The United Nations Climate Change Conference opened today in Copenhagen. For the next two weeks, leaders from 200 nations will try to deliver solutions for the earth’s environmental problems, with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For those of you who’d like to plan a reading list with a green theme, check out the suggestions below. Which books are we missing? Tell us in the comments.
I recently read and reviewed the Young Readers edition of Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis, by Al Gore. Although the recommended age range for the book is 8-14, the content is certainly not watered down. Gore goes into detail about fuel sources, emissions, population control and other topics – all paired with tips on how individuals can make a difference. Also of note: the book is printed on 100% recycled paper.
Edward Humes’ Eco Barons presents us with profiles of people who want to change the world for the better, such as Ted Turner, the multi-billionaire founder of CNN, who bought enough land in Montana and the Great Plains to rival Yellowstone National Park.
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman argues for significant environmental policy changes in Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America. He writes, “It is much more important to change your leaders than your light bulbs.”
"Wrap it up and give it to the guy who knows what funny is." That's what reviewer Martin Brady had to say about Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source, the latest collection from the satirical paper The Onion. Their writers are so good at skating the fine line between reality and satire that it's easy to see why at least one paper thought their "news" stories were the real thing. An earlier Onion collection was a great hit with my funny-guy brother, so this year might find another one under the tree—as long as he's not reading this!
Most scientists agree that there have been five mass extinctions in Earth's history. Kolbert, a respected environmental journalist, believes we're on the verge of number six, the first since the dinosaurs were wiped out more than 50 million years ago. What does this mean for the planet? We'll find out when The Sixth Extinction appears sometime next year.
From our archives: a review of the audio version of Kolbert's previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.
I read a lot of blurbs* -- the frequently overblown, sometimes clichéd, always enthusiastic statements, typically by one author about another author’s book. Because I see so many blurbs, they rarely impress me. So imagine my surprise when I opened a January galley from Simon & Schuster and found a simple two-page printout titled “Advance Praise for Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs.” Contained therein is perhaps the most impressive collection of blurbs for a single book that I’ve ever encountered.
The first blurb is from Billy Collins, acclaimed poet and former U.S. poet laureate, who describes Gorokova’s account of growing up in the Soviet Union as “the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.” Next is Frank McCourt himself, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who died in July. Before his death, McCourt composed a blurb in which he ruminates about Gorokhova’s “rich experience” and wonders why the book is “so damn readable.” The memoir also garners praise from Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (“an enthralling read”); Sergei Krushchev, son of former Soviet prime minister Nikita Krushchev (“an endlessly Russian quest for self-redemption”); novelist Ursula Hegi (“gorgeous and evocative”) and Carlos Eire (“every page bears witness to the deepest longing of the human heart”). Eire knows a thing or two about growing up under a Communist regime, having won the National Book Award for Waiting for Snow in Havana, a dazzling account of his youth in Cuba.
So what did I do after reading all those blurbs? I started reading A Mountain of Crumbs myself, and decided in short order that BookPage readers would want to know more about Gorokhova and her “rich,” “readable,” “gorgeous and evocative” memoir. Stay tuned for an interview with the author in the January issue of BookPage. And never underestimate the power of a blurb.
* Did you know? The word “blurb” was coined by American author Gelet Burgess, who in 1907 commissioned a special jacket for his novel Are You A Bromide? and christened the young woman pictured on the cover as “Miss Belinda Blurb.” Miss Blurb had many wonderful things to say about the novel (“This book has 42 carat THRILLS in it”) and her last name was forever after associated with effusive praise for a book.
It seems like every time I walk into a bookstore or library, there is a new flavor-of-the-month political book or memoir on display (like David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win or Sarah From Alaska, both out today). Although I enjoyed Dreams From My Father (and this behind-the-book blog post about how it got published), I’ll admit that books by or about politicians are usually not my thing.
Since today is Election Day, however, I thought I’d post about a couple political books from our archives that have caught my interest. Please add your own suggestions in the comments. (Anyone pre-ordered Going Rogue. . . or Going Rouge?)
Clinton and Me by Mark Katz
“Humor in political discourse is a more potent weapon than spite. Mark Katz, who held the unusual position of presidential joke writer in the Clinton administration, proves this point decisively and with great fun in Clinton and Me: A Real Life Political Comedy. Katz begins his story in early 1995, when he tried to convince an unamused President Clinton to use an egg timer as the centerpiece of his speech before a group of Washington insiders known as the Alfalfa Club. The egg timer would serve as a comic device, allowing the president to make fun of himself for delivering an overly long State of the Union address. Clinton rejected the idea and went on to give a speech filled with spiteful, personal invectives; the evening was judged a disaster for the president.”
