Culture

Bestselling books

Culture | The top five best-selling hardback nonfiction books as of July 12

Issue: "UN's abuse of power," July 24, 2004

My Life Bill Clinton Content: Bill Clinton's overweight memoir revisits some events of his life in minute detail, and glosses over many others. Gist: Instead of going deeper, the 42nd president fights the same political battles, using the same tactics, and skirting the truth. The poorly done index won't help those hoping to skip a few of the 1,008 pages. It leaves out general search terms like Christianity, forgiveness, repentance, and scandal, though all of these subjects are discussed. Dress Your Family . . . David Sedaris Content: A collection of personal essays and NPR radio commentaries inspired by events from David Sedaris's family experiences. Gist: Sedaris mines his own and his family's pathologies to fuel his collection of essays. The essays are funny in places, but his kind of humor -- biting and cruel -- reflects a jaundiced worldview and gay sensibility. Eats, Shoots and Leaves Lynne Truss Content: With wit and style Lynne Truss presses the case for correct punctuation and that it's more than OK to be a punctuation stickler. Gist: It's surprising that a book about the correct use of punctuation should shoot to the top of the bestseller lists, especially in a day of slap-dash e-mails. Truss fills the book with amusing examples of poor punctuation and meanings changed by carelessly omitted marks. Caution: She uses British rules for punctuating quotations, and they differ from American ones. Father Joe Tony Hendra Content: The book is both a brutally honest story of Tony Hendra's pilgrimage from faith to despair and back again, and a remembrance of the monk at the center of that journey. Gist: Sharp observation, vivid writing. His memories of Father Joe are affectionate, but the Benedictine monk never comes across as a cardboard saint. That's because the writing is rooted in specific detail: Father Joe has "vast ears," a "fleshy groundhog nose," and "white English knees so knobbly they could win prizes." Big Russ & Me Tim Russert Content: An affectionate memoir focused on Tim Russert's relationship with his father. Gist: Russert's father taught blue-collar, Catholic values: When young Russert broke a neighbor's window with a baseball, his dad made him confess and pay for the repair. Then his dad showed him how to wrap the glass in paper so the garbage man wouldn't cut himself. But those wanting to know the connection between his liberal politics, his job, and his Catholic faith will find no answers. In the spotlight If you have to choose between Bill Clinton's My Life and Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra (Random House, 2004), choose the latter. It's a beautifully written, honest, and searching spiritual memoir. As Hendra morphs from earnest teen-age Catholic monk-wannabe to cynical, self-centered, angry, drug-abusing high-flyer in New York, where he gained celebrity as a satirist with National Lampoon and This is Spinal Tap, Father Joe is his one constant. Some readers will not like Hendra's left-wing politics, the book's occasional foul language, or the doctrinal answers Father Joe gives (or fails to give). But the story is important: As Hendra drifted he lost his moral center. How far he strayed is under debate. A recent story in the New York Times reported his daughter's charge that he sexually abused her, a charge Hendra denies and does not mention in the book. But the alleged practice of evil makes the mystery even greater: How could a monk tucked away at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight for seventy years understand so well Hendra's fast-paced, degradation-enabling world? Hendra writes, "in the end his knowledge came from his bottomless supply of love, a poor, bedraggled, overburdened old word, but in Father Joe's hands, revitalized."

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Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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