True crime: A book thief is caught
I love true crime tales, and this one’s unique for being set within the usually rather unscandalous world of books. The villain of the story: Filippo Bernardini, an Italian working at Simon & Schuster UK in London who for years impersonated respected book editors at other publishing companies and literary agencies — spoofing email addresses and websites — in order to acquire more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts from authors including Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and Ethan Hawke. He pled guilty to wire fraud and aggregated Identity theft earlier this month.
Many in the industry were aware that there was an impostor in their midst, Vulture reports, noting that when editors first began noticing the phishing attempts, many grew paranoid: “People were suddenly distrustful of colleagues they had worked with for years.” Amateur sleuths in the biz eventually turned to the FBI for help, according to Vulture.
It’s been unclear what Bernardini’s motive was, because he never sold these precious (to some) documents, but Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York office, said in a statement that Bernardini abused his “insider knowledge … to steal other people’s literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn’t creative enough to get away with it.”
As one observer noted on Twitter, “This would make a good book.”
Anne Heche's 'Call Me Anne'
Today brings the release of a buzzy new memoir, Call Me Anne, by actor Anne Heche, who died in a car crash in Los Angeles last August, just as she was completing the book. A sequel to her 2001 bestseller, Call Me Crazy, it touches on her childhood sexual abuse, three-year relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, work toward self-love and more — along with exercises for readers to find ways “to amplify the joy” in their lives. Read our excerpt from the book, where she describes the price she paid for opting to go public about her romance with DeGeneres. Hollywood, for one, "blacklisted" her: “I felt like patient zero in the cancel culture,” she writes.
Exploring love (and lust) later in life
Also out now: Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60, edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood. It’s a collection of essays by 45 men and women, ages 60 to 94, about the challenges and joys inherent in making and building romantic connections in their older years.
They offer a wide range of perspectives: One woman describes how she found a partner with the help of a pricey matchmaker, a few are divorced and happy with their independence, and some express exasperation with online dating, while others say they’ve relished even the fleeting encounters it's afforded them (a woman who’s been on 39 first dates over nine years, for instance, writes that she got “something from everyone”).
The contributors also counter what Bauer-Maglin, a professor emerita at the City University of New York, believes is a pervasive misconception about people over 60: “that desire is not part of their life,” she noted in an email exchange about the book. “Some of the Gray Love writers say that they have had the best sex in their life [in their later years]. And they are not embarrassed to talk about it.”
In case you missed it…
January’s big book club picks
If your book group is debating which novel to pick up next — a contentious decision within some groups, I’ve been told — you might consider what other clubs are reading now. Bookmovement.com, which tracks thousands of book groups’ choices, reports that their top fiction picks, as of early January, are:
1. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: A charming, funny, best-selling debut novel released last year about a chemist in 1960s California who becomes the host of a cooking show and ends up teaching viewers about far more than how to bake a cake. (Available in paperback starting March 2.)
2. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray: A 2021 hit based on the real-life story of Belle da Costa Greene, hired by J.P. Morgan in 1905 to serve as his personal librarian, who hid her Black identity. (Available in paperback.)
3. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: The 2021 bestseller by the author of A Gentleman in Moscow about two brothers who embark on a cross-country road trip to find their mother — though the journey takes quite the detour. (Available in paperback.)
4. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: A thick, absorbing 2022 novel inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and centered on a young man growing up in poverty in Appalachia.
5. Horse by Geraldine Brooks: A 2022 novel by the Pulitzer Prize winner that shifts between three eras, including 1850, where we meet an enslaved groom caring for Lexington, a racehorse based on a famous real-life racehorse from that era.
Grand Masters of mystery
On Jan. 12, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announced the two winners of its prestigious MWA’s Grand Master Award: Michael Connelly and Joanne Fluke. The award, which they’ll receive on April 27 at the MWA’s Annual Edgar Award ceremony in New York City, “represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing,” and was established to acknowledge “a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”
Connelly, of course, is the author of the blockbuster Lincoln Lawyer series and the detective novels featuring Harry Bosch, the Los Angeles police detective who inspired the popular Amazon Prime TV series Bosch and its 2022 spin-off Bosch: Legacy. (You can read an excerpt from his latest, Desert Star, where Bosch teams up with fellow detective Renée Ballard, here.)
Joanne Fluke writes very different mysteries: cozies — mystery novels that forgo the blood and gore of their grimmer counterparts and instead offer a wholesome helping of warmth, humor and, often, baked goods. Fluke’s hugely popular series features an amateur sleuth and bakery shop owner named Hannah Swensen, and includes such delicious titles as last year’s Caramel Pecan Roll Murder and the upcoming Pink Lemonade Cake Murder (Feb. 28). The books have been adapted into five Murder, She Baked Hallmark Channel films starring Alison Sweeney.
If you like mysteries ...
Though it’s not written by a “master,” I enjoyed City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita (Jan. 10), whose debut novel is set in a cold, remote Alaska town where nearly everyone lives in one tall apartment building. (Fun fact: It’s based on a real place, Whittier, Alaska, where most of the 275 or so residents are housed in a 14-story former army barracks.) After a body washes up on the icy shores, an Anchorage detective comes to town to search for answers and finds herself with plenty of colorful, quirky characters to consider as potential suspects. Curl up with it somewhere warm and cozy.
What makes a ‘Good Life’?
It might sound obvious to a thoughtful person: Happiness comes not with fame or fortune but by forging and maintaining positive, meaningful social connections. Though this wisdom has been voiced often enough, it’s wonderful to hear it expressed in a lucid, inspiring way — with loads of scientific evidence to back it up. That’s what the authors of The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness (Jan. 10) have done.
