More book news, November 9, 2013

Compiled by Mary Louise Ruehr, Books Editor Published:

BOOK CLUBS

• Pierce Streetsboro Library’s Book Discussion Club: 3 p.m. Nov. 18  in the library’s meeting room, 8990 Kirby Lane — “The Room: a Novel” by Emma Donoghue. Light refreshments courtesy of the Friends of Pierce Streetsboro Library. Copies available. To register, call 330-626-4458.

• Read the Classics Book Club: 7 p.m. Nov. 19, Kent Free Library — “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. No registration required. Copies available.

• The Learned Owl’s Book Club in a Bar: 7 p.m. Nov. 21, Peachtree Southern Kitchen (formerly the Old Whedon Grille) — “Wicked Autumn” by G.M. Malliet, a  traditional drawing room mystery. For information: 330-653-2252.

• Pizza & Pages: Noon, Nov. 23, Kent Free Library — “Matched” by Ally Condie. At this book club for grades six to nine, teens will share a pizza lunch, discuss the book, participate in trivia contests and make a craft based on the book. Registration is required by calling 330-673-4414. Register between Nov. 16 and 22.

• Mystery Mondays: 7 p.m. Nov. 25, Kent Free Library — “City of the Dead” by Sara Gran. No registration required. Copies available.

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BOOK SALES

• Friends of the Pierce Streetsboro Library Book Sale: Nov. 14-16, meeting room of the library, 8990 Kirby Lane. Nov. 14: Friends members preview sale, 6 to 7 p.m. Memberships available for $5 per year and may be purchased at the preview sale. Nov. 15: Public sale, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 16: Public sale, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: 330-626-4458.

• “Books Are Fun” Book Fair: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 18-20, Atrium of the Medical Arts Building, 6847 N. Chestnut St., Ravenna. Books and gifts for children and adults. All proceeds are  used for special projects serving hospital patients’ needs. Sponsored by Robinson Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. Open to the public.

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AUTHOR VISITS

UPDATE: Bev Shaffer will visit The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson from 1 to 3 p.m. DECEMBER 7 with her new cookbook, “Chocolate Desserts to Die For!” For more information, contact the Learned Owl Book Shop at 330-653-2252.

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Shane Kearns will visit The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 23 with his cookbook, “Melt: 100 Amazing Adventures in Grilled Cheese.” For more information, contact the Learned Owl Book Shop at 330-653-2252.

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Children’s author Lindsay Ward will visit The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 30 with her new book, “Please Bring Balloons.” For more information, contact the Learned Owl Book Shop at 330-653-2252.

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Best-Sellers

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

The Associated Press

Week ending 11/3/13

HARDCOVER FICTION

1. “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

2. “Winners” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

3. “After Dead” by Charlaine Harris (Ace)

4. “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King (Scribner)

5. “The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

6. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

7. “Accused” by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s)

8. “We Are Water” by Wally Lamb (Harper)

9. “Fifteen Minutes” by Karen Kingsbury (Howard Books)

10. “Gone” by Patterson/Ledwidge (Little, Brown)

11. “Identical” by Scott Turow (Grand Central)

12. “S.” by J.J. Abrams, Doug Dorst (Mulholland)

13. “Starry Night” by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine)

14. “Storm Front” by John Sandford (Putnam)

15. “Candlelight Christmas” by Susan Wiggs (Mira)

HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond (William Morrow)

2. “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard (Henry Holt)

3. “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)

4. “Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Forum)

5. “Guinness World Records 2014” by Guinness World Records (Guinness World Records)

6. “The Death of Santini” by Pat Conroy (Doubleday/Talese)

7. “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai (Little, Brown)

8. “Si-Cology 1” by Si Robertson (Howard Books)

9. “Stitches” by Anne Lamott (Riverhead)

10. “My Story” by Elizabeth Smart (St. Martin’s)

11. “Break Out!” by Joel Osteen (FaithWords)

12. “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin (HMH)

13. “Pure Joy” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

14. “There’s More to Life than This” by Theresa Caputo (Atria)

15. “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter (Little, Brown)

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS

1. “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)

2. “Wyoming Bold” by Diana Palmer (Harlequin)

3. “The Gift of Christmas” by Debbie Macomber (Harlequin)

