ELLEN: Bibliophiles are like everybody else these days -- so many books! so little time! Even book critics, who allegedly read for a living (you call that a living?), can't keep up with all the good reads out there. Don't despair. Below are four suggestions that are made for readers on the go. All are short, thought-provoking, extremely readable. Pop one in your pocket or purse -- they beat listening to moldy oldies on the radio while you're sitting in your car or reading magazines you never wanted to read while waiting in the doctor's office.
1. “Elvis Presley,” by Bobbie Ann Mason. Serious biographies often combine mountains of unreadable prose into books that would better serve as doorstops. Celebrity bios are usually a pile of fluff with an agenda, either to savage the subject or bow to his or her remarkableness. This little book by a well-known Southern writer – part of a Penguin series of short bios on famous people -- is the perfect antidote. Elvis’ talent and his bizarre behavior off-stage get equal treatment in this story of a working-class Southern boy who wasn’t prepared for success. The series covers something for every taste, from Joan of Arc to Woodrow Wilson to Marcel Proust.
2. “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World,” by Michael Pollan. This book was what first put Pollan on the map as someone who is identified with gardening, food and sustainability, and it may be his best. Using the stories of four familiar species – the apple, tulip, potato and marijuana – he shows how plants have been cultivated to serve human needs. Science writing at its most digestible.
3. “Homestead,” by Rosina Lippi. This novel by a Bellingham writer takes you to an Austrian village as it progresses through the 20th century. The book follows three clans in the village as their lives are altered by technological change and war. Those Nazis and their imperious ways, again! For adults and young adults, Lippi's story tells the tale of modern European history better and more concisely than most textbooks.
4. “Property,” by Valerie Martin. The system of slavery ensnared whites as well as blacks, and that’s the story Martin tells in this sensuous tale told by a slave owner’s wife. After the servant she brought with her when she married becomes her husband’s mistress and neither of them can do anything about it, she comes to a bitter understanding about the hierarchy of plantation life. The master can be humane -- or not. His call.