Tag Archives: David Rakoff

The Staff Picks: Week of May 2nd

Recently, someone had the audacity to call us the “best curated bookstore” in Los Angeles. We’re not sure we can take this kind of libel sitting down.

So, we’re going to get back up and tell you what books, if you were to walk into our store this week, we’d rush over and tuck under your arm, stage-whispering fervent promises about.

We might even make a weekly habit of this, quickly compiling a reading list on which anyone on the planet would be able to find something they’d love. Because although there is only a handful of us, we are  zealots about the books we love and deviants in our tastes.

Lilly Picks:

The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace

The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace’s death, but it is a deeply compelling and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions–questions of life’s meaning and of the value of work and society–through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace’s unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.


BJ Picks:

Started Early, Took My  Dog, by Kate Atkinson

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.


Danielle Picks:

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, by Dan Yaccarino

Jacques Cousteau was the world’s ambassador of the oceans. His popular TV series brought whales, otters, and dolphins right into people’s living rooms. Now, in this exciting picturebook biography, Dan Yaccarino introduces young readers to the man behind the snorkel. From the first moment he got a glimpse of what lived under the ocean’s waves, Cousteau was hooked. And so he set sail aboard the Calypso to see the sea. He and his team of scientists invented diving equipment and waterproof cameras. They made films and televisions shows and wrote books so they could share what they learned. The oceans were a vast unexplored world, and Cousteau became our guide. And when he saw that pollution was taking its toll on the seas, Cousteau became our guide in how to protect the oceans as well.


Aida Picks:

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman

In 2005, novelist Franciso Goldman married a beautiful young writer named Aura Estrada in a romantic Mexican hacienda. The month before their second anniversary, Aura broke her neck while body surfing. Francisco, blamed for Aura’s death by her family and blaming himself, wanted to die, too. Instead, he wrote “Say Her Name,” a novel chronicling his great love and unspeakable loss.
A word from Aida about this being a “novel”: It’s not. At least, not a novel as it’s commonly thought of. This is one of the very small handful of books I can name written in the flushed throes of fresh grief. It isn’t a memoir written in retrospect, I mean. It is,  rather, the thoughts and recollections of a man who cannot yet say, “this is what happened and this is how I got through it.” There is no “The End” and though Goldman does wrap it up at the end of the book, this is simply a transparent and long journal entry. Whether it should have been published is a moot point, of course, (though I wouldn’t have,) but it is an absorbing book, which does little more than to tell us what it was like. That’s all. It doesn’t try to make sense. For this reason, it’s unique.
Jane Picks:

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.
Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Frank, Jr. Picks:

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell
Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self- government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all.
Lucia Picks:

The Great Night, by Chris Adrian

On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a fit of sadness over the end of her marriage, which broke up in the wake of the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues will threaten the lives of immortals and mortals alike.
Julie Picks:

Reading My Father, by Alexandra Styron
In Reading My Father, William Styron’s youngest child explores the life of a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, Darkness Visible, so searingly chronicled his battle with major depression. Alexandra Styron’s parents—the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Sophie’s Choice and his political activist wife, Rose—were, for half a century, leading players on the world’s cultural stage. Alexandra was raised under both the halo of her father’s brilliance and the long shadow of his troubled mind.

Reading My Father portrays the epic sweep of an American artist’s life, offering a ringside seat on a great literary generation’s friendships and their dramas. It is also a tale of filial love, beautifully written, with humor, compassion, and grace.


Frank Picks:

When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead, by Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen

Here is the story of Jerry Weintraub: the self-made, Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised impresario, Hollywood producer, legendary deal maker, and friend of politicians and stars. No matter where nature has placed him–the club rooms of Brooklyn, the Mafia dives of New York’s Lower East Side, the wilds of Alaska, or the hills of Hollywood–he has found a way to put on a show and sell tickets at the door. “All life was a theater and I wanted to put it up on a stage,” he writes. “I wanted to set the world under a marquee that read: ‘Jerry Weintraub Presents.'”


