Man’s indomitable need for adventure is the only thing more impressive than the awesome power of nature and the brilliance of technology described in this lovingly rendered retelling of one of the most remarkable events ever to occur inside the Grand Canyon.
In 1983, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a confluence of unlikely events provided three unique characters with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the fastest to ever race through that singular marvel in a rowboat. How these quirky “dory men” were able to surmount every obstacle thrown in their way and actually attempt this remarkable undertaking is breathtaking enough. But theirs is not the only tale being told. This is the story of the Grand Canyon itself, harkening all the way back to the days when a band of befuddled Conquistadors first stumbled upon its rim and failed to grasp its magnitude. It is also the story of the Glen Canyon Dam, that Herculean feat of human ingenuity that was constructed with the staggering imperative to harness the power of the Colorado River. Former Time staff writer Fedarko’s extensive knowledge of both, coupled with his powers of description, are almost as impressive. Powerful and poetic passages put readers inside the adventurers’ boats, even if they have only ever imagined the Grand Canyon or seen it in pictures. “Every mile or so, the walls opened and gave way to yet another side canyon filled with secret springs and waterfalls,” he writes. “The air was alive with pink-and-lavender dragonflies that paused, twitchingly, on the shafts of their suspended oars.” Each piece of the extensive back story is assembled as lyrically as the epoch-spanning walls of the canyon itself and as assuredly as the soaring concrete face of its dams.
An epic-sized true-life adventure tale that appeals to both the heart and the head.
The juicy, entertaining and informative behind-the-scenes story of a great American sitcom that left a lasting influence on popular TV.
In this delicious history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, former Entertainment Weekly writer Armstrong (Why? Because We Still Like You: An Oral History of the Mickey Mouse Club, 2010) seems to have had the cooperation of just about everyone involved in the show’s making, and the results are riveting. Starting at the very beginning, she shows how this particular phenomenon was the result of a lot of elements coming together at the same time: a popular star, a creative team with a then-daring idea of a show about an independent woman, and, contrary to the fears of network bosses, a receptive viewership. Armstrong traces the evolution of the show, properly focusing on the creative team of James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, who knew exactly the character they wanted, what kind of comic tone they wanted to set, and were smart enough to hire great women writers who used their own lives and experiences to shape the world of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morganstern. Armstrong reveals how much of the show’s success had to do with unpredictable factors—e.g., a casting agent who happened to see Valerie Harper on stage and suddenly thought, “That’s our Rhoda." The author also gives great inside detail on all the major players in front of the camera, from the insecurities of actor Ted Knight, to the friction between Gavin MacLeod and Cloris Leachman, to a married and somewhat conservative star who wasn’t all that inclined to consider herself liberated.
For any fan of the show or TV history in general, this book is pure pleasure.
In the tradition of football’s Friday Night Lights, a young writer spends a year (and more) following the fortunes of a baseball team: the Class A Clinton, Iowa, LumberKings.
In this impressive debut, University of Iowa writer-in-residence Mann has a busy agenda. He writes frequently about his own doubts, insecurities (he was not much older than his subjects) and failures (in sports, in barrooms). Swimming just below the surface is the dark story of the death of his brother, whose presence emerges periodically to whisper messages of mortality and disappointment. Mann discovered and immersed himself in a group of loyal fans—most notably, an obsessive collector named Joyce, who has nearly 1,000 signed baseballs on display in her home. (She also deals at the local casino.) The author had an uneasy relationship with the players, who came and went (and in one case, came back) during the season. He was among them but not often with them. Mann drank with them and observed the young women flirting with them but not with him. A couple of players, however, did open up a bit—though always on their terms. One night, he dressed up in the LumberKing mascot’s costume and sweat through an odd evening. He drove around the area, looking at the virtually deserted old downtown—the collapse of Middle America and the middle class clearly in his sights. Mann writes about the corn economy, the odorous presence of food-processing giant Archer Daniels Midland, the dilapidated houses and the Mississippi River, which flows nearby. The author provides few pitch-by-pitch accounts but plenty of piquant moments of success, failure, consequence and inconsequence. He tells about other trips (Venezuela, for one) to check out the back stories of some players. Mann’s style is easy, fluid, self-deprecating and always engaging.
