What are we READING?
The Bookworm of Edwards1. “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. 2. “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” by Malcom Gladwell: “Blink” is about the first two seconds of looking – the decisive glance that knows in an instant. Gladwell, the best-selling author of “The Tipping Point,” campaigns for snap judgments and mind reading with a gift for translating research into splendid storytelling. Building his case with scenes from a marriage, heart attack triage, speed dating, choking on the golf course, selling cars and military maneuvers, he persuades readers to think small and focus on the meaning of “thin slices” of behavior. The key is to rely on our “adaptive unconscious” – a 24/7 mental valet – that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger or react to a new idea. 3. “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. 4. “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. 5. “Birth of Venus,” by Sarah Dunant: Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities. But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art. 6. “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.7. “And One More Thing Before You Go,” by Maria Shriver: Graduating from high school is a big step for any girl. She is leaving her childhood behind and beginning the rest of her life. She is also leaving her mother’s protective circle of love and guidance. One of the greatest gifts a mother can give her daughter at this pivotal moment in her life is good counsel. In “And One More Thing Before You Go…” Shriver, bestselling author, acclaimed journalist, First Lady of California, and mother of two daughters, provides a loving and heartfelt guide for girls as they go off to college.8. “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. 9. “Wicked,” by Gregory Maguire: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil. 10. “Gilead,” by Marilynne Robinson: The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.
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