You Are What You Read

You Are What You Read!

Hosted by Jen Dayton
Hosted by Jen Dayton

I don’t know about you all but I am exhausted.  This new load of frozen from the sky has just about done me in.  Native Americans called tonight’s full moon The Full Hunger Moon.  Could it have been better named? I know I am not alone in being starved for some sun, the chance to show off a newly polished toe and a brisk stroll along a clean sidewalk.  The Traveling Companion who is home now assured me that the warmer climes would not have made me happy because, “it was a little humid.”  I was kindness personified and  let him live.  As if this week weren’t hard enough, we also have Valentine’s Day to deal with; a day fraught with ridiculous expectations, overpriced half dead plant material and bad restaurant meals.  Erin, Stephanie and I curate a collection all year long to counterbalance this.  It’s a little something we like to call 4-Ever Alone. This is a list of books and DVDs that we feel are full of cautionary material.  So please, enjoy and in the true spirit of the day do a kindness, give someone a hug, make a child happy and consume some worthy chocolate.  I am confident that Sweet Ann would totally endorse this message.  This week we have some romance, a major victory, tragedy, a cross roads, some serious sadness, a hijacking, and a brain tumor.   And we can’t forget The Playlist!

Let us begin!

You Are What You Read!

Hosted by Jen Dayton
Hosted by Jen Dayton

With the snow and ice and cold it seems that we are truly in the midst of the Hellidays.  We have noticed that we are a lot less busy and we are chalking it up to the fact that you all are out there shopping, baking a cookie and decorating your hearts out.  The message from the SoNo Loft remains the same: Santa ♥’s U!  I am wondering if it is going to stick for the season.  I do love the touch of whimsy that it brings to my commute.  So if you are out there, I thank you for it! Sweet Ann is too busy getting festive to impart any profound words of wisdom it would seem, but she would like to remind us to smile and enjoy the season. But I think you will see from what we are consuming this week that there is not a whole lot that is Merry and Bright going on.  For those of you who are fans of the wonderful 3M Cloud Library please be aware that Simon and Schuster, the last publishing hold out for selling digital content to libraries has become available!  Speaking of digital content keep your eyes open for more digital excitement to be announced on Monday. This week we have prison, horror, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, New York, ephemera, the New Deal, and London.

Let us begin!

You Are What You Read!


Welcome to the Halloween version of You Are What You Read.  Frequent Visitors know that nothing and we do mean nothing, creeps us out quite like a doll, with the possible exception of clowns.   So in the spirit of the upcoming Holiday,  our theme for this week’s playlist is just that Creepy Dolls. The accompanying visual is actually of two creepy dolls that paid a visit to my desk earlier in the week.  In a version of “pay it forward” the dolls proceeded to migrate all over the library.  No one was happy to see them despite the fact that they are Creepy Dolls without Teeth.  Frequent Visitors know that this is the worst type of doll that we know.  Just the same, they were sort of our version of Riders of the Apocalypse.  If they appeared in your work space you just knew no good was going to follow. On a happier note Sweet Ann’s Words of Wisdom for the week are these:  “Let it go with a smile.”  She is concerned that we may all be carrying too heavy of a load.  Part of the load that Sweet Ann is carrying is the fear of my mood for the next week.  I will do my utmost to maintain my cheery self.  This week we have water, tea, more water,  gridiron and a little heartbreak !

Let us begin!

Barbara M. is not one to let anything stand in the way of her WW II obsession.  Carry on Barbara M!  “I’m reading The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown in preparation for a book discussion I’m doing with Sweet Ann on Wednesday, November 20th. It’s a compelling story about the American rowing team which won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The book focuses on one crew member, Joe Rantz, a young man who endured many hardships growing up. It’s easy to compare this book to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand as they are both about underdogs succeeding against insurmountable odds. The one thing that disturbs me is the author’s use of quotes without citations in a work of non-fiction. The author not only puts words in the mouth of the characters but also interprets their thoughts and describes their actions in detail. I’ve been told that this makes it a much more readable book, but, I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly captivated by the story and am learning how much team work and strength it takes to be a part of a crew.”

Jeanne is just doing one thing this week.  I am concerned. “I am reading and enjoying Mission in A Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently and Succeeding by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff. The wonderful graphics are illustrated by Sungyoon Choi. Goldman and Nalebuff are two very smart guys, the first a student; the second his professor. Back in the nineties, Seth was frustrated at not being able to find a bottled drink that was healthful, tasty and not over-sweetened. He approached Barry, a tea aficionado, with his ideas. This book tells the story of their thinking and creative processes and their foray into the beverage industry that led to the manufacturing of Honest Tea. You can now find it in a store near you. Honestly.”

