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Told with a mixture of sadness and wry humor, and with a compelling look at the physical aura of gambling-the feel of the cards, the smell of the crowd, the sounds of the tables-"Double Down" is a reflection on the lure of challenging the odds, the attraction of stepping into the void. A cautionary tale (the brothers were eventually exonerated), it is a book that, once read, will never be forgotten.
Reading group recommendations
This month's new paperback releases include several books that would make good choices for reading groups. Our recommendations on the best selections are listed below. We hope these titles will inspire lively discussion in your book club.
By Frederick and Steven Barthelme
When their parents die, the Barthelme brothers inherit a considerable sum of money, which they proceed to gamble away during a reckless stint in the casinos of the Gulf Coast. For two years, they were unable to break the gambling habit. Now, they tell the true story of their descent into addiction in Double Down, a narrative as mesmerizing as the gambling life it describes. Co-authored by the brothers, both of whom teach writing at the University of Southern Mississippi, the book captures the allure of the gaming tables, blending humor, irony and melancholy into a searingly honest tale of how lives can unravel with the roll of a dice.
On the Rez
By Ian Frazier
Nonfiction writer Ian Frazier spends time with Oglala Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, delivering a vivid portrait of an American Indian community in which the past is a palpable part of the present. Populated with characters like Le War Lance, a beer-drinking story-teller who acts as the author's guide on the reservation, the book examines the lives of today's natives while making forays into their history. Seasoned throughout with Frazier's trademark humor, this is a beautifully written, sharply rendered depiction of contemporary native culture.
By Myla Goldberg
In her debut novel Myla Goldberg tells the story of nine-year-old Eliza Naumann, a mediocre student who never shows a spark of promise until she wins first prize in a school spelling bee - an honor that brings major changes to her life. Her father Saul, a scholar and cantor, begins to see her in a new light, and after she wins the statewide bee, he views her gift as a form of transcendence. When he encourages her to embark on a spiritual quest, Eliza follows his advice and the results have dramatic repercussions for the Naumanns. This national bestseller is a cleverly crafted narrative that explores a child's need for acceptance and the meaning of family. A reading group guide is available online at www.vintagebooks.com/read. For a printed version, ask your local bookseller.
By Joyce Carol Oates
This finalist for the 2000 National Book Award, written with the sweep and scope of an epic, is based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Reimagining the woman behind the larger-than-life persona, Oates probes the inner world of an icon. All the major characters from Marilyn's turbulent life make appearances here, though the names have been changed: Joe DiMaggio is designated "The Ex-Athlete," Arthur Miller is "The Playwright" and John F. Kennedy is, of course, "The President." This haunting look at Hollywood - Oates' most daring work to date - is sure to change the way readers perceive the world's most famous blonde.
The Human Stain
By Philip Roth
One of the masters of American fiction returns with the story of Coleman Silk, a 71-year-old professor forced into retirement by false accusations of racism. When Silk begins an affair with a woman nearly 40 years his junior, his life takes another unpredictable turn. But the surprises don't end there. Silk has a secret he has harbored from friends and family for 50 years - one that the book's narrator, writer Nathan Zuckerman, discovers. In a novel that explores the effects of society upon a single individual, Zuckerman sets out to tell the unknown story of the once-respected Silk. This timely, provocative book - a national bestseller - examines the boundaries that divide our public and private lives. A reading group guide is available online at ww.vintagebooks.com/read. For a printed version, ask your local bookseller.
Has your club recently read an excellent book that sparked good group discussion? If so, BookPage would like to hear about it. Contact us at email@example.com, and we'll pass your recommendations on to our readers.