This new guy, Pope Francis, is really starting to shake things up. Unlike some previous popes who I won't mention by name Francis is addressing real issues, things like climate change, economic injustice, and the sexual abuse scandals that have been the long ignored elephants at the Vatican for centuries. Gary Wills is optimistic that Pope Francis will have a very positive impact. Wills is our leading scholar of things Catholic and his prose is direct, pithy, and clear.

George Hodgman was living his life in New York City. Hodgman had been working in publishing for years-he had come a long way from his roots in a small town in Missouri. Then he went back home for his mother's birthday and he stayed. His mother Betty had been fiercely independent for years but on this visit her son had noticed that time was beginning to catch up with her. Although his mother would have probably denied it, she needed her only child to stick around this time, to look out for her. 

This past April marked the 150th anniversary of that great national tragedy, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Harold Holzer is one of our great Lincoln scholars. In this collection Holzer has compiled some essential reading. Here are the graphic accounts of eyewitnesses; people who were at Ford's Theater when Lincoln was shot, a doctor who was there when Lincoln was dying, there's even a diary entry from the assassin John Wilkes Booth. This documentation of a most terrible event makes for some gripping reading.

What is Appalachia? Do you know the answer to that question? The answer might surprise you. Neil Carpathios moved to southern Ohio and was intrigued. He has compiled a collection of poetry and prose with an Appalachian flavor. Listen to this interview and you'll discover the geographic definition of the region and you'll also obtain a feel for the distinctive literary vibes that Appalachia can evoke.

Richard Price is one of our greatest living American novelists. His readers have learned to be patient. Over the last 40+ years Price has published nine novels. He takes his time. It has to be right. But life is expensive and there are always bills to pay. So Price teaches and he writes screenplays, whatever it takes to keep the boiler running. When he decided to write his most recent novel "The Whites" he had hoped to take a different approach. His last book "Lush Life" had come out in 2008.

Love songs have been around forever. They are ubiquitous. If you eliminated every love song from our repertory of music there wouldn't be many songs left. The music historian and musicologist Ted Gioia took on a daunting assignment when he decided to write a history of the love song.

He takes readers back to the origins of the love song at the very dawn of recorded history. This is a fascinating study that is filled with surprises. Love songs are powerful and controversial and inspiring. Perhaps that's why we love them so much.

John Hooper is a British journalist who has spent many years stationed in Italy. He has spent time in the various regions of Italy and has been able to observe Italians up close. He has really gotten to know the Italians; their passions, their quirks, and their idiosyncrasies. 

Late last year I received an advance copy of a novel that was written by an author who was unknown to me. This is not an uncommon circumstance. What was unusual was that this book had a press release which indicated that there was a lot of buzz about it among some people who work in publishing. They were all abuzz about this novel "The Girl on the Train." So I read it and then I got it. I understood.

Alexandra Fuller is one of my favorite writers. Originally she tried her hand at writing fiction. That didn't work out. She could not find a publisher for it. Then she decided to try writing a memoir. That worked. Her memoirs are extraordinary. This latest one, "Leaving Before the Rains Come" is the story of her marriage and how it all eventually came apart. Her marriage had failed. This book is the post-mortem.

The Ramones were one of the most influential of the American punk rock bands of 30 years ago. The band originally consisted of four young men from suburban New York City. They decided to call themselves the Ramones and every member of the band used that name of Ramone. There was Joey Ramone, and Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, and so on.