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Video: Need a read? Autumn’s can’t-miss books

  1. Transcript of: Need a read? Autumn’s can’t-miss books

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Whether you're inside keeping warm for the cooler weather or in need of a page turner for your next trip, this season there are plenty of good reads. Here with some of his favorite picks for fall is John Searles , book critic and author of the best-sellers "Strange but True " and "Boy Still Missing." John , welcome back, it's great to...

    Mr. JOHN SEARLES (Book Critic): Yeah, Lester , good to see you.

    HOLT: I just learned something about you. Your middle name is Lester .

    Mr. SEARLES: My middle name is Lester , yeah.

    HOLT: All right. Just a little trivia I wanted to share with folks. You've got a pretty eclectic collection of books here today. The first one we're going to talk about is called " Room ."

    Mr. SEARLES: "Room."

    HOLT: The description I read, it sounds disturbing. Is it?

    Mr. SEARLES: It is disturbing. It's, you know, I've been carrying it around for the last few days, and never before have so many people stopped me on the subway, on the street to say, 'I can't believe you're reading that book' because it's getting so much attention right now. In the way that "Color Purple" or " Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night ," which is a book I talked about on the show a few years ago, it's all about the voice, this book is all about the shocking, absorbing voice. It's told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy, and we realize very quickly in the opening pages that he and his mother are being held captive in a room. And so it's this weird voice, but also a very unusual setup. So it's gripping, absorbing and disturbing.

    HOLT: Disturbing, but you can't put it down.

    Mr. SEARLES: Can't put it down at the same time.

    HOLT: One of those, OK.

    Mr. SEARLES: Yeah.

    HOLT: The next one, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter." And I was puzzling over the title.

    Mr. SEARLES: Yes.

    HOLT: And you explained this is Mississippi .

    Mr. SEARLES: Yes. Yeah, Mississippi . They say it's a Southern thing, but actually I grew up in New England , that's how I was taught to spell Mississippi . M-I -crooked letter-crooked letter-I-etc.

    HOLT: OK, I got you.

    Mr. SEARLES: So it's set in Mississippi and it's the perfect blend of great writing and really great suspense. So it's sort of my favorite combo of things in a book, and it opens with a missing girl and a murder and it gets juicier from there, so there's lots of twists and turns and surprises. And it's a Barnes Noble pick for the month of October, as well, as an Independent Book Sellers pick, so it's getting a ton of attention right now.

    HOLT: All right.

    Mr. SEARLES: It's a great book.

    HOLT: Stephen King hasn't had a book out in a couple of years. He's got a collection here called " Full Dark , No Stars ."

    Mr. SEARLES: Yeah, you know, when a writer like Stephen King who's so prolific, you sometimes don't know there's so many books out there, is this a standout book? And actually, this one I would say hands down is definitely a standout book. It's top of his form, it's four novellas, very dark, like the title says. The opening one is about a farmer who murders his wife and convinces his teenage son to help cover the crime, so it opens with them stuffing her body down a well. So it's pretty dark.

    HOLT: Ooh .

    Mr. SEARLES: Like the title says.

    HOLT: OK. The next book is about a story we didn't know was going on until it was over. It involved the kidnapping of David Rohde , a New York Times reporter.

    Mr. SEARLES: Yes.

    HOLT: He's written a book called " A Rope and a Prayer ."

    Mr. SEARLES: "A Rope and a Prayer."

    HOLT: With his wife.

    Mr. SEARLES: With his wife, and it was of particular interest to me because she was a photo editor at Cosmopolitan , where I worked for many years. And she -- they tell it from two sides, her efforts here back at home to free him and what happened to him when he was kidnapped and then his daring and successful escape.

    HOLT: He was kidnapped in Afghanistan , we should point out, right.

    Mr. SEARLES: He was kidnapped, yes, by the Taliban . So it's a gripping, mesmerizing read, and it's sort of an unusual way to tell a story, with alternating perspectives like that for a memoir.

    HOLT: All right. The next book in your stack...

    Mr. SEARLES: We're lightening up a bit.

    HOLT: I have to tell you, just the cover just makes me smile. It's called, " You Had Me at Woof ."

    Mr. SEARLES: "You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness ." So perfect for any animal lover.

    HOLT: I love that picture.

    Mr. SEARLES: Yeah. I met this writer on Twitter , of all things, and I'm glad I did because she's really funny, self-deprecating, a writer who can take a story about getting a dog and turn it into something enchanting. And she fell so in love with this dog, she said, 'I wish I could have turned him into a man, only with eyes that looked straight ahead and a little less gas.'

    HOLT: That's really good.

    Mr. SEARLES: So it's a very, very funny read.

    HOLT: And you've got a humor essay to share with us?

    Mr. SEARLES: " Half Empty " is by David Rakoff . He's a very smart, witty, sarcastic writer, and one of my favorite essays in here is he worked for a best-selling writer who didn't treat him very kindly. And so it's sort of how " Devil Wears Prada " when she works for Anna Wintour type character.

    HOLT: Uh-huh .

    Mr. SEARLES: It has that feel to it, and these are very funny and enjoyable.

    HOLT: All right. The next one, kind of a fantasy book geared towards young adults ?