Sweet Ann is happily ensconced in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. “ I am not finished this book yet but it is wonderful and I can't recommend it enough.  The novel alternates chapters told by sixteen year old Nao who lives in Japan and Ruth a middle aged woman who lives with her husband on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest.  Ruth has discovered Nao's diary which was carefully packaged and protected when it washes up on the beach.  She doesn't realize the content of the bag until it is opened.  From the opening line of the diary, to the other contents of the container, Ruth as well as the reader is mesmerized. Nao is a very unhappy person and Ruth is drawn to her and wants to find out if she survived the 2011 tsunami.  As a reader you learn much about Nao's life, her torturous school days, her love of her father and her wonderful great grandmother who is a Buddist nun.  With Ruth you learn about a woman who has made sacrifices and compromises in her life and is questioning her decisions.  It's a wonderful read and I will be sad when I finish their story.”

Steph who was also visited by The Dolls this week is confident about what she is reading!  “This week I have been reading Collision Low Crossers by Nicholas Dawidoff, after hearing Pat S. rave about it. I have been just as taken in as she was! Though I grew up rooting for the Eagles, I have no feelings one way or the other about the Jets, but Dawidoff’s story of his year with them is fascinating. If football is, as many say, the soap opera for men, then this book is the juicy behind-the-scenes look at how the soap opera gets written and produced. I haven’t quite finished it yet but suffice it to say, I spent an extra hour on the train today and barely noticed we were running late—that’s how engrossed I was. This one will be big when it’s released in November.”

Now that the weather is cooler I am back to the Blow Dry and this means that I am back to having a Blow Dry Book (henceforth known as BDB).   For those who are Not Frequent Visitors a BDB is literally a book I read while I blow dry my hair; a chore that I find to be such a bore that there needs to be a book to help it along.  There are rules for the BDB:  It must have shortish break points (the Blow Dry is not a forever activity letters are normally perfect in this regard), it has to be well written (who wants to waste time with drivel), and the story has to be compelling (so that you remember the story line from day to day).  Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson has been my Blow-Dry companion and it fits all the perfect Blow Dry Requirements.  Janie Ryan is the narrator of what a story that is equal parts funny, and heartbreaking.  From the moment Janie is born to her teen mom in 1980’s Great Britian, there is nothing but trouble.  The pair is homeless practically from the start and when you throw in drug use, depression and alcoholism you are in for some pretty bleak times.  But Hudson’s writing and humor also allow you to feel the love and unbreakable bonds between mother and daughter.  This one comes out in February.

DJ Jazzy Patty McC. spins a tale dark, creepy and toothless. “This week I have no words to share.  I only have music and two very creepy dolls.”

Jen List of Wonderful for 2013

Here is the list thus far for 2013.  They are not in any particular order.  That would feel like asking me to name my favorite child!

You Are What You Read!

Hello, Darien readers--Stephanie here, filling in for Jen this week. Lots of great books for you this week as it seems the long weekend gave our librarians an excuse to read widely, and they snapped that excuse right up!

Amanda had a Vampire Weekend (no, not the band!) by watching “The Vampire Diaries” and reading Beth Fantaskey’s book, Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. "I read Fantaskey’s book with the mindset that it was lightly mocking the Twilight books which made this book laugh out loud funny. I am unsure if that was the author’s intention, but it helped set the pace as I read this 384-page novel in one sitting. Jessica is a farm girl who finds out that her birth parents betrothed her to a Romanian vampire prince, Lucius, to stop a war. Moreover, she is also a vampire princess. Unlike other heroines who would be swept away, Jessica stonewalls Lucius. She’s determined to live a normal life. The great thing about this book is that both Jessica and Lucius develop and grow as characters. Lucius goes from overbearing pampered royalty to a fighting for what’s right. Jessica faces up to her difficult destiny and demonstrates maturity. The book concludes with a heart pounding confrontation between herself and Lucius.  I loved this book because it does some real world building with relatable characters."

Elizabeth really liked The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill, a novel about Hannah Gardner Price, who has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman's path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different— and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman. "I really liked it, and I think it should really appeal to our Darien female audience because of the Nantucket connection. It was really enjoyable to read about Nantucket in the mid-1800's even if it wasn't the greatest time to be a woman there...the landscape is almost a character....Good story, and lovely writing style...."

Barbara M. is balancing two dark books. "I’ve just started reading The Island by Victoria Hislop because I liked her most recent novel, The Thread. What attracted me to this book was its subject, a leper colony on an island, Spinalonga, off the coast of Crete. The story’s premise is good and revolves around a young woman’s search for her family’s roots.  The writing is prosaic and the characters are sometimes one dimensional but what may redeem this book for me is the author’s description of Crete (she is a travel writer) and its history. I’ve also started The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon which describes his battle with the disease. It’s beautifully written but Solomon’s pain is so raw that it’s difficult to read too much of the book at one time."

Miss Amy read a book that she warns is not a new one, but it is a good one: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Fine by us, they don't all need to be new! There's a reason we keep these books in the stacks for nice long lives.

