Thursday Book: 3 Fall (Non-Fiction) Reads

New York Times 


PILOT EXPERIMENT: Michael Chabon’s new novel, “Telegraph Avenue” — it’s at No. 7 on the hardcover fiction list — tells the story of two families, one black and one white, in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif. Twelve years ago, when Chabon’s novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” was starting to make some noise (it went on to win a Pulitzer in 2001), newspaper profiles mentioned that the author was wrapping up another project: a television pilot called “Telegraph Avenue,” about a black family and a white family in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif. How did Chabon get from there to here? “When I first considered the possibility of transforming the script into a novel,” he said via e-mail, “I went through the usual process, apparently requisite to my beginning any novel, of lying to myself about how easy it was going to be. I told myself I would just be able to ‘novelize’ it. Two and a half years later, battered and discouraged and ready to quit, and ready to kill the optimistic idiot who got me into this mess, I belatedly realized my mistake. A pilot is there to set the table. To set it beautifully, and with a proper and adequate complement of utensils for the coming meal. But in terms of nourishment it only really sets out some canapés, maybe a dish of olives. A novel has to serve a full, seven-course meal with sherbet in the middle and maybe a last little passed tray of petits fours. I had to start all over again, and reconceive the entire thing.”
BLOCK THE VOTE: There’s been a lot of talk lately about voter fraud. But conservatives aren’t the only ones nervous about dirty tricks threatening the democratic process. The leftist journalist Greg Palast has a new book, “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps,” which enters the paperback nonfiction list at No. 10 and details his investigations into, among other things, voter purges, poorly designed ballots and something Palast calls prestidigitizing, in which electronic voting machines “malfunction” to favor Republican candidates. Palast’s prose has a zippy, breathless quality that might put you in mind of Michael Moore — “How does a ballot get spoiled? Not by leaving it out of the fridge” — but he’s also an expert in statistics who reports regularly for the BBC, Rolling Stone and other outlets. And he doesn’t hesitate to go after the other side, either. “It’s not my job to preserve Democrats,” he writes. “But preserving democracy, with that fragile little d, that means something to me.”
LOW AND SLOW: The lovers in Sandra Brown’s romantic thrillers tend to delay climbing into bed as long as possible; her latest, “Low Pressure,” might as well be called “Slow Simmer.” But when they get there, Brown makes sure it’s worthwhile (cf. Page 403). The formula works — she’s had more than 60 best sellers, and “Low Pressure” hits the hardcover list this week at No. 5. Still, it was a little surprising to learn Brown was one of five thriller writers tapped for a U.S.O. trip to meet the troops in Afghanistan last fall. “I wasn’t the most popular author in the group,” she admitted to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Clive Cussler was with us, and he is revered by the military. And Mark Bowden, who wrote ‘Black Hawk Down,’ was also extremely popular with the servicemen. Next to them, I was kind of the fluff piece.” In The Huffington Post after her return, Brown described being knocked over by the downdraft from a military helicopter: “I went tumbling for about 15 yards, before being stopped by a wall. I wasn’t hurt, but since I was in full gear, I was sprawled on my back and couldn’t get up. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t my best moment!” Gregory Cowles
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