Book Blog – Likely Stories, from Booklist Online
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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 5:44 pm
2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists
Posted by: Tim McLaughlin

Once again the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award are in. Enjoy reading these books if you can find the time, and if you don’t have the time, don’t worry; we read them for you. You can read our reviews by clicking on the links in the titles, and, for a full list of the finalists, you can go to the NBCC website. The winners will be announced March 13th.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieFICTION

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Someone, byAlice McDermott

The Infatuations, by Javier Marias

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri FinkNONFICTION

Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice, by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sherri Fink

Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

Wave, by Sonali DeraniyagalaAUTOBIOGRAPHY

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit

Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward

Farewell, Fred Voodo: A Letter from Haiti, by Amy Wilentz

Lawrence of Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott AndersonBIOGRAPHY

Lawrence of Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, by Leo Damrosch

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner

Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, by Linda Leavell

Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis, by Mark Thompson

White Girls, by Hilton AlsCRITICISM

White Girls, by Hilton Als

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, by Mary Beard

The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, by Janet Malcolm

Distant Reading, by Franco Moretti

Metaphysical Dog, by Frank BidartPOETRY

Metaphysical Dog, by Frank Bidart

Stay, Illusion, by Lucie Brock-Broido

Blowout, by Denise Duhamel

Elegy Owed, by Bob Hicok

Milk and Filth, by Carmen Gimenez Smith

Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:15 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Henny
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Henny ain’t no ordinary chick. Unlike the wings all the other chicks have, Henny has human-like arms that drag behind her, but also allow her to ballet dance, fly a plane and–I’m just guessing here–maybe even do the hokey pokey. In her starred review, Ilene Cooper calls Henny “hysterical,” with “a good message about making the best of one’s circumstances and looking on the bright side.”

Friday, January 3, 2014 3:52 pm
The Best YA & MG Book Jackets of 2013
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

WingerYou cannot have a conversation about the best YA/MG covers of the year without starting with Andrew Smith’s Winger. I saw it long before publication and knew right away it was going to be iconic. Yes, it’s a big giant face, something the literati tends to look down upon. But instead of over-styling it to make it stand out, they went the other way — it’s an eff-you of upfrontness. 1) The model is overlit and staring directly into the camera. 2) It ain’t pretty, what with that bloody nose. 3) That font, so clean and centered, brutally focuses the eyes: Look right here, you.

(A worthwhile aside here is to mention gender. A lot of those aforementioned faces-on-cover books feature girls, in stories about girls, written by women. Too often male writers/designers/performers/etc/etc/etc get props for doing something that women have been doing for ages. Is there a cover out there that is the female equivalent of Winger? I bet there is, and I’d like to see it.)

Winger was a popular book, showing up in a number of previews and lists and roundups throughout the year. And here’s where covers matter. In a majority of those lists, Winger was used as the click-through image to take you to the full list. Did that mean Winger was every single writer’s favorite book? Of course not. It meant it had the most arresting image, and the result? Frequent face-time for Winger, which, I’d argue, significantly upped the awareness and conversation about the book. So, you know, designers and marketers take note.


(By the way, even the spine is fabulous, shouting past any book it’s stacked alongside. I have it in my bookshelves at home and when people enter, they gravitate right to it.)

The rest of my favorites follow.

39 Deaths

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway. Looks like an adult literary/crime book, maybe something written by Richard Price. A great balance of text upon photo, and it makes you dwell upon which kinds of death we’re talking about here.


The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock. There’s nothing here you wouldn’t find in an illustration from Little House on the Prairie, and that’s the brilliance — it merely provides an angle those illustrations would never dare, bringing a new intimacy to a familiar concept.


The Mermaid of Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea. The exceptional use of a muted color palette looks awesome on the physical book, which features no jacket — the art is printed directly upon the cover like an old textbook. The unusual-looking character and puzzling lack of mermaids makes this a big winner in my book.


The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs. For a superhero book (of sorts), it makes sense that the design would have all the stark iconography of a superhero logo. This one is nicely ominous, partially because of how those hands rise from so dark a forest.


The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick. This is a second entry from Carolrhoda Lab, which is no surprise to me, as they put out some of the best book jackets in the biz. This one is crime-scene-evidence-as-art: a yellowed letter, spattered with blood, and blissfully absent of any extra text or blurbs.

Winter of the Robots

The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta. This gleefully embraces all things kid. Though it’s a long way from garish, there’s no trying to be subtle or evocative either. It’s a danged dinosaur! Made out of metal! In the snow! Hell yeah! There’s more fun in this than in fifty other covers combined.


symptoms final

HONORABLE MENTION: The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. This one comes with a caveat. The cover on the left is the published one — nothing  wrong with it. But, in my opinion, it backtracks from the Advance Reader’s Copies, which featured a colorful and thematically apt collage that I thought did an admirable job of being most things to most people. Oh, well, I’ll always have my memories.

Thursday, December 26, 2013 11:22 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Bleeding Edge
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Easing back into things after a few days away from the ol’ desk ‘n screen? Here’s a book trailer for your post-holi-daze; Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge has made major waves since it was published in September.

