Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 2, 2011

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

In the Nook of Time

Normally quarterly results reported by Barnes & Noble late in August would be of interest mainly to sales and finance types in the book world. But these are not normal times. People took notice on Tuesday when the nation's largest bookseller said that sales of digital items--its Nook e-reader, Nook accessories and e-books--rose 140%, and that Nook business should top $1.8 billion this year.

That wasn't all the news. B&N's website, which sells printed books as well as digital products, also did nicely: sales rose 37% and e-book sales quadrupled. Oh, and the company says it has nearly a third of the e-book market. Wall Street--not a fan lately of traditional media retailers--liked all these trends and promptly bid up B&N stock by 15%.

All that indicates that B&N has turned a corner in its effort to be a player in the e-book revolution and will not follow its onetime rival, Borders, into oblivion. The trends also mean that there will be real competition on the digital playing field, that it won't be an Amazon monopoly. This is important because the Kindle is the one e-reader that doesn't "share" with others and because Amazon tends to, shall we say, play rough.

By the way, B&N's shift doesn't mean that its stores are going away. It's easy to forget that about 80% of books sold continue to be traditional books, and the stores have been a big help in B&N's digital push: many Nooks have been sold in person to store customers. Perhaps most important, the stores continue to show their value as a kind of showroom, introducing readers to the great books that continue to be published, regardless of the changes buffeting the business.

This is all good news for publishers and authors, for most bookstore competitors of B&N--and ultimately for readers.

Happy reading! --John Mutter

The Writer's Life

Tour Idea Runs Out of Gas but Gets Plenty of Mileage Anyway

It was an awesome plan: to promote his novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, Christopher Boucher was going to fly to Los Angeles in early August, buy a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle, and drive it all the way back to Boston, stopping at bookstores along the way. "I bought a car sight unseen specifically to take it across the country," Boucher recalled, sitting in the offices of his publisher, Melville House, near the end of the tour. "We drove it for a day, just to get used to it. We drove it 50 miles or so." But when he and his wife pulled into the parking lot at Book Soup in West Hollywood, he noticed gasoline leaking from the carburetor. 

Boucher had originally intended to drive straight from Book Soup to San Francisco, where he'd be reading at the Booksmith the next night. Instead, the Bug was towed to a garage, and when it was clear that the carburetor couldn't be replaced in time for them to get to the store on time, he and his wife rented a Jeep and hit the road. The original owner was understanding about the situation and bought the car back. ("We're still on good terms," Boucher reported. "In the end, it worked out okay. He got the carburetor fixed and just recently sold the car to somebody else.")

But Boucher and his wife had plenty of fun on the road even without the VW--you can read all about it at Boucher's blog at Actually, he confesses, there were times, like the drive through the Rockies, he was glad they wound up with a brand-new Jeep. At some stops, he shared the reading with "literary heroes" like Gary Lutz (Pittsburgh) and Emily St. John Mandel and Reif Larsen (Brooklyn); at others, he and his wife did musical performances--she on guitar, he on banjo. ("She's the musician in the family, and I just dabble," he said modestly--but that "dabbling" includes playing in a bluegrass band back home.) All told, he'll have reached 17 stores in just under one month when the tour ends at Newtonville Books in Newton, Mass., next Friday, September 8.

Along the way, he met many folks who shared his love for the original How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, a repair manual first published by John Muir in 1969 (and kept in print by Avalon, which has helped Melville cross-promote the two titles). He even met a couple in Louisville, Ky, who were willing to sell him their '72 Beetle for the last leg of the tour. "Boy, it was a beautiful car," he said wistfully. He didn't buy that one, but he still has the 1971 Super Beetle he bought in 1998 for $300 parked in a storage space at his father's. "Time is running out for when he tells me to get it out of there one way or the other," he admitted. "And it's not in good shape. It's gonna take some magic to get it back on the road... some magic and a lot of Bondo." --Ron Hogan

Book Brahmin: Drew Magary

Drew Magary's first novel is The Postmortal (trade paperback, Penguin, August 30, 2011), a dystopian take on what it would be like to live forever. He's a writer for Gawker's Deadspin, the blog Kissing Suzy Kolber, GQ, Maxim, NBC and anywhere else that will offer him money to spout off about random crap.

