In one corner: Stephen King, longtime channeler of America's id, takes on one of the pivotal events in our history: the Kennedy assassination. But this is no stolid reportage. There's time-travel from the back of a seedy hamburger joint, a love story between a "lanky librarian" from the 1960s and a fed-up high-school teacher from the present and, oh yeah, Jake's mission to try to stop a certain event coming up in November 0f 1963. I've been reading Stephen King ever since lugging It home from my local library branch at the age of 10 and always look forward to his new releases.
In the other corner: Robert K. Massie, Pulitzer prize-winning biographer of Russia's royal family, confronting one of its most fascinating figures: Catherine the Great. The story of how this German child bride grew a Russian soul and brought the Enlightenment to her adopted country (as well as plenty of scandal) during her 30-year reign. Massie is a brilliant, meticulous writer with an astounding knowledge of European history, and his biography of Peter the Great ranks among one of my favorite books of all time (his memoir, Journey, co-written with his then-wife Suzanne about their son Bobby's battle with hemophilia is another terrific read).
Both books are behemoths (more than 700 pages), so there's zero chance I'll be able to finish them BOTH over the weekend. So which should I dive into first? Place your vote in the comments, or let me know what you'll be reading this weekend.
Ok, I admit it—I’ve been a bad BookPage blogger as of late. Trisha thinks our blog readers must miss my voice—I think she’s just trying to flatter me into blogging more. But whatever the case, I’m back on this fine Tuesday because of the Facebook. I am, like most people I know, Facebook friends with a number of people I went to high school with—even if I haven’t seen them since graduation. And today, several high school friends updated their statuses about going out to get a copy of Fading Echoes. What’s this? A book I haven’t heard about?
A quick trip to Amazon.com reveals that Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor by Mike Sielski goes on sale today.
It’s set in my tiny hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania and centers on the long-standing Central Bucks East/Central Bucks West football rivalry. Anyone who went to East (like me) will tell you what we lacked in football skills we made up for in academic achievement. Anyone who went to West will tell you it must have been terrible to go to East. But this book isn’t just about football.
From the publisher:
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was home to the greatest high school football rivalry in the state. There was Central Bucks West, captained by senior fullback/ linebacker Bryan Buckley. And there was Central Bucks East, led by senior lineman Colby Umbrell. Bryan and Colby would meet each other as opponents in a game played on a grass field, but their dreams and devotion to their country after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 would lead each of them to the conflict in the Middle East. Only one would return. This slice of small-town American life is the compelling chronicle of two outstanding athletes: their lives, the game they loved, and the separate journeys they would undergo from the football field to the battlefield. But it is also a chronicle of those who helped shape them into the men they became, and the community that watched and cheered as they grew from game-playing boys into fighting men-and witnessed a sacrifice it would never forget.
Library Journal deems it: "A very moving, striking story exceptionally well told; for all readers." I'll have to join the Doylestown Facebook crowd and go out and get myself a copy.
When she was just 24 years old, British author Zadie Smith published her first novel, White Teeth.
The book went on to become an international bestseller, and introduced Smith as one of the world’s most promising new writers in 2000. Two years later came The Autograph Man and in 2005, On Beauty, another bestseller, was published. And this fall—November 12th to be exact—we have Zadie Smith’s first foray into nonfiction: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays.
In her Foreword, Smith writes: “When you are first published at a young age, your writing grows with you—and in public. Changing My Mind seemed an apt, confessional title to describe this process. Reading through these pieces, though, I’m forced to recognize that ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith. As is a cautious, optimistic creed, best expressed by Saul Bellow: ‘There may be truths on the side of life.’ I keep waiting, but I don’t think I’m going to grow out of it.”
Changing My Mind is divided into four sections—“Reading,” “Being,” “Seeing” and “Feeling”—and the essays cover topics ranging from personal experiences traveling the world to authors who have influenced her own writing to thoughts on public figures like Katharine Hepburn and President Obama to advice and lessons on the writing process.
Smith says that many of these essays were written at the request of editors for different occasions and publications. Some came from her own work on what might have been a new novel. Still others might have composed "a solemn, theoretical book about writing: Fail Better." But instead they come together to form a unique, deeply personal collection from one of our most talented—and talked about—writers.
The Penguin Press, Smith’s publisher, has high hopes for this new book. Will you pick up a copy come November?
As some Book Case readers know, before I came to BookPage in March, I was an Assistant Editor at Random House in New York City. I had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors on hundreds of fascinating books. But one of my favorite projects—and one of the last ones I worked on before leaving Random House—was Mark Seal's Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa.
