Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 18, 2011
From My Shelf
Everyone Has a Story
My first job in books was at University Book Store in Seattle. The store had--and still has--a large biography section, and I remember my puzzlement that some customers loved reading biographies as a genre. I thought them rather dull and stuffy. Maybe they were, but I doubt it. I blame my condescension on callow youth. But I started thinking about biographies recently when I had one of those 3 a.m. revelations: these days, it seems there are many more memoirs being published than biographies. Evidently, everyone has a story to tell, even if they're only 16 or their primary accomplishment is starring in a sex tape.
Ben Brantley, in a recent New York Times piece about Shakespeare and the recent film Anonymous, said, "That's the culture we live in now, of course, in which people read the lives of celebrities the way their ancestors read novels. The narratives that grip the public imagination are usually 'real life' narratives, which usually means gossip writ large and ultimately has surprisingly little to do with the accomplishments of those gossiped about."
Still, there are plenty of recent memoirs and biographies that are thoughtful, satisfying and mesmerizing. Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman is a sports bio that transcends the genre; The Memory Palace by Mira Bartók, now out in paperback, is about the deep, mystical bond between mother and daughter, frayed by schizophrenia; Who in This Room by Katherine Malmo is a memoir in which breast cancer plays a supporting role to the author's "poetic sensibility" and wit; Drama by John Lithgow--brutally honest and funny, he "wins our respect and admiration"; and, needing no explanation, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
In this issue, we review even more fine stories, including several, coincidentally, about artists: The Body of a Dancer, How Georgia Became O'Keeffe and Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry. Open up a book and lose yourself in another life. --Marilyn Dahl
Bookcase of the Day: 'Meta'
Meta is "a design that mixes geometry and curves with high technology," according to Bookshelf, which observed that the bookcase Mario Mazzer created for Twentyfirst "is like a finish line that connects the author with the reader. Sometimes the exceptional nature of an object lies in the initial idea, its novelty, its function, or the new behaviors that are brought about by it."
The Writer's Life
Rejected! Saying No to Famous Authors
Noting that "hindsight can be a kick in the shins," Flavorwire showcased "famous authors' harshest rejection letters," and expressed measured empathy "for the editors who sent these rejection letters to writers who would later become the bestselling, influential giants of their day--and ours."
Marilyn Monroe; Midwestern and Dystopian Novels; Las Vegas
Michel Schneider, author of Marilyn's Last Sessions, chose his "top 10 books about Marilyn Monroe" for the Guardian. "The good Marilyn books--ordered here alphabetically--are those in which she appears as a person; the bad ones, those that treat her as a sex idol trapped in the mess of Hollywood," he wrote.
NPR featured "Hello from Flyover Territory: 3 Midwestern Novels," which were chosen by Jennifer Wilson, author of Running Away to Home: "Here are three that probably would've gotten more hype if their authors had been at the right Lower East Side cocktail party."
Malcolm Burgess, publisher of Oxygen Books' city-pick series, recommended "10 of the best books set in Las Vegas," noting that Sin City's "combination of neon glamor and seedy underbelly has attracted some of America's greatest writers."
"What do you get the Hunger Games fan who doesn't know what to read next?" the Examiner asked before suggesting: "Why not introduce them to some new dystopian fiction!"
In the November/December issue of Intelligent Life magazine, Maggie Fergusson recommended "Eight Good Books."
Movie Trifecta: Breaking Dawn; The Heir Apparent; The Lie
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 1, based on the book by Stephenie Meyer, opens today. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in the first of two films adapted from the final Twilight novel.
The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, based on the Largo Winch graphic novel series by Van Jean Hamme and Phillipe Franq, has a limited release today. Tomer Sisley stars as the imperiled adopted heir to a murdered billionaire's corporate empire.
The Lie, based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, also opens today. Joshua Leonard, Mark Webber and Jess Weixler star in this story of a man who lies about his infant child's death so he can skip work.
Our Man in the Dark
by Rashad Harrison
Any author writing a work of fiction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a central character has his work cut out for him, as King's public persona has since been beatified in the decades since his assassination, and his words are now woven into the fabric of American mythos. But who was King in private? Rashad Harrison's daring, disturbing Our Man in the Dark reveals a bawdy, lustful and often troubled man whose indiscretions make him easy prey for his enemies.
