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12 Books You Should Drop Everything and Read This November

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As the temperature drops, the thought of staying inside with a good book becomes more and more appealing. With that in mind, we’re happy to suggest a few titles, including a holiday-themed book of essays, a classic adventure novel, and an in-depth look at processed food.

1. BLUE HIGHWAYS, BY WILLIAM LEAST-HEAT MOON

After his marriage crumbled and he lost his job, William Least-Heat Moon embarked on an ambling 10,000-mile journey around the U.S. using only the lesser-traveled highways and byways that appeared in blue on his old Rand McNally map. His account of the journey is filled with colorful characters—including a couple building a houseboat together, and a former Brooklyn police officer turned rural monk—who altogether paint an odd and wondrous picture that is unmistakably American. A deeply personal work, Blue Highways is also about Least-Heat Moon’s search for all things good and essential. "A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go," the author writes. Anyone feeling a sense of wanderlust can take refuge in this book.

2. HOLIDAYS ON ICE, BY DAVID SEDARIS

Amidst all the schmaltz and consumerism of the holidays, it’s refreshing to read about a disgruntled department store elf. That saga, one of several in this collection of personal essays that gleefully hacks away at the magic of the season, tells of Sedaris’ brief stint at Macy’s. It’s a classic for the author’s fans, and full of the dry, cutting humor that’s made him so popular. Also included in the collection: A pointed critique of an elementary school pageant, and a story about rescuing a prostitute on Christmas Day. Happy holidays, everybody!

3. THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, BY URSULA K. LEGUIN

George Orr is a very ordinary man with a very powerful ability: His dreams can alter reality. Rather than embrace his gift, though, Orr self-medicates to keep the dreams at bay. A sleep researcher named William Haber offers to help, but ends up harnessing George’s ability to dramatically change the world while enriching himself at the same time. LeGuin’s depiction of shifting realities, including unsettling visions of world peace and a world without racism, are thought-provoking, while the tȇte-à-tȇte between Orr and Haber keeps the plot tight, the pages turning.

4. THE TRIAL, BY FRANZ KAFKA

Two agents arrest a man on his birthday and take him to a makeshift courtroom to stand trial. Who are the agents? What are the charges? Don’t expect a resolution from Kafka, who’s more interested in the tension that comes from trying to make sense of the senseless. David Lynch fans will revel in the book’s many unsettling, dreamlike sequences, like when the protagonist, K., stumbles upon a side room where the two agents are being punished for soliciting bribes. It’s all very strange, which is entirely the point. Like any vivid dream, you just need to go with it.

5. RAGTIME, BY E.L. DOCTOROW

Doctorow reimagines 20th-century iconoclasts Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford in this raucous and moving page-turner. The author, who passed away last year, took a lot of criticism from history buffs, who objected to Houdini having an Oedipus complex and J.P. Morgan’s twisted obsession with immortality, among other revisions. But while he may have fudged the details, Doctorow captured the spirit of a diverse, rapidly industrializing nation speeding towards the future. The lengthy set piece that ends the book, inspired by the early 19th-century work Michael Kohlhaas, feels especially timely in light of police protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.

6. SALT, SUGAR, FAT, BY MICHAEL MOSS

Don’t let the upbeat name and cheerful mascot fool you: Behind that box of breakfast cereal, a political and marketing war rages. Moss, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, examines the inner workings of the processed food industry, focusing on three key ingredients that make these wonders of technology so appealing—and in many cases, so unhealthy. Highlights in this impressively researched book include a history of Lunchables, the wildly popular kids’ meal developed as a way to sell more Oscar Mayer bologna, and a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s largest salt provider.

7. A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE, BY SAMANTHA POWER

Power, who serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, believes that the U.S. could have—and should have—done more to condemn and prevent genocide in countries around the world. After reading her detailed accounting of mass killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia, among other places, it’s hard to disagree. Military intervention isn’t always the answer, as Power points out. Even deeming these atrocities "genocide"—something the U.S. has failed to do in the past—has a significant impact. Whether you agree with her or not, A Problem From Hell is worth reading as a history lesson on how countries can slip into chaos.

8. WHITE TEETH, BY ZADIE SMITH

Insanely ambitious is one way to describe the debut novel from British author Smith, who zips through time and an array of different character perspectives in her examination of immigration and identity. The book centers on two aging war buddies living in London, Archie Jones and Samal Iqbal, whose lives have turned out to be less than they’d hoped. Smith examines these men, their wives and children, and throws in a third family, the Chalfens, for good measure. The diversity of voices is wildly entertaining but also very focused. And the way Smith draws together the seemingly disparate plot strands speaks to her immense talent.

9. THE DOOR, BY MAGDA SZABO

First published in Hungary in 1987, this novel endured a long road to its eventual translation and publication for American audiences. The wait was definitely worthwhile. The story centers on a writer, also named Magda, who recounts her relationship with her enigmatic housekeeper, Emerence, many years in the past. Separated by class, age, and education, the women develop a complicated relationship that brings them—and the reader—closer to Emerence’s secrets. Szabo, who died in 2007 and wrote this book at the height of her literary powers, crafted something subtle and haunting that plot summary alone can’t convey. It’s a book that explores hidden lives and a country’s troubling past.

10. GHOST IN THE WIRES, BY KEVIN MITNICK

These days, Mitnick lives a comfortable existence as a digital security consultant. But before that, he was one of the world’s most wanted hackers. Mitnick revisits his heyday in the '80s and early '90s, when he regularly infiltrated corporations like Novell and Sun Microsystems, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game he played with authorities leading up to his arrest in 1995. That his adventures unfolded in the days of dial-up internet and even before make Mitnick’s story all the more suspenseful, since securing sensitive information often required social savvy and a flair for the theatrical in addition to all those deft key strokes.

11. SALVAGE THE BONES, BY JESMYN WARD

In the wake of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, it’s easy to reduce the lives of those affected to symbols of love, faith, endurance, and so on. Ward’s luminous novel reminds us of the full, beating hearts that existed before and during the storm. The book follows 14-year-old Esch, a budding lover of literature, and her family in the days leading up to the hurricane. Confounding stereotypes at every turn, and fully rooted in Esch’s earnest voice, Salvage the Bones unfolds as a series of vignettes that are raw and surprising, and that carry the weight of contemporary myth. When the storm finally hits, it hits with a fury that could only come from one who was there, as Ward was.

12. THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, BY JULES VERNE

After escaping a Confederate prison via makeshift hot-air balloon, five men and a dog named Top end up stranded on an island in the South Pacific (don’t think too hard about the logistics). Verne, who published his book in 1874, weaves a compelling story of survival as the characters learn to scrape by and eventually thrive in their new habitat. There’s a mystery afoot, too, as the title indicates, and a battle with bloodthirsty pirates—all the hallmarks of a great adventure yarn, in other words.

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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