For many writers, especially the authors of memoirs, it can be hard to predict where and how readers will make the strongest connection to their stories. For Richard Blanco, whose The Prince of los Cocuyos is one of our favorite memoirs of 2014, the part of his book that seems to be attracting the most attention is especially surprising: It involves a can of Easy Cheese.
Growing up in Miami in a family of Cuban immigrants, little Ricky Blanco accompanied his cantankerous abuela (grandmother) to Winn-Dixie, a rare incursion onto the turf of los americanos. Blanco yearned to fit in with his American schoolmates, so he asked his abuela to buy a can of that uniquely American food, Easy Cheese. ("What? Queso en una lata? she questioned, unable to fathom the idea of cheese in a can. But I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was intrigued.") We won't spoil the story by telling you what happened next, but it's clear that the anecdote is making an impression on readers.
Blanco, the inaugural poet at President Obama's second inauguration in 2012, recently began a tour to promote The Prince of los Cocuyos. During one of his first stops, at Brookline Brooksmith in Massachusetts, a reader presented him with a very special gift—you guessed it: a can of Easy Cheese.
Will the gifts become a trend? No Easy Cheese was evident during Blanco's weekend appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but we have a feeling that Blanco might end up with a lifetime supply of canned cheese before his book tour is over.
To learn more about Blanco and his tender and keenly observed coming-of-age memoir, check out our Q&A with the author.
Sunday, August 24 will mark the 200th anniversary of the night British troops set fire to the White House, the only time other than 9/11 when the U.S. capital city sustained a direct attack. First Lady Dolley Madison had fled the building just hours before the redcoats arrived, famously exclaiming "Save that painting!" and ordering that a precious Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington be removed from the wall and carted off to safety, along with the red velvet curtains from the White House drawing room.
British journalist Peter Snow gives a stirring account of that fateful night, as well as the days before and after, in When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington. The book was published in the U.K. last year to glowing reviews and was released this week in the U.S. by Thomas Dunne Books.
Snow keeps the action moving and adds immediacy by citing the letters, diaries and other accounts of those who witnessed (or participated in) the attack. As the British advanced, Americans on horseback sounded the alarm to the fearful residents of Washington, D.C. "Fly, fly! The ruffians are at hand. If you cannot get away yourselves, for God's sake send off your wives and daughters, for the ruffians are at hand." Under the command of Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, British invaders set fire not only to the White House, but to the U.S. Capitol building as well. "Never shall I forget my tortured feelings," one resident recalled, "when I beheld that noble edifice wrapt in flames, which . . . filled all the saddened night with a dismal gloom."
If you've always been a bit hazy about what led to the War of 1812 (and why it was still going on two years later), Snow's excellent account of these crucial events in U.S. history will sharpen your understanding—and make you surprised and grateful that the U.S. today counts Britain among its staunchest allies.
The book currently near the top of Amazon's Movers and Shakers list is one you may not have heard about — and we hadn't either, until today.
The surprise title is The Most Dangerous Animal of All, which had been kept under wraps by publisher HarperCollins until today's release date. Author Gary L. Stewart, writing with co-author Susan Mustafa, asserts that a search for his biological father led to a disturbing conclusion: Stewart's father was the notorious Zodiac Killer, who murdered at least seven people in an unsolved crime spree in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. The killer's murderous rampage inspired the 2007 David Fincher film Zodiac, as well as several documentaries. While many suspects have been mentioned, no conclusive proof of the killer's identity has ever emerged.
A HarperCollins spokesperson told New York magazine that the book had been vetted by company lawyers who concluded it was "legally sound." The company says Stewart, who was adopted and now lives in Baton Rouge, began his search for his father at the age of 39 after his birth mother contacted him for the first time.
Expect much controversy in the coming weeks as experts on the mysterious case debate the merits of Stewart's evidence.
