small text medium text large text

Holly's Picks

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

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

Book Cover for The Absolutist Boyne, John
The Absolutist

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

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

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

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

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

Book Cover for Viviane Deck, Julia

A literary sensation in France, Viviane was hailed as an inventive debut novel. Julia Deck cited Samuel Beckett as her inspiration, but I was also reminded of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground and Kafka's Metamorphosis while reading Viviane. Our protagonist is introduced with a new apartment and a newborn, a pending divorce from a philanderer, and a fresh-faced intern threatening her prestigious career. In the first chapter, Viviane tells us that she has killed her psychoanalyst, and the story never slows down after this revelation. Through first-, second-, and third-person narrative, the author bounces around perspectives so that readers share the same discombobulating angles in Viviane's mind. You'll feel sympathy and antipathy for Viviane. The ending will shock you, and the novel will entice you to reach it quickly.
Recommended October 2014

Book Cover for Overwhelmed Shulte, Brigid
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time

If you feel like your life is crashing in on you, take a break and read Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time, by Brigid Shulte. The subtitle is a reference to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory that “the richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play.” Brigid, a well-respected journalist for the Washington Post, was living life in the “overwhelm,” running all over town trying to keep up with her family and her work, when she set out to write this book. Brigid begins by keeping a time use diary with sociologist John Robinson, and continues her journey by visiting notable social scientists in the U.S. and beyond. She includes research studies, new investigations, and personal anecdotes to create just the right mix of subjectivity and objectivity. This title is definitely written from a working mom perspective, but anyone who is overwhelmed can relate to much of the book.
Recommended September 2014

Book Cover for Inside of a Dog Horowitz, Alexandra
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know

Nearly 40% of all U.S. homes have a dog inside, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. It's a wonder there aren't more books about our furry friends! For what's out there, you can't get much better than Inside of a Dog. The perfect antidote to the "pack leader" mentality in dog training, this book is written by a biologist who has researched extensively, while the language is still accessible and easy-to-read for non-scientists. She makes practical connections between science and real-life application. Learn how we know about what dogs know, and pick up some tips to improve your relationship with your own lovable pooch!
Recommended July 2014

Book Cover for Boy, Snow, Bird Oyeyemi, Helen
Boy, Snow, Bird

This is the fifth book by Helen Oyeyemi, and she continues to weave in and play with themes of mythology and fairytales. From the title, you will guess correctly that the novel includes tropes from Snow White. Snow White, however, might not have had the guts that our narrator, Boy Novak, does. After years of abuse from her father, a rat catcher in New York City, at age 20, she steals his money and hops a bus to Flax Hill, Massachusetts. The townspeople don't know what to think of Boy. Why would someone leave the city for this tiny town? Why is this woman named Boy? Boy sticks it out though, and eventually finds a suitable job in a bookstore, some friends, and an interesting romantic possibility. But, as in fairy tales, nothing is always as it seems, and though Boy knows this, she eventually hurtles herself at fate. There is an unsettling feeling that accompanies much of this book - augmented by occasional wanderings into magical realism. “For reasons of my own I take note of the way people act when they’re around mirrors,” thinks Boy. Mirrors, identity, and secrets are themes explored expertly by this talented author. Boy, Snow, Bird will stay with you, and the twist ending will throw you for a loop.
Recommended June 2014

Book Cover for Leading So People Will Follow Andersen, Erika
Leading So People Will Follow

If you've been in management for a while, you've probably read your share of management books. The advice starts to run together after a while, so you might be hankering for something new. Try Leading So People Will Follow by Erika Andersen. Joseph Campbell is mentioned in the first few pages, so you are immediately aware that this isn't your average MBA-produced book. Andersen uses a fairy tale to illustrate 6 different leadership qualities: farsightedness, passion, wisdom, courage, generosity, and trustworthiness. Andersen offers easily digestible, practical tips for gaining these qualities. For example, she gives some really great tips on how to delegate, which is a skill that eludes many managers. This is a great title for managers or aspiring managers who like to think outside the box when it comes to leadership.
Recommended February 2014

Book Cover for House at Sugar Beach Cooper, Helene
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

In The House at Sugar Beach, Helene Cooper tells a very personal coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Liberian civil unrest. Many readers will relate to the aches and triumphs of her adolescence and her attachment to her parents, while learning much about the African country founded by freed American slaves. As the book opens, seven-year-old Helene moves with her family to a huge, isolated oceanfront home. Due to her ancestors’ role in creating the country, Helene is brought up in a very wealthy environment and is considered a “Congo.” The “Country” people, or original inhabitants of Liberia, aren’t so lucky in most cases. The book reads like a novel, as we are only provided with the narrator’s perspective. But because our narrator is a journalist, we have scenes involving first crushes and school dances juxtaposed with coups and riots. The bulk of the book focuses on her time in Liberia, but Helene does eventually move to the States, and we learn a bit about her life here: her less-than-perfect assimilation into American high school and college, and her journey into a career with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Check this title out before Helene’s visit to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Monday Night Lecture Series on February 10, 2014.
Recommended January 2014

