Lynn Hamilton

Prepare to feast your eyes and break your heart. Sebastian Copeland's Antarctica: The Global Warning is a gorgeous coffee-table book laden with photos of the white continent that are both beautiful and damning. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth proved that the issue of global warming can't penetrate the hearts of non-scientists through words alone; it needs pictures. Pictures of melting icebergs and vanishing snow cover. Antarctica: The Global Warning follows up on the pictorial approach, bringing expert art photography into the equation. Mikhail Gorbachev, founding president of Green Cross International, wrote the book's foreword, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio contributed the preface. The book's presiding genius, though, is photographer/activist Copeland, whose photos of ice sculptures floating in warming Antarctic seas and stranded ocean birds tell most of the story. Antarctica is quietly feeling the effects of global warming at five times the rate of the rest of the world, Copeland informs us. Antarctic seas are warming faster than waters in more temperate zones. Antarctic victims birds, bears, historic ice shelves have no media voice.

It makes sense to start caring, though. If too much of Antarctica melts, it will raise the level of the world's oceans and wipe out coastal communities from New York to Santiago. Can a coffee-table book contribute seriously to the global warming discussion? Does the beauty of Antarctica's scenery goad us into action or lull us into a dream state? Readers will have to decide what they think of bewildered penguins standing valiantly atop cliffs that have been shorn of ice. And readers will have to speculate on what those giant skeletons of picked over bones, lying in the middle of an Antarctic plain, tell us about the future of our planet.

Prepare to feast your eyes and break your heart. Sebastian Copeland's Antarctica: The Global Warning is a gorgeous coffee-table book laden with photos of the white continent that are both beautiful and damning. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth proved that the issue of global warming can't penetrate the hearts of non-scientists through words alone; it […]

If there is a heaven, I'll be surprised. If I wind up there, even more so. But if, at the pearly gates, I see Jacques Cousteau, seated just to the right of Saint Peter, helping that apostle mete out justice, I won't be taken aback. Cousteau's book, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus, newly available in an English translation, spans a magnificent life of thought and adventure. Readers who are familiar with Cousteau only through his work as an undersea television star will learn that he was also an important inventor of scuba gear an outspoken conservationist and a World War II fighting veteran. His book shepherds readers through a number of problems that occupied Cousteau for much of his life, and a note of warning ties the various chapters together. Whether writing about the importance of pure science, deploring the destruction of coral reefs, or predicting the near immortality of future humans, Cousteau calls for caution, responsibility, action suffused with thought.

In a book filled with gems, it can be hard to isolate one to talk about, but the chapter titled Catch as Catch Can, which explores the problem of unsustainable fishing practices, is arguably the most important. When rich nations feed fish to livestock and bolster gourmet restaurants with exotic catches, he notes, they're taking food away from poorer countries where fish isn't just a menu option it's often the only available protein. Although politicians hesitate to confront the fishing industry, Cousteau comes right out and says that most fishing professionals are in it for a quick buck at the expense of the industry's future. Just in case you're thinking a 10-year-old book must be out of date, let me tell you that, in addition to being an inventor, fighter and conservationist, Cousteau was also a prophet. His predictions that terrorism and genetics would preoccupy the 21st century were eerily right on the money. The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus will top must-read lists for people who want to understand the 20th century from the viewpoint of one of its greatest titans.

If there is a heaven, I'll be surprised. If I wind up there, even more so. But if, at the pearly gates, I see Jacques Cousteau, seated just to the right of Saint Peter, helping that apostle mete out justice, I won't be taken aback. Cousteau's book, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus, newly […]

They say a great painting shows you an ordinary scene a pasture you pass on your way to work every day, for instance and suddenly makes you see it as if for the first time. Michael Sims' Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination shows us something we've seen thousands of times: one day in the life of planet Earth. Starting at dawn and proceeding through morning, afternoon, twilight and the witching hours of night, Sims writes in often poetic detail about the natural phenomena that shape our days: the sun, the Moon, atmospheric particles that absorb and reflect light, and so on.