On your nightstand now:

Life, the Keith Richards autobiography. I'll read anything about people doing lots of drugs and/or getting lost at sea. My wife also threw The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls on my book stack but I'm never gonna read it.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Green Eggs and Ham. Mostly because of the ham.

Your top five authors:

John Kennedy Toole, Jon Krakauer, Shakespeare, James Joyce, J.K. Rowling

Book you've faked reading:

In sixth grade, I picked A Christmas Carol for a book report because I knew the basic story. Then when my teacher asked me about the particulars of the book, I had to open it right in front of her and figure it out in real time. I did not do well.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Usually I'm the one who's being proselytized to about books because I can be extremely lazy about reading stuff. But I will say that anyone who hasn't read The Dirt by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss needs to read it and memorize it immediately.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. They didn't even need artwork. It was just like, "Hey, here's the title and we don't need to do anything more to it because this book will ruin your s***."

Book that changed your life:

Probably Catch-22, because it was the first time I was assigned a book in school that I actually ended up enjoying. Before that, books were just horrible things that I tried to survive reading.

Favorite line from a book:

"This a lotta s***." --From A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Dirt. I'll never get tired of reading about Nikki Sixx nailing his roommate's ear to the floor.


Great Reads

Further Reads: Women's Studies

Earlier this week Shelf Awareness ran a review of True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Tales Out of School, edited by Susan Gubar. In that collection, women's studies academics shared their personal essays about running up against sexism, sexual harassment and gender inequality in their classrooms, faculty lounges and hiring conferences.

There are plenty of "tell-all" books out there, and collecting a few of them here might be fun--but in the spirit of Gubar's field, here are some important works of women's studies that are also terrific reading for the general public.


The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar: Considered by many to be the classic women's-studies text on novels like Jane Eyre and Middlemarch, Professors Gilbert and Gubar's take is sometimes didactic and circular--but that's mostly because when they first published this book in 1979, they had a lot of convincing to do in the staid, canonical ivory towers of academe.


A Literature of Their Own by Elaine Showalter pays titular homage to one great British feminist writer, Virginia Woolf, who argued that any woman who wants to write needs a room of her own. Showalter's great contribution to literary studies was to demonstrate that the obstacles women writers faced for centuries really did hold them back and prevent them from literary productivity.


Writing A Woman's Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun is probably the most reader-friendly book on this list--but the thought behind the late, great Columbia University cultural studies professor's wo-manifesto equals that of her colleagues' more academic tomes. Heilbrun believed that women's attempts to tell stories, whether fictional or not, were too long shaped by patriarchal language and expectations. --Bethanne Patrick


Handselling Favorites of Indie Booksellers


Sometimes the customer is really right. A few weeks ago, a patron of Micawber's bookstore, St. Paul, Minn., asked co-owner Hans Weyandt for a list of his top 100 books. He thought she meant the shop's all-time bestselling titles, but she quickly said, "No, I mean your personal favorites." From that catalyst, a great idea was born. Weyandt has since contacted several other booksellers nationwide with the aim of getting top 50 lists from at least 20 different people or stores.

This week he posted his own selections on Mr. Micawber Enters the Internets blog and plans to add a new list each weekday. Thus far, he has received 20 lists (a total of 1,000 books) from booksellers in 17 states.

"Once I've posted all of the lists, I will compile the most frequently mentioned titles," he said. "What I told everyone was that I was looking for either a top 50 list or 50 favorite books to handsell. Some booksellers chose to add their own restrictions, such as fiction only, deceased authors only, etc."

Book Candy: Bookcase Stairs

Apartment Therapy featured a range of bookcase stairs, noting: "There's something romantic about a staircase. I've never been able to figure out quite what it is, but when I start imagining my dream house, I always imagine the stairs first. So when you combine the romance of stairs with the warmth of bookshelves.... I am completely in love."

Banned Books Week: The Customer Videos

A new part of Banned Books Week, held every year to highlight this perennial problem, is the Internet Read-Out. Several independent bookstores nationwide have signed on and "are planning events where they'll create videos of customers reading from their favorite banned books," Bookselling This Week reported.

Pat Moody of the Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, Conn., commented: "Everyone I have spoken to is very excited to participate in our Freedom to Read event."

Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, a sponsor of Banned Books Week, said, "In addition to the Tattered Cover Book Store [Denver, Colo.] and other stalwart supporters of Banned Books Week, we have been contacted by stores that are planning their first BBW events."