4. “Angels at the Table” by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine)

5. “The Sum of All Kisses” by Julia Quinn (Avon)

6. “An Outlaw’s Christmas” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin)

7. “Private: No. 1 Suspect” by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro (Vision)

8. “A Virgin River Christmas” Robyn Carr (Mira)

9. “The Racketeer” by John Grisham (Dell)

10. “The Sins of the Mother” by Danielle Steel (Dell)

11. “A Big Sky Christmas” by William W. Johnstone (Pinnacle)

12. “Not Without You” by Nora Roberts (Silhouette)

13. “The Black Box” by Michael Connelly (Grand Central)

14. “Secret Santa” by Fern Michaels (Zebra)

15. “Christmas in Snowflake Canyon” by Raeanne Thayne (Harlequin)

TRADE PAPERBACKS

1. “Dark Witch” by Nora Roberts (Berkley)

2. “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh (Touchstone)

3. “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)

4. “The Hit” by David Baldacci (Grand Central)

5. “Dear Life” by Alice Munro (Vintage)

6. “Beautiful Player” by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books)

7. “Four Blood Moons” by John Hagee (Worthy)

8. “Unlikely Loves” by Jennifer S. Holland (Workman)

9. “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan (Simon & Schuster)

10. “When Will the Heaven Begin?” by Ally Breedlove (NAL)

11. “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow)

12. “A Game of Thrones 5-Book Boxed Set” by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)

13. “Quiet” by Susan Cain (Broadway Books)

14. “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter (Harper Perennial)

15. “The Racketeer” by John Grisham (Bantam)

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST-SELLERS

The Associated Press

Best-Selling Books Week Ended Nov. 3

FICTION

1. “Rush Revere & The Brave Pilgrims” by Rush Limbaugh (Threshold)

2. “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

3. “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)

4. “The Heroes of Olympus: The House of Hades” by Rick Riordan (Disney Press)

5. “Winners” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press)

6. “After Dead” by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books)

7. “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King (Scribner)

8. “The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)

9. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little Brown)

10. “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen)

NONFICTION

1. “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond (William Morrow & Co.)

2. “Killing Jesus: A History” by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard (Macmillan)

3. “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)

4. “Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Forum)

5. “Guiness World Records” by Guiness World Records (Guiness World Records)

6. “The Death of Santini” by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese)

7. “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb (Little, Brown)

8. “Jesus Calling: Enjoy Peace in His Presence” by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson Publishers)

9. “Si-cology 1” by Si Robertson (Howard Books)

10. “Stitches” A Handbook on Meaning” by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books)

FICTION E-BOOKS

1. “Dark Witch” by Nora Roberts (Penguin)

2. “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham (Knopf)

3. “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins)

4. “Winners” by Danielle Steel (Random House)

5. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card (Tor Books)

6. “After Dead” by Charaine Harris (Penguin)

7. “Beautiful Player” by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books)

8. “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty (Penguin Group)

9. “The Arrangement 11” by H.M. Ward (Laree Bailey Press)

10. “Wilderness” by Dean Koontz (Random House)

NONFICTION E-BOOKS

1. “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard (Hold, Henry & Co.)

2. “Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Publishing)

3. “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northrup (HarperCollins)

4. “The Death of Santini” by Pat Conroy (Knopf)

5. “Pure Joy” by Danielle Steel (Random House)

6. “The Art of Being Unmistakable” by Srinivas Rao (Srinivas Rao)

7. “David and Goliath” by Malcom Gladwell (Little, Brown)

8. “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin (Houghton Mifflin)

9. “We Die Alone” by David Howart (The Lyons Press)

10. “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh (Touchstone)

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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USA TODAY BEST-SELLERS

The Associated Press

1. “Dark Witch” by Nora Roberts (Berkley)

2. “Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims” by Rush Limbaugh (Threshold Editions)

3. “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

4. “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)

5. “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt and Co.)

