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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fobbit

Back in August, I spoke about the title Fobbit. I am getting ready for a conference out of town next week so this week, I am giving you the New York Times impression of that title. It looks like a good one.

FOBBIT (reviewed by Christian Bauman)

By David Abrams

In the American wars of the 20th century, soldiers of the rear echelon were derided as “in the rear with the gear,” or worse. However, the whole concept of a “rear,” predicated on a definable “front,” started slipping in Vietnam and met its official death in Somalia. By the time of the Iraq occupation, the place where clerks did their clerking and infantrymen got a plate of hot chow was no longer in a relatively safe rear area but in the forward operating base, or FOB, smack in the middle of everything, and the soldiers stationed there became known as Fobbits.
As a former real-life Fobbit, assigned to a public affairs team in Iraq, David Abrams puts his knowledge of this world to good use in his first novel, also called “Fobbit.” Although the modern FOB is inherently more dangerous than a rear encampment miles from enemy lines, the comforts provided to the troops there are light-years beyond anything available to soldiers in a war zone even 10 years before the Iraq invasion. Burger King and Dairy Queen have been in some FOBs; even more significant, I think, is access to media, e-mail and the telephone. (As a long-serving member of the Navy SEALs told me recently, “I’m not sure it’s healthy for either my wife or me to be on the phone with each other about a plumbing contractor less than 45 minutes after I’ve put a bullet between another man’s eyes.”) The strange normality of life in Iraq’s FOBs, juxtaposed against the war’s brutality just yards from an air-conditioned fast-food joint, leads to strange parallels between the two worlds: “Dead soldiers,” Abrams writes, “were now little more than . . . objects to be loaded onto the back of C-130s somewhere and delivered like pizzas to the United States.”
Those are the thoughts of Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr., the protagonist of “Fobbit.” Stationed at FOB Triumph, in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, Gooding is a writer in the public affairs office of an Army infantry division, responsible for news releases that turn the “sucking chest wounds and the dismemberments into something palatable — ideally, something patriotic.” In Vietnam the Army inflated the enemy body count as proof of progress; in Iraq, Gooding’s commander juggles our own body count to ensure that the 2,000th American casualty is heroic enough to show the fight’s importance.
Fobbits come in many stripes — not just public affairs spinners but “supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians.” The comfort-loving Fobbits are an easy target of ridicule for a combat soldier, but they shouldn’t be the object of the reader’s scorn. After all, they volunteered to wear the uniform. Less than 2 percent of eligible Americans do.
Abrams makes some beginner’s errors: the dialogue is occasionally stilted, and I wish he spent more time with the actual Fobbits instead of the infantryman Capt. Abe Shrinkle, whose incompetence makes Gooding’s job more challenging. At the start of the book, there is a joke about the illicit relationship between a couple of young enlistees, Simon and Allison. It’s funny — but it also gets at the intimacy of war, the primordial connection, the need for human contact in the face of death. “Fobbit” could have done with more of this. But this is a minor complaint, and in fact I applaud David Abrams for sticking to his vision and writing the satire he wanted to write instead of adding to the crowded shelf of war memoirs. In “Fobbit,” he has written a very funny book, as funny, disturbing, heartbreaking and ridiculous as war itself.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Quick View of October Titles

Since October is approaching quite quickly, I am going to do a brief description of the titles I personally am waiting for that will be published in October. Hopefully, some of them will be ones you will be excited about also.

OK - I know no one needs to be reminded of this one but this one sounds even better than usual. On Oct 23, John Grisham's title The Racketeer arrives. Apparently, in the history of this country, only 4 federal judges have ever been murdered. The fifth one is murdered in Grisham's new title. It is said to be a wickedly clever read.

Another title that needs no introduction, Jo Nesbo's Phantom, arrives on October 2nd. Harry Hole has gone to Hong Kong but is pulled back to Oslo when the son of a lover is arrested for murder.
I have lived in Florida, not in Miami, but I know the atmosphere. Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood, which arrives on Oct 23rd, is said to be more like his Bonfire of the Vanities than anything else he has written. It is a highly characterized multicultural look at Miami. It is said to be a snappy, fast-moving read but it is a big book at over 700 pages.

