December 8, 2012 

"Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism" by John Updike.

The Cove by Ron Rash. (Ecco/HarperCollins) Set in a cursed hollow of the Appalachians during the final stages of World War I, Rash’s novel concerns a lonely young woman, branded a witch, who discovers companionship and happiness with the arrival of a mute stranger. (Rash teaches at Western Carolina University.)

Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism by John Updike. Edited by Christopher Carduff. (Random House) Between his first book, “The Carpentered Hen” (1958), and his death in 2009, Updike produced more than 60 volumes: novels, story collections, children’s tales, poetry and nonfiction on anything from writers and artists to baseball, dinosaurs and Broadway. “Higher Gossip” offers reviews, art criticism and “oddments,” written with tactile intensity.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman. (Scribner) In Bergman’s first collection, creatures great and small affect the lives of human characters, who treat the animals’ ailments, track them in the wild or adopt them as family. In the opening story, a woman drives hundreds of miles to hear a parrot that can mimic her dead mother’s voice.

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. (Norton) “Whatever he set out to paint,” Graham-Dixon writes of the volatile Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), “he always ended up painting himself.” This gripping biography examines Caravaggio’s artistic achievements – the biblical scenes he depicted with such immediacy – and shows how his work was deeply affected by the squalor, violence and energy of Roman street life.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin. (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay/Little, Brown) This is the second novel in Rankin’s new series about a police squad known as “the Complaints” (they’re “the cops who investigated other cops”). If dirty looks and snide remarks could kill, Inspector Malcolm Fox and his junior officers would never escape alive from Kirkcaldy, the Scottish town where they’ve gone to question policemen suspected of covering up the criminal misconduct of one of their own.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres. (Free Press) From 50,000 pages of letters, journals and other documents recently released by the FBI, Scheeres adds startling insights into the tragedy of the Peoples Temple settlement in the jungles of Guyana, where on Nov. 18, 1978, the Rev. Jim Jones orchestrated the deaths of more than 900 Americans.

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Gavin Bowd. (Vintage International) Houellebecq grapples with art, death and cultural decline in this novelistic biography of a contemporary French painter.

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music by Judy Collins. (Three Rivers) With a keen eye and piercing honesty, the famed folksinger revisits her musical career – “Gentle voice amid the strife,” is how Life magazine described her on the cover of its May 2, 1969, issue – and her battles with painful demons.

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