Lacey Galbraith

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is more than a literary classic; it’s a 50-year testament to the ways a well-told story can inspire readers and impact a culture.

Oprah Winfrey has called it America’s “national novel,” and Tom Brokaw remembers the “electrifying effect” it had on the country the year it debuted. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, and in 1962 a movie adaptation garnered three Academy Awards (having been nominated for eight). Today, this treasured gem has sold more than 30 million copies.

To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in the summer of 1960 when its author, Nelle Harper Lee, was 35 years old. Living in a cold-water flat in New York City’s Yorkville neighborhood, she had been supporting herself with a series of odd jobs, from sales clerk in a bookstore to ticket agent for Eastern Airlines. For years, her ambition had been to become a writer. Her childhood friend Truman Capote (who appears in the book as the character Dill) had done it, but for Lee, any future literary success was contingent upon her ability to carve out time in the evenings after work to write.

Those close to Lee, like best friends Joy and Michael Martin Brown, believed in her though, and on Christmas Day, 1956, they presented Lee with an envelope. Inside was a note reading, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Free to devote herself full time to her writing, Lee produced a bestseller.

To honor Lee’s achievement and celebrate the novel’s 50 years of enduring popularity, publisher HarperCollins is organizing events across the country—from readings to live re-enactments—and publishing several new editions of the classic. There’s an elegance to the To Kill a Mockingbird slipcased edition, while the 50th-anniversary hardcover is especially lovely with its vintage reproduction of the original book jacket. Also available is a mass market paperback.

Paying tribute to the novel’s lasting legacy is Mary McDonagh Murphy’s Scout, Atticus & Boo, a collection of 26 interviews with mostly well-known Americans reflecting on how the book has touched their lives. Included are Anna Quindlen, Jon Meacham, Allan Gurganus, Mary Badham (the actress who played Scout in the movie) and even Lee’s sister, Alice Lee.

Gaining a million more readers every year, To Kill a Mockingbird’s enduring success can be traced both to the novel’s subjects—Scout’s coming-of-age, the trial of Tom Robinson—and to Lee’s storytelling. The book tackles the injustice of racism, takes a stand for what is right, yet thankfully lacks any tone of self-righteousness or high-minded piety. Lee’s characters are wonderfully crafted, so vivid and alive. Her prose is beautifully languid, her descriptions sharp-eyed and her humor smart.

Harper Lee accomplished something great with To Kill a Mockingbird, and with every passing decade, another generation of readers is wholly, and completely, captivated by its magic.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is more than a literary classic; it’s a 50-year testament to the ways a well-told story can inspire readers and impact a culture. Oprah Winfrey has called it America’s “national novel,” and Tom Brokaw remembers the “electrifying effect” it had on the country the year it debuted. The book […]
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STEINBECK'S CAMELOT
Unexpected gems whether rediscovered works or reissued classics are welcome surprises, and John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is just such a treasure. Christopher Paolini, wunderkind author of the bestsellers Eragon and Eldest, has written a foreword for this little-known Steinbeck work, and included in this edition are letters from the author to both his literary agent and the book's original editor.

Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, began writing The Acts of King Arthur in 1958, but as Paolini writes, he stopped working… sometime in late 1959, just as he seemed to hit his stride. Nine years later, he died. It would be his last work. The book's genesis began in Steinbeck's childhood, that time of life when influence is key for many artists. Parents with less than eager readers should take heart: In his introduction, Steinbeck writes that as a child, "words written or printed were devils, and books because they gave me pain, were my enemies." When an aunt gave him a copy of Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, "fatuously ignor[ing] my resentment toward reading," antagonism changed to fascination. He was drawn in, hooked by the language and the storytelling. Translating the legend's magic to future generations of children became his intent, but for numerous reasons, completing the task proved a challenge. What he did accomplish, however, is enchanting all the same. Its handsome dust jacket, its shadowy and vintage-esque illustrations, Steinbeck's prose: King Arthur and his noble knights are as dramatic and marvelous as ever here.

THE TOLSTOY HOUSEHOLD
Song Without Words: The Photographs and Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val is one of the more beautiful books published in time for the holidays. In September of 1862, Sophia Behrs married Count Leo Tolstoy in Moscow. The ceremony was opulent, Bendavid-Val writes, the countess shy and a little afraid. During the course of her 48-year marriage, the Countess Tolstoy bore 13 children (seeing only eight live to adulthood), ran a lively household, managed the day-to-day business affairs on their estate, Yasnaya Polyana, 60 miles outside Moscow, meticulously hand-copied her husband's prodigious literary output and still found time to write daily entries in her diary and take more than a thousand photographs, most of these during the 25-year span from 1885-1910.

