Welcome to Conrad's recommendations! Conrad started bookselling in 1976 for Gilman Street Bookstore in Madison, (a Marxist bookstore that paid him in books rather than money, something the owner and he both found hilarious). Then Conrad started working at Schwartz Bookshops in March of 2001 and has been working in books since. He doesn't really have a favorite genre or even a favorite book or author, but there are plenty of those that he likes a lot. Right now he's reading Beyond Earth, a science book about the colonization of space by humans in the not too distant future: what holds us back, what it will take, and where we can go (not Mars or the Moon, as they don't have atmospheres).
Check out what Conrad has been reading below!
When the Beastie Boys first broke, a lot of people thought they were just another gang of NYC white boys usurping the latest trend out of Harlem or the Bronx and calling it their own. "Fight For Your Right to Party" seemed to sum up everything wrong with youth who had abandoned the idealism of the Sixties for the narcissism of the late-Seventies and Eighties. In the early Eighties, Sugar Hill Gang's “Rappers Delight” or Blondie's “Rapture” was the only exposure most white listeners had to rap/hip hop, and even they knew Blondie wasn't exactly the real thing. Most were too indifferent to care. Then, along came Run DMC playing with, of all things, Aerosmith, and suddenly rap was everywhere. Many people were still huffing and puffing about beat boxes as cheating and sampling as really cheating and bemoaning the fate of real musicians at the hands of these musically illiterate thieves. Around this time the Beastie Boys morphed from a fledgling hardcore-punk band into the first white rappers of note. This doorstop of a book tells their story, mostly in their own words (or those of the two surviving members: Adam Yauch died in 2012). The Beasties speak in voices that evolve as their story unfolds: they sound like high school kids when writing about themselves as teens, and grow more eloquent as their story advances, (sorta Joycean, kinda), which is actually a good thing. This also mirrors the evolution of their lyrics from the predictably misogynistic drivel of their first efforts, to a total renunciation of such later on. Throughout, we are delighted by their self-deprecation, their brutally honest, snarkily irreverent takes on the scene around them, and always their always entertaining banter. You would expect no less from people who have made a living turning a phrase.
These short stories span Eugenides's long career, and are filled with the provocative, carefully observed lives of some of his most intriguing characters: people who meet their circumstances head on, the kind of characters we have come to expect from this gifted writer. Some of the stories are clearly dry runs for his later novels (see if you can spot them!) and hint at how Eugenides develops character and plot. All fit neatly into his body of work. The stories, while filled with angst, and world-weariness, and a questing search for identity that challenges fate, are nonetheless leavened with dark humor and a self-deprecating awareness of the foibles of grandiose self-delusion.
The early Twentieth Century cotton mills of North Carolina prove a fertile ground for union organizing and for this deeply troubling and engrossing novel. An impoverished single-mother, deserted by her husband and struggling to provide for her kids, chooses to fight her bosses and unionize. In the face of overwhelmingly toxic opposition from the mill owners and their hired thugs, she becomes an organizer and troubadour for worker's rights. Ultimately, it costs her her life. Her example compels her family and compatriots to continue the struggle without her. This is a pretty grim read, but it's filled with hope and inspiration, and is lyrically written in the elevated prose of Southern Gothic at its best.
"This is a mythlike novel by a Ukrainian Jewish Chilean immigrant about a stunningly beautiful albino woman whose somewhat creepy and intense sexual attractiveness makes her irresistible to all men. They become wild animals, changing themselves to win her attention, competing amongst themselves for her favor, which she willingly gives, but at a steep price. Her traveling companion is a tough-as-nails, hideously deformed woman named Crabby, which both describes her surly persona and her peculiar sidling gait. Together they travel the countryside to find a cure for their afflictions and to take advantage of this situation to make some money. Jodorwoski draws freely from the rich and fertile terrain of Latin American magical realism to create a heady brew of eroticism that is simultaneously mundane and magical." --Conrad
"Sure, political extremists make exceedingly easy targets to hit. They present to the world a rather oversized barn door of foibles and puffed up self-importance, and the projectiles fit rather easily to hand. But when that hand is wielded by TC Boyle, you know you're in for a treat. A schizophrenic survivalist who battles his inner demons as much as he battles the federal marshals pursuing him, and his companion/protector, who repeatedly asserts that she ‘has no contract’ with the U.S. government - while brazenly breaking the laws she claims don't apply to her- make a comical duo as they seek to assert their independence in modern day California. Plenty of laughs." --Conrad
"Javier Marias mused that the typical soccer fan partakes in sport as a weekly return to childhood: full of wonderment, and enthralled by heroes engaged in contests with no gray areas, only clear winners and losers. Juan Villoro replies: "In his or her lesser moments, the football fan is an ogling imbecile, mouth full of pie, head full of useless information." This is a sports book that appeals to the cynical temperament of the most jaded fan (so I loved it, of course). God is Round explores with a jaundiced and unblinking eye the players, fans and history of the world's most popular obsession. Villoro revels in the telling details, for example the notoriously histrionic and melodramatic Argentine great Diego Maradona (author of what is considered by many to be the greatest goal ever scored - 'the goal of the century' - and also the most infamous cheat ever perpetrated - 'the hand of God' - both in the same game): "On the island of the pitch, Maradona showed exemplary humility; away from it, he exploded like a dramatic supernova". Sports writing doesn't get any better than this." --Conrad
"This is an entirely new take on the Vietnam War and its aftermath. It shifts your perspective 180 degrees -- now you are not the American soldier sweltering through the dense jungle wondering why you are here-- now you are the native, whose country has been overrun by yet another cruel and condescending foreign invader. This is also a tale of divided loyalties (the union of opposites?): the protagonist is the son of a French catholic priest who seduced his 13-year-old Vietnamese maid; he is the trusted aid of a South Vietnamese general while he is also a spy for the Viet Cong. Through it all, he is mostly a witty, snarky observer of the world around him and his place in it: ‘Besides my conscience, my liver is the most abused part of my body’ and ‘A slogan is just an empty suit, anyone can wear it.’ Terrific stuff!" --Conrad
"Go on. Look at a calendar or do the math. (Uh, let's see two times 365 plus 28 divided by 30 or 31 or maybe 30.5?, um... it's right at the tip of my tongue ...). You win the prize! 1001. That's right: Rushdie is retelling Scheherazade! Well, kind of. But, being Rushdie, this just serves as a jumping off point for much, much more. It's history and mythology, and historical mythology, and mythical history, and oh yes, romance entwined into a modern folktale for this too, too materialistic age. And the result is everything you would expect when such a master storyteller turns his eye on such a magical tale." --Conrad
"Blind Tom was a musical prodigy. He could reproduce on his piano, after one hearing, anything played for him: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, popular songs...anything. He toured the U.S. and Europe during the mid-Nineteenth Century, and was hailed by one and all as a musical genius. He was considered to be an idiot savant. He was also a slave. He was treated like an amazingly gifted animal. Like a show horse or circus elephant. He made his master rich. When the Civil War ended, with the loss of this source of income threatened, his master neglected to inform him that he was free. Jeffery Renard Allen's first novel was compared favorably to Faulkner and Joyce. That's an awfully hard row to hoe. With this book, based on a true story, he delivers the goods."
