BookCourt BLOG

One good book leads to another …

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

If you believe that one good turn deserves another, or even if you don’t, it’s nearly axiomatic to the reader (the one who gets nervous finishing a book with the bedside pile depleted) that one good book leads to another. What follows is a rather extended example of that truism.

Radioactive by Lauren Redniss: Book Cover

In 1891, 24-year-old Marie Sklodowska moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism. They fell in love. They took their honeymoon on bicycles. They expanded the periodic table, discovering two new elements with startling properties, radium and polonium. They recognized radioactivity as an atomic property, heralding the dawn of a new scientific era. They won the Nobel Prize. Newspapers mythologized the couple’s romance, beginning articles on the Curies with “Once upon a time . . . ” Then, in 1906, Pierre was killed in a freak accident. Marie continued their work alone. She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911, and fell in love again, this time with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Scandal ensued. Duels were fought. In the century since the Curies began their work, we’ve struggled with nuclear weapons proliferation, debated the role of radiation in medical treatment, and pondered nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. In Radioactive, appealingly designed and inspirationally illustrated, Lauren Redniss links these contentious questions to a love story in 19th Century Paris.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff: Book Cover

Like Marie Curie, Cleopatra was a woman, and you might think the relationship would end there. But in some strange (and not easily explainable) way, reading the first will make you want to read Cleopatra: A Life, by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff. Or maybe it won’t, but that doesn’t really matter. Lacking the illustrations of the aforementioned book—no one knows for sure what Cleopatra looked like—the author brings to vivid life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day.

Product Details

From one royalty to another (that may be the connection here) we come to The Emperor of All Maladies, which is truly a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than 5,000  years. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. In the end, Mukherjee provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

Product Details

From one exploration to another, we arrive at werewolves and Wernher von Braun, Stonehenge and the sex lives of sea corals, aboriginal myths, and an Anglican bishop. In his new book, Moon, Bernd Brunner weaves variegated information into an enchanting glimpse of Earth’s closest celestial neighbor, whose mere presence inspires us to wonder what might be “out there.” Going beyond the discoveries of contemporary science, Brunner presents an unusual cultural assessment of our complex relationship with Earth’s lifeless, rocky satellite. As well as offering an engaging perspective on such age-old questions as “What would Earth be like without the moon?” Brunner surveys the moon’s mythical and religious significance and provokes existential soul-searching through a lunar lens.

Product Details

Or get ready for another trip with Packing for Mars, in which Mary Roach, best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As the author discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth.

Product Details

If you are determined to travel, but closer to home, consider this: It’s no secret that America’s cookouts owe a lot to the exports of the European towns of Frankfurt and Hamburg, but we may not realize how much we’ve taken from two others, Budweis and Pilsen. Likewise, we know who to thank for Panama hats and Bermuda shorts. But did you know that Tuxedo Park, New York, brought Americans a staple of formal wear? Or that the Bikini Atoll gave us something dramatically less formal? In Toponymity, an ingenious follow-up to the popular Anonyponymous, John Bemelmans Marciano brings us a new, geographical, way of thinking about words. This book takes us on a lively tour of American, European, and world history, revealing our linguistic heritage in all its richness and—to use another toponym—serendipity. Illustrated with maps drawn in Marciano’s witty style, this book is consistently smart, entertaining, and enlightening. It makes a perfect gift for language lovers, whether they come from Cologne, Germany, or the Canary Islands.

From the physical to the philosophy, we can examine how to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love. They are all versions of a bigger question: how do you live? How do you do the good or honorable thing, while flourishing and feeling happy? This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Monatigne, perhaps the first truly modern individual. A nobleman, public official and wine-grower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them “essays,” meaning “attempts” or “tries.” Into them, he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog’s ears twitched when it was dreaming, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. In How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, Sarah Bakewell relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, youthful career and sexual adventures, his travels, and his friendships with the scholar and poet Étienne de La Boétie and with his adopted “daughter,” Marie de Gournay. And we also meet his readers—who for centuries have found in Montaigne an inexhaustible source of answers to the haunting question, “how to live?”

A Tip of the Mitford Iceberg

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

If there is a word to explain why the Mitford sisters draw rapt attention 90 years after the last of the six was born, it is “fascinating,” combined with the fact the youngest survives and is still writing—with two books in her name on the shelves within the last few weeks.