Since his death in 2005, Richard Pryor has been named as the No. 1 comedian of all time by Comedy Central and continues to influence the American comedy scene to this day. In Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, authors David and Joe Henry draw from a wide range of sources and personal experiences, including conversations with Pryor himself, in their exploration of the man behind the comedy legend.
While the Henry brothers' admiration for Pryor certainly shines through, Furious Cool does not shy away from the darker details of Pryor's rise to fame—his turbulent upbringing, emotional conflicts and drug abuse are all essential details in this story, making this a very honest and engrossing read.
Watch the great documentary-style trailer from Algonquin below:
Are you interested in reading Furious Cool? Any other biographies on your list?
Forty years after the murder of Sharon Tate, it would seem that everything about Charles Manson has already been reported. Jeff Guinn proves this all wrong in his new book, Manson, which uncovers never-before-heard stories and follows Manson's entire life, from childhood to adulthood.
With exclusive interviews and photographs, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Mason goes beyond previous biographies to provide a well-written and complete study of a man who has perplexed many for decades.
Read our review here and watch the trailer below from Simon & Schuster to learn more about the research and writing of Manson.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading Manson?
Author Daniel James Brown was lucky enough to meet Joe Rantz before his death for several interviews that led to The Boys in the Boat. This dramatic true story features Joe Rantz, an Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and his team of eight additional rowers—nine unlikely boys who find strength and home together.
As our reviewer notes, these nine University of Washington boys were not the usual Olympians from polished families, and their struggles were for more than just gold. Be sure to read the full review for The Boys in the Boat and watch this book trailer complete with footage from the 1936 Berlin games.
Will you read The Boys in the Boat? What was your last nonfiction read?
In 1942, a U.S. cargo plane crashed into a Greenland ice cap. Days later, a rescue plane crashed in the same area as well. All nine men aboard survived. Then another rescue plane sent to find the survivors vanished.
Throughout the book, Zuckoff shines the spotlight on the often overlooked Coast Guard and shows us that some of the most dangerous missions and heroic efforts don't take place on the battlefield.
Read our review here and watch the book trailer containing footage of the recovery mission:
Will you read Frozen in Time? What other nonfiction have you read lately?
From saliva to fecal transplants, Roach approaches her subject matter with the obsession of a scientist and as our reviewer suggests, the fascination of a teenager.
Roach... draws vivid if unorthodox comparisons (she likens a colonoscope to a bartender’s soda gun) and asks all the questions you’re too self-conscious to Google, plus others that have never occurred to you (can farts cure cancer?). Along the way she sneaks in sly critiques of bureaucracy, bigotry, animal cruelty and other less-than-noble human behavior. You may be grossed out, but you’ll also be impressed.
What are you reading today?
After the second world war's end, baseball players left the trenches for the baseball field and the modern era of baseball began. Players like Jackie Robinson emerged as one of baseball's greatest players while established players like DiMaggio, Williams and Feller returned to the sport.
Robert Weintraub, author of The House that Ruth Built, returns to the subject of baseball, shedding light on an era that new generations of baseball fans never experienced and will doubtless be fascinated by.
The Victory Season serves as a great kick off to the spring baseball season and may also make an interesting gift for fathers and husbands as Father's Day approaches.
Read our review here and watch the book trailer put out by Hachette:
Are you a baseball fan? Will you read The Victory Season or give it as a gift?
When Steve Sjogren, author of Conspiracy of Kindness, flat lined and then revived on the hospital operating table, he experienced a peaceful time he attributes to God. When he awoke to a world of pain, he had a difficult time recovering physically as well as spiritually.
In Heaven's Lessons, Sjogren talks about what God has taught him from his experience and the limitations it has given him.
Says our reviewer: "This book offers readers the opportunity to benefit from Sjogren’s journey and to see how God turned a tragedy into a transformation."
Watch the book trailer that dramatizes Sjogren's death on the operating table:
What do you think about books that deal with experiences of the afterlife? Will you pick up Heaven's Lessons?