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What We're Reading, Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2010

Joshua Ferris ('Then We Came to the End') studies the monster within in 'The Unnamed.' Lush language limns a Soviet childhood of privation and paranoia in 'A Mountain of Crumbs.' Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz's 'Freefall' lays blame for the financial failure. And 'Crash Course' tracks the American auto industry "from glory to disaster."

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The Unnamed

By Joshua Ferris

This is the second novel by Joshua Ferris, who became a literary sensation with his funny, inventive debut novel, Then We Came To The End, a workplace comedy narrated by an unnamed office drone (or drones) who speaks (speak?) in the first person plural. His second novel is more serious and less gimmicky: Tim Farnsworth is a wealthy, accomplished lawyer who lives in a beautiful suburban home with his beautiful wife and troubled teenage daughter. The only thing in his life he can't handle is a recurring compulsion to walk away from it all — literally. When the fit releases him, he finds himself miles away, exhausted and ragged. The novel follows Tim and his family as they struggle to conquer his mysterious disorder and its consequences and then, in a final section that reads like a modern retelling of Job, accept it.

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Hardcover, 320 pages, Reagan Arthur Books, list price: $24.99, publication date: Jan. 18


Freefall

America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy

By Joseph E. Stiglitz

The global economy has been through a "near-death experience" that has shattered our illusions of prosperity, writes Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. The causes of the fiasco, as he sees them, are reckless lending, opaque corporate accounting and a mortgage sector that was allowed to grow out of control. To Stiglitz, the whole debacle should have challenged much of the free-market dogma that's dominated economic debate for three decades — and forced us to question some of our underlying assumptions about the financial markets. But so far, it's led mainly to half-measures and denial, not to mention a huge financial-sector bailout that helped no one but the banks.

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Hardcover, 361 pages, W.W. Norton, list price: $27.95, publication date: Jan. 18


A Mountain of Crumbs

A Memoir

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By Elena Gorokhova

As a young, rebellious woman growing up in the Soviet Union of the 1960s, Elena Gorokhova developed a crush on the English language that turned into a lifelong passion. Her memoir opens with the narrator wishing that her mother, a Russian doctor, came from Leningrad, a city of "Pushkin, and the tsars, of granite embankments and lace ironwork, of pearly domes buttressing the low sky." Instead, her practical mother came from the "provincial town of Ivanovo ... where chickens lived in the kitchen and a pig squatted under the stairs ... where streets were unpaved ... and where they lick plates." Elena matures in a nation of privation and paranoia, of children's dentistry without Novocain. A Mountain of Crumbs is part coming of age, part political history, part sensual observations of the natural world. And it's a book that details deception and trickery. The title itself comes from a creative act of duplicity by the author's grandmother during the famine of 1920, when families went hungry on a daily basis. There is a gorgeous story about mushroom hunting that has the whiff of a dark fairy tale.

Hardcover, 320 pages, Simon & Schuster, list price: $26, publication date: Jan. 12


Crash Course

The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster

By Paul Ingrassia

Paul Ingrassia has deftly managed to write two books in one: a sweeping history of the automotive industry in America, and an insider's account of the federal bailout that resulted in government ownership of General Motors. Ingrassia is the former Detroit bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. Between the covers of Crash Course, he tells the tragic story of how petty struggles and shortsighted decision-making brought about the otherwise avoidable collapse of America's once-great auto industry.

Hardcover, 361 pages, Random House, list price: $26, publication date: Jan. 5


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