Displaying articles for: August 2011

Ready Player One

The catalogue of great literature -- any literature -- inspired by video games is scant, which makes Ernest Cline's new novel such a welcome addition. In the distant future, everyone is obsessed with playing OASIS. Wade Watts is one of the countless players who hopes to find the secret lottery ticket hidden in the game by its enigmatic creator. The key lies in nostalgia for the pop culture of the late twentieth century. An engrossing cyber adventure steeped in geek.

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Yossarian Slept Here

Joseph Heller's daughter, Erica Heller, offers memories both sweet and tart of her upbringing by her famous father, her parents' tumultuous marriage, and a host of similar domestic vistas. Centering mainly around their tenure at the famed Manhattan residence, the Apthorp, the book invokes a plethora of celebrities with whom Heller amused himself while contriving to amuse his readers with novels like Catch-22 and Something Happened.

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fathermothergod

One would be hard-pressed to find a more devastating and personal critique of Christian Science than this new memoir from Lucia Greenhouse, which details her unconventional upbringing under that medicine-declining spiritual regime and the crisis of confidence brought on by her faithful mother's death from cancer. Equally unsparing of all participants, even herself, Greenhouse seeks catharsis in telling her story.

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French Lessons

French moviemakers excel at producing a certain kind of light, wistful, erotic saga of folly and longing. Now Ellen Sussman delivers an English-language prose equivalent with her tale of three Americans and their corresponding native guides in the City of Light, walking the tightrope of desire and caution, abandon and respectability.

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The Long Night

William Shirer's reporting from Nazi Berlin and his monumentally influential volume of history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, acquainted the world with the true extent of Nazi evil. Steve Wick's new biography places the man and his work in context and reveals how Shirer managed to get the kind of intimate access to the German high command that made his writing so reputable.

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The Twelfth Enchantment

At the dawn of the 19th century, an unfortunate young woman of good breeding but meager finances (who might have wandered out of a novel by Jane Austen) meets Lord Byron, discovers a talent for magic, and gets entangled in a shadowy conspiracy. David Liss has reimagined history in marvelous novels such as The Whiskey Rebels. Here, he demonstrates that he's no less a wizard when it comes to the supernatural. Absorbing fun.

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The Romantic Revolution

In the catalogue of great ideas, few have had as significant an impact as those connected with the Romantics. A perpetual font of individualism, passion, and creativity, the Romantics have influenced the course of western civilization out of all proportion to their numbers. Veteran historian Tim Blanning, long the authority on this period, details the genesis, flowering, and triumphs of the philosophies and lifestyles first expressed by the likes of Goethe, Wordsworth, and Keats.

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Swamplife

America's long fascination with the Everglades, a twisted chronicle of preservation and exploitation, is recounted here in perspiration-inducing detail by Laura A. Ogden, an anthropologist intimate with the welands' iconic nooks and crannies. Bringing alive the complex interactions of animals, people, geology, and government, this book serves as a corrective to common myths concerning the exotic tropical ecosystem.

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Bed

This ambitious first novel by David Whitehouse features a humongous protagonist at its comic center. Mal Ede, world's fattest man and bed-bound grotesque, finds his reluctant Boswell in his put-upon younger brother. Part parable of contemporary excess, part portrait of a dysfunctional family, the outrageous narrative evokes comparisons to Junot Díaz and John Kennedy Toole.

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The Oil Kings

Andrew Scott Cooper's absorbing chronicle of US diplomacy in the Middle East yeilds fresh insights gleaned from newly declassified documents about America's decision in 1976 to break ties with the Shah of Iran and turn to Saudi Arabia for cheaper oil. The reverberations of that choice are still felt today, and Cooper's exceptional reporting gives readers a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the region's recent history.  

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The Last Letter from Your Lover

What's astonishing about this ingeniously crafted dual love story -- in which a mysterious letter prompts a young journalist to investigate the fate of an affair forty years in the past, changing her own life in the process -- is how swiftly and effortlessly Jojo Moyes pulls you in to this novel of lost memory and second chances. Like an afternoon spent watching a beloved old movie, made wonderfully new. 

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Carthage Must Be Destroyed

In some alternate universe, it was Carthage, not Rome, that reigned supreme in the ancient Mediterranean. In our world, of course, the North African empire was destroyed, its history relegated to footnotes. Richard Miles lays out eight centuries of Carthaginian glory in an engrossing book replete with larger-than-life personages, dramatic battles, and unprecedented cultural accomplishments.

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Low Town

Daniel Polansky's debut novel dives into China Mieville-style weird noir. Our anthihero, Warden, is a drug-addicted former intelligence agent turned crimelord out to solve the disappearance of a flock of kids from his hood. Blending elemental magic with futuristic technology, ancient forces with the latest decadence, Low Town conjures up a milieu that should appeal to readers of SF, fantasy, and detective fiction alike.

