DUBIOUS ACHIEVEMEN T Former U.S. veep Elbridge Gerry’s sneaky redrawing of voting districts gave us the word gerrymander. Find more namesakes in Alex Novak’s Tawdry Knickers and Other Unfortunate Ways to Be Remembered.
Speaking of Books
Caring for his mom inspired Walter Mosley’s 35th book
By the end, is it a gift?
A: Ptolemy’s transformation
doesn’t make him into a different person—it just takes what’s
inside him and brings it out.
Writing is always a discovery
for me, so I was excited when
I discovered that.
Q: Did your late start, at age
33, shape the writer you’ve
become [at 58]?
A: You have a better perspective
on writing when you come to it
later in life, especially if you have
any degree of success. If you’re
20 years old and you become a
celebrated writer, you may think
you deserve it—which is never
true. It just happens.
Q: You left Easy Rawlins, the hero of
11 of your detective novels, in a tight
spot—I’m trying not to reveal the
ending—in BlondeFaith.Any chance
we’ll see him again soon?
A: I don’t think so. I finished the arc
of Easy’s career. If you allow a character
to overwhelm your real life, your writing life can become very proscribed. I
have no intention of letting that happen.
MY READING LIFE
BY PAT CONROY
This lyrical memoir
salutes writers from
Dickens to Dickey
and a bevy of books
from the “life-
altering” War and Peace to Gone
With the Wind (“The Iliad with a
Southern accent”). Conroy’s
mother sparked his passion for
books. “I tremble with gratitude,”
he writes, “as I honor her name.”
THE GRACE OF
BY MICHELE NORRIS
Belvin Norris took a
bitter secret to his
grave: He was shot in
the leg by a white
Birmingham cop two weeks after his
1946 Navy discharge. His daughter,
an NPR cohost, untangles the roots
of his silence to expose “all those
things left unsaid when people try to
talk about race.”
In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey a
91-year-old man fends off senility with
an experimental drug he calls “the
Devil’s medicine.” In a burst of mental
clarity, he reconnects with the world
and solves the mysteries of his past.
Q: How did the character Ptolemy
Grey come to you?
A: I had been dealing with my mother’s dementia—longer than I realized,
honestly. In the last few years [she
died in January of 2009] it got especially difficult; I worked hard to understand her needs and to deal with
those needs. So the issue was on my
mind, and Ptolemy appeared in the
middle of all of that.
Q: Ptolemy “holds the past and the
present in his mind at the same
time.” At the start of the novel,
that’s a source of confusion.
THE FIDDLER IN
BY GENE WEINGARTEN
If you know the author
only as a humorist,
you’ll delight in the
strength and, yes,
sobriety of his feature writing for The
Washington Post. Don’t miss his pro-
file of unsung Hardy Boys ghostwriter
Leslie McFarlane or his sketch of the
American nonvoter as embodied in
Michigan masonry worker Ted Prus.
FROM TOP: ILLUSTRATION BY PETER ARKLE; DEBORAH FEINGOLD/CORBIS
High Seas High Jinks
Djibouti BY ELMORE LEONARD. The master of the thriller,
who is now 85, sets his 44th book in the Gulf of Aden, as
pirates, a bisexual terrorist, and documentary filmmakers
zoom in on a gas tanker whose destruction will make “the
Hindenburg disaster look like a weenie roast.” Leonard’s
famed dialogue falters in parts, but it’s nicely offset by a
slow-burning May-December romance. ;
To read Stashower’s review of The Last Days
of Ptolemy Grey, visit aarp.org/books.