I just want to thank all of you who donated something to relief for Haiti. Thanks also, to those who organized Hope for Haiti Now; and more importantly those who work with the organizations funded by that benefit; and most importantly to the Haitian people, for reminding us of the power of noble ideas, the betrayals of history, and the common humanity revealed in horrible natural cataclysm. I've been reading Eduardo Galeano's wonderful new book, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone. Here are a few words from just one story: "The first country that was free, truly free, was Haiti. It abolished slavery three years before England, on a night illuminated by the sun of bonfires, while celebrating its recently won independence and recuperating its forgotten indigenous name." Please keep up the support to Haiti through long-working organizations like Partners in Health, co-founded by Paul Farmer who was beautifully profiled in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains. Coming out this spring from University of California Press: Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader, provides a fascinating overview of this contemporary activist hero.
Please enjoy this contribution to your reading pleasure with our recommendations and reviews. Our website continues to supplement the newsletter with more offerings including these new videos. Please check them out and stop on by the stores to see what's new and wonderful!
John & all Dieselfolk
Move over Anne Lamott, you've got competition for the most cynical, biting, hilarious, dysfunctional alcoholic author who has found redemption and recovery through religion and God. Karr, whose previous best-selling memoirs are Liars' Club and Cherry, writes a third installment covering her later and current life as wife, mother, professor, poet and, sadly, out-of-control alcoholic. With her marriage failing and a stint in a mental institution, she turns to a never-mentioned-by-name 12-step program. After slipping a few times and experimenting with various churches, she finally finds her peace and becomes a devout Catholic. Be warned, though, for as well crafted and gripping as Lit is, its ultimate conclusion is very troubling. -- Michele Tagger
After reading about Richard Powers' novels for years, I've finally, very gladly, read one. His latest is Generosity: An Enhancement wherein the lynchpin character is a teacher of writing at an arts college in Chicago. Having early success as a writer but soon thereafter falling victim to writer's block, he feels inadequate in most elements of his life. Astonishingly, in his class he meets an Algerian refugee who, despite a terribly harsh past, has always maintained a constancy of happiness. She is an inspiration to his students but a worry to him, so much so that he consults a psychologist at the college.
A scientist studying the Algerian's "disorder" (called hyperthermia) and a videographer also become involved so that the novel embraces many subjects. Among them: the art of writing, the video arts, the study of genomes and how they can be manipulated or even manufactured for profit; what teachers owe their students and vice-versa, how technology is transforming our lives, the ethics of psychology and the mystery of love. And more. The narrator's occasional intrusion as the writer struggling to understand his characters and get them right also reminds readers that writing fiction is no easy task, and makes me look forward to reading more of Richard Powers' oeuvre. -- Diane Leslie
"In the British Library catalog," Bill Bryson tells us, "enter 'Shakespeare' as author and you get 13,858 options, and as subject you get 16,092 more. The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., contains about seven thousand works on Shakespeare. . .and, as this slim volume attests, the number keeps growing." A good number of them are most likely biographies. What makes Bryson's biography different is that it is one written more on what we don't know than what we do.
Originally published in 2007, Bryson's Shakespeare was re-released last November in an updated, illustrated version. Bryson explores in a rather simple way the complicated paradox of how Shakespeare can be the most well-known literary figure in history, yet we hardly know a thing about him. Birth date? Speculated. Childhood upbringing? Largely unknown. We aren't even sure he actually looks the way we've always thought him to look like. It certainly makes us wonder: what on earth are those thousands of books on Shakespeare actually about?
Well, at least we know what Bryson's book is about. It is written with Bryson's trademark effortless wit, which proves wonderfully perfect when debunking some of the myths concerning Shakespeare. He even covers those pesky anti-Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare's work was written by someone other than Shakespeare). In response to the belief that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays, Bryson writes, "[Marlowe] was the right age (just two months older than Shakespeare), had the requisite talent, and would certainly have had ample leisure after 1593, assuming he wasn't too dead to work." We may indeed know but a few facts on Shakespeare, but Bryson's Shakespeare helps illustrate how and why this mystery figure remains arguably the greatest mind in literature. -- Geo Ong
Are you ready to have your mind blown by science? I thought so. Sheldrake's central hypothesis is that nature is habitual rather than immutable and constant. He argues that all things share a heredity across time and space - if a rat learns to navigate a specific maze, rats across the world in the same type of maze will navigate it more quickly, as will rats in the future. His refutation of the traditional mechanistic approach to science is woven with the possibility that perhaps what happens depends upon what happened before, and that memory is inherent in nature. When the original version of this book was first published with the title A New Science of Life, the British journal Nature named it "the best candidate for burning there has been for many years." If that is not reason enough to read it, I don't know what is. -- Grant Outerbridge
I'm not usually one for detective stories, but this one grabbed me right away and pulled me along despite my protests against the genre. Charles Unwin is promoted to being a detective against his will, but he is not a detective, he is a clerk. It is obviously a mistake, but when he shows up to work someone else is at his desk and his boss is dead. Both surreal and absurd, the incredibly tight pacing and gripping narrative pulls the reader along with a mystifying relentlessness. The closest experience I can compare reading it to would be if you could somehow read a dream. If you're looking for a clever twist on hard-boiled noir, The Manual of Detection is for you. -- Joey Puente
Gorgeous. Elegant. Dressed in a fashionable pastiche jacket. Scott Brizel's photographic collection of Audrey Hepburn can be described the way its subject has always been described. I've always felt that Audrey Hepburn continues to be one of the most iconic figures in popular culture, seeing her face on t-shirts, on the walls of clubs and bars, and even in subway terminals. Brizel's book supports my claim with photos from pictorials, magazine covers, film posters and film stills from countries all over the world, including Italy, Japan, France, Russia, Israel, and Uruguay. -- Geo Ong
We all know about the man that lives in the moon. But what if he were lonely? What would happen if he decided to hitch a ride on a falling star and dance by lantern light with the people of earth? How would they react? Ungerer's exquisitely illustrated book tells just such a tale and will delight readers of any age with it's weirdness and cheeky sense of humor. -- Grant Outerbridge