5 HOT BOOKS: Dark Christmas Stories, the Case Against Sugar, and More

Here are five books people are talking about this week, or should be:

1. Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson (Grove Press)

From the author of the best-selling Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? comes a slightly dark, magical and quirky collection of the stories she has been writing annually for Christmas. Free of cloying and cheerful family traditions, the British-born Winterson refers to the “generally unhappy” household of her childhood, but the emphasis here is on the life she shares with friends and loved ones over meals. Much of this wonderful book’s charm rests with its improvisational recipes. (For example, her “New Year’s Eve Cheese Crispies,” which is basically equal parts butter, flour, and cheese.) “If time is a boomerang and not an arrow, then the past is always returning and repeating,” Winterson writes in the closing pages. “Memory, as a creative act, allows us to reawaken the dead, or sometimes lay them to rest, as at last we understand our past.”

2. The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes (Knopf)

“If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution,” Taubes writes in the Author’s Note at the beginning of this fiery, well-documented manifesto. One of the low-carb movement’s great pioneers, and author of best-selling Why We Get Fat, Taubes zeroes in on sugar – sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup -- as “the principal cause of the chronic diseases” most likely to kill us or accelerate our demise. Taubes, who is cofounder and senior scientific advisor of the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), artfully synthesizes scientific facts to argue that the increase in sugar consumption has become a deadly trigger, not unlike tobacco a generation ago.

3. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe (Knopf)

In his last book, the charming The End of Your Life Book Club, Schwalbe wrote about the books he and his mother read together as she was dying of cancer. His beguiling voice continues here as he writes about how reading taught him how to examine his own life.  Reading, he writes, is one of the “few things you can do alone that makes you feel less alone; it’s a solitary idea that connects you to others.”  Schwalbe writes about books that he found – or that found him – when he needed them, from The Little Prince and Stuart Little to Giovanni’s Room, and together these essays become a manifesto. “Because,” as Schwalbe’s rally cry goes, “I think we need to read and be readers now more than ever.”

4. All Joe Knight by Kevin Morris (Grove Press)

Covering terrain more Silver Linings Playbook than The Philadelphia Story, this suspenseful novel is set in a scruffy suburb of the City of Brotherly Love ruled by high school basketball. Morris, a producer and entertainment lawyer, as well as the author of an earlier well-reviewed short story collection titled White Man’s Problems, focuses on the boys on the dream-team roster of the late ‘70s era Fallcrest “Quakers.”  Morris vividly evokes the dynamics among the boys – and later the disillusioned men - who came of age on the margins of a city in decline, and in the shadow of great colonial founding fathers.

5. Much Ado: A Summer with a Repertory Theater Company by Michael Lenehan (Midway/Agate)

Lenehan spent a season embedded in the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, as it developed and performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. In his small – just over 200 pamphlet-sized pages – but never slight book, Lenehan (former Chicago Reader editor-in-chief and Atlantic contributor) writes about the process of bringing it to the stage.  With a warm, knowing tone, he relates the ensemble’s collaborative decision-making process as the members come together to perform one of the Bard’s greatest comedies. Lenehan watches actors, directors, and everyone involved in the production as they contend with real questions – how a line should be interpreted, or how a scene should unfold.  Lenehan’s passion infuses this short, smart, and sweet book, which can be read in about the time that a performance of Much Ado takes.