Welcome to the semi-regular discussion of which bestselling authors are coming out with new books in the near future!

golden prey

First we have the next installment in John Sandford’s prey series, Golden Prey. If you’ve been following this series over the years (this is the 27th book in the series, which started with Rules of Prey in 1989), then all I need to tell you is that this book is about Lucas Davenport’s first case as a U.S. Marshall, a very different experience from his former work in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, where he’s been for years.  Lucas is investigating a robbery of a drug cartel’s counting house which ended up with the killing of six people, including a child, and his investigation brings him into competition with the cartel whose leaders also want to find and deal with the thieves in their own, illegal, ways (considering that one of the cartel’s people is known as the “Queen of Home Improvement Tools”, which is a reference to her favorite means of torture, you can bet things are going to get nasty).  You can count on Sandford to give you a tightly plotted, well-written book you can’t put down, so get ready for Golden Prey (which came out on April 25).

16th seduction

May brings some more familiar names.  James Patterson starts the month off with 16th Seduction, his latest in the Women’s Murder Club series. In this book, Lindsay Boxer is reeling from the discovery of her husband’s betrayal at the same time the case she and her husband broke together is coming to trial, and at the same time that she’s facing a bizarre wave of heart attacks felling seemingly unrelated people around the city, which may or may not be unnatural in origin.  

against all odds

Danielle Steel, who’s lately been publishing books almost as frequently as James Patterson, has another book, Against All Odds, coming out the first week of May.  As with the best of Danielle Steel’s work, this one concerns a family and the relations between a parent and her children.  Kate Madison, the widowed mother of four adult children, has built up her resale shop into a business that supports her and the family, but she has to face her children’s decisions to risk their happiness and perhaps their futures on unlikely and possibly dangerous gambles: one Wall Street attorney daughter falls in love with a criminal defendant she’s representing; another daughter marries quickly and leaves behind her whole life to be with her new husband whom she may not know as well as she thinks she does; one son decides he needs to start a family despite not being financially or emotionally ready to do so; the other son makes a choice with a woman twelve years older that shocks everybody.

the broken road

Also coming in the beginning of May is the first book in a new trilogy by Richard Paul Evans.  The book, The Broken Road, turns on a most intriguing question: what would you do if you had a second chance to live your life, to change decisions you made that set you on the wrong path?  Not that it looks as if Charles James, the protagonist, is on the wrong path: he grew up in poverty and now he’s got everything he ever asked for, wealth, fame, and all the material comforts he could desire.  But appearances can be deceptive, and Charles is really living a lie, coming to realize that the things he has are not the things he should want, and wishing he could change his fate.  And then one day he gets another chance, and the question is, what will he do with it?

into the waves

I personally wouldn’t want to try to follow up a global sensation like The Girl on the Train, but Paula Hawkins has come up with another tale of psychological suspense in Into the Water, also being released at the beginning of May. A vulnerable teenager is found dead, at the bottom of a river that runs through town.  A few months later, a single mother meets the same fate, leaving behind an orphan 15 year old, lonely and friendless, in the custody of her mother’s sister.  This is not a great situation for her: she’s never met her aunt before, and her aunt left the town years before, vowing never to return.  A string of mysterious deaths, hidden secrets, trauma, grief and numerous twists and turns make this book another un-put-downable read.



Thanks to everyone who attended the April meeting of the Field Notes Book Group and engaged in a lively discussion of our last book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As usual, at the end of the meeting we decided on the book for next month’s get-together on May 20 from 11:00 to 12:30.

another brooklyn

The May book we’ve chosen is Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and it is a terrific book, sure to inspire great discussions.  


Another Brooklyn is about memory, what we remember and how our memories shape us. It’s about loss: lost mothers, lost friends, lost innocence.  It’s also about a very specific time and place, seen through the memories of August, now an adult returning to Brooklyn in connection with her father’s death.  A chance meeting with a former friend on the subway brings back to vivid heartbreaking life the time when August was young and first living in Brooklyn in the 1970’s, and becoming best friends with Gigi, Angela and Sylvia.  The book is vibrant with the sights and scents and music of the period (and if you’re of a particular age, that music will bring the era back to you, too), and August and her friends face all the joys of discovering themselves as young women and all the dangers of that discovery.  Specific and universal, Another Brooklyn is the kind of book that remains with you long after you read it.