Divided into chapters with simple categorization The Family, Servants and Peasants, Artists, Illness and Marriage the book is a fascinating glimpse into not only Russia during the 19th century, but also life as an aristocrat during that time. The photographs are stunningly elegant: landscapes of the verdant pond and bathhouse at Yasnaya Polyana, informal self-portraits of the countess with her family or alone by a window, tending to her plants in the soft light of a winter day. Her marriage was a demanding and passionate one, but she viewed her husband as a genius and took countless photographs of the iconic writer.

Her style is forthright and unsentimental, never heavy-handed. She worked with an accomplished eye, one imbued with a tender love for its subjects. In addition to the publication of this book, a traveling exhibition of her work is planned for 2008. The countess was a woman devoted to her family and her role within it, but she was also a highly creative and fierce individual. As her great-grandson writes in the foreword, "you were a worthy Lioness."

SHORT AND SWEET
Packaging, presentation and of course, highly crafted fiction, are the obvious draws inherent in McSweeney's intriguing One Hundred and Forty-Five Stories in a Small Box. That which comes in miniature often goes hand-in-hand with cute, but this boxed set of short fiction leans less toward precious and more toward captivating. Comprised of three small books, it comes in a slipcase with cover art designed by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson. His black-and-white illustrations are highlighted with the occasional fleck of shimmery gold, and as they wrap and curve around the corners of the case in endless detail, they tell a story all their own. The books inside, though, are as clever as their covers are beautiful. Each is a collection of short fiction by a different author Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso, Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth and How the Water Feels to the Fishes by McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers and no one story runs longer than 500 words. Also referred to as snap fiction or flash fiction, short-shorts are poetry magnified. There's no room for error. A reader's attention can't stray. The writer must capture immediacy and intimacy in a matter of words. The art of the short story is made purer if not more finely wrought when distilled down to the essence of its form. The folks at McSweeney's get this, hence, One Hundred and Forty-Five Stories in a Small Box. Stories to slide in your back pocket, slip in your purse, carry with you throughout the day. Perfect as a gift for those who love quirky, new-style fiction, this collection will also appeal to readers with short attention spans.

THE POWER OF POETRY
Poetry Speaks Expanded is the newest edition of the 2001 bestseller Poetry Speaks. Like its predecessor, it takes a traditional form (poetry) and adds a 21st-century twist (audio). Poetry is meant to be heard and not just read. Poetry Speaks Expanded takes 47 poets and, across the span of three audio CDs, features them reading selections from their work. There are 107 poems total, each presented in written form alongside a short, biographical sketch of the author. Critical essays by well-known writers add to the anthology's comprehensive scope. In more ways than one, it's a hefty collection.

Nineteenth-century poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Walt Whitman are represented, as are 20th-century greats like Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens. Anne Sexton's here, as is Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings. New additions to the anthology include Jack Kerouac and, in the biggest coup of all, James Joyce. Previous difficulties with securing the rights to his work prevented his inclusion in 2001, but now readers can listen in awe as he reads from Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake. Poetry is the oldest of art forms. It's fitting, then, that here its voice rings louder and ever more true.

STEINBECK'S CAMELOT Unexpected gems whether rediscovered works or reissued classics are welcome surprises, and John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is just such a treasure. Christopher Paolini, wunderkind author of the bestsellers Eragon and Eldest, has written a foreword for this little-known Steinbeck work, and included in this edition are […]
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Magnus Chase has been on the run for quite some time, ever since one mysterious night, two years ago, when an explosion killed his mother. Left homeless and alone in Boston, he’s become adept at surviving the toughest of circumstances, and for any other teenage protagonist, doing so would be enough to drive the narrative. But this is a novel by Rick Riordan, author of such myth-inspired, best-selling series as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles and the Heroes of Olympus. Like those previous stories, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer is inspired by mythology—this time the stories of the Norse gods.

The first installment in a planned trilogy, Riordan’s latest is fast-paced and full of action. Only in a world built by Riordan would a character turn 16, summon a sword so powerful it has a soul, then go to battle with a fire-wielding, flame-throwing Lord of Muspellheim—all within the first four chapters. Magnus is on a quest to find out who he is and how he can save the world. Whether he’s checking in at Hotel Valhalla, convincing a Valkyrie to go deep-sea fishing for Jormungand the World Serpent or trekking through the Nine Worlds, Magnus has the miraculous ability to stay one step ahead of disaster.

