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Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl's Book Reviews for 8/29/2009

Jeremy Richards

Some people look at the moon and think about their dreams. Some people look at the moon and calculate how to land on its surface. Today, local author and librarian Nancy Pearl brings us two books about people following their passions, both domestic and celestial. Nancy Pearl talks with KUOW's Jeremy Richards.

The settings of the stories in Amanda Eyre Ward's stellar collection, "Love Stories in This Town" range all over the map of the United States — Austin, Georgia, Montana, San Francisco — but the main characters, all women, share one salient characteristic: they're looking for something. For some it's a sense of belonging somewhere, anywhere. For others it's enduring love, or motherhood, or security or professional success. Each of Ward's protagonists feels that there's something basic missing in her life — a hole in her world. Whether it's Kimmy, moving to Texas with her husband two days after a miscarriage ("The Stars are Bright in Texas"); Mimi ("") working for a startup company aimed at bringing Shakespeare to the masses; or the six linked stories about ten years in the life of Lola Wilkerson, all these stories are moving and insightful; the dialogue is pitch perfect. I finished reading each of these stories wishing that Ward would expand every one into a novel, so I could spend more time with the characters.

I suspect that anyone over a certain age can probably recite the names of at least a few of the members of Astronaut Group 1, otherwise known as the Mercury Seven. I thought of three off the top of my head — John Glenn, Gus Grissom, and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (the others were Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.). These were the men chosen in 1959 to lead the nation into space, and the subject of Tom Wolfe's 1979 book, "The Right Stuff". The book itself is a leading example of the New Journalism. According to Wikipedia, Wolfe codified the label New Journalism in a 1973 collection entitled "The New Journalism," which included articles by himself, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Joan Didion and others. This type of writing is characterized by the use of techniques borrowed from literary fiction (while clearly intended to be read as non–fiction). Among its tenets are describing the action through the point of view of various characters as well as a reliance on showing events as they occurred, rather than recounting them in retrospect. Nowhere is this style of writing better displayed than in "The Right Stuff," Wolfe's now classic (even iconic) account that depicts the Mercury Seven astronauts in all their swagger, guts and glory. It begins with their early years as pilots, describes the battery of tests they had to take before being accepted into the space program (and their reactions to those tests), as well as offering exciting descriptions of their first flights into space. Readers looking for evocative writing and a peep into the world of the best and the brightest of the space program will find it all here.

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