And the Oscar goes to...
Try out these great reads, brought to mind by recent Oscar nominated films...
Enjoy The Aviator? Try these:
Howard Hughes: Aviator by George J. Marrett. Marrett was an experimental test pilot for the Hughes Aircraft Company for 20 years, and before that he flew 188 combat missions for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. This scrupulously researched book begins by recounting Hughes' early flying years (his first flight took place in 1920, when he was 14) and continues with his work in developing aircraft during World War II and the postwar era, the growth of Hughes Aircraft, the early age of jets, and his famous flight in the Spruce Goose. Marrett tells how Hughes became a billionaire and relates his later calamitous years in Las Vegas, where, because of his desire for isolation, he became a recluse. Marrett also recounts Hughes' successful work as a film producer and his relationships with actresses, some of the most famous stars of the 1920s and 1930s.
Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing by Lee Server. At the ripe old age of 32, having collected three ex-husbands-Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra-Ava Gardner waxed introspective: "I still believe the most important thing in life is to be loved." Server's (Baby, I Don't Care) deliciously entertaining tome bursts with Hollywood dish and Oscar-worthy dialogue and is written in a crackling style that reads like great pulp. "Love became her terrible habit," he writes, "something hopeless to resist, impossible to get right." A Tobacco Road urchin turned "statue of Venus sprung to succulent life," Gardner ditched her secretarial aspirations and started at MGM in the early '40s as a contract actress earning $50 a week. She became an international star, drawing huge crowds on both sides of the Atlantic. But life wasn't always sweet for the gorgeous star of Show Boat and The Barefoot Contessa; her steamy affair and marriage to Sinatra ranks among the most notorious of Hollywood love stories. Gardner's career, hard drinking and screen-worthy love affairs are all chronicled in Server's page-turner prose, doing justice to one of cinema's most beautiful faces.
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg. Even those who've read many Hepburn biographies will find Berg's immersion in the actor's world engrossing, full of crisply-voiced takes on old Hollywood and intimate looks at her everyday life. As a longtime friend and ardent fan, Berg (Lindbergh; Max Perkins; etc.) does not attempt an objective biography; instead, he aims to convey Hepburn's thoughts and memories. Framed by Berg and Hepburn's 20-year friendship, the book charts the inescapable subjects of Hepburn's life, such as her romance with Spencer Tracy and her assessment of her own performances. She considered Tracy the greatest American screen actor and her last years with him (in the 1960s) the happiest of her life. Among her movies, she spoke warmly of her films with George Cukor. As to Hepburn's sexual orientation, Berg notes that in the 1930s she lived with actress Laura Harding and decades later was rumored to have exceptionally close relations with a woman, but Hepburn reported nothing. Most interesting is Berg's depiction of Hepburn's early acting days: how she moved from Broadway to Hollywood, negotiated an outsized salary, and, after becoming box-office poison, fought her way back with The Philadelphia Story. Throughout those years, she was befriended personally and professionally by her husband Ludlow Ogden Smith and by industrialist Howard Hughes. Berg is true to his subject and lets her voice come through in every quote, whether she's pooh-poohing him for thinking the 50-ish-degree water near her Connecticut house is cold ("Only for the first few seconds. And then you're numb") or explaining why she never tried to marry Spencer Tracy: "I never wanted to marry Spencer Tracy."
Love Brokeback Mountain? Try these favorites:
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Proulx has followed Postcards , her story of a family and their farm, with an extraordinary second novel of another family and the sea. The fulcrum is Quoyle, a patient, self-deprecating, oversized hack writer who, following the deaths of nasty parents and a succubus of a wife, moves with his two daughters and straight-thinking aunt back to the ancestral manse in Killick-Claw, a Newfoundland harbor town of no great distinction. There, Quoyle finds a job writing about car crashes and the shipping news for The Gammy Bird, a local paper kept afloat largely by reports of sexual abuse cases and comical, typographical errors. Killick-Claw may not be perfect, but it is a stable enough community for Quoyle and Co. to recover from the terrors of their past lives. But the novel is much more than Quoyle's story: it is a moving evocation of a place and people buffeted by nature and change. Proulx routinely does without nouns and conjunctions--"Quoyle, grinning. Expected to hear they were having a kid. Already picked himself for godfather"--but her terse prose seems perfectly at home on the rocky Newfoundland coast. She is in her element both when creating haunting images (such as Quoyle's inbred, mad and mean forbears pulling their house across the ice after being ostracized by more God-fearing folk) and when lyrically rendering a routine of gray, cold days filled with cold cheeks, squidburgers, fried bologna and the sea.
