Set in belle epoque Amsterdam, Richard Mason's historical novel is the story of Piet Barol, a seductively handsome young man who was born in poverty and becomes a tutor in one of the city's richest houses. Earlier in 2012, it won this enthusiastic praise from author and Orange Prize-winner Madeline Miller: "Richard Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker is one of the most enjoyable books I've read all year. ... Despite Piet's sometimes ruthless exploitation of others, I couldn't help rooting for his rags-to-riches dreams, all while basking in Mason's lush evocation of the period's art and architecture. In particular, Mason is a genius when it comes to describing music, making a drawing-room concert feel as high-stakes and vivid as a spy thriller."
Nurse and activist Margaret Sanger founded the organization that eventually became Planned Parenthood. She began her efforts on behalf of sex education and contraception at a time when women risked arrest when they sought out makeshift birth control devices that were often unsafe. Her life and work are the subject of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion by historian and Goucher College professor Jean Baker. In Baker's view, Sanger made women's lives "far, far better. We have only to remember Sanger's own childhood — the sixth of 11 poor children, the boys having to wear dresses to school, very little money — to remember that being able to plan your pregnancies is something that is extremely important for women and it liberates them from the kind of maternity that simply submerged Margaret Sanger's mother."
When A.J. Jacobs was bedridden with tropical pneumonia on a family vacation, his wife looked at him in his hospital bed and said, "I don't want to be a widow at 45." Though not notably unhealthy, Jacobs was 41 and had begun to feel some of the vulnerabilities of age. He vowed to make himself healthier so that he could be around — and vital — for his wife and three sons. Jacobs, editor-at-large of Esquire magazine and author of the New York Times best-seller The Know-It-All, decided to give himself two years to get healthy, or perish writing about it. Although he tried dozens of diets, his decision to stay as physically active as possible was more enduring: He wrote his book on a treadmill in about 1,200 miles.
Bill Cosby's three grandchildren visit him every year for the holidays, but as the comedian tellsNPR'sGuy Raz, he's not a traditional sort of grandfather who "believes they came from heaven above." "They're annoying," Cosbysays. "These people make a lot of noise; they blame each other for things." So last year Cosby came up with a plan to calm the squabbling children and restore Christmas cheer to his household. He lays it all out in I Didn't Ask To Be Born (But I'm Glad I Was). The plan involved a phone call from Santa's assistant, who was confused because the children were not at home in New York but in Massachusetts visiting their grandparents.
During his peripatetic career, author Geoff Dyer has tackled literature, photography, jazz, fiction, painting, food, memoir and travel essays. "He is a relentlessly restless writer — utterly contemporary and light on his feet," observes NPR critic Lawrence Frascella. In Zona, Dyer confronts Russian visionary filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and how his 1979 film Stalker reflects both European cinema and the deepest desires of the human psyche. But "Zona is not your typical exegesis of a film," Frascella explains. "Dyer uses the movie as a stimulant and stepping-off point for a wide range of memories (his parents appear often), musings and concerns."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.