Sims' inquiries into the alternating dance of light and dark that plays upon our heavens reflects his wide range of interests and formidable reading schedule, as previously demonstrated in Adam's Navel and Darwin's Orchestra. One moment, he's quoting Charles Darwin, then next Vladimir Nabokov. While teaching his readers about the sun, clouds, contrails, rainbows, the rotation of the Earth and Moon, Sims veers freely from science to mythology, from the discoveries of cavemen to the speculations of science fiction. The myth he loves most is that of Phaethon, the teenage son of sun god Apollo. Phaethon is famous as the boy whose outsized ambitions far outstripped his abilities. Anxious to prove himself Apollo's true heir, he insists on driving the horse-powered sun chariot despite Apollo's strong misgivings. When the immortal wild horses prove far too unruly for Phaethon's limited charioting skills, he endangers not only himself but also the entire planet. Sims' beautiful retelling of the Phaethon story forms a bass note which ties the various themes of Apollo's Fire together. The story of Phaethon usefully binds a modern scientific understanding of our days to the intuited poetic understanding of ancient writers. Although hydrogen and helium do exist and Apollo and his chariot do not, Sims writes, it is beginning to look as if mythology has not overstated the sun's importance neither its generosity nor its tantrums. The scientific evidence indicates that the sun's royal position in the mythological hierarchy makes perfect sense.

They say a great painting shows you an ordinary scene a pasture you pass on your way to work every day, for instance and suddenly makes you see it as if for the first time. Michael Sims' Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination shows us something we've seen thousands of times: […]

During a reader's first 10 minutes of acquaintance with Samantha (Sammy) Joyce, she discloses much of her loveable character. Spooked by a rogue fireworks display, Sammy dives off a boat into the Potomac right in front of her boss, the Vice President of the United States of America. The title character in Kristin Gore's new novel, Sammy's House, is a super-competent aide, but also a magnet for Kodak-worthy embarrassing moments that include riding a pissed-off camel and attempting to buddy-up to her boss during an in-flight movie on Air Force Two.

As the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, Kristin Gore is well-placed to portray the intrigue, suspicion and high-stress atmosphere that pervade national politics at its top echelon. She accomplishes just that in Sammy's House, which takes readers on a hilarious and suspenseful six-month romp through the nation's capital. BlackBerrys strike up their competing orchestras every few seconds while top staffers spy on executive meetings through peepholes and security makes its rounds, routinely checking on automatic weapons closeted throughout the West Wing. When she's not pushing for a bill that will lower the cost of lifesaving prescription drugs, Sammy worries about the president's drinking problem and tries to ferret out just who on his staff is feeding information to a hostile blogger whose (frequently accurate) accusations make national headlines. Meanwhile, she tries to manage feelings of jealousy and insecurity concerning her boyfriend Charles, who stubbornly neglects to fulfill her fantasy of being whisked off to Paris for a marriage proposal.

Sammy's charming goofs, mixed with her romantic yearnings for a modern-day prince, probably explain why some reviewers compared the character to Bridget Jones when Gore's debut novel, Sammy's Hill, was published in 2004. In an interview with BookPage, Gore says she doesn't really agree with the comparison. She only read Bridget Jones after reviewers made the connection, she says. "On the one hand, I'm flattered,"  Gore says, acknowledging that Jones is a beloved character. But she thinks her own character is more defined by her work than the weight-obsessed, ditzy Bridget.

It's also tempting for readers to see Sammy as the alter-ego for the author herself, who has rubbed shoulders with world leaders and who is close in age to her young heroine (Gore turned 30 in June). But, as Gore sees it, she's not really that similar to Sammy. She likes the character, especially her passionate idealism, but "Sammy is based on lots of people I came across on Capitol Hill,"  Gore explains. "One of the good parts of that world was the interaction with people who want to make a difference." Because Gore's new novel has the White House world so realistically pegged, down to its smallest details, many readers will inevitably look for parallels to current world leaders and ex-presidents. And Gore's background including a stint at the National Lampoon while a student at Harvard certainly invites such conjecture. When asked if her fictional former President Pile is inspired by George W. Bush, Gore responds that such speculations reflect in a funny way more on readers' perceptions of Bush than on her intentions as a novelist. While she admits that her novel has a satirical element, she insists, "It's absolutely fiction."  Similarly, if Gore's fictional president, the closet alcoholic Max Wye, looks a lot like the controversial Bill Clinton, "that means you probably see Clinton as a brilliant but addictive personality," according to Gore.

While Sammy's House makes its debut in bookstores this month, Gore will be finishing work on the screenplay for Sammy's Hill. Columbia Pictures has bought the film rights and David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings) is set to direct. Gore says she and Russell have approached Kirsten Dunst about playing the part of Sammy. Though Dunst hasn't signed on yet, Gore thinks she'd do well in the role because she's "smart, quirky and funny. She can pull off comedy pretty well, but she also brings that fresh-faced enthusiasm that would be good for Sammy. And people can believe she might not have the rest of her life together."

