This is as good a week as any to reflect on how things turned out differently. Sure, plans are good, but plans are like leftovers. They’re never as good as you thought.
On the upside, here’s Jared Cohen’s Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America. Cohen takes a look at the half-dozen plus presidents who had Other Plans. Well, they were all vice-presidents at the time, but the Veep’s job back then was making sure someone showed up with donuts and being the tie-breaking vote when folks got too obstinate in the Senate. Accidental Presidents tells us a number of amusing anecdotes and offers some interesting insight into the whole process of succession.
And speaking of historical anecdotes, Craig Childs’s Atlas of the Lost World is out in paperback this week. Childs—who, like John McPhee, makes any field trip interesting—tackles the prehistory of the western hemisphere in this book. Where did the first settlers come from? Were they all eaten by megafauna? Did ancient shamans ride giant sloths? (Sorry. Different book.) What did the kids do for fun during the Ice Age? And did they really have to stay indoors the whole time?
Important questions. Real answers. Well, real speculative answers, because he is talking about communities and cultures more than 10,000 years old.
Anyway, while we’re on the subject of roadside attractions throughout the geological strata, how about Chandler O’Leary’s The Best Coast, a road trip atlas for a couple of historic highways (the 101, the 1, and 99). O’Leary—who is a local, by the way—makes sure that we can find our way to some of the better kept secrets, like That Place With Trees, the Other Place With Trees, The Out-of-the-Way Place Where You Can See the Ocean Through The Trees, and that Scenic Stretch Where There’s a Bunch of Vineyards Now. Good places, one and all.
And we're being a bit unfairly glib here. O'Leary's book is really well laid out and charming in its execution.
Oh, and this one has sprinkles. According to the otters, that's all a book needs, really. More sprinkles, and then, it just sells itself. Oh, you doubt us? Well, not only does this one have sprinkles, but it tells you how to use sprinkles at home ON CAKE.
It’s not that complicated, really. *S*P*R*I*N*K*L*E*S* & CAKE!
And now we have used up our month’s allotment of asterisks. Well, that wasn’t the plan. Ah, but we shall go with Plan B!
Oh, look, a new craft cocktail book. Hmmm. We do have book club next week . . .
And speaking of interesting reads, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black is calling to us from the table over there. The paperback edition has a much more evocative cover (even though we are fans of big block text), highlighting Edugyan’s larger-than-life story of George Washington Black, an eleven-year old field slave from Barbados, who has some adventures.
Some adventures. We make it sound like a field trip to the zoo. No, Black has some serious adventures! He starts as a manservant to one Christopher Wilde, but when things go awry and Christopher and Wash must flee for their lives, everything changes, and Wash learns more the world and himself and the cost of friendship and freedom.
And speaking of adventures, Rogert Dugni is back this week with another nail-biter of a spy thriller. In The Eighth Sister, retired CIA case officer Charles Jenkins is hauled back for one more mission. Sent to Russia to figure out who is assassinating members of a secret US spy cell, Jenkins discovers that not everything is as it seems, and, in fact, people have lied to him. Shocking, we know.
Anyway, Jenkins has to figure out Plan B before he winds up disgraced, disavowed, and dead. Luckily, he’s a crafty old spook who has a few tricks left. And Dugoni’s track record has been great these past few years, and so we expect this will be a crackling read.
And speaking of crackling reads, Stuart Kells has some thoughts on the whole Shakespeare enigma, being how did this sixteenth-century playwright write such phenomenal bestsellers? Because, in the end, all we have is Shakespeare’s plays. We don’t have any notes or diaries or . . . libraries. In Shakespeare’s Library, Kells tackles the mystery of the missing books. We don’t know about you, but when we write something, we are drowning in research material. And while scholars have turned up a few texts that Shakespeare used, the bulk of his source material is . . . just . . . unknown.
Makes you curious, doesn’t it? Never even occurred to you before, and now it’s going to be the only thing you can think about today.