That Pat Conroy is not the most prolific writer in the world is an understatement. Longtime Conroy fans have grown accustomed to the several-year wait between his novels, and for them the publication of a new Pat Conroy novel is a big deal. I am one of those longtime Conroy fans myself but, for some unexplainable reason, I left Beach Music on the shelf for close to sixteen years before finally reading it this month. Perhaps it was just comforting to know that I had a “new” Pat Conroy novel waiting for me anytime I was ready for it. That is the closest I can come to explaining my decade-and-a-half wait.
The Walnut Creek, California, Mother and Daughter Book Club is about to close its doors after a remarkable ten-year run. Amazingly enough, the book club is only breaking up at all because the “daughters” part of the equation is moving on to college in just a few weeks.
The Walnut Creek-based book club met recently to review all the book club picks and reminisce experiences over the past decade. Books from the “American Girl” series were among the group’s first choices before they soon graduated toward young-adult novels, their themes ranging from lighthearted to serious. As the girls matured, so did the book picks, Allison said.
“In middle school, when our daughters would not sit with us one-on-one to talk about sex, drugs, friendships, confidence, or values; they talked endlessly about those issues in book club. Through books, we helped our girls navigate these hard years, and made sure they heard our opinions and perspectives, as well as those outside their comfort zone. We made sure the girls knew they had five other moms, and that if for some reason, they couldn’t turn to their own, they had one of us.”
The book club was a safe haven for these mothers and their daughters, a neutral site where they could discuss all those “growing up” topics in a nonjudgemental setting. These young women and their mothers will remember the Mother and Daughter Book Club for the rest of their lives – and well they should. What a great idea…what a great story.
The whole story can be found here at MercuryNews.com. Please take a look.
John Sutherland’s How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts is a reader-friendly summation of literary theory that few avid readers will be able to resist. Each of Sutherland’s concepts is presented in a concise, four-page essay formatted to highlight its main points for the quick reference of readers wanting to review or reinforce their understanding of specific points. Each essay, for instance, opens with a summary/introductory paragraph in bold print and includes a timeline of key dates pertaining to the concept being discussed. Each piece also includes a “boxed” story about, or example of, its subject concept and ends with a clever “condensed idea” summation of its four-pages. As I grew more and more intrigued by Sutherland’s ability to summarize four pages of complex thought into just a handful of words, the “condensed ideas” soon became my favorite part of the essays.
The “condensed ideas” are particularly helpful when trying to recall the meaning of some of the book’s vaguer literary terminology, but even the explanations for more commonly understood terms can be fun. Examples include:
Hermeneutics – “Reading literature and understanding literature are two different things.”
Intentionalism – “What a work of literature means is not always what the author means it to mean.”
Translation – “It’s impossible – but what option do we have?”
Irony – “The camera may never lie. Literature does. And cleverly.”
As the book moves from literature’s origins toward its future, the essays are presented in six distinct sections: “Some Basics;” “Machinery: How It Works;” “Literature’s Devices;” “New Ideas;” “Word Crimes;” and “Literary Futures.” Considering how rapidly everything associated with publishing is changing today, readers will find the “Word Crimes” and “Literary Futures” sections of the book to be particularly interesting.
“Word Crimes” focuses on things like plagiarism, libel, literary lies and ghost-writers. Sutherland is particularly hard (deservedly so) on Herman Rosenblat who, in 2008, published a completely fictitious account of his Holocaust experiences, in effect, placing the authenticity of other Holocaust memoirs in greater doubt for those already disinclined to believe them. Sutherland, in this section, also addresses subjects such as the Tom Clancy and James Patterson “factories” that continue to top the best seller lists despite minimal contributions from the two writers, and the allegation that Dick Francis wrote none of his own novels.
How Literature Works finishes, appropriately, with essays on “The e-Book” and “Literary Inundation” (part of the “Literary Futures” section). As Sutherland emphasizes, today’s reader is faced with more choice than ever before in the history of the world. But that is not necessarily a good thing. As he puts it, “We are faced with the paradox that our ignorance (with the mass of books necessarily unread by us) is growing faster than our knowledge…not a new problem, but the scale of it is terrifyingly new.”
