Staff Picks, part I

Since I started work at the bookshop, I have recommended a lot of books. Plenty of individual customers ask for recommendations, of course, but in addition to this we have a bay near the front of the shop dedicated to staff picks: every couple of months the bay gets a new theme, and we each contribute two recommended titles to it. There have been Summer Picks, Christmas Picks and New Year Picks. There was also the time I got to take over the whole Staff Picks bay for a month and recommend twenty of my favourite reads, which was great fun. The only rules are that the books have to be easy to get hold of in the UK, and they usually have to be paperback.

That first requirement has actually scuppered quite a few of my recommendations – it turns out that there’s a lot of translated fiction and more diverse SFF that’s only distributed in the US, or is published by a very small publisher who can’t cope with sending you ten copies at once (with my picks it’s usually a combination of the two), or you just order it and it never comes in and you never find out why.

Below the cut, I’ve listed some of the ones that did come in. In this post you’ll find the books I picked for our various seasonal displays – next time I’ll list the books I chose for my own Staff Picks bay, and then finally I’ll list some books I would have loved to pick, but wasn’t able to get hold of for one reason or another.

Summer Picks: books that make us feel summery


Travels with a Tangerine – Tim Mackintosh-Smith

There’s something about summer than makes me want to read travel books. I really enjoy the ‘writer follows in footsteps of historical traveller’ genre of travel writing, and Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s trilogy following fourteenth-century explorer Ibn Battutah is probably my favourite of these. Over three books, Mackintosh-Smith and ‘IB’ travel from IB’s native Tangiers (geddit?) through the Arab world and India, and eventually all the way to China. Both men are erudite and entertaining and full of interesting stories, and despite being separated by centuries, they make ideal travel companions.


Goodbye Tsugumi – Banana Yoshimoto, trans. Michael Emmerich
An obvious choice? Maybe. But it’s my favourite book by Yoshimoto – I love how it captures the feeling of summer in a Japanese seaside town, I’m interested in Tsugumi as a character and in her relationship with our narrator Maria, and I think Michael Emmerich did a brilliant job of translating the delicate, fragile Tsugumi’s incongruously brash, aggressive speech style into English. Teenage cousins Maria and Tsugumi have grown up together by the sea, but now Maria is moving to Tokyo to live with her father, and spoiled, charismatic Tsugumi may or may not be terminally ill. This is the story of their last summer together.  It’s a simple, subtle coming-of-age story and a nice introduction to Yoshimoto’s writing.


Christmas Picks: what we’d like to get for Christmas (or other present-exchanging festival of choice)


Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Everybody is talking about Ancillary Justice right now. I don’t read much space opera these days, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this one after I read the reviews. A protagonist who used to be a spaceship, a Galactic Empire which is complex rather than monolithically evil (though they are totally ‘space Romans’, whatever Leckie says), and some really interesting ideas about identity, colonisation, sentience and gender, all wrapped up in a gripping revenge plot. I can’t wait to read her next book.


The Man With the Compound Eyes – Wu Ming-Yi, trans. Darryl Sterk

I meant to write a review of this one, back when I lost my blogging appetite for a few months. In my shelftalker I described it as a ‘brilliant, disorientating magic realist eco-fantasy’, and I still think that just about covers it. In brief, it’s the story of an enormous floating island of trash that collides with the island of Taiwan, and how it affects a few of the people living there – aboriginals, Taiwanese people of Chinese heritage, ex-pats, visitors, and a lost boy called Atile’i, who floats to Taiwan on the trash island from his fictional home island of Wayo Wayo. The tying up of loose ends at the end of the book left me feeling a little flat, but overall it was a fascinating read – I was particularly interested in the aboriginal Taiwanese characters and their storylines.


New Year Picks: Our 2014 reading resolutions


Roadside Picnic – Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, trans. Olena Bormashenko

I’m slightly embarrassed not to have read this classic of Soviet SF. It’s been on my reading list for years and I’ve just never got around to it. I’m halfway through it now, and it’s just as weird and unsettling as I’d always heard. In a good way.

(I like the original Korean cover better than the cover of the English edition)

No One Writes Back – Jang Eun-jin, trans. Jung Yewon

I’ve been wanting to read more Korean literature for ages, so I thought this year I’d add some titles from Dalkey Archive Press’s Library of Korean Literature to my reading list. After browsing the list for a bit, I decided on this one for my staff pick, just because the premise seems interesting – a young man travels aimlessly through Korea with his blind dog, staying at anonymous motels and writing letters every day to the people he has met on his travels, whom he refers to only by number. No one writes back…but no. 751, a novelist, starts travelling with him, and through her we gradually learn more about the young man and his mysterious journey. I haven’t read this one yet myself, but here are some reviews from people who have.

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