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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book buzz: Book festival weekend

By Lindsay Deutsch, USA TODAY

Here's a look at what's buzzing in the books world today:

Book love fest: Really, what could be better than books and fall weather? D.C. and Brooklyn dwellers can enjoy their favorite authors at book festivals this weekend. Follow me @lindsdee and check Monday for a recap from the National Book Festival.

Full circle: When they could not pitch The Strain as a TV show, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan wrote the books as a vampire horror trilogy. Now, there will be a pilot from FX, to be overseen by del Toro and former Lost screenwriter Carlton Cuse.

Happy Birthday, Stephen King: The king of horror turns 65 today. Read a letter the author wrote to his 16-year-old self and check out eight fun King fan sites.

Who authors teach: The Nieman Storyboard asks author-professors, from Mark Bowden to Rebecca Skloot, what books they include on their class syllabus.

Wal-Mart Kindles: Wal-Mart stores will discontinue sales of Amazon's Kindle tablets and e-readers, "a sign of how seriously (the chain) views Amazon as a competitor in the consumer goods market," The New York Times reports.

Les Miz: Check out an extended first look at the upcoming film musical Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) and starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekend picks for book lovers

USA TODAY gives 'Winter of the World' by Ken Follett 3 1/2 stars out of four.

USA TODAY gives 'Winter of the World' by Ken Follett 3 1/2 stars out of four.

USA TODAY gives 'Winter of the World' by Ken Follett 3 1/2 stars out of four.

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include Ken Follett's fat but addictive "Century" sequel, and Salman Rushdie's reflections on his years in hiding.

Winter of the World By Ken Follett; Dutton, 960 pp., $36; fiction

Ken Follett's second book in his massive Century Trilogy is 960 pages long.

It will take you more than a few cool autumn nights to finish, but it's a good investment in time.

The reader is once again transported, this time back to the 1930s and '40s, an era ripe for the picking. There's the burning of the Reichstag and the chilling rise of Adolf Hitler; there's unrest in London and civil war in Spain; there's Pearl Harbor, the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Moscow.

Winter of the World is told through the eyes of five inter-related families â?? American, German, Russian, English, Welsh â?? characters who were introduced in Follett's Fall of Giants, the first novel in the trilogy. Follett gives us a history lesson through the lives of both historic figures and his fictional families.

USA TODAY says *** 1/2 out of four. "Quintessential Follett. The delight remains in the details."

Joseph Anton By Salman Rushdie; Random House, 656 pp., $30; non-fiction

In his new memoir, Rushdie chronicles the years he spent in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death -- because of Rushdie's "blasphemous" novel, The Satanic Verses.

USA TODAY says ****. "An important book...a fascinating look into the intense drama of how those years of death threats, bookstore bombings, attacks and murders affected U.S. and British publishing circles."

We Sinners By Hanna Pylväinen; Henry Holt, 189 pp., $23; fiction

The Finnish-American Rovaniemi family in We Sinners belong to the Laestadian Lutheran Church, founded in 19th-century Sweden. The author tells their story in 11 chapters, each from a different family member's perspective.

USA TODAY says *** 1/2. "The rare mainstream novel that treats faith with respect and subtlety...a moving story (of) grace, insight and compassion."

Telegraph Avenue By Michael Chabon; Harper, 465 pp., $27.99; fiction

Set at the border of Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., in 2004, Chabon's novel centers on Archy and Nat â?? owners of a struggling used-record store â?? whose wives work together as midwives. Their intertwined businesses and relationships totter on the edge of collapse.

USA TODAY says **** out of four. "Evocative and true â?¦ Michael Chabon is having some century."

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures By Emma Straub; Riverhead, 304 pp., $26.95; fiction

In Straub's first novel, a young Midwestern blonde named Elsa Emerson travels to Hollywood in the late 1930s and is transformed into the title character, a brunette screen goddess.

USA TODAY says *** ½ out of four. "Vividly recaptures the glamour and meticulously contrived mythology of the studio-system era."

Contributing reviewers: Craig Wilson, Don Oldenburg, Deirdre Donahue, Robert Bianco and Elysa Gardner

For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to

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EAT THE CITY: A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Foragers, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beeekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York

Thursday, September 27, 2012

ON SAUDI ARABIA: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault lines - and Future

Karen Elliott House
ISBN 978-0307272164
308 pages

Reviewed by Rachel Newcomb

Saudi Arabia, our uneasy ally by virtue of its most significant export, is a country that remains shrouded in mystery for most Americans. Not on most people's itineraries as a tourist destination, heavily segregated by gender, and renowned as the home country of 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, it is not a place that invites favorable impressions. While "On Saudi Arabia" is not likely to change anyone's mind about the kingdom, it will certainly deepen our understanding.

