December 2007 Archives

America the visual

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Are we in America what we eat, wear, touch, listen to, watch on TV? Iconic America: A Roller-Coaster Ride Through The Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture (Universe/Rizzoli, 350 pages, $60), by fashion guru Tommy Hilfiger and ad man George Lois, gives us a modern look at Americana and its meaning in our everyday lives.

Iconic America

The game's afoot!

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Sherlock Holmes has vanished and his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, has been convicted of murder in The Crimes of Dr. Watson: An Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Quirk Books, 60 pages, $24.95), by John H. Watson, M.D., edited by Duane Swierczynski.

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

It's a clever, gimmicky, beautifully put together little mystery book that allows you, the reader, to solve the mystery that could save the innocent Dr. Watson from rotting in Coldbath Fields penitentiary.

In a letter to a "Colonel Harry" in Philadephia, Watson recounts everything he knows about the events leading up to his arrest. The book becomes interactive with the inclusion of facsimile clues such as a train schedule, telegram, newspaper article, matchbook and the complete text of "The FInal Problem," Watson's famous account of the death of Holmes.

The reader then gets to put his own powers of deductive reasoning to use by trying to solve the mystery. When you think you have it, you can unseal the final pages, which reveal the rest of the story.

Elementary, my dear Watsons!

The Reverend Guppy’s Aquarium (Gotham Books, 266 pages, $20) is a curious title for a book. The subtitle — From Joseph P. Frisbee to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People — tells us more.

Strangely my Book Room copy — sparkling new in hardcover — has a completely different cover design than the one on both and Here they are, side by side, my copy to the left, the other to the right:

The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium

A Merry Christmas gift

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I received as a Christmas gift, from my oldest friend in the world and her family, Frank McCourt's first children's book, Angela and the Baby Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 32 pages, $17.99, ages 5-10), which came out last month.

Angela and the Baby Jesus

You might recall Angela from McCourt's best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela's Ashes. Angela was McCourt's mother, and he digs way into her past for this lovely new story...

Merry Christmas Eve

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Thomas Kinkade is best known as the "painter of light." Art snobs will tell you he's a hack and a sellout but his popularity cannot be denied as he is reportedly the most-collected living artist in America.

I am not a Kinkade collector but I won't dismiss his appeal. His paintings have a Norman Rockwell-like charm, with simple hometown themes, and his depiction of light is undeniably cool.

The artist also has been writing books for some years now, with Katherine Spencer. They continue the Cape Light series with their eighth installment, A Christmas Visitor (Berkley, 249 pages, $23.95)...

A Christmas Visitor

Perfect bathroom reading

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Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed (The Lyons Press, 320 pages, $13.95) by Cynthia Ceilan is one of those quirky little books you see in book stores, pick it up, page through it and say to yourself, "Who would buy this?"

Thinning the Herd

The thing is, it's full of stories, true facts and observations about death. Sounds a little grim, I agree, but much of it is pretty amusing. Here's a random sampling ...

Love in a Tuscan villa

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I chose today's book, Love Falls (HarperCollins, 304 pages, $13.95), because I was intrigued that the author, Esther Freud, is Sigmund Freud's great-granddaughter; also because the main character, Lara Riley, is of my era.

Love Falls

Lara is 17 in the summer of 1981, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. I was also a teenager that summer — but that's where the similarities end. I, for example, am not British and was not whisked off to Italy by my reclusive father to spend the summer at a Tuscan estate, where I then spent my days adventuring with the Willoughbys next door and falling in love with the family heir, Kip.

Alice Walker, the Dalai Lama and Oprah

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The Associated Press reported yesterday that Alice Walker, who won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple, has chosen the library at Emory University in Atlanta to place her archive.

One of the reasons Walker, a native Georgian, chose Emory is that she visits the university every couple of years for readings and meetings with faculty members. She also said that Emory's relationship with the Dalai Lama, who joined the Emory faculty this year as a presidential distinguished professor, played a part in her decision.

"I can imagine in years to come that my papers and memorabilia, my journals and letters, will find themselves always in the company of people who care about many of the things I do: culture, community, spirituality, scholarship and the blessings of ancestors who want each of us to find joy and happiness in this life, by doing the very best we can to be worthy of it," Walker said in a statement...


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Shelby Steele, author of the award-winning The Content of Our Character (1991) and last year's White Guilt, feels a kinship toward Barack Obama. They both were born to white mothers and black fathers. But he doesn't think Obama can win the White House.

