New books for the new year

Fellow cyclists, readers, and bloggers Suitcase of Courage and She Knits by the Seashore joined Hobgoblin and me on a now time-honored tradition of taking a trip somewhere interesting and buying lots of books. This time we went to Whitlock’s Book Barn, in Bethany, Connecticut, 20 minutes or so north of New Haven. I love used book shops in barns, and this one had two of them, one of them, as the woman working there explained, for books $5 and up, and the other for books under $5. They had a very interesting selection in both barns, with unusually large sections of literary criticism. I found lots of good books, of which I brought home the following:

  • Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire. I read and enjoyed the first book in the Cairo trilogy, Palace Walk, but hadn’t yet gotten inspired to acquire the second one. I taught a Mahfouz short story last semester, “Zaabalawi,” and that has put me in the mood for more.
  • Lilian Nattel’s The River Midnight. I’ve been enjoying Lilian’s blog for a while now, so it’s high time I read one of her books.
  • Marion Meade’s Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties. The book focuses on Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edna Ferber and everything they were up to in the 1920s. I’ve collected a couple group biographies now, and I’m looking forward to all of them.
  • William Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age. This is a collection of essays on various figures of Hazlett’s time, including Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Scott, and lots of others. Knowing Hazlitt, I’m expecting it to be mean-spirited and fun.
  • Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I’ve read about this book on someone’s blog recently, but I can’t remember where. It’s a slim book of nonfiction and is about loss, love, and the color blue.
  • Douglas Atkins’s Reading Essays: An Invitation. I’ve never read any Atkins, but I’ve seen his name around the essay world. This book contains his close readings of 25 different essays, and an exploration of the artistic elements of the genre. The idea is to study the art of the essay in the same way we do for poetry, drama, and the novel.

After finishing at Whitlock’s, we headed down to New Haven where we ate lots of excellent food and checked out more shops. We went to one of my favorite new bookstores, Labyrinth Books, which has a truly great selection of really smart books, the kind of serious, intellectual tomes you aren’t likely to find in the chain stores. It also has a fabulous fiction section with tons of lesser-known works and books in translation. From here, I bought Truth in Nonfiction, a collection of essays edited by David Lazar. The essays are about the complicated nature of truth as captured, or not captured, in nonfiction. It contains pieces by writers such as Phyllis Rose, Vivian Gornick, Oliver Sacks, John D’Agata, and others. It looks fabulous.

We also checked out Book Trader Cafe, where I bought a copy of Colson Whitehead’s novel The Intuitionist. I bought this book solely because I find Whitehead’s tweets so amusing and I want to see what the fiction is like.

We also went to Atticus bookstore and cafe, where I had the most amazing and amazingly large slice of chocolate chip cookie pie ever. Doesn’t that sound great? It was the perfect way to finish a wonderfully decadent day.


Filed under Books, Lists

18 responses to “New books for the new year

  1. Bluets was my favorite read in all of 2010, so it might’ve been my blog where you saw it mentioned. I hope you enjoy it, and will be interested to here what you think.

    And mm, Labyrinth Books — they used to have a location near Columbia’s campus and it was my bookish dream-world — I’d go in to buy course-books and come out with course-books plus a bit more — usually remaindered copies of whatever smart-looking nonfiction caught my eye. I was in the fortunate situation of having a parent pay for my schoolbooks, and didn’t feel bad about slipping in a few other purchases too — I mean, I clearly had to own a copy of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion, and there it was in hardcover for just a few dollars. It felt like everyone on campus had a Labyrinth tote bag, and now I kinda regret having brought mine to textile recycling when it got too grungy a few years ago — I still always have a little “aww” moment whenever I see someone carrying one on the subway or walking down the street or whatever.

    Your excursion sounds great — books and chocolate chip cookie pie pretty much can’t be beat!


  2. What a great excursion this sounds like — and thanks for the link to Labyrinth Books — I’ve just checked them out, wow! So many books I want πŸ™‚

    Your list of finds is very appealing; I hope you will like The River Midnight – I have a copy sitting on my shelf right now as well.

    And I have a beloved copy of Bobbed Hair & Bathtub Gin; but I love it for nonliterary reasons… when I cut my hair after years of wearing it long (to my waist) I took a copy of this book with me to the hair salon and showed her a picture of Dorothy Parker and told her to cut it just like that! πŸ˜‰


  3. What a delicious post… bookstores, cafΓ©s and chocolate cookies. I can only imagine what it’s like to be where you are, browsing indie bookshops and buying books at bargain prices. We only have the major chains here… Looking forward to your reviews coming up. And BTW, I just joined Twitter a couple of days ago… just clicked to follow you πŸ˜‰


  4. I’m suffering from serious bookshop envy sitting here. But you have reminded me that it is sometime since I visited our nearest bookshop in a barn. It’s just that bit too far a way for it to be the sort of place you drop into without planning. If the weather stays fair this weekend though I might just go. Thanks for the push.


  5. Oooh I have that book Truth in Nonfiction and agree it looks splendid, can’t wait to hear what you think of it. I do so wish we had that sort of range of good bookstores where we live, but alas, nothing like it exists. Lovely to hear about your day.


