Greetings from Three Lives & Company!
April for booksellers means poetry – and that Edna St. Vincent Millay quote. WeÕll spare you the latter, but we do have a few recent poetry titles to shout out for Poetry Month. Sarah is in the middle of Rachel GalvinÕs Uterotopia (read her impressions below) and recently finished Sharon OldsÕs StagÕs Leap, which hit the Staff Favorites table practically as soon as she put it down. We also have a special poetry missive from Colorado, where Three Lives alumna Nora is still reading: she recommends Billy CollinsÕs Sailing Alone Around the Room and Kim AddonizioÕs recent collection Now WeÕre Getting Somewhere. Addonizio is Òwitty and funny,Ó Nora says, Òand writes beautifully about depression and loneliness, and the varied ways we suffer.Ó
We have been reading other things, too, and you can see exactly what in our roundups below. Several of us have recently found ourselves drawn to older books, slotting them into the piles of new literature that hit our shelves every week. Focusing on backlist titles doesnÕt exactly help relieve the pressure to keep up with all the latest books, but stepping out of time to read something that has survived for decades, or centuries, can drive home the vast rewards of the reading life.
And speaking of those rewards, several years ago we started celebrating Independent Bookstore Day, held on the last Saturday of April, with homemade treats for our customers. We paused the practice while masks and other pandemic measures made it unworkable, but this year we decided to bring it back – and just in time for the tenth anniversary of the event! Stop by Three Lives on Saturday, April 29, and weÕll have a table of baked goods for the taking, courtesy of your booksellers. WeÕll also have a special bookmark, in limited quantities. IBD is always one of our busiest and most spirited days of the year – please come celebrate with us!
~ Recent Staff Favorites ~
The theme of my recent reading has been Not Here. I picked up Jonathan RabanÕs Coasting (Vintage) following the authorÕs passing in January and very much enjoyed his contemplative sail around Great BritainÕs coast – and especially his encounter with Paul Theroux, then circumnavigating the island by foot. Backgrounding his travels is the Falklands War, and Raban, a thoughtful but cranky traveler, has lots to say about Europe and its uncertain future.
Next up, a book whose title could describe my last two months of reading: Ay˜b‡mi AdŽb‡y˜Õs A Spell of Good Things (Knopf). AdŽb‡y˜ wrote Stay with Me, a big favorite of mine, and her second book lives up to that promise. This story of two Nigerian families, separated by wealth and privilege but alike in their submission to power-hungry politics, burns slowly, with a moral – but never moralizing – core.
Just finished, a total surprise: Eliza FayÕs Original Letters from India (New York Review Books), the energetic chronicle of a journey to India in the late 1700s. Fay faced rough adventures and genuine danger and relates it all with humor and snippiness. (And though her cultural observations are pretty fair-minded for the era, there are also glimpses behind the dark curtain of empire.) A century after her death, E.M. Forster wrote a foreword and notes – included in this edition – that are themselves essential reading.
With my own trip to the Lion City coinciding with this newsletter, the time seemed right for the final book in J.G. FarrellÕs Empire Trilogy, The Singapore Grip (New York Review Books). It follows a business family, the Blacketts, weathering the storm of World War II as the Japanese invasion looms. FarrellÕs sense of irony is sharper than ever here, and the logistical complexities of a world at war allow him some positively Catch-22-level absurdities. – Ryan
You know, I never was a fast reader, but these days I am ever so slow! And I think a lot between books. I think about why I do the things I do, like the things I like, hate the things I hate – itÕs endless! One of the things that goes round my brain is the question Why read? What makes reading seem so pleasurable, feel so necessary? Do I read for knowledge, understanding, enlightenment, or simply to have a peek at the lives of others? Are books just entertainment? All of this is leading up to the fact that I stumbled upon a most satisfying book. Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo (Knopf, translated by Charlotte Whittle) ticks so many of my reading boxes! It is just the best sort of history I long for – playful, erudite, sweeping through ancient lands and oral traditions, with a multitude of fascinating voices and stories and anecdotes of Western cultureÕs foundations. It is vibrant. It is a marvel. I cannot put it down and will be sorry for it to end (lucky that I read so slowly)!
