Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2014
(Cutter Classification VEA .M63 .s)
If the summer heat causes you to prefer “short, easy words, like ‘What about lunch?'” Milne is perfect for you. The Sunny Side collects Milne’s writing for Punch magazine in the first quarter of the 20th century, and carries all the breeze and charm that Milne is loved for.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
(Children’s Room, Library of Congress PZ7.B1135 Tu 1991)
A children’s story set at the height of August, this dark morality tale reveals that immortality is not all that it seems. Absolutely recommended to adults as well, or for family reading.
D-Day: The Battle of Normandy by Antony Beevor
(Library of Congress D756.5.N6 B387)
June 6 of this year was the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy: D-Day. One way to honor and remember this anniversary is to read Antony Beevor’s excellent D-Day: The Battle of Normandy (2009). A military historian and a great story-teller, Beevor jumps right into the moment of D-Day: this is truly a focused study. But here the story is told in a marvelously nuanced and angled way that keeps the history riveting and even suspenseful. Beevor lets the events of that first week of June seventy years ago unfold from the standpoints of the various entities that, willingly or not, participated in it. This includes the politicians and the generals the common soldiers and the civilians, the British, the French, the Germans, the Canadaians, and the Americans. Beevor lays out the battle plans and troop movements without ever becoming boring or overly pedantic: in other words, this is a good read for novice and expert alike and certainly is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of World War II. (Beevor does write with the presumption that his reader has some basic knowledge of World War II, but he gives the non-expert a leg-up by including a number of helpful maps, charts, and lists, both in the book itself and, as supporting material, on his website). Perhaps this is not the kind of book you imagined reading over the summer. But let’s face it: the story of D-Day is the greatest beach story ever told.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
(Library of Congress PZ4.T188 Li 2002)
A very smart little girl in Mississippi resolves to spend her summer vacation solving the murder of her older brother, a horrific case that happened when she was an infant and went cold soon after. As the story twists and turns, she uncovers dark and dangerous secrets about her town’s past and the people living around her, as well as some chilling things about herself.
A Rebours (Against Nature) by J.-K. Huysmans
(Cutter Classification VFF .H98 .a)
Too many summer barbeques and trips to the beach? This novel is perfect if you hate going outside or the company of others. It follows the life of Jean des Esseintes, a reclusive aristocrat. Despite the novel’s age (1884!), it still feels like a breath of fresh air, although the protagonist would surely prefer air conditioning.
(Library of Congress PZ4.B86835 Af 2013)
Set in Hamburg in 1946, this is a historical novel essentially about the horrendous impact of the bombing of Hamburg and reintegration of Germany into the western world following the defeat of the Nazis. A very powerful, beautiful novel.
Colette’s France: Her Lives, Her Loves by Jane Gilmour
(Library of Congress + CT1018.C66 G54 2013)
Unable to travel this summer? Than do what I did this spring and check out Colettes’ France: Her Lives, Her Loves, by Jane Gilmour. What makes this book special, even if you already know everything about Colette, is that it is illustrated with many photographic reproductions of her manuscripts, photographs of herself, people she was close to, and places she lived and loved. Through Gilmour’s writing and the photographs, one is transported to France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Defending Jacob by William Landay
(Library of Congress PZ4 .L.2505 Def 2012)
A fast paced murder investigation set in Cambridge and Newton, MA. The search for the killer is emotionally grueling and the intense summer heat isn’t helping matters. By our own Athenaeum Author, William Landay, this novel contains plenty of stimulating scientific and philosophical food for thought regarding family, community, and the seemingly endless, but fascinating, nature vs. nurture debate.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
(Library of Congress PZ3.S2738 Ga 1936)
My favorite of the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane novels by Dorothy Sayers. The story begins with Harriet Vane’s class reunion at Shrewsbury College, Oxford, and the mystery unfolds from there, complete with distracted dons, plenty of library research, and summer afternoons spent punting on the Thames. A classic mystery, with an emphasis on character development, and an incisive look at the state of women in higher education in the 1930s.