    Mr. SEARLES: "The Lost Hero." It's a start of a series. I, you know, I have to say, I'm not a big fantasy reader, but this is getting a lot of buzz and I thought it was good for young adults , as well, and it's about three kids, one who wakes up on a field trip, doesn't know how he got there, another who -- a girl who has a very famous father who goes missing, and then another boy who see ghosts. So there's a lot going on in there, and I think teens will love it.

    HOLT: The next book we're going to talk about you don't have because the book itself is out, there's a video and it's George Bush 's much anticipated book.

    Mr. SEARLES: I actually don't have it. I think we have the cover, yeah, there it is.

    HOLT: "Decision Points."

    Mr. SEARLES: Yeah, you know, I put this on -- I mentioned on my author page on Facebook that George Bush was coming out with a book, and a lot of people started mudslinging right away, 'Is it a pop-up book? Is it this, is it that?' But no, it's a real book and it's coming out. And actually, he's -- instead of telling a chronological story about his life, he did these -- he picked the major decision points in his life from quitting drinking at age 40 to his decision to run for president and to all the many big decisions he had to make that shaped our country.

    HOLT: What -- 9/11 and the wars, it's all going to be in there?

    Mr. SEARLES: Exactly, yes. So there's a mix of personal stuff as well as all the big political stuff. I haven't seen it yet, they're not showing anyone, but it's out in a week, and it's getting -- it's going to obviously be one of the biggest books of the fall.

By
TODAY

Explainer:

  • As the weather turns colder this fall, there’s nothing better than curling up inside with a great read. Here are eight great picks from John Searles, book critic and author of “Strange But True."

  • “Room”

    By Emma Donoghue

    I’ve been carrying this book around with me the last couple of days, and never before have so many people stopped to make a comment on something I was reading. It is getting a ton of buzz right now. Just like “The Color Purple” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” this novel shocks the reader with a truly unique voice. It is told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy named Jack. We come to realize very quickly in the opening pages that Jack and his mother are being held captive in a “room,” and the boy has never left it before. A mesmerizing read, though not for the faint of heart.

  • “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”

    By Tom Franklin

    They say it’s a Southern thing but I grew up in New England and the way I learned to spell Mississippi was M-I-crooked letter-crooked-letter-I, etc. Anyway, that’s where the title comes from and this story is set in Mississippi. It’s one of my absolute favorites on the list because it’s the perfect blend of great writing and gripping suspense. It opens with a missing girl and an unexpected murder and things get juicier from there. The book has been named an Independent Bookseller and Barnes and Noble pick for the month of October.

  • “Full Dark, No Stars”

    By Stephen King

    This is the master of horror’s first book in two years. A collection of four — just like the title says — dark novellas. The first, “1922,” is a confession by a man who murdered his wife and convinced his teenage son to help cover up the crime. Another, “A Good Marriage,” is about a wife’s discovery that her seemingly vanilla husband is leading a double life. King is at the top of his game in this collection and packs on the plot twists. It’s a twisted book chock full of sinister secrets.

  • “A Rope & a Prayer”

    By David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill

    Rohde is a New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban a few years back. His wife, Kristen, happened to be the photo director of Cosmopolitan at the time, so their book was of particular interest to me. In this memoir, they tell the story from both their sides. From the moment David is first captured and the moment Kristen first learns of what happened and all through her efforts to free him until finally he makes a daring and unbelievable escape. The book is riveting.

  • “You had me at Woof: How Dogs Learned the Secrets of Happiness”

    By Julie Klam

    I first learned of this writer on Twitter of all things, and I'm happy I did. She's a smart, funny, self-deprecating writer who can take even the seemingly simple tale of getting a dog and turn it into something enchanting. The way she tells it — her usual method of meeting men, which was sitting at home on the couch watching television by herself, wasn't working so she decided to get a dog. Klam falls madly in love with her Boston Terrier, Otto. She writes that she loved him so much if she could have turned him into a man "only with a little less gas and eyes that looked straight ahead!" she would have. Instead, Otto helped lead her to finding a real guy and true love.

  • “Half Empty”

    By David Rakoff

    Anyone looking for a lighter read than many of the books on our fall list, will love this collection of super sarcastic, funny and at times surprisingly poignant essays. Rakoff turns his wicked wit on the like of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a New York porn convention, and the oddities of life in Salt Lake City, and his own non-tortured youth among other topics.

  • “The Lost Hero”

    By Rick Riordan

    I confess that I’m not a big reader of fantasy. But I put this book on the list as our young adult pick because its getting a lot of buzz right now. In short, it’s about a boy who wakes up on a bus in the middle of a field trip with no memory of how he got there, a girl who’s famous father has gone missing, and another boy who keeps seeing ghosts. So there’s a lot going on in here.

  • “Decision Points”

    By George W. Bush

    One of the most anticipated books of the fall is the memoir by our former president. The book is being kept from the media until it release on November 9th, but Bush just released a video where he talks about what the reader will find in the pages. Rather than write an exhaustive, chronological account of his life, he says he focused on the biggest decisions he faced in his life, from quitting drinking at age 40, to meeting and marrying his wife Laura, to all the many difficult decisions he made as leader of our country.

  • For more from John Searles

    John Searles is a book critic and best-selling author of the novels "Strange But True" and "Boy Still Missing." Follow him on Facebook to learn what he's reading.

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