Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2015
(Library of Congress Classification PZ7.M767 An Children’s Library)
While Anne has an expansive imagination, little is required of the reader to find joy in this book and its many characters. Read it again and reminisce about childhood, or read it for the first time and discover the humor and warmth contained within. After that, see if you can’t stop yourself from reading all the sequels.
(Library of Congress TL789.8.R8 T87 2014)
This title caught my eye when it arrived to the New Book shelves. Beyond a very attractive cover and page layout, it’s full of interesting history surrounding the famed Soviet-era “space dogs.” The mostly-canine space test subjects (or furry cosmonauts, depending on one’s perspective) were widely commemorated with a variety of memorabilia, not only in the USSR but around the world. The book showcases these antiques alongside a wealth of information about the animals and their spaceflights. For a book on a slightly niche subject, this one has much to offer.
Wool by Hugh Howey
(Library of Congress PZ4.H8588 Wo 2013)
This might not be the most springtime-evocative novel, but it certainly is one of hope for a fuller world beyond the confines of the indoors, something I’m sure we’ve all experienced this winter. Set in a silo miles underground, Wool weaves together the stories of a succession of inhabitants. Humanity, as it is known, lives entirely within the levels of the silo, with a single camera view of the terrain above. There are stories remaining of the times above ground, but they are taken as mythic fictions…but a few hold to a hope there’s more out there than they know. I won’t spoil the rest! A gripping read for this season of slow change, natural revelations, and renewal.
(Library of Congress CT1018.J61 H37 2014)
Joan of Arc was published in 2014 and follows Joan’s story from her birth through her rise to fame and the captivity and trial that led to her execution for heresy. My fascination with Joan began when I depicted her in a seventh-grade school play, and this is the most lucid writing on her that I have found. The narrative of her life is seamlessly interwoven with commentary on the contemporary conditions that encouraged her rise to prominence and led to her downfall. The author also discusses how Joan has been portrayed in different media throughout the centuries. Anyone interested in French (or English!) history, the history of war, women’s studies, art history or film history should definitely take a look at this book, which will lift you up with its spirit and race along at the speed of a novel.
The War That Ended Peace: the Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan
(Library of Congress D511 .M257 2013)
In June 2015, the Boston Athenæum will present an historic exhibition Lafayette: An American Icon. The exhibition, which focuses on portraits of Lafayette, will comprise over 50 paintings, sculptures, engravings, manuscripts, and artifacts borrowed from institutions from around the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Cornell University, and Lafayette College. If you would like to do some homework before the exhibition opens on June 17, you couldn’t do better that to read Laura Aurricchio’s excellent new biography The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) which is highly readable and offers new perspectives on both American and French attitudes toward Lafayette. Of the older biographies of Lafayette—and they are legion—Harlow Giles Unger’s Lafayette (Hoboken, NH: John Wiley & Sons, 2002) is also excellent and makes a good introduction to the topic. A more complete bibliography on Lafayette will be provided at the time of the opening of the exhibition. So stay tuned!
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
(Library of Congress TR790 .B68 2002b)
As the snow melts and our minds turn to warmer weather, we may begin to ponder summer trips. Beyond choosing locations to visit, we may want to think about how to travel. This volume from the popular philosopher Alain de Botton delves into how with the help of travelers from throughout the ages.
If you are particularly motivated after reading this book continue on to A Journey Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre (Cutter Classification VFG .M28), in which a journey is indeed a state of mind.
James F. Kraus
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
(Library of Congress PZ4.R8454 Am 1997)
Today is March 19. On this occasion of Philip Roth’s eighty-second birthday it is only fitting to recommend one of my favorite books, in recent memory, by one of my favorite authors. Roth’s American Pastoral contains numerous forceful and enthralling scenes that jump off the page and persist long after the reading is over. Early in the novel, when Roth’s long-utilized narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, reflects, in the tradition of Tolstoy, on what it means to get people right (or is that wrong?) it was as though I were run over by a tank, treads and all. Every subsequent rereading of that passage, it’s like I’m being backed over and rolled over again and again.
