The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law
Deborah L. Rhode. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (272p) ISBN 9780195372878
Beauty is in the eye of the job-holder, evidently. Referencing Plessy v. Ferguson (the 1896 Supreme Court decision affirming "separate but equal" racial policies) is proven more than apropos in Rhodes' riveting overview of the ways in which appearance impacts hiring practices and job qualifications, in both overt and subtle ways. Legal or illegal is often beside the point when it comes to cases like those she surveys, though there are civil rights issues that immediately spring to mind for scholars in this field. The author's own experience with appearance expectations in the seemingly egalitarian world of academia notwithstanding, most of the cases and examples she provides are unfortunately not surprising. Covering a range of social classes, and tackling issues ranging from weight bias to the legality of forcing a college professor to change hairstyles, the book raises issues that will be debated for years to come. Rhodes argues that in jurisdictions with provisions protecting individuals from appearance-related discrimination in the workplace, the courts are not clogged with cases, contrary to the assumption of critics. Rhodes' analysis includes many new cases for the edification of students and readers interested in law, sociology, or business. (May)

Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur
Sy Montgomery. Free Press, $25 (272p) 9781416569848
In this charming and informative book, Montgomery (Journey of the Pink Dolphins) seeks to answer the question, "What makes a bird a bird?" Unlike mammals, who have similar anatomies and share 90% of human DNA, "a bird is as distant from us as a dinosaur"; we haven't shared a common ancestor for more than 325 million years. Our anatomies are dissimilar (their bones are hollow; their bodies are filled with air sacs; their eyes and brains function differently) yet we keep them as pets and sing each other's songs. Birds have inspired great composers like Mozart and Beethoven, and New Zealand lyrebirds have been known to sing snippets of popular hits heard on the radio. Although parrots have a different vocal apparatus than humans, they mimic their owners' conversations and express their desires (one highly-trained parrot named Alex asked, upon seeing his reflection for the first time, "What's that?"). Even the seemingly humble free-range chicken demonstrates a quirky individuality. After reading this fascinating book readers will be convinced that calling a "flighty" person a "bird brain" isn't the put-down we might think. (May)

★ Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
Sam Miller. St. Martin's, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 9780312612375
Miller offers a flâneur's account of Delhi—"India's dreamland—and its purgatory" as he strolls through slums and gated communities, humble neighborhood parks and historic tombs. A longtime BBC correspondent based in Delhi, Miller understands and deftly conveys India's contradictions and makes cultural commentary with an insider's confidence. Even if there is a strain of smugness—Miller seems to enjoy feeling slightly superior to more unseasoned foreigners and middle-class Delhites who don't share his interest in walking around the city—it's fleeting; he is so likeable and so willing to confront the city on its own terms. He visits porn theaters, visits cult members, falls into manholes. He shifts easily from the comic to the serious, to the darker details of Delhi life—the water shortages, violence, disease, and staggering income disparity—helped by a picaresque narrative complete with chapter headings ("Chapter One: In which the Author is dazzled by the Metro, finds a cure for hemorrhoids, and turns the tables on a an unscrupulous shoeshine man"). A cityscape suffused with wisdom, chance, and delight. (July)

The Novel: An Alternative History—Beginnings to 1600
Steven Moore. Continuum, $39.95 (704p) ISBN 9781441177049
Most literature courses begin the study of the novel in seventeenth century England. But Moore's exhaustive history of the form shows that it started far earlier than that. Moore meticulously explores its evolution as far back as 2000 BC Egypt, proving not only that the novel is a much older invention than previously thought, but that its origins are barely European. This treatise will come as a welcome addition to the library of any literature enthusiast, who will eagerly pour through the critical analysis, commentary, and well written plot summaries and use it as a springboard for their own reading lists. Moore's irreverent and thoughtful style will appeal to readers who want to be challenged by what they read; readers looking for spoon-feeding should look elsewhere. The author's quick dismissal religion and other organized beliefs can be forgiven in light of the incredible breadth of knowledge about these works that he brings to this book. Moore has done such a superb job that readers will be eager for volume two the moment they put the book down. (May)

SATCH, DIZZY & RAPID ROBERT: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson
Timothy M. Gay. Simon & Schuster, $26 (368p) ISBN 9781416547983
Jackie Robinson may have broken Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, but decades earlier, Negro Leaguers and white Major Leaguers shared the same fields in post-season barnstorming exhibitions around the country. Historian Gay (Tris Speaker) chronicles this oft-forgotten era, when such big names as Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller joined fellow future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial in wild games that often drew an entire community to the ballpark (violating countless Jim Crow laws in the process). Gay provides a fresh, comprehensive examination of baseball barnstorming, from the first recorded game between an all-black squad and an all-white squad, through the glory years of the Thirties and Forties, and into the post-Robinson era. With intricate summaries based on newspaper accounts and interviews, the author recreates lively game-day scenes that reveal the casual racism prevalent in American society at the time. Yet Gay also describes exhibition game scenes in which members of both races acted civilly (even friendly), transcending the prejudices of their time and paving the way for Robinson's historical debut. (May)

