2012 CLSC book choices showcase unique characters

Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

 The 2012 Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle books follow two themes: the weekly morning lecture platform and their own season-long “characters.”

“We try very hard to have a group of books that reflect  different genres, and a variety of authors, and to offer books that Chautauquans can connect to the weekly theme,” said Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education. “In addition, this year’s ‘vertical theme,’ connecting all the books, is ‘characters,’ reflecting writing with strong character development.”

CLSC authors will present at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays in the Hall of Philosophy, and there will be an additional presentation at 3:30 p.m. Friday during Week Three.

Week One

The 2012 CLSC season begins with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ Horoscopes for the Dead — the only poetry book on this year’s reading list. Collins’ fourth visit to Chautauqua will complement Week One’s literary arts theme.

He is sometimes called “America’s most popular poet,” and this book will have Chautauquans praising the simplicity and ease of his poetry.

Week Two

In The Other Wes Moore, author Wes Moore analyzes his childhood and adolescence. As he progresses as a man in a rough area outside of Baltimore, he is exposed to a drug culture while living with his single mother. After struggles and run-ins with the police, Moore finds an out. He eventually joins the Army, attends Johns Hopkins, becomes a Rhodes Scholar and discovers himself through another person — the other Wes Moore.

After hearing of another man with the same name murdering a police officer, his curiosity leads him to familiarize himself with someone whose life could have been his own.

Week Three

Week Three brings to the Hall of Philosophy a husband and wife whose vastly different books have unforgettable characters.

Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing is her third work to be chosen by CLSC, and her vivid writing gets a welcome return to Chautauqua. Brooks, author of Pultizer-Prize winning March, captures the dynamic struggle between two classmates from different cultures in this year’s selection.

Tony Horwitz, author of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, is also a Pulitzer-Prize winner. His latest book shows a fierce character, thirsty for blood and freedom, who ignites the Civil War.

Week Four

The morning lecture platform theme of “Water Matters” isn’t a far reach from the Week Four CLSC book, Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. Safina, an ecologist and marine conservationist, uses his background and storytelling to warn readers of the consequences when nature is abused.

“Safina argues that we must renew the social contract, free ourselves from the politics of greed, and embrace the facts about the still thriving yet endangered, immeasurably precious living world,” according to a review from Booklist.

Week Five

Ali Eteraz’s Children of Dust: A Portrait of a Muslim as a Young Man coincides with Week Five’s morning lecture theme of “Pakistan: Straddling the Boundary Between Asia and the Middle East.”

The memoir follows a young man from Pakistan to America as he struggles to come to terms with his home country and identifying as a Muslim.

“Though Eteraz’s dreams of glory would eventually take a mundane turn … , his adventures are a heavenly read,” said an Oprah.com review.

Week Six

Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos follows the story of agent Henri Poincaré after a mathematician is assassinated in a mysterious hotel room bombing. The thriller searches for the connection between two cases across an ocean.

“A surprising series of personal relationships and connections prove to have all the logic of chaos theory,” said a Publisher’s Weekly review. “Readers, especially the mathematically inclined, will relish this intellectually provocative whodunit.”

Week Seven

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding observes Henry Skrimshander as he plays college baseball and interacts with other players.

“If it seems a stretch for a baseball novel to hold truth and beauty and the entire human condition in its mitt, well, The Art of Fielding isn’t really a baseball novel at all, or not only,” said a New York Times review. “It’s also a campus novel and a bromance (and for that matter a full-fledged gay romance), a comedy of manners and a tragicomedy of errors.”

Week Eight

Similar to 1984, Anthem and Brave New World, Jesse Ball’s The Curfew shows readers a dystopian life — with set routes, walking speeds and curfews. When protagonist William’s wife is taken and he is left alone with their daughter, Molly, he will risk everything to break the rules and find her.

Blogcritics.org gave The Curfew four of five stars, and writer Jeruen Dery said: “For such a terse and concise novel, The Curfew packs a big punch. The story continues on, even after the final page. And I have to say, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Week Nine

Those who have seen the “National Treasure” movies might believe there’s a secret book tucked into the Library of Congress for the current president and his predecessors. Whether such a book exists is unknown, but Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy will wrap up the CLSC season with a discussion of their book, The Presidents Club.

Gibbs and Duffy give a first-hand look at how the presidents from Hoover to Obama worked with and against one another in the unique fraternity of their predecessors.

The Presidents Club is a lucid and well-written glimpse into the modern presidency and its self-sustaining shadow organization,” said a USA Today review. “It’s worth reading and rereading for its behind-the-scenes insights.”