Book Post!

Books to Look Forward to in 2013

If there's a common moral that binds together some of the most exciting releases of 2013, it's that it's a small world after all.

Khaled Hosseini's welcome return brings with it a family story set in several parts of the world; David Sedaris bumbles around the globe, collecting tales of both the poignant and the absurd. And other novelists and scholars give voice to planet-spanning stories especially pertinent in the age of globalization: Tracy Chevalier and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tell intimate accounts about immigration, Marie Arana delivers the authoritative account of Simón Bolivar's map-altering political revolutions in South America, and Ruth Ozeki offers a sad, lovely tale about the accidental, intercontinental connection between a teenage author in Tokyo and her only reader.

Meanwhile, foodie extraordinaire Michael Pollan takes on the anthropology of cooking, and Stephen King revisits the universe of The Shining for the first time since he created it 36 years ago. In other words, it's about to be a big year in books. Below, read more on what these and other notable authors are up to in 2013.

The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier

The best-selling author of 1999’s acclaimed Girl With a Pearl Earring makes her first foray into historical fiction set in America. When Honor Bright, a young English Quaker woman, moves to Ohio in 1850, she’s disappointed by the lack of commitment to equality in America—until she gets drawn into the mysterious activities of the Underground Railroad.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong
by Dave Walsh

2012 must have been a year of redemption for Dave Walsh. For 12 years, the London-based Sunday Times journalist chased a hunch that Lance Armstrong’s success story was too good to be true. Seven stripped Tour de France titles later, it turned out to be more than a hunch. Seven Deadly Sins tells the story of Walsh’s struggle to make the truth about Lance Armstrong’s steroid use known.

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Books to Help You Write the Next Contagion

The germs have been busy. In the United States this year alone, we’ve lost people both to old enemies such as whooping cough and to relatively new spillovers from other animals, such as hantavirus and West Nile virus, which killed more than 240 Americans this year, a record. Diseases we've come to think of as utterly foreign, such as dengue fever, are spreading through the United States. Meanwhile, further afield but far too near, we’ve seen two separate Ebola outbreaks; one of Marburg; alarming blips of Q fever; an unsettling and unsettled game of whack-a-mole in the Mideast with a new SARS-like coronavirus; and the news that because gonorrhea has now developed resistance to yet another antibiotic, we possess just one that still gives pause to this old intimate. If that drug stops working before we develop a better one, expect a steady drip of ugly cases.

More bad-bug news pops up almost weekly, and it stands to get worse for a while, maybe for decades. More bacterial strains will develop antibiotic resistance, and our continuing disruption of virus-rich and fungus-rich ecosystems worldwide will invite yet more pathogens to make us part of their life cycles. We will live increasingly in a world where you might die because a bat happened to sleep in a certain tree in Tanzania or a particular robin landed in your backyard.

Pandemic diseases hold an irresistible allure for both writers and readers, as they involve threats both universal and personal, deep scientific mysteries from cellular to ecosystem levels, and urgent scientific sleuthing with high stakes. If the subject sometimes lends itself to oversimplified and sensationalistic journalism, it has also inspired a bounty of writing that is riveting while being thoughtful, nuanced, and deeply informed. And this work comes in every form and length, from 140-character tweets to 600-page global tours.

Here I offer a guide to the best of this work. I’ve drawn from my own reading and from the suggestions of top infectious-disease writers (more on them shortly). We’ll start long, with books, and end, as we should, with tweeted expirations of germ-inflected wisdom.

Best Books
We face an embarrassment of riches here, and if it’s hard to know where to start, it’s easy to name a fivesome that will immerse you in the drama of pandemics both past and future while giving a fine understanding of the science.

Leading the way almost 20 years ago, and still absolutely trenchant today, is Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, which vividly and judiciously reports the global forces creating a new infectious age. It remains essential reading, with astounding prescience.

Warm from the presses, meanwhile, comes David Quammen’s Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic—one of the year’s best books of any kind. This rich, engrossing work entrances as much with its darting literary elegance and deep humanity as with its exquisitely measured, layered reveal of the global strands binding us to a world of beauty and death.

Equally riveting is Maryn McKenna’s way-too-close-to-home SuperBug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA. This bacterium (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is everywhere these days, including, perhaps, on your keyboard and almost certainly on your nose. As McKenna makes vivid, its spread and its increasing resistance to antibiotics can turn a routine cut or hospital visit into a deadly saga.

Finally, there are the classics Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif’s 1934 account of how the bug-hunters got started, and John Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, which makes scary reading anytime near flu season.

