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Books come in an ever wider range of formats, from mass market paperbacks to ebooks to slip-cased hardcovers. Then there is the book as beautiful object, which covers the Cahiers Series, a joint project between London-based Sylph Editions and the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris (and distributed in the U.S. through University of Chicago Press). The beauty of these slender, sewn volumes isn’t limited to their high-quality paper, multi-colored inks, graphics, and overall elegant design, but extends to their content as well. The Cahiers Series is devoted to “new explorations in writing, in translating, and in the areas linking these two activities.” Politics & Prose is a happy to have several of these volumes available now for $19 each.
What would it be like to live on your own island? Many have fantasized about it, and some have actually tried it. In his richly evocative fourteenth novel, T.C. Boyle combines history and imagination to recount the experiences of two families who did settle for a time on San Miguel (Viking, $27.95). One of three islands in the Santa Barbara Channel—and site of Boyle's recent When the Killing's Done—San Miguel is made of wind, mud, and sand. Until settlers brought sheep, it was inhabited chiefly by seals and an indigenous species of mouse. Depicting the 1888 arrival of the Waters family, Boyle brings out the full nightmare of the island's hardships, complete with a wicked stepfather. Things are easier forty years later for the Lesters, who relish putting distance between themselves and the Depression; but they, too, fail to turn this unforgiving landscape into a home. While sheep ranching is men's work, Boyle tells this Wild West story from the women's perspective, showing how issues of power and social mores retain their hold even outside of “civilization.”
- Laurie Greer
For the 50th-anniversary of Silent Spring, William Souder looks back to the world that made Rachel Carson’s book so urgent and necessary. In 1962, the Cold War was being conducted via nuclear tests, while throughout the United States a new chemical war was under way against fire ants, gypsy moths, and other pests. These amounted to two massive unregulated experiments with deadly materials. On a Farther Shore (Crown, $30) describes Carson’s rising alarm over radiation and DDT, and Souder discusses how her work marked the transition from the age of conservation—preserving wildlife—to a new era of environmentalism which recognized that human activity poses dangers to people as well as to nature. And just who was Rachel Carson? A workaholic who supported her mother and adopted her orphaned great-nephew, Carson had always wanted to be a writer. She worked as an editor and marine biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (and lived in Silver Spring). Her first book, The Sea Around Us, won a national book award in 1951 and has never gone out of print; if some of its science is dated, its warnings about climate change were prescient.
- Laurie Greer
Eva Saulitis - Many Ways to Say It
(Red Hen Press, $17.95)
When Saulitis looks at nature she looks reverently, authoritatively, and “carefully as a predator.” As you might expect from a poet who’s also a marine biologist specializing in killer whales, Saulitis’s natural world is vivid, breath-taking, and utterly realistic, a place where “God’s a mean man” and “the prettiness of the tundra / never satisfies.” What does satisfy is Saulitis’s deeper explorations of both terrain and language, her efforts “to scan the seas for a finned or winged / insight.” The intricate sound patterns and relentlessly vertiginous forms that result take their cues from the environment at hand and each poem is a verbal map of its landscape, from wheeling gulls to a glacier’s “hues / of transparency” to “the mountain razored out of night.”
- Laurie Greer
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz (Knopf, $29.95)
Politics & Prose has signed first editions, first printings of Bob Spitz’s Dearie, a heart-warming biography of Julia Child where the Julia we know and love comes vividly — and surprisingly — to life. In Dearie, Spitz employs the same skill he brought to his best-selling, critically acclaimed book The Beatles,providing a clear-eyed portrait of one of the most fascinating and influential Americans of our time — a woman known to all, yet known by only a few.
New In Paperback
It's the dog days of August, when we want to beat the heat and humidity. Politics & Prose can help you out with a mental escape, at least. We just received a selection of hot paperbacks that are sure to keep you so intrigued, the month will fly by and before you know it, fall will be here!
Barry Unsworth - The Quality of Mercy (Anchor, $15.95)
It is the spring of 1767, and the vengeful Erasmus Kemp has had the mutinous sailors of his father’s ship brought back to London to stand trial on piracy charges. Much to Kemp’s dismay, the Irish fiddler Sullivan has escaped, and retrieving him proves too much in the midst of overseeing the dramatic legal case and a new business venture in the northern coal and steel industries of Thorpe. But the two men’s paths are about to collide once again, for Sullivan is also on his way to Thorpe to fulfill the dying wish of his shipmate. With historical sweep and deep pathos, Unsworth explores the struggles of the downtrodden against the rich and the powerful.
Richard Rhodes - Hedy's Folly (Vintage, $15)
Only a writer of Richard Rhodes’s caliber could do justice to this remarkable story. Unhappily married to a Nazi arms dealer, Lamarr fled to America at the start of World War II; she brought with her not only her theatrical talent but also a gift for technical innovation. An introduction to George Antheil at a Hollywood dinner table culminated in a U.S. patent for a jam- proof radio guidance system for torpedoes—the unlikely duo’s gift to the U.S. war effort. What other book brings together 1920s Paris, player pianos, Nazi weaponry, and digital wireless into one satisfying whole? In its juxtaposition of Hollywood glamour with the reality of a brutal war, Hedy’s Folly is a riveting book about unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world.
Merrill Markoe - Cool, Calm and Contentious(Villard, $15)
In this hilarious collection of candid essays, including two pieces new to this edition, New York Times bestselling author Merrill Markoe reveals much about her personal life—as well as the secret formula for comedy: Start out with a difficult mother, develop some classic teenage insecurities, add a few relationships with narcissistic men, toss in an unruly pack of selfish dogs, finish it off with the kind of crystalline perspective that only comes from years of navigating a roiling sea of unpleasant and unappeasable people, and—voilà—you’re funny! Cool, Calm & Contentious is honest, unapologetic, sometimes heartbreaking, but always shot through with Merrill Markoe’s biting, bracing wit.
- Angela Williams