Here is one by a debut thriller author, Golden Dawn by Thomas M. Kostigen, which arrives on Oct. 16th. Kostigen is an ethics columnist for Dow Jones MarketWatch and a former editor of Bloomberg News. He knows how to write. The Golden Dawn is an ancient sect of Zoroastrians said to keep a secret regarding the leader who will arise before the End Times. The president of Iraq exploiting this secret and attempting to get nuclear weapons to support his efforts. Sounds really good.

I attending an address by Sherman Alexie back several years ago. He is one of the funniest, intelligent, irreverent people I have heard. I love to read his work because it makes me laugh. His excels at short stories and he has lots of ideas that turn into short stories. His newest work, Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, arrives on Oct. 2nd. It contains 15 of his best-known stories and 15 new stories (with topics such as donkey basketball leagues to lethal wind turbines).
I was alive for this crisis and it is actually interesting to me that apparently Nixon was not the first president to keep audio tapes. On Oct. 18th, David G. Coleman is coming out with The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis; The Secret White House Tapes. Apparently, not all the nuclear missiles in Cuba were removed as the public thought they had been. An interesting insight into the White House negotiations.

Mystery Award Time

Bouchercon2012 is in October. Many of the mystery awards are announced at this annual mystery convention held in honor of Anthony Boucher who was a ddistinguished mystery critic. It is held at various places around the county - last year in Saint Louis; this year in Cleveland; next year in Albany, NY; in 2014 in Long Beach, CA and in 2015 in Raleigh, NC. Many of the most famous mystery and suspense authors gather at these conventions and the Anthony Award for best mystery novel, best first mystery novel and best paperback mystery novel are announced. Here is a list of various nominees if you want to try to guess the one that will win. All are available in our catalog so you can check them out.

Best Novel
Megan Abbott - The End of Everything - two 13 year old girls are best friends. One goes missing and the other is left to find out where. Reviewed as extraordinary but also as disturbing.


Reed Farrel Coleman - Hurt Machine - Prager, a retired beat cop, former PI and now the aging part-owner of a chain of wine stores, has stomach cancer. He is at his daughter's wedding when his ex-wife asks him to investigate her sister's murder. Reviewed as compelling and a must read.

Michael Connelly - The Drop - a Detective Harry Bosch tale, need I say more. An excellent police procedural according to reviews.


Louise Penny - A Trick of the Light - the reoccurring characters of Three Pines and Inspector Gamache investigate yet another murder - this one when an art critic is found in Clara Morrow's garden. Penny has been called another Agatha Christie for her plots and another Elizabeth George for her characterizations. Always a great choice.

Julia Spencer-Fleming - One Was a Soldier - On a warm September evening in the Millers Kill community center, five veterans sit down in rickety chairs to try to make sense of their experiences in Iraq. What they will find is murder, conspiracy, and the unbreakable ties that bind them to one another and their small Adirondack town. Reviewed as an illuminating journey with excellent characterizations that make you feel right at home.

Best First Novel
Sara J. Henry - Learning to Swim
Darrell James - Nazareth Child
Leonard Rosen - All Cry Chaos
Rochelle Staab - Who Do, VooDoo?
Taylor Stevens - The Informationist
Steve Ulfelder - Purgatory Chasm
S. J. Watson - Before I Go to Sleep

Best Paperback Original
Robert Jackson Bennett - The Company Man
Christa Faust - Choke Hold
Julie Hyzy - Buffalo West Wing
Michael Stanley - Death of the Mantis
Duane Swierczynski - Fun & Games
Frank Tallis - Vienna Twilight






Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nancy Pearl's Southern-Fried Fiction List

In one of the journal that I regularly read, Nancy Pearl, the well known NPR librarian reviewer developed a list called Books to Read Before You Die. These are 12 good reads set below the Mason Dixon line. Some are old and one comes out this month. Some authors will be familiar to you and some won't. Check them out if you like southern fiction.



Doris Betts is a well known North Carolinian. Her titles are in our Southern Literature collection in the reference area. The title Souls Raised from the Dead was published in 1994 and it is a terribly emotional read about a family and small town reacting to the loss of a child. Mary Grace Thompson is about to turn thirteen, horse-crazy, doted upon by two sets of feuding grandparents and living with her divorced father. She is just beginning to come into her own when she received the diagnosis. This story will definitely touch your heart.

