Dogfish Memory: A Memoir

Joseph Dane probably didn’t know that he was injecting valuable life-blood into the languishing memoir form when he wrote this. He was just trying to come to some kind of peace with the fog of memory; to stake a defiant pose against death and faithlessness and see if he could hold it. Even as he wrote this the readers of the world grew more weary of the form; more skeptical. Everyone with a challenge or a fond memory felt emboldened to fake up a narrative; pretend they actually understood their lives (often from the ripe old vantage point of twenty-five). And here comes Joseph Dane, angry, uncertain, trying (with no sense of heroicism, no nobility, just abject irritation), to either sweep his life clean of half-truths or embrace, once and for all, the ambiguity of hindsight.

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The Girl in the Blue Beret

Stories of the French Resistance have history’s blessing. Impossibly romantic, filled to the brim with courage and selflessness, they rise above the bleak condemnation of human nature that is the predominant legacy of all wars, perhaps especially World War II. We hear them and think there might, there just might, be such a thing as heroes.

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Disaster Was My God

When Bruce Duffy’s debut novel, “The World As I Found It,” based on the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein was published in 1987, the response was almost hysterical. “Dazzling language,” “dizzying speculation,” said the New York Times, “an astonishing performance,” said Newsday, “It is hard to know which is more outsized,” said the Los Angeles Times, “the talent of Bruce Duffy or his nerve.” 

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Down From Cascom Mountain

Ann Joslin Williams’ father, Thomas Williams was born in Minnesota but grew up inand into a citizen of New Hampshire, living there until his death at 63, in 1990, of lung cancer. Almost all of his work is set in New Hampshire, in particular the small fictional town of Leah, in which his best-known novel,  “The Hair of Harold Roux,” is set. Ann Williams was also raised in New Hampshire and now teaches, like her father before her, at the University of New Hampshire. She was a Wallace Stegner fellow and has won many prizes for her shorter fiction. This is her first novel and it is, like the work of her father, steeped in the New Hampshire landscape and the New Hampshire sensibility.

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State of Wonder

If you believe in fate, the novel is the perfect art form, especially big, juicy novels with plenty of plot. After all, plot is fate—characters follow narrative paths like refugees from the land of human will. They do what they’re told (despite writers’ protestations to the ethereal contrary) and in truly satisfying novels they sew up loose ends, reconcile, forgive, fulfill dreams and generally move toward wholeness (as we say on the West Coast) or adulthood (as they say on the East Coast).

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Ten Thousand Saints

“Ten Thousand Saints” is a whirling dervish of a first novel—a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created, taking the reader far into the lives and souls of its characters and bringing them back out again, blinking in the bright light. 

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To Be Sung Underwater

You can often tell where a musician has trained or with whom a painter has learned technique. In the case of European masters (sculptors, painters, printmakers etc.), art historians, looking at a particular work, can trace the lineage to a region, a studio, a teacher. Oenologists, of course, taste the terroir in a wine. It is no different for literature—you get a whiff of McPhee in the descriptive passages here, a bit of Ron Carlson in the mysterious interplay of humans and landscapes there, a smidgeon of Jayne Anne Phillips in the historic context, a taste of Raymond Carver in the curve balls, or Gordon Lish’s tough-love New York workshop-style in the sentence structure or the lack of sentiment.

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Untold Story

Fairy tales are the Euclidian geometry of fiction. Reading them, having them read to us is when we first divide reality. We teach our imagination to leap, hit the ground and keep on running like a happy hobo in the Land of Oz. We leap, children and adults and everything in between carrying that tiny grain of disbelief in the “real” world, in facts, in the things our very own senses tell us must be true. 

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Books & Art

BRIDGEWATER, VT. — This is the story of two craftspeople working in an unpredictable economy, keeping their passion alive while running a successful business — a challenge even for them, artists whose furniture is sold all over the world, whose pottery has been in the White House and the homes of Hollywood elite.

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Travel with Books

Almost 175 years after publication of "Papers," Kent, just 50 miles southeast of London, is still known as the garden of England and the larder of London. Its formal flower gardens make it a destination, but it also has become a destination for foodies interested in locally produced artisanal foods and locally raised livestock. With its oast houses for drying hops, its farmhouses, rounded tiles and clear, leaded windows, Kent remains stubbornly rural in character.

