bookMany Americans — and I count myself among them — are often hard on Europeans when it comes to issues like national defense, appeasement, and willingness to stand up to enemies. We belittle their failure to resist recent Russian intrusions in the Ukraine, we urge them to take a stronger stand in the Middle East, and we shake our heads at their lack of military preparedness.

bookIrish novelist Kennedy Marr is making millions of dollars through the sale of his books and as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Directors vie for his scripts, actresses and actors want to perform in his movies, and a university in England offers him a fabulous sum to teach for one year.

bookLike some other readers I know, my taste in books these last 20 years or so has shifted from fiction to non-fiction, especially history, biography, and literary studies. I still follow certain novelists — Anne Tyler, Pat Conroy, James Lee Burke, and others — and still review novels for this paper, but find that works of fiction simply don’t appeal as much as when I was in my twenties and thirties, when I read stacks of novels and poetry.

bookIn Annaliese From Off (Five Points Press, ISBN 978-0-692-24434-0, 362 pages, $15.99), Lindy Keane Carter gives us a rich, old-fashioned family saga set in the Georgia hills at the turn of the last century. 

The year is 1900, and John Stregal, a prosperous attorney living a comfortable life in Louisville, Kentucky, believes that he can make a fortune harvesting timber in Georgia. He forces his wife, Annaliese, and their children to make the move into this primitive community, promising them that they will all return home in two years. Accompanying them on this journey are John’s brother and partner, Ben, and his wife Lucenia, whom Annaliese dislikes and who advocates for the social justice causes of the day, including women’s rights and birth control.

book“In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

— George Orwell

We live in an age — the relativity of truth — in which Orwell’s adage seems as dated as monocles or top hats. Just as Darwin’s theory of evolution led to Social Darwinism, a philosophy pitting one human being against another with survival of the fittest as the supreme law for success, so Einstein’s theory of relativity changed popular philosophy and cultural mores as radically as it did the study of physics.

bookNote to readers: this is one of the few times I have written a column addressed to one sex — or gender, if you prefer that term. This one is for the guys facing the next holiday.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and there they are, shuffling through the checkout line of the grocery store in the late afternoon, men holding roses and boxes of chocolates, each of them looking sheepish and angry. The embarrassment stems from the fact that they have once again forgotten Valentine’s Day, the anger from Valentine’s Day itself.

bookIn French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mirielle Guiliano produced a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and became an international sensation, with her book translated into 37 languages. 

Now Guiliano is back with another book regarding les femmes francaises. In French Women Don’t Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitude (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4555-2411-2, 259 pages, $25), Guiliano takes her readers into the secrets of dieting, nutritional supplements, exercise, makeup, rest, and fashion that can help women (and men) fight the effects of aging.

bookFor many of us, the bells ringing in the New Year carry a bittersweet tune. We look forward to better times, which means we’ve gone through some hard times. We make resolutions, which means we have found faults in ourselves. Here in the South, we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day in the hope that these will bring good luck, implying that the past year brought some bad luck. (Note: one research study found that black-eyed peas cause the least amount of flatulence. Seconds, anyone?)

bookIn 1977 I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

That was a year of deep reading for me — Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Flaubert, and so many others — but it was Gatsby I loved. The novel obsessed me, not so much for its characters or its plot or its literary symbols as for the rhythms of its sentences and the juxtaposition of unlikely adjectives and nouns.

bookFor all of you who haven’t started your holiday shopping yet, for you who scorn Black Friday, who keep telling yourselves day after day that you will go buy gifts tomorrow (tomorrow: what a wonderful word!), for all of you who wake at dawn in a cold sweat knowing that you are down to the wire, the holidays can hover like dark clouds at midnight. Gift cards are the backup plan, but then you remember you gave your mother, your siblings, and Uncle Billy-Bob plastic for the Olive Garden for the last five years running. Suddenly your mouth is drier than a sack of Kibbles and Bits, and your hands are shaking the way they did that morning after Billy-Bob’s New Year’s party and you woke face down in his backyard bean patch without a clue as to how you got there.

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