Arts and culture

What makes a hero? Untold numbers of authors have tried to answer that question, all the while knowing that there can never be a simple solution to such a complex equation. Defining heroism is as slippery as defining humanity — as well as defining the culture that happens to be surrounding it any given moment. Which is why genre exercises like The Clockwork Dagger, the debut novel by Beth Cato, have their work cut out for them.

Some short-story writers seem to feel the need to show as many different sides of themselves as possible in one book: tough, tender, minimalist, maximalist, funny, sad. But in her new collection of stories, Margaret Atwood emphasizes one particular Atwood quality, which, for lack of a better word, I'll call "wicked." (Though let's be sure not to confuse the writer with her characters.)

A new memoir by New York Times columnist Charles Blow begins with him in his car on his way to shoot and kill a man. That man is Blow's older cousin, who allegedly sexually abused Blow when Blow was 7 years old.

Blow, who was 20 when he set out for vengeance, turned back and never pulled the trigger. He finally realized he couldn't continue to live his life "through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy," he writes.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a day when everything tastes like dessert. In symbolic hope of a sweet year to come, the table is positively sticky — honey marinades, honey cakes, raisin-studded challah bread. And, depending on where your family is from, sweet gefilte fish.

Gefilte fish, those oft-reviled patties packed in jelled broth, can be a hard sell even in the standard savory form. And with a big dose of sugar stirred in? It can be hard to swallow. But for Jews with roots in Poland, gefilte fish was always sweet. Always.

Steve Almond's blistering book Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto is exactly what it advertises itself to be: an exasperated, frustrated, wide-ranging argument that the time has come to abandon football — particularly but not exclusively the NFL — as a sport built on violence, racism, economic exploitation of poor kids, corrupt dealmaking with local governments over stadiums, and a willingness to find it entertaining to watch people suffer brain damage.

"When brothers start getting a little money, stuff starts getting a little weird."

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Acclaimed author J. California Cooper, who famously leaped from the stage to the printed page, has died at the age of 82. According to her daughter, Paris Williams, Cooper passed away Saturday in Seattle. She wrote 17 plays and nearly as many books of fiction.

In 'Afterworlds,' A Teen Imagines Worlds Within Worlds

Sep 24, 2014

YA is thriving, but it's become a diverse genre, linking books widely spread across more traditional classifications like mainstream literature, fantasy, mystery and romance. What these books often have in common is their unremitting fondness for ordinary, everyday people — just like the reader, perhaps — who become Chosen Ones by suddenly discovering they have powerful abilities, or a unique birthright, or a complicated, passionate love triangle forming around them.

Comics and graphic books are flourishing these days — writers and illustrators are taking on increasingly sophisticated topics and children's authors are finding just the right balance between naughty and nice. But a number of the books have come under fire from critics who would like to see them banned from schools and libraries. That's why comics and graphic books are the focus of this year's Banned Books Week, an annual event that calls attention to challenged titles.

Frances has it bad, and that's not good. Normally she's an intelligent, reliable, resourceful young woman, a companion to her widowed mother, keeper of the large house on Champion Hill in which the two of them rattle about, now that the men of the family have died. But then Frances falls in love, and the carefully wrought edifice of her life collapses in a heap of passion and catastrophe.