2010 Staff Picks
- Staff Picks by Genre in alphabetical order by author's last name.
|John Brandon is a young author hitting his stride. Citrus
County illustrates his mastery of the crime and mystery genre.
Characters the reader cares about spiral out of control with circumstances
never as apparent as they seem to be. This could be an author to watch
for a very long time.
Recommended by Tony, December 2010
|Edited by Dan Crowe with Philip Oltermann
How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors
| “Can you think for a minute about which object, picture,
or document in your study reveals most about the relationship between
living and writing, and then send it to us?” was the question editors
Dan Crowe and Philip Oltermann asked in a letter they sent to dozens
of writers. They published the responses in the form of entertaining
essays and photographs of these talismans. Writers like Joyce Carol
Oates, Neil La Bute, Douglas Coupland, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan
Lethem and about 45 others responded. Not only do the brief entries
offer glimpses into these writers’ varied approaches and attitudes
about writing, but they also provide a sample of their style and wit.
Most authors include a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor along
with fascinating anecdotes of how they came to value these objects.
Aside from the possibility of discovering a new writer, part of the
appeal of this collection is its gorgeous design, which will make
it especially appealing to readers who enjoy the similarly-themed
Postsecret books (http://catalog.einetwork.net/search~s1/tpostsecret).
The authors’ contributions range from hilarious to poignant, and reveal
the reality of the working lives of a much-romanticized profession.
Recommended by Renée, December 2010
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
|Carson McCullers is one of the most tender writers. I’ve
read The Ballad of the Sad Café, The Member of the Wedding,
and now her first work, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. All
of these pieces are full of moving compassion for her fellow human
beings. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter includes a large cast
of characters who live in a small Southern town in the 1940s, so her
empathy ranges wide. Main characters include a young girl, Mick Kelly,
who is driven by a love of music, and Mr. Singer, a deaf mute onto
whom many of the town’s residents project their longings. Through
her exquisite language, McCullers helps us understand how people long
for each other and for very individual dreams. Because her characters
often end up alone in their longing, the title of this novel is apt.
Despite the pain of poverty, racism, and variations on loneliness,
this is not a depressing book. McCullers’ love and respect for her
characters make their struggles bearable.
Recommended by Jude, December 2010
Birds of America
| “There was nothing as complex in the world—no flower
or stone—as a single hello from a human being,” Laurie Moore writes
in one of her short stories, and throughout Birds of America,
she proves it again and again. Her characters date people twenty years
their junior. They embarrass themselves, offend people and cheat on
their partners. They can’t get along with their relatives long enough
to finish a game of charades, and remain too introspective to connect
with others enough to overcome their loneliness. They get cancer and
buy dilapidated houses and shoot intrusive rodents. In short, they
are regular, decidedly unheroic people whose quirkiness warrants as
much derision as empathetic self-recognition. While Moore addresses
such difficult subject matter as illness, death, infidelity and social
isolation, her stories ring with wry humor. Her prose brilliantly
mixes phrases from common speech with ingenious wordplay and startlingly
poetic descriptions—she even throws in a few Tom Swifties. Birds
of America is an appropriate, if cryptic title: Moore details
the interior life of her characters with the skill and beauty Audubon
rendered ornithology into colorful, lush portraits.
Recommended by Renée, December 2010
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
| The Western world’s perception of Pakistan often comes
from news reports about violence, Kashmir disputes, or natural disasters.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to read this colorful volume of short
stories about ordinary life and love in both rural and urban Pakistan.
Mueenuddin takes us inside the head of jealous siblings, corrupt bureaucrats,
a maid leaving her drug-addicted husband, and a father defending himself
against a motorcycle robber. Each piece focuses on a new character,
but one wealthy landowner leaves his mark in several stories.
Recommended by Rita, December 2010
I Curse the River of Time
| Oh Per, you've done it to me again. I become mesmerized
by your beautiful writing and complex characters and then, WHAM! You
leave me clamoring for more. Immersed in the imposing Scandinavian
landscape, I Curse the River of Time explores the complicated
relationship between a dying mother and her grown son. Petterson does
not coddle these characters with sympathetic renderings. Sometimes
you want to cry with them, sometimes you despise their selfish actions.
The Los Angeles Times described Petterson as "a master at
writing the spaces between people," and these vast expanses leaves
the reader as bewildered as the characters themselves. Choose I
Curse the River of Time for your book discussion group—you could
talk about it for hours.
Recommended by Sheila, December 2010
|Shearer, Stephen Michael
Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr
|This intriguing biography covers all 85 years of actress
Hedy Lamarr’s life. And what a life she had! Born Hedwig Keisler in
Austria in 1914, an only child of doting parents, she dropped out
of school at a young age to pursue an acting career, and soon landed
the lead part in the controversial film Ecstasy. The adult
nature of the movie caused a stir and was banned by many countries
and religious organizations. However, Hedy’s striking beauty caught
the eye of a wealthy arms manufacturer, whom she married at age 18.
After a few difficult years with her controlling older husband, she
made her escape. In London she met Louis Mayer, head of MGM Studios.
With a Hollywood film contract and a more appealing stage name — Hedy
Lamarr — she was billed as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Her stardom rose at a dizzying speed as she acted in popular films
including Algiers, Ziegfeld Girl, Come Live
With Me, Tortilla Flat, Boomtown, My Favorite
Spy, and Samson and Delilah. Hedy’s off-screen life
was also a whirlwind of activity. While in her twenties, she teamed
up with an inventor and patented a technical way to help with war
efforts called frequency hopping. This invention was later used during
the Cuban Missile Crisis. She was married six times, yet she said
in later interviews that the happiest times of her life were when
she was single. She had three children, wrote an explosive autobiography,
Ecstasy and Me, and pursued countless lawsuits against ex-husbands,
business associates, and companies that used her image without her
approval. This book is a well-researched examination of a fascinating
woman. Fans of classic films especially will welcome this glimpse
into Hedy’s extraordinary life.
Recommended by Karen G., December 2010
This is Where I Leave You
|Combine Ann Tyler’s dysfunctional families with David
Sedaris’s humor and you’ve got This is Where I Leave You,
a book both laugh-out-loud funny and serious. Following the death
of the Foxman patriarch, the four Foxman siblings and their mother
honor his wish to sit shivah, a Jewish tradition requiring the family
members (some of whom have not spent time together in years) to live
in the same house for one week. As neighbors and friends come to pay
their respects, people and events from the siblings' childhood and
adolescent years blend with their current lives. Phillip’s past flings
meet his current older finacee; Judd copes with a pending divorce
and a rekindled interest in his high school best friend; Wendy is
frazzled by her young children and absent-but-wealthy husband; Paul
and Alice try desperately to start a family while confronting their
pasts with Judd. Finally, their mother, a noted parenting expert,
reveals a startling secret that shocks her children. Definitely recommended.
Recommended by Joanne, December 2010
Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems
|The work in Lucifer at the Starlite includes
muted, almost philosophical longing set in the context of everyday
details, and the thrills and disappointments of family and romantic
relationships. Poems depict gods and devils who make pasta and negotiate
for CEO-like control of the world. They explore the realms of fairy
tales and prayer as well as bars and fetish boutiques. Some pieces
employ clever conceits, but Addonizio pulls them off by remaining
grounded in sincerity and devoted to the originality of her language.
For example, in the poem “You,” she identifies someone as situations
and objects that characterize the speaker’s relationship to the person.
Highlights of the poem, like the line “You were a town with one pay
phone and someone else was using it,” exemplify Addonizio’s specialty
at capturing ordinary, familiar details with crystallizing specificity.
“You” is one of several list poems that indict unavailable lovers
and describe the heart with surprising images, calling it “that tiny
little dance floor to the left of the band.” While the book’s structure
and range of imagery can be humorous and playful, Addonizio’s voice
is deeply reflective and romantic, and her control over the poems’
lyrical tones never wavers.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010
It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita
|This is probably the funniest book about postpartum depression
you’ll ever read (Hillbilly
Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood by Adrienne Martini
is a really close second). Armstrong is a professional blogger whose
wickedly funny commentary has propelled her to certain levels of notoriety
and once caused her to lose a 9-to-5 job. When she got pregnant and
gave birth to her first child several years ago, she knew she might
face an emotional struggle with depression, a condition that has plagued
her for years. The baby would only turn the situation worse as Armstrong
changed medications and went to war with her hormones. The contrast
between the humor and mental illness is striking. It was ugly and
awful. She needed to be medicated and treated in a hospital. However,
with the benefit of retrospection, Armstrong tells her story with
amazing humor and dignity in a unique and believable way.
Recommended by Connie, November 2010
Man in the Dark
|A retired book critic, dealing with major physical problems
as well as serious insomnia, creates a bedtime story or story-within-a-story
to pass the time, all to great effect.
Recommended by John, November 2010
|Back in August 2005, if you had lived in New Orleans when
Katrina was about to hit, would you have hightailed it or hunkered
down? As the storm was nearing the city, a successful small-business
owner and landlord known as Zeitoun decided to stay home and keep
an eye on his properties. His wife wasn’t hot on the idea, obeyed
the mandatory evacuation, and took their daughters inland. Through
daily phone calls with her husband, she learned that Zeitoun survived
the storm and used his canoe to bring others food, water, or to safety.
Abruptly, Zeitoun’s wife loses contact with her husband, unaware that
his Syrian background and Islamic faith have been used against him.
Dave Eggers, after months of interviews with the family, chronicles
Zeitoun’s arrest and his family’s reaction. If you like nonfiction
that reads like a fiction story, check this out in audio or in print.
Recommended by Rita, November 2010
|I’m not normally a fan of mysteries, but I’ve addictively
read each of Tana French’s three novels. This is the third in a series
of finely written books loosely linked to the Dublin Murder Squad,
and by my account, probably the best. Lieutenant Frank Mackey has
not returned to his rough, working class neighborhood of Faithful
Place for 22 years. After the supposed disappearance of his childhood
sweetheart Rosie, Frank had abandoned his toxic family to become an
undercover cop. Now, years later, Rosie’s remains have been found
and Frank must return to his neighborhood, and his family. Like French’s
first two novels, Faithful Place has less to do with the
central mystery than with memory, and the re-opening of long-forgotten
wounds. Readers looking for a quick, addictive read filled with dark
secrets and well-drawn, hardscrabble characters will probably read
this in a couple sittings.
Recommended by Tara, November 2010
Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling: New & Selected Poems (1966-2006)
|Judy Grahn selected this collection of her poems herself,
making for a personalized retrospective of her career so far. Her
introduction to each section enriches the reading experience by providing
personal, philosophical and historical context. Grahn, who wrote much
of her work while involved with political movements in the 1960s to
1980s, writes poetry with the intention of reading it aloud, and employs
rhythm, repetition and sound to enrich that presentation. The poems
are deeply reflective and deal with feminism, lesbianism and working
class experience to love and mythic interpretations of Helen of Troy.
Many are informed by Grahn’s considerable research on mythology, and
employ imagery from those sources as well as the natural and industrial
world. Her poems question, rally, rage, inform, inspire and entertain.
Whatever the subject matter and tone, each poem rings with its own
vivid voice that engages the reader with its emotion, wit and heart.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
|Permaculture is a design approach to create landscapes
that function like ecosystems, with the diversity, stability and resilience
found in nature, whether prairie grassland, native forest, or something
in-between. If you are an urban gardener, you'll want to see the second
edition of Gaia’s Garden, published in 2009, which includes
an additional chapter, “Permaculture Gardening in the City.” I appreciate
the focus on practicality in Gaia’s Garden. A wise advisor,
Mr. Hemenway offers detailed, well-organized information. His highest
wisdom stems from the notion that idealism should not get in the way
of making a garden that is ultimately effective for the people who
use it. He writes, “Overall, doing an imperfect something is better
than doing a perfect nothing.” That’s good advice in and out of the
Recommended by Julie, November 2010
|This book reads like a dream—of lessons of love and loss
in a world of endless winter, and the townspeople who wage war against
a season. So vivid and simple is Jones’ imagery, you could swear this
book had pictures.
Recommended by Tony, November 2010
|Murakami , Haruki
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel
|Murakami’s hip, brain-warping novel juxtaposes two plots
that unfold in alternating chapters. One, Hard-boiled Wonderland,
involves infowars in a futuristic Tokyo, and the other, The End
of the World, a struggle for identity in a sinister fairy tale-like
village. Part of what makes the novel so engrossing is the distinct
tone and characterization each section’s narrator adopts. The data
encryptor in Hardboiled Wonderland is a solitary whiskey-drinking,
cigarette-smoking intellectual. The protagonist of The End of the
World, caught without his memory in the mysterious laws of the village,
conveys a dream-like, urgent mood. Switching between these plots is
fascinating enough, and has the effect of playing Dark
Side of the Moon to the The
Wizard of Oz, but irresistible tension results from the interplay
and overlap of the two storylines.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010
|First of all, this is one of the most beautifully written
novels ever to see the light of day. Breathtakingly so. Now for the
story. The great mathematician Adam Godley lies dying in his country
home recounting the pluses and minuses of his extraordinary life.
Swirling about is his extremely eccentric family, doing a bit of soul
searching themselves. Add to the mix the classical gods Zeus, Pan,
and Hermes (our narrator), and you have the makings for sophisticated
Recommended by John, October 2010
|Duncan, Elizabeth J.
The Cold Light of Mourning
|Located in the North of Wales, this tale of a runaway
bride is both picturesque and suspenseful. The main character, the
manicurist who polished the bride's nails on the morning of her wedding,
gives the author the opportunity to invent very cute nail polish names:
Altar Ego, Big Apple Red, Sonora Sunset. How about Pinkslip Pansy,
Palsied Peach, Livid Lavender? A location junkie after reading M.
C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series, I like mysteries set in or around
Scotland, with weather uninviting and water treacherous. Throw in
a dead body and there is no resisting. The Cold Light of Mourning
is first in this Cornwall series, followed by A
Brush With Death.
Recommended by Geo, October 2010
|Haines, Kathryn Miller
When Winter Returns
|World War II has just ended, and protagonist Rosie Winters
and her best friend Jayne are back in New York City after finishing
their USO tour. Jayne’s fiancé, Billy, was recently killed in action,
and the friends decide to visit the bereaved parents to offer their
condolences. After a brief conversation, they are horrified to discover
a startling secret: the fiancé had taken the identity of a fallen
soldier. This naturally inspires Rosie and Jayne to start sleuthing
to find out the truth. Amidst their detective work, the young women
must remain afloat financially, and continue auditioning for acting
jobs. Haines, who lives in Pittsburgh, recreates life in post-WWII
America with great aplomb. Her characters’ speech, dress, and behaviors
bring the reader on a trip back to the 1940s — and an engaging one
Recommended by Karen G., October 2010
|Kelso’s first graphic novel is a fairy tale story wrapped
in a coming-of-age tale, but though it lives in another world its
lessons are for our own. Family history, biases, and how and why we
love the way we do are explored in a unique and real way.
