Books

When you think about blockbuster best-sellers, genres like mystery, crime and romance typically come to mind. Ethical or moral fiction? Not so much. But that's how Jodi Picoult, who has 33 million copies of her books currently in circulation, describes her novels. So how did an author who writes about divisive issues get so popular?

Seven years ago, when journalist Bryce Hoffman started covering the Ford Motor Co. for The Detroit News, he knew he was either witnessing the end of an American icon or its resurrection.

When an author writes something that's supposed to be a true story and readers discover he's stretched the truth, things can get ugly fast. Recall Oprah Winfrey's famous rebuke of author James Frey for making up much of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. "I feel duped, but more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers," she told him.

Dr. Adam Wolfberg had two daughters and another on the way when his wife, Kelly, went into labor. But this joyous occasion had come much too soon — Kelly was three months away from her due date. After just 26 weeks in the womb, their baby daughter Larissa entered the world by emergency cesarean section and was whisked into the neonatal intensive care unit of a Boston hospital. It was the same hospital where Wolfberg was doing his residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and his medical background turned out to be a mixed blessing.

There were a lot of good stories from the 2008 presidential election, including Hillary Clinton's serious run for the Democratic nomination, not to mention the election of the first African-American president. The whole story was covered in the bestselling — and controversial — book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Game Change.

The film version of the young adult book sensation The Hunger Games opens March 23rd. The hype around the movie has sent the sales of the already best-selling trilogy to new heights. And publishers are eagerly churning out more books set in post apocalyptic dystopian worlds — just like The Hunger Games.

Imagine, for a moment, that you're a publisher hearing a pitch about a children's book whose tangled plot braids together quantum physics, fractions and megaparsecs (a measure for distances in intergalactic space). The book also casually tosses out phrases in French, Italian, German and ancient Greek. Sound like the next kids' best-seller to you?

Two mysterious men pull up to the courthouse and head to the public records office. They're strangers, and they ask a lot of strange questions like, "I'd like to look at Mayor John Doe's property deeds." Or, "I want to see Congressman Smith's voting records."

The vast majority of the 175 indigenous languages still spoken in the United States are on the verge of extinction.

Linguist Elizabeth Little spent two years driving all over the country looking for the few remaining pockets where those languages are still spoken — from the scores of Native American tongues, to the Creole of Louisiana. The resulting book is Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Lost Languages.

The famed mystic Rasputin — notorious for his otherworldly powers and his sexual escapades — may not have seemed like a traditional family man, but in fact, he had a wife and three children.

His eldest daughter, Maria, is at the center of Kathryn Harrison's new novel, Enchantments, a dark fairytale mash-up of history and magical realism set during the last days of Imperial Russia.

One of the great things about being a reader is that over time, the books on your shelf seem to start talking to one another. Themes echo and resurface and resonate in new ways. That's why in February, NPR's Backseat Book Club — our monthly feature aimed at young readers — selected a pair of books published 60 years apart that still seem to speak directly to each other.

The 19th century psychologist William James observed, "All our life ... is but a mass of habits."

Ad men in the 20th century took this aphorism to heart. It wasn't enough to simply sell a product; the goal was to hook consumers and keep them coming back.

After decades of global dominance, America's space shuttle program ended last summer while countries like Russia, China and India continue to advance their programs. But astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of the new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, says America's space program is at a critical moment. He thinks it's time for America to invest heavily in space exploration and research.

If you've seen a Hawaiian tourism commercial, a beach movie, or even a cartoon with Daffy Duck in a lei and a grass skirt, you've heard the poignant strains of "Aloha Oe."

But the tune has a history stretching far beyond cartoons and commercials: It was composed in 1878 by the woman who would become the last queen of Hawaii, Lili'uokalani.

Hawaii is the only state to have once been an independent monarchy. And when Lili'u, as she called herself, was born in 1838, it was at its height.

Theologian Lauren Winner was 21 when she became a Christian.

Although she was raised in a Jewish household and had converted to Orthodox Judaism, she says she felt drawn to Christianity. Her surprising conversion is the subject of her first memoir, the bestseller Girl Meets God.

In Winner's new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, she writes about a spiritual crisis.

Winner, an ordained Episcopal priest who teaches Christian spirituality at Duke University, says it happened around the time her mother died and her marriage collapsed.

Beautiful Souls: How Humans Overcome Evil

Feb 23, 2012

Amid stories of horrific atrocities like the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing that took place in the Balkans in the 1990’s, occasional tales of courage emerge: the stories of individuals who fly in the face of convention – or even the law – to stand up for what they know is right.

The Beauty of No

Feb 23, 2012

On the day she was born, Fawzia Koofi nearly died after being left outside in the unrelenting Afghan sun. But against all odds, Koofi survived and went on to become Afghanistan's first female deputy speaker of Parliament. Today, Koofi's name is floated in discussions about whether Afghanistan is ready for a first female president.

Patrick deWitt is the author of The Sisters Brothers.

"Doesn't the act of noticing matter as much as what's noticed?" So asks the narrator of Harry Mathews' masterpiece of minutia, The Journalist.

On the mend from a nervous breakdown (though it's mentioned only in passing — "the steering wheel came off in my hands," he says), he's been encouraged by his doctor to keep a journal. A seemingly benign idea, and he throws himself into the task with gusto — far too much gusto, it turns out, as the journal soon eclipses his entire life.

According to our guest today, Colin Woodard, America's political divisions aren't between red states and blue states, right and left, Republicans and Democrats but between 11 distinct North American cultural regions.  They are regions the he names "Yankeedom", "Greater Appalachia", "The Deep South" and "The Far West" and they have been created by centuries of Americans who settled there, each with their own unique cultures, religions, political traditions and ethnographic characteristics.  Woodard suggests that only by truly understanding these regions can we begin to see beyond these deep 

This President's Day, a group of historians in Washington, D.C., decided they wanted to do something different to recognize the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. But how do you memorialize someone who is already one of the most memorialized people in history?

Their solution: to physically illustrate Lincoln's importance by creating a tower of books written about him. The tower measures about eight feet around and 34 feet — that's three and a half stories tall.

A troubled starlet dies in a helicopter crash off the Irish coast after sending a series of mysterious text messages. Three years later, a hungry young reporter desperate for work takes an assignment to write a quickie celebrity biography of her — but finds complexity and danger.

That seemingly accidental death is the catalyst for the events in Bloodland, a new thriller by Irish author Alan Glynn.

It's been said that there are only seven basic plots in fiction. Pulp novelist William Wallace Cook would beg to differ.

According to Cook, there are a whopping 1,462 plots, all of which he laid out in his 1928 book, Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots.

No doubt many of us are rushing out the door to grab a last minute Valentine’s Day gift for our significant others.

Our guest has a suggestion: hold off on the chocolates and flowers, and spend a little time talking to that loved one. 

"Relatively few people should start companies," Reid Hoffman says bluntly. And he should know. As a co-founder of popular social networking website LinkedIn and an influential Silicon Valley angel investor, he has engineered several startup success stories — and now he has distilled his business wisdom into a book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.

For those who find themselves alone this Valentine's Day, or who reject the holiday altogether, you might not want to read about star-crossed lovers pining for each other and — even worse — winding up together in the end. So here are three alternatives to comfort you this Feb 14. Each novel is just the right length to read in a single night with a box of drugstore-bought chocolates. And although these tales are indeed reflections on love, the characters they follow are skeptics.

Honey, Please Pay Attention

Feb 9, 2012
Photo by annstheclaf via Flickr Creative commons

Maintaining a healthy and happy relationship is challenging for any couple…perhaps more so when one, or both, partners suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?  ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis among school age children and can be tricky to identify in previously undiagnosed adults.  Symptoms are often similar to those of depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder.

Tuesday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens — the great 19th century English novelist who gave us stories of pathos and comedy, and colorful portraits of the people of London, from the poor in the back streets, to the rich in the parks and avenues.

Lots of Dickens' phrases — like "Bah humbug" and "God bless us, every one!" — have slipped into our minds and our memories. And along with the words, the characters, too — from hungry orphan Oliver Twist to Little Dorrit to cruel Mr. Murdstone.

The Accordion Family

Feb 3, 2012

For centuries, that transition between teen-hood and adulthood has been accompanied with a newfound independence, where young men and women leave the roost, go to college, buy a house and raise a family.  But according to author Katherine Newman, high unemployment rates, the rise of short-term employment, longer life expectancies and the high cost of living have forced many a young adult back home to live with mom and dad.  They are called 'Accordion Families' and depending on the culture, they're met with a variety of acceptance.  Today we look closer into this new phenomenon called Accord

When her first child was born, Pamela Druckerman expected to spend the next several years frantically meeting her daughter's demands. In the U.S., after all, mealtimes, living rooms and sleep schedules typically turn to chaos as soon as a baby arrives. That's the reason one friend of mine used to refer to his child as a "destroying angel."

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