The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America by Larry McMurtry. Pulitzer Prize-winner McMurtry chronicles the rise to fame, fortune, and international celebrity of two of the West's most enduring figures -- and America's first real superstars. From the early 1880s to the end of his life in 1917, Buffalo Bill Cody was as famous as anyone could be. Annie Oakley was his most celebrated protégée, the "slip of a girl" from Ohio who could (and did) outshoot anybody to become the most celebrated star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. In this sweeping dual biography, Larry McMurtry explores the lives, the legends, and above all the truths about two larger-than-life American figures. With his Wild West show, Buffalo Bill helped invent the image of the West that still exists today -- cowboys and Indians, rodeo rough riders, sheriffs and outlaws, trick shooting, Stetsons, and buckskin. To each other, they were always "Missie" and "Colonel." To the rest of the world, they were cultural icons, setting the path for all that followed. Larry McMurtry -- a writer who understands the West better than any other -- recreates their astonishing careers and curious friendship in a fascinating history that reads like the very best of his fiction.
Enjoy Capote? Try:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. "Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there." If all Truman Capote did was invent a new genre--journalism written with the language and structure of literature--this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers. But Capote achieved more than that. He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction. The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise--the blood on the walls and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.
Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories by Truman Capote. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is a story that was first published in 1958. This wacky hillbilly-turned-playgirl who lives in a Manhattan brownstone shares not only Capote's philosophy of freedom and acceptance of human irregularities but also his fears and anxieties--'the mean reds' she calls them. For her the cure is to jump into a taxi and head for Tiffany's; nothing bad could happen, she says, amid 'that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets, and her dream is to have breakfast in that soothing setting. This volume also contains "House of Flowers," "A Diamond Guitar," and "A Christmas Memory."
Love Finding Neverland? Try:
The Little Minister by J. M. Barrie. "The Little Minister" by J. M. Barrie was first published in Good Words Magazine, spanning the months January to December 1891. Reckoned to be Barrie's best work, it is one of several novels about the fictional village of Thrums, said to be modeled on Barrie's home town of Kirriemuir. In 1840's Scotland, a young Scottish pastor falls in love with an educated, radiant gypsy girl, who turns out to be a peeress who impersonates a gypsy and smoothes things over between rebellious weavers and the authorities in 1840 Scotland. The play version, produced by the legendary Charles Frohman, was a tremendous success in which the star, according to William Winter's review Jan.10,1897 "expressed impulse, pertness, perversity, caprice, discontent. mischief, longing, self-will, arch and tantalizing sweetness and charmingly irrational contradictions of an impetuous girl." It was made into a RKO movie in 1934 with Katharine Hepburn and John Beal (as the Scottish Minister). Also try Half Hours by Barrie.
Love Seabiscuit? Try:
A Year At The Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck by Jane Smiley. Smiley's great love for horses inspired her spectacular novel Horse Heaven (2000). Now she chronicles her real-life equestrian experiences as a novice but adventurous horse owner bringing her untried young horses to the track in California with the help of a gifted trainer, Alexis, and the astonishing disclosures of Hali, an animal communicator with whom Smiley's horses share their thoughts and concerns. The very qualities of mind that make Smiley such a compelling novelist--her keen attentiveness to the sensuous world, her deep sensitivity to psychological states, and her fascination with life's entwinement of chance and inevitability--enable her to write about horses, both their interior and exterior selves, with extraordinary avidity, empathy, wonder, and gratitude. As she tells the intriguing stories of the horses she knows best, neurotic Persey, scintillating Waterwheel, and the book's irresistible star, ardent Hornblower (who tells Hali that he wants to be called by his nickname, Wowie, because Hornblower has negative "vibrational qualities"), Smiley, as erudite and probing as she is passionate and witty, meticulously and bewitchingly illuminates equine sense and sensibility. Ultimately, Smiley succeeds brilliantly in portraying horses not only as fully sentient beings but also as beautiful and intriguing creatures of unique intelligence and heart, who have, over the course of centuries, greatly enhanced and graced human life.