6. “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays” by Ree Drummond (William Morrow)

7. “Winners” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

8. “The Heroes of Olympus: The House of Hades” by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)

9. “A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam)

10. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card (Tor)

11. “After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse” by Charlaine Harris (Ace)

12. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)

13. “Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Forum)

14. “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh (Touchstone)

15. “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

16. “The Sum of All Kisses” by Julia Quinn (Avon)

17. “Wyoming Bold” by Diana Palmer (Harlequin HQN)

18. “Beautiful Player” by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books)

19. “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)

20. “Accused” by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s Press)

21. “The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)

22. “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King (Scribner)

23. “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)

24. “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)

25. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

For the extended, interactive and searchable version of this list, visit http://books.usatoday.com/list/index

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Review: Tori Spelling grows up in latest book

ALICIA RANCILIO, Associated Press 

 

“Spelling It Like It Is” (Gallery Books), by Tori Spelling

From her rocky relationship with her mother to falling in love with actor Dean McDermott while they were married to other people, Tori Spelling has no problem sharing the intimate details of her life in her books.

Her anecdotal style of storytelling, humor and “every girl” demeanor have made her a best-selling author.

In her sixth book, “Spelling It Like It Is,” the actress sticks to the formula of her previous memoirs and goes behind the scenes of recent life events, including the birth of her third and fourth children, born 10 months apart.

However, readers will notice something different this time around: Spelling seems to have developed more of a backbone.

In previous books, she wrote about worrying what people think of her. Now, she seems to have more bite. Spelling reflects on a time she had to take vocal lessons for a TV holiday movie and ran into Katie Holmes. She made an effort to be friendly but says she found Holmes to be “plastic. In a perfectly polite way.” (She says she later felt sorry for Holmes because she seemed to be “miserable” after her divorce from Tom Cruise.)

Spelling also pulls back the curtain on her now canceled reality show “Tori & Dean.” She shares how cameras crossed the line to film the birth of her third baby, Hattie, and how she reenacted taking a pregnancy test for the cameras.

So many celebrities are rehearsed, controlled and repetitive that it can be difficult to get a genuine comment from a star. Spelling doesn’t hold back. She’s real — and it’s appreciated.

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The JFK-assassination-conspiracy circus 

By BOB HOOVER Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

The events of Nov. 22, 1963, refuse to stay inside the thousands of books written about them. Fifty years later, the killing of President John F. Kennedy is relived and re-examined as though it happened yesterday. His alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is still a mysterious figure in a strange world of communists, KGB enablers, Cuban exiles, mafia bosses, CIA plotters and duplicitous FBI agents.

Oswald never had the trial that might have provided answers. Instead, two days after JFK’s death, he was slain in front of a live television audience of millions, gunned down by Jack Ruby, a strip-joint owner with a dog fetish and bona-fide mob connections, as dozens of police officers stood slack-jawed.

Convicted of Oswald’s slaying, Ruby died in prison in 1967 of fast-moving cancer after he asked to be taken to Washington, D.C., where he could talk freely. He was refused. The only reporter who had a private interview with him -- Dorothy Kilgallen -- died of a sleeping-pill overdose in 1965.

This carnival funhouse, anticipated by Orson Welles’ distorted mirrors in “The Lady from Shanghai,” goes on and on with no resolution in sight. You would think that time and modern technology would put the whole mess to rest and the pressing issues of the day could take precedence. But you would be wrong.

As someone who took the conspiracy bait almost from the day JFK died, and later found himself confronting some of the leading characters in this labyrinth of dead ends, fantastical claims and the familiar face of Dr. Cyril Wecht, I present my personal and historiographical account of America’s stubborn obsession.

The provocative historian Garry Wills wrote “The Kennedy Imprisonment” in 1982, a damning and ruthless meditation on the whole clan, from Joseph the father on down. The title struck me as a perfect description of the tireless obsession so many have had for the Kennedy assassination and the conspiracy theories that once snared me.

I’m free now, though I was tempted to attend the recent International Symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, produced by the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It would have cost me $200 for the three days of conspiracy plots, autopsy photos and speculation presented by the usual suspects I know from writing about the assassination industry for so many years.

Wecht, the first independent expert to review JFK’s autopsy files, discovered that the president’s brain was missing. It now appears that what little was left was given to the victim’s family. Wecht also is among the chorus of voices to question the “single-bullet theory” conjured by the late Arlen Specter, the Warren Commission lawyer who went on to serve three decades in the U.S. Senate for Pennsylvania.

