Here’s a one-sentence summary of each review on this blog. To read the review, use the Search box on the site to search for the author or title.
The Fall: A Father’s Memoir in 424 Steps. By Diogo Mainardi. Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. A Venice-based Brazilian writer finds his life transformed by the “cosmic optimism” of a son with cerebral palsy in this memoir in the form of a book-length lyric essay.
The Dunderheads. By Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by David Roberts. A comeuppance awaits a cruel, large-bosomed teacher in a picture book for young school-age children that has as a subtext: Some women with big breasts do have small brains.
Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue. By William Logan. The latest collection of poetry criticism by a poet who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism for The Undiscovered Country. (Briefly mentioned.)
We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. By Gillian Gill. A good dual biography of England’s longest-reigning queen and her prince consort by a scholar who excels as a storyteller if not as a prose stylist.
Hons and Rebels. By Jessica Mitford. A memoir of the author’s storied family of English aristocrats, which included six gifted daughters and a son killed in World War II. (Briefly mentioned.)
Love in a Cold Climate. By Nancy Mitford. A beautiful English heiress flouts convention by marrying a man who had been her mother’s lover in a comic novel and a modern classic, inspired partly by the life of the author’s half-batty upper-class family between the world wars.
Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. By Larry Tye. A new biography of the pitcher Satchel Paige, who became nearly as famous for his epigrammatic wit as for the bullet-speed pitching that endeared him to fans, first in the Negro Leagues and then for the Cleveland Indians and other teams. (Briefly mentioned.)
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. By Ann B. Ross. A rich Presbyterian widow in a small town in North Carolina learns that her dead husband has left her a startling legacy — an illegitimate 9-year-old son — in the first of ten novels that are more irreverent than those Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series but cut from a similar bolt of pop fiction.
The Pains of April. By Frank Turner Hollon. A 86-year-old retired lawyer looks back on his life from a Gulf Coast rest home, where he has held onto more of his marbles than some of the other residents. (Briefly mentioned.)
The Naked and the Dead. By Norman Mailer. Nowhere near as good as some of the 20th-century war novels often mentioned in the same breath, such as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms. (Briefly noted.)
House Lust: America’s Obsession With Our Homes. By Daniel McGinn. A Newsweek correspondent’s lively exploration of why — even in the Great Recession — Americans covet ever-larger homes full of luxuries like mud rooms, brushed-nickel toilet-paper holders, or countertops made from Giallo Ornamental Granite imported from Brazil.
How to Be a Mobilian: A Guide for Old Salts and Newcomers. By David C. Barnette. A gifted Alabama humorist tweaks the unwritten social codes of the Mobile upper crust in a book that describes, among other things, the four seasons of the city’s men: “football, hunting, Mardi Gras and fishing.”
A Summons to Memphis. By Peter Taylor. One of the great American writers of the late 20th century shows how a move from Nashville to Memphis has reverberated over time — all but destroyed a family that was once a model of Southern gentility — in a novel that deservedly won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. By Flannery O’ connor Selected and edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Better known for her novels and short stories, O’Connor proves that she was equally good at nonfiction in this wonderful collection of essays on life, literature, and peacocks, birds that captivated her.
North Toward Home. By Willie Morris. One of the great modern memoirs of a Southern boyhood, written by the late celebrated editor of Harper’s.
The Ponder Heart. By Eudora Welty. A comic novella about a rich and kind-hearted uncle put on trial for a murder he didn’t commit, full of examples of Welty’s wonderful ear for the dialect of many Southern groups.
Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes. By Tamar Yellin. An award-winning English writer’s superb collection of 10 linked short stories about geographically or otherwise displaced characters, inspired by accounts of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books. By Maureen Corrigan. A critic for NPR’s Fresh Air serves up a memoir in the form of an essay collection on the pleasures of reading. (Briefly mentioned.)
Death Takes a Holiday: A Comedy in Three Acts. By Alberto Casella. To find out why people fear him, death disguises himself as a prince suspends all activity for three days in a supernatural comedy that asks: Is love stronger than death?
Try to Tell the Story: A Memoir. By David Thomson. A film critic remembers growing up in postwar London with a father who left home but pretended he hadn’t.
Walt Disney’s Cinderella: A Little Golden Books Classic. Story adapted by Jane Werner. Illustrated by Retta Scott Worcester. Surprise! The tie-in edition for the 1950 Disney animated film has a few strengths that other versions of the fairy tale don’t.
What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. By Thomas Frank. A bracing and often witty 2004 bestseller that makes a fine guide to the political roots of the current economic mess.
Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. By Ruth Reichl. The editor-in-chief of Gourmet remembers her difficult mother, who may or may not or may not have been correctly diagnosed as manic depressive, in an elegant but overpriced memoir.
What a Great Kid! Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Tell Kids “You’re Loved” A 120-page Hallmark Gift Book, full of tear-out coupons that say things like, “Not today! Pick your least favorite chore and SKIP doing it today!”
My Little Red Book. By Rachel Kauder-Nalebuff. Women and girls remember their first periods in a poorly edited (and at times misleading) collection of true stories in which the best entries — Gloria Steinem’s trailblazing essay, “If Men Could Menstruate” and Jill Bialosky’s poem, “The Wrath of the Gods, 1970” — depart from the oral-history form used elsewhere.