In this fascinating study, Karen Elliott House, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, has drawn on 30 years of reporting on the oil-rich monarchy. By her account, Saudis are paralyzed by an economy based almost solely on oil and government handouts. The country's byzantine political structures are grounded in tribal loyalties along with a religious bureaucracy whose draconian laws and punishments are unevenly applied. There is also a vast disconnect between the country's octogenarian rulers and its burgeoning youth, most of whom "are alienated, undereducated, and underemployed." The educational system emphasizes religion and rote memorization rather than critical thinking, to the detriment of a populace that is ill-equipped to face the challenge of diversifying an economy in the face of a potentially dwindling oil supply.

House examines contemporary Saudi society by speaking to an intriguing range of its citizens: from clerics and professors to well-heeled housewives, and from discontented youth to forward-minded princes who have little chance of ever steering the country into a progressive future. The perspective that emerges is one of a painfully unequal society in which most of the human capital is being squandered. "Listening to intelligent, creative, concerned Saudis, whatever their gender, age, or birthright, talk about stifled ambitions and straitjacketed lives inevitably makes me feel I am exploring a museum of mummies rather than a living culture," House writes.

Accustomed to relying on government largesse and trained in a system that spends an inordinate amount of time on religious education, Saudi men in particular are unqualified for high-level management yet unwilling to work in service professions that they consider beneath them. At the same time, the talents of a frustrated and better-educated female population wither in a system that offers them few employment opportunities. While 60 percent of the country's university graduates are women, they constitute only 12 percent of the country's employed. The country's service positions - sales clerks, maids, waiters, etc. - are held by 8 million foreign workers currently in the country.

"On Saudi Arabia" is at its strongest when House delves into a seldom-discussed aspect of Saudi society: its invisible poor, most of whom live in sprawling urban slums or impoverished rural villages. Forty percent of the population gets by on less than $850 a month, and many of the nation's poorest are women without men, widowed or divorced, attempting to piece together enough work to support their children. Also fascinating are her profiles of former terrorists, "rehabilitated" by the government, which has tried to reintegrate them into Saudi society. While Saudi Arabia largely blames the West and its policies for the rise of terrorism, House argues that the monarchy's tolerance of extremist clerics is equally to blame. "For most of the past three decades," she writes, "the Saudi regime allowed religious fanatics to set the rules and thus produced a rigid society offering no political, social, or cultural outlets for youthful energy and frustration other than jihad."

House's exploration of the inner workings of Saudi society adds considerable weight to her assertions that the problems of succession, the decline of oil reserves, and a population with limited opportunities for employment or self-fulfillment are potential powder kegs. Yet when this entire enterprise might go up in flames is not easy to predict. To maintain citizens' compliance, the regime's usual strategy has been to slather on "more money, smothering private initiative and private enterprise, thus further diminishing the living standards of Saudis and increasing their anger, which then necessitates another dose of money. And so the cycle repeats itself."

Over the past two years, while other countries in the region have experienced tumultuous revolutions, Saudi Arabia has remained largely quiet. During the Arab Spring, for example, a "day of rage" scheduled to take place in March 2011 never materialized, in part because of a heavy Saudi security presence. More recently, the fervor over the low-budget Internet movie insulting the prophet Muhammad did not translate into Saudi protests. This should not be taken to mean that all is well in the kingdom. Judging from House's accounts of life there, the poorest in Saudi society, whether migrant workers or Saudi natives, lack the resources to effectively confront the government over perceived injustices, while those in the middle and upper classes probably stand to lose too much in facing a crushing security apparatus. Thus some Saudis turn to more covert means of action, such as joining terrorist groups, to indirectly challenge their government. A WikiLeaks document released in 2010 quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as claiming that Saudis "constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."

There are, however, some signs of societal change. Sixty percent of the nation's population is under the age of 18, and, with access to social media, young people are no doubt better informed of conditions (and revolutions) elsewhere than were previous generations. In addition, the government's usual strategy of paying off the people may be unsustainable. "On Saudi Arabia" is an important book that offers insights into the kingdom's fault lines, as well as gentle suggestions for a positive diplomacy that encourages modest reforms. Saudi Arabia ignores the needs of its people at its own peril, and to the potential detriment of the rest of the world as well.

Rachel Newcomb is an associate professor of Anthropology at Rollins College and the author of "Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Urban Life in Morocco."

Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012



Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Monday, September 24, 2012

INTERVENTIONS: A Life in War and Peace


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Sunday, September 23, 2012


Saturday, September 22, 2012