politics and time had affected the Commission’s work, and that evidence had been kept from the commission. The book inaugurated Epstein’s journalist career, led to a staff position at The New Yorker, and 14 other books. His latest book for Melville House, The Annals of Unsolved Crime, came out earlier this year. It’s a perfect holiday gift for the conspiracy or true crime buff in your family. It collects 50 years of Epstein’s investigations–spy stories, assassinations, murders, and kidnappings. As Michael Wolff wrote in USA Today about the book, Epstein is “A grand figure of modern journalism…Show Epstein a juicy crime and he will show you how it has been subverted by unseen powers for their own agenda, by the inevitable incompetence of investigative authorities and by the media because it likes a simple story line.” —Kelly Burdick, associate publisher



by Kitty Florey
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Penmanship has fallen out of fashion and out of school curricula and, as the author says, something just feels wrong about that. Her book is a highly illustrated, whimsical history of handwriting, and a well-argued case for keeping this art alive. You’ll get to spy on famous writers through their personal correspondence (from Toni Morrison’s manuscript corrections to Walt Whitman’s Christmas letter) and learn the story behind the Coca Cola logo.

This is the perfect gift for the person you last took to the Morgan Library, your neighbor who shares your birthday and never forgets to write you a handwritten card, the sister who hands out flyers on the day of school board elections, the professor who still knows the phone number of a top-notch typewriter repair guy, the friend from college who shared Steinbeck’s note to his son (“Nothing good gets away”) from “Letters of Note” on Facebook, or for your mother and grandmother, who politely open the gloves and fancy hand lotion you get them every year but don’t really need another pair of gloves or any more fancy hand lotion. Get them something they’ll keep. —Kirsten Reach, editor



by Bernd Brunner
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As a tireless proponent of the well-timed nap, I’m looking forward to getting The Art of Lying Down into as many family members’ hands as possible. Brunner’s charming study of reclining as an art form offers the defense I’ve never been able to muster, and with his help I should be able to enjoy my holiday naps with a little less guilt. Knowing that Proust, Twain, Wordsworth, and Capote all preferred to work lying down is food for thought for when the holidays are over and productivity rules again. —Julia Fleischaker, director of publicity



by Elisabeth Luard
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A perfect holiday gift for anyone with culinary curiosity, The Old World Kitchen is a beautifully designed cookbook featuring traditional European recipes over centuries and the stories behind them. From more conventional dishes like Cod with Beer from Belgium, Mushrooms on Toast from Switzerland, or Austrian Apple Strudel, author Elisabeth Luard also includes recipes with intriguing names like Old Clothes with Hot Sauce from Portugal or Hot Lightning from Holland. Luard’s commentary about the history of each dish is delightful and Mark Bittman called this “The best cookbook no one’s ever heard of.”—Claire Kelley, director of library and academic marketing


1913: The Year Before the Storm

by Florian Illies
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Almost everyone has a history buff in their life, and if you’re like me, you have three or four of them. And if you’re tired of giving them the same dry, dense history books, Florian Illies’s 1913: The Year Before the Storm is a perfect pick.

1913 takes you through the history of the year, month-by-month, and it’s completely engrossing. Illies offers glimpses into the lives of the people who shaped not only the major historical events, but the music, art, fashion, literature, and philosophy of the time. It often feels like you’re peeking at the private diaries of the likes of Kafka, Duchamp, Louis Armstrong, and countless others. It’s as entertaining as it is informative, and completely deserving of the rave reviews it’s received. —Nick Davies, publicist


Half the Kingdom


by Lore Segal
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I know publishers are not supposed to have favorites, but I must admit I am very partial to New Yorker writer Lore Segal’s first novel in over thirty years, Half the Kingdom.

With effortless mastery, Segal manages to be funny, tragic and completely clear-eyed about how we live, and die, today. Reading it, I really didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Mostly I yelped, in helpless recognition of how accurately she captured the beauty and pathos of being alive.—Valerie Merians, co-publisher



by Wolf Haas
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There is so much to love about The Bone Man, the second novel by Wolf Haas featuring private eye Simon Brenner that Melville has published and soon to be followed by a third, Resurrection. First, it’s told in a narrative voice that may remind you of some of your more garrulous uncles. Second, it involves a pile of bones that, unlike your turkey, should probably not be examined too closely. Third, Brenner always, always looks into piles of things that should not be examined too closely. Set in the Austrian countryside, The Bone Man finds Brenner investigating a series of disappearances at a fried chicken restaurant, along with a motley crew of Slavic soccer champs, conceptual artists, pun-loving prostitutes, and over-eager EMTs. With a sly humor all its own and plenty of gross-out jokes, it upends conventional notions of crime fiction and reconstitutes them after its own totally gonzo image. Bonus: there are a lot of twists in this book. A LOT. You’ve been warned.

