You Are What You Read

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!

It would appear that we are deep into the winter blues this week.  Maybe the expected warmth coming our way this weekend will cheer us.  If not, someone please send some mood elevators or perhaps one of those special sun lamps.  This week we have a puppet master in plain sight, lots of sad, some more sad and tragic, and a rather tragic reading rut.


Amanda is reading For the Win by Cory Doctorow. “I am reading this because several of my techie coworkers have a love for all things written by Mr. Doctorow. The story is set across multiple characters living in various locations around the world. All of them are players of massive multiplay online games (MMOGs). Some of the players are playing for the fun of belonging and others because they need to make a living. For those forced to play, they endure rough conditions, beatings, and worse if they speak out about the way they are treated. However, an online revolution is coming as players began to form online unions to demand better conditions.   Doctorow lacks the narrative spark that makes you emphasize with his characters, though you cringe away at the harshness of their lives in the slums. He's also a bit on the preach-y side as he suddenly stops the story to go on a tangent about how money is made in these games. My fault with the work is that I can see the puppet master. On the other hand, it's a fascinating look at the serious world of MMOGs. I am not a gamer, so I had very little background knowledge about the topic. “

I want it noted that Ann aka Little Miss Unicorns and Rainbows has used the word ‘sad’ three times in her offering this week.  Let us discover what is bringing our girl down, shall we? “I have just finished The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.  I would like to begin by saying I like sad books but this book although beautifully written was one of the saddest books I have ever read.  The story follows Hattie who has come North to Philadelphia with her mother and sister during the migration of many Black people from the South. Hattie gets pregnant and marries August a young man she loves.  Their life, although a struggle, seems happy until tragedy occurs when their twins die of pneumonia.  Hattie becomes very disenchanted with her life.  After the initial chapter of the death of the twin babies, the novel jumps in time to tell the story of some of Hattie's other children as adults.  Their lives have been impacted greatly by poverty, prejudice, and their mother's bitterness.  The writing is wonderful but this story is extremely sad.”  Please.  Won’t someone send some sunshine Ann’s way?  I think she could use it.


Jeanne also weighs in.  She is not much happier. “I read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis because I wanted to learn what the title meant. I am still not sure about the title but I have some biblical ideas. For instance, the choice of the number twelve and the choice of Hattie's last name as Shepherd.  Is it perhaps possible ultimate salvation? What I do know is that there are twelve children involved and what happens to them is mostly sad and often tragic. Hattie Shepherd, a teenage wife and mother, and her husband August have ten of these children; Hattie has one by another man and the last is a grandchild. They are a struggling black couple who have left the Jim Crow south of the 1920s to live in Philadelphia. After her adored first twins die in infancy of a disease that could have been prevented with pennies, Hattie and August have several more children that she "shepherds" fiercely through life with food and shelter and education, but not demonstrative love. As they grow, each of the children develops some debilitating issue, illness or obsession into adulthood. It is always sad and tragic to read a portrayal of people struggling against racial bias and this is dramatically apparent in this family's raw story of dysfunction. The book actually reads more like short stories than a novel as Mathis writes about Hattie and each child's struggles by chapter. Still, it is a mournfully beautiful first book and I would anticipate more by this author.”  As I said, please someone send us some chocolate or something.  We could use it.


I am in a totally tragic reading rut.  I finished a few weeks ago something that I am sure is going to be a favorite for 2013.  I have long been a fan of Kate Atkinson and her new offering Life After Life is going to be her masterpiece.  The book begins with the main character Ursula in a café in Berlin in the mid 30’s.  Who should walk in but her good friend Eva Braun and Eva’s beau Adolph Hitler.   Urusla pulls out a pistol and kills him thus altering the future. The next chapter has Ursula being born in the English countryside.  Sadly Baby Ursula dies.  Chapter three has Ursula being born in the English countryside and she lives.  You see, Ursula gets to have do overs.  She can change small details and literally alter the course of her life.  Atkinson’s writing is genius and you will totally fall for Ursula.  Some of her fates are ugly and it kills you when you read them until you realize that this may not be her fate after all.  This one comes out in April.

You Are What You Read!

