Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Louisa May Alcott’s hidden life uncovered on PBS, Nick Hornby’s latest novel, ‘Juliet, Naked,’ a new Sondheim revival on Broadway, and more.


Alcott’s other life

The world knows Louisa May Alcott best as the author of the beloved children’s classic “Little Women.” But in this PBS American Masters special, biographers lift the veil on a literary double life. Not only did she pen purple prose under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, but Alcott was also a free thinker who took lovers years her junior and was an abolitionist from childhood. “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind ‘Little Women’ ” airs on Dec. 28 at 9 p.m.

Decoding conundrums

Intriguingly cryptic and intellectually rewarding, “Typographic Conundrums” is a high-class gift for fans of Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Spend hours poring over 171 sleekly designed mind puzzles from graphic designer Harry Pearce. If you can decode “GERNEVEYN,” this book’s for you.

A pop-culture virtuoso

British writer Nick Hornby returns to the themes – love and music – that won him legions of fans, as he sends a fanboy obsession through a midlife crisis in his latest novel, “Juliet, Naked.” Museum curator Annie is sort of content with Duncan, a professor whose claim to fame is being an expert on reclusive rocker Tucker Crowe. Tucker, who hasn’t written a song since 1986, would have lapsed into blessed obscurity if the Internet hadn’t empowered his 12 remaining fans. Now, an unplugged version of his last album, “Juliet,” has been leaked, and both Annie and Duncan have reviewed it. Melancholy and wry humor ensue after Tucker strikes up an e-mail friendship with Annie, and not his biggest fan.

Kennedy Center kudos

The 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors, which air Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. on CBS, celebrate the contributions of Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen. It’s hosted by Caroline Kennedy, and performers and presenters range from Jack Black to Herbie Hancock to Meryl Streep.

Minisub surfaces

World War II buffs know that era is still chock-full of mysteries and tales to be told. The latest revelation as detailed in NOVA’s “Killer Subs in Pearl Harbor,” premièring on Jan. 5, 2010, at 8 p.m., is by any standard a big fish: the fifth and final Japanese minisubmarine that fired its torpedoes during the battle on Dec. 7, 1941. NOVA scientists made the find during a routine test dive and assembled a team of Japanese and US military forensic scientists and historians to piece together the story of this tiny two-man submersible that glided on its kamikaze mission and remained hidden for more than 70 years, 1,000 feet below the surface.

Sondheim’s ‘Night’

Broadway’s latest Stephen Sondheim revival, the Tony Award-winner “A Little Night Music,” is a melancholy comedy set in a country house in turn-of-the-century Sweden. Its rueful romantics include a love-scarred actress, Desirée Armfeldt (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose career is on the wane (she sings the classic “Send in the Clowns”), and her wheelchair-bound mother, Madame Armfeldt (the unstoppable Angela Lansbury) (

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