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Bookshelf: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell

See what's on our bookshelf this month.


Published on August 6, 2015 7:59AM

Last changed on August 6, 2015 8:33AM

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Just finished

“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

PLOT NOTES: In the title story of her excellent second collection, a pair of centuries-old vampires retire to a lemon grove in Sorrento, Italy where they drain armfuls of sour citrus to satiate their thirst for blood, though at least one of them may harbor a desire for more. Here, too, you will find imprisoned women in feudal Japan transformed into silkworms only to be robbed of their thread and schoolyard bullies confronted by a scarecrow that looks an awful lot like the boy they used to terrorize before he one day disappeared.

TAKE AWAY: Armed with a poet’s sense of metaphor and other verbal pyrotechnics, Russell invokes impossible worlds rendered in lush, descriptive prose in these stories. These aren’t worlds you’ve seen before, but they wring emotional truths that feel at home in our own dimension. Many of her narrators are young, and these stories brim with humor and keen observation. I would gladly enter any world Russell asks me to.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, Aimee Bender and Kelly Link. Verbose teens may also apply.

BONUS: Russell, a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, recently relocated to Portland. Perhaps this is why a new ghost story, “The Prospectors,” which appeared in The New Yorker’s summer fiction issue is set in Depression-era Oregon. It is available to read for free on the New Yorker’s website. In an interview on the magazine’s blog, Russell had this to say while discussing the landscape of her new home state, “Astoria seems to exist in the palette of memory; it sort of ghosts away and reasserts itself with the changing light.”

Other books

“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George, Crown, 1st Edition, 2015

RECOMMENDED BY: Alex Brandon of Beach Books in Seaside

A LOVE LETTER TO BOOKS: Monsieur Perdu owns the titular bookshop in George’s 26th novel, which happens to be located on a barge floating on the Seine in the middle of Paris. Not one to sling the latest bestseller, Perdu considers his shop to be a “book apothecary,” Brandon said, his quest being to find books that will heal his readers. Adventure comes when the appearance of a lost love letter unmoors Perdu’s shop and he travels down the Seine through the French countryside with two cohorts in tow. “It’s just one of those nice summer reads,” Brandon said. “It is a love letter to books.”

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, Broadway Books, 2012

RECOMMENDED BY: Rebecca Sedlak, Coast Weekend editor

1980S MANIA: Reality in 2044 is depressing and ugly: famine, no jobs, natural disasters. But the virtual world offered by the OASIS? Exciting. Magical. Paradise. The OASIS, designed by the late video game genius, billionaire and 1980s-obsessed uber-geek James Halliday, is humanity’s favorite toy — people spend most of their days inside it, designing the perfect avatar, exploring new worlds and having fun. Before he died, Halliday hid three keys inside the OASIS that lead to a hidden Easter egg; the first person who finds it will inherit his vast fortune and control of the OASIS. Poor 18-year-old Wade Watts dreams of finding the egg. He spends his days going to school in the OASIS and studying clues left behind by Halliday. Until one day, his quest for the keys begins in earnest.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of the ’80s (movies, music, culture, etc.), classic video games, sci-fi and adventure.

BONUS: At one point in the book, Wade makes his way to a mansion set at the base of the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon. Surrounded by waterfalls, the picturesque scene is likened to Rivendell, the home of the elf Elrond in “The Lord of the Rings” series. It makes a nice shout out to our home state.

“Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari, Penguin Press, 2015

RECOMMENDED BY: Rebecca Sedlak, Coast Weekend editor

DATING CAN BE HARD: In his debut book, comic Aziz Ansari (alum of “Parks and Rec”) teams up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to delve into the topic of why love can be so confusing in the digital age. Young people today marry later, are looking for a soul mate, and have thousands of choices at their disposal; sorting through them can be tough. As expected, technology plays a part: Online dating websites, dating apps like Tinder, texting, sexting, emoticons — all are tools prior generations didn’t have. Ansari and Klinenberg interview young people, parents and grandparents in small towns and big cities, anonymous Internet users on Reddit, and even venture across the world to Tokyo and Buenos Aires. It makes for an interesting, often hilarious take on the tragedies and triumphs of modern love.


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