APPRECIATION: SHELBY FOOTE, VOICE OF THE SOUTH

If Foote, who died last week at 88, had never written "Shiloh," his terse, unsentimental novel about the 1862 Civil War battle, he might not have gone on to become the best-known narrative historian of the Civil War. He certainly would not have become an unlikely celebrity as a result of his involvement in Ken Burns's 1990 PBS documentary about the war. But when "Shiloh," the fifth of Foote's seven novels, was published in 1952, it caught the eye of Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, who...

Big Brother Is Watching

George Orwell spent five years as one of the British Empire's policemen in Burma in the '20s. The experience provided him with the raw material for his novel "Burmese Days" as well as several of his best essays. It also soured him forever on imperialism. In 2002 Emma Larkin, an American journalist, spent the better part of a year traveling Myanmar--as the ruling military junta has renamed Burma--using Orwell's writing as a guidebook and revisiting locations where he had lived. The more she saw,...

FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES

You can't read James Frey's memoir "My Friend Leonard" without thinking, this guy Leonard is unbelievable. He's a Las Vegas mobster, a high-level bookie, a bon vivant who can charm young hipsters and stodgy parents, a loving friend who's always there when you need a savvy sounding board, and an expert on just about any kind of visual art you care to mention. And he always picks up the check. But if you plan on confronting Frey with the idea that the main character in the follow-up to his...

A HIGH-STAKES DEBUT

Elizabeth Kostova is so squeamish that she has never read a Stephen King novel. It's not that she's afraid of scary stories; she just doesn't like gore. So when she began her novel about Dracula, "The Historian," she promised herself that "I would only spill a cup of blood in the whole book." She pauses to do a little silent calculating and then smiles. "I don't think I exceeded my limit by much." But if Kostova's debut novel is short on gore, it is far from bloodless. The corpses start...

THE VIEW MASTER

The world according to Lee Friedlander is an unmistakable place. The combination of intention, point of view and subject matter is so distinctive that you could pick one of his photographs out of a lineup every time, though the variety of his work still manages to stun. The Museum of Modern Art, where a retrospective exhibit of Friedlander's work opens on June 5, needed almost 500 images to adequately display his accomplishments. Over half a century, he has photographed nudes, landscapes,...

DYSFUNCTION JUNCTION

If Dede Wilsey's outrage overshadows her stepson Sean's accomplishments as a memoirist, he has himself to blame. "Oh the Glory of It All" is his account of growing up as the rich, spoiled product of a famously broken home. His socialite parents' divorce didn't just get written up in the local San Francisco papers. It got ink in People and the National Enquirer. Wilsey complains about that, just as he whines about nearly every other facet of his childhood. But he saves most of his bile for Dede,...

DINE NOW, SIGN LATER

Sitting in the Denver Airport one morning in January, waiting for a plane to take him to Los Angeles, Jim Fergus could have passed for a traveling salesman, right down to the carry-on and the frazzled look of a man who was out late entertaining clients. And that's exactly what he had been doing. But Fergus is not a salesman, at least not usually. Most days he's a novelist. And his "clients" were booksellers who met him for dinner at the Tattered Cover bookstore's restaurant, the Fourth Story....

BOOKS: CONJURING UP DARK CLOUDS

Robert Oppenheimer had a changeling's face. Seen straight on, he was beguilingly handsome. Seen from the side, he was almost goofy looking. He was slue-footed and a klutz around machines. The contradictions were not superficial: a brilliant physicist who dazzled colleagues with his intellectual improvisations, he often alienated the very people he needed to impress. And while he was notoriously absent-minded, he revealed a genius for administration when he oversaw the development of the atomic...

Chasing Kubrick

One of my personal markers of the importance a movie has for me is whether I can remember where I saw it. According to this system, about half of Stanley Kubrick's movies rank right up at the top. I saw "Paths of Glory" as a teenager hooked on staying up late and watching old movies on television. I saw "A Clockwork Orange" as a college student visiting London. I saw "Barry Lyndon" on a long afternoon in a theater in North Carolina with about three other people, "Spartacus" in a tiny revival...

BOOK: HOW YOU FOLLOW A HIT

Sue Monk Kidd has a little trouble with success. Specifically, she still can't quite believe that her first novel, "The Secret Life of Bees," has sold 3-1/2 million copies since it appeared in 2002. "For a long time, I couldn't truly believe it had happened," she said in a recent interview at her home outside Charleston, S.C. Then, about a year ago, she was sitting in a Boston hotel room watching "Jeopardy!" when a contestant chose "Women Writers" for $600. "What popped on the screen was...