This week we have a teen spy, eminent defeat, prison, a whirlwind, some Carolina, lie changers, some unraveling, two halves making a whole, heartfelt confessions and a Red Rooster.

Let us begin!

Gretchen reports that she is reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and LOVING it.  “This story is told through a teen spy’s confession during a Nazi interrogation. Although it is a dark war story it is getting lots of buzz in Young Adult book circles.”

From Marianne we get City of Women by David Gillham.  “The place is Berlin and the year is 1943.  Signs of Germany's eminent defeat are beginning to appear, but the Reich is still in control, propaganda is rampant and the citizens, most of whom are women, live in fear of the government and the nightly bombing raids from the Allies.  This story follows the everyday lives of German women whose husbands are away at war.  We learn about their strengths and weaknesses and how they handled subjects like infidelity, infertility, injustice, and how they fought back. This is a great look from an insider's point of view and  I found it to be a compelling read.”

Stephanie is crying out for someone to please join her. “This week I took a chance on a book because it had a bright yellow cover: Mountains of the Moon by I. J. Kay. I am pretty sure that I liked it and I definitely loved a lot of the prose, but I would like to talk it out with somebody before deciding. In part this is because the narrator spends much of the book out of contact with reality, so it’s hard to think about it rationally. It’s the story of a young British girl who retreats into imagination to avoid the horrid realities that she faces at home, going back and forth between her as a child and the present day, where she is an adult who has just been released from prison, full of hallucinatory and indistinct memories and experiences. I keep wanting to say it reminds me of Room, but it’s possible that all UK child narrators sound the same to me, so that is perhaps an unfair comparison. I’d recommend it for a book group, both because it obviously leads a reader to want to have a chat, and also because I’m not entirely sure I know what happened in it, which is always a good place to start with discussion.”

Miss Kiera is doing some heavy lifting! “This week I’m reading The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. It is a fascinating whirlwind in which Gleick looks at how information and communication have evolved from the dawn of history up to right now. From African drumming to the development of Morse Code to the very first attempts at the creation of an English dictionary and onwards through the digital revolution, this is a hugely ambitious and highly entertaining book. If you enjoy pop-science/sociology/psychology books in the tradition of Freakonomics and Blink, you won’t mind that The Information is a good 500+ pages. I recommend borrowing it as an ebook!

KLS’s own Elizabeth has you covered on two fronts: “For anyone with Carolina on their mind (North Carolina, of course), I highly recommend Wiley Cash's new novel A Land More Kind than Home. Published in September 2012 and inspired by Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again. We have it in print and e book.

Hmm.  Isn’t this week 3 of no France, no Nazis for Barbara M?  Just seems wrong somehow.  “I’m reading A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks, a loosely woven novel about life changing choices, those taken and those not taken. The five stories take place in different places and in different times but the theme is the same : there is a time when a choice has to be made that will impact the future. As usual Faulks’ writing is beautiful and full of vivid imagery. “

The Delightful Ann is working on Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. “I enjoy Mr. McEwan’s writing because he always gives the reader something to ponder. His novels include stories of deception, newlyweds who struggle to find their rhythm (literally and figuratively), and what happens to a family on a normal Saturday that becomes far from normal. Sweet Tooth is the story of Serena Frome who upon graduation from Oxford goes to work for the M15, Britain's equivalent to our CIA.  Her journey there is interesting and involves one of her loves in this novel. She is assigned the case "Sweet Tooth" and becomes entrenched in the world of literature which she has always enjoyed.  She becomes involved with an author who will be her unraveling.  I found this book to be an acceptable read, not his best work in my opinion but still intriguing.”

