Winter Reading

Winter Reading
Transcript for: 
Winter Reading

MR. KOJO NNAMDI

13:22:48
Once the Thanksgiving Day Parade is over, all the football games have been played and Aunt Edith finally stops asking you about your love life, the hustle and bustle of the Holiday dies down and a sort of blissful quiet settles in, the perfect opportunity to crack open that book you've been meaning to read. And if you don't have a stack of winter reads piled on your bedside table or ready to toss into your overnight bag, well we've got you covered because joining us in studio is Michael Dirda. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and longtime book columnist for The Washington Post. He's the author of several books, the latest of which is "On Conan Doyle." Michael Dirda, thank you so much for joining us.

MR. MICHAEL DIRDA

13:23:27
Thank you, Kojo.

NNAMDI

13:23:28
Also joining us from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York City is Barbara Hoffert, Editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal, which keeps librarians up to date on what's new in the publishing industry. Barbara, how are you?

MS. BARBARA HOFFERT

13:23:42
I'm fine, thank you. Thank you for having me.

NNAMDI

13:23:44
And thank you for joining us. Joining us by phone from Cleveland, Ohio is Marcela Valdes, books editor of the Washington Examiner and the contributing editor for Publishers Weekly. She specializes in writing about Latin American literature and culture. Marcela, what're you doing in Cleveland?

MS. MARCELA VALDES

13:24:01
I'm visiting my mother.

NNAMDI

13:24:03
Oh, it is that time of year, isn't it? Thank you so much for joining us.

VALDES

13:24:07
Thank you for inviting me.

NNAMDI

13:24:08
Barbara, I'll start with you. Winners of the Oscars of the book world, the National Book Award were announced last week. It's my understanding you were an early champion of the book that won for fiction, "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward.

HOFFERT

13:24:22
Yes, and I'm so excited that this book won because I think it is just a beautiful read. And I wanted to talk to your listeners about it because though it won the National Book Award, after I talked to people about it afterwards I found many people who hadn't read it or even heard about it. I also thought the New York Times caption didn't represent the book as it should. So I'm taking this opportunity to tell all your listeners to read this book. It's in fact a profoundly laceratingly beautiful account of one African American family in Mississippi in the days before Katrina hits

HOFFERT

13:24:55
It's the Batiste family, several brothers and sisters. The 15-year-old narrator is pregnant. As the book starts, she's watching her brother's white pit bull China give birth, at the same time she's thinking about her mother's death in childbirth. And we learn that the father is really not completely responsible to the family because he's sort of pole-axed by all his responsibilities. And yet this is a family that really pulls together when tragedy hits. There's a point where the father's injured and one of the sons says, you know, you tell us what to do.

HOFFERT

13:25:31
And you see it's as much a book about devotion and family as it is about what it's like to live through a hurricane, beautifully described because, in fact, the author's family and she herself did live through Katrina. So I really recommend this book for anybody who wants a really exceptional reading.

NNAMDI

13:25:49
We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What books are you reading or eager to pick up this winter, 800-433-8850? Marcela, it's my understanding that you enjoyed the nonfiction National Book Award Winner, "The Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt.

VALDES

13:26:04
I did. I thought that that was a terrific book that really deserved the price.

NNAMDI

13:26:10
Why?

VALDES

13:26:10
It's a story -- when you hear about it initially, it sounds maybe a little too sort of dry and academic. But in Greenblatt's hands, it's really this warm campfire yearn. And the story is about a 15th century Italian secretary who discovers an ancient Roman poem in Germany and how that poem paved the way for the great ideas of the enlightenment.

VALDES

13:26:38
The poem was essentially in favor of secularism. It was arguing that we don't need god to explain the world and that pleasure is not a sin. These ideas are still controversial today of course so it's no surprise to find out that they were simply transformative back in 1417. And Greenblatt makes a wonderful argument that essentially we wouldn't have the modern world as we know it if this discovery had not been made.

NNAMDI

13:27:09
Michael Dirda, a Japanese author, many thought was a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize in literature, is climbing the best seller list with a dystopian thriller. What's captivating about "IQ 84" from Haruki Murakami?

DIRDA

13:27:25
Well, before I answer that may I comment just briefly on the previous two...

NNAMDI

13:27:30
Please do. I'd love to hear your view.

DIRDA

13:27:32
First of all, on the National Book Award winner in fiction, I'm really impressed that the National Book Award nominated a slight -- relatively little known writers. I think they were doing their job by doing so, by reminding us that there are so many good books out there that we're not necessarily always aware of.

DIRDA

13:27:55
Second is -- and I disagree on the nonfiction award, "The Swerve." I thought "The Swerve" was a very popular book and it didn't really try very hard to do anything more than we already knew about Lucretius and his new -- the rediscovery of his -- the nature of things during the Renaissance. But I think I'm the minority with that point of view.

NNAMDI

13:28:15
Well, the impression I got from Marcela is that it somehow makes the book more accessible. Is that what you feel, Marcela?

VALDES

13:28:23
I do. I mean, I think that Michael is probably right for people who know a lot about Lucretius already. But the fact is that most people don't. And this is a book that makes this story incredibly accessible and incredibly entertaining. And I think that that is a skill and a talent that deserves to be rewarded as well, and that it's a deeply pleasurable read because of that.

NNAMDI

13:28:50
Well, stoking disagreement is a talent that we cultivate here.

DIRDA

13:28:51
Well, yeah, exactly. That's -- but I -- and obviously the National Book Award committee felt as you do, Marcela. So I -- you know, I may well be wrong. That's one of the things critics have to learn to say. But the Haruki Murakami novel is a monstrous book. It's a huge, long, gigantic novel. It was originally published in three volumes in Japan. Knopf has brought it together in one. But it's good that they've done so because it's hard to put down. It's a very exciting melodramatic novel that combines fantasy and romance and mystery.

DIRDA

13:29:24
It begins with a young woman who practices a vocation that's not clear to us for a while who crosses over into an alternate Japan, an alternate 1984 which is called either 1Q84 or IQ84. And there she discovers there are little people who may be trying to undermine humanity. She eventually makes her way to her long lost love from childhood. And many, many things happen. It's a book full of ideas, full of excitement and quite melodramatic at times and so hard to put down.

NNAMDI

13:30:00
800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have books of your own that you would like to recommend for winter reading. Marcela, you think fans of Jonathan Franzen and Tom Wolfe, authors who write big social novels might like the "Barbarian Nurseries" by an author who may be better known for his work as a journalist, Hector Tobar.

VALDES

13:30:20
Yes, that’s correct. I love this book by Hector Tobar. It's definitely a big ambitious social novel. It is a story that focuses on three main characters. A software engineer who made a million in the dot com boom, his stay-at-home wife who used to work for his company and their Mexican immigrant sort of housekeeper, then they begin to turn her into a nanny. This is a family, the couple that was used to having sort of a fancy house, fancy cars, fancy birthday parties for their kids, and then they get hit by the economic downturn.

VALDES

13:31:02
And so they begin to downsize their life. In fact, the book opens with a scene in which this former millionaire now sort of dwindling-bank-account software engineer is trying to remember how to mow his own lawn. And this economic tension in their life exacerbates the marital tensions. And they begin arguing more and more until one day the maid wakes up and finds that both the parents are gone and they're not answering their cell phones and they've left their two sons in her care.

VALDES

13:31:39
She doesn't really speak English. She doesn't have a car and the food starts running out. So then she decides the way to sort of take care of the situation is to take the children with her into urban immigrant Los Angeles in search of their grandfather, a decision that soon leads the police to hunt her down accusing her of kidnapping.

VALDES

13:32:02
So it's a rather suspenseful tale, but it's really -- what makes it so strong is that Tobar has such a sympathetic view of all three of these characters. He really gets, not just all the social levels in contemporary Los Angeles, but also all the complications about having immigrant help as domestic labor, which many people in this country do, and the repercussions of that.

NNAMDI

13:32:29
Hector Tobar is a Pulitzer Price-winning reporter for the L.A. Times.

