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!

Former Sox Manager Reflects On Turbulent Tenure

Jan 19, 2013

Terry Francona probably never has to buy his own drink in Boston. He's the manager who helped steer the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007, turning the franchise from a kind of national sob story into a sleek, rich and successful sports enterprise.

Neil Jordan is best known as a filmmaker — he directed The Crying Game, Michael Collins, Interview with the Vampire and the Showtime series The Borgias — but he began his career as a writer. His first novel, The Past, was published in Ireland in 1980 to great acclaim.

The novel follows an enigmatic protagonist on his search for his family's secrets in a Cornish seaside town. Jordan joins NPR's Scott Simon to talk about The Past, which has been reissued in the United States by Soft Skull Press.

This interview was originally broadcast on Jan. 23, 2012.

The individuals who participated in the first Inquisition 800 years ago kept detailed records of their activities. Vast archival collections at the Vatican, in France and in Spain contain accounts of torture victims' cries, descriptions of funeral pyres and even meticulous financial records about the price of torture equipment.

Jared Diamond is once again inflaming my tribe.

Those of us who work in an office know that there is at least some part of the organization that is utterly frustrating.

In The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, authors Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman argue that the back-to-back meetings and unending bureaucracy serve an important purpose.

This week, the National Book Critics Circle announced that two feminist literary scholars, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, would be the recipients of its 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tracy Chevalier's 1999 masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was a tour de force, revealing the painter Vermeer through the eyes of his 16-year-old maid. A publishing sensation, the novel set the pattern for Chevalier's subsequent work: meticulously researched historical fiction, filled with gritty detail yet rendered in luminous prose.

Tropic Death, the blunt, specific title for Eric Walrond's story collection, first published more than 85 years ago, couldn't be more apt. These 10 stories indeed have tropical settings — namely, British Guiana, Barbados and the Panama Canal Zone — and death is ever present, as palpable as the bludgeoning heat and suffocating racism that characterize many of these tales.

I was baffled by the cover of The New York Times Magazine two Sundays ago. You may remember that the headline of the cover story was: "George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year." I was baffled because the only George Saunders I could think of was that old movie star who was always playing cads in films like Rebecca and All About Eve.

Let's face it. When you're a kid, sometimes adults can be a real drag. The new Captain Underpants book puts it this way: "Did you ever notice how grown-ups hate it when kids are having fun?"

Over the course of time, Supreme Court justices have written 225 books. Few reveal much about the justices themselves, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor's autobiography, My Beloved World, is a searingly candid memoir about her life growing up in the tenements of the Bronx, going to Princeton and Yale Law School, becoming a prosecutor and a private corporate lawyer and, at age 38, becoming a federal judge.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal says he's moved on with his life. The four-star general was forced to resign from the military after his aides were quoted in a Rolling Stone article making disparaging remarks about members of the Obama administration.

Daughter Of The Storm: An Iranian Literary Revolution

Jan 13, 2013

Roya Hakakian's most recent book is Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.

Adolescence is a universally grave hour. Mine was made graver by a revolution in 1979 in my beloved birth country of Iran. The mutiny I felt within had an echo in the world without. On the streets, martial law was in effect. Tehran was burning, bleeding.

A popular American belief holds that the act of writing can somehow save the writer. But having written a couple of books and countless essays, I disagree. What saved me was not writing, but reading.

Scientist and writer Bill Streever is fascinated by the extremes at both ends of the thermometer. In his 2009 book, Cold, he visited some of the chilliest places on Earth. And in his latest book, he treks through Death Valley, investigates fire-based weaponry and walks on coals — all to gain insight into what it means to be hot. Really hot.

Father's Death Spurs Son To Tackle Health Care

Jan 12, 2013

In 2007, David Goldhill's father, in good overall health, checked into the hospital with a minor case of pneumonia. Within a few days, he developed sepsis, then a wave of secondary infections. A few weeks after entering the hospital and the day after his 83rd birthday, he died.

