By David R. Altman

Welcome to the New Year! Did you start any good books over the holidays?

I’ve been re-reading an old favorite and found another one that I highly recommend.

The old favorite is the most prolific biography of Robert Frost ever written.

Frost, as we all know, was America’s most well-known poet of the 20th century and the only four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

While many biographies have been written about Frost, the one recognized by many as the most comprehensive was Jay Parini’s 1999 book called Frost, A Life.

Parini, a respected critic, professor and poet, who has also written biographies of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal and Jesus, is a Pennsylvania native and a co-founder of the New England Review.

There are so many great biographies out there, it’s hard to pick a favorite. A few memorable ones for me are: Walter Isaacson’s Jobs, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and Nancy Milford’s Savage Beauty, the unforgettable story of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

But the Parini book on Frost is among the best. The author takes us through Frost’s early days, when he dropped out of Dartmouth and then Harvard (Frost hated the academic environment, although he later became in demand as a professor and speaker in the forties and fifties).

You will learn what was behind his most famous poems, including the inspiration for “The Road Not Taken," arguably the best-known poem in American history.

And Parini, an excellent researcher, writes compellingly of the tragic and chaotic world of Frost’s family, as the farmer-poet and his wife Elinor would lose two children in infancy and a grown son to suicide. Frost and his wife both suffered from depression and poor health. This famous New Englander’s story is one of perseverance and courage.

Don’t worry if you are not a poetry lover, as this biography is excellent, and you will be glad you read it.

Therapy for a therapist? Read this one!

There’s a new book out that cleverly merges the real-life problems faced by its psychotherapist author with the help she is getting from her own therapist. Adding to this wonderfully rich content is the advice our therapist/author is giving to four of her patients. It’s a New York Times bestseller and is one of Time magazine’s Books of the Year.

Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a wacky, hilarious-at-times and candidly written book that offers a lifetime of commentary on relationships, including a recently broken relationship the author is dealing with. Gottlieb’s initial conversation with her therapist, Wendell, about her own breakup, is both enlightening and memorable: “He (Wendell) knows what all therapists know: That the pressing problem, the issue somebody comes in with, is often just one aspect of a larger problem, if not a red herring entirely.”

There’s probably a character in this book that everyone can identify with. There are four patients in Ms. Gottlieb’s story (not including herself). They include a (seemingly) arrogant Hollywood producer with marriage problems, a senior citizen who has made many mistakes in her life and is borderline suicidal, a young woman fighting a terminal illness and a millennial dealing with alcoholism. Basically, there’s something for everyone in the struggles that are so beautifully exposed (both humorously and sensitively) in her sessions.

If you’ve not tried therapy, you will learn what it’s like ‘inside the ropes.' The insight Ms. Gottlieb gives into what she, as a therapist, is feeling is as entertaining as it is disarming.

Lori Gottlieb also writes a column for The Atlantic and has appeared on numerous television news and talk shows, including CNN.

If you miss her book, you might catch it later on ABC, which is developing a TV series based on the book with Eva Longoria. Stay tuned.

Pilkey wins national award

Publisher’s Weekly’s (PW) Person of the Year is author Dav Pilkey, who has written and drawn more than 60 children’s books, including Captain Underpants and the Dog Man series.

Pilkey, who was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, said those conditions probably helped him become a better story-teller.

“I created a character in Dog Man called 80-HD to show kids that ADHD, with determination and practice, can actually be a superpower,” Pilkey told PW. The Dog Man series has sold more than 26 million copies in its first three years and the 14 Captain Underpants stories (now 20 years old) has sold more than 90 million copies.

Are you in the 24%?

According to a Pew Research Center study, 24 percent of U.S. adults did not even read part of a book in 2018. Hard to believe, but the Pew research is seldom wrong.

Hopefully, you are not part of that 24 percent. But it does make the point that reading continues to be on the decline across all demographics.

Think about your own reading—and don’t give in to the temptations of your electronic devices. Facebook can wait.

Go to the library, shop at a local bookstore or, download a book from the internet (one of the more productive uses for our gadgets).

There were 675 million books sold in the U.S. last year and I hope there are even more in 2020. Let’s do our part—for us and for our kids—to keep reading a priority in the new decade.

David R. Altman writes about books and writers. He is a former Georgia Author of the Year nominee and author of the poetry collection, Death in the Foyer. He is a member of the American Academy of Poets and the National Books Critic Circle. He can be reached at altmandavidr@gmail.com

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