It happens pretty much the same way every time. The day after I’ve partaken in some sort of weekend or holiday eating-and-drinking binge—i.e., the Monday after the Super Bowl, the fifth of July, the first week of January after the entire Thanksgiving-through-New Year’s season officially comes to a close—I engage in the same detoxifying, repenting ritual: the consumption of a fresh, nutrient-rich salad. Somehow, in my mind, the more vividly green the leaves in the salad, the more purifying the ritual will feel, and with that first crunch on a crisp piece of greenery, I hear a tiny voice in my head, murmuring, “The next day was Sunday again. The caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better.” A pivotal line from a formative piece of literature that I, like many thousands of other now-adults, first encountered in childhood: The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Shoes are humankind’s oldest invention to aid mobility. Thousands of years before a clever Mesopotamian first tilted a potter’s wheel up onto its side to make a chariot, or a nomad tamed the first wild horse on the grasslands of the Eurasian steppe, people began fashioning shoes from leather or plant fiber to make it easier and less painful to get from one place to another. For the earliest humans especially, our survival depended on movement, toward prey and away from predators, for we have long been both. It is not surprising, then, that many of our earliest stories are concerned with flight and pursuit.
Journalists, to me, are heroes. But when I started writing novels a few years ago—and had to imagine how all the players in a story might think—I realized that, in political fiction at least, journalists don’t make great protagonists. Their grasp of the story, in the end, is too fragmentary. They are rarely let inside the rooms where the secret intrigue plays out. And given the particular requirements of political thrillers, they are even less likely than others to save the day.
On a recent winter day, Turn the Page bookstore in Boonsboro (population: 3,553) was filled with fans of Nora Roberts, who had descended upon the small town nestled in the foothills of rural western Maryland to get their hands on her latest book and have them signed by Roberts herself.
The crowd—overwhelmingly white, mostly middle-aged women in sensible shoes—kept the cash registers ringing. Turn the Page, owned by Roberts’s husband Bruce Wilder, has been a fixture in the town for more than two decades. It’s a shrine to the almost-70-year-old, still-reigning queen of the romance industry (though these days, she prefers to drop the r-word and describe herself as a “fiction writer,” and she’s no longer a member of the Romance Writers of America). “America’s most popular novelist,” as she was called by the New Yorker in 2009, has half a billion of her books in print around the world; 27 copies of her books are sold every minute. During her decades-long career, Roberts’s books—and there are more than 200 at this point, with five new ones every year—have spent a total of 1,121 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
I do that “dad thing” where I insist my son let me finish out the Dave Brubeck song during carpool, instead of immediately tuning the radio to the drivel and crud he prefers. Nothing against drivel and crud, of course, or the breathless idiocy of the very talented Ariana Grande.
It’s just that Brubeck — like Miles Davis, like the Beatles, like Bach — will endure. There is a sophisticated bounce to his music, an aural crossover dribble. For hundreds of years, dads and sons will share the jaunty lyricism of the great Dave Brubeck.
Kudos to Lillie Vale, for not only successfully manipulating the emotions of her characters, but those of the reader as well. Small Town Hearts has just the right amount of drama, at just the right pace. Vale manages to honor small town life, while deftly navigating the often rough relationship waters experienced by older teens. She tells an emotionally compelling story, stays true to her complicated characters, and somehow manages to tie it all up in sweet-yet-realistic bow. A charming and satisfying read.
Butler isn’t a doctor, but she is a professional science writer and author of the widely admired “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” a critique of our broken medical system told through case histories and an account of her father’s traumatic last years. Not surprisingly, then, this “practical guide to a good end of life” delivers on its subtitle, offering detailed advice on dealing with — in poet Philip Larkin’s phrase — “age, and then the only end of age.” Butler’s factual, no-nonsense tone is surprisingly comforting, as are her stories of how ordinary folks confronted difficult medical decisions. In short, if you’re coming up on three score and 10 or have already passed that biblical term limit for earthly existence, you will want to read “The Art of Dying Well” and keep it handy, if only for its lists of what to do as one’s physical condition changes.
For those of an [ahem] certain age the computer was not the main writing machine for school or business. At least not until the 1980s when it displaced the typewriter, beloved instrument of blessed memory. Now the typewriter is celebrated in a fascinating new book by Long Island collector and researcher, and typewriter restorer Anthony Carillo. In Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing, Carillo, with the aid of photographer Bruce Curtis, tells and shows why this incredible machine, first patented in the U.S. 190 years ago, is worth knowing about.
Are cartoon stars any less real than the flesh-and-blood kind? That's the question posed by Savannah College of Art and Design professor of animation history David McGowan in this adaptation of his doctoral thesis. The academic roots are apparent in this sometimes dry but never less than fascinating analysis of the lives of animated actors, separate from their performances.
That said, for all its bleakness, the novel offers glimpses of hope – an elderly couple living alone in an abandoned village, for example, who give Bolbol, Hussein and Fatima a warm welcome; and somehow the siblings’ whole enterprise, in spite of its pointlessness, comes to feel emblematic of the way people try to carry on with reassuring the rituals of ordinary life, even in the most impossible of circumstances.