"Here is yet another magnificent work from the pen of the great Japanese novelist. Less soaring and magical than 1Q84? To be sure. Less epic and tortured than The Wind Up Bird Chronicle? Yes. But this is every bit the equal of Norwegian Wood or Kafka by the Shore, and that's saying a lot. This settles nicely into a body of work that will inevitably lead to a Nobel Prize for literature in the not too distant future. And, yes, I said much the same thing about Marias, and I'll stick with that too. For these are the towering literary giants of our time, and their new works are to be awaited impatiently, welcomed warmly and relished with quiet intensity, for they are works of genius. " --Conrad
"If you are old enough, or retro enough, I'm sure you remember that one album you owned that, despite its scratches, pops, and smudges, you swore you would hold onto until the day you died. Well, you failed to do that, but you still remember the exact spot on that one song where your copy had an especially pronounced pop or hiss or skip. Even now it's how you hear the song in your head. If that song plays from someone else's album, it just sounds wrong! For me, that album was Led Zeppelin's first record, and the song was Your Time Is Gonna Come. You know it, the one with that extended organ prelude. Well, my copy had this huge scratch. Right there. Right smack in the middle of that introduction. If you stole my copy, I would know it immediately from that scratch. To this day, even though I haven't listened to that particular record in decades, it's how I hear it in my head. This book is about that. Sort of. It's about the author's singleminded drive to recover his record collection twenty some odd years after unloading it in favor of CDs. He doesn't want to simply replace his old vinyl with new copies. He wants the exact ones he got rid of all those years ago. He will know them from the scratches that he remembers with precision ... he will know them from the ex-girlfriend's phone number scrawled across the dust jacket ... from the partially torn sticker that identified it as a radio station's promo copy (not for sale!)... from the boot print on the cover from that all too wild party. Is this crazy? Sure! Funny? As all hell! This is a unique and infinitely entertaining little masterpiece about finding what you've lost and coming to grips with at long last becoming an adult." --Conrad
"Unprecedented. Red Cloud was the first war chief of the Oglala Lakota to become the de facto leader of the Western Sioux. Red Cloud led a combined force of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors and defeated a United States army comprised of Civil War veterans and officers. Red Cloud drove the Americans from his territory and shut down their forts. None of these things had ever happened before. Yet, his name is not as well known as other Sioux leaders such as Crazy Horse (one of Red Cloud's lieutenants) or Sitting Bull. Anyone with an interest in American Indians and the Old West needs to read this remarkable book." --Conrad
"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! is a string of pearls: songs, singers, genres, styles, bands and revolutions that stretch from the dawn of rock 'n' roll to the present. It never ceases to entertain, inform and scratch your nostalgic itch. There are plenty of instances of aha moments confirming your deepest suspicions: David Bowie was channeling Anthony Newley (duh.), that is a bolero in "Paint it Black" (duh!), Oasis did shamelessly pillage the Beatles' catalog (double duh!!). But such affirmations are rewarding and there are also many, many, many things in here that you didn't know or suspect. I'll leave you to discover those for yourself." --Conrad
"Twining themes of art, politics, love and tragedy drive this spellbinding novel. The writing is adventurous but simple. Nothing gets in the way of the story. The plot is complex without being obtuse. Alarcon is a young and gifted Latin American writer just beginning to make his mark: think of the Bolano of By Night in Chile, think of the Fuentes of Death of Artemio Cruz, think of the Garcia-Marquez of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Has Alarcon done enough to deserve inclusion? Perhaps not yet, but this is the ground floor of a brilliant career and this is your chance to be there at the start." -- Conrad
"Nope, not Trondheim, Norway, but fictitious Trondheim, Canada: land of the bland. Here is the modern world, as it is, but with one glaring exception: dragons are real and always have been. And, there have always been heroes and heroines, in equal measure, to fight them. The dragons are not smart. They do not speak. They have no preference for maidens (virginal or otherwise). They have no love of gold (well, not most). Owen is a dragon-slayer in training. He is a high school student who has recently transferred to the prosaic Trondeim. His family is famous and slaying dragons is what they have always done. Kara is a nerdish classmate who loves music, and is chosen to be his bard. And, no, they do not fall in love; and, no, the popular girl is not a mean girl (at least, not really). Johnston has no use for stereotypical characters or settings, and that makes this book special." --Conrad
