Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scout, Atticus & Boo (Mary McDonagh Murphy)

As of this writing, a signed, first-edition of arguably the greatest American novel of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, is going for $565.00 to $1,800.00 on Ebay. The fact that signed copies are so incredibly rare is not the only reason. Harper Lee wrote one novel in her lifetime, and chances are, she will not be writing another one. In this novel, she said what she needed to say, then stopped publishing. Some would question why she did not write another. Well, if you were the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, there would be no place to go after but down.

Murphy is to be commended for interviewing many subjects as to what this novel means to them. From Oprah Winfrey, who begged and pleaded with Lee for an interview (and knew within 20 minutes of meeting her that she was never going to get anything on the record) to Lee's older sister, Alice, we learn a tremendous amount about her. Often stated that she is one of the most reclusive authors ever, Alice argues that she is absolutely not reclusive in her hometown of Monroeville (also the location of the novel). She chose to write one novel to express her thoughts on racism and countless other subjects (through her beloved narrator, Scout), then settled down to a quiet life. Lee saw what fame did to her friend and notorious Monroeville resident, Truman Capote, and chose to go in the other direction. Her neighbors respect her wishes and do not tell anyone where she lives.

To Kill a Mockingbird is unique in that it means something different to everyone who reads it. Murphy's diligent work pays off in a tremendous collection of interviews. This is a must-read for fans of the greatest American novel of all time.


This review can also be found at

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Fair Lazy (Jen Lancaster)

My Fair Lazy is the type of book one picks up when they just want to laugh by the pool on a hot summer afternoon. I have never read memoirs by a funnier, more irreverent person than Jen Lancaster. The most hysterical parts happen when you cannot believe what you just read.

"New York Times" bestselling author Lancaster is a self-proclaimed reality show addict, hence the subtitle of the book: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover if Not Being a Dumb Ass is the New Black, or a Culture-Up Manifesto. Reading about her attempts to go through her own personal "Jenaissance" is the gist of the book, from finally reading the "classics" (loving Brave New World but not being able to get through Eudora Welty) to trying various cultural foods. Lancaster especially has a talent for moving from humorous to heartwarming in a single page, most notably when she discusses her many pets.

This memoir is a very easy read. It feels like you are talking to an old friend who is not afraid to put into words what we think, but don't say out loud. Read this for an escape and many, many laughs.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Nation Rising (Kenneth C. Davis)

There are about a million historical accounts that never make it into a school textbook. Textbooks usually do not have the space to give anything but the bare minimum for any given topic. A Nation Rising attempts to correct this injustice by delving deeply into these untold stories.

Aaron Burr...what do we think of when we hear his name? In most textbooks and in the minds of most Americans, he is reduced to one sentence. Aaron Burr was the one who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Davis goes much further than this...offering up a 61 page account of Aaron Burr's trial, not for murder (dueling was common in those days), but for treason!! Davis includes six such chapters in this fascinating book about life in the early 1800s, from Burr's "trial-of-the-century" to severe conflicts over religion in Philadelphia.

This period of history is often overlooked as it is the bridge from the Revolutionary to the Civil War. Davis certainly gives it its due in A Nation Rising.


This review can also be found at