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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Spoken from the Heart

by Laura Bush |



The delightful surprise in former First Lady Laura Bush’s memoir is her opening: a real, moving, intimate story of an only child in a dusty Texas town who reads, dreams, and feels terrible guilt and grief over the car accident she caused that took a friend’s life. Her literary bent is unmistakable here. Unfortunately, when she marries her “symbiotic soul,” George Bush (“the most eligible bachelor of Midland marrying the old maid”), this fascinating portrait veers into predictable politics. Laura supports her husband’s absence from the disaster site after Katrina because the necessary entourage would have held up rescue operations. She believes invading Iraq was the right choice even if Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Occasionally, she lashes out, criticizing Nancy Pelosi and a media she likens to “smart alec” kids. It’s what you’d expect, and it makes for less than fascinating reading. But readers seeking a glimpse of this most private of First Ladies’ innermost feelings will find it in the haunting depth and richness of her book’s early chapters.

‘No one, not even the president, is going to make the right decision every time’

The Other Wes Moore

by Wes Moore |



A college senior who’d just won a Rhodes Scholarship, the author was studying in South Africa when his mother phoned with news from the harsh streets where they’d lived in Baltimore: Police were “looking for another guy…with your name for killing a cop.” Struck by the irony, the young man who’d flirted with failure early on tracked down “the other Wes Moore,” born in the neighborhood a few years before him and behind bars for murder. Their bittersweet relationship fuels this compassionate memoir-a story that explores how some survive and others sink in urban battlegrounds where, as the author puts it, “the idea of life’s impermanence underlines everything.”

Girl in Translation

by Jean Kwok |



At age 5, Kwok moved with her family from Hong Kong to a New York City slum. Now a Harvard-educated mom, she has spun some of her experiences into this involving debut. Kimberly Chang, 11, aces school, falls in love-and helps her mom at a sweatshop until her lungs crust with dust. Kwok drops you right inside Kimberly’s head, adding Chinese idioms to crisp dialogue. And the book’s lesson-that every choice comes at the expense of something else-hits home in any language.

Spoon Fed

by Kim Severson |



Whether hiding chicken nuggets from slow-food guru Alice Waters or obsessing about Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl “in a Single White Female kind of way,” NY Times food writer Kim Severson has certainly been under the influence of cooking’s grande dames. Luckily for us, she got past her Lucy Ricardo moments-and plenty that weren’t so funny-to produce this delightful memoir, a combo platter of life lessons, dishy profiles of her mentors and gustatory edification (with recipes!).

The Pregnant Widow

by Martin Amis |



Not as acidly funny as his best work, Amis’ latest captures the pent-up desire of youth and is equally insightful about aging. Beginning in the ’70s, when sex-crazed Keith Nearing and some pals are sharing a villa in Italy, the novel moves through the next 40 years, chronicling its characters’ minor ups and near-bottomless downs with affection but no sentimentality. If you like your novels bracing and unvarnished, don’t pass this one up.