Author: Bethanne Patrick

tuenight fling bethanne patrick summer books

10 Books To Have an Affair with This Summer

Choosing books that represent “Fling” is a challenge due to the word’s definition. A “fling,” after all, is “a short period of enjoyment or wild behavior.” Many novels about sexual side stories focus instead on affairs because they last longer and often morph into difficult and tragic tales. That’s the case with the titles on this list — but each of them includes enjoyment and wild behavior, too. Any — or, better yet, several — of these will add fun and a little scorch to your vacation reading. Among them: A women bent on revenge who also has a taste for orgies, a secret affair by the sea, lovers with a connection to the real Casablanca, and a sort of Sliding Doors fantasy about love’s possibilities. 1. If you’re hooked on scandi-crime: All In by Simona Ahrnstedt You may not have thought a novel about “Sweden’s financial elite” would make its way to the top of your to-be-read pile, but look out — Ahrnstedt’s U.S. debut is smart and smoldering, using an affair between cutthroat …

tuenight censored bethanne patrick banned books

I Read Banned Books and Hope You Do, Too

When you think of the word “censorship,” what comes to mind? You might imagine a black bar over an image, a political speech, perhaps something sexually explicit. But you probably won’t think about a young Iranian girl, a sensitive teenaged boy or a character created by one of our country’s most revered authors. All of those — and many, many others — have been and are on lists of the most frequently banned books of the past. . .year. That’s right. Not past century or decade but just this past year. Even in modern society, we’ve made so little progress on some fronts that literature of great merit continues to be banned in some classrooms due to “controversial” topics. (The phrase “controversial subject matter” is actually used by more than one book-banning group to describe a volume on this list.) Banned books change with the times. Once, these titles were the most frequently challenged; in 2015, the five below have hit nerves. Notice that almost all of the books on the “older” list are now …

tuenight gift guide bethanne patrick books

Books and Bookish Gifts for Your Well-Read Friends

Each year I try to solve your book-gifting problems by choosing a handful of titles you can present to the, shall we say, “particular” people on your list. This year, I’m adding a bonus round: A few waggish book-related items for the reader who has everything — or to bundle up along with a carefully selected tome. (And I take care in selection so you don’t have to!) 1. For Your Fiercest Kitchen Queen: My Pantry: Homemade Ingredients that Make Simple Meals Your Own by Alice Waters First, she’s Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse. Second, this book, written with her daughter Fanny (Fanny’s Granola namesake), is beautifully produced and has an internal spiral binding so the book will lay flat as you gather your amateur “mise en place,” meaning you can try Alice’s chicken stock, or tomato sauce, or… 2. For Your Hard-to-Impress Aesthete: The Master of the Prado by Javier Sierra Is it a novel? A manifesto? A museum tour? A mystery? The answer is all of the above. Sierra, whose last big …

10 Books That Have Defined My Life (So Far)

I’ve been taking a break from my own book club this year because I’ve been working on a book — about other people’s favorite books (more on that soon, but it will be out next spring from Regan Arts). So although almost any of you reading this piece would probably be able to put together your own life-in-books article, I feel I’m peculiarly suited to the task as an avid reader who eventually found a way to construct an entire professional life around books, authors and literacy. Here, I’m offering 10 books that not only touched me during the life stages in which I read them but also perfectly illustrate those stages — not just for me, but also for you, I hope. After all, we’re in this together. A very big book club indeed. CHILDHOOD The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf Ferdinand is a great big strong bull who would really prefer to pass his days in a sunny meadow among the flowers. Woven into the words and pictures is a powerful, timeless …

5 Juicy Memoirs from Old-School TV Stars

Who among us has not wiled away an evening or weekend afternoon watching reruns of a sitcom or drama? Such a great guilty pleasure. For this week’s book list, I’ve got some more guilty pleasures: Delicious gossipy memoirs penned by some stars of your most beloved old-school shows. Don’t tell us you didn’t watch. Don’t tell us you don’t remember. Love Life by Rob Lowe Who knew this guy would be able to make the transition from child actor to Brat Pack bad boy to happily married, in-demand TV star? Now 50-something, Lowe remains handsome and funny, but has added humility and compassion — plus, the guy can write! From stories about the Playboy Mansion’s hot tub to tales of coaching Little League; Lowe’s life is full — and juicy! Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew You loved her as Captain Janeway, the first female Star Trek captain, but you may love her even more as the irascible Red on Orange Is the New Black. Kate Mulgrew spins an honest, funny and breathless account of …

