Books

Hellbent For Living: A Screwball Parisian Adventure

Apr 12, 2012

Rosecrans Baldwin is the author of Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down.

It's not always the case, but Americans are feeling pretty good about the French these days. Look at this year's Academy Awards: Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, his top-grossing movie of all time, was nominated in four categories. More telling: This year's Best Picture statue went to a French film, The Artist, for the very first time.

In a 24-hour, Internet-fueled news cycle, political campaign reporters often seem to be focused on what just happened, and only what just happened. But presidential candidates profess to take a longer view: They consciously link their critiques and promises to the influential figures and debates of the past.

Carole King has an armful of Grammy Awards and countless Top 10 hits, both under her own name and as a songwriter for artists from Little Eva to the Monkees to Aretha Franklin.

Her solo album Tapestry spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts, becoming one of the biggest-selling records of all time. King managed to fit in all those hits by starting very, very young. She tells NPR's Renee Montagne that she was just 15 when she and some classmates formed a doo-wop group called the Co-Sines.

Blaise Pascal once wrote that writing succinctly can be hard. It's something many of us aim for, yet few of us master. But if you're writing on Twitter, you have to keep it short.

The Nigerian writer Teju Cole recently devoted himself to the goal of writing in brief. On his Twitter account, he crafts compact stories based on small news items, things you might overlook in the metro section of a newspaper. And with brevity, his stories gain deeper meaning.

There are plenty of pop culture references to the dangers of a close mother-son relationship. From the myth of Oedipus to the movie Psycho, narrative after narrative harps on the idea that mothers can damage their sons, make them weak, awkward and dependent.

But for millions of men, the opposite has turned out to be true, author Kate Lombardi tells NPR's Laura Sullivan. Lombardi — a mother herself — is the author of the new book, The Mama's Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger.

We have all felt the ethereal siren song of other universes — the thrilling suspicion that touching a certain ring may in fact suck you into a Wood Between the Worlds, or that if you walk just so between platforms nine and 10 at King's Cross Station, you might find yourself departing from platform nine and three-quarters. For some, the tingling sensation of magical lands fades after leaving childhood behind. But I still peer curiously into wardrobes, and thus here are three blazingly intelligent adult novels for the untamable Alice in all of us.

Photo by Beast of Traal via Flickr Creative Commons

Part 1:

Users, Unite!

This is the one union that will kick you out if you pass a drug test. Jesse McKinley wrote about the evolution and demands of the San Francisco drug users union for The New York Time.

New York Times Article  

Part 2:

The Cow Clause

Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr Creative Commons

Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook has touched down in China.

The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor

Mar 26, 2012

Tania Head had one of the most tragic and inspiring stories to come out of the Sept. 11 attacks.

She was in the south tower, on the same floor that the second plane hit. She saw horrific carnage and was handed a wedding ring by a dying man who requested that she give it to his wife. Then she was led to safety by Welles Crowther, the famous "man in the red bandanna," who lost his own life rescuing others. And finally, she woke up in a hospital burn unit six days later, only to find out that her husband had been killed in the north tower.

Rethinking Frankenstein

Mar 26, 2012

 Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein has long been read as a cautionary tale about the limits of technology, and a warning against scientific hubris. The monster is a man-made creation run amok, seeking revenge on the scientist that harnessed electricity and brought him to life…a horror recreated many times on film.

In The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, four exceptional children wind up going on the adventure of a lifetime after answering a rather strange ad. The ad appears in a newspaper in a fictional place called Stonetown. It reads, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?"

Dozens of children answer the ad and try to conquer a series of mind-boggling tests. But only four are able to pass. All are orphans, and each is a genius in his or her own way.

Teddy Roosevelt's 'Doomed' War On New York Vice

Mar 25, 2012

New York in the gilded age was a city of epic contrasts. Top-hatted swells in glossy carriages promenaded uptown, while just a few blocks south, poverty, crime and overcrowding were the order of the day.

And vice, let's not forget vice. New York was what was called a "wide-open" town, with gambling, prostitution and liquor available on almost every corner. The cops and the Democratic machine politicians of Tammany Hall mostly looked the other way — when they weren't actively involved.

Raquel Jaramillo's debut novel, Wonder, written under the pen name R.J. Palacio, was born out of a rather embarrassing incident. The author was out with her two sons, sitting in front of an ice cream store. Her oldest had just finished fifth grade, and her youngest was still in a stroller. They spotted a girl whose face had been deformed by a medical condition.

Seventy years ago, in the middle of World War II, a couple of hundred miles north of Toulouse, Claude Lanzmann was a high school student — and an assimilated French Jew. Every day he faced the risk of arrest.

When Lanzmann was a teenager, both he and his father independently joined the Communist Resistance. He writes about that in his newly translated memoir, The Patagonian Hare.

What makes people creative? What gives some of us the ability to create work that captivates the eyes, minds and hearts of others? Jonah Lehrer, a writer specializing in neuroscience, addresses that question in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Lehrer defines creativity broadly, considering everything from the invention of masking tape to breakthroughs in mathematics; from memorable ad campaigns to Shakespearean tragedies. He finds that the conditions that favor creativity — our brains, our times, our buildings, our cities — are equally broad.