VALDES

13:32:33
He is.

NNAMDI

13:32:34
Barbara Hoffert, when we look at the news, we see governments in turmoil, we see consequences, currencies on the brink of collapse and protestors taking to the streets. Things are complicated. And when it's hard to make sense of what's happening right now we have a collective tendency to look back at history, to reexamine the past. You have noticed that the historical novel has evolved in the last few years. And you'd like to recommend at least one of them, "The Marriage Plot," but go ahead.

HOFFERT

13:33:02
Actually, the last 20 years. It's interesting, I've had discussions with two different editors over the last two weeks about how, you know, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago if you said historical novel, you would tend to think romance saga. The historical novel now, you know, you'll think Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," beautiful novels that really talk about where we've been and let us know where we are now.

HOFFERT

13:33:27
And it's interesting, Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot" of course takes place in the '80s. Not all of us think that's historical but some people have said to me, why did he set it back then? Because it's a time he knew and it was a good time for him to talk about the issue of love, which is what he's concerned with in this novel. "The Marriage Plot" referencing the idea that only in 19th century English novels do people get married and live happily ever after.

HOFFERT

13:33:51
This is about a moody spiritual seeker, Mitchell, who is besotted with English literature loving Madelyn, who's just as besotted with brilliant unstable Leonard. They're all Brown students just graduating. And you really have a sense of the rush of love and also the really crazy things we do sometimes in its name. I like this book because it takes place sort of beyond coming of age and yet before middle age angst sets in. So that's one of the (unintelligible) ...

NNAMDI

13:34:19
Allow me to stoke another fire because I gather that Marcela thinks "The Marriage Plot" is overrated.

VALDES

13:34:24
You're starting fights, Kojo.

NNAMDI

13:34:27
I'm trying.

VALDES

13:34:30
I am not the biggest fan of this book, it's true. I found it a little tweety for my taste.

NNAMDI

13:34:41
A little what, tweety?

DIRDA

13:34:43
Cutesy.

NNAMDI

13:34:43
Oh.

VALDES

13:34:44
A little tweety, a little precious for my taste. I did not find the -- I didn't find the drama of the story as convincing as I would like it to be. The love story -- I think he does a great portrayal of sort of the consequences of the mental illness of one of the character's -- I don't think this is giving too much away -- struggles with some psychiatric problems. And I do think that that's a great asset of the book. But the parts that people tend to talk about, about the references to sort of literary theory I felt were sort of soft and not very well done. And I was frankly very disappointed with the ending.

NNAMDI

13:35:28
Care to respond to that, Michael Dirda?

DIRDA

13:35:32
Well, not to respond precisely to that. I'll let Barbara and Marcela, you know, thrash that out between them. But I will add, a few of my favorite novels of the year were in fact historical novels and largely more historical than the 1980s.

NNAMDI

13:35:48
You recommended "The Sojourn."

DIRDA

13:35:49
Well, I mentioned "The Sojourn" and that was short-listed for the National Book Award. It takes place largely in Central Europe during -- just before and during the First World War. And it's a story of a Slovak -- American boy who goes back to Slovakia when his father returns to the home country. And there grows up and becomes a sniper during the First World War.

DIRDA

13:36:12
But you also have Umberto Eco's new novel "The Prague Cemetery" set in the 19th century. And it chronicles really the rise of conspiracy theory and anti-Semitism throughout the 19th century and culminates in really the writing of the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

NNAMDI

13:36:31
How about "The Stranger's Child?"

DIRDA

13:36:33
"The Stranger's Child. Alan Hollinghurst was widely thought to be almost a shoo-in for the book, although Julian Barnes is -- was a terrific writer. And it didn't even make the short list. But it traces the life and then the fortunes of a World War I poet loosely based on Rupert Brooke who dies during the First World War and then shows how a poem he wrote on a country weekend becomes a central theology piece and how it influences the lives of his friends, family and descendents.

NNAMDI

13:37:08
Barbara, you also -- oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.

DIRDA

13:37:10
The one last one.

NNAMDI

13:37:10
Sure.