The longer-than-your-average trailer features some guy saying, “Hi, I’m Tom Pynchon” via his tee-shirt, talking about book’s protagonist/investigator Maxine Tarnow, and exploring the natural exfoliation properties–the ones the beauty conglomerates don’t want you to know about–of lox. I can’t make it make anymore sense than that.

Thursday, December 19, 2013 9:58 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Little Failure
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

This trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s forthcoming Little Failure has been kicking around the internet all week, but it’s an officially unofficial policy at BTT that we feature every book trailer that James Franco touches. So, lucky you, watch again or watch for the first time, and earn extra points for naming every cameo.

Thursday, December 12, 2013 11:07 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Breathless
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

On her website, author Nancy K. Miller alluded to someday sharing images of her memoir of 1960s Paris, Breathless: An American Girl in Paris, “reimagined as a graphic memoir.” Just out in November from Seal Press, Breathless borrows its name from one of the films of the moment in time and place that so entranced the author. With moody, somewhat unexpected images and Miller’s own photos, I think this trailer casts its own spell.

Interested readers can find the first chapter of Miller’s book here.

Friday, December 6, 2013 1:30 pm
Remembering Mandela’s Legacy
Posted by: Sarah Hunter

Nelson Mandela, by Kadir NelsonBooklist reviewer Vanessa Bush shared her thoughts earlier today on Nelson Mandela’s passing and an upcoming book examining his life. Here are some more recommended titles—some by Mandela himself— and features from the Booklist archives.

Adult Books

In His Own Words, by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs, by David Elliot Cohen

Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela

Mandela: The Authorized Portrait, edited by Mac Maharaj and Ahmed Kathrada

Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography, by Nelson Mandela

Books for Youth

Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela and Chris Van Wyk

Mandela: The Man, the Struggle, the Triumph, by Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler

Nelson Mandela, by Meredith Martin

Nelson Mandela, By Kadir Nelson

Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela, by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Tree ShakerTree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela, by Bill Keller

Booklist Features

Core Collection: Peace, Not Warby Hazel Rochman

Read-alikes: Growing Up Under Apartheid, by Hazel Rochman

Friday, December 6, 2013 11:10 am
Minority Report: Knowing Mandela Was the Real Deal
Posted by: Vanessa Bush

My oldest son, now an adult, was a toddler when Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island. I held my squirming son in my lap as I watched the historic occasion and tried to get him to watch, too. He was bored and distracted; I was stunned and mesmerized. Nelson Mandela a free man, a man I only learned about in college when I also first learned about South Africa’s apartheid system. I couldn’t believe such a system existed, even given the disgraceful history of the U.S.; it was beyond my imagination to think that such a system could exist in modern times.

Knowing MandelaWhen I heard the news of Mandela’s death at the age of 95, I was gratified that one of the books I’ve read recently was John Carlin’s Knowing Mandela, scheduled for the February 1, 2014 issue of Booklist, Spotlight on Black History.

Carlin was the first foreign correspondent to interview Mandela as president of South Africa. Carlin covered Mandela’s release in 1990 and spent the next five years covering Mandela’s historic presidency. In 2009, Carlin met again with Mandela as the former president’s health was failing. Beyond the hard-bitten image of the objective reporter, Carlin fully admits to deep admiration for Mandela.

Carlin details the personal and political struggles of a man who’d journeyed from freedom fighter to prisoner to president and revered statesman. Mandela had the charisma and pragmatism necessary to insist that South African whites own up to the truth of the brutality of apartheid and that all South Africans (black, white, and other) be willing to reconcile the painful past for the sake of the future. His stunning charisma disarmed everyone, as Carlin relates story after story of sworn enemies and skeptics falling under the spell of Mandela’s kindness and decency. For me, this was the most gratifying part of the memoir, to read that Mandela was the real deal, that his public dignity, decency and integrity were elemental to the private man as well.

I’m also grateful that that same squirming toddler as a high school student got a chance to travel to South Africa and see for himself the nation that had struggled with apartheid and still had a long way to go, as does the US, in healing the wounds of the past. But thanks to Mandela’s example, all nations are at least a bit farther along the way.


Thursday, December 5, 2013 11:03 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

The year is almost over, but we have a first for 2013 (and probably ever) on BTT: a beat-boxed book trailer for Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. Ch-ch-ch-ch-eck it out!

Now accepting submissions for beat-boxed everything in 2014.

Thursday, November 28, 2013 3:06 pm
Book Trailer Thanksgiving: Mast Brothers Chocolate
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Can’t think of eating another thing, right? Wrong! Happy Thanksgiving! And, why, hello, Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook. I’d love this trailer even if it weren’t for a book about chocolate, (in part because I see a bearded Adrian Grenier every time I look in the mirror, too, and now I feel less weird about that). But this is a book trailer about a book about chocolate!!

From the city that sometimes smells like hot cocoa, wishing you and yours a warm and happy holiday.

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Quoted material should be attributed to:
Keir Graff, Likely Stories (Booklist Online).

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