Josh's Staff Picks

I enjoy books that challenge me, where I'm a different person when I close the book than when I opened it, where the author dares me to explore, analyze and interpret, and where I need a dictionary to get through it. I want to lose sleep over books. Some classics that have kept me up at night are Ulysses, Lolita, Moby-Dick and The Man Without Qualities. Some contemporary works that have left me groggy in the mornings are Infinite Jest, Underworld and Europe Central. The following are my 15 favorite picks in no particular order.

House of Leaves: The Remastered Full-Color Edition Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375703768
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Pantheon - March 7th, 2000

No other work has ever dominated my consciousness like this has. It wasn't that I wanted to think about it. The story, the characters, the diction, the ideas, the philosophy, the format demanded that I think about it. Multiple narrators (and editors) complicate brilliantly paced action. For those of you bored with the stagnant development of the contemporary novel, you have found the book you have been waiting for. For those of you wary of anything labeled "experimental" this book will vindicate narrative experimentation. This book is even perfect for you if you're a veteran horror film watcher who hasn't been scared in a decade. This book is one of the closing arguments for the limitless potential of the written word.

Here, Bullet Cover Image
ISBN: 9781882295555
Availability: On Order at the Warehouse
Published: Alice James Books - November 2005

The eponymous poem is the best new poem you have read in 3-5 years. It's on page 13. Read it. Collect yourself. Walk to the register. Be consoled that Brian Turner survived to write this book. Finish your day.

Buddha, Volume 1: Kapilavastu Cover Image
ISBN: 9781932234565
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: Vertical - May 2nd, 2006

This massive epic is one of the landmarks of the graphic novel. Tezuka tells the story of Buddha with humor, pathos, compassion, and reserved eloquence, presenting the founding mythology of one of the world's major religions in a master narrative that is both educational and emotionally compelling. The series opens with the moving rabbit-in-the-moon myth and continues through eight brilliant volumes of groundbreaking storytelling. This is indispensable for readers of graphic novels, but will reach anyone interested in the saga of human events.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: The Florida Edition Cover Image
By Laurence Sterne, Joan New (Editor), Melvyn New (Editor)
ISBN: 9780141439778
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - May 27th, 2003

--?--When--in all considerations of human history and the advancements of--as in, of course, the making of advances upon humanity--humanity was the first post-modern (O! sway the great branches of modernity to which our braying asses are tied) novel written? You could argue--and truly what greater and more enlightened activity can there be than projecting your opinions against an equally unresponsive receptor--that it was between the years 1759 and 1766.

The style of Tristram Shandy is convoluted, digressive, obtuse, tangential, illusive, allusive, non-sequitorial, and hysterical. A brilliant mockery of narrative form, British society and human existence, Tristram Shandy breaks literary ground that won't be laid for another hundred years or so. Sit with the style. It's worth the effort.

Conductors of the Pit: Artaud, Holan, Casaire, Vallejo, Csoori, Breton, Neruda, Radnoti, Rimbaud, Hierro, Bador, Juhasz, Szocs Cover Image
By Clayton Eshleman (Editor)
ISBN: 9781932360745
Availability: It's Complicated--Contact Us for More Info
Published: Soft Skull Press - May 2005

I discovered some of my favorite poets in this smoldering anthology. This is not just a collection of poets in translation, it is a collection of poets tearing the genre to pieces and then pasting the remains back together into hallucinogenic creatures stalking through the recesses of our sub-conscious and rearing their grotesque heads in our nightmares and hangovers. Beauty and disgust. Desire and rebellion. This anthology is a clenched fist shaking in the face of all those who would shackle poetry and imagination.

The Silver Spoon Cover Image
ISBN: 9780714845319
Availability: It's Complicated--Contact Us for More Info
Published: Phaidon Press - October 2005

The cover claims it's the best-selling cookbook in Italy (and if it's good enough for ancient Italian grandmothers to use, it's good enough for me) but then book covers say lots of things. I can say that I messed up one of the recipes about three different ways and still had the best pork chops of my life. There are recipes for all skill levels presented with straightforward instructions (and without the American obsession with time: prep time, cook time, total time) for every ingredient you could imagine and quite a few you probably couldn't. With three recipes for wild boar and a list of fish and game not seen outside a forest ranger's guidebook, The Silver Spoon adds the flip-through appeal of a coffee table book to the delicious recipes.