The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress
William Jelani Cobb. Walker, $23 (240p) ISBN 9780802717399
Barack Obama was heralded as the next Lincoln before he was even elected. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without actually having achieved peace anywhere (even in places such as Afghanistan, where peace would be arguably under his control). Cobb has written a lyrical ode to Obama's symbolism: the first black president; the "hip" biracial outsider; the logical successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ironically, the book and the President both lack results. Cobb writes beautifully, but he often gets lost in the Obama myth. He's at his most compelling when he leaves the poetry for the pulpit and lets the professor in him take charge (noting, for instance, Obama's astute political calculations, like cutting ties with Jeremiah Wright). Yet his analysis is anything but erudite; Cobb often references pop culture. "In 2002," he recalls, "reporters asked Denzel Washington what it meant for three African Americans to be in contention for the Academy Award. He replied, ‘It means that three African Americans are in contention for the Academy Award.' I am tempted to answer the question about the meaning of the black presidency with the same terms." While more hope than substance, Cobb's book is still an eloquent meditation on the meaning of the Obama presidency, all 18 months of it. (June)


Christopher Finch. Prestel, $39.95 (352p) ISBN 9783791336770
Conceived as a companion to the 2007 collection of images, Chuck Close: Work, Finch presents in this volume a more thorough traditional biography. Though an honored and prolific artist today, Close's road to success hasn't been glamorous. Plagued by learning disabilities and health problems throughout his youth, Close was encouraged to express his thoughts and feelings creatively and learned to faithfully trust the artistic process. He "showed a marked ability to depend on himself" and was able to create visual solutions to logical problems. These skills aided him greatly in receiving a Master's Degree from Yale and gaining recognition in the 1970s for his large scale photo realistic portraits (a term the artist dislikes) of friends and family. In 1988, following several occurrences of chest pain as well as a severe respiratory infection, Close suffered what he calls "The Event," a spinal stroke, which caused temporary quadriplegia. Through incorporating art into his physical therapy, he was able to regain the ability to paint. Close says art saved his life, but the book illustrates well his tenacity and persistence to overcome obstacles, with art functioning more as a companion than a savior. Photos. (May)


Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions
Eric Maisel and Ann Maisel. New World Library (PGW, dist.), $14.95 paper (216p) ISBN 9781577316213
Eric Maisel (Coaching the Artist Within), a creativity coach and columnist, and wife Ann Maisel (What Would Your Character Do?) have collaborated on a self-help book with an intriguing twist: that the right kind of "productive" obsession is not only desirable but an essential feature of creativity. To lend credibility to their claim the Maisels reference research into consciousness that suggests the cerebral cortex contains dynamic cooperatives of neurons which may lay the foundation for "a productive obsession [that] is a large neuronal gestalt of long duration – a big idea that lasts a long time." In answer to the criticism that any obsession might be dangerous, the Maisels acknowledge that this possibility hasn't been thoroughly investigated but believe the gains outweigh any potential negatives. The process of nurturing productive obsessions, the authors believe, is at the heart of how we value life and find purpose. It goes beyond simple stimulation, neat ideas, or interesting hobbies. By "investing meaning," in our ideas, we can move from mere interest to "the meaningfulness of authentic engagement." All too often people overlook the basics of a productive life, distracted by multitasking, marketing, and information overload. With this provocative departure from the usual lifestyle manual, the Maisels are out to break us of those tendencies. (June)

Cat Cora's Classics With a Twist
Cat Cora, with Ann Kruegar Spivack. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30 (240p) ISBN 9780547126036
Cora, known best as the sweet and savvy female Iron Chef (Food Network), has jumped on the "fresh and fast" bandwagon with an impressive collection of popular favorites, tweaked and stylized for the modern, health-conscious cook. Easily identifiable recipes like Chili and Minestrone are infused with Cora's signature zesty flair (think grated ginger, pesto and sweet paprika), and she certainly proves she's got a lot to offer. Avoiding the pitfalls of the quick and easy genre, Cora serves up original combinations like Curried Orange Lentil Soup, Grilled Avocado Cobb Salad, and Lemongrass Coq Au Vin. Disappointingly, she ambles from one region to another with little coherence, following Italian Bucatini Amatriciana with Chicken Curry, which leaves the reader wondering where they're headed. A bit more direction would help readers navigate the Twists of her Classics. However, readers will easily identify with Cora's laid back, family-style approach to cooking, and find effective and valuable tips throughout. Over 70 full-color photos add style and remind the reader that casual trumps extravagant in Cora's kitchen. Her book will appeal to the home cook who wants to break from the monotony of the weeknight meal. Photos. (June)

