Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2015
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards
(Children’s Library PZ7.A5673 Las)
Did you know Dame Julie Andrews of stage and screen is also an accomplished children’s fiction author? Published in 1974 under her married name, this novel is a well-written delight for readers of any age. The book tells the story of three children who encounter a rather odd professor, and through honing their imaginative skills, take a journey to find the last whangdoodle of Whangdoodleland. Written at a grade school level, this makes for an excellent read-aloud book for younger children, as it provides a great deal of fanciful creatures for the reader to embody!
The Anime Encyclopedia : A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy
(Library of Congress NC1766.J3 C53 2011)
Containing brief write-ups on almost every anime series, miniseries, and feature from 1917 to 2006, this encyclopedia might help you find your next favorite show to marathon-watch in 2015. The book also serves to reference predecessors and influences on newer shows, so one can trace the roots of a genre.
Though lacking newer selections, if you’re interested in finding a retro pick, this book is an excellent place to start. A quick review of the plot summary for a series will let one in on how graphic a show is, which parents can reference if they have children watching at home.
The War That Ended Peace: the Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan
(Library of Congress D511 .M257 2013)
This intricate review of the crises and decisions that led to World War I paints a far more complex picture than I imagined. There were so many flawed human beings taking momentous actions without ever really believing that Europe would fall to pieces as a result. So many of the problems being faced today are just continuations of the nationalist hatreds and religious fanaticism that led to the Great War. It is especially sobering to read how ignorant the civilian governments were about the inexorable war plans being produced by their own military establishments.
The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels by Hazel Forsyth
(Library of Congress + NK7309.3 .F67 2013)
Workmen digging foundations in 1912 on the site of London’s old district of goldsmiths’ and jewelers’ shops came upon a large cache of gems and jewelry dating back to the 1600s and earlier. This catalogue of the Museum of London exhibition of this treasure describes the important pieces and speculates on their possible history. The wide diversity of geographical sources for the gems makes plain how extensive were the trade routes that brought gems from around the world to be crafted into intricate jewelry and sold in London. Some of the jewels in this hoard are unique while others were only known by their representations in seventeenth century portraits.
Tinkers by Paul Harding
(Library of Congress PZ4.H2636 Ti 2009)
Tinkers is a truly wintry book not only in terms of the season over which most of it takes place, but also because it deals with the winter of a life. That may sound really dreary and depressing, but this book is actually a supremely beautiful novel that reflects on the moments and small actions, as well as life-long relationships, that define the world of a family. In particular, the physical world of Tinkers is a beautiful but harsh one. The narrative shifts between modern-day Massachusetts and early twentieth-century rural Maine, where deep frozen forests teach a man and his son profound lessons about themselves, as well as the universe as they see it. If you don’t want to take my word for it, this book also won a Pulitzer.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
(Cutter Classification 65 .K465 .w)
Whether you consider “New Journalism” to be its own distinct genre, there is no denying that The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a great piece of writing. What makes it so brilliant is that the engaging style of prose matches the content, creating a seamless experience. The bright colors and vivid descriptions in this nonfiction book read like fiction. A historically important book, I would recommend it and consider it relevant in 2015.
Strange Meeting by Susan Hill
(Library of Congress PZ4 .H6488 St 1989)
It’s the autumn of 1915. All England speaks of peace before Christmas with conviction. John Hilliard, a British subaltern returns to his unit in France after spending the summer at his home convalescing from a leg wound. Hilliard, while now physically fit, still suffers from the inescapable emotional trauma front-line fighting inflicts. In his absence much of his unit has been killed or wounded and replaced by untried, unsuspecting men. One such recruit is David Barton, a young officer as affable and open as Hilliard is reticent and withdrawn. The two form an intense friendship as Barton slowly becomes initiated in numbing horror of trench warfare. Told in an unsensational manner, Susan Hill’s tale is all the more heartbreaking for its simplicity.
Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
(Library of Congress PZ3.B41937 Se)
Ever feel bombarded by the culture of self-help gurus sagely selling ancient wisdom, advising we take intention-fueled risks in order to achieve real-life miracles while we on Earth contend with abrading real-world setbacks and realities? Saul Bellow’s brilliant and resonant novella, Seize the Day, is a memorable, single-day urban journey in the life of Wilhelm Adler, a man drowning in an ocean of modern problems, on a timetable, taking a great risk, and trusting. Clear, wrenching, and nearly absent of his intellectual posturing, it’s simply Bellow at his best. Be still my cynical heart.
On the Athenæum’s second floor I came across a diminutive literary journal, One Story, that publishes a single story 14 to 16 times a year. Inside was an engaging tale by the author Diane Cook (former producer of NPR’s This American Life). I couldn’t put her story “Dave Santana Meteorologist” down, physically or critically. I’ve just completed her debut short story collection, Man Vs. Nature, that contains the mentioned story among many others. All are eerie, sticky tales that occupy a space between Tom Perrotta’s suburbia and George Saunders’s future vision with simply worded breezy smarts and emotions that’ll get under your skin. If you’re like me, you’ll be telling the world.
Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
(New Books, Library of Congress PZ4.M6956 Su 2014)
A deserted train platform, an abandoned chateau, a dingy alley lined with street lamps, all in and around Paris: the settings in Patrick Modiano’s novella collection Suspended Sentences are eerie and ominous. This is an alternative Paris, not the fabled city of glamour and romance. In each of these tales, a narrator recalls people, places, and events from his Parisian youth during the 1950s and early 1960s, when war and occupation still cast a long shadow over the city. An enigma lies at the heart of each of the three stories, upon which the narrator conjectures—a reticent photographer; the suspicious activities among a group of adults caring for two brothers; a double suicide. Seeking resolution, he moves back and forth in time, weaving together remembered sights and sounds. The past proves elusive; he recalls fleeting relationships, uncertain identities, the loss of familiar buildings and landmarks.
What drew me into these stories was their pensive mood, aura of mystery, and strong sense of place and atmosphere. Like a painter, Modiano is attentive to weather, season, time of day, the details of rooms and clothing. In exploring the play of memory, he creates images of postwar Paris that are sometimes sharp and vivid, and sometimes strange and dreamlike.
Modiano is the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Boston Noir 2: The Classics
(Library of Congress PS648.N64 B673 2012)
Though they don’t necessarily have to take place this time of year, I always find myself reading more mysteries and noir in the winter. The chilly weather perfectly accentuates the bleak world of the stories. Boston Noir 2: the Classics is a collection of short stories taking place in and around Boston. All the stories are previously published and many of them are excerpts from longer works, including a segment of one of my favorite books, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. There are numerous big-name authors in the collection, including Wallace, Andre Dubus, Robert B. Parker, and Dennis Lehane (who is one of the collection’s editors). Short story collections are a great way to try out a new author or in this case, have something you can dip in and out of while commuting among all the places featured in these stories.
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
(Library of Congress PZ3.M4518 Th)
Quite a lovely book. Published in 1937. Beautifully written. Not a word out of place. As one reviewer for The Guardian said in 2002, “I shall give no more details—for the simple reason that you will enjoy the book more if you find out for yourself.”
Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of General Charles Lee by Phillip Papas
(Library of Congress CT275.L4216 P36 2014)
A new biography of the largely neglected Charles Lee, an Englishman who joined the Revolution early on as George Washington’s second-in-command. At first the revolutionaries were jubilant, as Lee was an experienced military officer. In the British army, he had fought as a young lieutenant in the French and Indian Wars, where he gained a healthy respect for the American way of fighting, and he had seen action in Europe that imbued him with a strong sense of justice and an abhorrence for tyrannical rulers. He was also a dog person, and his pet Pomeranian, Spado, was often seen sharing his saddle! On the personal side, however, he was an eighteenth-century “eccentric”: he had a sharp temper, bad manners, was outspoken to a fault, and craved attention and personal glory. These traits led to a clash of wills with Washington, and a court martial that ended his military career. I enjoyed Phillip Papas’s treatment of Lee’s life because it is both sympathetic and rigorously researched, with generous quotations from primary sources. Perhaps most interesting is the way Lee himself viewed his eventual downfall, that is, as a direct result of his refusal to deify Washington as others had done. Any opposition to Washington does seem sacrilegious, especially within the walls of the Athenæum, but Papas’s book is still a good read!