Perhaps it is time for readers to reflect for a moment on the nature of literature itself, precisely what it is that draws them to the printed page every day of their lives. They, and all future readers, because of the sheer volume of new material available to choose from, will find it more difficult than ever before to make wise choices about what they read. Books like How Literature Works will help them make those choices.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
Like most avid readers and book collectors, I have my favorite bookstores. Some of them are local, some are one or two states away from Houston; others are across the Atlantic. One that I’ve mentioned before is Shakespeare and Company, a Paris bookstore that has to be seen to be believed.
|George Whitman and daughter Sylvia in his bookstore bedroom
Painting by Rosy Lamb
Shakespeare and Company, in its current incarnation, was reborn in 1961 when George Whitman opened up his English-language bookstore in the heart of Paris. Whitman, who was born in 1913, plans to live in the bookstore until he reaches his hundredth birthday. Thankfully, his 30-year-old daughter plans to keep the store open even after her father leaves the business.
This is a must-see spot for book lovers but, despite its proximity to Notre Dame, it is easily missed unless one is specifically looking for it. This video gives a taste of what the bookstore is like, but hardly does justice to the real thing:
This April 21 Los Angeles Times article brings the Shakespeare and Company story current – and what a story it is.
I often find myself playing a little side-game while reading a novel with a less-than-obvious title: can I spot the exact reference, usually buried deep inside the novel, where the title’s origin and meaning will be revealed?
I was starting to give up with Pat Conroy’s 628-page Beach Music when it finally happened on page 475 in a scene in which Lucy is releasing a bunch of endangered loggerhead turtles so that they can make their run to the water:
“These are South Carolina turtles like my boys here,” Lucy said, smiling at us. “I think they listen to the waves. I think they just love beach music.”
Conroy did use the term a few other times in the book, such as on page 620 when quoting a “suicide letter” written by Shyla to her husband, Jack:
“I’ll listen for your knock and I’ll open the door and I’ll drag you up to that room where we danced to beach music and kissed while lying on the carpet and I dared you to fall in love with me.”
These references, however, pertain to the songs that Jack and his friends listened to on their transistor radios when partying on the beach together, or to the music played at Southern dance clubs in those days (sixties and early seventies). I think that the book’s title is more fitting when considered in the context of the page 475 reference and have to believe that’s what Conroy had in mind.
I always get a little kick out of noticing the title references – but I usually forget to mark the page so that I can come back to it. I can give one more recent example, though, this time from James Lee Burke’s Glass Rainbow (page 200):
“We’re all dust. At a moment like this, you get to look through a glass rainbow and everything becomes magical, but when all is said and done, we’re just dust. Like the people in those paintings. We don’t even know where their graves are.”
Maybe you play the same game?
America lost one of its most precious national treasures yesterday when singer Hazel Dickens died at age 75. Hazel, who died of complications from pneumonia, had been ill for some time, finding it more and more difficult to travel to concert dates around the country.
Hearing Hazel Dickens sing in a live performance was like being handed the keys to a time machine set to stop at a time when country music was still in its raw infancy. Those wondering what original country music sounded like before it was commercialized in the 1920s have only to listen to a Hazel Dickens recording to feel the power and beauty associated with the music of those early days. Thankfully, Hazel leaves behind a respectable number of recordings for those of us still here. Sadly, however, we are no longer able to ride that time machine back to a Hazel Dickens concert.
I was lucky enough to climb on that time machine only once – in June 2007 when Hazel performed at the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s annual festival in Owensboro, Kentucky (ROMP). Regular ROMPers were not surprised when a huge thunderstorm began to roll in to Yellow Creek Park that afternoon, complete with spectacular displays of lightning and loud bursts of thunder. Hazel was in the middle of her second song of the day when festival organizers decided to clear the stage for the safety of the performers; the danger of a lightning strike was just too great to allow the show to go on even though it was still not raining. But the rain did come, and it came in buckets for more than an hour. By the time the stage was deemed safe again, Hazel (probably for health reasons) had left the park for good.
Hazel was scheduled to appear at ROMP the next year but had to cancel her appearance on her doctor’s orders. She was simply too ill to travel to Kentucky that year, but even though I never had the chance to see her perform again, I will forever treasure the one-and-a-half songs I witnessed that June 2007 afternoon in a secluded little Kentucky public park.
