The National Book Foundation's National Book Awards have developed a reputation for recognizing literary excellence in American literature and raising the cultural appreciation of great writing. This year's awardees are no different.
Fiction Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson *BookList Starred Review* Colonel Francis F. X. Sands' wartime exploits made him something of a legend. He rose to the rank of colonel during World War II and joined the CIA in the 1950s, his background in Southeast Asia an asset as the U.S. replaced France in the Vietnamese war against communism. Enter Skip Sands, the colonel's nephew, a young intelligence officer currently a clerk in charge of cataloging his uncle's three footlockers full of thousands of index cards, "almost none of them comprehensible." The colonel enlists Skip in a secret operation involving a double, an agent ready to betray the Vietcong. Skip, an earnest patriot, nevertheless finds himself deep in the unauthorized world of renegade psychological ops, off the grid and outside the chain of command, an ethical quagmire where almost anything goes, where he encounters conflicts of loyalty between his family, his country, and his religion. Johnson (Jesus' Son, 1992) is a gifted writer with a knack for erudite and colorful dialogue, and his sense of time and place is visceral and evocative. With this worthy addition to Vietnam literature, he confidently joins the ranks of Tim O'Brien, Larry Heinemann, and Michael Herr. Segedin, Ben
Nonfiction Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner *Publishers Weekly Starred Review* Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fermenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy. (Aug. 7)
Poetry Time and Materials by Robert Hass *Publishers Weekly Starred Review* The first book in 10 years from former U.S. poet laureate Hass may be his best in 30: these new poems show a rare internal variety, even as they reflect his constant concerns. One is human impact on the planet at the century's end: a nine-part verse-essay addressed to the ancient Roman poet Lucretius sums up evolution, deplores global warming and says that the earth needs a dream of restoration in which/ She dances and the birds just keep arriving. Another concern is biography and memory, not so much Hass's own life as the lives of family and friends. A poem about his sad father and alcoholic mother avoids self-pity by telling a finely paced story. Hass also commemorates the late Polish Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, with whom he collaborated on translations; condemns war in harsh, stripped-down prose poems; explores achievements in visual art from Gerhard Richter to Vermeer; and turns in perfected, understated phrases on Japanese Buddhist models. Through it all runs a rare skill with long sentences, a light touch, a wish to make claims not just on our ears but on our hearts, and a willingness to wait—few poets wait longer, it seems—for just the right word. (Oct.)
Young Adult The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie *School Library Journal Starred Review* Grade 7–10—Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney's illustrations. The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie's tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
Oprah has chosen a hefty tome this time around, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages. As you may know, Follet just published World Without End, the long-awaited (try 18 years!) sequel to Pillars of the Earth. The two books take the reader back to the cathedral building days of 12th century Britain. The combined page count? OVER 2,000 pages of great historical fiction!
Give us a call (445-1121) today to reserve a copy of either book!
Norman Mailer had hoped to write at least one more novel but, in a January 2007 interview at his home in Provincetown, Mass., he added, "at my age, you don't mkae promises," about finishing a novel. "You don't know when the ball will roll off the table (Minzesheimer)." For Mailer, the ball rolled off the table Saturday November 10, 2007 when he died of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Ira Levin died Monday, November 12, 2007. Levin's career spanned many decades and his writing ranged from television to Broadway to novels. His most famous works included the occult-horror classic Rosemary's Baby, the Nazi thriller The Boys from Brazil and the über creepy The Stepford Wives. "Levin's page-turning bookds were once compared by Newsweek wrtier Peter S. Frescott to a bag of popcorn: 'Utterly without nutritive value and probably fattening, yet there's no way to stop once you've started (Associated Press).'"
Word has come out (via the Associated Press) that Oprah is once again speaking out against a book that she previously endorsed.
If you remember, not so long ago Oprah confronted James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces. Frey originally marketed Pieces as a memoir about his battle with drug addictions and the book was later determined to be largely fabricated. Oprah confronted Frey quite aggressively on her show(via Oprah's website):
Oprah: Why did you lie? Why did you have to lie about the time you spent in jail? Why did you do that?
James: I think one of the coping mechanisms I developed was sort of this image of myself that was greater, probably, than—not probably—that was greater than what I actually was. In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was—and it helped me cope. When I was writing the book … instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image.
Oprah: And did you cling to that image because that's how you wanted to see yourself? Or did you cling to that image because that would make a better book?
James: Probably both.
Now Oprah has pulled Forrest Carter's book, The Education of Little Tree, which was originally touted as "the real-life story of an orphaned boy raised by his Cherokee grandparents (Italie)." Long after the Carter's death, his real identity as Asa Earl Carter, KKK member and speechwriter for former AL governor George Wallace (he wrote Wallace's "Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" quote), came to light. The book has since been described as "the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist" with "a simplistic plot that used a lot of stereotypical imagery (Italie)."
Oprah has since pulled The Education of Little Tree from her Book Club website, but James Frey's A Million Little Pieces remains.
The Emmet O'Neal Library, in the heart of Mountain Brook, Alabama, is one of our community's gems. In today's fast-paced world, we offer an amazing variety of resources and programs for people of all ages. In our award-winning library, you can enjoy the newest books, study an art collection online, read of ancient civilizations, learn a new language, research the latest business trends, or travel to distant worlds of the imagination.