So come to the library and pick up the reserved copy for the book group, and then join us on May 20 at the Gallery in the Field Library from 11 to 12:30 to talk about August, her life, and this poetic, warm book.  Coffee and refreshments will be served, and we look forward to seeing you there!


the book of joan

Some authors like to do new looks at classic fairy tales, some look for new perspectives on Shakespearean tales, and some authors use actual history as source material for fiction.  In the last category we find the new science fiction book, The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch, which takes the real story of Joan of Arc and transposes it into a post-apocalyptic world.

Admit it, just reading that description intrigued you, right?  What a fascinating idea!

As with many good dystopian novels, this one has as its prelude a series of devastating wars that have changed the earth completely.  In The Book of Joan, the very surface of the earth has become a radioactive battlefield.  The human beings who remain alive are living on a strange platform called CIEL, where they have evolved into sexless, pale white, hairless creatures who inscribe stories on their skin.

A charismatic war leader, Jean de Men, rises above the other bloodthirsty cult leaders to take over CIEL and turn it into a sort of corporate police state.  Along comes a child warrior, Joan, who seems to possess or to be possessed by a strange force that communicates directly with the earth (not unlike the voices of angels and saints the historical Joan of Arc heard), and she galvanizes the group of people rebelling against Jean’s rule.  As so often happens when people stand up against a police state, Joan is martyred by Jean and his armies, but also as so often happens, the result of this act is not what the tyrant expected, and Joan’s legacy is more than anyone, her colleagues, her enemies or even Joan herself, could have possibly imagined (similar to the repercussions of the martyrdom of the historical Joan of Arc).

Post apocalyptic dystopia, issues of gender and sex, love and destruction and questions about what it means to be human: if these are issues that intrigue you, then you owe it to yourself to come down to the Field Library and take out The Book of Joan.



Maybe it’s because the last survivors of World War II are dying off and our society is realizing that a lot of information and personal experiences of that shattering time in world history are disappearing forever, or maybe it’s just a new trend that’s arisen for no other reason than that it’s trendy, but I’ve noticed a lot of World War II related historical novels in the last couple of years, looking at the war from many different perspectives.  In just the last few weeks, two new books have come to the Field Library, each offering a different perspective on the war, from Germany to the home front.

cave dwellers

It’s always at least a little heartening to learn about attempts to assassinate Hitler, even though they (unfortunately) didn’t succeed (and of course it’s a classic time travel trope that someone wants to go back in time and assassinate Hitler; in the excellent Last Year the twist was that a time traveler from the future wanted to assassinate Hitler’s father to keep Adolf from ever being conceived).  The new book Cave Dwellers, by Richard Grant, focuses on one such effort, and even though you know the attempt isn’t going to succeed (this is a historical novel, not an alternate history book), the author still involves you with the characters and turns up the suspense. In late 1937, just before the war officially started, Oskar Langwell is recruited into an effort to kill Hitler by one of Germany’s best counterintelligence officers, who knew Oskar from a patriotic youth league in which they were both involved.  Oskar is sent on a dangerous mission to Washington, D.C., but he is compromised and has to make his way back into Germany without being caught or even noticed.  Crossing the Atlantic with a Socialist expat pretending to be his wife, Oskar is surrounded by Nazis and fellow travelers, his situation becoming more dire and hazardous as he gets closer to Germany.

the liberators of willow run

Turning from the intrigues just before the war to the American home front during the war, we have The Liberators of Willow Run by Marianne K. Martin, which focuses not so much on the B-24 bombers that made such a difference in the aerial battles of the war, as on the lives of the women who left behind the lives expected of them in 1940’s America to work in the factories building those bombers.  The book focuses on the experiences of three women working in the Willow Run Bomber plant in 1943, and how Audrey, a patriotic young woman seeking her own independence as well as Allied victory, Ruth, a single mother formerly working as a waitress, and Amelia, a 15 year old rape victim forced to live in dangerous surroundings, come together and demonstrate their own strength, ingenuity and courage as they do their part for the war effort and help change their own world in the process.


