Displaying articles for: November 2011

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

Before he died in 2007, Kurt Vonnegut granted biographer Charles J. Shields (Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee) access to his life and letters. The result is an absorbing, authoritative work on the literary iconoclast whose darkly comic, poignantly profound novels (Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, among others) became touchstones for an era and redefined the way we think about our future and ourselves.

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Apollo's Angels

Newly out in paperback, Jennifer Homans' groundbreaking history of ballet celebrates the beauty of the art form and the brilliance of its most accomplished practitioners. The author, dance critic for The New Republic and a former professional dancer, combines archival research with interviews that took her from Moscow to Manhattan. Gloriously illustrated with paintings and photography, this is a literary performance as rewarding for casual readers as it is for devoted balletomanes.

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Saladin

French medieval historian Anne-Marie Eddé separates fact from fiction -- reality from myth -- as she parses the exploits and accomplishments of Saladin (aka Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub), the Kurdish leader credited with recapturing Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, defeating Richard the Lionheart, and uniting the Muslim world. From this deeply researched narrative, a picture emerges of a complex man viewed in the context of his era, and the ensuing era that man helped define.

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The Italians

A nation in name for only 150 years, Italy and her citizens nevertheless have a distinctive and beloved national character extending back for millennia -- a character beautifully captured in these evocative portraits by master photographer Leonard Freed, whose fifty-year career (he died in 2006) culminated in this album of a land and people whom he immediately fell in love with upon his first visit to New York's Little Italy.

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The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics

In 2008, olfactory scientist Luca Turin and perfume collector/blogger Tania Sanchez collaborated on the sprawling Perfumes: The Guide, wisely and wittily parsing some 1,200 fragrances. Here, the sharp-nosed duo boils their encyclopedic offering down to 100 essential scents, updating the original reviews in a trim, take-along, "best of" volume that's nothing to sniff at.

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The Sisters

Nancy Jensen's heartrending saga of two siblings, Mabel and Bertie, who go their separate ways in 1927 following a suicide and a bitter betrayal, astutely and affectingly explores the way family secrets can reverberate through generations. This is a provocative debut novel from a talented writer inspired by her own family history.

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The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

Before he found acclaim as a poet, Welsh vagabond W. H. Davies spent the years between 1893 and 1899 begging his way across America, living a hardscrabble life on the road, and ultimately losing a leg in a train accident on his way to join the Klondike gold rush. In this classic memoir -- newly reissued by Melville House -- the poet recounts his adventures with what George Bernard Shaw calls "boyish charm" combined with "the savoir vivre of an experienced man of the world."

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Cat Stories

Cats: They're furry, they're playful, and even if they don't seem to need us, they do sometimes knead us. Editor Diana Secker Tesdell has pulled together stories that celebrate our feline friends by authors including P. G. Wodehouse, Doris Lessing, Damon Runyon, Italo Calvino, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Purr-fect for literature-loving cat fans of all stripes.

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The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott

Readers can now add these newly compiled snapshots of Captain Robert Scott's doomed polar expedition to the treasure trove of you-are-there historical photos. Taken by Scott himself in the early stages of the trip and curated by David M. Wilson, a descendant of Dr. Edward Wilson, who died with Captain Scott and his party, these stark vistas of windswept ice capture the deadly attractions that lured Scott and company to their cold graves.

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Shockaholic

Carrie Fisher's follow-up to her best-selling Wishful Drinking shuttles us through stories about her roller-coaster relationships with her father, Eddie Fisher, as well as with fame (brought on by her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films), drugs, and electroshock therapy. Fisher writes with wit, candor, and intimacy, sharing anecdotes that, even after all she has revealed on stage, page, and screen, still have the power to astound.

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The Time in Between

A romantic tale of intrigue as stylish as a bespoke gown. The epic story of Sira Quiroga, a young seamstress who reinvents herself, first as a couturier and then as a spy, is woven against the vivid backdrops of Madrid and Morocco during World War II. This captivating first novel by Spanish writer and professor Maria Dueñas is already a runaway bestseller in Europe.

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My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner

Every family has its quirks, but wait until you meet Meir Shalev's Grandma Tonia. This warm, delightful memoir by the Israeli author of the novel A Pigeon and a Boy introduces readers to an unforgettable woman whose battle with dirt mirrors the struggles she faced after emigrating from Russia to Palestine in 1923. Shalev's idiosyncratic clan is singular in its strange ways, but may yet remind you of your own meshugana mishpacha.

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Jerusalem: The Biography

Some cities have so much personality, they're practically people. And in Simon Sebag Montefiore's new history of that elderly entity dubbed Jerusalem, we discover a complex character eternally at the heart of Western civilization. Highlighting the 3000-year saga of the city via a parade of luminous historical figures, the author evokes a unique and irreplaceable locus of hopes, dreams, and fears.

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The Viral Storm

Swine flu. Bird flu. SARS. Influenza and even ebola. Nathan Wolfe, globe-trotting Stanford biologist, surveys the modern pandemic landscape, offering grim lessons on mankind's relationship with the various microbes that routinely threaten civilization itself. But while the ease of international travel and interconectivity of global culture makes our species particularly vulnerable, Wolfe also holds out promise of new countermeasures that can protect us.

