“Try to Find the Thrill in Sound Judgment!”

  Some months the stress is worse than others. Some months are easy. I know exactly what book will be ideal for the University Book Store’s book club. Other months aren’t so easy. Like this month.

For a while I thought I had it made – Andrea Askowitz’s My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy seemed like a book that half the human race could identify with easily, and I looked forward to offering an experience that would help straight women feel closer to lesbian women, not to mention a diary that could open up the female mystery of giving birth to a male dolt like me.

Unfortunately, none of my distributors had a single copy. I had already slurped up the nine copies I found at Ingram. It just wasn’t enough, and they weren’t easily available. I needed a title that any of the seven branches of University Book Store could replenish on their own.

Then my editor at Shelf-Awareness.com sent me a copy of Todd Shimoda’s new novel, Oh! It’s a fascinating philosophical/cultural adventure about a man who can’t feel intense emotion. Zack Hara quits his job in Los Angeles and goes to Japan, where he falls under the spell of Professor Imai who specializes in the biology of personality and gives him assignments to help him feel. Write a poem. Draw a picture. Commit a petty crime.

Oh! is a gorgeous book physically, handsomely illustrated and produced, and published by Chin Music Press, a local publisher, which would make it a delight to feature. Unfortunately, the narrator’s investigations into “the sadness of beauty,” or mono no aware, lead him to the Japanese suicide clubs, and the novel becomes rapidly darker and darker. With spring finally here, with the city basking in the first sunny days, suicide clubs are not the way to go.

Three days past my deadline for announcing next month’s book, I ordered a copy of Jane Hamilton’s new novel into the bookstore. This is the author who wrote A Map of the World, one of the great weepers of our time, and now she’s written a sex comedy, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece. I’m a great believer in comedy. I love humor, and think it’s frequently the sign of a vision of life that’s higher than mere tragedy. So when I can find a smart book that makes me laugh, I’m in heaven.

Laura Rider runs a very successful nursery called Prairie Wind Farm in the small town of Hartley, Wisconsin, where everyone is convinced that because she’s childless, her husband, handsome but playfully frisky Charlie Rider, is gay. Laura’s secret ambition, however, is not to raise flowers but to write a thoughtful, successful novel. Her personal goddess is the wise, maternal voice of Jenna Faroli, the host of a Milwaukee Public Radio show that Jenna listens to religiously. When Charlie happens to meet Jenna on the side of the road as alien aircraft appear to be filling the sky, Laura encourages her husband to email Jenna – and decides to help a little, with a few emails of her own.

What results is a very modern comedy about sexuality. The three main characters all manage to be surprising and endearing. Hamilton writes sex scenes that are drolly comic and sexy at the same time, and cleverly sets the reader up for one of the most delightful, hilarious climaxes in years. It’s all elegantly written, with plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes (overly exuberant Charlie arriving at the dinner table by sliding in his stocking feet across the kitchen floor), and constantly thoughtful (in an arrogant moment, Jenna unsympathetically calls after a fellow worker having an illicit affair, “Try to find the thrill in sound judgment!”)

What an utterly pleasant reading experience! I hated for the story to end. But at least my hunt is over for our May selection. My book club is going to thank me for this one.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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