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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2018/01/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , expert accounts   

    20 Books by People Who Actually Know What They’re Talking About 

    Fiction can show us lives and worlds that don’t exist, or that we have no access to. History can help us understand our world. Biographies can help us understand the people in it. But many books are written at a remove—no matter how well-researched or how well-written, the author didn’t actually experience what they’re writing about, so there’s always a tiny piece of the puzzle missing. That’s not the case with these 20 books, all written by people who experienced something few others have. In other words, these are books by people who know what they’re talking about.

    Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly
    Unless you’ve spent a year in space being studied, you have nothing on Scott Kelly, who holds the current American record for consecutive days in space. As a result, Kelly’s thoughts on our space program—including its necessity and utility—are worth reading, as is his description of the challenges that face anyone intending to spend a long time in space. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really to head into orbit, Kelly’s book offers the most up-to-date and informative account ever written.

    Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
    It’s the eternal conflict: you’re curious what it’s like to climb Mount Everest, especially under less-than-ideal conditions, but you just microwaved a burrito and you don’t feel like flying out to Nepal to find out. Read the next best thing: Krakauer’s classic book details a disastrous expedition to the summit of the mountain in 1996—an expedition he experienced firsthand, and one that six experienced climbers didn’t come back from. If this book doesn’t cure you of any lingering curiosity about climbing mountains, you’ll just have to go climb one.

    Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
    Ever wondered what it’s like to be declared a danger to yourself and placed in a mental hospital? Wonder no more, as Kaysen’s memoir (the basis for the film of the same name) details the events when that precise scenario happened to her in 1967, when she was 18. Although Kaysen committed herself, she describes the bullying techniques of the psychiatrist who pushed her to do so, and explains what life is really like in one of those places.

    Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, by Steve Callahan
    The title says it all. While competing in a race across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981, Callahan got caught in a storm and lost his boat. Luckily, he managed to grab his emergency kit and get into the six-person raft he’d taken along as a precaution. For the next 76 days he drifted on the ocean, teaching himself how to catch fish, make repairs, and generally stay alive. If you’ve ever drifted during a stressful meeting and wondered what it might be like to be lost at sea, Callahan’s epic memoir will tell you.

    No Easy Day, by Mark Owen
    Written by one of the SEAL team members on hand when Osama Bin Laden was killed, you won’t get a clearer idea of what it’s really like to be a member of the elite special forces unit than the one you’ll find in this book. Owen’s career spans many headline-grabbing moments, as well as several that were never publicized. By the end, you’ll understand a bit better what it takes to be a Navy SEAL from someone who’s actually been one.

    Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz
    What was it like to be an explorer in the age of the sail, out on the ocean in a rickety wooden ship? Horwitz decided to find out. He worked as a crew member on a replica of Captain Cook’s ship as it followed the famous explorer’s route into the unknown. We may not be able to quiz Cook or his crew on what it was really like to sail into the unknown in the 18th century, but Horwitz provides a pretty close account, because he actually did it. Except for the “18th century” part.

    Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
    This is a fictionalized account of real events, and Roberts’ account of his own life is contested by some, but in general, the facts are right: the author was sentenced to prison in Australia, escaped to Bombay, and lived there for a decade. Whether or not every single thing in Shantaram is true doesn’t matter; what you get from it is a sense of what it’s really like to live on the sketchier side of one of the world’s most crowded cities, a view most tourists will never see.

    Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl
    Say you want to know what it might have been like to be ancient Perusians crowding onto balsa wood rafts and sailing west to settle the Polynesian islands. Thor Heyerdahl found out, by building his own raft and sailing from Peru, arriving three months later at Puka Puka. Proving that it was possible for primitive people to travel incredible distances, he also saved you the trouble of building your own flimsy raft and finding out what that adventure might be like.

    And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses, by Yamaguchi Tsutomu
    Ever wonder what it’s like to directly experience an atomic blast? Mr. Tsutomu actually experienced it—twice. He was in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped in 1945, and then in Nagasaki when the second bomb dropped three days later. That kind of luck will kill you, but Tsutomu survived both incidents, and went on to become a writer and poet. While adapting some of those poems, translator Chad Diehl includes a translation of Tsutomu’s account of the bombings as well, so you can scratch “experience atomic destruction (twice)” off your bucket list.

    Ice Bound, by Jerri Nielsen
    This is a twofer: Dr. Nielsen was both trapped at an isolated South Pole facility and forced to perform surgery on herself and treat herself with chemotherapy when she diagnosed herself with cancer. Unable to be transported out and unable to get anything in, Nielsen—the only doctor on staff—had to perform her own biopsy and then administer her own treatment for four months before weather conditions allowed rescue. So, if you’re wondering what it’s like to be at the South Pole and/or what it’s like to perform surgery on yourself, this is the book for you.

    Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
    Bourdain offers a surprisingly rare glimpse into the world of restaurant kitchens, both high-end and beyond sketchy. If you’ve ever been curious what it’s like to be a chef or to work in a professional kitchen, prepare to be beyond surprised at what actually goes on in some of the most famous kitchens in the world. Since he’s a world-famous chef who worked in those kitchens, he sure knows what he’s talking about.

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean Dominique Bauby
    Wondering what it’s like to be paralyzed may not be on you list of things to do today, but it offers the sort of calibration most of us need—after all, how bad are your troubles if you can still move? Bauby, the hugely successful editor of French Elle, suffered a stroke at the age of 43 that left him completely mute and paralyzed—except for his left eye. He dictated this book by working out a system of blinked code. If you want to gain a new appreciation of simply being in control of your body, read this book.

    Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
    Northup’s famous memoir of slavery in 19th century America lays out the brutality, racism, and insanity of the practice in stark terms. Tricked and kidnapped, Northup’s decade lost in the plantation system will turn stomachs and shame anyone who wants to talk about the Civil War being about “states’ rights.”

    Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah
    Most people in the West are dimly aware of the phenomenon of child soldiers in Africa, but Ishmael Beah was a child soldier, sucked into the army at age 12. His candid depiction of the drug-fueled brutality he was forced to enact is harrowing, and his rescue at age 15 likely saved not just his life, but his soul. As clear a depiction of the evil that men do as you’ll ever read—from someone who was there.

    West with the Night, by Beryl Markham
    What’s it like to fly solo across the ocean? Beryl Markham can tell you. The first pilot to go nonstop from Europe to America, as well as the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic, Markham’s memoir describes a life that was pretty fascinating even before she got into the cockpit. These days it might seem as if there are no new worlds to explore and no new records to set, but reading Markham’s book will at least let you know what it was like when an individual could just decide to do both.

    Night, by Eli Wiesel
    With fascism somehow back in the air like a virus, this is the ideal time to learn what experiencing the final destination of such thinking is like. Wiesel’s firsthand account of surviving the Nazi Holocaust is not easy reading. It is disturbing, and frightening, and necessary, because Wiesel was there, and he tells you in unflinching terms what it was like to survive a genocide.

    The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller
    Most of us take our senses for granted, and we live in a world designed around our ability to see and hear. Keller, rendered deaf and blind before she was two years old, managed to communicate somewhat with her family. At the age of six she began working with Anne Sullivan, who patiently broke through Keller’s isolation, teaching her how to interact with the world. Keller’s autobiography is a remarkable glimpse into what it’s like to exist without the basic senses most of us use to navigate our world.

    New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing, by Ted Conover
    What’s it like to be a prison guard? If you think you know from TV shows, you’ll be surprised to find out what it’s really like from Ted Conover. A journalist, Conover tried to shadow guards but was denied permission, and so he simply applied for a job, then spent a year working at the prison. His account is eye-opening, showing how the brutality of our prison system affects not just the prisoners, but the guards as well.

    Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, by Sanyika Shakur
    Shakur, formerly Kody Scott, was so brutal as a member of the Crips, he earned the nickname Monster—this from his fellow gang members, who weren’t exactly gentle themselves. Locked up in solitary confinement for his crimes, Scott became Shakur, a convert to Islam and a reformed human being. His account of what it’s like to be in the L.A. gangs so often depicted in movies is sobering, as is his exploration of the societal failures that drove him into that life in the first place.

    When Breath becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
    What’s it like to die? We can’t know, Kalanithi’s memoir describing his terminal diagnosis and final years of life is a firsthand account of living with the sure knowledge that your time on Earth is limited. Our mortality is something we often avoid contemplating, but Kalanithi had no choice. His memoir should be required reading, if only for the perspective it offers.

    The post 20 Books by People Who Actually Know What They’re Talking About appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2018/01/21 Permalink
    Tags: 25 books to read before you die, , must list   

    25 Books You Probably Should Have Read Already 

    In life, there are things you could do, things you should do, and things you must do. These same categories apply to your choice of what to read next. You could read any number of books, for reasons ranging from guilty pleasure to the fact that your book club meets in two days. You should probably read any number of classic novels that will expand your literary palate or teach you a thing or two. And then there are the books you must read, no matter who you are. There are a lot of reasons books becomes “must reads,” and it’s not necessarily just their literary quality. The 25 titles below have much to offer anyone who picks them up.

    To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Harper Lee’s classic is one those rare perfect novels, which by itself makes it a should read. It’s further elevated by the evergreen nature of its central conflicts and plot; nearly six decades after publication, the story of a small southern town’s struggle with racism and injustice remains disturbingly current. It’s also become a must read because it’s widely the quintessential 20th-century American novel.

    Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko
    One of the most powerful novels of the modern era twists World War II, the traditions of the Navajo and Pueblo people, and mental health into a story that introduces a culture and point of view missing from most American and Western experiences. Its presentation of a spiritual aspect to life that isn’t traditionally monotheistic, and its beautiful, hallucinatory writing make it essential.

    Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
    One of the first African novels to be widely studied and read in the English-speaking world, Achebe’s book remains a must-read for the uniqueness of its literary vision and characters. Focused on a fictional village in Nigeria, the book’s epic scope traces how life changes from pre-colonial times to post-colonial modernity (for the time; the novel was published in 1958).

    Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
    Perhaps the most notorious “eat your vegetables” novel of all time, Moby-Dick looms on many people’s literary bucket lists like a shadow—too long, too flowery, and much too concerned with 19th century whaling tactics. But it must read for the simple reason that understanding much of the literature that followed  novel requires it, so profound was its influence. The fact that it’s also a really great story once you get past all the sailing jargon also helps.

    The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
    Brutal, harsh, yet somehow raggedly beautiful, Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a must read because its subject matter, focused on the grim lives of African-American women in 1930s rural Georgia, shouldn’t be turned away from. Exploring the long ragged scars of racism, slavery, and class inequality, it’s one of those novels people are always trying to get banned—and you know what? Any novel certain people don’t want you to read is a novel you must read.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Few novels in any language capture the pure insanity of living within a massive bureaucracy quite as well as this one. Kafka captured much of the nightmarish dream logic of such institutions (and life itself), but Heller’s brilliance is how he uses a slippery sense of time and a numbing repetition of the absurd to really make you understand how little you understand about your own existence.

    Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
    Sometimes you must read books in order to use the good ideas within to guide you in life. Sometimes you must read books to be able to identify bad ideas and avoid them. Atlas Shrugged somehow demands to be read for both reasons, depending on the reader, which makes it that much more essential. It’s a glorious mess of a philosophy encapsulated in a glorious mess of a sci-fi novel.

    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer
    Shirer is a laborious writer who never fails to use a 25-cent word when a 5-cent word will do, and his exhaustive look at how the Nazis came to power is a bit dated, but it remains one of the few books that captures the shambolic rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Despite being under-educated, intellectually confused, and unpopular, they somehow took over an entire country and swept it into a fever-dream of death and destruction that almost destroyed the world. Understanding how it happened is about as essential as it gets.

    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    If you’re going to read a fantasy, read the ur-fantasy, the godfather of the entire genre in its modern incarnation. If you love fantasy but haven’t read LOTR, you might be missing out—everything you love about the genre has its roots here (even if only to reject everything Tolkien laid down), and few fantasy epics have as deep a backstory.

    Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
    It’s easy to bounce off of Shakespeare; his plays are set in an unrecognizable world, written in an unrecognizable version of English, and forced upon us in school. And yet, you must read Hamlet. Not only is it the Bard’s best play, it also contains some of his most famous passages and has influenced a wide swatch of literature.

    The Murder of Roger Akroyd, by Agatha Christie
    Christie invented a whole mess of what we think of as modern thriller tropes, and you can draw a direct line between Ackroyd and books like Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window. The term “unreliable narrator” might as well have a small portrait of Roger Ackroyd next to it in the dictionary, and the only way you’ll ever appreciate the term is to read this book. Probably twice.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce
    Another one of those incredibly long books that’s simply challenging to read. Many people avoid this one, especially once they find out its plot is basically  about a bunch of people wandering around Dublin in 1904 and thinking things. But if you want to really understand modernism (and postmodernism, come to think of it), you must read Ulysses. Any time a book plays with point-of-view, literary allusions, and stream-of-consciousness, there’s a line going back directly to this incredibly novel.

    Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
    Ellison combines a fluid, compelling writing style with a robust exploration of life as a black man in mid-century America. The unnamed narrator tells his story from his youth in a small Southern town, where he wins a scholarship to college that he can secure only after taking part in a brutal fight for the amusement of rich white sponsors, to his engagement with rising black nationalism and his realization that his color renders him, for all practical purposes, invisible to society at large.

    Watchmen, by Alan Moore
    Watchmen a graphic novel that demonstrates the true potential of the format. If you comic books are just for kids, this is the book that will change your mind. Even better, if you have a vast collection of comics and graphic novels, it can be appreciated as a story that simultaneously celebrates and deconstructs superhero tropes.

    Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally
    You must read this book because it’s essential to understand the Holocaust not just as a frozen exhibit in history, but as a study of the lowest depths a supposedly modern civilization can sink—and how quickly and easily it can happen. Keneally brings it home by focusing on the efforts of Oskar Schindler, whose slow moral awakening to the grim reality around is something that anyone can identify with—and then ask themselves, what would they do in a similar scenario?