5 Very Different Books About Eggs

Eggs, those delicious sources of protein, are also packed with symbolism and meaning. A book list based on the idea of “egg” could include titles about pregnancy, birth, infertility, new beginnings, chickens and so much more. Instead of selecting one theme, this list includes books from five different genres: Memoir, science fiction, mystery, cooking and even children’s literature. The Egg and I: Life on a Wilderness Chicken Ranch by Betty MacDonald Ms. MacDonald had a farm — and no, it wasn’t that kind of “chicken ranch!” From 1927 to 1931, Betty MacDonald and her husband ran (or attempted to run) a chicken farm on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. While dated, the book (also a 1946 movie starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray) is still very funny — especially if you’re trying to raise urban chickens in your Park Slope backyard. Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood These Margaret Atwood-penned short stories are a departure from the author’s more well-known pieces such as The Handmaid’s Tale. They’re quieter than much of her other work, and based on folktales …

4 Books on Productivity You Shouldn’t Put Off Reading

It’s a wonder that these lines are appearing on the screen in front of you now and not next week. But since no procrastination was employed in the production of this column, you will be able to learn about a few of the best books to help you stamp out all kinds procrastination. (Wait, where is that list? Oh, phew. A couple of other tasks got in the way…) The Power of Habit may be the most important book to recommend for getting past your unproductive habit of procrastinating. Author Charles Duhigg examines the routine and often unconscious behaviors that rule so many of us through amusing anecdotes and science-based research. He offers productive techniques to help you break bad habits, restructure your life and meet your goals. If your goal is to procrastinate more, well, even Duhigg can’t fix that. In 2002, Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, and changed many a writer’s life: He identified how outward ambitions get in the way of creative discipline. The key? …

Dating By the Book

From the moment we’re allowed to date (the age of which varies greatly, depending on whether you’re a precocious urbanite or a Duggar), the road to romance is full of perils and potholes. Does he like me? Does she like me? Does this dress make me look fat? Does this mascara make me look fat? Some of these perils have been solved — or forgotten — by the time we reach midlife. Most of us know we have physical imperfections and have made peace with them, learned to camouflage them, or paid hundreds of thousands to have them eliminated (or all three). We’re more comfortable with ourselves and able to put our romantic interests at ease, too. We know what kind of situation we’re looking for, and we make sure our signals remain clear. HAHAHA, right! Dating is just plain hard work no matter how young or old you are. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the following mix of novels and memoirs about women pursuing love later in life — which, in our current culture, means all …

5 #Winning Reads

When people hear the words “prize” and “books” together, they usually think of “Pulitzer,” which makes sense given that literary awards are prestigious — not to mention a great way to winnow your reading lists. But there’s another side to the words “prize” and “books,” and that’s books about prizes. Many a plot revolves around winning something: A suitor’s eye, a coveted job, even a lawsuit. The following list involves books in which winning actually involves a prize of some kind. What a fitting reward one of these titles would be to read after a long day.   The Submission by Amy Waldman Imagine what might have happened if they held a juried contest for a New York City 9/11 memorial — and the winner was a Muslim. That’s what Waldman (a former reporter for The New York Times and correspondent for The Atlantic) attempts in her 2011 debut novel about how one woman, widowed by the tragedy, stands up for an artist whose vision she believes to be the most truthful. A powerful and thought-provoking choice for …

Books to Give Your Trickiest Recipients

Like I said last year — there are certain folks that are always tough to shop for. This year I changed up my trickiest recipients list. I’m guessing each of us has one of these types in our life, so hopefully at least one of these suggestions will be helpful. If you can check one item of your list because of my advice, then I’ll have checked one item off of my list, too. Everybody wins!   1. For the Extreme Foodie: Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton You may have seen reviews of Hamilton’s book, some of which were critical and/or puzzled: She doesn’t provide all of the steps for all of the recipes! Who makes capon broth? Etc. Listen, Hamilton can do anything she likes, especially after writing her extraordinary memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter. Only she could get a publisher to make her cookbook look like a giant hot-pink Moleskine (complete with elastic closure) and include restaurant measurements written on strips of masking tape. $45, randomhouse.com   2. For the Long-Married: Kama Sutra Connect-the-Dots by Eland …