The story unfolds through the (fictional) trials of John Estem, a lowly bookkeeper for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. With little power despite his proximity to great men, he longs for respect from a disdainful father, childhood sweetheart and his cohorts in the civil rights movement. In short, Estem is ripe for recruitment by the FBI to become an informer and dig up Dr. King's dirty laundry.
Harrison's characters and his depiction of 1960s Atlanta have enough color to engage and detail to ring as historically accurate, and his account of the era is nuanced, showing each race as a house divided. Still, are readers ready for this less than perfect King? The recent opening on Broadway of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop suggests yes. Anyway, King would probably be pleased to step off the pedestal of sainthood; like Dorothy Day, he wouldn't want to be so easily dismissed. --Thomas Lavoie, former publisher
Discover:The darker side of the man who had a dream.
Mystery & Thriller
The Feng Shui Detective Goes West
by Nury Vittachi
Let Nury Vittachi give you a head start on chasing the holiday blues away with a hilarious mystery starring a feng shui master and his party girl assistant (first introduced to American readers in The Feng Shui Detective).
Geomancer C.F. Wong of Singapore needs money, and he needs it now. Because of an office supply deal gone wrong, he owes a large sum to the Chinese mafia. Fortune favors him when the British royal family asks for a feng shui makeover of their state-of-the-art Skyparc passenger plane, and Joyce McQuinnie, Wong's assistant, is thrilled at the possibility of meeting a real royal--preferably an available prince. The plum job gets complicated, however, when Joyce's friend Paul is accused of murdering a top oil executive on board the Skyparc. Joyce is determined to prove Paul's innocence, but if he's not guilty, why has he taken a vow of silence? Who is the real killer? And what is the Queen of England's last name?
The East-meets-West plot component fuels much of the story's humor, with wonderful results. Shrewd, curmudgeonly Wong considers Westerners ridiculous and confusing, and isn't shy about telling them so, committing gaffes of his own in the process. Joyce acts as the sleuth for most of the book, her dedication to Paul conflicting with Wong's need for a quick buck until a third party pays Wong to investigate the murder. Though the answer to the mystery is a bit over-the-top, it is in keeping with the quirky plot and Vittachi's breezy writing, and the resolution will leave readers laughing and satisfied. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Discover:The hilarious and dangerous adventures of a feng shui master investigating a murder for the British royal family.
by Dana Haynes
Three plane crash investigators, known as crashers, are en route to a conference when their plane goes down in the woods of Montana. Their skills quickly reveal this was no accident, but they weren't the target: one of their fellow passengers was headed to the same conference to reveal information about illegal weapons deals, and his jilted business partners have responded by using banned technologies to take down a plane half-full of civilians. A staggering cast of agents from the FBI, CIA, ATF and warring factions of the crashers' own National Transportation Safety Board (plus a hired assassin!) rush to respond, but some of them are out to sabotage the investigation. The adrenaline-filled story zips from drug busts on the Mexican border to the back streets of Spain, through Washington, D.C., and the Montana backwoods--where, as the action ratchets up, a small town is literally (yes, literally) caught between a forest fire and a flood, both of which threaten to destroy key evidence, as the bullets start flying.
You needn't have read Crashers, Dana Haynes's first novel, to be wrapped up in the breathless momentum of this action-packed thriller. It has more than enough violence, overlapping loyalties and double- and triple-crossings to create its own web of intrigue. The characters are interesting and likeable, and the dialogue is cute, but they take a back seat to the story's headlong, full-speed pace and edge-of-your-seat thrills. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia
Discover:A breathtaking thriller about a plane crash involving a team of plane crash investigators, a hired assassin, illegal weapons and plenty of intrigue.
Biography & Memoir
The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun
by Robert Greenfield
Rock 'n' roll is showing its age, with recent books by "senior" rockers like Keith Richards and Patti Smith. Many icons of that era might never have made it out of the juke joints and basement clubs where they paid their dues were it not for Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records. Now Ertegun gets a new biography (the first in two decades) by Robert Greenfield, a music critic who's chronicled the 1960s through the lives of Bill Graham, Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia.
