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Notable books

Notable Books | Four memorable memoirs reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

The Road of Lost Innocence

As a child Mam descended into sex slavery, first to a man she called Grandfather, then (sold by "Grandfather") to an abusive soldier and then to a brothel. She recounts in horrifying detail the brutalities she and other young Cambodian girls endured, and tells how bit by bit she became dead in her soul. Mam recounts how an affair with a European man working for an NGO began her slow journey out of sex slavery. The book, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, is meant to rouse readers from apathy. By its end Mam has established an internationally recognized foundation that is committed to changing laws and rescuing victims-but she has not received rest for her soul.

Wild Men, Wild Alaska II

McElveen grew up in Alaska, the son of missionary parents. He now owns an Alaskan lodge from which he and the guides who work for him lead hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventures. A natural storyteller, he combines a love for the outdoors, an adrenaline junkie's appreciation for danger, and a conviction that men especially benefit from testing themselves against nature. He vividly describes confrontations between man and grizzly, boys and a mama moose, man and his own foolish pride, man and the weather, and his daughter versus a guide. (That story is gross.) The aim of all the stories is to show how these wild Alaska experiences can change lives for the good.

A Simple Christmas

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee uses events from his life to talk about Christmas spirit. In a chapter about patience, he tells how he and his sister would surreptitiously open and play with their gifts before Christmas. In the chapter about crisis, he recounts his wife's battle with cancer when they were both 20 and newly married. He said he prayed for a miracle healing but realized later that "God's greatest gift to us is not to remove us from crisis, but to walk through crisis with us." Readers looking for insight into what makes Huckabee tick will enjoy these inspirational stories told with Huckabee's folksy charm.

Lit

Lit is often painful to read. Mary Karr tells how she began drinking and eventually stopped, and how her hard won sobriety came about as she came kicking and screaming to faith in God. As Karr achieved worldly success-winning poetry awards, getting published, teaching at Harvard, marrying a New England blue blood and having a child-she began falling apart. She writes with a combination of searing honesty about her own faults and restraint in describing the faults of others, including her husband from whom she divorced. The book's raw language will offend some readers, but never have I read a more moving account of someone seeing her need for God's mercy.

Spotlight

The ease of self-publishing has resulted in many bad books by authors who did not spend time learning to write or building an audience. That's too bad because we live in a time when anyone with talent, discipline, and an idea can start a blog, keep at it over time, and eventually build an audience while learning to write better.

Four new books, based on popular blogs, show that blogging has become a new route to publishing success. This Is Why You're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks is a celebration with photographs of over-the-top food. Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions gently mocks the "overclass" culture. Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong documents, through photos, cake-decorating disasters. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl offers musings on life rather than jokes. These books have in common great photographs, engaging writing, and a built-in fan base developed over time-even when no one was reading.

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