Recommended by Tony, October 2010
Cakewalk: A Memoir
|There’s nothing like a good book to make you want to read
more good books. I don’t usually evaluate the literary quality in
memoirs, and if I do, I often don’t find a lot to praise. However,
Ms. Moses is clearly a good reader herself, and it is apparent from
her first vignette that years of inspired reading and listening inform
her style. Her stories narrate the eventual breakdown of a family
supported by utterly mismatched parents. Her mother wants glamour
and excitement and a best friend for a daughter. Her rigid father
expects high performance, and withers away under the pressures of
his own expectations of himself. This conflict is common in memoirs,
and many feature miserable families. However, Cakewalk stands
out for its fine writing. I must also mention that despite pain and
anguish, there is sweetness in the author’s life, as evidenced by
the wonderful dessert recipes that conclude nearly every chapter.
Recommended by Connie, October 2010
|A young real estate agent is kidnapped during an open
house. This is the story of her journey back to "real life" after
the year-long ordeal is over. Each chapter deals with a session in
her therapist’s office, where she recounts what happened during and
after her captivity. An insightful and deeply moving look at her recovery
process. I couldn’t put it down.
Recommended by Melissa, October 2010
The Lonely Polygamist
|Everything about Golden Richards is exceptionally large.
Physically, he's a towering giant of a man with an enormous family
- four wives and twenty eight kids to be exact. But whereas many people
may look upon the patriarch of such a grand polygamist family as domineering
and forceful, Golden is no such thing. In fact, it is quickly apparent
that his life is completely run by his quartet of competent wives.
He drifts from bedroom to bedroom according to a pre-determined schedule
decided upon by the women. Children, house repairs, church functions
- all mapped out for him. The only choices he seems to make for himself
(very poorly) in his god-fearing life are the decisions to construct
a brothel in a neighboring state and to fall in love with a mistress.
There is much comic relief in this tale, but there is also a poignancy
that is heartbreakingly real. Satisfying wives is one thing, but how
do you give twenty-eight children the love and affection they need?
You don't. You try to avoid any cause for comparison and jealousy
that may disrupt the family equilibrium. It is easy to feel sympathy
for Golden because he seems not to have the ability to alter his course
of existence, but that tolerance gets put-upon mightily when his passivity
becomes perilous for those around him. Golden's need to desperately
love in the singular makes it very apparent that it is possible to
have too much of a good thing.
Recommended by Sheila, October 2010
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
|Ziegelman portrays five families who lived in the tenement
at 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan (now the Tenement Museum) to tell
the history of immigrant foodways between 1863 (when the tenement
was built) and 1935 (when it was no longer used for residences). An
easy and interesting read, the author gives a broad and entertaining
history of food and social conditions in New York City during each
period. Ziegelman begins with the Glockners in the 1860s, a German
family who built the tenement. Then comes the Moore family from Ireland,
the German Jewish Gompertz family from Prussia in the 1870s, the Russian
Jewish Rogarshevsky family in the early 1900s, and finally the Italian
Baldizzi family in the 1920-30s. Ziegelman describes the living conditions
of each immigrant group and the food they would have commonly eaten.
97 Orchard gave me the final impetus I needed to visit the
Tenement Museum (http://www.tenement.org/) on the Lower East Side
in Manhattan, a followup I highly recommend, especially during this
time of immigration controversy.
Recommended by Cathy, October 2010
I'll Mature When I'm Dead
|If you picked up this book you are either already a Dave
Barry fan or will soon be one. A witty wordsmith, Barry is never mean-spirited,
always original, sporadically wise, and his collection of new essays
does not disappoint. But be warned: the chapter "Fangs of Endearment:
A Vampire Novel" will cause both cheering and cringing. Behold, this
parody of the Twilight series is so excruciatingly right on that I
had to laugh, and then cringe as well. Picture Dave Barry actually
Recommended by Geo, September 2010
Triumph: Life After the Cult
|Another survivor’s tale to emerge from the Fundamentalist
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A follow-up to her first
narrative, the aptly titled
Escape, this new work continues Carolyn’s story as she
works to assist authorities conducting the 2009 investigation on the
FLDS compound in Texas. With a uniquely valuable perspective as a
former sect member, she provides information on the warped psychology
of the community. The first section describes in heart-breaking detail
the authorities' struggle in identifing the abuse taking palce at
the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Ultimately, only a small percentage of
those responsible for certain crimes were charged. However, Carolyn
and many other victim advocates still hope something can be done for
those left on the inside, including her own daughter. In the second
half of the book, we are shown piece by piece how a victim of extreme
degradation and brain-washing can overcome the horrors of a cult.
Carolyn revisits specific incidents in her past that will make you
cringe, but that she managed to survive. The fact that this individual
can walk through her life without uncontrollable rage at all times
blows my mind.
Recommended by Connie, September 2010
|This first entry in a dynamic new fantasy/science fiction
series by Scholes begins with the mysterious destruction of the city
of Windwir, which sets off an immediate armed conflict amongst the
fallen city's neighbors. If large explosions and epic battles aren't
enough for you, this book also features robots, magic spells, invisible
gypsies, and dueling popes.
Recommended by Mark, September 2010
No Doors, No Windows
|An above average haunted house story about a Seattle writer
who returns home to New Hampshire for his father’s funeral, only to
discover lingering family mysteries begging to be solved. The prime
mystery is that of Round House, an odd house in the middle of the
woods designed without interior edges: all the corners of the rooms
have been sanded into smooth curves. When our protagonist discovers
that his father was writing a story about the house, he takes an interest,
too, and picks up the story where his father left off. Soon the storytelling
reveals terrible secrets about murdered girls, vengeful warlocks,
and family curses that ultimately lead to a terrifying climax within
Round House’s creepy walls. Fans of Mark Danielewski’s cult classic
of Leaves will appreciate its obvious influence on Schreiber’s
Recommended by Wes, September 2010
Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East
|If you’ve read Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing
Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens
and are interested in implementing its philosophy, Summers’ book is
a helpful resource for the Pittsburgh gardener. Tallamy’s book offers
a new gardening paradigm: instead of choosing “insect-resistant” plants,
one should choose native plants that native insects can feed on, which
in turn will provide food for native birds and other wildlife. It
is a way to make your garden sustainable and a haven of biodiversity.
Summers shows you how to “go native” by providing alternative indigenous
plants to invasive non-natives we all seem to have in our gardens.
And she’ll tell you what sorts of insects, especially butterflies,
feed on them. I must admit it is tough reading when one feels guilty
for growing forsythia, butterfly bush and Japanese barberry, especially
when they are thriving. And my lovely hostas and daylilies don’t qualify
as natives either. I might not tear these plants out, but I will introduce
more native plants and for this, Summers's book is a great help. She
provides lists of native alternatives for commonly grown trees, shrubs,
perennials and grasses, and since she is from New York state, the
plants she recommends should do well here. My only complaint is the
paucity of color photographs, but the internet provides photos for
identification. Any person interested in sustainable gardening should
find Summers’s book thought-provoking and useful, and at the least,
it will change the way you look at plants and insects.
Recommended by Cathy, September 2010
|I'd never read a Gardner book, and this will not be my
last! A pretty wife and mother mysteriously disappears one evening,
leaving her sleeping young daughter home alone. Her husband is suspected
of foul play, but as the novel continues, other possible culprits
come into focus. Different characters, including the police detective,
have their own chapters to tell their points of view, which adds a
dimension to the mystery. All in all, it's a wonderful, suspenseful
story. I guarantee you will want to finish it for the surprise ending.
Recommended by Karen G., August 2010
|When a woman comes to the realization that she has been
voluntarily participating in a boring relationship for years, the
cracking begins, and you won't be able to wait to see what hatches.
The most salient feature of the man she's with is his obsession with
a musician who suddenly and mysteriously retired from public life
after an apparently innocuous visit to a restroom. Fame and fandom
are explored here, as well as the temptation to settle for safe as
opposed to sublime in our personal relationships. Hornby makes the
reader's relationship with his characters intimately friendly. You'll
laugh, listen, hurt, anticipate, and ultimately care about them.