In a sentence, they were (and one still is) Nancy and Jessica, who became well-known writers, Deborah who ran one of the most successful stately homes in England, Unity and Diana who were well known during the 1930s for being close to Hitler, and Pamela who was once married to the millionaire scientist Derek Jackson and whom self-described “poet and hack” John Betjeman referred to as “Rural Mitford.”  Churchill and Macmillan and dozens of others weave in an out of this group biography, but that is for another day.

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford: Book CoverDon't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford: Book Cover

Dozens of books by and about the Mitfords are in print and readily available, notably Nancy’s novels set between the wars and during WWII, featuring the most notorious (and outrageous) members of her family, in thin disguise. At least five are freshly minted this year in stylish, uniform editions, starting with Wigs on the Green written in 1934 skewering the devoted followers of British fascism, among them Unity (Eugenia Malmains in the novel) and Diana (General Jack is modeled in the book on her lover and husband, Sir Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists).

Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, is the youngest of the famously witty brood. Deborah’s effervescent memoir, Wait for Me!, chronicles her remarkable life, from an eccentric but happy childhood in the Oxfordshire countryside, to tea with Adolf Hitler and her controversially political sister Unity in 1937, to her marriage to the second son of the Duke of Devonshire. Her life would change utterly with his unexpected inheritance of the title and vast estates after the wartime death of his brother, who had married Kick Kennedy, the beloved sister of John F. Kennedy. Her friendship with that family would last through triumph and tragedy. This biography, with its intense warmth and charm, is a unique portrait of an age, and an unprecedented look at the rhythms of life inside one of the great aristocratic families of England. It is irresistible reading, and will join the shelf of Mitford classics to delight readers for years to come.

In the spring of 1956, Deborah invited the writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor to visit Lismore Castle, the Devonshires’ house in Ireland. The halcyon visit sparked a deep friendship and a lifelong exchange of highly entertaining correspondence, much of it now part of In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. When something caught their interest and they knew the other would be amused, they sent off a letter—there are glimpses of President Kennedy’s inauguration, weekends at Sandringham, filming with Errol Flynn, the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and, above all, life at Chatsworth, the great house that Debo spent much of her life restoring, and of Paddy in the house that he and his wife designed and built on the southernmost peninsula of Greece.There rarely have been such contrasting styles: Debo—smart, idiosyncratic, and funny—darts from subject to subject, dashing off letters in her breezy, spontaneous style. Paddy, the polygot and widely read virtuoso, replies in the fluent polished manner that has earned him recognition as one of the finest writers in the English language. The letters are edited, by the way, by journalist Charlotte Mosley, Diana’s daughter-in-law writes.

At the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey—to walk to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the rich and sparkling account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between the Woods and the Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep and intelligence, Leigh Fermor’s book explores a remarkable moment in time. Hitler has just come to power but war is still ahead, as he walks through a Europe soon to be forever changed—through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, to Teutonic and Slav heartlands, through the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire, up the Rhine and down to the Danube.

The Unlikeliest Friendship

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

There may have been no tighter nor more unlikely friendship linking ring with stage, or sport with literature for that matter, than the enduring relationship between heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and Nobel Prize-winning playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Tunney, raised on the Lower West Side where “pugnacity took precedence over romance,” and the angular, older Shaw, who was not reluctant to enter the ring as an amateur, and for whom the “raw drama of the ring in all its color, excitement and controversy” fed his imagination, were remarkably alike in spirit, curiosity and determination, both physical and intellectual.

Jay R. Tunney, writer, businessman and student of Shaw and his works, tells this remarkable and exotic story with drama, passion and grace, intimate as only a son’s remembrance can be, but always in the context of American and world history in the 1920s and ‘30s that was the stage for both Gene Tunney and G.B. Shaw.

The photograph on the cover of The Prizefighter and the Playwright—the tall, muscular, firm-jawed boxer and the slender, white-bearded playwright gripping a walking stick—is a fitting visual introduction to this strange and eloquent memoir in which brains and brawn merge, perhaps as never before.

