Seth's Picks

Catapult co-owner Seth Marko founded the original Book Catapult blog in 2006. He has worked in bookstores from New Orleans to San Diego since 2001 and still works as a field sales rep for a publishing distribution group.

My 10 favorite books of 2018 are below (The Overstory, Around the World in 80 Trees, The Lost Words, The Library Book, Tin Man, The Shepherd's Hut, Mars Room, French Exit, Washington Black, & Whirlaway.)



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The Light Years: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374294410
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - April 2nd, 2019

I’m not exactly sure how Chris Rush survived his own childhood, honestly, but don’t just write this off as a common drug memoir. His is an earnest, eloquent, compelling voice that completely surprised me in offering a complex, heartbreaking, beautifully told remembrance of an unusual youth. Essentially living in an odd sort of exile even while surrounded by both real and adopted families, he spent his teenage years taking & dealing drugs with abandon, hitchhiking across the country, chasing UFOs, living alone in the desert, and grappling with his sexuality on top of everything else. Chris’s story is one of resilience, perseverance, & his own youthful brand of self-instructed faith steeped heavily in LSD and a belief that the path forward would eventually reveal itself. The fact that he survived these early years – and his own family - to become a thriving adult and a successful artist is remarkable, inspiring, and plain wonderful. I think the comparisons to some of Denis Johnson’s early short fiction are apt – Rush is that good a crafter of scene, memory, and sentence that this memoir just might stand the test of time and become a classic remembrance of life as a kid on the fringes of society in the 1970’s. -sm

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The Overstory Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393356687
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 2nd, 2019

I had a moment early in reading The Overstory where I paused & realized that this was one of those great, resonant books that come along only so often in a reader’s life. The multiple narratives to this intertwine like the roots of an old redwood grove in magnificent, surprising ways – with trees being the one connective thread to all. A story for the ages that cries out for humanity to take note of the destruction of the planet’s forests & how integral to our own health & happiness they truly are. Read it slowly, soak it all in, consider this incredible invisible world that that the storyteller is inviting you into. An absolutely stunning novel.  -Seth

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How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374172145
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - February 19th, 2019

A fascinating, meticulously researched, & highly readable “revisionist history” of the US shown through the lens of the territories and colonies that have been at the outlying edges of the American empire. And despite what our history books have always told us, it is and has always been an empire, bent on cultural domination and capitalism. I’ve lost count of how many times I was completely shocked upon learning of some horrifying political policy I’ve long been oblivious to. Native Alaskan internment camps? Decades of pre-WWII government sanctioned war in the Philippines? Horrific medical testing in Puerto Rico? If you’re like me, shamefully unaware of much of American empire building history there is out there, Immerwhar will open your eyes wide. An absolutely riveting history that feels like an especially necessary historical perspective primer for any thoughtful citizen living in today’s America. -sm

The Bird King Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802129031
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press - March 12th, 2019

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Around the World in 80 Trees Cover Image
By Jonathan Drori, Lucille Clerc (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781786271617
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Laurence King Publishing - May 29th, 2018

My favorite nonfiction book of 2018. Sometimes a book just speaks for itself – you're going to have to come into the store and open this beauty up to see for yourself, internet friend. Filled with fascinating capsules about 80 different tree species from all over the world paired with stunning artwork by Lucille Clerc. For instance, did you know that the upas tree (yes, Upas is also a tree) has a toxic sap used for poison darts in Malaysia? (Cashews are also toxic until the seed is steamed open.) Or that our ubiquitous jacarandas are from Argentina? And that the quinine tree is the national tree of Peru & Ecuador? Well, all this knowledge and more could be yours!  -seth

The Library Book Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476740188
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon & Schuster - October 16th, 2018

I was ashamed that I had never heard of the fire that consumed 400,000 books in LA’s Central Library in 1986. Narrative nonfiction master Susan Orlean skillfully, vividly brings that fateful day to life with all the intensity & mystery that surrounded it with a keen inquisitive's eye as well as that of a fellow library & physical-book-lover’s perspective. Not only does she try to unravel the complicated, flawed case of who (if anyone) actually set the fire that destroyed so many written works, but she also offers a concise, lovingly crafted history of libraries in America. An outstanding book that offers a fascinating history of the American library system, a heartfelt plea for its continued cultural importance, and a riveting true-crime recap of one of history's forgotten literary tragedies. -sm