Two early critics of Specter’s argument -- Josiah Thompson and Mark Lane -- were on the symposium’s program. So was conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone, whose 1991 film “JFK” drew heavily on Wecht’s work and made a hero of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who launched his own investigation into the case.

I discussed the assassination with Stone in 1993, the 30th anniversary of the murder, after the aggressive author Gerald Posner wrote “Case Closed,” a withering dismissal of conspiracies and a powerful argument for the Warren Commission. Stone’s chief response was to grimace, conspiratorially.

Posner, accused a few years ago of plagiarism, was not on the symposium program. Also absent was Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles prosecutor involved in the Charles Manson case and author of “Reclaiming History,” a 2007 defense of the Warren Commission that ran to more than 1,000 pages in two volumes.

In reviewing that book for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Josiah Thompson complained that Bugliosi “highlights the evidence that furthers his case while ignoring or confusing contrary evidence.”

Thompson taught philosophy at Haverford College near Philadelphia after growing up in East Liverpool, Ohio, when it was a thriving dishware- and glass-manufacturing town. I once met him to talk about “Gumshoe,” his 1988 memoir about his metamorphosis from Philadelphia professor to San Francisco private eye, but we also discussed his first book, the 1967 “Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro-Study of the Kennedy Assassination.”

While working at Haverford in 1966, Thompson moonlighted as a researcher for Life magazine, giving him access to the short film of the assassination by Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas clothier. A few years earlier, Time-Life had bought the 8-mm film from Zapruder for $50,000 and had it developed in Dallas. In one of the many anomalies of the assassination, a media company, not law enforcement, owned a primary piece of evidence in a murder investigation.

Thompson watched it numerous times and drew startling conclusions about the Dealey Plaza aspects of the case: There were three shooters in the plaza because Oswald could not have fired three shots in the six seconds shown on the film, and Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally were struck by separate bullets, not Specter’s single one.

The book was a groundbreaker in the conspiracy business and paved the way for other works that followed. Ironically, a point he made in reviewing the Bugliosi book -- that most of the conspiracy theorists have no expertise in what they’re claiming about ballistics, science and medicine -- turned me against such theories.

The first mass-market hardcover to confront the Warren Commission report was “Rush to Judgment” by Mark Lane, a lawyer active in liberal causes and onetime New York legislator.

The 1966 work dissected the Warren findings with the authority of an experienced trial lawyer and the air of a legal brief for Oswald’s defense. It was a best seller, obscuring a handful of self-published or small-press products by a motley collection of authors such as Harold Weisberg and Sylvia Meagher, who not long after the Warren Commission report began finding flaws in the 26 volumes.

In 1991, I spent an afternoon listening to Lane promote “Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK?,” a sequel of sorts to his first book. The author was all business when it came to airing his case against the spy agency. (In 2011, he cast aside the question mark and published “Last Word: My Indictment of the CIA in the Murder of JFK.”)

The 1991 book grew out of Lane’s defense of a Liberty Lobby newspaper, The Spotlight, which had accused E. Howard Hunt -- of Watergate ignominy -- of involvement in the assassination.

Hunt sued for libel, but lost. He was a CIA operative involved in all sorts of undercover stuff related to the Bay of Pigs invasion and other operations. A photo of three men arrested near the assassination site that day -- “the three tramps” -- shows somebody who resembled Hunt.

After losing his wife Dorothy (who was carrying $10,000 in cash in a 1972 Chicago airplane crash) and serving jail time for his Watergate role, Hunt landed in Pittsburgh in the 1980s as the author of “Beautiful People,” a musical based on the Sunny von Bulow case with music written by a Pittsburgh woman.

Of course, it was my luck to interview Hunt at Rodef Shalom Congregation, where portions of the show were presented. It was a strange experience to be face to face with a man linked to so many controversial events. This slight, balding man looked at me with a bland expression that revealed nothing, but scared the hell out of me.

But that wasn’t the weirdest of my JFK-assassination encounters.

Assigned in 1993 to write about conspiracy theories in American history, I called conspiracy king Harold Weisberg at his home in Frederick, Md., and arranged a visit. His multivolume attack on the Warren Commission, “Whitewash,” was compiled in the 1960s after the former U.S. Senate investigator retired to raise chickens. His relentless pursuit of documents placed him among the pioneer naysayers of the Warren report.

