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Wednesday, November 23,2011

Worth booking

Pick up page-turners from Jeffrey Eugenides, Erin Morgenstern and Ernest Hemingway

by Bill Castanier

Give ho-ho Hemingway books this holiday season. Several new books on “Papa” are on every Hemingway lovers list this holiday season and, surprisingly, they provide some new insight into the world of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I say “surprisingly” because writing about Hemingway is a literary industry.


Paul Hendrickson’s “Hemingway’s Boat” is an unusual biography of Hemingway in that it uses his beloved boat, The Pilar, as the vehicle for telling the story. Hemingway used the boat from 1934 to 1961 to entertain, to chase women and German subs and to teach his boys about the manly art of fishing, which was one of his many obsessions. This book, somewhat sympathetic to Hemingway, allows you to see a different side of this conflicted writer.


“The Paris Wife,” by University of Michigan graduate Paula McLain, is a fictional re-creation of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson’s relationship with the writer who, in the retelling, shows how she provided him the grounding to become a great writer. This meticulously researched book doesn’t sugar-coat a relationship that ran aground in just six years.


“The Letters of Ernest Hemingway:1907- 1922,” the first of an expected 16 volumes, is a great companion piece to McLain’s book since it follows Hemingway from a young man to adulthood, including his courtship of Richardson. Letters are often the purist form of writing; these letters are no different.


It’s fun to follow the progression of Hemingway’s writing from a young boy to a member of the Lost Generation. Some 80 percent of the letters have never been published and many of them relate to his time in Michigan. The book also will provide an incentive for anyone harboring old love letters to follow Richardson’s dictum and burn them.


Unlike his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex,” Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot” has very little in the way of a Michigan connection. But it still has the magic you have come to expect from the cerebral author. This semi-autobiographical novel follows three soon-to-be graduates of Brown University (Eugenides’ alma mater) as they enter the world in the 1980s. The gorgeous Madeleine, a literary scholar of great depth, is pursued by two suitors: One is a classic bad boy, while the other is looking for satisfaction in religion. Anyone who was ever 20 will love this tale.


“The Art of Fielding,” by debut author Chad Harbach, is more than just a tip of the hat to Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.” Sure, it’s a coming-of-age baseball book in which life serves up some bad bounces. But it’s also a lot of fun and an unusual romantic romp for the characters who populate the campus of Westish, where small-town boy Henry goes to exercise his exceptional baseball skills.


Not the most uplifting holiday story (or maybe it is), “Salvage the Bones,” by University of Michigan fine arts graduate Jesmyn Ward, is a troubling look at poverty, love, loyalty and fear, all coming together for a Mississippi family during a 12-day period encompassing Hurricane Katrina. This book, which won the National Book Award for fiction, will tug at your gut and put a human face on the “99 Percent.” It’s been described as the “Occupy the National Book Award.”


“Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend” will not only bring a smile to your face, but will make you want to cuddle the next German Shepherd you see.


It’s the story of an orphaned dog rescued from a World War I battlefield that goes on to symbolize everything that is great about America — but mostly it is about the love between animals and man.


Written by the incredibly talented University of Michigan graduate Susan Orlean (author of “The Orchid Thief”), this book will tell you the behind-the-scenes stories about a movie star we all rooted for. Anyone who has a dog will want this book under the tree.


For those who want to put a little magic in their life Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is the ticket. A little bit of “Chocolat,” Cirque du Soleil and “Love Story” (without the grief) make this a love story you will still be talking about in the


spring. This debut author is a storyteller beyond her years and, as a bonus, the book itself is a piece of art. (This book should be a great gift for a couple I know whose daughter is off to join the circus.)


Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without children, and three outstanding children’s books — with Michigan themes — should be in Santa’s bag for all the good little boys and girls.


“A Nation’s Hope” is the beautifully told story of Detroit’s Joe Louis and his legendary battle against German boxer Max Schmeling.


Illustrated by the Caldecott Artist Kadir Nelson, the book was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the 10 best illustrated children books of the year. This book will help keep The Brown Bomber’s legacy alive for another generation.


“Magic Trash” is just as beautiful a book. It would have to be, since it is a children’s biography of a Michigan treasure, Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, who represents everything that is good about resilient Detroiters.


For those who don’t know, Guyton is the artist behind the monumental Heidelberg Project in Detroit. The book shows how this talented artist creates work that serves to tangle with our conscience and pierce our souls.


Finally, University of Michigan-trained artist and writer Chris Van Allsburg is behind the exquisite “Lady of the Falls,” about a Bay City woman who was the first person to ride over Niagara Falls and live.


The book is not only about a brave woman, but also about the many foibles that make up the fabric of our heroes and heroines.

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