While Gore finds it incredibly exciting to see her first novel turned into a film, it's not her end goal. After all, she quit her job writing for television to write novels, she notes, adding, "I really love books as books."   Somewhat surprisingly, Gore doesn't foresee rounding out Sammy's adventures in a trilogy. "I kind of like where I leave her,"  says Gore, though she's not ruling out the possibility of returning to the character.  "I do love her. I hadn't planned on it being two books; that took me by surprise. Now, I really feel like I'm done with her for a little while."

Gore is at work on a new novel with a brand-new set of characters. She's not saying much about it yet, but she did reveal that it has nothing to do with politics, and it's set in the South. Gore, whose family fortunes spring in part from tobacco farming, reveals, "There might be a farm involved."

Gore's work for Harvard's National Lampoon gave her a fine-tuned sense of how to churn out comedy, she says. But we can't rule out the possibility that she inherited some writing talent from her father, who spent several years writing for the Nashville Tennessean before getting into politics. Do Kristin Gore and her father swap manuscripts? They sure do, she says. She describes her father and her mother, Tipper Gore (who took her author photo), as really supportive and encouraging of her writing career. "He and my mom are two of my first readers,"  says Gore. She also gets to read works in progress by her father, who is famous not only for his political roles, but also for his books, Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth and his current bestseller, The Assault on Reason. "I don't generally rewrite him that much,"  Gore says with a chuckle,  "but I do enjoy reading it as he's producing it." Given her vicarious absorption of national politics, you might think Gore would be tempted to get into political commentary, but she says fiction and comedy are more my thing. "I really enjoy inventing things,"  she concludes. "If you do that in nonfiction, you get in trouble."

Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.

During a reader's first 10 minutes of acquaintance with Samantha (Sammy) Joyce, she discloses much of her loveable character. Spooked by a rogue fireworks display, Sammy dives off a boat into the Potomac right in front of her boss, the Vice President of the United States of America. The title character in Kristin Gore's new […]

It used to be that more was better. Industrialization, urbanization, specialization and capitalism made people wealthier, healthier and happier. But where are we now? In his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben poses the controversial theory that economic growth and industrial expansion just aren't as good for people as they used to be. While the Industrial Revolution gave birth to widely dispersed wealth and a new middle class, McKibben cites statistics that suggest around 80 percent of us are poorer today than we were five years ago, relative to the cost of living.

And we're unhappier, too as measured by statistics on depression and surveys that ask people point-blank if they've considered suicide. Many people feel unconnected to family and neighbors. Bigger houses help us live out TV-generated fantasies of the American dream, but they also make us more lonely. We eat cheap corporate junk that was trucked in from over a thousand miles away. And the accumulation of greenhouse gases a direct result of unchecked growth threatens the very survival of our planet.

If more money, more acres and more cheap tortilla chips are no longer the secret to happiness, what is? Farmers markets, as they symbolize the kind of future McKibben would like to see. Such markets provide an outlet for small-scale, organic, non-corporate farmers offering food that hasn't grown tired in its journey from California or Florida. And they provide an opportunity to connect with other people, the beginnings of community. Most of all, they provide a business paradigm that unhooks people from a system of reckless growth.

In short, McKibben thinks we need another kind of bottom line that doesn't just measure profit, but also measures fulfillment and a sense of connection. He notes in his first chapter that two birds named More and Better used to roost together on the same tree branch. But these days, McKibben writes, Better has flown a few trees over to make her nest. That changes everything. Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.

It used to be that more was better. Industrialization, urbanization, specialization and capitalism made people wealthier, healthier and happier. But where are we now? In his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben poses the controversial theory that economic growth and industrial expansion just aren't as good for […]

When Dorothea Benton Frank's mother died, her family's old beach house on Sullivan's Island went up for sale. Frank wanted to buy it. Well, she wanted her husband to buy it, and when he wouldn't, she pitched a little temper tantrum about the size of Russia, the author says.

So she told him she was going to write a bestseller, sell a million copies and buy back her mother's house. She started writing about her childhood on Sullivan's Island, a then sparsely developed barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Out of that came her first book, Sullivan's Island: A Low Country Tale. Writing that book helped Frank deal with the death of her mother and the loss of her childhood space.

It was also a bet she placed on herself and won. Sullivan's Island did sell a million copies. Frank chased that success with six more books. Her work continues to explore the same themes of childhood memories, loss and, above all, the beautiful islands of South Carolina, that made her first novel successful. Now Frank has drawn on her experience of reinventing herself in her 40s to bring her growing readership The Land of Mango Sunsets.

