In school, we all learned about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but there was another book published around the same time that had an important impact on the discussion of slavery in America. That book was Solomon Northup’s memoir 12 Years a Slave. Northup was born a free man and lived most of his life in New York. In 1841, he was lured to Washington, D.C. where he was beaten, drugged and sold into slavery. For the next 12 years, he was a slave on a series of plantations in Louisiana until his family was able to find him and bring him home to New York in 1853. 12 Years a Slave is his unflinching firsthand account of what he experienced and witnessed during that time.
When it was published in 1853, Northup’s memoir became a bestseller, selling over 30,000 copies. After the Civil War, the book was out-of-print for many years. It was rediscovered by two scholars in the 1960s and reprinted in 1968. Now, it has been adapted into a film that brings the horrors of Northup’s experience to the big screen. Like many of us, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, was surprised when his partner brought the book to his attention. He writes, “The book blew both our minds: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror and the humanity. The book read like a film script, ready to be shot. I could not believe that I had never heard of this book.”
The movie, which the New York Post calls “brutally powerful and emotionally devastating,” is already generating Oscar buzz. The film’s A-list cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard. The trailer is available here.
Amanda Knox is back in the news again with her retrial underway, and Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois couldn’t have come at a better time. duBois maintains that her book isn’t an actual account of Knox’s experience, but the story was inspired by the case.
Much like Knox, Lily studies abroad for a semester, though her experience is in Argentina and not Italy. Lily and another student, Katy, live with a host family. Initially, Lily is enthralled with her new surroundings in Buenos Aires as she goes to class and people-watches at cafés, but eventually she becomes bored and takes on a job at a local bar. After Katy is found stabbed to death, Lily, a coworker and her boyfriend are all implicated in the murder, and Lily is taken to jail.
The story is told from the perspectives of several key characters. The reader first sees Lily’s point of view as she arrives in Buenos Aires and starts to explore her new surroundings. The perspective then changes to her parents, the prosecuting attorney and Lily’s boyfriend, Sebastian.
Readers will feel like jurors at Lily’s trial. The conclusion to this story is more resolute than Knox’s, but the reader is still left to make up his or her own mind, and no two readers will have the same experience. Interested in a reading about the real Amanda Knox? Checkout her new memoir titled Waiting to be Heard.
“The paranoia was fulfilled” – that’s how Joan Didion described the murders carried out in 1969 by Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers known as “The Family.” Translation? The late sixties were already a time of intense political change and civil unrest. Throw in sensationalized murders and an equally dramatic trial, and this period was officially the craziest and most unsettling in American history, no matter one’s political or ideological leanings. In Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn traces the hardscrabble origins of the boy who grew up to become the infamous cult leader and murderer. Although Manson did have a somewhat unstable home life, he exaggerated or fabricated childhood tales of woe to win sympathy and devotion from his followers. In the true fashion of an “opportunistic sociopath,” as Guinn describes him, Manson used skills obtained in prison, like Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People program, to manipulate followers and bring them under his control. His teachings that “Helter Skelter”, the end of an orderly American society, was close at hand led to the “Tate murders,” where pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others were brutally killed. Additionally, his followers murdered several other people before and after this most infamous crime.
Guinn does an excellent job alternating national and world history with Manson’s development, meticulously chronicling his childhood and adolescence in and out of reform schools, his young adulthood as a petty repeat criminal, and his time in Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood that was the epicenter for the darker side of the hippie movement where Manson did much of his initial recruiting. Those who enjoyed Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders will appreciate this in-depth account of these suspenseful and chilling crimes. As James Lee Burke writes in his cover review: “Hang on, reader. This is a rip-roaring ride you won’t forget.”