This year Banned Books Week will be held September 24 to October 1.

Baby Eudora?; Literary Breakup Lines; Authors' Reads

Citing a recent trend among celebrities to choose names for their babies that are have bookish themes (think Harper, not to mention Isabella and Jacob), Flavorwire suggested that perhaps "Eudora will make a comeback in homage to Miss Welty," and featured an abridged Literary Baby Name Dictionary.


"That's the trouble with caring about anybody, you begin to feel overprotective. Then you begin to feel crowded," wrote John Updike in Rabbit Redux. That's just one of 30 literary breakup quotes featured by Flavorwire, which noted that as "August becomes September, a noticeable chill lingers in the air; the cold creeps in slowly, hardening hearts and delivering sang-froid to young and old alike. In preparation, we suggest you arm yourselves with our modest arsenal of literary quotes that can be administered whenever you feel the time is right."


As summer comes to a close, you may wonder what's happened to all those beach-reads lists that were released so optimistically during the spring? Salon followed up by checking in "with some of our favorite authors--and some of the writers you're likely to be reading this fall--to see what they really read this summer." 


Jason Goodwin, author of several nonfiction books about Turkey as well as a series of novels featuring Yashim--a Turkish eunuch detective--selected his top 10 books about Turkey for the Guardian.

"Fiction may sometimes bring the reader a closer sense of the shattering transformations as well as continuities of Turkish history," Goodwin observed. "The following selection is influenced by my interest in 19th century Istanbul, where I chose to set my series of thrillers."


Looking for a little something to read in a down economy? Flavorwire recommended a "selection of great novels to read when you’re broke," noting that "there have been some truly magnificent novels written about the penury and deprivation that can arise in allegedly first-world societies, books that are crushingly depressing but also with a lot to teach about the way our world treats those who have less than we do."

Book Review


Bohemian Girl

by Terese Svoboda

Enslaved by a Pawnee to settle one of her father's bets, 12-year-old Harriet clings to the promise of someday being reunited with her family. Ankles hobbled, she is forced into hard labor, biding her time until she realizes freedom will come only with escape, which she finally is able to accomplish.

Harriet's journey across the Great Plains during the Civil War years is neither romantic nor gratuitously violent; it is simply her reality, from hungry nights alone to run-ins with soldiers and chance meetings with other wanderers. Although quick thinking and a level head serve Harriet well, 19th-century Nebraska offers no safe haven.

The American West of Bohemian Girl, Teresa Svoboda's second novel in the University of Nebraska's Flyover Fiction series, is both harsher and more ordinary than that portrayed by Hollywood. Harriet is not caught up in an Indian raid or lured by pimps; instead, she is involved in the more personal conflict of staying alive without losing her "true self." Svoboda (a published poet and winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize) weaves her varied talents into Bohemian Girl, infusing her prose with poetry and her fiction with truth. From the first page, readers will be drawn to Harriet's perspective ("If I look into the perfect face of the river, with no rock to make a muscle in its flow or tree stump to divide it, I see Pa in it") and will later marvel that even after years of sacrifice she can still pause to watch the "quail skitter up in the new evening-pale light" along the river. --Candace B. Levy, freelance editor blogging at Beth Fish Reads


Discover: A beautifully written tale of 19th-century Nebraska told from the perspective of a young woman caught between her loneliness for her family and her strong sense of responsibility.

Bison Books/Univ. of Nebraska, $14.95, trade paper, 9780803226821

The Book of Life: Stories

by Stuart Nadler

"The line between humor and sadness is especially thin," says one very perceptive character in Stuart Nadler's dazzling debut story collection. Fans of the short fiction of Philip Roth, Ethan Canin and Michael Chabon will recognize the guilt, regret and obligations that the Jewish sons in these seven tales carry with them as they battle the pressures from enveloping families to be better boys than their surging passions will allow them to be. Nadler writes of a newer generation than Roth, Canin and Chabon do, one in which estranged brothers go beyond silent standoffs of resentment into actually punching each other, in which mistresses up to no good tell their older lovers, "I'm smarter than you are." Old timers in these tales may still favor passive-aggressive methods, but the youngsters just spit out things like, "I really wish you hadn't married that woman" and "Never buy your mistress something your wife doesn't already own.... It's bad karma."