As irreverent as he is witty, Magnus is a delightfully crafted character who endears himself to the reader from the very first page.

Magnus Chase has been on the run for quite some time, ever since one mysterious night, two years ago, when an explosion killed his mother. Left homeless and alone in Boston, he’s become adept at surviving the toughest of circumstances, and for any other teenage protagonist, doing so would be enough to drive the narrative.

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Will West knows how to blend in. He can run 1.2 miles in 3:47 minutes and scores off the charts in aptitude tests, but his teachers can barely remember his name. As the 14-year-old hero of The Paladin Prophecy, the first in a new series from New York Times best-selling author Mark Frost, Will should be showing off his talents; instead, he’s keeping the promise he made to his parents to never reveal his true abilities.

Will and his parents have moved from city to city “like Bedouins every eighteen months.” On a breathtakingly beautiful Southern California morning, though, Will finds out why: Someone is after them—him, especially—and now his father’s admonition to trust no one is proving very helpful.

Whether it’s by dark-suited men in black sedans or yawping, snarling, fleshy masses from the nightmarish Never-Was, Will is being chased. They’ve already gotten to his mother; the proof is in her glassy eyes and eerie smile. “Do whatever you need to do to stay alive,” his father tells him in a video message. And so Will does.

Frost, co-creator of the creepy television show “Twin Peaks,” heads in a more action-adventure, sci-fi direction with The Paladin Prophecy. The result is a fast, fun novel that will spark imaginations like something off the silver screen.

Will West knows how to blend in. He can run 1.2 miles in 3:47 minutes and scores off the charts in aptitude tests, but his teachers can barely remember his name. As the 14-year-old hero of The Paladin Prophecy, the first in a new series from New York Times best-selling author Mark Frost, Will should […]
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Although Myron Horowitz is an orphan and the survivor of a horrible accident that left him permanently disfigured (he has no nose), Immortal Lycanthropes hasn’t even a hint of sentimental melancholy. As the narrator matter-of-factly states, “It would be easy to paint a sob story here, but I am trying to remain objective. So: Myron Horowitz, short, scrawny, and hideous, had no friends.” Clearly, this is not your typical coming-of-age novel.

Myron looks and feels like a 13-year-old kid (without the nose), but he’s really an immortal lycanthrope—a were-mammal who can transform at will from animal to human and back again. His search for the answers to who he is and what it all means—and why so many others like him want to kill him—drives this remarkable debut novel.

In Immortal Lycanthropes, adventure is a given. Whether it’s secret societies, doomsday devices or a kimono-wearing gorilla named Gloria, Myron is fantastically unperturbed. As he says with a sigh, “You know, the first time I stared down my own death, I was really scared. The second time I cried. But by now, it’s just something that happens to me.”

Myron is on a quest, and his journey is a cleverly imagined, smartly written, wonderful ride of a story.

Although Myron Horowitz is an orphan and the survivor of a horrible accident that left him permanently disfigured (he has no nose), Immortal Lycanthropes hasn’t even a hint of sentimental melancholy. As the narrator matter-of-factly states, “It would be easy to paint a sob story here, but I am trying to remain objective. So: Myron […]
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Lesley Hauge’s debut dystopian novel Nomansland is made for a sequel—no, more like a series. There’s got to be more of Keller, the brave heroine of Nomansland.

Barely 15, Keller lives only among women in Foundland, a rocky and barren island nation. Her people have been here for hundreds of years, ever since the Tribulation, a cataclysmic event brought about by the “sins” of the Old People (that’d be us, readers). The earth was wrecked and its people decimated, an entire civilization’s technology, televisions and even indoor plumbing lost. When Keller comes across one artifact from that time she’s mystified by what it is: a bicycle.

In the agrarian society in which Keller lives, everyone has a job—seamstress, blacksmith, wheelwright. She is a Tracker, trained to be an archer and an equestrian, able to survive on her own in the wild. “There are no men in our territory,” says Keller, and it is she who will protect Foundland from the “mutants” and “deviants” living outside their borders. They are the men who survived the Tribulation, and though they can try, they will never be allowed in.

Foundland is a totalitarian society where hair must be cut to regulation length and to be “useful” is deemed the highest of virtues. Reflection, Decoration, Vivacity—these are three of the “Seven Pitfalls.” Even friendships are outlawed. But for Keller, cracks in the social order begin to show. First, there’s Laing, a fellow Tracker with a dangerous streak of independence and free will, who offers small glimpses into the Time Before: beauty queens, fashion magazines, fathers? Then Keller discovers one sister’s long-held secret; what she learns—and how the all-knowing, all-seeing Committee Members react—drives the plot and keeps the reader avidly turning the pages.

