An “impulse toward treachery”

November 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

City BoyAt the tail end of the 1980s, shortly after I’d first arrived in New York, an earnest young grad student — straight and more or less straitlaced, all midwestern chirp — I took an administrative job at a midtown office in which the only other employees were two buff and beautiful gay men. AIDS was ravaging the city then. Classmates in my theater program were disappearing with heartbreaking regularity. It was a frightening, dangerous time. But there, in that office, gay New York seemed like one big, wild, raunchy, ridiculously fun party …

Review: “City Boy” by Edmund White (The Barnes & Noble Review)

It’s not just you

August 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Time and again, while reading Melanie Gideon’s sharply insightful “The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After,” I had the vaguely unsettling feeling that someone else had written the story of my own current life. No, it’s true, my husband is not prone to buying hulking, macho adventure vans on the Internet, as Gideon’s is, nor have I had to contend with the death of a beloved family dog or, to my knowledge, ever had Julia Child over to my home for dinner. But (I say, waving these plot points away with the back of my hand) these are mere technicalities. Gideon has cast a hook down through the amusing surface details of her own more-or-less happy modern middle-class family life and come up with deep truths about marriage, motherhood, aging, friendship and other things that occupy women who’ve confidently cruised past 40 — only to panic and weave as 50 looms large ahead …

Review: “The Slippery Year” by Melanie Gideon (The Barnes & Noble Review)

How America caught vodka fever

July 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Brunchtime Bloody Marys, cosmos with the girls, a post-work martini: Vodka-based drinks seem integral to the cocktail today, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, according to Linda Himelstein’s gimlet-eyed “The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire,” vodka wasn’t even seriously marketed in this country until the mid-1930s, when a Russian-American entrepreneur named Rudolph P. Kunett opened the first vodka factory in the United States, advertising his little-known product to Americans under the following slogan: “Creating a new vogue in cocktails … VODKA by Smirnoff.” How right Kunett was. In just a few decades, fueled by an aggressive Smirnoff marketing campaign that would eventually include James Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” endorsement, vodka would ascend to its current status as the nation’s top-selling liquor, and Smirnoff to its spot as the bestselling premium spirit in the world …

Review: “The King of Vodka” by Linda Himelstein (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Let’s hear it for 1959

July 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Those of us who weren’t yet born in 1959 might think of that year as being pretty much the same as any other. And for all I know, those of you who lived through it do, too. But in his new book, “1959: The Year Everything Changed,” Fred Kaplan, who writes Slate’s “War Stories” column, contends that it was “the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life, when humanity stepped into the cosmos and also commandeered the conception of human life, when the world shrank but the knowledge needed to thrive in it expanded exponentially … when everything was changing and everyone knew it — when the world as we now know it began to take form” …

In Brief: “1959: The Year Everything Changed” by Fred Kaplan (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Little boy lost

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

That polygamous Mormon sects can be, in reality, a lot more sinister and disturbing than, say, HBO’s soapy “Big Love” may not surprise you. But you may be alarmed to learn, from a young man who experienced it firsthand, just how horrifying life within the cloistered compounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was under leader Warren Jeffs. Those of us who remember the FLDS “president, prophet, seer, and revelator” from the TV coverage of his 2006 arrest can summon images of a gawky, bland-looking fellow being led around in handcuffs. “Lost Boy,” an unflinchingly honest, brave and riveting memoir by the FLDS leader’s nephew Brent W. Jeffs, will replace those relatively benign images with far more graphic ones …

In Brief: “Lost Boy” by Brent W. Jeffs (The Barnes and Noble Review)

Fearless flying

June 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Nowadays, when you’re standing on long, snaky lines, clutching your discount e-ticket and waiting to shuffle shoeless through airport security, it’s hard to remember that air travel was once a glamorous, exotic adventure enjoyed only by the well-dressed rich. While today we think of flying as something to be endured, when commercial air travel began less than a century ago, it was something to be enjoyed. In 1929, when Charles Lindbergh’s Transcontinental Air Transport offered the first air-rail passenger service across the country, you might have boarded a Ford Tri-Motor aircraft wearing your finest fur coat, been served an elaborate lunch on real china with gold-plated utensils, and watched sheep scatter across farmland through curtain-clad windows you could open for air …

In Brief: “Flying Across America” by Daniel L. Rust (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Growing up, letting go

June 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

You could call Emily Chenoweth’s “Hello Goodbye” a coming-of-age book. Abby, a young woman vacationing with her parents before her sophomore year in college, sheds her childhood innocence and stumbles into adulthood in this gentle, almost delicate story. But it’s also more than that. Seductive and sad as a late-summer breeze, this debut novel is an exploration of aging, of enduring friendships, of the complicated relationships between parent and child, and of love, old and new …

In Brief: “Hello Goodbye” by Emily Chenoweth (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Only when I laugh

May 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

Phil Camp, the crabby protagonist of Bill Scheft’s novel “Everything Hurts,” is a man in pain. “The pain had started nine months ago. Innocently enough. In his left gluteus,” writes Scheft, erstwhile head writer for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” “That’s right. Pain in the ass.” Phil, a divorced former sportswriter who has accidentally remade himself as a self-help guru, spends his days (and nights) lying on a wrestling mat in his sprawling Manhattan apartment, writing a popular syndicated newspaper column based on his bestselling book “Where Can I Stow My Baggage?” He rises from time to time to limp to doctors and therapists. Nothing helps — until a peculiar man in sandals hands him a dog-eared copy of “The Power of ‘Ow!’ How the Mind Gives the Body Pain,” by one Dr. Samuel Abrun …

In Brief: “Everything Hurts” by Bill Scheft (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Trump’s power is not in his hair

May 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

Donald Trump is all about unlikely success. His glittering urban towers, undulating golf courses, opulently outfitted wives (two former and one current, a fashion model), and prolonged reality TV moment serve as ongoing evidence that his boundless self-confidence can turn seemingly impossible dreams into reality. Now, with his new book “Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life,” written with Meredith McIver, the real estate tycoon and TV star generously fills us in on the secrets of his success — and explains how we, too, can prevail in our career endeavors …

Review: “Think Like a Champion” by Donald Trump (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Curiously strong survival tips

May 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

Say you’re going on a wilderness expedition and can take with you only what will fit into one compact Altoids tin: What would you take? That’s just one of many thought-provoking survival questions addressed by Richard Wiese in his new book, “Born to Explore: How to Be a Backyard Adventurer.” Wiese, who has served as the Explorers Club’s youngest president and hosted a syndicated TV show, also fills in readers on how to: build their own canoe; start a fire without a match; make an igloo; cook “Road Kill Stew” (no, that’s not a euphemism); survive a moose attack; bake bread in a plastic bag; catch fish with a Coke bottle; chop down a tree; fashion a compass out of a sewing needle, a magnet, and a glass of water; and, well, a host of other useful things to know …

In Brief: “Born to Explore” by Richard Wiese (The Barnes & Noble Review)

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