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Lionheart

Perhaps most famous for her debut novel, The Sunne in Splendour, about Richard III, Penman now turns her attentions further back to that king's namesake, Richard I, the Lionheart. Dividing her plot between affairs of state and heart in England and Richard's daring battlefield exploits in the Holy Land, Penman conjures up a tangible world both alien and familiar, where cultures clashed and larger-than-life personalities turned the wheel of history.

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The Annotated Peter Pan

Peter Pan ranks high in the pantheon of universally embraced literary icons -- like Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes -- worthy of a sprightly new study such as we have here. This informative volume, replete with ancillary materials including screenplays from film adaptations, four-color photographs, and illustrations by iconic artists, finds Harvard scholar Maria Tatar illuminating the genesis and career of the original lost boy.

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My Name Is Victoria

It wasn't until she was 27 that Victoria Donda, who became the youngest female member of the Argentine National Congress in 2007, found out she was not who she thought she was, that the parents who had raised her had, in fact, been responsible for the "disappearance" of her biological parents during Argentina's bloody 1976 coup d'etat. This is her riveting and remarkable story of identity rediscovered.

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Why Read Moby-Dick?

Although Hemingway said that all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn, a case might be made for Moby-Dick as the model for everything that followed in fiction. If Nathaniel Philbrick stops just short of such an assertion, he nevertheless launches a spirited defense of Melville's notoriously unwieldy book. Having unpacked the real-life incidents behind Moby-Dick in his National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick focuses here on the transformative magic employed by Melville in his creation of Ahab's quest.

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The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing

This is no yoga memoir.  Melissa Holbrook Pierson's aerodynamic new book is the story of the author's quest for personal renewal through what may seem like the most unlikely of pursuits: long-distance motorcycling. Inspired by legendary rider John Ryan -- and the members of the "Iron Butt Association" -- Pierson heads out in search of the point where passion becomes mania, and blows past both to encounter a new understanding of self.  

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Child Wonder

Set in the working-class outskirts of Oslo, circa 1961, Norwegian writer Roy Jacobsen's subtle, captivating coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young boy, Finn, whose life changes dramatically when a previously unknown half-sister comes to live with him and his mother in their cramped apartment. Soon they're joined by a lodger who further upends Finn's world. A poignant, painstaking exploration of the mysteries of the heart.

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The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

In a culture increasingly populated by foodies and preoccupied with fresh ingredients, there are those who have been left behind -- cowering in confusion before rarely used knife sets and finding relief amongst frozen processed foods. With this sensitive, inspiring book, Kathleen Flinn comes to the rescue of the culinarily challenged, helping her subjects and her readers acquire the basic skills and confidence they need to slice and dice, braise and baste their way to delicious, healthy home-cooked meals.

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Sweet Judy Blue Eyes

Grammy-winning folk singer Judy Collins gives readers the chance to look at her life from both sides now, providing a candid account of the ups and downs she navigated on the road to musical success. She chronicles vital friendships and longstanding relationships (Stephen Stills, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez), as well as the personal struggles (alcoholism among them) she has faced with amazing grace.

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Damned

An overdose delivers the 13-year-old narrator of Chuck Palahniuk's new novel straight to perdition, where she finds a veritable Breakfast Club of cohorts (cheerleader, jock, nerd, punk rocker) to cavort with in the maze of eternity. By turns hilarious and disturbing, the author's twisted vision of Hell isn't filled with flames and brimstone so much as dandruff and toenail clippings in a hilarious, impious reinterpretation of Dantean tropes. 

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The Adventures of Hergé

The brilliant conceit of composing a fresh new biography of Tintin's creator in his own clean-line, graphic novel medium was merely the first stroke of genius by Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental, and illustrator Stanilas Barthélémy. With Spielberg's big-screen adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn due soon, this insightful look into the genesis of the quiff-haired boy reporter should find an even larger, well-deserved audience.

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The Bear

William Kotzwinkle (The Bear Went Over the Mountain) and Bella Pollen (The Summer of the Bear) have already demonstrated the appeal of ursine protagonists. But their treatment of our bruinish cousins is nowhere near as encyclopedic as that of Michel Pastoureau, who starts his survey in prehistory and rambles down to the present, tracing the biology, allure, and legends of bears right up to the cuddly teddy bear that represents a hearthside version of the former king of beasts.

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Maman's Homesick Pie

Chef Donia Bijan, whose family fled from Iran during the Islamic revolution and settled in San Francisco in 1978, mixes memoir and recipes in perfect proportion as she tells her family's history, from her parents' struggle to acclimate to their new country to her own culinary awakening and accomplishments. Sweet, warm, and full of flavor.

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Feast Day of Fools

Best known for his mysteries featuring Louisiana P.I. Dave Robicheaux, James Lee Burke has also written an electrifying series of thrillers about taciturn West Texas lawman Hackberry Holland. Feast Day of Fools puts the sheriff on the trail of a brutal desert killing. But the path is beset with danger and ethical dilemmas -- not to mention the psychopath with the machine gun.

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Verdi's Shakespeare

How did a nineteenth-century Italian composer, devoid of English, come to fall in love with the sixteenth-century texts of a British bard, transforming three of the famous stage plays into mammoth, canonical operas (Macbeth, Othello, and Falstaff)? That's the conundrum that Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills unravels with a wealth of fascinating anecdotal research. Comparing and contrasting the two creators, Wills shows the affinity that underpinned their different styles of genius.

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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…

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