Greenfield is the right guy to tell Ertegun's amazing story. He was there when Ertegun, the ambitious son of a Turkish ambassador, made the deal that secured his place in rock history--signing the Rolling Stones to Atlantic when they left Decca. Wining and dining Jagger and Richards was old hat to Ertegun; even as a teenager he had been throwing parties, filling the Turkish Embassy in Washington with the finest jazz musicians in the country. Forget New York; his real start in music was prowling the clubs and record stores on D.C.'s U Street in the 1930s, when he "used to be the only white person" on the block.
Ertegun and Atlantic Records created the soundtrack of 20th-century jazz, R&B and rock 'n' roll, from Ray Charles and the Coasters to Mingus and Monk to Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly and, of course, the Stones. Think of Greenfield's comprehensive biography of Ertegun as the liner notes to this soundtrack. –-Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.
Discover:The story of a man who may have singlehandedly changed the world's taste in popular music.
Body of a Dancer
by Renee D'Aoust
In 1993, Renee D'Aoust won a scholarship at the renowned Martha Graham studio in New York City. The young dancer moved from Montana into a studio flat on West 51st Street and entered a world where her successes and failures were measured in damaged body parts. At her first exercise, classmates unconcernedly danced around "a large spot of dried blood in the center of the main studio floor." The grown-up world of modern dance is not for the weak.
Body of a Dancer is a memoir laid out in 12 acts, tackling events that stretch both her will and her body. When the artist's "instrument" is her body, the tortuous training necessary to properly execute the choreographer's vision is the heart of the story. And so D'Aoust must develop a spine that "is supposed to be unnaturally straight, straighter than a heterosexual," and her legs must easily "kiss her ears." She must also constrain the movement of her "bodacious breasts," for "all dancers were expected to be aspens now--not cottonwoods."
D'Aoust describes in great candor and plainspoken wit all the idiosyncrasies of dancers and their necessary sacrifices: "Leave home, leave country, forget secondary education, forget any guarantee of a stable income, destroy naïve innocence about the body." For all the pain and suffering, however, her years in competitive New York dance also taught her "in so many ways to be freer than you ever have in your life," she writes. "You're over thirty, and you don't give a damn what anyone thinks of you. You like the cackle lines around your mouth and eyes." That kind of wisdom may be worth the blood on the studio floor. –-Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.
Discover:The candid memoir of a dancer who moves to New York to master modern dance and along the way masters herself.
How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living
by Karen Karbo
"She followed her own rules, and got away with it," Karen Karbo says of Georgia O'Keeffe, referring to the artist as "the poster child for doing exactly what you want, in the service of an abiding passion." Karbo's innovative How Georgia Became O'Keeffe, told with great wit and hilarity, delves beyond the facts of its subject's "art star" status in order to better understand her choices: why she lived and painted the way she did; why she endured a tumultuous, codependent artistic and romantic relationship with the father of modern photography, Alfred Stieglitz; and how she maintained her sense of self and authenticity throughout.
Karbo's personal admiration for the bold, fearless O'Keeffe leaps off the page. A single verb introduces the theme of each chapter, comparing the artist's challenges with those that plague creative women today. Karbo explores O'Keeffe's artistic influences while reinforcing that, although she came from a sensible, hardworking, middle-class family, she continually took risks and defied the expected conventions of womanhood in order to nurture and preserve her ideals of self-expression.
This is the final installment of Karbo's "kick ass women" trilogy, following biographies of Katharine Hepburn and Coco Chanel, two other strong, independent women who forged their own paths by living true to themselves. While O'Keeffe is already revered by millions of women and aspiring artists everywhere, Karbo's original, wry analysis is bound to enrich her status even further. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover:An innovative, inspirational biography that seeks to understand the intersection of Georgia O'Keeffe's life and art.
Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry
by Clark Terry
Nonagenarian Clark Terry's autobiography contains just about every name in the jazz world since the 1930s, when he patched together his first trumpet out of old garden hose and chewing gum scavenged from a junkyard. He played with all of them, from the big bands of Basie and Ellington to the small combos of Milt Jackson and Bob Brookmeyer, and he seems to remember every sideman in every group--nicknames and all. The book's selected discography alone reads like a who's who of modern jazz, with nearly 400 entries.
Terry is a versatile musician. Although he brought the 19th-century flugelhorn into more common use, he is equally adept on the trumpet, sometimes playing both, holding one in each hand and alternating riffs on each. Most famously, perhaps, he popularized scat singing on "Mumbles," his off-the-cuff improvisation from the legendary 1964 album Oscar Peterson Trio + One. The chapters of his memoir become their own improvisations as one memory keys off another, pulling you into the "set" as if you were sitting at a front-row table, until he circles back to the story at hand.