Robert Henri and His Circleby William Innes Homer, with the assistance of Violet Organ
(Cutter U9 +H38 +h)
(Cutter U .H393 .2)
Teacher, iconoclast, and painter of portraits, landscapes, and city scenes, the American artist Robert Henri (1865–1929) is remembered today for his part in creating the 1908 New York exhibition of The Eight—a group of artists who rebelled against the strictures of academic painting and, inspired by their immediate surroundings, produced scenes of everyday urban street life. Until the 1913 Armory show, Henri was seen as the leader of the progressive faction in the American art world. Painter John Sloan called him “the great emancipator.” Even as his reputation was eclipsed by the arrival of the European avant-garde, Henri has been recognized for his influence on generations of students through his book, The Art Spirit, his reflections on painting, openness to experience, and creativity as integral to living.
I had read The Art Spirit earlier and wondered who and what had influenced Henri. Biographer Homer provides the context I had hoped for, describing Henri’s frontier upbringing, the art world in Europe and America as he came of age, his formal training in Philadelphia and Paris, and the artists whom he admired. Henri was also proudly self-taught, creating informal salons, traveling, and reading widely—Emerson and Whitman were as much a part of his education as time spent at his easel. I came away from these books admiring Henri’s eloquence and his ability to put his aspirations into action—his life combined work, play, study, friendship, art, and family, without the usual boundaries and compartments.
The Leopard: With Two Stories and a Memory by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
(Library of Congress PZ4.T655 Le 1998)
This book brought alive for me the sun-drenched, slow-paced days of nineteenth-century Sicily. I discovered The Leopard not long ago, but it’s not a new book, published in 1958 in Italy. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was the last of a line of Sicilian princes that had fallen much in the world. After his ancestral home was bombed and pillaged by the Allies in World War II, he wrote The Leopard, which is based on the life of his great-grandfather, as a sort of farewell to the aristocratic life that was now gone forever. The novel was not well-received during his lifetime and was published posthumously, but it is now widely recognized as one of the best historical novels of all time. The story describes the fortunes of a Sicilian prince and his family in the nineteenth century, when shifts in politics and the existing social order threaten to make the aristocracy obsolete. Sunny, sweltering days and citrus orchards are plentiful. Part love story, part scathing satire, The Leopard can hold its own against any of the great novels of the nineteenth century (I know whereof I speak here!), and at a fraction of the length. The perfect book to banish the dregs of winter!
(Library of Congress PZ4.P254 Va 2014 NEW)
A fictional account of life amidst the Bloomsbury group, as seen through the eyes of the painter Vanessa Bell, with additional (fictional) correspondence between other literary figures such as Lytton Strachey, art critic Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, and Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf. The book draws you into the salons and intrigues of the group, and the difficulty of handling Virginia for everyone close to her.
Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years—and a World of Change Apart by Diccon Bewes
(Library of Congress DQ36.B49 2014)
I once read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air during a Chicago heat wave just for the descriptions of frigid conditions on Mount Everest during the 1996 disaster. No wonder the cover of this book recently caught my eye for an escape from these mounds of snow that seem as high as Everest. Is a book about hiking through the Alps a reasonable escape? Yes, the hikes occurred in summer. Bewes is a travel writer based in Bern. Researching another project, he discovered a travel journal written by a woman who participated in Thomas Cook’s first Conducted Tour of Switzerland in 1863. Her manuscript was discovered among ruins of a London home during the blitz and was published in 1963, 100 years after her adventure. Bewes decided to follow her itinerary, although not down to every detail; he was never astride a donkey or crossing glaciers and mountain precipices in a crinoline. This is not only a history of tourism through the experiences of Thomas Cook but also railroad development, and the evolution of Swiss nationalism. Minor facts along the way, like what causes the holes in Swiss cheese, keep you from feeling the weariness the hikers felt. I don’t read travel writing to be satisfied with armchair sightseeing; I read it to be inspired to set off myself.