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Tin Man: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735218765
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - April 9th, 2019

A stunning heartbreak of a novel and one of the best books I’ve read this year. A story of friendship and love, humanity and kindness, grief and what comes after. Gorgeous and sad and lovely and as vivid as a field of sunflowers in the south of France. This will remind you that there is still good in the world and with your fellow humans, despite the trials we may face. -sm

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Washington Black Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525563242
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - April 9th, 2019

In the best possible way, this novel was not at all what I expected. And that’s the point really – the opening to this finds young Washington Black growing up a slave on a plantation in 1830’s Barbados, amidst all the violence, atrocities, and overwhelming sadness that that entails. When he is accused of murdering a white man, I thought I could clearly see the road this tale was on BUT… young Washington has much more life to live than you would first assume. An incredible, beautifully told story of both breaking free from the bonds of slavery as well as finding the freedom of intellectual thought that will legitimately surprise you at many a turn. A 2018 Booker Prize finalist as well. -sm

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The Shepherd's Hut: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374262327
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - June 19th, 2018

Tim Winton is one of my favorites - and weirdly still a relative unknown in the US. (He’s won 4 Miles Franklin Awards in his native Australia – the Aussie Pulitzer – and has been nominated for the Booker Prize twice.) The Shepherd’s Hut has just an incredible setting that becomes a driving character in its own right: the treeless, sunbaked salt flats of Western Australia. It all just felt so vivid & bright & dusty, the heat so oppressive. Teenaged Jaxie’s blisteringly quick colloquial voice is one for the ages too – young & angry, but filled with fear & uncertainty as he flees his violent home & heads across the salt alone. In a true mark of a great book, I found my own internal reading voice unintentionally took on Jaxie’s thick Australian accent while I read. Totally immersive to say the least.  -seth

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The Lost Words Cover Image
By Robert MacFarlane, Jackie Morris (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781487005382
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anansi International - October 2nd, 2018

The impetus behind this gorgeous volume by Macfarlane & Morris was that a revised edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary dropped words from the natural world like acorn, dandelion, & weasel and replaced them with bandwidth, voice-mail, & blog. Rather than just saying, “Are you kidding me?!” like I would, they created this incredible book that reintroduces 20 of those words in gorgeous poetic prose by Macfarlane accompanied by Morris’ lavish illustrations. A stunner.

(See also Macfarlane’s The Old Ways in the Science/Nature section. One of my favorite nature books, about wandering the wilds of Britain on foot.) -sm

French Exit: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062846921
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - August 28th, 2018

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Whirlaway Cover Image
ISBN: 9780997068399
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Hawthorne Books - April 3rd, 2018

Whirlaway is a solid contender for the best book I’ve read in 2018. Poe Ballantine is one of my favorite writers – a wayward son of San Diego living in Nebraska, he has written an absolutely hysterical, biting novel about America’s Finest City that just killed me. Record-collecting, Del Mar Racetrack betting, La Jolla cliff diving, & Tijuana prostituting all swirl around an unreliable, escaped mental patient of a narrator & his telepathic dog. So incredibly ridiculous & hilarious, I implore you, dear reader, to enter the mind of Poe with me. You may never return.  -Seth

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In the Distance Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566894883
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - October 10th, 2017

A strange, almost magical tall-tale about a giant Swedish immigrant who comes to the West in the 1850’s in search of a better life. Hakan accidentally arrives in SF alone & spends his youth trying to reach his brother in NYC. He instead wanders the desolate landscape of the American West, weirdly growing into a giant & encountering all manner of Homerian characters – a brothel madam with rotten teeth, a murderous sheriff, a magnanimous vintner, a naturalist searching for the missing link. All in all, this is a sad tale of the lonely life of the immigrant and a parable for the modern plight of those attempting to cross today’s southern border or seek political refuge from afar. A polarizing novel that was the 2nd selection of The Catapult Book Club & a 2018 Pulitzer finalist. -sm

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Cherry: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525520139
Availability: Out of stock. Please contact store for availability.
Published: Knopf - August 14th, 2018