Captivated by Mystic River? Try:
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. Know this: Lehane's new novel, his first since the highly praised and bestselling Mystic River, carries an ending so shocking yet so faithful to what has come before, that it will go down as one of the most aesthetically right resolutions ever written. But as anyone who has read him knows, Lehane, despite his mastery of the mechanics of suspense, is about much more than twists; here, he's in pursuit of the nature of self-knowledge and self-deception, and the ways in which both can be warped by violence and evil. In summer 1954, two U.S. marshals, protagonist Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, arrive on Shutter Island, not far from Boston, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando from the prison/hospital for the criminally insane that dominates the island. The marshals' digging gets them nowhere fast as they learn of Rachel's apparently miraculous escape past locked doors and myriad guards, and as they encounter roadblocks and lies strewn across their path-most notably by the hospital's chief physician, the enigmatic J. Cawley-and pick up hints of illegal brain surgery performed at the hospital. Then, as a major hurricane bears down on the island, inciting a riot among the insane and cutting off all access to the mainland, they begin to fear for their lives. All of the characters-particularly Teddy, haunted by the tragic death of his wife-are wonderful creations, but no more wonderful than the spot-on dialogue with which Lehane brings them to life and the marvelous prose that enriches the narrative. There are mysteries within mysteries in this novel, some as obvious as the numerical codes that the missing patient leaves behind and which Teddy, a code breaker in WWII, must solve; some as deep as the most profound fears of the human heart. There is no mystery, however, about how good this book is; like Mystic River, it's a tour de force.
The Innocent by Harlan Coben. Matt Hunter made a mistake when he was 20 years old and paid for it with a four-year stint in prison that left him with a determination never to be locked up again. Finally, his life is back on the promising track he was taking before he accidentally killed a man: He has a good job, a newly pregnant wife he adores, and is about to close on the home of their dreams. Then he gets a couple of bizarre photos on his cell phone that seem to show his wife in a compromising position with a black-haired stranger. But before he can sort out who sent the anonymous pictures and why, he's running from the law--especially from the cop who was his best friend in grade school, and a sharp young detective who's stepped right into the middle of an FBI investigation spurred by the discovery that a dead nun who wasn't who she claimed to be is somehow mixed up in Matt and Olivia Hunter's life. Coben deftly wields a complicated plot involving a missing stripper, a dead gangster, an incriminating videotape, and a couple of agents who aren't quite who they seem to be, while Hunter manages to hold onto his faith in Olivia despite her clouded past and uncertain future. Like all Coben's protagonists, (including the hero of his popular series starring sports agent turned detective Myron Bolitar) Hunter is a nice, middle-class New Jersey boy who's still the innocent of the title, despite the miscarriage of justice that sent him to prison. Or was it? That's the moral question at the heart of this tightly constructed thriller, which will no doubt shoot directly to the top of the bestseller list, and deservedly so.
The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais. Crais's latest L.A.-based crime novel featuring super-sleuth Elvis Cole blends high-powered action, a commanding cast and a touch of dark humor to excellent dramatic effect. One morning at four, Cole gets a call from the LAPD informing him that a murdered John Doe has claimed, with his dying breath, to be Cole's father, a man Cole has never met. Cole immediately gets to work gathering evidence on the dead man - Herbert Faustina, aka George Reinnike - while cramping the style of the assigned detective, Jeff Pardy. Though Cole finds Reinnike's motel room key at the crime scene, the puzzle pieces are tough to put together, even with the unfailing help of partner Joe Pike and feisty ex-Bomb Squad techie Carol Starkey, who's so smitten with Cole that she can't think of him without smiling. Days of smart sleuthing work take the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Detective" from a Venice Beach escort service to the California desert, then a hospital in San Diego, where doubts about Reinnike's true heritage begin to dissipate. Meanwhile, a delusional psychopath named Frederick Conrad, who is convinced that his partner in crime was killed by Cole, stalks and schemes to even the score. There's lots to digest, but this character-driven series continues to be strong in plot, action and pacing, and Crais (The Last Detective) boasts a distinctive knack for a sucker-punch element of surprise.
**Reviews and descriptions taken from Amazon, Publisher's Weekly, and Books In Print.