Arts » Books

CL Recommends


St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb (Kensington). McCrumb, who has proven many times she knows her way around the South, has produced a rollicking tale, very loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, about a group of people embarking on a Dale Earnhardt Memorial Tour to leave a wreath at every track between Bristol and Daytona in memory of The Intimidator. This isn’t a down and dirty racing story or an “in-the-pits-with-the-crew” book, but rather a story about personal relationships and how those friendships create everyday miracles we sometimes take for granted. And it’s also about the cult of celebrity or, as McCrumb puts it, “the canonization of a secular figure.” (Ann Wicker)

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami (Knopf). Murakami, who is enormously popular among young Japanese readers, writes books featuring people in search of their individual identity within a culture rife with gaudy commercialism and sexual freedom. Here, Kafka Tamura, the self-styled "toughest fifteen-year-old on the planet," runs away from home for a journey of spiritual and sexual discovery during which he bonds with an old man who can talk to cats; is confronted by ghosts who, rather than wear Kabuki masks, are dressed as commercial figures like Johnnie Walker or Colonel Sanders; and ultimately, tries to close the dangerous opening between the worlds of objective and spiritual reality before he is engulfed and destroyed. This isn't for readers who like their mysteries solved on the last page. Here, mystery is used as the raw material for the experiences it depicts. Like the Bill Murray character in Lost in Translation, we enter a superficially familiar, neon-lit world, only to wonder who and where we are. (Bruce G. Nims)

The Moon in Our Hands by Thomas Dyja (Carroll & Graf). Author Dyja takes his starting point from a true-life episode in the life of Walter White, an early 20th century civil rights pioneer who easily "passed" for white. The NAACP sent White to Tennessee in 1918 to infiltrate the town's establishment and investigate a particularly brutal lynching. His racial secret and his increasingly complicated double life make for a fine, suspenseful thriller that later turns into a complex, ambiguous character study of White himself. (John Grooms)


Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby (UNC Press). The sexism of the times determined that Ella Baker, one of the most important and influential behind-the-scenes leaders of the civil rights movement, would remain nearly unknown to the general public. Author Ransby, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, brings the great radical grassroots organizer and complex populist to life. Baker, who died at age 83 in 1986, began her political career in Depression-era Harlem, and went on to become a linchpin of the NAACP, as well as a co-founder and/or inspiration for Martin Luther King's SCLC and the SNCC. While inspiring thousands of civil rights workers, she butted heads with leaders who favored a top-down, rather than from-the-grassroots-up, approach to building a movement. Her dogged dedication to the dignity of the black poor ensured her relative public obscurity at the time, but also guaranteed her eventual recognition as one of the great "practical visionaries" who turned the country's accepted racial paradigm inside out. (John Grooms)

Medusa by Michael Dibdin (Vintage Crime). Dibdin's Italian cop Aurelio Zen is Europe's most popular literary sleuth and this book shows why. Zen, jaded but unbowed, casts a cold eye on the new Euro-culture or in the case of his homeland, what he calls "Italia Lite." In this story, the ninth in the series, Zen investigates a body discovered in the Alps which points to a secret paramilitary group that once sought to overthrow the country's democratically elected government. The remaining members, now respectable, want no part of the investigation. Dibdin is a subtle writer who delivers a solid mystery novel while at the same time poking around the revealing fringes of Italian society and politics. A thinking person's mystery writer for sure. (Dana Renaldi)

Add a comment