The novel features Miriam Swanson, a late-40s desperado who is barely clinging to a joyless New York high society lifestyle. Married at 18, Miriam now finds herself bitter and demoralized by a messy divorce. She fought gracelessly against the rift and drove a wedge between herself and her beloved sons, her future daughter-in-law and her grandchildren. With no college degree and no career to buffer the blow, Miriam's days stretch out in a series of desperate, panic-ridden moments. Miriam strives valiantly against this fate, hoping to balance the scales through volunteer work at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which throws her among elite society's grandest dames. In one of the novel's most horrific and hilarious moments, Miriam stumbles, falls and spills an urn full of coffee on hundreds of laboriously handwritten invitations.

But Frank doesn't paint Miriam in purely dark or tragic strokes. Instead, her story is infused with funk and humor. She takes refuge in her pet parrot Harry who periodically lambastes Miriam's ex with the chant Charles is a horse's ass. Miriam also takes comfort in a platonic friendship with her tenant Kevin Dolan, who is by all measures a saint, a devoted friend and an exceptional drinking buddy. Miriam and Kevin jump headfirst into the lives of Miriam's second tenant, a naive young woman named Liz, whose dalliance with a married man turns into a dangerous liaison without warning.

Miriam, Kevin and Liz form what Frank calls a chosen family, something she thinks is becoming more typical as people move further away from their families and their roots. "A lot of people I know don't have a stitch of family around them, don't have a relative within 500 miles. Those people you run around with become your chosen family," Frank says.

Miriam's life of quiet stagnation comes quickly to an end after her disaster at the Met. That disgrace is the catalyst for sweeping life change, and it begins with a return to Sullivan's Island, which is as much Miriam's childhood home as it is Frank's. Will Miriam reinvent herself as successfully as her author did? "You'll have to read The Land of Mango Sunsets to find out."

We're not spoiling your surprise. But we will say that Frank admits she drew on her own ability to make big changes late in the game. She had a lucrative career importing garments from Korea and Hong Kong. Then, after her mother's death, she taught herself to write novels and succeeded at that, too. In her latest novel, Frank draws on her extensive knowledge of the garment industry as inspiration for the career of Kevin, a window display designer for a high-end New York department store.

And Frank also draws on her own extensive experience as a volunteer, especially at New Jersey's Montclair Art Museum, where she saw a coffee accident similar to Miriam's. "In the highly strung world of society volunteering, such an incident brands its victim," Frank says. "You become the one who blew the invitations. That kind of thing just follows you around until you're dead."

But it would be a mistake to see Miriam as a thinly veiled version of her author. The similarities are there, but Frank describes Miriam as a citizen of her own planet, both self-absorbed and mired in outdated traditions. "She is the last vestige of small-town America when women were expected to be very prim," Frank says, adding, "She hangs on to it a little too long.

It's fine to practice the good, old-fashioned Southern virtues that define a lady," Frank says, "but what happens when the world of the Southern belle falls to pieces?"

She's seen it happen to people she knows. "They're so stunned. What they were told to do by their parents didn't work because the world changed when no one was looking," she says.

For her extremely realistic portrait of Miriam as a desperate, lonely and defeated divorcee, Frank drew mostly on the experiences of people she knows who have had to live through similar events. Frank's own first marriage was so short, she describes it as a drive-through or maybe a drive-by.

There's no question that Frank's books have struck a chord with a lot of readers. She thinks it's because she writes about things that are on her mind as she deals with the death of loved ones, raising teenagers and growing old. "I'm talking to people my age about things I'm thinking about," she says.

Her audience is "a lot of very old ladies, bless them every one, and [baby] boomers." But sometimes a teenager will turn up in her fan club. It might be because the girl's mother gave her one of Frank's books, hoping it would help the reader understand her mom.

Frank's avid readers can count on seeing the South Carolina coast form the backdrop of books to come. Frank's love affair with Sullivan's Island and the area around Charleston doesn't look like it's going anywhere. She finally bought that house on Sullivan's Island, though not the house she grew up in. At the end of the day, though, that's okay with Frank. The island draws her home, and she realizes now that her childhood home may be redolent of too much sadness.

"I grew up in a Southern gothic novel, by the way," she explains. But that's not the kind of thing Frank writes. Her own books are breezier, funnier and more optimistic than that. On her website, Frank describes her novels as "good beach reads for people who want something to think about while they're soaking up the sun: Yes, I write to entertain but I also write to understand this complicated world and want to take you with me on the journey."

Lynn Hamilton is editor of the Tybee News in the coastal community of Tybee Island, Georgia.

When Dorothea Benton Frank's mother died, her family's old beach house on Sullivan's Island went up for sale. Frank wanted to buy it. Well, she wanted her husband to buy it, and when he wouldn't, she pitched a little temper tantrum about the size of Russia, the author says. So she told him she was […]

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