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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Walking Papers

by Francesco Clark |


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In 2002, when 24-year-old Francesco Clark took a moonlit dive into what he didn’t realize was the shallow end of a pool, he became paralyzed from the neck down, and his life ground to a terrifying halt. “Don’t expect to get better,” his doctors warned. But Clark, supported by his family, refused to give up hope, opting instead for experimental and non-traditional treatments, vitamin and exercise therapies, even a trip to Beijing for a controversial stem cell operation. There, for the first time, a doctor told him, “You will get better.” Along the way Clark fought insurance companies (“the dreaded I-word”) and naysayers who gave him up as a lost cause and, as related in his book’s most breathtakingly moving moments, slowly began to move his arms, hands and even kick with his legs, proof that his neurons are regenerating. An unstoppable mother of invention, Clark also created his own skin-care company, the award-winning Clark’s Botanicals, after devising treatments to combat the acne caused by his skin’s inability to sweat out toxins. Visceral and inspiring, his narrative makes you believe that the impossible is achievable and that walking again-still his goal-is just steps away.

Promises to Keep

by Jane Green |



Green’s latest centers around Callie, a photographer living in the burbs with two kids and a workaholic husband. Her best friends-Lila, still single, and Steffi, Callie’s free-spirited younger sister-fill out the parts of her life her husband doesn’t reach. But when Callie, a breast cancer survivor, begins to have troubling health issues, she must confront her seemingly perfect marriage, as well as her relationship with her long-divorced parents. Promises starts out as a breezy look at a life of affluence but transforms into something much more satisfying as Callie and her loved ones confront a devastating disease-and seek answers about how they will carry on.

Dear Money

by Martha McPhee |



“Consumed with want” and surrounded by a “gorgeous sea of wealth,” novelist India Palmer grabs an offer from Wall Street tycoon Win Johns: “Give me 18 months and I’ll turn you into a trader.” (Author McPhee received an identical proposition.) Meantime, her friend Will plans to chuck his banking job to write. In this trenchant satire of the ’00s, characters learn that sometimes when you pursue your passion, you pay a high price.

Portrait of an Addict As a Young Man

by Bill Clegg |



Addiction’s highs and lows often level into tedium on the page, but literary agent Clegg avoids that trap in this devastating memoir of the years he spent under crack’s spell. Interspersing glimpses of his painful childhood and wunderkind youth with details of the binges that cost him his savings, his lover and very nearly his life, he doesn’t lay blame or offer easy answers. His book is both harrowing and hopeful: a triumph.

The Map of True Places

by Brunonia Barry |



Barry follows her bewitching debut, The Lace Reader, with another story set in Salem, Mass. This time she follows the travails of psychotherapist Zee Finch, who comes unglued when a patient’s suicide evokes memories of Zee’s mother’s death years earlier. Adding to Zee’s turmoil is her father’s worsening health, her fiance’s impatience, revelations about her parents’ troubled marriage and, possibly, a murderous stalker. Credit Barry with creating characters compelling enough to carry most readers over a few bumps to the fairy-tale ending.

Furious Love

by Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger |



With cooperation from Elizabeth Taylor and the help of journal entries and letters from Richard Burton (who wrote as gorgeously as he spoke), Kashner and Schoenberger dig beneath the glamour of one of the 20th century’s most famous couples. When they weren’t fighting, drinking or making “lovely love,” as Burton put it, they were supporting each other through often painful lives. Taylor may have been the drama queen, chugging pills and landing in a hospital if she didn’t get her way. But she’s a survivor, and it is Burton who emerges as the figure of pathos. Taylor helped him through major neurosis, including his dread of seeming weak (he had hemophilia and epilepsy-which he thought was helped by drinking). Felled by a cerebral hemorrhage at 58, Burton had written his estranged two-time wife a letter just before: “Home was where Elizabeth was, and he wanted to come home.” Many lives-lived later, Taylor keeps that letter by her bed.