Tunney and Shaw were aware of each other at least two years before they met. Training in the Adirondacks for his first fight with Jack Dempsey, in 1926, Tunney told reporter Brian Bell he was relaxing with Samuel Butler’s memoir, The Way of All Flesh, which, he said, began with an excellent preface by George Bernard Shaw. “There is little to suggest the gladiator in this mild, quiet-spoken, blue-eyed individual,” Bell considered, “as he talks of tennis, golf, books—Wells, Tennyson and Omar Khayam are among his favorite authors.”

The revelation, which Tunney never hid, would bring mockery and teasing throughout his career from reporters who were more accustomed to Dempsey’s penchant for comic strip, and even lesser literary pursuits from the athletes they covered..

Shaw meanwhile followed the buildup to the fight from London with mounting anticipation. “Everything he remembered and read about Tunney interested him,” Jay Tunney recounts, “in no small part because the boxer seemed to bear a resemblance to his fictional hero Cashel Byron”—boxer-protagonist in an early Shaw story—“and Tunney was fighting against a man who was the personification of Cashel’s fictional opponent, the mauler Billy Paradise. Shaw told Lawrence Langner, his exclusive agent in New York, that the invincible Dempsey could be beaten by a scientific fighter.”

He was, on Sept. 23, 1926, in Philadelphia, and again by Tunney, a day less than a year later in Chicago, in the “long count” fight that is one of the most famous in boxing history. Tunney retired as undefeated heavyweight champion after beating Tom Heeney in 1928.

Jay Tunney recounts his father’s career in all of the dramatic and colorful detail that it deserves, and it is one of the ironies of life that Dempsey—loud, brash, bullish and a celebrity fit for the Golden Age of Sports—is more easily recognized today than the “scientific fighter” who beat him.

But all of that, in a sense, is only introduction to the bigger story in Jay Tunney’s view, that of the enduring friendship between the two men, and his father’s soul and humanity as a husband, parent and champion of life.

Gene Tunney married Mary “Polly” Lauder in 1928, and their relationship with each other and with G.B.S., as he is known in this part of the book, and Shaw’s wife, comprise much of the rest of this fascinating memoir.

Polly’s illness shortly after their marriage, while on the Adriatic island of Brioni, underscored the nature of the friendship between Tunney and Shaw. With Polly seemingly near death, the prizefighter and the playwright wandered one evening into Saint Rocco’s Chapel, which was built in 1504. Tunney, once an altar boy, told Shaw it had been a long time since he had been to confession or attended Mass. Jay Tunney recounts this conversation:

“You may have left the church,” Shaw said, “but the church would not leave you.”

“I am one of those people who believe in prayer,” said Gene.

“Then you must pray,” said Shaw.

Like a lot of other things in Gene Tunney’s life, he succeeded in that arena, too. Polly survived after surgery by two German doctors vacationing on the island. The operation was in the kitchen of the hotel on the island..

G.B.S. died in 1950, Gene Tunney in 1978, and his widow outlived him by 30 years.

The Prizefighter and the Playwright is packed with rare and fascinating photos and illustrations, many of them from the family collection, and concludes with an invaluable “outline of sources” by the author.

Monday, March 15th, 2010

March 15– March 21, 2023

BOOKCOURT Best Sellers


Hardcover Fiction
  1. ASK. Sam Lipsyte. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25. Our Price $17.50.
  2. THE HEIGHTS. Peter Hedges. Penguin. $25.95. Our Price $18.17.
  3. THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT. Cathleen Schine. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25. Our Price $17.50.
  4. MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND. Helen Simonson. Random House. $25. Our Price $17.50.
  5. GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. Steig Larsson. Random House. $25.95.           Our Price $18.17.
  6. WOLF HALL. Hilary Mantel. Henry Holt. $27. Our Price $18.90.
  7. SUMMERTIME. J.M. Coetzee. Penguin. $25.95. Our Price $18.17.
  8. MAN FROM BEIJING. Henning Mankell. Random House. $25.95. Our Price $18.17.
  9. THE HELP. Kathryn Stockett. Penguin. $24.95. Our Price $17.47.
  10. WHERE THE GOD OF LOVE HANGS OUT. Amy Bloom. Random House. $25. Our Price $17.50