Pat Sheary just finished a book that I loved as well but was scared to recommend to people, so I'm glad to have a partner in crime: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. "Based loosely on the Justin Bieber story, this is a coming-of-age tale set within the framework of celebrity and stardom. Jonny Valentine is an 11 year old musical genius whose looks and talents have captured the fickle American public-in a big way. As told in first person narration by Jonny, we watch as he navigates a cross-country tour, endless label marketing meetings to extend his 'brand' (HIMSELF), and a mother/manager archetype occasionally showing flashes of genuine love and concern . Attempting to please these factions, in addition to the ever-present  fanbase, Jonny is trying to  figure out friendship, sexual exploration, and a missing dad. Jonny is funny, ironic and heartbreakingly touching at every turn. I thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyed this read."

Pat Tone is gearing up for our next First Look Darien event. "I am in the middle of Indiscretion by Charles Dubow and enjoying this page-turner. Claire, a pretty, ambitious young lady is introduced to an attractive couple, Harry and Maddy Winslow, who enjoy entertaining guests in their East Hampton home. Claire is drawn into the orbit of the Winslow's happy family life and soon seduces Harry and betrays Maddy's trust. This is a debut novel of love and deception and the author will be visiting Darien Library on March 7th!"

Ann has been lurking in Paris with The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. "As a fan of historical fiction I was drawn to this book by the story and quite honestly the by cover.  The story starts a little slowly but once it got going I felt it became a page turner.  This novel is a fictionalized account of the Van Goethem sisters in 1878 Paris.  Their father dies and the family becomes desperate for money. Antoinette the oldest sister used to dance at the Paris Opera but was dismissed when she did not cooperate.  She then becomes a laundress and also gets a job acting.  Marie and Charlotte are sent to the Paris Opera where they will dance and earn salaries.  The girl's mother works as a laundress but has a severe drinking problem.  This novel is told in the voice of Antoinette and the voice of Marie.  Antoinette will get involved with a murderer who will have devastating effects on her and those she loves.  Marie will become a model for Degas, and in real life immortalized in the statue of Little Dancer Aged fourteen.  Marie has a very difficult childhood and must grow up quickly.  This novel brings to life the culture of poverty and what people will endure to survive.  As a reader you will be caring and cheering for the Van Goethem sisters."

Jeanne is listening to Defending Jacob by William Landay. "It's read by Grover Gardner and I can understand why he has been the narrator for so many books and won so many awards. He reads like he is the character; not just a narrator. Gardner's voice is at once confessional, personal and engaging. I have read and heard many favorable reviews of Defending Jacob and am anxious to find out the mystery behind the book's title."

Abby is having one of those no-good weeks when the books are being difficult. "I've been having a hard time finding a book to really dig into. So, for my latest read I looked on the shelf and saw the name Brad Meltzer. I thought, oh, they say he's a nice guy, so I grabbed it. I don't recommend selecting books based on the author's niceness quotient. It's not a very good book. The Fifth Assassin follows Beecher White. Beech is an archivist who works in the National Archives and is revealed early on as a member of a centuries old secret society dedicated to protecting POTUS. My dislike for the book extends beyond my usual obsession with having to read books in sequence. Had I read book one, I still would not like this book. It's basically a conspiracy theory book ala Dan Brown. Meltzer's character development may be better than Brown's, but that's not saying much. What saves it are the interesting snippets about presidential assassinations and the men who committed them."

As for myself, I finished Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates. I read everything she writes, for some unknowable reason. This one was a quick read, revolving around a man, Daddy Love, who kidnaps young boys to keep to abuse and call his sons. Not uplifting at all, but very well-written and well-paced. I didn't like it as much as her other 2013 book, which comes out next month (The Accursed), but it is perfect as a novel with that creepy true-crime feel.

You Are What You Read!

The sun is out and we seem to not nearly be so sad this week.  Of course this does not mean things are “normal”.  Not by a long shot. This week we have some vicious depression, unhappiness, some harrowing experiences, an obituary, gauche behavior, Nazis (of course), tearing up, and a surprising cup of tea.

Let us begin.

Erin is almost done with Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. “It is told from the perspective of a 26-year-old woman living with her parents who takes a job as a companion to a 35-year-old quadriplegic. She is told her services will only be needed for a six-month span but she isn’t quite sure why. The quadriplegic, Will, is viciously depressed at how his life has changed so drastically. Over time, the two start to form a friendship. At this point in my reading I am pretty sure the book can end in 1 of 2 ways and I am eager to know which way it’s going to go. Regardless, the novel brings up interesting questions about euthanasia, living your best life, and overcoming scars from the past.”

Here is Ann’s take on Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. She seems a little happier over last week.  But not by much. “This is the heartfelt story of Louisa Clark and Will Traynor.  Lou Clark is twenty- six and stuck in her life by an event that happened to her when she was younger.  She is content to work at a cafe and live in her small girlhood bedroom with her parents.  When her job ends abruptly she becomes the paid companion to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic, who was injured in an accident at the height of his  fast- paced career and life.  Will is trapped in his life, wheelchair bound and unhappy.  After some initial difficulty, Will and Lou begin to enjoy their time together and their lives become larger.  Decisions will impact their lives in ways they can't predict.   This is a wonderful book with beautifully written characters that will remain with you long after their story is finished.”

