NWPR Books

Northwest Public Radio loves to read! Below, you will find our editorial reviews and personal recommendations for literary works we think you, our listeners, would love.

We are also receive station support from many Northwest Independent Booksellers, who provide their own recommendations here.

And, if you have any great reads you would like to share with us, please let us know, by emailing your review to NWPR@wsu.edu!

Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction, so it makes sense that novelists get some of their best stories from the headlines. That's what happened with mystery writer Megan Abbott. A few years ago, she was one of the millions of people captivated by news stories about a strange illness that seemed to consume a town in upstate New York. Now, Abbott has taken pieces of that true story and turned it into a chilling new novel.

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead!

Film director and writer John Waters has broken many taboos and created intentionally perverse scenarios in his films — most notably in Pink Flamingos, about a competition for the title "the filthiest person alive."

Waters, who is now 68, was looking for an adventure he could write about. So he decided to hitchhike cross-country from his home in Baltimore to his co-op apartment in San Francisco.

Any novel that opens on a young American woman running a bookshop in a small town nestled in the Welsh countryside promises a glimpse into a life lived far from the madding crowd. That's the quaint plotline Tom Rachman's new novel tells uninterruptedly for the length of one brief chapter. Thereafter, Rachman returns only occasionally to the World's End bookshop and its shelves sporting idiosyncratic labels like: Artists Who Were Unpleasant to Their Spouses; History, the Dull Bits; and Books You Pretend to Have Read but Haven't.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Alan Rabinowitz is famous for studying jaguars. The renowned zoologist and conservationist is responsible for the world's first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in the mountains of Belize. His books about working with big cats have sold millions of copies.

His latest book is different — it's not about conservation policy or animal behavior. It's a picture book about his own childhood. Rabinowitz grew up with a severe stutter, something he had to overcome before he could pursue the career that has made him a voice for endangered animals.

A couple of years ago, film director and writer John Waters decided to hitchhike alone from his Baltimore home to his apartment in San Francisco — and see what happened. The so-called Pope of Trash — the man behind the films Pink Flamingos and Cry-Baby — managed to get many rides — 21 in all. He chronicles his cross-country adventure in a new book called Carsick.

Catch-22 is widely considered a great novel; until now, it has been a disaster as a play. Though Joseph Heller adapted his work for the stage decades ago, every production had been a failure. Now, however, a new production of his play seems to have broken the curse: It is touring the UK and receiving strong reviews.

When the thoroughbreds burst out of the starting gate at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, fans will have their eyes on California Chrome as a potential Triple Crown winner. And there to interview the winner on horseback will be Donna Barton Brothers, an analyst for NBC Sports.

Before she was an analyst, Brothers had a distinguished career as a jockey, winning more than 1,100 races before retiring in 1998. When she retired, Brothers tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies, she knew it was time to get out in part because it started to feel dangerous.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of many pivotal events in the civil rights movement, and to commemorate "Freedom Summer," Tell Me More is diving into books that explore that theme.

You normally hear Los Angeles Times and Morning Edition film critic Kenneth Turan reviewing new movies, but this week, we're talking about old films with him instead. That's because he's written a new book called Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film. In it, he offers up tidbits of Hollywood history and behind-the-scenes drama, as well as his critical analysis of some of the world's greatest movies — some familiar, some obscure.

It's a writer's fantasy. You author a book. It hits the young adult jackpot. It sells 10 million copies. Hollywood actors fight for parts in the movie.

Welcome to John Green's reality. Not too long ago, in New York City, he introduced a screening of the film based on his novel, The Fault in Our Stars, to an audience of hundreds of teenagers ecstatically screaming his name. They cried copiously throughout the film, which follows a romance between two teenagers with cancer.

The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain, and 18 times that of France. It costs, on average, $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up — far more than the U.S. spends on a child's education.

But the biggest problem with juvenile incarceration, author Nell Bernstein tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies, is that instead of helping troubled kids get their lives back on track, detention usually makes their problems worse, and sets them in the direction of more crime and self-destructive behavior.

I suppose it's preaching to the converted to announce that David Ignatius has done it again. But here he is, having written yet another deeply engaging spy thriller, rooted at that point where the intricacies of the intelligence community and the everyday world of civilians converge. However, it's a reviewer's duty to point out some fascinating new turns in the man's work — in particular, the highlighting of Internet communications as a source of secret information over the conventional collection of data in the field, and the actual manipulation of events by means of writing code.

Ammon Shea, author of Reading the OED, has just come out with a new book about words — words like "dilapidated," "balding" and "lunch." Shea says those words were once frowned upon, as were more than 200 other words he has compiled.

