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Books for Grownups December 2009

Online Extra...

AARP The Magazine and Publishers Weekly have teamed up to let you know about the latest fiction, nonfiction, and lifestyle/self-help of interest to you. Once you've checked out the selections below, visit Publishers Weekly's fiction and nonfiction pages for reviews, author Q&As, and more.


Last Night in Twisted River
By John Irving (Random House, $28)
Irving's latest epic covers a giant swath of Americana as a father and son, forced to flee a New Hampshire logging camp, weather nearly half of the 20th century together. The son's trajectory—he grows up to be a famous writer—bears a striking resemblance to Irving's own.
Read a full review of this book.

Noah's Compass
By Anne Tyler (Knopf, $25.95)
Liam, the 61-year-old protagonist of Tyler's gorgeous new novel, is at loose ends—think job loss and a head injury—when he stumbles upon a second chance in the form of a not-quite-right younger woman. It can be painful to watch lovably flawed Liam negotiate old and new relationships, but ultimately the book is about self-preservation—and recapturing the vitality he thought he had lost.

The Original of Laura
By Vladimir Nabokov (Knopf, $35)
In a publishing season teeming with posthumous works by literary titans, the final words from the author of Lolita (he died in Switzerland in 1977) dwell on death, decay, and sex. Nabokov left instructions that these notes for a novel—handwritten on 3x5 index cards, and reproduced here in a Chip Kidd design featuring detachable, re-sortable facsimiles of that format—were not to be published. An object lesson about control from beyond the grave?

By Charles Cumming (St. Martin's, $25.99)
Miss the bold old days? Lovers of espionage fiction in the tradition of John le Carré and Charles McCarry will appreciate this character-driven debut, in which an older CIA veteran and an agent of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service go head-to-head in a secret plot to destabilize the People's Republic of China. A complex and satisfying novel.

A Rumpole Christmas
By John Mortimer (Viking, $21.95)
Who doesn't adore curmudgeonly barrister Horace Rumpole, with his dry wit, his love of food and drink, his reluctance to retire? The five holiday stories collected here constitute Rumpole's swan song (his creator died on January 16 of this year).


The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives
Edited by Otto Penzler (Little, Brown, $25.99)
The mystery genre's brightest stars—including Laura Lippman, John Lescroart, Ridley Pearson, Robert B. Parker, and Faye Kellerman—unveil the origins of their characters in an entertaining collection of essays for anyone who enjoys the thrill of the armchair chase.

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
By Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan, $23)
A bout with breast cancer brought Ehrenreich face-to-face with the big business of frenetic positive thinking. She's at her witty—and skeptical—best as she traces the philosophy of positivism from its 19th-century roots to what she sees as its role in the invasion of Iraq and our ongoing economic crisis. Sometimes a grouchy mindset can pave the way to insight.

Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955-Present
By Gail Buckland (Knopf, $40)
At the heart of Buckland's visually hypnotic retrospective lies the unbreakable bond between the development of rock music and the evolution of photography. Nearly 300 iconic photos capture the power (and self-indulgence) of rock-and-roll culture from 1955 on.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made
By Anne C. Heller (Doubleday/Talese, $35)
An illuminating biography of the Russian emigrée who founded Objectivism, an anticollectivist philosophy of free-market capitalism that Rand laid out in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Depressive, pill-popping, chain-smoking, and manipulative, Rand nonetheless converted thousands to her belief in self-interest as a moral good.

Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter with the Gospels
By Mary Gordon (Pantheon, $24)
Novelist and memoirist Gordon tackles the power and puzzle of the Christian gospels with measure and imagination, humanism, and her trademark love of the power of words as she broaches the mysteries of faith.


Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World
By Wendy Smith (Hyperion, $14.99)
Smith explains how even the smallest, seemingly insignificant gifts to charitable organizations can make huge differences at home and abroad. Forgoing an inexpensive luxury just once a week—and donating the few dollars thus saved—can fix a bridge or bring clean water to a family. An apt notion as we enter the season of consumption.

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays
By Joel Waldfogel (Princeton University Press, $9.95)
Waldfogel decries holiday-time consumer madness in this compelling brief on why compulsory gift-giving is stressful, costly, and economically unsound. Indeed, this lively, spot-on book may be the one present it still makes sense to buy in a recession.

The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss
By George Bonanno (Basic Books, $25.95)
Integrating science and common sense, Columbia University clinical-psychology professor Bonanno upends the conventional wisdom about the stages of grieving. His thoughtful study of how different people grieve differently features tales of loss that resonate and give us hope.

Taming the Beloved Beast: How Medical Technology Costs Are Destroying Our Health Care System
By Daniel Callahan (Princeton University Press, $29.95)
Medical ethicist Callahan offers a tough-love solution to costly technologies that don't necessarily make us healthier. He suggests prioritizing resources to favor prevention; following a path to universal health care; and weighing innovation against its costs. High-tech care should go to those who benefit from it the most—the young—says the 79-year-old Callahan. His message is harsh, but to discount it may cost us even more.

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You
By Deepak Chopra (Crown, $25)
The link between body and soul, argues alternative medicine guru Chopra, has been severed. His hope is that humankind is about to embark on a "restoration project" that will at long last grant the soul the attention it deserves. In this multilayered text to savor and study, Chopra presents five "breakthroughs" that address the body and five that address the soul.

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