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Farewell, August, and All of Your Best Books



PowerhouseWith one day left in the month, this is our last chance to look at some of our favorite books of August before hitting the powerhouse publishing months of September and October. And speaking of powerhouses, we mentioned this somewhat guilty pleasure on its publication day, but since then several of us have become mildly, perhaps unhealthily, obsessed with James Andrew Miller's oral history of the Creative Arts Agency, possibly Hollywood's closest relative to the NSA. Seira Wilson wrote:

When Powerhouse first crossed my desk I was mildly intrigued with the idea of getting an inside look at the Creative Arts Agency, which has come to represent some of the biggest names in Hollywood and beyond. Then I read fifty pages and was totally hooked. I'm not even familiar with all the players—though of course names like Tom Cruise and Michael Ovitz jumped right out—but it didn't matter because their anecdotes about the people and personalities who re-wrote the rule book on how agents work with their celebrity clients are completely addicting. There are stories of overblown egos and overindulgence, brilliant strategy and crushing betrayal—this is a no-holds-barred account of five decades of Hollywood's movers and shakers told by the people who lived it. Whether you're an avid movie goer or only watched the Academy Awards when Tina Fey was hosting, Powerhouse is a front row seat to the building of an entertainment industry icon in all its garish glory. And it's nearly impossible to look away.

Fair warning: you might want to bring a gawker's interest in the Bizzaro World of the entertainment industry; the customer comments are polarized.

Here are some more of our favorites. See them all in the Best Books of the Month.

 

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The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey E. Stone
Three of the four authors listed here are the heroes of the title, and their tale of thwarting a terrorist attack on a train--one that potentially would have killed more than 500 people--is as gripping for the story as it is for its dramatic point-of-view structure.
 
 

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Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin
When you think about law and order, you think about Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club. Well, at least someone organizing the Rolling Stones's free concert at Altamont Motor Speedway did, leading to the death of Meredith Hunter--and as many say, the 60s.
 

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The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State by Lawrence Wright
Drawing on articles originally published in The New Yorker, Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, charts the course of the War on Terror from 9/11 to ISIS, its history of then-unknown knowns made paradoxically predictable through the lens of hindsight.
 

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In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White
A few weeks back, Amazon Senior Editor Chris Schluep speculated that the new landscape of apocalyptic fiction is wilderness. This thriller features a wolf mauling, a psychotic killer, and the endless nights of northern Canada--a territory seemingly located at the end of the world.
 


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"I Don’t Actually Think About Murder": Louise Penny on the Chief Inspector Gamache Series



LouiseIn Louise Penny's latest Inspector Gamache novel, A Great Reckoning, a map found hidden in a bistro wall unleashes a deadly chain of events...Considering her years writing crime fiction, one would assume Ms. Penny harbors homicidal thoughts. But no! She's surprisingly hopeful, using her pen as a vehicle to preach kindness, especially when kindness is hard. Here, she explains, and also reveals the surprisingly poetic genesis of this beloved series.

With the twelfth book in the Gamache series about to come out, I'm sometimes asked how I can keep coming up with new ideas.  There is, sometimes, a slight inference that I might be a sociopath.  To have so many murderous thoughts. 

But the truth is, I don't actually think about murder.  And I don't actually think the books are about murder.  They're about loyalty and our yearning to belong.  They're about friendship and community and love, in all its forms. 

They're about our struggle to be decent.  And what happens when our world, our perceptions, our certainties, are shattered. 

Far from being ripped from gruesome headlines, my books start, as Robert Frost once wrote when describing his poems, as a lump in the throat.  An emotion so strongly felt, it can't be contained. 

In fact, all of my books have, at their core, not a crime but feeling.  And that feeling is often inspired by a particular poem, or turn of phrase.  Indeed, the entire Gamache series can be rendered down to two lines from W.H. Auden' Elegy to Melville: 

"Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge.  His terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it."

My books are crime novels set in Quebec.  I write about terror, the outside terror that appears unexpectedly – but mostly the overwhelming, whispering terror that comes from the inside.  The fears of our own making.

But I also write about goodness.  And the courage it takes to be kind.  And the choices, often apparently trivial, we make everyday.  And where those choices lead us.   

Later in his poem, Auden writes four searing lines -

Evil is unspectacular and always human,

And shares our bed and eats at our own table,

And we are introduced to Goodness every day.

Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults.

Unspectacular Evil, and Goodness hiding among a crowd of faults.  How perfect is that?  What rich territory for a crime writer.  A murderer not frothing at the mouth, but always human.  And Goodness, easily overlooked.       

The Gamache books are about the duality in our lives.  The smiling face and the sinister thoughts.  The gap, sometimes a chasm, between what we say and what we're really thinking.  Between how we act, and how we feel.