Caroline is in a soothsayer kind of mood. “I just finished Above All Things, by debut novelist Tanis Rideout. It is coming out February 12, so place your holds now!  Set in 1924, England, this novel is based on a true story in which George Mallory departs for his third attempt to summit Mount Everest.  His wife, Ruth, is left home in Cambridge with his children, and the page turner switches back and forth between George's harrowing experiences on the mountain, and Ruth's ordeals at home, where she receives very sporadic updates on his progress.  Not as technical as a book like Into Thin Air, this story is about mountain climbing in the way that The Art of Fielding is about baseball, and much like The Art of Fielding.  I predict it will be enjoyed by both men and women. “

Abby has just finished the engrossing memoir After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey.” Growing up in Chicago, Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on the door and informed the family their father Bob, a well-respected newspaperman, had died.  The sentence of the obituary that stuck with Michael was he died ‘after visiting friends. ‘Fast forward 30 years or so, and we meet Michael as a grown man, also a journalist, determined to learn what really happened to his father that night. The obituaries seemed to offer a hint that things were not as they were written. Michael's mom, not a big talker on even the lightest of subjects cannot help Michael on his quest for the truth, and Bob's journalist friends from the newspaper fraternity all clam up when questioned.  Maybe the truth isn't always as healing as we'd like to believe. “

Barbara M. still no Nazis, still no Paris.  Yes.  I am concerned and you should be too.” I’m reading Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson the absorbing story of the implements we use for both cooking and eating. For example, the reason it's considered gauche to cut lettuce in a salad is because the carbon steel blades of earlier knives interacted unfavorably with vinegar turning the blades black and giving an unpleasant taste to the salad.”

John however has Nazis and he says, “Having just finished Winter of the World, which is a wholly respectable sequel to Fall of Giants, I decided to stay with WWII for a bit longer and delved into HHhH, which says it's a novel, but it's not really. Not quite.  The book is about the two Czech parachutists who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Nazi SS, and chief architect of the Holocaust. Also known as "The Butcher of Prague", Heydrich, after Hitler himself, is probably the most evil man who has ever been born.  Much of this book is dedicated to filling in details of his life and his ascent to power.  HHhH, incidentally, stands for "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" or "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich".  This is "not quite" a novel because it's really almost non-fiction.  Large portions of the book are given over to simply relaying the facts, and as the author, Laurent Binet, does this, he slips into fictional narrative--perhaps crafting some dialogue or setting the scene.  He does this with characteristic French angst, hating himself for having to resort into "imagining".  It's quite amusing, actually, and the effect is that he crafts a work that is unlike anything I've read before--a fiction/non-fiction hybrid that brings to life one of World War II's more obscure episodes.  Binet's obsessive dedication to accuracy ensures that anyone reading this work will experience a version of the events that is as close to the truth as one can possibly get.’

Jeanne is loving her current read.  So she is happier this week than she was last.  I am happy for her!  “ Louise Erdrich is a master storyteller. She is of German and Native American descent and many of her books are set on and around a Midwestern reservation, as is this one. The Round House, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for fiction, is part mystery, part Native American legend, and part testimony slash confession. Antone Bazil Coutts, aka Joe, is a precocious 13-year old living on this North Dakota reservation in 1988. His mother is brutally raped and the family is changed forever. Joe wants his family’s life back and he goes to great lengths to seek revenge. Erdrich’s writing, as always, is beautifully heart-felt and personal and makes me tear up, smile and shake my head. Just the way I like my books!”

Marianne is driving around town listening to Falling Man by Don Delillo. “I’ve never read anything by this author before and even though he's highly regarded, I didn't think his subject matter was my cup of tea.  Surprise of surprises I really liked this book.  The main part of the story follows the lives of one family on the day of and immediately following the 911 attack.  It's a true urban tale, disturbing in that it brings back the horror of those days.  I found it very provocative, made me think about the decisions made by these people and what my own reactions would be in such a difficult set of circumstances.”

You Are What You Read

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here we go: 

Abby is currently reading Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Calahan. "This book is an interesting memoir about Cahalan's battle with a mysterious and rare deadly neurological illness that was mistaken for an acute psychiatric breakdown. Susannah was a successful and ambitious reporter for the NY Post when she began to experience paranoia and a loss of contact with reality. The traumatic journey that follows demonstrates the importance of self-advocacy and diligence when pursuing medical treatment. When after a horrifying month Susannah's diagnosis is finally explained as "her brain is on fire", there is hope. While Susannah's illness certainly appeared to be psychiatric in nature, the truth creates a frightening possibility that there are many young women improperly diagnosed who have either passed away from improper treatment, or who may be living in psychiatric hospitals with no chance of potentially lifesaving treatment."

Alison is currently reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn but declares, "it took me halfway through to really get into it."