Recommended by Geo, August 2010
|This is the story of Rambo, a young Green Beret/former
POW recently returned from a horrific tour in Vietnam. He travels
around the American South and though he does nothing wrong, gets kicked
out of every small town he visits. Sheriff Teasel, a veteran of the
Korean War, tries to retain order in his community, and sees Rambo
as only a vagrant long-haired hippie kid. He too drives Rambo out
of town. Rambo decides enough is enough and declares war on Teasel,
the local police, and the National Guard. The relationship between
these two ex-soldiers, hell-bent on killing each other, becomes almost
beautiful, almost filial. A brilliant psychological suspense novel
with themes that remain timely, with cases of Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder on the rise.
Recommended by Bonnie, August 2010
The Opposite House
|The Opposite House alternates between two storylines.
In one, a Cuban family who immigrated to England deals with cultural
conflict in their adopted homeland. In the other, a woman who is possibly
a Yoruba goddess, navigates her mysterious “somewherehouse,” which
has otherworldly tenants and doors that open to both London and Laos.
Questions of cultural, familial and individual identity dominate the
novel’s themes. The narrator, who is pregnant, navigates her role
with her partner and within her birth family, especially in the idealistic
conflicts between her mystic mother, a Santería practitioner, and
her ultra-logical father, a history professor. As an immigrant and
a woman, ideas of belonging and origin also weigh heavily on her.
She divides her psyche into her present self, her memories of Cuba,
and her hysteric, a part of her personality who “is blank, electricity
dancing around a filament, singing to kill.” Oyeyemi’s elegant writing
is full of such irresistible daredevil poetry. Her characters are
intensely eccentric, yet honest. Their dynamic relationships, especially
between the narrator and her best friend and her mother, are emotionally
engaging. The Opposite House elegantly weaves an absorbing
tale from differing experiences, realities, cultures and myth.
Recommended by Renée, August 2010
The Bradbury Report
|In the year 2071, the U.S. is the only country where cloning
is legal, paid for by the government, and part of the health insurance
system. Nearly every citizen has one, but clones ("copies") are not
thought of as human, instead they are used for spare parts when the
"original" is sick or injured. Clones are kept in a secret compound.
Anna, a member of an underground abolitionist group, helps hide the
first escaped clone, hoping he will become an anti-cloning spokesperson.
Strong, thought-provoking writing.
Recommended by Julie, August 2010
Where’s My Wand?: One Boy's Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting
|Young Eric Poole sincerely believed in magic. He could
secretly conjure ideal outcomes to all of life’s troubles in his basement
(think Endora from Bewitched in a chenille bedspread caftan).
He could make the new girl in school, who was born with no arms but
strong legs, become his best friend and bodyguard. He could end the
battle between his obsessive compulsive mother and his visiting grandmother.
Even if that meant Grandma would first set fire to her mattress smoking
in bed, nearly killing them all, leading to the declaration that she
would no longer be welcome in the Pool house. Eric could vanquish
enemies and bring justice to the little guys of the world – he simply
needed an empty house and the magic blanket. As Eric grows up, though,
it seems magic works less and less. Things go wrong. He can’t quite
control everything. With sincerity, humor, and charm, this memoir
will be immensely satifying to fans of David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro,
and Sloane Crosley.
Recommended by Connie, August 2010
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
|This tale is an interesting mix of science, social history,
and ethics. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. While
being treated and without her knowledge, doctors took a sample of
her cells and sent them to a scientist attempting to cultivate the
first immortal human cells, cells that would continue to live and
divide outside of a human body. No other cells had done this before,
but hers did. Known as the HeLa cells, they continue to live, and
have aided in such medical breakthroughs as the polio vaccine, in
vitro fertilization, and cloning. They have also gone into space and
were the first human cells to test the effects of an atom bomb. The
entire cell and tissue culture business was based on the reproduction
of the HeLa cells. Her family found out thirty years after she died
and have never received financial compensation, even though others
have profited from the cells' sale and distribution. The juxtaposition
of Henrietta’s and her family’s life stories with the scientists and
scientific discoveries makes for a varied and entertaining read.
Recommended by Melissa, August 2010
|Beth Bachmann’s Temper creates tense, eerie poetry
from tragedy and its aftermath. The cycle is based on experiences
surrounding the murder of the author’s sister, for which their father
is a suspect. Imagery simmers with violence and restrained emotion.
Bachmann alludes to the natural world and the Christian Mysteries,
expanding the murder to encompass larger questions of faith, and human
and animal nature. The poems repeatedly describe overgrown vegetation
and the industrial no-man’s-land of the murder site, combining natural
imagery with gritty, forensic details, and evoking a dark, unsettling
mood. Details evoke instances of transformation, decay, and stasis,
and her use of language rings with precise vocabulary and crisp sounds,
as in the line “ . . . singed paper//before it blackens; copper beneath
corrosion;/the acoustics of the finch’s song after a tear//in its
vocal tract.” The poems possess an intense observational sensation,
and the speaker’s voice is never far. In challenging, confrontational
lines, she directly addresses the reader: “Move closer. I want to
tell you a story” and “Still standing? Now come here.” Because the
poems explore so many perspectives of the crime, including the murder,
crime scene, lineup, family memories, her father’s account, and the
speaker’s own telling, the narrative remains unresolved and complex.
The result is a haunting collection whose tone and language linger
long after you close the book.
Recommended by Renée, July 2010
|A romantic comedy, with smart prose adding to a delightful
plot. Lisa decides to leave her rat-infested apartment in New York
City for a new job upstate. She is attracted to her supervisor, Eben
Strauss, a corporate vice president and a quiet man with good manners
who is a decade older. Two people could not be more different. They
begin to see each other, but agree to tell no one at work since it
could compromise both their careers. When their relationship starts
to become serious, Lisa struggles to keep her history hidden, including
drugs, more men than she can list on a single sheet of paper (including
a married man), and other risky behavior. Eventually she must tell
Eben of her checkered past in order to protect him, though she fears
it will destroy their relationship. Pink Slip is strongly
recommended to more than just romance fans.
Recommended by Terry, July 2010
|Hansen, Sig and Mark Sundeen
North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters
|For a few years, I just didn’t get the Discovery Channel’s
hit documentary series, "Deadliest Catch." The program follows the
captains and crews of several crab-fishing ships on the Bering Sea.
I am not into adventure, risk-taking, boats, or anything like that.
I hate cold, and I get seasick. Why would a program like this appeal
to me? However, one weekend I caught the beginning of marathon of
reruns, and something changed. I became enraptured. I have no attraction
to “reality” television, but this show has me. I now care about Alaskan
crab boats and the rough and scraggly guys that run them. When I learned
that one of my favorite captains from the show, Sig Hansen, had written
a familial memoir, I just had to read it. Again, I didn’t think I
would get into it. Nothing about the subject matter on the surface
is appealing to me. However, in two days, I read the book cover to
cover. I could hardly put it down. Told in the honest and believable
voice of Captain Sig, it is the story of three generations of Hansens,
their bonds with the sea and each other. The affection and admiration
the author shows for his brothers, parents and crew is sincere. Tales
of life at sea are not tiresome and technical, but exciting and sometimes
hilarious. There is enough historical perspective to provide interesting
context for the stories, none of it bogged down in heavy rhetoric.
Just like the television series, I had no idea what I was missing
until I sat down and found out for myself.
Recommended by Connie, July 2010
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison
|Piper Kerman, a recent graduate of Smith College, was
looking for adventure. She got involved with a woman who was travelling
the world smuggling drugs and laundering money. After a few months,
Kerman realized that the new life she inhabited was not glamorous
but sordid and treacherous. She got out, severing all ties to her
new “friends.” Fast forward ten years, Kerman is engaged and enjoying
a high-profile job in New York City. That is, until the Feds show
up at her house and charge her with drug trafficking. With the help
of a top lawyer, she is sentenced to only one year—the minimum mandatory
time for her offense. In the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury,
Connecticut she witnesses first-hand the effects of her crime, surrounded
by women whose lives and families have been torn apart by drugs. But
Kerman finds something else she hadn’t expected: community, acceptance
and the love of her fellow prisoners. She writes about the colorful
characters she encounters in prison: a six-foot four transsexual diva
who sings gospel songs every night before going to bed, big-mouthed
“Eminemlettes” always looking for a fight, a nun serving time for
political activism, and an ancient granny locked up for taking phone
messages for a drug-dealing relative. This heartfelt memoir could
be called a hagiography for the millions of prisoners trapped in a
justice system that isn’t always just. Bonus: a recipe for “prison
cheesecake” on page 150.
Recommended by Bonnie, July 2010
|Think The Thornbirds. Think Gone with the
Wind. Except instead of Australia, you are in Eastern Texas.
Instead of dreamy Ashley Wilkes, you have lumber baron Percy Warwick.
Mary Toliver will do anything to keep her family ranch, Somerset.
This includes humiliating her own mother, alienating her brother,
and working until she literally drops. It also includes giving up
her chance at true love, marrying her brother's best friend, and perpetuating
the “Toliver Curse.” Told from three different viewpoints, heroine
Mary Toliver, her lost love Percy Warwick, and Mary’s young niece,
Rachel, Roses opens with Mary’s final days, when she realizes she
sold her soul for Somerset and in the process devastated everyone
around her. After a lifetime of secrets, deceit, and family angst,
Mary’s last efforts will protect her niece from the “Toliver Curse”
and finally prove to Percy that she loved him, even more than Somerset.
This sweeping saga won’t change your life, but it’s a perfect read
for the beach.
Recommended by Suzy, July 2010
I [heart] Macarons
|After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I knew
I wanted to try cooking my way through a recipe book, but I didn't
want to cook my way through Julia Child. (No way, aspic and duck.)
I thought about Moosewood. I thought about vegetarian. And
I thought about a Southern Living Annual with all the butter
left in. Then I found it. The cookbook I was going to cook my way
through: I [heart] Macarons. The instructions are easy to
follow and well illlustrated. The flavor and color pairing examples
ignite fantasies in your mouth. The only way this cookbook could be
better is if the pictures were edible or at least scratch and sniff.
Recommended by Geo, July 2010
|In 1944 Brooklyn, New York, a deep friendship is born
after two teenagers face each other on the softball field, in a game
that takes on the significance of a spiritual war. Set during the
final years of WWII, Reuven, an Orthodox Jew, and Danny, son of a
Hasidic Rabbi, meet at age 15, and help each other negotiate their
separate sacred and secular worlds. A novel as powerful and tender
as when it was published in 1967.
Recommended by Julie, July 2010
|Cyrus Ott decides to establish a small English-language
newspaper in Rome in 1953. The long-term survival of newspapers is
uncertain, but Ott, with his own agenda, moves ahead and staffs his
paper with handpicked writers, editors, and executives. But this really
isn’t a story about the obsolescence of the printed word. In fact,
most of the employees seem eerily unconcerned and disconnected from
the paper’s fate. It’s the story of the people whose lives intersect
at the paper, professionally and personally. Each chapter is its own
short story, and we learn about the ambitions, the terrors, and the
souls of each of these newspaper people. Twenty pages into this book,
I knew I’d be recommending it to everyone I know who loves clear prose
and the wonders of human nature. You’ll have your own favorite character
– mine was the aging war correspondent, still looking for that one
big story that will catapult him to his Pulitzer Prize as he looks
for his next free meal or place to crash. Can’t get to Rome this year?
Grab a glass of iced tea and enjoy this wonderful book this summer.
Recommended by Jane, July 2010
The Rational Optimist
|Being a big fan of Matt Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue,
I was excited to get my hands on his latest book, The Rational
Optimist. Though not quite as hard-hitting as his previous work,
it’s filled with interesting insights that lend themselves to a more
optimistic view of the world. Ridley’s central thesis is that humans
trading with each other led to the evolution of prosperity that many
of us enjoy today, and that continued trade will continue to improve
the state of the world. Indeed, humans are the only species that trades
with strangers, and in doing so we reduce our workload and expand
our gain. Historically, Ridley argues, it’s been the power-hungriness
of politicians and priesthoods that have stymied trade and human prosperity.
But fear not, Ridley is not an off-the-tracks libertarian: he backs
his statements up with historical facts and data. If there’s one thing
about the book I dislike, it’s that Ridley sometimes glosses over
human atrocities with a simple “but, it’s getting better.” Still,
the logical and empirical support for his main argument leads me to
conclude that, for the most part, we have a lot to be optimistic about.
Recommended by Wes, July 2010
|Better bring an umbrella. It's going to be wet. Stephen
Baxter creates an apocalyptic tale like no other. Endless rain, rising
oceans and surging rivers put an end to dry land on earth between
the years 2013-2055. As always, the human spirit survives, as a few
characters escape waterworld aboard earth's last spaceship, headed
for . . .
Recommended by John, June 2010
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession
|Murder? Madness? Obsession? What three better lures can
entice a reader to these fascinating essays? Each of the essays stands
alone, but all are connected by these themes. David Grann, staff writer
for The New Yorker, introduces a Sherlock Holmes scholar found dead
under mysterious circumstances. Clues abound. Murder most foul? Something
else? Grann then tells of a recently executed murderer on Texas’ death
row. Justice or a terrible legal mistake? A French con-artist passes
himself off as the missing son of an American family, and nearly gets
away with it. Why does he do it, and why does the family go along
with the charade? A New York City firefighter can’t recall what happened
to him during the first furious moments in Manhattan on 9/11. The
only survivor of his company, he wonders why. Other essays tell of
an obsessed New Zealand giant squid hunter, an American baseball legend
struggling for one more shot at the big leagues, and the working life
of the men who build and maintain New York City’s crumbling sewer
system. Well-written, filled with detail, never dull, this collection
will leave you with more questions than answers, giving you plenty
of jumping off places to read more about these fascinating people.
Recommended by Jane, June 2010
The Housekeeper and the Professor
|A mathematics professor loses his short term memory following
a car accident and can only recall what has transpired in the past
80 minutes. Given these circumstances, how can he develop a caring
relationship with his new housekeeper and her 11-year-old son? Ogawa
has created a beautiful story of the satisfying daily life these characters
develop. Root, the nickname given to the boy by the mathematician
(because his flat head resembles the square root symbol), grows to
love the professor. The boy and old man share a common interest in
baseball (with its statistics and numbers), and Root treasures their
time together from his childhood until he is a young man in his twenties.
Although the professor’s short term memory fails him, his long-term
memory is intact, so that he remembers people and events prior to
1975. In a particularly poignant section, the housekeeper and son
try to shield the professor from discovering that his favorite baseball
player has long since retired. Ogawa makes you think about relationships
and memories while illustrating the poetic nature of numbers, which
play a key role is this short thoughtful read. Great book group pick.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2010
So Much for That
|Lionel Shriver writes a compelling book. Readers of We
Need to Talk about Kevin will never forget the devastating last
pages. Her newest effort, So Much for That, is compelling
in a different way. Shep Knacker has spent his life planning his retirement
in "The Afterlife" (a Third World tropical paradise). Merrill Lynch
account overflowing from the sale of his business, suitcase packed
to go, Shep is finally leaving, with or without his prickly wife Glynis.
