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Books (143 posts)
When picking up a book for the first time, do you first:
1) Read the back cover?
2) Read the first sentence?
3) Examine the author's photo?
4) Flip through and read sentences at random, as you will with ten other books standing there in the book store/library/your living room until your feet fall asleep and you've completely forgotten who or where you are?
For me, it's #4. (By the way, if you answered #4, according to my proprietary How-You-Check-Out-A-New-Book-Personality-Test (TM), you are a most serious and brilliant reader.) Of course I read for a gripping story and unforgettable characters and all the things that we wallow in novels for, but there is also a special joy in sentences, in bits and bobs, and even in the connections between seemingly unconnected books.
Which is why I love The Infinite Book, a text made up of other texts. What story is created when bits of other stories are jangled together like a pocketful of change? The result is surprisingly coherent, or anyway it can be. Bedtime stories are read, become nightmarish, blend into fact, meld into poetry. It's a lovely way to find a new book to read (clicking on each line gives you more information about the from which book it's been plucked) -- and a lovely way to think about reading. Reading as collecting, reading as an art form all its own.
Check out the Infinite Book, from Bkclb.
Must-Reads of the Month
Tame Your Overstuffed Bookshelves
Read the Book You've Always Meant to Read
Each week, we'll be letting you know about the new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This Monday, we can't get enough of the quiet, moving novel:
By Michael Kimball
The death of a parent is always complex, but it's even more so when a parent has been tough to forgive while living. In this tender, gorgeous novel, Michael Kimball explores how we try to understand even the most difficult family members. The book begins when 38-year-old Daniel goes home to clean out his deceased father's apartment. Big Ray has passed at home in his chair from an as-yet-undetermined illness related to his obesity. Through illuminating flashbacks, we learn about Big Ray's history and marriage (and later divorce) to Daniel's mother, as well as Daniel's childhood. What makes this book so moving isn't raw, graphic violence (physical abuse is described), but the nuanced and honest portrait of Daniel's feelings about his father—his attempts to relate to Big Ray by playing poker, his compassion and disgust for the challenges of his father's size, even his need to know what TV program his father was watching when he died.
Why this rings so true is the conflict in it all. This is how human relationships often play out, especially when it comes to family. We love even those we shouldn't. We love them even as we dislike them to the point of revulsion. "For most of my life, I have been afraid of my father," Daniel says. "I was afraid to be a person without a father, but I also felt relieved he was dead. Everything about my father was complicated like that."
Super reads for this September
Fast fictional mood boosters
What do a widow, a relief worker in Haiti, a homeless shelter director, and a grieving girlfriend have in common? In the case of singer/songwriter Alex Woodard's multimedia project "For the Sender," all four wrote letters that inspired him to write songs. In his new book he writes about how he was feeling adrift, trying to pursue his artistic dreams, feeling discouraged, and then on top of it all, mourning his dog/best friend, when a letter from a stranger changed everything. Along with a group of musician friends, Woodard set about turning this letter, and three others, into a series of songs. (Check out the official site for facsimiles of the letters and more about each letter-writer's story -- each heartbreaking in its own way.) Then he traveled to meet each letter-writer and perform their songs for them, in private concerts that were culminations of each woman's original act of reaching out.
The project is, in a way, the crystallization of the artistic process: the wordless pain Woodard felt when his dog died and he felt his life had stalled; how connecting with others helped to find both his musical voice and the stories he wanted to tell; then the final closing of the circuit, when he reconnected with his unlikely muses. It calls to mind the advice of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut: "Write to please just one person." When Alex Woodard found someone -- in this case, his letter-writers -- to create for, he found his reason to create.
I found the Haitian relief worker's story especially compelling -- learn more about her, and see some priceless footage of Haitian school kids enjoying an impromptu concert, in the video below:
Sharing the Work of Haiti's Artisans
How Creativity Can Be Applied to Anything
Luckily, or maybe unluckily, I don't know many pirates (over the age of three, anyway). But we all have these everyday ethics conundrums. If we learn of a wrong done in the past, do we have the responsibility to report it (pirate-related or not)? Is it possible to be too tolerant of other peoples' religious practices? How much privacy do we allow people in the age of the Internet? Randy Cohen, The Ethicist of the long-running New York Times column, addressed these issues and more when he was on NPR over the weekend to discuss his new book, Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything. What struck me most was his claim that, despite our quickly changing world of social media and altered interpersonal communications, ethics themselves have not changed much over time. Etiquette changes; social mores shift. But whether you're a Googler or a gladiator, the basic line stays the same: When in doubt about how to act, be good. We all know (pretty much) what that means.
