Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Handsell: The Manual of Detection and The Secret Currency of Love

Some of the good stuff I've been reading lately...



The Manual of Detection
by Jedediah Berry
(Penguin Press)

If you like your mysteries with a bit of meta, but still insist on being richly entertained, you are so in luck -- this is the book for you. Rain-slicked streets and wood-paneled halls, sinister carnivals and decaying mansions, trench coats and fedoras and femmes fatales -- the iconography of the genre makes up the dreamlike landscape of this tightly structured and chaotically effulgent novel. Yet it's also a moving story of a humble Everyman trying to make his way in an incomprehensible system of institutions and obligations, and filled with both pathos and humor. My tagline: Chandler meets Kafka for whiskey-laced tea at G.K. Chesterton's house.

I'm one of two booksellers at my store who LOVE this book to the point of obsession. And now I'm starting to see fedoras and pin-curls, mysterious briefcases and memorable umbrellas on my rainy commute to work. It's one of those books whose dreamlife seems to seep into real life, rendering the whole world more wonderfully mysterious.

(Author Jedediah Berry reads with fellow genre transcendentalist Benjamin Rosenbaum at McNally Jackson on May 27. If you're not partying with Emerging Leaders at BEA, I highly recommend attending.)

(Update: do not fail to check out the book's website, complete with atmospheric music and dossiers on agency operatives and suspects.)




The Secret Currency of Love
The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money, and Relationships
By Hilary Black
(William Morrow & Company)

I thought this anthology might be a little fluffy for my tastes -- but after hearing some of the contributors read, I was open-mouthed in admiration and recognition, and totally hooked. (Some of my smartest girlfriends were equally intrigued --we're now reading it in anticipation of a drink-fueled book club discussion at some point.) As "traditionally" the non-wage earning gender, bearing the weight of all those Jane Austen marry-for-money-AND-love expectations even as we now have the power to make our own living, women have an especially fraught relationship with money. And that relationship affects our other relationships: with our parents, our friends, our romantic partners (especially those), and eventually our kids.

The women writing here are married and single, come from wealth or poverty, have found financial success or still struggle to make ends meet -- and the questions they have to answer sound very familiar to me and my generation of women. What's necessity and what's luxury, and who decides? What's worth doing for money? What's the cost -- monetary and emotional -- of giving and receiving generosity? Who is rich and how do you know? What is financial equality -- both partners paying half, or both paying according to what they earn? The questions and experiences are intense, and I recognized myself, my friends, my enemies, and every relationship in my life in these stories. It's not often that a non-fiction book absorbs me like good fiction, but this one kept me rapt through every single essay, and gave me both new insights and new questions. Can't wait to discuss it with my girlfriends (and maybe even with my mom, my business partner, and my husband.) Compelling reading and definitely worth recommending, especially for women struggling anew with these questions in an uncertain economy.