Except Glynis has a rare form of cancer. So begins an unforgettable
and timely journey through the American health care system. Shep’s
account dwindles as he becomes caretaker to his increasingly vindictive
wife, money disappearing to rounds of chemo, specialists, and experimental
drugs. Meanwhile, his best friend Jackson is going bankrupt caring
for his own terminally ill daughter, Flicka, and making unwise decisions
that leave him scarred—physically and emotionally. As Flicka longs
to end her suffering and Glynis refuses to give up, Jackson makes
one final shocking decision, and Shep makes a decision that will change
all of their lives. The final pages are as appalling as they are uplifting.
When you are finished, you will find yourself praying you never, ever
Recommended by Suzy, June 2010
Stitches: A Memoir
|Award-winning children’s author and artist Small had a
fascinating, horrifying, and chilling childhood. He grew up in 1950s
middle America with stony cold parents. Their lack of affection and
communication goes beyond discomfort, straight to abusive neglect
and malevolence. When adolescent David develops a lump on his neck,
his parents deny the seriousness of his condition and avoided treatment
until an advanced tumor claims half of his vocal chords and his voice.
No one tells him it's cancer. And no one mentions that his own father,
a physician, is probably responsible for the cancer, a result of radiation
treatments he gave David as a child. His mother is a humorless woman
loaded with anger, from a family who for generations suppressed frustrations
and experienced mental illness. She has no sympathy for her son, only
distaste for his sickness and disgust over the expense of treating
him. The young man’s life is bleak and cold. His story is told in
gray panels with a minimum of text, reflecting the author’s loss of
speech and disconnect from the outside world and other people. The
images are striking, anguished, and really impressive. I've never
seen an artist capture such desperation and desolation in someone’s
Recommended by Connie, June 2010
|Shortly after undergoing heart surgery to repair a damaged
valve, Bruce Stutz hopped in a 1984 Chevy Impala lovingly called Moby
Dick and began a cross-country tour to follow spring as it emerged
throughout the country. Part of his trip was scientific: Stutz visited
numerous scientists and conservationists across the country to learn
about the effect global warming is having on spring. He troublingly
learns that spring is arriving earlier each year, resulting in altered
migration patterns for animals, melting glaciers, and destroyed ecosystems.
The other part of Stutz’s trip was personal, and he waxes poetically
about the importance of spring as a shared human cultural experience
steeped in mythology and symbolism. But as spring changes, our culture
is not keeping up, and Stutz laments that people are losing out on
an opportunity to experience a human tradition that may not be with
us much longer. Chasing Spring is an enlightening treat for fans of
travelogues and popular science books.
Recommended by Wes, June 2010
The Little Stranger
|The Little Stranger came highly recommended.
Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two
of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The
Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too. Just
a few pages into The Little Stranger I knew I’d found a gem.
Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator,
an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds
Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young
child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the
family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess
his thoughts, time, and energy. It’s a strangely beautiful novel,
creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to
Recommended by Julie, June 2010
Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories & Recipes to Share with Family & Friends
|In a follow-up to her 2008 bestseller, Georgia Cooking
in an Oklahoma Kitchen, Yearwood delivers another crowd-pleasing
collection of Southern recipes, including a short history and beautiful
photo of each dish. I prepared the slow cooker macaroni and cheese
and received rave reviews. Broccoli casserole was an interesting twist
on a classic vegetable dish, and the three-ingredient biscuits were
quick and tasty. Some of the desserts seem a little intimidating to
the novice baker, but after viewing the stunning photographs, they
look like a worthwhile use of time. Keep in mind, though, that these
recipes concentrate on traditional Southern fare, so you know what
that means: meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. Turn to Yearwood’s book
for hearty, down-home cooking — perhaps best enjoyed in moderation
but always delicious!
Recommended by Karen G., June 2010
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
|A child of back-to-the-landers, self-sufficiency runs
in Ms. Carpenter's blood. Smart, tenacious, literate, firmly committed
to life in a gritty city, she cultivates a vacant lot in a blighted
neighborhood of Oakland, CA. From raising a turkey she serves for
Thanksgiving dinner, to adopting a strict "100-foot diet" for one
month (eating only what she's raised or grown on her borrowed lot),
her stories are compelling and, yes, educational.
Recommended by Julie, May 2010
The Member of the Wedding
|I love Carson McCullers. I’ve read her Ballad of the
Sad Café and found the writing beautiful and the story captivating.
The same holds true for The Member of the Wedding, the story
of Frankie and her strange and heartbreaking twelfth summer. Frankie’s
brother is getting married in another town and leaving the country
to serve in the military. Frankie feels lonely and jealous and hatches
various plans to deal with this situation. McCullers brilliantly captures
adolescent confusion and desire and the pain that they can cause.
She also touches on race issues, as one of the main characters is
the African-American maid and nanny in Frankie’s 1940s Southern household.
This is gorgeous writing.
Recommended by Jude, May 2010
|Robinson, Kim Stanley
|In 1609, an enigmatic stranger inspires Galileo to create
a magnifying glass like no other. The telescope brings Galileo great
notoriety & fame but little fortune. It also brings powerful enemies.
The stranger soon whisks the great man far into the future, physically
placing him on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, where a battle
is going on between various scientific factions, each one hoping to
gain Galileo's wisdom, blessing and favor. Back on Earth Galileo is
wanted as well, by the Inquisition! Seems his heliocentric views have
upset the Pope so much that he's threatened with imprisonment and/or
death. In essence, Galileo is fighting two battles, one in outer space
and one in Italy. Which one is weirder is left up to the reader. Galileo's
Dream serves not only as a wonderfully imaginative tale, but
as a superb biography of Galileo. It is one of KSR's finest creations,
which is really saying something.
Recommended by John, May 2010
The World of Normal Boys
|This is a coming of age story about a New Jersey boy named
Robin, whose family becomes dysfunctional after a tragic accident.
From the start, Robin doesn’t quite fit in at high school. He is not
interested in sports or gym class, and is not the son to his father
that his brother Jackson, the jock, is. He prefers trips to New York
with his mother where he tours museums, and he's more introspective
than most boys his age. Robin's first sexual encounters are homosexual.
He finds nothing in common with anyone until he meets Scott, and everything
just clicks. When Scott moves away, Robin rides his bike to a new
town to find him. I really enjoyed this book, as much for the 1970s
setting as for the cast of colorful characters and the close inspection
of one family’s dynamics before and after a tragedy.
Recommended by Terry, May 2010
Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen
|Michael Symon, Iron Chef and James Beard Award Winner,
presents his first cookbook. With his background, we might expect
fancy food out of reach of the average cook. But no. He explains in
detail fundamental cooking techniques. Most recipes include a photo
to either illustrate the finished dish or highlight one of the steps.
Helpful “Symon Says” tips appear throughout the book. I recommend
Live to Cook for those ready to try a twist on a standard
dish or to branch out into something slightly unusual, but still within
Recommended by Melissa, May 2010
Seven Deadly Pleasures
|I spent a good part of the day yesterday experiencing
a feeling of dread. The reason? I'd read a novella called “Toll Booth,”
the final tale in a collection of short horror stories, Seven
Deadly Pleasures by Michael Aronovitz. A Pennsylvania native,
Aronovitz practices his craft in the Philadelphia area when he's not
teaching English literature at a charter high school. That said, it’s
clear that Aronovitz follows the mantra “write what you know.” He
tells of horrors in contemporary life, in everyday locales like schools,
alongside highways, or inside your own home, and Pennsylvania often
fits into the equation. While not all equally scary, the stories all
display a literary quality beyond average horror writing, with characters
and locations so vivid you are instantly pulled in. But be warned,
these are not light-hearted gorefests or ghost stories. While some
gore and supernatural elements are part of Aronovitz’s repertoire
of scares, they are secondary to the emotional traumas he inflicts
on his characters, and you will feel every bit of emotional agony
that they do. Any fan of classic Stephen King and Clive Barker or
old school horror television shows like "Night Gallery" and "Tales
from the Darkside" will find a lot to like in this book.
