Half a Life, Onward

One month before his high school graduation, Darin Strauss unintentionally killed a classmate in a car accident. In a flash, one young life was gone and another irrevocably altered. How do you live with that?

This brutally honest memoir chronicles Darin's painful journey, through the eyes of a teenager just moving into adulthood and beyond. An awkward meeting with the girl's family adds to his guilt, and he endures curiosity and uncertain attention when he finally returns to school. Moving on to the "witness protection program" anonymity of college, the accident becomes part of his personal history, instead of his whole identity. Yet it never really fades into the background.

Strauss takes us through a life led with a ghost by his side; he doesn't seek sympathy or reassurance, he just doesn't know how to become himself rather than "that kid who killed the girl." By the end of Half a Life, he is married and the father of twin boys, a successful fiction writer now confronting the central event of his life. Hardly 200 pages in length, this book is a quick read but will stay with you long after the cover has been closed.

It’s a Wednesday and naturally everyone’s thoughts turn to the weekend.

Why not start a little early?

We have something to confess.  We have secret knowledge.  We know what is going to be in the New York Times Book Review before you do.   No, it's not that we are psychic although we'd like to be.  The truth is that we get a copy a week in advance.  We are going to share this secret knowledge with you!  Think of how you can dazzle at Drinks this weekend armed with your own secret knowledge! Giving the scoop on what everyone will be chatting up. It’s sort of like Insider Trading.  But with books.  And it’s legal.  

On this week’s cover we have a book that Barbara M.; Desketeer and lover of all things history, found to be a wonderful, readable, biography of one of the most powerful women in history.  In Cleopatra:  A Life by Stacy Schiff the author strips away all the myths written about her over the centuries and gives us a portrait of an intelligent woman who was fluent in 9 languages and while not the physical temptress of Liz Taylor proportions she certainly possessed that certain something as evidenced by her seduction of not only Caesar and Mark Antony but also of her loyal subjects.   In the review Kathryn Harrison writes:  “It’s dizzying to contemplate the thicket of prejudices, personalities and propaganda Schiff penetrated to reconstruct a woman whose style, ambition and audacity make her a subject worthy of her latest biographer.  After all Stacy Schiff’s writing is distinguished by those very same virtues.”



Dominique Browning has nothing but nice things to say about John Casey’s Compass Rose.  The story follows a small town in Rhode Island’s South County and its inhabitants.  Browning states “We need our inner compasses:  where you are is who you are.  Long after reading the last pages of Compass Rose I am still thinking about how we establish ourselves as one another’s magnetic directions – and hold fast.”

Here are the some of the other titles in this week’s NYTBR:


Scorpions: The Battles and triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman



First Family:  Abigail and John by Joseph Ellis




World and Town by Gish Jen



Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane



Edge by Jeffrey Deaver



 Blood Count by Reggie Nadelson

At the Desk you see it all.

And please believe us when we tell you sometimes we are stunned by that.

One of our latest favorite new arrivals is Oh No She Didn’t by Clinton Kelly from the TLC show What Not to Wear which we all freely admit to being fascinated by.  For those who have not seen the show it is a bit Queen for a Day but the needy on WNTW are the  Fashion Needy.  Terribly, terribly Fashion Needy.  So they get their old wardrobe thrown into a trash can, receive a Visa card with $5,000 and a set of rules they must follow while shopping in New York.  This to my mind is way better than wearing a cheap tiara and winning a major household appliance.

  Kelly takes on what he considers to be the top 100 style mistakes and tells you exactly why they are just that.  Mistakes.  Some of the topics he addresses are some of the  very same things that leave us scratching our heads such as Pajamas in Public, Matching your Mate, Tattoos and Evening Wear  and of course the one Fashion Faux Pas that causes Desketeers  to wring our hands and weep  the Abuse of Animal Print.  

This is a lot of fun and while we don’t agree to EVERYTHING he says (some of us look very nice in red lipstick thank you very much) we are enjoying passing this around.    And while rules are made to be broken please we beg of you do not break the socks with clogs rule.


King James Version

Every so often, a young athlete's story is so outstanding that he (or she) starts garnering national attention...like when LeBron James landed on Sports Illustrated's cover as a high school junior back in 2002, labeled as "The Chosen One." Eight years later, he is the premiere superstar in the NBA, but nearly a decade ago in Akron, Ohio, he and four other players comprised what may have been the best high school basketball team of all time.

More Than a Game documents this team and the way each of the five players learns to depend on the others and grow on court and off, including footage all the way back to their junior high years, friendships and tensions, controversy, setbacks, and achievement together. We all know what happened to LeBron, but who were the other four guys who helped him become a household name before he was old enough to vote?

A little more slick than Hoop Dreams, a lot more involving than re-created films "based on the true story," filmmaker Kristopher Belman took a chance when he started documenting the Akron team in 2001 -- there was no way of knowing that the story would be worth telling. Here we have the early days of a future Hall of Famer, the coming of age of five young men, and a compelling piece on sports and high school basketball in our modern culture -- a three pointer!