Those fighting to escape the stranglehold of tradition find transgressive liberation in betrayal, substance abuse and revenge schemes. Blessedly dark ironic humor is a supreme talent that Nadler displays in telling these tales. On the return portion of tense trip together, a teenage son volunteers to take the wheel of the car. "You don't know how to drive," his father says, to which the son replies, "I don't know if you were paying much attention on the way up here, but neither do you." This heartfelt collection ends with the line, "Oh, you and your doubts." Perfect! --John McFarland, author

Discover: A dazzling debut short story collection replete with characters wrestling with guilt and regret but fighting for lives with humor, spirit and the odd transgression.

Reagan Arthur, $13.99, trade paper, 9780316126472

The Legacy

by Katherine Webb

After spending weeks on the U,K. bestseller lists, Katherine Webb's debut novel has arrived here. This is a beautifully written, enthralling tale--part historical novel, part present-day intrigue of buried family secrets, tied together seamlessly without sacrificing either of the two parallel tales at its heart.

Sisters Erica and Beth have been willed the Calcott mansion by their deceased witch of a grandmother, Meredith. As children, they spent summers with Meredith, who harbored a furious hatred for a local band of kindly gypsies--but why? The sisters haven't been back to the estate in more than 20 years, not since their animal-torturing bully of a cousin Henry disappeared. Erica is determined to unravel the secret of Henry's decades-old disappearance, if only to save the sanity of the slowly unraveling Beth.

Meanwhile, alternating chapters take us back to the stunning, fragile Caroline (Meredith's mother) in 1900s Oklahoma. We watch, transfixed, as she morphs from a loving, sensitive beauty into a bitter, self-centered wreck. The circumstances and choices leading to Caroline's downfall are gripping, especially given how her behavior affects her descendants years later.

As spellbound as you will be by the authentic mood, perfect setting and fascinating characters in this tremendous novel, Webb's ending packs a punch that doesn't disappoint. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Katherine Webb's phenomenal novel about family secrets, shocking betrayal and the legacy they leave behind.

Harper Paperbacks, $14.99, trade paper, 9780062077301

Mystery & Thriller

A Bitter Truth

by Charles Todd

Mother-and-son writing team Charles Todd (the Ian Rutledge series) delivers the third in the Bess Crawford series. Bess, a World War I nurse and sometime amateur sleuth, is trying to make her way home on leave at Christmas when she discovers a battered and crying woman huddled on her London porch in the freezing rain. Of course Bess takes her in, and is persuaded to accompany Lydia back to her husband's family home. A smattering of domestic violence is just the beginning; the family is haunted by past losses, at odds with one another and thrown further off-kilter by the question of a possibly missing and possibly illegitimate child. Bess's hesitant commitment to Lydia and her family will follow her to the front lines of the war in France and back again, to the tense, almost haunted family estate where her own life will be endangered before all is resolved.

Todd paints a remarkable, poignant wartime scene of people quietly seething with tragedy and loss, stoically soldiering on, with layers of disinherited and heroic minor characters. Bess is a well-developed character: strong, brave and imperfect, she has involved herself beyond her intentions and proprieties in this story. Two male friends raise the question of a romance in the reader's mind, but Todd is not ready to answer it yet.

This is a well-constructed and understated historical mystery. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mystery series, in particular, will want to read A Bitter Truth immediately. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A quiet but fully wrought WWI mystery involving war orphans, family dynamics and nurse Bess Crawford's good intentions.

Morrow, $24.99, hardcover, 9780062015709

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Watchtower

by Lee Carroll

In 2010, Carroll's Black Swan Rising introduced readers to Garet James, a young jewelry designer who discovered her female ancestors had been guarding the boundaries between our world and the supernatural for centuries. This revelation came, not by coincidence, just as she met and began to fall in love with a vampire named Will Hughes, who wound up stealing a magical artifact from her and running off to Paris to try to find his way into the Summer Country and shake off his curse. The Watchtower opens shortly after Garet's own arrival in Paris, as she seeks help from the French fairy kingdom in tracking down her lover.