"Oh, I admit it. I'm a total fan of Ned Beauman. He could write a list of the active ingredients in a psychotropic cocktail and I would hang on every word. Well, okay, he did write several such lists, and I was utterly enthralled! His writing is, as ever, self-assured and polished. His story is as richly developed and compelling as his first two novels: Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident (both of which I highly recommend). His voice and vision are unique. There are no downsides to this novel, which by the way, is about a group of partying young Londoners and the secret behind the latest hot drug, which of course is Glow." --Conrad
"I plowed through this book in one day, and I'm not a fast reader. It's not that it's a short book, although at 320 pages, it isn't exactly a doorstop either. And it's not that I couldn't put it down, I didn't read it in one sitting, but I kept coming back to it. What it is: unsparing, no-nonsense prose, redolent of the voices of Wisconsin; a study of the vicissitudes of friendship and love, betrayal and redemption, and the magnetic draw of home; a paean to the lives of the common (and not so common) folk of our state." --Conrad
"Why do I love David Mitchell? Because he teaches me words like "insufflation" (think cocaine). Because he fearlessly uses compound contractions like "I'd've" or "can't've". Because he opens with: "Welsh rain gods piss onto the roofs, festival tents and umbrellas of Hay-on-Wye and also on Crispin Hershey, as he strides along a gutter-noisy lane, into the Old Cinema Bookshop and makes his way down to its deepest bowel where he rips this week’s Piccadilly Review into confetti." (And that's his opening for the fourth section! A little ditty most authors would kill for as an opening sentence for their entire book.) Because Mitchell can capture the self-absorbed, tatty slang of a British teenager yearning to break free from parental constraints and dash heedlessly into the world; the alcohol fueled banter of fourth year Cambridge students one-upping each other's studied insults with their buddies in a cozy bar in the dead of night; the world weary self-deprecating musings of a washed up novelist who has failed to live up to the promise of his first book. In short, Mitchell is one of the finest English novelists at work today and is to be greedily anticipated. This delivers the goods." --Conrad
"Do you recognize Skarmeta's name? No? He wrote the novel that inspired that pretty little academy award winning movie Il Postino (The Postman). His is yet another lovely and insistent voice from a literary tradition that winds its way from Cervantes to Garcia Lorca to Garcia Marquez to Bolano and into the present. This is a gentle story told without baroque excess or elaborate artifice or rhetorical flourish. Sometimes small and simple is best." --Conrad
"Seemingly, every few months a new translation of a novel or short story collection or, in this case, novella is brought out by the late Roberto Bolano. I don't know if he was really that prolific or if the publishers have just been that slow (or, as was the case with his great masterwork 2666, the author was just that cagey about providing a steady source of income for his surviving children). It doesn't really matter. All this really means is that every few months I have to drop whatever else I'm reading, and devour his newest work. I have rarely been disappointed and I am not now. Bolano introduces us to a recently orphaned teenage sister and brother who must come to grips with their changed lives and with the consequences of their decisions. It's a simple story really, but full of nuance and depth, and beautifully told." --Conrad
"Every few years, some pompous windbag comes along and informs us that the novel is dead; that there are no new things to say and no new ways to say them. They fail to remember that novels are simply storytelling. They fail to remember that the true test of the novel's worth is not the originality of its form or the uniqueness of its expression, but the strength, beauty and compelling attraction of its tale. Crooked River delivers. Valerie Geary is the real deal." --Conrad
Completely upends everything we thought we knew about one of our closest ancestors. The authors have created a richly rewarding study of what it means to be human (or almost human). Neanderthals probably had speech. They used tools that were nearly as complex and advanced as anything contemporary humans were making. They had red-hair! They ceremonially buried their dead. They wore clothing and had symbolic art. And yet, they were clearly not us. Well, not exactly us. They may have been related closely enough to us to mate and produce viable offspring - king them more closely related to us than horses are to donkeys or lions are to tigers, or emphatically, we are to chimpanzees.
The nix (or nisse) are Norwegian house spirits that usually live in your basement. For the most part they ignore you and you ignore them, but if you do something to tick them off: say spill water on their feet or betray their trust in some seemingly insignificant way, they will haunt you and your descendants for generations. Minor actions lead to major repercussions. Small decisions made on the spur of the moment double back to torment us years later, and become the overwhelming forces that shape the quality of our life.Such is the spirit, and the choices, that come to haunt three generations of Andressons: Faye, her son Samuel (who she abandoned when he was eleven) and her father Frank, who made a poor choice as a young man in Norway in 1940, and has been paying the price ever since. This family, as unlikable as they are, as pathetically inept at life as they are, will keep you entranced as the 600+ pages fly by, and you resist the temptation to skip ahead. You will devour this book.
