A Memoir of Flight, Adventure, and Coming-of-Age

As the eldest of eleven children in small-town New Jersey, Rinker and Kern Buck were in possession of a few things: absurdly cool names, a love of flying, and a dream of adventure. So, they did what any young, red-blooded American boys would do: they restored an old Piper Cub plane and flew it across the country. Rinker, fifteen and outgoing, was the navigator. Kern, seventeen and introverted, was the pilot. Their five-day flight from their home in New Jersey to the California coast in 1966 earned them the honor of being the youngest aviators to fly across the continental United States.

Flight of Passage, Rinker’s memoir about his airborne voyage, is as good as any adventure story. Recalling both Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Into the Wild, Rinker and Kern sleep under the plane’s wings at night, consort with retired pilots, and inadvertently spend the night in a brothel. As they gain their wings over the changing American landscape, the brothers learn that their conflicting personalities bind them together rather than tear them apart.

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Celebrate Summer With Off the Shelf!

The weekend is approaching, the sun is shining, and Off the Shelf is heading to the beach. We are excited to set up our umbrellas, dig our toes in the sand, and while away the hours with our favorite beach reads. Each of our staff members has selected a favorite beach read, and one lucky reader will win a beach bag stuffed full of books to keep you reading throughout the summer!
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A Hilarious, Fresh, and Unconventional Romantic Comedy

“I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem.” These are brilliant geneticist Don Tillman’s first words to the reader. The “Wife Problem” is not a euphemism for a genetics study or even a personal problem with his wife. No, Don’s “Problem” is that he doesn’t have a wife. Most people would just say “I’m single,” but Don Tillman is not most people.

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A Ferocious and Passionate Defense of Women’s Fiction

Every time I read Unless, I fall into it. Knowing that descriptions like, “It is late afternoon, early October, the sky darkening, and the lights in the old Orangetown Library already on. The smell of waxed floors is particularly sharp at this hour; it must be the heating system that triggers it,” await me, I open it, sigh, and sink into it like a stone into water.

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A Stunning Novel that Captures the Quiet Anguish of the Everyday

Like those of my colleagues and friends in the publishing business, my to-read list lengthens at a daunting pace. There are heaps of books in my office, on my mantel, and on my bedside table, all taunting reminders that I will never conquer the ever-expanding canon of contemporary “must reads.” The towering stacks of reading material that surround me drive me to read ever more voraciously, devouring one book only to immediately toss it aside for the next.

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A Classic Travel Memoir that Explores Interwar Europe

I was a little hesitant to write about A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. The first in a densely written travel trilogy, this memoir includes long asides about Central European architecture, Greek philosophers, Proust, and the differences in wine glasses in different regions of Germany. I don’t care about wine or architecture. I care about Proust . . . but not enough to read him. What I’m saying is, don’t be afraid of this book because you don’t feel classy enough. You are classy! You are reading a literary blog!

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A Profound and Compelling Study of a Fading, Aristocratic Britain

When I first read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, I was barely fifty pages in before I was tempted to hurl the book out the window. The narrator—Stevens, a British butler pathologically devoted to maintaining the dignity and restraint required of his position—was so repressed, so buttoned-up, he was making me crazy. I had never encountered a more emotionally distant first-person narrator. Here he is on his favorite topic: “If one looks at the matter objectively, one has to concede my father lacked various attributes one may normally expect in a great butler.”

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An Intimate and Riveting Saga of Poverty and Urban Life

There’s an age-old saying (and Bruce Springsteen lyric) that you can’t start a fire without a spark. This is often true in literature—sometimes all it takes to create a great story is to find something that inspires you to write it. Though most might think of this saying in the context of novels, I think it’s even more true in the case of nonfiction. In a world dominated by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, how do you write about something happening in the world that people will continue to care about?

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A Witty Satire of Presidents and Insider Politics

A new president is in the White House and the American capital vibrates with the promise of a renewed government, fresh ideas, and bold initiatives. These include declaring the president’s home state of Idaho a nuclear-free zone, launching the National Metrification Initiative to convert America to the metric system, and announcing a visionary proposal to normalize relations with Cuba. While this last example infuriates the nation’s Republicans, it is hailed in Havana as “an example of the wisdom of America’s new leadership.”

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Before Cormac McCarthy: Octavia Butler’s Feminist, Dystopian Novel

In the 1960s, I was a lonely black girl living in California in an almost all-white suburb that my family integrated years before. There was a sprinkling of Jewish families and one Chinese family, but this lower middle-class community was a stubbornly white enclave, and wanted to keep things that way. My family was only able to buy the land to build our house by secretly going through a white front, a buyer who deeded it back to us, since the owners wouldn’t sell to a black family directly. For nine years, there were no other African-Americans in my elementary, middle school, or high school classes.

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