    A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
    Despite the breathless proclamations from self-described social-media mavens telling you that video is how the youths absorb information, reading remains the best way to learn anything. Hawking’s classic book comes from one of the best minds of any generation, boiling down the most awe-inspiring concepts of modern physics into an understandable form that will help you dip at least a toe into an ocean of knowledge. Dare we say it, it’s a must-read for everyone living in the universe.

    Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet
    Few other writers have so ably conveyed the crushing desperation of the modern working class—specifically, the crushing pressures facing salespeople, whose job is to somehow dominate the wills of others in order to gain a small commission. The inhumanity of our society and economic system is disguised by toxic masculinity, sheer dumb luck, and the mental gymnastics required to turn a terrible job and fraught existence into something we can pretend is worthwhile.

    I, Claudius, by Robert Graves
    Graves’ brilliant novel is a sort of alternate history, getting into the mind of the ancient world’s most unlikely emperor, the stuttering, crippled Claudius, who survived the purge of the imperial family because everyone thought him too stupid to worry about. Proving to be a capable if too-trusting ruler, Claudius manages to give the reader hope (despite what we know to have happened) that the Roman Empire might somehow make it. Combining informative history with tense palace intrigue, Graves’ novel is unlike any history you’veever read.

    The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
    Faulkner made the bold decision to make the first section of this novel one of the most difficult pieces of writing you will ever encounter—it’s told from the point of view of a mentally-challenged man. The rest of the book’s sprawling story of the downfall of a Southern family isn’t so easy, either, but it’s also brilliantly lyrical, and infused with a sadness as powerful today as when it was first published.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    You have to read at least one epic Russian novel in your life; it’s in the bibliophile bylaws. And if you’re going to read one epic Russian novel, make it The Brothers Karamazov,. Dostoevsky’s ability to make you feel like you know these 19th century folks intimately is a testament to his uncanny knowledge of human psychology. The story somehow examines economics, family ties, spirituality and atheism, and a dozen other major themes without once feeling like it’s doing any heavy lifting at all.

    The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
    The modern concept of the private investigator, the rough-and-tumble guy with a gun and some questions, was born with Dashiell Hammett, and this is his best novel. It still crackles with a thoroughly modern energy, and upon publication signaled a sea-change in the stories that novels could tell, and the manner in which they could be told. That’s as important as any postmodern artistic experiment ever conducted.

    Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
    The list of mainstream fiction that deals with homosexuality in a sincere and powerful way remains woefully short, but at the top of it is this remarkable novel by Baldwin, one of the most complex examinations of a gay character (now more accurately considered a bisexual character) of its era. The story of an American’s affair with a Parisian man who is eventually executed for murder is a fantastic story and a crucial example of representation.

    The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
    Whatever your age, social status, ethnicity, or political thought, you must read this searingly honest and passionate debut novel. It’s quickly a must-read, coming as close as anything to truly capturing the current state of the country. It tells the story of a young girl pulled into activism and the Black Lives Matter movement after witnessing a police shooting of an unarmed friend. It’s incredible success is a testament to its currency; if you want to know what’s going on outside of cable news and narrow-beam blogs, you must read this book.

    All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
    Closing in on a century after its publication, this story of German soldiers fighting in World War I remains one of the best examinations of the effects that modern warfare has on the human psyche. Despairing and bleak, it’s a must-read primarily for the power of its story, but also, increasingly, for offering a glimpse of a time and place that risks becoming lost to the sands of time.

    Tell Me a Riddle, by Tillie Olsen
    Largely overlooked today, Olsen’s greatest work finds beauty and poetry in the plight of the American middle-class housewife. Even in the modern day, the slow suffocation of those who follow the expected path of their lives, to the detriment of their dreams, resonates. There is immense power in these stories, and the book is a must-read for anyone needing a reminder that true beauty can be found anywhere, by someone with clear-eyed ability to see it.

    The post 25 Books You Probably Should Have Read Already appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2018/01/16 Permalink
    Tags: books for cat lovers, books for dog lovers, , , four-legged friends   

    21 Books for Dog & Cat Lovers 

    Americans love their pets, especially cats and dogs—there are about 150 million of the critters in our homes right now, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. So it’s no surprise that cats and dogs turn up pretty often in literature, either as companions to fictional people, or (occasionally) as the primary characters. If you love dogs or cats, it’s a special treat to find a book written by someone who appreciates their fur babies as much as you do. The 20 books below don’t just feature cats or dogs on the page as a part of the story—they’re the main characters, or the whole point of the book in the first place.

    The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
    Anyone who has ever lived with a dog has stared at their canine companion and wondered what it’s thinking. Stein’s book focuses on Enzo, a dog owned by race car driver Denny. Enzo believes in an old canine legend that a dog “who is prepared” will be reincarnated as a human—something Enzo very much wants. Enzo is precisely what dog lovers want to believe their doggos are on the inside, and that makes this philosophical story all the more remarkably compelling.