★ READY FOR DESSERT: My Best Recipes
David Lebovitz. Ten Speed, $35 (288p) ISBN 9781580081382
An elegantly-composed collection of classics and contemporary riffs, former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz's (The Perfect Scoop) latest effort hits the sweet spot. Artfully balancing accessible recipes for novices (the simple four-ingredient Chocolate Orbit Cake, the three-ingredient Peaches in Red Wine and Pistachio, Almond and Dried Cherry Bark) with ambitious-but -worth-it desserts like Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting and Salted Candied Peanuts and White Nectarine Sorbet with Blackberries in Five-Spice Cookie Cups, Lebovitz truly has something for everyone. Can't-miss combinations like Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes, Cherry-Almond Cobbler, and Orange-Almond Bread Pudding are sure to inspire a trip to the market, and riffs on classics like a French apple galette (updated here with frangipane, a rich almond pastry cream) and a lush Fresh Ginger Cake will appeal to bakers whose bookshelves are already groaning with cookbooks. The inclusion of Coconut Layer Cake, Vanilla Ice Cream, Meyer Lemon Sorbet, Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies, and Gingersnaps (including a fat-free variety) shows that Lebovitz also knows when not to mess with a good thing. Given its breadth, depth, and accessibility, readers with a passion for baking will be hard pressed to find a better guide to desserts this year. Photos. (May)


{Between} Boyfriends
Michael Salvatore. Kensington, $15 paper (352p) ISBN 9780758246837
Romance almost eludes a desperate TV soap opera producer in Salvatore's dizzy, bubbly debut. Manhattanite Steven, recently dumped, is searching for PRM (Potential Relationship Material) but alas, the pickings are slim, and when he finally finds someone he's into, he's pelted with conflicting advice from his skeptical pal, his mom, and his best friend. As Steven searches for his one and only and melodrama after melodrama unfolds (it's surely no coincidence that Steven works on daytime dramas), playwright Salvatore proves that a giddy gay romance can be as silly and airy as its chicky forbears, but it has the same weak spots: terminal chattiness, cloyingly self-aware narration, and plot-as-afterthought. Salvatore's got wit to spare, but it needs a stronger vehicle. (May)

Into the Interior: Stories.
Michelle Cliff. Univ. of Minnesota, $22.95 (128p) ISBN 9780816669790
Ten connected stories from Cliff (Everything is Now) pursue the coming-of-age of an unnamed, Jamaican-born young woman finding her way from New York to London. Born to a mixed-raced family with old Victorian roots whose affluence is clearly dwindling, the girl of "Points of Departure" learns by age 10 how to "retreat" from great-grandmotherly admonitions for her own self-preservation. After the death of her depressed mother, and estranged from her distant, philandering father, the narrator comes by a "sense of things unexpectedly" in a Christian boarding school, and, while en route to graduate school in England in "Below the Waterline," she has a momentous lesbian encounter with Bex, who tells a ghastly tale of being attacked by hateful sorority sisters. In "Marooned," the narrator moves somewhat awkwardly among her student colleagues, gradually becoming politicized, especially by the anti-apartheid movement. Finally, the last two tales find a poignant convergence of the narrator's life and those who struggled before her. By rending the membrane between past and present, Cliff finds serene closure to these subtle, cautiously fashioned tales. (May)

Knit in Comfort
Isabel Sharpe. Avon A, $13.99 paper (320p) ISBN 9780061765490
Sharpe makes her fiction debut with a ho-hum knitting novel. Elizabeth flees New York City and her chef boyfriend, Dominique, because she feels something is missing in her life. She ends up in the small town of Comfort, N.C., where she meets a group of knitters, and finds a room in the home of Megan, who seems possessed of an idyllic marriage to salesman husband Stanley. Soon, though, Elizabeth realizes that not everything is as it seems and she has a lot of difficult decisions to make about her own future. Sharpe's offering is safe and predictable: the sleepy Southern town with its just-under-the-surface troubles is a comfortable cliché, the characters exhibit the requisite amount of quaint quirk, and the mix of self-discovery and crafts is equally pedestrian. This is going to have a tough time making a mark in an oversaturated genre. (May)

