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- April 19, 2004
- Vol. 61
- No. 15
Picks and Pans: Books
Short of getting recruited or mugged, you won't find a more up-close look at the NYPD than this gritty memoir. Harvard graduate and veteran cop Edward Conlon keeps the reader at his elbow from the time he takes his first steps in uniform to the day he earns his detective's shield.
We hear the scratch and cackle of the police radio as it calls out such horrors as "Be advised, that domestic dispute is now coming over as a severed limb." We climb with him down reeking housing-project stairways, stepping over syringes and shell casings. The book is not for the faint-hearted. A child dies eating crack from the table where it was being packaged, and a grandmother is found barely alive in a filthy bed, food for rats and maggots. Conlon's account of the processing of a cop's corpse at a Ground Zero morgue is among the most graphic, heartbreaking images yet excavated from the 9/11 tragedy. These atrocities come at such a relentless clip it sometimes seems Conlon is purging his notebook at the reader's expense.
But there is also insight and humor. "The ghetto could be a world of three-dimensional, three hundred and sixty-degree insult," he writes, "where no one had enough so they ruined what they had, and then came looking for yours." For fun, he gives puzzled perps Cosmo-inspired quizzes ("If you were in the desert, would you rather take a quick shower or a long bath?"). His respect for cop life is palpable. "As theater, there is no match for it," he says, "and even the way you engage the spectacle is like something a kid would invent—you knock on a door and someone has to tell you a story."
By David Nicholls
Better stretch those laugh muscles: They're going to get a workout courtesy of this novel's utterly charming underdog Brian Jackson, a working-class nerd itching to remake himself at a snooty British university in 1985. By page 9, you'll be won over: "I want to go to classical concerts and know when you're meant to clap. I want to be able to 'get' modern jazz without it all sounding like this terrible mistake, and I want to know who the Velvet Underground are exactly."
Brian has a lot to learn, but his hilarious adventures in collegeland as he falls for a posh girl, attempts to dance to "Sex Machine," joins the quiz-show team and learns that "acne doesn't rub off" will make you cringe and cheer. Nicholls, who wrote for British TV's Cold Feet (which would be the best show on American TV if Bravo hadn't canceled it), is a master of character and dialogue. This is a big-hearted, flawless coming-of-age tale, as scary and funny as your yearbook picture.
By Lolly Winston
This deeply felt debut novel delivers laughs as well as tears and may even become a part of you. It's the story of Sophie Stanton, widow. To get out of her funk, Sophie, 36, joins a support group that is supposed to "help me move from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance to hope to lingerie to housewares to gift wrap. But it seems the elevator is stuck. For the past three months I've been lodged in the staring-out-the-window-and-burning-toast stage of grief."
It gets worse before it gets better—grocery-store breakdowns, filching Xanax at dinner parties, showing up to work in bathrobe and bunny slippers—but gradually, and with the help of family and friends, Sophie begins to heal. To be with her best friend, she moves from Silicon Valley to Ashland, Ore., where she discovers a talent for baking, advises a troubled but affecting teen and is wooed by a gorgeous actor. Through each stage of grief, Winston writes Sophie with such tenderness, humor and empathy that she and the reader become intimate. Good Grief is very good indeed.
By Nicholas and Micah Sparks
Two brothers make a pact: The elder swears he'll be a millionaire by age 35; the younger pledges to make it by 30. And they do. But their family is beset by tragedies—fatal accidents, cancer—that leave them the only two survivors. The plot of the latest novel by The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks? No, this is his memoir, fresher and more authentically poignant than his usual weepies. (Older brother Micah, a businessman, apparently didn't write a word, though he provided the inspiration during a three-week round-the-world trip.) Nicholas intersperses memories of a nurturing mom and volatile dad with travel chat. While it's nice to visit the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru, it can't compare to the brothers' mom, who, when Micah feared kindergarten bullies, sent him to school with a dented rusty lunchbox and instructions on how to swing it.
By Andrew Taylor
Familiar conventions get a fresh coat of paint in this historical novel full of pithy observations that offer a nod to Jane Austen and colorful characters straight out of Dickens. Young schoolmaster Thomas Shield gets tangled up in a set of murders among the English merchant class in 1819. He bounces from a gruesome murder scene to passionate canoodling to a terrifying stint in a coffin—and his eyes just keep getting wider. (Yes, the use of a naive narrator isn't exactly fresh either.)
Despite the shopworn elements, Taylor constructs an entertaining, sometimes enchanting, world. Shield is an idealist shaken by dirty dealings and a virgin enflamed by young women. Following his thoughts—starchy and pious one moment, swollen and agonized the next—is far more entertaining than solving the book's central mystery, which turns out to be connected to Shield's American student, Edgar Allan Poe.
While Suzanne Somers was battling breast cancer, she also encountered a very difficult menopause. Somers, 57 and a grandmother of six, discusses her solutions in The Sexy Years: Discover the Hormone Connection.
ON HER MENOPAUSE: I started to experience what I call the Seven Dwarfs of menopause: Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful and All-Dried-Up. An endocrinologist put me on bioidentical hormones [which mimic hormones our bodies produce], and life has been great since. The dwarfs are gone!
ON SEX: Are you kidding? [My husband and manager] Alan [Hamel] would give me that knowing look, and I would think, "Frankly, I'd rather have a smoothie." I was there, but I wanted to be on the same train, and sometimes the train left without me. Now it's like Grand Central Station.
ON MEN AND HORMONE THERAPY: Alan has been on testosterone [also bioidentical] for two years, and he's a different guy.
ON JOHN RITTER'S DEATH: It was a shock. John and I had made peace before his death. I always felt terrible that we weren't speaking, but he called me last year and said, "I forgive you," and I said, "I forgive you too."
ON HER BREAST CANCER: My chart says "No evidence of disease." I'm not off the hook until five years have passed [since the tumor was removed]. That's in a year. I'm feeling well and doing well.
- Laura Italiano,
- Kyle Smith,
- Maureen Harrington,
- Melanie Danburg,
- Debby Waldman,
- Ron Givens.
December 19, 2014
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