Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2013
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
(Library of Congress RC265.5 .S39 2012)
This is the true story of the author and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Their conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Not at all maudlin–uplifting and inspirational, in fact.
Peter Lovesey (Library of Congress PZ4.L89914)
Ian Fleming (Library of Congress PZ4.F598)
British author Peter Lovesey’s mysteries, especially those featuring over-weight, cantankerous detective Peter Diamond (set in Bath), are very well written, funny, and with plots that will keep you chaired, curled, and blanketed through any snow storm. They have been published in this country as part of the Soho Crime Series, any volumes from which are worth investigating.
If light Brit-lit is your thing, you can always fall back on Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, which read like water and give a somewhat different impression of the protagonist than has Hollywood. (The Bond of the books, for example, drinks [bonded] Old Grand Dad Kentucky bourbon as often as he drinks martinis, especially in the early books). Remember, though, that the Bond novels were written over fifty years ago and so include the occasional (and it really is only occasional) sexist, masochistic, and (sometimes) homophobic remark (the last despite Fleming’s rumored affair with Noel Coward, his neighbor in Jamaica). You can easily read any one of these books in a day and knock off the whole series by the time spring springs.
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber
(Library of Congress GT865 .W37 2006)
Asked to match a famous person with a book that would be an appropriate gift, the novelist Hilary Mantel recently suggested that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and incubator of the British Royal family’s next heir, might benefit from reading Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. This 2006 title by Caroline Weber sparked only positive reviews on publication, but now finds itself reborn at the center of a firestorm about royalty, public personae, and the role of the press. The book is more interesting than the current controversy: Weber carefully deconstructs Marie Antoinette’s affection for fashion, painting a tragic—and nuanced—portrait of a woman who ultimately was “eaten alive by her frocks,” and more style than substance.
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
(Cutter Classification EKFC6 .F217 .E)
I have always been interested in colonialism and post-colonial theory. Luckily for me, Frantz Fanon is one of the most influential writers to contribute to both fields. Fanon’s most famous work analyzes the trauma, oppression and violence that results from colonization. The book was written at a time when Fanon was engaged in the Algerian War of Independence against France. It is not a light read but it reveals the fascinating experience of how colonized peoples became agents in their fight for liberty and freedom.
Death and the Maiden by Frank Tallis
(Library of Congress PZ4.T14754)
An intriguing mystery on a cold and snowy day can be such an indulgence, like a bite of a decadent piece of chocolate. The Dr. Max Libermann series by Frank Tallis should be on the menu. Set in fin de siècle Vienna Dr. Libermann and his friend Inspector Oskar Reinhardt set about solving, on occasion fairly gruesome, murders and fascinating plots twists. Along the way you taste the flavor of the extravagant Vienna life style overflowing with music and elaborate pastries. These stories are just a bit of fun for a winter’s day.
Njál’s Saga, translated from the Old Icelandic with introd. and notes by Carl F. Bayerschmidt and Lee M. Hollander.
(Library of Congress PT7269.N4 E52 1956)
The 13th century Icelandic sagas are true classics of world literature and perhaps the best place to start is with Njál’s saga and the best time to start is during a cold New England winter.
The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection
(Library of Congress PT7262.E5 S34 2000)
If you would like to continue on with your exploration of the sagas, this impressive volume contains many more, including The Saga of Greenlanders.
I suggest Isak Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales (Library of Congress Classification PZ3.D5833 Wi), and for true hilarity, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend (Library of Congress Classification PZ4.T751 Ad).
Back to Blood by “the man in white,” Tom Wolfe (Library of Congress, PZ4.W8563 Bac 2012).