Carroll (the husband-and-wife team of Carol Goodman and Lee Slominsky) alternates Garet's contemporary adventure with flashbacks to Will's human life in early 17th-century Europe, where he falls in love with Garet's fairy ancestor Marguerite. Desperate to be with her forever, Will seeks the help of the evil magician John Dee--not knowing that Marguerite is willing to become a mortal to be with him. (John Dee is a real historical figure, as is his accomplice Cosimo Ruggieri; the novel also includes coy references to "the poet" from Stratford Marguerite dumps to be with Will.) Eventually, the two plotlines intersect, but their resolution is largely open-ended--and though The Watchtower can just about hold its own as a story at the surface level, so much of its emotional resonance depends on knowing what happened to Garet and Will in Black Swan Rising that readers essentially need to bet all or nothing on the planned trilogy. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: A thriller writer and a poet continue their clever integration of folklore and the real-life historical pursuit of magical power with supernatural romance.

Tor, $15.99, trade paper, 9780765325983


A Night to Surrender

by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare, author of Goddess of the Hunt and A Lady of Persuasion, sets her latest historical romance in the charming and idyllic utopia of Spindle Cove. That's "utopia" in its purest, historical form, as in, "it's a nice idea, but it's never going to work," because Spindle Cove is home to eccentric spinsters and damaged debutantes, but almost no men. Susanna Finch has created an oasis in which women who don't naturally conform to society's strictures are free to be their "best" selves, with no fear of censure. Free, that is, until Victor Bramwell, the Earl of Rycliff, arrives on the scene with plans to raise a militia in the village. This sends the ladies into a tizzy, and the man himself has a similar effect on Susanna.

The first in the Spindle Cove trilogy, A Night to Surrender features a feisty heroine with education and experience to back up her independence. In providing us with Susanna's background, Dare gives us a glimpse into the world of Regency medicine that is handled relatively lightly but still proves to be distinctly unsettling. That world is also a perfect backdrop for juxtaposing the physical and emotional limitations that the main characters impose upon themselves and others. Watching them push each other beyond those limitations makes for a truly satisfying read. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of A Night to Surrender will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, making this the opposite of a guilty pleasure. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: A Regency romance about the boundaries we set for ourselves, and the joy we find in surpassing them.

Avon Books, $7.99, Mass Market Paperbound, 9780062049834

Graphic Books


by Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick

Jim Ottaviani writes and Leland Myrick illustrates the story of Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, deep thinker and colorful character. Pieced together from the many books Feynman himself dictated and published, as well as several family primary sources, Feynman is a tour de force in the nonfiction graphic novel genre, written in the first person from Richard Feynman's own perspective.

The distinctive presentation of both Feynman's life and perspective through Ottaviani's well-written dialogue and Myrick's finely drawn illustrations gives readers a particularly personal insight into one of the smartest men in the field of science. The graphic novel begins with Feynman's recollection of being a child, encouraged to think and engineer and play with science by his father. The book moves on through Feynman's life during World War II, working on the Manhattan Project, his "discovery" of quantum electrodynamics theories, his lectures and tours of the world, his love of women and other thinkers of his generation, to his long-planned but never consummated trip to Tannu Tuva.

Not one to suffer fools gladly, Richard Feynman found ways to "play" with math and theories of physics and science, inventing new ways of seeing the universe as well as new ways of representing the theories pictorially. This is the best kind of story for presentation in graphic novel form as the words and pictures work in concert to produce as a whole something more than either can do separately. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A must-read nonfiction graphic novel from the perspective of one of the most interesting and intelligent scientists of our time, Richard Feynman.

First Second, $29.99, hardcover, 9781596432598


Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

by Julie Salamon

Once upon a time a playwright could dine out every night in Manolo Blahniks and buy herself a three-bedroom co-op on Central Park West--if that playwright was Wendy Wasserstein. In Wendy and the Lost Boys, veteran journalist Julie Salamon documents the emotional formation and bright-lights career of the first woman playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize and an unshared Tony Award (for The Heidi Chronicles).

Wasserstein, a gifted quipster, wrote funny-serious plays and essays that captured the angst of female baby-boomers struggling to integrate professional ambition with romance and reproduction. Wasserstein's autobiographical themes were so relatable and her physical aspect was so unintimidating that people presumed instant sisterhood, but the real Wendy was elusive. She maintained relationships with scads of "best friends," a clutch of high-profile relatives, a smattering of hapless suitors and a stable of theater world colleague-confidants, many of them gay, some of whom she referred to as her "husbands." Salamon, a reporter and author of Hospital, reveals how carefully Wasserstein stage-managed her public life by doling out selective versions of her persona, while freely pillaging the confidences of her intimates for material. Her biggest secret--the lymphoma that ended her life at 55--remained hidden until the last moment.

