By Marcia Allen, Collection Development, Manhattan Public Library
With summer activities but a memory, and colder weather looming in the near future, it’s time to return to indoor activities. Fortunately for us, these changes coincide with the release of new fall book titles. And this season’s releases offer some intriguing topics that just might attract you. Consider the following:
- The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. This lengthy book received a lot of advance attention, primarily because of the tremendous success of Schiff’s 2011 nonfiction bestseller, Cleopatra, as well as her 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, This time, Schiff recounts that shameful period of American history known as the Salem Witch Trials. She opens the book with a reminder that in the year 1692, nineteen people were hanged in the little town of Salem, after their accusers testified to a series of horrendous deeds they suffered at the hands of those they accused. A list and description of the major characters involved in this tragedy helps us to better understand the nature of this frenzy. Schiff’s telling is dramatic, and though we know how the story plays out, the book is a worthy reminder about human behavior at its worst.
- Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown. This book is about the Lewis chessmen of the Scottish National Museum and the British Museum which are considered rare treasures indeed, but the book is more of a whole cultural experience. The 12th century, during which the chessmen were created by the talented Margret the Adroit of Iceland, is displayed in all its colorful history. Curious readers will discover the extent to which the Vikings controlled the North Atlantic. They will learn of the hunt for coveted walrus ivory. They will explore the culture of Norse society. Each chapter opens with a reference to a particular chess piece, but it soon veers off into tales of contemporary nobility and war, the creation of art, the written tales, and so much more. There’s a bit of everything in this wonderful tale.
- Fortunate Son by John Fogarty. This is one of many autobiographies written by entertainers to come out this season, but it’s also one of the better ones. Well known for his role in Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogarty tells of his early admiration for musicians like Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs, and he recalls the band’s memorable performances, like their arrival at Woodstock. He shares his naïve dealings with his first agent, and he describes the motivation behind so many of his hit songs, like his intent with “Run through the Jungle.” He speaks well of his successes, but he also recounts the poor choices that he made, thus we discover the humble storyteller that he is.
by Mary Beard. At over 600 pages in length, this history of ancient Rome seems intimidating, but Cambridge professor Beard brings an amazing period back to life. Her goal? Of course, she tells the story of the growth of a powerful empire, but she also works to dispel the Roman myths we have all come to accept as truth. She tells us, for example, that Rome was not some inferior copier of Greek culture; in fact, Rome was a nation of inventive people fascinated with structural engineering. We learn in these pages more than history ever previously revealed about Roman perception and Roman thinking. Recent discoveries in literature and in excavation have given us a truer picture of those who lived so many centuries ago. Think of Beard as a lively guide, displaying for us a lost age.
- The Art of Grace by Sarah L. Kaufman. What a lovely book! As author Kaufman says, “Grace is being at ease with the world, even when life tosses wine down your pants.” Her book is a collection of the characters and the anecdotes which speak to her of the true nature of grace.
Roger Federer, says the author, exhibits grace in beautiful movement on the court. Margaret Thatcher exhibited grace for her bearing and her attention to her appearance even when facing the House of Commons. Ballerina Margot Fonteyn demonstrated grace in her poise and obvious joy in dance. At the heart of grace is ease, says Kaufman, a talent that one can attain through a practical consideration of her ten helpful points. A lively look at an admirable characteristic.
With all the readily available new titles that this season offers, we can shift comfortably into the confines of winter. An armchair adventures awaits.