    All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot
    Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, wrote about a wide range of animals in his semi-autobiographical books about a veterinarian in a small rural English town, but dogs and cats get their fair share of attention. Few people before or since have tapped into the special bond between humans and the animals that they care for, live with, and use to sustain themselves. What seem at first glance to be simple, heartwarming stories of a vet in the country turn out to have an emotional power that only those who truly love their companion animals can appreciate.

    Dewey the Library Cat, by Vicki Myron
    The power of our pets to inspire and comfort us knows no bounds, and the story of a tiny kitten left in a library’s drop box, adopted by the library, and embraced by the whole world is a perfect example. Dewey Readmore Books, as the kitten was eventually named, was half-frozen and suffered from a genetic condition—but lived a long and comfortable life in the library of Spencer, Iowa, officially given the title of staff supervisor and eventually attaining worldwide fame. Cat lovers know that felines are peculiarly suited to living in libraries and bookstores, making them the most literate of all animals. Dewey’s story of salvation and service will inspire and delight.

    The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
    London’s classic tale of a dog named Buck who is stolen from his home and forced to slowly leave his civilized life behind and become increasingly wild in order to survive is as inspiring as it is a harsh reminder that the animals we love and care for—and who care for us—are, at heart, wild. If you’ve ever looked at your faithful pet and thought she seemed closer to a wolf than a dog, you’ll understand this story.

    Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson
    Warning: if you love dogs and you’ve never read this one, be prepared to feel things. The classic story of a faithful pup who spends his life defending and helping his beloved family, only for tragedy to occur, is heart-wrenching. It will make you want to give your own dog friend an extra hug and be happy you won’t have to make any terrible decisions regarding them any time soon. At the same time, the book reminds dog lovers exactly why they are considered to be man’s best friend.

    The Fur Person, by May Sarton
    Anyone who has lived with a cat or three knows that they are extremely people-like. It’s the way they sit, the way they look at you (generally in a disapproving manner), and the way they seem to be judging your every move, and not kindly. Sarton’s classic story tells the tale of a cat that came into her life, first as a wandering cat-about-town, then slowly settling into her home. It’s essentially the biography of a cat, and if you love cats you’ll find this to be a thoroughly charming and enjoyable book.

    A Lion Called Christian, by Anthony Bourke
    Lions are not, by and large, considered to be house cats—and yet you’ve probably seen the viral video of two men who raised a lion cub in their London home, set the lion free in Africa when he became too large, and later visited him in the wild. Christian not only remembered his two foster parents, but was obviously joyful at seeing them again. The full story detailed in Bourke’s book will make any cat lover glance affectionately at their pet and hold out hope that the aloof, disinterested animal might react similarly if they were reunited after an absence.

    I Am a Cat, by Soseki Natsume
    This classic of Japanese literature is a satirical look at Japanese society in the early 20th century, when Japan was importing Western ways and attitudes, resulting in an uneasy mixture of viewpoints and style in daily life. The narrator is a self-important house cat who observes his human hosts and their friends, making pointed comments about their lives that are still hilarious today. Cat lovers know that our cats have a poor opinion of us—of our grooming, our inability to catch vermin, and our lack of appreciation for napping in sunbeams—and this book will hit that sweet spot of loving an animal you’re not sure loves you back.

    Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot
    The fact that the same man who wrote The Waste Lands or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is also responsible for inspiring the Broadway musical Cats breaks minds. Eliot was a cat lover, and amused himself and others by making up elaborate names and back stories for the cats in his life. He wrote many of the poems contained in this book for his godson, musing about his own cat and cats he had met. Since it’s Eliot, the poems are casually brilliant, and are sure to make you feel like Eliot is somehow writing about your cat.

    Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag
    This classic children’s book has a simple premise: a lonely old couple decide they’d like to take in a cat for some company. The husband sets off to find one, and instead finds “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.” The man wants to bring home the prettiest, and the cats fall into a jealous fight with each other to claim the title. When the dust settles, they are all gone, except for a skinny kitten cowering in the tall grass who survives because it doesn’t consider itself pretty. Taken in, it grows into a beautiful cat and everyone lives happily ever after.

    The Cat Inside, by William S. Burroughs
    When you think of William S. Burroughs, you probably don’t think about cats, but Burroughs himself did. He was a cat lover, and in this novella he recounts the cats he’s known, lived with, and doted on throughout his life. For anyone who has known life with a cat, this will be thrillingly familiar and touching story that reminds you why you love living with these fussy, thoughtful creatures in the first place.