The long, passionate journey of the University of Washington rowing team to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The nine young Americans (including coxswain Bob Moch) who made up the team in the Husky Clipper that would eventually edge to victory by six-tenths of a second ahead of the Italians in the Olympics emerged from the harsh realities of the Depression, as Brown (The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, 2009, etc.) delineates in this thorough study of the early rowing scene. The journey of one young rower, Joe Rantz, forms the emotional center of the narrative. A tall, strapping country boy who had largely been fending for himself in Sequim, Wash., in 1933, he got a shot as a freshman at making the prestigious crew team at UW, which was led by freshman coach Tom Bolles and head coach Al Ulbrickson. Many strands converge in the narrative, culminating in a rich work of research, from the back story involving the creation of UW’s rowing program to the massive planning and implementation of the Berlin Olympics by Hitler’s engineer Werner March, specifically the crew venue at the Langer See. The UW team honed its power and finesse in the lead-up seasons by racing against its nemesis, the University of California at Berkeley, as well as in East Coast regattas. Despite the threat of an American boycott, the Berlin Olympics were carefully orchestrated by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and filmed by Leni Riefenstahl to show the world the terrifying images of Aryan “purity” and Nazi supremacy. Yet for these American boys, it was an amazing dream.
A touching, fairly uncomplicated portrayal of rowing legends.
An exposé of Nashville’s revolutionary musical period in the late 1960s, when it was overtaken by the renegades of song.
Told through the lens of three of the most genre-defying voices to hit country music since its inception—Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson—author and documentary producer Streissguth (Communications and Film Studies/Le Moyne Coll.; Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music, 2010, etc.) delivers an intense account of Nashville’s musical evolution, when artists, particularly Jennings, Nelson, Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, increasingly became “servants of the songs, who chased the music the way it sounded in their heads.” The author educates fans and insiders by delving into the disarming reality of these notorious superstars, delivering anecdotes of performances, drugs and misfortune. At times, the exhausting ego-driven accounts of the musicians’ careers can be a tad much, but they do not undermine Streissguth’s well-orchestrated narrative. Perhaps the most critical truth is the fact that although these men were brilliant, they had to work constantly and consistently to make it in Nashville. “Kris recalls artists who had big hits with his songs urging him to quit Hollywood,” writes the author. “The implication, of course, was that his well had run dry.…‘It was as if I was spending so much creative energy on the wrong thing, performing and movies, that my songwriting was suffering.’ ” However painful their careers might have been at this time, the impact they still hold within the industry is awe-inspiring.
A biting, in-depth chronicle of Nashville’s most tumultuous era told through the voices of iconic artists who used their music to accomplish significant changes in the music industry.
The acclaimed travel writer and novelist chronicles his journey through Africa as tourist, adventure-seeker, thinker and hopeful critic.
Theroux (The Lower River, 2012, etc.) is the purest kind of travel writer; he offers no tips, no hotels gems or restaurant recommendations, and very few grand, clichéd this-is-what-my-journey-taught-me-about-myself moments. Instead, the author dissects a place and its inhabitants, luxuriating in its history and confronting its present reality. In what he terms his “ultimate African safari,” Theroux manages to incorporate—rather than avoid—the general viewpoints of literature about the continent. He revels in the simple, historical life of the bush but acknowledges its basis in fantasy. He decries the chronic ailments of governments and citizens and still appreciates the vast expanses of beauty, but without the wide-eyed wonder of so many travelers. In this intensely personal book, Theroux honestly confronts racism, stigma, privilege and expectations. He describes both the privilege and the perversity of slum tours and points out Western complicity in what he calls the voyeurism of poverty, which turns poverty itself into a profitable endeavor. After years of travel writing Theroux willingly questions the very relevance of the endeavor. If the narrative occasionally feels repetitive, it is due to the fact that the author is stressing an important point—though his constant ranting about rap music does start to sound like an old man griping. Still, even his age is significant, and Theroux continually demonstrates the wonder and enthusiasm that has led him on so many adventures during his long career. “Show me something new, something different, something changed, something wonderful, something weird!” he writes. “There has to be revelation in spending long periods of time in travel, otherwise it is more waste.”
Reading this enlightening book won’t only open a window into Theroux’s mind, it will also impart a deeper understanding of Africa and travel in general.
A novelist’s deliciously engrossing exploration of her life through the two major passions that have defined it: food and writing.
