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On Sunday: Richard Ford, Clarice Lispector and 'The Other America'

May 25, 2012 |  2:15 pm

When you think of Richard Ford and sense of place you might summon up New Jersey, the location for his most noted work, the trilogy of Frank Bascombe novels that include “The Sportswriter,” “Independence Day” and “The Lay of the Land.” But Ford is also invested in the West, including Montana and Wyoming, where his books “Rock Springs” and “Wildlife” take place, and now he returns to that region in his latest novel, “Canada.” In this novel,  Ford tells the story of 15-year-old Dale Parsons, who has to take care of himself after his parents are arrested for bank robbery. Our book critic, David L. Ulin, talked to Ford about his new work in the lead piece of our Sunday Arts & Books pages and focuses on the author’s sense of place. (By the way, Ford will be in town Thursday for a conversation with Michael Silverblatt as part of the ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Public Library.)

Also Sunday, writer Scott Martelle, whose latest book “Detroit” focuses on the decline of the once-great American city, reflects on Michael Harrington’s “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” which is marking its 50th anniversary this year with a new edition from Scribner. Martelle writes that Harrington’s book was quite influential in his life and reflects on the fact that it helped fuel John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to eradicate poverty in the 1960s. Sadly, Martelle notes, that war “has gone about as well as the ones we’ve conducted against drugs and in Iraq and Afghanistan,” which is to say not very well.  

One of the great joys of book review coverage is the opportunity to introduce a writer to a new audience of readers. Carolyn Kellogg does that quite well in her review of four books by the great, but little known in North America, Brazilian-bred writer Clarice Lispector. Kellogg notes that Lispector literally “revolutionized Brazilian letters.” “These four books,” Kellogg writes, “showcase her intellectual heft, restless creative spirit, contradiction, humor and darkness…”

More after the jump

Thomas H. Maugh II, a former longtime science and medical writer for The Times, returns to our pages with a review of Edward O. Wilson’s “The Social Conquest of Earth.” Wilson waxes scientific and philosophical in seeking to answer how humans have come to rule the Earth. Maugh says that the book isn’t for everyone, however.

Our YA expert, Susan Carpenter, looks at Alyson Noel’s novel “Fated,” the kickoff to a new four-book paranormal romance series, Soul Seekers. And we offer the poem “Cancer” from “Orphan Hours,” the latest collection by Stanley Plumly. Nick Owchar, our deputy books editor, selected the work and offers an introduction that places the poem and Plumly’s work in  context.

On the bestsellers list this week, Hilary Mantel and John Irving are atop the fiction list while Robert Caro’s latest volume of his LBJ biography sits at the top of nonfiction followed by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild.”

As always, thanks for reading,

--Jon Thurber, book editor

Photo: Richard Ford in 2012.   Credit: Associated Press/Pat Wellenbach