Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Costly elders, Russian ballerinas, public toilets, the planet Pluto and Obama's re-election

Posted on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 2:34 PM

... all in this week's segment of RECENT AND UPCOMING BOOKS ...

Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population ..., by Ted C. Fishman (Scribner, 400 pages, Oct. 19)
Old people are expensive. (They eat up a lot of resources.) They depress the people who take care of them. They themselves feel frail and lonely. Many folks can and want to continue working past age 65 -- but their salaries are too formidable. Those are blunt simplifications of Fishman's argument: that with increased longevity worldwide, we're looking at a future of child-vs.-parent and international conflict.

The True Memoirs of Little K, by Adrienne Sharp (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 380 pages, Oct. 26)
A novel about ballet -- perhaps a good companion to Darren Aronofsky's film, Black Swan, which opens this week. In early 20th-century Russia, a prima ballerina — supremely ambitious, untrustworthy in matters of the heart — acts as mistress to the man who will eventually become Czar Nicholas II. 

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The Properties of Water, by Hannah Roberts McKinnon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 170 pages, Oct. 26)
A YA novel about a teenage girl learning how to survive when out from under the large shadow cast by her popular and athletic older sister.

Selected Stories, by William Trevor (Viking, 580 pages, Nov. 4)
Supplementing the 1,200-page Collected Stories of 17 years ago, here are four dozen additional tales from the Devonsire-residing Irishman who, if he's not the greatest living short story writer in the English language, is certainly in the conversation when it comes to picking one.

Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (Faber & Faber, 320 pages, Nov. 9)
Freak shows are comforting: "At least my life is not as bad as The Situation's," we think. And the mundane details of famous people's lives — Jake Gyllenhaal doing his laundry, say — make them seem more like us, so that ... we can feel, someday, we might be like them. We grant celebrities fame by paying so much attention to them (not the other way around). Maybe we ought to stop watching Snooki and avoiding the stuff we could do to improve our lives. Reviewers, meanwhile, have split on whether USC's Currid-Halkett is ground-breaking or superficial.

Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, ed. Laura Noren and Harvey Molotch (NYU Press, 300 pages, Nov. 17)
The Japanese have some great public restrooms — no, really. They're spotless, most of them. And some actually have little sinks integrated into the toilet lid, so you wash your hands right in the stall, and then your graywater is used for the next fellow's flush. Of course, this collection of 12 essays also seriously suggests things like unisex bathrooms and asks uncomfortable questions like, How come we're so bad at providing a means for homeless people to avoid humiliating themselves by doing their business publicly?

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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson (Random House paperback, 380 pages, Nov. 30)
The critically acclaimed debut novel from March is now out in paperback. A stiff-upper-lip English widower tries to prevent his yuppie son (and other relatives) from selling off a set of antique hunting guns that symbolize everything the major holds dear.  Pettigrew finds an unexpected ally in a female Pakistani shopkeeper. 

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown (Spiegel & Grau, 290 pages, Dec. 7)
CalTech astronomers don't usually get hate mail from schoolchildren. But when, in 2005, Mike Brown discovered a 10th planet in an eccentric orbit much like Pluto's, then declared that both of them "dwarf planets," a firestorm ignited. (At least, a firestorm by the standards of academic stargazers.)

Bird Cloud: A Memoir, by Annie Proulx (Scribner, 250 pages, Jan. 4)
Annie Proulx tries to build her dream house in a remote part of Wyoming. The house runs way over budget, but at least she gets in touch with the flora and fauna. In her memoir out next month, the author of Brokeback Mountain shares what it's like to live on a windswept plain.

O: A Presidential Novel, by Anonymous (Simon & Schuster, 380 pages, Jan. 25)
Someone who has "vast personal experience in this realm" has written this novel about what President Obama and his advisers will do to win in 2012. Tea Party-conspiratorial, or Palin smackdown? Only the Shadow (of Barry) knows.

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