Critics have called Cherry the first great novel of the opioid epidemic – and I might have to agree. The story behind this (essentially autobiographical) novel is almost as compelling as the book itself – the author is a former Army medic currently in prison for robbing banks to pay for a heroin habit. But Walker writes with a furious intensity that is perfect for telling this particular tale. It’s raw and violent, while being sad and profoundly moving – this is not such a tall tale for our times, as his own biography shows. I found it to be quite brilliant. -sm

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Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300219333
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Yale University Press - March 20th, 2018

All literature preserves something which otherwise would die away with the flesh & bones of the writer.” Bibliophile & library champion Manguel intersperses beautiful meditative digressions on libraries, the history of the printed word, & the role of literature in the preservation of memory within a mini-memoir of having to pack up his enormous 35000 volume personal library. A wonderful, beautifully crafted appreciation of the importance of books & libraries in an engaged & civilized society.  -Seth

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The Outcasts of Time Cover Image
ISBN: 9781643130323
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Pegasus Books - January 8th, 2019

What happens when you drop a poor stone mason from the plague-ridden 1340's into the London Blitz in 1941? (He almost gets hit by a bus, for one thing.) Novelist/historian Ian Mortimer takes a great concept - moving a character through time in daily 99-year increments - and pulls it all off with an expert historian's eye for detail and a true sense of time & place. When faced with spending their last days riddled with the Plague, brothers John and William are given an inexplicable choice: head home to die or spend each of their remaining six days 99 years after the last one, searching for a way to save their souls. This could have gone way off track, but it never felt contrived or forced, but rather steeped in reality and genuine historical reference, leaving the reader to experience each new year with same the wide-eyed wonder that John has each time he wakes up in a new century.  -sm

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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345806291
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - October 4th, 2016

It seems that half of Northern California is named for Alexander von Humboldt, but I knew absolutely nothing about him before I read this fantastic, illuminating biography - the best nonfiction book I've read in several years. The most famous naturalist in his day, Humboldt had a profound influence on the likes of Muir, Thoreau, Darwin, Goethe, and Simon Bolivar. He was the first scientist to hypothesize that human activity has an effect on Earth's climate and spent his entire life on the then-radical idea that all of the natural world is one interconnected web. Super-famous in the 1800's, how he is not well-known today is baffling. An immensely important figure in science, ecology, and environmentalism whose work resonates anew in today's charged political climate.  -Seth

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Cloud Atlas: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375507250
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - August 17th, 2004

Dare I say it? Could this be my favorite book of all time? I've read and re-read my dogeared, annotated copy over and over again, only to be surprised and delighted each time anew. Cloud Atlas is just the tip of the David Mitchell iceberg, mind you - each one of his books is a piece in a gigantic puzzle he is spending his entire writing life crafting, with characters floating through multiple books, revealing more and more about themselves each time. I read this for the first time in 2004 and I can still remember what it felt like when I saw all the blocks dropping into place like it was some strange, disassembled magical puzzle filled with fictions-within-fictions, false leads, multiple writing styles, and absolutely unforgettable characters. It's unlike anything else you've been reading, I'm fairly sure of that. Time to read it again!  -Seth

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The Dog Stars (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307950475
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - May 7th, 2013

A remarkable, beautiful, emotive book that will reduce you to tears (on more than one occasion) and make you hug your loved ones all the closer. Aren’t those the sort of things we want out of a good story, after all? A book that you can’t wait to return to, to read again for the first time. I can’t stress it enough – go to this book, read it, love it, pass it along. Repeat.  -Seth

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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061976209
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - February 8th, 2011

Did you know that whales in recent years have been found – well over 150 years old – with 19th century harpoon heads still lodged in their blubber? Or that sperm whales can kill prey with 200db sonic blasts from their heads? Hoare, although born with an innate fear of deep water, has had a lifelong obsession with the family Cetacean (ahem, as have I) & has compiled a riveting account of what is, essentially, the human history of the whale. Filled with tales of (disgusting) ambergris, hefty literary allusions to Melville, accounts of humanity’s ongoing, (mostly) unhealthy whale mania, & a breath-taking first-hand account of Hoare’s own experience of swimming in open ocean with the world’s largest, loudest animal. An incredibly fascinating book – one of my all-time favorites. -Seth