February 2009 Book Picks
People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
Amazon Best of the Month, January 2008: One of the earliest Jewish religious volumes to be illuminated with images, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived centuries of purges and wars thanks to people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, has turned the intriguing but sparely detailed history of this precious volume into an emotionally rich, thrilling fictionalization that retraces its turbulent journey. In the hands of Hanna Heath, an impassioned rare-book expert restoring the manuscript in 1996 Sarajevo, it yields clues to its guardians and whereabouts: an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair. While readers experience crucial moments in the book's history through a series of fascinating, fleshed-out short stories, Hanna pursues its secrets scientifically, and finds that some interests will still risk everything in the name of protecting this treasure. A complex love story, thrilling mystery, vivid history lesson, and celebration of the enduring power of ideas, People of the Book will surely be hailed as one of the best of 2008. --Mari Malcolm
Simplify by Tod Goldberg
From the author of the acclaimed novel Living Dead Girl, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, come twelve haunting stories about people caught somewhere between love and madness. Simplify mines the often surreal terrain of people on the margins of life: from the man with a photo of Elvis bleeding on his wall in "Comeback Special," to the profoundly troubled boy genius of the title story "Simplify," to the family that must traverse "The Distance Between Us" to finally get to the truth about their son the murderer, each story hums with sharp drama, mystery, wonder, and startling humor. Simplify, the first collection of short fiction by Tod Goldberg, portrays a world where redemption, hope, and violence are never too far apart. It is the inaugural volume in the Other Voices Book Series.
One Fifth Avenue (Hardcover) by Candace Bushnell
Sex in the City goes middle-aged, mordant and slapstick in Bushnell's chronicle of writers, actors and Wall Street whizzes clashing at One Fifth Avenue, a Greenwich Village art deco jewel crammed with regal rich, tarty upstarts and misguided lovers. When a Queen of Society dies, a vicious scramble for her penthouse apartment ensues, and it's attorney Annalisa and her hedge-funder husband, Paul Rice, who land the palatial pad, roiling the building's rivalries. There's Billy Litchfield, an art dealer who slobbers over the wealthy; strivers Mindy and James Gooch, and their tech-savvy 13-year-old Sam, the most hilariously bitter (and strangely successful) family in the building; gossip columnist Enid Merle and her screenwriter nephew, Philip Oakland, who struggle to uphold traditions and their souls; actress Schiffer Diamond, who lands a hit TV series, and her old love; and Lola Fabrikant, a cunning Atlanta gold digger whose greatest ambition is to become Carrie Bradshaw. Here are bloggers and bullies, misfits and misanthropes, dear hearts and black-hearts, dogfights and catty squalls spun into a darkly humorous chick-lit saga. (Sept.)
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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
Amazon Best of the Month, December 2007: Legendary R&B icon Ray Charles claimed that he was "born with music inside me," and neurologist Oliver Sacks believes Ray may have been right. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain examines the extreme effects of music on the human brain and how lives can be utterly transformed by the simplest of harmonies. With clinical studies covering the tragic (individuals afflicted by an inability to connect with any melody) and triumphant (Alzheimer's patients who find order and comfort through music), Sacks provides an erudite look at the notion that humans are truly a "musical species." --Dave Callanan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Fear of Falling by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich charges that the U.S. middle class (especially professionals) has retreated from liberalism to a meaner, more selfish outlook. Within this shift, she claims, the New Right successfully waged a spurious, sloganeering campaign asserting that liberalism represents the interests of a narrow elite. In an analysis that should be a starting point for future debate, Ehrenreich, author of six books and columnist for Mother Jones and Ms. , exposes many myths and shibboleths, among them the media's "discovery" of an alleged general rightward drift, the supposed hedonism of yuppies and the notion that most hardhats are conservatives. Faulting liberals' "shameful silence" on Reagan's economic and social policies, she urges the middle class to join America's working-class majority in an effort to redistribute wealth and power downward to those who need it most.
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