Listen to the whole interview to learn more about the book, "The Ethicist" column, and to find out which ethics question has provoked the most controversy in Cohen's career.
Each week, we'll be letting you know about the new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This Monday, we can't get enough of two unusual mysteries set in Victorian England:
The Pigeon Pie Mystery
By Julia Stuart
This mystery is a delicate yet kooky romp. At the book's heart is Mink, formally known as Her Highness Princess Alexandrina, daughter of the Maharaja of Prindur. Raised by her exiled father in England, the princess finds herself destitute upon his death thanks to his taste for luxury. Luckily, Queen Victoria offers her a "grace-and-favor" home at Hampton Court Palace, a refuge for the genteel-and-cash-strapped. Mink moves to a house near the castle's maze, a popular tourist attraction. Before long, though, she's drawn into a maze of a different kind: the investigation of the death of one of the palace's least popular residents, General Bagshot, who appears to have died from eating a poisoned pigeon pie. But as Mink investigates, she finds something surprising: a group of people filled less with malice than with a desire for love in a world that offers little of it. Their longing gives them a zany wisdom that helps Mink find her own place in the world. As one character admonishes, it's a poor choice to "fall into the fatal habit of thinking that if you were somewhere different, life would be so much better. There are moths everywhere." And it's true: There are moths—and many other things that eat away at clothes and souls—no matter where one looks in Mink's world. Every life is its own maze, and escape is not the solution. Instead, it's best to find a little place for oneself within the tall, impenetrable hedges.
The Thing About Thugs
Amir Ali has changed his identity to escape from a family feud in India. He claims to be an ex-Thug, a former member of the (made-up) Thuggee cult, which murders people for the sake of killing. As such, he allows himself to be "studied" by a phrenologist—a man who researches the so-called science of skulls and how their shape determines character. The phrenologist takes Amir to London to understand how a man with a skull that predisposes him to murder came to be reformed. This facilitates Amir's escape, but it lands him in an even bigger mess. In England, he finds a world replete with racism and a white upper class hell-bent on proving its own superiority through "scientific" means. The only way for him survive is to keep playing into the story of racial superiority that the upper class wishes to promote by showing himself off as a curiosity. Then, when a string of ugly murders takes place, Londoners unite in pointing fingers at Amir the Thug, and Amir's new identity becomes a liability. Who, after all, will believe in the innocence of a "confessed" murderer when they don't know that his story is a lie? As he searches for the real killers, he becomes confused as to who he really is. He wonders, almost obsessively, "Can stories—told by yourself, told by others—turn us into something else?" His saga shifts with every sentence. Will he find the killers stalking London? Will he find himself again? It's hard to know which question you want answered more—both will have you turning pages feverishly. But be warned: If you want a book with a neatly packaged ending, this isn't it. Rather, its elliptical conclusion is proof positive that when it comes to the really big stories, the ones that define who we are, the telling is never over.
Mysteries every thinking woman should read
Beach reads you'll blaze through
Inspired by the books she'd been hoping to clean out of her studio, Inouye and her husband decided to make the booth a community library. In 2010 the couple scrubbed it clean and wrapped its base in a cheery, floral-patterned tablecloth. Inouye made a sign inviting neighbors to leave used, family-friendly books and to help themselves to any titles that interested them.
The library was an instant best-seller. "It can be filled with 50 books in the morning," Inouye says, "and by afternoon, they're gone." So far, mysteries are the most popular genre, but when someone donated a 1,300-page history text, it disappeared in two days. Inouye had initially planned to run the booth for just a month during a lull in her work schedule. But "people kept dropping off books!" she says, "and now I've been doing it for more than two years."
