Readers could be forgiven for approaching Paul Chambers' Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World with a degree of caution. A whole book about a circus elephant who died in 1885? Could be seriously sentimental. Could be a kitchy freak show. Could be as flat as yesterday's cotton candy. In fact, it is none of the above. Clear-eyed, carefully researched, and crisply written, Chambers' book explores the surprisingly compelling life story of the African elephant whose name would become synonymous with "extra-extra-large" and whose saga would inspire a classic Disney movie about a flying pachyderm. From Jumbo's brutal capture in Sudan (his mother is killed trying to protect him) to his arduous journey to England (via France), where he become a crowd-pleaser at London Zoo, to his controversial purchase by Phineas T. Barnum and all-too-brief turn as the star of the showman's three-ring extravaganza, the elephant's biography provides a window into the culture and times in which he found fame. There's heartbreak. There's drama. And there's also the sad tale of Jumbo's keeper, Matthew Scott, a man so devoted that he eschewed human company in order to spend nearly all his time beside his 11-foot-tall, 6-ton best friend, offering comfort and guidance -- and even sharing the occasional bottle of booze. During his lifetime Jumbo delighted the masses. And even now, more than 100 years after his death, you'd need a pretty thick skin to resist his charms. -

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.