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To the End of the Land

Motherhood and war, life and death. David Grossman's celebrated novel -- newly available in paperback -- employs the landscape and culture of modern Israel, charged with both maternal and destructive impulses, to embody the tensions between one soldier's fearful mother and a hermit-like damaged veteran, her ex-lover. The result takes readers on a moving emotional journey, in which new thinking about these subjects bursts into bloom.

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Lip Service

Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. But they don't all necessarily mean the same thing. Marianne LaFrance convinces us there's a secret wealth concealed behind that most common of facial expressions. Drawing from the allied fields of medicine, biology, psychology and anthropology, with a dash of computer science, LaFrance dissects the smile into its component parts and reassembles them into a potent force for both transparency and chicanery, friendship and enmity.

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City of Promise

In 2002's City of Dreams, Beverly Swerling looked back to the earliest settlement of Manhattan to frame her engaging multi-generational saga of the Turner family. Her fourth volume brings us to the close of the Civil War as wounded veteran soldier Joshua Turner returns to play a vital role in New York's transformation into a modern metropolis.  But he must also face a plot connected to a notorious Confederate prison in this sweeping, suspenseful read.

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Wonder Girl

Babe Didrikson Zaharias was not only a pioneer of golf and a founder of the LPGA. She also excelled in basketball and took home gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics. But her outsized Texas personality rivalled her physical gifts, and her perserverance in the face of terminal cancer won the country's collective heart. Don Van Natta captures this larger-than-life beauty -- and the era in which she lived -- with zest and humor and in this charming biography.

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Paradise Lust

Spin a globe and jab your finger down at random. Chances are good that some wild-eyed theorist has, at some point in the past, placed the "historical" Garden of Eden wherever your digit just landed. In this lively, charming survey of attempts to definitively locate a mythic nexus, Brook Wilensky-Lanford does not stint on madcap details. Eden in Ohio? Readers will be believers after imbibing this wealth of folly.

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Beautiful Unbroken

Nurses are the frontline soldiers of the healthcare field, wtnessing atrocities in the trenches that most of us never see. But while many great doctor-authors -- Richard Selzer, Lewis Thomas -- have brought poetic insight to their calling, there are far fewer well-known memoirs from this essential profession. Mary Jane Nealon remedies that lack with her vivid and stirring account of a life spent ministering to the terminally ill, diffusing the suffering and grace she's encountered into these pages.

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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

Having presided over a previous volume of imaginary diseases, the prolific pedant Thackery T. Lambshead is invoked once again by award-winning editors Anne and Jeff Vandermeer.  They call upon a legion of writers -- including Naomi Novik, Minister Faust, China Mieville, Alan Moore, Lev Grossman, and Charles Yu – to pry open a packrat's trove of arcane memorabilia that evokes the spirits of Gorey and Lovecraft.  An awesomely bizarre catalog of horrifying, spellbinding fun.

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Northwest Corner

John Burnham Schwartz, author of the acclaimed novel Reservation Road, takes up again the tale of flawed everyman Dwight Arno. Seeking to piece his life back together after he struck and killed a child in a tragic hit-and-run, Dwight is confronted with the unexpected arrival of his son Sam, fleeing his own misdeeds. Can hard-won lessons be passed between generations? What are the limits, if any, of familial love and duty? Schwartz's engaging father and son story isn't afraid to offer canny answers to difficult questions.

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How the Hippies Saved Physics

The shape of popular science would look dramatically different -- more stodgy and conservative, less expansive -- were it not for a long-ago mini-revolution in the field of physics that melded the hippie sensibility of far-out daydreaming with a Newtonian fervor for theorizing and testing. MIT professor David Kaiser finds the hidden affinities between cosmic consciousness and laboratory protocols in this absorbing account of a time when longhairs with slide rules stalked the planet.

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The Chairs Are Where the People Go

This funny and surprisingly fascinating collection gathers artist Misha Glouberman's thoughts on just about everything. Dictated to his friend, author Sheila Heti, the project quickly grew from mundane musings on subjects like chair placement and computer obsolescence, to a broader discussion of modern, urban life. How to make friends. How to behave at a party. How often to call your parents. Broken up into 72 chapters, the advice is head-slappingly obvious and yet remarkably charming.

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Brain Bugs

"It's not a flaw, it's a feature." The infamous software company excuse for annoying glitches might have been coined by God Himself after designing our brains. Actually, neuroscientist Dean Buonomano invokes Darwin, not the Deity, when explaining all the defects in our wetware, as he guides us through a primer on why our brains are often unable to cope with the artificial conditions that daily deceive us.

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April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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