In the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing a few hand-picked new books in three different categories: nonfiction, fiction, and children’s. It’s gift-giving season, after all, and there are plenty of choices. Each bookseller at Island Books has their favorite new releases, and you can browse a broader selection of our current staff picks here. Before you arrive at the store, however, let me introduce you to some of my favorite new arrivals. We’ll kick off today’s post with some notable nonfiction.
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Yes, it’s 928 pages. But if you’re familiar with Goodwin’s work, you know that she’s going to give the complexity and scope of her subject its due. In this case, for the first decade of the 20th century, a short book just won’t cut it. Goodwin’s books are known for covering momentous events in American history through the eyes of great leaders. In The Bully Pulpit, Teddy Roosevelt and his chosen successor, William Taft, take center stage. The rupture of their relationship (culminating in the election of 1912, which Roosevelt won in a landslide after deciding to run against his protégé) had a tremendous ripple effect, both on the press—who stopped glossing over the news and became muckrakers during that time—and the public—who received their first glimpse into the behind-the-scenes politics, thanks to the press.
The surprise here is Taft, who Americans know little of beyond the fact that he was so fat he once got stuck in a White House bathtub. Readers will almost feel sorry for him.
A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley: Local author, Jeopardy champion, and former Amazon books editor Nissley has been busy reading and stashing trivia in his already-too-big brain for years, and lucky for us, he’s put all of it to good use in a remarkable literary calendar of sorts. Nissley recommends you begin A Reader’s Book of Days by looking up your birthday. I did so (mine is February 10th) and learned that on that day, E.L. Konigsburg was born, Laura Ingalls Wilder died, and three bestsellers—Domestic Manners of the Americans, True History of the Kelly Gang, and Just Kids—began brewing due to little-known and entertaining events that I won’t go into here. Nissley’s book is somewhat mind-boggling in it’s wealth of far-flung knowledge, and will easily dazzle any book lover. You can get a good sense of Tom’s charm on his blog.
Some good news for fans: Nissley will be at Island Books at 2pm on Small Business Saturday, November 30th, working as one of our staff and hand-selling some of his favorite titles. We’re looking forward to having him, and know our customers will enjoy a fresh face behind the counter! He might even be willing to sign a copy of his book…
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett: All indie bookstore employees, customers, and supporters love Ann Patchett simply for opening her own independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tennessee. But the place to know this incredibly special author and person in a one-on-one manner is within the pages of her books, and This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the book that will let you know her the best. This collection of essays, some republished from earlier points in her career and some written specifically for the book, covers far more than just her experience in marriage. From stories of her first freelance job working for Seventeen magazine (“[They] went a long way to beat any ego out of me”) to a vivid childhood memory of her father reading her a Christmas story over the phone (“…in the kind of explosion of understanding that happens sometimes in childhood, I got more and more…There was no gift that could have made me feel my father really knew me the way that story did”), nowhere is Patchett’s life more vivid. It’s not just the stories themselves that are so good, but her deep well of understanding and humanity which make the storytelling so arresting.
One theme that comes up again and again: Patchett always knew she wanted to be a writer. She reiterates that like a mantra across many of her essays. And whether Patchett realizes it or not, she’s indirectly telling us that yes, people can and do live their dream. This is not just the story of a happy marriage, it’s the story of a happy career, one we can all admire and emulate. Even better, we can reap the benefits of her generosity with the written word.