No list of southern fiction would be complete with Olive Ann Burns' Cold Sassy Tree. Published in 1984, it began as a series of family stories that Burns changed into the novel after her diagnosis of lymphoma. It is her one single complete novel. After it was published, she received so many letters requesting a continuation that she started Leaving Cold Sassy but it remained unfinished at her death in 1990. Truly a story of life in a small town in Georgia in the early 20th century told with humor and compassion.

Another older one by Babs H. Deal, an author born in 1929 and raised in Scottsboro, AL. Deal published 12 novels between 1959 and 1979, this title was published in 1968. One of Deal's short stories was  televised as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.  In 1979, Friendships, Secrets, and Lies, a movie version of this novel was broadcast on NBC-TV.The Walls Came Tumbling Down captures the feel of life in a small, Southern university town. 7 women spend the summer of 1944 in a sorority house. Twenty years later when workmen are tearing down the house, a dead baby is found in the wall. Who done it?

Franklin was born and raised in Alabama but now teaches at the University of Mississippi. Crooked letter, Crooked Letter was published in 2010 - a relative new title. If you haven't read this one yet, please give it a try. The story pulls you in and you know and understand these people. Larry Ott is and stutterer and the child of a middle class white couple. He has always been an outsider. Silas Jones, the son of a poor, single, black mother, was a gifted athlete who was well liked. Somehow, as boys, they formed a friendship of sorts. Silas goes off to college on a scholarship - Larry stays home having been accused of a crime he did not commit. Silas comes back when an injury takes him away from sports and becomes the sheriff in town. When another crime is committed - everyone thinks Larry is guilty and someone takes action. This story of friendship, truth and compassion is wonderful.

Iles was born in Stuttgart, Germany, the son of a military doctor, but was raised and still lives in Mississippi.
24 Hours was published in 2000. In 2011, Illes sustained life-threatening injuries in a traffic accident and ultimately lost part of his right leg. He has since recovered and is again writing. In fact, I saw him on stage at the last performance of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band consisting of Iles, Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry and others. He was sitting most of the time but not all of the time and performed several songs at the mike. This title takes place in Mississippi as most of his titles do. 24 hours is how long it has taken a madman to pull off the perfect crime. He's done it before, he'll do it again, and no one can stop him.
But this time, he's just picked the wrong family to terrorize. Because Will and Karen Jennings aren't going to watch helplessly as he victimizes them. And they aren't going to let him get away with it.
All of Iles books are action packed with violent action. If you like fast paced with a Mississippi atmosphere, this one is for you.

Tayari Jones was born and raised in Atlanta and studied at Spelman College where she worked with Pearl Cleage.. Silver Sparrow was published in 2011. It tells the tale of a bigamist, his first family is the result of youthful reckless behavior and following the directions of his mother to make things right. Family number two is formed by falling in love as a grown man, but perhaps one who has not matured very much. This man is at the center of two families but the story focuses on the women in his life - his wives of unequal billing and primarily their daughters who had no say in how their dangerously connected families came about. Over the course of the narrative the half sisters learn that family is not so much a matter of blood, as one of choice of loyalty. This title was chosen as one of the 10 best books of the year by Library Journal.

Attica Locke has spent years as a screenwriter in California but she published her first novel in 2009 and the award nominations came rolling in. The Cutting Season was released today, September 18. The buzz around the publishing and library world has been really, really loud and excited. It takes place in Southern Louisiana on the Belle Vie plantation. Caren Gray is the current plantation's manager and her ancestors had worked the land as slaves.When a dead woman's body is found at the edge of the plantation, the police start concentrating on a suspect that Caren believes in innocent. She starts following her instincts and learns things she wish she hadn't. Everyone says this is a magnificent, sweeping story of the south.


Michael Malone is a North Carolinian who places most of his works in the Piedmont area of the state. He was also the head writer for the daytime soap opera from 1991 to 1996. Time's Witness was published in 1989. Street-smart and straightforward police chief Cuddy Mangum and his refined homicide detective Justin Savile V are determined to keep their town's cultural, political and racial divisions stable-even peaceful. But when a young black activist is murdered while in the process of fighting for his brother's freedom from death row, the lines keeping Hillston, North Carolina, in balance start to crumble. This book is a mystery but also a great character study.