PUTTING IT ALL ON THE TABLE

Eating lunch with Ruth Reichl at a New York City sushi restaurant, you can see right off why she's so good at what she does. When the former food critic for The New York Times and current editor of Gourmet magazine confronts a bowl of soup, she takes her time inhaling the aroma and contemplating the arrangement of ground shrimp and mushroom with eel on top. When she finally digs in she practically jumps up and down. "I love this," she exclaims. "This is so good." Sure, she can write; sure, sure...

HEAVENLY METAL

When William Joyce met Chris Wedge in 1996, they hit it off right away. They had been introduced by an executive at Twentieth Century Fox who thought the studio's Blue Sky computer-animation division might be the shop to turn Joyce's children's book "Santa Calls" into a movie. As it turned out, "Santa" never got off the ground, but even in that first conversation, Joyce and Wedge, one of Blue Sky's founders and its creative director, knew they would work together someday on something. The one...

REBIRTH OF THE BLUES

For most of his career, the jazz piano player Jason Moran, who is only 30, has been hailed as one of jazz's most thoughtful performers. The sheer clarity of his playing dispels, if only for a few minutes, the buzzing confusion of ordinary reality. But don't let this praise or the comparisons to Thelonious Monk and Jaki Byard--all true, by the way--blind you to the fact that Moran's music is sublime fun. When he and his partners in the Bandwagon, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen,...

Still Truckin'

The most astonishing fact in "Crumb," Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary about the underground comic book artist Robert Crumb, was that Crumb was the closest thing to normal in his own family. And that's saying something, because by his own admission, Crumb is one odd character. For the past four decades, since his first successes in the countercultural underground "comix" of the 1960s, Crumb has made strange and hilarious art out of his own neuroses. Insecure and paranoid, obsessed with sex in...

THE NOT-SO-GOOD WAR

War is hell. But you knew that. The surprising thing is how many different ways there are to say so. Nick Arvin and Donn Pearce are both able novelists, and both cover the same ground--Europe in the closing days of World War II--but their visions could not be more different. In Arvin's "Articles of War," George Tilson (nicknamed Heck because he never swears) is an 18-year-old from Iowa who goes through combat worrying about cowardice. In Pearce's "Nobody Comes Back," 16-year-old Toby Parker...

PASSING FOR MUSLIM

The story of a Jew masquerading as a Muslim sounds like a bad joke. But the story of Lev Nussimbaum, who became Essad Bey and then Kurban Said, is hauntingly true. Born in 1905 in Azerbaijan, the son of a Jewish oil tycoon, Nussimbaum spent most of his life on the run. He was chased by the Soviets, then the Nazis and finally the Italian Fascists. Along the way, the subject of "The Orientalist," Tom Reiss's absorbing portrait of this man and his times, turned himself into a prolific and highly...

THE CALL OF THE WILD

Reading Haruki Murakami's latest novel, "Kafka on the Shore," is a little like listening to a kid make up a story at a campfire. It begins with a 15-year-old boy, running away from home in Tokyo. Then we meet an old man who can talk to cats but has trouble communicating with humans. Before long we run into Johnnie Walker, the gent from the Scotch ads, who's decapitating cats and stealing their souls. Leeches and fish rain from the sky. Later Colonel Sanders puts in an appearance as a pimp and a...

Strange Trip

Reading Haruki Murakami's latest novel, "Kafka on the Shore," is a little like listening to a kid make up a story at a campfire. The kind in which one thing leads to another with no apparent logic, where the monsters come over the side of the ship and fight the pirates but don't get to kidnap the princess because she's already escaped in the spaceship, and on and on. Murakami's novel begins with a 15-year-old boy running away from home in Tokyo. Then we meet an old man who can talk to cats but...

TRANSITION

SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, 80 Although she served New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Chisholm did not want to be remembered as the nation's first black congresswoman or as the first African-American to run for president. "Shirley Chisholm had guts" was her idea of an epitaph. Anyone who saw her in action--whether opposing the Vietnam War or enlisting George Wallace's help to win minimum-wage coverage for domestic workers--would have agreed.WILL...

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Do not judge this book by its dull, arty cover. Do not be put off by the oh-so-literary title (what were they thinking--the author, his editor, his publisher?). Go directly to the first page of Elliot Perlman's debut novel, "Seven Types of Ambiguity," and start reading. Within a chapter or so, you're bound to relax, happy in the knowledge that while this novel has been packaged as an ambitious literary event, it is, far more importantly, a page turner, a psychological thriller that is, in...

