by Campbell Geeslin
“There are many pitfalls to writing a memoir about a bar,” Rebecca Barry wrote in The New York Times Book Review this weekend. “There’s predictability. There’s the temptation to glorify the atmosphere, or over-romanticize the drink or the salt-of-the-earthiness of the patrons. There’s the idea that everything about drinks and drinking has already been written perfectly by [Charles] Bukowski, so forget it.”
Barry is the author of Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories. The quote is from her review of Tim Sultan’s Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World—which she judged to be more than up to snuff.
RECOMMENDATION: Darryl Pinckney is the author of Black Deutschland. Pinckney was asked in a Times interview: “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?” Pinckney replied: “I wouldn’t dare, our president is so well read. But any U.S. President [should read] the speeches of Abraham Lincoln.”
BOUNTY: Twenty-seven years ago, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, Iran's supreme leader at the time, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, whose The Satanic Verses (1988) Khomeini judged blasphemous and insulting to Muslims. The call for Rushdie's assassination was followed by an offer of a $2.7 million bounty to whoever carried it out from a group called the 15 Khordad Foundation, which Khomenei founded shortly after the 1979 revolution.
Last week, the Times and other sources reported, the Iranian news agency Fars announced that the bounty had been upped to almost $4 million thanks to contributions from “40 news outlets listed by Fars, which said that it had contributed $30,000.”
THREE ELEMENTS: The one-word title alone was probably enough to send the book onto the bestseller list. Science writer Jo Marchant called her most recent book Cure. Then she provided a subtitle: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body.
She was quoted in The Guardian: “There are three components to the perfect science story. The first is the intellectual leap or excitement that a particular piece of research brings. Second, the practical implications—how will this research change our lives? The third is the human story--for example a race between two feuding teams, a reclusive mathematician who makes a breakthrough (or doesn’t) after working for years in his attic, or a baby saved by a new transplant technique.”
ABOUT WOMEN: What do men think about women? Alexandra Bracken, the 28-year-old author of the Darkest Minds series, provides one answer in her best-selling Passenger. The book is about a young violinist who is thrown back in time and finds herself fighting for survival at the start of the American Revolution.
In the book, the first in Bracken's new young adult series, one of the female characters spells out to Etta, the heroine, what men think: “Society is always the same, regardless of the era. There are rules and standards…with seemingly no purpose. It’s a hateful, elaborate charade, equal parts flirtation and perceived naïveté. To men we have the minds of children.”
CHOICE?: Investigative journalist Jane Mayer’s words usually turn up in The New Yorker, and her latest book, Dark Money, is a bestseller. Last week, she was interviewed by Rolling Stone about the effect of money on the current campaigns for the presidency.
“Donald Trump is a billionaire running as a billionaire," she said. "And so on the Republican side, you have a choice between the billionaire who owns himself, and the candidates who are owned by the other billionaires. It’s a somewhat oligarchic choice.”
LEGACY: Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 35. He worked at Stanford Hospital, in Palo Alto, California. His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, was the Times’ No. 1 nonfiction bestseller last week.
Kalanithi was the father of an infant daughter, and he included a message for her to read some day in his book: “When you come to one of those moments in life when you must give an account of yourself . . . do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days in a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
He died last year at the age of 37.