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Off the Books
On Literature and Culture

J. Peder Zane

An exploration of American culture and politics through the literary lens of a book review editor

Head "off the books" in this collection of newspaper columns, where J. Peder Zane uses classic and contemporary literature to explore American culture and politics. The book review editor for the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer from 1996 to 2009, Zane demonstrates that good books are essential for understanding ourselves and the world around us. The columns gathered in Off the Books find that sweet spot where literature's eternal values meet the day's current events. Together they offer a literary overview of the ideas, issues, and events shaping our culture—from 9/11 and the struggle for gay rights to the decline of high culture and the rise of sensationalism and solipsism. As they plumb and draw from the work of leading writers—William Faulkner, Knut Hamsun, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Lydia Millet, and Philip Roth among others—these columns make an argument not just about the pleasure of books, but about their very necessity in our lives and culture.

J. Peder Zane was the book review editor and books columnist for the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, for thirteen years. His writing has won numerous national honors, including the Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Before joining the News & Observer, Zane worked at the New York Times. A former board member of the National Book Critics Circle and current chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, Zane is the editor of and has contributed to Remarkable Reads:34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading, and The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books and is coauthor of Design in Nature.

"Off the Books belongs on the arm of your favorite reading chair by the winter fire or the deck chair of your beach getaway. Peder Zane celebrates reading and writers, in the clean conversational prose of an unabashed lover of books—and makes the reader love them with equal adventuring joy."—Philip Gerard, author of The Patron Saint of Dreams

"The book review is an endangered genre in journalism, a particular victim of the travails of the industry as a whole. Peder Zane's collection of reviews and commentary reminds us what a smart, sympathetic, insightful reviewer can do by way of engaging us with the best of current and classic literature. A delightful read on its own, and a gateway to the great world of books beyond."—H. W. Brands, University of Texas at Austin

"When zippers were invented, Peder Zane would have written about buttons. Same with pencils when ball point pens arrived. In Off the Books, Peder writes with deep love about books, authors, characters, and the art of reading, all the while teaching us about ourselves and our culture. This book is inspiring, warm, and funny."—Clyde Edgerton, author of Pappadaddy's Book for New Fathers and Walking Across Egypt



book jacket for Off the Books


5 ½ x 8
256 pages
ISBN 978-1-61117-508-0
paperback, $22.95t

ISBN 978-1-61117-509-7
ebook, $19.99t

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