Published in May of this year, Wildflower is the story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root. Mark Seal, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the gifted author. Mark took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of The Book Case’s questions about Wildflower and writing in general.
Wildflower evolved from a piece you wrote about Joan Root’s life and death for Vanity Fair. How did you first hear about Joan Root? What interested you in her story?
I read a one paragraph mention of her death in The New York Times Digest, headlined “Conservationist Killed”: “Joan Root, animal lover and conservationist who collaborated with her husband, Alan, on wildlife documentaries in the 1970s, was killed on Jan. 13 in Naivasha, Kenya. Root was shot to death by assailants who invaded her farmhouse, the police said. Two men were arrested, officials said. One of the couple’s films, “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” narrated by Orson Welles, showed the inner workings of a termite mound. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1978.” I had never heard of Joan Root, but was instantly riveted and wanted to know more. When I began researching her, a whole world opened—and I discovered a truly amazing woman who led two incredible lives, first as a famous filmmaker with her husband, Alan, with whom she shared a magical love and almost unbelievable adventure, and, after their divorce, as a brave and independent woman on her own, who put her life on the line to save the ecologically endangered lake on which she lived.
Tell us about your research and writing process. How did you tackle such a complicated project?
For the Vanity Fair story, I traveled to Kenya for Joan’s memorial service, interviewing her friends, fellow naturalists and ex-husband, Alan, as well as the police who investigated her murder. However, I felt like I had to get her voice in order to write a book about her—not an easy task when dealing with an intensely private woman, who barely spoke above a whisper and rarely gave interviews. Then, something incredible happened: Joan Root began speaking. Her ex-husband, Alan Root, emailed me, saying I was right about the speaking, but he had thousands of letters Joan had written to her mother, as well as letters she’d written to him during their painful separation and eventual divorce, and meticulously kept diaries over the years. I returned to Kenya and got the letters and diaries, which enabled me to find Joan’s voice, which became so critical for the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from Wildflower?
That we are all capable of second acts and second lives, and that one person can make a difference. Joan was an unlikely activist, but she put herself on the line for what she believed in. “It’s all talk, talk, talk, meetings, meetings, meeting but nothing ever gets done!” she once said. Her legacy is that she showed how action, instead of talk, can bring about change.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new nonfiction book as well as articles for Vanity Fair.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Stay with it. And always concentrate on finding a great story. It’s often said that characters begin to speak to you—and they do. But it takes hard work and perseverance to get them talking.
For more on Mark Seal, check out BookPage’s review of Wildflower. Thanks for reading with us!
If you’re gift-challenged like me, holidays/birthdays/graduations and other gift-giving events have a way of sneaking up on you. We’re doing our part to help out by warning you a full week in advance that Sunday is FATHER’S DAY and if you don’t already have an idea for a present, you’d better get busy. Wait, there’s more. We’re also offering one lucky reader a chance to snag a Father’s Day gift collection without ever leaving the sofa. Our “Four for Father” collection includes these new releases:
New York's gaggle of gossipistas has been all a twitter (figuratively and literally) about Michael Gross' latest exposé of the Big Apple's super-wealthy social glitterati. In Rogue's Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum (Broadway), on sale tomorrow, Gross does his damnedest to out as many "secrets" and secret-sharers as he can. His social scalpel sharpened, he set out to uncover the ugly, but alluring, underbelly of the cash-fueled power politics of the art world, with its elite egotists ever-battling for prominence. He maintains that "ever since its founding, the Metropolitan has bred arrogance, hauteur, hubris, vanity and even madness." And he goes on to say that the Metropolitan is "a huge alchemical experiment, turning the worst of man's attributes — extravagance, lust, gluttony, acquisitiveness, envy, avarice, greed, egotism, and pride — into the very best, transmuting deadly sins into priceless treasure."
Real dirt is dished all the way through, but the second half of the book, dealing with the living and the not-long-departed—Thomas Hoving, Annette de la Renta, her mother Jane Engelhard, Brooke Astor and Diana Vreeland are among the skewered luminaries--has the juiciest bits that titillate and tantalize. Not everyone was thrilled to talk to Gross. The Met's soon-to-retire leader, the ultra-elegant Philippe de Montebello, zipped his lip and told his staff, from curators to janitors, to zip theirs (a friend of mine had the pleasure of hanging up on Gross when barraged with inappropriate questions). In his acknowledgments, Gross thanks all the fearful folks who talked to him under the cloak of anonymity, to "protect their livelihoods or their social positions." Undeniably fun, Rogue's Gallery is a hefty (over 500 pages), detailed guilty pleasure that's hard to put down.