This Week’s Hot Reads: Oct. 17, 2011
This week: An award-winning journalist’s profound memoir, a feminist parody of the Bluebeard myth, a page-turning Norwegian crime thriller, an Ivy-league graduate’s “my life as a porn star,” and Amy Ephron’s fascinating stories.
My Long Trip HomeAn award-winning journalist turns his pen on his own complex family history.
Mark Whitaker’s adult life has been marked by one journalistic achievement after another: he went from being editor of Newsweek (the first African-American to lead a national weekly) to Washington bureau chief for NBC News to executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide. But as revealed in his new memoir, Whitaker’s childhood was marred by personal and family struggles. Based on extensive interviews and research, My Long Trip Home chronicles his parents’ star-crossed romance: his father was an American descendant of slaves who became a renowned scholar, his mother a white World War II refugee from France. After a bitter divorce, as his mother slipped into a deep depression and his father became an alcoholic, Whitaker fought to make sense of his parents’ personal and professional failures while battling his own demons. With the skill of a seasoned reporter, he delivers a heartfelt treatise on growing up in a biracial family, drawing on emotional and factual truths to examine how his dysfunctional childhood ultimately inspired his achievements.
Mr. FoxA battle of the sexes sets the stage for this fairytale-inspired novel.
In this metafictional masterpiece on love and literary ambition, a 1930s celebrated American novelist, St. John Fox, has a penchant for killing off his heroines until his fictional muse, Mary Foxe, appears in the flesh and challenges him to turn the tables in his storytelling. Suddenly, Mary becomes the author and Mr. Fox the subject in variations of the Bluebeard myth (“the usual—wooing, seduction, then—the discovery of a chopped-up predecessor,”) interspersed throughout the narrative. Fox’s relationship with his wife, Daphne, provides a backdrop for his dark fairytales: “I fixed her early. I told her in heartfelt tones that one of the reasons I love her is because she never complains.” Author Helen Oyeyemi turns the traditional Bluebeard tale on its head with stories like “Fitcher’s Bird,” in which Mary asks her lover to chop off her head, convinced she will become a princess afterward. As Fox becomes more obsessed with Mary, Mrs. Fox interprets her presence as both a testament to her husband’s insanity and an inspiration for her own liberation. The reader also muses over the role of Fox’s muse, wondering whether she is simply the author’s inspiration—or a more complex character that is part heroine, part ghoulish marriage counselor.
HeadhuntersNorway’s most successful author pens a cerebral thriller for the crime-fiction junkie.
There’s a reason Jo Nesbø has been dubbed “the next Stieg Larsson”: his gripping Harry Hole detective series, including this year’s The Snowman, read like cinematic thrillers. Headhunters tells the story of Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter-cum-art-thief who cozies up to his job applicants so he can pilfer their collections. Things go awry when Brown tries to steal a Ruben and learns the owner is sleeping with his wife. The next day, one of the henchmen in his heist is found dead in his car, and Brown gets caught in a convoluted murder plot that would be hard to follow were it not so adroitly rendered. The pace of Nesbø’s novels draws comparisons to Larsson, but his pithy, intellectual prose distinguishes Headhunters from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With Nabokovian skill, Nesbø cunningly manipulates the reader to sympathize with an unsympathetic protagonist in this invigorating must-read.
American GangbangIn this hilarious memoir, an Ivy-League grad pursues his dream to make artful pornography.
Having just graduated from Brown University, one can imagine that self-declared artist Sam Benjamin was a bit of a misfit when he started a career in the adult entertainment industry in Malibu, California. The year was 1999, before porn exploded on the Internet, and Benjamin is determined to be an “artistic pornographer” whose films “deliberately left room for spontaneity.” In this regaling and whip-smart memoir, Benjamin narrates his three-year immersion into the seamy, surreal world of making pornos, from a few rough starts (including one in which Benjamin masturbates with a banana peel) to his first starring role in Slide Bi Me to living in the mansion of a top porn producer. His behind-the-scenes descriptions of the orgies, drug-induced erections, strap-ons, and perverse scenarios that degenerate with increasing consumer demand are surprisingly lucid and lyrical. The result is a titillating, unflinchingly honest tale of self-discovery and the realization that “porn wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
Loose Diamonds: …and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the wayFascinating recollections from author Amy Ephron’s life.
In this new book of stories from her life, bestselling author Amy Ephron (a contributor to Newsweek/Daily Beast) reflects on everything from her youth to her marriages. She describes her many whimsical encounters with fascinating characters; everything from visiting a man who had completely filled his home with exotic birds to spending an afternoon with infamous murderer Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. Yet she also touches on more personal and challenging subjects, like her mother’s long battle with alcoholism. In Loose Diamonds, Ephron offers a deeply honest and compelling look at the events that made her the woman she is today.