Being very prone to opinion, Charles has decided that ten staff picks is simply not enough for the purpose of imparting his wisdom to the general public...
Oblivion: Stories Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780316919814
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown and Company - June 8th, 2004

The long awaited new collection of short stories by the greatest author produced by the American gen-x. This is excellent work; formal exercises that will be devoured by readers who are already fans, but not a very accessible collection for the first-timer. Definitely recommended to those who enjoyed ?Brief Interviews with Hideous Men?.

The Sot-Weed Factor Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780385240888
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Anchor - August 18th, 1987

A contemporary of, and influence on Pynchon, Barth is one of the great American writer's in the school of meta-fiction and/or postmodern fiction. This novel (considered to be his best)however, does not display most of the trappings of that genre; instead it reads exactly like an 18th century baudy romp in the tradition of Fielding's "Tom Jones". Of course, in the execution of this homage/parody, Barth goes way beyond baudy and straight into levels of perversion and radical politics that would make even most contemporary audiences cringe.

A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780060194482
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Published: HarperCollins Publishers - December 1st, 1999

Howard Zinn is the high school teacher I wish I'd had. In interviews he describes himself as a self-taught historian even though he has a Ph.D. from Columbia. His point is that almost all of the material in his "People's History

Sacred Hunger Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780393311143
Availability: Out of Print
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - November 17th, 1993

Mr. Unsworth won the Booker Prize for this one. At the time I discovered it I had been reading a book on lost and forgotten utopian movements in American history and the subject of the novel dovetailed nicely. However, I didn't expect it to be so beautifully written and emotionally stirring. It has a compelling narrative, but, for me, it was a meditation on the free society, race, the psychology of authoritarianism, and the sacred hunger for capital.

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780060175863
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Harper - May 16th, 2000

Barzun's writing reminds me of an old library filled with antique furniture, a fireplace and soft lighting; it's comfortable, erudite and friendly. Born in 1907, Barzun has written thirty books and has been working in his field since the 1920's. Written with an ease that discourages any questioning of his authority, "From Dawn to Decadence" is an excellent introduction to all things Western. Although there were sections of opinion that I would tend to disagree with, he writes with such reasonable calm and empathy for his subjects that I found it impossible to become frustrated with him. In fact, the difference in his age and point of view became an unintentional bonus for me; giving me a glimpse into a brilliant mind that was developed during the height of Modernism in the early twentieth century and tempered through the dawn of a new millennium.

Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to The X-Files Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780415189781
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: Routledge - November 23rd, 2000

A fascinating exploration of the effect conspiracy theory has had on American culture and discourse. Mr. Knight does an excellent job of clarifying the diverse phenomena and definitions which have become attached to the phrase "conspiracy theory", in the process building an impressive theory of conspiracy as the meta-narrative currently acting in our culture to help us process the overwhelming and contradictory information we are all exposed to daily. Includes some great lit-crit stuff about Delillo and Pynchon and an amazing chapter on popular Feminism as conspiracy theory.

Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New, Updated, Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel (Reading Contemporary Television) Cover Image
By Roz Kaveney (Editor)
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ISBN: 9781860647628
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Tauris Parke Paperbacks - October 26th, 2001

Unless you are one of the few, faithful initiates, you probably need to be told that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is one of the smartest TV shows on the air today. It works as an allegory of teenage existential angst, a postmodern-feminist slam on the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, an antiauthoritarian/Foucaultian (ish?) critique of Power, and a drama of Wagnerian proportions that incorporates some of the richest use of metaphor and literary reference that I've ever seen in a weekly one hour TV program. So I urge you to check out a few of the syndicated reruns and then, if you still don't get it, buy this book and read it. Then maybe you can all stop rolling your eyes at me.

Gilligan's Wake Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780312291235
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Picador - January 1st, 2003

Most of the best that Pop Culture has to offer these days (X-Files, Simpsons, Hip-Hop, Buffy, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, etc.) exhibits a distinct interest in the same ideas, techniques and self-aware anxieties that were part of the high literary challenge of the great masters of the middle of the 20th century (Pynchon, Gaddis, Barth, Coover, etc.). The interesting, maybe ironic, thing now is how that post-modern sensibility has now returned to its original medium in the works of DFW, Eggers, Danielewski and now Carson, but with the distinctly user-friendly attitude we expect from Pop. In fact, Carson's new novel may be the most successful in bringing this heady tradition to the average reader. By examining the American century through the eyes of the characters from a bad 60's TV show, he has created a rich and layered text that is by turns hilarious, poignant and sharply critical without marginalizing itself with overwrought prose. I'm hoping this one will be big with the kids in '03.

The Fortress of Solitude (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375724886
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - August 24th, 2004

A few years ago I came across an essay in an issue of the Village Voice Literary supplement by a more or less unknown author named Jonathan Lethem who was arguing that the science fiction community had betrayed its own potential when it refused, in 1974, to give the Hugo or Nebula award to a novel nominated that year by the name of 'Gravity's Rainbow'. Of course, this caught my attention and I've been watching Lethem's career ever since.

Around the time of the essay in the VVLS, Lethem's work tended to be thought of as ambitious, but not very successful literary sci-fi. In 2000 he garnered a lot of praise and a National Book Critics award for his book Motherless Brooklyn; a formulaic mystery novel with the added wordplay created by a narrator with Tourett's syndrome. This started out very strong, but seemed to become bored with itself by the end. So, for me, Lethem's work always seemed to be on the verge, but never quite successful.

Well, so, the point here obviously being that his new work, The Fortress of Solitude, is the novel which has finally placed him in the (very small) company of truly respectable American writers. Fortress is an ambitious work that paints a vivid portrait of urban America in the last half of the 20th century that resonates with the same awareness of time, place, and the unspoken and embarrassing truth about ourselves that I think is compelling in the work of early 20th century writers such as Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and John Dos Passos. Some passages of Fortress are simply beautiful to read, exhibiting a control of the English language that I rarely find in many of the popular contemporary writers (Chabon and Eggers come to mind as failures here).

Lethem's sensitive and expert handling of pop-culture history makes it shockingly apparent how little real, successful work has been done that can represent the truly poignant childhood memories of the gen-x for a world filled with Hannah-Barbera cartoons, comic books, and the great rock-funk-soul-punk era of music. The literature of the boomer generation has so saturated our awareness with that particular generation's pop-culture concerns that we tend to not even recognize it as such until a writer like Lethem points out the validity of a younger experience; not in a tongue in cheek way like Douglas Coupland, but with a humble seriousness that pays respect to his own generation. He even goes so far as to incorporate what might be called a "magical realism" element that is a direct and unapologetic homage to a generation raised on comic books.

What is most impressive about Fortress, however, is the way Lethem is able to make these different elements revolve effortlessly around the true core of this novel: an unflinching meditation on the effects of race and class in a post civil-rights era world. As seen through the eyes of a young white boy growing up in an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood in the 70s, the world of Fortress slowly unveils the last quarter of America's 20th century as a schizophrenic battle between the triumph of African-American culture even as it is buried under the yolk of poverty and Crack, and the love/hate relationship that white America has always had with the Other. Dylan, the young white protagonist, loves his black friend Mingus and wants to be accepted by his neighbors even as he fears their attention. And as the characters and the novel grow, the tragic shame of America's prison-industrial complex is mirrored by Dylan's withdrawal from his responsibilities to his friend and his past.

With this novel Lethem has joined the small, but growing, ranks of great American gen-x writers such as William Vollman and David Foster Wallace. The Fortress of Solitude may turn out to be one of the representative novels of my generation.