November and December Picks

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“With its deft interweaving of psychological complexity and riveting narrative momentum, with its gorgeous prose and poetic justice, The Gravity of Birds is about sibling rivalry, tragedies, and resurrections. And it’s irresistibly exquisite” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Forty-four years after the brilliant young painter, Thomas Bayber, first meets Alice and Natalie Kessler, Bayber unveils a never-before-seen work, Kessler Sisters—a provocative painting depicting the young Thomas, Alice, and Natalie. Bayber asks Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, an eccentric young art authenticator, to sell the painting. But their task becomes more complicated when the artist requires that they first locate Alice and Natalie, who seem to have disappeared.

Told in alternating chapters that weave revelations about the sisters’ past with clues Finch and Jameson discover in the present, this story sets three characters on a collision course with their histories, showing how families tear themselves apart and then try to bind themselves together again, not always creating the same fabric. The Gravity of Birds “combines the drama of warring sisters, the mystery of a missing painting, and the sorrow of lost love into a haunting elegy that will…leave you breathless” (Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County).

 

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A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

 

get it in store or online