2007 Staff Picks
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
|A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo, is the story of a young Chinese woman who discovers loneliness, love, and self-actualization for the first time in London. “Z,” as she calls herself, since she perceives her name as too difficult for Westerners to pronounce, is the protagonist and narrator who finds herself completely culture shocked and isolated in a country that makes no sense to her. She writes in disjointed, sometimes garbled English about her thoughts on her past in China, her feelings of being “other,” and her lover, whom she refers to as “You.” This is where Guo seems to bite off more than she can chew: her lover is not only of a different generation, culture, and language, but he is also a different sexuality. “You” is bisexual and is a sculptor of the erotic male form who seems to spend more time wallowing in depression and introspection to notice the blossoming Z in front of him. I found Z to be needy and even a tad unlikable in the beginning, but as the book progresses her English gets better, as does her understanding of her own strength, power, and identity.
Recommended by Bonnie, December 2007
The Accidental Time Machine
|One particular afternoon, unknowingly, unwittingly, lab assistant Matt Fuller invents a time machine. For Matt, this fortuitous event could not have been (forgive me) more timely. Our hero had no money, had just lost his girlfriend and was about to lose his job. In a word, Matt's present, like that of so many of his contemporaries----sucked! Matt's only dilemma was whether to go backward or forward in time. He knew how horrible the past was (although if he went back to the 2nd Tuesday of the month he would have $50.00 in his account). Certainly the future, any future, must be better. Well, maybe yes-maybe no. The Accidental Time Machine is such a cogent, rollicksome, and intelligent novel, that it inspired me to reread Professor Haldeman's The Forever War, (1974). In that classic tale, earthlings battle a species known as the Taurans across space and through time for so long that no one can remember the purpose of the war. Intended to parallel The Vietnam Conflict (in which Haldeman served), the novel resounds once again. Best of luck to time-travelers everywhere.
Recommended by John, December 2007
|Einstein's renowned E=mc2, which expresses mass energy equivalence, is arguably the most famous physics equation. But it is only part of Einstein's theory of special relativity, whose other consequences include factors that seem more like science fiction than science. Alan Lightman's brief novel Einstein's Dreams plays with the potentially wild behavior of time, and reflects on its effect on our lives.
Each short chapter describes one of Einsteins's dreams, different worlds in which time behaves differently (it moves backwards, it doesn't move, it is qualitative instead of quantitative), and explores the way that behavior impacts the people in that world. Lightman describes both setting and characters (most of whom exist for only a sentence) with painterly poeticism to craft moving meditations on the nature of our life and our role in shaping it-with or without time's help.
Recommended by Renée, December 2007
|Jonathan Messinger, book review editor for Time Out Chicago and co-publisher of Featherproof Books, debuts a surprising collection of short stories ranging from the side-splittingly funny to the achingly despairing. A father is haunted by a thieving angel, leaving his house stripped of all personal belongings. An unathletic and hungover protagonist gets kicked in the naked eye by a soccer ball, only to find out in a CAT scan that he's inflicted with a far worse diagnosis. A man-eating wolf escapes its zoo habitat and menaces a small town in a dismally funny fairy tale. Hiding Out observes innately awkward, lonely, repressed personalities with deadpan delivery and clever sarcasm. Just as the cover photograph evokes, Messinger's characters may be broken-down but surely not lacking resilience.
Recommended by Lisa, December 2007
Listerdale Mystery and Eleven Other Stories
Mystery Audio Book
|Listerdale Mystery and Eleven Other Stories, read by Hugh Fraser of the PBS series "Agatha Christie's Poirot", includes 12 unabridged stories that are each about a half hour long: perfect for the daily commute. Fraser, who has read numerous other Christie novels, has a relaxing voice and makes the stories easy to understand and enjoy. One highlight of the collection is, "Jane in Search of a Job". In the story, a young English woman applies for a job and gets mixed up in international intrigue. "Philomel Cottage" is another interesting tale, in which a new wife discovers some suspicious secrets about her husband and questions if he can be trusted. In "Listerdale Mystery," a widow wonders why she is able to rent a charming cottage at such a low price.
A downfall of Fraser's reading is his tendency to use the same voice for all of the non-English characters. This does not detract from the quality of the short stories which are well worth the listen.
Recommended by Karen G., November 2007
|Darraj, Susan Muaddi
The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly
|These intertwining stories follow the lives of four girlfriends who are now women and their parents-- primarily their mothers. The daughters are all Arab-Americans, while their parents are primarily Palestinian immigrants living in Philadelphia. The stories highlight the family relationships and experiences of growing up with or adapting to two cultures. The conflicts in culture for these first generation Americans at times find the young women in a limbo of sorts, not belonging to the world of their parents but not being completely accepted by their American peers. The stories also explore universal issues such as finding one’s place in the world and understanding a time and place that is not our own.
Recommended by Joanne, November 2007
|Gaiman, Neil; illustrated by Dave McKean
The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch: A Romance
|Read this book somewhere well-lit. Shady characters, dark images, and the subconscious' shadows meld into a story that alternates between reality and nightmare.
The narrator recalls a summer of his youth spent with his grandparents at his grandfather's failing seaside arcade, where he meets a mysterious Punch and Judy professor. Gaiman expertly weaves the narrator's evasion with the child's uncertainty about the strange characters around him. Combined with the sinister nature of the Punch and Judy show, the frightening setting of the dilapidated amusement park, and the rainy environment, this book evokes an uneasy but mesmerizing response.
Dave McKean's surreal illustrations are reminiscent of Quay Brothers films and lend to the story's distorted atmosphere with eerie warped images of rusty, carved and textured sculptures and darkly colored drawings overlaid with illegible text.
Recommended by Renée, November 2007
The Abstinence Teacher
|Perrotta's writing continues to improve with every book, and the highlight here is the honesty with which he portrays his main characters and their stories. Perrotta is great at describing how someone can be in the middle of a family and still feel isolated, apart, and lonely, and he does so in a way here that really rings true: The two main characters are both parents in their late 30s, but both are still trying to figure out where they fit into their lives, and who they fit with.
The female protagonist-the abstinence teacher-has a strong personality and convictions to match. She projects a sense of independence despite being lonely, and while she is sometimes bitter and even a little desperate, she's always human.
The male protagonist is a former addict and general loser, who starts to get his life back together after becoming a Born Again Christian. He and the other religious people in the book are portrayed as people, not as stereotypes. Perrotta just sort of puts them into normal situations and invites readers to look at them, but not necessarily to laugh at them; they're treated with respect, even when the characters around them feel something less than respect for them.
This is a fun book that's filled with honesty, romance, love, and Perrotta's signature humor-definitely worth a read.
Recommended by Gina, November 2007
All He Ever Wanted
|Nicholas Van Tassel sees Etna Bliss for the first time by chance. At that moment he decides he wants to marry her. But does she feel the same? This book is about a fateful meeting and how it changes the course of two lives. The story is written from the point of view of Nicholas, 15 years after they met, while riding on a train to Florida.
It is about love and obsession and secrets and desires. I became so enamored with these two characters, their interactions, and their private wants and needs, I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. This story begins innocently, but many surprises are in store.
Recommended by Terry, November 2007
|There is something wrong with Scott Smith. Someone call a professional. The Ruins is the most relentless horror experience I have ever had. Page after page, you keep telling yourself it can’t get any worse, and it does. I didn’t care about the characters at all (whether that was the author’s intent or just my personal antipathy, I don’t know) and still cringed throughout the entire story. I don’t want to reveal the nature of the horror, but I guarantee that you have never come close to imagining it. Even as the characters’ horror builds through physical hardship and deprivation, their minds can’t accept what has become their reality. I was experiencing voyeuristic guilt. Just keep in mind you can’t help them or save them without sacrificing not only yourself, but the entire world.
Recommended by Geo, November 2007
|This is the memoir of a man whose brother is an acute paranoid schizophrenic and whose family was unaware of his disease for two decades. Bottoms' account of his brother's life, from every perspective possible--mother, father, brother, self, neighbors, friends--is heart-wrenching. So many people suffer from this disease and yet most are never diagnosed or properly treated, and Bottoms effectively communicates the pain and struggle that this can inflict on every member of a family. This book is highly recommended for those who have experienced this disease through a loved one, or for those who are just compassionate and want to better understand the effects that schizophrenia has on its sufferers and on all of us as a community.
Recommended by Laura, October 2007
| Calvino, Italo
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
|If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is clever metafiction sure to thrill anyone who loves to read. The premise is that you (the Reader) buy a copy of Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, only to discover that the copy has a binding error, forcing you back to the bookstore and into a chain of absurd events. Calvino weaves multiple stories with self-referential wit, satire and philosophizing punctuated with humor. William Weaver seamlessly translates Calvino's effortless, vibrant prose. This book, which makes the experience of reading its central theme, is definitely a must-read.
Recommended by Renée, October 2007
Perishable: A Memoir
|Think your family is dysfunctional? Dirk Jamison, child of a dumpster diving father and a self-absorbed Mormon mother (described by Jamison as more stupid than crazy) composes a gripping and candid memoir of his extremely unconventional 1970s childhood. Raised in an unstable environment and battling routine physical assault from a violent sister, Jamison manages to convey his experience in a very lucid and natural style, void of psychological interpretation. Throughout the memoir, the author provides us with the often hilarious details of concealing scavenged food in foil from his mother, building housing multiple times with his father, surviving adolescence in a Mormon community and a tumultuous relationship between his parents. Although Jamison’s family insanity is more extreme than average, the universality in family dynamics are undeniably evident.