Tracy Daugherty. Southern Methodist Univ., $22.50 (208p) ISBN 9780870745591
The lone characters in Daugherty's (Desire Provoked) 16 loose-limbed, well developed stories brave a sense of isolation as big as the arid Texas landscape they mostly inhabit. Many of these characters find themselves chafing against an unpopular decision like the architect in "Purgatory, Nevada" who in 1945 risks losing his bride, his reputation, and his professional integrity for the "fascinating challenge" of creating a ghost town in the desert for the Allies to test the effects of a spectacularly lethal firebombing. In the similarly smartly hewn tale "Magnitude," the beleaguered first-person director of the Dollman Planetarium has to break it to the visiting middle-schoolers that there is some doubt about Pluto's being a planet, sending the children into paroxysms of disappointment. A besotted young grad student hangs on disastrously to his infatuation with a stunningly manipulative girlfriend in "The Saint," while the drifting narrator and native of Oklahoma City in "The Republic of Texas" finds himself back among a community of hate-filled secessionists the week after Timothy McVeigh is put to death. With their strong sense of historical context, Daugherty's stories are stirring and relevant. (May)

Open Country
Kaki Warner. Berkley, $15 paper (448p) ISBN 9780425234303
Molly McFarlane flees from her vicious brother-in-law with her late sister's children in tow in this second entry of the Blood Rose trilogy. Without a real plan, she heads for the frontier, hoping for a new life but the train carrying them is derailed and, desperate, Molly marries an injured man in the hopes of getting the widow's benefits. However, Hank Wilkins doesn't die, and though he remembers nothing, still he takes Molly and the children back to his ranch, where he starts to fall in love with her. But when a tracker sent by her brother-in-law menaces her and Hank learns the truth about their marriage, Molly is desperate, with no one to turn to except the man she has deceived but also come to love. While there's a great deal of genre conventions in this historical romance: rough and tumble men, independent but vulnerable women and a frontier code of honor, still, Molly and Hank are a charming couple, despite the needlessly dramatic villains and the preposterous ‘conspiracy' around them. For fans of Western romance who don't mind some suspension of disbelief. (June)

A Place in the Sun
Lewis Warsh. Spuyten Duyvil (SPD, dist.), $16 paper (220p) ISBN 9781933132716
Poet and novelist Warsh (A Free Man) braids together multiple perspectives with a surgeon's dexterity throughout six brilliantly deconstructed, high action stories. In the opener, "The Russians," Warsh's razor sharp attention to detail creates a startling sense of intimacy with the characters: Irene is brutally raped and murdered while her friend Marina is bound to a chair. Portraits of the women as lovers in Russia emerge in tandem with the conflicted erotic relationship that develops between Marina and the detective who rescues her. Another highlight is the titular story, "A Place in the Sun," which brings iconic figures of Hollywood's golden years into stark contrast with their respective legends. Elizabeth Taylor falls in love with Monty Clift when they star together in the film of the title. Despite his drug addiction, Monty takes his profession very seriously while Liz's naïve vanity will not allow her to fathom that any man could reject her, or that Monty could be interested in others—men included. Warsh's sense of immediacy adds power to a book in which the storylines and the clean precise prose are equally riveting. (May)

Arliss Ryan. NAL, $15 paper (480p) ISBN 9780451229953
Ryan (The Kingsley House) posits a tantalizing what-if in this delightful novel: what if Anne Hathaway Shakespeare had been Shakespeare's silent writing partner? Ryan places Hathaway in the center of Elizabethan London, where she shines as an artist, has passionate affairs with Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe, and secretly authors half of the most brilliant plays of the era. Hathaway is a strong character who—though she harps on the same issues throughout the book (a conflict over taking credit for her work versus being successful)—makes for an excellent narrator and a unique lens through which to view the familiar Elizabethan world. Granted, it's light on plot and slow to start, but the entertaining romp that follows makes those shortcomings easy to forgive. (June)

The Truth Is the Light
Vanessa Davis Griggs. Kensington/Dafina, $15 paper (336p) ISBN 9780758232243
The sixth scripture-inspired installment of Griggs's saga (Goodness and Mercy, etc.) again follows the adventures of the friends and family of Pastor George Landris and his rival, the Reverend Marshall Walker . Clarence Walker, Marshall's son has upset his father by defecting to Landris's mega-church in Birmingham, Alabama but another plot twists investigates the mystery of 99-year-old Ransom Perdue who might be the long-lost father of not one but two women. . As Johnny Mae, Landris's novelist wife plans Perdue's 100th birthday, former exotic dancer Garbrielle Mercedes faces heroic struggles. Her very sweet courtship with Dr. Zachary Morgan is tested not only by her past but by Leslie, his disapproving mother, and a horde of free-loading relatives who arrive on her doorstep, expecting her to take them in. Full of crazy church politics and a huge cast, Griggs keeps this on-going story alive by addressing the challenges of living by Biblical rules with homespun humor. Fans will be pleased. (June)