Baby Farm Animals. By Garth Williams. Ages 3 and under. Amazing value in an age of overpriced children’s books: a Little Golden Books Classic that costs $2.99 in hardcover and has and words and pictures by the illustrator of Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie.
Middlemarch. By George Eliot. The first great multiplot novel in English tells the wonderful story of a young woman who longs to be useful as it develops the theme that “that there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”
Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way. By André Bernard. An engaging collection of anecdotes and commentary about how books got their titles (including the amusing story of how John Steinbeck’s widow found The Grapes of Wrath sold in Japan as Angry Raisins).
The Little Yellow Leaf. By Carin Berger. Ages 2 and up. An oak leaf doesn’t want to leave the tree when autumn comes in a lovely parable about how the support of a friend can help you perform a necessary task.
The Host. By Stephenie Meyer. A woman wages a host-versus-graft struggle with a new soul, inserted in her body by aliens, in a creepily Freudian tale written at a fourth-grade reading level.
Valentine’s Day: Holidays, Festivals, & Celebrations. Ages 4 and up. By Ann Heinrich. Illustrated by Sharon Holm. A picture book about how children can celebrate Feb. 14 that includes more than a dozen short poems about the day. (Briefly mentioned.)
WordPress for Dummies: First Edition. By Lisa Sabin-Wilson. This guide based on WordPress 2.3 (to be replaced in early 2009 by a second edition for 2.7) focuses on WordPress.org and WordPress MUblogs and gives short shrift to the WordPress.com blogs that may attract most of the “dummies.”
The Reader. By Bernhard Schlink. An overrated novel about the consequences of a love affair between a teenager in postwar Germany and a former S.S. guard, built on a premise that New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane rightly described as “morally famished.” (Briefly mentioned.)
I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes (An I Can Read Book 1) By Alvin Schwartz. Illustrated by Syd Hoff. Ages 2 and up. A wonderfully entertaining early reader fun of classics like “I scream, / You scream, / We all scream / For ice cream.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. A sunny epistolary novel about single female journalist in London who learns of an offbeat book club on Guernsey, recently occupied by Nazis, and finds that a visit to the island transforms her life. [Reading group guide posted the same day and saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category.]
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis. Tuesdays with more jewelry. [Reading group guide posted the same day and saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category.]
Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. By Giles Chapman. An entertaining collection of facts about many kinds of cars that brims with anecdotes and lists with inspired titles like “Dictators’ cars” (“Rafael Trujillo – Chrysler Crown Imperial”).
The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story. By Susan Hill. New faces mysteriously appear in a painting of masked revelers in Venice, bought at auction by a Cambridge don, in this well-crafted neo-Victorian ghost story by the author of The Woman in Black.
All the Poems of Muriel Spark. By Muriel Spark. Yes, the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie also wrote poems, gathered in a collection notable partly for “The Goose,” which puts a wry spin on the tale of the goose that laid a golden egg. (Briefly mentioned)
Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. A well-written history of the Bacardi rum family, intertwined with that of Cuba, from its founding in 1862 through Fidel Castro’s resignation and his brother Raúl’s succession in February 2008. (Books I Didn’t Finish)
Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book of Poems. Illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artists. Selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White and Jan Carr. Ages 2 and up. A handsomely illustrated collection of modern and classic poems divided into categories such as “Spooky Poems,” “Story Poems” and poems about animals, people and the weather. (Briefly mentioned.)
Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown? An “A” Is for Amber Book. By Paula Danziger. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Ages 4-8. The pun-loving Amber Brown gets ready for trick-or-treating and a school Halloween party in an early reader spun off from Danziger’s popular series for older children.
Grandmas Trick-or-Treat. By Emily Arnold McCully. Ages 4-8. Two grandmothers — one of whom wears a nearly indecent miniskirt — defy stereotypes when they thwart a bully’s efforts to spoil the Halloweeen fun in a book for children who are beginning to read on their own.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. By Kate Summerscale. A true-crime story structured like a mystery novel, complete with a startling twist at the end, about a Scotland Yard detective’s investigation the 1860 murder of 3-year-old boy whose body turned up in the servants’ privy of an English country house.
The Seamstress. By Frances de Pontes Peebles. A historical novel that reads at times like a South American Bonnie and Clyde as it tells the stories of two orphaned sisters whose lives diverge and converge in dangerous ways during their early adulthood Brazil in the 1930s. (Books I Didn’t Finish)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. By David Wroblewski. Ophelia is a dog named Almondine in this Hamlet-influenced yarn, told partly from a canine point of view, about a 14-year-old mute Wisconsin boy who goes on the run after back-to-back tragedies occur on his family’s farm.
Read All About It! By Laura Bush and Jenna Bush. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Ages 4 and up. The first lady and her daughter campaign for reading in misguided picture book that tells children that stories are good instead of telling them a good story.