Recommended by Lisa, October 2007
|Schatz, Hale Sofia
If the Buddha Came to Dinner
|If Jesus, the Goddess, Buddha, or Mohammed were coming to your house for dinner, you wouldn't give them garbage. So why don't we treat our own bodies with respect? This provocative logic is the cornerstone of Schatz's guide to nutrition and wellness. In a departure from conventional advice, Schatz suggests that a good relationship with food should begin with a close examination of one's emotional and spiritual nourishment patterns. Probing questions, asked with compassion and care, are peppered throughout the text, giving readers open to suggestion another way to look at their concerns about true nourishment and optimal wellness. Although no consumer health guide should substitute for the advice of one's own physician, Schatz's book is intriguing reading for people searching for a different way to look at the food they eat, and open to spiritual advice about changing their eating habits. Recommended for consumers and medical professionals who have found works by Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra helpful in their healthcare choices or practice.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, October 2007
The Eight of Swords
|David Skibbins’ debut into the mystery genre is a wonder to behold. In a field so crowded and prolific how could it be possible to come up with something not only unique, but potentially long running? Make your reluctant sleuth a fugitive from the law with multiple identities and then you're not cornered. Plots and characters don't all have to disgorge from the same center. How do you provide titular cohesiveness without mimicking what's already out there? Use the great visuals and interpretations inspired by the tarot deck without weighing down the storyline. In this first of the series, Warren Ritter is older, wiser, and nonaffiliated. He reads, loves poetry, philosophizes, and attempts to be a better person. You will like him and root for him even as he tries to evade the sometimes life-and-death responsibilities that befall him.
Recommended by Geo, October 2007
| Vreeland, Susan
Luncheon of the Boating Party
|A fascinating fictional account of the story behind Renoir’s painting of the same name. Vreeland’s latest novel uses historic records and biographies of the famous impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir to compose the story of how and why this painting came to be. A look at life in France during the late 1800s shows the importance of Renoir’s depiction of “la vie moderne” to the time. Meet the models, among them another French impressionist painter, an aspiring writer and adventurer, an actress, an Italian journalist, and the woman who eventually becomes Renoir’s wife. Vreeland has expertise in art and art history, which also is apparent in her previous works – Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia – both recommended as well.
Recommended by Joanne, October 2007
| Yang, Gene Luen
American Born Chinese
| A graphic novel that's earning awards and critical acclaim visits the theme of self-acceptance through three stories that intertwine in a surprising twist. Irresistible clean line drawings with vivid colors tell the tales of the Monkey King of Chinese fable, Jin Wang, a Chinese-American student in a new school, and Chin-Kee, the archetype of Chinese stereotypes whose antics embarrass his cousin Danny.
Typical adolescent trials compose the plot; friendship, teasing, self-consciousness, and infatuation with the opposite sex all play a role as the characters navigate the terrain of bullies, friends, and girlfriends. (Or, in the Monkey King's case, issues of immortality and omnipotence arise in encounters with demons, deities, and a legendary monk.) Gene Luen Yang expertly interweaves conflicts that arise from racism and stereotypes, subtly poking fun at American ignorance, in both humorous and heart-splitting story elements.
American Born Chinese boasts appealing frame layout whose simplicity includes key details that enliven the setting. (Notice the Yang family station wagon's very 1980's roof-mounted carrier and Yang's teacher's enormous jewelry.) With charm that's compelling readers to cross the graphic novel/traditional novel divide, American Born Chinese approaches a classic coming-of-age theme in a style that is all at once gentle, humorous and honest, magical and endearing.
Recommended by Renée, October 2007
I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody
| Don’t skip the preface to this one. In it, Sinan Antoon explains the meaning of the word i'jaam, diacritical marks that distinguish similar Arabic letters from each other. Without them, a word can have numerous meanings, discernible only by context, so i'jaam also means “elucidating” or “clarifying.”
The novel is so named because it is a state translator’s disambiguation of a fictional political prisoner’s diary, written without diacritical dots and found in a Baghdad prison during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The novel plays with the concept of i'jaam, emphasizing the disparity between appearance and reality at several levels. Furat, the prisoner, employs the lack of diacritical marks to make lewd puns that mock state maxims. The tyrannical Leader publicly encourages free expression while he clandestinely arrests those, like Furat, who display dissent. Undercover guards posing as students monitor mandatory patriotic rallies and enforce myriad regulations meant to create the facade of a unified populace.
Furat’s many linguistic musings will intrigue those with an understanding or interest in the Arabic language and script, while his knowledge of literature and Iraqi poets will entice others. His vignettes include flashbacks, visions and jarring accounts of prison life whose descriptions range from mundane to surreal.
Essentially, I’jaam boasts a compelling premise, but one executed in sometimes stilted language and a slightly rushed plot. The timely political relevance and the novel's brevity, however, still make it worth the read.
Recommended by Renée, September 2007
| Jonah is just a medical student trying to get home in New York, when he hears a woman scream. In an attempt to save the woman from the man attacking her, Jonah inadvertently kills him. This is only the start of Jonah's problems in this thriller involving murder, sex, and deception. He ends up having a sexual affair with Eve, the woman he saved, but she’s not the woman she appears to be. Complicating matters further, Jonah also feels obligated to help take care of his former girlfriend who is now mentally ill. From vivid descriptions of operating room endeavors to the dark accounts of Eve’s sadistic desires, this chilling novel of suspense is sure to make Jesse Kellerman a novelist to watch-- a writer with his own bold, contemporary style.
Recommended by Terry, September 2007
| I have always been a sucker for a transformation story, and this romance, between a liberal, African American teacher and anti-war activist from Washington, D.C. and a conservative, Southern white senator and decorated veteran, does not disappoint. Sparks fly when she disrupts his committee hearing on education, and she invites him to visit her inner-city classroom. Not to be outdone, he invites her to visit his Southern state. With all that visiting, sparks are bound to ignite, but wanting to see how they could possibly get over their ideological aversion to each other kept me engaged to the very end.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2007
I read my first James Patterson, The Quickie, and came to appreciate that the source of his popularity is that he has practically invented a new genre: quickies. The periods don’t even stop you. If there’d been a squad car behind the couch, I would have gotten a ticket for speed-reading. I almost broke my neck tripping over some implausibilities, but I brushed myself off and turned the page. Reading has never been this breathless, reckless, or fat burning. If you’re ever tempted to indulge in an almost unbearably suspenseful read, James Patterson is the man.
Recommended by Geo, September 2007
Absorbing and unsettling, yet filled with laugh-out-loud moments, Little Children conceives a sardonic landscape of suburbia where nothing outside of the mundane ever seems to happen. Suspense soon shakes the plot as a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood and an unlikely affair between two young parents captures an intense romance. While Sarah and Todd desperately embrace an oasis from feeling trapped, alone, and deflated by the drudgery of their lives, their children nap from a typical day at the town pool. From the neighborhood housewives to the local pedophile to the children of the restless adulterous parents, Perrotta remarkably manages to design every character as interesting and oddly engaging.
Recommended by Lisa, September 2007
|Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
| Is there room in the court of public opinion for one more review of the year's most frequently hyped book? I believe there is, if only for the sake of those who would avoid this series for fear of "unsavory elements." Skeptical readers who are willing to take a leap of faith, and begin with the first volume, will find themselves well-rewarded by the time they reach the final, action-packed chapters of this brilliant conclusion, in which Rowling tips her hand to reveal a larger pattern that's clearly influenced by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. After many dreadful revelations and upsets, Harry finally learns the truth about his own destiny, and takes up his final task with such fortitude that only the most hard-hearted reader could fail to be moved. Without giving away the ending, I can only assure you that you will not be sorry you signed up for several thousand pages of fantasy adventure, especially when the ultimate payoff is so sweetly satisfying. Think of it as a riddle with a very long set-up, and a surprising punchline. Want a hint? "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Recommended for children ages 11-99, and the wizards and Muggles who love them.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, September 2007
|Doyle, Arthur Conan
The Valley of Fear
| This short Sherlock Holmes novel is one of the best stories in the whole canon and, without a doubt, the single finest example of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The story takes place in the coal mining district of Pennsylvania and is divided into two parts, the first being the mystery and its solution and the second the back story. A thrilling variation of a locked room murder, The Valley of Fear concerns a secret society’s terroristic hold over an entire community and how that hold was finally shattered. A jim-dandy, crackerjack of a tale.
Recommended by Don, August 2007
Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945
| In the continuation and conclusion to Volume #1, Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, Friedlander, Chair of Holocaust Studies at U.C.L.A., presents the definitive record of Nazi Germany's implacable malevolence against the Jews of Europe. Using the diaries of the dead and previously
unreleased documents, the author paints a general as well as personal account of a historical blight that will forever defy human logic and civilization.
Recommended by John, August 2007
No One Belongs Here More Than You
| Miranda July is the coolest woman on my planet. Having loved her 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know, I couldn't wait for this collection of short stories. Read this book if you want to remember how to love every itty, bitty moment of your life and how to enjoy every interaction you have with other human beings. One of the narrative characters holds swim lessons in her apartment for a group of old folks who go especially wild doing belly-flops off her chest of drawers onto the bed. Another story answers the question why humans are the only animals that kiss. The book is very pretty too--bright pink or bright yellow--and would look good with most summer outfits.
Recommended by Laura, August 2007
Catching the Big Fish: Meditation Consciousness, and Creativity
| David Lynch's sheer passion lures the reader irresistibly along brief chapters of Catching the Big Fish: Meditation Consciousness, and Creativity, describing his method of channeling ideas into creative endeavors.
Lynch touts digital video as the future of film and regards director's commentaries as sacrilegious. He also reveals his love for diners, flickering lights, Los Angeles, rotting bodies and other things that drive him "crazy, in a good way." He writes of the three years he spent making Eraserhead, O.J. Simpson's influence on Lost Highway, the inception of Twin Peaks' red room, and details of filming his current release INLAND EMPIRE. Epigraphs from the Upanishads introduce many chapters, and Lynch spends most of the book crediting Transcendental Mediation with his success in converting inspiration into successful creations. Lynch's love for both watching and making film is clear; he refers continually to his awe upon entering the "world of a film" and the thrill of "falling in love with ideas."
At times, Catching the Big Fish conveys a bit of an agenda (all proceeds for the book go towards the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace), but the simple, sincere and often poetic tone maintain his believability. Lynch has been practicing Transcendental Mediation for over 30 years, and few could argue with his success as a surrealist, envelope-pushing filmmaker-however he does it.
Lynch's fans will delight in amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes of synchronicity with actors, musicians and admired directors. Those seeking advice on creativity, meditation, or simply seeking a good read from a creative, quirky mind will also enjoy this book.