  6. I love your bookish trips! I had a virtual tour with you guys, clicking on your links (Atticus doesn’t seem to work). I’d never seen anything like a bookshop in a barn! Mmh, and the menu at the Book trader cafΓ© seems just what I need. Keep traveling!


  7. Thanks, Dorothy! I’m so glad to be on the list! Is your part of the world still cyclable? We’ve got snow and I’m going to take a walk in it right now while there is sun.


  8. Books, friends, chocolate chip cookie pie? Oh my this is just too much goodness πŸ™‚ Those bookstores sound really neat.


  9. What a fantastic-sounding day! Not many better places in the world to get fantastic food (from pizza to gourmet) than New Haven. I practically lived at the Labyrinth Books associated with Columbia University in Manhattan when Bob was in seminary (it was a mere seven-or-so-block walk from our apartment and right around the corner from the Hungarian Pastry Shop). Lillian Nattel is on my list this year, too, and I’d love to read Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin when you’re done with it. Right up my alley. We have some very nice friends who make us a chocolate chip cookie pie every Christmas. Aren’t they awesome?


  10. Heather — thanks for pointing that out — I’m glad to know where I read about it! I didn’t realize Labyrinth had a store near Columbia. Yes, you definitely needed the Didion book! πŸ™‚ I hope the New Haven store stays strong.

    Melwyk — what a great story about Bobbed Hair! I’ll make sure to check Parker’s hair out so I know what yours looks like πŸ™‚ I’m glad you liked the Labyrinth site. I’m already looking forward to going back.

    Arti — welcome to Twitter! I’m very lucky to live in a place where there are so many great stores. Most of them I have to drive to, some for quite a while, but still, there are so many that make great day trips, or half-day trips (including NYC). Definitely lucky!

    Annie — I hope you get to go to your book barn! Most of the bookstores I visit require planning too — these ones were about an hour’s drive away. But well worth the trip.

    Litlove — I would think in Cambridge?? I guess I AM very lucky! I’m so glad you have Truth in Nonfiction as well; my friend pointed it out to me, and I’m grateful she did. It does look great.

    Smithereens — oh, I will! πŸ™‚ I can think of several bookshops in barns, and it’s fun. Maybe it’s purely a New England thing? This one had floors that sloped so much I began to feel dizzy.

    Lilian — well, I went on a long ride today, but my guess is most people would say it’s not cyclable πŸ™‚ It was a little tricky in a few places with snow on the road, and in one place I had to walk my bike 1/4 mile over snow spread the whole way across! It was worth it though.

    Iliana — oh, I know! And I want more chocolate chip cookie pie right now … I’ve been daydreaming about it over the last day.

    Emily B. — wow, great friends! You are welcome to borrow the Bobbed Hair book, even before I read it, because it will probably be a while (you know how that goes). How awesome that you lived so close to Labyrinth!


  11. I love hearing about your bookish excursions! You should take your camera and take photos–you could do a whole series on bookstores in the Northeast US! We have a math professor on campus who sends Labyrinth catalogs to the library marked with books he wants us to order–how fun to visit one of their stores. They do have lots of scholarly, intellectual stuff–I love flipping through their catalogs when he sends them over. I have the Bobbed Hair book, too, and love the sound of Bluets!


  12. Goodness, I read Palace Walk about 2 years ago and had totally forgotten that it was part of a trilogy! Sounds as if you had a great day of book shops and book companions!


  13. Michelle

    Your bookish trips make me green with envy – how lovely! And what great books you picked up, can’t wait to hear about Palace of Desire (I also read Palace Walk a few years ago but never moved forward in the trilogy). I love Mahfouz’s other work, too.


  14. Nan

    A really perfect time! How wonderful.


  15. What a fun day! The Reading Essays book and Truth in Nonfiction sound especially appealing. And I will be totally envious of that pie if you tell me it was vegan πŸ˜‰


  16. We had an awesome time with you and Hobgoblin, as always. I’m glad this time you were the book-splurger, so I don’t feel so bad about Brattleboro. πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to read your reviews of the two essay books because I think I might like to read those myself someday.

    My post and TBR list will be coming up shortly. You are so quick!


  17. What a cool trip!
    You will have to bike to Cambridge (my new neighborhood) sometime – the bookstores are magnificent.


  18. Danielle — good idea about the photos! I have my phone with me always and could take pictures that way, I just don’t think about it. I should try to get into the habit. How lovely for that professor to be able to take the Labyrinths catalogue and have the library order whatever you want from it!

    Jenclair — the trilogy has been in the back of my mind for a while, but with so many other books to read, I wasn’t sure I’d get around to it. But I like Mahfouz a lot, so it’s a good one to have on hand, I think.

    Michelle — I realize how lucky I am! I’m curious about Palace of Desire, although I will have to review Palace Walk first, because I’ve complete forgotten the plot!

    Nan — it was!

    Stefanie — I have serious doubts about that pie being vegan, unfortunately πŸ™‚ I’m sure there’s a way to make a vegan version, though! I’m very eager to dive into the essay books.

    Debby — Hmmm … I honestly don’t remember how many books you bought in Brattleboro, but, still, I’m glad to help out a bit πŸ™‚ I enjoyed reading your list when it came out.

    Ella — that sounds lovely! I’m sure Cambridge bookstores are awesome.


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