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2015 Staff Picks

November 2015

Book Cover for The Nakeds Glatt, Lisa
The Nakeds

One spring day in 1970, 6-year-old Hannah Teller walks to school in a California neighborhood without sidewalks. She’s walking to school because her parents are fighting. Hannah's mom, Nina, just discovered that morning that her husband, Asher, has been having an affair for 6 years and wants a divorce. Hannah wants to escape the arguing.
Martin Kettle is also trying to escape. A young man of 20 with no idea what to do with his life, other than follow in his parent’s footsteps running the family restaurant business. But is this really what he wants? He is withdrawing from his family and turning to drugs and alcohol for the answers.
That morning in 1970, Martin hits Hannah with his car while driving under the influence. In his impaired state, he can’t figure out what to do and makes the wrong decision. He floors the accelerator and drives away from the scene.
What follows is a study of how this one event shapes the lives of everyone involved – Hannah, her parents, and Martin. At the heart of this novel is a lesson in accepting consequences, taking responsibility, and learning from those unexpected things that happen to you.
Recommended by Melissa, November 2015

Book Cover for How to Be a Victorian Goodman, Ruth
How to Be a Victorian

If you are like you me and you read a lot of historical fiction, you may find yourself distracted at times worrying about how on earth people washed their horribly soiled clothing, or thinking about the time it must have taken them to get dressed in all those layers in the first place. Crinoline and waistcoats and various woolen frocks: someone had to spend hours sewing and assembling these items, laundering them, and fussing about the social implications of each piece. And don't even get me started on daily hygiene and toilet practicalities. Author Goodman has gone the distance in her exhaustive research in this book detailing the morning-to-night rigors of being a Victorian. She has actually tried for herself (very successfully) to live periods of her own life according the the conventions and technologies of that era. The end result is fascinating, and it made me really appreciate plumbing like nothing else.
Recommended by Connie, November 2015

Book Cover for Pleasure and a Calling Hogan, Phil
A Pleasure and a Calling

William Heming is the narrator of this tale, and he assures us from the beginning of what a supremely talented and superior individual he is. Heming is a real estate agent by profession — polite, unassuming, and attentive. But after he has convinced a homeowner to engage his services, his first move is to make copies of the home’s front door key which he keeps long after the homes have been sold. He is not a thief or voyeur in the traditional sense. He simply enjoys wandering through other people’s homes, touching their possessions, sitting in their chairs, searching through their closets and cabinets. He imagines the daily lives of the people in whose homes he trespasses, certain that he could manage their lives far more deftly than they. He keeps his distance, enjoying the fantasy life he has created. But then Heming breaks his own rules and becomes obsessed with a young woman engaged in an affair with a married man. This clever thriller then becomes more than a psychological study in aberrant behavior. Heming must find a way to stop the affair, because, of course, he not only knows what is best for the confused young woman, he also knows the perfect punishment for the wayward husband. The tension builds as Heming takes us along on his ride to retribution with an ending that is unexpected and perfect. Like me, you will probably start thinking about changing your locks.
Recommended by Jane, November 2015

Book Cover for Incognegro Johnson, Mat

Graphic Novel
While reading Helen Oyeyemi's excellent Boy, Snow, Bird, I became intrigued by the history of passing within the African American community. Years ago, I'd read John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me - which chronicles a white man attempting to pass as a black man in the Deep South - as well as James Weldon Johnson's story of black-to-white passing in The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, but I was curious to learn more. As I talked to friends and family about passing, I was referred to more and more stories. Even a decade before Griffin's trip, a white, Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer named Ray Sprigle traveled the lower U.S. as a black man. He documented his experiences in a series of articles for the newspaper and in a subsequent book, In the Land of Jim Crow. Other gems include Nella Larsen's Passing, Philip Roth's The Human Stain and the movie it inspired, and Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life and the subsequent film starring Lana Turner. My curiosity took me beyond racial passing to other types of passing used to alter one's circumstances, such as Afghan girls and women passing as males in The Underground Girls of Kabul.
Of all these remarkable stories, Incognegro by Mat Johnson stood out as one I'd never heard before. It's inspired by Walter White, former head of the NAACP, who used his light skin to pose as a white investigator and journalist in the south during the early 1920s. In this way, he gleaned crucial intelligence by conversing candidly with elected officials, lynchers, and others who assumed he was white. On one occasion his cover was blown and he narrowly escaped a mob by hopping a train. Johnson melds this history to create a graphic mystery with a fast-paced, noir style that begins in Harlem, heads South, and returns to New York City. It's not without tragedy, but journalism helps achieve some surprise justice in the end.
Recommended by Rita, November 2015


October 2015

Book Cover for Without You Kim, Suki
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