By the way, both these books count in the 2017 Reading Challenge as books about war, and The Liberators of Willow Run also qualifies as a LGBTQ+ romance novel.



when the moon was ours

In a place that feels real and modern but also timeless and universal, there’s a water tower that’s about to fall down, so the townspeople decide to knock it down in such a way that the rusty water flowing out of the broken water tower will do the most good for the plants.  To everybody’s surprise, what emerges with the water is a child, a young girl, terrified and screaming that she lost the moon.  Only a young boy, Sam, is able to approach the girl (whose name is Miel) and calm her down.  This begins the deep and abiding friendship between Sam and Miel, and this begins the absolutely beautiful book, When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore.  That this book happens to fall in the category of “Read a YA or Middle Grade Book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+” is, for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, just icing on the cake.*

Miel is special: aside from her remarkable, even miraculous first appearance in the town, she grows roses from her wrist.  This is never explained, just a given, though there are all kinds of legends and stories about people who have that power, and about what those roses can do for the right person.

Sam is also special: he creates beautiful moons and hangs them throughout the town and surrounding area to reassure Miel that she hasn’t actually lost the moon.  He is the only child of a woman from Pakistan, and he works in the pumpkin fields owned by the Bonner family, where his family’s background in collecting saffron from crocus flowers comes in useful.

As Miel and Sam become friends and more than friends, they run afoul of the Bonner sisters, four beautiful redheaded young women who have never been refused successfully by anyone for anything they wanted. They have picked up all the boys they ever wanted and dumped them, breaking their hearts in the process, relishing their power over the town, even if some people in town call them witches.  Now, however, something has changed.  The sisters are losing their power over the town, and they have decided that Miel’s roses will restore it.  They don’t care whether Miel wants to give them the roses that grow through her skin; they intend to get them, at whatever cost to Miel or anyone she loves.

Everybody in the book has secrets they keep from those they love and those they don’t love, and in the end, those secrets are revealed and save the people who have been holding them.

The book is gorgeously written, the magic amazing and believable, the characters rich and full of depth.  I want to thank Christi O’Donnell for turning me on to this wonderful book, and now I’m paying it forward by recommending the book to everyone who loves good writing and page-turning books.


*This book also counts as a fantasy novel, so it’s a two-fer for those of us doing the Challenge!


As you probably already know, the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes were just awarded for excellence in journalism, arts and letters.  If you would like to read some of the prize winners, you’re in luck, because in the categories of fiction and nonfiction, the winners and some of the finalists are available right here at the Field Library.


The 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention: it’s The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which also won last year’s National Book Award.  I wrote about it then, in this post THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: 2016 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION, and it’s still available as a new book and an express book on our shelves.

imagine me gone

One of the finalists in the fiction category available here at the Field Library is Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (whose earlier book, You Are Not a Stranger Here, was also a finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book awards; always a bridesmaid, never a bride, unfortunately).  Imagine Me Gone looks, with deep sympathy and heart, at what it’s like to live with someone suffering from depression.  The protagonist, Margaret, is on the verge of marrying her fiance, John, when he’s hospitalized for depression.  Rather than breaking the engagement, she decides to marry him anyway and take on the difficulties she knows she’s going to have to face as his wife and the mother of his children.  As time goes on, Margaret and John have three children, including a son who’s both brilliant and deeply troubled, and Margaret’s dedication and love are tested to their limits.

blood in the water

In the nonfiction category of history, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner is Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson.  Widely hailed as the first definitive history of the uprising and its aftermath, the book looks at the prison riot, the siege and the repression that followed from all perspectives, prisoners and hostages, guards, lawyers, politicians, survivors and families of the slain. In the same way that people thought they knew the story of the Columbine shootings before they read the book Columbine, by David Cullen, people think they know what happened in Attica but this book  illuminates all the facts beyond the headlines and brings the time and place to vivid life.

new england bound

A finalist in the history category that’s also here at the Field is New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, by Wendy Warren.  Following in the footsteps of the brilliant American Slavery, American Freedom, Warren’s book traces the influence of slavery as an institution on 17th century New England.  Contrary to the popular notion that slavery in America was exclusively a Southern issue, Warren demonstrates that the Northern colonies wouldn’t have been as financially successful as they were if they hadn’t been deeply involved in the infamous Triangle Trade, and that it was the fruits of the sale of African slaves that formed the foundations of many a lofty New England fortune.  She illuminates the lives of Native Americans sold into slavery in the West Indies by northern colonists, as well as the lives of African slaves in the 17th century.  The book has been described as “the most important work on 17th century New England in a generation,” and evidently the Pulitzer committee agreed.

the return

The Field Library has both the winner and the two finalists in the category of Biography and Autobiography on its shelves.  The winner is The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar, a wrenching book about exile and loss, and the “cunning and persistent hope.”  Matar was a college student in England when his father, a prominent opponent of Muammar Gaddafi,  was kidnapped by Gaddafi’s agents and taken to a secret prison in Libya.  Matar would never see his father again, but 22 years after the kidnapping, when Gaddafi fell and  the secret prison cells were opened, Hisham Matar returned to his family’s homeland with his mother and his wife, attempting to find out what happened to his father.  In The Return, Matar reports on Libya on the cusp of change, and the terrible scars left on a land and a people after absolute rule, along with the personal pain and anger of his family’s suffering and uncertainty.

in the darkroom

Another story of fathers and children and love and loss is Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom, a finalist for the prize in Biography.  Susan Faludi, the author of, among other things, Backlash, sets out to find out the truth about her father, a man who had disappeared from her life for years, but whom she remembered as being violent and aggressive, a man who stabbed someone he claimed was having an affair with his wife in the aftermath of their separation.  Hardly the sort of person, Faludi would have thought, who would have had gender reassignment surgery, but when her father reappears in her life, that’s what Stefanie (formerly Steven, formerly Istvan) has done.  A feminist struggling to reconcile what she thinks she knows about her father with what she’s finding out about her (now that Stefanie has transitioned, I’m using female pronouns), Faludi traces her father’s past in an attempt to find the real person she never entirely knew before.

when breath becomes air

The true story of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, another finalist for the Biography prize, is heartbreaking.  Kalanithi seemed to have it all, or to be on the verge of having it all: he was in his early thirties, happily married, a baby on the way,  Ivy League educated and just about to finish his training as a neurosurgeon.  That’s when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and everything he’d struggled and hoped for was wiped out, and he was left to make sense of the short time remaining to him, and to ask the hardest question of all: given that everyone must die, what makes life meaningful?  If you’ve read (as I have) Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, this is a book you should definitely read, but keep the tissues close.


In the category of general nonfiction, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.  Anyone who’s read the book, or even read excerpts from the book (some of which were published in the New Yorker last year), will have no doubts that this book deserved the award.  It’s an enthralling and terrifying look at the world many of our fellow citizens inhabit, where the cost of renting even a place that’s unfit for human habitation costs most of their income, and they can be evicted for having to call the police to protect them against domestic violence, for complaining to the landlord about problems with the space, or for having children living in the house and acting like children, among other things.  He describes in painful detail the terrible choices people have to make when rent consumes most of their income: skip rent this month and buy food or necessities for your family, or pay the rent and go hungry or go without.  He writes vividly about the court process (where poor tenants are at a huge disadvantage from the get-go) and the actual process of eviction itself, and brings the horrors of the low end housing market to life.

in a different key

One of the finalists in the category of general nonfiction is In A Different Key: The Story of Autism, by John Donvan and Caren Zucker, which is also available here in our library.  If you are at all interested in the autism spectrum, how autism has been described and treated (or not) over the years, this is a book to savor.  The authors discuss the history of the autism diagnosis, how often it was blamed on parents (especially mothers) for their treatment of their children (autism seen as a defense mechanism on the part of helpless children against “refrigerator mothers”), how it’s been blamed on vaccines (also a pernicious idea without basis in fact), and what we now think is the cause.  They also write about the changes in the way people with autism have been seen by society and how parents and family members are largely responsible for those changes.  


So if you want to be au courant with the books the Pulitzer Prize Committee considers the best of the year, come on in to the Field Library and check them out!



If you’ve ever had the experience of dealing with the mental health “system” we have here in the U.S., either for yourself or for someone you love, then you need to read No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America, by Ron Powers.  As a matter of fact, if you are at all interested in how we deal, or don’t deal, with people suffering from schizophrenia, you should definitely read this book, heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measure.

no one cares about crazy people

Powers, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of nonfiction, has a personal interest in the subject matter: he had two sons, both of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia in their early 20’s.  One son committed suicide, the other came close to suicide but managed to survive the worst of the disease.  Half of the book tells the excruciating story of a parent’s nightmare: watching your beloved child suffer from a disease that medicine doesn’t understand and is nowhere close to curing. You know from the outset that Kevin is going to kill himself (Powers tells us this in the introduction), so throughout the story of the young man’s brilliance and talents you are, in some sense, bracing yourself for the horrible end of the story.  Even so, when it comes, it’s heartbreaking.


But this isn’t just a memoir of the loss and near loss of two young men to mental illness.  It’s also an exceptionally well-written story of what we know, and don’t know, about schizophrenia and mental illness in general, and a history of how our society, and its predecessors (all the way through recorded history), has dealt with people suffering from schizophrenia, diagnosed or not.  It’s not a pretty story at all, from the inhumanity of places like Bedlam in England (where not only were mentally ill people — and people who probably weren’t mentally ill but were behaving in a way that diverged from social expectations — treated worse than animals, chained to walls, beaten and subjected to all kinds of ugly treatments, but they were also used as entertainment for rich people who would pay to come and jeer at the crazy people) through the American system that Dorothea Dix fought against on grounds of humanity, through the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill (thanks, former President Reagan, a leader in the California movement) and the promise and abuse of pharmacological means of treating schizophrenia.  He does leave us with a little hope, but the hope depends not just on a change in science (some of which is already underway), but on a change in social attitudes, which seems less likely.  


The book is appalling and enthralling in equal measures.  It’s not a fun book to read, but it’s incredibly well-written and the subject matter is extremely timely and important.  If you or anyone you love has been caught in the toils of our unnecessarily complicated and difficult mental health system, this is a book you want to read.



Dystopian fiction has a long and honorable history, and lately it seems as if there’s more and more of it available and it’s increasingly popular.  Consider the new popularity of 1984 and It Couldn’t Happen Here, the television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale, and the box office (and book sale) success of the Hunger Games series and the Maze Runner and Divergent series.  Whether you’re interested in dystopian fiction to remind yourself that things could always get worse or because you feel the world is turning into a kind of dystopian novel itself, we have two new dystopian novels that imagine very different kinds of futures.

the book of etta cover

The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison, is set in the aftermath of a plague that nearly destroyed humanity. Now, women are scarce and childbearing, while necessary to the future of humanity, is incredibly dangerous. Mothers and midwives are revered, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good world for women in general. Etta, the protagonist, is a scavenger, someone who lives outside the protection of the village, finding useful and potentially valuable things left by the civilization now gone.  Of course, being outside the village puts her in danger from slave traders who are on the hunt for women to seize and sell.  When some of the people she loves are captured by slavers, she sets out to find them and rescue them, a trek which takes her to the stronghold of a local tyrant, known as the Lion.  There she has to use her wits and determination to survive and save the lives of those she cares about, and perhaps the rest of the society as well.

american war cover

There’s also a plague in the background of American War, a debut novel by Omar El Akkad (and yes, this counts as a debut for those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge), and there’s also a young woman’s journey at the heart of the book, but it’s a different future and a different journey.  The Second American Civil War took place in 2074, and Sarat Chestnut, born in what was then Louisiana, was six years old at the time. Half the state is under water, drones fill the skies, and oil is outlawed.  When her father is killed, Sarat and the rest of her family are moved to Camp Patience, a sinister camp for displaced persons, where, ultimately, she falls under the sway of a mysterious stranger whose goal is to turn Sarat into a deadly weapon.  The story is told by her nephew, years later, looking back on the horrors of the past and especially the dark secrets of his aunt, who destroyed untold lives while saving his.  


