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  • C. P. Lesley

Books We Loved, June 2017

A little late this month, because June 15, when we would normally have posted about the Books We Loved, marked the release date for our newest Five Directions Press title, Rewind—which, if we hadn’t issued it ourselves, would certainly have topped several of our lists for the book we loved most in June! A hilarious story that follows a pair of Scots teenagers from the 1970s into middle age, Rewind has already accumulated thousands of likes on Facebook. You can find out more about it and listen to or read an excerpt on its book page.

And now to our book picks for June.

Louise Erdrich, LaRose (HarperCollins, 2016)

This story of atonement takes place in a North Dakota town where Ojibwa and American history and cultures meld. A boy mistaken for a deer is accidentally shot by his neighbor, Landreaux. Feeling the loss as his own, Landreaux gives the bereaved parents his own son, LaRose. LaRose has a long line of Ojibwa ancestors who populate the story along with several contemporary generations who try to keep alive Ojibwa traditions in the millennium while plagued with poverty, addiction, and the impact of cultural decimation. The gift of LaRose has a savior-like effect on both families and members of the town. The details of daily life and settings are vivid, brutal, and real. The story unwinds as does life, intertwining memory, lore, and reality into a shockingly beautiful story.—AA

Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury USA, 2014)

If you’re a reader of The New Yorker, you’ve seen Roz Chast’s cartoons for over twenty years. Those lumpy and true-to-life figures, with their wry comments and deep emotions, ride subways, sit on couches, suffer through long school days and endless supermarket lines, always searching for the funny, apt line to see them through. Here, Chast tackles the not-very-funny-at-all subject of aging and dying parents. To people of a “certain age” this is our reality, and Chast brings us the epiphanies through her engaging drawings and colors.

Not one to mince words, Chast shows herself broaching the subject of “plans” with her aging parents, and backing off immediately with relief when they tell her they don’t want to talk about it. Then she takes us on that very journey—intimately, gently, piercingly—and while we walk with her, she’s walking with us.

Catapult yourself into the graphic novel, and if you’ve already started down this painful path, or even come to its end, you’ll be nodding and laughing and wiping a tear from your eye. And making sure that you, at least, have your “plan.”—CHL

Leslie Johansen Nack, Fourteen: A Daughter’s Memoir of Adventure, Sailing and Survival (She Writes Press, 2015)

In some ways, Leslie Nack’s memoir evokes my own teenage years, in the 1970s. Her father eats Grape Nuts, but the kids are excited about Froot Loops cereal. Strumming the guitar is a nice way of spending time. The older boy who’s foxy and tan makes out with you, and then drops you.

But then there are the unusual parts. She and her sisters are taken out of school to sail to Tahiti in their father’s boat. Their dad, Bjorn, a Norwegian tough guy, expects her and her sisters to procure dinner by spearfishing in the lagoon. He sends Leslie’s sisters back to the States, and keeps her on as his skipper.

Although Leslie obviously survived to write the book, I found it hard to put down her story because of the suspense. Insane situations kept cropping up; I wondered how her unstable parents would react—much as she herself wondered at the time.

The photographs in the book and on her website are a plus.—GM

Sue Townsend, Queen Camilla (Penguin, 2007)

“Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, stood smoking a cheap cigarette on the back doorstep of number sixteen Hell Close.”

Like a satirical, lightweight, and biting version of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, Queen Camilla is the story of the daily lives of the British royal family, which has been removed in a bloodless coup and exiled to a grim council estate in the East Midlands. Along with the other “undesirables” and teenage mothers, members of the former royal family have to wear electronic ankle tags, carry their IDs at all times, and be monitored 24/7 by CCTV. The queen is outraged, as “Everyone knows who I am!”

Camilla, in contrast, is rather pleased with her ankle bracelet. “I think it flatters my ankle beautifully.” And Charles just wants to potter around in his vegetable garden.

The national ban on dogs is also bothersome, as the queen is rather attached to her Corgis, and when she decides she has had enough and is going to abdicate, Charles panics, as he is perfectly happy with his leeks and onions, especially after he wins a Best Kept Garden competition. When Graham, the forty-year-old love-child of Charles and Camilla, reappears and makes a bid for the crown, the queen is less than pleased….

Written ten years after the death of Princess Diana, when the British royal family was still in disarray, Queen Camilla is a unique, ridiculous, funny, and very human take on how the Windsors would react to being removed from Buckingham Palace.—DAS

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