It is difficult to imagine what life may actually be like in "the world's most unknowable country," but Kim, born in South Korea, put herself through the rigors of disguising herself as an English teacher in order to find out. For several months, Kim experienced the utter mental and physical exhaustion that arises from censoring oneself every waking moment. And she learned that every lesson she taught and every cafeteria conversation she had among students and colleagues brought with it the risk of punishment. She could not easily discuss something as simple as attending professional tennis matches in New York, for example, without unduly “bragging” about the United States. If a student asked her about the concept of national assembly, she had to dodge the perceived political implications or speak only in the most vague terms. For her, the recourse of speaking freely on any topic likely would have meant immediate deportation, but for her students, such a conversation overheard by the wrong parties could have meant execution. This is a devastating memoir of one woman's brief encounter with the modern real-life dystopia that is North Korea.
Recommended by Connie, October 2015

Book Cover for Hammer Head MacLaughlin, Nina
Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter

Nominated for the New England Book Awards in non-fiction, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter is a lyrically constructed memoir of a twenty-something female journalist-turned-carpenter. In 2008, Nina MacLaughlin found herself in a stable, well-paying journalism career, feeling increasingly uninspired and unsatisfied with media life in front of the computer screen. She quit her job at a Boston newspaper, and after 6 months of contemplating what she'd done and what she should do next, a Craigslist post caught her eye: "Carpenter's assistant: women strongly encouraged to apply." Armed with brute strength and eagerness to learn as her only qualifications, after working one day with imperturbable carpenter and fearless mentor, Mary, a new builder was born. Though she finds the reality of carpentry hard and often painful, dangerous work, MacLaughlin finds a genuine satisfaction in creating real objects and spaces, despite missing the comforts of a predictable income and regular work. Hammer Head offers insight into a life of learning: the importance of staying receptive to new information and experiences, of experimenting, of getting it all wrong, and trying again. With precise technical drawings of tools by artist Joe McVetty and occasional segues to detail the history of a tool, MacLaughlin's story is entertaining, inspiring, and illuminating.
Recommended by Rita J., October 2015

Book Cover for Borrowed Time Monette, Paul
Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir

Paul Monette’s memoir about caring for his partner Roger Horwitz during his fight with AIDS is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully affecting memoirs I’ve ever read – about AIDS or otherwise. Drawing heavily from Paul’s journals, Borrowed Time has a chronological feel to it, giving the reader the feeling of being in medias res during the nineteen months from Roger’s diagnosis in March 1985 to his death in October 1986. It’s unabashedly human and raw, as Paul spills emotions of anger and frustration, admitting what he doesn’t remember and portraying vividly what he does.
Living with AIDS feels akin to living on the moon, Paul writes, and that metaphor – along with the symbolism of light and dark – shows up frequently in Borrowed Time. In 1985, that’s how it was; AIDS patients and those caring for them were very much on a different planet than the rest of society.
The writing in Borrowed Time is spectacularly gorgeous. There’s not a single page where Paul Monette doesn’t leave a piece of his heart while taking part of his reader’s.
Recommended by Melissa F., October 2015

Book Cover for Those Girls Stevens, Chevy
Those Girls

In her darkest thriller yet, Chevy Stevens follows the lives of three sisters over the course of eighteen years. This book begins on the fateful night when their father abuses them for the last time and they need to get out of town quick. Along the way to a new life in Vancouver, their truck breaks down and the two boys they meet from this small town aren’t very helpful, in fact, they’re more hurtful than anything. After a horrifying five days, the sisters manage to escape and make their way to the coast. There they make new names, new lives, and a family for themselves. But their past is always there to haunt their present, until one of the sisters decides she finally has to do something about it.
Recommended by Melissa, October 2015


September 2015

Book Cover for Being Mortal Gawande, Atul
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

What’s going to happen to you when you get old? Who will take care of you? How will they take care of you? Will your last days be peaceful? Do you want the freedom to choose whether or not you can smoke cigarettes and eat french fries when you are 88? If you’ve never asked yourself these questions, you will when you read Being Mortal. This bestselling author, MD, and MPH (when does he sleep?), does his research to give you an exhaustive look at the history and current state of medical care for the aging and very ill. Gawande interviews multiple professionals and gives examples from his own life to shed light on our fear of death and how that affects our elderly. American medicine doesn’t deal well with death, but we learn in this book that due to the dedication of a small group of people, that’s slowly changing. This is a powerful and necessary read.
Recommended by Holly, September 2015

Book Cover for Vintage Gloss, Susan

Summer might be coming to a close but that doesn't mean the reading can't still be easy. Spend a few delightful hours in Madison, Wisconsin, where Violet Turner has rebuilt her life after a disastrous first marriage. She now owns a successful vintage clothing store in a trendy university neighborhood, and enjoys a pleasant, if predictable, existence. But as some new customers (a pregnant teenage bride who has been left at the altar and a middle-aged woman whose traditional marriage has crumbled) arrive one summer, she reluctantly becomes involved in their lives. When Violet learns that her lease is up and she’s faced with losing her livelihood, she turns to these women for the support and confidence to save her business. Just when it appears that she’s headed for a happy ending, her ex-husband reappears, threatening her safety and a new romance with an old acquaintance. Each chapter is cleverly framed around items that have been brought into the shop, and each item has a story to tell. Pull up a lawn chair, pour the iced tea, and discover whether some people really do get second chances.
Recommended by Jane, September 2015

Book Cover for Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Kondo, Marie
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

I normally don’t read organizational self-help books, but I noticed that this title had over 700 holds. I started hearing about it and it seemed like it was rapidly gaining cult status. I grew curious, but worried that it would be no match for the profoundly deep-seated slob inside of me.