For Christensen (The Astral, 2011, etc.), memory and food are inextricably intertwined. Her book begins with the recollection of a violent argument between her parents over an egg-and-toast breakfast. This scene reminded her of not only the simple comforts of her mother’s “blue plate special”–style meals, but also of the troubled dynamic that seemed inherent in male-female relationships. Not long afterward, her mother divorced and took the author and her sisters to Arizona. In this “wild, strange place that was so profoundly different from Berkeley,” Christensen suddenly became aware of “taste and texture, flavor and smell” and began reading as voraciously as she ate. Later, drinking became another source of comfort. In between attending classes at a New York arts high school, Christensen overate, crash dieted, and then wrote about her hunger and her loneliness. She refined both her palate and her cooking abilities during a year spent in France. But it would be comfort food and hard liquor that would comprise many of her meals during the vagabond life she led afterward, first at Reed College and then at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she reignited a childhood passion for food in literature. A few alcohol-soaked, undernourished years later, she met her first husband, who “taught [her] how to enjoy food without guilt or remorse or puritanism,” but with whom she fought constantly. Middle aged and unwilling to try out the “strange new world of hookups and sexting,” she found unexpected love with a man 20 years her junior who fed her soul with the peace she had craved all along.
A Rabelaisian celebration of appetite, complete with savory recipes, that genuinely satisfies.
Her curiosity piqued by the multitude of French cheeses, essayist and self-proclaimed cheesehead Lison chronicles her tasty culinary journey exploring the art and science of French cheese making.
Since she grew up in Wisconsin, the nation’s largest producer of cheese, her “interest in cheese was inevitable.” Following a perusal of a French cheese encyclopedia describing more than 350 kinds of fermented milk, the author poses a basic question: “Why produce this crazy number of cheeses? I mean, why not just one nice sharp cheddar?” Lison’s query engendered nearly 7,000 miles of travel and the consumption of copious amounts of artisanal cheese. The author trekked from high alpine barnyards to sparkling multinational corporate headquarters, talking with shepherds and scientists. Along the way, Lison discourses on the merits of hand milking vs. portable milking machines and the history of the classification system, which consists of five basic types of cheese. The author explores what makes some cheeses so stinky and why, since the Middle Ages Roquefort, cheese and the concept of appellation have been intertwined. Lison attended what she calls a “cheese-tasting debutante ball” and explains the real meaning behind the Camembert War. “Camembert however, is the dream of the French cheese,” she writes, “a fromage so closely linked with Frenchness in the minds of people everywhere that just the name ‘Camembert’ evokes visions of berets and fleurs-de-lys.” The author laces the narrative with satisfying kernels of French agricultural history, especially data concerning the pressures of the post–World War II environment and its role in hollowing out the population of the French countryside.
Whether Lison is ruminating on the short lactation cycle of sheep, the origins of rennet, or the grassy, lemony taste of a spring goat cheese, readers will have all their senses engaged.
Straightforward overview of Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle,” the rural region renowned for producing America’s best cannabis.
Brady spent a year among participants in the marijuana trade, earning their trust while observing their lifestyles. Although her narrative demonstrates that every resident is affected by this enormous illicit industry, she focuses on a few individuals, including a beleaguered sheriff’s deputy, an itinerant manager of isolated cannabis “grows” and a young woman whose undergraduate research suggested that growing up amid pervasive illegality creates dangerous consequences for the region’s youngsters. Brady notes that since the “Back-to-the-Land” movement of the early 1970s, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have become a strange synthesis of redneck and hippie perspectives, fueled by the development of a secretive yet widespread cannabis-cultivation industry. The financial rewards of “marijuana moonshining” only strengthened the residents’ libertarian outlook: “This was a community that had paid a price for their decades long rebellion,” including raids by the U.S. Army. Brady ably captures the social complexities of life in a region where dependence on cannabis (and the artificially high prices created by prohibition) is universally understood yet kept concealed: For instance, the deputy profiled by Brady theorizes that “many growers became members of local fire departments out of guilt over how they earn their living.” As a narrative framework, the author uses the failed 2010 ballot proposal to legalize all uses of cannabis statewide, noting that many area growers actively opposed it, putting financial self-interest ahead of idealism. She thus captures a community torn between the unknown future of cannabis legalization and a present in which prison terms, violent rip-offs and destructive police raids remain commonplace. Though more a work of journalistic observation than social argument, Brady still demonstrates that the war on drugs makes “normal” life impossible in communities like those in the Emerald Triangle.
A relaxed yet disturbing look at an alternative lifestyle, its heady profits and its hidden costs.