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05.26.09

The Daily Beast Recommends

This week: A quirky memoir by a comedian whose white father was obsessed with all things black, Sue Halpern’s new book from the frontlines of Alzheimer’s research, and a new biography of the enigmatic American general, Curtis LeMay, that doesn’t sweep his flaws under the rug.

Can’t Remember What I Forgot
by Sue Halpern

Sue Halpern tracks down the finest in Alzheimer's treatment and explains how it works.

As the boomers get older, more and more Americans will be experiencing those “senior moments.” Lucky for us, Sue Halpern explains why and what can be done in her new book. Halpern spent five years investigating cutting-age treatments for memory loss, and undergoing a few of the most sophisticated tests of brain function herself. What she finds is startling: Herbal supplements, almonds, crosswords, ballroom dancing, and $400 interactive computer software have not been scientifically proven to work. But a brisk walk a few times a week can do wonders for the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a crucial role in new memory formation. Halpern's reporting reveals not only what dementia and Alzheimer's do to the brain, but how the illnesses can be treated, and more importantly, caught early.

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I’m Down: A Memoir By Mishna Wolff 288 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $23.95. ()

I’m Down: A Memoir
by Mishna Wolff

This memoir brings a fresh perspective to race relations—and explains one of the most impressive white afros ever.

It seems like there is a new memoir about an eccentric family coming out every other week, but newcomer Mishna Wolff distinguishes herself by bringing a fresh perspective to race relations in the modern age. Wolff was raised by a father who had an exorbitant amount of enthusiasm for black culture. So much so that he dressed the part (Cosby-esque sweater, gold chains, Kangol hat) and forced his daughter to hang out in all-black parts of Seattle and join inner-city youth clubs. For further proof of the author's efforts at blackness, look at the cover picture which, if real, stands as one of the most impressive white afros ever. Still, Wolff struggles to fit into black culture, and then finds herself out of place yet again when she is accepted to a mostly white private school. A former comedian and model, she laces her memoir with outrageous anecdotes, all the while making keen observations about prevalent racial stereotypes in American culture.

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The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay By Warren Kozak 354 pages. Regnery Publishing. $27.95 ()

The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay
by Warren Kozak

A new biography of a dynamic military innovator focuses on his famously flawed personality.

With the ousting of General David McKiernan, America's top commander in Afghanistan, hijacking headlines, the topic of military innovation (or lack thereof) bears fresh consideration for a nation forced to rethink its approach to an unconventional battle. Let's face it: Some generals are simply more strategically creative (and therefore more effective) than others. Historically, one of America's most dynamic military innovators was Curtis LeMay, the World War II Air Commander heralded as the father of modern strategic bombing (he's credited with orchestrating the firebombing of Tokyo and crippling Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia with devastating aerial assaults). Warren Kozak's new biography on LeMay outlines the enigmatic air general's personal and military development—traced all the way back to childhood—with an unprecedented focus on his famously flawed personality.

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Shanghai Girls By Lisa See 336 pages. Random House. $25. ()

Shanghai Girls
by Lisa See

Sibling rivalry gives way to fierce devotion as two Chinese sisters cope with forced exile in Los Angeles.

An epic tale, anyone? Acclaimed author Lisa See's latest novel chronicles two sisters' harrowing journey from a comfortable life in 1937 Shanghai (the Paris of the east) to Los Angeles. The girls' lives are upended when their father reveals that a terrible gambling problem has forced him to sell his daughters' hands in marriage to two suitors from the States. The pair flee Shanghai as Japanese planes bombard the city, and they set out on a journey that will take them through the Chinese countryside before finally arriving in the U.S. The adventure is also a journey of self-discovery, as the sisters cope with their sibling rivalry, which belies a fierce devotion to one another. The two also learn to respect their roots, as the ostentatious glamour of Hollywood makes them appreciate Chinese tradition. The epic tale which spans 20 years was praised by Publisher's Weekly as an “accomplished and absorbing novel.”

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Come Sunday By Isla Morley 336 pages. Farar, Straus and Giroux. $25. ()

Come Sunday
by Isla Morley

Isla Morley's first novel should not be attempted without a Kleenex box at hand.

In Come Sunday, Isla Morley looks at a woman who keeps on in the face of extreme grief. The novel follows Abbe Deighton, wife to the pastor of a waning congregation in a poor neighborhood of Honolulu, and mother to their energetic 3-year-old Cleo. When Cleo dies in a car crash, grief takes over Abbe's life and she begins to revisit her past and how it brought her to this place. She remembers her childhood in apartheid-era South Africa, her abusive father, and the submissive mother who abandoned Abbe to live on the family's fruit farm. As Abbe wades through her grief and her history, her marriage with Greg begins to fall apart. Morley is a stunning storyteller, although Come Sunday should not be attempted without a Kleenex box at hand.

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