I bypassed all the holds since this popular book is “always available” as a streaming e-audiobook on the Library’s free Hoopla app. I repeatedly listened to it on my phone and found that: a.) it has changed my life, and b.) my home actually feels more peaceful.

Ms. Kondo offers a philosophy for ordering one’s home, but her main premise is that if an item doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. She’s coming from an animistic Shinto perspective; that means the items that aren't bringing me joy anymore (if they ever did) aren't happy just sitting there, gathering dust or being stored in the back of my closet. Belongings want to be useful, so I should get rid of them so they can be useful to someone else. Each thing I discard I should hold in my hands and thank for its work in my life, even if that means thanking it for helping me realize I don't like that sort of thing. This was most meaningful to me as I went through my books—most of which I got rid of. I held a mini-ceremony for each volume, thanking it for what it taught me and how it shaped my worldview, and then knowing that I would never read it again, released it into the world to shape someone else’s worldview.

This book goes through each category of one’s home, section by section, first covering what to get rid of, then offering guidelines for keeping good order of one’s clothes, junk drawers, papers, books, etc. Much of it went against prevailing methods I’d previously heard about, and all were fascinating. Ms. Kondo has clearly thought her methods through.
Recommended by Bonnie, September 2015

Book Cover for Primates of Park Avenue Martin, Wednesday
Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir

Ever see those people walking down the street with their fancy clothes and bags, getting into luxury cars with drivers? Yeah, me neither. But you would in New York City, especially on the Upper East Side (also known as the UES). This richer-than-rich conclave within a city already known for its excesses has its own rules, language, customs, and hazing rituals. All of this the author came to discover when she made the move from lower Manhattan to the UES. Armed with a degree in anthropology, she chose to study her new environment, and its inhabitants, through the lens of an embedded researcher. This both helped her deal with the hazing and shunning she experienced as a newbie, and learn what behaviors she needed to mimic to assimilate and be accepted as one of them. Told from her personal point of view, and peppered with related notable anthropological studies of both people and animals, this is a fascinating study of a tribe most of us will never get close enough to interact with. (But they just might run us off the sidewalk, if we’re not carrying the right bag!)
Recommended by Melissa, September 2015


August 2015

Book Cover for Here If You Need Me Braestrup, Kate
Here If You Need Me: A True Story

It's hard to explain how a book that features lost children, missing husbands, harrowing accidents and unusual death rituals can be uplifting, but, somehow, this book is. Kate Braestrup is a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, a job she got after she followed her dead husband's dream to become a minister. Between poignant anecdotes about her four children and imaginary explanations to her skeptical family as to how she even believes in God, she talks about her work, riding with wardens who have seen the worst that can happen to a family, listening to people tell her their views on religion, or praying over bodies found in the woods before they're taken to the morgue for examination. A gentle, funny, wry look at human suffering, this book is a comfort, written by a woman anyone would want to have around in a crisis.
Recommended by Kaarin, August 2015

Fleishman, Lauren
The Lovers

In this lovely photo-essay, Lauren Fleishman asks various elderly couples for the secret in nurturing their long-term relationships... and some of the couples won't divulge. As one husband states, "A secret is a secret, and I don't reveal my secrets." The interviewees are often quite snarky toward each other — even as they speak of their lives together, which makes for a good laugh and a reminder that everyone constructs their own successful relationship, one mistake at a time. We read of the love that has permeated their souls as we view their bodies surrendering to time.
Recommended by miguel, August 2015

Book Cover for The Nightingale Hannah, Kristin
The Nightingale

Hannah's novel is a touching narrative of how two sisters' lives were rearranged by the Nazi invasion of France. Vianne is the older sister that teenager Isabelle never got to know. Being born more than a decade apart, Isabelle was just a small girl when her sister had several miscarriages. Vianne couldn't provide the emotional support her little sister needed upon the death of their mother, and their father washed his hands of both of them. He had gone from being a loving father to a changed man after his own experiences in the Great War. The sisters have been separated for years before Isabelle comes to live with Vianne for a short time at the dawn of World War II. Isabelle is an impulsive young woman who then leaves their small village for Paris, delivering messages for the underground French resistance and rescuing Allied pilots who have crashed there. Vianne, a mother and the wife of a French soldier in a prisoner-of-war camp, never thought of herself as brave like her sister, but she too contributes to the war effort, helping to hide Jewish children until the war is over. The sisters' paths cross several times during the war, and they finally reunite by the end of the story. The horrors they both endure are powerfully detailed in this emotional tale of love and perseverance. A terrible act at the end of the story results in an unexpected blessing for one of the sisters, proving that, out of the atrocities of war, wonderful things may come.
Recommended by Terry, August 2015