Ann is presently in the middle of Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Flight Behavior.  She is enjoying the journey of the main character, Dellarobia Turnbow, the family and people in her home town, the scientists who arrive, and the Monarch butterflies. This is a book about global warming that will impact all the inhabitants of her world and ours.

Barbara is reading  The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, a somewhat irreverent imagining of the end of Jesus’ life as seen through the eyes of his mother. It begins with the gospel writers interrogating Mary for information about her son and then goes back to the events leading up to the crucifixion. The writing is rich and the emphasis is not on religion but on a mother’s love and guilt.

Gretchen is reading Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber.  "Magda Gerber is an infant educator who created REI (Resources for Infant Educarers) which is dedicated to teaching, supporting and mentoring parents and professions who work with young children. Their approach is one that aims to honor the young child as an individual, an equal and to respect the natural integrity of infants. They believe when allowed to discover, struggle, explore on their own, infants can astound us with what they can learn naturally and that with patience and work, we can improve the way we communicate with these pre-verbal children. She recommends simple gestures that show your child that his feelings are important to you starting with something as simple as telling your baby what you are going to do before you do it. The goal is to connect with your infant as a person, not as an object. The methods are all about trust, respect and “do less; observe more; enjoy most.” She is also reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and Christina Castelao.Told from the point of view of the silverback, Ivan, living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, it is a sweet story about change. Ivan is content with his life, hardly misses the jungle at all, until a baby elephant Ruby joins him and it is up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. I want to read all the books that are getting buzz as contenders for the Newbery Award (issued in January) and this is a much discussed book in my online community of librarians and parents!"

Jeanne is reading The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle. "I am a fan of Mayle and have read several of his books and enjoyed A Year in Provence with John Thaw (also Inspector Morse) on DVD. Very funny, as are his books. In fact,  I think The Marseille Caper is too funny to be in the D-M genre. It follows the characters from The Vintage Caper, though you don't have to read them in order. In both books, Sam Levitt is a former corporate lawyer, crime expert, and wine connoisseur from Los Angeles who finds himself in demand for all of these skills. He locates millions of dollars worth of wine in the first book and acts as a "front" for wealthy developers in this recent novel. Sam does this cleverly and with style, all while enjoying the food and wine of the south of France along with his beautiful "accomplice," Elena Morales, the luxury insurance investigator he met while recovering said stolen wine. The books are light and amusing and the reader is treated to a free "tour" of Marseille and Bordeaux as Sam and his friends and enemies sample the region's glorious foods and wines. I also just started Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. I decided to read it because I like the title and the cover and the author's bio says, he "grew up in Michigan and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet." I am looking forward to delving into this unusual bookstore in San Francisco with Clay Jannon, the twenty-something guy who works there on the night shift, 10 - 6. He serves very few, very particular patrons who are looking for very unusual books that can only be found at this 24-hour bookstore.

John states, "I forgot where I saw someone write that a book hangover is time you spend thinking about a book after you've finished it, before you can start another. The Dog Stars has left me with a killer book hangover. I fall in love with a book maybe once every two or three years--the last one was Thread of Grace--and now I have fallen in love with The Dog Stars. That's not something I thought I'd ever say about a book of post-apocalyptic fiction: The Dog Stars takes place nine years after a killer flu wipes out 99.9% of humanity. I won't go in to the plot at all, except to say that it keeps you riveted to the page. It's the writing and the characters that makes this novel great. It's the kindness, compassion, and raw humanity of Hig's inner landscape that takes your breath away. Heller writes with a unique style of stream-of-consciousness that slowly blends in and out of traditional narrative. A lot of people (including myself) have a hard time with stream-of-consciousness, but I had no trouble with this book because of the way it's integrated into the flow of the story. You may know Heller from his time as an NPR contributor, but this is his debut novel and it is a rare gem, something truly special."



You Are What You Read!

This week we have some dead men, some “issues”, some power and delight and, just in time for the Hellidays, an epic battle for kitchen dominance.

Let us begin!

John brings us something seemingly without women who are crazy.  I am a little worried here. “This week, I'm reading The Rook, a debut novel from Australian-by-way-of-Ireland author Daniel O'Malley, who creates a Welsh character who lives in London (but visits Scotland). The novel begins with the protagonist, Myfanwy Thomas, waking up in a London park, with no memory, surrounded by dead men--all wearing purple robes and latex gloves.  Then it gets weird.  This is definitely somewhat of a genre-bending book because on one hand, it pokes a little bit of fun at the supernatural literary tradition, but on the other hand, it's an incredibly compelling, well-paced and entertaining story.  It's also very amusing in the places where British restraint collides with the truly bizarre--how do you retain your dignity when you're covered in slime?  The ‘occurrences’ and ‘horrors’ are unique and far from overdone.  A fresh originality shines through.  So if a book on Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service piques your interest, then I highly recommend this and I look forward to reading more from O'Malley.”