The Portable Dorothy Parker: Revised and Enlarged Edition. By Dorothy Parker. Introduction by Brendan Gill. An excellent introduction to the work the celebrated wit and critic for the New Yorker that has poems, reviews and short stories (including “Big Blonde,” “A Telephone Call” and “The Lovely Leave”). (Briefly mentioned.)
Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. By Bernard Waber. Ages 3 and up. Another celebration of the joys of urban life — especially those of New York City — as experienced by the almost pathologically optimistic crocodile who made his debut in The House on East 88th Street and lives in the bathtub of the Primm family brownstone.
The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL. By Mark Bowden. The author of Black Hawk Down recalls the first National Football League championship game decided by sudden-death overtime. (Briefly mentioned.)
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives. By Jim Sheeler. Journalism at its finest, inspired by a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Rocky Mountain News, about a Marine Corps “casualty assistance calls officer” — whose job includes telling people that relatives have died in Iraq — and the families he met through his work.
365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child. By Steve and Ruth Bennett. A year’s worth of easy, no- or low cost, television-free activities you can do with a child over the age of 3, from the authors of the equally good and more widely available 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child.
Horton Hatches the Egg (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #5). By. Dr. Seuss. Ages 2 and up. A classic fable about every child’s struggle to be good, which includes the famous lines: “I meant what I said /And I said what I meant …. /An elephant’s faithful/ One hundred per cent!”
Wolf Totem. By Jiang Rong. Translated by Howard Rosenblatt. A retired Beijing scholar’s didactic and slow-moving semi-autobiographical novel about life among sheep-herding nomads of Outer Mongolia during the era of the Red Guards.
A classic fable about every child’s struggle to be good, which includes the famous lines: “I meant what I said /And I said what I meant …. /An elephant’s faithful/ One hundred per cent!”
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. By Muriel Spark. A brilliant, short novel and psychological exploration of female power as wielded by a teacher in an Edinburgh girls’ school in the 1930s.
Murder in Mesopotamia: A Hercule Poirot Mystery. By Agatha Christie. The Belgian detective seeks the killer of an archaeologist’s wife, murdered on a dig at an Assyrian palace in Iraq, in what may be Christie’s most autobiographical novel.
Mister Pip. By Lloyd Jones. A black female university graduate remembers hearing a white man read Great Expectations on a Pacific island when she was 13 in a disappointing 2007 Man Booker Prize finalist written at a third-grade level, according to Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics.
The Summer of the Pike. By Jutta Richter. Illustrated by Quint Buchholz. Ages 9 and up. One of Germany’s best children’s authors makes her American debut in a brief, sensitive novel about three friends whose parents serve as caretakers of castle, where they try to cope when one mother’s cancer worsens.
Water for Elephants. By Sara Gruen. A historical novel that gallops along with a Depression-era traveling circus, saddled with cliches. Reading group guide also posted and saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category.
How to Be Good. By Nick Hornby. The author of Fever Pitch asks a serious question — what does it mean to be a “good” person in a materialistic age? — in a comic novel about an English marriage that is tested when the husband falls under the influence of a spiritual guru.
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. By Barbara Brown Taylor. An Episcopal priest tells why she left the parish ministry in this a rare portrait of the everyday challenges the clergy (which in which case included a call from a woman who said: “Martha is sitting on the toilet and we are out of toilet paper. If I came over right now, could you write me a check to the grocery store so she can get up?”).
Love You, Mean It. A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship. By Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. Sept. 11 anniversary re-post of an earlier review of a memoir by four 9/11 widows, who talk about the coping in the aftermath of tragedy.
Everyday Life. By Lydie Salvayre. Translated from the French by Jane Kuntz. A secretary at a Paris advertising agency is undone by the arrival of a new co-worker in an idiosyncratic French novel that is a study in alienation and mental disintegration written with a Cartesian spareness.
The Z Was Zapped. By Chris Van Allsburg. Ages 2 and up. An A-plus alphabet book by one of the greatest living author-illustrators, who also wrote Jumanji and The Polar Express.
Daddy-Long-Legs. By Jean Webster. A charming classic novel told in letters from a high-spirited and keenly intelligent student at women’s college to her male patron, which was a bestseller in its day and made into a movie with Leslie Caron.
[June-August 2007 listings are incomplete and will be updated soon.]
Where the Wild Things Are (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #4). By Maurice Sendak. Ages 2-8. A landmark picture book that won the Caldecott Medal for its trailblazing portrayal of the inner life of a boy who tames his frustrations by taking an imaginary journey to a realm “where the wild things are.”
On Chesil Beach. By Ian McEwan. On Chesil Beach. By Ian McEwan. An overrated flyweight novel about a young couple’s disastrous 1962 wedding night that is a finalist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize but may remind you more of Mitch Albom than Kazuo Ishiguro or Anita Brookner.
Fowl Weather (Books I Didn’t Finish). By Bob Tarte. A Michigan writer’s memoir of life with 39 birds, ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, rabbits and other creatures, which didn’t live up to its billing as a book with a “Dave Barry on a farm” sensibility.
The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl. By Bruna Surfistinha/Raquel Pacheco. Interviewed by Jorge Tarquini. Translated by Alison Entrekin. Raquel Pacheco writes about as well as Henry James would have run a brothel in this memoir of her experiences as teenage prostitute who became notorious for blogging about her clients.
Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge. By Bruce Feiler. The host of the popular PBS series Walking the Bible remembers his jolly good time in graduate school at Cambridge University in the 1990s (which, despite his title, gets far more space than Oxford). (Briefly noted.)
Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps. By Betty Rollin. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. A bowl of saccharine mush from a former NBC correspondent who argues that “within each form of misery” there is “a hidden prize waiting to be found” but draws so few distinctions between, say, the pain of someone rejected by Harvard and a fourth-degree burn victim that it would be cruel to give this book to some people in physical or emotional pain.
How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations. Compiled and Edited by E.O. Parrott. Classic works of lit / Reduced quite a bit / In poems and prose / As fun overflows.
Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland. By Mark Kreidler. One of the year’s best sports books brings unexpected drama and poignancy to the race for an Iowa state high school wrestling championship and its emotional impact on two favored competitors and their families, coaches, teammates and fans.
The Birthday Book: Their Delights, Disappointments, Past and Present, Worldly, Astrological and Infamous. By Linda Rannells Lewis. A graceful meditation on how people (including well-known authors) have seen birthdays from pagan times to the disco era).
Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th. By Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen. Gingrich writes fiction as well as Danielle Steel could draft legislation.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #3). By Virginia Lee Burton. Ages 2-6. An old red steam shovel pushes herself to the limit to prove she can still be useful in a classic that is both an exciting adventure story and a moving parable about growing old in America.
The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception. By Emmanuel Carrère. A Frenchman cracks under the pressure of leading a double life — and murders his wife, children and parents — in one of the best true crime books of the decade.
Did I Wake You? Haikus for Modern Living. By Beth Lapides. Seventeen-syllable poems about Iraq, Google, and tantric sex, not to mention Charlie Rose, Salma Hayek and other topics undreamed-of by Lady Murasaki. (Briefly mentioned.)
The Dangerous Book for Boys. By Conn and Hal Iggulden. Ages 9 and up (younger for reading aloud). A cross between the Boy Scout Handbook and Guinness World Records, which includes instructions on how to tan a rabbit hide and make a water bomb out of newspaper. (Briefly mentioned.)
How to Be. By Lisa Brown. Ages 2–4. A witty picture book shows young children how to imitate a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa. By Peter Godwin. A superb memoir of the collapse of Zimbabwe under dictator Robert Mugabe that, like Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, ranks among the finest recent portraits of the ruin of an African nation.
A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands. By Lorne Rubenstein. Foreword by Sean Connery. Possibly the best memoir in print of a golf course you’ve never played on.
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. A British agony aunt’s semi-autobiographical novel in diary form, built on the contrarian theme that the great thing about getting old is that there are so many things you can’t do any more. [Reading group guide archived under Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.]
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. By Atul Gawande. A collection of intelligent and often provocative essays on medicine by a sugeon and writer for The New Yorker, who deals with topics that include doctors’ mistakes and whether emergency room visits increase when there’s a full moon.
Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen. By Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle. Why do Japanese women have the lowest obesity rate and longest life expectancy in the world? By way of answer, Moriyama offers a philosophy of eating and recipes inspired by her mother’s home cooking. [Books I Didn’t Finish.]
The Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. Edited by Hugh Massingberd. A collection of spirited and often witty obituaries, many of them for military leaders, from the English newspaper.
Princess Smartypants. By Babette Cole. Ages 4-8. A witty, revisionist fairy tale about a motorcycle-riding princess who refuses to marry her repulsive suitors.
The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy. By Janice Harayda. Reading group guide only archived under Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides. Reviews on the “My Books” page at www.janiceharayda.com.
Ace of Spades: A Memoir. By David Matthews. Raised by his black father after his white mother abandoned the family, Matthews writes of his late 20th-century childhood in the often jarring tone of a 19th-century bildungsroman.
The Inheritance of Loss. By Kiran Desai. A novel about a cynical Indian judge and his orphaned granddaughter in a Himalayan village shaken by violence during the Nepalese insurgency of the 1980s. [Books I Didn’t Finish.]
Everett Anderson’s Goodbye. By Lucille Clifton. Ages 4-8. In this winner of the Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Association, young Everett struggles to accept his father’s death and realizes that “ … whatever happens when people die, / love doesn’t stop, and / neither will I.”
Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life. By Nigel Marsh. After losing his job, a leading Australian advertising executive took time off to reconnect with his family, lose weight, conquer his alcoholism and, apparently, write this breezy memoir. [Reading group guide archived under Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.]
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. Words by Michael Rosen. Pictures by Quentin Blake. Ages 7-9. Rosen writes with great feeling about the loss of his son, but Blake’s brilliant illustrations steal show in this deeply moving Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book. One of the finest picture books about death, though not for the very young or even for all children in its suggested age range.
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. By Steven Johnson. A well-written history of how two courageous men helped to identify the cause of a devastating cholera outbreak in 19th-century London.
Acceptance: A Novel. By Susan Coll. A deft but digressive and slackly plotted send-up of the college admissions frenzy in a well-off Washington, D.C., suburb. [Reading group guide archived under Totally Unathorized Reading Group Guides.]
Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Chris Raschka. Varied ages. Seventeen brief, lackluster poems by the Children’s Poet Laureate of the U.S., who doesn’t seem to know who his audience is for the book.
Tourist Season: Stories. By Enid Shomer. Short stories about women — mostly current or former residents of Florida — by an award-winning writer who has a sense of place but lacks a distinctive voice.
The Cremation of Sam McGee. By Robert Service. The classic ballad of the Klondike gold rush can still thrill children (and their parents) with lines like: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold …”
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures. Ages 9-12. By Brian Selznick. An acclaimed author gets an A+ for packaging and a C for writing for this bestselling children’s novel about a young male orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and tries to fix a broken wind-up man that may contain a message from his father. [Reading group guide archived under Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.]
The Stories of John Cheever. By John Cheever. One of the best short story collections in American literature, written by a great moralist who won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for it.
Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. By Geoff Dyer. An award-winning travel writer’s semi-fictionalized portraits of places that include Thailand, Amsterdam and pre-Katrina New Orleans.
Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief. By Pauline Boss. A therapist’s views on living with loss when someone you love is “psychologically absent but physically present” (because of Alzheimer’s Disease or other factors) or is “psychologically present but physically absent” (because of geographical distance or other factors that may never be overcome).
Thank You Bear. By Greg Foley. Ages 1-3. A good but oversized and overpriced book for toddlers makes the point that a friend shares your values.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. By Eric Hodgins. A classic comic novel about the lust for property that’s ideal for many book groups. [Reading group guide archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.”]
Great Tales From English History (Book 3): Captain Cook, Samuel Johnson, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, Edward the Abdicator, and More. By Robert Lacey. True stories of people who defined Britain to itself and the world, brief and engagingly written.
Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce. By Wendy Swallow. Possibly the best memoir of divorce of the decade, written by a former Washington Post reporter and mother of two sons.
The Triumph of Love Over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage. By Wendy Swallow. A premature sequel to Breaking Apart that isn’t nearly as well written or thought out.
About What Was Lost: Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope. Edited by Jessica Berger Gross. Women (and a token male) talk about what it’s like to lose a child betwen the sixth and 23rd weeks of pregnancy.
A Tale for Easter. By Tasha Tudor. Ages 4–8. A girl dreams of a magical journey in a picture book that’s been a holiday favorite for half a century.
Common Life: Poems. By Robert Cording. Fine poems for Easter and other seasons, including the author’s “Advent Stanzas” and “Lenten Stanzas.”
Living Things: Collected Poems. By Anne Porter. The second book by a poet who began publishing her work in her 80s includes both new poems and all of those in An Altogether Different Language, a National Book Award finalist.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert. An overrated memoir by a GQ writer whose humor tends to be self-consciously cute and whose book makes “recovery” from divorce sound like an expensive form of consumerism.
Infidel. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A Somali-born ex-member of the Dutch Parliament writes about her circumcision at the age of five and other events with real passion, but undercuts her credibility by admitting that she lied to government officials to gain refugee status for herself and, later, her sister in Holland. [Reading group guide archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.”]
King of Another Country. By Fiona French. Ages 4-8. A folk tale-like picture book of the first rank about a selfish young man who learns to compromise after leaving his African village, illustrated in kente-cloth colors and patterns by an artist who has won the Kate Greenaway award.
Living Things: Collected Poems. By Anne Porter. Foreword by David Shapiro. One of our finest Catholic poets and a National Book Award finalist returns with a collection of hymns, prayers, meditations on saints and Scripture and other poems in the spirit of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Miriam’s Cup. By Fran Maushkin. Illustrated by Bob Dacey. Ages 4 and up. A feminist picture-book version of the Passover story that focuses on Moses’s sister.
Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion Written and compiled Eric A. Kimmel. Ages 4-12. A handsome collection of stories, poems, prayers, recipes and more that won a National Jewish Book Award and may be the best-all around Passover book for children of varied ages.
Easter. By Fiona French. Ages 4 and up. An award-winning illustrator tells the Easter story using the King James Version of the Bible and vibrant art inspired by the stained-glass windows in English cathedrals.
Easter: The King James Version — With Pictures. By Jan Pienkowski. Ages 4 and up. An out-of-print picture book, well worth tracking down for its King James text and haunting black silhouettes that have a drama appropriate to the story without being gory.
Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose. By Robin McGraw. Dr. Phil’s wife offers advice to women a memoir that, for a book from a Christian publisher, is oddly short on spirituality and long on descriptions of such things as her $50,000 Mercedes, her Italian crystal chandeliers and her husband’s vasectomy reversal.
The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Culture, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History. By Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter. The Marlboro Man is No. 1 on a list that also includes Pandora, Hamlet, Mickey Mouse, King Kong and Barbie.
Stuart: A Life Backwards. By Alexander Masters. A charming, tragicomic memoir about the author’s friendship with “an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath” that has won or been short-listed for several major awards and was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle prize. [Reading group guide also available, archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.”]
