Friday, March 8, 2013

A Tsunami Survival Story, a Bio on Dennis Hopper, a Memoir from Sandra Day O'Conner, an Oral History of the Oak Ridge Gals, and a Last-Minute Reminder for Mohsin Hamid.

Are we all psyched about Mohsin Hamid's visit to Boswell tonight? Yes, we are. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Riverhead) is getting amazing attention. The Journal Sentinel review from Jim Higgins notes:

"How to Get Filthy Rich would be an interesting literary novelty if it were only a satire, but Hamid does much more here. In his succinct, deft prose and episodic chapters, he unfolds the life stories of the man and his true love, also unnamed but described as 'the pretty girl.' Fueled by their ambitions, they are not destined to marry each other, but their connection lasts through their lifetimes. Beyond their determination, she has only her looks and he only his intelligence, but both do achieve a state of being 'filthy rich,' at least for a time."

And I only need to quote one line from Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. "It is a measure of Mr. Hamid’s audacious talents that he manages to make his protagonist’s story work on so many levels." Audacious indeed. It is one of those rare novels that speaks equally to the head and the heart. See you tonight.

It's already Friday and I haven't even mentioned any new releases this week. That's ok, as I saw some interesting books in new and noteworthy that we're completely new, but as they say, if you don't know about them, they are new. Any bookseller who has spent more than a couple of days on the floor will have had a customer come up and ask them about a "new" book that, when you figure out what it is, turned out to be five years old.

Jason saw Sonali Deraniyagala's Wave (Knopf) on my desk and almost mourned about how sad it is. It's about the 2004 tsunami and one woman who lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons. This also got a daily New York Times review from Dwight Garner, who observed that "a form of greatness reverberates from her simple and supple prose here." And Lynn Neary wrote about the book for NPR.You really experience the tragedy first hand. Devastating.

A change of pace is Tom Folsom's biography of Dennis Hopper, known simply as Hopper (It Books). Hopper's had a storied career, from (from the cover copy) the chopper-riding outlaw of Easy Rider to the prophetic madman in Apocalypse Now to the terrifying psychopath in Blue Velvet. Come to think of it, they are all pretty terrifying. Tom Folsom is a documentary filmmaker and also wrote a book called The Mad Ones, which was about a guy who took on the Cosa Nostra (New York mafia). 

The biographer/historian Douglas Brinkley called Hopper "an electiric and rollicking tour de force profile of Hollywood's great outlaw chameleon. And here's a nice column in the Huffington Post about how Folsom came to write the book. And here's an interview from Jeffrey Trachtenberg in The Wall Street Journal.

Despite her movie career fizzling, Sandra Day O'Connor wound up with a fine backup career as the first woman Supreme Court Justice*. Her new memoir Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court (Random House) focuses on her life on the bench and it's also gotten some fine pre-publication attention. Walter Isaacson, Jon Meacham, Evan Thomas, Gordon Wood, and Annette Gordon-Reed all weigh in. They all say a variation of what Meacham said, that she's an "engaging historian" with "characteristic clear-eyed common sense."

Because this is not O'Connor's first book, it is not skyrocketing up the charts like Sonia Sotomayor. Kakutani in The New York Times notes "The reason to read Out of Order is to get Justice O’Connor’s succinct, snappy account of how today’s court — so powerful, so controversial and so frequently dissected by the media — evolved from such startlingly humble and uncertain beginnings that it initially seemed like a jerry-built enterprise constructed on entirely ad hoc principles" Here's a link to her appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jason said that this was a hilarious interview.

Finally there is another look at greatest generation women in The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of The Women who Helped Win World War II (Touchstone), written by Denise Kiernan. Kiernan, who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Discover, and other publications, looks at the women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which, at the height of World War II, consumed more electricity than World War II. The things you can learn from jacket copy. Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it, Kiernan resurrects a forgotten chapter in American history, an important way station in the road to the atomic bomb.

I actually heard the story on Weekend Edition before coming across the book in the store. The women involved were so excited to help win the war, and the town was so filled with young workers that it was a fun place to be, filled with skating rinks and bowling alleys and other diversions fit for a 1940s era gal, and there was really no regrets at the time about helping build a devastating bomb. And our memories do need jump starting. I asked one bookseller she they knew of Oak Ridge and she (really) replied "Giddy up a oom papa oom papa mau mau." But that's a different chapter in the city's storied history.

*And yes, that is also made up. Who says I rely completely on jacket copy?

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