"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Monday, May 18, 2009

Next Please


Thanks to my new commute to work, I have been listening to NPR even more than usual, and one thing I have always loved is hearing the backstory of so many books from the authors themselves. I have found out about some of my favorite books through NPR features and interviews. I have also been scanning the pages of Bas Bleu, a catalog full of amazing reads that I know I would have otherwise never discovered.

Here are a few that are on my list to read (that I think many of you would enjoy as well):

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies
Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life — a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.
When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isabel and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.
Far from a self-pitying diatribe, Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation between friends. Gillies has written a dizzyingly candid, compulsively readable, ultimately redemptive story about love, marriage, family, heartbreak, and the unexpected turns of a life. On the one hand, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. On the other hand, as Gillies herself says, it is about trying to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, and loving your life even if it has slipped away. Hers is a remarkable new voice — instinctive, funny, and irresistible.

The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South by W. Ralph Eubanks, W. R. Eubanks
A powerful story about race and identity told through the lives of one American family across three generations.
In 1914, in defiance of his middle-class landowning family, a young white man named James Morgan Richardson married a light-skinned black woman named Edna Howell. Over more than twenty years of marriage, they formed a strong family and built a house at the end of a winding sandy road in South Alabama, a place where their safety from the hostile world around them was assured, and where they developed a unique racial and cultural identity. Jim and Edna Richardson were Ralph Eubanks's grandparents.
Part personal journey, part cultural biography, The House at the End of the Road examines a little-known piece of this country's past: interracial families that survived and prevailed despite Jim Crow laws, including those prohibiting mixed-race marriage. As he did in his acclaimed 2003 memoir, Ever Is a Long Time, Eubanks uses interviews, oral history, and archival research to tell a story about race in American life that few readers have experienced. Using the Richardson family as a microcosm of American views on race and identity, The House at the End of the Road examines why ideas about racial identity rooted in the eighteenth century persist today. In lyrical, evocative prose, this extraordinary book pierces the heart of issues of race and racial identity, leaving us ultimately hopeful about the world as our children might see it.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World
Eric Weiner
Though Eric Weiner—who spent many years as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio—describes himself as a “grump,” he makes a delightful guide in this unusual travelogue. The Geography of Bliss chronicles Weiner’s year-long odyssey, traveling around the world in search of its “unheralded happy places.” Guided partially by the vast sociological information kept in the World Database of Happiness (in Rotterdam), and partly by his own gut, Weiner journeys to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and back to the United States—to find out where people are happiest and why. What he discovers is a kaleidoscopic array of perspectives on what happiness truly is. Through his engaging explorations of each country, Weiner offers the reader a wealth of inspired observations—provoking both thoughtful reflection and hearty laughs. What a blissful adventure of a book!

Diana Athill
Book after book has been written about being young, and even more of them about the elaborate and testing experiences that cluster around procreation, but there is not much on record about falling away. Being well advanced in that process…I say to myself, “Why not have a go at it?” So I shall.
In this elegant memoir, legendary British editor Diana Athill writes engagingly, beautifully, and unflinchingly about old age. As she embarks upon her ninth decade of life, Athill lucidly contemplates both her present state—the losses that come with physical deterioration as well as the freedom from inhibition afforded by the approach of death—and the events of her recent past, during the transition from middle-age to elderly. Athill’s reflections are often unconventional—she writes quite candidly about her affairs with married men, her lack of maternal instinct, and her atheism—but her refusal to sugarcoat her observations makes the gentle thread of optimism that runs throughout this slender volume that much more meaningful.

Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law
Michael S. Lief, H. Mitchell Caldwell, and Ben Bycel
Words wield extraordinary power in a trial's closing argument. Even when the consequences are not life or death, the argument must be both intellectually and emotionally compelling. In Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, district attorney Michael S. Lief, law professor H. Mitchell Caldwell, and attorney and columnist Ben Bycel have assembled what they deem to be ten of the "greatest closing arguments in modern law." Among them are Robert Jackson's eloquent summation at the Nuremberg Trials; Clarence Darrow's impassioned plea to spare the lives of Leopold and Loeb; and Gerry Spence's spellbinding entreaty on behalf of Karen Silkwood's family. Each speech (a few have been slightly abridged) is introduced with historical background on the case, brief biographical information about the lawyer who delivered it, and analysis regarding the argument. This collection of brilliant logic and oration, lyrically spun, is sure to enthrall even the least lawyerly among us.

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