    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
    A modern retelling of Hamlet, this bestseller isn’t about dogs per se, but mute Edgar’s family breeds dogs, and he has a connection with the dogs in his life that he lacks with other humans. Edgar’s dogs are also extremely smart and talented, and help Edgar in his tortured quest to find out the truth about his father’s death and his uncle Claud’s sudden usurpation of his father’s role. If you know how much help a dog can be in your daily life, this book will speak to you in surprising and touching ways.

    Cujo, by Stephen King
    You might think a story about a rabid dog that terrorizes people isn’t the ideal choice for folks who love their dogs, but it is King’s sympathetic handling of Cujo’s point of view that makes this a must-read. That tragedy and horror can afflict anyone—even good dogs—is a fact of life, and Cujo is a big-hearted, joyful good boy who suffers unfairly. King’s best trick is making the nominal “monster” of the book—a huge rabid dog—actually a tragic hero as Cujo fights against the disease that is destroying him.

    Mort(e), by Robert Repino
    A sci-fi story about a war on humanity in which cats and dogs and other animals—given the power of speech and human-level thought—fight as proxies for the real enemy, Mort(e)’s main character is a cat in love with the dog next door. When the war comes, they’re separated, and although the cat becomes a deadly and skilled warrior, he never quite gives up hope of finding his love again. In other words, if you sometimes have fever dreams in which your cat is super-intelligent, and possibly plotting to kill you, this book will hit you right in the gut.

    The Cat Out of Hell, by Lynne Truss
    Truss, best-known for her grammar lecture Eats, Shoots & Leaves, offers up a delirious tale that cat lovers and haters can enjoy. A man goes searching for his missing sister and instead finds a cat that can talk. The cat, Roger, tells his story: he spent many years as companion to an older, smarter cat named the Captain—now, though, they have had a feline falling out and anyone who crosses the Captain turns up dead. The story gets weirder from there, but Truss’ obvious distrust of cats will delight those who hate them, while Roger’s erudite stories will delight the other side.

    Marley and Me, by John Grogan
    By now we all know not to read this book without a box of tissues at hand, but Grogan’s memoir isn’t just a tear-jerker, but a celebration of a very special dog. Anyone who has lived with, loved, and lost a dog that had personality and swagger will relate to this story even if you know the ending that is waiting for you—and anyone who has dealt with a rambunctious, freedom-loving dog that systematically destroys your property and peace of mind will find themselves completely in tune with this book.

    Going Home, by Jon Katz
    One of the saddest aspects of living with and loving a cat or dog is their comparatively short lifespans; for most of us, losing a pet is an inevitability. Katz writes about losing his beloved dog with raw emotion combined with deep ruminations on the nature of existence and love, and the sequence where he provides one last “perfect” day for his dog before the end is guaranteed to have any dog lover more or less openly weeping. It’s a powerful idea, and Katz details how he made it happen for the benefit of dog lovers everywhere.

    Tobermory, by Saki
    Saki’s short story about a cat given the gift of speech is caustic and hilarious; Tobermory, the cat, uses his sudden ability to communicate in English to reveal all of the awful and embarrassing secrets he knows about the humans in his midst, prompting several attempts to murder him. But in the end Tobermory goes out on his own terms, losing a fight with another local cat and dying with honor. If you have a cat that comes and goes as he pleases, this story will feel very close to home.

    Edward the Conqueror, by Roald Dahl
    If all you know of Dahl are his more whimsical children’s books, this story might be a surprise. A man burning fall leaves in the backyard almost burns up a silver-haired cat. His wife takes the cat in and becomes attached to it, convinced after a few musical events that the cat is, in fact, the reincarnation of Franz Liszt. Her obsession grows, alarming the husband, who eventually settles on what seems to be a violent and distasteful solution to his problem. Cat lovers will understand how you can assume genius in this silent, deliberate animals—and cat haters will understand the struggle to rid yourself of a cat that has made itself at home.

    Simon’s Cat, by Simon Tofield
    Tofield’s hilarious comics depict a cat who is affectionate, manipulative, and perpetually hungry—thus making this a comic about all the cats in the world. Simon’s Cat is defined by his innocence, however; anyone who has lived with a cat knows that while they’re more affectionate than popular conception believes, they lack any sense of a moral compass and simply don’t understand the concepts of right and wrong. This is the crucial detail that Tofield nails perfectly.

    Watchers, by Dean Koontz
    If you’ve read more than one Dean Koontz novel, you’ve probably noticed how much he dotes on his canine characters—often telling portions of the story from the dog’s point-of-view (see: Dragon Tears). And no Koontz dog is more beloved than Einstein, the dog at the center of what is, not coincidentally, Koontz’s defining work. Einstein is the product of a government experiment that has gifted him with human-level intelligence and, with the help of a contraption involving Scrabble titles, he eventually gains the power of speech, after a fashion. Unsurprisingly, this golden retriever turns out to be just as lovable and loyal to his human caregivers as you’d expect. Koontz also wrote A Big Little Life, a memoir about the special golden retriever in his own life.