BookMaven’s Picks: My Favorite Heroines of a Certain Age

While there aren’t scores of books out there specifically and explicitly about menstruation (can anyone name many others than Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Carrie and The Red Tent?), there are none — zip, zero, nada — specifically and explicitly about what our parents and grandparents elliptically referred to as “the change.” Go ahead, comb through your mental library stacks, type away on your search engine of choice — you’ll find that no author of fiction wants to be tagged with “menopause, end of menarche, change of life, cessation of menses.” Small wonder. We live in a youth-obsessed culture, and for centuries women’s nature-driven transition from fertile to fallow has been derided, mocked, given the gimlet eye. Women of a certain age in literature were long given this treatment, too: Think of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, or Lady Macbeth, on and on to Mrs. Danvers and even Miss Jean Brodie. Fortunately, today women tend to think of menopause less as the end of life, and more as “the end of the sentence.” That …

Front to Backlist

Two Veddy British Books That List Lists

Say it with me: “Listicle.” We all know, from our BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog and Reddit perusals, that articles consisting of lists are pop-u-lar (quick, someone make a list of top 10 Broadway show tunes referenced in web ledes!). We also know that just because something is easy to read doesn’t mean it was easy to compile. This week, we offer two “lists of lists” with the strong flavor of a good cup of builder’s tea.   Frontlist: National Geographic London Book of Lists Even one of the world’s most venerable institutions, The National Geographic Society, has been drawn in to the list trend. Its newest title, National Geographic’s London Book of Lists: The City’s Best, Worst, Oldest, Greatest, and Quirkiest by Tim Jepson and Larry Porges, proves Dr. Samuel Johnson’s remark “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life.” England’s capital city teems with people, history, culture, and ideas, and lots of those have made their way onto one or more of these pages. You might be a past or future traveler …

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Power Sources and Powerful Forces: Books from Stein and Seuss

My father, a civil engineer, worked at our local power plant for most of my youth, moving to the power company’s headquarters in glamorous Poughkeepsie when I was a teen. His position there was as a sort of energy-saving czar; he was eco and green at a corporate level long before bigger companies established their environmental divisions and initiatives. I tell you this so you’ll understand both where my mind goes when I hear the word “power,” and also why the Front-list title I’ve selected this week piqued my curiosity. Growing up, my father (and my mother, too) constantly exhorted me to turn off lights, use less water, not waste paper and return every can and bottle. In an era when their friends were busy filling trash cans with bottles of Canadian Club, my parents practiced rigorous recycling. They knew, intuitively, that a time would come when everyone would have to pay the price of squandered resources. In A Sudden Light, the new novel from Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain), that …

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Forbidden Fruit: Waters & Wharton on the Dark Side of Temptation

Frontlist: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters Backlist: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton It’s hard to believe that it was once illegal in nations like our own for consenting adults to engage in same-sex lovemaking. Thank goodness, too, that writers like England’s Sarah Waters are here to remind us of what it was like in more ignorant times when two women could not so much as go out on a date, let alone allow anyone to see them hold hands. Waters has elegantly and eloquently mined her country’s past for historical interstices that highlight how legislation, culture, class, and fashion have affected lesbians of different ages, stations, occupations, and temperaments. In Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, Waters created atmospheres of lush Victorian desire, while The Night Watch took place during World War II’s Battle of Britain. The Little Stranger, her bestselling 2010 novel, was a book less about sexuality than suspense, but now, with The Paying Guests, the author returns to her theme of love thwarted by mores and manners. It’s 1922, and …

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Marvelous Teachers Still Exist

When you get off the school bus for the first time (which, for most of us in the United States, means arriving for kindergarten), you’re usually greeted by your teacher, who has come to gather up a new set of students for the year. That teacher is also usually female. There are so many reasons for that, ones far beyond the scope of this book column — and that’s why I’m glad Dana Goldstein has written The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. Goldstein, a scholar with the Marshall Foundation, explains a lot about how teaching became a profession mainly for woman, why teachers unionized and the effect that our culture’s shaping of teachers has on today’s classrooms. The New York Times Book Review piece on The Teacher Wars found it “meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced,” meaning that Goldstein successfully battled her way through a thicket of material without getting caught on any partisan thorns — and the result is a book that successfully reminds the reader that although there are problems …

