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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rose-Colored Books

On this special leap day, it seems appropriate to explore books that offer a bit of extra optimism. Writing in The Huffington Post, author Amy Spencer offers some suggestions ("Seven Surprisingly Optimistic Books," Feb. 28, 2012). According to Spencer, optimism is “a belief that your life is going to work out for the best. However sad or challenging an experience might feel in the moment, there is a benefit to be gained. Centuries of literature have taught us this lesson over and over.” Here are her recommendations:

Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

He Is Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Red Carpet Reading

According to Shelf Awareness editor John Mutter, “No matter who wins Oscars this Sunday, books will be winners.” ("The Envelope, Please. . ." Feb. 21, 2012). Six of the nine nominees for best picture are based on books and a seventh, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” pays homage to writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Here’s a list of Oscar-worthy reading:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”)

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

War Horse by Michael Morpugo

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Remembering Jeffrey Zaslow

His name may not be familiar to all, but bestselling nonfiction author and Wall Street Journal writer Jeffrey Zaslow had a devoted following. The author died unexpectedly last Friday in an automobile accident in Michigan. The Journal described Zaslow as an author “with a rare gift for writing about love, loss, and other life passages with humor and empathy” ("Journal Columnist Jeffrey Zaslow Dies at 53," Feb. 11, 2012).

In his "Moving On" column "his subjects ranged from the anguish of losing a car in the Disney World parking lot, to the power of fathers' lunchbox letters to their daughters, to the distinctive pain of watching a beloved childhood stadium go under the wrecking ball." Several of his columns became books, such as “A Beloved Professor Gives the Lesson of a Lifetime,” which evolved into collaboration with Randy Pausch on The Last Lecture. For 14 years, he succeeded Ann Landers as an advice columnist after entering a contest for a Journal feature story. His books and collaborations are well-worth the read:

The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters
Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope (with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly)

The Girls From Ames: The Story of Women and a Forty Year Friendship
Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (with Chesley Sullenberger)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Dickens’ People

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens (Feb. 7, 1812). If you dreaded slogging through Great Expectations or Oliver Twist in high school English, you may want to try this delightful writer again. The Christian Science Monitor recently published a guide to Dickens’ most enduring characters ("Charles Dickens: His 10 Most Memorable Characters"). They range from the angelic (Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop) to the vengeful (Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities). So, if you are up for sampling this master storyteller again, here are a few more of his quirky characters and the books they appear in:

Samuel Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers
“Pickwick . . . is a rather idealistic and naive creature, who blunders unwittingly into woes such as a lawsuit brought against him by his landlady who mistakenly imagines that he has proposed to her.”

Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities
The novel’s hero sacrifices himself for the woman he loves and utters some of Dickens’ most famous lines: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield
Thought to be modeled on Dickens’ father who spent time in debtors’ prison, Mr. Micawber is “a comical, chronically indebted figure best remembered for his constant assurance that ‘something will turn up.’"

Miss Havisham in Great Expectations
“This wealthy madwoman, jilted on her wedding day, lives as a recluse in her creepy mansion, still dressed in the tatters of her wedding dress.”

Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
“Dickens' description of Scrooge is downright harrowing: ‘The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.’"

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Math for Everyone

Are you someone who couldn’t comprehend multiplication tables by the time friends had mastered them or never got beyond high school algebra? Ian Stewart, author of more than 80 books on popular mathematics, suggests a few written for the curious novice ("Ian Stewart's Top Ten Popular Mathematics Books," The Guardian, Jan. 18, 2012).

Magical Mathematics by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham

The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter