Monday, February 05, 2007

Didion's Grief, Wal-Mart, Rome, Oil, Obama: February Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Joan Didion's National Book Award- winning memoir, ``The Year of Magical Thinking'' (Vintage, $13.95), describes her grief following the sudden death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne.

As a hedge against self-pity, Didion chronicles every detail. Hoping to perform a kind of ``magic trick'' to ``bring him back,'' she refuses to allow his body parts to be harvested or to give away his shoes: ``How could he come back if they took his organs, how could he come back if he had no shoes?''

The book has proved to be her most popular. Some 625,000 copies were printed in hardcover. A stage adaptation, written by Didion, directed by David Hare and starring Vanessa Redgrave, opens on Broadway in March.

Other highlights this month:

``Wal-Mart: The Bully of Bentonville: How the High Cost of Everyday Low Prices Is Hurting America'' by Anthony Bianco (Currency, $14.95). According to the persuasive Bianco, the world's biggest retailer has created a Dickensian workplace culture that turns workers into ``component parts'' as it smashes union activity and violates child-labor laws in pursuit of retail dominance.

``Rome, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation'' by Stanley Bing (Norton, $14.95). Satirist Bing compresses Roman history into an entertaining business parable that portrays the city-state and its empire as a modern corporation vexed by rapacious and incompetent leaders, disastrous in-fighting and hostile takeover attempts.

``The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel'' by Stephen Leeb and Glen Strathy (Back Bay, $16.99). Leeb, the president of Leeb Capital Management, and Strathy, a journalist, view the oil shock and inflation of the 1970s as a template for the future, when growing demand from China and India will force oil prices to skyrocket -- something they think could happen in the next five years.

``New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century'' by Jed Perl (Vintage, $18.95). The New Republic's art critic offers a smart disquisition on the influence of a revolutionary coterie that included Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly.

``Hopes and Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama'' by Steve Dougherty (Black Dog & Leventhal, $9.95). At 128 pages it's brief, but so is the career of the junior senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential hopeful.

``Falling Through the Earth'' by Danielle Trussoni (Picador, $14). Trussoni's troubled Wisconsin childhood and her attempts to win respect from her alcoholic Vietnam-vet father inform her tough-minded, moving memoir.

``Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer'' by James L. Swanson (HarperPerennial, $15.95). As the latest of myriad authors who have written about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, Swanson distills the surfeit of information into an urgent narrative that offers only the most riveting (and gory) details.

``Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq'' by Stephen Kinzer (Times, $15). How many governments has the U.S. overthrown? Fourteen, answers New York Times foreign correspondent Kinzer in this critical survey of strong-arm American diplomacy. Hawaii was the first, Iraq the last -- for now.

``Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping'' by Judith Levine (Free Press, $14). Levine's can-do attitude buoys her chronicle of a year-long experiment in forgoing luxuries (Q-tips, restaurants, video rentals), which also explores the anti- consumer movement.

``Black Swan Green'' by David Mitchell (Random House, $13.95). The challenging British novelist has set his rough-and- tumble coming-of-age story in Worcestershire, England, in 1982, where his 13-year-old narrator copes with a stammer, confronts bullies and follows the Falklands War.

``Labyrinth'' by Kate Mosse (Berkley, $15). In Mosse's fat page-turner, a pair of women separated by 800 years -- contemporary Alice and medieval Alais -- run from Christian villains eager to thwart their search for the object of desire in several recent thrillers: the Holy Grail.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)