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Two Eerie Tales of Frightening “Fads”

When we think of fads, we often think of things that are temporary in popularity —and often temporary in durability, too. Hula hoops, Buddha bead bracelets, lava lamps can break, get lost, or fade out of fashion. But what about fads that hang around even after their trendy moment has passed? Many people regret ill-considered tattoos (there’s a reason those places stay open late after bars close!), but even worse is the ill-considered plastic-surgery procedure. Not that Martin Wilkinson, one of the protagonists of Jess Row’s astonishing new novel Your Face in Mine, has any regrets about his own journey through cosmetic alteration. It is not a spoiler to tell you that Wilkinson, who grew up as the Jewish Martin Lipkin, has journeyed across the world to undergo “racial reassignment surgery.” Wilkinson now lives as an African-American man in Baltimore, a successful entrepreneur whose beautiful wife and adopted twin daughters have no idea that he was once a white man. His story is narrated by Kelly Thorndike, a high-school friend of the now-defunct Lipkin. He …

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Camp: It Was the Best and Worst of Times

Recently, an Australian author I interviewed told me that the American concept of sending children off to summer camp is entirely foreign to her fellow citizens. “We just don’t do it,” she said, “but to me, it sounds like a very good thing.” A wholly unscientific rifling through my mental file drawers leads me to believe that a random sampling of TueNight readers would find that just as many of us think summer camp is a very bad thing. It’s not all s’mores and pillow fights; there are just as many miserable meals of mystery meat and choky, smoky campfires to endure. Thus, this week’s Front to Backlist brings a recent novel about the best of camp, and another recent novel about the worst. I recently wrote about one of Meg Wolitzer’s earlier works, but her latest novel, The Interestings, set the bestseller lists on fire when it was released in 2013. It seemed everybody and her grandmother was reading this hefty novel about a group of creative, talented teenagers who bonded at their artsy New England summer camp. …

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Peace and Love, Man: Two Books Revive the Free Wheeling ‘60s and ‘70s

The very first concert I ever attended was of the classical type. I was nine or 10, and my best friend and I were being allowed to stay up late to see a famous symphony orchestra play in our hometown with our violin teacher. My mother took extra care helping me select a dress and shine my mary janes, which let me know that this was a big event. I’ve never lost that feeling of a live music performance being a big event. Whether listening to alt country in Austin, hearing opera in Berlin, or dancing on the grass at Wolf Trap, concerts are different and special. Spectators become part of something as the band or singer or ensemble attempts to connect with the audience. The iconic American example is, of course, an event that many of us were too young to experience: Woodstock, 1969. Fortunately, for your summer reading delectation, there is a new book out about the festival, and it may make you feel (almost) as if you were there. Barefoot in Babylon: …

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Must Reads From Wolitzer and Greene on Infidelity, Academia and Wifery

The words we use in English for spouses of opposite gender do not simply indicate sex (e.g., “epouse” and “mari” in French), but also denote a power system that dates back to when the word “husband” came into common use around the 13th century. Previously, the verb “to husband” meant to carefully use or manage something, such as a resource, and was often used in the context of breeding animals and farming land. When the concept of romantic love became a popular trend in medieval Europe, authorities married it to (see what I did there?) the idea that someone had to be “In Charge.” Guess who it got to be? We’ve been living with inequality between husbands and wives ever since (and beforehand, too, but the words were different). Husbands were legally their wives’ owners until the 19th century. While I’m here to write about books and not give you a long history lesson, I think all of this is important to the two stories I’m writing about today. My Frontlist title, which came out just …

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Books Don’t Make Me Cry, But These Two Did

Although I read voraciously, books seldom make me cry. I cry easily over movies, but somehow text does not elicit the rush of emotion I require for tears. So when a book does make me cry, I remember it. I don’t have the arrogance to claim that a book that makes me cry must be a great book; obviously, it could simply be triggering something emotional inside me. However, this week’s frontlist title truly is a great book, and I can tell you so because it recently won the 2014 PEN/Ackerley Prize, a British award for memoir and autobiography. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is the kind of searing story that breaks through all previous notions of what a memoir of grief should be. Deraniyagala, an Oxbridge-educated economist, lost her family — husband, two sons, and parents — in the 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami. She is honest from the get-go, detailing the sheer indignity of being pantless in the middle of disaster, but it was not her on-the-scene reportage that brought on my weeping. Rather, it …

