Your choices include novels, poetry and memoir.
In this job, I get hundreds of books every month, but there’s only room to write about a few. Choosing is painful! So here’s a bonus: five books from this spring that I enjoyed. If you aren’t tempted by one, maybe you’ll be tempted by another.
“Once Upon a Tome,” by Oliver Darkshire (W.W. Norton, $27.95)
Yes, another memoir of a British bookseller, but this one is special — witty, literary and very funny. Oliver Darkshire fell into bookselling largely to avoid office work, his “recurring nightmare of cowering miserably in a cubicle.” He ended up at Henry Sotheran Ltd., a London antiquarian bookstore, where “the pay was Victorian, the expected duties nebulous, and the whole thing had an air of desperation about it.”
His memoir introduces us to hardworking but quirky colleagues, a wide range of peculiar customers (one of whom looks like “a vole in a woolly jumper”) and the various cubbyholes and catacombs of the ancient shop.
Darkshire writes with self-deprecating humor; in one chapter, his attempt to retrieve a book that Sotheran had purchased at auction is doomed from the moment he arrives at the auction house. “The interior was a maze of unhelpful signs and mood lighting, with the mood of the day being disapproval.” Apparently the purchased book cannot be released without a signature from one of several authorized booksellers — all of whom are dead. This book is a delight; Darkshire’s tone is everything. Even the footnotes made me chuckle.
“This Isn’t Going to End Well,” by Daniel Wallace (Algonquin, $28)
It’s true that this book doesn’t end well — that is, it doesn’t end happily — but you know that from the first page. Daniel Wallace’s memoir is about his friendship with artist William Nealy, who happened to be his brother-in-law but who, before that, was the coolest kid in town: “The kind of man who could be dropped into the middle of the jungle with no more than a half-chewed piece of bubble gum, a piece of dental floss, and the pop-top from a cola can and somehow still save your life.” This is the moving story of a guy who inspired and loved, created and cared, but could not fix the broken part of himself and died far too young.
“Mary and Mr. Eliot: A Sort of Love Story,” by Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner (FSG, $30)
The love that Mary Trevelyan felt for T.S. Eliot was romantic; the love Eliot returned was platonic. For 20 years, they were close friends. Eliot sat in front of her fire in his shirtsleeves, nursing his gin, while Mary bustled about cooking dinner. Was it any wonder she thought they might marry? The book consists of her journal entries as well as correspondence between the two, annotated by writer and editor Erica Wagner. Trevelyan was deeply hurt when Eliot suddenly announced that he was marrying his secretary, a woman nearly 40 years his junior. The friendship with Mary did not survive, and the final letters between the two will make your heart ache. She is stoic and dignified; he is callous. My only quibble is that Wagner’s annotations are in italics and sometimes go on for many pages, making them tedious to read when they are actually illuminating.
“I Think I Know You,” by Julie Gard (FutureCycle Press, $15.95)
The author — a professor at the University of Wisconsin Superior — sent me this collection of prose poems because she wanted to share one about a dog (“Northwest Ontario”), which I loved so much I have it almost memorized. But I went on to read the other poems, too (including “Duluth News Tribune”), and I liked them all, firmly grounded in place — mostly northern Minnesota, but also Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. They are vivid and irresistible, from stitched-together snippets of conversations overheard in a coffee shop to a list of items offered at a garage sale at the home of late poet Louis Jenkins.
The final section consists of 51 texts that Gard sent to herself, one each morning. Despite the darkness in many of these poems, she ends with cautious hope, “and anyone who wants to understand can enter our house at the edge of what’s coming.”
“Someone Else’s Shoes,” by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, $29)
This big novel (450 pages) is pure escapism. Set in London, it alternates between two women, polar opposites, who accidentally switch bags at the local gym, a mistake with enormous repercussions. Sam — a sad-sack executive — grabs Nisha’s bag and finds inside an expensive pair of high-heeled shoes, which give her confidence a boost. Nisha — the dumped aging trophy wife of a billionaire — is desperate to get those shoes back, for a lot of reasons. This book is about women finding their voice and being seen in middle age. It has a completely implausible plot, and it’s a complete hoot to read.