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Arts & Culture

Looking For Something To Read?

Cover of the new posthumous novel from David Foster Wallace.
Cover of the new posthumous novel from David Foster Wallace.
Looking For Something To Read?
The new posthumous novel from David Foster Wallace and the critically acclaimed novel from a 26 year old make our guest's suggested reading list.

So many books, so little time. Everyone needs a little guidance these days in getting the most out of their precious reading hours. And so, we present a few of the best of the new books, suggested by my guest, Seth Marko. Seth is a book buyer at Warwick’s in La Jolla and author of the blog The Book Catapult.


Seth Marko is a book buyer at Warwick's in La Jolla and author of the blog The Book Catapult.


Marko also hosts a monthly event called "Coffee With a Bookseller" where he recommend books and goes over new releases. "Coffee With a Bookseller" takes place every second Tuesday of the month at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla.

Seth Marko's Reading Recommendations:

"The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht

"We, The Drowned" by Carsten Jensen

'West of Here" by Jonathan Evison


"The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. So many books, so little time. Everyone needs a little guidance these days, and getting the most out of their precious reading hours. And so we present a few of the best of the new books, suggested by my guest, Seth Marko. Seth is a book buyer at war wick's in La Jolla, and author of the blog, the book cata put. Seth, good morning.

MARKO: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, let's get right into these books, as I say, so little time. A new book called the tiger's wife is getting a ton of media attention. What is the hype about.

MARKO: Well, it certainly lives up to the hype. It is getting quite a bit of hype, it's gotten some really rave reviews it's gotten kind of the coveted double review from the New York Times. And for one thing, it's certainly her age, she's a debut novelist, but she was just 24 years old when she finished writing it and submitted it for publication. So now I think she's 25. But for another thing, it's kind of the unbelievable quality of the writing itself that really has everybody talking, and it started with a kind of buzz with book sellers. She writes with an amazing grace and style far, far beyond her years that's quite impressive.

CAVANAUGH: So what is this book, the tiger's wife, what's the book about.

MARKO: The main character, Natalia, is a young doctor living in an unnamed Balkan state. And it's in the aftermath of a long civil war. Presumably, it's Yugoslavia. And the beginning of the book, she's on route across the border of her country to deliver some vaccines to an orphanage when she learns that her grandfather, essentially the man who just raised her, has just died. And the circumstances of his death are somewhat suspicious, at least to Natalia. He died far from home in a remote village, and Natalia knew -- one of the only people who knew that he was gravely ill and would never have traveled if he didn't have a very, very good reason. So she starts to think about what would have driven him so far from home and family and his wife, he didn't tell his wife that he was leaving. And she starts to think about a lot of the stories that her grandfather told her as a child. And she -- 'cause she was kind of a story teller, shoot how he taught her lessons.


MARKO: Was three stories, and so one of the stories -- she focuses on 2, and 1 is the story of the tiger's wife, which is the story from his youth about a deaf mute woman in his village who befriends a tiger. And another story about this mysterious character that he keeps meeting throughout his life call would the deathless man, who is a man who apparently cannot die. I'm not gonna ruin it for you.

CAVANAUGH: All right. So is it a folk lore and really beautiful writing this sort of eastern European location.

MARKO: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Otea Obrett is the author we've been talking about, she's included in the list the New Yorker comes up with of the twenty best writers under 40. She's way under 40. As you said. Of this list has garnered a lot of influence hasn't it?

MARKO: It has. And like you said, the New Yorker magazine came up with this list of 20 American fiction writers under the age of 40 that they think are going to be the next great American novelists of their generation. It's Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Gary Steingardt, Wells Tower, Karen Russell. So there are a lot of writers that I think we'll be talking about and still reading in at least 20 years, I'm sure. I've actually been kind of inadvertently making my way through their works just because those are the books that catch my interest as they land on my desk. So --

CAVANAUGH: And what a remarkable start for this young writer. One of the other stories that's captured the literary world's attention is it the posthumous novel by David foster Wallace. Remind us who David Foster Wallace was.

MARKO: David foster Wallace would definitely have been on the 20 under 40 list if this was 2001. He's the author of a highly acclaimed post modernist comic novel from 1996 called Infinite Jest. It was named one of time magazine's hundred best books of all time of it's kind of this whirlwind style that he writings in that's unlike anybody else. So he was very kind of ground breaking. So as a result of this novel, he developed this kind of intense cult following. And without -- I don't want to psychoanalyze him because I don't really know him or I didn't know him. But I think he battled depression throughout his life, and I think the success that he had because of infinite jest was difficult for him. And he ultimately took his life in 2008. So this novel is the novel he had been working on for about the last ten years or so of his life.

CAVANAUGH: The pale king ended up getting published.