The biography is a bit over-detailed on Wasserstein's early career, but the arc of her life is fascinating, starting with her mother, the scene-stealing, implacable Lola, who set an example of secretiveness and claimed that she would have been just as happy if her prize-winning daughter had married a lawyer. The role of traditional husband proved uncastable for Wasserstein, but her triumphant career, her intense relationships and the achievement of single motherhood at the age of 48 fulfilled her own requirements for a remarkable life. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: The theatrical life and career of Wendy Wasserstein, the first woman playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Penguin Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9781594202988

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

by Simon Garfield

Simon Garfield (Mauve; The End of Innocence) does not set out in Just My Type to make anyone who uses Times New Roman as a default font feel unadventurous, but he succeeds in doing precisely that in this witty book about thousands of cooler alternatives. He even goes so far as to direct everyone to the online questionnaire What Type Are You? Chances are you aren't really Times New Roman--you might even be Futura.

Garfield presents debates that have been raging since Gutenberg invented movable type. Beatrice Warde, doyenne of good type during the first half of the 20th century, declared, "The most important thing is that (a typeface) conveys thought, ideas, images, from one mind to other minds." Traditionalists feel that new fonts should not flaunt their novelty; Neville Brody (designer of ground-breaking magazines like the Face and Arena) strongly disagrees--he creates fonts that are as far from wallflowers as you can get. The bias for clarity and readability at the expense of audacious personality continues to this day.

Monotype and Linotype machines of the late 1800s marked a revolution in commercial typesetting, but the introduction of Letraset in 1961 brought font choices into the crafty hands of people like you and me; by 1963, 35 fonts were available on those rub-off pages of type. And 1961 also brought us the IBM Selectric typewriter, which allowed the user to switch typefaces by switching Typeballs. And then came computers, with a bazillion font options. But how to choose? Brody helps by presenting the fonts many people love, along with the ones people really, really hate.

Is there a power font, one that brings certain success, you ask? Opinions differ (graphic designers pride themselves on very fine distinctions) but many favor Gotham for communicating honesty, fairness and integrity. Barack Obama's presidential campaign used Gotham in all its materials, and just look at what happened. Can font choice really affect destiny? Brody notes that Hillary Clinton's campaign often used the more stodgy New Baskerville. My default has now been reset! --John McFarland

Discover: A lively, informative survey of 560 years of typefaces and font choices that will probably make you select a font that is much more you.

Gotham, $27.50, hardcover, 9781592406524

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

by Errol Morris

Academy Award-winning documentarian filmmaker Errol Morris (Tabloid; The Thin Blue Line), brings an unusual perspective to Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography--his first book, a collection of essays--that investigates the relationship between photographs and reality.

Two childhood experiences that deeply affected Morris influenced his approach to the subject. His father died when he was very young, and Morris would come to know him (later) only through studying photographic images of him. Morris also suffered an eye ailment, which ultimately altered his visual perceptions. Thus, an inquisitive, skeptical visual philosopher emerged. It is no wonder that Morris has undertaken a forensic examination that explores how photographs have the power to reveal and conceal and thereby convey certain truths and frauds.

Morris dissects notable documentary photographs--a photograph of three children discovered in the hand of a unknown soldier in Gettysburg; cannonballs on a landscape during the Crimean War; children's toys photographed amid the rubble of the Israeli-Lebanese War; the iconic image of the hooded man that emerged from Abu Ghraib, among others. The book delves into the intentions of a photographer in relation to images themselves; how photography can be manipulated and used as propaganda; how words that accompany a photograph can change visual context; and even how photographs can serve as a source of memory. With fascinating insight, Morris investigates and interviews experts in the visual arts, as if putting each notable photographic specimen on trial and encouraging readers to render their own verdicts. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An observant, in-depth exploration that probes the visual sincerity and veracity of notable photographs.