Recommended by Wes, April 2010
U is for Undertow
|Sue Grafton fans had to wait more than two years for a
new Kinsey Millhone story, but it was worth the wait. This is absolutely
one of the best. U is for Undertow finds the determined Millhone
investigating the disappearance of a small child that happened more
than twenty years ago. Many things go wrong in her investigations,
including a client who has a history of false memory syndrome — he
strongly believes memories that are factually incorrect. Because the
series is set in the 1980s, Kinsey has to use library research, phone
calls, and old fashioned legwork to track down the clues. She doggedly
accomplishes this with her usual simple but effective methods. Veteran
readers of the series and newcomers alike can jump right in and enjoy
this thrilling mystery.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2010
|James, P. D.
The Murder Room
|What do long winter days and long airline flights have
in common? Both offer wonderful opportunities to pass the time with
a good book, and especially a good mystery. James’ Commander Adam
Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is assigned to a grisly murder that may
or may not have a connection to MI5, the UK’s Homeland Security division.
There is definitely a copycat killer at work with his (or her) inspiration
coming from a quirky museum in the English countryside. The Dupayne
Museum is a small family affair, and when a charred body is discovered
on the museum grounds, the family provides plenty of suspects. Employees,
volunteers, unhappy children, and rejected lovers keep the Commander
and his interview team busy. Stir in a poignant old-fashioned romance,
add a surprising touch of 21st century love and lust, and most certainly
a few gruesome crime scenes, and you’ll wish that your flight were
delayed just a bit longer.
Recommended by Jane, April 2010
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
|When she leaves home for college, Janzen withdraws from
the conservative Mennonite community she grew up in and embraces the
secular world. She marries outside the faith, earns a Ph.D. and teaches
English and creative writing at a Midwestern college. At age 43 a
double disaster sends her home to live with her mother, who is a church
deacon, and her father, a former "Mennonite equivalent of the pope."
Instead of spending a planned sabbatical researching, she reengages
in Mennonite culture. Weaving sharp details with deadpan humor, Janzen
explores her past and present, focusing on her parents' values. Stoicism,
honesty, hard work, good cheer, faith, generosity, and tolerance shine.
While at home, Janzen sews her own pants, whips up delicious food
from scratch (Zweibach! Borscht!), sings a lusty alto, edits an academic
book (she's a crack grammarian). And she tells a heck of a story.
Recommended by Julie, April 2010
I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth
|I usually gravitate toward the shocking or hilarious when
I pick up a new memoir. Rarely am I excited by someone I relate to.
However, I make a generous exception for Ms. Peterson because her
spiritual autobiography is so refreshing and timely. She harkens back
to her conservative Southern Baptist childhood, remembering songs
and celebrations about shedding the world around us and leaving this
ruined planet for a heavenly reward. But young Brenda has a secret.
She's in love with the natural world. She sees the face of god in
plants and animals and waterfalls. Her idea of divinity isn't separate
from science, nor can she be a biologist who removes spirituality
from the earth. Eventually she forges a path that her family can’t
relate to, but the strength of their bonds endure. For once, I discovered
a memoir written by someone without a tragic or complicated or torturous
childhood who finds herself, cultivates happiness and success, and
still loves her parents.
Recommended by Connie, April 2010
| Erdrich, Louise
|Irene, desperate to get out of her destructive relationship
with her husband, discovers that he is reading her personal diary.
She decides, therefore, that it's time to keep two: the Blue Notebook
and the Red Diary. Soon it occurs to her to "cook the books" and,
like a corrupt emotional accountant, manipulate him through what she
writes, thus beginning a slide down a slippery path to oblivion. In
another first-rate novel by one of our finest storytellers, Louise
Erdrich powerfully chronicles the dissolution of a marriage, a relationship,
and a family.
Recommended by Don, March 2010
|Grossman, Anna Jane
Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By
|DDT. Hotel keys. Rolodexes. Traveler’s Checks. Asbestos.
Percolators. What do they have in common? They’ve drifted into extinction,
supplanted by better, faster and stronger successors. Revisit answering
the telephone with a sincere “hello?” (note the question mark because
you have no idea who is calling), getting lost, and privacy, experiences
made obsolete with caller ID, GPS, and status updates. It’s difficult
to determine if Obsolete is nostalgic or depressing. Either
way, Grossman’s earnestly funny essays, blurbs and interviews will
take you back to a time when things, ideas and attitudes were replaced
at a much slower rate.
Recommended by Lisa, March 2010
| Klein, Stephanie
Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp
|In the late 1980’s, teenager Klein equates everything
good in life with thinness. Her parents would love her more. She would
be worthy of friendship. She would be smarter, taller, prettier, and
funnier. So she agrees to attend a sleep-away summer camp that will
focus on nutrition and exercise – a fat camp. Here she encounters
other teenagers struggling with their weight, and she experiences
a whole new pecking order. There’s inter-cabin drama and forbidden
romance with the boys’ side. Somehow, this author has managed to write
a memoir about her obesity and health issues without complaining,
blaming, or playing any kind of victim card. She’s laugh out loud
funny through most of the book. Klein is candid and accessible, qualities
most memoirs lack.
Recommended by Connie, March 2010
High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly
|High Society has always been one of my favorite
movies, because it stars one of my most admired actresses, Grace Kelly.
In all her films, Kelly’s ethereal beauty shone through, and she seemed
like the perfect movie star. This new biography does little to dispel
that view. It tells the story of a beautiful, wealthy girl from Philadelphia
who somehow didn’t fit in with her athletic and competitive family.
Clearly not her parents’ favorite, she spent most of her time reading
and dreaming. After moving to New York to attend acting classes, she
began modeling, which quickly spun into a high-paying profession.
She briefly appeared on Broadway and then landed her first movie role
at the age of 22. A dizzying number of movie roles followed, including
her widely acclaimed collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock and her
Academy Award-winning role in Country Girl. High Society
doesn’t skimp on her romantic entanglements during this time, but
it manages to do so in a respectful manner. Her years spent in Monaco
as princess, wife and mother until her untimely death at age 52 are
also extensively covered. Personal letters and notes written by Kelly
herself round out this well-researched biography.
Recommended by Karen G., March 2010
Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston
|Charis Wilson and Edward Weston were a couple from 1934
to 1945. They lived together most of that time, and worked together
the entire time. Wilson details their photography projects (he photographer,
she model and writer), as well as the dynamics of their relationship.
It's interesting how gender plays out in this relatively progressive
relationship during a time when gender roles were often traditionally-defined.
For example, the couple shared housework completely, but equal artistic
ownership of collaborations was not always seamlessly achieved.
Recommended by Jude , March 2010
|This was my first graphic novel, and I chose a good one.
The artwork is simple but effective. The writing is believable and
laugh out loud funny. I especially liked the placement of words for
sound effects and other wordless happenings, which reminded me of
the old Batman television show. This adventure comic features
characters with hidden pasts, conflict, intrigue, a touch of romance,
a mythical island, and circus sideshow performers. In short, Far
Arden has a bit of everything for everyone.
Recommended by Melissa, February 2010
The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir
|Nick Flynn’s second memoir is, at its simplest, a moving
meditation on the shadow. He focuses primarily on the idea of torture,
combined with his apprehension about his pending fatherhood. As he
explores these topics, however, the subjects include his past relationships,
family history (including his suicidal mother and alcoholic, homeless
father), and his own wrongdoings. Flynn was one of several artists
invited to witness accounts of ex-Abu Ghraib inmates, many of whom
were tortured and depicted in the infamous photographs. While Flynn
makes clear that these brutal political and military acts appall him,
his stance is far from righteous, as he imagines the humanity of both
the tortured and the torturers. This perspective makes the memoir
bigger than his own life or a single political argument—it becomes
a reflection on the nature of fear and its power and on personal culpability
as a citizen and a human. Brief, potent chapters stack and overlap
with expert pacing and irresistible intrigue. Although Flynn analyzes
his own troubled childhood, his tone is never self-pitying or sentimental.
