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What are we reading?

Daily Staff Writer

1. “Kite Runner,” by Khaled Housseini: 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. 2. “Seaman’s Journal,” by Patricia Eubank: This book for reading level kindergarten to third-grade is about Seaman, the Newfoundland dog belonging to Meriwether Lewis. The story tells of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back to St. Charles, Missouri where the adventure began. 3. “1776,” by David McCullough: Esteemed historian David McCullough covers the military side of the momentous year of 1776 with characteristic insight and a gripping narrative, adding new scholarship and a fresh perspective to the beginning of the American Revolution. It was a turbulent and confusing time. As British and American politicians struggled to reach a compromise, events on the ground escalated until war was inevitable. McCullough writes vividly about the dismal conditions that troops on both sides had to endure, including an unusually harsh winter, and the role that luck and the whims of the weather played in helping the colonial forces hold off the world’s greatest army. 4. “The Wild Girl,” by Jim Fergus: Ned Giles is a 17-year-old orphan whose father’s advice in a suicide note was that he should “buy himself a good camera.” Ned is working in the clubhouse at the Racket Club in Chicago when one of the members posts a notice: “The Great Apache Expedition: This expedition … plans to go into the Sierra Madre Mountains on the boundary between Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, to attempt to recover the 7-year-old son of Fernando Huerta … the boy having been stolen by the Apache Indians … when 3 years old…” Ned decides to leave Chicago and present himself in Douglas, Ariz., where the expedition is being organized, in the hope of becoming the expedition photographer. He drives his father’s Studebaker Roadster, the last vestige of his old life, and eventually fetches up in Douglas. What he finds there is every boy’s dream adventure and then some.5. “Vail Hiker,” by Mary Ellen Gilliand: A complete guide to hiking the Gore Range and Holy Cross Wilderness.6. “Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova: The story opens in Amsterdam in 1972, when a teenage girl discovers a medieval book and a cache of yellowed letters in her diplomat father’s library. The pages of the book are empty except for a woodcut of a dragon. The letters are addressed to: “My dear and unfortunate successor.” When the girl confronts her father, he reluctantly confesses an unsettling story: his involvement, 20 years earlier, in a search for his graduate school mentor, who disappeared from his office only moments after confiding to Paul his certainty that Dracula-Vlad the Impaler, an inventively cruel ruler of Wallachia in the mid-15th century, was still alive. The story turns out to concern our narrator directly because Paul’s collaborator in the search was a fellow student named Helen Rossi (the unacknowledged daughter of his mentor) and our narrator’s long-dead mother, about whom she knows almost nothing. And then her father, leaving just a note, disappears also.7. “Birth of Venus,” by Sarah Dunant: Alessandra Cecchi is not quite 15 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.8. “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides: The story of Calliope and three generations of her Greek-American family, who relocated to Prohibition-era Detroit from Greece, witnessing the glory days of the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before moving to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe. Calliope uncovers a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal.9. “World is Flat,” by Thomas Friedman: Before 9/11, 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-Qaeda et al. for the close. 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. 10. “Earthly Joys,” by Philippa Gregory: Seventeenth-century England is the setting for this engaging historical novel based on the life of John Tradescant, a gardener of common birth who transforms plain plots of land into slices of heaven on earth. As vassal to the secretary of state, Sir Robert Cecil, Tradescant-who, as fate would have it, had no sense of smell-places his master’s garden above all else, much to the chagrin of his wife, Elizabeth, and young son, J. Tradescant’s affinity for botanicals is matched by his thirst for adventure; in the service of his lord, he travels to distant lands to defend his country’s honor (and collect cuttings of rare and exotic plants). When Tradescant is summoned by King James I’s closest confidante, the dark-haired and devious Duke of Buckingham, he is immediately taken by the nobleman’s beauty. Devotion soon turns to erotic obsession, and Tradescant must face the consequences of loving a fickle, heartless man. Gregory (The Virgin’s Lover; The Other Boleyn Girl) renders lush details of plants and clever commentary on the passions and power plays of the British royal court. Only the occasional detail-heavy battle scene slows this vibrant tale of a man grappling with the liabilities of loyalty and love.


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