Recommended by Renée, August 2007
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
| In this wonderful combination of science, history, economics and memoir, Michael Pollan traces four different kinds of meals back to their source. The first is from McDonald's, or actually, McDonald's is the last place it goes before it's served and eaten in the car. The second, industrial organic meal from Whole Foods, contrasts with the third, a local, small-scale organic meal grown on a "grass farm" in Virginia. Finally, Mr. Pollan himself hunts and forages for wild pig and mushrooms to create the meal closest to human's original ways of sourcing food. All along he is both entertaining and educational, one minute I would be thinking about how much smarter I was getting with so much new information, the next I would be pulled further into the story by a moving description of a meal shared with family and friends. This winning combination may just change the way you eat.
Recommended by Kaarin, August 2007
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
| The tone is dry, the plot is twisted, and the title is priceless: when young Jack goes off to the City to make his fortune, he never imagines his new best friends and sworn adversaries would be...toys. Having lost his horse and most of his money, Jack tries to keep from losing his mind in a metropolis where fairy tales come to life, humans are rare, and nursery rhyme characters are known as "pre-adolescent personalities." Befriended by Eddie Bear (a fuzzy, boozy Guy Noir of a teddy), Jack finds himself swept up in the hunt for a serial killer who's taking out targets like Humpty Dumpty and Little Boy Blue, leaving hollow chocolate bunnies as his calling card. If your reading tastes regularly park at the corner of Snark and Parody, you'll want to pull up a chair for this droll afternoon-burner of a book.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2007
|found by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson
Journal : Amy Zoe Mason
| Reading Journal is a unique experience. The story, told through notes, letters, and emails, is presented as a gorgeous antique scrapbook. The detritus of life is given a glorious makeover lending background music to the sinister plot. The clues Amy accidentally stumbles upon are inadvertently and alarmingly given a cohesiveness rendering both the reader and narrator helpless in the face of what is to come. While the story is suspenseful, sad, and poignant, the reader can't help enjoying a certain sense of adventure in having "found" the evidence of this horrific crime.
Recommended by Geo, July 2007
Mistress of the Art of Death
| 12th-century England was no picnic, despite the glossy patina of legend. Readers who appreciate accurate historical fiction will find themselves intrigued--and, quite possibly, repulsed--by the circumstances in which Franklin's heroine, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortesia Aguilar, operates in this mystery that piles on unpleasant truths in the best possible way. Our creeptastic tale begins in the year 1170, with the murder of several Christian children in Cambridge. The local Jewish community is blamed, and Henry II (who depends heavily on the tax revenue from said community) is forced to send to Salerno, Italy for a forensics expert, or "master of the art of death." The wily dean of medicine sends, instead of a master, his best mistress of said art, the aforementioned Adelia, who, despite fears of being tried as a witch, is so appalled by child murder that she is determined to find the fiend and bring him to justice. Accompanied by her protectors, Simon and Mansur, Adelia struggles against the ignorance and prejudice endemic to her times while treating the sick of Cambridge, examining the children's corpses for clues, and longing for her far-more-enlightened homeland. Rife with bawdy language, poor hygeine, and statements of appalling taste to contemporary ears, Franklin's novel is, nonetheless, a jawdrop of a page-turner that shatters any illusions the reader might have had about "the good old days." Recommended for CSI-loving types who prefer their historical depictions hard-boiled, as opposed to sunny-side-up, and don't mind being shocked and appalled every few pages or so.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, July 2007
The Raw Shark Texts
| Eric Sanderson is having a very bad day. He wakes up not knowing who he is, discovers he has a rare form of dissociative amnesia (this is the 11th occurrence), receives daily letters from "Eric Sanderson the First," and is being hunted by a lethal, voracious conceptual shark. And that's just for starters. Gaiman meets Nabokov (by way of L. Frank Baum) in a tour de force of metafiction with that rarest of rare commodities: a heart.
Recommended by Don, July 2007
A Thousand Splendid Suns
| A Thousand Splendid Suns is the incredibly powerful story of life in modern day Afghanistan, as told in the voice of two women whose lives are inter-connected in a most dramatic and unusual way. As in his first novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini’s characters struggle with the tragedy of their lives, while showing incredible strength, dignity and resilience. They live with hope, love and courage even in the most dire and unimaginable circumstances. A compelling page-turner.
Recommended by Karen R., July 2007
On Chesil Beach
| I love small books. This particular small and wonderful book portrays Florence and Edward, a young couple who are freshly wed and who, in a seaside hotel, attempt unsuccessfully to consummate their marriage. Despite the book's slight stature, it is no lofty read. Their love for each other will be subjected to pride, distrust, impatience, abandonment and-worst of all-apathy. On Chesil Beach during their wedding night, their lives will be changed forever. Each word is important, each word is anchored, and each word is remarkably placed among every other remarkably-placed word. McEwan depicts the intricacies of human communication-or lack of communication-with precision, grace, and heartbreaking honesty.
Recommended by Laura, July 2007
Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century and Why We Live in Houses Anyway
| In an intimate, conversational style, architecture critic Rybczynski tells the story of New Daleville, a "neotraditional" residential subdivision in rural Pennsylvania. Over the course of five years, Rybczynski met the developers, the community leaders whose approvals they needed, the home builders and sewage experts, and the first families who moved in. Along the way, he explores how Americans came to prefer single family houses and other pertinent housing history.
As a committed pedestrian, I loved reading about how smaller lots, narrower streets, and other seemingly old-fashioned, small town characteristics of communities like New Daleville contribute to a community that accommodates walkers as well as cars. Exciting, too, is the planning for new communities where people can choose to live within walking distance of their work, and where opportunities for shopping and entertainment are also within walking range.
Recommended by Julie, July 2007
|Tea, Michelle, illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin
| Tea candidly recounts her years as a young, broke lesbian in the sex trade in this absorbing, compellingly illustrated memoir. Intrigued by the large amounts of money and glam lifestyle of her wild girlfriend, Steph, Michelle decides to give prostitution a try. This is no exposé of the evils of the sex trade. Rather, Tea explores the range of emotions and experiences as a prostitute, from the allure of her first $700 trick, to her repulsion with the johns, to her struggle to establish boundaries both within and outside her profession. Her tone expertly describes the characters at their most self-indulgent, cruel, narcissistic and deluded with stark honesty and self-deprecating humor. She details the falling-outs, falling-in-love and realizations of a young woman seeking to define herself. For example, Tea details her many "no future tattoos," mapping the path she took to reclaim her body (and self) from the aesthetic of prostitution while still denying the standards of mainstream culture. Like Lauren McCubbin's tough, mysterious, scantily-clad women who stare unrelentingly from the page, Tea makes no attempt to translate her lifestyle, full of sex, drugs and astrology, into a digestible foray into subculture. And she does not apologize, either. Explicitly herself, she informs her reader, "I tell you this, like I tell you everything, not to excuse my behavior but to explain it."
Recommended by Renée, July 2007
Call Me By Your Name
| This tender, lyrical love story follows the emotional ripening of 17 year old Elio, who falls gloriously hard for older visiting scholar Oliver, a research assistant for Elio’s father. Set during an idyllic Italian summer, Aciman’s story chronicles the subtle nuances of desire, fear and illogic known to all as first love. Early comparisons to a modern Proust not withstanding (a modicum of the insight balances out a fraction of the difficulty), Call Me By Your Name captures all the beautiful passion and fine, demonstrative detail of young love at its obsessive best.
Recommended by Don, June 2007
A Great and Terrible Beauty
| "I change the world; the world changes me." This is just one of the many lessons Gemma Doyle ponders as she struggles with the changes and challenges of adolescence. On top of the usual concerns teenage girls have--will I make friends? Will the boy I admire like me back?--Gemma's got a laundry list of other problems to tackle. For one thing, she's convinced she caused her mother's death. For another, she's started having strange visions of other worlds. And did I mention that the year is 1895, the place is England, and Gemma's corset is just the most visible symbol of all the forces that seek to stop her from becoming what and who she's meant to become? Deliciously laced with all the trappings of an old-school Gothic novel, Bray's attempt to weave history, poetry, magic and teenage angst is a thrilling read for folks who fancy the Victorian era, a good adventure story, and/or tales about girls coming into their own. Careful readers will quickly figure out the novel's secrets, including who the mysterious Mary Dowd really is. However, this shouldn't spoil the fun of tearing through page after page of dark and stormy nights, hidden diaries, locked rooms, scandalous secrets, after-hours girls' school escapades, and enchanting visits to other worlds. Once you've devoured this novel, you can move on to its sequel, Rebel Angels, for more historical facts and fancy. Recommended for the young and quirky, the older and nostalgic, and anyone who's ever stayed up all night to finish a novel by candlelight while rain poured down in great sheets outside the window.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, June 2007
| Former Poet Laureate Louise Glück, in her tenth collection, delves once more into the rich subject of mythology, both personal and classical, presenting a sequence of poems revolving around themes loosely connected to Persephone and our fascination with the idea of an Underworld. Terse, literate, and powerful, like much of her previous work, this volume seems an extended elegy for life itself.
Recommended by Don, June 2007
| The final girl is the last man standing in a slasher flick: "Even during that final struggle she is now weak and now strong, now flees the killer and now charges him, now stabs and is stabbed, now cries out in fear and now shouts in anger," according to Carol J. Clover in her essay "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film." (Available in the collection The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film.) Inspired by this dynamic character, Daphne Gottlieb uses the final girl to inform her poetry in this sharp, witty and moving collection. In these poems, Gottlieb challenges sexism, hate crimes and gender bias. She defies social mores that define masculinity and femininity. And, most startling of all, she conveys the fear that haunts the reality of someone who lives and acts outside the realm of gender normalcy.
Also a performance poet and, recently, graphic novelist, Gottlieb writes verse that both screams and whispers, shatters clichés with sizzling wordplay, and grounds her theories with solid, vivid details. She employs experimental techniques that emphasize both the immediacy and wide range of gender bias by rearranging phrases from everyday and historical sources, sampling Sojourner Truth's speeches, the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, a newspaper article about a hate crime. Plenty more material draws from the language and imagery of horror films, including the "Final Girl" cycle, a sequence of ten poems that form the thematic core, where she even reminds us of our implicit participation: "We control the horizontal. / We control the vertical. / We control the abduction."
