In Jane Smiley's Some Luck, on a farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon begin their married lives in 1920 in the time-honored tradition of past generations. Walter ponders fertile fields and chooses good bottom land for his farm. Rosanna becomes the consummate farmer’s wife and produces five children, all with vastly different personalities: Frank, brilliant but fiercely independent; Joe, whose gentle spirit and love of the land make him the heir apparent to the farm; Lillian, the beautiful but innocent angel; Mary Elizabeth, destined to fate; Clare, her father’s favorite; and Henry, always thirsting for knowledge.
Spanning three generations, covering the coming of age of America, Some Luck is the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley. Smiley deftly weaves historical events throughout her narrative, painting a portrait of one family as it endures the Great Depression, drought, social unrest and burgeoning communism, through World War II and its aftermath. With a sure hand, Smiley portrays each of these events as they affect farmers and laborers, town and city, America and the world. Whether on the farm or in a war, everyone must endure the hardship and the vagaries of life and fate. As Grandma observes, “But what would we do without some luck?” Smiley also subtly reminds us of the importance of family and friends, as they support each other through trying times and happy moments. As Walter and Rosanna survey their family at a Thanksgiving feast, they realize all they have achieved and conquered and that, by forming this family, they have created 23 unique stories that will resonate through succeeding generations.
Some Luck is the first installment in a trilogy. Once you have laughed and cried and shared all their stories, you will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.
This year marks three important anniversaries for everyone’s favorite reindeer. In 1939, advertising copywriter Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the request of Chicago’s Montgomery Ward department store. The retailer wanted to use the story in a promotional booklet for its customers. That year, Montgomery Ward distributed over 2 million copies of the booklet featuring the story of Rudolph. A new 75th anniversary edition of May’s original rhyming story was just published with beautiful new illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo. This oversized book’s rich illustrations make it a great way to share this version of Rudolph’s story.
Ten years later, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted the story into the unforgettable song, and Gene Autry's recording topped the charts in December 1949. From there, Rudolph’s popularity skyrocketed. Then, on December 6, 1964, a new Christmas tradition was born. That night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on NBC. The stop motion animation TV special narrated by Burl Ives now airs on CBS each year, and watching it has become an annual tradition for many families.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the animated TV special, two new books have been released featuring its familiar plot. Thea Feldman’s retelling of the story combined with Erwin Madrid’s illustrations, which are very similar to the TV special’s art, make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Classic Story a sure bet for die-hard Rudolph fans. Families with younger children may prefer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Special Edition Pop-up Book. This shorter version of the story with large-scale pop-ups using movie stills to capture memorable scenes from the TV special will become a family favorite.
Ask parents to share their deepest fear and, inevitably, it involves something tragic happening to their child. In Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall: A Father’s Memoir in 424 Steps, Mainardi writes about the intersection of grandeur and error which led to his son’s disabling cerebral palsy. On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss examines modern medicine’s sometimes controversial practice of vaccination.
424. That’s the number of footsteps taken by Tito Mainardi as he and his father walk to Venice Hospital where he was born, and where physician error resulted in his brain injury. It’s also the number of brief passages that make up this small memoir in which Mainardi finds connections between art, architecture, music and history, and relates them back to Tito and his illness. Profoundly moving and structured by concentric links, The Fall demonstrates that tragedy and beauty may not be such a dichotomy after all.
Red-faced and screaming or silently stoic: either way, it can be tough as a parent to put a child through the often painful series of recommended inoculations. Even more difficult would be wondering if your child’s autism was triggered by a vaccine or passing on those shots only to see a child hospitalized with whooping cough. Biss looks at the varied reasons behind a parent’s decision to decline immunizations, which include African and Middle Eastern Muslim fears of a western plot to harm their children via the polio vaccine to American concerns about greedy pharmaceutical companies or political agendas pushing unnecessary and invasive medicine — all of which compromise the “herd immunity” protecting communities from disease outbreak. On Immunity provides a thoughtful view on the impact of vaccines on contemporary public health.
War hero and Olympian Louis Zamperini died last July at the age of 97, but was able to finish Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life with co-author David Rensin. This inspirational volume is filled with Zamperini’s wisdom and insight garnered from a long life of remarkable experiences.
Zamperini was an American World War II prisoner of war survivor, an Olympic distance runner and, in his later years, a popular, inspirational speaker. His remarkable life has absorbed readers in both his autobiography, Devil at My Heels and Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling Unbroken. Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In is not a rehash of prior books. Instead readers learn more about the man, his personality and his will to endure from previously untold stories. Faced with one horrific event after another, including a plane crash and a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp, Zamperini refused to give up and chose to view hardships as challenges. After the war, the adventures continued and even included a showdown with Frank Sinatra! Zamperini is honest in answering the questions he received repeatedly from fans and in revealing his secrets to living an honorable but exciting faith-based life.
Zamperini’s incredible life story will be brought to the big screen next month with Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Unbroken. Watch the trailer of this film, already generating award buzz, written by the Coen brothers and featuring Jack O’Donnell.