Ann is reading Elsewhere A Memoir by Richard Russo which worryingly has the crazy woman that John is missing. “I am a big Richard Russo fan and so I looked forward to reading this memoir.  Richard was raised by his single mother in Gloversville, New York,  known for its tanneries and making gloves. Richard's mother whom he loved dearly had 'issues' which made her truly dependent on her son to be strong for her even as a young child.  He lived his life for his mother to truly help her cope with changing circumstances in her life and in his.  I thought it was well written, but I do have to admit that after a while I did feel he was whining a bit.  I also wish he would have given more insight into his wife, Barbara, who was certainly his strength as his mother aged and her condition worsened.”

Stephanie is sticking to her current election year theme.  “On the presidential biography front, I have moved on to Jon Meacham’s new Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. It’s actually a pretty good complement to the Caro books, which are also focused on the acquiring and use of political power (and Jefferson and LBJ have a surprising number of things in common aside from both having been president). I also finally got to read, after hearing so many patrons and staff rave about it, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, and thought it was great. So funny! This real delight of a book was perfect for my commute. It’s hard to find a truly satisfying funny book, so it’s great to have found this one.”

Those who know me, know about my Cookbook Crush and how dangerous I consider some food writers.  Take for example the late, terribly missed Laurie Colwin.  Opening her books Home Cooking and More Home Cooking which are essays on well, home cooking, to retrieve a recipe is an action fraught with danger.  Why?  Simply put,  the danger is that the food may not actually get cooked.  Because once you start reading her, you can’t stop to start cooking.  When she died I wept.  My then husband at the time thought I was insane.  Yes, well I am well rid of him.  My latest dangerous cookbook is Cook Fight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes:  An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance by Kim Severson and Julia Moskin.  This started as a New York Times article on entertaining during these uncertain economic times.  The gauntlet was thrown!  Would Kim or Julia be the winner of the $50 dinner party for 6?  Frank Bruni, then the restaurant critic called it a tie (wimp) but what started as a battle in the end became a lovely dialogue between two wonderful friends who happen to be fabulous cooks.  Good luck to my family next Thursday.  They may be reduced to looking longingly at pictures from The Thanksgiving Challenge.  Hint for them:  It’s on page 238.

You Are What You Read!

Oscar Wilde!
Oscar Wilde!

This week we are all enjoying that crazy thing called civilized living.  Lights, heat, indoor plumbing that works!  Whacky!  Here is what we have to offer you this week.  We have some trolls, some Hamptons, a naked boy on a porch, LBJ, a sworn enemy, Biafra (for the first time ever!), London, Manhattan,  Nazis , a true Staff favorite, and some sins!

Let us begin!

John has left the bad girls behind it would seem but he is still involved in all kinds of sketchy. “I'm currently reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and it is so totally my kind of yarn!  It has secret societies, computer programming, underground libraries, font design, copyright trolls, Google, boob simulation software, love, ebooks, books, and illicit book scanning.  It's sort of like Cory Doctorow meets The Night Circus meets The Magicians.  It's one of those novels that meets at the strangest intersection of disparate (and interesting) things, yet it all works together to create a dashingly fun book.  This is a must-read for all geeky bibliophiles.”

Erin the Programming Diva is poking around some bad behavior.” I am about four pages into Indiscretion, which is what seems to be a contemporary Great Gatsby. Claire, a young half-French Manhattanite is invited out to the Hamptons by Clive, the  new man she is dating. There is drinking. There is nudity. Claire is getting closer to Clive's married friends. I can't wait to find out what the indiscretion is!”

Amanda the Tech Goddess is listening to the audiobook of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  The book starts by telling the story of a girl being mauled by starving wolves. Grace lies there on the ground, unmoving and helpless. Then she makes eye contact with a yellow eyed wolf. Years later, Grace does not remember how she survived the attack or how she arrived home. What she does have is an obsession with the yellow eyed wolf that stands behind her house every winter. Strangely though, the wolf disappears every summer. Enter Sam, a yellow eyed boy that Grace finds wounded and naked on her front porch. In the woods a wolf hunt is going on…Shiver is the epitome of adolescent romance and longing.  I have not read many werewolf novels, so I have no idea what is standard for the genre, but Stiefvater’s world is almost tangible as you buy into her explanations. The intensity of Grace and Sam’s relationship is only heightened by the fact that soon Sam will be a wolf forever.

Miss Stephanie of the RA feels that her reading material might be a bit dry this week. BUT, it was election week after all and why not carry that political theme right on to your reading? “ This week I finally finished Master of the Senate, the third volume in the LBJ biography series by Robert Caro. Yes, I am a nerd, and I love presidential biographies. And this series is just as good as they get. Actually, it’s not an exaggeration to call them some of the best books I’ve ever read. Caro is a master researcher and his writing verges on perfection sometimes. This series not only explains LBJ (who was possibly one of the most complex Americans of the 20th century, so that’s no small task) but also his times, making it the most interesting history lesson I’ve ever read. This volume, which focuses on his time in the Senate, where he was the youngest Majority Leader in history and, among other things, pushed through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction, is fascinating. It’s like the West Wing, but better. Suffice to say that I watched the Senate election returns with more interest than the Presidential on Tuesday night, all because of this book, and what it taught me about the US Senate. If you are even slightly interested in US history or politics, you owe it to yourself to read these books at some point. Why not start now?”

