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On Sunday: Luis J. Rodriguez's memory bank, and Dwight Eisenhower too

Luis J. Rodriguez talks about the process of memoir in the Los Angeles Times Arts & Books section
Luis J. Rodriguez has a vast and interesting resume: former gang-banger, literary icon of Chicano letters and now, as Times staff writer Reed Johnson notes in his interview with him, "distinguished-looking 57-year-old grandfather with a silvery goatee and a companionable paunch." But that's not all he has: He has memories, and they are the stuff of two books -- cautionary tales to a new generation of youths. Though his books often name names, he heaps the toughest criticism on himself for the life he lived before he knew a better life. His latest memoir, "It Calls You Back," was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in the autobiography category. His story leads our coverage in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Eisenhower In War and Peace," the massive biography of the key World War II general and two-term president by Jean Edward Smith. His book, writes reviewer Wendy Smith (no relation), is critical of Eisenhower as a war strategist but is also a "measured but fundamentally admiring account" of his long years of public service. In the end, our reviewer writes, "Eisenhower proved himself to be precisely the kind of leader America wanted and needed at the time."

Time is at the essence of Susan Carpenter's review of the hot new YA talent Lissa Price and her novel "Starters. Another foray into a dystopian world, this telling, by debut author Price, is about a genocide that kills everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, leaving only the very young and the very old. And the very old with means are able to rent the bodies of nubile teens and control them through a neurochip. You can imagine the consequences (or not). Carpenter calls this "dystopian sci-fi at its best."

"At its most challenging" may be the best words to describe the new novel by Hari Kunzru, "Gods Without Men," which our book critic David Ulin reviews this week. In this work involving several overlapping stories taking place across decades and centuries, the desert becomes a magnet for many hoping to piece together a fallen world. And the central dilemma of each is understanding what we can and cannot know.

More after the jump ...

We know that Adam Levin can write long -- witness his 2010 novel "The Instructions," which took nine years to complete. But he can also write short, as reflected by "Hot Pink," his collection of short fiction that our Carolyn Kellogg reviews this week. She notes that a smaller word count doesn't keep Levin from writing funny stories that can be surreal or sardonic.

Nick Owchar reviews "Leonardo‚Äôs Lost Princess: One Man's Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo da Vinci" by Peter Silverman with Catherine Whitney. Silverman, an art collector, had a jolting recognition concerning a painting he saw in the late 1990s and again in 2007. He thought it was by Leonardo, but was it? He set out to determine its origins in what Owchar calls "a fascinating adventure where scholarly detective work relies as much on specialized skills as it does on the miracle of technology."

And, of course, we have our weekly bestsellers lists, with a work by Jeff Kinney, of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" fame on both lists. And the Hunger Games books are still drawing attention in hard-cover editions just 12 days before the opening of the movie based on the first book. "American Sniper," which we reviewed on Monday, is still going strong at No. 5 on the nonfiction list.

***

The book-award season got into full swing Thursday night in New York when the National Book Critics Circle presented its honors for 2011. Edith Pearlman, an under-the-radar short-story writer, won the fiction award. Our Carolyn Kellogg reported on the event and the winners. If you want to know more about Pearlman, check out Ulin's review of "Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories." 

As always, thanks for reading.

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

Photo: Luis J. Rodriguez in 2010. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

 
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