Memoirs and memorable short fiction top mid-January’s newest books.


UNGUARDED
BY LENNY WILKENS AND TERRY PLUTO,
SIMON & SCHUSTER, $25


In a sports world where small accomplishments are wildly inflated by the media and the engines of promotion, Lenny Wilkens has been the opposite. He has usually managed to fly under the radar, and his achievements exceed his celebrity quotient.

Because he is not the creation of a hype machine and his record is so clear and unassailable, what Wilkens has to say about basketball is worth listening to. Unguarded, written with veteran sports journalist Terry Pluto, reveals some of what he has seen and learned from more than four decades of playing and coaching in the NBA.

Some of Wilkens’ most striking observations concern the difference between the kind of player he was and the players he now coaches. Wilkens had to be called out of class to be told he’d been drafted by the NBA; contemporary stars await the call in luxury hotel suites. Wilkens learned a game of pass and move, where today’s players stop and shoot.

His father died when he was 5. Raised by his mother, he worked while attending high school to help pay the family bills, learned about the humiliations of welfare, and stoically endured the indignities of segregation and racism without losing his dignity. He observed the world with acute eyes and learned lessons that he is very good at recalling. There may be NBA coaches who are better known, but none have won more games or written a more compelling memoir. — G.N.

SHUTTERBABE
BY DEBORAH COPAKEN KOGAN
VILLARD, $24.95


Never put a book aside too soon. Or a person, either. Both can surprise you.

Fresh out of Harvard with a Leica, a knapsack full of film, and an attitude, the author sets out to photograph as many wars and horrors and to bed as many men as she can. She succeeds, probably beyond her own dreams, but in the process becomes insufferably smug, selfish, and callous. Blood is spilled, including that of a young Afghan revolutionary blown to bits escorting her through a minefield. All this she takes in with little more thought than what shutter speed and exposure to use, how much she is going to be paid for the pictures, and how they are going to raise her status in the eyes of other photojournalists.

But midway through the book, an encounter in a Rumanian orphanage breaks through that journalist’s armor. And for the first time she begins to take pictures with a deep moral purpose.

When it is not irritating — which is the first, say, 150 pages — this book is moving and, finally, enlightening. Kogan eventually trades in her cameras for the love of a good man and for motherhood. It’s the oldest cliché in the book. Strangely, one cheers her on. —

CALL IF YOU NEED ME
EDITED BY WILLIAM L. STULL
VINTAGE, $13


When Raymond Carver died in 1988, at age 50, the literary world lost a voice as strong and certain as Hemingway’s or Chekov’s. His stories were a pure fusion of form and content, and he achieved the elusive goal of any artist: When you read Carver, you lose consciousness of yourself and the fact that you are reading. You are transported.

Carver’s stories are dark, full of alcohol and failure and betrayal, but they are also undeniably human. So it comes as welcome news that a few had never been published when he died. These have been collected and edited by William L. Stull in Call If You Need Me, and they evoke what Carver stories always evoke — especially the opening piece, “Kindling.” You read with a rising sense of both dread and empathy as a beaten man tries to put his life back together on a woodpile, splitting and stacking. Carver does such dazzling things with simple language that it seems almost like a trick, and the reader laments, once again, his early loss. — G.N.

DEMONOLOGY
BY RICK MOODY
LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY, $24.95


Rick Moody, literary darling of the New Yorker set, is one of the most original young writers around. Quirky, playful, mischievous, even devious, he never bores, though he can test your patience. In this collection of short stories, there are pieces only the most dedicated deconstructionist lit prof could love: a slacker’s life narrated in the liner notes on a boxed set of CDs, a tale of spurned love and resentment spun out in the catalog listings of a rare-book dealer, a murky latter-day fairy tale about a princess and a giant who drives an SUV (what else would a giant drive?).

But you also get these brilliant flashes, moments of illumination, as when a couple of young academics waging gender war are brought low by dumb old nature, or when one of a pair of feuding brothers suddenly tumbles into an insight and something like compassion, or when death visits a Hawaiian-themed party at an exclusive country club.

These pieces probably should be consumed and savored one by one, like sushi, and the plate set aside between bites. Moody can be cold, a bit distant. But he has an uncanny ear for the jargon, slogans, scams, hustles, and sales pitches we live by here in postmodern America.