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Independent Bookstores

May 12, 2024

Irish Novel Sequel Delivers Moving Literary Portrait, and Judi Dench Delivers Smart and Witty Tribute to Shakespeare

Long Island by Colm Tóibín. Readers first met Eilis Lacey in Tóibín's 2009 novel Brooklyn, the story of an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York who falls in love with plumber Tony Fiorello. Long Island takes place 20 years after Brooklyn and follows now-wife and mother Eilis, living on Long Island and inextricably bound to smothering in-laws. At the book's outset, she receives shocking news involving her husband's infidelity that threatens her marriage, and she absorbs another blow when Tony's family closes ranks around the crisis. In response, Eilis heads back to Ireland and returns to Enniscorthy, the small town she left to come to New York. Her arrival brings her back in contact with an old love, Jim Farrell, and an old friend, Nancy Sheridan. With Jim and Nancy contemplating marriage, Eilis's appearance - and the chemistry she and Jim still have - does not bode well for tranquility in the village.

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, "Tóibín is brilliant at tallying the weight of what goes unsaid between people (“They could do everything except say out loud what it was they were thinking”), and at using quotidian situations to illuminate longing as a universal and often-inescapable aspect of the human condition. Tóibín’s mastery is on full display here."

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent by Judi Dench with Brendon O'Hea. The marvelous Dame Judi opens up about every Shakespearean role she has played throughout her seven-decade career, from Lady Macbeth and Titania to Ophelia and Cleopatra. In a series of free-wheeling conversations with actor/director Brendan O'Hea, she guides us through Shakespeare's plays with remarkable insight, while also revealing the secrets of her rehearsal process and recalling triumphs, disasters, and backstage shenanigans. 

What makes this such fun reading is that Dench is both extremely erudite and equally irreverent. O'Hea's questions serve to launch her into descriptions of individual roles, quoting whole passages from the plays to make a point about a character's state of mind or Shakespeare's meaning (quite a feat of memory for anyone - and Dench is 89). And while her observations reflect a thorough and at times scholarly knowledge and understanding of the Bard, hers is hardly an academic treatise.

One example - in the chapter on Hamlet, a play in which she has played Ophelia and Hamlet's mother Gertrude in separate productions, O'Hea notes at one point that Dench makes Gertrude sound almost frivolous. "I think she is frivolous. I don't doubt it. She does remarry very, very soon after her husband's death," Dench asserts. She then goes on to say, "As for Gertrude's parenting skills...well, she certainly loves Hamlet, and it must be very hard watching her child become depressed, but she's very much enjoying this wonderful lover. Having a nice bit of rumpy-pumpy. Maybe there were problems with Hamlet's father. Perhaps he had gout. Or maybe he couldn't, you know - get it up."

And then there's this - O'Hea begins one chapter by saying,"OK, let's look at a play you hate. To which Dench replies, "The Merchant of fucking Venice. Oh my God, I loathed it."

If you're a fan of Shakespeare, this is a volume to take note of. And Dench's uninhibited but very knowledgeable discussion of the plays, only adds to the appeal.

Fascinating Insider Look at Presidential Decision-Making Over Six Decades

The Situation Room: The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis by George Stephanopoulos. The long-time TV political news host and senior advisor on policy and strategy in the Clinton administration puts readers in the room where 12 presidents have gathered with staff over the years to make often monumental decisions during times of crisis. The White House Situation Room was established by President Kennedy following the Bay of Pigs fiasco to serve as a much-needed information and communications hub and has been the epicenter of crisis management for presidents for more than six decades. Stephanopoulos is a well-informed and erudite guide, looking back on a series of close calls and disasters averted in the Sit Room, as it is known, including a first-ever account of January 6 discussions. Other highlights include:

  • Minute-by-minute transcripts from the Sit Room after both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan were shot

  • The shocking moment when Henry Kissinger raised the military alert level to DEFCON III while President Nixon was drunk in the White House residence

  • A vivid retelling of the harrowing hours during the 9/11 attack

  • New details from Obama administration officials leading up to the raid on Osama Bin Laden

In its review, Kirkus called The Situation Room an "effective blend of political analysis and personal stories, tied together at the epicenter of crisis management." And famed historian and bestselling author Walter Isaacson said, "This is a colorful and intimate - but also deeply informative - look at one of the most critical set of rooms in the world. It literally makes real the saying 'if these walls could speak' by combining inside tales with audio transcripts of the most exciting moments in the Situation Room, from John Kennedy to Joe Biden."

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

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