145,000 businesses start-up each year in the US.  Many launch in garages, home offices, or in the case of Stonyfield Farm, a drafty old farmhouse on a New Hampshire hilltop with seven cows, and a dream. Like most entrepreneurial ventures, the company also had vision, tenacity, some capital, market research, and an understanding of expenses, competition and supply chains. How a new business will affect the personal lives of its leader, or the lives of their families and spouses, however, rarely figures into a business plan.

Don Draper, the main character on the hit TV show Mad Men, is said to have been inspired by a real Madison Avenue ad man: George Lois. Lois was a leader in the "Creative Revolution" in advertising during the 1950s, and became one of the most influential art directors in advertising history. His work helped make brands like Xerox, Lean Cuisine and Jiffy Lube famous. Lois is perhaps best known for creating iconic Esquire magazine covers, many of which now reside in the Museum of Modern Art.

Today, flying is like riding a bus. But it wasn't always that way. Vaulted from the sands of Kitty Hawk and freed from military exigencies by the end of World War I, aviation soared into the 1920s and '30s on a direct course to tomorrow. Here are three flyers who not only helped open the skies, but also brought literary gems back from the cutting edge of progress, from a time when flying was the most exciting thing in the world.

The Long Con

Mar 14, 2012
Photo by Robert Huffstutter via Flickr Creative Commons

We can’t say with any authority when the first con artist found his mark. But we can trace the term “confidence man” to an article in The New York Herald in 1849. The Herald reporter urged citizens to stop by the city’s notorious tombs and peer at the suspect known as Samuel Williams. Many came to peer at the flim-flam man who described his effect on his marks as “putting them to sleep.”  The willingness to be duped, is of course, the genius of the con.

One hundred fifty years ago, in the summer of 1862, the Civil War was raging and President Abraham Lincoln was starting to scribble away at a document, an ultimatum to the rebellious states: Return to the Union, or your slaves will be freed.

Emancipation was a "military necessity," the president later confided to his Cabinet. Lincoln called it "absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves," Lincoln said, "or be ourselves subdued."

When you think about blockbuster best-sellers, genres like mystery, crime and romance typically come to mind. Ethical or moral fiction? Not so much. But that's how Jodi Picoult, who has 33 million copies of her books currently in circulation, describes her novels. So how did an author who writes about divisive issues get so popular?

Seven years ago, when journalist Bryce Hoffman started covering the Ford Motor Co. for The Detroit News, he knew he was either witnessing the end of an American icon or its resurrection.

When an author writes something that's supposed to be a true story and readers discover he's stretched the truth, things can get ugly fast. Recall Oprah Winfrey's famous rebuke of author James Frey for making up much of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. "I feel duped, but more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers," she told him.

Dr. Adam Wolfberg had two daughters and another on the way when his wife, Kelly, went into labor. But this joyous occasion had come much too soon — Kelly was three months away from her due date. After just 26 weeks in the womb, their baby daughter Larissa entered the world by emergency cesarean section and was whisked into the neonatal intensive care unit of a Boston hospital. It was the same hospital where Wolfberg was doing his residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and his medical background turned out to be a mixed blessing.

There were a lot of good stories from the 2008 presidential election, including Hillary Clinton's serious run for the Democratic nomination, not to mention the election of the first African-American president. The whole story was covered in the bestselling — and controversial — book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Game Change.

The film version of the young adult book sensation The Hunger Games opens March 23rd. The hype around the movie has sent the sales of the already best-selling trilogy to new heights. And publishers are eagerly churning out more books set in post apocalyptic dystopian worlds — just like The Hunger Games.

Imagine, for a moment, that you're a publisher hearing a pitch about a children's book whose tangled plot braids together quantum physics, fractions and megaparsecs (a measure for distances in intergalactic space). The book also casually tosses out phrases in French, Italian, German and ancient Greek. Sound like the next kids' best-seller to you?

They're Nobody And Want To Know Everything

Mar 4, 2012

Two mysterious men pull up to the courthouse and head to the public records office. They're strangers, and they ask a lot of strange questions like, "I'd like to look at Mayor John Doe's property deeds." Or, "I want to see Congressman Smith's voting records."

The vast majority of the 175 indigenous languages still spoken in the United States are on the verge of extinction.

Linguist Elizabeth Little spent two years driving all over the country looking for the few remaining pockets where those languages are still spoken — from the scores of Native American tongues, to the Creole of Louisiana. The resulting book is Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Lost Languages.

The famed mystic Rasputin — notorious for his otherworldly powers and his sexual escapades — may not have seemed like a traditional family man, but in fact, he had a wife and three children.

His eldest daughter, Maria, is at the center of Kathryn Harrison's new novel, Enchantments, a dark fairytale mash-up of history and magical realism set during the last days of Imperial Russia.

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