In The Mail

***This is a reoccurring series noting the books I receive in the mail but won’t necessarily get a chance to read***

Here are some books that have come across my desk recently. Fiction first:

Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula by Roderick Anscombe . St. Martins is bringing out a paperback version of this work that was originally published in 1994. If you like vampire stories this might be one for you. Here is Publishers Weekly on the hardback:

Anscombe, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, takes the recent trend toward the humanization of vampires the final step, making the Dracula of his subtle, consuming fiction debut a mortal man. A Hungarian medical student in Paris when he starts this diary in 1866, the inexperienced Laszlo becomes infatuated with a sensual patient at the Salpetriere hospital. Passion turns to fury, bringing the affair to a deadly end, but Laszlo escapes when he is rushed back to Hungary on the death of his elder brother. Now Count Dracula, Laszlo marries his brother’s saintly widow and manages to cling to an ascetic life for 20 years until a local girl reawakens his lethal passions. Protected by his hereditary status and a new role as savior when a typhoid epidemic threatens the village, Laszlo pursues the shadowy connection of sex and violence until it becomes the inescapable union of petite mort and mort , love and murder. His motivations are not psychological banalities but something more mythic–the need for an absolute possession that unites the bestial and the divine. Nor is Laszlo insane: he recognizes the “familiar moral landmarks” and is surprised when he ignores them. Well written with a swift plot and moral and psychological complexity, Anscombe’s novel is an engrossing read all the way through to its macabre climax and ambiguous finale.

– Continuing with the death theme, Carved in Bone deals with the Body Farm – Tennessee’s experimental laboratory devoted to the study of the way human corpses decompose. “The author is actually the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the legendary Body Farm and Jon Jefferson, a journalist and filmmaker.” Here is a description from the book’s dust jacket:

A woman’s corpse lies hidden in a cave in the mountains of East Tennessee. Undiscovered for thirty years, her body has been transformed by the cave’s chemistry into a near-perfect mummy — one that discloses an explosive secret to renowned anthropologist Bill Brockton. Dr. Brockton has spent his career surrounded by death and decay at the Body Farm, but even he is baffled by this case unfolding in a unique environment where nothing is quite what it seems.

The surreal setting is Cooke County, a remote mountain community that’s clannish, insular, and distrustful of outsiders. The heartbreaking discovery of the young woman’s corpse reopens old wounds and rekindles feuds dating back decades. The county’s powerful and uncooperative sheriff and his inept deputy threaten to derail Brockton’s investigation altogether. So do Brockton’s other nemeses: his lingering guilt over the death of his wife, and the fury of a medical examiner whom Brockton dares to oppose in court.

Carved in Bone is a richly atmospheric, superbly suspenseful, and magnificently rendered trip into the world of forensic science, the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, and the dark passageways of the human psyche. Full of vivid characters and startling twists and turns, this thrilling novel heralds the debut of a major new voice in crime fiction — and an unforgettable work from the hand of a scientific legend.

Brass Ankle Blues by Rachel M. Harper. Not sure this one is really my style. Here is the Booklist blurb:

This coming-of age novel takes its title from an indelicate term for a person of Indian, African, and white descent. With her light brown skin and loose curls, Nellie should fit in everywhere but instead feels rootless: “The only time I feel black is in a room full of white people, and the only time I feel white is in a room full of black people.” During her extended family’s annual summer gathering in Minnesota, the 17-year-old finds herself in the throes of an identity crisis, spurred by the crumbling of her parents’interracial marriage, a fraught bond with a rebellious cousin, and confused feelings for both a lily-white childhood friend and an intriguing Sioux. Many of Harper’s previously published works have been poetry, and her debut novel falters primarily in its uneasy shifting between down-to-earth dramatic narrative and overreaching literary stylings. But it’s undeniable that the classic narrative of the transformative summer cries out for a contemporary heroine like Nellie, and the family tensions, poignant discoveries, and richly evoked setting should help this find a broad audience.

How about a little non-fiction:

Our School by Joanne Jacobs . If you are interested in education policy, teaching, or charter schools this is a book you will want to read. Here again, Publishers Weekly:

Jacobs had been an education-beat journalist for more than 15 years before she decided to quit and find out what was really going on with the charter school movement. In 2001, she started volunteering at Downtown College Prep (DCP), a first-year charter school with 100 ninth graders from predominantly poor, Mexican-American families in San Jose, Calif. The cofounders of the school had a clear mission: to take failing students and prepare them to attend college and do well. Students would have to break with gang culture and adopt DCP’s mantra: ganas (motivation), orgullo (pride) and communidad (community). Unlike the formulaic, for-profit charter schools of businessmen like Chris Whittle (see the review of Crash Course in PW, Aug. 29), DCP is enthusiastically experimental. When something’s not working (e.g., trying to teach algebra when kids don’t know fractions), they try something else. As Jacobs tells the story of DCP’s amazingly committed teachers and their (mostly) courageous students, even hardcore opponents of charter schools may soften. Some useful data (DCP’s student stats, funding summaries) and a listing of resources for people thinking of starting a charter school round out this fascinating case study.

Winning the Race by John McWhorter. This is sure to be an interesting read from an intelligent and provocative author. Here is a snippet of the dust jacket:

In Winning the Race, McWhorter argues that black America’s current problems began with an unintended byproduct of the Civil Rights revolution, a crippling mindset of “therapeutic alienation.” This wary stance toward mainstream American culture, although it is a legacy of racism in the past, continues to hold blacks back, and McWhorter traces all the poisonous effects of this defeatist attitude. In an in-depth case study of the Indianapolis inner city, he analyzes how a vibrant black neighborhood declined into slums, despite ample work opportunities in an American urban center where manufacturing jobs were plentiful. McWhorter takes a hard look at the legacy of the Great Society social assistance programs, lamenting their teaching people to live permanently on welfare, as well as educational failures, too often occurring because of an intellectual climate in which a successful black person must be faced with charges of “acting white.” He attacks the sorry state of black popular culture, where indignation for its own sake has been enshrined in everything from the halls of academia to the deleterious policy decisions of community leaders to the disaffected lyrics of hip-hop, particularly rap’s glorification of irresponsibility and violence as “protest.” In a stirring conclusion, McWhorter puts forth a new vision of black political and intellectual leadership, arguing that both blacks and whites must abolish the culture of victimhood, as this alone can improve future of black America, and outlines steps that can be taken to ensure hope for the future.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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