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THE DISCARDED

An enchanting discussion of the many books that inevitably vanish.

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In Hamilton’s metafictional work, an unnamed librarian reflects on books pulled from the library’s shelves and relegated to obscurity—and, by extension, the purposes of libraries in general.

The narrator is working at in a library in Vermont and notices that a room in the basement, once pristinely uncluttered, has become the disorganized dumping ground of books essentially abandoned as “discards” from the library above it. The sad reality is that libraries are perpetually adding to their collections, but not to their available space, which makes the elimination of some, even many, from circulation inevitable: “The chaos of this room was disorienting…although it retained a particularly bookish variety of chaos—silent and undisturbed. What unified these books was that they had all been stripped from the library’s permanent collection and were now waiting to be sold at quarterly sales for fifty cents or a dollar….” He becomes enchanted with these works, many of them “dreadful” and unworthy of mourning. Others, though, are more notable, such as Sylvia Armentrout’s Six-legged Stars, an offbeat book on entomology written by a woman who’s not an entomologist; the narrator calls it a “lost treasure.” The author’s own reflection is, similarly, delightfully quirky; it’s one that captures the expansiveness of books, with some possessing timeless appeal while others “read as though they’ve been written as rough drafts of made-for-TV movies.” But even these works seem to have real value, if only as a “concise record of our cliches.” Each chapter concludes with a brief description of some unusual but literary reimagining of the library, including conceptions that draw from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Jonathan Swift; it’s an erudite tour communicated in meditative, lapidary prose.

Hamilton’s clear devotion to “the morgue” of discarded books is oddly inspiring; there’s something mesmerizing about the collective encyclopedia of knowledge they comprise as a whole, even if many of the parts seem less than alluring. He makes a powerful case for the library as “both a source of continual rebirth and civic pride”—a place that a genuine community will revere and patronize. This larger argument comes to the fore during the narrator’s reflection on Lynn Pearson’s A History of Book Burning, which addresses the fragility of books, which are always vulnerable to the assaults of those who, for whatever reason, think them subversive. Pondering the demise of the ancient Library of Alexandria, the narrator melancholically muses: “I’ve often found myself reflecting on this past, sometimes enthralled by its grandiosity when I’m on our upper floors and at other times, up to my knees in discarded books, shaking my head at the predictability of its end.” Most readers are likely to tire of reading accounts of fictitious works—nearly two dozen in total are considered here, and not all of them are especially enticing. However, this work’s power ultimately transcends these titles, as it is a paean to the book as such, and to the buildings that house them. Overall, it’s a moving celebration of even those works that arguably warrant being consigned to oblivion.

An enchanting discussion of the many books that inevitably vanish.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 191

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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