He and his wife lived in a thickly wooded neighborhood in a small house with patches of mold. The swimming pool was filled with darkish water and leaves, yet the house was cheery and neat and the two were welcoming. Weisberg suffered from heart disease, so could not personally show me his life’s work -- a clean basement full of metal filing cabinets neatly cataloging more than 250,000 pages of assassination documents he had pried from the government. I opened a file on Oswald and read his report cards from a New Orleans grade school. What did these have to do with the greatest plot in history?

Our visit came a year after the Assassination Records Collection Act opened millions of pages on the event to researchers, a mountain of evidence perhaps too tall for the ailing Weisberg to attempt.

Weisberg said he permitted Posner -- “that skunk” -- to use those files to produce a book affirming Weisberg’s chief villain, the Warren Commission. Weisberg died in 2002 after giving his files to nearby Hood College.

Other notable figures included David Lifton, a guy who seemed to have nothing else to do but research the assassination. He published “Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” in 1980 with a major publisher that brought him a front-page review in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Lifton constructed an elaborate scenario in which the government killed JFK, then had the president’s body surgically altered to trick the autopsy doctors into finding he was shot from Oswald’s perch behind the limousine.

It was a creepy and, in the end, impossible fantasy defended with deadpan seriousness by Lifton in a brief interview in which he refused to elaborate on his elaborate scheme. Yet I stayed up most of the night reading it.

Henry Hurt, billed as an investigative reporter, is the author of “Reasonable Doubt.” Released in 1986, the book identifies one of the “plotters” who said he bailed out of his duties on Nov. 22 and ended up in a mental institution. I tracked Hurt down in rural Virginia to discuss his book, but he was curiously reticent. He published one other book -- not on the assassination -- and hasn’t been heard much of since.

Robert W. Edgar, a Methodist minister and former Pennsylvania congressman, was a member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations when it concluded in 1979 that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy consisting of unknown plotters. Edgar dissented from the committee’s report, which was based partly on a recording of sounds from the microphone of a motorcycle police officer in Dallas. That evidence has been questioned vigorously.

What broke the handcuffs of my Kennedy imprisonment was a brief nonfiction book that Thomas Mallon, a historical novelist, published in 2002. It’s called “Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy.”

Ruth Paine befriended Marina Oswald in 1963 and took her and her two small children into her suburban Dallas home while Oswald spent the week working at the Schoolbook Depository and passed weekends with the Paines. She helped Oswald get his job at the depository. Her account of those days offers a personal, human description of the Oswalds, their life in Texas and New Orleans, places the rifle in her garage and confirms that the photos of Oswald holding the rifle were genuine, not the fakes that doubters claim. (Also, for a sympathetic portrait of the Hunts, read Mallon’s latest work, “Watergate.”)

Josiah Thompson’s observation about the conspiracy theorists’ lack of expertise was also eye-opening. Most, like Bugliosi, are lawyers, while others are reporters, chicken farmers or just people with opinions. As for Thompson, his field of expertise is Soren Kierkegaard. It seems that 50 years after Kennedy died, we have a better chance of understanding that Danish philosopher than we do what happened on Nov. 22, 1963.

(Bob Hoover is the former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette books editor.)

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‘King of Cuba’ is surreally funny and beguiling

By ROBERT FRIEDMAN Hispanic Link News Service 

 

A funny thing happened on the way to the Bay of Pigs. The ill-fated U.S. invasion of Castro’s Cuba was turned into a musical.

El Comandante, who attends the restaging in celebration of his birthday, finds himself portrayed as a frog in fatigues, leading his fellow amphibians in a regaeton with hip-hop moves as they rout the invading mercenary pigs.

It happened in Cuban-American author Cristina Garcia’s surreally funny and beguiling latest novel, “King of Cuba.”

Two characters carry the plot: a fictional Fidel (in the novel he is referred to as El Comandante; the tyrant; El Lider; The Maximum Leader; and El Caballo) and Goyo Herrera, a Castro-hating Miami exile. Both are decrepit octogenarians recalling the Cuba that was and wasn’t, hating and obsessing and plotting and planning while counting the days left in their lives -- both so antagonistic in their politics, yet so alike in their egotism and in clinging to the macho essentials of their beings.