For three years, 10 months and 12 days, Regina LeClaire was held captive, the sex slave of a sadistic madman. It was only a bizarre twist of fate that led to her liberation and return to her family. Now, almost seven years later, she continues to see her therapist weekly to help cope with the post-traumatic stress and daily fears that keep her imprisoned in a self-imposed isolation. Everything changes, though, when 12-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued after being trapped for 13 months in a similar type of hell. Tilly’s parents ask Reeve, as she is now known, to help their daughter readjust to life outside of captivity. There is a significant difference between these two situations, however. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tilly had more than one abuser. The man she dubbed “Mister Monster” is still out there and she knows he is watching.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton is a gritty, suspenseful story that is as unsettling as it is spellbinding. The reader is, at turns, in awe of Reeve’s courage as she relives her past to help Tilly, and frightened as the villain continues his surveillance of his recently freed prize. Notable author Chevy Stevens summed it up best when she stated, “The Edge of Normal is a heart-pounding thrill ride that had me holding my breath to the very end. With a compelling, tough-as-nails heroine and a truly terrifying villain, this is a book you won’t soon forget.”
This is Norton’s debut fiction novel, and it has already garnered the Royal Palm Literary Award. Norton has previously had success as a true crime writer with The New York Times bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box which was co-written with Christine McGuire. This horrific account of a woman kept in a box under her captor’s bed except when brought out to be tortured has become required reading for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and obviously inspired some aspects of The Edge of Normal. Though not a novel for the faint of heart, this is an excellently written story that has all the markings of another bestseller for Ms. Norton.
Journalist Allen Salkin tells the story of one of the most amazing success stories in television history in From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Today, the Food Network is a major entity that generates over $1 billion in revenue annually and reaches over 100 million homes. The network is known for making its stars household names, and both the network and its stars have tie-in cookbooks as well as their own lines of cookware, utensils and small appliances. The network even has its own magazine that features articles about food trends, lifestyle tips and, of course, recipes from its stable of chefs. In October 1993, when what was then called the Television Food Network came on the air, this success was beyond even their wildest imaginations. At that time, there were only a few celebrity chefs and even fewer television chefs. Stars like Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jeff Smith all appeared on PBS or the occasional cooking segment on a show like Good Morning America. No one could have imagined how the network would evolve or its meteoric rise to success.
Now, in time for the Food Network’s 20th anniversary, Salkin brings readers behind-the-scenes stories from the beginning to its current mind-boggling level of success. With this many big personalities, you know that it’s hot in this kitchen. Readers won’t believe the reactions of a couple of stars when their shows came to an end. They may be even more surprised by how much some stars struggled to become comfortable cooking on camera. When Alton Brown came up with his idea for Good Eats, he originally wrote down the three things he wanted to combine to create it. “Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, Monty Python.” During her first meeting with network executives, Rachael Ray announced, “I clearly don’t belong here, I’m not a chef. You’ve been duped.”
Salkin was given inside access to the network and its employees, including executives and stars, so he can bring readers the astonishing — and sometimes legendary — stories of what actually took place behind the scenes. He doesn’t hold back. From Scratch includes quotes, documents and scandalous stories that will surprise even longtime fans.
Yesterday, New Zealander Eleanor Catton was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary accolade, for her second novel, The Luminaries. At 28, Catton is the youngest author to be honored with this award, and her book, at 832 pages, is the wordiest winner.
The Luminaries is the story of interwoven lives set during the New Zealand gold rush of 1866. Prostitute Anna is arrested the day that three men with connections to her disappear from the same coastal New Zealand town. Catton’s remarkable web of unsolved crimes and mysteries creates an intricate plot with memorable characters. The Luminaries is rich in historical and geographical detail yet delivers this haunting story within a story in a contemporary tone.
Other titles on the shortlist this year include A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Harvest by Jim Crace, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Earlier this year the Man Booker Prize Foundation stirred up controversy when it announced that the field of eligible candidates will be broadened going forward. The prize will now be eligible to writers from any country, including the United States, as long as the book is published in English and in the United Kingdom.
Montana Moore is a flight attendant with the dream of finding and marrying her perfect man in David Talbert’s Baggage Claim. After witnessing her mother’s fourth marriage and her younger sister’s surprise engagement, Montana seems destined to always be the bridesmaid.