Gottlieb gives voice to the characters whose side we don't hear: transvestite, victim's mother, exile. In "The Other Woman," she states her case with staggering emotional force in punched-out lines: "Have you ever seen flood damage? / Your husband came over / and burst over in my lap … There is nothing / going on. I took nothing / you wanted. You can't / have it back."
Recommended by Renée, June 2007
The History of Love
| Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you remember that all of humanity is connected, there are no accidents, and our lives intersect for reasons we are here to find out. The History of Love was one of those books for me. As a young man, Leo Gursky writes a book for the woman he loves. More than 60 years later, Alma Singer starts off looking for a new man for her mother, and ends up searching for something more for herself through her namesake, a character in a book called The History of Love, by Zvi Litvinoff. Learn how these unlikely characters are connected and discover how far beyond physical reality human connection can go.
Recommended by Kaarin, June 2007
Bitter is the New Black
| Being a memoir written by a survivor of the dot.com crash which in itself contains enough material to be a superficial kind of hysterical, I was surprised by the amount of real depth and truth contained here. Between the lines about material excess, bloated egos, and entitlement issues, a real story emerges. There is heart among the thorns and the dawning of a true awareness that ironically, some would pay millions to achieve. Jen Lancaster maintains a certain edginess to her tone and sense of humor throughout that never waivers or jars even as she becomes a mature and caring adult. Lancaster's new book, Bright Lights, Big Ass is available at a library near you.
Recommended by Geo, June 2007
| McCall Smith, Alexander
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
| This is the latest installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Precious finds herself investigating the mystery of three suspicious deaths, her assistant resigns, and her husband decides to do some investigating of his own. In addition, Charlie, the garage assistant, embarks on his own taxi business. Finally, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni begins to wonder if he is exciting enough for his wife. For those looking for the brand of humor and warmth in his characters only McCall Smith can dream up, this addition to the series does not disappoint.
Recommended by Terry, June 2007
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas: Stories
| Humorous with just a tinge of desperation and dejection, Rothbart delivers a collection of short stories featuring a cast of everyday small-town characters in all too surreal situations. The opening story, "Lie Big," reads as a convincing memory recalled from a page of a friend's diary where the reader discovers the heartbreaking and hilarious intricacies of a complex friendship. Another notable story, "Maggie Fever," unravels the mundane yet tragic story of a fourteen year old boy left to his own devices but manages to allow his curiosity to lead him to anonymous adoration of a stranger. Oscillating from the ordinary, the intimate, the beautiful and the unfortunate, stories in The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas will leave you hanging on and in search for more.
Recommended by Lisa, June 2007
|Urrea, Luis Alberto
The Hummingbird's Daughter
| A beautifully rich tapestry woven from historical research, magical realism, and the astonishing life of Teresita, this novel about the life of Urrea's great-aunt, born in Mexico in 1873, is epic in scope, magical to its core, and as real as the sky. Teresita, born to a 14-year-old Indian girl and the Mexican land owner for whom she labors, becomes both a Western-educated young lady invited by her father into his household and a curandera taught by one of the most powerful curanderas in Mexico. As such, she goes on to defy a near-deadly rape, raising from her coffin, to become one of Mexico's unique legends. Her miraculous recovery brings thousands of pilgrims to the Urrea ranch, where Teresita inspires Indian uprisings and revolution.
Recommended by Candice, June 2007
|Weiss, Daniel Evan
The Roaches Have No King
| "I had reinherited the earth." Our protagonist, Numbers, named himself after a chapter in the book that sheltered and nourished him for two of his molts--he is a Bible baby and he is a cockroach. From innumerable perches, positions and perspectives, this one cunning Blattella germanica roach manipulates and manages the unknowing, bumbling, self-absorbed Homo sapiens who live in and around his apartment and who conceitedly think they "have their bug problem under control." Numbers' survey of the inferiority of the human species is not only truthful but extremely graphic and laugh-out-loud funny. When Ira commits mass slaughter on the colony, revenge is sweet and deserved. You will never doubt the power of pheromones and you may never again touch a canister of poison.
Recommended by Laura, June 2007
A Short History of Myth
| A Short History of Myth is the perfect read for anyone fascinated by ancient mythology, archetypes and comparative religion, but intimidated by the plethora of books on the subjects. Armstrong condenses the evolution of mythology and religion into six chapters describing humanity's conception of divinity from 20,000 BC to 2000 CE. As human society progressed through hunting, agricultural and urban stages, its mythology developed symbiotically to help humans deal with the unique problems accompanying each phase. Armstrong continues to follow mythology through the "Great Western Transformation," when the West rejected myth in favor of logic, and she reflects upon the impact this had on Western society and thought.
Her footnotes demonstrate the impressive scope of this brief book. She discusses the Bible, ancient Mesopotamian poetry, Enuma Elish, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Dao De Jing, Analects of Confucius, Kabbalah, Anguttara Nikaya, Jataka, Vinaya, Plato's The Republic, Aristotle's Metaphysics, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Also, she frequently references scholars Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell.
A Short History of Myth consists of concise and accessible history and theory peppered with fascinating cross-cultural examples and comparisons. It serves as an excellent starting point for anyone intrigued by mythology, as a background for those who have already read about it, or as a reflection for those looking to explore the aspects of humanity that unite all of us.
Recommended by Renée, May 2007
Flowers of Evil
| If you have always wanted to know, or thought you already knew, what the Baudelaire fuss is all about, this is the volume for you. This brand new translation by Keith Waldrop eschews the pretense (no forced rhymes or stilted meter here) for the pure power of direct speech and modernity. A word of caution, however; given the right circumstances, this is life-altering verse. Translated by Keith Waldrop, Wesleyan University Press, 2006
Recommended by Don, May 2007
|Cangro, Jacquelin ed.
The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York
| These essays and stories about New York's subway system and those that people its cars, are in its employ, and live in its tunnels are a tremendous elegy to the city as a whole. Often considered the city's circulatory system, the subway systems of Manhattan and the boroughs that joined to create the system's current incarnation offer a never-ending pageant of the city's inhabitants. As such, it is a tremendous well from which these writers, from Jonathan Lethem and Colson Whitehead to Francine Prose, Calvin Trillin, and Lawrence Block, draw inspiration, characters, and stories such as these, which throb with the energy of New York City's underground world.
Recommended by Candice, May 2007
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
|Credited with terming low-paying/low-status/unsatisfying/dead-end employment as a "McJob" and introducing/popularizing the phrase "Generation X" to the American lexicon, Coupland conveys the lives of three friends as they attempt to escape their collective quarter-life crisis. Using a raw ironic tone that is anything less than subtle, Generation X entwines the exhausted lives of twentysomethings with relevant pop culture references. Choice moments in the novel include Coupland's incorporation of cartoons, slogans and Couplandisms, all of which are specific to the sentiments portrayed by both the characters and the author himself. "Tele-parabolizing" is a personal favorite of Coupland's invented terms which is defined as describing everyday morals by using widely known plots found on television (think, "that's just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!"). Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture may not cure your frustration with our culture's habit of excessive consumption and extreme commercialism, but it will at least provide you with the solace of knowing you're not alone.
Recommended by Lisa, May 2007
The Remorseful Day
| This is the final book of 13 in the Inspector Morse collection.
Newcomers to the series should definitely begin with the first one, Last
Bus to Woodstock, and continue reading through the series in order.
While the criminal investigations are unique in each book, the characters
of Inspector Morse and his sidekick Sergeant Lewis are wonderfully developed
as the series progresses. The Remorseful Day showcases the unsolved
murder case of Yvonne Harrison, which inexplicably leads to a more complex
crime after the case is assigned to the brilliant but unwilling Morse.
While the mystery has many surprising twists and is quite entertaining
by itself, the book soon becomes even more of a gem. The reader is given
a closer glimpse into the life of the lover of opera music, difficult
crossword puzzles, and fine ale - Morse himself. I would highly recommend
this to mystery fans. |
Recommended by Karen G., May 2007
| McCarthy, Cormac
| McCarthy's prose alternates between terse and utterly poetic.
He describes the desolation of nuclear winter, despair, and violence with
language that is almost paradoxically beautiful. As the man and the boy
(as we know them) wander through an America all but destroyed by an undefined
catastrophe, they confront starvation, freezing, and cannibals. McCarthy
envelops us in the characters' boredom, hunger, cold, loneliness, heart-pounding
fear, and shadowy hope. Their dialogue is brief and simple, but buried
in these short lines are layers of meaning that imply their relationship
and opinions. One of The Road's most compelling themes is the
difference between the man's and his son's perspectives of their surroundings.
The man regards the world as charred ruins of the vibrant planet that
used to be; the boy sees the only world he has ever known. The tension
that results from these subtly stated views becomes the subtext which
colors their behavior and beliefs, and which offers two opposing avenues
of approaching the novel's philosophical questions. What is the difference
between a primal society and a society that emerges from destruction?
How do people behave in anarchic conditions? How do we know what is right?
Why live? Yes, the plot is dark, but McCarthy is a master, and The
Road is a masterpiece - one with imagery and argument powerful enough
to linger in the minds of those who read it long after they've finished.
Recommended by Renée, May 2007
| When Michael Paris travels to the town of Raven's Hollow to collect his inheritance, he gets a lot more than he bargained for...namely, a cemetery teeming with supernatural creatures, and a distressed citizenry eager to boot them out. Vowing to postpone his decision about the boneyard's fate until he has more evidence, Michael gets to know the townspeople (breathing and otherwise), and learns that there's a lot more going on in Raven's Hollow than meets the eye. This delightful graphic series is packed with visual and verbal horror-trope gags that will have adults (and older, sophisticated teens) chuckling, if not outright laughing aloud, as Moore tackles a very serious question--what IS evil, anyway?--in a most delightful fashion. If you've ever laughed your way through an episode of MST3K, written a Buffyverse fanfic, or had a serious argument with anyone about which vampire clan would win in a fight, you might want to take a snicker-break and hit the Boneyard.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, May 2007
The Wee Free Men
| From a book featuring 6-inch-high blue men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegle) who wear kilts, and whose favorite activities are "stealin', drinkin', and fightin'," one might expect a certain kind of story, perhaps a silly story. But the Nac Mac Feegle are there to help the heroine of the book, Tiffany Aching, who finds herself protecting her world from the Queen of the Elves, using just a frying pan and her common sense. And it's Tiffany's story that brings depth to the story that's belied by its title, as she learns to trust her keen perceptions while she tries to rescue her little brother from Fairyland. Of course, since the Nac Mac Feegle escaped (or were banished, depending on who you ask) from Fairyland and have the inside scoop, plus Tiffany wouldn't be able to get rid of them if she tried, it all makes for a laugh-out-loud-funny reading experience.
