Salon recommends

A literary page turner about lobster fishermen, a sojourn as a guard in New York's toughest prison and more.


Salon Staff
February 6, 2001 4:13AM (UTC)

What we're reading, what we're liking

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert
As fresh as a blast of the Maine sea air her characters breathe every day, this story of life among the crusty, antisocial, hard-drinking lobstermen of two remote islands is funny, romantic and cleverly constructed -- and never less than a delight to read. Ruth Thomas, whose father is one of the most unregenerate lobster-seeking cusses in town and whose mother is a stepped-on retainer of the only truly wealthy clan in the area, sort of wants to follow in her father's footsteps and definitely doesn't want to comply with plans to make her a genteel member of her mother's side of the family. Then she meets studly, tongue-tied Owney Wishnell, another would-be fisherman, and a bumpy courtship ensues. This is the kind of effervescent literary page turner that will eat up a long plane ride or a rainy night at home without insulting your intelligence; definitely recommended for John Irving fans.

Advertisement:

-- Laura Miller

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover
Last week, the National Book Critics Circle nominated "Newjack" for its 2000 award for general nonfiction, and it's good to see this important book getting recognition. Ted Conover is a journalist who wanted to do an investigative report about prison guards but was given the runaround by government and prison guards' union officials. He decided to go undercover -- to become a prison guard himself in order to write about it. What he witnesses in his year at Sing Sing, known as the toughest prison in New York state, makes you understand the tragic dimensions of America's incarceration crisis. As Conover paints humanizing portraits of the prisoners, most of them black or Latino, and his fellow guards, most of them working-class whites, his intelligent writing crackles with a kind of dogged fair-mindedness. "It has always killed me how fast the criminal goes from being a bad guy at his trial to being some sort of victim once he's in prison, according to public perception," one official tells Conover. It's one of the many sad ironies of the situation that the conditions of the job drive the guards themselves -- including Conover, to his own surprise -- to behave in ways that contribute to that notion.

-- Maria Russo

Recent books praised by Salon's critics

Salon Book Awards Salon's book editors pick the 10 books from 2000 we wished would never end.
By Laura Miller and Maria Russo
[12/18/00]

The crime of my life
Election and recession getting you down? Check out the mystery novels that got me through a very tough year.
By Charles Taylor
[01/03/01]

Advertisement:

Our man in the shadows
With his romantic, complex spy novels about prewar Europe, Alan Furst is the heir to John le Carri.
By Charles Taylor
[01/24/01]

The Man Who Found the Missing Link by Pat Shipman
A new biography recounts the story of the brilliant scientist who fought priests, politicians and jungles to prove Darwin right.
Reviewed by Edward McSweegan
[01/18/01]

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrire
A new book probes the case of the phony doctor who killed his family rather than confront a life of lies.
Reviewed by Laura Miller
[01/12/01]

The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi
A disfigured girl spins out the secrets of her family's disastrous history in this Booker Prize-nominated novel by a new Welsh writer.
Reviewed by Maria Russo
[01/11/01]

Advertisement:

The Biographer's Tale by A.S. Byatt
A disillusioned student forsakes literary theory to unearth the truth about an enigmatic writer in the latest feast for the mind by the author of "Possession."
Reviewed by Laura Miller
[01/11/01]

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
A legendary Australian outlaw relates his adventures in this rousing tale of injustice and defiance from the prizewinning author of "Oscar and Lucinda."
Reviewed by Laura Miller
[01/11/01]

Demonology by Rick Moody
A collection of inventive and passionate stories by one of today's most acclaimed young writers.
Reviewed by Amy Benfer
[01/11/01]

Advertisement:

The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri
Life, death and forbidden love feed the feuds in a Bombay apartment building in this elegant, clever first novel.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen
[01/11/01]

Gob's Grief by Chris Adrian
History and fantasy combine in this powerful story of a twin killed during the Civil War and his brother's strange scheme to bring him back to life.
Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Williams
[01/11/01]

Cloning: Responsible Science or Technomadness? by Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard, editors
A new book shows that ethical questions about replicating humans are less consequential than the procedure's threat to our biological diversity.
Reviewed by Michael Scott Moore
[01/04/01]

Advertisement:

On Cukor by Gavin Lambert
Back at last -- a gorgeous, discreetly gossipy cult-classic book of photos and interviews with the elusive film director.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor
[12/21/00]

The Century of the Gene by Evelyn Fox Keller
A new book argues that there may be no such thing as a gene.
Reviewed by Carolyn McConnell
[12/19/00]

Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found by Jennifer Lauck
A memoirist who survived a childhood of neglect and catastrophe reinhabits her younger self, with powerful and harrowing results.
Reviewed by Brigitte Frase
[12/14/00]

Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood by Gary Taylor
A look at eunuchs through the ages offers a provocative take on what it means to be a man.
Reviewed by Greg Villepique
[12/13/00]

Advertisement:

Blood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery by Jake Horsley
A new book says the violence of great movies, from "The Wild Bunch" to "The Matrix," has a beauty that can't be denied.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor
[12/11/00]

Bellow by James Atlas
The long-awaited chronicle of the Nobel laureate's path from bootlegger's son to literary boychik to cranky old man shows why Saul Bellow has many admirers but few friends.
Reviewed by Edward Neuert
[12/06/00]

In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story by Debbie Geller
An oral history of the real fifth Beatle shows the visionary genius of the man who discovered the Fab Four.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor
[12/05/00]

The Undergrowth of Science by Walter Gratzer
A science writer explains what makes honest researchers cling to ridiculous ideas like N-rays, homeopathy and cold fusion.
Reviewed by Edward McSweegan
[11/30/00]

Advertisement:

Niccolr's Smile by Maurizio Viroli
Far from power mad, Machiavelli was a humane and principled man who never caught a break, according to a flattering new biography.
Reviewed by Minna Proctor
[11/22/00]

Doctor on Everest by Kenneth Kamler
A physician rides the "Into Thin Air" bandwagon with a grisly account of high-altitude medical disasters.
Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle
[11/20/00]

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
In the bestselling novelist's latest, the natural world overflows with lusty birds, bees and baby boomers.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd
[11/17/00]

"Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar" by Jay McInerney
From "Bright Lights, Big City" to gamay Beaujolais, the Brat Pack novelist finds being a jet-setting wine expert far more glamorous.
Reviewed by Matthew DeBord
[11/20/00]

Advertisement:

"Selected Stories" by Theodore Sturgeon
Why did Theodore Sturgeon's great stories of eros in the age of machines languish in the ghetto of science fiction?
Reviewed by John Clute
[11/15/00]

The Law of Averages by Frederick Barthelme
The confessed minimalist's new book proves that the much-reviled genre can still break your heart.
Reviewed by Jonathan Miles
[11/15/00]

Ho Chi Minh by William J. Duiker
The Vietnamese revolutionary emerges as a patriot closer to Thomas Jefferson than to V.I. Lenin in this monumental new biography.
Reviewed by Stanley Kutler
[11/14/00]

The Darwin Awards by Wendy Northcutt
The cult-favorite Web site spawns a book memorializing the kind of people who meet their maker at hurricane beach parties.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen
[11/10/00]

Advertisement:

Off Keck Road by Mona Simpson
Two women -- a single romantic and a have-not who takes what she can get -- love the same man in the latest from the author of "Anywhere but Here."
Reviewed by Patricia Kean
[11/06/00]


Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books




Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •