Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2019
Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto
(Library of Congress F128.4 .S56 2004)
This nonfiction work by Russell Shorto examines the cultural identity of the often forgotten Dutch Settlers in Manhattan and Rensselaer, before New York was New York. Shorto argues that the national identity of the United States has a great deal more in common with the socially mobile, and religiously tolerant Dutch merchants more so than the Monarchist and relatively more conservative English ideals of the Early Colonial Era. The bulk of the book follows the lives of two Dutchmen in New Amsterdam, Adrien Van Der Donck and Peter Stuyvesant, two well educated and prominent figures in the Colony, one whose legacy lives on, and one who time forgot. It also seeks to dispel myths about the Dutch Colony, such as the legend of Manhattan being sold by the Native Americans on the Island to the Dutch for 24 dollars, and it being a glorified fort until the British took over. A must read for anyone interested in Early Colonial America, or the history of New York State.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
(Library of Congress PZ4 .P186 As 2018)
“My mother is a bird,” begins this gut punch of a book. Leigh’s mother has died of suicide. This tragedy takes Leigh to Taipei where she connects with a familial past that’s been kept hidden from her. Eerie coincidences and moments of incense-fueled transport into memory propel her toward discovering more about her mother, who appears to her, fleetingly, as a large red phoenix. I loved this surreal, evocative story for its fierce teen protagonist, rich sense of place, and sheer depth of feeling.
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece by Camille Laurens
(Library of Congress CT1018.G64 L38 2018)
Enlightening and short read about this famous sculpture. You’ll never look at the Little Dancer the same after reading this book.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
(Library of Congress PZ4. G1414 Go 2006)
Only a few weeks ago did I finally get around to reading this classic of fantasy literature (originally published 1990), and I loved it! It’s a great read for the slide into the summer months. There’s a new TV show out based on it (I haven’t seen that yet), and I’ve always been of the opinion that one should read the book first. The story features demons and angels in cahoots, witches ancient and modern, rare occult books, enterprising schoolchildren, and loyal furry friends, all careening toward an imminent, slightly off-kilter Apocalypse. Alternately suspenseful and hilarious, always intelligent and inventive, Good Omens reminds me of those long childhood summer days where wild flights of imagination ruled and anything seemed possible.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
(Library of Congress PZ4.P8471 Gr 2015)
Grief seems a strange topic for spring, but I have been attracted to writings about birds, and this novel is a poetic stream-of-conscious work of fiction that calls to mind new life. I was unfamiliar with Ted Hughes’s collection of poems Crow, but reading this gem of faceted phrases bouncing off each other, I quickly became aware that Porter was responding not only to mythical stories about crows but to a specific version of it—created by Hughes and inspired by Leonard Baskin’s art. My British edition from Faber has a cover by Eleanor Crow that better evokes Baskin than the American edition owned by the Athenæum. Can that possibly be the artist’s true name? Yes, it is and her website’s homepage features a drawing of JAS Smith and Sons Umbrellas, which catches my eye on New Oxford Street every time I visit London. Enough about the cover; what’s inside? No character is named: the characters are the Mum (missing, gone, dead), Dad, Crow, and Boys. The boys are grouped together although each speaks with a different voice. Could I distinguish one from the other? Not always at first. There were many in jokes. Parenthesis Press in Manchester. Parenthesis for Faber’s periodical. Hughes connection to Faber. I’m sure I’m missing many references and while I don’t care enough for Hughes to look them up, I don’t think that detracts from what this book gave me. Hughes was the protagonist’s obsession before his wife’s death replaced it with grief. When the crow left, then obsession left, if not the grief. “Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.” I read this before having an immediate reason to grieve, and even after recent events in my life put me in touch with that emotion, grief is not the one I associate with this volume. Do not let the title scare you off. It is a beautiful book.
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (translated by Shaun Whiteside)
(Library of Congress NEW HV5840.G3 O3513 2018)
Ohler digs deep into the Third Reich’s addiction to methamphetamines, opiates, and cocaine in their over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal forms. By examining Hitler and the Third Reich through the lens of drug use, Ohler encourages the reader to consider the motivations and means by which the Third Reich succeeded and failed in specific military campaigns, societal manipulation, and the entirety of World War II. Ohler’s writing reads like a novel, with only a few diversions to indulge his apparent nerdiness in chemistry.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
(Library of Congress PZ4.D1853 Ho)
Pro tip: don’t try to read this one on the T. It will have you rotating, flipping, and pulling out mirrors to follow along. To put it as simply as possible, this is a faux academic publication by a man named Zampano on a non-existent documentary with references to works that also don’t exist, edited by Johnny Truant, a partying tattoo shop assistant who becomes more and more obsessed with (and haunted by) the book as he edits it. The subject of the book (within a book) is The Navidson Record, a documentary (or fictional short film, depending on who you believe) on a haunted-house-meets-labyrinth that seems to mirror the psyche of those who enter its bigger-on-the-inside walls. With a mix of narrative voices, genres, a complicated web of footnotes, and the most intriguing form I’ve seen in years, it’s a horror story that works on a number of levels. Even when you have no idea what’s happening, you can’t seem to stop turning the page.