It's quite hard to even GET info for what books are coming out each week, which makes doing a sample pick kind of bizarrely hard to do.
But here's February 22. These are not necessarily my top picks because I don't really have access to all the books coming out that week. So it's just an example of how it would work, not a genuine pick for that week. Also, of course, this has no resemblance to the layout. All you're getting here are the covers followed by the text that would go with them.
FEBRUARY 22, 2011
THE TOP PICKS OF THE WEEK
WEST OF HERE BY JONATHAN EVISON
496 pages; Algonquin
Our decree: Author James Evison made a name for himself with his debut novel All About Lulu. Now he leaps into the front ranks with this meaty historical epic that jumps back and forth from the late 1800s to 2006. At the heart of the tale is a dam west of Seattle: in one half of the book settlers build the dam to help their world flourish; in the other half people eagerly await its demolition. The canvas is vast -- covering everything from brothels and indigenous Americans (the luckless Klallam) to an ex-con and a drudge in a fish processing factory obsessed with Bigfoot -- and Evison looks up to the task. Could be one of the break-outs of the year.
From the publisher: Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, on Washington State’s rugged Pacific coast, West of Here is propelled by a story that both re-creates and celebrates the American experience—it is storytelling on the grandest scale. With one segment of the narrative focused on the town’s founders circa 1890 and another showing the lives of their descendants in 2006, the novel develops as a kind of conversation between two epochs, one rushing blindly toward the future and the other struggling to undo the damage of the past.
An exposition on the effects of time, on how something said or done in one generation keeps echoing through all the years that follow, and how mistakes keep happening and people keep on trying to be strong and brave and, most important, just and right, West of Here harks back to the work of such masters of Americana as Bret Harte, Edna Ferber, and Larry McMurtry, writers whose fiction turned history into myth and myth into a nation’s shared experience. It is a bold novel by a writer destined to become a major force in American literature.
About the author: Jonathan Evison is the author of All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. He lives on an island in Western Washington.
FINAL JEOPARDY: MAN VS MACHINE AND THE QUEST TO KNOW EVERYTHING BY STEPHEN BAKER
288 pages; Houghton Mifflin
Our decree: Hot on the heels of the game show face off on Jeopardy between two past (human) champs and Watson (the computer upstart) comes this highly entertaining look at the IBM team focused on developing a computer program that is more human than human. In the spirit of Tracy Kidder's The Soul of A New Machine, this isn't just a dry look at the state of the art in the digital realm but a fascinating look at the personalities involved and thought-provoking insights into what it means to be human. One amusing highlight is an annual contest between humans and computers where the author finds himself determined to convince online judges that he really is human and not just a simulation. Happily, Baker is crowned the Most Human Human at that event (beating out three other flesh and blood competitors for the honor). He brings the same humanity to create a very enjoyable look at artificial intelligence leavened with genuine intelligence and charm.
From the publisher: What if there were a computer that could answer virtually any question? IBM engineers are developing such a machine, teaching it to compete on the quiz show Jeopardy. Early next year, it will face off in a nationally televised match against two of the game’s greatest all-time winners, possibly including Ken Jennings. Stephen Baker’s Final Jeopardy carries readers on a captivating journey from the IBM labs to the showdown in Hollywood. The story features brilliant Ph.D.s, Hollywood moguls, knowledge-obsessed Jeopardy masters — and a very special collection of silicon and circuitry named Watson. It is a classic match of Man vs. Machine, not seen since Deep Blue bested chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. But Watson will need to do more than churn through chess moves or find a relevant web page. It will have to understand language, including puns and irony, and master everything from history and literature to science, arts, and entertainment. At its heart, Final Jeopardy is about the future of knowledge. What can we teach machines? What will Watson’s heirs be capable of in ten or twenty years? And where does that leave humans? What will we need to know? As fast and fun as the game itself, Final Jeopardy shows how smart machines will fit into our world — and how they’ll disrupt it.
TOWNIE: A MEMOIR BY ANDRE DUBUS III
400 pages; WW Norton & Company
Our decree: Some writers turn to brawling and boxing to prove they're real men despite a penchant for literary doings. Think Hemingway and Mailer. Others -- like Andre Dubus III - turn to writing because violence threatens to overwhelm them and they know real men don't need to draw blood. So, the best-selling author of the acclaimed novel House Of Sand And Fog turns to the memoir with two-fisted delight. Dubus details how his father and fellow writer left the family in near poverty. Dubus reacted not by diving into books but diving into fights, keeping his honor intact and his anger razor sharp with brutal brawls all throughout his teenage years in a small Massachusetts mill town. Already garnering great advance reviews.
From the publisher: An acclaimed novelist reflects on his violent past and a lifestyle that threatened to destroy him—until he was saved by writing. After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and crime. To protect himself and those he loved from street violence, Andre learned to use his fists so well that he was even scared of himself. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds couldn’t have been more stark—or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father. Only by becoming a writer himself could Andre begin to bridge the abyss and save himself. His memoir is a riveting, visceral, profound meditation on physical violence and the failures and triumphs of love.