(Children’s Room, New Books, Library of Congress PZ7.L79757 We 2014)
Three generations of the beautiful and privileged Sinclair family spend their summers on their private island off the coast of Massachusetts. A close-knit group of four teens provoke an incident that has tragic results for everyone. Lockhart totally nails the Yankee WASPs in her lyrical and descriptive prose. A cross between Susan Minot’s Monkeysand George Howe Colt’s The Big House, with a shocking twist ending.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Novel by Eli Brown
(New Book Shelves, Library of Congress PZ4.B8765 Cin 2013)
This novel follows an unlikely duo—a cowardly albeit good-hearted chef, Owen Wedgewood, and his captor, the canny if unpredictable pirate captain Mad Hannah Mabbot. Told through the adoringly peevish perspective of Owen, we see him grapple with Mabbot’s challenge—feed her a sumptuous meal every Sunday or else become food for the fishes. Weevils, witches, cannonballs, and a dearth of eggs do not stop Owen from crafting meals that you want to lick off the page—and Mabbot agrees in more ways than one.
If Daniel Defoe were writing today, he may have created something akin to Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder. There is swashbuckling adventure and plenty of laughs to go round, but it is also a well-crafted dip into history, a morally inquisitive work, and wonderfully written. A light summer read that turns out not to be so light and is the better for it.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
(New Books, Library of Congress HV8210.5.A2 F86 2011)
You may not want to read this book. Can you handle examples of human’s inhumanity and the ability to rationalize it? Balance the freedoms achieved by internal exile with the crimes committed against the spirit? Witness the crushing of the will without a bruising touch? Anna Funder, an Australian, started this project when living in Berlin in the 1990s and her routine brought her into contact with those who suffered at the hands of the Stasi as well as those who collaborated with them. She wanted to learn more, as she watched this country reunify, and so she placed an ad for former Stasi because she wanted both sides of the story, often devastatingly sad but not without moments of inspired kindness as well as a balanced treatment of a complex era in human history. This book won the Samuel Johnson Prize; its setting is post-reunification; however, every story starts during the era of the wall. The Athenӕum also has many traditional histories on the subject, and I recommend Frederick Taylor’s Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 (NY: HarperCollins, 2006), Library of Congress DD881 .T39 2006. My next virtual, non-fiction trip to Berlin is The File: A Personal History by Timothy Garton Ash, Library of Congress Classification DD287.4 .G375 1997.
An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch
(New Books, Library of Congress Classification PZ4.F4922 Old 2013)
I include two recommendations in order to offer something a lot lighter than an oral history of dictatorship.
“And what happiness to share it with someone.” I’m not spoiling anything by sharing the last line. This latest entry in the Charles Lenox chronicles holds a few twists and surprises. I was delighted to be back in his London, and I enjoy that Finch has researched his period so well. Are some of his historical facts less artfully interwoven to the plot? Some reviewers have thought so, but I disagree. Then again, I thoroughly enjoy history and learning it wherever I may, especially in fiction. And so I may have the happiness of sharing it with you. If you enjoy mysteries set in mid-19th c England among the enlightened (and probably anachronistic) upper crust, you will enjoy this.
(Library of Congress PZ4.D92314 Ge)
While not a new publication, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn was new to me a few weeks ago and what’s more summery than an old-fashioned traveling carny family? In this book, readers follow the Binewski family as narrated by Olympia, an albino hunchback. She takes us through dusty fairgrounds of her youth, the sweltering cities of her adulthood, and the exceedingly bizarre world of human oddities. Olympia is part of a crafted group of freaks (thanks to her father’s home-grown gene-meddling) and her perspective shows us both the intimate normalcy of sibling rivalries along with the deeply strange and disturbing underbelly of the family. Like the carnival freaks themselves this book is both beautiful and grotesque, examining what happens when people are consumed by a fervor for identity and an obsession for strangeness.