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
(Library of Congress PZ1 .U58 v.48)
Between the 1920s and the 1950s, Elizabeth Mackintosh (a.k.a. Josephine Tey) wrote a handful of popular mystery novels, and of these the most curious and most memorable is The Daughter of Time, which pits her detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, against William Shakespeare. Laid up in hospital with a badly broken leg and painfully bored, Grant is persuaded by a friend to pass time by solving the mystery of a face: that of Richard III of England. Unfamiliar with the portrait of which his friend brings him a reproduction, but confident in his knack for reading characters in faces, Grant pronounces Richard’s face to be the face of a saint. Learning to his shock that he has been studying the portrait of an English king purported to have been a merciless killer and immortalized as the arch villain of Shakespeare’s Richard III, Grant persuades a young American scholar to join him in an investigation of the facts in the case of Richard’s reign. In the process the two happily turn “history” on its head. The Daughter of Time is a quick read bound to delight lovers of either history or the mystery novel, if perhaps not lovers of Shakespeare!
Carolle R. Morini
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot
(Library of Congress PZ3.E43 Mi 1912; also available on Kindle)
Why else should you read Middlemarch? – besides knowing full well it is a classic and you find yourself left out of too many literary conversations – you can use is as an excuse for the entire month of March, for example: “no, I can’t go to so-and-so’s house this evening, help you move, give the cat a bath, shovel the drive, etc. because I have a date with George Eliot.” All grand reasons! After you finish the book you will have at your disposal many quotes to use on Facebook. Such as: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel by Arthur Golden
(Library of Congress PZ4.G6198 Me)
One of my favorite books. I think it is perfect reading for every time of year. The descriptions of the scenery and of the characters are incredibly vivid, especially of the title character Sayuri. Her journey to becoming one of the best known geisha in Japan during the mid-twentieth century is moving, and I will admit that I was floored when I realized the author was not a woman. Even if you have read it, there is always something new to discover. (I have read it more times than I care to count).
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
(Children’s Room, Library of Congress PZ7.S855625 Rav 2012)
Blue Sargent, daughter of the town psychic, has a always had a chip on her shoulder when it comes to the local boys’ academy Aglionby. And yet, she finds herself reluctantly adopted by a strange band of Anglionby history buffs when it seems their secret plotting has put one of them in great danger. Fantasy and fun aside, this young adult novel contains a serious examination of the often strained relationship between “town and gown.” The sequel, The Dream Thieves, is planned for September.
She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir
(Library of Congress PZ3.B3852 Sh)
Because no one can resist a sultry, existential love triangle. Also, the end of the book will really heats things up (which is great for a cold winter), but not in the way you’d expect!
Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone
(Library of Congress QK605 .B65 2011)
Mycophilia surveys the new science in the field of mycology and “will open your eyes to the vast and bizarre world of fungi” and their role and relationships with others on Earth.
Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
(Library of Congress PZ4.B7892 Wat 2012)
Moving from Vienna in 1913 to London’s west end, the battlefields of France and hotel rooms in Geneva, a novel about a British actor, Lysander Rief, who goes to Vienna for a psychological cure, falls in love with a dangerous woman, and becomes involved in espionage for the British intelligence service. This is a “literary thriller that genuinely thrills, a plot-driven novel assembled by a master of plotting.” (The Financial Times)
Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David Kennedy
(Library of Congress E173 .O94, vol. 9)
Part of the Oxford American History series. A really interesting and detailed description of the Great Depression and the Roosevelt Administration, with many unexpected parallels with the present. So many current issues now were also issues that far back in American history.
Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
(Library of Congress DK756.2 .F73 2010)
I was tempted to write about this in the autumn but decided Siberia is a topic for the cold months of winter. In fact, Frazier did not travel to Siberia in winter until he felt, well into his project, that he had to experience Siberian cold in order to have any credibility, at least with his readers. This is travelogue, history, and memoir. I have long had a fascination with Russia, and I felt as if he wrote this with me in mind. But his own “Russia love” (as he calls it) was his driving force. The sheer size of Siberia merits attention. Look at a map, most of Russia is Siberia. Remember playing the game Risk? Frazier certainly noted the importance of Siberia there. Born and bred in Michigan, I thought I knew about lakes. (Michigan, in case you don’t know, is the “great lake state.”) His statement that Lake Baikul is the largest sent me first to the map, where its thin length compared poorly to any of my great examples, but when I checked my reference sources, I realized it is largest by volume. If you enjoy geography, adventure, travel, and eccentric examples of human behavior, I recommend this. It will put in perspective the amount of snow you recently shoveled.