The Conviction of Richard Nixon by James Reston Jr.
“Three years after his resignation, Nixon negotiated a large fee to do a series of interviews with British TV personality David Frost. In preparing for the encounter, Frost hired a team of researchers to supply him questions and background facts. One of that team was James Reston Jr. He chronicles the event in The Conviction of Richard Nixon.”
The publication earlier this month of The Red Book, Carl Jung's famous, near-mythic journal that has, until now, been seen by only a few dozen people, is a publishing coup, an incredibly valuable revelation for Jung's followers and a hugely important addition to the history of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. The book itself is remarkable, big (12" x 15 ¾"), heavy (8.8 lbs!) and printed on thick, ivory coated stock. It's an exact facsimile of the original that Jung worked on for 16 years, between 1914 and 1930. (The book is also expensive, with a suggested retail price of $195.)
A uniquely created, modern illuminated manuscript, each of the 205 pages is covered in exquisite calligraphy, with ornaments and drawings in the margins and borders and elaborately adorned initials. Full-page, tempura paintings of dreamscapes, mystical figures and creatures are interspersed throughout the text, featuring amazing detail and stylized graphic designs and mandalas in lush colors. The complete text was scanned one-tenth of a millimeter at a time with a 10,200-pixel scanner by technicians from DigitalFusion.
The journal describes his intense interior journey to refind his soul by breaking down the barriers between the conscious and unconscious that started in 1913 when Jung was visited by disturbing visions and inner voices. What began as a life-crisis (Jung himself said that he worried that he might be "doing a schizophrenia"), became a way for Jung to know and understand his spirit and to renew it. He went on to induce these hallucinations or "active imaginations," as he called them, for years (just think what a little LSD might have done). The Red Book was never published, though there's reason to think that Jung wanted it to be. It was kept in a closet in his Zurich home and ultimately, years after his death in 1961, secreted in an underground bank vault.
It took years of persuading to get the Jung family to agree to share The Red Book with the world. Now, edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani and translated from the German by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani, it can seen and studied by all. It has been called "possibly the most influential hitherto unpublished work in the history of psychology" and will surely shed new light on Jung's life and work for his followers and his critics.
—Sukey Howard, Contributing Editor
Last night I went to a book release event for a new book about America's relationship with energy—a subject near to my heart after spending the last few (unseasonably cold) weeks without heat in my apartment. The book is Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—Our Ride to the Renewable Future, by Amanda Little, a journalist who's been covering energy and the environment for over 10 years. In the book, Little sets out to learn about the history of energy in America and the way it affects every aspect of our lives.
Little read from a few different sections in the book, took questions from the audience, and told several stories about her adventures in writing the book. At one point she found herself on an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, being dared to go up to the crown—the highest point on the rig, about 270 feet in the air. The elevator ride to the crown took several agonizingly slow minutes, and when she asked about rescue procedures in case of elevator failure, she was told that she'd have to shimmy down the rig!
Little concluded the evening by talking about the future of energy in America, remarking that she had been amazed by the ingenuity she had witnessed everywhere from that oil rig in the Gulf to a newly constructed house in New Orleans that was built to be essentially a house-sized thermos, keeping in heat or cool air as needed. With the skills and creative minds currently working both within and outside of the energy industry in America, Little believes the future is bright. (And as for me, well, it's much easier to be optimistic now that I have heat at home!)
Food lovers lost a 69-year-old companion today in Gourmet magazine. Condé Nast, the publishing company, announced that it will fold the culinary giant, along with magazines Cookie, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride.
We were saddened to hear the news at BookPage, particularly because of our longtime coverage of Gourmet cookbooks and Ruth Reichl, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
Just this month, Sybil Pratt wrote about Gourmet Today in our cooking column. She wrote:
Gourmet began its illustrious career in 1941 and has become the magazine of record, the gold standard for food magazines. There are others to be sure, but Gourmet maintains its cachet and its excellence due, in good part, to Ruth Reichl’s leadership. Reichl, Gourmet’s famed editor-in-chief, edited The Gourmet Cookbook in 2004, the more-than-magnum opus compiled to celebrate the magazine’s 60th birthday. With more than 1,000 recipes, it was a grand retrospective that gathered the best of the best—retested, retasted and updated. Now, only five years later, the indomitable Gourmet team has done it again with Gourmet Today.
In a 2001 interview with BookPage about her memoir Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, Reichl said, “You can't be a good cook if you don't have a generous soul and the impulse to take care of people… I only know two good cooks who are stingy in their souls.”
Our reviewer, Eve Zibart, wrote that “Reichl’s passion, humor, abandon, intelligence, whimsy and vital sense of food as culture have revolutionized a nation raised on Betty Crocker cookbooks and school cafeterias.”