There must be something magical about the Triangle portion of North Carolina because Michael Parker is from Greensboro and he teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Watery Part of the World was published in 2011 and is based partially on facts. Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston, disappeared in 1813 while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York. Also, there were two elderly white women and one black man that were the last townspeople to leave a small barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Parker combines these two facts and creates a book that explores the ties that people have to specific landscapes and places. It is a grand mixture of love and duty, of the relationship between black and white people in the South, of the toughness and will to survive. If you love the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this is the book for you.

Everyone has head of Anne Rivers Siddons. The native Georgian and Auburn graduate now lives in South Carolina but her books all have that Southern atmosphere. Heartbreak Hotel is actually her first novel published in 1976. This takes place in the south (Alabama for the most part) during the the budding civil rights movement. Siddons takes a naive southern girl--the epitome of the proper southern belle--and compares and contrasts her against an angry black man accused only of the crime of being black.

Another of those classic Southern authors is Lee Smith. Born in the Appalachian Mountain area of Virginia, she has become a North Carolinian. Black Mountain Breakdown is actually the first of Smith's full length novels. It shows some of the choppiness of a first time novelist but the atmosphere of Appalachia and the characterizations of quirky southerners teetering on the edge of insanity are fascinating. Interesting suggestion from Pearl on this list as many think Smith has gotten better with time.

Last on the list is a title that was overwhelming popular several years ago. Wells was born and raised in Louisiana and now lives in Seattle, Washington. She wrote a series about this strange group of family and friends beginning with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in 1996. This novel was so popular that they made a movie of it starring Sally Fields. It tells the story of a group of privileged Southern female friends and one daughter in particular who has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother. I loved it when I first read it but I think you have to get in the southern frame of mind to appreciate it. It has, in many ways, things in common with Prince of Tides.

Friday, September 14, 2012

October Titles to Look For

There are some VERY interesting titles coming out in October. There is one in particular for which I have been waiting. Others are - well, quirky is the word I am looking for I guess. Quirky but interesting and I want to have my name on the list to check them out.


I read The Passage by Cronin recently. He was at ALA and was talking about this book, The Twelve, which comes out on Oct 16. It made me want to go back to the first one. Well, I finished the first one and have been pining for this title since then. I gave The Passage to my daughter to read and she texted me that she could NOT WAIT till October. Sometimes, you just have to wait. The first one reminded me of The Stand by Stephen King. It was hair raising, spine tingling, frightening and absorbing. A government experiment gone wrong had turned the majority of civilization into vampire like creatures. The remaining humans called them 'virals'. It followed a group trying to find a way to survive. This title follows some of the original members trying to track the 12 virals that started the epidemic. I can hardly wait - just like my daughter. It is not your usual vampire novel. There is certainly horror in the pages but there is such a mesmerizing story that it is hard to put down - even though it is a BIG book. Both books are over 700 pages but they are worth every single one of them. I promise. And I haven't even read this one yet but I know that it will be worth the wait.

Now for one of the quirky ones. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan comes out on Oct 2nd. Clay Jannon, a jobless web designer, takes a job at an out of the way bookstore. The few customers who come in, seem to wander to dark corners and sit reading strange texts.  Clay's efforts to find out what is going on lead to some big surprises. Sloan wrote a short story that was turned into this book. It is available on the web at http://www.robinsloan.com/mr-penumbra/ if you would like to see if it looks interesting. Just a few sentences are attached below to give you the 'atmosphere' :
The bell on the door will tinkle and before it’s done, Mr. Tyndall will be shouting, breathless, “Kingslake’s! I need Kingslake’s!” He’ll take his hands off his head (has he really been running down the street with his hands on his head?) and clamp them down on the front desk.
“Kingslake’s! Quickly!”
Mr. Penumbra has a database, believe it or not. The books aren’t shelved according to title or subject (do they even have subjects?) so the database is crucial. It runs on an old Mac Plus, but I copied it onto my laptop and, over the course of a few customer-free nights, mapped it onto a 3D model of the store. (If this sounds impressive to you, you’re over 30.)
It's said to be a contest between modern nerds vs. traditional nerds - approached with charm, humor and adventure.


Another quirky one for you. Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism is written by Christopher Golden and illustrated by Mike Mignola. It arrives on Oct 16. It is a novella - a short novel - and is highly illustrated as in almost graphic novel form. Mignola created Hellboy so he is big in this format. It takes place during World War II in Italy. Father Gaetano is the only priest in a tiny town and he is responsible for an orphanage set up in the rectory. He teaches the children their catechism by using carved puppets left behind. These puppets come out at night to set the world to rights because they believe to steadfastly in the word of God. The premise sounds fascinating and definitely worth a look.