Book Cover for Beneath the Lion's Gaze Mengiste, Maaza
Beneath the Lion's Gaze

After enduring a horrifying drought-turned-famine during the 1970s, the country of Ethiopia is on the verge of civil war. Emperor and King of Kings Haile Selassie — through either incompetence, indifference, or both — is deposed, then executed. Of course (as with most violent revolutions), the new rulers, a military junta, are worse than the people they have replaced. Mengiste's story follows the family of a respected doctor as they attempt to survive this time of struggle and strife. Differing political views, and conflicting ideas on how to proceed, threaten to tear the family (and the country) apart. The familial bonds are strong, but are they strong enough? — Yes and No.
Beneath the Lion's Gaze is a terrifying tale that displays the best and worst of human behavior — with the arrow pointing mostly toward the worst.
Recommended by John, August 2015


July 2015

Book Cover for A Touch of Stardust Alcott, Kate
A Touch of Stardust

What a wonderful novel — perfect for Gone with the Wind fans, admirers of vintage Hollywood, or just those who enjoy a sweet love story. Julie, a naïve girl from Indiana, moves to California with dreams of becoming a successful screenwriter. Little does she know that a chance encounter with movie star Carole Lombard would lead the way to rewarding friendships and professional opportunities. Set on the backlot during the filming of Gone with the Wind, the real life romance of Carole Lombard and leading man Clark Gable is expertly interspersed with the story of Julie’s own budding relationship. Written by the daughter-in-law of a Hollywood screenwriter, A Touch of Stardust is an honest and engaging look at the behind-the-scenes Hollywood lifestyle.
Recommended by Karen G., July 2015

Book Cover for Beautiful Struggle Coates, Ta-Nehisi
The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at The Atlantic, writes of his upbringing in inner-city Baltimore and his relationship with his former-Black Panther, vegetarian, disciplinarian father. He is one of seven children his father had with four different women, but unlike many of his friends and neighbors, his father was around for all of them. While Coates surely appreciates it as an adult, as a kid, he and his older brother Bill are torn between the siren call of the streets and their unusual family, that not only has a father around, but one who insists on having tofu for dinner and instilling pride in their African and African American roots. Their dad works tirelessly as a librarian at Howard University, referred to in this book as “the Mecca,” while also running a small press dedicated to publishing historical African and African American authors who might otherwise be lost to obscurity.
While I don’t think I am the intended audience for this book, I enjoyed learning all sorts of cultural references I had never heard before. The rhythmic prose elucidates both Coates’ perspective and his father’s. Coates struggles to uphold his father’s academic legacy despite an utter indifference to school, while his father’s perspective is one of a man trying to raise his children with a social conscience, an ability to make a living, and an understanding of right and wrong. The struggle, as told by Coates, is truly both beautiful and moving.
Recommended by Kaarin, July 2015

Galimberti, Gabriele
In Her Kitchen

Gabriele Galimberti has the delicious profession of traveling the globe to take photographs. Especially delicious because, on a recent trip, he met with grandmothers in many countries and asked them to prepare their signature meal. He captured images of each cook, ingredients for her meal, and the final result. Of course, Galimberti didn't leave without tasting those results. During his travels in Thailand, Armenia, Bolivia, Kenya, and dozens of other countries, some of his hosts used piles of ingredients and a fully equipped kitchen while others used just a handful of items and a metal grill placed on some stones outdoors. The recipe for each dish is included. If you loved Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, you'll devour In Her Kitchen.
Recommended by Rita, July 2015

Book Cover for All the Birds, Singing Wyld, Evie
All the Birds, Singing

I found myself haunted by All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, which follows its strong protagonist from her past in the dusty outback of Australia all the way to her current life as a sheep farmer on an isolated British island. This is a dark book, and often reads like a horror story; it is not without some hope and humor though, and the main protagonist is one of the toughest women I’ve encountered in fiction in some time.
Recommended by Tara, July 2015


June 2015

Book Cover for The Summer We Fell Apart Antalek, Robin
The Summer We Fell Apart

The layers of a disfunctional family are revealed by the four distinct voices of the siblings involved. Two sisters and their brothers grapple with the aftermath of the indifferent parenting provided for them by their self-absorbed parents. Each has developed their own unique survival tactics and they all strive to support one another. There is an unanticipated addition to the story at the end which gives readers the distance needed to separate from the fray and provides a potentially healing viewpoint for anyone struggling with family issues. If you like this book as much as I did, you may want to check out The Grown Ups.
Recommended by Geo, June 2015

Book Cover for The Absolutist Boyne, John
The Absolutist

I listened to this title via Overdrive eAudiobooks. I have a bit of a thing for WWI novels. It is an era that interests me, perhaps because I am not old enough to know anyone who experienced it. As a child, my father had a neighbor who was a WWI vet, and he spoke of this man in reverent hushed tones. The war was horrific, and this novel pulls no punches in opening up the awfulness of the trench warfare, the sheer staggering scope, and the fearsome technology. This war was like nothing the world had ever seen. Set against this dismal backdrop is a clandestine love story between Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft. We meet Tristan as he is traveling to Will’s hometown to deliver a package of letters to his family. As a reader you will be gripped from the beginning with an overwhelming sense of doom, though the doom is broken up with a few pockets of sweetness to keep you going.
Recommended by Holly, June 2015