Recommended by Kaarin, May 2007
The Year of Sorrows
| Four young men pursue their dreams in New York City in a reality more conducive to suicide. In spite of that, the main character and novelist wannabee maintains a healthy attitude. While it is hard to understand how these people stay motivated, an almost catatonic, smelly centerpiece of a roommate may be the answer. No one would want to end up like The Loach. Rapp’s language is fresh, although disturbingly olfactory-obsessed at the beginning. The odors blessedly taper off and his wide and wild palette of adjectives is put to better use.
Recommended by Geo, May 2007
|Vaughan, Brian K.
Pride of Baghdad
| The Iraq War is observed from a unique and unexpected angle. For four lions from the freshly bombed Baghdad Zoo, there is no meaning to the destruction. They are simply freed from their confines, lost and isolated in an environment not suited to large predators, other than human beings. They must find food. They must find clean water. And they also must avoid the hideous barbarism of other creatures also freed during the shelling and fires. The artwork is stunning, both beautiful and brutal, and it elegantly highlights the poignancy of the text. The authors stay true to the nature of the animals; their voices, while using human words, are appropriately spoken from the mouths of lions. It is a heartbreaking story of war and its victims, without useless talk of politics and the typical breast-beating of the media and all those who either support or condemn the war. Art by Niko Henrichon.
Recommended by Connie, May 2007
My French Whore
| You’ve seen his talent as a comic actor and as the original Willy Wonka. Now Gene Wilder stars as a debut novelist with My French Whore, a love story composed with simplicity and honesty. Peachy is a young man who leaves his life in Milwaukee to join the Army during WWI and keeps a notebook in which he journals all that follows. Shortly after his arrival in Germany, he successfully deceives his captors into believing that he is a German spy. He is catapulted into a world of enemy military relationships and luxuries and must depend upon his wit and luck and upon the love of a French courtesan for survival. A short read and a small book, this title is perfect for a train ride or a rainy night.
Recommended by Laura, May 2007
The Pale Blue Eye
| Set at West Point in 1830, this unique mystery features as one of its main characters, none other than Edgar Allan Poe. When a murder and mutilation of a young cadet occurs, a retired police officer, Gus Landor, is summoned from his cottage to do the detective work. He drafts the young Poe, who is also a cadet, as his assistant, and together they try to solve not one murder, but eventually two. And who is stealing hearts from the bodies? Landor and Poe form a bond of friendship because of their mutual intellect (and their love of alcohol) but soon questions arise between them and distrust threatens to destroy their alliance. Poe is a wonderful character and the best part of this book, although the mystery itself is inventive and will keep you guessing. But Poe's personality is just as you would imagine a dark poet's to be. He continually mourns for his mother who died when he was just a young child, and he falls in love with the sister of a fellow cadet (this cadet, by the way, seems to be the prime suspect in the case), lamenting that he'd rather die than live without her. Bayard's beautiful language only adds to the Gothic quality of the work.
Recommended by Terry, April 2007
| Bohjalian, Chris
Before You Know Kindness
| Meat or meat-free? This is the personal-political choice
that forms the backbone of Bohjalian's stunning novel about a middle-class
family on the Eastern seaboard. The action begins with a devestating
accident at a summer home in New Hampshire, then spirals back in time
to examine how the prinicpal players (and one dangerous prop) came to
be there. The primary action revolves around Spencer, a committed animal
rights advocate, and his wife Christine, who agrees with Spencer's principles
in public, but sneaks Slim-Jims on the side. Their daughter, Charlotte,
can't understand why she's not allowed to wear leather skirts or use
certain kinds of makeup, and Nan, the family matriarch, can't understand
how anyone could choose to live a life without meat. A pack of hungry
deer, a father's desire to bond with his son, and the memory of countless
lobster dinners contribute to Bohjalian's thoughtful examination of
how the carnivore wars look from all sides of the spectrum. By itself
alone this attention to structure and theme would make for a satisfying
reading experience, but Bohjalian goes even deeper, fleshing out his
characters' personality quirks and lacing family interactions with serious
questions: what, exactly, is kindness? Who is deserving of love, and
why? What is our responsibility to each other, and does it or does it
not trump our responsibility to the planet? Can the two duties co-exist
peacefully without personal sacrifice? Bohjalian offers no easy answers,
but, instead, raises all sorts of passionate, prickly questions that
make this novel an excellent choice for book groups who enjoy a healthy
debate of social issues, wrapped in an engaging narrative. Four stars
and a vegan griller, hold the soy cheese. |
Recommended by Leigh Anne, April 2007
Chbosky, Stephen |
Perks of Being a Wallflower
| This quick but great read is the story of Charlie, a freshman in high
school. You learn about him and his life through the letters he
writes to an unnamed friend. The letters are written with such
sincerity that as more is revealed about this very gifted but troubled
boy, you become even more intrigued and interested in his life.
While this book is found in the Teen section, this book would
appeal to older readers, too. His experiences in high school, such as
football games and the first school dance, are ones that anyone
growing up or grown up can identify with. Charlie also faces more
serious issues like drugs and sexual discovery. Other themes include
the importance of giving heart-felt gifts, the need to be true to
oneself, and how much people in your life affect you, for good or for
bad. In this book, the plot is just as important as its subtle and
The author, Stephen Chbosky, is a Pittsburgh native. Although Charlie
never makes direct reference to the city's name, the story takes place
in Pittsburgh. After reading this book you might not travel through
the Fort Pitt Bridge the same way again.
Recommended by Susan M., April 2007
| Clark, Mindy Starns
Blind Dates Can Be Murder
| This combination of chick lit, Christian fiction, and mystery
makes for a story that is difficult to put down. The novel centers on
Jo Tulip, a delightful 25-year-old who writes a newspaper column about
housekeeping that is quite reminiscent of "Hints from Heloise."
While researching a dating service for her employer, she stumbles into
a kidnapping plot that puts her life into danger. Jo must cope with
the aftermath of the crime while grappling with her feelings for her
best friend, Danny. There is also an interesting supporting character
named Lettie, who struggles between her life of crime and her blossoming
friendship with Jo and her religious friends. This is volume two in
the "Smart Chick Mystery" series; I will definitely be reading the others.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2007
|Friedman, Thomas L. |
The World Is Flat : A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
| If you have ever questioned the impact of international outsourcing, global telecommunications, or the organization of information on the Internet, then this book may help you find the answers. Thomas Friedman analyzes the economic and social aspects of globalization by identifying and describing ten forces that have caused the “flattening” of the world. I found his analysis valuable, by providing thoughtful insights into understanding the fundamental changes we see in today’s world.
Recommended by Karen R., April 2007
| Hilton, Paris and Merle Ginsberg
Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-chic Peek Behind the Pose
| Indulgent, overstated and unabashedly self promotional, Hilton provides explicit guidelines on becoming an heiress while including hundreds of glossy photographs which could only be appreciated by the most insincere fanatic. While breezing through the shiny images and bullet pointed text, it's difficult to interpret a tone of irony or an honest voice that is mistakenly heard as sardonic. The majority of Hilton's autobiography is packed with lengthy lists of favorite vacation destinations, gems of little known Paris trivia and guilty pleasures. Regardless, the much talked about heiress surely satisfies our fierce if not slightly perverse craving of embarrassing pictures and humiliatingly obtuse intelligence. If all else fails, take Hilton's surefire advice, "…always act like you're wearing an invisible crown. I do. And it's always worked for me."
Recommended by Lisa, April 2007
| Lynch, Jim
The Highest Tide
| Thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley loves the natural life
of the Washington bay where he lives. During this particularly incredible
summer in his life, he discovers things in the bay that are unusual,
drawing the media’s attention and quickly spiraling into a frenzy of
more discoveries and more attention. Complete with the college-age girl
next door, the old woman who’s his friend, a popular teenage business
partner, and his somewhat absent parents, the story finds Miles growing
in more ways than one. Lynch is right on the mark in showing the way
in which a young boy would understand and react to the situations at
hand, and the results are sometimes quite humorous. Recommend. |
Recommended by Joanne, April 2007
| Maalouf, Amin
Ports of Call
| In describing the life of Ossyane Ketabdar, an Arab/Armenian
hero of the French resistance, Maalouf delicately and intimately describes
the genocide and war that engulfed Europe and the Middle East throughout
the twentieth century through the lens of a beautiful and poignant love
story. Over four days, Ketabdar pours out his story to our unnamed narrator,
a man he meets on the Paris Metro, a fellow countryman who recognizes
him from a photo in his school history book. In Ports of Call,
Maalouf weaves a tale of relationships between countries told through
the relationships between very specific and moving individuals. Alberto
Manguel's translation allows the passion and hopefulness of Maalouf's
writing to shine. |
Recommended by Candice, April 2007
| Marchetto, Marisa Acocella
Cancer Vixen: A True Story
Nonfiction Graphic Novel
| Marchetto was a newly-engaged 40-something without health
insurance when she discovered that she had breast cancer. As a freelance
cartoonist, her way of dealing with it was to document her experience
in a comic strip, and the result is Cancer Vixen. From the
story of her engagement to the hip Italian chef, Silvano Marchetto,
to each trip through chemotherapy, Marchetto shares her life with us,
and makes it all the more touching with her loosely-drawn, brightly-colored
panels. Whether she’s talking about what she wears to chemo or her relationship
with her mother, she manages to draw a personal, yet universal, story.