We asked our bloggers to tell us about the books for which they are most thankful. Here's what they said:
I am thankful for Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I discovered this book in high school and it introduced me to Christie's obsessive detective Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells. It turned me into a lifelong Christie fan, and I reread her novels to this day – even when I know the ending.
The book I am thankful for is Persuasion by Jane Austen. The heroine of this novel, Anne Elliot, finds happiness with her true love after overcoming quite a few obstacles on the way. This story taught me to never give up, to believe in myself and not to be easily persuaded by other people.
Years ago, my friend Andrea and I started a book club. The first book we read was roundly disliked and we worried that none of our friends would return. And so I am thankful for the second book we read, Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. Our club loved it and 14 years later, we are still going strong.
I'm thankful for the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. Anytime I need a nice light read I reach for one of these books and, because I've read them all, it doesn't matter which one I grab. They are perfect for vacations or just a quick pick-me-up.
Some people have comfort food; I have comfort books. When I’m really stressed, I love to reread Julie Garwood’s historical romances, especially The Bride. It’s soothing to lose myself in Jamie and Alec’s familiar story, and the best part is that a happily ever after is guaranteed!
Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game is the book that made me a lifelong reader, and for that I am eternally grateful. It is the first book I can remember not wanting to end and the first book that I immediately re-read. I still turn to it to today, and it always brings back the memory and magic of falling in love with reading.
I am thankful for The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan. It's smart, funny and fast, but what really makes me thankful it exists is knowing that it's going to inspire a new generation of readers, historians and archeologists.
I am thankful for The Architecture of Happiness, written by Alan De Botton and narrated by Simon Vance. At the time I read — or rather, heard — it, I was working in a white-walled basement, lit by florescent overheads and conspicuously lacking in windows. While not the most likely structure to inspire happiness, my surroundings acted as the perfect blank foil against which to explore De Botton’s meandering philosophy of the relationship between architecture and contentment. What makes a place special? What makes us feel at home in a place we’ve never before visited? What indelible impressions might we leave in a place where we have dwelt for many years? De Botton first raised these questions for me in that basement and I have been discovering the answers, bit by bit, ever since.
I’m thankful for Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake because it was my first leap into literary fiction. I remember shelving it over and over again at the Towson Branch back in 2010, and eventually I decided to read it myself because the cake on the cover looked so appetizing. I was slow and careful in my approach (as I would be with cake, so I could savor every bite) but I ended up devouring the book in a week — which is really fast for me — and talking about it with one of my favorite librarians. Bender has a knack for weaving the perfect touch of fairytale magic into her ebullient, wispy and enchanting prose, which makes every one of her stories a wondrous read.
Of all the hundreds of books I’ve read over the years, I’m most grateful for Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series. Every week, as soon as I got my allowance, we went straight to bookstore so I could purchase the next book in the series. Nancy instilled a life-long love of reading, and a particular passion for mystery.
I’m thankful for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school. I’ve reread it countless times since, and it gets better each time!
I’m thankful that E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was around when I was a kid. I can remember being in bed and leaning against the wall, worried that Wilbur would die but so glad he had Fern and Charlotte on his side. It’s a magical journey about friendship and the passage of time.
The book I’m thankful for is Dominion by Matthew Scully. Prior to reading it I had a general, superficial understanding of animal welfare concepts. But Scully’s even-handed explanations of the philosophical and moral responsibilities humans have for animals opened my eyes to this critical issue of our time.
Amy Poehler wants you to know that writing a book is very, very hard to do. She handles the pressure well in her memoir, Yes Please.
Delving into her deep-rooted love for all things comedy, Poehler shares hilarious stories from her performing past. She shares how, as a 10-year-old playing the role of Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard Of Oz, she was able to get her first audience to laugh and how she has been chasing that feeling ever since. From her college years through her work with improv troupe (and later Comedy Central show) The Upright Citizens Brigade, Poehler stresses the value of hard work as the source of her success. Fans of her work on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will not be disappointed either — several chapters share inside jokes, back stories and funny mishaps on the sets of both beloved shows.
Her vast work experience isn’t the only engaging part of this memoir: Poehler also gets personal. Her reflections on motherhood and raising her two boys, Archie and Abel, demonstrate her creativity in parenting. She doesn’t directly address her divorce with comedian Will Arnett, but does offer a hilarious chapter on some divorce books she would like to someday write, such as “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” and “The Holidays Are Ruined!” There are lots of stories about her friendships with recognizable names, like Tina Fey and Louis C.K. Best friend Seth Meyers also contributes a short chapter.
Inter-chapters feature some interesting “advice,” and the book shows off some great keepsakes: a letter from Hillary Clinton welcoming Archie into the world, a signed photo of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and many photographs and relics from her childhood, including poems she wrote when she was little.
This memoir is perfect for any fan of Amy Poehler, her work or comedy in general. Her wealth of experience in a variety of venues and acts will inspire and educate those looking to “break into the biz,” and her ideas about everything from performing sketch comedy nine-months pregnant to how our cell phones will eventually kill us will amuse and entertain any reader. After reading, pick up some of her best work, like Parks and Recreation or Saturday Night Live: The Best of Amy Poehler on DVD.