Through it all, Garcia makes these protagonists, with all their foibles, failures and self-aggrandizing, all too irresistibly human. They are the extremes of the Cuban dilemma, of a country’s and its people’s painful transition. Garcia crafts darkly humorous and fully alive portraits of those who are both shaping and are fervently caught up in the changes.

El Comandante believes there’s still time for history “to set the record straight, to put an end to the creeping amnesia of the glories of his revolution.” The revolution is not only getting a bad rap abroad but even the homefolks would rather watch “Gaucho Love,” the latest soap opera, than listen to another of El Lider’s hours-long talkathons.

But his speechifying was once so incredibly persuasive. El Lider recalls that in his prime he “could have persuaded Jesus Christ Himself off the cross and into armed revolt against His father!”

Meanwhile in Miami, Goyo Herrera feels that the real meaning to his life and full revenge for his losses -- from his real estate in Cuba to a young love stolen by El Comandante, to his father’s suicide and his brother’s death at the Bay of Pigs -- will be achieved only if he personally takes out the tyrant.

Garcia writes: “There was no one in the world (Goyo) loathed more, no one for whom he stoked a more bottomless fury, no one he unwaveringly blamed for invading, oppressing and misshaping his life than that fear-mongering, fatigues-wearing, egotistical brute who continued to call the shots from his deathbed overlooking the sea.

‘’His fixation with ending the tyrant’s life had begun to consume Goyo day and night.”

And so it goes, each old fogey’s frustrations and hates, and occasional loves, are played out, mostly in their minds. Their troubled and troubling “kids” -- Goyo’s whacked-out son, almost 60, addicted to cocaine, all kinds of pills and buttermilk doughnuts -- make appearances to harass their papas, and El Comandante’s charisma-lacking sibling Fernando shows up from time to time, flopping around in big brother’s leadership shoes.

The old guys’ complaining and moaning take up a lot of pages, but things pick up and the suspense builds when El Comandante goes to the United Nations to deliver a speech in order to receive his much-needed dose of hero worship, and a pistol-packing Goyo Herrera takes a seat in the General Assembly, behind the Trinidadian delegation, and ...

Earlier, in a visit El Comandante makes to his good friend Babo (read Gabo, for Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez), who is apparently on his death bed, he is told by the writer that “In the end, I want to leave behind something imagined, not simply recalled. ... Imagination frees us.”

Garcia has delved into her imagination to create the lies of fiction that lead a writer of her insight and skill to the truths of the human condition.

(Former Scripps journalist Robert Friedman is the author of three novels about Puerto Rico, “Under a Dark Sun,” ‘’Shadow of the Fathers” and “Caribbean Dreams.”)

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Pat Conroy writes about relationship with father

By Kim Curtis, Associated Press

 

“The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son” (Nan A. Talese), by Pat Conroy

Any fan of Pat Conroy’s work already knows a lot about his dad. The abusive, self-proclaimed “Great Santini” achieved added notoriety when he was portrayed by Robert Duvall in the movie bearing his nickname.

Even the most loyal reader may wonder what else Conroy could possibly have to say about the man, especially when they see his new memoir is a whopping 336 pages. Simply answered: a lot.

Conroy has the reflective ability that only comes with age. He has a deeper understanding of his father and the havoc he brought to his family.

“When I grew up, I found the word ‘father’ to be an obscenity. ... He bewildered his children by failing to know a single one of us,” he writes.

In “The Death of Santini,” Conroy examines not only his father, but also his much-loved mother and his siblings, including the brother who killed himself by jumping off the tallest building in Columbia, S.C., and his sister, a poet (he hasn’t spoken to her since their mother’s death in 1984).

But against the backdrop of ugliness and pain, Conroy also describes a certain kind of love, even forgiveness. He said he didn’t realize his father loved him until his younger brother killed himself.

“From that day forward, my long war against Dad came to an end. The Conroy children wiped the slate clean. I was coming up on my fiftieth birthday. It embarrassed me what a mess I’d made of my life, and casting stones at my own parents lacked the allure for me it once had in my fire-eating youth.”

Conroy kindly offers his readers occasional relief with hysterical tidbits like when the kids tried to explain to their grandmother that one of the Conroy girls was lesbian.

“Carol’s never been to Beirut.”

