Friday, October 7, 2011

My Lucky Reading Streak

I have been on a remarkable lucky streak lately -- at least when it comes to book choices! You know how it is: sometimes you pick up two or three books and start reading, only to realize that none of them is the one you're in the mood for at the moment. It can take a few starts and stops before you find just the right one. Happily for me, I've been in a groove for the past few books, where each one I started reading was just right for me in the moment ("this porridge is just right").

First I read an enchanting debut novel, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, about two young, gifted magicians competing against each other -- and eventually falling in love -- in an epic, intricate, lifelong competition. The novel is set in a Victorian nocturnal black-and-white circus, Le Cirque des Reves ("The Circus of Dreams"), and it is one of the most elaborate and lusciously depicted backdrops you will find in a novel. As one reviewer wrote, "Morgenstern conjures a setting so intricate and complete that imposing a plot on it feels almost worthy of extra credit." Morgenstern is also a visual artist, and her visions of the world in each circus tent come alive in her writing. It's not a perfect book -- after all, it's a debut novel -- but it is a magical book and world in which to lose yourself, and it bodes well for more deliciousness to come. The audio version of this book is read by Jim Dale, one of the best book narrators in the business. Below you'll find a couple of video clips: the first a trailer for the book (I still can't get used to the idea of trailers for books, but in this case it sort of works for me) and a brief clip of Jim Dale reading the opening lines of The Night Circus. [PS: The copies of this book on our shelves right now are signed by the author.]

Next I picked up the newest book from one of my favorite writers: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller. In Cocktail Hour, Fuller revisits her upbringing in central Africa, which she first wrote about in her debut memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. (Fuller unquestionably deserves a prize for great photos and cover photos!) In this version of the story of Fuller's family scraping out a living in the harsh land of then-Rhodesia/now-Zimbabwe, the author focuses less on her own perspective of that life and travels more deeply into her parent's perspective and explores their respective upbringings. As Dominique Browning writes about the two books in The New York Times, "'Dogs' was written in the throes of remembering; 'Cocktail Hour' recaptures the past through reporting....The two memoirs form a fascinating diptych of mirrors, one the reflection of a child's mind, the other of an adult's....Taken together, as they ought to be, the books transport us to a grand landscape of love, loss, longing and reconciliation."

I thoroughly enjoyed Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and have been a big evangelist for the book since its publication; I liked Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness even more. [And as long as I'm on the subject of Alexandra Fuller, let me just put in a plug for her book The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, a heartrending true account of a young man and tragedy on the oil rigs of Wyoming.] Below is a brief video clip of the publisher's publicist describing Cocktail Hour.

I followed up Alexandra Fuller's book with a book from a terrific writer of historical narrative nonfiction, Candice Millard. I'm a big fan of her first book, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, about Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit on a harrowing -- and remarkably poorly planned -- exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth, a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon, following his humiliating election defeat in 1921.

Millard's new book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, tells the story of the assassination of President James A. Garfield, shot four months after his inauguration. But was it the assassin's bullet that killed him? With cameo appearances by Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister, the book "blends science, medicine, and politics in a crime story that grabs tight and it does not let go until the very last page. This is historical reporting at its very best."

Below is a longish (only in today's video-clip universe is a video lasting just under three and a half minutes considered "longish") video clip describing the story told in the book. In it you'll learn more about President Garfield than you probably ever learned in school, and you'll look back enviously on the days when presidential candidates didn't stump endlessly for what feels like eons prior to election day. It might seem like this video clip tells the whole story, so why read the book? But Millard's extensive research and masterful storytelling will keep you turning the pages, even when you know how the story ends.

I hope to continue on this great reading streak -- stay tuned to hear what comes next! As always, when you click on the title links in this posting, you'll be taken to our website where you can read more about each title, including reviews and excerpts. And of course you can order your own copies at the site as well. Here's wishing each of you your own lucky reading streak!

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