About the author: Andre Dubus III is the author of Townie, The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog (an Oprah Book Club pick and a finalist for the National Book Award). He lives with his family north of Boston.
BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2011
e-book not available
600 pages; Wiley
Our decree: Fantasy baseball fans have found this annual stats-fest an indispensable part of their draft strategy. This is the 16th edition of Baseball Prospectus and if the name Bill James makes you as starry-eyed as Cal Ripken, Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe then you already want it. Their branded PECOTA system -- which projects a player's stats for the coming season -- is the niftiest spin on slicing and dicing statistics. But it also includes fresh essays on every team and analysis of the managers, players and prospects. Play (fantasy) ball? Not without this.
From the Publisher: The bestselling annual baseball preview from the smartest analysts in the business. The essential guide to the 2011 baseball season is on deck now, and whether you're a fan or fantasy player—or both—you won't be properly informed without it. Baseball Prospectus 2011 brings together an elite group of analysts to provide the definitive look at the upcoming season in critical essays and commentary on the thirty teams, their managers, and more than sixty players and prospects from each team.
TREACHERY IN DEATH BY JD ROBB
Our decree: It's easy to take the prolific Nora Roberts for granted. She's never suffered from writer's block -- if anything, she suffers from writer's blockbuster, an ability to churn out so many bestsellers that no one has a chance to get a handle on her talent. Stephen King had the same problem for many years. Roberts may never equal his critical acclaim but her mash-up of romance and mystery via the "In Death" series is clever and this entry is receiving some of the best buzz in ages.
From the publisher: Detective Eve Dallas and her partner, Peabody, are following up on a senseless crime-an elderly grocery owner killed by three stoned punks for nothing more than kicks and snacks. This is Peabody's first case as primary detective-good thing she learned from the master. But Peabody soon stumbles upon a trickier situation. After a hard workout, she's all alone in the locker room when the gym door clatters open; and-while hiding inside a shower stall trying not to make a sound-she overhears two fellow officers, Garnet and Oberman, arguing. It doesn't take long to realize they're both crooked-guilty not just of corruption but of murder. Now Peabody, Eve, and Eve's husband, Roarke, are trying to get the hard evidence they need to bring the dirty cops down-knowing all the while that the two are willing to kill to keep their secret.
About the author: The In Death books are perpetual bestsellers, and frequently share the bestseller list with other Nora Roberts novels. J. D. Robb publishes two hardcover In Death books per year, with the occasional stand-alone original In Death story featured in an anthology. Thirty books and fifteen years later, there is no end in sight for the ever-popular In Death series.
AND I SHALL HAVE SOME PEACE THERE BY MARGARET ROACH
272 pages; Grand Central Publishing
Our decree: Margaret Roach is well known for her acclaimed books on gardening as well as her work with Martha Stewart in many capacities. A Way To Garden alone made her name among the green-thumbed set. But Roach decided the endless whirl of responsibility was not a good thing and gave it all up. She retreated to upstate New York, turning her weekend getaway into her permanent home. This is the memoir of her first year there, a loose-limbed meander through daily trials and tribulations both with nature and her neighbors and herself.
From the book (an excerpt): "I was a 'big success,' people told me, but the secret I never spoke in reply or anytime was my belief that I had long ago given up on me—the one whom others, in equations of family, love, and work, relied upon—choosing the easy route over a path toward things they don’t necessarily pay you or pat you on the back for….
"If I was so successful, I wanted to say back to my best friend and my accountant and the guy who cuts my hair and everyone else lovingly offering praise all those years, then why had I pushpinned a cryptic note to myself on the kitchen wall, a plaintive shorthand list called ‘Tolerances,’ as in, how much can you tolerate of what for how long? Why were all my years-old diaries aching with phrases like the hit-by-car feelings of my workday and Where is my creativity? and that clincher, Who or what am I waiting for?"
About the author: Margaret Roach is the former garden editor of Newsday newspaper, and her 30-plus-year former career also included an editing stint at the New York Times. Today Roach lecture and teach about what she call "horticultural how-to and woo-woo," and help clients create websites on the WordPress platform. She can be found online at awaytogarden.com, the gardening blog called the best of the bunch by the New York Times.
NEMESIS BY MARK MILLAR (AUTHOR) AND STEVE MCNIVEN (ILLUSTRATIONS)
$19.99 hardcover 112 pages; Marvel
Our decree: The first four issues in the Nemesis comic book series are brought together in this single volume. Mark Millar alone should be enough to draw you in: he's the creator of Civil War (a defining Marvel miniseries), not to mention hot properties like Wanted (turned into a so-so film starring Angelina Jolie) and Kick-Ass (turned into a hyper-violent and very funny movie co-starring Nicolas Cage). In this series, he's scrubbed the world clean of super heroes and super villains -- except for one, Nemesis, a Batman-like baddie who goes one on one against the world's greatest cop. For those who want to stay on top of the best in comics without trooping to their local store every week, this is a must have.