    The post 21 Books for Dog & Cat Lovers appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2018/01/15 Permalink
    Tags: c.j. tudor, the chalk man, , thrilling debuts   

    The Chalk Man Is a Chilling Old-School Thriller 

    In the grand tradition of Stephen King, C.J. Tudor’s devious debut thriller, The Chalk Man skillfully combines a realistic approach to characters and setting with an ominous, slow-boil sense of dread. The end result is a story that feels like a supernatural thriller even while the plot remains firmly rooted in a realistic universe. It’s a great trick, and gives Tudor’s story a pounding heart that injects rising tension onto every page.

    An English King

    One of the best aspects of King’s writing is how he crafts characters who feel like people you might meet on the street and places you can imagine visiting, then finds dark depths within them. Tudor has the same skill, making the small English town of Anderbury feel very real, filled with people who seem wholly genuine. The fact that her story uses a classic King template—children who experience a terrifying adventure while navigating the trials of adolescence, then return to the mystery as troubled adults—only reinforces this feeling. That isn’t to say Tudor is mimicking King; she’s got her own voice and sensibility. She tells a dark, shocking story that involves rape, bullying, gruesome murder, and mental instability, and manages to make you care about the characters through her clear affection for them, and for the place they inhabit.

    The Waltzer Girl

    The Chalk Man is told from the point of view of Eddie Adams, nick-named Eddie Munster by his gang of friends—fat, jocular Gavin, braces-afflicted Metal Mickey, stalwart Hoppo, and flame-haired girl Nicky, daughter of the humorless local vicar. In 1986, they’re kids tooling around Anderbury on their bikes. In 2016, Eddie is a teacher at the local school, reflecting on the events of thirty years before. The story flips back and forth between the two timelines, slowly revealing its secrets.

    In 1986, Eddie is involved in a fairground accident in which a beautiful local girl, Elisa, is disfigured when a ride called the Waltzer malfunctions. A newly-arrived teacher, Mr. Halloran (an albino) grabs Eddie, and together they save Elisa’s life, forging a connection between them. Over the next few months, a series of events leave the Waltzer Girl (as Eddie thinks of Elisa) dead, her dismembered body in the nearby woods, and her head missing, Halloran is accused of her murder, and several other lives  are destroyed or changed forever. These events are all marked by the presence of the chalk symbols the gang uses as a secret code between themselves.

    The Chalk Man

    The chalk symbols are a laugh for the kids; they assign each other a color, and use a simple code to communicate. Coincidentally, Mr. Halloran is nick-named the Chalk Man by the kids at school. When the chalk symbols are turned against the kids, they seem to take on a power beyond the kids’ understanding—mocking them, leading them, threatening them. And they return, 30 years later, in the form of ominous letters mailed to each member of the group, just as Mickey returns to town, claiming to know who really killed the Waltzer Girl. The subversion of an innocent childhood game that leads to murder and violence soaks the story in dread.

    The Unreliable

    Tudor uses the trick of the unreliable narrator with skill and subtlety. The mystery of who committed the murder, and why, takes on a sheen of the supernatural when ghosts plague Eddie—lucid dreams that turn malevolent as violence and betrayal in 2016 seems to parallel the events of 1986, tying the kids together, though they’ve become strangers in adulthood. Slowly, many of the tragedies that beset them throughout their lives are shown to be connected. It all leads up to the final, crucial pages, which shift our understanding of everything that came before in just a few paragraphs, leaving the reader unsettled and disturbed—like the best thrillers always do.

    The post The Chalk Man Is a Chilling Old-School Thriller appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2018/01/12 Permalink
    Tags: golden years,   

    10 Books to Read Before You Retire 

    Some people dream of retiring and living a jobless life. Others want to work until they fall over. No matter which camp you fall into, retirement planning is essential. If you’re like most people, you haven’t done too much thinking about your retirement years, because life is busy enough as it is. If you’re five or ten years away from retiring, it might seem like the distant future, but it’s going to come faster than you think. And unless your last name is Pennybags, you probably need all the help you can get. As usual, books are there for you. If you’re approaching retirement, these 10 books are essential reading, and will help you manage the mental and financial changes coming your way.

    The Retirement Maze, by Robert Pascale
    Pascale founded a successful market research firm and managed to retire relatively young. He fully expected to enjoy his retirement, but was puzzled to find himself bored and unhappy. He decided to use his research skills to delve into the problem, conducting rigorously-designed interviews with people both in person and online to determine what made some people so happy in retirement, and some so unhappy. People often don’t think about the massive life change that retirement represents, and ensuring you’re going to be happy during this period of your life is going to require that you start thinking different now.

