Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote - I recently read this short novel (it's only about 80 pages!) because some friends and I have started a "Bookfast Club" in which we discuss a book over breakfast. I had never seen the movie and I am so glad I read the book first because Holly Golightly is not at all the Example of Class we all believe her to be. In the book, she is flighty, irresponsible, drunk, shallow, and all too eager to keep the company of terrible (yet wealthy!) men. So then I decided to watch the movie to see how the two stack up...
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Movie) - In the film, the nameless narrator becomes some Ken-like guy named Paul who falls in love with Holly while at the same time taking money from his wealthy female "decorator." Holly is no longer racist like her character in the book, but rather a beautiful waif of a woman who can't commit to any man because she is "too scared." I was amazed at how differently Holly Golightly is depicted in the book versus the movie.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philippe Sendker - A wonderful love story of Tin Win returning to Burma to be with his first love. He lived a great life in New York as an entertainment lawyer with a wife and adult children. One day he just disappears. His daughter finds an old love letter and searches for her father in his native Burma. She will discover things about her father that she never knew and will feel the great love in his heart.
When We Were the Kennedys: A memoir From Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood - A touching story of a family growing up in the 1960's whose father dies the same year as President Kennedy is killed. This is a family saga where you are pulling for this family from page one. The family has a grown son who has his own family, an older school teacher daughter who will change her life for her younger siblings and then three little girls. It is the second youngest daughter Monica who tells the story of her loving childhood and sacrifices made for the family to continue without their beloved father.
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison – Set in the last days of the Romanov Empire, this part love story, part history lesson is told in such exquisite prose that you’re truly left wanting more.
Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan – The author follows Emily Maxwell, an 80 year old widow, through a year in her life. A quiet story of a woman coming to grips with her past mistakes in a world that is becoming more and more narrow. It’s hard to believe this book was written by a man. How is the author able to portray Emily’s emotions and thoughts with such sensitivity? A member of the Library book group commented, “The author was talking about me.” Even though this story is about an elderly woman, there is much here for all of us to learn.
Defending Jacob by William Landay- Could there be anything worse for a parent than to have your fourteen year old son accused of murdering a classmate? On one side, the father does whatever he must do to believe that his son is innocent no matter what. However, his mother has doubts. Protecting their child is obviously what good parents should do but at what point does it cross the line? While I enjoyed reading this book, there were times when I felt the author was asking the reader to accept too much regarding the father’s blind faith in his son.
A Good American by Alex George. This is a wonderful historical fiction story about an immigrant family from Prussia spanning four generations and what it means to be an American.
Quiet by Susan Cain. A fascinating look at the introvert personality. Our society promotes the extroverts, otherwise known as the people of action, while the introverts are looked at as a second class personality type. In this book, Susan Cain shares the introverts unique qualities as cerebral thinkers and the value they play in our society. Remember that Susan Cain will be here on April 19th!
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. From the author of Sister comes another thriller about a mother who will do anything to save her children - one child from a burning building and the second child from being accused of setting the fire.
That Woman: The life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba - What is the fascination after all these years? Anne Sebba is a sympathetic author and describes Wallis as a woman who enjoyed the fling for a time but never wanted to marry Edward and tried to persuade him not to abdicate. She loved her second husband Ernest but unfortunately played her hand badly. This story comes across not as the great romance of the century but two selfish, not too smart, self absorbed individuals who out smarted themselves. It is still a fascinating read!
Heft by Liz Moore - The two main characters in the novel , Arthur Opp at 550 pounds and Kel Keller, are given such wonderful voices that I was rooting for them all they way in this sometimes heartbreaking story. Arthur has given up his job as professor and after gaining so much weight, never leaves his house anymore. He hires an unlikely cleaning person who arrives on his door and opens up the world to him once again. Kel Keller's story runs parallel. He is high school student whose mother once was a student and friend of Arthur. She dies leaving Kel on his own and the reader wondering if Arthur is the father. How and when will their lives intersect?
More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carley Simon by Stephen Simon - From her parents backgrounds right up through Carley's present day this biography certainly is full of details. Who knew Carley's kindergarten music teacher was Pete Seeger? Not a bad way to begin your music career. Did you know that the Simon family had a wonderful summer estate on Newfield Avenue? Carley wrote so many of the wonderful songs we can all sing by heart and in the book the author gives background on how they came about, sometimes too much. Through all her ups and downs, anxiety attacks and marriages all one can say is, what a life. Try reading Girls Like Us by Sheila Weiller too.
