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Culture Notable Books

Notable Books


Notable Books

Four notable works of fiction

Pip Tattnal, the memorable protagonist in this Depression-era, Southern gothic coming-of-age story, flees from an impoverished orphanage a year after his younger brother’s murder there. Plagued with migraines and autistic tendencies, and gifted with an incredible memory and love of language and history, Pip is an oddity among the hobos he meets crisscrossing the country by train. He encounters cruelty and odd strangers who are kind—but he always searches for something he can’t name and only occasionally senses. Youmans’ evocative writing and colorful characters make this novel a rare pleasure that beautifully depicts the power of love.

The Innocents

Segal’s novel is a clever updating of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, set in northwest London’s close-knit Jewish community rather than gilded age New York. Adam Newman and Rachel Gilbert have been dating since they were 16, and Adam now works as a lawyer for Rachel’s father. Their marriage seems inevitable until Rachel’s wayward cousin from New York arrives on the scene. Her wildness and vulnerability draw in Adam, who suddenly finds his community to be claustrophobic. Adam’s choice—freedom vs. fidelity and family—is a litmus test for readers: Do you cheer for him to go or stay? Segal’s affection for the insular Jewish community doesn’t keep her from showing its shortcomings as well as its strengths. Rated R for language and sex.

Ordinary Grace

From the perspective of middle-age, narrator Frank Drum remembers the summer of 1961, when he was 13, his brother Jake was 11, and their sister was getting ready to leave for Juilliard. Their father, a Methodist minister, pastored three small churches in and around the small Minnesota town where their mother grew up and their affluent grandparents still lived. Their family’s life revolves around church services and activities. Frank remembers boyish hijinks and death, which forces the family to wrestle with guilt and grace. A beautiful coming-of-age story that features at its center a struggle for faith. Some objectionable language.

News from Heaven

Fictional coal mining town Bakerton, Pa., is the ground from which all these stories grow. Set over decades beginning with World War II, the stories feature careful depictions of townspeople, describing in detail the miscellany of their lives. Many of the stories have a melancholy flavor as characters regret their pasts, adjust to lessened circumstances in the decaying town, and deal with frustrated hopes. Even the characters who leave and find success outside Bakerton can’t seem to escape its pull. In the last story, a recent widow, Joyce, uncovers painful secrets. Wishing she’d said yes to her husband’s desire to teach her to ride a bike, she muses: “Life was gone before you knew it; how foolish she’d been to refuse any of it.”


The temperament of Calvin Coolidge matched his political philosophy. He believed in minimal government and wasn’t physically imposing. He didn’t talk much and he wrote short sentences.

Amity Shlaes, author of Coolidge (Harper, 2013), doesn’t measure presidential greatness by federal government expansion. Coolidge during the 1920s brought a small town New England humility to an office that often attracts big and ambitious personalities, and practiced “cheese paring” on the federal budget. Results: decreased spending, federal income tax cuts, budget surpluses, and a business boom.

Coolidge, Shlaes notes, wasn’t an addictive adulterer, didn’t run up a multi-trillion dollar national debt, and wasn’t “cool” in today’s terms. He was “a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.” —Russ Pulliam