Another highly illustrated one is by the acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros. Cisneros' mother died and to deal with her grief, she penned Have You Seen Marie? which comes out on Oct 2. It is the story of one friend helping the other search for a missing cat. It shows how we can heal by investing in others. A charming story, beautifully illustrated, with Cisneros usual story telling magic.

OK - I'll end with a normal one here. Mark Sullivan has written with James Patterson so you know what his books will be like. Rogue, coming out on Oct 2nd stars a former CIA operative, Robin Monarch, who has left his job behind and become a thief. A job goes wrong and he is trapped into completing a mission for the CIA. A fast paced plot that is intriguing. It is why people like Patterson so it might work for Sullivan too.

Friday, September 7, 2012

USA Today's Top Books of the Fall

The USA Today published a list of what they think will be the top 25 books of the fall. All are in the catalog if they look interesting to you. They are listed below with the reasons they think they will be popular:

J.K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy : they believe that everyone is going to want to see if Rowling can be as successful with adults as she was with the Harry Potter series.

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe : Wolfe is 81 now but all of his books are always an event accord to USA Today.

The Price of Politics by Bob Woodward. Woodward is always popular and in an election year, this would be hard to miss.

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly : he might have to books on the bestseller list at the same time as his Killing Lincoln is still very popular.

Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger : How honest will Arnold be? You have to read it to find out I guess.

Who Could That Be At This Hour by Lemony Snicket : A complex mystery, first in a four-book series, starring a detective who is almost 13, written the way Raymond Chandler (The Long Goodbye) might have written for kids with a sense of humor.

A Wanted Man by Lee Child : The indomitable Reacher burns up the pages of every book in Child’s series.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett: Readers of the first book, Fall of Giantswill be eager to follow the characters further along into the 20th century.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz : Readers and critics alike have been saying “Wow” about Junot Diaz since his story collection Drown, and the clamor only grew when he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon :  Kirkus Reviews call this novel, by the Pulitzer-winning writer of Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, “a Joyce-an remix,” while The Atlantic has proclaimed it one of “the bigger literary events of the year.”
Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young : I just talked about this last week. One of the most invluencial singer/songwriters of his generation, his book ought to gain alot of attention.

Phantom by Jo Nesbo : Some say Nesbo, not Stieg Larsson, is the best crime writer Scandinavia has ever produced. Fuel for the literary fire: Martin Scorsese is set to direct the film adaptation of Nesbo’s global blockbuster Hole novel, The Snowman.
My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall : A backstage pass to the comedian’s life in the limelight, starting with tap dancing as a kid back in the Bronx to her star status on Laverne & Shirley to directing Big and A League of Their Own.
Listening In : The Secret White House Recordings of John F Kennedy selected and edited by Ted Widmer : Annotated transcripts of White House conversations, previously available at the Kennedy Library, about the Cuban missile crisis and other key events of the Kennedy presidency.

Live By Night by Dennis Lehane :  Lehane’s books are irresistible to readers, critics and filmmakers alike. Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone have all had successful movie adaptations

Who I Am by Pete Townshend : Once again, one of the music books I blogged about last week. Founder of the iconic rock ’n’ roll band The Who talks about it all — from first meeting Roger Daltrey to hanging out with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix to the creation of the rock opera Tommy to his arrest and acquittal on child pornography charges.
NW by Zadie Smith : NW stands for Northwest London, the setting of Smith’s tragic-comic novel about the adult lives of four Londoners who grew up in the council estate of Caldwell. Publishers Weekly calls NW “excellent and captivating.”
Celebrate : A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends by Pippa Middleton : Just look who the author is - that's why it will be popular.

Hello, Gorgeous : Becoming Barbara Streisand by William J. Mann :
Streisand remains a superstar after all these years, proving once again by her quickly sold-out performances in Brooklyn in October. And Mann can tell a juicy Hollywood tale.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver : Global warming, anyone? The author of The Poisonwood Bible is winning early raves for her “powerful new novel … (which is) too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore” (Publishers Weekly).