Penguin Press, $40, hardcover, 9781594203015

Unmeasured Strength: A Story of Survival and Transformation

by Lauren Manning

Cantor Fitzgerald partner Lauren Manning was running late on the morning of September 11, 2001, rushing for the elevator in the lobby of the North Tower when the plane hit. Her life was spared, but her survival was far from a sure thing: she was burned over much of her body and it took years of rehab to recover. Most people would crumble under that kind of pain and hardship, but not Manning. She wasn't afraid to demand transfer to a burn unit from the ER--anyone who's worried about being a bother to medical pros or who hesitates to disagree with a doctor should take lessons. If she and her husband, Greg, hadn't insisted on a move from St. Vincent's to a hospital with more specialized facilities, she might not have been alive to write this memoir.

Her story was chronicled in Love, Greg and Lauren, a 2002 compilation of e-mails from her husband updating friends and family on her condition. By contrast, Unmeasured Strength is in Manning's own voice and goes a long way in conveying the sheer moxie it takes to recover from such a horrific injury. But her aggressiveness is balanced by her willingness to push her body to its limits to ensure her recovery, and that's what makes Unmeasured Strength so inspiring. The details of her injuries are graphic and she's blunt about the unpleasant realities of what she suffered. There's no grand return to corporate America. But Manning has the chance to see her son grow up, and that's triumph enough to make this a memoir quite moving. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: Inspiration for any tough task in this 9/11 memoir, whether it's recovering from an injury, training for a marathon or taking it to the next level at anything.

Holt, $25, hardcover, 9780805094633

A Decade of Hope: Stories of Grief and Endurance from 9/11 Families and Friends

by Dennis Smith, Deirdre Smith

A Decade of Hope is a follow-up to Smith's Report from Ground Zero, which was written shortly after the 9/11 attacks and chronicled the rescue efforts. Scheduled to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, this book is a collection of interviews with survivors and those who lost loved ones. Firefighters are well represented among the stories, which isn't surprising given Dennis Smith is also the author of Report from Engine Co. 82 and a former firefighter. But he's spoken to an array of people: Michael Burke, who tells about his fight for what he sees as a fitting memorial for his brother; Rudy Abad, a Muslim who lost her son, an EMT, when he rushed to the WTC to help; the MacRaes, who lost their daughter Cat, a recent college grad working for a financial company.

The result is somewhat disorganized, with no solid narrative; instead, it's a raw, brutal testament to lives lost on 9/11. Nor does the book steer clear of controversy. Some of the interviewees have thrown themselves into activism in the decade since the attacks, and their views are presented unfiltered and without comment. The so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is referenced by several of the contributors (often unfavorably). Sally Regenhard, who lost her son, criticizes the Port Authority's lack of adherence to code. But Smith also offers uplifting stories like that of Captain Jay Jonas, whose crew stopped to rescue an elderly woman and so were sheltered in a central stairwell when the North Tower collapsed. A Decade of Hope doesn't make for easy reading, but it does bear witness to the lingering effects of a tragedy both national and intensely personal. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: A heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting chronicle of how families and first responders have coped in the decade since 9/11.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670022939

Children's & Young Adult

The Unwanteds

by Lisa McMann

In her first book for middle-graders, Lisa McMann (the Wake trilogy) creates a magical adventure that serves as a worthy successor for fans of Harry Potter. The author introduces us to Quill, a land whose governors label artistic children "Unwanted" and deport them to the Death Farm. On the morning of the government's annual Purge, the governors separate the Stowes, who are 13-year-old identical twins: they keep Aaron ("Wanted") and ship Alexander ("Unwanted") off to die. High Priest Justine warns that "creativity [leads] to revolt," which doesn't faze law-abiding Aaron. He will serve her and her Quillitary, an army of Wanteds, and co-exist with the Necessaries (the sect to which his parents belong), who must perform menial labors.

The Unwanteds do not undergo the fate they expect at the Great Lake of Boiling Oil, however. Instead, they are spared by Mr. Today, a mage who has been saving children for decades. He invites them to Artimé, where artists are not punished but rather rewarded and their gifts nurtured. While Quill is colorless and flooded with suspicion, Artimé is vivid and inspires a feeling of security. If their magical world were ever to be unveiled, the residents of Artimé would be prepared to battle with the Quillitary--which would pit Alexander against Aaron.

McMann creates a spectrum of well-defined worlds, peopled with characters that resemble archetypes yet retain original qualities. Stunning fight sequences make use of unique weapons such as slam-poetry charms and origami dragons that breathe fire. This masterpiece delivers a new spin on what it means to be wanted. --Adam Silvera, a bookseller and an intern at Figment.