DIRDA

13:37:11
And it is "A Man of Parts" by David Lodge, a comic novel but very closely based on the life of H. G. Wells who was not just a writer of scientific romances, of science fiction, but also of great novels about the condition of England during his time and a man who had a weakness for women. And it chronicles his many love affairs and the disappointments that come about because his vision of a more utopian future never come about.

NNAMDI

13:37:41
Remember, all of the books recommended here you'll find at our website kojoshow.org. Barbara, you're also recommending "The Emperor of Lies," a novel by Steve Sem-Sandberg. And...

HOFFERT

13:37:53
Yes, he's a...

NNAMDI

13:37:53
..."Wunderkind" by Nicolai Grozni. Speak at will.

HOFFERT

13:37:57
Okay. "The Emperor of Lies" is -- speaking of historical novels -- is actually about the man who was Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski who was put in charge -- the Jewish man who was put in charge of the Lodz Ghetto, that's L-O-D-Z, is how we usually say it -- or would spell it, the Lodz Ghetto -- and the -- by the Nazis and asked to run it. In fact it was run very efficiently as an industrial complex, offered thousands of jobs to the Jews there in the ghetto until they were shipped off to death camps.

DIRDA

13:38:29
Sem-Sandberg did a tremendous amount of research, actually relied on chronicles that were compiled at the time to write this book, so doesn't read like a documentary. It reads very absorbingly like a study of a man that you have to ask yourself, good or bad, power monger or savior? And of course one of the things I always think when I'm reading a book like this is, well, what would I have done. So I find that it's very humbling read and very moving read.

HOFFERT

13:38:54
"Wunderkind" by Nicolai Grozni, a completely different kind of novel. And first just a little bit about the author. He was born in Bulgaria. He was a student of classical piano by age four, International prize winner by ten. Then he came to this country and he studied jazz at Berkeley College in Boston. And then he went to India to become a Buddhist monk. And he wrote a memoir that many of your listeners may know called "Turtle Feet."

HOFFERT

13:39:18
See, he's clearly the -- kind of the model for his protagonist who is a prodigiously talented and prodigiously rebellious piano student sort of resisting the strictures in -- of the school where he is studying because this is a place where the mediocre students are rewarded for following the partied line. This is right before the Cold War ends. And the truly talented resist by drinking, smoking and having lots of sex.

HOFFERT

13:39:44
So it's a riotous novel on one level, but a despairing novel on the other. You get the sense of a suffocating society and he just writes amazingly about music. It's just -- it's a -- you know, really lyric. You get this adrenaline rush. For me as someone who plays the piano, I thought it was just especially beautiful writing. Maybe not for everyone who can't hear that quote "W.C.'s high registers flurries shine like black pearls" or the mahogany tones of a particular Steinberg. But, you know, for people who love to read about music, written about beautifully, and people who are interested in political society and what happens in a repressive society, how people resist, a really interesting novel.

NNAMDI

13:40:24
And Marcela, why are you recommending the "Binocular Vision"?

VALDES

13:40:28
Yes. This was another finalist for the National Book Award, and I have to confess that I had never read Edith Pearlman before she got that nomination, and boy was I missing out. "Binocular Vision," I brought it to my mother when I came up here for Thanksgiving to share it with her because I loved it so much. It's a collection of short stories, many of them actually quite short, some of them only three or four pages long.

VALDES

13:40:56
And what I love about this book so much is that Edith Pearlman has this wonderful kind of sense of humor combined with a very compassionate view of her characters that leads to many stories about kind of resilience, and without being kind of overly moralistic. For example, there's one story called "Pooram Night" which is set in the aftermath of World War II, as many of the stories in this collection are, and which is a refugee camp from people after the World Wars, many of them Jewish, and they don't have very many resources.

VALDES

13:41:37
It's a very poor time, and yet somehow they cobble together with leftover jams and bits and pieces of holiday sort of googas and ornaments donated to them from people out of cigarette wrappers and stuff, costumes and make a party. It's just people who are sort of accommodating to setbacks in their life with a spirit of gusto that is just so beautiful to read about, particularly because Pearlman is not sentimental about it. So that you get this very convincing vision of people who sort of look like in the eye and see where they've been bruised, but just keep going on and keep their chin up an make the best of it.