Book Cover for Second Avenue Caper Brabner, Joyce
Second Avenue Caper

When HIV was yet to be named, when it was still perceived as a disease that affected only gay communities, and when any effective treatment was years away, a diverse circle of New Yorkers gathered to find a solution, or at least some comfort, for their dying friends and partners. Through one member in particular, a nurse, we learn the story of the group's wacky but dangerous travels to Mexico in search of Ribavirin, which was then thought to assuage HIV symptoms. These journeys required transactions with mafiosos, elaborate costumes, and a tricked-out RV. Brabner, a longtime friend of the nurse, authors this true story, and veteran illustrator Mark Zingarelli is a homegrown Pittsburgher.
This is a fine companion to Dallas Buyers Club, but with a more authentic, lesser-known protagonist. If you like this tale of a small band of queer and straight folks getting together to make a difference, try Pride, a film based on the true story of striking Welsh mineworkers and their gay London supporters in the 1980s.
Recommended by Rita, June 2015

Book Cover for Two Boys Kissing Levithan, David
Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing grabs you at the title. You know what this is going to be about – but you’re only partially right. Because while you expect this to be about two teenage boys (Craig and Harry) and their complicated relationship with each other, you don’t expect them to be observed (as they publicly try to break the world’s record for the longest kiss) by anonymous, once-closeted voices from a past and an era defined by an epidemic that once turned thousands of young men like Craig and Harry into instant ghosts.
David Levithan’s writing in this young adult novel is powerful, making this so very much more than just an LBGTQ novel. In its own way, it’s groundbreaking on a level rarely seen. This is a novel that speaks to the very truth about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be your own true self.
Recommended by Melissa F., June 2015


May 2015

Book Cover for Arab in America El Rassi, Toufic
Arab in America

Graphic Nonfiction
One of the joys of our extensive graphic collection is the chance to encounter voices that are too often absent or silent in other formats. I've met ordinary but compelling characters from around the world in the graphic format, whether in Zahra's Paradise, The Harlem Hellfighters, or Waltz With Bashir. So I wasn't surprised to find, in the graphic nonfiction shelves, a Lebanese-American's account of pre- and post-9/11 life in the States. El Rassi's perspective is important but rarely heard, and contrasts his commonplace, suburban upbringing and college years with his perceived threat to the United States. So that he doesn't appear to be the enemy, his family advises El Rassi to make changes in his daily life, such as shaving on 9/11, going by the name David instead of Toufic, and telling people he's Greek instead of Lebanese in the days following the Oklahoma City bombing. Despite these changes, El Rassi is subjected to anti-Arab racism, but too intimidated to stand up for others who are discriminated against for the same reasons. And though he agrees strongly with the antiwar movement, he's too scared to join in a peaceful antiwar demonstration on campus. El Rassi captures his frustration and shame perfectly through the facial expressions in his illustrations, and his eyes stay with the reader long after the book is closed. A warning: There are frequent misspellings and grammatical errors in this book; don't let that obscure the entirely worthwhile content.
Recommended by Rita, May 2015

Book Cover for Euphoria King, Lily

Selected as one of the New York Times’ Best Books of 2014, this story is loosely based on a scandalous episode in the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. Nell Stone and her equally inspired yet less-celebrated husband are traveling through the villages and the lives of indigenous populations of New Guinea, hoping for the next big breakthrough in their research. They reconnect with colleague Andrew Bankson, and their professional and private passions and jealousies collide. A steamy love triangle set in a steamy jungle? Yes, but so much more. Here is a literate glimpse into what makes science so exciting and what might compel otherwise disciplined, intelligent people to sacrifice the work that gives their lives meaning. There are two other recent novels also written by women about women scientists and these are compelling as well. First, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert is the story of Alma Whittaker, a brilliant botanist who has the misfortune to be born female in 1800. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett follows Dr. Marina Singh on her journey from a Minnesota pharmaceutical laboratory to the jungles of Brazil where she searches for a lost colleague and her own identity.
Recommended by Jane, May 2015

Book Cover for Lost White Tribes Orizio, Riccardo
Lost White Tribes

Sitting at a table in a restaurant in Sri Lanka in the fading twilight of the twentieth century, Riccardo Orizio, an Italian journalist, is intrigued by the absence of melanin apparent in the skin tone of a waiter. Even more surprising, Orizio notes, is that his darker Sri Lankan friend, a Sinhalese with whom he is sharing a meal, displays no curiosity whatsoever -- the "white" waiter, Orizio's friend finally remarks, is "a Sri Lankan like me".
This chance encounter of the native in the assumed guise of the foreigner leads Orizio to pursue other titular "lost white tribes" in the various corners of the globe in which the jetsam of imperialism and war (and some might correctly suggest these are hardly distinguishable endemic features of the modern world) have assumed a small, but no longer distinct, role in the identity and history of these places, very much contradictory to the reader's expectations, and often just as contrary to the self-identification of the "tribes" themselves.
The narrative meanders in impressions of people and places, interjected with some attempt at historicity, though ultimately preventing the reader from assuming a cohesive body of knowledge upon the conclusion of each chapter's exploration. In this frustration of nebulousness, the reader might often question the quality of Orizio's reportage, style, or dedication to his project. The advantage of such an approach is perceived only upon reflection that the people and the history that Orizio is attempting to recover in this document are themselves a compromise between official historical narratives of power and aristocracy and, with the passage of time, the mediated reconstruction of subaltern testimony, in which the persistence of the values of supremacy is subverted by minority status. The results are surprising, appalling, enlightening, and disturbing, yet easily appreciated because of Orizio's intimate style. The reader is also present in these pages (after all, all of us come from someplace else), and as immediately unconvinced as the author at the ability of any one story explaining away these ghosts still haunting the four corners of the world.
Recommended by miguel, May 2015

Book Cover for The Disaster Artist Sestero, Greg
The Disaster Artist

Over the past few months Hollywood has been celebrating the best in filmmaking over the past year, but why not take a break from the best and celebrate one of the worst achievements in filmmaking with the book The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero. The Disaster Artist is about Greg Sestero’s time working on the film The Room, which is considered one of the worst films of all time. The Room was written and directed by, and stars, Tommy Wiseau, so the book also follows Greg’s relationship with Tommy and the rest of the cast. The Room has become a cult classic, and is similar to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in its audience participation at viewings. The book is at times funny and a little sad, but it is always entertaining.
Recommended by Katie, May 2015


April 2015

Book Cover for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted Armstrong, Jennifer
Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic

While it helps to have some knowledge of and appreciation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when reading Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, this isn’t your usual television/celebrity retrospective. This focuses mostly on the women who wrote for the show and why having a team of female comedy writers was so groundbreaking in 1970. In today’s anything-goes television environment, it’s hard to remember how revolutionary MTM was. The idea of Mary being divorced and having a career was – to put it mildly – a hard sell to network executives. Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted explains how the writers and producers got around that and also explains how having a female writing team significantly shaped the controversial issues portrayed on the show. I enjoyed this for the inside stories and especially the perspective on the writers. It was also a dose of nostalgia, as Jennifer Keishin Armstrong references so many magnificent shows of television’s Golden Age of Comedy. Truly, Mary Richards’ influence and that of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is more far-reaching than anyone probably ever imagined.
Recommended by Melissa F., April 2015

Book Cover for Ghost Bride Choo, Yangsze
Ghost Bride

I recently read Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Poignant and easy to read, it celebrates and explains Asian customs so simply that you'll be fully engrossed by page 10!
Recommended by Linda L., April 2015

Book Cover for The Girl on the Train Hawkins, Paula
The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is the quintessential psychological thriller. Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee, rides the London commuter train each day to hide her recent job loss from her roommate. Bored, she creates a fantasy life for a couple she notices daily and is horrified when real life events overtake her make believe world. The story is perfectly paced and told in the viewpoints of three women who may or may not be trusted. Full of tension and aching to be read in one sitting if you have the time, this debut is a crowd-pleasing good read that is already optioned for an upcoming film.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2015

Book Cover for Nine Inches Perrotta, Tom
Nine Inches

Short Stories
Tom Perrotta's latest collection of stories, Nine Inches, is rife with my kind of action. People see, hear, think, and sometimes even walk and talk at the same time. You can't wait to find out what isn't going to happen next. Being transported into the mind of the protagonist wrestling with his/her dilemma is enough to keep the pages turning. If you're worried that the action in these stories may be too subtle for you, there is almost always a revelation at the end. Satisfaction guaranteed. I was recently reading More Baths Less Talking, by Nick Hornby, and discovered that Hornby is also a fan of Perrotta — and for the same reasons that I am!
Recommended by Geo, April 2015

Book Cover for Season to Taste Young, Natalie
Season to Taste

...In which an otherwise normal housewife, Lizzie Prain, hacks up her husband and eats him piece by piece, with gourmet recipes to boot. "You can still wear earrings," she says. This is one of her first bits of advice to herself. Lizzie's 30-year marriage quietly dissolved over time - failed jobs, emotional distance, lack of trust and confidence, until one day she hit her husband over the head with a garden shovel. In a panic, she chops him up and throws his body parts, neatly labeled, into the freezer. In order to hide the evidence and make the environmentally responsible choice, she decides to eat him over a series of meals. This fictitious parable is both a dark comedy and a tale that cautions against letting a relationship consume oneself.
Recommended by Holly, April 2015


March 2015

Book Cover for Orange Is the New Black Kerman, Piper
Orange Is the New Black

As you probably already know, the hit Netflix series is based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman. Like other exposés of prison life, this one offers compelling details of the incarcerated life and its culture, including the rituals surrounding welcoming new inmates, celebrating birthdays and holidays, the ingenuity of prison-cell cooking, and how the people bond and support one another while trying to maintain a routine that resembles normal life. There are many moments of warmth and compassion among the inmates that help them cope with infuriating commonplace injustices. For viewers of the show, an added layer of interest is the running comparison of how situations and characters from the book were adapted, and largely exaggerated, for the sake of good TV.
Recommended by Rick, March 2015

Book Cover for Half the Sky Kristof, Nicholas
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have spent their lives advocating for, and reporting on the stories of, incredibly brave and courageous women in the most remote corners of the globe. These are women easily forgotten, yet in Half the Sky, Kristoff and WuDunn make sure their stories are heard. They take the reader to the brothels and the desolate hospitals; we see the inspiration of the women-owned businesses started with Kiva microloans. Half the Sky is not always the easiest book to read, but it is transformative, if only by knowing more about our world and those in it. It is also hopeful. Kristof and WuDunn show how it is possible for everyday, average people to make a difference in the world through even the simplest of acts.
Recommended by Melissa F., March 2015

Book Cover for Dear Committee Members Schumacher, Julie
Dear Committee Members

Dear library patrons, I am writing to wholeheartedly recommend Julie Schumacher's latest novel, a very funny and slender series of letters by a professor at a mediocre Midwestern institution. Jason Fitger, whose colleagues include his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, is a member of a department that receives little notice from administrators, is constantly under renovation, and churns out graduates whose job opportunities are scarce. He releases his resulting indignation and unchecked conceitedness in numerous cringeworthy epistles. Even so, his talent at writing recommendation letters is so polished that he can identify and promote the miniscule strengths of even the most pitiful candidate. If you count yourself as a member of academia - either as a faculty member or administrator - you'll instantly recognize the bureaucratic headaches, pedantic missives, and internecine departmental rivalries plaguing your profession. Do accept this book as a humorous antidote.
Recommended by Rita, March 2015

Book Cover for Sally Heathcote, Suffragette Talbot, Mary
Sally Heathcote, Suffragette

Graphic Novels
You may know the names and struggles of American suffragists such as Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. The names and struggles of the British suffrage movement are less well-known, but not less dramatic. Sally Heathcote, Suffragette chronicles a large part of the story through the eyes of an orphan girl who grows up in the household of one of two rival families who champion the cause of suffrage in England. Stirring black and white art lit by pops of color takes Sally on a journey from the beginning of the 20th century to her deathbed in the '60s and covers debates on pacifism, guerilla protest tactics, the right to vote and, of course, the nature of love. The graphic format makes covering such a large swath of time an easy prospect, and the research done by Mary Talbot and the artists shines through on the page.
Recommended by Tessa B., March 2015


February 2015

Book Cover for Pym Johnson, Mat

Seeking satirical literary fiction that's not too highbrow? Mat Johnson may be best known for several graphic novels, including an edition of Hellblazer, but he's also written three other novels, including Pym, which he spent more than nine years crafting. In it, African American professor Chris Jaynes is denied tenure for refusing to join his employer's diversity committee. After barely restraining himself from assaulting the college president, he then assaults his faculty replacement. Fired and divorced, an embittered Jaynes sets off for Antarctica to investigate rumors of a snow creature alluded to in Edgar Allan Poe's only novel. The Yeti-like figure is said to inhabit an African diasporan homeland in the South Pole region, and its ties to Poe fascinate the former literature professor. Jaynes is joined by his best friend, cousin, and ex-wife (plus her new beau, to Jaynes' dismay). Their less-than-successful adventures are amusing, yet full of incisive racial and environmental commentary. Jaynes' best friend nearly steals the show; he's a former bus driver from Detroit obsessed with Little Debbie snack cakes and "Thomas Karvel" - a thinly veiled pseudonym for that pastel-loving painter you might recognize as Kincaid.
Recommended by Rita, February 2015

Book Cover for The Bluest Eye Morrison, Toni
The Bluest Eye

In this classic novel of African American culture, women's history, and family, Pecola desperately wants to have blue eyes. It takes the destruction of her mind and soul for her wish to come "true". You can't be sure who to root for in this novel of family devastation, but you can sympathize with everyone, in one way or another. This is a novel for thoughtful reflection; don't expect to be uplifted, though you just might come out the other end enlightened.
This novel is available to check out from the library in print or a book on CD and online through Overdrive as an eBook or audiobook.
Recommended by Melissa, February 2015

Book Cover for Nairobi Heat Mukoma, Wa Ngugi
Nairobi Heat

In this unconventionally conventional police procedural, a cop chases down the clues to a murder in Wisconsin by flying to Kenya. The writer is the son of the (absolutely wonderful) Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, but, significantly, Mukoma was born in Illinois. This hybrid African/American perspective seems to offer Mukoma unique perspectives on racism in both the United States and Africa, the dynamics of the relationship between power and community, and the ambiguous ties between African-Americans and the African continent, making the read a worthy experience.
Recommended by Miguel, February 2015