Book Cover for Accidentally Amish Newport, Olivia
Accidentally Amish

27-year-old Annie Friesen has used her powerful brain to build a successful software company from the ground up. Now her business partner and lawyer (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend are conspiring to take it all away from her at any cost. To escape their evil plan, Annie stows away in a lumber truck and lands in Colorado Amish country, a place she would have never thought she belonged, but dreamy, blue-eyed Rufus the carpenter might convince her otherwise. Now that she has the chance to unglue herself from her smartphone and laptop, Annie can finally see the world for what it is. Accidentally Amish is a refreshing break from your everyday romance novel. This is the first in a series, so you have to keep reading to find out what happens with Annie and Rufus!
Recommended September 2013

Book Cover for London: the Essential Insider's Guide Adams, Tim (editor)
London: the Essential Insider's Guide

In this travel book, novelists, art curators and other talented people share their favorite places in and around London. You can learn both secret things about familiar places, and familiar things about secret places. In other words, you can look at the British Library in a new light with Adam Chodzko, a multimedia artist, or you can learn about Ravi Shankar Restaurant, one of a number of South Indian restaurants tucked away in Bloomsbury, with Lucretia Stewart, London native and travel writer. This is a great title in a not-run-of-the-mill series of travel books: "City Secrets".
Recommended August 2013

Book Cover for How to Be Black Thurston, Baratunde
How to Be Black

Written by The Onion digital director, this book is half-memoir, half-essay on contemporary race, and fully hilarious. The alternate title for this book was Post-Racial America is Some BS, and Other Thoughts on How to be Black. Thurston ties together stories from his own life — growing up in DC, attending Sidwell Friends School and then Harvard — with commentary on current events such as Barack Obama's election. He writes: “Through my story, I hope to expose you to another side of the black experience while offering practical, comedic advice based on my own painful lessons learned."
Recommended May 2013

Book Cover for Budapest Noir Kondor, Vilmos
Budapest Noir

Try this novel if you like any combination of the following: *Film Noir - because the fast plot and the sometimes seedy, sometimes altruistic characters will remind you of those old black-and-white mystery films, *Crime Fiction - because the plot centers around protagonist Zsigmond Gordon, journalist, solving a murder that the police are at best ignoring, *Budapest - because most of the book takes place there, and many famous Budapestian places are visited, including the New York Cafe, *World War II history - because this book takes place in 1936 and offers interesting insights into the political and cultural zeitgeist of Hungary leading up to War, *Politics - see above, *Trams - our fine protagonist rides them everywhere, *Boxing - because the sport figures somewhat prominently in the plot, *Cigarettes- everybody's smoking them, *Gutsy, Independent Ladies - because our fine protagonist is dating one.
Recommended October 2012

Book Cover for Bright's Passage Ritter, Josh
Bright's Passage

Bright is a World War I veteran come home to West Virginia. He marries a close family friend and begins to farm the homestead built by his parents. Then the horse starts talking to him. Bright listens. It appears that horse has been possessed by the spirit of an angel who chased after Bright, from a bombed church in France to rural West Virginia. Bright and his infant son set off on a journey guided by the angel, fleeing vengeful neighbors and natural disasters. Accomplished songwriter Josh Ritter forays into novel writing in Bright's Passage, and the result is a narrative with precise prose and a taut trajectory, weaving in examinations of psychology and religion. Ritter's gift for storytelling certainly extends into novel form.
Recommended September 2012

Book Cover for Perfect Peace Black, Daniel
Perfect Peace

May 17th, 1940, in Swamp Creek Arkansas, Perfect Peace is born. The name is recorded in the family bible, right below six older brothers. Perfect’s mother, Emma Jean had only ever wanted daughters. She prayed hard with each pregnancy that she would deliver a girl. The 7th birth would have to be that girl, whether delivered by the Lord or not. Emma revels in spoiling her daughter, for years and years. But on Perfect's 8th birthday, Emma Jean suddenly chops off Perfect’s hair and puts her in overalls. And then Perfect becomes Paul. Emma explains, first to her husband and six sons, and then to the rest of the community, that Perfect was always anatomically a boy. What follows is a careful and painful depiction of a young person forced to navigate a rural, impoverished community with a new and utterly unfamiliar gender.
Recommended August 2012

Book Cover for Behind the Beautiful Forevers Boo, Katherine
Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Since he could walk, sixteen year old Abdul Hussain has reeked. He spends his days sifting through trash heaps to find recyclable materials to sell, as the sole wage-earner in his family of 11. The Hussains make their home in the Annawadi slum, situated just outside the Mumbai airport and next to a sewage lake. Along with their neighbors, the Hussains dream of a new life, new opportunity. In 'new' India, castes mean less as the economy grows, but not everyone can or will escape the polluted, crowded slums. According to the UN, nearly 1 billion people live in slums around the world. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the story of a few of such dwellers. This non-fiction title was written by a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, and her prose reads much like a fiction novel. I laughed, cried, and learned. You can't ask for more from a book.
Recommended May 2012