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!
Stella Maris is the second book, a coda if you will, of Cormac McCarthy's duology* that began with The Passenger. From what I had heard, I was expecting a kind of Rashomon**-like experience with different characters recasting themselves in the lead role, shoehorning themselves into the center of events, whose perspectives contradict and utterly supersede those of all others. But, that's not quite it. More like McCarthy was so enthralled with the backstory of one of The Passenger's major characters (if, for the most part, an off-stage character - a sort of Fifth Business***), he couldn't help but bring them to the fore and flesh out their story. We can only be grateful that he did. We come to know one of the most richly layered, intricately developed, deeply flawed yet completely compelling characters you'd ever hope to meet in fiction. The sister of The Passenger's protagonist is very much the lynchpin that ties everything together, and so maybe Fifth Business after all.
*Like a trilogy, but with two books - I suppose that's better than calling it a bi-ology.
**The book of short stories by the Japanese master Ryuno Akutagwa, perhaps better known from the 1950 film adaptation by the great Akira Kurosawa.
***The role in a play or opera that is neither hero nor heroine, villain nor confidante, but is absolutely essential to bringing about the story's denouement - like some doddering old nurse who absentmindedly switched two babies at birth only to reveal all at the end.
It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist.
If you are able to get past its fixation on the West, you will find this a highly informative joyride through the twists, turns, and sudden surges of innovation that have characterized the evolution of 2000 years of Western music. Isacoff's voice is a steady and confident guide, and his observations are consistently perceptive and eye-opening. He brings the music to life on the page. No easy feat. Musical Revolutions is a wonderful accomplishment that will be thoroughly enjoyed and revisited for years to come.
Oh my gosh!! Indonesian food is absurdly great, and Balinese is one of its finest regional variants. This book is filled with recipe after recipe of the most flavorful dishes you could ever hope to encounter or attempt to re-create. So good! These recipes are not from a restaurant, they are dishes as they are made at home. And you will read this not just for the food: Paon takes you on a journey through this beautiful land, introducing you to the philosophy, the people, and the culture that produced this wonderful cuisine. Too many superlatives? Hah! Not enough!!
This is decidedly not overly focused on the West. Science has its origins from all over the world, and this book helps bring a refreshingly global perspective to the history of how we have come to know what we know. The growth of science has always been predicated on the free exchange of ideas. We forget that many of the great European scientists throughout the ages explicitly quoted from and were inspired by earlier writings from China, Persia, Egypt, India, and Arabia. This is as true today as it has ever been.
Atlas of Forgotten Places: Journey to Abandoned Destinations from Around the Globe (Unexpected Atlases) (Hardcover)
All over the world, the landscape is dotted with ghostly enigmas: places formerly the homes and monuments of their inhabitants but now deserted, abandoned to slowly crumble into dust. These are sometimes-otherworldly sites, forsaken for a variety of reasons, and often surreally appealing in their ruin. Here's your chance to decipher their mysteries and relearn their secrets. Maybe they'll inspire your next vacation!
A plane crash-lands at a small town North Carolina airport during the dead of night. All the passengers and crew have disappeared before the sheriff can investigate. The only body he finds is that of a local black man lying nearby, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The sheriff's investigation is hampered by interference from his main political rival: the scion of old plantation money whose close ties to the Klan and history of good ole boy hellraising threatens to derail finding answers. The deep-seated and virulent racism of the town threads its way through every twist and turn of this gripping novel. A truly can't-put-it-down read.
Unknotting topical issues that raise complex ethical questions is Boyle's specialty. So are crafting hysterically flawed and self-deluded characters who think that they rise above and are the best ones to take on such dilemmas. Here Boyle confronts the unethical treatment of animals with the plight of a chimpanzee being taught sign-language. Everything is fine as long as the chimp remains young and cute, but once adolescence hits, his future becomes increasingly bleak as he grows larger and stronger and wilder. His handlers want to save him, but their motivations are selfish and self-serving, especially when they think they are most altruistic. Can he be saved?
The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance (Paperback)
Continues King's long fascination and study of that great city, this time with a topic near and dear to our own hearts - books! This is a meaty tome to indulge in while curled up in your most comfy reading chair, casting your mind back 500-plus years to an age when such activities were the exclusive province of the aristocratic elite. A technological innovation was about to change all that, and Florence was at the heart of the revolution.
Is there anything Richard Thompson can't do (hasn't done)? He is one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the late-Sixties stew of London and distinguished himself further by being one of the most sophisticated and clever songwriters. I'm not a big fan of biographies, especially those narcissistic, overblown ones ageing rock stars have been churning out of late. I make the exception here because Thompson is the exception. This is the goods!
Looking for an esoteric and unexpected cuisine that the cooking aficionado on your list almost certainly does not have in their collection (or has even thought of)? Try Colombian! You've had your Korean bulgogis, your Moroccan tagines, your Szechuan spare ribs, your Mexican moles... now take a deep dive into a heady Colombian arepa or two or three! These recipes are tried and tested and stand up to the best the world offers.
We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America (Hardcover)
Maximum rock and roll played at warp speed with lyrics more screamed than sung took punk into a new direction, one driven by utter and total rage. To the new bands emerging in the Eighties, the first generation of punks had grown complacent: sold out making disco music (Blondie), or folded (Sex Pistols), or morphed into the very thing they had once rebelled against (bands playing in massive arenas). Punk now adopted a very self-conscious stance against the right-wing corporate power grab of the Reagan years. Groups like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Bad Brains roared onto the scene and challenged the old guard in ways that reinvigorated rock and roll's angry, uncompromising challenge to the status quo. You want the Eighties? This is the Eighties!
The cutting edge of alternative rock was... Athens, Georgia?!? Well, yes: Athens, Georgia proved that a vibrant, influential, and ongoing local music scene could happen almost anywhere. The B-52s, REM, and Widespread Panic (among others) exploded out of this sleepy college town to rattle the smug cages in New York and LA. In doing so, the bands and their communities mapped out strategies for creating local artistic, social, and political alternatives to the cultural hegemony of the coasts. Here is that history told by a direct participant, in a in-on-the-ground-floor style that keeps the pages turning.
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.
"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
"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
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.
"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
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.
Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made (Hardcover)
Josh Frank discovered a long-lost screenplay written by Salvador Dali for the Marx Brothers. How nuts is that? The film was never produced. Why not?!? Now it has been transformed into a graphic novel. The story is surreal (of course), sprawling, and hallucinatory, and demands a careful reading, as there is a lot packed in. Given the application of Dali's paranoiac critical techniques and the scripting for the freewheeling mayhem of most Marx Brothers, quite possibly this movie never could have been made. But it works perfectly well as a graphic novel. Leap into the lunatic mind of the great Surrealist master creating for the most anarchic of comedians, and see where (or even if) you land.