Each week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This Monday, we're swooning over:
The Dog Stars
By Peter Heller
There have been some beautifully written and truly upsetting end-of-the-world books recently—The Age of Miracles and Zone One come to mind—but Peter Heller's The Dog Stars has put a fresh twist on the genre. In this quiet, meditative novel, Hig, the main character, has lost his wife and everyone in his family due to a flu epidemic that has killed most of the population of the United States. He now lives with his dog and a survivalist neighbor on an abandoned airstrip that's regularly attacked by roving bands of very scary, violent scavengers. Despite the grimness of his life, Hig manages to see the beauty in his surroundings, and it's his voice that keeps you entranced, with vivid details like "the smell of running water, of cold stone, of fir and spruce, like the sachets my mother used to keep in the sock drawer."
There is still one loss that Hig has to bear, and the grief over this sends him flying in his single-prop plane into the wilderness without enough gas to return. Brilliantly, this isn't the end of the story, because it's the people he meets when he least expects to who change everything, proving a truth we know from our everyday nonfictional lives: Even when it seems like all the humans in the world are only out for themselves, there are always those few who prove you absolutely wrong—in the most surprising of ways.
Beach reads for the last two weeks of summer
The best books for kids
Each week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This Monday, we've gone back to the days of yore (and oars) with...
Silver: Return to Treasure Island
By Andrew Motion
What would Jane Eyre look like 40 years after falling for Mr. Rochester? What kind of life would they have together? It's just this kind of question that celebrated poet Andrew Motion asks about another English classic, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. To answer it, he's written the deft, wildly imaginative Silver: Return to Treasure Island, a story set 40 years after young Jim Hawkins has returned to England with his bounty. Devastated by the loss of his wife, he drinks himself into a stupor while halfheartedly running a small inn. Not surprisingly, his only son—also named Jim—runs away to sea with his father's old map. Accompanying him is Natty, the clever yet mysterious daughter of Long John Silver, the notorious star of Stevenson's original novel. A series of high-seas adventures ensue that include everything from booby-trapped jungles to abused captives to missing precious metals. What's so fun—and gripping—about this sequel is that, first of all, you don't have to have read Treasure Island (key details are studded throughout) and, second of all, Motion shares that wickedly delightful sense of story and language of his predecessor. Every chapter crackles with energy and action. Lies, betrayals, romance, humor—expect them all. But Motion also uses this reflection on the fictional past to comment on social issues like slavery and environmentalism, which Stevenson could not. What results is a page-turner that thoughtfully questions its own world—and makes you long for a sequel to the sequel.
Check out another 19th-century adventure, The Good Thief
Join Oprah's Book Club 2.0
Each week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This Monday, we're busy poring over:
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor
By Hali Felt
At age 28, geologist Marie Tharpe began work at Columbia University as an assistant (read: glorified secretary). By the end of her tenure there in 1982, she and her colleague Bruce Heezen had mapped the ocean floor using sonar readings and, in the process, identified "the world-girdling rift valley" that laid the foundation for proving the theory of plate tectonics. Part race-to-the-finish tale of 20th-century scientific discovery and part unconventional romance of Tharpe and Heezen, Soundings makes the overlooked story of a scientist and her work crackle with energy, as well as tackles some frustrating questions. Heezen was given credit for his discoveries, while Tharpe was often completely ignored due to her gender. The author, Hali Felt, seems to take some solace in believing that Tharpe found satisfaction in the work and may (heavy, heavy emphasis on that "may") not have needed the recognition of others. Regardless, it's a real tragedy that Tharpe died before reading this literary tribute. Felt is a playful, wildly thoughtful writer, who can extrapolate meanings about our view of the past from outdated scientific terms like "uniformitarianism" and "catastrophism," and she addresses "the ins and outs of alarm clocks, washrags and frying eggs; light tables, ink pens and smooth sheets of white paper; erasers, fathoms and final drafts; lunch and more work and breathing and cooking dinner and waiting until the last minute before darkness to turn on the electric lights" that illuminate the text with the kind of evocative details that make the story of a real life so real.
9 mysteries every thinking woman should read
Watch Oprah and Cheryl Strayed on "Super Soul Sunday"
What? You didn't know that today is National Cheesecake Day? In honor of this underrated, under-publicized holiday, we've come up with a few fresh way to celebrate: