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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Overcast
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Isthmus Reads: Over the Edge, The Great Gatsby, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor

Over the Edge: The True Story of Four American Climbers' Kidnap and Escape in the Mountains of Central Asia by Greg Child

A compelling account of the 2000 kidnapping of four U.S. climbers, Over the Edge is set along the remote and lawless borders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in central Asia, and based on extensive interviews with the climbers and other participants in the drama, including one of their captors. Child also draws insight from his own (earlier) mountaineering experiences in the region. This, along with a ground-truthing return visit to the area, yields an impressive degree of detail, verisimilitude and context to the story of the climbers' capture by Islamic militants, their harrowing week in captivity, their nervy escape and its aftermath -- including the cascade of skepticism the three men and one woman confronted upon their return to the U.S. (David Medaris, staff writer)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Over my vacation I re-read The Great Gatsby. After having been taught it in so many classes, I wanted to ignore all the scribbled notes in the margins and just read it for the sheer enjoyment of it. It's really short! Maybe 158 pages. It's beautifully written and constructed, although there is sometimes a hey-aren't-you-making-too-much-out-of-this? quality to some of the paragraphs. The tone ended up reminding me a lot of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. The worst thing is how I can never quite erase Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston (from the 1974 movie) from my image bank. That, and the binding finally fell apart. (Linda Falkenstein, features editor)

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch

Flannery O'Connor was a devout Catholic from a proper Georgia family, as well as the author of grotesque Southern gothic stories that sometimes revolted her readers in the 1950s and '60s. That's a tantalizing combination, and Gooch's biography brings us as close to this enigmatic woman as we're likely to get. Unlike some of her literary friends from the postwar era, like the crazed Robert Lowell, O'Connor was a quiet, private person, given to studying Catholic theology. She died at 39 from lupus, and her life was notably uneventful, at least on the surface. All the activity occurred internally, finding an outlet in such intense, violent stories as "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "Judgment Day." O'Connor leaps off the page when Gooch quotes from her letters, full of mordant observations and memorable turns of phrase. (Dean Robbins, editor)

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