Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Boswell's Best Roundup--Lawrence Wright, Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Taylor Branch, James Oakes, and Scott W. Berg.

I chatted with Jason and he said this was a light release week compared to last. Since I focused on fiction new releases last week, there's been a pile up of nonfiction, so I'm going to include these Boswell Best carryovers, in addition to a couple of high profile titles going on sale January 15.

The highest profile release is definitely Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Alfred Knopf).Wright is best known for his book on 9-11, The Looming Tower. This book involved years of research. The Chicago Tribune review notes:

"Going Clear is an attempt to cut through the morass of obscurity and misinformation, to provide an accurate account of Scientology's history and a fair assessment of its claims. This is not an easy task, in large part because Scientologists themselves — particularly those at the top of the Church's hierarchy — have long made it their policy to discourage open inquiry, both by members and by outsiders"

Amusingly enough, almost anything from a Lawrence Wright key word search to the Chicago Tribune review (and probably any other) has paid ads from Scientology. I suspect that if I was on an ad-supported blog, it would be here too!

Another book that I had an inquiry about from a customer months ago (she wanted to know if the authors might be coming to Boswell) is Tracy Kidder, who with Richard Todd, has written Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Random House). This is more than a writing manual; it's a conversation between writer and editor. In this Associated Press Account (via Newser), Laua Impellizeri acknowledges:

"It's more than a fig leaf when Kidder, a long-form journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and many other accolades, mentions his editors' harsh assessments of his early work. Those are important to hear. And it's important to know that Kidder still suffers from disorganization, ballooning prose and melodrama."

Next Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (also known as Martin Luther King Day and King Day and probably Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and it's nice to have two high profile releases to help celebrate. I've already shouted out Kadir Nelson's picture book, I Have a Dream, but there's also Taylor Branch's The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (Simon and Schuster).  One wonders if this material wasn't already covered in his trilogy of books about the Civil Right movement, so I think we need a critic to sort this out. Terri Schlichenmeyer in the Augusta Chronicle praises Branch for telling the story in a more vibrant way, through stories.

But I still don't know how the books are connected. I ask Jason. He told me that he didn't get much info on the sales call about this one. He thought the book was an extrapolation, but noted that the publisher sees the book as important, as there was promotional money available for taking a face out quantity.

Aha! I decoided to read Branch's preface and learned that this book is a distillation of the work  that was covered in three volumes over 2300 plus pages. It's eighteen pivotal stories, and I think that's great, because I think the odds are greater that I can get someone to read this than I can the trilogy.

Publishers like to link book releases to timely celebrations, hence the Martin Luther King Day tie in above. I totally appreciate that, once asking an author to delay her New Orleans memoir event a few months until it lined up with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. James Oakes's new history, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (W.W. Norton), was timed for the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Oakes teaches at the City University of New York Graduate Center and has written several other books on the South and the Civil War.

Oakes has gotten some nice reviews for the book, but I was most intrigued by this piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books, reprinted in Salon, about what was historically accurate and what was not in the movie Lincoln. Here Kelly Candaele writes:

"Historian James Oakes, in his book Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, published in early December, suggests that Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner might have that part of the history right. Oakes points out that a large number of Republicans felt that the amendment abolishing slavery was a 'civil' rather than 'military' measure, and that the basis for changing the constitution was thus linked to the winning of the war. As the war’s end drew closer, the justification for the 13th Amendment was potentially undermined"

Need a review? Kirkus's recommendation: "A finely argued book about how the destruction of slavery involved much more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation." I could have also sworn I heard Oakes on NPR, but I can't find the link.

And finally there is 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End (Pantheon), by Scott W. Berg. Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times is very enthusiastic:

"Berg does a remarkable job with the story and its aftermath, drawing on memoirs, contemporary reports and presidential papers to re-create — and offer an easy road map through — a complicated narrative. He lets the morality of individual acts and actors stand and fall on their own merits, though it's clear he believes that many of the condemned Dakota were railroaded"

And speaking of timing, the Washington Post observed (no byline, by the way) that 38 Nooses was published 150 years after the Mankato mass hanging, a memorial to this sad incident. Oh, and Boswellian Paul is from Mankato, but I don't know what that has to do with anything.

All titles are 20% off in store, at least through next Monday, January 21.

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