NNAMDI

13:42:29
The book is called the "Binocular Vision" by Edith Pearlman. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on winter reading. Remember you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and see all the books that were recommended during this broadcast, or you can call us right now with your own suggestions at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

NNAMDI

13:44:43
Welcome back. We're talking winter reading with Marcela Valdez. She is books editor of the Washington Examiner, and a contributing editor for Publisher's Weekly. She specializes in writing about Latin American literature and culture. Barbara Hoffert is the editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal which keeps librarians up-to-date on what's new in the publishing industry, and Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer-Prize winning critic and long-time book columnist for the Washington Post. He's the author of several books, the latest of which is "On Conan Doyle."

NNAMDI

13:45:14
Michael, you're a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and you recently wrote, as I mentioned, about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe more than any other fictional character, Holmes has really been kept alive by his fans, has he not?

DIRDA

13:45:29
Indeed. There are probably more pastiches and parodies of Sherlock Holmes and other fictional character, and he's certainly the most filmed fictional character of all times. This season in fact has been a very good one for Sherlock in adventures. Not only books, but also of course the upcoming Robert Downey movie, the BBC "Sherlock" where Sherlock Holmes is young and in the 21st century. My own book is partly about Sherlock Holmes, partly about this curious group the Baker Street Irregulars who pretends that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson actually lived, that they're historical figures.

DIRDA

13:46:07
But it's also about Conan Doyle as a great storyteller. He wrote the "Lost World" about Professor Challenger's discovery of dinosaurs still alive in the South American jungles, and many, many other sorts of novels, short stories, ghost stories, weird tales, contemporary novels. So it's a great season for adventure novels of which Sherlock Holmes is one thread. But we were talking about historical novels. This year's Hugo Nebula award winner, Connie Willis, is a science fiction novel that's set largely during World War II and involves time travel back to that period.

DIRDA

13:46:46
It's two volumes, one is called "Blackout," one is called "All Clear." There's a terrific pastiche Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz called "The House of Silk." There's a collection of stories, a study in Sherlock, there's just a lot of fun reading for this fall having to do with crimes, mysteries...

NNAMDI

13:47:04
In addition to which there's Conan Doyle's previous unpublished first novel...

DIRDA

13:47:08
Yes.

NNAMDI

13:47:08
..."The narrative of John Smith."

DIRDA

13:47:09
"The Narrative of John Smith," edited by two friends of mine, John Lellenberg, and Dan Stashower. Dan's a local writer. And it's the discovery of his first book it's really kind of an autobiographical narrative. It's not terribly exciting but it's very illuminating, and as I say, my own book is a kind of essay about Conan Doyle's variety and appeal to people and an invitation to read beyond the Sherlock Holmes stories.

NNAMDI

13:47:42
Marcela, the Middle East continues to capture readers' attention, both in the news and in fiction. It's my understanding that you particularly liked a graphic novel set there, "Habibi" by Craig Thompson.

VALDES

13:47:53
Yes. This is a beautiful book, beautifully visually and also beautiful an emotional, moving sort of way. It's a very complicated or complex story, a kind of epic story about a young woman who is sold into marriage by her parents because they are struggling with poverty because of a drought, and her adventures after that, both in the marriage, then after the marriage when she's kidnapped, and essentially turned into a sex slave in a harem, and then about her escape from that harem. It's -- and the life that she makes from there.

VALDES

13:48:38
It's a beautiful book, partly because it gives us a vision of the Middle East that is not really about the war. It's about the culture there, and the struggles of the people within that culture and the conflicts between a rural culture and a city culture, and about the rich people in that culture and the people who are desperately poor in that culture. So if you want to see a side of the Middle East that's not about sort of bombs going off and soldiers, I would strongly recommend this book, and Craig Thompson's visual execution of this book is simply breathtaking.

NNAMDI

13:49:21
You might also arrive at that by way of poetry. Barbara Hoffert, could you talk about Hagar.