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens : The celebrated essayist/reporter/atheist’s thoughts on mortality, written during the last 18 months of his life after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died last December at 62

Astray by Emma Donoghue : The first book by the Dublin-born Donoghue since her breakthrough best seller Room.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan : Doubleday’s press materials note that Sweet Tooth features McEwan’s first female protagonist since Atonement, perhaps his best-loved novel. Sweet!
Hidden America : From Coal Miners to Cowboys, An Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas : True tales of the people who make our life run every day, but whom we rarely think about — long-haul truckers, coal miners, even cheerleaders — by a longtime columnist for The Washington Post.

Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace : Provocative, previously published essays on topics ranging from tennis star Roger Federer to the future of fiction. Wallace, best known for 1996 novel Infinite Jest, was celebrated as one of the most original minds of his generation. He committed suicide in 2008 at age 46.

Other People's Opinions

Looks like the New York Times agrees with me on The Yellow Birds which I blogged about on Aug 18. Here is their review:

Soldiering Amid Hyacinths and Horror

‘The Yellow Birds’ by Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers joined the Army when he was 17 and served as a machine-gunner in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Drawing upon those experiences, he has written a remarkable first novel, one that stands with Tim O’Brien’s enduring Vietnam book, “The Things They Carried,” as a classic of contemporary war fiction.
Patricia Wall/The New York Times

THE YELLOW BIRDS

By Kevin Powers
230 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $24.99.
Marjorie Cotera
Kevin Powers
“The Yellow Birds” is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined story about a soldier’s coming of age, a harrowing tale about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory. Its depiction of war has the surreal kick of Mr. O’Brien’s 1978 novel, “Going After Cacciato,” and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own; they combine to sear images into the reader’s mind with unusual power.
Glimpses of ordinary life — a hyacinth garden, a swallow tracing the shape of an alley, an orchard on the edge of the city — alternate with scenes of horror that feel like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell: medics trying to stuff a young soldier’s insides back into his body; a corpse bomb exploding on a bridge; a castrated body, missing its ears and nose, thrown from a tower.
Bartle, the novel’s narrator, remembers that he and his fellow soldiers “stayed awake on amphetamines and fear,” trying to “stay alert” to “stay alive.” He talks about being taught to “get small” when there are incoming mortars, and about the “noise and light discipline” that the platoon employs on a march, putting black electrical tape over shiny, metallic gear and making sure nothing makes a sound.
Most memorably, he talks about how pointless the war in Iraq often seems to men on the ground — a perverse Groundhog Day loop (so unlike his grandfather’s war) in which there is no destination, no progress: “We’d go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of season. We’d drive them out. We always had. We’d kill them. They’d shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they’d come back, and we’d start over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops. While we patrolled the streets, we’d throw candy to their children, with whom we’d fight in the fall a few more years from now.”
Mr. Powers has given his narrator a name that recalls the title character of Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” and “The Yellow Birds” is filled with echoes of that tale’s inquiries into the nature of freedom and free will. Bartle, we learn, is a 21-year-old soldier, who has been asked by the platoon’s sergeant to keep an eye on Murph, a na├»ve and emotionally fragile 18-year-old private. On the eve of their departure for the war, Murph’s mother asks Bartle to make sure that nothing happens to her son, and Bartle promises that he will “bring him home to you.”
Murph and Bartle are small-town boys from Virginia, boys with “small lives, populated by a longing for something more substantial than dirt roads and small dreams.” So they joined the Army, Bartle says, “where life needed no elaboration, and others would tell us who to be. When we finished our work we went to sleep, calm and free of regret.” That is before the realities of Iraq. The war there will not only give them lasting nightmares, but will also challenge every certainty they’d once held — about themselves, about human nature, about fate and the randomness of life.
In conveying to the reader just how terribly young his heroes are, Mr. Powers gives us a visceral sense of the arcs their lives will trace and their bone-weary yearning to “return to ordinary.” He somehow manages to write about the effect the war has on them — and, in Bartle’s case, its psychological aftermath — with enormous emotional precision. The recruits quickly learn the art of detachment as a survival mechanism in the face of constant violence and loss. They become aware of their “own savagery” — “the beatings and the kicked dogs, the searches and the sheer brutality of our presence.”
Bartle also learns the role that luck and chance play in war, the existential realization that there are “no bombs made just for us”: “Any of them would have killed us just as well as they’d killed the owners of those names. We didn’t have a time laid out for us, or a place. I have stopped wondering about those inches to the left or right of my head, the three-miles-an-hour difference that would have put us directly over an I.E.D.”
Though he’d been trained “to think war was the great unifier,” Bartle thinks it was actually “the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today? Dying would be one way. If you die, it becomes more likely that I will not. You’re nothing, that’s the secret: a uniform in a sea of numbers, a number in a sea of dust.”
This extraordinary novel shows that Bartle is wrong — that war, in fact, is about sacrifice, that it can bring “people closer together than any other activity on earth,” that those who risk their lives in the service of their country “in an unknown corner of the world” are not numbers, but unforgettable individuals forever linked to their battlefield comrades in life and in death.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