The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition Cover Image
By Cesar Vallejo, Clayton Eshleman (Editor), Mario Vargas Llosa (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780520245525
Availability: It's Complicated--Contact Us for More Info
Published: University of California Press - December 2006

Vallejo is a wicked jester made of bones and guts; a naked cackling human be-ing. To read his poetry is to tour nightmares with fearless bravado. He confesses to priests and specters in the same tone. He does not believe in hallucination for everything is fact when his pen and imagination wrestle. You have been waiting a long time to find a poet like him. Vallejo, though, is indifferent and defiant. Read "The Conflict between the Eye and Gaze," on page 379 for a taste.

Lord of the Barnyard: Killing the Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Cornbelt Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802136725
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: Grove Press - March 13th, 2000

This book is a radical, agricultural, exuberant, expose of the American character, filled with boiling prose, brain-erupting humor, and barn-disintegrating political intrigue, and starring one of American literature's new heros; John Kaltenbrunner. More than any other work I've read, this book shows how the traits like perserverence or ingenuity can contribute to both the best and the worst of American culture. Furthermore, it is one of the few works of literary fiction that embraces the role agriculture played in the development of the American identity. A predatory Methodist organization, a garbage collector strike, an indominable ewe, a bar called the Bloody Bucket, and what might be the greatest riot in contemporary fiction, all contribute to Lord of the Barnyard's greatness.

The Raw Shark Texts Cover Image
ISBN: 9781841959115
Availability: It's Complicated--Contact Us for More Info
Published: Canongate U.S. - April 2007

Reading a novel should be like catching an eel. Definitions of the form slide from your grasp. Easy conclusions duck into coral reefs to vanish into labyrinths of living rock. Emotions erupt at you from the ocean sand. At the end of the book you are a different person than when you first took to the water. Raw Shark Text challenges your understanding of information, memory, language, and identity, while leading you on a wild adventure of intrigue, trauma, hope, love, and shark hunting. As a Booksense pick, this is 20 percent off this month.

Infinite Jest Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316066525
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: Back Bay Books - November 13th, 2006

At .9 cents a page, the 10th anniversary edition of this classic American novel is one of the best bargains in the store. This massive, funny, intelligent story explores entertainment, drugs, tennis, optics, families, addiction, film-making, commercialism, and radical Quebecois separatism, while testing the limits of the novel and establishing a benchmark of the form in America. Unforgettable characters, contemporary heroics, and exquisite speculation make this mind and muscle work out worth every nine-tenths of a penny.

Only Revolutions: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375421761
Availability: Hard to Find--Contact us for More Info
Published: Pantheon - September 12th, 2006

The study of 21st century literature might start with Mark Z. Danielewski. Advances in print technology have given authors vast opportunities to explore the physical limitations of the "book" and few others have taken advantage of them. This book is told in two concurrent epic poems narrated by Sam and Hailey, the archetypal American teenagers rewriting and updating "Song of Myself," as they travel across the country and through time. The dust jacket, the book itself, the type fonts and colors, and even the bookmarks contribute to the themes of this groundbreaking story.

Our Lady of the Flowers (Genet) Cover Image
By Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780802130136
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: Grove Press - January 12th, 1994

There were phrases in this book that stopped me in my tracks. I had to close the book. Catch my breath. Wonder what the point of reading anything else would be. Literature can turn the mundane, the ugly, the evil into the extraordinary, the beautiful, and the saintly. That transformation is one of the reasons we read and no other work I've ever read has produced so much beauty from so much filth. The content is graphic and the narrator is despicable, but the fundamental act of writing is the placing of one word after the other and few authors have done so with as much beauty and genius as Genet did in Our Lady of the Flowers.

The Ghost Soldiers: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061436949
Availability: Hard to Find--Contact us for More Info
Published: Ecco - March 25th, 2008

James Tate is one of my favorite living poets and he continues to dazzle and delight in his newest collection. Here he establishes a new poetic form, while exploring the madness of modern society with brilliant images and piercing humor. If you're one of those otherwise avid readers who persistently avoids poetry, or if you're just looking for a taste of this collection, try "Panda Fever" on page 153, and you'll see that Tate isn't just a great poet, he's a great writer.

The Unfortunates Cover Image
By B. S. Johnson, Jonathan Coe (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780811217439
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - November 17th, 2009

The reissuing of The Unfortunates, Johnson's unbound novel is a major moment in publishing. The narrator's sports writing job brings him to a semi-familiar city, triggering memories of his friend who died of cancer. Because the chapters can be read in any order, many story-telling techniques are unavailable, but this challenge goes unnoticed because every word is perfect. Johnson creates a powerful statement about grudging employment from the composition of an article about a boring soccer match. His images are so brilliant, they seem to radiate from the reader's life. This is the book to read for lovers of literature.