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April 12th, 2006 Karla Starr | Books
 

Literary Threesome

Jump into the covers, have some fun and remember—three is better than one.

     
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Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (Random House, 304 pages, $23.95)

There are people who have yet to read David Mitchell's masterpiece, the Booker Prize-nominated Cloud Atlas, one of the most daring, engrossing novels in several years. These people are fools. Fortunately, Mitchell's fourth and latest novel, Black Swan Green, serves as a perfect introduction to his work. It's true that BSG lacks the structural moxie of Ghostwritten (connected short stories), Number9Dream (too long to explain here) or Cloud Atlas (see Number9Dream): It's a straightforward account of a year in the life of Jason Taylor, age 13. Thanks to Mitchell's pitch-perfect prose ("The melony sun dripped steamy brightness"), Taylor's endearing awkwardness, naiveté and stammer seem fully lived rather than written about. Add in plot twists, countless allusions—including a few nods to Mitchell's own earlier works—and you'll see why this ho-hum-sounding book is already being called a British version of A Catcher in the Rye.

The Joys of Much Too Much: Go for the Big Life—The Great Career, the Perfect Guy, and Everything Else You've Ever Wanted, by Bonnie Fuller (Fireside, 220 pages, $24)

I read The Joys of Much Too Much in one sitting, starting on a Saturday at 3 am, still slightly woozy from a night out. What kept me reading the former Cosmopolitan and US Weekly editor's oddly voyeuristic self-help book until dusk? It's a bit like reading a middle-schooler's MySpace account—heavy on idiot-proof outlines, name-dropping and mildly entertaining nonsense. The title, however, should be changed to How I Rationalize Being a Total Workaholic: A Somewhat Interesting Glimpse Into the Mind of a Deeply Disturbed Magazine Editor. There are glowing quotes by Donald Trump and Carmen Electra on the back cover—need I go on?

No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality, by Judith Rich Harris (W.W. Norton, 352 pages, $25.95)

Freshen up on that psychology class before The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition comes out next month. Wait—it'll be fun, I promise! If you want a truly engaging, moderately challenging take on what makes people tick, Harris—author of the controversial text The Nurture Assumption, in which she argued that parents don't matter—is your gal. She's a plucky, ridiculously informed writer who brings potentially droll scientific studies to life, and synthesizes and picks holes in the most influential psychology studies relating to personality in the past several decades. The result is a new theory that covers all bases and explains why we are the way we are, through a combination of status, relationships and how we are socialized. It's so thorough and logical, you may even understand Bonnie Fuller.

 
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