Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

April 21, 2024

Engaging Novel about Moviemaking by Tom Hanks Now in Paperback, and Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Reflects on the 1960s

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks. Following his well received short story collection  Uncommon Type in 2017, the talented Hanks proves he's no fluke as a writer with this entertaining novel about modern-day moviemaking. The story begins in 1947 and introduces us to a young boy who loves to draw. By 1970, he has become a talented underground comic book artist and has created one that features his uncle (whom we meet at the outset of the book) as a World War II fighting hero. In present day, a successful writer and director discovers the comic book and decides to turn it into a contemporary superhero movie. The bulk of the book recounts the making of the movie from start to finish, and it is here that Hanks showcases his winning flair for storytelling and creating engaging and (mostly) likable characters, from the writer/director and his indispensable right-hand woman to a loutish male lead and a remarkably competent gofer-turned-production assistant - my favorite character of the whole cast. 

Hanks is, of course, no stranger to movie sets, and his insider knowledge adds greatly to the enjoyment. And as an added bonus, Interspersed throughout are three comic books that are featured in the story--all created by Hanks himself. He won't win any literary prizes, but The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece is well crafted and unexpectedly appealing - a real pleasure to curl up with.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Washington Post book editor Ron Charles has to say about the book: "A thoroughly engaging tale....This is a story about what happens behind the cameras. Hanks is at pains to impress upon us that moviemaking is a circuitous process involving a vast network of people -- some famous, most not -- showing up and doing their best. This is most definitely not a novel about the magic of filmmaking; it's a novel about the hard work of filmmaking.... a love letter to the industry....The longer you watch Hanks create that glittery surface, the harder it is to look away."

An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin. With acclaimed biographies on the likes of Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson under her belt, Doris Kearns Goodwin is arguably this country's greatest living presidential historian. As it turns out, she and her husband of 42 years Dick Goodwin made some history of their own in the 1960s, and this book is a look back at that decade from their perspective. It's part marriage memoir and part historical rehashing - nothing scandalous or even particularly newsworthy, but a fascinating recounting of people in power and events of that time from a couple very much in the know politically.

Goodwin's recollections are fueled by more than 300 boxes of letters, diaries, documents, and memorabilia that Dick (who died in 2018) had saved for more than 50 years. In his 20s, Dick was one of the brilliant young men of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. In his 30s he both named and helped design Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and was a speechwriter and close advisor to Robert Kennedy. Doris Kearns, meanwhile, was a 24-year-old graduate student when selected as a White House Fellow. She worked directly for Lyndon Johnson and later assisted on his memoir. When the two married in 1972, they were both accomplished in their respective careers, and over the years, they discussed and argued over their observations of the leaders they worked with and had exposure to. When, in their later years, Dick's boxes were dug out, it provided an opportunity to re-examine and re-evaluate the impact of several central figures of the time--John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and especially Lyndon Johnson, who greatly impacted both their lives.

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Chris Vognar called the book "eminently readable, appealing especially to anyone fascinated by the period covered, and a touching invitation to eavesdrop on a long marriage between two people who had an unusual level of access to presidential policy and personality."

Amy Tan Discovers the Wonder and Joy of Birds

The Backyard Bird Chronicles written and illustrated by Amy Tan. Here's a treat for bird lovers, nature lovers, and fans of good writing. Amy Tan is best known for her novels, including The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter's Daughter, and she now turns her attention to a relatively new interest. Back in 2016, Tan (along with many others) grew tired of and overwhelmed by the state of the world - one filled with divisiveness, misinformation, and polarization. Her solution was to look out the window - specifically the one that faced her yard. She began to observe and appreciate the natural world outside, including the birds that visited daily. She soon came to savor quiet moments and connect to nature in a meaningful way, but her interest was increasingly drawn to the birds. And that led to The Backyard Bird Chronicles, which charts her foray into birding as it maps the passage of time through daily entries, thoughtful questions, and original sketches.

In his foreword for The Backyard Bird Chronicles, noted ornithologist David Allen Sibley (The Sibley Guide to Birds) writes, "The drawings and essays in this book do a lot more than just describe the birds. They carry a sense of discovery through observation and drawing, suggest the layers of patterns in the natural world, and emphasize a deep personal connection between the watcher and the watched. The birds that inhabit Amy Tan’s backyard seem a lot like the characters in her novels."

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

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