Hut's Place
 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

August 5, 2018

A Pair of Life Stories - One a Pulitzer Winner, the Other a Father-Son Odyssey - Arrive in Softcover

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.  Millions of readers of  Little House on the Prairie  believe they know Laura Ingalls - the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told until now. Drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Fraser has masterfully filled in the gaps in Wilder's biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder's tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight about charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.  
In doing so, Fraser earned two major awards for Prairie Fires - the 2017 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award for Biography, and the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. In praising the book, the NBCC said in part, "Reading about Wilder's idyllic world where Pa's business never failed, food was plentiful, and disease and hardship were conquerable, one would never know that she worked as a seamstress in other people's homes from the time she was nine years old. In contrast with the tableau Wilder created, Fraser draws on her own deep knowledge of westward expansion and captures the full arc of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life in three acts: poverty, struggle, and reinvention."   
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn. Prize winning author Mendelsohn is also is also a classics scholar who teaches a seminar on The Odyssey at Bard College. He also has had a complicated relationship with his father, and that comes to the fore when dear old Dad (age 81) decides to enroll  in son Daniel's Odyssey class. Mendelsohn senior quickly proves to be a n outspoken and cantankerous student, rejecting claims of Odysseus as a " r eal" hero because "he's a liar and he cheated on his wife." Fortunately, the two eventually form a truce and even find elucidation and enlightment through the study of Homer's epic work. The duo then embarks on
Mediterranean cruise retracing Odysseus's famous voyages, on which Daniel begins to see his father in a new light. Through their own shared odysse y, father and son come to a better understanding of their lifelong relationship.  
Dwight Garner, reviewing An Odyssey last year in The New York Times, noted, in part: "What catches you off guard about this memoir is how moving it is: it has many things to say not only about Homer's epic poem, but about fathers and sons. Mendelsohn has written a book that's accessible to nearly any curious reader. The book partakes of at least four genres: classroom drama; travel writing; biographical memoir; literary criticism. Revealing and funny . . . Mendelsohn makes Homer's epic shine in your mind."
Words of Wisdom from the Rock Star of Supreme Court Justices   
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Since becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 1993,  Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed quite a fan club. The recent documentary film RBG offers a moving picture of her life and work, as well as paying t ribute to her unsolicited role as a pop cu lture icon. Now, as Congress wrangles over a new Supreme Court appointee, here's a chance to see what a raised bar looks like.
My Own Words is a select ion of writings and speeches by Justice Ginsburg on wide-ranging topics, including gender equality, the workways of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and on the value of looking beyond America's shores when interpreting the U.S. Constitution. Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg has been (and continues to be) a prolific writer and public speaker, and both talents are much in evidence in this collection, selected by Justice Ginsburg and her authorized biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams. The author has written an Introduction to the book, and Hartnett and Williams introduce each chapter, giving biographical context and quotes gleaned from hundreds of interviews they have conducted.  
In praising the book, Publisher's Weekly called My Own Words "An excellent introduction to this Renaissance woman . . . cogent, well-reasoned, and accessible." The magazine went on to say: "Even those who have followed the octogenarian jurist over her long and distinguished tenure on the Supreme Court will find plenty of less expected items to relish . . . At a time of bitter political partisanship, her respect and affection for colleagues with different views, as displayed in posthumous tributes to fellow justices Rehnquist and Scalia, are very welcome. The variety of subjects is impressive, and Ginsburg's gift for concision enables her to discuss them in enough detail to engage interest while leaving the reader wanting more."
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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

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