Author

Suzanne Ruta

Jimmy Santiago Baca was 22, and serving a five-year sentence on drug charges at an Arizona maximum-security prison, when he taught himself to read and write. The dictionary was a revelation, a lifesaver. He ”got so overwhelmed by all the word choices that I had to confine myself to describing the dungeon windows embedded with chicken wire.” This raw, vigorous memoir skips his later career as a poet and screenwriter and homes in on his difficult beginnings – the orphanage, the streets, prison violence.

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Rose’s entertaining tract surveys the Cold War debate on the survivability of thermonuclear war, adducing provocative quotes from the press, movies, novels, and TV series of the 1950s. One late-’50s civil defense bureaucrat swore that ditches covered with tar paper would suffice to protect the citizenry from radioactive fallout. Religious leaders pondered the morality of backyard fallout shelters: Should you let the neighbors in, or shoot them on sight? Until 1992, Congress had its own top secret shelter (members only, families excluded) in West Virginia.

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Editor's Choice

Count Antoine De Saint-Exupery, celebrated French pilot and author (Night Flight), vanished along with his plane during a reconnaissance mission over southern France in 1944. The next year his widow, Consuelo, the bewitching daughter of a Salvadoran coffee planter, poured her grief into The Tale of the Rose (Random House, $24.95), a poetic memoir of their tempestuous marriage. But her discretion led her to suppress the work (it was first published in France last year, two decades after her death).

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Consuelo De Saint-Exupery, The Tale of the Rose

Count Antoine de Saint Exupéry, celebrated French pilot and author (”Night Flight”), vanished along with his plane during a reconnaissance mission over southern France in 1944. The next year his widow, Consuelo, the bewitching daughter of a Salvadoran coffee planter, poured her grief into The Tale of the Rose, a poetic memoir of their tempestuous marriage. But her discretion led her to suppress the work (it was first published in France last year, two decades after her death).

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While filling the Thursday-morning slot at New York City’s funky, freewheeling WBAI-FM 20 years ago, Feder invented a new genre – confessional talk radio. Live and unrehearsed, he spilled out breathless, lengthy tragicomic monologues about his wretched ”blitzkrieg childhood” (suicidal mother, absentee father), failed marriage, money woes, and time spent in a mental ward with depression. Though this memoir strives for middle-aged wisdom, spiritual uplift isn’t Feder’s shtick. His gift is for mimicry, irony, and scathing portraits of his closest friends.

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The myriad culture clashes of modern India — holy Ganges water in a Superman thermos, Sanskrit prayers and lip-synching contests — are served up with a light touch in Akhil Sharma’s funny, subtle first novel, An Obedient Father. Fat, slovenly, lachrymose Ram Karan, an unlikely hero to be sure, is a corrupt politician who extorts bribes for India’s flagging Congress party. He’s also a self-indulgent sensualist who raped his teenage daughter.

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Akhil Sharma, An Obedient Father

The myriad culture clashes of modern India – holy Ganges water in a Superman thermos, Sanskrit prayers and lip synching contests – are served up with a light touch in Akhil Sharma’s funny, subtle first novel, An Obedient Father. Fat, slovenly, lachrymose Ram Karan, an unlikely hero to be sure, is a corrupt politician who extorts bribes for India’s flagging Congress party. He’s also a self-indulgent sensualist who raped his teenage daughter.

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The bio The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst debunks some long-standing myths about America’s first media tycoon. Yes, Hearst sent painter Frederic Remington to Cuba with the instructions ”You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war,” but Hearst’s raucous press campaign was by no means the cause of an inevitable war with Spain. Nor was Hearst the vain proto-fascist Orson Welles suggested in Citizen Kane.

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A century of British rule has left Ceylon’s upper classes so steeped in Anglophilia that by 1927 — the year in which Cinnamon Gardens is set — they no longer live their own lives but become entangled in intrigues borrowed from Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. A hapless mother frets over three marriage-ready daughters. A cruel father threatens his gay son’s lover. The gifted author (Funny Boy), now living outside his native Sri Lanka, crams this book with period decors, costumes, political debates, and geography lessons.

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