Amar'e Stoudemire is known as "STAT," an acronym for "standing tall and talented." He's an 11-year-old basketball player who wants badly to learn how to dunk — that's Amar'e the character, anyway.

Just who is The Little Dancer, Aged 14? Who is the actual girl, cast 2/3 of her life size by Edgar Degas?

That little dancer was Marie van Goethem, one of three sisters left to fend for themselves after their father dies and their mother begins spending her washerwoman's income on absinthe.

For years, I've taken issue with depictions of mentally ill characters in books and movies. Irrational behavior is easily explained away: They're crazy! No need to elaborate further.

So when I picked up Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, I was apprehensive that the main character, an untreated bipolar Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and child for an international adventure, might be a kooky manic cliche.

Barry Lopez is known for writing about the natural world. His books include Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men, where he explores the relationship between the physical landscape and human culture. But in a new essay in the January issue of Harper's Magazine, Lopez writes that he was sexually molested by a family friend when he was a boy, and says the man was never brought to justice.

'Umbrella' Is A Twisted Modernist Masterpiece

Jan 10, 2013

Will Self's latest novel, the Booker-shortlisted Umbrella, is a strange and sprawling modernist experiment that takes the human mind as its subject and, like the human mind, is infinitely capacious, wretchedly petty and ultimately magnificent, even in its defects.

You know how sometimes in life you make a friend, and at first you want to talk to her all the time, feverishly telling her details that, by their very personal nature, will bind you to this other person forever, or so you hope? But inevitably, of course, friendships shift and change and become something different from what they initially seemed.

Two years have gone by since I first suggested to President Obama that he create a new Cabinet post, and appoint distinguished fiction writer Jim Harrison as secretary for quality of life. The president still has not responded to my suggestion, and meanwhile Harrison has gone on to publish his latest book of novellas, which deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it.

In 1961, Robert Frost became the first poet to read at a U.S. inauguration when he recited "The Gift Outright" at President John F. Kennedy's swearing in. Since then, only three other poets have taken part in subsequent inaugural ceremonies: Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander. Now, there's a fifth.

Forget Fifty Shades of Grey. In China, "bureaucracy lit" is flying off bookstore shelves. With the books' stories of Machiavellian office politics, they're read avidly, both as entertainment and as how-to guides for aspiring civil servants.

So what is the secret to success in the corridors of power?

Here is a five-point guide to success, with tips gleaned from the pioneers of bureaucracy lit.

Lesson 1: Cultivate your connections.

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. The document declares that all those held as slaves within any state, or part of a state, in rebellion "shall be then, thenceforward and forever free."

Historian Bruce Levine explores the destruction of the old South and the reunified country that emerged from the Civil War in his new book, The Fall of the House of Dixie. He says one result of the document was a flood of black men from the South into the Union Army.

Since the publication of George Saunders' 1996 debut story collection, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, journalists and scholars have been trying to figure out how to describe his writing. Nobody has come very close. The short story writer and novelist has been repeatedly called "original," which is true as far as it goes — but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Saunders blends elements of science fiction, horror and humor writing into his trademark brand of literary fiction.

A Literary Sex Education In Mumbai

Jan 7, 2013

Manil Suri is the author of the forthcoming novel The City of Devi.

Through the 1960s and '70s and well into the present century, Harold Robbins' name has stood out in India as someone who has perhaps educated the entire repressed subcontinent (or at least its English-speaking population) about sex.

Author Simon Garfield loves maps. His home in London is full of them — that's where they're stocked, hanging on walls and piled on shelves. So when Garfield was looking for a new topic to write about, not surprisingly, maps won out.

His new book is called On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Works.

A Different Detroit, As A Native Tells It

Jan 6, 2013

Author Mark Binelli grew up in a Detroit suburb in the 1970s. The Detroit he knew was a study in decline. The city used to embody the American dream: the auto industry, consumer culture and Motown.

When he was offered a magazine assignment to write about the Detroit auto show in January 2009, Binelli tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden, he jumped on it.

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