For many, more time at home means more walks around the neighborhood, a chance to tackle that recipe pinned on the fridge and increased time for reading. To boost your bookshelves, we asked local booksellers for their recommendations and how to get the books to your mailbox.
Golden Fig Books, Durham
Recommendations by David Bradley (owner) and Kelly Tang (bookseller)
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin (adult fiction, David’s pick)
Refreshing and optimistic, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” might be the perfect book for these strange times. Focusing on one man’s recovery from tragedy and the eventual reignition of his desire for life, it’s a quick, warm read that never skimps on writing quality.
“Hysterical” by Eleanor Morgan (adult, nonfiction, Kelly’s pick)
“Hysterical” is a book that asserts its belief in women. Eleanor encourages us to examine our deep taboos surrounding women’s pain: biological, bodily, emotional and beyond. Her storytelling and thorough research demand recognition and compassion from a society reluctant to confront the messy truth of women’s bodies. From “wandering wombs” to #MeToo, “Hysterical” illuminates a woman-focused understanding of what healing is and is not.
“Optic Nerve” by María Gainza (adult fiction, David’s pick)
A puzzling masterpiece, “Optic Nerve” really shouldn’t work. It spends more time exploring fine art than it does our protagonist’s mind, yet it somehow pulses with irrepressible humanity. This book is a completely unique character study forged in negative space and brought to life by a jolt of intellectual alchemy.
Letters Bookshop, Durham
Recommendations by Land Arnold, owner
“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James (adult fiction)
Black, queer, epic, epic, epic fantasy like I’ve truly never read/seen. Equal parts magnificent and disturbing. Told from the perspective of a tracker who is hired to find a missing kid. A bunch of characters and kind of hard to follow but 100% worth it.
“The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph” by Scott Ellsworth (nonfiction, history)
If you missed your March fix of college basketball and want to learn some fascinating Durham history. Only $8.98!
Epilogue, Chapel Hill
Recommendations by Terry Hudson (bookseller), Christine Schwarz (bookseller), Miranda Sanchez (co-owner, book buyer)
“Starling Days” by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Adult fiction, Miranda’s pick)
There is no simple answer to any one of the questions the author poses in this stark, genuine story of depression, love and bisexuality. Should we expect the person we love to save us from ourselves? How much is too much? Can love overwhelm despair? The thread that keeps this book, and Mina, from teetering over the edge of hopelessness, is how she continues to seek happiness: whether in her black jeans, in tearing down wallpaper, in falling hard and fast for a woman, she wants to find it.
“Days of Distraction” by Alexandra Chang (adult fiction, Miranda’s pick)
Life as a mid-millennial splatters across these pages, short paragraphs bursting from one thought to the next in a metaphor for our narrator’s state of mind as well as the “distractions” that afflict our generation. Her “distractions” range from the small (technology that makes disconnecting from former life choices nearly impossible) to the consumerist (she’s a tech writer, compiling blurbs on new gadgets) to the big (she moves, changes her career and explores both her identity as a Chinese-American on her own as well as within an interracial relationship). From cultural references (“The Land Before Time”; “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”) to razor-sharp and humorous writing, this book is the most relatable work I’ve come across.
“Be Recorder” by Carmen Giménez Smith (poems, adult, Terry’s pick)
“Be Recorder” is an incandescent collection of poetry divided into three parts like a holy thing. Topics run the gamut – Carmen covers stuff from “Star Wars” to world domination – but it was “Beasts” that made me sit and stare at a wall for a while. “Beasts” is the most gut-wrenchingly accurate portrait of life with a parent whose mind is slipping that I’ve ever encountered. This poem perfectly captures the devastating storm of feelings, the one that will eventually settle into a constant fog. Guilt, anger and responsibility turn children into caregivers who practice a new form of love, a type that comes frightfully close to archivalship. Equally powerful whether it’s an epic poem or a manifesto on apologizing, this book is a wonder.
“The Serafina Series” by Robert Beatty (YA fiction, Christine’s pick)
Dark and beautiful and gruesome and twisty – Serafina’s story kept me on my toes (usually with an elevated heart rate). Fierce, smart and strong, but not without her insecurities, Serafina makes for a wonderfully human protagonist in a heart-pounding narrative chock-full of magic in a place that can’t help but inspire wonder. Whether you’re 12 or 22, this book will introduce you to the magic of North Carolina’s mountains and make you start planning your next trip to Asheville!