Recommended by Kaarin, April 2007
| Meyer, Danny
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
| Danny Meyer opened Union Square Cafe in 1985 when he was 27 years old. Since then his New York City restaurant empire has grown to include 11 establishments. In Setting the Table Meyer explores his family, business, and taste history with an emphasis on food. Readers interested in dining and restaurants are likely to enjoy his stories. But what I value most about this book is that Meyer has woven his management philosophy throughout, showing the development of what he calls "Enlightened Hospitality."
I got excited about "Enlightened Hospitality" while reading an interview just before Setting the Table was published, in which Meyer emphasized the importance of making his customers feel heard. He said, "The customer is certainly not always right. But they must always feel heard." Setting the Table has inspired me to pay more attention to the importance of listening to others, whether customers, employees, supervisors, or friends, regardless of my reaction to what they might be saying. Among many other important lessons, this book has encouraged me to focus on the act of listening. We take listening for granted, but careful listening really is a gift we give each other. |
Recommended by Julie, April 2007
| McCarthy, Cormac
| There are few books that come along that are simply profound
in their execution; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is one of those
books. The style and diction used to communicate the apocalyptic scenario
are so basic that certain words at once jump out at the reader and resonate
long after the page is read. The Road, like The Great Gatsby
before it, is a prose poem, a lyric masterpiece whose horrific beauty
is underscored by a stark, relentless vision. |
Recommended by Don, April 2007
| Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler’s Wife
| Reading is a form of time traveling. In times of stress,
opening a book can instantaneously transport the reader to another place
and another time, allowing her to straight away abandon her worries.
For Henry, a dark-haired punk librarian, time traveling is involuntary,
inconvenient and undignified. Materializing in the past, present, and
future “in his altogether,” Henry manages his Chrono-Displacement Disorder
the best he can. A gritty and suprising tale, Niffenegger layers this
narrative with smart, immaculate storytelling and easily coaxes the
reader through the expanse of time. |
Recommended by Laura, April 2007
| Satrapi, Marjane
Chicken with Plums
| A child asks ‘Do you have opium?’, a man escapes to the
bosom of Sophia Loren, an obese great-granddaughter gives birth to a
child she didn’t know she was carrying, an angel of death has a grand
sense of humor, and a mother’s corpse emanates a mysterious dense fog.
These are the tragic and blunt elements in the portrait of Satrapi’s
great-uncle, a famous Iranian tar player who took his own life when
he could no longer create music. Because of Satrapi’s clever and earnest
style, readers journey frame-to-frame, moment-to-moment through his
story with anticipation and without judgment. |
Recommended by Laura, April 2007
| Stewart, Rory
The Places in Between
| In January 2002, Scottish author/diplomat/historian/explorer
Rory Stewart decided to walk across Afghanistan. Walking was the rational
part of his decision, for he had already traversed India, Pakistan,
Iraq, and Nepal. Afghanistan was the irrational part. Recently invaded
by the United States, at war with internal and external foes for over
twenty-five years, the place was considered unsafe even by the foolhardy.
Rory (anything but a fool) persuaded the newly formed government (it
had been in power less than two weeks) to give it a go and off he went,
leaving Herat heading east for Kabul in the dead of winter. All our
hero took with him were two knapsacks, some tribal garb, and a stout,
steel-tipped walking stick that would later come in handy beating off
wolves and wild dogs. As Stewart makes his way into the interior, it
doesn't take long to discover that Afghanistan is not one, but many
countries. Villages only a few miles apart differ in religion, ancestry,
tribal loyalty, custom and even race. Afghanistan is also a very backward
and incredibly remote country. Most of its rural inhabitants live in
mud huts with only blankets to cover the floor. There is a scarcity
of everything (most importantly food and medicine) and the only sort
of education is religious in nature. There is little contact with the
outside world. Yet there is no lack of hospitality. Almost every night,
after a hard day of beating feet, the author would stagger into a new
village and begin pounding on doors, seeking food and shelter. Only
once or twice was he reluctantly asked to move on. One can only imagine,
what would happen if he tried the same thing--in say, Cleveland. Stewart
meets many memorable characters on his journey, none more noteworthy
than Babur, a giant mastiff hound with a clipped off tail. Babur is
given to Stewart halfway through his trek and walks with him the rest
of the way to Kabul. By the way, Babur is a wild dog magnet and his
favorite food is bread. Lots of bread. He really likes it. Babur also
saves the author's life after being collapsed in a snowdrift. Stewart
suffers other hardships as well during his expedition, altitude sickness,
dysentery, and an injured leg to name a few. However, he is never attacked
by a human being until he enters Kabul and a guard punches him in the
face. Ah, Civilization! After reading The Places in Between,
it is hard to determine which is more admirable, Rory Stewart or the
book he has written. Together they make a helluva pair. Oh, and Babur
Recommended by John, April 2007
| Tomine, Adrian
32 Stories: the Complete Optic Nerve Mini-comics
| 32 Stories collects the first several issues of
Adrian Tomine's long-running comic strip Optic Nerve. The selections
are from the first strips Tomine initially photocopied and distributed
himself, beginning at age 15. His artistic evolution serves as a subtext
to the plots of the stories, as his clean-line style and poignant storytelling
emerge. He depicts these characters with a delicate care to preserve
the spirit of the muses who appeared to him in laundromats, coffee shops
and dirty apartments. The strongest stories are vignettes about the
small triumphs and failures of everyday characters' lives. A young insomniac
describes the diners and bike rides that occupy her nights. A couple
interrupts their anniversary with a conversation they'd rather not have.
A woman mails a letter to her boyfriend, then regrets it. Several characters
rebel against the frustrating conditions and coworkers of their minimum-wage
jobs. Tomine finds these men and women at their least heroic, lying
in bed rehearsing the witty comebacks they should have said, or recollecting
anticlimactic, yet significant memories. His characters shoe-gaze and
sport awkward haircuts and ill-fitting clothes. They smoke too much,
think a lot, feel even more and say very little. The magic of Optic
Nerve is that we're included into their surreal dreams and absurd
moments with an intimacy that allows us to smile in recognition as they
laugh at themselves. |
Recommended by Renée, April 2007
| Valente, Catherynne M.
Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams
| A story with no definite plot unfolds and refolds like
origami as the narrator describes her dream-visions which may actually
be her life, memory or imagination. The narrator might be Ayako, an
ancient hermit living on a mountain, or she may be "The I-that-is-Ayako,"
"a hinge which opens and shuts strange windows, who dreams she is more
than her flesh." Several forces propel this book. First, Ayako's visions
cross cultures and time with the vast range of mythology she encounters.
In one dream, her dream-sister is Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
In another, she births the Egyptian god Horus. Others involve quantum
physics, circuses, Oedipus, medieval Japanese culture, and a host of
dream-guide animals. All deal with themes of change, transience and
uncertainty. The second force behind the book is its lush, adjective-laden
language, which fluidly draws comparisons and metaphors that employ
even more images. Chapters are named after months from the Japanese
Heian period calendar, and they detail changes in animals and nature
that signal seasonal cycles, like "Grasses Wither" and "Earthworms Come
Out." While the storyline is sparse and buried in surrealism, glimpses
of plot emerge from Ayoko's interactions with River, Mountain and Gate-beings
who teach her Zen koan-like lessons. With its poetic style, abundance
of symbols and ambiguous plotline and characters, the book can be overwhelming,
despite its short length. Too many symbols, after all, can become meaningless.
But Valente may have intended this shadowy environment to immerse us
in the same confusion Ayoko experiences, as she tries to navigate and
interpret her visions and distinguish her thoughts from her Self.
Recommended by Renée, April 2007
| Atwood, Margaret
Moral Disorder: Stories
| Atwood’s latest, a collection of stories linked via shared
characters, is a master class in short fiction writing by an artist
at the height of her powers. And, if you like this volume, her earlier
Wilderness Tips, a collection of stories linked via theme, is just the
Recommended by Don, March 2007
| Cixous, Hélène
Dream I Tell You
| Bound to be a favorite of poets, voyeurs and shrinks alike,
Dream I Tell You is a selection of fifty dreams from prolific
French writer Hélène Cixous' ten years of dream journals. Themes explore
familiar dream topics like death, birth, love, intrusion, unpreparedness
and war. Babies, pets, colleagues, crowds, wild animals, Cixous' family
(dead and living) and strange dream beings populate her visions. Her
unedited, half-awake accounts of her unconscious maintain the poetic
and emotive logic of dreams. Such an approach creates some confusion-readers
enter so openly into Cixous' mind that characters are never introduced
or explained beyond their names-leaving unclear whether Thessie is a
child, dog or cat. But it also suspends enough objectivity to enjoy
Cixous' visceral experiences vicariously. The reader shares in her terror
and suspense as she navigates a violent world under Nazi control and
in her perplexity as she deciphers mysterious markings on abandoned
babies in the underworld. Cixous' poetic writing resonates with humor,
irritation, wonder and fear. She conjures fantastic dreamscapes, like
a bed in a glass room in a snowstorm, and eerie nightmarish scenes,
like an overpopulated cemetery city built of worm-eaten stairs. But
the real joy of the book comes from relishing Cixous' passionate, flamboyant
writing in its rawest form, which offers gems like "For the moment I
felt him nearby, in the left part of the house, a marvelous guest, as
if in the left side of my chest." |
Recommended by Renée, March 2007
| Crichton, Michael
| This was a frightening book. Imagine a world where a university can own your cells, and, therefore, those of your offspring. Also, ocean creatures are genetically engineered to have corporate logos on them. There are transgenic creatures such as humanzees that think and talk like humans, but are aggressive like chimpanzees. Parrots can carry on a conversation and do math, and wild orangutans can curse at observers in Dutch. Through several story-lines, Crichton presents these and other possibilities, and the ethical questions that surround them. He has done lots of research in the field of genetic engineering, so his stories are not creepy because they are only science fiction, but because they are real extrapolations of science today. Anyone who reads this book will realize that we are just a stone's throw away from such frightening realities, and that we must address such topics now, before we really do find ourselves in such a world. |
Recommended by Terry, March 2007
| Cullen, Lisa Takeuchi
Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death
| Have you ever wondered what happens to a body that’s cremated? Or what alternatives there are to the big, mahogany caskets and ghostly make-up of a typical funeral? I hadn’t, until Remember Me came across my desk. My curiosity piqued, I read on to learn about everything from green burial options, to plasticizing, to how to get your deceased loved one made into a diamond. If you’ve ever thought about how we deal with death in our culture, or don’t deal with it, as the case may be, this book is for you. Who knew that death could be so entertaining?