Hazel Dickens was a union advocate, a feminist, and one of the women who paved the way for females to make their mark in bluegrass music. She and her partner, Alice Gerrard fronted their own bluegrass band when that was simply not done. Their vocals used the same arrangements used by their male counterparts, breaking new ground for women, and changing the music in a way that opened the door for all those female bluegrass singers who have followed them.
Hazel was very special to me and my bluegrass-loving friends and we will miss her greatly. Considering her ill health, her death is not a shock or a surprise – but realizing that I have forever lost my chance to climb back onto the Hazel Dickens time machine really hurts.
Rest in peace, Hazel. We loved you then, and we love you now.
I wonder if Amazon’s announcement that the company has partnered with OverDrive to make it possible for Kindle-users to download books from local libraries will be the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s e-book Reader? Amazon’s slowness in making it possible for its Kindle to connect with public libraries has been about the only good thing Sony still had going for it in the e-book-reader wars. Now, Sony is saying goodbye to even that last advantage.
Without a doubt, Amazon is doing the right thing for its customers. But those customers are likely in for rude shocks the first time they try to “check out” a book from their local libraries. Even without the millions of Kindle-users in the queues, checking out an e-book has been no easy task. It is all a matter of supply and demand – and most public libraries are already finding it near impossible to keep up with the demand for e-books. Throw the new Kindle-based patrons into the mix, and the wait is likely to be one of several weeks for access to even a relatively popular title.
Rather than helping to shorten the wait-time for library patrons, publishers, still unsure how to deal with public libraries and e-books, are actually a big part of the problem. Libraries face at least three challenges when acquiring e-book copies, especially copies of popular titles: high base prices vs. their very limited budgets for what are considered to be extra books; not all publishers are willing to sell e-books to libraries; and, at least one publisher will only allow its e-books to be checked out 26 times before they must be retired forever.
There is little doubt that Amazon’s entry into your public library will bring the e-book/public library business model to a crisis much sooner than would have otherwise happened, forcing publishers to take a more reasonable approach to libraries – or to concede that market to other publishers willing to grant more equitable terms. In the short run, this will further frustrate those who enjoy the convenience of acquiring library books from the comfort of home; in the long run, it will probably help to equalize the current e-book supply/demand imbalance a whole lot sooner than expected.
We’ll be watching.
Death is something with which baby boomers are becoming more and more familiar. Older boomers, now well into their sixties, are dealing not only with the loss of parents, but with the loss of age group peers and siblings. For most, it is the first time they have had to deal with death so often, or so intimately. Consequently, books like Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, a frank account of the author’s reaction to the loss of her 55-year-old mother, are becoming both more common and more popular.
O’Rourke wrote The Long Goodbye because she believes that Americans have lost the “rituals of public mourning.” She says that, these days, our real grieving is done in private because our culture no longer allows for the kind of public grieving that once “shaped and supported” our loss. Each of us has to define “grief” for himself. Numbed to learn that her mother was dying of colorectal cancer, O’Rourke reacted in a way that seemed illogical even to her. Rather than clinging to the other things she still had in her life, she ended her marriage, quit her job, and started an affair with a man who lived across the country. Her grief was on the verge of destroying her.
As O’Rourke waited for the disease to take her mother’s life, she found it more and more difficult to deal with personal relationships, often having little patience with her father as he struggled to cope with the pending loss of his wife. Then, when it was all over, she wondered if her own life was worth continuing. Now she was divorced, the new man in her life was already gone, and, for the first time, she had to face life without her mother’s love and support. O’Rourke desperately wanted someone to come along and save her from herself because she was unsure how long she wanted to live in a world that, for her, had lost its purpose.
The Long Goodbye chronicles Meghan O’Rourke’s grieving process from the moment she learned of her mother’s imminent death through the year following that loss. O’Rourke, herself a writer and journalist, in an attempt to find out what was happening to her, and what she might expect to happen next, naturally turned to other writers for insight into the grieving process. She offers a lengthy bibliography of books she studied, divided into the sections: “Critical Studies and Nonfiction,” “On the Psychology of Grief,” “Fiction and Poetry,” and “Memoir.”