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Muller - You will never look at that bottle of olive oil in cabinet the same way ever again. You may even throw it out! This author became an expert in all things EVOO. From the history in medicine, as a beauty aid, and in religion. It covers fraud, deception, globalization and crime in the food industry. Did you know most bottles on our grocery shelves marked Extra Virgin and not? Marked made in Italy, maybe not. You can even get a degree in olive oil tasting. Darien now has it very own olive oil store called the Olivette on the Post Road. After reading this book I believe I'll be visiting it soon.
Pat S.'s Picks:
Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E. L. James. Well, well, well. . . After all the hype, I finally succumbed and took on this trilogy. Essentially, it is a love story with a bit of a twist-the twist being BDSM. It is not particularly well written so stretching out this thin story into three volumes is the real story here.
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedall Smith.This is a well written, and expertly researched biography. For all that, it is painfully dull. Turns out that Queen Elizabeth leads a rather dull and scripted life. If nothing else, you do come away with a clearer view of English history in the twentieth century. Much more interesting, is the current biography of Prince Philip by Philip Eade. Talk about turbulent! His birth family was alternately unbalanced, philandering, and profligate and provided a childhood which was only just short of Dickensian in scope. The fact that he survived it, in fact rose above it, is remarkable. In reading this I came to understand the strong attraction he would have found in Queen Elizabeth's sense of family. Fascinating reading.
The Darlings by Christine Alger. Another story based on the Medoff ponzi scheme-but an excellent one. This is thinly based on the Noel family of the Fairfield Greenwich Group which was in fact the largest feeder fund involved with Medoff. However, this is not an fullscale indictment of people with money but rather a sensitive exploration of how good people can be led astray. Compelling.
Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. Have you ever lost your keys, forgotten where you put your glasses, or have a name on the tip of your tongue but cannot seem to call it up from the depths of your memory? If you are like author and science journalist Joshua Foer (yes, he is the brother of Jonathan Safran Foer) you probably forget everyday things but have some incredibly vivid memories. Why is that? Foer investigates the science behind memory building. His journey begins at the U.S. Memory Championship and propels him into a world that quickly becomes a near-obsession.
Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult by Jayanti Tamm. This poignant and fascinating true story details Tamm’s childhood growing up in the Sri Chinmoy cult. Tamm’s parents, who met in the Guru’s apartment and were subsequently married, violated the rule enforcing celibacy (even between married couples.) Rather than expel the offending couple, the Guru Chinmoy decreed that the unborn child was “The Chosen One.” Thus begins Tamm’s life as a child messiah of sorts living one life within the strict boundaries of the cult and another as a young woman trying to find her identity. Her desire to remain a part of the Guru’s inner circle and her competing will to live a normal life will keep you rapt until the very last page and leave you wanting to know more about this amazing woman.
Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. In this fictionalized memoir, Alice Liddell looks back on her life as, most famously, the inspiration behind Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Alice’s relationship with the author (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) was complicated to say the least. As a thirty-something year old mathematics professor at Oxford, his obsession with seven-year-old Alice would be deemed almost criminal by today’s standards. What is most interesting about Alice was her life after Wonderland and her struggles to define herself as more than ‘Alice.’
“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey ” (2011; 80 minutes). Viewers need not be children, parents, nor Muppet fans to fall in love with the shy, soft-spoken man behind Elmo. Kevin Clash grew up in a rough area outside Baltimore and dreamed of one day working with Jim Henson and the Muppets. Despite the odds and the pressure to do something more typical for a teenage boy, Kevin pursued his passion and has been working as a professional puppeteer ever since. His story is inspiring and unexpected. On Friday, March 9 at 7:30pm Darien Library will be showing the film and hosting a Q&A with the director and a young puppeteer who is featured in the movie.
Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst. This is WASP dysfunction at its’ very finest. Jeanne’s father was convinced he could pull their family out of their gentile poverty and restore their social position by writing the Great American Novel. He moved the family from St. Louis to the North Folk of Long Island to do just that. But for her parents it’s always 5:00 somewhere. When Jeanne grows up, she too discovers that writing can be a salvation but only if she too is willing to put down the bottle. At times side splittingly funny, at other tragic this is a wonderful memoir.
Burn Down The Ground by Kambri Crews. Think The Glass Castle. With deaf people. Kambri is the hearing child of deaf parents. When the book opens she is visiting her father in a maximum security prison. How did he get there? And how do Kambri and her brother overcome their challenging childhoods. This is a fascinating look at a usually closed culture.
The Good American by Alex George. One hundred years in the life of an immigrant family who end up settling in the small town of Beatrice Missouri. This is heartwarming story and its quirky characters will stay with you for a long time after you close the book.