WRESTLING WITH ANGELS

Preachers get cheated in American fiction. Hawthorne wrote about them, and so did Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis and J. F. Powers. But as anyone who grows up in a clergyman's home can attest, most laymen, writers included, shy away from men and women of the cloth. A minister or a priest or a rabbi may be important in a community's life and still live in a kind of exile. With that as her premise, Marilynne Robinson fashions a novel so strangely beguiling that it fully justifies the long wait since...

DE-LOVELY DE KOONING

It is easy to think of Willem de Kooning as the poster boy of modern art. So much of his life--the bohemian existence in Greenwich Village, the poverty, the womanizing, the alcoholism--fits the cliche of the turbulent artist struggling to reinvent himself and his art. Then there's the art itself: big, eruptive paintings filled with odd, often frightening images of women or landscapes or outright abstractions slashed with color that seems almost coughed onto the canvas. But as his adroit...

TAKE THE CANNOLIS

"The Godfather" is like "The Wizard of Oz"--one of those stories that have become so embedded in the culture that their dialogue and characters can be strewn through our conversations without explanation. We all know a Fredo, a Sonny, a Michael. When it comes to "The Godfather," we're all the experts.The question is, experts in what? The Mario Puzo novel, the two movies he co-authored with director Francis Ford Coppola? (Forget the third movie, if you can.) When Random House hired novelist Mark...

VOICE OF AMERICA

Born in 1909, Johnny Mercer was nearly a generation younger than the giants of the golden era of 20th-century popular song. He hit his stride just when Broadway was beginning its slow decline and TV was eclipsing radio. To be sure, he was successful nearly all his life--as a songwriter, a singer and a businessman (he cofounded Capitol Records). Still, it ate at him that he never had a Broadway hit and that a lot of his best work ("One for My Baby," "Blues in the Night") was written for lousy...

AUDUBON: ALLURING TO US--STILL

Americans have been rediscovering John James Audubon with generational regularity since his death in 1851. The first biography, by his widow, was published in 1869, and this year there are three excellent new biographies: William Souder's "Under a Wild Sky," Duff Hart-Davis's "Audubon's Elephant" and, most recently, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes's "John James Audubon: The Making of an American." One of those very American figures, like Johnny Appleseed or Daniel Boone, who slip and slide...

WYNTON MARSALIS AND THE TEMPLE OF JAZZ

Wynton Marsalis is scheduled to do an interview about Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center's $128 million new permanent home and performance space. But the interview can't get started because Marsalis, who has been JLC's artistic director since its founding in 1991, can't stop staring at the temporary stage in the Allen Room, one of Rose Hall's three sumptuous theaters. The stage that's bugging Marsalis is a modular thing on little aluminum legs. You can add or subtract pieces from...

SNAP JUDGMENT: BOOKS

A Bit on the Side, By William TrevorA man breaks off a longtime affair because he can't abide being the object of speculation. Over a long night, a lout's widow slowly and softly reveals how he has destroyed her happiness. In each of Trevor's new stories, nuance is everything. Whole lives are revealed in a few snatches of dialogue. Every story here is a model example of just how much a great writer can reveal in a short space. And if the outcomes of these meticulously observed tales are rarely...

Delectable Detective

Alexander McCall Smith gets away with a lot. He not only writes novels from a female perspective--he writes best- selling novels from a female perspective. His "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" mysteries--six novels set in Botswana featuring an overweight middle-aged sleuth named Precious Ramotswe--have sold more than 5 million copies here and in Britain. Smith gets away with a lot in his mysteries, too, which frankly aren't all that mysterious because, like most good crime writers, Smith uses...

FAME AND MISFORTUNE

AS HIS 11TH VOLUME ARRIVES, KIDS' AUTHOR LEMONY SNICKET TAKES ON NEWSWEEK'S MALCOLM JONES AND MAKES LEMONADE

AN EMPIRE OF STORIES

Turkey is a novelist's dream, or perhaps a land dreamed by a novelist. A border country between Europe and the Middle East, it has for centuries been so many things to so many people--Christians, Muslims, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and, of course, Turks--that it has become a place where fantasies and realities collide like tectonic plates. Everybody has a story, and, as two new novels set in Turkey demonstrate in their radically varying tales, every story is startlingly unique.In "Birds Without...

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