Discover: A middle-grade dystopia where drawing in the mud gets you banished to the Death Farm. What's on the other side?

Aladdin, $16.99, hardcover, ages 8-12, 9781442407688

Bake Sale

by Sara Varon

Sara Varon (Robot Dreams) once again proves that reaching one's personal goals can also benefit the community. The charming and resourceful stars of her picture book Chicken and Cat transformed a vacant lot into a community garden. In this six-chapter graphic novel, best friends Cupcake and Eggplant collaborate and encourage each other to achieve their dreams. Cupcake rises at 6:30 each morning and walks to the Sweet Tooth Bakery. He starts a pot of coffee and bakes until his display cases are full. Two thin legs support his yellow-wrapper middle and a pink frosted head with a beret-like cherry cap. He polishes the awards on his wall, which attest to his talents ("2006 Best Fruit Pie," "2008 Most Perfect Cookie"), not to mention the personal testimonials. Tomato, picking up a special order, tells him, "My gardening club goes crazy for your carrot cake." After work, Eggplant (balanced on matching purple legs) picks up Cupcake for band practice. "The 4th of July parade is right around the corner," Eggplant reminds him.

The buddies head around the corner to Eisenstein's Sandwich Shop (which those familiar with Manhattan's Flatiron district will recognize as Eisenberg's, right down to the Russian bookstore on the second floor). As Carrot waits on the pair, Eggplant tells Cupcake about his Aunt Aubergine in Turkey, his plans to visit her, and her new cookbook, which he shares with Cupcake. When Cupcake discovers that Aunt Aubergine and Turkish Delight, a famous pastry chef, are business partners, he can think of little else. He decides to save up for a ticket to travel with his friend, and Eggplant helps him make some hard choices to scrape together airfare. Everything about this confection speaks to cooperation. Eggplant covers the occasional Saturday at the Sweet Tooth so Cupcake can raise the extra cash for the trip. Over the seasons, the resourceful baker taps into community events, making animal-shaped marzipan treats for the Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis of Assisi Day in October, cupcakes with British and American flags for a big November boxing match, and dog biscuits for February's Westminster Dog Show, and sets up a table outside the events.

Because Varon ties her compositions to such a concrete reality, she makes it seem perfectly plausible that a soda can could walk a Dalmatian and a parrot would perch on its strawberry owner. Fellow band members include Brown Egg, Avocado and Donut, and, at a Russian and Turkish bath house, a red beet (think Borscht) hands out towels to Eggplant and Cupcake. When Eggplant loses his job, Cupcake comes through for him. This humorous and heartwarming tale celebrates good food, true friendship and their ripple effects throughout a city neighborhood (with seven fairly simple recipes so readers can get started, too). --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A humorous and heartwarming tale that celebrates good food, true friendship and community togetherness (recipes included).

First Second, $16.99, Paperback, 9781596434196

Fall Mixed Up

by Bob Raczka, illus. by Chad Cameron

From the first page of Raczka's (Guyku) latest picture book, we're aware that something isn't right: "Every Septober/ Every Octember/ Fall fills my senses with/ scenes to remember." For young listeners familiar with the seasons, this charmer throws all sorts of mismatches their way, and they will want to call them out as you read together.

The minimal rhyming text on each spread attempts to explain what's happening in the corresponding pictures. A few of the scenes may need explanation, but this will bring bursts of recognition from older children and help them confirm what they know about autumn. The art brims with humor and imaginative perspectives (a bear gathers nuts from the treetops, and the tree bends over; a scene on a football field shows a huge player tackling another player who's using a baseball mitt to catch the football). Cameron (A Day with No Crayons) uses predominantly reds, golds and browns, along with shadowy night scenes of sitting around a campfire or trick-or-treating. Humor abounds in the off-kilter illustrations, but they also present an opportunity to help kids sort out what's right (and wrong) about fall. Stuffing and drumsticks as treats on Halloween? Putting gloves on our ears? Caramel pumpkins? In fact a lot of things aren't right! Many of the examples will likely initiate a discussion about fall, and children are sure to add some of their own favorite fall things. --JoAnn Jonas

Discover: An exploration of mixed-up seasonal fall scenes, with text and pictures that challenge readers to find the mistakes.

Carolrhoda Books, $17.95, Hardcover, 40p., ages 4-9, 9780761346067

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