“What do you mean by that,” I said. “Who cares if you’ve been to Beirut or not?”

“Only people who’re from Lebanon can be real lesbians.”

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Book tracks Iranian-American family’s year in Iran

By Jessica Gresko, Associated Press

 

“The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran” (Doubleday), by Hooman Majd

Hooman Majd’s book about spending a year in Iran with his family arrives in bookstores just as Americans’ interest in the country may be picking up. In September, for the first time in more than three decades, the presidents of both countries spoke by phone. Now, renewed talks about Iran’s contested nuclear program are making news.

Majd, author of two other books about the country, couldn’t have known things would take such a turn when in 2011 he moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Tehran to introduce his wife and 8-month-old son to the country where he was born. Still, Majd understands more about Iran than most Westerners, who may just know about the Iran hostage crisis or have seen last year’s blockbuster “Argo.” Majd, in contrast, was born in Tehran in 1957. And while he spent his young life abroad, his family has strong ties to the country. Majd’s father was a diplomat. His maternal grandfather was an ayatollah. And he’s related by marriage to the family of Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005.

By the time Majd arrives in Iran for his family’s yearlong stay, however, Khatami is out and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in. Despite his government contacts, Majd isn’t allowed to work while in the country. And though he’s a journalist, he isn’t even supposed to write.

Setting up a life for himself and his family keeps him somewhat busy. He wants Internet access that gets him to censored sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as the New York Post, for example. And he finds suppliers for illegal staples: liquor and DVDs of foreign movies. Still, without a job to go to, it seems a lot of Majd’s year involves seeing friends and family and going to parties.

Daily life itself makes for decent reading. Readers learn that Iranian children don’t ride in car seats, riding instead on adults’ laps. Lipstick and nail polish are banned but women wear them anyway. A plate of greens is an obligatory part of dinner. Sanctions make using credit cards impossible, but debit cards are OK.

Interesting as his observations are, Majd’s book isn’t a broad look at life in Iran. The people and families he knows and interacts with are the ones with means, the kind whose wealth lets them skirt many of the restrictions that are part of living in the country. Another pitfall of the book is that sometimes Majd assumes readers know more about Iran than he should. He tries to weave history throughout, but he might be better off starting with something akin to Iran 101.

That said, Majd’s book is worth reading, if only because it’s easier than trying to travel to Iran for a visit.

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‘Mud Season’ is lighthearted, but flawed, memoir

By Kim Curtis, Associated Press

 

“Mud Season: How One Woman’s Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens, and Sheep & Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity after Another” (The Countryman Press), by Ellen Stimson

First, the good: Ellen Stimson is funny. Darned funny. And she knows how to spin a good, old-fashioned yarn. She’s telling her story of moving from the urban Midwest to rural Vermont to live out her dream of buying an old house and running the quintessential country store — and it’s amusing. She talks about the time she undressed in the wrong motel room, the time she called 911 because the two-lane highway was blocked by cattle, and the time she dumped a 2-gallon jug of red food coloring into a large pond to simulate a battle scene from “Treasure Island” and was yelled at by cops for starting an environmental disaster.

Stimson tells her tales with clear-eyed, self-deprecating humor, which makes “Mud Season” a breeze to read in a single sitting.

Despite the amusing anecdotes, Stimson’s first foray into writing books — in a previous life, she sold books — is more than a bit flawed. To call it a memoir is a stretch. Her collection of 11 “chapters” reads more like a haphazard collection of essays that would have better served her experience. Stimson should have hired a good editor. That person could have insisted on solid transitions between chapters and removing much of the repetition.

But things really fall apart near the end. Stimson has complained for more than 200 pages about how much money she’s spending and how the renovations to the house, the lack of sales at the store and everything else are bleeding her dry. She even flippantly considers bankruptcy after a good friend explains that she has a failed business and that’s why bankruptcy exists — it’s “part of the system,” he says. In the eleventh hour, Stimson is bailed out by a buyer and she and her family of five take off on vacation. What? They rent a cabin and a pontoon boat. They swim in Canadian waters, then stuff themselves on hot dogs and s’mores.

To top it off, she concludes the book with a collection of recipes — seemingly from out of nowhere — as well as obituaries for her lost pets. These tacked-on sections are sweet but have no place in this so-called memoir.

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