Hardcover Nonfiction

  1. JUST KIDS. Patti Smith. HarperCollins. $27. Our Price $18.90.
  2. HAPPINESS PROJECT. Gretchen Rubin. HarperCollins. $25.99. Our Price $18.19.
  3. I LEGO NEW YORK. Christopher Neimann. Abrams. $14.95. Our Price $10.47.
  4. MY BREAD. Jim Lahey. Norton. $29.95. Our Price $20.97.
  5. AD HOC AT HOME. Thomas Keller. Artisan. $50. Our Price $35.
  6. RESTORING A HOUSE IN THE CITY. Ingrid Abramovitch. Artisan. $40.                  Our Price $28.
  7. GAME CHANGE. Mark Halperin & John Heilemann. HarperCollins. $27.99.                       Our Price $19.59.
  8. YOU ARE NOT A GADGET. Jaron Lanier. Random House. $24.95. Our Price $17.47.
  9. BROOKLYN MODERN. Diana Lind. Rizzoli. $45. Our Price $31.50.
  10. MOMOFUKU. David Chang. Random House. $40. Our Price $28.

Paperback Fiction

  1. LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN. Colum McCann. Random House. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  2. BROOKLYN. Colm Toibin. Simon & Schuster. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  3. ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG. Muriel Barbery. Europa. $15.                  Our Price $10.50.
  4. CATCHER IN THE RYE. J.D. Salinger. Little, Brown. $6.99. Our Price $4.89.
  5. GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Mass Market Edition). Steig Larsson. Random House. $7.99. Our Price $5.59.
  6. GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Trade Edition). Steig Larsson.                  Random House. $14.95. Our Price $10.47.
  7. TOURIST. Olen Steinhauer. St. Martin’s Press. $14.99. Our Price $10.49.
  8. OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Elizabeth Strout. Random House. $14. Our Price $9.80.
  9. UNACCUSTOMED EARTH. Jhumpa Lahiri. Random House. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  10. NETHERLAND. Joseph O’Neill. Random House. $14.95. Our Price $10.47.

    Paperback Nonfiction

  1. FOOD RULES. Michael Pollan. Penguin. $11. Our Price $7.70.
  2. AGE OF WONDER. Richard Holmes. Random House. $17.95. Our Price $12.57.
  3. LITTLE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Ernst Gombrich. Yale University Press. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  4. WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING. Haruki Murakami. Random House. $14. Our Price $9.80.
  5. MY LIFE IN FRANCE. Julia Child. Random House. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  6. REPORTING AT WIT’S END. St. Clair McKelway. Bloomsbury. $18.Our Price $12.60.
  7. ON THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE. Seneca. Penguin. $8.95. Our Price $6.27.
  8. ZAGAT NEW YORK CITY RESTAURANTS 2010. Zagat Survey. $15.95.               Our Price $11.17.
  9. IN DEFENSE OF FOOD. Michael Pollan. Penguin. $15. Our Price $10.50.
  10. OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA. Michael Pollan. Penguin. $16. Our Price $11.20.

    Children’s Hardcover & Paperback

  1. BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH. Rick Riordan. Hyperion. $7.99. Our Price $5.59.
  2. TITAN’S CURSE. Rick Riordan. Hyperion. $7.99. Our Price $5.59.
  3. MERMAIDS ON PARADE. Melanie Hope Greenberg. Penguin. $16.99.                   Our Price $11.89.
  4. CITY IS. Norman Rosten. Illustrations by Melanie Hope Greenberg. Holt. $16.95.                 Our Price $11.87.
  5. I’M YOUR PEANUT BUTTER BIG BROTHER. Selina Alko. Random House. . $16.99. Our Price $11.89.
  6. CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM HARVEY MOON. Pat Cummings. Simon & Schuster. $6.99. Our Price $4.89.
  7. WHEN YOU REACH ME. Rebecca Stead. Random House. $15.99. Our Price $11.19.
  8. LAYLA’S HEAD SCARF. Miriam Cohen. Star Bright Books. $5.95. Our Price $4.17.
  9. HUGGING HOUR. Aileen Leijten. Penguin. $15.99. Our Price $11.19.
  10. CITY HAWK. Meghan McCarthy. Simon & Schuster. $15.99. Our Price $11.19.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
But Always Meeting Ourselves
Published: June 16, 2023 / ny times
  • In honor of Bloomsday, the anniversary of the events of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a writer shares how he connected with his grandfather between the covers of the novel.