Despite all of her reading, and the advice offered by friends and family, Meghan O’Rourke learned just how personal an experience grieving the loss of a parent really is. While she did experience some of what her reading, and her friends, led her to expect, much of what she learned from the literature did not reflect what she was feeling. The Long Goodbye is a worthy addition to the literature on the grieving process, and readers will be grateful for O’Rourke’s insights and frankness.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
Laura Lippman has been on a roll for a while now so I imagine that many of you are already aware of her crime thrillers. But if, by chance, you are not familiar with Lippman’s novels and short stories, I have some good news for you. Publisher William Morrow is making it possible for me to give away three copies of Lippman’s books next month, including two copies of I’d Know You Anywhere which is being released in trade paperback on May 3.
I’ll have more details in a few days (including how to enter the contest), so check back if you’re interested. If you enjoy crime fiction with a psychological twist to it, Laura Lippman is for you. You’re going to thank me.
That the old book-selling business model no longer works very well is old news. Common sense, however, still dictates that every copy of a book a publisher sells to a consumer has to be a good thing. But according to Linen Press (complete article on The Guardian Book Blog), common sense, in this case, is very wrong. For every copy that this tiny U.K. publisher sells through Amazon, it loses the equivalent of three dollars. Here’s why:
Amazon don’t tell their customers how much they take from a small publisher like me, nor do they advertise the fact that I have to pay the postage on the books sent to them.
Linen Press books cost £4 a copy to produce, for several reasons…The RRP is £11.99. The postage is £2.50. On my website I sell the books for £8.99, so I’m not ripping you off; I’m just trying to persuade you not to buy from Amazon.
Here are the scary sums:
Amazon takes 60% of my RRP (in the book trade, the bigger the sales outfit, the bigger the discount they demand from the publisher: Amazon 60%; Waterstones 50%; independent bookshop 35%). On a £11.99 book, Amazon’s takings are £7.20. Mine are £4.80.
Out of this comes £2.50 to pack and post the book to Amazon, and the author’s royalties on a heavily discounted book reduced to 50p. My writers lose out on an Amazon sale, too. That leaves 82p for Linen Press, but the book cost £4 to produce. So I lose £2.18 on every sale by Amazon.
All of this is bad enough (and, yes, the arithmetic shown above is a tad misstated although its bottom line is the same), but the scariest statement in the article is this one:
For all its vast catalogue, Amazon’s market domination is actually reducing choice by squeezing out small publishers who are prepared to take risks.
So for publishers with the per-book cost that is built in to small press runs, selling through Amazon is a whole lot like an individual selling something through eBay. After paying postage fees to deliver an item and the advertising fees demanded by eBay, there’s very little left to claim as profit for the seller. That’s why I no longer deal with eBay other than as a buyer. I wonder how many small, independent booksellers will reach the same conclusion about dealing with Amazon.
It’s National Library Week (April 10-16) and I almost missed it again this year. So on this next-to-last day of the national celebration of libraries, I want to add my own brief thoughts about my appreciation for our country’s public library system.
The little town I grew up in had what was basically a little one-room library that housed, by my estimation, approximately 3,000 books. Perhaps 25% of those books were in the children’s section of the library and the rest of them were shelved in the adult section. Some of my earliest memories of feeling “independent” pertain to hopping on my bicycle and riding the three miles to that little library where an elderly librarian always greeted me with a tight little smile. This lady had to be won over, and that did not come quickly or easily. Eventually, though, she began to consider me one of her “regulars” and she took an interest in what I was reading, as opposed to what I should be reading.
She made sure that I had pretty much exhausted everything on the shelves that she considered age-appropriate (and those were some pretty rigid standards in the 1950s, believe me). Then she surprised me by saying that, if I would bring a note from home giving her the authority, she would enlist me on a reading program of her own design. From the day I brought her that note, that librarian opened up a whole new world to me. Suddenly, I was delving into the classics and a whole lot of relatively current adult fiction. She did shelter me by refusing some of my choices, but she always found a substitute that made sense in the context of what I was asking to read. All that summer, and the two that followed (ages 10-12 for me), she was my guide.
That woman, in that tiny, underfunded library, taught me to love reading. She gave me a gift that has lasted a lifetime, one that has given me more pleasure and contentment than any gift I have received since.
I am, of course, not alone. Here is an example of what libraries can mean to a kid, in this case, award winning children’s author Virginia Hamilton who grew up in little Yellow Springs, Ohio. Here her husband speaks of how important a public library was to his wife when she was growing up there.