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Buried in the Sand: 3 Novels Explore Fraught Friendships

In Front-to-Backlist, we take one or more present-day titles (sometimes bestsellers/buzzed about, sometimes not) and tell you why they’re terrific — then share another book from the past that you might enjoy too. There are so many angles to friendship, which really means there are so many sharp places on which to injure one’s self. Good friendships, from the kind that are purely fun and superficial to the deep, lifelong ones, feed us and help us to grow, while bad friendships, including nasty frenemies and toxic hangers on, can lead us to the brink of madness. Emily Gould’s new novel, Friendship, talks about the stuff of modern friendships. Thirty-something besties Bev and Amy have seen each other through some tough times, but are now in such different places they might not recognize each other’s Instagram feeds. Referring to a social-media site is deliberate, of course; much of former blogger (Gawker, etc.) Gould’s life has been lived out loud online. While this book shows her still yakking (there are many thinly veiled references to her real …

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The Survivor and the Companion: Two Views into Breast Cancer

There are plenty of descriptions in books of boobs, breasts, bosoms, fun bags, melons, bazongas, nice racks and so on. However, there aren’t as many books devoted to them as a subject. Our female mammalian pectoral appendages, which take up so much of our time and male attention, don’t get taken seriously as often as they should. Until something goes wrong. While we’ve all laughed about our chest problems and protectors — the books that stay with me about breasts are the ones about breast cancer. And the best of the recent books about breast cancer is absolutely, positively A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka in which the author, a prominent DC news executive, details her experience with the disease. Diagnosed in 2010, Sikka had access to the best information and services, but found she still had questions, anxieties, fears, joys, highs and lows. Hers is not the story of a warrior in pink or a victim in denial; it’s a real, modern woman’s honest, open record of what really happens when your secondary …

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Two Books About the “Other” Parent

Do fathers matter? I’m a woman married to a man who is the father of our two children, so I have an answer to that question (indubitably yes!), but that doesn’t mean my sample audience is one of proper scientific breadth or depth. Fortunately, someone else has asked that question, and answered it with good strong research. Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked by Paul Raeburn is filled with anecdotes about how and why fathers matter in the lives of boys and girls. It’s a book whose time has come. I’ve grown so weary of the term “mommy blogger” and its attendant connotations of maternity as all encompassing and all powerful. (And yes, I acknowledge that many of the best “mommy bloggers” acknowledge and celebrate their male and female co-parents; I just wish more of them did so.) If we truly desire a third wave of feminism, one that encompasses all humans, then we need to examine what male parents (straight and gay and trans) bring to the …

Feeling Your Eats: Memoirs Chronicle Life With Food

I once wrote an entire blog post about the difference between “memoirs with recipes” and “memoirs, with recipes.” It’s the latter that I prefer, books in which recipes are not the main course, but a sweet lagniappe appended to excellent, incisive writing. So when I learned that this week’s TueNight theme was “Tasty,” one book sprang immediately to mind: Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by novelist Kate Christensen, which was recently released in paperback. In her prologue, Christensen (The Epicure’s Lament, The Great Man), says: “Food is a subterranean conduit to sensuality, memory, desire, but it opens the eater to all of it without changing anything.” To change something through eating requires the eater to connect the conduit to its source — and that can be painful. No wonder Christensen’s first included recipe is called “Dark Night of the Soul Soup.” All of her appetites are addressed in Blue Plate Special, including those a lesser artist might have chosen to discreetly gloss over, like her adolescent fumblings towards domestic normalcy in a …

The Wild Outdoors: Two Books Peer Into Nature’s Dark Side

You probably don’t live in a cave, which means you’re aware of the runaway success of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. At age 26, Strayed (a surname she chose to indicate her status) illogically, and with little preparation, chose to hike the 1,100-mile Pacific Coast Trail solo. I say “illogically” because of the dangers and pitfalls inherent in such an undertaking, not that Strayed had no good reason for her quest. She did: She was mourning the loss of her mother, grieving the end of her marriage and psychologically at the end of her tether. All of which is big fodder for big adventure. But what sets Wild apart from other memoirs of self-seeking treks is Strayed’s assured, calm voice — perhaps a clue as to why it took her so long (17 years) to write about the experience. The author knows she survived and also knows she learned a great deal, and she is able to prop up the reader through otherwise terrifying events involving bears, hanging …