In a company-wide memo, Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend wrote that “Gourmet magazine will cease monthly publication, but we will remain committed to the brand, retaining Gourmet’s book publishing and television programming, and Gourmet recipes on Epicurious.com.”
We may get to enjoy more Gourmet cookbooks, although the ink-and-paper magazine will be greatly missed.
To commemorate its legacy, prepare a meal from Gourmet Today. Thankfully, there are many options. Writes our reviewer: “Encyclopedic in an exciting way, there’s not a cooking category missing, from minty Mojitos to Zucchini Curry, Quail with Pomegranate Jus and an impressive Frozen Passion Fruit Meringue Cake.”
Any readers want to share a favorite Gourmet recipe?
As a new addition to the BookPage staff, I'm trying to familiarize myself with as many new and recent books as I can. One of the books that caught my eye is an advance copy of Robyn Okrant's Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Live as TV's Most Influential Guru Advises (to be released in January 2010). Based on Okrant's blog, Living Oprah, the book chronicles the year she spent trying to "live her best life" as Oprah intends. From reading Oprah's book club selections and cooking Oprah's recipes to trying to love shoes as much as Oprah does, Okrant takes Oprah's instructions to heart, and carefully observes the effects, both positive and negative, her project is having on herself and the people in her life.
A recent book with a similar structure is Colin Beavan's No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process (the accompanying documentary is now in theaters). This book also sprang from a blog (No Impact Man) and is about the year that Beavan and his family gave up everything in their lives with a negative environmental impact. Plastic, television, air-conditioning, even toilet paper was forbidden in their household for a year. Although the rules Beavan followed were radically different from Okrant's, it's a fair bet that they both learned something interesting about the way that many of us live our lives today.
And they're not alone. In the last few years, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of books like these. From books about food (Julie & Julia, of course, which according to Amazon is now subtitled My Year of Cooking Dangerously) to books about religion (A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically) to books with a social or political agenda (Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, by Judith Levine), my-year-of memoirs are everywhere these days.
So it should come as no surprise that at least one enterprising blogger has put his own twist on the topic: Dave Holmes (My Year of Everything) plans to read one my-year-of book every week, and then write a book about his experience. As he puts it: "After 12 months of blogging, I’ll have my own book that will teach you how to be a better person, a better cook, a better lover, and literally everything else. How convenient!" I just hope for his sake that this publishing trend lasts long enough for him to land a deal.
Dear reader: if you could get your own book deal, what would you want to spend one year doing?
The year isn't over yet, but in early July Amazon posted their "top 10 books of the year . . . so far" in several categories. This got me wondering: what are my top 10 books of the year so far? In no particular order, some favorite new books from the year. Links will take you to the BookPage review.
[gallery link="file" columns="5" orderby="title"]
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Not exactly an original choice, but there's a reason for the good word-of-mouth on this novel. Tremendously moving and unexpected.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Like Henry James in Turn of the Screw, Waters leaves the "poltergeist or disturbed protagonist" decision up to the reader, but draws a compelling portrait of Britain's changing class system after World War II.
The Believers by Zoe Heller. Though this one wasn't as much of a page-turner as Notes on a Scandal, I appreciate a writer who's not afraid to make her characters less than likeable. Plus, I envy her Bahamas/NYC lifestyle!
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick. Perusing this collection of essays dedicated to the teen reads of my childhood was a fun trip down memory lane. It will be especially enjoyed by anyone in the 25-35 age range.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I know this isn't on sale yet. Does it make you feel better to know that I'm still in a state of anticipation -- this time for book #3? Sequels are often disappointing, but this one lives up to the standard set by The Hunger Games. (Watch for our interview with Collins in the September issue.)
A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan. I'd never heard of this British writer before galleys of Day crossed my desk, but I'm now on the lookout for his earlier works.
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. The lives of four generations of women are captured in just 300-0dd pages that have the heft of a much bigger book. It reminded me in some ways of The Stone Diaries, which I just read (and loved).
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. A talked-up novel that deserved the buzz it got, Cleave's portrait of a Nigerian refugee with a startling connection to a well-to-do British woman and her husband is a moving, honest story of immigrant life and the ties that bind us all.
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. I've long read and loved Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. Her memoir is written in the same friendly voice, but goes deeper into the stories behind the recipes. It is heartfelt, but not sentimental, and told with honesty -- so I'll be completely honest here and admit to staying up too late to read the whole book in one gulp and actually wiping tears more than once.
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. This novel about father-daughter survivalists who live off the grid was inspired by a true story and takes an unexpected turn.
What's your top 10?