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Comes word from ZippyCart, among others, that actor Nicolas Cage, once the proud owner of a pristine copy of Action Comics # 1, the book that introduced Superman to the world, is hoping to call it his own again. It seems that Cage’s copy of the comic, worth at least $1 million dollars, was stolen from him more than ten years ago, vanishing from sight until it turned up in an abandoned storage unit a few days ago.
The locker unit was auctioned off through Riverside-based American Auctioneers… about a month ago, where the comic book, carrying an estimated worth of $1 million was discovered. The locker’s new owner (who chooses to remain anonymous), unsure of the comic book’s value, was then connected with collectibles expert and New York dealer, Stephen Fishler. Fishler originally sold Cage Action Comics #1 back in 1990 and was able to positively ID and authenticate that the comic book was in fact, the one stolen from Cage.
The DC comic book, widely considered to be the most important one ever published for setting the precedent for superheroes to come, was one of three vintage comic books stolen from high security frames on a wall in Cage’s home back in 2000. The initial investigation received a break when days after the break-in, an L.A. area store owner informed Fishler about a phone call he received for pricing on two of the books Cage was missing. Several months later, the third missing comic book, Marvel Mystery #71, resurfaced on eBay…The investigation ending shortly thereafter, leaving a truly devastated Cage.
Ultimate ownership of the recovered comic book has been somewhat complicated by the fact that Cage reportedly received an insurance company settlement for its loss. Because the book is almost certainly worth more today than it was when it was stolen from Cage, this could get interesting.
The great success of Water for Elephants made it almost a certainty that Sara Gruen’s follow-up novel would suffer by comparison. That one set the bar so high that it would have been a real surprise if Gruen had been able to reach those heights with successive novels. What we know now is that, though she might very well achieve that kind of magic again one day, Ape House is not the one that will do it for her.
Ape House begins rather promisingly in the Great Ape Language Lab where Isabel Duncan and her university assistants are studying the communicative adaptability of a small family of bonobo apes. By using basic ASL (the American Sign Language system), the apes are able to converse with their keepers, even to the point of expressing their desires, emotions, and feelings about their life behind bars. The apes, in effect, have learned to understand, and speak, simple English. Isabel Duncan has, at the same time, grown so close to them that she considers the apes to be family.
All too soon, however, Gruen takes Ape House in the wrong direction. Rather than concentrating on the unique relationship between the apes and their humans, she spends the bulk of the book exploring the romantic relationships of her human characters, in effect stealing any potential magic Ape House had, and transforming it into a mediocre romance novel.
After the lab is blown up by a grotesque group of animal activists, and Isabel is almost killed in the explosion, reporter John Thigpen feels compelled to follow the tragedy to its end despite having to take a job with a trashy Los Angeles tabloid in order to be able to do so. Thigpen had visited the apes only hours before the blast and was changed by the experience, coming away from the lab with the feeling that the apes were every bit as “human” as the newspaper crew flying home with him.
While Isabelle is still recovering from her injuries, the university sponsoring the language lab decides to sell the apes to a pornographic film producer who wants to give the animals their very own reality television show. The bonobos are given their own house, complete with a computer to order whatever they desire (including individual food selections), exercise equipment, comfortable furniture and a big screen television. There are so many cameras in the house that the animals never have a moment of privacy – everything they do is shown on live television, 24 hours a day.
Despite the fact that none of Ape House’s human characters are as interesting (and certainly not as likable) as the apes, the novel spends the bulk of its time on human relationships. Gruen uses these characters, and their efforts either to exploit or to save the apes, to expose the absurdities of modern culture – particularly in regard to reality TV, Hollywood phonies, shrinking newspaper circulation, and celebrity worship. She neglects, however, what would have perhaps saved the book: the interrelationship between the apes and the humans with whom they come into contact. The chance to explore such a relationship is probably what drew most readers to Ape House in the first place, and its near absence leaves the book reading more as farce than legitimate social commentary.
Rated at 2.5
…from another weekend gone forever:
I attended my fourth funeral (three of them of the out-of-town variety) Saturday in the last 8 weeks. In that short period of time, I’ve lost a cousin, two aunts, and a good friend who was my department’s administrative assistant. I don’t remember anything even close to this pace ever happening to me before, so I’m hoping it’s over now. Twice a year is bad enough, but four times in two months is getting to be as scary as it has been heartbreaking.