The 8 Types of Imperfect Moms in Literature

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, because whether or not you’re a mother — and whether or not that’s okay with you — we all come from mothers, whether those mothers are perfect or not. That’s why my Frontlist pick this week is Robin O’Bryant’s Ketchup Is A Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, a collection of her columns from her popular Robin’s Chicks blog. Yes, O’Bryant is funny, fierce and honest, and more on her delightful writing in a moment. However, she had me at her subtitle. “Lies Moms Tell Themselves” — was there ever a more truthful phrase? In order to get through the process of childrearing, mothers have to tell themselves quite a few lies. For example: “I am ready to face another day changing this tiny tyrant’s waste-filled diapers.” (And I made that one up all by myself!) More important than anything O’Bryant has to say on potty training, breastfeeding, the chaos of the dinner hour and postpartum depression, more important even than her honesty, is the fact that she’s funny without …

Nature Or Nurture? Two Books On What it Takes to Win

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein might sound like a book about competitors like Usain Bolt and Serena Williams — but a closer read reveals that what Epstein has learned about extreme fitness can tell you a lot about your own athletic prowess. That’s because Epstein goes beyond the idea of genetic blessing and examines what kinds of training — physical and mental — support the natural gifts some athletes gain before birth. In other words, he asks, how do nature and nurture combine to create athletes so heart-stoppingly excellent that they seem like extraterrestrials? Epstein finds answers in places you might expect, like softball fields and golf courses, but he also learns from chess tournaments, virtuoso violinists and Antarctic field experiments. But what I found most scintillating in this deeply researched and engagingly written book was how many different forms of “extraordinary” there are on this earth. We all know big names like Phelps, Williams, Hamm, Jordan and others, but we shouldn’t forget that athletic excellence runs …

Books to Enhance Your Green Thumb

Much of my life that remains analog is abetted by the internet. If I want to cook old-school braised short ribs, I can order all of the ingredients online for doorstep delivery. My shelves are groaning with paper books that I’ve ordered from web sites. I can also order seeds and plants online for that most analog of activities: gardening. Yes, there are tools for gardening, both hi- and low-tech, including lawn mowers, trowels and software to organize your annuals and perennials. But eventually, every gardener has to get her hands dirty. Thank goodness! Talk about connecting with something elemental. So my frontlist pick for you this week is Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall. Wall’s memoir of her slow, enriching friendship with a neighbor’s Kenyan gardener is the kind of book that sounds too sweet but winds up being just right. Giles Owita has more to share with Wall than plant advice, and Wall has more to give …

Women Who Inspire: Donna Tartt

                  NAME: Donna Tartt AGE: 50 OCCUPATION: Author/Novelist WHO SHE IS: With just three novels published during her nearly three-decade career, Donna Tartt might be seen as an avatar for Slow Writing. Fortunately, each of those books has been worth the long wait. The Secret History (1992) was a huge bestseller; The Little Friend (2002) won two awards (the WH Smith Literary Award and the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction), and The Goldfinch (2013) has garnered immense praise both critical and collegial (including a thumbs up from Stephen King!). Donna began writing at the University of Mississippi, where her talent came to the fore and she transferred to Bennington College in Vermont, studying alongside other literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Brett Easton Ellis (with whom she was briefly romantically involved). She is retiring but not reclusive, and has told the New York Times that she “keeps distractions at a minimum,” using the Internet usually “to find a restaurant address.” It is, without a doubt, this kind of focus that makes Tartt’s brilliant fiction so …

A New Sci-fi Novel and a Classic Get Foreign Aid

Reading today’s bestsellers can lead you back to more great books. The brand-new title I have to share with you is perfect for this week’s  theme “Help,” even if at first glance you think it might not be your type of book. The Martian by Andy Weir is pure, geeky, unalloyed sci-fi. But this new novel is also chockfull of the kind of ingenuity that any woman who has ever resorted to making dinner for guests from the contents of her pantry can appreciate. Narrator astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and told he can’t be rescued for 1,412 days. Even after he details the supplies with which he’s left, both our hero and readers instantly know they’re not enough. Fortunately, Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist (before you shout “How convenient!”, remember, NASA would have wanted to send someone with the relevant skills, right?), so when life gives him lemons, he makes lemonade. In the book, life gives him potatoes, and he makes — well, you’ll have to read to …