This Week's Hot Reads

This week: a revelatory biography of Emily Dickinson’s passionate friendship, an essential primer on Iran, a candy-themed novel about one family’s fortune and dark past, a memoir from French star Leslie Caron, and the remarkable relationship of Pollock and Hart Benton.

12.21.09 9:55 PM ET

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
by Brenda Wineapple

One of the best books of last year is perfect reading for a wintry holiday.

With freezing winds and snow punishing much of the country, many of us feel tempted to wall up in our homes and never leave, Emily Dickinson-style. White Heat, Brenda Wineapple’s biography of the friendship of Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, would accompany any semi-hibernation nicely. After reading one of his columns in The Atlantic Monthly, Dickinson began a correspondence with the Higginson that would last 25 years. “As reclusive as Dickinson's life was, his was cinematic. Father, husband, minister, naturalist, novelist, poet, politician, teacher—he was these and more,” The Wall Street Journal says. But, “the contrast offered by their lives reverses itself. A gifted but not brilliant writer, Higginson shines in his clearly argued social tracts and closely observed nature portraits, but they are unadventurous when compared with Dickinson's bushwacking, vacuum-packed quatrains—which Ms. Wineapple reads with empathy and insight.”

Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic from Cyrus to Ahmadinejad. By William R. Polk. 272 pages. Palgrave Macmillan. $25.

Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic from Cyrus to Ahmadinejad
by William R. Polk

In the midst of constant turmoil in Iraq, Polk’s book is a useful and necessary guide.

William R. Polk, a man with serious foreign-policy credentials stretching back more than half a century, is following up his well-received Understanding Iraq with Understanding Iran, and equally timely explainer of the history, culture, and politics of a nation that seems to bedevil the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. In a book that’s serious yet accessible, Polk tells you “everything you need to know” about what’s up with the recent protests in Tehran, the overthrow of the shah, the evolution of Persian culture, and more.

True Confections: A Novel. By Katharine Weber. 288 pages. Shaye Areheart Books. $22.

True Confections: A Novel
by Katharine Weber

A sweet confection of love, candy, and a family’s troubled past.

“This novel is like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for grownups,” More magazine says. In True Confections, Katharine Weber tells the tale of Alice, who, due to an unfortunate incident, became known as “Arson Girl,” lost her college scholarship and had to work in a candy store. But there she met the heir to a confectionary empire, married him, and soon begins digging into the company’s strange and dark past, just as the family begins to fall apart.

Thank Heaven: A Memoir. By Leslie Caron. 288 pages. Viking. $25.95.

Thank Heaven: A Memoir
by Leslie Caron

A classic Hollywood memoir from a French star.

Leslie Caron was just a 17-year-old ballerina living in Paris when she was discovered by Gene Kelly, who cast her to play opposite him in An American in Paris. Thus began a 40-year career in Hollywood, including Caron’s star turn in Gigi. Caron also writes about her family life: the hardships of living in Paris during World War II and her cold American mother and French father. “[F]for much of her life, she found herself lost between two worlds—she was too French for Hollywood and too American for her beloved France,” the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “Caron spent her life searching for happiness both in and out of the spotlight.”

Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollack. By Henry Adams. 416 pages. Bloomsbury Press. $35.

Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock
by Henry Adams

One of the great artistic friendships in American history is explored this new dual bio.

Painters Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock had an intense, almost father-son like friendship, despite having seemingly wildly different styles. “On the surface, the two men's creative approach was wholly disparate,” Kirkus Reviews writes in a review of Henry Adams’ account of their relationship, Tom and Jack. “Benton favored Americana murals that evoked the working class… Pollock's works suggest universalism within their chaotic sweeps and layers of paint... However, the author makes the cogent argument that each painter's artistic viewpoint, and creative technique, stemmed from the same series of influences.” The Kansas City Star named Tom and Jack to its list of best 100 books of 2009.

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