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Eric Schlosser

BERKELEY — On a gorgeous spring morning, Eric Schlosser, investigative journalist and author of "Fast Food Nation" — the expose of the fast-food industry and how it manipulates customers to buy food that isn't good for them — is speaking to his latest audience: preteens and teenagers. Schlosser's new book, "Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food," has just come out, and he and co-author Charles Wilson are testing the waters, giving a presentation to 600 kids at Martin Luther King Middle School.

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Donald Hall

WILMOT, N.H. — "There were times when I thought I'd never be published," Donald Hall was saying, just days after learning, by fax, that he had been named poet laureate of the United States. "Times when my reputation sank." After his 1978 collection "Kicking the Leaves," some critics argued that it was poignant to read a poet who had once shown such promise.

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Alice Munroe

MINUTES from the shores of Lake Huron in western Ontario, three towns form an isosceles triangle, bounded by no more than 50 kilometers, that Alice Munro's readers may know well. Wingham (pop. 2,885) is where the author was born in 1931. Clinton (pop. 3,000) is where she now lives with her husband, geographer Gerald Fremlin, in the house in which he was raised. Goderich (pop. 7,500) — Munro calls it "the most beautiful town in Canada" — is the setting for much of her work. Here, where the mansions are dun-colored, the squirrels are black and the geese look slightly predatory, Munro and Fremlin take their constitutionals along the lake. It is a town with two dry cleaners, an evocative and imposing set of grain elevators, a restaurant called Bailey's and a used bookshop. "We don't get many of Alice's books," says the woman behind the counter in the bookstore. "Which is a good thing. It means no one wants to get rid of them."

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Susanna Moore

SUSANNA MOORE writes the way Frida Kahlo painted. Bits of bone; quite a lot of blood; beating hearts; serious, beautiful women (often in white dresses); and in the margins of her extremely visual novels: gorgeous flowers and dark horsemen in black capes.

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Ron Carlson

RON CARLSON is waiting for the cable guy. It's been more than a week now and he's trying a cowboy tactic, quietly saying exactly when he'll be available — something like staring a bull in the eyes to mesmerize it. Four months in Southern California and he's become the cable-guy whisperer.

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Grace Paley

THERE are career writers, authors whose every move seems to further their art or their marketability. Then there are the others — writers whose haphazard publications indicate the existence of equally important identities. This past Mother's Day, in South Strafford, Vt., Grace Paley, the 84-year-old poet, short story writer, activist, feminist, mother and grandmother, is a poster girl for the latter path.

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John Nichols

TAOS, N.M. — John Nichols can't stop writing. He often produces 10, 20, 30 drafts of a book, some more than 1,000 pages long. Nichols saves them all and frequently returns to things he started decades ago. Threads of stories surround the writer like milkweed seeds with their gauzy fibers. His little adobe house in Taos is full of books and other projects. Overflow goes to one of several storage lockers.

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Mary Oliver

USED to be, if you telephoned the poet Mary Oliver, her partner Molly Cook would invariably answer. She'd ask you to hold on a moment, feign footsteps and return to the phone as Oliver, making no pretense at a different voice (editors across the country routinely played along). Cook was, for many years, Oliver's agent. Oliver, everyone understood, was a bit of a recluse. She needed nature and solitude to create her poems. "Writers must … take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems," she wrote in "A Poetry Handbook." Cook, who died in 2005 of lung cancer, at 80, was the sociable one.

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Bill McKibben

Bill McKIBBEN'S writing — part art, part essay, part journalism with more than a smidgen of harangue — has framed the thinking on environmental issues for more than a generation. Two new books out this spring, "The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces From an Active Life" (Henry Holt: 446 pp., $18 paper) and "American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau" (Library of America: 1,050 pp., $40), will impress on the reader how calmly, if not always quietly, he has illuminated paths to the future, thinking alongside us about what might be possible, even as information hurtles toward us, technology blinds us and being human seems to mean something entirely different than what any of us would consciously want.

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Alexandra Fuller

PINEDALE, WYO. — ALEXANDRA FULLER is driving south from Jackson Hole toward Pinedale to visit the oil patch where 25-year-old Colton Bryant, fourth generation Wyoming oil worker and the subject of Fuller's "The Legend of Colton H. Bryant" (Penguin Press: 204 pp., $23.95) worked and died. On Valentine's Day night 2006, Bryant fell 26 feet from the catwalk around an oil well's conductor pipe. She is listening to Neil Diamond singing "Forever in Blue Jeans," one of Bryant's favorite songs. "Who the hell listens to Neil Diamond?" Fuller asks, turning it up to hear the lyrics: "Money talks, but it can't sing and dance."

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