Do you ever get the feeling that no matter how many books you are exposed to in a given week or month that you are just seeing the tiniest tip of the iceberg? It happens to me all the time, and seeing something like someone else’s “library loot” post really brings it home. Take a look at today’s post from Pages Turned. In this picture are 17 books brought home by a person whose reading taste is usually very similar to my own. 17 books, and I have not heard of a single one of them. Since we do share a similar taste in books, this kind of thing always makes me wonder what I’m missing while I’m struggling to finish up something that does not quite work for me as I thought it would. If anyone needs a good reason to abandon “bad books” midstream, this is it:
I’m not a big fan of prime time television programming and have not been since at least the early nineties when I moved out of the country for the first time. When I got home a few years later, I found it near impossible to close the “culture gap” that developed while I was gone. I have never cared for all that celebrity gossip stuff, and I found that I couldn’t even recognize the faces of any of the new crop of actors that had grown popular in my absence. I never did catch up, really. But along came a NetFlix application for iPad, and I’m suddenly hooked on Grey’s Anatomy, a show I barely knew existed until I started watching it in late February. Now I’ve burned through the first four seasons and seven episodes of the fifth (it’s amazing how quickly they seem to go by without commercial interruptions) and I’m still hooked. It’s great fun to watch that many episodes so close together; it is much easier to be impressed by the slow evolution of the characters as they move in and out of the show. Any suggestions for another series for me to start after I finish season 6 of Grey’s Anatomy?
And, finally, my Houston Astros have two wins for the season. They played their best game of 2011 yesterday against the Florida Marlins, outscoring them 7-1 and outhitting them 16-4. In the process, the team doubled its number of victories in one afternoon. How sad is that? Well, it took them 9 games to win 2 and they are hugging last place in the NL Central all by their lonesome. I suspect that’s a spot they will grow very accustomed to as the season progresses.
|This is a 1982 edition of a western first published in 1963|
James, over at Ready When You Are, C.B., is hosting a western reading challenge during the month of May and I’ve been looking through my books to see what I might want to read for the challenge. I have lots of westerns around the house, but I’m leaning toward reading one or two of these:
|This is a 1985 edition of a book published in 1959|
|This is a 1967 first edition of what Ballantine Books called a “Western Original”
|This is a 1975, third printing of a book first published in 1960|
You will notice that all four of these westerns were written by West Texan Elmer Kelton. I first discovered Mr. Kelton’s work in After the Bugles, pictured above, and over the years ended up with several hard covers of his and even one e-book double that I recently purchased. Kelton, in my opinion, wrote (he died in August 2009) better westerns than Louis ‘Amour but he never seemed to get the public recognition that L’Amour got. Kelton, who was 83 when he died, seemed to get better and better as the decades passed, eventually winning “Best Western Novel of the Year” seven times. I’m always on the lookout for interesting western paperback covers like these but they are getting harder and harder to find.
If you like westerns, or if you want to break new reading ground, go over to Ready When You Are, C.B. to sign up; it’s a one-book challenge, so give it a shot.
Hard as it is for me to believe, the year is already more than one-quarter done so this seems like a good time to update my rankings. As of today, I’ve read 24 fiction titles and 10 nonfiction ones – despite my good intentions, the nonfiction titles are coming slow for me again this year.
The best ten fiction books to this point, ranked in order, are these:
1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)
2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)
3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)
4. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)
5. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)
6. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)
7. To the End of the Land – David Grossman (literary novel from Israel)
8. Resolution – Denise Mina (crime fiction from Scotland)
9. Bad Intentions – Karin Fossum (crime fiction from Norway)
10. The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson – (British novel)
Even though I’ve only read 10 nonfiction titles so far, I will go ahead and rank them:
1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)
2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)
3. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)
4. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)
5. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)
6. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)
7. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)
8. Look Away Dixieland – James B. Twitchell (Civil War History)
9. Scorecasting – Tobias J. Moskowitz, Jon Wortheim (sports)
10.Heart of the City – Ariel Sabar (sociology)
I found last year that making this a “live” list results in a more meaningful (more accurate) list than I’ve come up with in previous years when I’ve waited until late December to start the process, so I’ll be doing an update once a month or so.