Petaluma readers take chances on unconventional books
The top selling titles at Copperfield’s Books, in Petaluma, for the week of April 18 – April 24, 2022
“Time is a Mother,” recently the No. 1 book on the Petaluma bestsellers list, has slipped a bit, appearing this week at No. 6. The gorgeous poetry collection by Ocean Vuong (“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”) has been replaced at the top of the stack by a two-year-old novel, Valérie Perrin’s “Fresh Water for Flowers.” But don’t say goodbye yet to as Petalumans have shown a growing fondness for poetry over the last couple of years, and I’m predicting that this one, a perfect gift for anyone who loves to feel and think deeply, will be around for at least a few more weeks.
Thinking and feeling deeply seems to be a theme this week.
The top 10 includes a number of heady explorations of the natural world, from the handy ‘Local Birds of Northern California Pocket Guide’ (No. 3) and Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s “Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour” to John Koenig’s delightfully word-loving “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” a compendium of made-up terms for never-named emotions and experiences.
That last one is definitely not on this list for the last time.
Described by the author as the “aches, demons, vibes, joys, and urges that are humming in the background of everyday life,” emotions are both a fascination and a challenge to we sentient beings of the human variety. Koenig knows that in the same way we find validation in reading about a character who looks or acts like or lives like or feels like we do, discovering that there is a word for the roiling, vague or hard-to-define feelings we are having helps make those feelings more manageable. If there is a word for it, after all, then there must be a way to, you know, deal with it. Koenig has taken hundreds of such “feelings,” the kind that until now had no actual names, and used his etymological genius to make words for them.
Words like “sonder,” originally intoroduced by Koenig on his website and defined as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” Words like “zielschmerz,” that specific feeling of dread that sometimes hits us when we are on the verge of accomplishing some long-wished-for dream.“ Words like “nyctous,” defined by the author as “feeling quietly overjoyed to be the only one awake in the middle of the night.”
Koenig’s dictionary is more than just a list of words. Throughout the book, the author knots into the pages a running exploration of how language works, what its limitations are, and the way a good, clear word can tear down misunderstandings and build up a persons understanding of themselves merely by giving them a way to express their feelings to themselves and to the wider world. As Koenig says, “In language, all things are possible. No sorrow is too obscure to define.”
Here is the complete Top 10 Books on Copperfield’s Fiction and Nonfiction list, along with the full Kids and Young Adults list.
FICTION & NON-FICTION
1. ‘Fresh Water for Flowers,’ by Valérie Perrin – Reportedly dubbed Italy’s favorite “lockdown novel” in 2020, Perrin’s intimate novel follows the caretaker of a small town cemetery, as she finds her predictable life gradually shifting after forming a mysterious bond with a grieving police officer.
2. ‘The Children’s Blizzard,’ by Benjamin, Melanie – Written by the author of “The Aviator’s Wife,” this brand new novel is set in 1888 during a devastating Midwestern ice storm.
3. ‘Local Birds of Northern California Pocket Guide,’ by Mike Spence – A waterproof pocket-guide to over 200 local birds.
4. ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid – An acclaimed 2017 Hollywood novel about a sex symbol’s glamorous but gritty life, told alternately by her and the unknown journalist randomly selected (or was it so random?) to write the actress’s biography.
5. ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,’ by John Koenig – A compendium of new words for feelings, experiences and situations that, until now, did not have an actual name.
6. ‘Time Is a Mother,’ by Ocean Vuong – The acclaimed poet-author of “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” brings 27 new poems about grappling with loss and a world that won’t stop changing the rules.
7. ‘Circe,’ by Madeline Miller – The notorious animal-transforming sorceress from “The Odyssey” tells her own story, and guess what? It’s not the same story told by the piggish men she encountered.
8. ‘Spy x Family, Vol. 4,’ by Tatsuya Endo – A popular Japanese manga, this is the fourth in the series about a spy who accidentally adopts a mind-reader and a trained assassin to be his “family” while working undercover a dangerous case.