Explore Booksellers staff picks

Each week as part of SunLit — The Sun’s literature section — we feature staff recommendations from book stores across Colorado. This week, the staff from Expore Booksellers in Aspen recommends a biography of Vladimir Putin, an exploration of political and social injustice and a story of the family we’re born into and the one we make.

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

By Masha Gessen
Riverhead Books
March 2013


From the publisher: “The Man Without a Face” is the chilling account of how a low-level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to his own people and to the world.

From Jason Jefferies, General Manager: At Explore Booksellers, we have several displays of books related to the conflicts between Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Palestine/Hamas.  We believe that a community bookstore is a place to explore and discuss ideas, and that a community bookstore should be a place where people can be free to explore topics without judgment.  

We mostly do not judge or endorse any specific books on these topics, but “The Man Without a Face” by National Book Award-winner Masha Gessen is an exception.  This biography of Vladimir Putin explores his early days as a student who was identified as a candidate for the KGB, his elevation to power by a car dealer who garnered his fortune by exploiting hyperinflation after the fall of the USSR, the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Putin at the turn of the millennium, and much more. One cannot attempt an understanding of the conflict in Ukraine without understanding Vladimir Putin, and this book is a great jumping off point for a fact-finding mission. 

Lies and Sorcery

By Elsa Morante
NYRB Classics
October 2023


From the publisher: The story is set in Sicily and told by Elisa, orphaned young and raised by a “fallen woman.” For years Elisa has lived in an imaginary world of her own. Now, however, her guardian has died, and the young woman feels that she must abandon her fantasy life to confront the truth of her family’s tortured and dramatic history. 

Elisa is a seductive, if less than reliable, spinner of stories, and the reader is drawn into a tale of secrets, intrigue, and treachery, which, as it proceeds, is increasingly revealed to be an exploration of a legacy of political and social injustice. Throughout, Morante’s elegant writing — and her drive to get at the heart of her characters’ complex relationships and all-too self-destructive behavior — holds us spellbound.

From Emma Murray, Bookseller: “Behind every great artist is a great artist,” so the saying goes. And for Italian writer Elena Ferrante, the case is no different. When Ferrante (author of the My Brilliant Friend series) was 14, she read Elsa Morante’s “Lies and Sorcery.” [There] I discovered that an entirely female story—entirely women’s desires and ideas and feelings—could be compelling and, at the same time, have great literary value,” she later wrote. 

The story, set in a colorful and chaotic southern Sicily, begins in the mind of a child (Elisa, a curious orphan obsessed with inner fantasies) before it winds back three generations to tell a tale of wild, willful Italian women. What follows is a family drama laced with seduction, comedy, and injustice that will satisfy any lover of grand sagas like “War and Peace,” “The Covenant of Water” and “The House of Spirits.” Published originally in 1948, a new translation of “Lies and Sorcery” is now out, bringing this magnificent story alive in vivid English. 

A Little Life

By Hanya Yanagihara
January 2016


From the publisher: “A Little Life” follows four college classmates — broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition — as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. 

A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the 21st century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

From Merran Waller, Bookseller: “A Little Life” is a brutal and painfully slow read, but I couldn’t put the book down. This mimetic fiction is worth reading if the reader is mentally prepared to endure stomach knots induced by the emotional roller coaster. 

The narrative outlines four best friends’ journeys from college through their 40s. One friend, Jude St. Francis, slowly emerges as the prominent figure and holds influential weight in his friend group. Eventually, we are privy to his private battles with demons born from a brutally traumatic childhood. These demons weave in and out of the current day, leaving the reader a helpless witness to life’s miseries. Jude’s appalling childhood never relents, becoming a dark, fuzzy backdrop to the moments of dazzling success in each friend’s careers: Willem with acting, Malcolm with design, JB with art, and Jude with litigation. 


Explore Booksellers

221 E. Main St., Aspen

(970) 925-5343


As part of The Colorado Sun’s literature section — SunLit — we’re featuring staff picks from book stores across the state. Read more.

Explore Booksellers has been an institution in the Aspen community for nearly 50 years. The store's buyers curate a large collection of books that reflect the Body, Mind, and Spirit ethos that makes Aspen so special, including robust...