The Second Child: Poems. By Deborah Garrison. Rhymed and unrhymed poems about the intersection of work and motherhood, some in classic forms such as the sonnet and sestina and one (“Goodbye, New York”) with the anapestic bounce of a Cole Porter-ish Broadway show tune. [Reading group guide also available, archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.”]
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. By Flannery O’Connor. Selected and edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. One of the great books on writing of the 2oth century, including the essays “Writing Short Stories,” “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” and “Catholic Novelists and Their Readers.” [Not yet reviewed — Quotes of the Day Nos. 13 and 14.]
Born Twice. By Guiseppe Pontiggia. One of the best novels of the decade about fatherhood and the everyday cruelties inflicted on children with disabilities — in this case, a boy who suffered brain damage during a breech birth — this book deservedly won Italy’s highest literary award, the Strega Prize. [Reading group guide also available, archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides.”]
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider. By Ishmael Beah. A former child solider in the civil war in Sierra Leone tells a story that, if gripping, raises questions about the accuracy of some of his memories. (Reding group guide also acailable, archived in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category.)
A Season of Rebirth: Daily Meditations for Lent. By Marc Foley. An unusually literate and intelligent book of reflections for the season, including many well-taken references to the work of writers such as Dante, Shakespeared, and Woody Allen.
So Sleepy Story. By Uri Shulevitz. Ages 2 and up. A Caldecott Medalist pays homage to the artist for whom that honor was named, Randolph Caldecott, in a bedtime story for the Goodnight Moon set that makes brilliant use the principle of the contagion of yawns.
The Higher Power of Lucky. By Susan Patron. Ages 9-11. Newbery Medal-winner about a 10-year-old girl who learns the meaning of the word “family” and, more controversially, “scrotum.”
The Big Love. By Sarah Dunn. A charming novel about a young Philadelphia columnist and sexual late bloomer that takes an unusually witty and intelligent look at the life of a modern single woman. No relation to the HBO series.
Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair. By Michael Cunningham and George Alexander. Fifty-three African-American talk about what their hair means to them in a an elegant collection of black-and-white photographs that could make a great Valentine’s Day gift.
Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got. By Dr. Phil McGraw. Patronizing mush from the psychologist and talk-show-host.
Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories About the Men We Used to Love. Edited by Harriet Brown. Twenty-four female authors and a token gay man write about their former dates, lovers, or husbands, with the best essays comning from Jane Smiley, Caroline Leavitt, Joyce Maynard, and Roxana Robinson.
Skylight Confessions: A Novel. By Alice Hoffman. Brooke Allen got it right when she wroite in the Wall Street Journal that this dark Cinderella story has “enough intellectual trappings to flatter readers into thinking that they are getting some mental nourishment” but is in essence is a “pure romance novel and nothing more.”
The Book Club Companion: A Comprensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience. By Diana Loevy. The guacamole also rises in this loopy book of recipes, decorating and fashion ideas, and descriptions of books that might have come from their authors’ mothers, including many plugs for books from the Penguin Group, publisher of The Book Club Companion.
The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival. By Stanley N. Alpert. A former federal prosectuor provides manna for true crime fans in this story of his abduction by thugs who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. (This site contains both a review and a reading-group guide The Birthday Party, archived separately with the Feburary 2007 posts.)
Five Little Fiends. By Sarah Dyer. Ages 4-8. A prize-winning British picture book about the interdependence of the natural world, ideal for preschoolers who love the “wild things” in Where the Wild Things Are.
Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters. By Joan Ryan. A powerful expose of the abuses suffered by many of the country’s best female athletes, including some well-known names.
A Life in Smoke: A Memoir. By Julia Hansen. Books I Didn’t Finish, # 4. You have to want to quit smoking really badly to chain yourself to a radiator as this author did or to get through this book about her experiences.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. By Kate DiCamillo. Ages 7 and up. A china rabbit becomes an allegory of Christian faith and resurrection in a novel by a writer who won a Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux.
Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd. By Sue Monk Kidd. Chicken soup for the soul of fans of The Secret Life of Bees.
Hannibal Rising. By Thomas Harris. A prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and other Hannibal Lecter novels that cannibalizes the English language and more.
Flotsam. By David Wiesner. An eloquent, wordless picture book about a boy whose discovery of an underwater camera at the beach takes him on a magical visual journey. (2007 Caldecott Medalist)
Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite. By June Casagrande. Long on spite, short on fun, and much inferior to Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I, the best grammar book for students and others.
Thirteen Moons: A Novel. By Charles Frazier. The author of Cold Mountain serves up a dish of lard-fried cornmeal mush.
This Is the Rain. By Lola M. Schaefer and Jane Wattenberg. Ages 4 and up. A nonfiction picture book thay uses rhymes and collages to help children learn the answers to such questions as, “How does the water get in the ocean?”
5000 Episodes and No Commercials: The Ultimate Guide to TV Shows on DVD 2007. By David Hofstede. Brief, intelligent reviews of most of the recent and classic TV shows that are available on DVD, listed alphabeticall from The A-Team to Xena: Warrior Princess.
