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This Sunday: Jerusalem and the man who played Mark Twain

December 9, 2011 |  1:06 pm


Jerusalem, the holy city that has mesmerized conquerors for centuries, takes the featured spot in our book coverage this weekend with a review of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s "Jerusalem: The Biography," an epic history of a city that, as Montefiore notes, has been “the desire and prize of empires” but curiously is “of no strategic value.” Our reviewer, Wendy Smith, a contributing editor to the American Scholar, writes that Montefiore “embraces Jerusalem’s paradoxes in his chronological account” while remaining “even-handed” in laying out the city’s exhaustive history.

Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty examines actor Hal Holbrook’s accounting of his life and career. Holbrook, best-known for his illustrious portrayal of Mark Twain and as Deep Throat in “All the President’s Men,” recounts his troubled childhood after he was abandoned by his parents at the age of 2, and his discovery of acting in the  book “Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain.”  McNulty writes that while “Holbrook’s career deserves being memorialized,” the memoir struggles because it lacks intimacy.

Also this Sunday: Carolyn Kellogg checks out the middle novel of Lydia Millet's trilogy that began with “How the Dream Died” in 2008. Kellogg writes of Millet's new book, “Ghost Lights,” that the author has “made it easy for those not familiar with the first book to start with this.” Times columnist Hector Tobar, author of the novel “The Barbarian Nurseries,” reviews Anita Desai’s “The Artist of Disappearance,” a collection of novellas about contemporary India, “where deep-rooted tradition meets the great, cruel engine of unbridled capitalism.” Tobar says Desai “mines this territory artfully, again and again.”

Thanhha Lai’s YA novel-in-verse “Inside Out and Back Again” recently won the National Book Award in the children’s category, and Susan Carpenter says it paints a “much needed portrait” of the author’sHoliday-books-2011 harrowing journey from a falling Saigon to life in Alabama.  And deputy book editor Nick Owchar looks at Michael Dirda's “On Conan Doyle: Or the Whole Art of Storytelling,” which first appeared last month in his Siren's Call column. Dirda’s brief volume explores the broad writing career of an author best known for creating Holmes, Watson and Baker Street.

Do you still need some ideas for holiday giving?  Don't forget about our special guide to Holiday Books & Gift Ideas, which offers great suggestions in a variety of genres, ranging from fiction and nonfiction to coffee-table and quirky books (Don't know what to do with the hair shed by your cat? There's a book for it!). In our guide you can also find plenty of tips on tablets, audio books and other accessories for the book lovers in your life. 

Thanks for reading,

-- Jon Thurber, Books Editor

 Photo: The Dome of the Rock Mosque in East Jerusalem, 2007.   Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press

Photo: 2011 Holiday Books and Gift Ideas   Credit: Elvis Swift / For The Times