"Great Uncle Daniel wanders the world and brings back exotic souvenirs from foreign lands. He has done this since Helene was a small child and his life has always been an intriguing, if vaguely frightening, mystery. He is also the famous author of the children's action/adventure stories (23 books and counting!): The Black Insignia; a series of richly imagined and vividly described novels that have been read by nearly everyone Helene knows or has ever met (think Harry Potter crossed with Tin-Tin). But Daniel is not really her great uncle. He was adopted by her family at the end of World War II he is a war orphan, a Jew, and he harbors a deep and troubling secret." --Conrad
North Korea is a truly bizarre and comical place. Wendy Simmons introduces each chapter with quotations from Lewis Carroll to perfectly heighten the sense that you have passed into a distorted world: one in which the ridiculous is commonplace, the normal is surreal, truths are lies, and reality is whatever the Party says it is. Wendy was assigned 'handlers' and a driver for her entire stay. Her every waking moment was meticulously planned in pitiless detail. Any deviation was cause for furious 'discussions' among her handlers on how to deal with it. These hiccups led to the most revealing and disturbing facets of this vacation.An unplanned trip to a soccer game seemingly sends the whole nation scrambling to pull together what supposedly was a regularly scheduled league game. Wendy arrived ten minutes late and is shocked to find an almost empty stadium. Her bewilderment spikes when a phalanx of 400 people suddenly show up 15 minutes later to swell the total attendance to 420. The entire trip felt orchestrated in precisely this way, feeding the paranoid suspicion that an entire segment of the population is employed with the sole purpose of deceiving tourists like you. Yet these obviously staged 'spontaneous' events, intended to show the nation in its best light, consistently revealed a nation that struggles daily to believe its own lies.I read this book in one sitting and have seldom laughed so hard.
Some years mark a stark division, separating what comes before from what comes after in uncompromising and irreversible terms: 1776, 1865, 1945 are obvious examples. For literature, 1922 is such a year. Bookended by the February publishing of James Joyce's Ulysses, considered by many to be the single greatest novel in the English language, and the translation of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time in the fall, the year marks a clean break from traditional forms of linear narrative storytelling, and plunges us deep into the psychological explorations and innovative structures of modernist writing. As Willa Cather reflected in 1936, "The World Broke in Two in 1922 or thereabouts." Goldstein's book is a lively, nuanced, and utterly enthralling tale of how this break affected four writers in particular: Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, EM Forster and DH Lawrence, who all struggled with and found renewed inspiration from this new world.
Bauman never repeats himself and has come up with a thoroughly satisfying, bawdy, rollicking adventure. A 1930's Hollywood film crew travels to the deepest jungles of Honduras where a strange Mayan temple has recently been discovered. They plan to feature it as an exotic backdrop for a new slapstick comedy, but find another group of Americans already there, halfway through disassembling the temple to take back as a trophy for their ultra-rich benefactor. The two sides square off with one seeking to preserve and the other to take apart the mysterious ancient building, neither giving an inch to the other. Days stretch into weeks, weeks stretch into months, and then into years, as the two camps form mini-societies entrenched in their obsession. Bauman's vivid imagination and rich storytelling are on full display in this comically absurd story of fanaticism and memory.
This reminds me a lot of the book God is Round by Juan Villoro (a book I have been handselling for the last year and a half) in that both are less sports books than intellectual musings on philosophy, politics, and human nature disguised as soccer books. In fact, DuBois quotes Villoro freely and frequently, while adding unique dimensions to the discussion, most notably the role of women throughout the history of the sport and the role soccer played in the struggles for national liberation from European colonialism during the mid-Twentieth Century. If you are new to the sport, DuBois gives you the basic information about how soccer is structured and played; if you are quite familiar with it, DuBois will shed light on aspects you may never have thought about and perspectives that are quite enlightening. And, you'll laugh. A lot.
Bottom of the Sky is a riff on mid-century American science fiction by a well-informed aficionado. Anything less could have easily slid into satirical, sneering condescension, but here it is handled with affection and care. Certainly 1950s Science Fiction, with its inane plotting, gawdhelpus moralizing, and simplistic 'science,' is a stationary target for mockery, but Fresán gives us a stylized homage to a richly imagined world that acts as a handy prism for viewing the one we live in now. Bonus points if you catch all the famous science fiction writers making disguised appearances throughout.