Friday, December 19, 2008

Between the pages

Take comfort in the gift of a good book

Express Staff Writer

While walking along Ketchum's Main Street last weekend to view the new and cheery mural where Whiskey Jacques' used to reside, a book lover was struck by an omission. Sure, there was a skier, a skater, a cross-country skier and a hockey player. But where was the person cozily tucked into a big comfy chair reading in front of the fire while the snow flies outside? Even for the winter sports enthusiasts among us, "reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body," as English poet Joseph Addison once famously said.

Well cozy up because the year's best books are an assortment of the dangerous, the intriguing, the pleasing, and the thought provoking.

Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," the first volume in the Millennium trilogy, involves journalist-hero Mikael Blomkvist. In Sweden, the trilogy's sales are sky high, while in Denmark it has out sold everything except the Bible. Tragically, Larsson died of a heart attack at age 50 before his gripping novels were published.

But many of the best reads of the year come from well-known and prolific thriller writers.

"The Turnaround" by George Pelecanos, is a window into the human condition viewed through the after-affects of a lethal event that has cast a long shadow and shaped the lives of its survivors for decades. "The Given Day" by Dennis Lehane harks back to Boston at the end of World War I, weaving a police strike, segregation, baseball, union drives and class resentments into an ambitious novel that evokes a dark chapter of U.S. history.

"A Most Wanted Man" by John Le Carré concerns the spy trade during the "war on terror" in Hamburg and features a Chechen refugee who is smuggled into town.

"Exit Music" by Ian Rankin is the finale of the Edgar Award-winning author's series featuring cranky Scottish inspector John Rebus. He has 10 days before his retirement to solve the apparently motiveless murder of Alexander Todorov, an expatriate Russian poet.

Master of the urban crime novel, Richard Price has a new novel called "Lush Life," which takes place in Manhattan's Lower East Side where a young man is murdered after bar hopping with friends.

Among the coolest coffee table books this year is a unique project called "I Live Here." Compiled by actress Mia Kirshner, it's a visually stunning "paper documentary" comprised of four 84-page journals about the lives of refugees and displaced people in Chechnya, Burma, Mexico and Malawi. All proceeds of "I Live Here" go to Amnesty International.

"The Art of Skiing" by Jenny De Gex, is a must-have gift for anyone interested in skiing or in the art of the poster. Organized by country, it features an unparalleled collection of 800 vintage posters and paintings housed at the Mammoth Ski Museum in California.

For thrilling photographs of the celebrated and prominent, look for "Vanity Fair Portraits" and its companion book, "Annie Liebowitz at Work."

Working, playing and thinking are also explored in multi-award-winning photographer and filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman's "Wisdom." Inspired by the idea that one of the greatest gifts one generation can give to another is the wisdom it has gained from experience, Zuckerman recorded the thoughts and ideas of 50 of the world's most prominent over-65-year-olds.

"American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House" by Jon Meacham is about politics of the day, infighting among his own cabinet and the scandal that erupted into the so-called "petticoat wars."

"The Lazarus Project" by Aleksander Hemon tackles the true story of Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew gunned down in 1908 by Chicago's chief of police. From this historical event, Hemon weaves his story about immigrant disillusion, displacement and desperation.

Dealing with slavery before "race" was the issue, "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison is on every best books of the year list. Another winner for the year is "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by the late Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows. Told as a series of letters exchanged after World War II, this is a novel for those who love the written word.

Muriel Barbery expresses the written word in the sensational "Elegance of the Hedgehog." It flits between the confessions of two women: Renée Michel, a 54-year-old concierge in a Parisian block of luxury apartments, and Paloma Josse, a precocious 12-year-old girl. Originally published in France last year, this book was a phenomenon, winning the 2007 French Booksellers Prize.

Chilean poet Roberto Bolaño's novel "2666" was published after his death in 2003, at 50 from liver disease traceable to heroin use years before. The book is being called an epic masterpiece. At nearly 900 pages and written in four parts, it involves academics, convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, a student and her unstable father. They all intersect in the urban sprawl of a fictional Mexican town where hundreds of young factory workers have disappeared.

Lastly, Joseph O'Neill's ode to New York City in the aftermath of 9/11, "Netherland features a Dutchman adrift in the city who finds solace in both the place and the sport of cricket as played by a disparate group of ex-pats on Staten Island.

Most of these books can be found locally at either Iconoclast Books or Chapter One Bookstore. Author-signed books at Iconoclast include "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and other assorted titles by Michael Chabon, and "Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West" by Deanne Stillman. Jamie Lee Curtis will sign her new book from 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21.

At Chapter One, Sue McCollum will sign her book, "Sun Valley Christmas" from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23. Proceeds of the sale of this book go to My Blue Dots, a nonprofit founded by McCollum that helps support cancer research. The store also has in stock signed copies of Annie Vanderbilt's "The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti," and "Dead Owls Flying" and "A Hawk in the Sun," both by Leon Towers; "The Manny Files," and "Hit the Road Manny" by Christian Burch and "Tails of the City: Confessions of a Manhattan Pet Vet" by Tom Devincentis. Charlie' Brandt's two mob-related books, "I Heard You Paint Houses" and "Donnie Brasco" are also in stock and signed.

Astrologer David Pond will sign his new book, "The Pursuit of Happiness," from 7-9 p.m. today, Dec. 19, at Chapter One.

And one of the signed copies of Wendolyn Holland's "Sun Valley: An Extraordinary History" is always, without question, the best present for a new Sun Valley fan or resident.

Happy skiing, and page turning.

'Alphabet' Soup For Human Rights

Caryn West, an artist who has been coming to Sun Valley with her family since she was 12, recently released her first book. Beautifully illustrated by West, "The Trouble with the Alphabet: Through the Eyes of Innocence" started out as a casual project to paint the alphabet for her young son's room. The full-color, coffee table book features portraits, poetry, essays and resourceful information to help readers understand and support solutions to major ills of the world. In particular, it addresses the plight of hundreds of millions of children in 25 countries who suffer under a variety of afflictions including AIDS, poverty, hunger, war, rape, genocide and child labor.

The book is printed on high-definition hexachrome in the U.S. using wind energy and recycled managed paper. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to nonprofit organizations that work in each of the highlighted countries.

"My mission is to raise awareness and inspire people," West said from her home in Colorado. "It's a journey into the heart of human rights. The short essays help the reader get their arms around the issues."

West will sell and sign her book in the Giacobbi Square foyer in Ketchum from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 22-24. For more information about the book and the foundation West created, visit

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