This book is for:

—Sal Robinson, editor



by Lars Iyer
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Look, the holidays are terrible. Admit it: we’re all a little down this time of year. But this isn’t a truth we should wallow in, it’s one we should celebrate. And no one celebrates the holy trinity of the holidays—misery, failure, and drunkenness–with as much with or intelligence as Lars Iyer.

Exodus follows the flailing philosophers Lars and W. as they attempt to save philosophy from an education system that just doesn’t give a damn about it anymore—in this novel W., for instance, is resigned to teaching “Badminton Ethics” to sports science students. Exodus, like the brilliant Spurious and Dogma which precede it, is a novel “forged in the black fire of despair,” to use one of Iyer’s own phrases. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. —Alex Shephard, director of digital media



by Gilbert Adair
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In this hilarious novella, Gilbert Adair uses one of the scandals that rocked the literary theory community in the 1990s as the starting point for a dark satire of the sort of cultishness that permeates academic communities. In Adair’s hands, the classic theory of ‘the death of the author’ is transformed into a murder mystery dealing with the literal death of the author. —Michael Elmets, intern



by Georges Simenon
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by Georges Simenon
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I’ve always thought Georges Simenon’s edgy crime novels were brilliant — his ability to deliver complicated plots and complex psychological characterizations in concise, deft strokes is regularly astounding. Equally astounding is that he published hundreds of such books — as many as 500, by some accounts, and probably more under as-yet unknown pseudonyms. But the two Simenon books I admire the most aren’t crime novels, and are distinctly different from the rest of his ouvre — which is why I wanted to bring them back into print at Melville House. (The fact that incredible books like these are out of print is why we invented the Neversink Library.)

The President is a moving portrait of a wily former French premier who’s old and ill and treated dismissively now that he’s out of office … and who has a secret that could take down his successor. The Train, meanwhile, is one of the very few stories Simenon set in occupied France. (Important background note: Simenon stayed in France during the war but was accused by some as being too accepting of occupation.) Two refugees fleeing the invading Nazis are separated from their own families in the chaos, fall in love … and act out their own terrifying lessons in the varieties of collaboration.

Delivered with all the remorseless concision of his crime novels, yet with considerably wider psychological scope, the two books offer a heartfelt study of his adopted country (Simenon was Belgian) unequalled elsewhere in his work — as is the tone of edgy yet poignant humanity. These two novels are Simenon at his most radical … and best. —Dennis Johnson, co-publisher


Black Star Nairobi


by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
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Who says crime has to be cosy? Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s Black Star Nairobi does the exact opposite, delivering a crime story which is violent, unforgiving and frightening. The novel follows detectives Ishmael and O, who we first met in Nairobi Heat, book one in the series. As they investigate the identity of a dead body, and how it might be linked to a Nairobi bomb explosion, our detectives move from Africa to America, but not before getting caught up in the ravage lawlessness following the 2007 Kenyan elections. Yes there are guns, (lots of) blood and bombs, but Ngugi takes time to explore revenge for the sake of love and the thorny identity crises of his characters. Then there’s the fact that this book is secretly a love story, and who doesn’t love one of those at Christmas?

Give this to the family member who likes to dip into a bit of Agatha Christie in the holidays, and it will blow their minds.—Zeljka Marosevic, director of marketing for Melville House UK


The Dialogue of the Dogs


by Miguel de Cervantes
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I’d slept through a literature class my senior year in college (the classroom was too warm, I swear), but an absurd picaresque fantasy about two dogs having a conversation was the only thing that kept me awake. This volume of Dialogue, included among the Exemplary Stories published in 1613 between the publications of the first and second parts of Don Quixote, also presents the shorter story “The Deceitful Marriage,” the end of which introduces the scene of the dogs. Through them, Cervantes presents lessons—examples—about truth and lies in storytelling. So dip into the dialogue, then dip into Don Quixote, then look for all our books with dogs in them.—Wah-Ming Chang, managing editor