“Boxitects” by Kim Smith (children’s fiction, picture book, Miranda’s pick, double recommended by son Callan)
Through bright illustrations and broken-down sentences, this book puts the spotlight on the story’s heart: two brilliant girls. The two girls explore where creativity and STEM come together while igniting the reader’s imagination as well. They create towers, rockets, airplanes, boats; their competitiveness inspiring each other to strive further, work harder, imagine more.
How to order: Order through the online store. Our new books, gift cards and our vendors/artists are now in the online shop and are being added to daily. We ship each business day for a flat rate of $3 for books; our Surprise Boxes also have flat rates.
Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill
Recommendations by Jamie Fiocco (owner) and Elese Stutts (buyer and manager)
“Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing” by Maryla Szymiczkowa (recommended by Jamie)
A wonderful historical “thriller” chock full of snarky commentary on society and culture of late 1800s Cracow. A likeable and determined female protagonist leads us by the nose through her search for the truth. Very enjoyable!
“Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata (recommended by Jamie)
A beautifully packaged (in all ways) novella which will stay with you much longer than the time spent reading. Timeless and yet perfect for right now with themes of happiness, cultural definitions of success and a woman’s role and rights in society.
“Simon the Fiddler” by Paulette Jiles (recommended by Jamie)
Just out this week. Fans of Jile’s “News of the World” will love this work of historical fiction as well, again set in post-Civil War Texas with irascible, well formed characters including the title’s namesake, a Confederate soldier and musician (with a wicked temper) who has his eyes on an Irish girl serving as a governess for a Union Colonel.
“Prairie Lotus” by Linda Sue Park (kids middle grade, ages 8-12, published March 3, 2020, recommended by Elese)
My boys and I have been passing these stay-at-home days in the world of 1880s LaForge, Dakota Territory, as seen through the eyes of Hanna. It’s a “Little House on the Prairie” take that decenters the white experience; Hanna’s late mother is Chinese and Korean, and her father is white. While navigating the pervasive racism of this up-and-coming railroad town, Hanna pursues her dream of becoming a dressmaker, with all of the gloriously detailed sewing descriptions one could hope for – bolts of calico fabric, button boxes and Godey’s Lady’s Book fashions.
“The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel (published March 24, 2020, recommended by Elese)
Emily St. John Mandel, author of the addictive post-pandemic novel “Station Eleven,” is back. Set in the exuberance of the Bernie Madoff-era financial milieu, alternating between the land of the rich and the land of those just getting by … it’s a plain good read. Enjoy it, because these literary page-turners that take you along for the ride don’t come around all that often.
How to order: Shop online. We are closed for browsing, but we are continuing to process online orders daily! We also have staff available by phone from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. $1 media mail shipping for orders more than $25.
McIntyre’s Books, Pittsboro
Recommendations by Pete Mock, Book Buyer
“The Things That Keep Us Here” by Carla Buckley (adult fiction)
Local author Carla Buckley’s first novel also deals with a pandemic that throws her estranged family back together. If you don’t know Carla yet, meet her now.
“A Good Neighborhood” by Therese Anne Fowler (adult fiction)
Ms. Fowler eschews her usual milieu of historical fiction for a contemporary story dealing with gentrification, entitlement and race, all wrapped up in the gauze of a Greek tragedy. One of our favorite novels of the year.
“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King (adult fiction)
“Writers & Lovers” is Lily King’s most excellent novel after her acclaimed breakout, “Euphoria.” Delicious writing unwinds the story of waitress Casey, also a nascent writer who is horribly hurt by the death of her mother. Casey really struggles to get back on track, overcome depression and stop putting herself second to the male writers in her life. Also, if you have ever worked in a restaurant in your life, these work stories ring so true!
“Running With Sherman” by Christopher McDougall (nonfiction)
Hands down, our feel-good book of the year! In these troubling times, what could be calmer and soothing then the story of a little donkey learning how to live and prosper again and the people who help him get there.
“Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle” by Clare Hunter (nonfiction, history)
What do Mary Queen of Scots, WWI soldiers, and Hmong villagers have in common? Thread, specifically embroidery. In this wonderfully readable history, Clare Hunter tells tales of cloth and thread as subversive items and sewing as healing, political and powerful.