Hauge has written a winning debut. Let’s hope she’s turning in that sequel real soon.

Lesley Hauge’s debut dystopian novel Nomansland is made for a sequel—no, more like a series. There’s got to be more of Keller, the brave heroine of Nomansland. Barely 15, Keller lives only among women in Foundland, a rocky and barren island nation. Her people have been here for hundreds of years, ever since the Tribulation, […]
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Objects of Our Affection by journalist Lisa Tracy is one woman’s personal “Antiques Roadshow”-like quest through three generations’ worth of bric-a-brac, photographs, dishes and piece after endless piece of furniture. Told with equal parts humor and bittersweet sentiment, the book opens as Tracy and her sister are moving their independent—yet increasingly frail—83-year-old mother from her Lexington, Virginia, home to a nearby retirement community. “I was on an archaeological dig,” Tracy writes, “plowing through layers of family possessions we’d managed to ignore for decades, or in some cases had never seen before.” Inside one chest of drawers are a miscellany of family papers: “genealogy charts, military commendations, fragments of biographies, letters from the War of 1812, a photocopy of a journal from the 1840s, and what seemed like dozens of little framed daguerreotypes of people whose identity was a complete mystery to me.”

The sisters decide to take care of their mother first and worry about all the stuff later, but 10 years on, there’s still a bursting storage bin to contend with. An auction is scheduled, and though Tracy is relieved that “the family’s centuries-long accumulation of material goods is no longer going to be our personal responsibility,” she can’t help but wince at the parting of so many long-treasured items. “It’s hard to let go of objects because they are full of stories,” she writes.

Stories shape Objects of Our Affection. Believing that “we can . . . never be free of our stuff until we have dealt with the stories it carries,” Tracy consults curators and librarians, her research taking her from Philadelphia to the Philippines. Far from a mere cataloguing of expensive heirlooms, the book is a journey into the past, into family and community, and a look at the mystifying way that an aged Victorian horsehair sofa can stand as a silent yet eloquent reminder of “loss and pride, anger and love for a world that was.” Objects of Our Affection is a touching tribute to the lesson that “somewhere in the hastily sorted documents and photographs were probably our last best clues to who we were, where we’d come from, and why we’d lugged all this furniture with us.”

Lacey Galbraith is a writer in Nashville.

Objects of Our Affection by journalist Lisa Tracy is one woman’s personal “Antiques Roadshow”-like quest through three generations’ worth of bric-a-brac, photographs, dishes and piece after endless piece of furniture. Told with equal parts humor and bittersweet sentiment, the book opens as Tracy and her sister are moving their independent—yet increasingly frail—83-year-old mother from her […]
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For more than a decade, The New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst has been the definitive food reference book. It has sold more than a million copies, received praise from Julia Child, been cited on the quiz show “Jeopardy” and is employed as an official source on major websites such as Food Network, Recipes.com and the Culinary Institute of America’s Tavolo. Now, just in time for the holidays, a redesigned and updated version has been released: The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, by Herbst and her husband, Ron Herbst. This impressive makeover of a classic book is sure to please longtime Food Lover fans and novice chefs alike.

Retaining its predecessor’s alphabetical format, The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion now supplements the 6,700 cross-referenced entries with 40 different glossaries ranging from apéritifs and artificial sweeteners to grains, meats and cheeses. There are glossaries for desserts, fruits and vegetables, even kitchen tools and cookware, and definitions are given in clear, concise prose. The many charts and directories—especially the ones decoding food additives and food labels—give clarity to what is oftentimes downright confusing. The appendix alone contains more than most cookbooks, including a list of ingredient substitutions, fatty acid profiles of popular oils and comparisons of British and American food and cooking terms. To say The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion is comprehensive is an understatement.

With its hundreds of illustrations, plethora of fun facts, cooking tips and how-to steps, The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion is the latest must-have culinary guide—and its reasonable price makes it this year’s bookstore bargain. 

For more than a decade, The New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst has been the definitive food reference book. It has sold more than a million copies, received praise from Julia Child, been cited on the quiz show “Jeopardy” and is employed as an official source on major websites such as Food Network, […]
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According to Jen Yates, author of the hilarious new collection Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong, “A Cake Wreck is any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate.” For Yates, the pursuit of the hilariously mis-decorated cake is “about finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places.”

