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Friday, April 22, 2011

New critically-acclaimed books

4/7/11
by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
The Litchfield Library has just gotten some new books that reviewers have ranked as some of the best of the past year.   They run the gamut from philosophy to historical fiction to cookbooks.
How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell,  was the winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and received glowing reviews from the New York Times Book Review and many regional newspapers.   This biography of the philosopher and writer is approached as a list of twenty ways to live well, addressing issues that are still relevant today:  Don’t worry about death.  Pay attention.  Question everything.   In fact, the book’s writer describes Michel de Montaigne as a 16th-century blogger: a skeptical, curious, and playful thinker and essayist.
On the fiction side, The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald was another well-reviewed book of the year.  The character Henry House has been compared to Forrest Gump for the ways in which he goes through significant moments in mid-20th-century history.  He begins life as a “practice baby” in a college home economics program in the 1940s, an experience that teaches him how to charm women but avoid becoming attached.  The book follows Henry’s life through the changes of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America is a nonfiction book about a civil rights activist who lived long before the civil rights era of the twentieth century.  Catto was well-known in his time as a teacher, as an orator who worked with Frederick Douglass, and as a second-baseman for Philadelphia’s black baseball team.  This well-written book covers the largely-forgotten early efforts to gain basic rights for African-Americans. 
Another nonfiction book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, by linguist Guy Deutscher, addresses the question of whether culture and language affect each other.   Can different languages lead a person to think in different ways?  This book has been described as entertaining and easy to read, even while being an intellectual look at language.
Rock musician Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction.  Smith is known as a poetic songwriter, and she applied her writing talent to this description of her long-time relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the chaotic, creative world of artists they lived among from the late 1960s through the ‘70s. 
The Twelfth Imam, by best-selling author Joel Rosenberg, is a Christian political thriller about an Iranian-American CIA operative working to infiltrate the Iranian government and avoid an apocalyptic war.  Reviewers call the novel gripping and fast-paced, with well-crafted characters.
The Killing Storm is Kathryn Casey’s third Sarah Armstrong thriller.  Texas Ranger Armstrong investigates ritual killings of cattle and the kidnapping of a 4-year-old boy, while a hurricane approaches Houston.  The main character faces complex personal issues throughout this suspenseful mystery.  Library Journal recommends it for fans of J.A. Jance.
Readers of epic fantasy may want to check out Mark Charan Newton’s debut novel Nights of Villjamur.  The first installment in the Legends of the Red Sun series incorporates murder mystery, making this a genre-crossing novel, described as having unusual characters and compelling writing.
On the more practical side, one of the best how-to books of the year was The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009.  This cookbook is full of artful photographs and 68 cookie recipes of all types, reflecting the kinds that were popular in each decade.
You can find these and a wide variety of other fiction and non-fiction books on the new-books shelf at our library.