In his latest book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win (Free Press, 134 pages, $22), Steele asserts that perhaps Obama's mixed race will work against him in his run for the highest political office in the land.

A Bound Man

What's your secret?

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I've got a secret. But I'm certainly not going to write it here.

I might consider writing it on a postcard and sending it to Frank Warren, though. Ever since Warren started his "Post a Secret" project several years ago, folks have been writing down their deepest secrets on postcards and sending them off into the universe.

Warren's third book in the project, A Lifetime of Secrets (William Morrow, 288 pages, $26.95) is as depressing as the first two, but I couldn't put it down.

A Lifetime of Secrets

Lobster special

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What could be worse than losing your job right before Christmas? How about knowing you're losing your job and then having to suck it up and work one last night serving holiday shoppers and partygoers as they celebrate what should be a joyous time of year.

That's the dilemma facing Red Lobster manager Manny as he must try to remain positive for the employees in Last Night at the Lobster (Viking Penguin, 146 pages, $19.95) by Stewart O’Nan...

Last Night at the Lobster

Working for a living

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How often have you gotten into shoving matches or fistfights at work over the last three years?

That question was asked of Alex Frankel during an interview for a job at Home Depot. Frankel, a writer, went "undercover" to work at some of America's biggest retail companies to find out what it is about these environments that creates such dedicated (if underpaid) employees.

Frankel, who has written about business before, in publications such as Wired, Fast Company, the New York Times Magazine and Outside, put the results of his research — two years worth — in book form this time: Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee (Collins, 208 pages, $24.95).

Punching In

Easy does it

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NEW YORK — Farewell, Easy Rawlins. Hello, Leonid McGill.

Mystery writer Walter Mosley has agreed to write three novels for Riverhead Books, two of which will feature Leonid McGill, a sleuth based in New York City. Mosley first used him in the short story ‘‘Karma.’’

‘‘I’ve long thought of Walter Mosley as one of the great American writers,’’ Riverhead executive editor Sean McDonald said in a statement Monday. ‘‘His work is consistently provocative and exciting, delivered with a style and power that is uniquely his own.’’

Mosley, 55, is best known for Devil in the Blue Dress, Black Betty and other novels in his Rawlins series. His last book featuring the Los Angeles private eye, Blonde Faith, was published this fall by Little, Brown and Company.


Here's the Sun-Times' review of Blonde Faith...

Miracles can happen

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People of faith like to believe that miracles happen every day; not the kind that you read about in the books of the saints, but the small things: the baby stopped crying after four straight hours; finding a parking space right away on a busy street; farmer gets a rainstorm after two weeks of drought.

The big ones rarely happen, but a couple of years ago in Buffalo, N.Y., a firefighter who had been in a vegetative state for 10 years, "woke up." He started talking, and for the good part of a day was able to interact with his family and friends. Journalist Rich Blake, the cousin of the firefighter's wife, has written a riveting account of Herbert's life and miraculous awakening in The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up: A True Story (Harmony Books, 246 pages, $23) ...

The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up

Here, kitty kitty

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I never expected to be a pet owner in adulthood — too much responsibility. What if I go on vacation, what do I feed it, it'll make my house smell, the shedding will never end, it'll get sick and die and I'll be heartbroken. But, a few years ago, circumstances led young Clarence into my life and, well, here I am, a happy cat owner.

Clarence is remarkably agreeable and, to my knowledge, has never been ill. So far, so good. He has, however, put on weight, which I don't understand because he doesn't really eat much. The vet made some dietary suggestions but I wanted to do some investigating on my own. Coincidentally The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know (Gotham, 370 pages, $17.50) came across my desk a couple of months ago...

The Cat Bible

Seize the day

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Author Harry Mount begins his book with explanations of one of Angelina Jolie's tattoos, specifically one spelled out on her belly: Quod me nutrit me destruit.

It means "What nourishes me destroys me" — a curious little phrase to be permanently marked on one's person, but this book is so not about Angelina. Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life (Hyperion, 259 pages, $19.95) is a Latin primer for the layperson...

Carpe Diem

Who's the greatest aunt you know?

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There is a certain art to being a good aunt — one that I've been trying to perfect since the day my first nephew was born 10 and a half years ago. (Understanding the importance of half-years a good tip for aspiring aunts.)

There is no mystery as to why I would have pulled off the shelf The Complete Book of Aunts (Twelve, 245 pages, $19.99) by Rupert Christiansen with Beth Brophy.

The Complete Book of Aunts

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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