Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Blessed By the Best

I never do this, but last week I used the phrase "the best book in the store." I take very seriously my recommendations to you, whether on this blog or while handselling in the store. We expect to be here for at least another two decades and if my recommendations become suspect for any reason, it won't be good -- for you or for our bottom line.

When a book I believe will be incredibly hot also draws a rave from me or Ann, it's a blessing for us all. With Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day, not to mention graduation on the horizon, many more patrons will be coming to us for recommendations. Particularly for Fathers' Day, we're loaded with can't miss titles. But I digress.

Last week I promoted (in-store) without reservation Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America, from Atlantic Monthly Press. I am far from a Lincoln buff. Where I come from, we're much more realistic in our appreciation of what he accomplished in keeping the Union together no matter what measures it took. But here in Indiana, it's a given that Ole Abe was the best president there ever was or ever will be.

Ferguson went through a childhood fervor for the Railsplitter, but as time passed, Lincolniana became, for him, passe. With great affection, but no small amount of humor, he rekindled that passion in researching this book. I can say that of all the new releases, this is the best book in the store. Lincoln is adored and scorned and every year brings out a new debate about the man and his importance to our modern world. But this book captures our Abesession in a way no history could.

From memorabilia collectors (first-degree items include reliquary-like artifacts like hair, with rumors of teeth and bone) to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (who are better-armed than most when they argue that most of Lincoln's actions were extra-constitutional), the Weekly Standard editor captures the unique fascination we have with the 16th president.

How many of you ever attended the outdoor musical drama Young Abe Lincoln at Santa Claus, Ind.? Ferguson attended what appears to have been the final performance just a few months ago, revisiting the town after having joined a national convention of Lincoln (and Mary Todd) impersonators.

That's in the latter half of the book, when the author grabs up his family, including two teenagers, and follows the Lincoln Heritage Trail from Illinois to Kentucky, backtracking through Lincoln's life to end the book at the legendary birthplace of Honest Abe. Did you know that the LHT is 960 miles long, that each of the three states (Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky) have exactly 320 miles of highway devoted to Lincoln? Of course, the Indiana sites include, for some reason, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and with the Lincoln Bicentennial fast approaching the trail is only intermittently marked. Vandals and thieves have stolen most of the once-ubiquitous markers. By the way, Car & Driver magazine calls Ind. 62 on the trail one of the Best Driving Roads in America, ending at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Dale.

The book is manageable in small chunks, but I guarantee you'll finish it in a week. It's that good.

So, all last week I'm touting the book as the best book in the store, with several patrons taking it solely on my recommendation. I wasn't ready to blog about it, because it was scheduled for publication in June, so when it arrived unexpectedly, I reordered and fished out my notes for the planned June posting.

Why is that a problem? Because we have TWO best books in the store beginning today. Tomorrow I'll tell you more about the other, Barbara Kingsolver's nonfiction masterpiece, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life, from HarperCollins.

Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America by Andrew FergusonISBN 9780871139672 Atlantic Monthly Press (Hardcover) 288 pp. $24

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