Book Cover for Men We Reaped Ward, Jesmyn
Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for her fiction title Salvage the Bones, and she approaches this memoir in a novel way, telling her own life story through the deaths of 5 young men. The title is from Harriet Tubman: "We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped." If this sounds dark, know that it is. Growing up in Mississippi, there were many dangers in Jesmyn’s community: poverty, drugs, resignation. The young men in Jesmyn's life all died in different ways, and each grief shared is as agonizing as the next. The book does not read in chronological order, but the story works and comes full circle in the end, with the detailing of the closest death, that of her brother. You’ll find moments that are tender, funny, angsty and also terrifying – sometimes in the same paragraph. The sense of hopelessness in this rural community is defined deftly by Jesmyn: "We tried to outpace the thing that chased us, that said: You are nothing. We tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing." Ward, with brutal honesty and beautiful prose, tells a story that needed to be told. Coming to the Drue Heinz Lecture Series Monday, February 9, 2015.
This novel is available to check out from the library in print or a book on CD and online through Overdrive as an eBook.
Recommended by Holly, February 2015


January 2015

Book Cover for Mr. Bridge Connell, Evan
Mr. Bridge

Mr. Bridge is a hard-working Kansas lawyer in the mid-1900s. His success allows his wife and children to enjoy a large house, cook, laundress, luxury cars, country club membership, and all of the other extravagances of an upper middle class life. This beautifully written novel, told from Mr. Bridge’s perspective, comprise more than one hundred vignettes of happenings in his life and how he reacts to each. By learning about him through his relationships with others, the reader soon adopts a solid understanding of his character. The novel, published in 1969, is the companion piece to Mrs. Bridge, published a decade earlier. Fans of this book may enjoy moving on to the earlier book, to better understand the wife’s perspective on all of the same circumstances.
Recommended by Karen G., January 2015

Book Cover for All the Light We Cannot See Doerr, Anthony
All the Light We Cannot See

Lives that seem worlds apart intersect in various ways and culminate during the WWII bombing of Saint-Malo, France. Marie-Laure and her father live near the Museum of Natural History in Paris, where her father works as a locksmith. Marie-Laure has been blind since age 6 but learns to navigate through sound, smell, touch, and memory. When the Nazis arrive in Paris, Marie-Laure and her father go to live with his uncle in Saint-Malo, a walled city in Brittany. Her uncle, a recluse, has a special interest in a room in his house full of radios and transmitters, something that becomes outlawed once the Nazis occupy France. Werner is a young German boy living in an orphan’s home with his sister Jutta. Werner and Jutta are fascinated with an old radio they find, and Werner sees his way out of the grueling work in the coal mines that killed his father. He has a special aptitude for fixing radios, a talent soon discovered and groomed by the Nazis at a Hitler Youth academy. Werner becomes part of a team tracking resistance efforts in the war and eventually in Saint Milo. Throughout the story, we meet characters both young and old who are touched by war, but, more importantly, also by kindness. There is, of course, some violence, but it is not the overriding tone. Through the book, we catch a glimpse of how people live through war and what they do to help each other out. I really liked Doerr’s vivid descriptions of places and things, particularly when he’s describing how Marie-Laure experiences the world. I tend to like WWII books, but this one, in particular, is a wonderful story.
Recommended by Joanne, January 2015

Book Cover for On the High Line La Farge, Annik
On the High Line: Exploring America's Most Original Urban Park

Around the turn of the last century, a group of dedicated Chelsea neighbors gathered to try to rescue and reimagine the elevated rail line that runs through more than 20 blocks of west Manhattan. Derelict and unused except by the occasional graffiti artist, the High Line nevertheless provided unique perspectives and unparalleled vistas of the city. After CSX donated the structure to the city, landscape architects and residents transformed the space into a public park, with the first section opening to the public in 2009. Today an additional portion is open, and visitors will soon be able to explore the final section on the rail yards. Pedestrians enjoy the High Line all day long, lounging on the lawn at 23rd Street, observing traffic and passersby below, or savoring the ever-evolving public art displays, billowing grasses, and seasonal blooms. La Farge provides the perfect guide to the High Line by melding local history with botany and illustrating it via maps and photos. As you follow the guide block by block, you learn about the West Side Cowboys, the area's meatpacking and cold storage legacies, and surrounding landmarks such as the Chelsea Market and Whitney Museum. Recommended for both the armchair and in-person traveler. For more photographic panoramas of unusual and (at times) abandoned Big Apple landscapes, check out Christopher Payne's North Brother Island: the Last Unknown Place in New York City.
Recommended by Rita, January 2015

Book Cover for Landline Rowell, Rainbow

Georgie McCool has always wanted to be a comic screenwriter, and she is now this close to landing her own television show with her long-time writing partner, Seth. Georgie's husband, Neal, landed in southern California by default and has never adored their Los Angeles lifestyle, but he is the heart and soul of their family and the primary caretaker of their two young daughters. When Georgie backs out of a Christmas trip to Omaha, their marriage may be irrevocably strained. Georgie finds refuge at her mom's place where she finds her old plug-in princess phone and slowly begins to realize that present-day Georgie is able to call fifteen-years-ago Neal. Georgie has the crucial opportunity to relive the significance and aspirations of their early love, and to reevaluate the distance that has come between them. The dialogue is quick-witted and flowing and the relationships between the characters are enviably quirky. Landline set the ball rolling for me, and I just finished Rowell's YA novel, Eleanor and Park (two thumbs up). I am not a fast reader, but I happily FLEW through Landline and reveled in the accessible language that belied a tangible poignancy.
Recommended by Sheila, January 2015


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