"The First Alert," from Maryn McKenna's SuperBug, tells of a 13-year-old boy's battle with MRSA. “Where Will the Next Pandemic Come From? And How Can We Stop It?,” in Popular Science, opens the puzzle box that David Quammen explores at more length in Spillover. In “The Hunt for the Origin of AIDS,” in the Atlantic, Jon Cohen sifts through AIDS-origin theories both well-founded and weird.

The Flu Hunters,” a classic piece by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times Magazine, follows the hunt, far from over, to figure out how to prevent future flu pandemics on the scale of the one that killed 20 million to 50 million people in 1918. “Undead: The Rabies Virus Remains a Medical Mystery,” in Wired, an excerpt from the new book by Monica Murphy and Bill Wasik, Rabid, shows how bizarre this old affliction is; some of the comments are as unsettling as the story. Bruce Barcott's "Death at Yosemite,” in Outside, shows how zoonotic diseases such as the much more obscure hantavirus can pop up, suddenly and fatally, even in the most sublime settings.

Finally, “The Rise of Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea,” by Jerome Groopman at The New Yorker, has some unsettling news about the human pharynx. And his colleague Michael Specter, in “A Deadly Misdiagnosis,” shows how misguided attempts to fight tuberculosis—possibly the disease that most threatens us—may actually strengthen its hand. Don’t read this while you have a cough.

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10 Things Kvothe Absolutely Needs to Do in Day 3 of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles Books 

If you're a fan of Patrick Rothfuss' wonderful The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear, the first two books of The Kingkiller Chronicles, you know two things: 1) it's a wonderfully grounded tale set in an elaborate world of high fantasy, and 2) it seems like it's going to be completely impossible for Rothfuss to finish Kvothe's story in just one more book.

Kvothe is a young magician and troubadour who's already a legend in his world, but has since mysteriously retired to become a humble innkeeper with the name of Kote. He is reluctantly telling his life history to a Chronicler over the course of three days (one day per book), but at the end of The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe seems to have barely begun his story. But unlike other authors (*cough*GRRM*cough*) Rothfuss is sticking firm to his three-book structure — meaning Kvothe has so much he needs to do in the eventual final volume The Doors of Stone, a.k.a. "day 3."

Here are the 10 things we hope Kvothe crosses off his "To Do" list whenever The Kingkiller Chronicles finally concludes. Spoilers ahead...

1) He's got to kill a king.

The books are called The Kingkiller Chronicles after all, and now that Kvothe has told two-thirds of this story — although he's only up to his late teens — he hasn't met a single king yet, let alone killed one. The popular rumor on the internet is that Kvothe's archnemesis at the University, the noble brat Ambrose, will end up being king, although as it stands Ambrose is so far the way down the line of succession Kvothe can fight him pretty significantly and not get himself beheaded (not that Ambrose wouldn't like to).

2) He has to figure out the mystery of the Amyr and the Chandrian.

In a story about a story about stories, there are tons of tales that remain half-told, but the one that has to reach some sort of conclusion is what is going on with the Chandrian, the mysterious, seemingly cursed, possibly immortal group of seven who serve as the Chronicles' main antagonists — as well as the Amyr, the order of church knights that had fought them until they also seem to have inexplicably disappeared. While most people regard the Chandrian as legends, Kvothe has first-hand knowledge of them — so it stands to reason the Amyr exist, too. But what happened, and where did they go?

3) He has to confront Cinder.

Kvothe's search for the truth behind the Chandrian isn't just out of curiosity. He and his parents were Edema Ruh, a gypsy-esque, wandering people who often travel from town to town as wandering minstrels and entertainers. Kvothe's father began composing a song about the fall of the ancient hero Lanre, who lost his love, went mad and became the first of the seven Chandrian. But since the Chandrian are determined to erase (violently, if need be) almost all mention of themselves, Kvothe's entire troupe was murdered by them, and his parents killed specifically by than Chandrian named Cinder. Kvothe has been hunting him down ever since - only to randomly defeat a group of bandits who he later learned was led by Cinder. But for what possible purpose?

4) He has to talk to Gods (probably).

In Kvothe's famous quote to the Chronicler at the beginning of his story, he says:

"I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs to make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me."

So far he's burned down the town of Trebon (more or less; he actually stuffed a dragon full of heroin accidentally, and the dragon burned down the town), he's been expelled from the University (the bastion of education and magic on Kvothe's world, although the expulsion was almost instantly repealed) and slept with the faerie queen Felurian (not a metaphor, he went to the Faerie realm and did a lot of sex). But talking to Gods? We're not sure that's happened yet. Unless Kvothe is referring to the time he talked to Ctaegh, the hateful faerie tree that destroys the lives of everyone it speaks to (you really need to read these books).

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