I'm completely confident in stating, without an ounce of hyperbole, that this is the best fairy tale retelling I've ever read.

I don't say this lightly. I've lived and breathed fairy tales for as long as I can remember. Fairy tales were an alphabet for me, and subversive retellings were the language in which I found my favorite poems, short fiction and novels. And Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, in setting "The 12 Dancing Princesses" in Prohibition-era New York, uses this language to sing jazz standards and teach me the Charleston.

In How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, University of Wisconsin professor Jordan Ellenberg celebrates the virtues of mathematics, especially when they're taught well. He writes that a math teacher has to be a guide to good reasoning, and "a math course that fails do so is essentially teaching the student to be a very slow, buggy version of Microsoft Excel. And, let's be frank, that really is what many of our math courses are doing."

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Laura Silver's favorite knish shop in New York closed it doors, she started to investigate why it shut down. And that led to a years-long research project, she tells Weekend Edition's Rachel Martin.

Her book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food explores the history of the baked delicacy filled with meat or vegetables and what it means to the people who love it.

Magic From The Margins In Long-Awaited 'Long Hidden'

May 29, 2014

As I was growing up, the fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis provided a way to escape a childhood I wasn't quite sure I would survive. Myth is powerful stuff; it opened doorways to alternate realities that helped me see more clearly the twisted power lines that dictated my upbringing. But that was my childhood: the childhood of a white, middle class girl who could relate to middle class white hobbits and the Pevensie children and the icky evil they encountered (which, trust me, was very icky).

What happens when you tap into the nostalgia surrounding not one, but two, beloved television franchises? LeVar Burton is about to find out.

For 26 years host Burton encouraged kids to embark on reading adventures on the PBS show Reading Rainbow. After the show went off the air in 2009, Burton acquired the rights to the brand and its library.

Maya Angelou Reads 'Still I Rise'

May 28, 2014

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And we're going to take a moment now to listen to one of Maya Angelou's best-known poems. Here she is, reading "Still I Rise."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAYA ANGELOU: You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise.

Poet, performer and political activist Maya Angelou has died after a long illness at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was 86. Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou grew up in a segregated society that she worked to change during the civil rights era. Angelou, who refused to speak for much of her childhood, revealed the scars of her past in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of a series of memoirs.

China's economic engagement in Africa can be measured in dollars — for instance, the $71 million airport expansion contract in Mali, funded by American foreign aid, that went to a Chinese construction firm.

More remarkably, it can be measured in people: More than a million Chinese citizens have permanently moved to Africa, buying land, starting businesses and settling among local populations.

The exclamation point in its title is a clear tipoff: Delicious!, Ruth Reichl's first novel, is about as subtle as a Ring Ding. It's an enthusiastic but cloyingly sentimental story about a 21-year-old who finds happiness by making peace with her past — namely, her crippling, self-deprecating hero-worship of her older sister. After much angst, she comes to realize that "it was finally time to stop running from the best in me."

For decades, British students have grown up reading the American classics To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible. Now, if students want to read those books, it will be on their own time. Harper Lee, John Steinbeck and Arthur Miller are out — perhaps replaced by the likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and George Eliot.

Elizabeth McCracken is a former public librarian best known for her quirkily endearing 1996 novel, The Giant's House, about an unlikely romance kindled at the circulation desk between a petite librarian and a freakishly tall boy. Over time, her work — filled with misfits, giants, and oddballs — has become darker. Loss dominates the triple-trinity of stories in her new collection, Thunderstruck, though she continues to slyly celebrate resilience and unlikely connections.

In the world of fiction, World War II is well-trod territory. Author Anthony Doerr will freely admit that.

"There are so many books written about the war, supposedly if you drop them on Germany it would cover the whole country," he jokes. He even says that he worried about that as he was writing his new novel, All The Light We Cannot See.

Many of the hit-making songwriters of the 1960s are remembered by name: Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Lennon-McCartney, Holland-Dozier-Holland. But the man who wrote (or co-wrote) classics like "Twist and Shout," "Piece of My Heart," "Hang on Sloopy," "I Want Candy" and "Here Comes the Night" remains unknown to all but the most ardent music fans.

Acclaimed writer Tom Robbins has a new book out, and it's as fantastical and philosophical as anything he's ever written — but this time he's made himself the main character. It's called Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, and Robbins tells NPR's Rachel Martin that writing a memoir is like driving down a once-familiar road, "but there are potholes in it now, and some fast-food franchises sprung up along the way, and there's occasionally a blind curve that you might not remember. But it's still familiar," he says.

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