When she began blogging at CakeWrecks.com in May 2008, Yates’ intentions were modest. She wanted a place to collect photos for baking inspiration, as well as a way to share the occasional laugh with family and friends. She never imagined so many readers would respond to her signature wit, or that in less than a year, tens of thousands of people from around the world would be regularly visiting her site for sugary highs (and lows).

Many of the photographs in Cake Wrecks are taken “on the front lines” in bakeries and submitted by CakeWrecks.com readers. But this book isn’t “just the blog put to paper,” Yates assures us, for there is “lots (and lots) of new, never-before-seen Wreckage” to be had—75 percent of the book, to be exact.

Even better, Yates provides the history behind many of the cakes on display. There’s the story of the one that started it all—it read “Best Wishes Suzanne/Under Neat that/We will miss you”—and this reader’s personal favorite, the sprinkled and space-age wonder that is Darth Vader cradling a sleeping and pink-ribboned baby girl.

It’s all here, each wreck a disaster of hilarity. In Cake Wrecks, Yates proves there’s plenty of the weird, wonderful and truly great to go around.  

According to Jen Yates, author of the hilarious new collection Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong, “A Cake Wreck is any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate.” For Yates, the pursuit of the hilariously mis-decorated cake is “about finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places.” When she began blogging at CakeWrecks.com […]
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Cleopatra had her pearls, the British Empire its crown. Jewelry has long held a symbolic place in world affairs, and for Madeleine Albright, the all-important symbol is the brooch. In her new book Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state offers a colorful view of international politics, explaining how fashion’s classic accessory became an integral part of her “personal diplomatic arsenal.”

During the course of her decade-long career as a public servant, Albright traveled widely, and the pins she bought—or was given—became a vast and varied menagerie. Blending memoir, anecdote and colorful world history, Read My Pins tells the story behind each piece. Albright’s unique use of jewelry began with an 18K gold snake pin worn to a meeting with Iraqi officials (Saddam Hussein’s government-controlled press had called her an “unparalleled serpent”). When meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Albright donned a red-white-and-blue American flag as an outward symbol of her personal belief in the rules of democracy. A Swarovski heart was chosen to pay tribute to the victims of September 11.

Whether a ceramic Valentine’s Day gift from Albright’s then five-year-old daughter or a diamond-encrusted dazzler, every pin is a joy to behold.  Albright’s remarkable story offers a fascinating and bejeweled look at America, and American foreign policy, during the latter half of the 20th century. 

Cleopatra had her pearls, the British Empire its crown. Jewelry has long held a symbolic place in world affairs, and for Madeleine Albright, the all-important symbol is the brooch. In her new book Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state offers a colorful […]
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Fans of the author Kurt Vonnegut—who died in April 2007—are in for a treat with the publication of Look at the Birdie, a posthumous collection of 14 works of his short fiction. Written at the beginning of Vonnegut’s career and never before published, these stories offer a glimpse into the early imagination of the author who would later give the world such classics as Cat’s Cradle, Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five.

In Look at the Birdie, whimsical line drawings accompany the stories, each one penned by the author. Present, too, is Vonnegut’s signature sharp wit and dark humor: there is the fraudulent psychiatrist who describes a paranoiac as “a person who has gone crazy in the most intelligent, well-informed way,” and the small town police chief who says “If I’d known there was going to be a murder . . . I never would have taken the job of police chief.”

In the book’s introduction, Vonnegut’s close friend and fellow writer Sidney Offit offers one reason as to why these stories have remained unpublished for so long. Citing the “Rolled up balls of paper in the wastebaskets of his workrooms in Bridgehampton and on East Forty-eighth Street,” he describes Vonnegut as someone who “rewrote and rewrote.” He was “a master craftsman,” he says, “demanding of himself perfection of the story, the sentence, the word.”

The stories in Look at the Birdie may not be Vonnegut’s finest work, but in their immaturity are indications of the artist the man will become. He is a writer on the cusp, never flinching at the world before him yet also never forgetting to entertain as well. As Sidney Offit concludes, “Few writers in the history of literature have achieved such a fusion of the human comedy with the tragedies of human folly in their fiction.”

Lacey Galbraith is a writer in Nashville.

Fans of the author Kurt Vonnegut—who died in April 2007—are in for a treat with the publication of Look at the Birdie, a posthumous collection of 14 works of his short fiction. Written at the beginning of Vonnegut’s career and never before published, these stories offer a glimpse into the early imagination of the author […]

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