I'm reminded of something Helen Prejean said.  Something I've had my characters quote more than once.  Sister Prejean works with convicts on Death Row.  She said, and I paraphrase:  No one is as bad as the worst thing they've done. 

But the opposite must also be true.  No one is as good as the best thing they've done. 

And therein lies a story. 

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Get the Kids into the Kitchen



KidsCookIt seems like there are a million cooking shows on television now and it's not just adults wielding big knives and creating eye-popping dishes.  And even if you don't have the next MasterChef Junior at home, lots of kids are interested in cooking and there are more cookbooks than ever just for them.  Here are ten that I really like, covering a range of ages and skill levels (keeping in mind that age does not determine ability--I see 10-year-olds on TV that put me to shame somewhat regularly...).

 


 

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The Young Chef by The Culinary Institute of America
 
For the first time, the highly notable Culinary Institute of America shares it's expertise with junior cooks. My daughter has made a few recipes out of this one (she's nine) --stuffed shells, chicken parmesan--and these are not dumbed down versions but something you might find in a cookbook for adults. Use this cookbook to get the older kids happily doing dinner duty. Ages 10-14
 

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Cartoon characters travel the globe teaching kids about the food and sample recipes of various countries. In Mexico, kids learn the Scoville scale of chili heat and when visiting China they'll make the popular street food, Dan Dan Noodles. Kid-friendly information and recipes make this is a fun cookbook to read and use together. Ages 7-11
 

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A vegetarian cookbook for kids, that divides the recipes by color and describes the nutritional benefits of each group with easily digestible language. Dishes range from Fruity Raisin Granola to Spinach and Phyllo Tarts. Ages 8-12
 

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Kid Chef by Melina Hammer
 
Kid Chef is divided into two parts: culinary school and recipes. The first half is devoted to teaching kids the basic skills they'll need for success; the second half is recipes for a wide variety of dishes and snacks. The overall theme here is patience, practice and healthy eating--good advice for cooks of any age. Ages 10-up.
 

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 The Forest Feast for Kids by Erin Gleeson
 
The Forest Feast is already a best-selling, beautifully photographed and illustrated vegetarian cookbook and author Erin Gleeson applies that same care to The Forest Feast for Kids. Part of the book is kid-friendly recipes from her first book along with 20 new ones, plus ideas for parties and decoration.
 

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 Cook Me a Story by Bryan Kozlowski

The three bears' porridge isn't the only mention of food in fairytales and Cook Me a Story takes it's inspiration from some of the classics.  Making a story out of a recipe is a charming way to introduce cooking to kids through something familiar.  Ages 6-9
 

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 The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino
 
YouTube baking star Rosanna Pansino pens her first cookbook named after her show, Nerdy Nummies. Her creations are unique and while they do take some time and patience, kids who love math, science, or video games will have a lot of fun making baked treats that represent their interests. Ages 10-up
 

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 Cooking Class by Deanna F. Cook
 
When you have kids of varying ages in the house it's nice to have a cookbook they can all use. Cooking Class has 57 recipes that range from cooking bacon to making Nutella and banana crepes so there is something here that works for older and younger siblings alike. Ages 6-12
 

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Forget Rice Krispy treats when kids can make fun lunches or snacks using onigiri, rice formed into shapes and wrapped in nori. There are modern mix-ins as well as classic Japanese favorites and the result is a collection of finger foods that are as fun to look at as they are to eat. For kids and adults
 

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Sesame Street Let's Cook! by Sesame Workshop
 
For the youngest chefs, what can be better than learning to cook from Elmo and the gang? Perfect for little ones who want to help in the kitchen, Sesame Street Let's Cook! includes 50 recipes for breakfasts, main meals, and snacks designed with cooks ages 2-5 in mind.
 

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How to Wrap Your Arms (and Head) around 50 Years of Star Trek



Star Trek EncyclopediaTrekkers (or Trekkies, depending on your fan flavor) know that the fifty-year anniversary of Star Trek is just around the corner. For those of you who are not in the know or who want to impress your geekalicious significant other, that date is September 8, 2016.

In honor of this golden anniversaries, here's a selection of new Star Trek books that celebrate the TV show that brought us the USS Enterprise, Tribbles, attractive green aliens, the Prime Directive, and unending self-analysis about what it means to be honorable and civilized.

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The Star Trek Encyclopedia, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Reference Guide to the Future by Michael and Denise Okuda - The Okudas bring their overwhelming knowledge of Star Trek to this updated edition. (The previous one-volume encyclopedia came out in 1997.) Full-color photos and a gift-worthy slipcase make this a reference book that proudly proclaims your Star Trek fealty.
 

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The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman - There are few more fascinating ways to investigate events than through oral history, especially when people's recollections don't quite jibe with each other's. A must-read for those who want to know how a television legend is built, as well as those who want to dive ever-deeper into the details behind the franchise.
 

