Have you seen me?

Sea of Hooks by Lindsay HillI recently had the honor of speaking to a local organization about books, changes in the publishing industry and recommended readings. At the heart of what I spoke about was my belief that the greatest threat to the book is not e-readers, as so many devotees of the hard-bound worry, rather the decline of the independent bookstore as the main seller of our books. Because of that decline — and, in fact, loss in the majority of U.S. cities — readers no longer can browse tables of new books as well as classics and those “not to be missed” curated by knowledgeable booksellers. They therefore are not aware of an abundance of good reading, especially among literary novels, such as Lindsay Hill’s Sea of Hooks. This is a marvelous, uniquely told story that reads like a novel yet emotionally renders like a poem. I held it up to the group and asked how many were aware of it. No one raised a hand.

It took Mr. Hill 20 years to write Sea of Hooks that was listed by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top ten books in 2013 and also as the most underrated book of 2013. The narrative is written in sectioned paragraphs, sentences and fragments with titles, and it must be read in long sittings (not in brief sneak reads) for the full effect of the protagonist’s emotional coming of age in San Francisco during the 1960s. Accompanying this story of youth is the story of his trip to Bhutan as an adult where he comes to grips with his childhood trauma. This is an exceptional book to be read not simply for story but its poetry, for herein is an imaginative viewpoint, thought-provoking insight and stunning one-liners. An example:

“You will never know the cost of the hours you have taken, their true price, or the size of the cyclone that delivered them – poured them across the sieve of your outstretched hands.”

Two other excellent books that remind me of why we need independent booksellers as the fulcrum to book-selling — because no one also raised a hand for the second one, and the first one should not be missed:

The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

The End of the Point by Elizabeht Graver

This novel remains with me long after the last page for its poignant message about a summer home that lies at the heart of an ordinary East Coast family. It will speak most to those who know the lifelong pull of a childhood home or location that remains a physical and emotional haven of safety as time charges forward. That place in this fifth fictional book by Elizabeth Graver is Ashaunt Point, the Porter family’s summer home on the rocky shore of Buzzards Bay, Mass. It begins in 1942, when soldiers guard the coastline and engage with the family, and then follows members of the Porter family and their relationship to Ashaunt through the 20th century to 1999.  Readers who demand intrigue and sensation in their books step aside – The End of the Point engages with its quiet beauty and abiding sense of need among its characters for Ashaunt’s legacy.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

I have not yet read this novel but mention it here because I know from all I’ve read about it – the consistent reactions of praise and “must read;” and one blogger’s description as “so much wow” – I can safely say it’s a literary novel not to be missed. It’s the one I’ve regretted not reading when it was first published last August and hope to catch it when it comes out in paperback this coming May. Like Lindsay Hill, Ms. Yanagihara spent 20 years writing this novel about a doctor whose anthropological discoveries concerning a lost tribe on a South Pacific island wins him the Nobel Prize but also brings devastating consequences to his life back in the United States.

Kirkus Reviews writes, “Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture.”
The U.K.’s Independent writes, “This is an absorbing, intelligent and uncompromising novel which beguiles and unnerves.”
Publisher’s Weekly listed The People in the Trees as one of the 10 best books in 2013.


2 thoughts on “Have you seen me?

  1. I completely agree. If anything, e-readers are making people read more (as statistics have pointed to), even if they are changing the publishing landscape. However, I do miss being able to pop into a small bookstore and looking at the staff recs or just going up to the bookseller and asking their opinion. I also fear that smaller presses are getting shafted because of this.

    I look forward to your review of The People in the Trees. It was extremely impressive and I’m a bit let down that there hasn’t more of a hullabaloo about it (I think it came out around the same time as those biggies–The Luminaries, The Goldfinch, etc.).


  2. Agree about the smaller presses. At Three Lives & Co. in the Village, every time I visit they always have small press books showcased. Most impressive for me is their support of the books published by Two Dollar Radio, which the last two times have been on their tables. How can small presses get consistent exposure with readers if not by independent bookstores? This decline is not a good thing.


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