And what the brilliant Ms. Vallejo has done for books, the equally brilliant Sofi Thanhauser has done for textiles with her panoramic social history Worn: A PeopleÕs History of Clothing (Vintage). In five chapters (Linen, Cotton, Silk, Synthetics, Wool), Ms. Thanhauser has given me an alternative way of thinking about the clothes on my back. Thrift shops are where I belong now! (Maybe IÕll even learn the Japanese sashiko method of visible mending!) – Joyce
I am a novella convert. Last yearÕs The English Understand Wool (Helen DeWitt) and Foster (Claire Keegan) definitely opened my eyes to the brilliant ends to which the form can be deployed. But an older book I just picked up truly has confirmed me as a novella adherent: Jane SmileyÕs Ordinary Love & Good Will (Anchor). I feel ashamed that I had always overlooked Smiley and now see the errors of my ways – sheÕs absolutely remarkable in her depiction of family dynamics and interpersonal relations, the spoken and unspoken ways in which we try (and fail) to be the best parents, siblings, children we are capable of being. Her simple, beautiful prose captures ordinary people in ordinary situations, and from these unshowy ingredients, Smiley crafts gripping and consequential stories. A young manÕs return home after two years in India is the catalyst for a familyÕs reckoning with an unaddressed past of infidelity and separation. Another family lives on a fairly isolated, self-sustaining farm and wrestles with the effects of this lifestyle on their school-age son. Smiley deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. – Miriam
For any poetry enthusiasts who might be reading this, get your hands on StagÕs Leap by Sharon Olds (Knopf) as soon as you can. I finished it weeks ago and still find myself replaying certain lines in my head. This is a collection about divorce and how slow the process of letting go truly is. Olds explores the seasons of her heartbreak: how loss can sometimes cut deeper in summer than fall; how rage, hope, loneliness, and gratitude are often felt at the same time, constantly conversing with one another. She reveals what itÕs like to stretch out your love until itÕs all stringy and tattered for someone who no longer wants it.
Another notable read this month was Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina. This is AlyokhinaÕs account of her time in the Russian prison system after she and other members of the punk group Pussy Riot were arrested for protesting in a church. This book has been sitting unread on my shelf for years. I finally picked it up after I was unable to, as Sharon Olds says, Òeat the whole car / of my anger.Ó With oppressive legislation sweeping the nation, I needed to read a book by someone just as pissed off as I am. The writing in Riot Days is very blunt and often feels instructional: This is how you use your anger. This is how you keep hope alive while doing so. This is how they will try to scare you. This is why you should do it anyway. A favorite line: Ò[T]his is what protest should be – desperate, sudden, and joyous.Ó
One last mention of another brave and blunt book: Uterotopia by Rachel Galvin (Persea). In this poetry collection, Galvin examines with staunch wit what it is truly like to move through post-Roe America. My favorite poem in the collection so far: ÒWell No One Ever Said Breeding Was Easy.Ó In this poem Galvin dissects the terrifying scenarios one faces when pregnant. This collection is heavy, but, as with Riot Days, I found it exceptionally vital and important. – Sarah
What business do I have reading a gardening book? I have no land, although we do have an apartment full of happy houseplants. Yet I do love reading about the gardening world – to escape, dream, and plan for a future garden. In Lulah EllenderÕs memoir Grounding: Finding Home in a Garden, she is faced with the possibility of losing her familyÕs home and its garden in Sussex. Instead of retreating, Ellender enters the garden and through her intimate relationship with the land and its plants and wildlife, she begins to understand a way forward. Ellender beautifully weaves together the lives of other gardeners and how they too find meaning, artistic value, pleasure, and peace in the garden. She writes of Virginia and Leonard WoolfÕs relationship to gardening at MonkÕs House. Woolf, inspired by what she called the Òshape and fertility and wildness of the garden,Ó describes Òweeding all day to finish the beds in a queer sort of enthusiasm which made me say this is happiness.Ó Whether tending a patch of vegetables or a display of potted plants in your window, in the countryside or in the city, gardening is all about tending to the present, and the life before us.
Some long-anticipated cookbooks have just arrived on our shelves: A CookÕs Book by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed) and Tamar AdlerÕs The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z (Scribner). AdlerÕs book is a guide for what to do with leftovers – what an original, useful, and brilliant resource to have on oneÕs shelf!