The Darlings by Cristina Alger. This amazing first novel fictionalizes the economic crisis of 2008. The Darlings are a 1% family thrust into a regulatory investigation after a tragic event. Will the family be able to withstand it? The Darlings will be on everybody’s lips this spring and summer.
The Lifespan of a Fact - This book is based on a 2005 essay eventually published in The Believer about a suicide in Las Vegas. The book presents the essay line-by-line with commentary running throughout between the author, the fact-checker, and the editor. It is at times insufferable in the most hilarious of ways. I laughed out loud and then I wondered why journalists go into fact-checking because librarians would just eat this stuff up.
The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac - Kris D'Agostino is the first in our Spring Meet the Author Series. The cast of characters in this dark comedy includes our narrator Calvin, a grad-school drop out living at home doing what many would consider too many drugs. He is the unlikely glue that holds his family together. His 17-year old sister Elissa seems to have it together until she tells Calvin she’s pregnant. His brother Chip is the type of guy who would wear a blackberry in a belt holster and carry a cell phone. His mother has fallen behind on bills in an attempt to pay for his father’s medical expenses as he recovers from an illness that has forced him to leave his job as a pilot. His father carries around a gun at all times.
"8 Women" - This might just be the perfect movie to watch during tonight's predicted snowstorm. Eight women live in a house where a murder has just been committed. Suddenly they're snowed in and the phone lines have been cut. And it's a musical! You'll laugh at the innappropriate humor in this murder mystery right up until the very end. Whodunit? or shall I say Qui l'a fait?
"My Best Friend" - What is the French word for bromance? Frèrance? We'll go with that. François is an extremely rich art collector who thinks money can buy everything. When his colleagues point out that he has no friends, he makes a bet that requires him to introduce them to his best friend in 10 days. As François pays a Parisian taxi driver to parade him around town reuniting with old friends, he comes to realize they all hate him. I won't tell you how it ends, but there is a climactic scene on the set of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Paris versus New York - Based on his blog by the same name, Muratyan, a graphic designer, has created a simple, but elegant, visual comparison of the cities of Paris and New York. Some pairings contrast the differences between two cultures, while others show their similarities: for example, the “bobo dans l’est Parisien” and his Rayban sunglasses is faced by the “hipster on the Williamsburg Bridge” and his Rayban sunglasses. Another pairing shows a church spire with the heading “Quasimodo” and the facing page shows the Empire State Building with the words, “King Kong”. Fun and funny for the Francophile or New Yorker, you won’t want to stop turning the pages.
World War Z - This “oral history” covers the development of the zombie invasion from its mysterious origins in the Three Gorges area of China to the spread of infection across the world to the attempts to contain the walking undead. Told in an interview style by people who experienced the “war” in different ways and places, this is the bloody, no-holds-barred zombie book you’ve been waiting for. After reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead, which is a more literary zombie story (seriously), I was ready to sink my teeth (pun intended) into a gory-er tale and this one hit the spot.
Austenland - For those of us who always wish we could just sink into the pages of Jane Austen’s novels or push through the TV screen into one of her miniseries, well, this book makes you re-think it. Jane is obsessed with Jane Austen’s books, and when a relative bequeaths her a visit to a Pemberley-like house where she will dress and behave as if she were in the Regency period, she can’t wait to go. With a strict house chaperone, a cold possible-suitor, a cute gardener, and a ditzy fellow visitor in the mix, Jane starts to wonder if Austen’s stories are best left in the book. A light-hearted book for romantics and Austen fans.
Just My Type by Simon Garfield. Just My Type is a great title for this entertaining book about fonts. Yes, I used the word font and entertaining in the same sentence. Garfield explores the art and function of type along with the history of font development. How do the letters f and l flow together on the page? Is a certain font readable at high speeds if you are in a car? How about designers going with different fonts (such as the Paris subway system where each stop has its own typeface) or do you prefer the New York City system where the entire system uses the same font? Whatever your preference, fonts are everywhere and this books adds fun and interesting insight into the print world around us.
"Helvetica" -DVD Documentary. Because it wasn't enough for me to just read about fonts, I also watched this documentary on just one font: Helvetia. An indepth look at this commonly used font and its many nuances. Also provides interesting insight into the development of fonts and individual biases. The reasons Helvetica is universally loved and adopted are the same reason it also has haters.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Lisa Abend. Chef Ferran Adrià restaurant elbulli has been praised as the world's greatest restaurant. What intrugued me about the book was less the food than the organizational structure. The apprentices refered to in the title are talented chefs from around the world who pursue the opportunity to work in elbulli for 6 months for no money. They are willing to put their lives on hold and work grueling hours to observe Adrià's methods, learn how to develop recipes, and decide how they will, or will not run their own kitchens some day. Most think it is worth it, but not always.