Donna Picks:

Half Empty, by David Rakoff

In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, Rakoff examines the realities of our sunny,  gosh­ everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true.

The book ranges from the personal to the universal, combining stories from Rakoff’s reporting and accounts of his own experi­ences: the moment when being a tiny child no longer meant adults found him charming but instead meant other children found him a fun target; the perfect late evening in Manhattan when he was young and the city seemed to brim with such pos­sibility that the street shimmered in the moonlight—as he drew closer he realized the streets actually flickered with rats in a feeding frenzy. He also weaves in his usual brand Oscar Wilde–worthy cultural criticism (the tragedy of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, for instance).


As you can see, what we pick won’t necessarily be new or old or funny or serious or long or short. They’re just good books that excite us and what’s a friendly bookstore for but to share all the excitement…

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Reading is Fun

These are some of the books we can’t wait to show you. There’s a bit of everything here — the perfect book for a rainy evening (we have the blankets and mugs, and tea for that matter, to go along with them); the perfect book to turn you on to something you’d never imagine you’d ever be turned on about; perfect finds for early holiday gift-buyers who heed ancient wisdom and give books as gifts to everyone on their lists.  Behold.


Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz

Read excerpt here.


The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics by James Kakalios


Half Empty by David Rakoff

This is what I’m giving everyone this holiday season. A dose of reality. But in a funny way.


The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy

What can I say? The man believes in love.


Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. Demille by Scott Eyman

It’s Scott Eyman. And it’s about Cecil B. Demille. And his Epic life. And you need this book. Even if you don’t read it, you know you need it.


Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford by Leslie Brody

“Born into a life of British aristocracy, at age 12 Mitford wrote a letter to a London bank requesting to open a “Running Away Account.'”  Does that whet your palate?


Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela

A few months ago Jane and I wondered aloud what he thought about during his years in captivity. Here you are, Jane (and everyone else).



By Nightfall by Michael Cunnigham (“the guy who wrote The Hours“)

A marriage. Art. “Art”. Beauty. Youth. Deep, deep unhappiness in the very seat of the soul. In fact, the seat itself can’t find its place. But then, slowly, redemption. Possibly. The possibility of redemption, let’s say.


Nemesis by Philip Roth

Polio. Newark. 1944. Impending doom. Childhood. Innocent, unfounded fear. Real, consequential fear. Manhood. Choice. No choice. Accepting, living with and being marred by choices and non-choices. Philip. Roth.


The False Friend by Myla Goldberg (“the woman who wrote Bee Season“)

How do we forget? What is trauma? How can the single most important event in a child’s life, which has molded the woman she is, have been erased without a trace? Goldberg explores memories which appear extinct but are actually only in hibernation… and they do leave a trace. You need only to follow the trail of crumbs to get at the truth… this book is that journey. Suspenseful, but not in a don’t-open-that-door-he-might-be-behind-it way. In a better way.



The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010, edited by Dave Eggers and introduced by David Sedaris

More better nonrequired pre-requisites for good literary all-aroundness than ever having existed before.


I Found This Funny, edited by JUDD Apatow



Diaghilev and the Golden Age of Ballet Russes 1909-1929, edited by Jane Pritchard


Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, Marilyn Monroe


Take 100 — The Future of Film: 100 New Directors

Are you in this?


Max’s Kansas City: Art Glamour Rock and Roll, Steven Kasher


New York: Portrait of a City, Reuel Golden

We have way too many copies of this book in stock. You won’t believe the amazing photographs inside, most of them quite rare. It’s the perfect gift for native New Yorkers and the perfect gift for those who wish they were New Yorkers. That covers almost everyone on your list.


Eclectic group, no? There’s so much more to discover. Hey, here’s an idea: why don’t you set aside half an hour or an hour one of these days and just come in to browse? There are so many new titles, we couldn’t  possibly feature all of them here. So, don’t tell anyone, we won’t tell anyone, and escape for a minute from whatever it is that you need to escape from.




*Book Sculpture: Andre Martins de Barros

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