Recommended by Kaarin, March 2007
| Ephron, Nora
I Feel Bad About My Neck
| “Wear a bikini for the entire year you are 26,” commands
Nora Ephron to younger women readers in this collection of essays detailing
her grappling with Getting Older. Ephron reminisces with simultaneously
hilarious and melancholic delivery and monologues about various revelations
that exhaust, inspire and overwhelm her. A particular example is that
she comes to accept the hatred that her purse and its contents solicit
in her for being such a flawless reflection of her life and of her personality.
The most delightful essay, titled, “On Rapture,” speaks resonantly to
the experience of reading. Ephron recounts the bliss she experiences
throughout her life as a reader--from her afternoons filled with juvenile
literature and the bombardment of desire to be all of those heroines,
to having just finished the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
and not wanting to reappear from the depths of 1940s New York City.
It is an essay whose narrative could quite possibly have been written
by any insatiable reader. This is a tiny but feisty book, a short read
with long indulgent laughs. It is to be read by those who love women
and to be read by women of any age, regardless of how she may feel about
her neck. |
Recommended by Laura, March 2007
The Revolution Will Be Accessorized: BlackBook Presents Dispatches from the New Counterculture
| A decade in the making, BlackBook magazine gives us a collection of essays from some of the most recognized names in contemporary writing, including Douglas Coupland, Naomi Klein, Augusten Burroughs, Chuck Palahniuk and Sam Lipsyte among others. Despite the magazine's reputation as a glossy New York fashion and social arsenal, The Revolution Will Be Accessorized contributes a perverse and provocative criticism of the "trendy" existence these writers (and perhaps even its readers alike) inhabit. From memoirs to critical essays on L.A.'s bourgeoisie, selections in this anthology will leave you questioning efforts of cultural dissent. Yet, Glen O'Brien states it best, "If it makes you think, is it fashion?" |
Recommended by Lisa, March 2007
| James, Alison
The 10 Women You'll Be Before You're 35
| This light and entertaining book comes off as pure Chick
Lit fluff at first, but it actually offers some encouraging insights
and helpful advice. The New Graduate phase, for example, can be frightening
and chaotic, but the book assures the reader she'll soon be competent
and confident. However, once the reader hits the Worker Bee phase, she
must reach back into her New Graduate days and resurrect some of her
old wild-and-crazy attitude. Above all, the book stresses that one should
value and draw on all of one's phases, in a balanced way, rather than
going off the deep end -- either as a reckless Party Girl, or a fitness-obsessed
Body Conscious Babe. While this book is no serious therapeutic treatise,
it's a great reminder that we all have to grow up and go through the
same awkward phases, that they will eventually end, and that none of
us are alone. |
Recommended by Denise, March 2007
| Waldman, Ayelet
As fluff goes, this is a dandelion seed riding its parachute across a playground. So why couldn’t I put this down? The characters are charming. That’s how you know they are the “good” guys. The villains are cliché and stereotypical making them very familiar and adding coziness to the mood. The very pregnant crime buster has a charming husband with whom she has a charming relationship. Her child is imperfectly charming, as are her mothering skills. They all have the right attitude and a buoyancy that while it may not keep them from harm at least guarantees another day. Mysteries and murders are solved almost matter-of-factly and the book is short enough to guarantee a desire for the next installment in the
Mommy-Track Mystery Series.
Recommended by Geo, March 2007
| Walls, Jeannette
The Glass Castle
Amazing and shocking, humorous and sad, this poignant story describes growing up in a family with two very eccentric parents. In memorable vignettes filled with vivid descriptions, Jeannette Walls tells the heartrending story of her childhood, including their nomadic life of living under the stars in the desert, frequently relocating in the middle of the night (the big skedaddle), and settling in a small mining town in West Virginia. Hers is the story of the strength of the human spirit to not only survive, but even excel, in the face of unbelievable adversity. An astonishing story.
Recommended by Karen R., March 2007
| Winston, Lolly
| Much like actual grief, Lolly Winston's novel Good
Grief is easier to process than to describe. Not that processing
grief is a picnic, as Sophie finds out when she becomes a widow at thirty-six.
Despite antidepressants, a therapist, a support group, and a frighteningly
efficient mother-in-law, Sophie is having difficulty getting it together.
The chance to start over in another state might be the antidote...that
is, if Sophie can get past the notion that there's a "right" way to
be a widow. If you have ever lost someone, you will appreciate the skill
with which Winston depicts the stages of grieving without toppling over
into Hallmark sentimentality or movie-of-the-week melodrama. Sophie
handles the challenges of her post-married life much in the same way
anyone else would handle a difficult burden: with confusion, creative
improvisation, panic, biting humor, lots of Oreos, secret reservoirs
of inner strength, and, ultimately glimmers of grace. A well-written
piece of women's fiction, yet with the pacing of chick lit, recommended
for readers who appreciate well-rounded protagonists, unusual plots,
or the gumption it takes to get up and start all over again. |
Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2007
Reading Fun Home feels like a scavenger hunt through someone else's diary. In Alison Bechdel's memoir in graphic novel form, she skillfully illustrates setting through both text and image. Myriad cultural and literary allusions assist movement and characterization "not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms." Detailed drawings include myriad literary and cultural references, and abound with ephemera: newspaper front pages, handwritten margin notes in dog-eared books, phone messages, dictionary definitions, field guides, maps, product labels, photographs, and letters.
Fun Home rings with honesty as Bechdel vividly recounts childhood experiences with wry humor and perspective, but never nostalgia. Witty, telling dialogue between Alison, her family and friends punctuates her often poetic narration. Both expertly depict the complicated relationship between Alison and her father, a high school English teacher with a passion for heavy literature and gothic interior design and restoration. Alison discovers he is a closeted homosexual when she comes out to her parents during college, an event that both clarifies and confuses their distant connection.
The combination of Bechdel's frank and likeable tone and expert illustration lead the reader irresistibly from one frame to the next as she pieces together the memories and people that influenced her identity.
Recommended by Renée, February 2007
Murder in Montmartre
Cara Black has maintained the high quality of this wonderful series. The characters are quirky, original, and beautifully written. In this installment, Aimee LeDuc (with a French father and American mother, but Parisian to the core) sets out to clear her oldest friend, who has been accused of murder. She also continues to dig into the mystery of her father's death. Aimee may have lost her boyfriend, while Rene, her partner and best friend, has gained a girlfriend, but where is the relationship between the two of them really going?
But the true richness of this series is the experience of Paris. Clearly Black knows the city well. Each of her books is set in one of its innumerable neighborhoods. The writer brings Paris to life; the sights and sounds of its streets, its history, always inseparable from its present and future, and its flavors, fashion, and diverse inhabitants are all vividly described. For those who like mysteries with a noir flavor and stories with a strong sense of place and richly described settings - and especially for those who love Paris, have been there, or want to go - these books are highly recommended. I keep watch for the latest from Cara Black to get my fix of Paris from afar.
Recommended by Deborah, February 2007
Donovan, Gerald |
Julius Winsome, surrounded by 3,282 books, is living an idyllic life in a cabin in the woods of Maine. But they've left something out of the guidebooks: the constant sound of gunshots and the killers and victims that they represent. Julius has been under a constant barrage of reminders of mortality his whole life, both historically (both his grandfather and father were soldiers) and daily. When he finds his dog murdered it is as if this is the last death he can tolerate. Something is unleashed in Julius and sets off a need to somehow restore balance to his world. There are times when having sympathy for Julius gets to be a bit much, but that is when another crumb of truth is thrown on the path and you can't help but follow. This is a tight, intense, and eye-opening experience instinctively muted at times and made bearable by Julius's affinity for nature and deep respect for all forms of life.
Recommended by Geo, February 2007
Gregory, Julie |
Sickened: the Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood
Julie Gregory's book is gut-wrenching memoir at its finest. For anyone unfamiliar with Munchausen by Proxy, it is a type of abuse in which a caregiver feigns or induces an illness in a person under their care, in order to attract attention, sympathy, or to fill other emotional needs. This author was a victim put through unspeakable horror from her own mother. Her mother hauled her to every doctor's office in driving distance to have her tested, and medicated, and even operated on for a phantom heart defect. Under the spell of a seemingly devoted and genuinely concerned parent that fooled the medical professionals, Julie believed that she was meant to die. Julie grew up dying. She lived dying. The epitomes of dysfunction, her parents were brutal abusers, chronic liars, and some-time arsonists. The fact that this woman lived to shed light on her past is remarkable. Read it and weep - literally.
Recommended by Connie, February 2007
Water for Elephants
If you'd like to go dancing at a speakeasy, if you'd like to jump a moving train and find yourself immersed in the world of a traveling extravaganza, or if you'd like to meet and fall in love with a Polish-speaking elephant, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is a tender and colorful under-the-big-top tale for you. Sprinkled with historic photographs and with characters born out of true circus stories, this page-turning novel alternates between the narrations of Jacob Jankowski as a young man and as an old man. One topples face first into love and the grisly and glamorous circus world and the other struggles to maintain his dignity and his memory in an assisted living home. Both stories have unpredictable, uplifting resolutions and might leave you wishing that you could run away and join the circus too.
Recommended by Laura, February 2007
Returning to Earth
Returning to Earth chronicles a year in the life of a closely knit family in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Four characters are each given one-quarter of the novel to tell their first-person tale. Donald, who is Chippewa- Finnish, begins the story. He is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease at age forty-five. As he dictates to his wife the story of his ancestors, he weaves family history, strong ties to the natural world, and hints of private, mystical views of life, death, and an afterlife. On page one Donald says, "I don't have the right language to keep up with my thinking or my memory or all of my emotions over being sick." But his authentic, distinct voice and stream of consciousness style is just right for a man overwhelmed with love for life. The members of Donald's family who narrate the remaining three sections of the novel face their private grief as well as struggle to help each other cope with Donald's death. Each narrator's voice is distinctive and utterly believable, and the themes of integrity and reverence for the earth are completely compelling.
