This Week's Hot Reads

This week: a new thriller about a government’s abuse of terrorism laws, a writer’s memoir about his friendship with Norman Mailer, a stirring defense of the librarian in the digital age, the memoir on which An Education is based, and an indictment of expanding presidential power from Garry Wills.

02.04.10 5:28 PM ET

The Bell Ringers
by Henry Porter

A superb, frighteningly plausible thriller about an Orwellian state.

Though there have been many updates to George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, but few as impressive as Henry Porter’s The Bell Ringers, The Washington Post says. Porter says in his afterward that the future in his book did not require much imagination: “I have not made anything up: the law is all there,” including those that enable “the suspension of travel, seizing of property, forced evacuation, special courts and arbitrary detention and arrest." The plot revolves around a power-hungry British prime minister and his adviser, who grows disillusioned when the PM declares a natural event to be terrorism and suspends the constitution, spying on the populace with the help of a corrupt American corporation. Will the people care? Or will they think the government is protecting them? The Bell Ringers “is a sophisticated, engrossing and important political thriller,” the Post says. “Far-fetched? Alarmist? Who can say? Recent events suggest that we in America have at least as much reason to fear corporate encroachment on democracy as do our cousins across the Atlantic.”

Mornings with Mailer: A Recollection of Friendship. By Dwayne Raymond. 352 pages. Harper Perennial. $13.99.

Mornings with Mailer: A Recollection of Friendship
by Dwayne Raymond

A writer shares the story of his friendship with the great novelist.

Dwayne Raymond was just a young writer waiting tables in Cape Cod when legendary author Norman  Mailer invited him to be his aide in the final years of his life. Raymond assisted Mailer as he wrote his final four books, and the two men grew very close, with Mailer serving as his mentor and friend. Raymond’s memoir Mornings with Mailer of an unlikely friendship has been hailed by Harold Evans as “a fascinating, touching memoir, and often funny too.” It provides a surprising and touching glimpse into the final years of Mailer’s life.

This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. By Marilyn Johnson. 288 pages. Harper. $24.99.

This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
by Marilyn Johnson

A stirring defense of the role of librarians in our Internet age.

As the industries built around words printed on paper struggle for their survival, have librarians become obsolete? Marilyn Johnson answers that question with a resounding no. They’ve evolved, maybe faster than the rest of us. As Johnson explains in her “gloriously geeky This Book is Overdue, librarians are no longer ladies in cardigans hovering over the card catalog,” says. “The new librarians are bloggers, information junkies and protectors of freedom and privacy in the Patriot Act era.” In a book that’s “[e]nergetic, winningly acerbic and downright fun,” Johnson chronicles their transformation as navigators for people searching for information in an overwhelming and rapidly changing digital age.

An Education. By Lynn Barber. 192 pages. Atlas & Co. $13.

An Education
by Lynn Barber

The true life memoir that inspired the Oscar-nominated movie.

Now that the film An Education, has earned three Oscar nominations, it might be time to go back to the book on which it is based. Lynn Barber’s memoir of her affair as a schoolgirl with a much older (con)man, and how her parents encouraged it for the sake of social mobility, “is funny, bold, incisive, clever and interesting,” the London Independent said. “But underneath all the brave chutzpah, wit, jokes and verve, it is touching, naïve and tenderly confused.” Beyond the strange, glitzy, sometimes creepy details of Barber’s affair, the book is a moving and arresting examination of how social mobility can divide parents and children, and foster “unintended bitterness” that leaves kids unsure of who they are.

Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State. By Gary Wills. 288 pages. The Penguin Press. $27.95.

Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State
by Garry Wills

A noted historian’s incisive account of the inexorable rise of Presidential power.

George W. Bush attacked core liberties guaranteed by the Constitution during his troubled presidency, but, though he went further than his predecessors, his administration was no aberration, historian Garry Wills argues in Bomb Power. The U.S. has experienced an ever-expanding executive since the development of the atom bomb turned the president from “elected head of state” into “Shiva, the shatterer of worlds,” the Miami Herald says. “His breadth of knowledge is awe inspiring, but he never goes over the reader's head: He is a scholar with the heart of a journalist.” Truman committed troops to Korea without congressional approval, but instead of sanctioning a rogue president, fear of the Soviet Union kept the legislative branch cowering. Wills says it opened the door for disastrous wars in Asia and the Middle East and that Bush was only a symptom of an already broken system.

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