Friday, November 4, 2011

Books I've Read In November 2011

1) On Writing, by Stephen King

Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's
On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."

King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote.

King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher.


2) You Are Not Alone:Michael, Through A Brother's Eyes, by Jermaine Jackson

Jermaine Jackson—older than Michael by four years—offers a keenly observed memoir tracing his brother’s life starting from their shared childhood and extending through the Jackson 5 years, Michael’s phenomenal solo career, his loves, his suffering, and his tragic end. It is a sophisticated, no-holds-barred examination of the man, aimed at fostering a true and final understanding of who he was, why he was, and what shaped him.

Jermaine knows the real Michael as only a brother can. In this raw, honest, and poignant account, he reveals Michael the private person, not Michael “the King of Pop.”

Jermaine doesn’t flinch from tackling the tough issues: the torrid press, the scandals, the allegations, the court cases, the internal politics, the ill-fated This Is It tour, and disturbing developments in the days leading up to Michael’s death. But where previous works have presented only thin versions of a media construct, he provides a rare glimpse into the complex heart, mind, and soul of a brilliant but sometimes troubled entertainer. As a witness to history on the inside, Jermaine is the only person qualified to deliver the real Michael and reveal what made him tick, his private opinions, and unseen emotions through the most headline-making episodes of his life.

Filled with keen insight, rich in anecdotes and behind-the-scenes detail, You Are Not Alone is the book for any true Michael Jackson fan and for anyone trying to make sense of the artist whose death was so premature.

3) Water For Elephants, Sara Gruen

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

4) Starting Over, by LaToya Jackson and Jeffre Phillips

La Toya Jackson was always closer to Michael than anyone knew. In this heartfelt memoir, she pays tribute to his tortured soul—revealing the intimate moments she shared with the deeply troubled pop legend. The first sibling to arrive at the hospital after Michael was rushed there, and the informant on his death certificate, La Toya noticed suspicious details and demanded a second autopsy. For the first time, she unveils shocking behind-the-scenes dealings that she believes led to her brother’s death, and she provides unprecedented insight into the destruction of one of the most dynamic artist/performers in history.

In an account sure to send shock waves around the globe, La Toya sheds new light on the dynamics of the Jackson family and the curtain of secrecy and intrigue that has surrounded her brother Michael, and the rest of the Jackson children, since they became stars in the ’60s and ’70s. She explains her estrangement from— and gradual reconciliation with—one of America’s most famous and close-knit families.

Like Michael, La Toya experienced an upbringing that made her vulnerable to exploitation, and her own journey led to hell and back at the hands of her former manager and husband, Jack Gordon. Sharing with honesty and an open heart some of the most painful episodes of her life story, La Toya reveals how anyone—regardless of fame, fortune, or status—can be trapped in a cycle of abuse, and how she was able to find the courage to rebuild her shattered sense of self, her career, and her relationship with her family, and to finally break free.

This tale will touch the hearts of the millions who are fans of the Jackson family’s music as well as those who have ever shared a special relationship with a sibling. Not just the story of the world’s most renowned family, this memoir will inspire anyone who feels as if their life has fallen apart and there’s nowhere to go, unless they too can learn to truly start over. . .

5) Love Times Three: Our True Story Of A Polygamous Marriage, by Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger with Brooke Adams

e runs his own business and coaches Little League. She drives a minivan, and she’d be lost without her trusty BlackBerry. They go on date nights. Their kids attend public schools, play sports, and take music lessons. They live in a roomy house in the ’burbs. They’re about as mainstream as families come....They’re also polygamists.

For decades, polygamous families have been forced to hide their lifestyle. Men risk prosecution and economic blacklisting, and women face social isolation and faulty assumptions about what it means to live as a sister wife. But Love Times Three, the first-ever memoir of a polygamous family, is a riveting inside look at a world most of us can hardly imagine, revealing the extraordinary workings of the Dargers’ day-to-day life.

Independent Fundamentalist Mormons, the Dargers grew up in polygamous families, and by the time they were in high school, they knew they wanted to live the Principle themselves. But in a highly unusual situation, even for their culture, both Alina and Vicki expressed interest in Joe at the same time. They ultimately courted him together, and married him on the same day. Valerie, Vicki’s twin sister, joined the marriage ten years later.

The Dargers move the conversation away from child brides, Warren Jeffs, and the FLDS to more mainstream polygamists who willingly enter into plural relationships as adults. Rather than living in isolated communities, Independent Fundamentalist Mormons are similar to an average American family—except for their family structure.

In this intimate, inside story, the Dargers explain why they chose this path despite the pressures of keeping their relationships secret and the jealousy and personal challenges that naturally ensue, why they believe polygamy should be an accepted lifestyle, and, ultimately, why they hope that by revealing their way of life in public, laws that criminalize their lifestyle might change.

Written in the voices of the four parents, Love Times Three is the story of one man, his three wives, and their twenty-four children as they live out their faith in a world of prejudice, misconception, and fear, including a chapter on the sister wife dynamic, one from Joe on how he juggles his three distinct romantic relationships, and a chapter from three of their children, called “My Three Moms.” Despite the risk of legal action, the Dargers know that it’s time to counteract Hollywood’s sensational interpretation and correct the general public’s misunderstanding of polygamy with the truth.

6) Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."

"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

7) Deer In The Headlights: My Life In Sarah Palin's Crosshairs, by Levi Johnston

Best known as Bristol Palin’s baby daddy and Sarah Palin’s favorite whipping boy, Levi Johnston sets out to clear his name and—with any luck—end his run as Alaska’s most hated man.

Promising hockey player and Governor Palin’s almost son-in-law, Levi Johnston was eighteen when Palin became the vice presidential nominee. His unique place as Bristol’s live-in boyfriend provided him a true insider’s view of what was going on behind closed doors. And how Sarah’s public views were often at odds with her home values. It makes it all the more curious that Sarah eventually turned her anger directly on Levi, after losing her ticket to the White House

After being bullied, lied about, and outspent in the courts when he attempted to bond with his new son, Tripp, Levi Johnston now is ready to set the record straight.

Deer in the Headlights is a poignant, at times very funny, and fascinating tale of a boy thrust into the media spotlight and now figuring out how to be an adult and a dad. Johnston, ever honest, had a unique window into Palintology at a critical time; he sat in the family’s living room and paid attention. Not bitter and never petty, Levi shares his story.

As Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC so aptly put it: “I love that kid. He's honest, he's straightforward, he's not embarrassed.”


8) The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall

In this daring and provocative literary parody which has captured the interest and imagination of a nation, Alice Randall explodes the world created in GONE WITH THE WIND, a work that more than any other has defined our image of the antebellum South. Taking sharp aim at the romanticized, whitewashed mythology perpetrated by this southern classic, Randall has ingeniously conceived a multilayered, emotionally complex tale of her own - that of Cynara, the mulatto half-sister, who, beautiful and brown and born into slavery, manages to break away from the damaging world of the Old South to emerge into full life as a daughter, a lover, a mother, a victor. THE WIND DONE GONE is a passionate love story, a wrenching portrait of a tangled mother-daughter relationship, and a book that "celebrates a people's emancipation not only from bondage but also from history and myth, custom and stereotype"

Total year to date: 57

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