Fordlandiaby Greg Grandin
(Library of Congress F2651.F55 G72 2009)
Fascinating account of Ford’s failed attempt at growing his own rubber in the Amazon at a community called Fordlandia.
Also worth checking out, Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels. He is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, and quite addictive. Good winter reading.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
(Children’s Library PZ7.C7878 Dar 2002)
The dead of winter is the best time to read this classic fantasy about an eleven-year-old boy who discovers that his destiny is to lead the forces of Light against the Dark. Incorporating Celtic and Arthurian mythology, it is an evocative adventure in the wintry forests of England.
Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten
(Library of Congress + TX714 .G363 2006)
I adore the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Ina Garten’s recipes are a happy fusion of the fresh, sparkling flavors of the Mediterranean and the butter-friendly comfort food of Europe. Some of the recipes take minutes to create while others need to braise in the oven for six hours. The common theme is that they are all delicious.
I have just about all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, but the one I use with the most frequency is her At Home cookbook. I love it because it is one of her “freshest” cookbooks in that it features lots of fruits and vegetables, zesty soups, grilled meats, etc. To be fair, it is a cookbook best suited to the summer in terms of ingredients. However, after all of the rich holiday foods, I find myself turning to her pesto pea salad, Asian salmon, and garlicky broccoli rabe. If you need a break from the chowders, roast beef, and hot chocolate, I can’t recommend a better alternative. And if you don’t need a break, have no fear—her seafood gratin and classic coconut cake are there for you. An added surprise of this book is that many of her recipes are vegan and allergen friendly, such as the dairy-free Ultimate Ginger Cookies or the vegan and gluten-free Guacamole Salad. Check this one out and try a recipe or two—I guarantee your taste buds shan’t be disappointed!
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams
(Library of Congress F3429.1.M3 A43 2011)
This has been on my reading list for three years, though on my shelf only since appearing in paperback. While I read it on the subway, a man next to me praised the book before asking, “you’re reading it just now?” Books have the advantage of never spoiling.
Do I trust Mark Adams to have researched Peru’s history and represented it accurately? I think so. History isn’t simply for the specialists, who often write on such obscure topics that the average reader cannot connect. Adams certainly delved into the scholarly bibliography, but his contacts were independent scholars, many of them adventure guides or adventurers who have become interested (some may say obsessed) with the ruins at Machu Picchu. Would I want to hike through the Andes to see these many archæological sites? No, I am not even a “martini explorer,” as the guide John Leivers described Hiram Bingham III, who “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1911.
One question, among many, remained for me, but this is a frivolous one: what does his title mean? Is it simply referencing the notion of walking there by citing a direction? Or what? Recommended for readers who enjoy history, biography, archæology, travel, and current events.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
(Library of Congress HV6248.M8 L37 2003)
I applaud Erik Larson’s work to keep this book as true to historical events as possible. He goes so far to note that anything in quotation marks comes directly from a firsthand source, an unbelievable task given the subject matter of the story. Follow the team of ambitious architects tasked with out-doing the Eiffel Towel at the Chicago World’s Fair; despair in the seemingly insurmountable odds that slow their progress and revel in their impossibly large successes. Beyond the dramas and egos of the artists, architects, and politicians, there lurks a darker character: a charming, deceitful serial killer finding great success in the mess of a dense and complicated, up-and-coming city. A fascinating read for insight into the goings-on of one of America’s first serial killers, as well as a stunning look behind the curtain of the World’s Fair, and a glimpse into the realistic day-to-day of historical Chicago.