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Posts Tagged ‘robert massie’

Jane’s Bookshelf: Stories of Bravery & Inspiration

Friday, October 5th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

One of the things I love about reading nonfiction is that it allows me to enter the lives of people from different times and places – and to be inspired by them. How could you not be moved by Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES with its searing details of poverty and familial love? Have you ever heard of George Dawson, a man who learned to read at the age of 98? Reading his story in LIFE IS SO GOOD is to take a journey through the 20th century as he lived it. And how could you not cheer for Debbie Rodriguez and the girls of THE KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL? I doubt many of us would have had the determination to go half way around the world to change others’ lives as Rodriguez did.Unbroken

And it isn’t just personal memoirs that offer us inspiring stories. Laura Hillenbrand’s UNBROKEN recounts the life of Louis Zamperini – incorrigible teenager, Olympic athlete, World War II POW – and his incredible journey into extremity. Along with Louis’s story, she offers us a slice of history, which makes our reading experience that much richer. Like Hillenbrand’s first book SEABISCUIT, Elizabeth Letts’s THE EIGHTY-DOLLAR CHAMPION tells the story of a horse that held America spellbound. Snowman, who was rescued from a truck bound for the slaughterhouse, went on to climb to the very top of the show jumping circuit and become a beacon of hope during the Cold War era.

CatherineGreat pbBiographies of famous men and women provide intimate portraits of the call to greatness: think of Robert Massie’s CATHERINE THE GREAT, Walter Isaacson’s STEVE JOBS, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s NO ORDINARY TIME about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II, or Douglas Brinkley’s WHEELS FOR THE WORLD about Henry Ford and his founding of the Ford Motor Company. The richness of each of these works lies partly in the biographer’s ability to show us that these men and women are human like you and me, with faults and weakness that exist alongside their brilliance. And that duality, I promise you, provides for much to discuss, even debate, with your fellow book club members.

As I thought about these books, it struck me that they share a common thread: they are at heart about bravery. They are about trying something new, withstanding pain or hardship, or finding a way to succeed in the face of tremendous odds. These are themes that run through many of my favorite novels as well, which I was reminded of by Tara Conklin’s THE HOUSE GIRL, a debut novel that I just finished reading and loved (it will be published next February by William Morrow). The book interweaves the stories of two women – Josephine, a slave who attempts to escape from her master, and Lina, a corporate lawyer who discovers Josephine’s story as part of her quest to find a lead plaintiff for a slavery reparations case – who make choices that put them in danger, but also require them to figure out how to be true to themselves.

What are your favorite inspirational stories? What kind of bravery inspires you most?

Jane’s Bookshelf, Volume 1: New Year, New Books

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite new reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

The AffairEvery year, I use the holiday break as a time to try new authors, revisit favorites, explore genres I don’t often reach for, and catch up on that classic I’ve been meaning to get to. This year, my new author was Lee Child. So many people rave about this series’ hero, Jack Reacher, I had to meet this guy. THE AFFAIR is a perfect place to start since it’s the story of the events that result in his leaving the military and becoming the loner ex-military cop he’s so famous for. I loved being in Reacher’s mind as he investigates the death of a young woman in a small Mississippi town, uncovering a case that is more complex and nuanced than he’s been led to believe. And when he brilliantly outwits the bad guys who definitely don’t want to be found, I cheered, realizing that I too had become a “Reacher creature.”

lonewolfI haven’t read a Jodi Picoult novel in ages, so when an early copy of LONE WOLF (being published by Atria this spring) came my way, I knew I was in for a treat. After an accident leaves Luke in a vegetative state, his estranged son and overprotective daughter must decide his fate in a tale that is emotionally and morally riveting. Luke has spent his life working with wolves, and what you learn about wolf pack behavior resonates beautifully with the story of this family in crisis. Yes, I cried—and yes, there are some painful moments—but I couldn’t stop reading. And the ending has one of those incredible surprises that I didn’t see coming, but was so true and utterly satisfying.

Catherine_the_GreatI have always loved biography, but with so many (often shorter) books on my pile, I don’t read as many as I’d like. Robert Massie’s CATHERINE THE GREAT brings Catherine, who became Empress of Russia in 1762, completely alive in the pages of this masterful portrait, making you understand her as a woman, mother, politician, lover, and ruler. No less impressive is his account of the era’s history and the artistic, military, philosophical, and political events that she controlled for more than three decades.

MadameBovary_transLydiaDavisOnly part way through the classic, Lydia Davis’s translation of MADAME BOVARY, I’ve found myself reading it a bit differently since I’ll be discussing it with my Ladies of Lefferts book club in a couple of weeks. I cherish the conversations and camaraderie of our evenings together, which reminds me of the delightful, witty memoir by Rachel Bertsche, MWF SEEKING BFF we just published. Bertsche writes about how central the book club experience was to her while trying to forge the friendships she craved when she left behind her BFFs in New York and moved to Chicago. She’s right: the combination of delicious food and lively conversation brings people together in an intimate way. As I finish MADAME BOVARY and start 2012, I wish you many a great read, engrossing discussion, and deepened friendship.

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