Catherine The Great by Robert K. Massie. Massie continues to develop our understanding and appreciation for russian history with this latest book. The court of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia comes alive as you learn of her rise to power and enlightened approach to leading her nation.
Burn Down The Ground by Kambri Crews. This memoir opens with Kambri's charasmatic dad writing to her from prison asking for money. Are you ready for some dysfunction? There is plenty of it here. Kambri Crews grew up in Texas the hearing daughter of deaf parents. While there are stories that make you wonder how Kambri was able to successfully survive her childhood, there are also some fascinating insights into the deaf culture. The Deaf Community enjoy a rich culture filled with pride and strong connections making the perfect topic for another book on the subject. Clearly, humor helped Kambri through the rough times. A great book for fans of The Glass Castle and yet another Texas woman Mary Karr, author of Liar's Club and Lit.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. This massive book caught me at page 1 and held me until the end. Playing with revisionist history and exploring the emotional of the assasination of JFK, King provides us with a scenario that asks if we had the power to alter history would we do it? Should we do it? What may seem clear cut decision, often is not.
Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie by Francesca Lia Block.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.
The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery & Nutrion by Laurel Robertson.
How to Cook Everything Veg by Culinate, Inc. (iPad app)
Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List by Conde Nast Digital (iPad app)
Little Princes by Conor Grennan. For readers who enjoyed Three Cups of Tea, this is the story of a young man who volunteers at an orphanage in Nepal, as a sort of self-justification before embarking on further world travels. Nepal is emerging from a civil war, and the 18 children at the orphanage are not actually orphans…they are victims of kidnappers and extortionists. Grennan finds purpose and his own future in the plight of the children, whose smiles and energy will stay with you long after you’ve finished this life-affirming book.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Ever wonder why some people thrive on social activity and others need “down time” to re-charge? It turns out that there are more introverts in the world than you might think – at least one out of every three people meets the criteria. In our culture of celebrity and social media, the value of a quiet, more thoughtful disposition is getting buried. Susan Cain reminds us that our world was built, to a large extent, on contributions from introverts like Rosa Parks and Dale Carnegie. Quiet tells us how we can all live and work more productively by understanding our own selves better, no matter where we fall on the extrovert-introvert scale.
NPR: The First Forty Years. All Things Considered. Fresh Air. Car Talk. Morning Edition. They’ve been mainstays for years, and this new collection gathers the best, by decade, of NPR broadcasts. We move from live commentary on Viet Nam protests in the 70s to the Challenger explosion of 1986, the Clarence Thomas hearings, September 11, and less weighty topics like whether the Wint-O-Green Life Savers candy really sparks when chewed in the dark (it does!). This four-disc CD set is a perfect travel companion through the past forty years of NPR. And no fundraising breaks!
Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Wilder Life (2011) reminded us of the cherished series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, tracing her childhood in pioneer America. Although they’re technically children’s books and classified as fiction, this series taught many young readers about life in the 1800s: log cabins, one-room schoolhouses, primers, prairie bonnets, and so many more details that are remembered by readers years later. The books actually hold up quite well and can be appreciated by adult readers as well. Re-connect with a beloved childhood friend or discover Laura and her family for the first time!
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Anne (note the "e") Shirley is probably the first redheaded orphan in literature. She was a mistake--sent from the orphanage when the Cuthbert siblings really needed was a boy to help around the farm. Instead, Anne wins them over and still 100+ years later, is one of the most resourceful, positive, and is always-getting-herself-into-trouble-and-back-out-again heroines ever written! The entire series is a must-read.
Three Junes by Julia Glass. This is a book divided into three sections which correspond to three different Junes in 1989, 1995, and in the early 2000s. We begin with the Scottish patriarch, Paul, who heads to Greece after his wife dies. He meets and tries to cultiviate a relationship with a young female painter, Fern. Then the book jumps to Paul's gay son, Fenno. Paul's children are gathering at the homestead to prepare for their father's funeral. Most of the book focuses on Fenno. The final section unites Fern with Fenno at a dinner party in the Hamptons. This is a story of misunderstandings, how to survive after a loved one's death, things we never said, and how to keep on living.
The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. In a kingdom divided between the lowlands and the highlands (mountains), there is a mountain village that is famous for the rocks it quarries. In this village is a girl named Miri who desperately wants to help in the quarry but is forbidden. Then the messanger comes -- all eligible girls are to be trained in lowland manners in preparation for being the Prince's bride as ordained by the kingdom's priests. Who will become princess? Who will foil the kidnapping plot? Will Miri find her place in life?