    The Five Years Before You Retire, by Emily Guy Birken
    Far too many people defer thinking about their retirement until it’s upon them, passively hoping their 401ks and other investments will be enough, and that they’re prepared—somehow—in all the other ways too. But waiting until your co-workers are singing to you in the conference room is a recipe for a rude awakening. Birken’s book is ideal for folks who are a few years out—time enough to make some late-inning course corrections and mental adjustments, and even to rectify any mistakes you’ve already made. If you’re close enough to retirement to see it, this is the book to start with.

    How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, by Ernie J. Zelinski
    Zelinski offers up nothing less than a guidebook to the exotic land known as retirement, where the customs are unexpected and the maps are nonexistent. Enjoying your retirement is about a lot more than money—although adjusting expectations to your financial situation is a necessity. This book offers up concrete exercises that will help you figure out what kind of retirement you want, what kind of retirement you can have, and how to be excited about the combination of the two. Instead of a lot of aphorisms and generic advice, Zelinski walks the reader through tools created to assist in retirement planning, adjustments, and challenges in an effort to insulate your retirement from unexpected challenges. A must-read whether your retirement is years away or already here.

    Second Act Careers, by Nancy Collamer
    For a lot of people, retirement doesn’t mean they stop working, it means they can finally work on what they are passionate about. If you’re thinking that your retirement will be your chance to pursue a dream, Collamer’s book offers a plethora of rock-solid advice on turning a passion into income. Finding a way to earn a little extra money while still enjoying your leisure years is a difficult tightrope to walk, and that makes a guide like this essential reading for anyone for whom retirement is going to be just a different way of working.

    Home Sweet Anywhere, by Lynne Martin
    If your retirement dreams include seeing the world but your retirement budget includes counting pennies, you might be prepared for a lot of disappointment. But there’s always a way. Martin and her husband aren’t rich, but in their mid-60s, they sold their home and almost everything they owned to embark on a retirement of travel and adventure, all recorded on their popular blog. This book walks through how they managed it, and is chock-full of their wisdom about money, travel on a budget, and retirement in general. If your dream for your golden years involves all those places you’ve always wanted to see but you haven’t won any lotteries lately, this book is both inspiration and practical guide.

    The Memoir Project, by Marion Roach Smith
    Retirement isn’t the end, it’s just a new chapter—and the life you’ve led is unique. One way to bring meaning to your experience is to organize it and write it down. In other words, write a memoir! If that seems like a daunting task, rest easy—this book is an excellent guide to writing a memoir for people who have never contemplated writing more than a letter. Eschewing standard writing prompts for an approach that will make sense to people who don’t consider themselves writers, this book will help anyone who suddenly find themselves with a lot of free time to create something out of their memories and experiences.

    The Retiring Mind, by Robert P. Delamontagne
    For every person who dreams of retirement and begins planning their world tour at age 35, there is someone who has devoted their life to putting their nose to the grindstone and overcoming every professional challenge. For folks who have been hard-charging their whole lives, the sudden calm of retirement can be daunting in a way work never was—and can result in real depression. Delamontagne offers real tools to determine your personality type and identify the specific mental challenges you may face in retirement, as well as ways to deal with them and overcome your own inner barriers to happiness in your retirement years. If retirement fills you with dread, this may be the book that saves your life.

    A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
    Backman’s delightful novel is the rare story where a retiree is not only the protagonist, his retirement is a key part of the story. Ove is a cranky, lonely widower forced into retirement. As a man who spent his life being useful (not to mention overly confident that his way of doing, well, everything was the right way), being jobless and alone is a difficult transition. Backman’s charming writing style doesn’t shy away from the mental and emotional challenges of retirement, and offers a gentle and entertaining story that will resonate with retirees of all stripes.

    Start Late, Finish Rich, by David Bach
    Okay, you just realized that you’re going to retire soon, and you haven’t prepared very well financially. You might think you’ll just have to move in with someone or live on the street, but Bach’s book can help you put together a workable nest egg for retirement, no matter how late you are to the game. Back points out that almost no one is ideally prepared for retirement, and more than a few people are woefully unprepared. He then offers up practical, step-by-step plans to rectify that situation, no matter your age or financial situation. If you think it’s too late to set up your retirement fund, this is the book that will change your mind, and show you the way forward.

    Just Move!, by James P. Owen
    For many, an exercise regime is tied to their working schedule—if they have one at all. Retirement sometimes means leisure and inactivity, which means that formerly fit people lose their way and folks who relied on their active work life to keep them fit start to become unhealthy. Owen, a former hard-driving Wall Street icon, discusses strategies for staying healthy at any age. Retirement is about more than money, and more than the mental adjustment—you have to find ways to keep physically fit as well, or your retirement will be less happy and your money will go much faster. When you’re planning your trips and living situation, plan for an exercise regiment that fits your retirement as well.

    The post 10 Books to Read Before You Retire appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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