Staff Picks

Staff Picks: Coen, Beatty, Egan, Gentlemen

By posted at 2:10 pm on March 10, 2008 1

The “staff picks” shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, these books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we offer our own “Staff Picks” in a feature appearing irregularly.

coverGates of Eden by Ethan Coen recommended by Andrew

A treat for fans of the multiple-Oscar-winning Coen brothers, and for anyone who likes to spend some time in that grey area where the darkly comic and the absurdly tragic intersect. Published ten years ago, this collection of prose from the Ethan half of the Coen brothers comes from the same delightfully twisted mind that gave us rapid-fire gangster pastiches like Miller’s Crossing, and tough-talking old-time men-of-action like Michael Lerner’s studio honcho in Barton Fink.

There’s a story of a boxer who never manages to lay a punch and who gets caught up in a war between rival gangsters. Another tale takes us back to Minneapolis (the Coen’s home town) where the Mafia have decided to set-up shop. There are some plays in this collection too, loaded with savagely funny dialogue. You can almost hear Steve Buscemi or John Goodman or John Turturro or any of the other Coen regulars sinking their chops into these characters.

coverThe White-Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty recommended by Garth

This is one of those novels I loved so much circa my senior year of high school that I’m almost afraid to reread it, in case it’s not as great as I remembered. Thumbing back through the first few chapters, I’m noticing that Beatty shares a riff-intensive prose style with Colson Whitehead and Jonathan Lethem. Unlike those writers, however, he seems more inclined to pursue satire than high art. Still, Beatty’s natural emotional pallette – a kind of pissed-off innocence – and his poet’s eye for the absurd, pushes his story beyond the didactic. Narrator Gunnar Kaufman may transform himself from scholarship athlete to celebrity-poet-messiah (see? I said it was satire), but he remains, underneath, someone we know and care about… especially when we ourselves are pissed-off innocents. Is it premature to recommendThe White Boy Shuffle as a graduation present?

coverThe Keep by Jennifer Egan recommended by Edan

The Keep by Jennifer Egan manages to be both inventive and readable, character and plot driven, playful with genre conventions but also straightforward in its prose style. Egan draws you into a Gothic tale of an old, creepy castle, and the reunion of two cousins with a vicious secret between them, but it’s not long before the narrator announces himself as an outsider to the story (or is he?!), pulling another, wholly different, storyline into the mix. The threads of the various plots converge marvelously at the novel’s end, and you can’t help but love how fun this book is – fun and smart.

coverThe Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro recommended by Timothy

Not all self-help books are beholden to the latest new-age or pop psychology craze. In The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice, authors Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro offer timeless, entertaining tips on how today’s man can improve his wardrobe, grooming habits and love of literature, while keeping in mind his affinity for sexual intimacy, a day at the track and alcohol consumption. The book’s wit is second only to its practicality, from how to host a memorable dinner party to advice on handling inquiries from a potential mate about past lovers (charts included). The Modern Gentleman also makes for lively conversation when guests spot it casually displayed among coffee table reading material.

Some choice excerpts:

Honking – When lively conversation in the cabin boils over in delight, give a medium burst to alert the heavens to such joy.

Swearing – There’s a high degree of cliche among cursers. Mix and match the filthy classics to create a string of fresh phrases that highlight your keen wit and local tongue.

Hiccoughing – If at the cinema, suggest the hiccougher overstuff his mouth with buttery popcorn until breathing is labored and then insert one Milk Dud for good measure. While this procedure may prove ineffective, it is delicious.

Bow ties – Never divulge to a rogue the bow tie’s true ease of knot – let’s keep it between us gentlemen, shall we?

This book is both a lyrical masterpiece and a cultural gem.





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One Response to “Staff Picks: Coen, Beatty, Egan, Gentlemen”

  1. Benjamin Chambers
    at 10:22 am on March 11, 2008

    Seems like The Modern Gentleman must owe a great deal to J.P. Donleavy's The Unexpurgated Code from 1975, which is similarly high-spirited.

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