Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2016
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(Library of Congress PZ4.C605 Jo 2004)
In the early nineteenth century, magic begins to return to England, a place where only gentleman-magicians have existed for 300 years—academics but not practitioners. As the Napoleonic wars rage on the Continent, these practical magicians must decide where their interests lie—in their own world, which they can help defend, or in that of faerie, which promises to unlock more of the mysteries of ancient English magic. Populated with unforgettable characters (and some of my favourite I’ve ever read), JSAMN is a sweeping, powerful narrative about the choices of men and their effect on those in the shadows—women, servants, the poor—who are often marginalized but on whom the world turns. This is a great novel for a long weekend with some tea or spiced cider as the leaves begin to fall!
Amazing Tales From The Red Sox Dugout by Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin
(Library of Congress GV875.B62 P74 2012)
A collection of entertaining stories of former Sox players who graced Fenway over the last century. Some tales you’ll remember, some you won’t, and some you’ll forget as soon as you read them. Not a pitcher’s duel, but it is relaxing as an afternoon in the bleachers.
Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade by Rachel Cohen
(Library of Congress CT275.B467 C63 2013)
To all appearances, the life of Bernard Berenson (1865–1959) was a dream come true: leaving behind his impoverished immigrant origins, he attained fame as an art historian and connoisseur and lived in grand style in his Florence villa. But this biography casts Berenson in a more interesting light, as someone torn between his desire to contemplate Italian Renaissance art as an end in itself and his need and desire for money. Over time, he devoted his talents more and more to the business side of the art world, authenticating paintings in a secret arrangement with an art dealer. Despite many accomplishments, he spoke of himself as being a failure.
Cohen’s biography explores Berenson’s character, his many friendships and romances, and the different worlds in which he traveled. His intellectual life began in Boston, where he became a devoted reader from an early age, thanks to the Boston Public Library, and, with the support of patrons, attended Harvard. Highlights of the book for me were its accounts of nineteenth-century Boston and a chapter describing how Berenson looked at paintings and why he thought a painted version of an object gives a viewer more pleasure than the object itself.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
(Library of Congress PZ4.E47 In)
This twentieth-century American classic has been on my list for a long time. Though not particularly evocative of autumn, the book does start out in an academic setting, fitting for the start of a new school year. The narrator is a young African American man attending college in the segregated South, at an all-black institution funded by wealthy Northern white men. The story traces the young man’s journey, from youthful complaisance in the South to disillusionment in the North, in the heart of Harlem, where he struggles to understand a hostile world and the brutal truth of racism in this country. He concludes that his race has rendered him invisible. Beautifully written, but not easy to read, this superb novel is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1952.
The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Bazelon Goldstone
(Library of Congress CT1018.C39 G64 2015)
The Rival Queens is for those who enjoy badly-behaved royals with a healthy dose of snark. This is an enthralling double biography of Catherine de’ Medici and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, both queens of France. Despite her cynicism toward most of the nobility, Goldstone paints a fair picture of Margot/Marguerite/Margaret, who is definitely the tragic hero of this tale.
All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski
(Library of Congress NEW PZ4.K326 Al 2015)
This novel must be informed by the research Kempowski conducted for decades to produce both his nine-volume novel Die deutsche Chronik and magnificent series Echolot or “Sonar” of which only the last volume, Swansong, 1945, has been translated into English. Many refer to Echolot as a collage—letters, memoir, testimony—all first-hand accounts of war-time in Germany that he amassed and selected. He did not choose a particular place or class but rather sought to represent the entirety. All For Nothing focuses on one particular family and those surrounding them in one place, a town in East Prussia, in the winter of 1945 as the Russians approach. We know what happens, but he does not allow his characters that 20/20 vision. This is published by Granta and The Guardian loved it. If you are looking for WWII-era thriller, this is not it. The unease of waiting and not knowing takes precedence as a series of travelers pass by and through this home of a fading aristocratic family. The intensity builds as the family considers taking to the road and becoming refugees themselves. I shall say no more.
If interested in the topic but you want more traditional story-telling, I recommend Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast, also in the collection.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
(Library of Congress HN730.6.A8 D46 2009)
Barbara Demick’s non-fiction account of life in North Korea follows six individuals through the 1990s into the early 2000s as they survive “the Arduous March” (North Korea’s deadly famine), the death of Kim Il-sung and the transition to the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il, the harsh conditions of life under a totalitarian regime, and eventual defection. Demick’s detailed narrative—focused on individuals rather than facts and figures—reads like a novel, making the grim subject matter easier to grapple with. Nothing to Envy is both intriguing and terrifying and provides an excellent introduction to the realities of life in North Korea.