Pat T. is ringing in the the New Year rather philosophically. “I have just started reading Falling Upward : A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. The author has an interesting take on life as being divided into two segments- the first half is when you are discovering your identity (building the container) and the second half is when you are searching for meaning in your life (filling the container). The challenges, struggles and failures we face in the second half of life can be the impetus to find our way up again into a richer more fulfilling existence, thus the paradox title It is quite philosophical and something to ponder as we begin a new year! “

Jeanne is loving herself some memoirs! “I read Elsewhere by Richard Russo and I loved it! I loved the pace and the heartfelt confessions of the young boy trying to live with and care for a mother who was unstable and continuing as a man to the end of her life. It was beautiful to read Russo's remembrances of his small, mill town upbringing and connect it to his brilliant literature of the same, like Empire Falls. This is also a wonderful DVD with Paul Newman and Ed Harris. I am now reading Yes, Chef: A Memoir. It's about the life of Marcus Samuelsson. After his mother died in Ethiopia, he and his sister (both very young) were adopted by a loving family in Sweden. His story, also well-paced, is of his early love of food: the smells, tastes, textures and his culinary education beginning in his grandmother's kitchen. There is a great story between there and opening his acclaimed restaurant in Harlem, The Red Rooster. You don't have to be a foodie to enjoy the show, but there are lots of mouth-watering performances!”

 

You Are What You Read!

Welcome to YAWYRYE also known as You Are What You Read Year End.  And as such, we will be looking back and telling you, our loyal YAWYR fans what really stood out for us this year.  What makes this list different from any other list?   We made it.  So it rocks.

This year we had a roadside attraction, an obsession, a love story, an opportunity for conversation, a three way tie, a ditto, witches, end of days and an amazing love story.

Miss Kiera says that “this year I've had so many favorites and certainly too many picture books to count. But one work of children's fiction that sticks out in my memory and has really stayed with me is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. It's the fictionalized version of a true story. Ivan was a gorilla kept as a neglected roadside attraction for years until finally being brought to a sanctuary. In Applegate's story we learn about Ivan and his fellow animal captives through a first-Gorilla perspective. It's the kind of book that you cannot read in public. It's a four-tissue minimum.”

Erin has all year long spoken quite openly of her obsession with Cheryl Strayed.  She went to another library to hear her speak, she not only read Wild in print but she then drove the back roads of Fairfield County listening to it on her CD player. She is an evangelist for her writing.  So what she has to say is really no surprise at all. “My favorite book this year which will be a surprise to absolutely no one was Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”  Yes, if I were Ms. Strayed I would be on the lookout for a certain tall blonde. 

Ann says that her favorite read is The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phi Sendker. She says that it was very hard to choose.   This sweet love story set in Burma is the one that won the heart of our Sweet Ann so you are sure to know it is as wonderful as she is.

Pat. T’s choice is very telling about Pat T. And without saying a word! “My best book of 2012 is Quiet by Susan Cain because it is informative and the book provides the reader with the opportunity to engage in conversation about the subject of introvert and extrovert personalities.”

Barbara M. cannot pick just one and yet again, week three, you will notice no France and no Nazis.  Discuss amongst yourselves. “My best book of the year is often the one I am reading now and Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity would certainly qualify but I would also have to add Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner.”

Stephanie says ditto to Barbara about Far from the Tree.

Miss Elisabeth is in a tussle.  With herself. “I’m really struggling with my favorite book of 2012, but I think I'd have to say Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. The sequel to her bestselling A Discovery of Witches, this book was not quite perfect, but I was so excited to delve into history with these characters that it's hard for me to think about the book with anything other than glowing praise. I can't wait for the final book in the trilogy!”

John does love his end of days fiction! “My favorite book of the year would have to be The Dog Stars. So good.” 

This year I loved The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe’s amazing love letter to not only books but the remarkable woman who was his mother.  She not only raised a lovely family but also worked tirelessly for the International Rescue Committee in dangerous situations.  In what has to be one of my favorite literary thoughts of the year Will’s mother explains to him that she has no time for silly in her reading.  She narrows this down by saying, “I’m talking about those novels where the characters aren’t really interesting and you don’t care about them or anything they care about.  It’s those I won’t read anymore.  There’s too much else to read-books about people and things that matter, books about life and death.”  I hope that this year we brought to you options that saved you from this fate and we wish for you many great reads in 2013.

You Are What You Read!

This week we have a Jinxy McDeath sighting, some war, some predicions, an island, the Queen(!), an adventure, a geeky mom in a hurry and some families!

Let us begin!