Abby has put down the magazines and is back to books this week!  “Perhaps it's the election season that led me to literary jingoism but whatever the reason I dug into The Last Man by Vince Flynn.  It's the latest in the Mitch Rapp series and is coming out November 13th.  In this book Mitch is once again in Afghanistan and seems in a particularly impatient mood.  And you really don't want to be in the same room (or country) with Mitch when he believes you are not being Fully Cooperative.  When Mitch asks a question, just tell him what he wants to know.  You're going to tell him anyway. Mitch continues to work for CIA Director Irene Kennedy using his efficient style of eliminating problems and cutting to the chase.  Corrupt Afghan officials and a long-time sworn enemy are featured. This is a light post-Sandy, no more political phone calls please, Nor'easter Athena escape.”

Judy, for those not in the know, is the Wonderful Woman responsible for making sure the Book Goodness gets into your hands. Here is what she has going on, and boy is it a lot! “I am almost through reading Dearie about Julia Child and am about to start Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher about the life and  photography of Edward Curtis.  I have also just begun Chinua Achebe’s There  Was a Country about Biafra.”

Caroline has been using some spicy fiction to warm her!  “Wicked Pleasures, a new arrival by Penny Vincenzi, is not quite as risqué as the title suggests, but more than enough to get you through 6 days with no power.  This 639 page family saga centers around Virginia, Countess of Caterham, who is an American, and moves to London after marrying Alexander, Earl of Caterham.  Hidden scandals slowly emerge as the story spans between London aristocracy and the New York City banking world from the 1950’s-present.  It has great momentum, and many likeable characters and side stories.  However if you haven’t read Vincenzi’s “No Angel” trilogy, I would definitely start with those.”

Miss Elisabeth is reading The Diviners by Libba Bray.  “In her second foray into period drama, Printz-award winning Libba Bray goes dark – nightmarishly dark. Evie is a young flapper hiding a big secret. She lives with her uncle, the curator of New York City’s Museum of the Occult and Supernatural. When her uncle is called to assist police in investigating a series of gruesome occult murders that have plagued the city, Evie is lured in as well. The book draws together a wide array of bright young things in Jazz-era New York, and does an absolutely fantastic job placing you in the 20’s. Bray apparently spent 3 years researching this period in New York City history and it will shows. Additionally, the murder plot is spine-tingly scary. I had real nightmares while I was reading this book. Naughty John is a villain for the ages.”

Babs B! is reveling in having power back and is catching up on movies! “I just finished watching a foreign film Black Book.  It's the story of Jewish fugitives during WWII attempting to escape occupied Holland but they are ambushed by the Nazis.  One person survives the attack and joins the Dutch Resistance to avenge her family.  She then must infiltrate German headquarters by seducing a high ranking German officer, only to find out that a murderous traitor is within Resistance ranks.  There are so many twists and turns and it's based on true events.  This movie gets an A+ from me!”

Ann and Marianne are reading the same book which is turning out to be a huge favorite for us all; The End if Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.  Ann says, “This wonderful book is the true story of a remarkable woman, Mary Anne Schwalbe, who is dying of pancreatic cancer and the time she spends with her son Will sharing books and stories through her cancer treatments.  This is a book of a loving family who you would want to know and invite to share Thanksgiving dinner with you.  Yes, the subject matter is sad but your heart will soar with the love of this family and just the strength of the human spirit.  It touched my heart as I am sure it would touch yours.”  Marianne’s take is this: “This is one of my favorite reads of the recent past few months.  The author's memoir of his family's last days with their dying mother was touching, uplifting, sad and beautiful.  I loved the fact that mother and son filled the hours of her chemo treatments reading and discussing books.  And there was not a bad book in the long list of those they read.  This mother was a truly remarkable woman who had spent a lot of her life working with refugees in third world countries.  The way she faced her illness with strength and courage was inspiring.  This book will stay with you long after you've finished reading it.’  Please read this.  It is truly a love letter not only to Will’s mom but to books as well. 

Jeanne is reading  Hostage by Elie Wiesel. “Shaltiel Feigenberg is an ordinary man; a good man who lives in Brooklyn in 1975. He makes his living through words. He is a storyteller. He is Jewish and his captors are Palestinian. Weisel, one of the greatest storytellers himself, tells a grimly honest, starkly beautiful tale where the victim is also the witness. Shaltiel is being forced against his will to represent the sins of others. Hostage reads like a holy book. I can't put it down.”

You Are What You Read!

Yes, it has been a rough week for us all.  Here is what we did in the dark.  This week we offer up to you some hilarious widows, shattered illusions, Sterno, facial deformities, a very happy family, Saigon, and what has to be one of the most twisted collection of photography ever assembled!

