Displaying articles for: March 2012

Gauguin Polynesia

In 1891, disillusioned with European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional," Paul Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia. This thoughtfully curated work, edited by Suzanne Greub, places gorgeous reproductions of the artist's Tahitian paintings in the context of the native art and culture that inspired them.

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Wild

When Cheryl Strayed began a three-month solo hike from southern California to the state of Washington, she was fleeing a daily life shattered by her mother's death and her marriage's dissolution. This chronicle of a transforming experience in the wildnerness shines with wisdom, humor, and clear-eyed descriptions of the natural world that opened to the author's gaze for the first time. 

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Pocket Kings

A failed novelist develops a taste for online poker, but trouble starts when opponents call his bluff in the real world. Ted Heller's inventive, incisive comedy finds his hapless hero going all-in, as the stakes grow higher than at any Vegas table.

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Squeeze This!

Polka, Zydeco, and Italian treacle: if this is your idea of the only genres wherein the accordion flourishes, prepare to be enlightened by this entertaining history of that robust instrument's odyssey across the American musical landscape. Herself an accordionist, Marion Jacobson exhibits a music-lover's passion along with her in-depth scholarly knowledge of the instrument's rise, fall, and contemporary renaissance.

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Hot Pink

Adam Levin follows up his sprawling debut novel, The Instructions, with a collection of compact gems. Hot Pink contains ten short stories that concern themselves with the uncanny and absurd mysteries of life. As Levin himself wittily confides: "There's a story about a legless girl who's in love with a girl who has both legs, a story about a doll that pukes, a story about some violent mimes, a story about a comedian with dementia, and then six or seven other stories about none of the above." 

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Winter King

Henry VIII and his wives hog the spotlight when modern readers look back at England in the 1500s. But his father boasted an exemplary reign of some twenty-four years, during which time many foundation stones of the monarchy were laid. Penn turns the life of this savvy, bold, and yet under-appreciated ruler -- last king of England to earn his crown in battle -- into a magical tapestry full of court intrigue, personal triumphs, and unmitigated disasters, in which figures most prominently the charming Catherine of Aragon.

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The Snow Child

A Discover Great New Writers Selection. This debut novel radiates with the enchanted atmosphere of the Russian folktale that inspired it, transplanting a magical story to the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness of the 1920s. A middle-aged, childless couple fashion a child out of snow in a playful moment; the next morning, they find a little girl skittering through the nearby woods. Author Eowyn Ivey brings to life a captivating and mysterious fable of love's power. 

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House of Stone

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Shadid describes his quest to uncover his family's history and his own identity while renovating his ancestral home in Lebanon. A graceful journey through past and present made all the more poignant and arresting by the author's death at age 43, while on assignment in Syria.

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The Dreyfus Affair

Try to imagine any of the trivial political controversies of 2012 still earning a book-length study a century from now. Impossible, no? But France's Dreyfus Affair of 1894 was much grander stuff. Piers Paul Read's fresh and comprehensive take on the scandal sheds new light on Dreyfus's personal life, looks closely at the poor man's unjust exile, and tries to assess just what endowed this incident with its long-lasting fascination.

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Red Plenty

Noted for his free-wheeling and eclectic nonfiction,  Francis Spufford offers a debut novel that brilliantly displays his researcher's talents along with a new flair for science-fictional world-building. Painting a vivid portrait of the near-mythic 1950s period of the Soviet Empire, when the planned economy seemed seemed likely to outpace capitalism's free market, Spufford conjures up a deluded Russian era when ideological wishful thinking became state policy.

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Religion for Atheists

Anyone who has encountered Alain de Botton's writing already knows that he is a bastion of sanity, compassion, and open-minded inquiry in a polarized world. His latest highly readable treatise is no exception. Carefully sorting through the claims of religion, both practical and numinous, de Botton analyzes what kind of worthwhile practices can be rescued from the larger, harder-to-swallow theological constructs.

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The Book of Jonas

Everything's a shock to the system for Jonas, a teenager from an unnamed Central Asian country, when he's granted asylum in the U.S. His struggles to assimilate and come to terms with his life -- and the American soldier who saved it -- make a story that could have been spun from yesterday's headlines. But in Stephen Dau's careful hands, it touches the deepest truths of loss and healing.

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The Idea Factory

Before Apple, before Google, there was Bell Labs, font of one brilliant invention after another. With a novelist's eye for vivid details and juicy character sketches, Jon Gertner chronicles five decades in an eccentric world where having a Ph.D in an esoteric field was merely the ticket to entry, and Nobelists sprouted like dandelions. A vision of America's innovative Golden Age, and an inspiration to fresh ambitions of genius.

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Stranger Magic

Noted mythographer and novelist Maria Warner here turns her piercing gaze to one of the most influential set of fables ever assembled, The Thousand and One Nights. Analyzing the inner meanings of Scheherazade's tall tales, she finds in these familiar narratives fresh import and life-changing potential. By the conclusion of her lively study, readers will endorse Warner's contention that these Oriental tales underpin our modern age.

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Memoirs of an Addicted Brain

Combining the sordid allure of a memoir of drug addiction with a popular-science sense of wonder at the miraculous workings of the human brain, Marc Lewis uses himself as a representative research specimen. After many years spent using, Lewis got clean and became a developmental neuroscientist with a natural affinity for investigating the pathways of addiction. His book casts light on the areas of research that hold the best chance of explaining humanity's immemorial desire to get high.

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Revelations

In works like The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief, Elaine Pagels has offered a fresh, fascinating perspective on the Bible and its place in history. With Revelations, she turns to the New Testament's most controversial book and finds a first century AD condemnation of Rome's decadence, as well as evidence of the early struggle to define who could and could not become a Christian.

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Untouchable

Winner of the 2011 Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction. David Darby and his son -- known only as The Kid -- struggle to move on after the unexpected death of David's wife. The Kid hasn't spoken since losing his Mom and retreats into a growing collection of notebooks where he records his thoughts and imagines a safer world. Alternating between the bewildered voices of father and son, Scott O'Connor leads readers along a spellbound path to the heart of a mystery.

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Kosher Chinese

Winner of the 2011 Discover Great New Writers Award for Nonfiction. When Michael Levy arrives in rural China to work for the Peace Corps teaching English, finding something to eat proves easy compared to fitting in to a social world vastly different from his own American Jewish background. But Levy's narrative truly shines not when he's chronicling culture clashes, but rather in the moments -- coaching his school's basketball team, making Shabbat dinner for his students -- where he feels the bonds of shared human experience.

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Flatscreen

In his spirited, darkly funny debut novel, Adam Wilson introduces soft-bellied slacker Eli Schwartz, whose couch-potato life is upended when wheelchair-bound former TV star Seymour J. Kahn rolls through and tucks Eli under his peculiar wing. Perverse, subversive, and hilariously outrageous, the book delivers memorable characters, a rollicking plot, and a new voice that comes across as anything but flat.

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James Madison and the Making of America

An insightful, authoritative biography of our nation's fourth president from history professor Kevin R. C. Gutzman  offers a fresh perspective on this Founding Father, whose contributions to our country went beyond the vital role he played in shaping and ratifying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and in writing The Federalist Papers.

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Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It

More than once in these selected columns written for The Independent, Man Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson (The Finkler Question) highlights the improving effects of written works that challenge -- rather than just entertain -- us. But this wide-ranging collection, tackling topics as diverse as British politics, the Bard, bicycles, and the BBC in his trademark wry, rapid-fire style, is testament to Jacobson's ability to both entertain and challenge the reader.

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April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

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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