His long career, however, is about much more than just playing his horn. Many consider Terry the father of jazz education. His goal was to show young musicians how "to find ten thousand ways to do things with their instruments... how to make it on the road, no matter what... how to get that hump in their backs." His autobiography shows where determination and "hump" can really take you. Terry did it all. --Bruce Jacobs
Discover:The inside story of modern jazz, told by one of its most revered legends.
Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design
by Pat Kirkham , Jennifer Bass
Though most people might not recognize Saul Bass by name, his impact on American postwar visual culture was transformative. The AT&T logo--his design. United Airlines, his. The Girl Scouts, United Way, Quaker Oats, Special Olympics, Boys Clubs, Rockwell, Dixie Cup--all his. Then there's his work on movie posters and film credit sequences, from classic Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho) and Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder) through Billy Wilder, John Frankenheimer and Stanley Kubrick, up to Scorsese's Cape Fear and Goodfellas. Whatever the medium, his visual style/aesthetic was unmistakable--simplicity, abstraction and ambiguity, all pushed to the limit, yet still readable.
Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design is a wonder, a joy and a labor of love for graphic designers Jennifer Bass (Saul's daughter) and Pat Kirkham. Weighing in at around six pounds, 400-plus pages and nearly 1,500 illustrations, most in color, this book is also a monument to the graphic designer Martin Scorsese justly describes in his foreword as a legend. The only thing missing is a DVD of Bass's film work. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover:A sumptuous, eye-opening look at an American graphic designer who truly redefined "iconic."
War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team
by Michael Holley
Most football fans are aware that Bill Belichick does things a little differently--the head coach of the New England Patriots is known for his one-word press conferences and sleeveless hoodies. Behind this seemingly uncommunicative character, however, lies a man passionate about football and the art of team-building. In War Room, sportswriter Michael Holley (Patriot Reign) gives readers a glimpse of his character and the legacy he has begun to create.
As early as 1991, while working with the Cleveland Browns, Belichick had a revolutionary vision for scouting players. As he advanced in his career, he refined a system of scouting and drafting unlike any other, aided by two young protégés, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli (now head coaches of the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively). War Room explores the details of that scouting system, as well as the lives, relationships and careers of the three men, all of whom live and breathe football, football, football.
Though War Room tends to be overburdened by facts, names and dates that can prove challenging to a novice football fan, the passion for the sport evident in Holley's writing, mirroring that of his subjects, is a saving grace. In understanding the heart of the game--the team, and the art of building it--fans at every level of intensity will come to appreciate the careful thought and execution it takes to create the teams we root for year after year. And next year, we’ll all have a bit more strategy for our fantasy drafts. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover:A passionate study of Bill Belichick's legacy and his quest to build the perfect team.
Children's & Young Adult
by Barry Lyga , illus. by Colleen Doran
A hybrid of Eastern manga and Western comic book styles, this graphic novel by Lyga (Goth Girl Rising) and Doran (Girl to Grrrl Manga) offers a fun, original look at high school life from two stylized worlds.
Ryoko Kiyama, a beautiful, long-haired alien from an alternate manga world, enters comic world though a rip in the universe. Ryoko's introduction to high school starts during a kind of hazing party called "Homegoing," where he falls, with literal stars in his eyes, for Marissa, the most gorgeous girl in school. Marissa, intrigued with beautiful Ryoko, changes her image to be his manga girl. Meanwhile, Ryoko's guardian attempts to help the alien return home. This combination sci-fi adventure and love story unfolds completely through black-and-white panels of manga and comic characters. Brilliant visual humor incorporates classic elements from manga and comics to convey the not-smooth-running course of teenage love. For instance, at one point Marissa says to Ryoko, "Is that blushing? It looks like lines." (Doran shades his cheeks with lines, manga-style.) Readers will be drawn into the absurdity of Ryoko's plight as this ultimate outsider finds himself navigating between his love for Marissa and the worlds he straddles.
With their engrossing story line and characters, as well as their seamless use of manga and comic styles, Lyga and Doran succeed in creating a remarkable graphic novel. This will entertain teens whether they prefer comics or manga, and make converts of the rest. More, please! --JoAnn Jonas, public librarian and blogger
Discover: A combination of manga and comics that converges in a wholly original YA graphic novel starring engaging characters from different realities.
Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul
by Leanna Renee Hieber
Using the framework of a 19th-century murder mystery, Leanna Renee Hieber (The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker) borrows themes from The Picture of Dorian Gray while weaving in larger societal issues such as feminism, class disparities and physical disabilities.
At 17, Natalie Stewart lives comfortably as the daughter of the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She was struck mute at the age of four when her mother died, but she can hear perfectly, reads voraciously, uses sign language and writes to communicate--and she is very attractive. The events unfold through Natalie's diary entries, from June 1 to June 19, 1880, the day she disappears.
After Natalie sees a portrait of the "devilishly handsome" Lord Denbury in the newspaper, and learns of his alleged suicide in England at age 18, she begs her father to purchase the portrait for the Met. Mrs. Northe, who has bid on the painting, confides to Natalie that she believes the picture has "a connection with a lost part of Denbury's soul." Thus begins a captivating mystery involving runes, hieroglyphs, Christian saints and magic spells. Love blooms between Natalie, who discovers she can enter the painting, and the kindly Lord Denbury trapped within the picture frame. But a doppleganger is using Denbury's body to commit murder. Can Natalie and Mrs. Northe unite Denbury's body and soul before it's too late? To Heiber's credit, Natalie and Mrs. Northe's friendship is every bit as compelling as the romance at the novel's center. This smart novel will have wide appeal.—Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover:A 19th-century Manhattan murder mystery with whiffs of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and overlays of feminist themes and class disparities.
by Tamora Pierce
In Bloodhound and Terrier, Tamora Pierce unveiled and then strengthened the story of Beka Cooper, a shy but diligent Dog (Tortallian slang for police) during her first few years on the streets of Tortall. With Mastiff, both the story and Beka mature in unexpected and satisfying ways. The book can be understood on its own, but will be more rewarding for those who have read the first two books.
As her fans have come to expect, Pierce wastes no time on exposition, and plunges readers into the next section of Beka's life. Her fiancé has just been killed doing Dog work, and she is confused by her inability to mourn for him. She receives orders to bring Achoo, her scent hound, for a new hunt and, just like that, her world changes. She moves from her street Dog life to the world of nobles, thick with treason and conspiracy.
Pierce's writing is as powerful and addictive as ever, and Mastiff just as long and complex as the first two books. But the pages fly by as though mage-charmed. Beka, though far from perfect, remains the sort of heroine that we all want to be, and Tortall is still a richly crafted, perfectly imperfect world.
This book is ideal for fantasy-loving teens. Although there is some mature content, Pierce handles it gracefully, making the books appropriate for sophisticated younger teens. Highly recommended for the young, the young at heart, and anybody who's still dreaming of a pet with purple eyes. --Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD bookstore, also known as Bookavore
Discover:The thrilling conclusion to one of the meatiest fantasy trilogies in recent years.
by Sharon Cumberland
In this enticingly readable collection, Sharon Cumberland (The Arithmetic of Mourning) offers readers the chance to see through another's eyes with startling clarity, with poetry stripped of pretense and obscure imagery. As "Ars Poetica," one of the first poems in the book, posits, if poetry can allow the reader to share a moment of someone else's life, it should not be expected to further justify its existence with irony or morals.
Cumberland's style and wit at times evoke Edna St. Vincent Millay, especially when describing a beach visit. She deftly dissects common sights and imbues them with new meaning, changing children riding in shopping carts into aliens native to the consumerist climate of the grocery store. Elsewhere, she describes a dream of encountering a wardrobe full of the clothes her mother wore before age took her sanity, a dream that is able to reunite her through sensory memory with a time when her mother was the all-powerful center of her childhood universe. While much of her subject matter is personal, Cumberland also invokes the lives of historic figures like Jesus Christ, reimagining the religious icon as a flesh-and-blood person with human emotions and an enormous destiny.
Several poems describe Cumberland's grief over losing her five-year-old nephew to cancer. While the depth of her pain is piercing, the fact that she can so clearly express such a deep and broad loss in so few words is testament to her great talent. This collection will speak movingly to any reader, not just poetry enthusiasts. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Discover:A collection of simply but exquisitely expressed poems, full of wit, grief, love and life.