Miss Elisabeth of the CL is reading a most decidedly un-childlike book and one of my personal favorites! “I’m re-reading Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. I picked it up again after I saw Lincoln, the movie. The book is hysterically funny but also a really in-depth look at the people who murdered (and tried to murder) presidents of the United States. I loved this book the first time I read it and gave it as presents to everyone I knew for several years. The author goes on a series of road-trip pilgrimages to the museums, former homes, and sites of Presidents and their assassins and would-be assassins. She calls Robert Todd Lincoln “Jinxy McDeath” because he was present at the assassinations of 3 out of our 4 slain presidents.

John has just started The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers.  “This book has been heralded as the Iraq War's The Things They Carried.  My first impression is that the writing is superb and I already care deeply about the two main characters--and I'm only 30 or 40 pages in. I formed very high expectations for this short novel as soon as I read the exquisite opening paragraph: ‘While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.’"

Stephanie is working her way through The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. “I’ve been curious about this book since I heard about it, but had to put it on hold after his predictions for the 2012 elections were almost perfect. And what I’ve found is that rarest of birds in the non-fiction arena: an expert who is willing to admit what he doesn’t know. In fact, as he amply demonstrates, one of the biggest problems the world of predictions has is experts who think they know too much. From baseball to weather to the economy, Silver is precise and thoughtful in his examinations of what we know, what we think we know, and what we still have to learn. He’s good not only at discussing the practical, on-the-ground application of predictions, and how they are used in our daily lives, but also at explaining the hard math in a way that makes sense to this sad mathphobic librarian who had to take a class on Excel to escape her math class requirement in college. Those familiar with Silver’s blog will find this to be a great extension of the thorough, complex work he does regularly already. Those new to his work will be delighted to find at least one person in the media world who is more interested what the facts really say rather than what he wants them to. “

Pat T. just finished reading Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. “I enjoyed this good, but sad book. A couple living on a remote island off the coast of Australia made a moral decision that had life altering consequences for all involved.”

Miss Marion lets us all in on one of her obsessions!  “A book for Anglophiles (like me), Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn imagines what happens if Queen Elizabeth took a day off.  The Queen is starting to feel her age.  Times are changing, the Prime Minister is taking away the royal train, and although Prince Edward set her up with a Twitter account, its way over Lillibet’s (the nickname she calls herself) head and she’s feeling nostalgic for the simpler times of her childhood.  Her spontaneous decision to take a quick trip to the cheese shop for a treat for one of her horses turns into a bigger adventure for her, and potential disaster for her personal staff.  Told from multiple points of view, the Queen, her dresser, a lady-in-waiting, the cheese shop worker, this story is both fantastical and very plausible.  The characters are so well-written, they could be real people.  It’s a great holiday read.”

Ann steps out of her comfort zone this week with Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. “I am just in the middle of this fun quirky book.  It is definitely a different type of book for me and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Bernadette is a married mom of a fifteen year old girl, Bee.  She was a world famous architect who has moved to Seattle and left her career to become a full time mom.  She has great difficulty handling her day to day life and has an assistant who lives in India who keeps her life in order.   Life will get too stressful for Bernadette and she will disappear.  This story is told from Bee's point of view, e-mails of her mom's she discovers and some other creative writing techniques by the author.  So far  this is an adventure to take.”

Gretchen is like working moms everywhere!  She is in a hurry so step aside! “I have something but no time to write big description. Read Geek Mom  which is filled with cool activities and support for moms like me with geek tendencies. Easy read, authors are bloggers for Wired magazine.  I also just picked up Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. I'm a HUGE fan of her Clementine books and based on recommendation of other children's librarians can't wait to read this as well.”

Abby is devouring Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon.  “The book explores families that include children who are not copies of their parents. So far I have read the chapters dealing with deaf children of both hearing parents and deaf parents, dwarfism, Down Syndrome, and am mid-chapter on autism.  Some of the topics have taken me back to my days as a manager of group homes for developmentally disabled adults so it has been interesting to re-visit some of the clients and families I experienced back when I worked in that field. I must say, I found the chapter on Deaf culture especially fascinating. I have the highlight feature on my e-reader working overtime on this one.  This is a really staggering, fantastic book.

You Are What You Read!

This week we have some back hair, the need for a restraining order, some quirk, hallucinations, horses, and a language I don’t even pretend to understand.

