Books from the week: war, mud & more

I recently contributed a guest post to the National Book Critics Circle blog, Critical Mass, on the topic “How do you decide what to read next?” In writing about my ongoing hunt for books and where that hunt takes me, it occurred to me to share on TLC some of what I encounter along the way. Books that  catch my eye.  Books I may acknowledge, but then move on.  They could be from reviews or an auction of rare books or a reference in another book I’m reading. And so, a few from this week:

On the Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy by Peter Stothard
From the publisher’s website: “He was the Thracian gladiator who rose up from slavery in 73 B.C. to defeat every Roman army sent to destroy him—before his defeat and crucifixion. Trained at the gladiatorial school, Spartacus escaped. Joined by approximately seventy followers, his army increased to allegedly 140,000 slaves.”  In a recent All Things Considered interview, host Guy Raz talks with Stothard about his battle with cancer and how it lead him to write about this slave uprising over 2,000 years ago.

Other People’s Rejection Letters: Relationship Enders, Career Killers, and 150 Other Letters You’ll Be Glad You Didn’t Receive by Bill Shapiro
Published in May this year, Shapiro’s collection of rejection letters come from all sides of life. Check out the preview on the publisher’s website (turn off your pop-up blocker) or the “see inside” from online sellers to get an idea of the book.  While this may be a collection of dreaded nasty-grams, Shapiro’s outlook from what he learned is uplifting: “I saw all these people taking beautiful chances with their lives.”

In Parenthesis by David Jones
Originally published in 1937, this prose/poetry work is currently in print thanks to the New York Review of Books Classics editions. From the NYRB website: “… a work that is among the most powerful imaginative efforts to grapple with the carnage of the First World War, a book celebrated by W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot as one of the masterpieces of modern literature. Fusing poetry and prose, gutter talk and high music, wartime terror and ancient myth, Jones, who served as an infantryman on the Western Front, presents a picture at once panoramic and intimate of a world of interminable waiting and unforeseen death.”

Edward II by J.R.S. Phillips
Published this year by Yale University Press, a biography of this King of England who “was the object of ignominy during his lifetime and calumny since it.” The book’s website also says the biography “tackles the contentious issue of whether Edward II did not die in 1327, murdered under barbaric circumstances, but lived on as a captive in England and then a wanderer on the Continent.” Part of Yale’s English Monarchs Series.

Mud: Stories of Sex and Love by Michèle Roberts
A paperback published this year by Virago in the U.K. From the June 25, 2010 print Times Literary Supplement: “The power of these short stories lies in the moments where they describe distress. Michele Roberts draws emotional pain with precision, describing confusion with a limpid finesse. As stories about women in love, they have a refreshingly broad sense of what that can mean.”
From The Guardian June 26,2010:  “The short story is an intimate, subtle and enigmatic form: Michèle Roberts reminds us in this virtuoso collection that she is one of our foremost practitioners of the art.”