Short Stories 

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Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Natalie Goldberg
Free Press/Simon & Schuster, $25/hardcover
I'm addicted to reading books about writing. At least two of my bookshelves are filled with hardcovers and paperbacks telling me how to write, when to write, what to write and how to stop my writer's block. And at least a couple of them are authored by Natalie Goldberg. Her newest, Old Friend from Far Away, focuses specifically on penning memoir. She integrates exercises with tales about specific authors think James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg and Zora Neale Hurston and personal words of wisdom. While Old Friend doesn't bring anything earth-shattering to the "books about writing" world, it's such a beautiful and pleasurable read that it's worth picking up. I do have to say, around page 250, her words pushed me to grab my pen and write which is really what it's all about. Kirsten Akens

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The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur

Daoud Hari
Random House, $23/hardcover
When we hear bad news daily, words like "hundreds of thousands killed" seem unreal. We look away, feeling helpless and numb. Then comes a story, like this memoir of a tribesman who has witnessed the violence destroying his homeland Darfur, and the statistics crack open. This important book is not a political analysis or literary feat, but the simple, earnest voice of one human being reaching out to others. After surviving the initial bloodshed by escaping to Chad, Hari returns with Western journalists, risking his own life repeatedly so that the story can be told. His voice makes real quite horrifying events, yet through it all he speaks with the warmth of a friend and at times, somehow, even joy and optimism. Hari has done his job of telling the story. Now it's our job to read it and act. Jill Thomas

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God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

Richard Grant
Free Press/Simon & Schuster, $15/paperback
In this adventure into the Mexican Sierra Madre mountain range, Richard Grant explores a culture so rife with crime that the narcotraficantes (drug lords) have their own saint. They ask him to bless their bullets. Grant, an Englishman, weaves a titillating nonfiction narrative from the land's history that includes speculation on the whereabouts of the lost Apaches, battles in the Mexican Revolution and the effects of NAFTA on small agriculture and a booming narcotics industry. Along the way he introduces the reader to Mormons-gone-marijuana-growers, looks for gold, explores his reckless sometimes stupid need for danger, and is hunted by cocaine-frenzied drug lords. For the ultimate in extreme armchair travel, don't miss this journey into a land no sane person would dare to tread. Frances Gomeztagle


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