Quick Fix Meals: 200 Simple, Delicious Recipes to Make Mealtime Easy by Robin Miller. When I moved away from home the first time, I needed to learn to eat more than sandwiches. I searched the cookbooks at the local library until I came away with this gem. I wowed my parent with my seemingly complicated but simple chicken parmesan!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. 74 years ago, the thirteen districts rebelled against the Capitol. The districts lost but now they must pay by sending two tributes--teenagers--to fight to the death. There can only be one survivor. For Katniss Everdean, the choice was instinctive when her little sister's name was called, "I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" The movie for this hit series comes out next month.
Madame Toussaud by Michelle Moran (audio book). A fictional account of the life of Mdm. Toussaud from her wax museum in Paris depicting famous people of her lifetime to the "death masks" of the Reign of Terror. A fascinating life of a woman who enjoyed the favor of the royals, the respect of the revolutionaries, and then spent months in prison.
The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow. A nonficiton account of a family-run bridal shop in small town Michigan. An enjoyable read of brides and their dresses through the generations, and a interesting account of the stresses that occur from working with your family and difficult economic times.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. A wonderful book containing time travel, intrigue, and romance. It is a fun ride back in history and you are rooting for Jack/George the entire time.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. 13 year old Connor's mother is dying of cancer. His father lives in America with his new wife. His grandmother hates him. Bullies at school beat him up. His best friend betrayed him. Then one night, a monster comes to his window and offers to tell him three stories in exchange for something Connor might not be able to give: the truth.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When Hazel was 13 she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now 16, a miracle drug has prolonged her life but not changed her prognosis. Believing she's depressed, her doctor sends her to a support group that meets "literally in the heart of Jesus." There she meets August, a hottie in remission who shares her disdain for misuse of the word 'literal.' Heart-warming and heartbreaking, this is a story of life and love in the face of certain death.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. A finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer prize. Dave is 21 when his father dies suddenly of cancer, months before his mother dies after her own three year battle with the disease. As the youngest and least tied-down of his siblings, Dave is left the care of his 8 year-old brother, Toph. By turns angry, anxious, hysterical, and beautiful, AHWOSG is a memoir that stays with you long after you turn the final page.
A Good American by Alex George. A sweet story of Frederick and Jette immigrating to America. Family, Love, and a wonderful cast of charcters. Made me laugh and cry.
Navigating Traps & Maps by Maura Laughlin Carley (local author). Great handbook to help you find your way through health care issues and problems. Transitioning from one health care program to another.
Bomerang: Travels in The New Third World by Michael Lewis. The credit boom told country by country. Mr. Lewis delves into the culture of each country and how differently each came to embrace this phenomenon. I found it hilarious but sad.
"Perfect Host". Perception is not always reality, that being said you should probably be careful about the people who seem unassuming. I found the movie to be disturbing but hilarious. I'm not sure what that says about my sense of humor.
Ed King by David Guterson. An interesting adaption of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. Gutereson took a few liberties with the characters but I think it was fastastic. A new, and fresh take on the Oedipus saga.
Little Children by Tom Perotta. I listened to the audiobook and the characters in this book were so unlikable, I could not relate to any of them but that does not take away from how wonderfully written the book is.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in an Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo: A deep look into the lives of the families of Annawadi, a slum city on a half-acre abutting the Mumbai airport. It brings a new level of meaning to the concepts of hope and courage. Highly recommended.
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons: For those who can't get enough of Downton Abbey, a wonderful story of a young Viennese woman forced to leave her glamourous life in Austria and become a parlor maid at Tyneford House.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: A rich story about the intertwining lives of three students at Brown University in the early 1980s, filled with the requisit existential soul-searching of the times. This is one of our picks for our Spring Book Discussion Series.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman: A disturbingly realistic story of a wealthy family living in New York City. The teenage son, Jake, is at an exclusive private school when he is emailed an explicit video from a girl and forwards it to a friend, who forwards it to a friend, and the video goes viral.
Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals from My Home to Yours by Mario Batali: Mario's newest cookbook, divided into months rather than courses for seasonal cooking. Each month features a couple dishes (usually pasta, his specialty), and then includes one whole meal from appetizers to dessert. Accessible and enjoyable family style recipes - and Mario is hilarious!
No Angel by Penny Vincenzi: The first book of a trilogy, set in London, which starts right before World War I. If you may be stuck inside during a snowstorm in the near future, or on a beach this summer, you should definitely pick this up. Especially if you like Downton Abbey, because it's the same world. One of her newer books, The Best of Times is also a great page turner.