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Books for Grownups — April 2011

AARP The Magazine and the editors of Publishers Weekly have teamed up to let you know about the latest fiction, nonfiction and how-to books of interest to you. Once you've checked out the selections below, visit Publishers Weekly for reviews, author Q-and-A's and more.


Book List

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So Much Pretty

By Cara Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, $25)
Nostalgic for the 1960s back-to-nature movement? In this remarkable debut, a married couple  —  a pair of doctors bent on pursuing a simpler life in upstate New York  —  learn more than they ever wanted to know about injustices in present-day America.

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The Nomination

By William G. Tapply (Skyhorse, $24.95)
A nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court will stop at nothing to hide a dirty secret that dates back to the Vietnam War. This is a finely crafted thriller from Tapply (1940–2009), who is best known for his Brady Coyne mystery series.

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By Don Winslow (Grand Central, $25.99)
Nicholai Hel was an accomplished assassin when novelist Trevanian (the pen name of Rodney Whitaker, 1931–2005) introduced him in Shibumi in 1979. Now Winslow (Savages) dons Trevanian’s mantle and cloaks Hel in a tangled series of adventures in this exciting prequel. In exchange for his release from an American-run prison in 1951 Japan, Hel takes on a new identity and sets off on a seemingly suicidal mission to rub out a Soviet commissioner in China. Hel’s mastery of Go and hoda korosu (“naked kill,” or without weapons) proves key to his survival.

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Started Early, Took My Dog

By Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99)
British author Atkinson’s seamlessly plotted fourth novel featuring Jackson Brodie takes the “semi-retired” PI back to his Yorkshire hometown to trace the biological parents of Hope McMasters, a woman adopted by a couple in the 1970s at age two. So why isn’t Hope’s adoption on record? And why don’t her parents show up in any database? Atkinson injects wit into even the bleakest moments  —  and never loses her razor-sharp edge.

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Emily, Alone

By Stewart O’Nan (Viking, $25.95)
The novelist is a peerless observer with a knack for finding resonant stories in undistinguished lives. Here he checks back in with the Maxwell family (from Wish You Were Here) as matriarch Emily navigates later life, a thinning field of contemporaries and the misunderstandings unique to parents and their grown children — and grandchildren.

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Blood, Bones, and Butter

By Gabrielle Hamilton. (Random, $25)
If it’s true that a successful restaurant demands a mix of cookery and stagecraft, Gabrielle Hamilton’s parentage admirably prepared her to become the owner and chef of New York’s Prune restaurant: Her French mother cooked “tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones” in high heels, while her father fashioned sets for Ringling Bros. Circus. Here she engagingly retraces the unorthodox trajectory of her life.

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Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

By Ruth Brandon (Harper, $26.99)
Vanity. Gender politics. Wheeling. Dealing. And oh yes, one fascinating character: They all populate the life story of Helena Rubinstein. One of the first self-made female millionaires, Rubenstein took umbrage at the “No Jews” policy of a luxury Park Avenue apartment — and bought the entire building. Later, at 91, she calmly thwarted robbers in her home.

Cover of M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot by Steven Bingen, Steven X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan

MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot

Edited by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester and Michael Troyan, foreword by Debbie Reynolds (Santa Monica, $34.95)
An intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the backlot that was home to some of the 20th century’s most famous screenwriters and actors (among the latter: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn). Readers become privy to famous movie sets (Tarzan’s swinging vines; the mansion from The Philadelphia Story) and everyday life (the school where child actors learned their lessons) in this handsome coffee-table collection.

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Art and Madness: A Memoir of Love Without Reason

By Anne Roiphe (Doubleday/Talese, $23.95)
Roiphe’s fascinating memoir of her literary youth in New York City during the late 1950s and early 1960s harbors a dark story of untenable marriages, alcoholism and outrageous sexism. She presents vivid, priceless snapshots of Communist hysteria, faddish homosexuality and the heartbreaking fragility of talented men.

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The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan

By Bradford Martin (Hill and Wang, $26)
In a valuable and wide-ranging portrait of the complex political cross-currents that swirled through a decade too often seen simplistically as “Morning in America,” historian Martin details some countervailing trends: the efforts to advance abortion rights, dismantle South African apartheid and encourage nuclear disarmament.

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Michael’s Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for
People Who Love to Eat

By Michael Schwartz and Joann Cianciulli (Clarkson Potter, $35)
James Beard Award winner Schwartz serves up a stellar mix of meticulously planned recipes that focus on seasonal flavors while introducing such trendy ingredients as Italian fregola; nutty, Spanish romesco sauce; and fiery-hot North African harissa. Bet you didn’t know that habanero hot sauce works well in a Bloody Mary!

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Golf Foreplay: Everything You Need to Know About the Game — Before You Try to Hit the Sweet Spot

By Ken Altshuler (Sellers, $15.95)
A morning DJ from Maine takes us on a rollicking trip across the links, mixing a golfbag-load of fun into a seemingly endless list of what can and cannot be done while playing the game. Laughs aside, this is a highly useful book that looks at golf from a fundamentally reverential perspective.

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Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool

By Taylor Clark (Little, Brown, $25.99)
Why do some people evince nerves of steel under stress while others become wet noodles? Examining the neuroscience of fear, Clark highlights stories of people who stayed calm in life-or-death situations. He offers tips for the timid on how to keep your act together: You can start by accepting uncertainty, he says, and working with — not fighting — your fears.

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The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study

By Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin (Hudson Street, $25.95)
An 80-year-long Stanford University study of 1,500 people turned up surprising lessons about who lives a long, healthy life — and why. It’s all about finding personal balance while living conscientiously — which is to say, applying forethought, planning and perseverance to one’s professional and personal lives.

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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

By Margaret Heffernan (Walker & Company, $26)
We routinely ignore painful or frightening truths, argues Heffernan, subconsciously believing that denial can protect us. Yet suffering ignored continues unabated, so our delusions leave us ever more vulnerable. Heffernan cites examples from the private (a woman who married an alcoholic; another oblivious to her husband’s sexual abuse of her daughter) to the public: Alan Greenspan ignoring the housing bubble, a soldier working for Hitler. All in all, a thoughtful and entertaining treatise on the seductiveness — and consequences — of overlooking what’s staring us right in the eyes.

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