What to Read in March

March — already! This month has certainly sneaked up on us, but our new books publishing in  March certainly captured our attention from the start. Put these two on your reading list. Now. Right now. Or better yet, buy a copy for yourself.

One-Cent Magenta by James Barron

An inside look at the obsessive, secretive, and often bizarre world of high-profile stamp collecting, told through the journey of the world’s most sought-after stamp.

When it was issued in 1856, it cost a penny. In 2014, this tiny square of faded red paper sold at Sotheby’s for nearly $9.5 million, the largest amount ever paid for a postage stamp at auction. Through the stories of the eccentric characters who have bought, owned, and sold the one-cent magenta in the years in between, James Barron delivers a fascinating tale of global history and immense wealth, and of the human desire to collect.

One-cent magentas were provisional stamps, printed quickly in what was then British Guiana when a shipment of official stamps from London did not arrive. They were intended for periodicals, and most were thrown out with the newspapers. But one stamp survived. The singular one-cent magenta has had only nine owners since a twelve-year-old boy discovered it in 1873 as he sorted through papers in his uncle’s house. He soon sold it for what would be $17 today. (That’s been called the worst stamp deal in history.) Among later owners was a fabulously wealthy Frenchman who hid the stamp from almost everyone (even King George V of England couldn’t get a peek); a businessman who traveled with the stamp in a briefcase he handcuffed to his wrist; and John E. du Pont, an heir to the chemical fortune, who died while serving a thirty-year sentence for the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.

Recommended for fans of Nicholas A. Basbanes, Susan Orlean, and Simon Winchester, The One-Cent Magenta explores the intersection of obsessive pursuits and great affluence and asks why we want most what is most rare.

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Karen Neulander, a successful New York political consultant, has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. She’s had to be: when Jacob’s father, Dave, found out Karen was pregnant and made it clear that fatherhood wasn’t in his plans, Karen walked out of the relationship, never telling Dave he intention was to raise their child alone.

But now Jake is asking to meet his dad, and with good reason: Karen is dying. When she finally calls her ex, she’s shocked to find Dave ecstatic about the son he never knew he had. First, he can’t meet Jake fast enough, and then, he can’t seem to leave him alone.

With just a few more months to live, Karen resists allowing Dave to insinuate himself into Jake’s life. As she tries to play out her last days in the “right” way, Karen wrestles with the truth that the only thing she cannot bring herself to do for her son–let his father become a permanent part of his life–is the thing he needs from her the most. With heart-wrenching poignancy, unexpected wit, and mordant humor, Lauren Grodstein has created an unforgettable story about parenthood, sacrifice, and life itself.

“In Our Short History, Lauren grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it’s bigger–and stronger–than before. This novel will leave you appreciating both the messiness of life and the immense depths of love.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

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