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What We're Reading: A Historical (and Alternative) Marriage

Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux

From Denise Richards dining with her ex-husband and his, uh, "lady-friend" to Christina Aguilera's alleged girlfriends on the side, it seems that "alternative" marriages are everywhere these days, for better or for worse. But in reality, these things go wayyyy back — in fact, the great Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had a partnership that defied societal norms in their day (and probably even today). Bet ya didn't know that. Learn more in one of the books we're reading this week.

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

Author: Hazel Rowley, a London-born biographer.

Genre: Juicy-yet-inspirational bio

What Happens: From FDR's lifelong romance with another woman to Eleanor's alleged lesbianism, the Roosevelts' marriage is one of the most scrutinized in American history — but it's also one of the most celebrated, as both partners were some of the greatest, most influential people ever to grace our nation (or the White House, for that matter!). Rowley presents a groundbreaking new history of their relationship, the ups, the downs, and everything they accomplished together.

When to Read It: When you need some reassurance that, yes, even the greatest marriages can be a little weird.

Details: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, November 2

The True Memoirs of Little K

Author: Adrienne Sharp, author of White Swan, Black Swan (the basis for the upcoming creepy ballet movie with Natalie Portman!).

Genre: Fictional "memoir"

What Happens: 100-year-old Mathilde Kschessinska sits down to write her life story — and what a life story it is. She was the prima ballerina of the Russian tsar's Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg — but her relationship with the tsar went further than that (Can I get a bow chicka bow wow?). Sharp brings the last days of the Romanov empire to fascinating, sexy light through the eyes of Mathilde ("Little K").

Why Read It: We all need a little reminder that our elders' stories are worth listening to (though they may not all be quite so juicy, of course).

Details: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, November 2


Author: Mary Troy, the director of the MFA program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Genre: Novel about beauty, family, and running a business

What Happens: The beautiful Shelly, a divorced woman in her mid-thirties, moves in with her unattractive (and one-legged) cousin Bev, and they try to run a struggling cafe. While Shelly works to find healthy relationships based on more than just her beauty, Bev confronts her desire for motherhood.

Why Read It: It's a complex story about how our appearances shape our lives — and it's already gained notice in the book world (USA Book News gave it the "Best Books" award for literary fiction last week, before the book even came out!).

Details: BkMk Press of the University of Missouri-Kansas, $16.95, November 1

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