Jack London: An American Life
By Earle Labor. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 461 pages, $30.)
Earle Labor, a scholar whose academic career focused on the life and works of Jack London, has written an exceptionally well-documented, and, if there is such a thing, authoritative biography of one of America's great writers. London (1876-1916) lived life like the adventurers in his novels. He was an oyster pirate, a tramp, laborer, socialist, jail inmate, sailor and Alaska gold miner before winning fame with "The Call of the Wild" and many other novels, short stories and articles.
London died at 40, likely from lupus, though the disease wasn't known at the time. Labor, a professor emeritus of American literature at Centenary College of Louisiana and curator of a Jack London research center there, draws heavily from letters and diaries to tell London's life story in rich detail, with much attention to his declining health even as London pursued his final adventures. This biography is well-written, though not a breezy narrative, and should be satisfying to anyone who loved reading London's books.
David Shaffer, reporter
Saturday Night Widows
By Becky Aikman. (Broadway Books, 337 pages, $15.)
When Becky Aikman, a journalist and young widow, got kicked out of a grief support group (not widowly enough, apparently), she recruited five other young widows she had never met to join her in a series of monthly Saturday adventures. The women plan spa treatments and cooking classes — and form a solid bond built on grief and a determination to start living again.
They tackle practical issues (paying the mortgage with one income), brutal emotions (dealing with a partner's suicide) and matters of the heart (trying to date again). The book, which culminates in a trip to meet with widows in Morocco, goes beyond adventure story and memoir. It's a beautifully written and sometimes humorous study of loss and the power of friendship. With sound research to back her up, Aikman declares the oft-recited five stages of grief bogus and writes a new script for herself.
Though they mourn, sometimes with raw, soul-shaking honesty, the six women refuse to be defined by widowhood and give us lessons in joy and resilience — and art, travel and lingerie-shopping — that apply whatever one's life stage or marital status.
Holly Collier Wilmarth, copy editor