MARKO: Right and that's really the story of this book. It's not so much the book itself. When he died, like I said, he had been working on this for about a decade. And his wife and his long time agent -- well, first they found, 250 pains of neatly stacked manuscript on his desk of this book he'd been working on. They found several hard drives wroth of semifinished work, floppy disks, notebook, three ring binders, hand written notes, and in 2007 he had said that he considered the book about a third finished. So what whey left behind is pretty polished of but his long time editor from [check] and the pale king is the result, which is a novel set in an IRS recruitment center in Peoria Illinois in 1985.

CAVANAUGH: And from what I read about the book, it's a lot of -- it is about the excruciating boredom of being in this world that foster Wallace creates. And I'm wondering, what is it about his writing that has created such a cult follow something.

MARKO: Right. That's a good question. What is it about a guy who writes about IRS recruitment centers and tennis academies that makes him have such a following? But I think he was very adapt on focusing in on that sense of irony that permeates our society. He wrote about, like you said, the everyday, but with a deep cynicism. He's also considered part of the hysterical realism movement, which is a very impolite term coined by a critic which is about fiction writing that features elaborate prose stylings coupled with that sort of drab realism of everyday life. And one of the notes that Wallace actually left behind regarding the pale king, he said, of a novel a series of set ups for something to happen but nothing ever happens. I don't know what it is -- he's not really for everyone, but it's an important book because his life was so tragically cut short, and this is really the last full length work that we're gonna see.

CAVANAUGH: And his work is so influential as well.

MARKO: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you'll have to explain the next book to us, Seth, because it's a book called We the Drowned, and I know it's a book you like very much. But why should someone read a 670 page book about Danish mariners?

MARKO: Good question. I mean, it is a 670 page book about Danish Mariners, but the way I find it at first was actually from the cover art which really drew me in. It's kind of a wood cut Hokusai ocean scene by this artist named Joe McClaren E-books are a big topic obviously for independent book sellers, of course.


MARKO: So it's this sort of beautiful, physical book that gives me hope for the printed work kind rev hang a fixture in our culture. So this book, it won the highest literary prize in Denmark when it was first published in 2006, and the readers of the country's largest newspaper voted it to be the best Danish novel of the last 25 years. So it had a pretty good endorsement for me, kind of going in. And I look at it as kind of a Danish Weinsberg, Ohio, if you know the kind of classic novel by Sherwin Anderson, in that it ties together the life stories of several people from this tiny town called Marstal on this little island in the Danish archipelago. And for the most part, it focuses on the lives of these three men who are sailors from Marstal, and the arc their lives take. As each one fades in life, another character from their life kind of picks up the story line and makes it their own. The really clever hook to the narrative, I thought, was whenever the story is set on dry land, the people of Marstal tell the story as a collective we, as in we the drowned.

CAVANAUGH: We the drowned.

MARKO: Which can be a tricky kind of a hook, but actually Jansen pulls it off quite well.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you particularly like this book by Carstan Jensen, we the drowned, and you say something about it in you blog, the book catapult, that I think is so remarkable, and that is that it's -- you wanted to stay there even after the book ended. I mean, that's the kind of experience, I think, that readers really want. That these people came to life, and even though it does it on the surface, may sound like something that you might want to respond a long time with. You wanted to spend longer.

MARKO: Right of that's true. I think if it speaks to you on some level, it doesn't matter if it's about Danish Mariners or not.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to move to the last and probably the funniest book that you're recommending today. It's called west of here. Tell us about it.

MARKO: Right, it definitely has more humor than the others. It has a character who tracks big foot as a hobby. Another guy who quotes don Henry and drinks egg nog all year-round. So it's kind of got this weird, funny little characters in it, but I wouldn't necessarily put it in the humor section. What it really reminded me of a book called let the great world spin by Colin McCan, which run the national book award a couple years ago. So the arc of the story traces these seemingly little insignificant vignettes that ultimately become monumental life changing events when you view them from Afar. And actually Jonathan Evanson, an author, what I really wanted to write was a novel about history, about the countless tiny connections that wind people together, and tie people to a place and a time, and how the sum total of all these connections amount to I living breathing history. That's what I'm talking about.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, exactly. And it's another saga. It's another one of these kind of long range novels. Now, and this is [check] war wick a right.

MARKO: I do. On the second Tuesday of every month at ten AM, I host -- it's called coffee with a book seller, and we have free coffee and scones from our coffee shop next door. And it's sort of like this, where I just talk about either things that are brand-new, you know, like the David foster Wallace or things that I've read and really loved, and I just kind of give an informal talk about books. And everybody who comes, you get 20 percent off of every book that I talk about on the list. So --

CAVANAUGH: Seth Marco, book buyer at Warwick's in La Jolla, author of the blog The Book Catapult. Thank you so much.

MARKO: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We'll be back in just a few moments.