Let us begin!

Amanda is listening to Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson.  “The narrator awakes in an unfamiliar room. She discovers that next to her is a strange, older man with graying hair and back hair. She cringes and looking around realizes that she must have left the bar with a married man. Out into the hallway she creeps onward to the bathroom. Then she reaches for the bar of soap and notices that something is amiss – the skin on her hand is wrinkled. This can’t be! She’s only in her early twenties! Christine Lucas suffers amnesia brought on by an accident. Each day she wakes up with no recollection of the previous day or of the past 20 some years.   Christine’s life is seemingly straightforward with her mind erasing what she does each day. However, as Christine works with a doctor behind her devoted and doting husband’s back, she realizes that it is her husband she should be wary of. He’s lying to her – but to cover up what?”

Erin is listening to Tiny Beautiful Things as a book on CD. “If Cheryl Strayed knew how much I love her, she would issue me a restraining order. I have already read the paperback of this book but I picked up the audio because it’s read by the author. Audiobooks that are narrated by the author just can’t be beat in my opinion. It’s a collection of advice columns originally published on The Rumpus, a website for literary people. It’s different from your typical advice column though because it includes the author’s own experiences. Cheryl Strayed has had a messed up life! But she’ll make you feel good about yours. I think this would make a really nice gift for the holidays, especially for that person on your list who is going through a life transition. “

Gretchen who is somewhere in America in a car on an Interstate is, “listening to and LOVING Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. Read by the author, it has us laughing out loud in the car! This is a memoir recounting his life as a stand-up comic and is interwoven with personal stories of family and relationships. It is seriously quirky, seriously funny, seriously Steve Martin!”


Barbara M. is reading Oliver Sack’s latest book, Hallucinations.  “He explores different kinds of hallucinations both auditory and visual and not necessarily those caused by psychosis. As is usual in Sack’s books, the subject is fascinating and the scientific writing accessible. “ I am sure that Barbara wishes she could summon a Paris hallucination.


Stephanie has just wrapped up Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan.  “Here is a book that combines the quick pleasures of the magazine with the book-length that justifies a hardcover. Blood Horses reads like a very long magazine article, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It could have kept going for another 100 pages and I wouldn’t have complained, though I doubt Sullivan would have wanted that. Its pacing is about as perfect as I have ever experienced in non-fiction. It was actually relaxing!  It was like a savasana pose, but reading. Sullivan is focused on a few core ideas but keeps wandering away from them and circling back; the circles get bigger, and weirder, but are always on their way back to horses, or Sullivan’s father, or Kentucky, or a combination of the three. My admiration of his curiosity and research borders on idolatrous. It was just joyful to read this book, even though it is not necessarily a happy one. The last twenty pages or so left me stunned.”


John is about a quarter of the way into Alif the Unseen and his geek is showing. “This is an interesting debut novel about Alif (screen name "A1if") a young computer hacker in the Middle East whose true love is betrothed to someone else.  Using his uncanny skills as a programmer, he is able to make himself invisible to her on the internet by using some kind of baysian algorithm (they don't call it that, but that's essentially what's described).  In the process, he triggers a series of unusual events and brings down the harsh hand of censorship.  Wilson is an American author who converted to Islam and it's clear that her interest is in Islamic studies and not computer science.  The 'tech' in this novel doesn't pass muster, but I doubt that would interfere with most people's enjoyment of the story--incorrect usage of the term 'hypervisor' and flawed assumptions about how the TCP/IP protocol works aside, this is a very entertaining read.  It's clear from the beginning that this is an a commentary on Islamic fundamentalism and the story draws on some of the more mystic elements of the Quran.  Wilson blends technology, fantasy, history, current events, and political subversion together in this curried yarn.  The result is a novel that has shades of Snow Crash mixed together with mythologies that seem to come right out of Arabian Nights.  I'm looking forward to seeing where this story leads, but I first had to accept that it is not the best writing in the world--Wilson is better known for her work as a graphic novelist and her transition to prose still needs some work.  Regardless, pick up this book, it's worth it and if you don't believe me, it's also a New York Times 2012 Notable.”

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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