New Year. New start with new books. How else could you define the “write stuff”? Here is a selection and brief insights (we never give away too much!) of some must-read titles that will warm and excite you, thrill and chill you, and keep you up way longer than your bedtime.
“Stealing Games: How John McGraw Transformed Baseball With the 1911 New York Giants” (Bloomsbury Press, $28) In the 1911 baseball season alone, the New York Giants stole an astonishing 347 bases, a record that still stands more than a century later. This statistic alone singles the 1911 Giants out in baseball history, but it was not the only special thing about this team or their season. As acclaimed historian and lifelong baseball fan Maury Klein reveals the Giants’ unusual record aligns with a rapidly changing America on the cusp of a faster, more frenetic pace of life dominated by machines, technology and urban culture.
Baseball, too, was evolving from the dead-ball to the live-ball era—the cork-centered ball was introduced in 1910 and structurally changed not only the outcome of individual games but the way the game itself was played, requiring upgraded equipment, new rules, and new ways of adjudicating. These changes in the way the game was played also changed the relationship between management and players. “Stealing Games” is populated by memorable and brilliant characters like manager John McGraw and aging pitcher Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard and Fred Snodgrass whose tenacity led to three pennants in a row starting in 1911. The book gives a great—yet overlooked—team and season their due. It also gives an insight full look back to an America on the verge of a cultural revolution.
David Denby, a staff writer and former film critic for the New Yorker, returned to Columbia University at age 48 and wrote “Great Books,” an acclaimed account of returning to college and reading the Western classics during the curriculum wars. Now, after 20 years, Denby goes back to high school to see if and how books can shape lives, with “Lit Up: One Reporter, Three Schools, and Twenty-Four Books that Can Change Lives” (Holt, $30.
Denby “embedded” into a tenth-grade English class in a demanding New York public school for an entire academic year and made frequent visits to a troubled inner-city public school in New Haven and to a respected public school in Westchester country. He read all the stories, poems, plays and novels that the teens were assigned, and here creates an impassioned portrait of charismatic teachers at work, classroom dramas large and small, and fresh and inspiring encounters with the books themselves, including “The Scarlet Letter,” “Brave New World,” “1984,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Notes from the Underground” and “A Long Way Gone.” Denby’s tome is a dramatic narrative that traces awkward and baffled beginnings but also exciting breakthroughs and the emergence of pleasure in reading. In a sea of bad news about education and the fate of the book, Denby reaffirms the power of great teachers and the importance of an inspiration provided by great books.
Another Titanic story? Don’t we know it? Yes. And no. In “The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian” (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99), author David Dyer takes readers beyond the Titanic story that we all know, onto the SS Californian, the ship that looked on and did nothing as the Titanic sank, and into the largely untold aftermath of the disaster and court proceedings that followed.
This debut novel that toes the line of nonfiction, is the result of years of research with most the dialog and events taken directly from newspaper reports of the time. Set among the backdrop of the early 20th century with the women’s suffrage movement in full swing, the novel’s told through the various viewpoints of the Californian crew, a Boston reporter and the third-class Sage family who died aboard the Titanic. We feel it’s gripping historical fiction at its very best.
“Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-invented World Religions” (Bloomsbury Press, $30), by world-class language historian and linguist Nicholas Oster, explores the effects that language difference and language conversion have wrought on the world’s great faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and more—spanning more than 2000 years.
Though the Bible may have been originally dictated or recorded in Aramaic, our only written source is in Greek. Today, the Bible can be read in hundreds of languages that were not yet in existence at the time it was written. What complicates these words and their meaning even more is the history of translation and linguistic iterations since they were first written. For those reading the Bible in newer languages such as modern English, the words have passed through many translations before arriving at their current meanings.
So, how should we understand and interpret these words when so many translators, languages, and cultures have influenced them? Christian tradition is not unique in facing this problem. The book is an original and intriguing perspective on the history of religion by a master linguistic historian. It will appeal equally to secular readers, and those of faith, providing new insight into how languages and religions have evolved over millennia.
Lifestyle blogger Jordan Reid brings a new light to the motherhood journey with her part memoir, part how-to book “Carrying On: Style, Beauty, Décor (and More) for the Nervous New Mom” (Running Press, $18). Soon-to-be moms are in for an irresistibly entertaining—and practical—read filled with candid, intimate, and humorous stories, as well as advice for expectant moms on fashion, beauty, entertaining, relationships and more.
For more than 100 years, audiences have been captivated by Puccini’s classic opera, “Tosca,” a story of love, murder, and deception, set against a backdrop of political turmoil in late 18th-century Europe. With “Scarpia” (Bloomsbury, $27), bestselling author Piers Paul Read explores one of the central figures of Puccini’s opera to craft a powerful story of love and political intrigue set in Rome after the French Revolution.