Recommended by Julie, February 2007
Here on Earth
Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth explores the many aspects of relationships, including lost love, abuse, death, single-minded ambition, separation and abandonment. Creating more than one love triangle, Hoffman brings characters to life in perplexing situations that confuse but never disappoint.
Recommended by Karen R., February 2007
American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka
From Samuel Pepys on down to today's bustling blogosphere, the urge to chronicle the minutiae of one's life persists. Kochalka's warm, witty, and often poignant sketchbook chronicles the random, ordinary moments that make up his multiple identites as husband, friend, comic book artist, and musician. Kochalka draws himself as Magic Boy, an elf from one of his comics, and often depicts his friends as dogs, frogs, and other odd creatures (poor Colin, for example, gets only one Cyclopean eye). This lends an air of bemused detachment to ordinary events like watching leaves fall, drinking beer, flying on airplanes, and, quite often, "rocking hard." The strips are by turns earthy and contemplative. For example, a panel showing Kochalka urinating in the great outdoors or cannoodling with his wife, Amy, might be followed up by ruminations on 9/11, or questions about whether or not he's ready to be a father. Taken as a whole, these seemingly random events in the life of an ordinary guy become the epic story of Everyman, trying to live, love, and have fun in a world that often throws more curveballs than the average batter is prepared to hit. Recommended for those who like their comics true-to-life and down-to-earth, or simply enjoy silly, Rabelaisian peeks into other people's lives.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2007
Spoto, Donald |
Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was born into a wealthy family in Belgium in 1929. Her father left the family when she was six, and because of the current political climate in Europe, her mother decided to seek refuge for the family in the Netherlands with her parents. However, Hepburn's sheltered life of school and ballet lessons changed quickly when the Netherlands came under Nazi control in 1940. For the next five years, her family endured great anxiety about future military attacks, strict food and heat rations, and daily fears about their Jewish neighbors. After the war ended, Hepburn continued with her ballet lessons and began acting in small plays throughout Europe. She attracted some attention in America and was soon on Broadway playing the lead in Gigi. At the age of 22, she won the coveted role of a princess in Roman Holiday, which earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She then went on to star in such classics as Sabrina (in which she was paid a paltry $3,000, compared to co-star Humphrey Bogart's $200,000), Funny Face, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and My Fair Lady. She married twice, had two sons, and spent a great deal of her later years in Europe, only occasionally coming to America to continue her film career. Towards the very end of her life, she devoted countless hours to the UNICEF organization acting as their spokesperson and logging thousands of miles to visit children in Africa and South America.
Donald Spoto, who has written many biographies including ones on Ingrid Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock and Princess Diana, does a wonderful job of portraying Hepburn's professional accomplishments while also giving the reader the chance to know the person behind the famous face. This is a highly readable biography of a fascinating woman.
Recommended by Karen G., February 2007
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
Compiled by Frank Warren
Initiated as a temporary experimental community art project where anonymous secrets from across the United States are written on post cards and sent to artist Frank Warren, PostSecret has afforded itself to be a liberating experience to its audience. Voyeuristic, compelling, tragic, yet endearing, Warren composes confessions that are certain to divulge powerful insights to any who seek universality in humanity. If PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives leaves you wanting more, look for Frank Warren's succeeding compilation of confessions in My Secret: A PostSecret Book.
Recommended by Lisa, February 2007
Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Readers who enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Pride and Prejudice might enjoy this charming novel that combines the historical elements of Regency London with the current craze for books about magic. When Kate goes off to London for her first Season, she writes to her cousin Cecelia to tell her about all the goings-on in the city, including her curious misadventure at the Royal College of Wizards. Cecy, for her part, has plenty of stories to tell Kate, especially when a mysterious new girl in the neighborhood turns the heads of all the young gentlemen. Is natural charm involved, or that of an entirely different kind? The girls' adventures entwine around the presence of a mysterious Marquis, a series of charm bags, and the search for a very important chocolate pot. The epistolary narrative works beautifully in terms of creating suspense, and the authors cleverly weave the story elements together into a conclusion that's both pleasing and believable (considering that half the characters in the novel turn out to be magicians, this is no mean feat). Recommended for teen and adult readers searching for something suspenseful and fanciful, and who relish a good (yet wholesome) Regency love story.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2007
The Sweet Hereafter
Some people are incapable of watching a film until they've read the book on which it was based. I am one of those people. Whenever I'm teased about this proclivity, I point to books like The Sweet Hereafter to support my case. Banks's tale of a tragic school bus accident and its aftermath grabbed me by the throat on page one, and didn't let me go until the bitter end, and while Atom Egoyan's companion film of the same name is very good, it cannot compare to the exquisite horror of tracing that fatal bus ride through the driver's memory, knowing what's coming, but not how, powerless to stop it even if you did. Subsequent chapters alternate narrators, describing the weight of the grief, guilt and anger various parents and survivors feel. Russell even manages to bring a sense of gravitas and honor to the motives of a big-city lawyer who comes to Sam Dent to initiate a class-action suit on behalf of the bereaved parents. If you liked the film The Sweet Hereafter, you should definitely pick up the book and drink deeply from the dark and brackish well that inspired it. If this is your first exposure to either work, why not try both and make the comparison yourself?
Recommended by Leigh Anne, January 2007
Charles S. Anderson Design Co. and Michael J. Nelson|
Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute
It just has a ton of super cute images, all dating from the Depression era to the 60's and everything in between. Also includes some sassy and oh so witty commentary from a bunch of advertising types. It is quite savvy. The first time I looked at this, I was seriously on the floor laughing my guts out!
Recommended by Lisa, January 2007
A Child Again
Robert Coover populates this collection of short stories with characters from myths, fairy tales and folklore who display surprising twists of modern sensibility. Prince Charming suffers an existential crisis at his wicked stepmother-in-law's funeral. Jackie Paper, now an aging equestrian, returns to Honah-Lee to find Puff the Magic Dragon listless and depressed. The Invisible Man abandons his superhero lifestyle for a lonely path of perfect crime. Alice goes through menopause among her ageless, insane Wonderland companions.
While he infuses the stories with humor, Coover also uses the familiar icons of our cultural narrative to access serious themes. "Playing House," a parable, questions the difference between light and darkness, and human response to both. "The Return of the Dark Children" visits post-Piper Hamelin to explore the roots of hysteria.
Coover electrifies his stories with his characteristic sarcasm and witty wordplay. Vocabulary ranging in topic from elocution to royal court titles to architecture should satisfy any logophile. Each tale flows into the next via common theme or tone, creating a compelling narrative thread through different settings and voices. These stories transform formerly two-dimensional, moralistic caricatures into complex beings enhanced with sexuality, anxiety, memory, fears and hopes. Coover affords us the chance to reevaluate our culture by seeing its foundations anew, giving us the freedom to question it from the same fresh perspective we did as children.
Recommended by Renée, January 2007
Through a simple story told in sparse and elegant prose, this novel provides a powerful look at humankind and its complex potential for true kindness and harmful destruction. Donovan writes eloquently about Julius Winsome, a man who lives peacefully and contentedly alone in the Northern Maine woods until the outside world, accidentally or not (and is this relevant?), violently intrudes. From the very first page the reader is drawn inexorably into Julius's world, a world of wonder and beauty and then increasing horror, sadness, and desolation. A story of murder, of this man's recent and remote past and acutely evoked present becomes much more: this is a tale of love and loss, solitude and community, communication and isolation, language and understanding, loneliness and fulfillment, peace of mind and the passion of emotions driven beyond control, and of respect for living things and the harm that results from absence of that respect. It is one of those rare books that is hard to put down because the story and the language are completely harmonious; with spare words and without deviation from the central narrative this (dare I say it?) Shakespearean drama draws surely to its irrevocable conclusion.
Recommended by Deborah, January 2007
The White Masai
In the late 1980s, Ms. Hofmann goes on holiday to Kenya with her fiancé. In a matter of days, she falls impossibly in love with a native Masai warrior who caught her eye on a public bus. What happens from there is nothing short of ridiculous. She drops her life as a successful, fully independent, educated woman, to become the wife of a man with whom she does not share a word of common language and to immerse herself in a culture in which tradition does not permit females any semblance of equal rights. This memoir of her first few years living in the bush is absolutely fascinating. However, it is difficult to sympathize with Corinne. It is more likely that the reader will be horrified and alarmed with the malarial episodes she experiences or the very avoidable, very high risk situations she allows not only herself, but her infant daughter, to become subject to. Despite all of this, the narrative drives forward, scene by scene, in a way that makes it a satisfying read, something like a train wreck.
Recommended by Connie, January 2007
Reading The Road made me want to totally curl up into the fetal position. Humankind has descended into an Apocalyptical Hell of global proportions after an unidentified calamity. Our protagonist is never named by the author, and therefore he is never awarded the individual identity taken for granted in a pre-disaster world. Nostalgia and optimism are irrelevant and dangerous in a present that has no use for either past or future tenses. But how to remove the humanity from the man? What can you do with both memories and dreams? All that exists is the now and the road. The man, his son, and the constant fear of death and hunger are the major players. The writing itself is both sparse and elegantly poetic. This is an intense, unrelenting, and beautifully sublime portrait of human emotion and the value of humanity.
Recommended by Connie, January 2007
McCarthy serves up the thinnest and most potent sliver of apocalyptic hell in his latest, The Road. As a father and son make their way through a stark and devastated landscape where all the "roads" go nowhere, the reader can't help but wonder, "What is the point?" along with the characters. The difference between hope and survival is blurred leading to the suspicion that hope might just be "will to survive" in a tux and consequently overdressed for this occasion. The subject matter is grim, but the poetic flow makes it impossible to sink or stop swimming. In spite of already knowing the end of the story, readers of The Road will find themselves rushing along to find out how the book about the ultimate end of everything is going to end. Oh, and as an added bonus, you will never look at a grocery cart the same way again.
Recommended by Geo, January 2007