Shelf Life

‘All Souls’ still rules

By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / October 4, 2009

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Ten years ago Michael Patrick MacDonald generated controversy with his memoir about violence, addiction, and poverty in South Boston. Beacon Press, the publisher, heralded the book in ads on the T, but the first-time author was criticized by some for his exposé.

Today “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie” is one of Beacon’s all-time, top 10 titles, with sales of 250,000. The book is taught in high schools and colleges and, starting tomorrow, ads on the Red Line will mark its 10-year anniversary.

MacDonald is in high demand. He teaches a course called Nonfiction Writing and Social Justice Issues at Northeastern University where he is author in residence. He is finishing the “All Souls” screenplay for director Ron Shelton and is working on a new book. What keeps him fired up are the notes he receives from students all over the country who are moved by his story.

An appetite for Yiddish
The National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst is powerful testimony to what a hunger for literature can achieve. Thirty years ago it was difficult for graduate student Aaron Lansky to locate Yiddish texts. He enlisted volunteers from all over the world to collect books and established the center in 1980.

More than 1.5 million books representing up to 65 percent of all the titles published in Yiddish have been rescued from attics and storerooms. Many Jews who settled in a new country felt that they should abandon the books of their homeland. Exhibits at the center illuminate the history of Yiddish, once a language of three-fourths of the world’s Jews.

The center houses a bookstore with diverse offerings, including novels, cookbooks, children’s books, and guides to learning Yiddish. English translations of Yiddish books are being published through a joint venture of the center and Yale University Press. Due out in November is “The End of Everything,” David Bergelson’s novel about upwardly mobile Jews in the waning years of the Russian Empire.

The fall literary series begins Oct. 18, with Pulitzer Prize winner Madeleine Blais leading a discussion with novelist Jay Neugeboren. Details at www.

Game Six redux
Game Six of the 1975 World Series was thick with personalities and drama. Diehard fans can tell the story in striking detail. Now Mark Frost, a novelist with a career in television and film, tells the story for the rest of us in “Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime” (Hyperion). The Red Sox in the 12th inning with one of the most famous home runs in baseball history (below). Of course, they lost Game Seven, but who’s counting?

Coming out
“Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son,” by Michael Chabon (Harper)

“Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World,” by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf)

“Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil,” by Peter Maass (Knopf)

Pick of the week
Haley Dunn of Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich recommends “Of Bees and Mist’’ by Erick Setiawan (Simon & Schuster): “In this magical-realist debut novel, Meridia marries the charming but naïve Daniel to escape her bleak home. Soon her mother-in-law turns malicious. Setiawan blends fantastical elements, such as swarms of bees that control behavior and mysterious mists that slowly but forcefully pull characters apart, into a story of strength, love, and redemption.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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