Jan 9, 2009

New nonfiction

“The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There were not going to be any pictures without it." —Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz describes how her pictures were made, starting with Richard Nixon's resignation, a story she covered with Hunter S. Thompson, and ending with Barack Obama's campaign. In between are a Rolling Stones Tour, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, The Blues Brothers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keith Haring, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patti Smith, George W. Bush, William S. Burroughs, Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth. The most celebrated photographer of our time discusses portraiture, reportage, fashion photography, lighting, and digital cameras.
Armed with recent medical evidence that supports the cliche that older people are, indeed, wiser, Alford sets off to interview people over 70 - some famous (Phyllis Diller, Harold Bloom, Edward Albee), some accomplished (the world's most-quoted author, a woman who walked across the country at age 89 in support of campaign finance reform), some unusual (a pastor who thinks napping is a form of prayer, a retired aerospace engineer who eats food out of the garbage.) Early on in the process, Alford interviews his 79 year-old mother and step-father, and inadvertently changes the course of their 36 year-long union. Part family memoir, part Studs Terkel, How To Live considers some unusual sources - deathbed confessions, late-in-life journals - to deliver a highly optimistic look at our dying days. By showing that life after 70 is the fulfilment of, not the end to, life's questions and trials, How to Live delivers that most unexpected punch: it makes you actually 'want to get old'.

November 1950, the Korean Peninsula: After General MacArthur ignores Mao’s warnings and pushes his UN forces deep into North Korea, his 10,000 First Division Marines find themselves surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered by 100,000 Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. Their only chance for survival is to fight their way south through the Toktong Pass, a narrow gorge that will need to be held open at all costs. The mission is handed to Captain William Barber and the 234 Marines of Fox Company, a courageous but undermanned unit of the First Marines. Barber and his men climb seven miles of frozen terrain to a rocky promontory overlooking the pass, where they will endure four days and five nights of nearly continuous Chinese attempts to take Fox Hill. Amid the relentless violence, three-quarters of Fox’s Marines are killed, wounded, or captured. Just when it looks like the outfit will be overrun, Lt. Colonel Raymond Davis, a fearless Marine officer who is fighting south from Chosin, volunteers to lead a daring mission that cuts a hole in the Chinese lines and relieves the men of Fox. This is a fast-paced and gripping account of heroism and sacrifice in the face of impossible odds.

The Wordy Shipmates is New York Times–bestselling author Sarah Vowell’s exploration of the Puritans and their journey to America to become the people of John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”—a shining example, a “city that cannot be hid.”To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means— and what it should mean. What was this great political enterprise all about? Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation? What Vowell discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoe-buckles-and- corn reputation might suggest. The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty. Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance. Along the way she asks:* Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christlike Christian, or conformity’s tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!* Was Rhode Island’s architect, Roger Williams, America’s founding freak or the father of the First Amendment? Same difference.* What does it take to get that jezebel Anne Hutchinson to shut up? A hatchet.* What was the Puritans’ pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.Sarah Vowell’s special brand of armchair history makes the bizarre and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun. She takes us from the modern-day reenactment of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from old-timey Puritan poetry, where “righteousness” is rhymed with “wilderness,” to a Mayflower-themed waterslide. Throughout, The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America’s most celebrated voices. Thou shalt enjoy it.

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