December = Destination Darien

Dr. Mark Schenker of Yale University to speak on December 1st at 7PM
Dr. Mark Schenker of Yale University to speak on December 1st at 7PM

Tuesday, December 1st at 7 PM

Over the past few months, you have joined Darien Library's staff as we have visited England, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, and France - and even found a bit of time to have some truly inspiring conversations about books! Though there were a lot of differing opinions about the characters, the authors' intents, the plots, and even the book covers, all who participated in this year's Fall Book Discussion SeriesAdventures for the Armchair Traveler, were able to settle on one single idea - that there is nothing quite like experiencing other cultures...other ideas...other lives...through a beautifully written word.

And whether or not you have read our selections for this series (Little Bee, A Golden Age, The Painter From Shanghai, and the one that seems to have generated the most love/hate relationships of them all - The Elegance of the Hedgehog), you won't want to miss out on the conclusion to our adventures in travel; it will surely be a treat for us all!

Our final destination is home - Darien Library, in fact! We welcome back one of our favorite speakers, Dr. Mark Schenker of Yale University, who will visit us on December 1st at 7:00 p.m.  to give a fascinating lecture, "Imagined Travels to Real Places: How Fiction Connects Us to Places We've Never Been." We will learn about how fiction, more than simply visiting a country as a tourist, allows us to experience another place or culture so that we really understand...we "get it" and not just "get there." It will surely be a treat for us all! 

Mark J. Schenker has been at Yale College since 1990. He is currently an associate dean of the College and dean of academic affairs. Born and raised in New York City, he received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University and has taught at Columbia, New York University, and Trinity College (Hartford). He was the recipient of the 2001 Wilbur Cross Award for Outstanding Humanities Scholar, presented by the Connecticut Humanities Council.

We're just MAD about Lucinda!

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It was an evening of laughter, great food, wine, and friends as we continued our Fall Author Series last night with a visit by acclaimed chef Lucinda Scala Quinn, who offered some tried and true tips from her new cookbook, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, on how to tame the "wild beasts" in our lives and share with us how to make a family meal that will attract even the pickiest of eaters and satisfy even the most urgent of hungry situations!

Aside from her expertise as Martha Stewart's "food guru," co-host of the PBS show Everyday Food, and frequent contributor to Today and Martha, Lucinda lives with three sons and a husband who all love to eat - so she really knows her stuff! Here are just some of the brilliant (and hilarious!) tips she gave the audience on how to make boys and men crave those nutritious, home-cooked meals and function on their own around the kitchen:
  • Always have bacon on hand. The stuff lasts forever! And whether you're serving it as a main part of your dish or not, the smell of bacon cooking will surely lure anyone to the kitchen table.
  • You will build a vegetable eater if you give vegetables their due credit. Rather than hiding spinach in a brownie dessert, celebrate the taste of the leafy green simply by sauteing it in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, to the point where it just begins to fall. Don't let it get soggy, and you'll have boys who will begin to adore the traditionally feared side-dish!
  • Men are not genetically incapable of washing dishes. They just need a little encouragement! If they leave crusted, dirty pots in the sink or on the stove, put them in a place that will have them horrified and rushing to the sink looking for the SOS. Lucinda’s suggested locations: their car seat or their sock drawers. Hmmm….
Not only did she dole out great strategies, our speaker and her eldest son Calder (remember that name; this boy is going to be a star!) prepared for the entire audience a tasting of the salsa recipe from the book. The secret to awesome salsa? Add radishes and water! It was amazing.... 
And we all feasted on the to-die-for desserts that the Library staff baked for refreshments during the book signing reception. (We did not bake the stunning book cake shown in the photos; but thank you so much to our favorite "To Read or Not To Read" gals for including us all in their birthday celebration!) Another tip from Lucinda - bake the coffee cake recipe from the book and then freeze it hot. It seals in all the moisture, so that when you cut a slice in the morning, it will be absolutely incredible. Freeze while still hot? Who knew?!
By the way, have I mentioned yet just how fabulous the new cookbook actually is? The recipes are diverse and comforting, the advice is practical and thorough, the photography is gorgeous, and the pages stay open on their own.  Plus, as one patron keenly pointed out last night, the book is complete with stories and explanations, and would make for as compelling a bedside read as the latest fiction best-seller.
What more can I say, other than, you'd be mad not to get your hands on this book!
Oh, and Lucinda loves Darien Library just as much as we love her! How cool is this?!

The A.J. Effect

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Yesterday evening, we kicked off our Fall Author Series with a visit from A.J. Jacobs, the delightful and hilarious best-selling author of The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, and his most recent memoir, The Guinea Pig Diaries.

And what an evening it was!

There was certainly no shortage of laughter to be had as A.J. shared personal stories of the experiments he has put himself (and his wife) through over the past 15 years in a quest to explore his curiosities about life. Perhaps one might think that deciding to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z, or choosing to follow all (literally all) the tenants of the Bible for an entire year, or spending a month practicing radical honesty, or posing in the nude for a magazine all might be suitable as punishment for committing a major crime. However, thank goodness A.J. sees the potential in these difficult and crazy tasks to add meaning to his life - and through each of his books, a whole lot of laughter and amazement to ours.