Let us begin!

Erin the Programming Diva spent her time learning more about a new friend. “You may remember Bob Spitz’s visit to the Library in September to discuss Dearie, his biography of Julia Child. It was on this evening that I met his wife, Becky Aikman, author of a forthcoming memoir, Saturday Night Widows . The book opens with a hilarious scene at a widows’ support group. (Yes, hilarious). One of the widows in the group questions Becky’s necessity in being there since she is a young widow with her “whole life ahead of her.” Becky gets understandably angry about this and the group leader recommends she not return to the group. Becky decides to form her own widow support group made up of a bunch of ladies who don’t want to be sad anymore but instead want to smile and hang out with other ladies who understand. I took comfort in this book during my powerless Sandy days and am still trying to decide which of the widows is my favorite.”  This one is on order and will be in the catalog soon!

John spent time with an old friend who apparently has some new tricks! “I'm reading The Casual Vacancy and enjoying it very much.  If you're thinking about reading it in order to rekindle some of that Harry Potter magic, however, you'll be disappointed.  It's definitely an adult novel with adult themes and content.  I'm sure there are some Potter fans out there who have typecast J. K. Rowling as a naive, mild-mannered, proper Englishwoman who would be shocked by things like drugs and sex.  If that's you, and you don't want that illusion shattered, then don't read this book.  If you want an uncensored look at small-town English politics and what happens when class boundaries are blurred, what rural poverty looks like and its very real effects on children, teenagers, and adults, then this is an excellent book.  Rowling really has achieved something remarkable in the Casual Vacancy--she has redefined herself as a novelist and I will gladly read anything else she writes.  The Potter series will always stand alone as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time and I'm thrilled that Rowling has more to say.”

Abby I am sure is not alone in her summation of this week! “Sandy hasn't made it easy to focus on reading since she has kept my children home from school and reduced me to reading the label on a can of Sterno, but I was happy to devote some time to the latest issue of Vanity Fair.  Daniel Craig is on the cover and per Dame Judy Dench, he has ‘Wonderful blue eyes.  Sensational blue eyes.’  There were articles about other stuff too.”

Barbara M. has stepped away from Paris and Nazis!  It would seem that Sandy did more than rearrange the coastline! “I am actually reading a children’s book called Wonder by R. J. Palacio about a ten year old boy, Auggie Pullman, with severe facial deformities, who after being home schooled is entering middle school for the first time. The first part of the book is from Auggie’s perspective, how he deals with rejection and various reactions to his appearance, and then continues from the perspective of family and friends. The author writes with such authority that you can feel Auggie’s pain and acceptance of who he is. It is a powerful book for everyone, especially middle schoolers, to read – for everyone is a little different and everyone has an anomaly whether seen or not.” 

Ann who can still stay positive in spite of the fact she has no power, a tree through her roof, and a lung condition that is totally overstaying its welcome enjoyed a read we are all pretty excited about!  And please remember. Ann just can’t help herself. That is just how she is.  “I read the very well written first novel Indiscretion by Charles Dubow.  It is the story of a ‘very happy’ family, Harry, Maddy and their young son Johnny.  They are the couple that other couples aspire to be like until Harry makes a huge mistake.  A close friend of the family, Walter, tells the story of the unraveling of this family. The characters are well developed and you will not want to put this novel down until you discover what happened to these people.”

Sandy slowed Jeanne down a bit and she only has one offering for us this week. “I am reading The Headmaster’s Wager, a novel by Vincent Lam. Headmaster Percival Chen or Chen Pie Sou runs a highly respected English language academy in Saigon in the 60s. Even though Chen has run his academy for many years in Vietnam, he is very proud of his Chinese heritage and expects obedience from his son, Dai Jai, who has his own modern ideas and defies his father. When Dai Jai’s classroom antics are discovered by the ‘quiet police,’ he is arrested. Headmaster Chen fears for his son’s life and begins a frantic search by bribing crooked officials and seeking help from his ex-wife’s American contacts. Lam’s account combines historical fiction, political intrigue and family drama to create a gripping novel during a war-torn era.”

I was reduced to looking at pictures.  Literally. Talking Pictures:  Images and Messages Rescued From the Past by Ransom Riggs was my Sandy companion.  In the introduction, Riggs states flat out, “I have an unusual hobby:  I collect pictures of people I don’t know.”  This rather demented collection of photos with handwritten captions is divided into seven sections:  Clowning Around, Love and Marriage, Times of Trouble, Life During Wartime, Janet Lee, Hide This Please, and Unsolved Mysteries.   Of course I felt a special kinship to the Times of Trouble section.  A personal favorite was a picture probably circa 1920 of a mother with her two young daughters.  What was written on the back? “Not much good.  Just to show we’re alive.”  Yeah.  I think that about sums up this week. Oh and by the way?  They are way better groomed than the majority of us are so while things may not have been great for those three at least they had clean running water.

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