A CookÕs Book just may be SlaterÕs magnum opus. ÒI am a home cook,Ó he writes. ÒI have cooked for half a century and still love every slow turn of the wooden spoon. Simple food, nothing fancy. Just something to eat really.Ó The writing is sublime, and as Slater always does, he seduces you into his world, showing you new possibilities for eating and living. ÒMaking something delicious for someone to eat really is as good as life gets.Ó HeÕs absolutely right. – Troy
Each novella in Patrick ModianoÕs Suspended Sentences (Yale Margellos, translated by Mark Polizzotti) begins with a kind of riddle – an unsolved murder, a woman in an old photograph. But like the best mysteries, the book is really about what we cannot ever know for certain, the gaps and silences of memory. Modiano is an anti-Proust, obsessed with his generationÕs failure to remember things past: FranceÕs occupation by the Nazis darkens these subtle stories, imbuing each scene with sinister uncertainty.
In Javier Mar’asÕs A Heart So White (Vintage, translated by Margaret Jull Costa), a translator starts to question his family history, beginning with his auntÕs disturbing death. Soon he is ensnared by secrets, obsessions, and jealousies that he cannot resist. In this taut and complex novel, Mar’as asks, yet again, if we would be better off never saying anything at all. At least silence is safe. Actually, Trond – the narrator of Per PettersonÕs Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf, translated by Anne Born) – may have something similar in mind when he moves, alone, to a remote town in eastern Norway. He has a dog and a wood-burning stove; he does not have a telephone. (ItÕs 1999.) But a chance encounter in the forest pulls Trond back into the world of his memory, to a summer spent with his father in 1948. So much suffering lurks beneath the surface of PettersonÕs elegant prose; this is a beautiful book, and quite rewarding.
Finally, I must recommend The Pilgrim Hawk (New York Review Books), a magnificent novel from Glenway Wescott. The setup is this: at a country house in France, between the wars, a wealthy Irish couple arrives for lunch, bringing with them their pet falcon, Lucy. What follows is so good – so funny, cruel, treacherous, and profound – that I cannot believe Wescott did it in barely one hundred pages. This book is worth so much more than the scant time it will take you to read it. – Lucas
~ Signed Editions ~
I DonÕt Smoke Enough to Quit by Robert J. Dreesen (Paul Dry)
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf)
Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor (Riverhead)
Skeletons by Deborah Landau (Copper Canyon)
To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness by Robin Coste Lewis (Knopf)
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press)
Brutes by Dizz Tate (Catapult)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin)
Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan (Norton)
Voyager by Nona Fern‡ndez (Graywolf, translated by Natasha Wimmer)
Delectable by Claudia Fleming (Random House)
Sweat by Bill Hayes (Bloomsbury)
The Language of Trees by Katie Holten (Tin House)
Mr. B by Jennifer Homans (Random House)
Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman (Harper Design)
Feral City by Jeremiah Moss (W.W. Norton)
Growing Up Getty by James Reginato (Gallery)
Via Carota by Jody Williams, Rita Sodi and Anna Kovel (Knopf)
~ The Three Lives & Company Bestseller List ~
1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf)
2. Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette (Picador)
3. The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley (William Morrow)
4. Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson (Pamela Dorman)
5. The Creative Act by Rick Rubin (Penguin Press)
6. I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (Viking)
7. A Book of Days by Patti Smith (Random House)
8. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Grove)
9. The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt (New Directions)
10. Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans (Pushkin)
11. The Maid by Nita Prose (Ballantine)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
A reminder that we specialize in special orders. In our small shop itÕs always a challenge to find room for all the new, notable, and exciting books; if youÕd like a book that we donÕt have on hand, we are always happy to order it for you. We place orders almost daily and the usual turnaround time for a special order is two business days. For some books it may take longer, but weÕll be sure to discuss the particulars with you before we place an order. Additionally, we can ship books to you anywhere within the United States. Give us a call, send us an email, or stop in any time.
We are happy to take preorders for forthcoming titles, and we will let you know as soon as the book arrives. We are all too familiar with the fervid desire to possess a new book at the first possible moment, and we will do everything in our power to make sure the book lands in your hands hot off the presses.
We offer gift certificates, which you may purchase in any amount.
Three Lives & Company, Booksellers
154 W. 10th St.
New York NY 10014