Blake Butler’s 300,000,000 is a jungle; readers require courage and a literary machete to traverse this five-part psychological horror story. Told through the mediums of a manifesto left in the wake of a heinous murder spree, a first-hand account of the police investigation into the atrocities, and a disjointed recollection stitching the pieces together with plenty of room for the viscera to seep out, 300,000,000 is filled with rare glimpses of toxic and transcendent ravings.
Gretch Gravey is 300,000,000’s patient zero of homeland terror, supplicating and drugging teenage metal heads in his city to transform them into thralls of murder. He releases his ever-expanding army of brainwashed husks into the suburbs to kidnap people and bring them back to his house to be killed and buried in a sub-basement crypt. Gravey’s ultimate goal is the utter decimation of America by its own pudgy hands, and his successes are unhindered despite his eventual incarceration. Investigating police officer E.N. Flood feels himself being consumed by Gravey’s residual evil and attempts to chronicle his descent into madness in his notes, which are actively redacted by other members of the force who have succumbed to Gravey’s will.
As if Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club and Damned were chewed up and spat out in a bilious, meaty mass, 300,000,000 is disgusting and schizophrenic, yet somehow delicious in its depravity. Readers who enjoy wandering through their pitch-black houses when it’s so late that it’s actually early will be tickled by the way Blake Butler makes them question their sanity.
Award-winning author Molly Gloss’ newest novel has a transitional setting that begins on a ranch in Oregon in 1938, but the narrator looks at the past and whispers of present day. Falling from Horses is a layered work of fiction that strategically weaves together a man’s whole life by looking at the events that helped define it.
The protagonist, Bud Frazer, is the son of humble tenant ranchers. His upbringing instilled in him a way of life that Bud decides to use for a career, though not in the way his parents anticipated. Upon leaving home as a new adult, he tries his hand in the rodeo circuit before deciding to move to Hollywood and become a stunt rider for Western films. Eager to rub elbows with all the big names of the day, Bud packs his bags and hops a bus south. En route to Hollywood, Bud meets Lily, an aspiring screenwriter, and in their short time together on that bus trip they fall into a platonic relationship that spans a lifetime.
Those that have enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses should pick this one up and give it a go. Like McCarthy, Gloss’ work is a character-driven narrative of a young man trying to find his path in the twisting and turning maze of life.
Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) hosted the the 65th annual National Book Awards last night in New York City. Redeployment by Phil Klay was the surprise winner of the Fiction Award and the Nonfiction Award went to Evan Osnos for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China. Jacqueline Woodson won the Young People’s Literature Award for Brown Girl Dreaming and Louise Gluck was the recipient of the Poetry Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night.
Klay’s debut collection of short stories is centered on the war in Iraq, while Osnos used his experience as a Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker in writing his award-winning tome. Woodson’s memoir in verse of her childhood proved that the third time is indeed the charm, “I'm so grateful to be here. It's my third time a finalist, my first time a winner."
British author Neil Gaiman presented Ursula K. Le Guin with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for work spanning half a century. LeGuin, a fantasy and science fiction writer, brought the house down with her impassioned acceptance speech which included a defense of science fiction and a screed against Amazon.
The National Book Awards, sponsored by the National Book Foundation, are one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States and are chosen by a panel of judges, many of whom are writers.
Meg Wolitzer received the attention of most of the top ten books lists of 2013 with her stand-out novel, The Interestings, which tells the story of a group of adults who befriended each other at an arts camp decades before. Now she is getting into the Young Adult literature game with her new novel Belzhar.
Jam Gallahue thought her life was perfect: She was very much in love with her handsome British exchange student, Reeve Maxfield. When Reeve dies suddenly, Jam is thrown into an emotional tailspin and is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, yet highly intelligent teens.” At The Wooden Barn, Jam is surprised to be enrolled into a class called Special Topics in English. She’s even more surprised when there are only five students in the class.
The teacher, Mrs. Quennell, has hand-selected each of these five students to participate in the class because they’ve experienced a deep trauma: There’s Casey, bound to a wheelchair; Griffin, who is carrying a horrible secret; Mark, suffering from his parents’ divorce; Sierra, whose brother has gone missing; and, of course, Jam. The class is to study the work of Sylvia Plath for the entire semester. She gives each student a red leather journal and requires them to write in it twice a week. Jam is especially hesitant to write her feelings, but when she does, strange things start happening. Reeve appears and things are better than ever between them, but Jam knows their time is limited. Is she really able to connect with him again on the other side?
As each of the characters in Special Topics reclaim the part of the lives they are missing through the mysterious red journals, they meet in secret to try to get answers about traveling to the place they call Belzhar: What happens when the journal runs out of pages, and what happens if they never want to leave?
The obvious choice to pair with this novel is Silvia Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. The influence of Plath’s work is on every page, even beyond the group discussions of her work in the Special Topics class. Fans of Plath will be excited that a new generation of readers, through this novel, can discover her genius for the first time. Perfect for teens experiencing a tough break up or adults who remember those adolescent pangs, Belzhar speaks to the part of our hearts that have trouble letting go.