Managing Employees From Hell: Handling Idiots, Whiners, Slackers and Other Workplace Demons. By Gini Graham Scott. A much more useful guide to managing saboteurs at work than the insipid The Power of Nice.
The Confession. By James McGreevey. The author had an unimpressive record as governor of New Jersey, but the sex scenes in his memoir suggest that he may have a future as the gay male Danielle Steel.
Millions of Cats. By Wanda Gág. One of the great classic picture books for preschoolers, deservedly praised by artists including Maurice Sendak and Jan Brett.
The Interruption of Everything. By Terry McMillan. A soap-operish plot about a perimenopausal woman who learns that her husband is having an affair.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter. By Elizabeth Berg. An “Oprah” author writes at a fourth-grade level in a novel that a critic for the Wall Street Journal rightly called “truly mind-numbing goop.”
George Eliot: A Life. By Gordon Haight. A landmark biography of a novelist whose greatness derived, like Jane Austen’s, from a true greatness of spirit.
Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. By Patricia T. O’Conner. A fresh and funny guide that’s the ideal grammar book for students (and parents who’ve forgotten all they knew in the eighth grade).
Your Management Sucks: Why You Have to Declare War on Yourself … and Your Business. By Mark Stevens. No, the book does.
Soul Sanctuary: Images of the African-American Worship Experience. By Jason Miccolo Johnson. Foreword by Gordon Parks. A book of 165 black-and-white photos and a text by Biblical scholars and others who provide an excellent introduction for all races to African-American worship styles.
A House Somewhere: Tales of Life Abroad. Edited by Don George and Anthony Sattin. Twenty-six original essays or excerpts from books about making a home far from home, including pieces by Isabel Allende Frances Mayes, Peter Mayle, Tim Parks, Paul Theroux, Simon Winchester, and others.
I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother. By Allison Pearson. Still the best recent send-up of sexual double standards at work, including sham diversity initiatives that are designed more to protect firms from lawsuits than to help women and minorities succeed.
The Niagara River. By Kay Ryan. Poems that, like life, rhyme inexpected places.
Mind Your Manners! By Diane Goode. A light-hearted guide to teaching manners to preschoolers, inspired by an 18th-century etiquette primer.
Bad Heir Day. By Wendy Holden. A book you might call “a cross between Bridget Jones and The Nanny Diaries” — if that weren’t exactly the kind of phrase its author loves to lampoon.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. By Wendy Mogel. A wise and compassionate guide to bringing up children who have good character, not just a good personality or high “self-esteem.”
Hidden Child. By Isaac Millman. Ages 7-9. A Jewish boy goes into hiding in France after his parents are arrested by the Nazis in a memoir that offers a sensitive introduction to the Holocaust for children of any faith.
The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness. By Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. The people who gave us the Aflac duck play fast-and-lose with facts in a phoned-in book about how being nice — or so they say — helped them succeed.
Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog: Gift Edition. By John Grogan. A bestselling memoir about a lovable but incorrigible retriever returns in a handsome gift edition with color photos of Marley and a copy of his obedience school “report card.”
The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe. By Paula Fox. A slender, elegant, and entirely believable memoir that makes a fine antidote to the aftertaste of books like James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.
Find Anthony Ant. By Lorna and Graham Philpot. Ages 2-5. An engaging seek-and-find book about a brown ant named Anthony that has some elements similar to those of the “Where’s Waldo” series but without the violence.
Where’s Waldo? The Great Picture Hunt. With 50 stickers. By Martin Handford. Ages 6 and up. The latest entry in perhaps the most violent picture-book series for its age group.
The Nativity. By Julie Vivas. Ages 4-8. And the critic said, “Fear not, for this is tbe best version of the Christmas story for children, and ittakes its text from the King James Bible.”
The Perfect Wedding Dress. By Philip Delamore. More than 300 pictures of beautiful bridal gowns (and some suits), worn by women from Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn to those who just hope to feel like them on their wedding day.
A Passion for Parties. By Carolyne Roehm. A coffee-table book with ideas for celebrations ranging from a Hunt Ball to a Fourth of July barbecue, including bizarre pictures of a Halloween party for the Dr. Seuss set that was inspired by Miss Havisham, the cruel and embittered spinster of Dickens’s Great Expectations.
Late Wife: Poems. By Claudia Emerson. Yes, the Pulitzer judges gave the 1937 fiction award to Gone With the Wind instead of Absalom, Absalom, but you might be more inclined to forgive them after reading this winner 2006 Pulitzer for Poetry, a haunting collection of poems (nearly a third of them sonnets) about divorce and remarriage.
Max’s Words. By Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov. Ages 4-6. This wonderful picture book about a boy who collects words is one of the year’s best holiday gifts for preschoolers (are you listening, grandparents?).
Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. By James L. Swanson. A taut tale about the effort by the government and others to capture the man who killed Abraham Lincoln.
The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity. By Judsen Culbreth. A lively self-help manual for female baby boomers by a former editor-in-chief of Working Mother who, at 52, married a man she met online.
Lombardi and Me: Players, Coaches and Colleagues Talk About the Man and the Myth. By Paul Hornung with Billy Reed. Reminiscences of the legendary coach by players and others, including Bart Starr, Sam Huff, Jerry Kramer, Willie Davis, and Sonny Jurgensen.
Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders. By Josephine Ross and illustrated by Henrietta Webb. A charmingly illustrated explanation of the Regency etiquette rules followed by Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, the Dashwoods, and other characters.
Five Little Ducks. By Ivan Bates. A sunny new version of the nursery ryhme with endpapers that include an easy-to-play musical score for the companion tune.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Retold by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. A classic tale for toddlers and preschoolers with art by a two-time winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s equivalent of the Caldecott.
How This Night Is Different. By Elisa Albert. Fresh, funny and often bawdy stores about young Jews searching for meaning in rituals and activities such as a circumcision, a bat mitzvah, a Passover seder, and a packaged tour of Auschwitz.
Best Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer. By Noel Perrin. The late, great esssayist and Vermont farmer on life with cows, woodstoves, a sugarhouse, and tourists.
How to Be Well-Versed in Poetry. By E. O. Parrott. When your knowledge of verse/Almost couldn’t be worse/Get help from this book/And its clever hook.
An Outlaw Thanksgiving. By Emily Arnold McCully. A Caldecott Medalist casts Butch Cassidy as a Victorian Robin Hood in a picture book for 4-to-8-year olds.
For One More Day: A Novel. By Mitch Albom. A novel by the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, written a third-grade reading level, according to the readbility statistics on Microsoft Word.
Was She Pretty? By Leanne Shapton. An art director’s quirky book of captioned black-and-white line drawings about the “ex” factor in romance.
The Marriage Diaries: A Novel. By Rebecca Campbell. A British-accented gross-out novel about a young couple with the seven-year-itch.
A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of the Biggest Movies in Hollywood. By Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins with Rachel Kranz. Veteran casting directors tell how they matched stars like Julia Robert and Tom Cruise with roles.
Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl. By Debra Ollivier. After a decade in France, an American explains why French women are different from you and me. Hint: It’s not just that they’re thinner.
The Song of Names: A Novel. By Norman Lebrecht. A slow-paced but intelligent story about the effects of the Holocaust, written by a fearless English critic who won the Whitbread First Novel Award for the book.
Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery. By Alex Kuczynski. An impressive blend of reporting and social commentary that may stand for years as a definitive book on the 21st-century cosmetic surgery boom.
Lisey’s Story: A Novel. By Stephen King. Books I didn’t finish, #1.
My Husband Betty: Love, Sex and Life With a Crossdresser. By Helen Boyd. The true story of a journalist’s marriage to a tranvestite that is part memoir, part polemic, and part self-help manual.
Anonymous Lawyer: A Novel. By Jeremy Blachman. The moral climate of Animal Farm pervades a dark satire of $625-an-hour lawyers and the associates they torment.
My Paris. By Gail Scott. Experimental fiction. Punctuated. Like this. Not like. Gopnik. Or Le Divorce.
The Life of Samuel Johnson. By James Boswell. The mother of all biographies, written by a man unfailingly willing to play Gracie Allen to his subject’s George Burns.
Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York. By Gail Parent. A dark satire of pre-Sex and the City mating rituals in New York that still towers over most of the books in its class.
Collected Stories: Noel Coward. By Noel Coward. Who knew that the playwright also wrote wonderful short stories?
Toxic Bachelors. By Danielle Steel. Nasty stereotypes of Jews and others masquerading as a fairy tale.
Pure Pleasure. By John Carey. Fifty modern classics reconsidered in 800-word essays by one of England’s best critics.
Save Karyn. By Karyn Bosnak. The godmother of Internet panhandling tells how she got out of debt by asking for cash from strangers on the Web.
Cheaper by the Dozen. By Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. The hilarious story of a rambunctious family of 12 children, sold short in the movie starring Steve Martin.
Late for Work. By David Tucker. A newspaper editor writes about his work and makes it work in a prize-winning book of poetry.
Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, And Friendship. By Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. A memoir by four 9/11 widows whose acquaintances told them, “It could be worse.”
God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. By Adam Nicolson. An engaging work of popular history about the making of “the greatest work of prose ever written in English.”
Buying Dad: One Woman’s Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor. By Harlyn Aizley. The true story of two lesbians who looked for the father of their child in tank of liquid nitrogen.
Mystic River. By Dennis Lehane. Clint Eastwood shows, as with The Bridges of Madison County, that he’s a good director of bad books.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. An essay collection by the screenwriter for Sleepless in Seattle, who takes aim at saccharine books on “mellow menopause.”
The Man Who Fell Into a Puddle: Israel Lives. By Igal Sarna. A former tank commander reports elegantly on the lost souls of modern Israel.
Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling/Career Strategies for Asians: The Essential Guide to Getting In, Moving Up, and Reaching the Top. By Jane Hyun. A former HR executive says that Asian-Americans can succeed at work partly by — surprise, surprise — “networking” and “mentoring.”
The History Boys. By Alan Bennett. The script for a tragicomedy about the purpose of education, which won a Tony Award for best play.
The Emperor’s Children. By Claire Messud. The emperor’s children wear clichés.
Posted by Janice Harayda
(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.