Towards Polaris by Mason Smith (Syracuse University Press; 440 pages; $24.95/softcover). This novel, set in the Adirondacks town of Sabattis Falls, won the Adirondack Center for Writing People’s Choice Award for Best Book in 2005 when it was called Florida: A North Country Novel. Smith weaves the tale of the human struggle to achieve acceptance and redemption, always more difficult in a small town. And his “Area of the Action” map at the front of the book is nothing short of hilarious; he labels Ogdensburg “nuts,” Canada “a foreign land,” and Dannemora “prison.” Like Richard Russo’s successes with Empire Falls and Mohawk, it’s vital to understand the setting of the book, and Smith captures the vast Adirondacks perfectly.
Lullaby for Morons by Ronald Keith Siegel (North Country Books, Utica; 306 pages; $19.95/softcover). Based on the true story of America’s first schoolteacher murder, in 1914 in Poland, N.Y., the narrative is reconstructed from historical archives including journals, letters, newspaper articles, trial transcripts, school records and interviews with surviving witnesses. And lest the politically correct among us take umbrage at the term “moron,” Siegel is merely labeling the accused murderers as such because 100 years ago the wrong diagnosis of mental disability often led to disastrous results.
Something Must Be Done: One Black Woman’s Story by Peggy Wood with Parker Brown (SU Press; 152 pages; $16.95/hardcover). In this memoir, Wood, a retired social worker and longtime civil rights activist who lives in Syracuse, reflects on her journey as a middle-class black activist from Alabama to Atlanta, to Lima, Ohio and Poughkeepsie. In 1950 the scene shifts to Syracuse, where Wood railed for more than 30 years. Brown, to whom the memoir was dictated, is a tax attorney and oral historian who also works in Syracuse. Pick up this book for a look inside a world that many Americans don’t realize existed or refuse to acknowledge.
25 Ways to Make College Pay Off by Bill Coplin, Ph.D. (American Management Association, New York City; 256 pages; $14.95/softcover). Dispensing advice as a professor who’s seen it all, Coplin, who directs the public affairs program at SU, will help you put your child on the path to growing up, taking charge of the future, and achieving a rewarding career and a self-sufficient life. In addition to imparting wisdom, Coplin provides resources, anecdotes from successful former students and real-world advice to assist those on the brink of adulthood. Writing from what he knows, this book is a little heavy on SU student advice, but most college experiences are universal so whether your child is attending Columbia, SUNY Fredonia or Coppin State, never fear.
The Society of S by Susan Hubbard (Simon & Schuster, New York City; 305 pages; $25/hardcover). “S” stands for Sanguinists, a group of “others,” half-vampires, half-humans devoted to ethics, environmentalism and equality with humans. And this is the story of that society, but more specifically 13-year-old Ariella Montero, who lives in Saratoga Springs. In this unusual coming-of-age story, in which Ari seeks to find her mother, she discovers what it means to be human while still being an other. Hubbard is an upstate New York native and a former SU instructor.
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City; 379 pages; $26.95/hardcover). Perhaps Syracuse’s most important former son, and expert in writing memoirs, Wolff, whose memoir This Boy’s Life still resonates, presents a collection of 10 new short stories along with 21 classics. Since the stories are separated into old and new, it would be fun to alternate between them to see if Wolff’s style changes, or if maturity has given his voice a newfound wisdom.
Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano (Reed Edwards Company, Wilbraham, Mass.; 223 pages; $14.95/softcover). Historical fiction is often the way to go when stories have a basis in fact, but not enough to be called “non-fiction” (think Pope Joan). Based on a true event, the book tells the story of the protagonist’s father, who had been killed by the mob more than two decades before. Not only does Anna unravel the thread that was her father’s life, but she finds out about her own. Schiano has three upcoming book readings and signings: April 12, 1-4 p.m., Lavender Inkwell, 304 N. McBride St., 424-7191; April 13, noon to 2 p.m., Liverpool Public Library, 310 Tulip St., Liverpool, 457-0310; and June 12, 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 3454 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt, 449-2947.