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What are we READING?

Daily Staff Writer

The Bookworm of Edwards1. “Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932,” by Jim Fergus: Depicting the dusty Depression-era West, this grandly, cinematically imagined sweat-and-blood-stained saga, inspired by events that took place in Arizona and south of the border in the Sierra Madre badlands, dramatizes latter-day conflicts between whites and Native Americans. During the fall of 1999, an obscure, financially struggling photographer, Ned Giles – now in his early 80s – sells for $30,000 “La Nina Bronca,” his only copy of a photo of a young Apache girl lying on the rude floor of a Mexican jail cell: The buyer’s curiosity about the picture’s provenance sparks Ned’s memories. The rest of the book, set in 1932, reveals a legacy of heroism and lost love through Ned’s scrupulously detailed diaries, which vividly recount a nightmare of harrowing misadventures beginning the day he signs on to be a part of the Great Apache Expedition, one of dozens of men hoping to free the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher kidnapped by the Apaches. (The wild Apache girl will be used as ransom.) The narrative unfolds as a series of flashbacks, intermingling short passages from the third-person POV of the fierce Apache girl and first-person excerpts from the diaries of the 17-year-old Chicagoan photographer on his first big assignment.2. “The Naked Roommate,” by Harlan Cohen: A syndicated columnist for teens and young adults and the author of “Campus Life Exposed,” Cohen dishes commonsensical wisdom about college life. Tips include: be yourself, lock your door, set boundaries with your roommate, don’t drink too much and be sensitive to others’ differences. Cohen tackles the ins and outs of residence halls, student organizations, friendships, dating, drugs and money-oh, and he considers classes, too, though with perhaps with less enthusiasm (and certainly fewer pages) than he devotes to sex. Though he lists interesting statistics, additional resources and plenty of first-person letters from students seeking his advice, Cohen doesn’t offer much that a reasonably intelligent college kid couldn’t figure out on his or her own – but that may not be a weakness: “everything’s going to be okay” could be just what a nervous first-year student needs to hear most. 3. “Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini: This is the story of a friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan nonetheless grow up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man while Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, is a Hazara, member of a shunned ethnic minority. When the Soviets invade and Amir and his father flee the country for a new life in California, Amir thinks that he has escaped his past. And yet he cannot leave the memory of Hassan behind him. 4. “Mermaid Chair,” by Sue Monk Kidd: Jessie Sullivan, the protagonist of this rewarding second novel by the author of the bestselling “Secret Life of Bees,” is awakened by a shrilling phone late one night to horrifying news: her mother, who has never recovered from her husband Joe’s death 33 years earlier, has chopped off her own finger with a cleaver. Frantic with worry, and apprehensive at the thought of returning to the small island where she grew up in the shadow of her beloved father’s death and her mother’s fanatical Catholicism, 42-year-old Jessie gets on the next plane, leaving behind her psychiatrist husband, Hugh, and college-age daughter, Dee. On tiny Egret Island, off the coast of South Carolina, Jessie tries to care for her mother, Nelle, who is not particularly eager to be taken care of. Jessie gets help from Nelle’s best friends, feisty shopkeeper Kat and Hepzibah, a dignified chronicler of slave history. To complicate matters, Jessie finds herself strangely relieved to be free of a husband she loves – and wildly attracted to Brother Thomas Whit O’Conner, a junior monk at the island’s secluded Benedictine monastery. Confusing as the present may be, the past is rearing its head, and Jessie, who has never understood why her mother is still distraught by Joe’s death, begins to suspect that she’s keeping a terrible secret.5. “Amagansett,” by Mark Mills: A mysterious drowning rekindles a conflict between a Basque-American fisherman and a powerful Long Island family in screenwriter Mills’ smart, complex debut novel – a fascinating murder mystery that begins in the post-WWII years when Conrad Labarde hauls up the body of Lillian Wallace in his net while earning his livelihood in the waters off the Hamptons. At first the drowning looks like a tragic accident, but when the autopsy report raises the possibility of murder and Labarde’s history with the Wallaces is uncovered, police chief Tom Hollis suspects Labarde of playing a central role in Lillian’s death. Further investigation, however, casts suspicion on the powerful Wallace family, specifically Lillian’s former boyfriend, Justin Penrose, and her ambitious brother Manfred, the latter of whom may have been involved in a deadly hit-and-run accident. As Mills weaves together the various plot threads, he ably paints the Hamptons as a social battleground for the local fisherman, the Jewish residents and the wealthier sport fishermen.6. “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Suess: Kindergartners, graduate students, newlyweds, newly employeds – all will glean shiny pearls of wisdom about the big, bountiful future from “Oh The Places You’ll Go.” The incomparable Dr. Seuss rejoices in the potential everyone has to fulfill their wildest dreams.7. “Zorro,” by Isabel Allende: A bird’s-eye view of the provenance of Zorro as recorded by someone who knew him well, but the identity of that person is not revealed until the novel’s end. 8. “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman: New York Times columnist Friedman was best known as the author of “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” one of the major popular accounts of globalization and its discontents. Having devoted most of the last four years of his column to the latter as embodied by the Middle East, Friedman picks up where he left off, saving al-Qaida. For Friedman, cheap, ubiquitous telecommunications have finally obliterated all impediments to international competition, and the dawning “flat world” is a jungle pitting “lions” and “gazelles,” where “economic stability is not going to be a feature” and “the weak will fall farther behind.” Rugged, adaptable entrepreneurs, by contrast, will be empowered. The service sector (telemarketing, accounting, computer programming, engineering and scientific research, etc.), will be further outsourced to the English-spoken abroad: Manufacturing, meanwhile, will continue to be off-shored to China. As anyone who reads his column knows, Friedman agrees with the transnational business executives who are his main sources that these developments are desirable and unstoppable, and that American workers should be preparing to “create value through leadership” and “sell personality.” This is all familiar stuff by now, but the last 100 pages on the economic and political roots of global Islamism are filled with the kind of close reporting and intimate yet accessible analysis that have been hard to come by. Add in Friedman’s winning first-person interjections and masterful use of strategic wonksterisms, and this book should end up on the front seats of quite a few Lexuses and SUVs of all stripes.9. “In the Company of Cheerful Ladies,” by Alexander McCall Smith: In this sixth entry in McCall Smith’s consistently delightful series, Botswana detective Precious Ramotswe, the traditionally built – and newly married – owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is saddled with a surfeit of challenging cases and personal crises.10. “Blind Your Ponies,” by Stanley Gordon West: “Blind Your Ponies” is about so much more than basketball. It’s about overcoming adversity, false perceptions and personal fear. It’s about courage.


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