October is a Month for Music

Among many other good titles coming out in October, we have five biographies about well known popular musicians. Why in October you might ask? Who knows would be my answer. HaperCollins is publishing 2 of the 5 but the others are all different publishers or at least different divisions of a publishing house. Some of these are bound to be more popular than others but they all ought to garner some interest.

On October 2nd, Philip Norman is publishing a biography of Mick Jagger. We all know that he has had quite an interesting life. Until Mick decides to write his own version, this title is suppose to be the definitive biography as Norman was able to interview several of Jagger's intimate acquaintances. There are bound to be some interesting tidbits in here for Rolling Stone fans.

We will go in a completely different direction with Kenny Rogers' Luck or Something Like It which also comes out on October 2. Rogers has been in the music business for 52 years. He has made 65 albums, sold more than 120 million records worldwide and is a beloved senior statesman in the music world. In this title, he talks about his upbringing - growing up in Depression-era Texas; living in the projects and surviving poverty with a mother who always tried to point him in the right direction. It is a heartwarming story of his rise from the New Christy Minstrels to the First Edition and finally to a popular single artist. Those who love his music won't want to miss the story of his life.

Neil Young also has a memoir coming out on Oct 2, Waging Heavy Peace. An iconic figure in the history of rock and pop culture, Young offers a kaleidoscopic view of his personal life and musical career, spanning his time in bands like Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crazy Horse; moving from the snows of Ontario through the LSD-laden boulevards of 1966 Los Angeles to the contemplative paradise of Hawaii today. This title is said to be candid, witty and revealing.  Young, never hesitant to express his views, is sure to have some controversy in his memoir.

Pete Townshend has been working on his memoir for nearly a decade. On October 8, Who I Am: A Memoir arrives. A founding member of The Who and the creator of the famous rock opera, Tommy, Townshend has long been acknowledged as one of rock music's most intelligent and literary performers. Raised in west London by an eccentric grandmother, while his parents were off living the early post-war, rock 'n' roll lifestyle, Townshend describes a frenetic childhood of displacement and abuse. Then, in high school, everything changed when he met Roger Daltrey and formed a band that would travel the world, earning fame, fortune and critical acclaim. In Who I Am,  Pete Townshend has been said to have created a work of literature that stands as a primary source for popular music's greatest epoch.

The last of the musical biographies is In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death , and Duran Duran by John Taylor. Taylor, a founding member of Duran Duran, comes out with his book on Oct 16. This band was THE band of the 80's. Taylor's story is a personal, candid one of living and playing hard, facing his demons, and managing to come through to the other side. It is told honestly and with humor and should garner interest from those who remember the 80's bands.

For those not interested in music:
OK - I admit it - I am a dog person. I tried to make myself not buy this one but - how cute is the cover. Pictures of dogs diving for that ball. I had to get it. I may be the only one to check it out but there has to be at least one or two other crazy dog people out there.

Lastly, Salman KhanIn has penned The One World Schoolhouse which comes out on Oct 2. Khan will present his remarkable story, as well as his vision for the future of education. More than just a solution, his book serves as a call for free, universal, global education, and an explanation of how his simple - yet revolutionary - method can help achieve this inspiring goal. A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: this is the goal of the Khan Academy, a project that grew from his online tutoring sessions with his niece, who was struggling with algebra, into a worldwide phenomenon. Today, millions have viewed and subscribed to the Khan Academy's YouTube videos, which have expanded to encompass nearly every conceivable subject. With an education system that seems to be having problems, this title ought to be in demand.