Say As I Do: Rebecca Makkai

Say As I Do: Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers will be hitting shelves today. I recently spoke with Makkai for KMUW’s Marginalia podcast. If you’ve ever wondered how she pronounces her name, here she is:

 

Preview: ‘Our Homesick Songs’

Does anyone remember Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James? Oh, I loved it. I was so thrilled to see her new novel – out mid-August – that I moved it clear to the top of my stack.

Our Homesick Songs reminded me of The Rathbones and also a little bit of The Light Between Oceans. It’s set in a small fishing village called Big Running that once was flooded with fish but has now run dry. The fish shortage has sent all of the town’s inhabitants away to find work; the town has slowly dwindled down to only 6 occupied houses among the dozens of deserted ones. In one home lives the Connor family – Martha and Aidan and their children Cora and Finn. In alternating chapters we get the story of Martha and Aidan’s courtship and the story of their present.

The Connors are all cheats; it’s widely known throughout the village and even to young Aidan himself. He vows never to fall in love. Sequestering himself out at sea, he sings to the fish all night long. His voice travels far over the water, to the other shore, where young Martha Murphy finds it and believes it to be the voice of a mermaid. She listens night after night and when she finally meets him, she knows he is the one just as she knows that all Connors are cheats. Fast-forward 20 years, the members of the Connor family are each struggling in their own ways to come to terms with the dissolution of their town, their family, their lives.

What I love about Emma Hooper are the little details that make her stories magic – Cora, sneaking into abandoned houses and redecorating them according to different nationalities (an Italian house, a Mexican house, etc.); Finn, trying his best to lure the fish back according to any old folklore he comes across; Martha with her finely knotted fishing nets. This is a slow novel, but a beautiful one.


Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (Simon & Schuster | 9781501124488 | August 14, 2018)

This seems like a good time…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Books & Whatnot emails have been arriving in your inbox less frequently. I thought I should explain.

About 6 months after I launched Books & Whatnot in 2014, I took a job at my local NPR member station. I was able to send Books & Whatnot daily for a few years, until I couldn’t. What started as the ‘digital content creator’ position has evolved into a ‘director of marketing and digital content’ position, and I also work on 3 podcast teams as either creator, editor, producer or host. Now I’ve been asked to join a podcast team at NPR’s StoryLab workshop for a project on the forthcoming gubernatorial race in my home state of Kansas, a state which, politically, at least, has been known to be its own worst enemy.

This seems like a good time to reformat Books & Whatnot.

We’ll keep posting reviews, 300-second suggestions, display images, and other noteworthy content to the website in a timely manner, but you’ll only receive a weekly round-up in your inbox. Hopefully this new format will be less daunting . . . for both of us!

Thanks for your continued support.

Beth

Review: ‘House of Broken Angels’

Have you ever thought about what you would think about if you knew you were dying? If you knew you were dying soon? If you are curious as to what it would be like, just read The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea.

Big Angel is the patriarch of a large, loud, opinionated Mexican (Mexican-AMERICAN thanks to Big Angel) family. And he’s dying. Soon. So he does what the patriarch of any big family would do – he decides to throw himself the biggest birthday bash ever seen. He invites all of his crazy relatives – his siblings, estranged children, everybody’s sister and child, grandchild and niece.

As with any family, Big Angel’s has its share of drama. There are feuds, brawls, tears, and laughs, tons of family stories to be told.  I loved that part. But what I loved most was Big Angel himself; reflecting on his life and coming to terms with his imminent departure from the world he has known and loved. There was something so real, so honest, in his fears and sorrows. I loved the way he talked about his memory, especially the memories of meeting his wife as a young man, of falling in love and then staying in a marriage, more or less in love. It’s the perfect novel for anyone who loves a large cast of colorful characters, a great family saga, or stories about crossing borders and building new lives.

Big Angel is definitely not perfect, but he felt very, very real.


House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little Brown & Company | 9780316154888 | March 6, 2018)

Review: ‘The Italian Teacher’

Is it possible to really enjoy a book even though the main character is pretty much all-around unattractive? In looks, demeanor, attitude, thought? I think it must be, because I really enjoyed The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, even though Pinch, our “hero,” is pretty pathetic.

The son of Bear Bavinsky, a famous and philandering painter, Pinch lives his life struggling to earn his father’s approval. He questions every move, every decision, and every conversation – hoping that it is the “right” one. He ends up teaching Italian at a small, unremarkable college in London, having long ago cast aside his desire to paint. When Pinch finds himself suddenly in Bear’s confidence and good graces, he makes some interesting and life-changing decisions that propel the second half of the story.

Bear is definitely the most dynamic character in the novel – loud, interesting, creatively unique. He’s almost too much of a character, probably best seen through the eyes of his admittedly less interesting son. A lot of the story has to do with Bear’s artistic persona, the quirks to his genius and also his obsession with self-preservation and perfection. I was completely interested the whole way through but found Pinch pretty pathetic.


The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman (Viking | 9780735222694 | February 20, 2018)