5 HOT BOOKS: A Pioneering Newspaperwoman, Four Great Art Rivalries, and More

Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. The Huntress: The Adventures, Escapades and Triumphs of Alicia Patterson: Aviatrix, Sportswoman, Journalist, Publisher by Alice Arlen and Michael J. Arlen (Pantheon Books)

This marvelous biography of Alicia Patterson documents how she (with her third husband, more into horseracing than marriage) transformed a little Long Island community newspaper into a Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally respected paper known for its fierce investigations and liberal politics. But this is more than an homage to journalism’s golden age. The authors — Patterson’s great-niece, screenwriter Alice Arlen, who died before publication of this book, and her husband, former New Yorker writer Michael Arlen – tell the story of a woman who defied social conventions of the time and lived a life of force and purpose. Patterson hunted big game, flew planes, and was romantically involved with the brilliant Adlai Stevenson, but her greatest achievement lay in the rich journalistic legacy she left behind.

2. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (Random House)

This big-hearted, Dickensian novel inverts the traditional story of assimilation and the American Dream, adding a mix of the Great Recession and the chaos and cruelty of immigration bureaucracy. In the Washington Post, critic Ron Charles heralds Behold the Dreamers as a book “Donald Trump should read now.” At the novel’s center is a young couple – he works as a chauffeur, she as an occasional nanny aspiring to be a pharmacist -- from Cameroon.  Mbue brilliantly propels the story from their African town to the Upper East Side and Harlem, with a dash of the Hamptons. Among her considerable gifts as a writer is an extraordinary generosity and compassion for the full spectrum of society’s characters, even those who may deserve it least.

3. The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee (Random House)

In this ingenious book, Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe art critic Smee concentrates on what he calls the “slippery psychodynamics” of four relationships: Picasso and Matisse, Manet and Degas, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon. Smee is a wonderful storyteller, and certainly relates some juicy tales, like the one about Pollock taking up with de Kooning’s mistress after the car crash that killed de Kooning. But the focus is on these brilliantly creative pairs of men who triggered creativity in one another, working in what Smee calls a “peculiar bubble of time,” that critical moment in which one is particularly open to influence.

4. Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History by John Dickerson (Twelve)

Moderator of Face the Nation, columnist for Slate magazine, and debate moderator Dickerson’s rewarding new work of history has gladhanded its way onto the national best-seller lists. A gifted chronicler, Dickerson looks back over two centuries of election campaigns and zeros in on flashpoint episodes that somehow reset the collective national narrative – Dukakis in a tank, Reagan and the microphone, Muskie’s tears and, as the book’s title indicates, Harry Truman’s whistlestop tours. Written with the warmth that informed his previous book, On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News’ First Woman Star, Dickerson draws on his own experience as a journalist – including his years at TIME magazine – to focus on turning points that illuminate election trends and cycles. For those who might regard this year’s election as an aberration of history, Dickerson finds interesting parallels in 1964, when the Republicans nominated another extreme candidate — and many other election years, when insult, invective, and ill will were in rich supply.

5. The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston (W. W. Norton & Company)

The book as an object and a work of craftsmanship is the subject of this, yes, book — a construction of paper, ink, thread, and glue holding forth about other constructions of paper, ink, thread, and glue.  Houston, author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, marvelously explains how the book evolved over centuries. Ingeniously threaded through this gracefully illustrated work are details of the format – fonts, margins, and so on.  The Book is so exquisitely designed that it is itself not only a book, but a work of art.