If you’re the kind of person who hears those arguments about the inherent differences between men and women (Men are from Mars! Women are from Venus!) and how they are based on the way evolution shaped us to behave in certain ways because of hunter gatherer societies (men are polygamous! Women are monogamous! Men are risk takers, hunting for mammoths! Women are risk averse because they take care of babies!), and your first thought on hearing things like this is, “Wow, that is a really stupid argument,” have I got a book for you!

testosterone rex cover2

It’s called Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society, it’s by Cordelia Fine, and she goes after that argument with gusto, vigor, snark and tons and tons of facts.  By the time she’s finished, you find yourself wondering how anyone could believe the “Just So” stories some evolutionary psychologists tell about differences between men’s and women’s brains and behavior, let alone the reasons behind such supposed differences.


Systematically and with vast amounts of evidence to back up her statements, the author takes apart every phase of this argument, which is so pervasive most of us don’t even realize how many other arguments about the nature of men and women are based on these false or misleading ideas about the importance of testosterone in making us who we are.


Is there one “natural” way males and females behave throughout the animal kingdom? No?  Then how about through the world of primates? No?  Then how about through the world of human beings?  No?  Fine gleefully demolishes these assumptions with plenty of examples of animals, primates and even human societies where what we think of as the natural relations of the sexes are turned upside down.


In addition to showing how complicated testosterone’s effects on behavior is throughout the animal kingdom and how surroundings and other circumstances are not only likely to affect an animal’s behavior but also to affect the amount of testosterone coursing through the animal’s body, Fine reminds us of the ways in which human beings are different from other animals, how our cultures shape our behavior as much as our biology.  You wouldn’t think it would be necessary to reiterate all these obvious things, but it is, and if it has to be done, you could hardly find a better guide, a more erudite or entertaining one, than Cordelia Fine in Testosterone Rex.


Alexander McCall Smith is great fun to read.  His fans, of which there are legions, can choose from several different series to which he’s frequently adding: The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series (with the impressive Mma Ramotswe at the heart of the books), the 44 Scotland Street series (with the memorable characters of that location, including young Bertie Pollock and his horrid mother, Irene), the Sunday Philosophy Club series (starring Isabel Dalhousie), the Corduroy Mansions series (featuring the most memorable terrier in fiction, Freddy de la Hay).  As if that weren’t enough, he’s also written a number of stand-alone books with equally quirky characters and gentle humor, including his latest, My Italian Bulldozer.

my italian bulldozer cover

Writer and protagonist Paul Stewart has a problem: he’s supposed to be finishing this cookbook but he can’t seem to get focused on the project.  He gets the brilliant idea of getting away from it all, and going to the lovely small Italian town of Montalcino.  There, far from the stresses and distractions of city life, he’s sure he will be able to concentrate and finally finish the book.


However, simplicity is not his fate.  He arrives at the airport, ready to pick up his rental car and head to the town, and discovers to his horror that there is no car reserved for him, his reservation having somehow disappeared into the ether. And whereas in a large airport he might be able to find another car to take him to town, this is not that kind of airport, and Paul is afraid he’s going to be stuck in the airport (hardly an escape from stress and hardly a good place to concentrate on writing a cookbook) forever.  A helpful stranger offers him an alternative: a bulldozer. A BULLDOZER?  Paul doesn’t have a lot of options here, so he agrees to drive the bulldozer to his new temporary home, and thus begins a series of near disasters and misadventures as he attempts to make his way through the Italian countryside on this not very practical conveyance.


Prepare for laughs and a new view of traveling and making the best of your circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be.  McCall Smith is a past master at finding the humor and the humanity wherever he turns his sights, so come along for the ride.