Instead, his prose is clear and vibrant, interspersed with passages
so poetic they are breathtaking.
Recommended by Renée, February 2010
|Haasse, Hella S.
In a Dark Wood Wandering
|In a Dark Wood Wandering, first published in
the Netherlands in 1949, follows strict parameters of the historical
fiction genre: it presents a story that takes place during a notable
period in history (beginning with the reign of Charles VI, known as
the Wise, the Well-Loved, and the Mad King); the story centers on
a significant event in that period (the second half of France’s Hundred
Years’ War with England, which includes Joan of Arc’s military career);
and the novel presents actual events from the point of view of people
living in that time period (the majority of In a Dark Wood Wandering
is from the point of view of Charles VI’s nephew, Charles d'Orleans,
poet and mediator, who sacrificed personal happiness in a long life's
struggle for peace). A compelling fictional account of a fascinating
Recommended by Julie, February 2010
|The title is deceptive if it makes you think it's about
Brad and Angelina’s great love affair. The majority of Brangelina
deals with Angelina and the making of the brand "Brangelina." In an
attempt to validate, normalize, or garner sympathy, every one of Angelina’s
attention seeking behaviors is analyzed. The litany is long and exhausting.
Just when you think about tossing this book aside, there is a chapter
on Jennifer Anniston, and sanity is juxtaposed with shenanigans. What
a relief! I don’t want to give it all away -- just let me say there
are answers to the questions that some of us may have percolating
in our brains, but those are found mostly between the lines. I think
the key to understanding this relationship isn’t to go deeper but
to go shallower.
Recommended by Geo, February 2010
Let the Great World Spin
|An ordinary summer morning in New York City, 1974. Suddenly
a crowd gathers in lower Manhattan and all eyes focus on the top of
the World Trade Center towers. A man, it appears, has rigged a cable
between the towers and is walking, now running, now dancing in the
air. For a few moments strangers on the streets of the city are connected
to Philip Petit and what will become an extraordinary American event.
Meanwhile, an ambulance races to the scene of a gruesome car accident,
and nearly no one notices. Against the backdrop of this summer of
Watergate, the first aftershocks of the Vietnam War, and the seedy
pre-Guiliani streets of Manhattan, lives intersect, some briefly and
some profoundly. A resilient prostitute mother/daughter team, immigrant
Irish brothers, an artist and his wife, and grieving parents all find
their way through various kinds of pain on this day. “The thing about
love is that we come alive in bodies not our own.”
Recommended by Jane, February 2010
|Stein, Elissa and Susan Kim
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
|The authors approach a subject buried so deep in myth
and taboo that I nearly hesitated to leave the book at the top of
my “to-read” pile. Of course, that was before I actually read it,
before I understood that my perspective was impeded by years of misinformation
and maladjustment sponsored by the feminine care product industry.
In friendly, well-researched narration, Stein and Kim describe the
social history of women’s cycles and the impact that fashion, religion,
politics, and economics has had on half the world’s population. I
don’t consider myself naïve, but I admit I was startled to put all
of the marketing and advertising revolving around menstruation into
perspective. Read this book. You will learn something. And did I mention
that these writers are hilarious? This is a realistic, easy-to-digest,
wickedly funny and sometimes alarming work of non-fiction that is
worth the time.
Recommended by Connie, February 2010
|I have read all of Anne Tyler’s novels and have never
been disappointed. Her latest, Noah’s Compass, is no exception.
The protagonist, Liam, is the sort of person who doesn’t open up to
others. He passively accepts what is given to him and keeps everyone
at arm’s length. However, when he loses his teaching job and moves
to a new apartment, his life begins to change directions. Along with
Liam, the book is full of wonderful characters, ordinary yet complex
people who come alive on the page. With her trademark quirky families
and Baltimore setting firmly in place, Tyler has created another winning
Recommended by Karen G., February 2010
|Baca, Jimmy Santiago
A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet
| I talk to strangers more than most people. Nonetheless,
the fact that this book made me say things like “This book is killing
me!” to strangers on the bus means something. Poet and teacher Jimmy
Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in New Mexico to a Chicana mother and
an Apache Indian father. He was abandoned by his parents and later
placed in an orphanage, then sent to a juvenile detention center after
running away from that orphanage. At age 21 he was sentenced to six
years in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Arizona, on drug charges.
A Place to Stand is a powerful example of how cultural identity
can ground one, as well as how literacy and the written word can give
one a strong sense of voice. Baca’s account makes clear that in the
U.S. prison system as it exists today, emotional survival and intellectual
and spiritual growth is extremely improbable. He regains the sense
of belonging he lost as a person of color (e.g. 90% of the inmates
are Chicano) by taking ownership of his peoples’ stories and through
telling his own. This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read
in a very long time.
Recommended by Jude, January 2010
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
| Percy Fawcett, gentleman explorer on assignment from
the Royal Geographical Society of London, disappeared in the jungles
of Brazil sometime during 1925. His search for the treasures of what
he termed the Lost City of Z or El Dorado ended in tragedy, but his
travels inspired others to return to South America to search for him
and his lost party. Hundreds of these searchers also died in their
quest to find Fawcett and the fabled lost civilization he was convinced
lay somewhere in the jungle. Recently named one of the New York
Times 100 Notable Books of 2009, this story is a fascinating
look at the bravery and self-reliance of Fawcett, who traveled to
an uncharted wilderness with few provisions and a simple compass.
Fawcett’s story has inspired future generations of explorers and artists,
including Evelyn Waugh whose novel A Handful of Dust is reviewed
Recommended by Jane, January 2010
The Mating Mind
| The origins of the human mind’s varied features is a
hotly debated topic amongst philosophers, psychologists, and social
scientists. Why do people like art, literature, music, and poetry?
Why do we crack jokes, or for that matter laugh at them? What are
the origins of language? For Geoffrey Miller the answer to these questions,
and many others like them, is that the human mind is an evolved product
of a process Charles Darwin called sexual selection. You may already
be familiar with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which explains
that organisms evolve as traits that aid in survival are passed on
to successive generations. Sexual selection works in a similar way,
except that traits that aid in attracting mates are passed on to successive
generations. In other words, rather than an organism’s natural environment
selecting for traits, the organism’s potential mates do. Applied to
humans, this means that everyone alive today is partly the product
of our ancestors’ preferences in what they found attractive in sexual
partners. While this certainly applies to bodily traits, Miller argues
that it also applies to the human mind. Thus, for Miller, our artistic
tastes, sense of humor, propensity for language, and even our sense
of right and wrong survive today simply because our ancestors preferred
mates who displayed these traits. Miller’s argument is eye-opening
to say the least, and his laid back, often humorous writing style
makes this book an enjoyable read. Highly recommended reading for
anyone interested in popular science topics or human evolution.
Recommended by Wes, January 2010
A Handful of Dust
| The story of Percy Fawcett’s disappearance in the Amazon
was still fresh in the minds of the British in 1934 when Evelyn Waugh
wrote this searing indictment of manners, morals, and marriage. Tony
Last describes himself as the happiest man on earth, living comfortably
on his family estate, spending his days hunting, and sharing this
world with his beautiful wife and child. As his domestic life falls
apart, he can neither comprehend what has gone wrong nor deal with
what comes next. He decides to travel to the Amazon to find some peace
and discovers something else entirely. The last few pages of this
story are unforgettable, as is Waugh’s delicious prose.
Recommended by Jane, January 2010