Today is George Washington's birthday, also known as Presidents Day, and I hope you got the day off. A mid-February holiday has to be about the best time to sit down and enjoy a good book-- you've got the day to yourself, the winter months are dragging on, and spring is still at least a month away. Here's what the media had to say about books over the weekend.
Bonus Question: What is it with all the dark covers this week?
We start off with some sad news. Anthony Shadid of The New York Times died in Syria last week of an apparent asthma attack. The paper points out that he faced many dangers while on recent assignment in Syria, "not the least of which was discovery by the pro-government authorities in Syria." He had sneaked into the country across the Turkish border, at a point where the two countries were only separated by barbed wire. According to the Times, "Mr. Hicks (a photographer traveling with Shadid) said they squeezed through the fence’s lower portion by pulling the wires apart, and guides on horseback met them on the other side. It was on that first night, Mr. Hicks said, that Mr. Shadid suffered an initial bout of asthma, apparently set off by an allergy to the horses, but he recovered after resting." A week later, on return to the border, he collapsed and died.
Shadid is the author of House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, which is scheduled to be published on March 27th. You can listen to an NPR interview with him here.
Stacy Schiff has a review of Nathan Englander's excellent new collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. Schiff compares this new collection to his 1999 debut collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, writing that both are "poised at the trapdoor between spiritual thirst and physical hunger." The final sentence of Schiff's review simply states, "Terrific collection," and I would second that. Englander visited Amazon last week for an interview, so look for that on Omnivoracious in the coming weeks.
Another author who we recently interviewed (again, the interview will be on Omni soon) is the journalist Jodi Kantor. She is the author of The Obamas, of which the Times states, "call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that. This is a couple who listen to each other, and no one believes more in America’s 44th president than his wife." You may recall hearing some controversy around this title, but it's mostly overblown. In fact, the review calls it "a dimly controversial palace intrigue that attempts to explain how the first couple’s marriage works," and states later that, "taken as a whole, The Obamas is more valentine than vitriol," and that's true. But it's also a fascinating account of a very successful, yet in many ways very normal marriage. It was a unique, and in many ways, more real, look at the White House. And it's a book that's difficult to put down.