(By the way, last night, the audience got to meet his wife, Julie, "the saint." It was a bit of a surreal moment. And yes, she is absolutely wonderful!)

Now, many of us here are still recovering from what Barbara T. has brilliantly coined - The A.J. Effect. You know you're experiencing it when you find yourself spontaneously combusting into laughter at the mere thought of George Washington...or Crest Toothpaste...or Kate Hudson movies. It's true - none of these things are inherently funny. But when you combine A.J. Jacobs and his observations, witty style of writing, and thought-provoking insights with just about any subject, the result is something so hilarious and unforgettable that you are compelled to tell everyone (seriously, everyone) about his books and insist that they read them, too. 

If you happened to miss our event last night, or if you just want to re-live all of the laugh-out-loud goodness, keep your eye on our website. In the coming days, we will have A.J.'s entire talk available to watch as a webcast.

And here is a bit more fantastic news that we learned yesterday. A.J. is currently in the midst of his next major quest - to become the healthiest person in the world. He has a board of advisors (that includes Dr. Oz!), has starting visiting the gym, and he even refrained from snacking on the cheese and crackers at our reception last night (not a healthy food, he admitted). He takes his experiments very seriously - and I seriously cannot wait to read his next book!

I am madly in love with "Mad Hungry"

Really. This is my new favorite cookbook. Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn doesn't come out until mid-October, but I've seen a copy and believe me, it's glorious! I don't have any men and/or boys in my household anymore, but I suppose that if I did, I might love this cookbook even more(!)...so..I am here to tell you that these recipes are good for all genders, ages...and occasions! Don't let the title throw you! These are practical recipes for delicious homemade meals....and the book is beautiful with page after page of color photographs!

We will have to wait a little while for the book to be released, but then on Thursday, October 22nd at 7 p.m., Lucinda Scala Quinn will be our featured speaker as one of our Fall Author Series authors! Lucinda is Vice President and Editorial Director of Food and Entertaining of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. She is also the co-host of the Everyday Food program on PBS.

We'll be baking some excellent dessert recipes right out of this book to serve at the program...AND Lucinda will be doing a live demonstration of one of her recipes!

If this cooler weather is putting you in a cooking or baking frame of mind, plan on checking out this new book from Martha Stewart's Food and Entertainment guru and make sure to come to the program on the 22nd!

Green Day at the Library

Usually, our "green" news has to do with our fabulous new green building, but this time it's with a capital G, as in Green, as in George Dawes Green, who was our featured speaker at our Adult Summer Reading Grand Finale last week. In case you don't know already... his newest novel, the fabulously-reviewed Ravens is my favorite book of the summer. When the author agreed to come to Darien Library to speak, I was expecting something really good...possibly GREAT...what we got was AMAZING.!










There's something about a Southerner being in the room that slows the whole pace down just a bit. When you factor in the remarkable writing and storytelling ability and his skill at provoking thriller-worthy tension for the reader/listener, George Dawes Green was the perfect tonic for the lull of August. Just as he does in Ravens, he drew everyone in instantly. Thrills. Laughter. Pin-dropping tension. His genre is the thriller. His writing is poetic. His storytelling, masterful. This was goosebumps in August.

We can't mention George Dawes Green's incredible storytelling ability without mentioning that he is the founder of The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization. That's the very basic description...if you saw this past Sunday's New York Times, then you know it's much bigger than that. The Sunday Styles section led with a (huge!) fabulous article about The Moth. We are so pleased that George agreed to spend some time with us and share his great talent.

This special author event was the highlight of our Grand Finale for our Adult Summer Reading Program but that night, we also had the drawing for the Grand Prize winners. Considering the hundreds of entries that we had, it was such fun that all three winners were in the audience that night! Here are just a few more shots from this extraordinary event.



 Thank you to everyone (members...staff....George) for making this our most successful Adult Summer Reading Program ever!



Worth Reading (and Thinking About)

One day last week I was looking for a good book to read. While browsing the Library's 7-day books, I began chatting with Pat and Jen, two members of the Darien Library's terrific Readers' Advisory team. Both women enthusiastically recommended Chis Cleave's new novel, Little Bee. Mr. Cleave's award-winning first novel, Incendiary, published in 2005, had somehow missed my radar, so I was not familiar with him or his books. I'm happy to say that my colleagues' recommendation was right on the mark. The plot revolves around the hot button issue of immigration and deftly exposes the many sides to this issue. The narration alternates between Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee recently released from a detention center outside of London, and Sarah, a career woman, wife and mother living in the suburbs. Through Little Bee, we come to know Sarah, Andrew, and Charlie, the British family whose lives intersect fatefully with that of Little Bee. I found the story engrossing and the characters richly drawn. If you enjoy thought-provoking, realistic fiction, Little Bee may be a good choice for you or your book club. But, if you're looking for something else entirely, have a chat with our Readers' Advisory team. They'll be sure to find something you'll enjoy!

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