HOFFERT

13:49:27
Amal al-Jubouri's "Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation," and in the Judeo-Christian tradition when we say Hagar with a hard G, and sort of the, you know, the second wife of Abraham banished other. In the Islamic tradition with the soft G, she's an honored presence and she actually is the founder of Mecca in her wanderings as I understand. And it's appropriate for the poet to be speaking through her voice because she was banished herself. She fled Iraq for Germany in 1997 when she appeared on the government's list of renegade writers and went back right after the regime's fall, and she just writes in this really spare vivid just beautifully heartrending language.

HOFFERT

13:50:09
She shows us what life was like before and after the occupation, but this is not -- it's not so much about military, it's a polemic, and it's very hard to write poetry about -- that doesn't sound like propaganda, and she succeeded in talking about life there. She'll talk about before the occupation for instance. Loneliness before the occupation arrested our sleep, our secrets, our restlessness. Afterward, escapes from bodies, from our beds to our bodies. She'll talk about photographs before and after the occupation.

HOFFERT

13:50:40
My mouth, love, freedom, my grave. So you have a sense of it's really more about a culture and you have a sense that you're grounded in, you know, millennia's old culture, and how she presents the -- her country not merely as a function of an occupation or a war, but as something much deeper. It's a really, really beautiful book.

NNAMDI

13:51:06
Michael Dirda, how about a novel about conspiracy theories in the 19th century and the birth of anti-Semitism, the "Prague Cemetery."

DIRDA

13:51:13
This is the latest from Umberto Eco. We remember "Faucault's Pendulum" and "The Name of the Rose." He's come back to that sort of novel. It's -- again, it focuses on a single figure, but links him to everything from the carbonari to various sorts of anti-Jewish conspiracies throughout the 19th century. He's at the commune, he's there with Garibaldi in Italy, he's everywhere. He's sort of Zelig figure, so to speak.

DIRDA

13:51:45
And it's quite a good book, but a rather strange one in that there's nobody who's very admirable at all in it, but it's an examination of ideas and of how these ideas came about in the 19th century and affect us to this day. May I throw in one other...

NNAMDI

13:52:03
Please do.

DIRDA

13:52:03
...book about the Middle East? There's a terrific biography of Wilfred Thesiger who was a great explorer -- English explorer known for Arabian Sands who was one of the first Europeans to cross the empty quarter with Bedouin back in the 1940's. His books are wonderful travel accounts. But he talks about the people he was with, people that we've had mixed feelings with in America with utter admiration through -- that he said among nobody else so much as among the Arabs have I felt so inferior, because they were able to survive on so little and to live such rich lives.

NNAMDI

13:52:45
Here is Bill in Springfield, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

BILL

13:52:50
Hi Kojo. Thanks for letting me on. I had one more book on Jewish history that is kind of unusual and a wonderful book. It's a story called "My Race: A Jewish Girl Growing Up Under Apartheid in South Africa" by Lorraine Lotzof Abramson. And she was a gold medal track start in South Africa, and it talks about how on one hand she was a hero to South Africa, yet she was an outsider in the society, not really being a part of the white society or the black society, and it's a wonderful story of how all that came together, her the and buildup to Mandela's takeover in South Africa and all the concerns that were going on, and a lot of stuff we don't really know about over here, or didn't really follow real closely, and it's a very interesting story of what it was like...

NNAMDI

13:53:39
And it's called "My Race," correct?

BILL

13:53:42
"My Race: A Jewish Girl Growing Up Under Apartheid in South Africa."

NNAMDI

13:53:46
And the name of the author?

BILL

13:53:48
It's Lorraine Lotzof Abramson, and it's a new book that just came out, I think, late last year.

NNAMDI

13:53:54
Bill, thank you for your call. Here is Shorrie (sp?) in Colombia, Md. Shorrie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

SHORRIE

13:54:00
Hi, thanks for answering my call. I really want to recommend this great book that I just read called "Orientation" by Daniel Orozco, and it's basically just a collection of short stories, and it's really just gorgeous. He can take like the most mundane events such as the eating of a turkey, or maybe a short run that someone takes, and he can make them into these huge -- these huge sort of events. They're just wonderful.

