Galley Girl: The Packinghouse Edition

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Author Cheri Register sometimes tells people that her Ph.D from the University of Chicago stands for Packinghouse Daughter. That’s what she is — the daughter of a retired Wilson & Company millwright in a meatpacking pant in Albert Lea, Minnesota. That’s also the name of her new book, "Packinghouse Daughter" (Perennial/HarperCollins; paperback), a splendid memoir of her family’s blue-collar life in the 1950s, and the 109-day strike that divided the town.

Register is firmly in favor of a more open discussion of social class. "We have this pretense of equality and prosperity," she says. "I was just reading a story in the paper about somebody who has written a book about Baby Boomers, and talks about how they all go to the same four cities in northern Italy on vacation. And I thought, Wait a minute. If you’re working for six or seven bucks an hour somewhere, you’re not going to northern Italy. I just encounter that daily, a terrible neglect of the people that I grew up with, a discounting of their existence and their experience."

She ran smack into the class divide when she went from small-town life in Albert Lea to the University of Chicago. "It was major culture shock," she says. "There were ways of life that I had read books about, and fantasized about, but never imagined were real. I discovered how ignorant I was of the culture with a capital C." But, she adds, "I caught on eventually to how ignorant and provincial those people were. They knew nothing of my life."

PW is overwhelmed by "Fred & Edie" by Jill Dawson (Welcome Rain; September), giving it a starred review. "Dawson’s third novel strikingly and elegantly blends fact and fiction in a reimagining of the events surrounding the spectacular 1922 London trial of Edith Thompson and her lover, Frederick Bywaters, who were convicted and hanged for murdering Edith’s husband, Percy...Gripping, surprising and beautiful. FORECAST: This title was a finalist for the Whitbread Prize; a film (‘Another Life’) based on the same incidents premiered in the U.K. and is scheduled for U.S. release this year. Though set 80 years ago in England, the novel should draw a contemporary American audience given the controversy that continues to surround the issue of capital punishment."

Who can forget those splendid days in 1998, when L’Affaire Lewinsky first broke? Not Marvin Kalb, the director of the Washington office of Harvard’s Shorestein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy. Kalb is still scolding about Zippergate coverage in "One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Thirteen Days That Tarnished American Journalism" (Free Press; October). According to PW, "The problem, Kalb finds, is that the corporate concentration of ownership of news pushes the bottom line above all else. And with the proliferation of news outlets, especially in cable TV, reporters must titillate rather than teach in order to compete, to draw in viewers. Kalb’s report on reporting is an engrossing and disturbing story of what happens when integrity gives way to expediency. FORECAST: Hopefully, the news media won’t be so stung by Kalb’s sharp criticism that they ignore it — and media attention should help this important study sell well." All we can say is, thank God for Gary Condit.

PW dumps a full diaper on "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood" by Naomi "The Beauty Myth" Wolf (Doubleday; September). "This work is so unoriginal in its social critique and so limited in its portrayal of the hardships endured by mothers and children and families in this country that it comes across as a weirdly out-of-touch bid for personal attention rather than a genuine expose. It is likely to alienate all but the newest and most sheltered mothers."

Kirkus sheds a tear over "West of Rehoboth" by Alexs Pate (Morrow/HarperCollins; September 7), giving it a starred review. "A profoundly affecting story about a bright black kid’s first brushes with bigotry, in a fifth novel from the award- winning author of ‘The Multicultiboho Show.’ It’s 1962, early July, in sizzling, smoldering North Philly — no place for a 12-year-old African-American who happens to prefer Agatha Christie to street fighting. Every summer Edward Massey’s working-class parents, fiercely protective, hustle him out of town and down to Rehoboth Beach, where his Aunt Edna runs a thriving restaurant/boardinghouse. Well, not Rehoboth Beach exactly, Jim Crow being what it was back then, but rather West Rehoboth, that ‘coloreds only’ country on the other side of the canal...What Pate, writing from the heart makes particularly vivid is the way endemic, inescapable racism suffocates and ruins."

PW damns by faint (or no) praise "Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History" by journalist Kati Marton, wife of Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration (Pantheon; September 21). "Predictable...banal...Marton has delivered crisply written political gossip — those who want buzz will flock to it; those looking for serious history will turn elsewhere. FORECAST: Despite its light quality, or perhaps because of it, this will be talked about everywhere, aided by a 13-city author tour, appearances on 20/20, Charlie Rose and other national media. Its first printing of 100,000 should sell handsomely."

PW predicts bestsellerdom for "Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear" by Max Lucado (W Publishing Group; October), giving it a starred review. "In Psalm 23, God counters the misconception that burden-bearing signals Christian maturity and admonishes followers to leave their loads at Christ’s feet, as he is the only one truly equipped to handle the weight. Lucado dissects Psalm 23 while recounting tender tales of men and women who have overcome crushing circumstances with Christ’s support. FORECAST: This should be quite a boost for the recently christened W Publishing Group (formerly known as Word), whose cup runneth over with Lucado. Sales for ‘He Chose the Nails’ have reached 720,000 copies, while Lucado’s recent devotional, ‘Grace for the Moment,’ has sold 600,000 copies for J. Countryman. W will spend a cool half million in shepherding this title toward the green pasture of bestsellerdom."

Praise is raining down on "The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson (Harcourt; October). PW gives it a starred, boxed review, its highest accolade. "Johnson reevaluates what happened to America in the ‘90s and paints a warts-and-all portrait that may shock many Americans and force others to review the new millennium’s values...America from 1990 to 2001 — from impeachment to recession, the rise of the Internet to the fall of Nasdaq, and the upheaval of the 2000 elections — is covered in startling detail by Johnson. He has written a magnetic book that every thoughtful American will want to read." Kirkus agrees, giving the book a starred review. "An absorbing survey of America’s second Gilded Age."

PW reports that Workman has just delivered the 10-millionth copy of the 17-year- old best-selling book, "What to Expect When You’re Expecting." According to USA Today, 93% of expectant mothers who read pregnancy books read the iconic work.