Robert Waldinger, M.D., and Marc Schulz, Ph.D., used data from the famed Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed the health and habits of a group of people through the decades, to conclude that the key to a good life is good relationships. They “keep us healthier and happier. Period,” they write. The book also includes advice for making and strengthening relationships that affirm and nurture us, and explains why “the most important and enlivening task of midlife [is] to expand one’s focus to the world beyond the self.”
You can read our interview with Waldinger — a Harvard psychiatry professor, Zen Buddhist teacher and director of the study — here.
Prince Harry breaks records
Could there be any more hype around Spare, the family-secret-spilling memoir from the British king’s second son, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex? It’s hard to imagine. Its publisher, Penguin Random House, made headlines months ago by simply revealing the book’s title — an allusion to the saying that a monarchy needs an “heir and a spare” (Harry’s older brother, Prince William, is the current heir to the throne.) On its first day on sale, Jan. 10, the memoir, ghostwritten by J.R. Moehringer, sold 1.4 million copies, which the publisher said is an all-time first-day sales record for a nonfiction book. If you aren’t one of the millions who’ve already sprung for Spare, we’ve highlighted its key revelations for you.
The first great novel of 2023?
One of the best parts of my job is having the chance to read books pre-publication, particularly when I land on a stunningly good one. That would be Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor, out Jan. 3 — a complex saga that begins with a tragic traffic accident in New Delhi, then shifts back in time to detail how the three main characters’ lives become entangled. There’s reporter Neda (Kapoor also worked as a New Delhi journalist); wealthy, tortured Sunny, heir to his father’s corrupt business empire; and Ajay, Sunny’s wise, quiet servant. Exploring issues of class, power and morality, this action-packed page-turner should be one of the first breakout hits of 2023.
Find more of the new year’s biggest books, including celebrity memoirs and other nonfiction, through mid-March here.
’Tis the season for self-improvement
The start of a new year reliably brings gym memberships, diet resolutions and a slew of self-help books — some of which are hitting shelves now. A sampling:
- The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly: Life Wisdom From Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You by Margareta Magnusson. This light, charming and slightly rambling book on ways to grow older with joy comes from the 86-year-old author of 2018’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, a guide to late-life decluttering. In her latest, she writes about how to “make aging itself into an art.” That includes embracing new experiences while learning “to be less afraid of the idea of death, for it comes for all of us.” She also adds more death-cleaning tips.
- The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease by Elissa Epel, M.D., a professor and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, explains how to lower your stress levels within a week by learning “to stress better.” Although constant stress is toxic to our physical and mental health, she doesn’t suggest trying to eliminate stress altogether — that’s impossible; it’s integral to being human — but rather changing how we respond to it.
- 12 Weeks to a Sharper You by Sanjay Gupta, M.D., is a companion to his 2021 number one bestseller Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age (both books are published in collaboration with AARP). This follow-up offers practical strategies for, among other things, lowering your anxiety, increasing your energy and sharpening your mind.
Good books are good for your brain
A new study has found that casual reading — the fun kind, where you’re deeply immersed in a story — can boost memory in older adults. Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, divided the approximately 70 participants (ages 60-79) into two groups. One group read for 90 minutes a day, five days a week, for eight weeks, while the other worked on word puzzles for the same periods of time.
The readers were given iPads loaded with a mix of 100 mysteries, biographies and literary novels, carefully chosen with help from bibliophiles at the area library to be entertaining (“page-turners,” as they put it). Among them were A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. (See the full list here.)
The study, published in July in Frontiers in Psychology, found that the readers’ memory skills improved far more than the puzzlers’ memory skills.
So pick up a book for your brain’s sake — but make sure it’s one you can really enjoy, says Liz Stine-Morrow, the study’s senior investigator. “I think that the most important thing is just to find [one] that you can get absorbed in,” she notes. “You want to create a situation for yourself where you can get lost in a book.”
Best Books of 2022, Part 2
A month or so ago, I wrote about the many best-books lists flooding our inboxes and social media, and noted how difficult it is to pick a handful of winners from the countless great reads released in the past 12 months. Well, I took a stab at it myself in this AARP Members Only Access story. My personal faves for fiction this year were To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout and The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. Meanwhile, more than 50,000 members of AARP’s The Girlfriend Book Club group on Facebook picked Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt as their favorite novel of the year. For nonfiction, they chose the 10th anniversary edition of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. (Here’s the full list of the book club’s winners.)
Please share your own “best of 2022” book picks in the comments section below.
Best audiobooks of 2022?
As someone who never listens to audiobooks (I’m too easily distracted), I’m certainly not going to even try to suss out the best of the year on my own. Instead I’ve been poring over others’ lists, which has only served to confirm what we all know: These best-of lists are wildly subjective. Take the Audible, AudioFile magazine, New York Times and Washington Post best-audiobooks-of-2022 lists, which have very little overlap. For what it’s worth, the handful of audiobooks that did make two of the four lists include the mystery novel The Maid by Nita Prose (Audible and AudioFile); The Bullet That Missed, a fun caper from Richard Osman (The Washington Post and AudioFile); and Viola Davis’ bestselling memoir, Finding Me (The New York Times and AudioFile).
I asked Robin Whitten, editor and founder of AudioFile, for her personal favorite, and she pointed to The Maid, due to the exceptional performance — a “very subtle character portrait” of the main character, Molly — by the actress Lauren Ambrose: She “was really channeling the quirky traits and mindset of the character,” Whitten said. “Doing that all with just her voice and her storytelling was magic.”
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Please share your own favorite new (or old) books, upcoming releases you’re excited about, or anything book related in the comments section.
Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information.