From the publisher: CIVIL WAR? Nothing. KICK-ASS? A warmup. What if the smartest, toughest costumed bad ass in the world was totally evil? Meet Nemesis. He's systematically been destroying the lives of every police chief in Asia, and he's now set his sights on Washington, DC. Between you and me, the police don't have a chance. Do not miss the book that EVERYONE will be talking about by the creative team that made CIVIL WAR the biggest book of the decade.
About the author: Mark Millar is one of comics' most commercially successful writers, his work includes Kick-Ass, Wanted, Nemesis and the bestselling Civil War and The Ultimates. Steve McNiven, Canadian comic book artist, gained his fame working on Marvel Knights 4, Ultimate Secret and New Avengers. Nemesis is his 3rd team-up with Mark Millar.
MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT BY STEVEN BINGEN ET AL
$34.95 hardcover 312 pages; Santa Monica Press
Our decree: If you just want an offbeat coffee-table book about Hollywood, this focus on MGM's backlot is ideal. But if you're a genuine movie buff and want some substance along with your photos, the text by Steven Bingen et al is absorbing. They cover MGM's backlot -- a world unto itself -- seemingly block by block, uncovering fascinating detail and bringing a fresh perspective on the art of moviemaking. Catnip for casual fans of Hollywood's glory days.
From the publisher: Going behind the scenes at one of Hollywood’s greatest movie studios, this extraordinary history reveals the untold story of the soundstages and outdoor sets where many of the world’s greatest films were produced. Featuring candid, previously unpublished photographs from the studio’s archives and exclusive interviews with actors and staff, this detailed exploration of MGM’s backlot—the setting for more than a fifth of the films produced prior to 1980—takes film buffs back to Hollywood’s golden age, offering an insider’s look at the movie business and celebrating many of its best films and the leading actors of the studio system. Today, when a film set can be anywhere at anytime, this treasure trove of information reveals the creativity and ingenuity of a bygone era when the studio system, coping with the limitations of space and technology, produced screen gems such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and the Our Gang shorts.
21 DAY WEIGHT-LOSS KICKSTART BY NEAL D. BARNARD MD
$25.99 hardcover $12.99 ebook 368 pages; Grand Central Life & Style
Our decree: Dr. Barnard continues his vegan proselytizing with this approach to a whole new life. No dieting as such: just smart cooking done at home with delicious fresh ingredients. Frankly, almost any lifestyle change that involves cooking with fresh ingredients (vegan or no) will dramatically improve your health versus feasting on processed foods and take-out. But Barnard -- seen on PBS regularly -- certainly makes the vegan life look tasty. With loads of celebrity and medical endorsements, he's certain to win over a few converts. Even if, like us, you enjoy a good steak, much in here can be savored.
From the publisher: For years, Dr. Neal D. Barnard has been at the forefront of cutting-edge research on what it really takes to lose weight and restore the body to optimal health. Now, with his proven, successful program, in just three short weeks you'll get fast results -- drop pounds, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improve blood sugar, and more. With Dr. Barnard's advice on how to easily start a plant-based diet, you'll learn the secrets to reprogramming your body quickly.
About the author: Neal Barnard, MD is a clinical researcher, author, and health advocate. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and president of the nonprofit Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has been the principal investigator or coinvestigator on several clinical trials investigating the effects of diet on health. He is the author of several books and a frequent lecturer.
GEORGE CONDO: MENTAL STATES
168pages; Hayward Publishing
Our decree: A long overdue career retrospective of the provocative painter, sculptor and artist who has popped up everywhere from Andy Warhol's Factory to the world of Basquiat and Keith Haring and multiple Biennials to album covers for Kanye West and Phish.
From the publisher: Painter and sculptor George Condo (born 1957) has inhabited a broad swath of cultural contexts over his three-decade career, from the early-1980s East Village scene to a collaboration with William Burroughs to making album cover art for Phish and, most recently, Kanye West. Early in his career, Condo was friendly with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and briefly worked at Andy Warhol's Factory. Having been included in the Whitney Biennial in 1987, by 2010 he was once again judged so original that a bronze sculpture of his was placed in that year's Biennial. Condo's loose, imaginative approach to portraiture has distinguished him throughout the decades: "There was a time when I realized that the central focal point of portraiture did not have to be representational in any way," he said in 1992. "You don't need to paint the body to show the truth about a character. All you need is the head and the hands." George Condo: Mental States surveys the artist's career from 1982 to the present day, focusing on his portrait paintings but also including a selection of sculptural busts made in materials such as gold and bronze. Organized by theme, and including 100 images of artworks in addition to writings by Will Self, David Means, Ralph Rugoff and Laura Hoptman, this volume explores Condo's relationship to art history, popular culture and contemporary society.
About the author: Ralph Rugoff is Director of the Hayward Gallery, London. Laura Hoptman is Senior Curator at the New Museum, New York. Will Self is a British writer whose books include My Idea of Fun (1993), Great Apes (1997), How the Dead Live (2000) and The Book of Dave (2007). David Means is an American writer, author of the short story collections Assorted Fire Events: Stories (2003) and The Secret Goldfish (2004).