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The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams: The Complete, Uncensored, and Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross - This volume continues the oral history started in the book above and focuses on TNG, DS9, and the J. J. Abrams film reboots.
 

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Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years - Artists and well-known fans contributed art to this inspiring collection, including a photograph of Vulcan gestures by Leonard Nimoy. This is also a traveling exhibition that made its debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego this summer.
 

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The Star Trek Book: Strange New Worlds Boldly Explained - This photo-heavy, full-color book is part of DK's series of Big Ideas Simply Explained, which has included such worthy subjects as Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, Movies, and Philosophy. The Star Trek Book covers the main characters in the various series and films but also lovingly delves into topics such as the differences between Vulcan and human anatomy, Ferengi hand gestures, warp drives, and Borg technology. An excellent way to increase your Star Trek knowledge if you find the two-volume encyclopedia a bit overwhelming.
 

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Adult Coloring Book - What more could someone ask for than a coloring book about their favorite show? If you prefer TOS to TNG, there's a coloring book for the original series available as well.
 

 


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It's All in Your Mind. Really, All of It.



Amazon Book Review: PsychobookEveryone knows the inkblot test: You stare at amorphous blobs and what emerges from them determines which demons lurk in the dank cellar of your skull, driving all of your actions and moods. But the history of cognitive testing goes much deeper, and often weirder, than that. Psychobook: Games, Tests, Questionnaires, Histories opens the archives on psychological testing--past and present, credible and ludicrous--revealing the secrets behind the devices, their creators, and their interpretations. If you're interested in braving a little bit of self-discovery without professional help, try its collection of questionnaires and answer keys.

Start with these excerpts from the book, and learn more at the companion site for additional tests, exercises, and questionnaires (this site is for the UK edition of the book; the US edition will be published September 6, 2016).

Excerpts from  Psychobook: Games, Tests, Questionnaires, Histories (click on the pictures for larger images).


The Szondi Test

Invented by the Hungarian psychiatrist Leopold Szondi in 1935, this highly dubious test is based on the reactions of patients to six tests of photographic portraits of mental patients or "psychopaths," each set containing pictures of eight psychotic personality types: homosexual, sadist, epileptic, hysteric, catatonic, paranoid, depressive, and maniac! Given the absurdity of these classifications, no more need be said about this test, itself based on an elaborate and utterly ridiculous theory of elective fate.

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Make a Story Picture Test (MAPS)

Invented by American psychologist E.S. Schneidman in 1942, the test requires its subjects to place one or more of the given figures within a familiar setting (a bedroom, a street, a bridge, etc.) and then, with certain leads, to elaborate a story from the created scene. This is a projective test, not unlike the Thematic Apperception Test (see page 71). The story provides the psychologist with imagined projections for analysis of personality and pathological disorders. The sixty-seven figures certainly furnish plenty of suggestive material; merely looking at them, the inventive mind boggles.

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The Ghosts of My Friends

First published in London in 1905, The Ghosts of my Friends was a popular variation on the autograph album, in which friends were invited to write their signature "with a pen full of ink" along the fold of the page, then close the book to create a symmetrical blot. The results are poetic, comic, and, sometimes, slightly sinister.

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The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

It is not so much I read a book as that the book reads me.
—W. H. Auden

Psychiatrists and therapists have long used patients' or clients' responses to images or pictures as the starting point for the discovery and analysis of their inner thoughts, hidden feelings, private fantasies, and unacknowledged hopes and fears. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test of this kind. In this context projection is defined as perceiving in an external object (a picture, a story) or a figure or character, aspects of an internal emotional or psycho- logical condition that are often hidden in ordinary discourse. Images used in the TAT are always ambiguous and fraught with implication, and therefore open to imaginative interpretation.

The examples from the original 1930s TAT (which were cut out of contemporary magazines), shown here on pages 75–77 [just page 75 here--ed.], are followed by a series of images by the photographer Sarah Ainslie that were specially commissioned for this book. What do you think is happening with the situations shown in these pictures?

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The Feeling Test

Psychotherapists and counselors often present their clients with an image, asking them to identify, at the moment of asking, which one or another of the figures whose various attitudes may seem to represent prevailing moods or dispositions. This test may provide some indication of your present condition of self-awareness or self-esteem, and even if treated with a degree of wry and self-reflexive irony it may stimulate thoughtful reflection and commentary useful to the therapy.


This test is still widely used.

The drawing on the facing page, by an unknown psychologist, is a version popular among therapists.

All other versions [not pictured here--ed.] are by the artist Adam Dant.

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Excerpt from Psychobook: Games, Tests, Questionnaires, Histories edited by Julian Rothenstein with an Introduction by Lionel Shriver published by Princeton Architectural Press (2016)



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