While weighed down with baggage from past relationships, Montana remains an incurable romantic with her head in the frothy clouds of the friendly skies. She is determined not to show up to her sister’s engagement party dateless and deal with the pity and scorn of her family. Her resolution leads her to concoct a crazy husband-finding plan over the course of 30 days and 30,000 miles. Potential suitors include a young music producer, a respected pastor and a city councilman with sights on higher political office. This romantic quest is filled with laughs, life lessons and Montana’s ultimate realization that love may have been close to home the whole time.
David Talbert is a Morgan State University graduate and a highly respected playwright. He has written and directed 14 nationally acclaimed touring productions that have earned him 24 NAACP nominations and wins for Best Playwright of the Year and the prestigious Trailblazer Award. Talbert also received the New York Literary Award for Best Playwright of the Year. With the film adaptation of Baggage Claim, Talbert is the first African American filmmaker to adapt and direct his own novel. The film boasts an all-star cast that includes Taye Diggs, Paula Patton and Djimon Honsou, and is in theaters now. Check out the trailer for a sneak peek at this entertaining ensemble.
Canadian master of the short story Alice Munro has been named the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy. Only the 13th woman in the history of the award to win, Munro has been one of the rumored front-runners in recent years, and prior to the announcement had been running second by oddsmakers Ladbrooke’s, slightly behind Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The first from her country to win the award, she is also the first North American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993.
Munro, 82, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, and has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize on multiple occasions. Her signature style of writing often evokes small-town life in Ontario and other parts of Canada, often viewed through the observational lens of ordinary women with extraordinary stories to be told. Often covering the emotional and literary depth of novels, her realistic short stories develop characters, setting and plot using an economy of words and pages.
Earlier this year, Munro announced her retirement from writing. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be presented in Stockholm on December 10.
Memories are powerful entities. Sometimes they are strong enough to send us running from all that we fear and love straight into the unknown. Jacqueline has escaped from her painful past in Liberia by traveling across the shores of Northern Africa and Greece in Alexander Maksik’s second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift. Quiet, introspective and even explosively revealing, Jacqueline’s haunting past slowly unfolds throughout the novel as she tries to find the courage to face her tragic losses one by one. With each revelation that surfaces, we learn more about Jacqueline and how she has come to be a lonely, homeless woman drifting from place to place.
A Marker to Measure Drift examines how life can suddenly change without warning because of the violent actions of others, especially for Jacqueline as she was catapulted from her life of luxury to sleeping in a cave with only a handful of possessions and her memories to keep her company. How do you lose everything and everyone but still find the strength to go forward? How do you trust and open up to someone again? How do you forgive yourself for being alive when your loved ones are not? These are the questions Jacqueline asks herself over and over, until finally, she finds her answers. Readers of Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, and Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls, will find themselves immersed in Maksik’s evocative storytelling.
Punk-rock bassist and Soto Zen monk Brad Warner’s There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places takes its title from a well-known Zen Buddhist quotation. Warner believes that it “expresses the Zen Buddhist approach to the matter of God very succinctly.” As he explores the question of what God means to Buddhists and what non-Buddhists can learn from Zen teachings, Warner addresses spiritual and practical considerations through his experiences.
Having recently traveled the world doing book tours, spiritual retreats, and lectures, the author considers the roles of the body and mind and how people of various religious and cultural backgrounds conceptualize them. He travels to the Holy Land and meets and stays with an elderly Palestinian peace activist who owns a hostel that only takes donations. Warner also finds himself teaching and learning in places where Zen Buddhism is quite unknown, such as in Mexico and Northern Ireland. In one section, he discusses how Buddhism rejects the common Western perception of the body and mind as separate. The opposite, in fact, is a core belief of Buddhists, as the Heart Sutra explains there is no division between body and mind.
A good choice as a beginning-to-intermediate look at how Zen Buddhism and Western traditions can complement and contrast, Warner’s conversational musings are accessible to anyone wanting to think about his or her own spiritual background and understanding. Readers of comparative religion authors such as Karen Armstrong and Thich Nhat Hanh will find much to consider in this thought-provoking book.