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Books for Grownups - December 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.


And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, a Life
Charles Shields (Holt, $30)
This is the first biography to appear on Kurt Vonnegut, who died in April 2007. It probes the novelist’s personal and professional lives, from his experiences as an American POW who survived the fire-bombing of Dresden during World War II (the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five) to his virtual canonization as a countercultural literary icon in the 1960s.

Pulphead: Essays
John Jeremiah Sullivan (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16)
Sullivan dissects American pop culture in his hilarious and revelatory essay collection. But then what would you expect from a man who turned his home into the set for a reality TV show and habitually frequents Christian rock festivals and tea-party marches? He recounts those and other of-the-moment experiences with offbeat insight and a sort of hangdog charm.

House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash
John Carter Cash (Insight, $39.95)
This loving tribute by the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash is packed with ephemera that offer insight into a near-mythic musician. Reproductions of childhood photos and poems appear alongside artwork, song lyrics, letters written on hotel stationery, valentines that Johnny sent to June and even a chili recipe (apparently the Cash-style version was renowned). These collage elements add up to a picture of Cash as “a complicated man,” full of contradictions, passions — and faith.

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz (Holt, $28)
The nimble author of Confederates in the Attic uses the perfect anachronism — “accelerant” — to describe the flinty, 59-year-old Brown. As midnight drew nigh on October 16, 1859, Brown led 18 insurgents (five were black; two were his sons) in attacking the armory at Harpers Ferry, which was then in Virginia. His capture and hasty hanging fed the flames of abolition in the North and secession in the South. The dramatic but doomed attack serves as tinder for this fiery portrait of the radical as American original.

My Song: A Memoir
By Harry Belafonte, With Michael Shnayerson (Knopf, $30)
Belafonte chronicles his life from early childhood — where a violent father made life difficult for him, his brother and his mother — and his first few serendipitous singing gigs (he had planned to be an actor) to the difficulties in his own three marriages, the grueling life of the show circuit and his later involvement in — and financing of — the Civil Rights Movement.


The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married
Iris Krasnow (Gotham, $26)
After gleaning wisdom from 200 happily married women across the United States, Krasnow replicates their strategies for sustaining marital accord: She profiles empty-nesters reinventing themselves through new careers and drives home the message that one’s happiness is ultimately one’s own responsibility. Oh, and clingy soul mates, take note: Krasnow is high on the self-affirming power of separate interests — and even separate vacations.

Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food
By Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)
Drawing on decades of cooking and teaching, this is Monsieur Pepin’s opus: more than 700 of his best French and French-accented dishes. Whether he's explaining how to make duck cassoulet, artichoke hearts with tarragon and mushrooms, or tarte tatin, Pepin makes it seem doable. (Should your culinary confidence flag, he shares tidbits of wisdom from his own kitchen successes — and failures.)

The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally
By Jere & Emilee Gettle, with Meghan Sutherland (Hyperion, $29.99)
Jere Gettle had two things in mind when she started the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in 1998: She wanted to preserve the legacy of non-hybrid seeds, and she wanted to remind people about the magic of planting a seed and watching it grow. This lavishly illustrated guide will encourage even the most reluctant to “get into the garden.”

Affluence Intelligence
By Stephen Goldbart and Joan Indursky DiFuria (Da Capo, $25)
Two financial psychologists detail ways to become more financially assertive, improve your overall “relationship” with money and understand how to be happier and more effective with your current assets. Their refreshing approach aims to improve your overall quality of life by encouraging you to assess your priorities (without judgment), then live your life in alignment with them.

Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them
By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon (Crown Archetype, $26)
The Graedons, national experts on patient safety, instruct patients on how to advocate for their own health while bearing in mind a realistic idea of the challenges that doctors face every day. By breaking key info into sections — hospitals, drug interactions, senior care and so on — with checklists, they have made a complex and touchy issue accessible.


The Great Leader
By Jim Harrison (Grove, $24)
Harrison’s latest comic backwoods noir finds recently retired detective Simon Sunderson pursuing a pedophilic cult leader who has taken up residence on Michigan’s frozen Upper Peninsula. The author’s usual motifs — lust and power, sex and death — resonate loud and clear, reminding us that no one makes horny geezers quite so lovable as Harrison.

The Angel Esmeralda
By Don DeLillo (Scribner, $24)
DeLillo’s first-ever story collection features nine tales spanning three decades. It’s a wonderful showcase for the author’s keen interest in the human experience of touchstone moments in American history and culture.


Bad Moon Rising
By Ed Gorman (Pegasus, $25)
Set in 1968, Gorman’s excellent ninth Sam McCain mystery focuses on a murder at an Iowa hippie commune. The crime brings to light the many points of conflict that polarize generations of Americans during the Vietnam War era.


By Rick Gavin (Minotaur, $24.99)
Full of comic hyperbole, Gavin’s rollicking debut does for the Mississippi Delta what John D. MacDonald and Carl Hiaasen did for Florida. The plot turns on the theft of a 1969 Ford Ranchero — part car, part pickup, but “essentially a glorified Fairlane, which never rated glorification.”

Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories
By John Mortimer (Viking, $30)
Curmudgeonly but somehow ageless, barrister Horace Rumpole is always an inspiration. His first case in this effortlessly entertaining collection, “Rumpole and the Younger Generation,” hinges on a defendant’s alibi of having been at a 1965 Rolling Stones concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.