SHORRIE

13:54:31
And his style, like some short stories, you'll just read them and afterwards you'll say, okay, that was a good story. But with his style it really captures you and it makes you feel, oh, what happened to this people, what's going to happen to these people, how is the relationship going to work out, how is this man going to…

NNAMDI

13:54:52
You get caught up in it, huh?

SHORRIE

13:54:55
Huh?

NNAMDI

13:54:55
You get caught up in the story.

SHORRIE

13:54:55
Yeah. It just sort of gets you caught up in the whole story.

NNAMDI

13:54:59
Okay. We're running out of time, Shorrie, but thank you very much for that recommendation. It's "Orientation" by Daniel Orozco. Michael, I can't get out this without talking about science fiction. "Becoming Ray Bradbury" by Jonathan Eller.

DIRDA

13:55:11
Oh, yeah. This is a biography of the young Ray Bradbury, taking you through really the stories that we most value of the "Martian Chronicles," in particular up to "Fahrenheit 451," his great book about book burning and the future of books. Bradbury is one of our greatest living short story writers and he's in his 90's now. He was recently honored with a honorary Pulitzer Prize, and this book is an excellent account of his formative years as a write. Plus it gives you an insight into the life of science fiction, the community of science fiction writers in California in the 1940s, and it's a good introduction to a number of other writers besides Ray Bradbury.

NNAMDI

13:55:55
And speaking of writers that we know about, Barbara, in the non-fiction realm, you highlight books -- you and Michael do about artists. One we think we know a lot about already, Van Gogh, and another who turns out to be way more interesting than we realize, Caravaggio. First, Barbara, talk about "Van Gogh: The Life."

HOFFERT

13:56:17
It's written with the cooperation of the Vincent Van Gogh Museum so you can imagine there's a lot of authority to it, and the lead author, Steven Naifeh, also won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Jackson Pollack, so you know he writes with great authority too. And it's been -- it was actually embargoed, so I didn't have a chance to read 'till just really a few days ago, embargoed because it makes some controversial comments about Van Gogh's death at the end, which I will not tell you because you can then all go read the book.

HOFFERT

13:56:47
But what I thought was particularly striking about this was that, you know, we think of him as this singular artist, and we know so much about the end of his life, but this goes back with a lot of detail about the beginnings of his life, his relationships with his parents, rather not a nice mother and his desire for instance to become a preacher which is something I never knew about and it's an interesting to see that discussed and then goes on into the art years with the very lyric yet incisive discussion of the art. I thought that was tremendous, and it is one big book. It's nearly 1,000 pages with notes, and though it's densely written because it's very well researched, it's really fluid and readable. I really found it a very absorbing book.

NNAMDI

13:57:28
Michael Dirda, "Caravaggio" by Andrew Graham Nixon (sic).

DIRDA

13:57:32
This is a thrilling book. Caravaggio died at the age of 38, he was probably bisexual, he may have even worked as a pimp for a while. His paintings are astonishing, they're among, you know, the greatest paintings of the Renaissance, and his life was as colorful as that of Cellini or Casanova or Christopher Marlowe, and this is a book you can read as a novel almost because he just did so much beyond paint.

NNAMDI

13:58:01
"Caravaggio," I have to read. Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer-Prize winning critic and long-time book columnist for the Washington Post, author of several books, the latest of which is "On Conan Doyle." Michael, thank you for joining us.

DIRDA

13:58:13
Thank you, Kojo.

NNAMDI

13:58:14
Marcela Valdez is the books editor of the Washington Examiner, and a contributing editor for Publisher's Weekly. Marcela, thank you for joining us.

VALDES

13:58:21
Thank you, Kojo.

NNAMDI

13:58:23
And Barbara Hoffert is the editor of the Prepub Alert at the Library Journal. Barbara, Happy Thanksgiving.

HOFFERT

13:58:28
Same to you. Thank for having me.

NNAMDI

13:58:29
I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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