Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2018
The Transylvanian trilogy by Miklós Bánffy; translated by Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Bánffy-Jelen; volume I: They Were Counted
(Library of Congress PZ3.B2235 Tr 2013 v.1)
Looking for a hefty epic to help pass your house-bound hours this winter? Withdraw into the world of They Were Counted, the first novel in Count Miklós Bánffy’s The Transylvanian trilogy, a sumptuous milieu of beau monde opulence and political unrest set against the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A sense of doom lingers in the reader’s mind, knowing that the chivalry and extravagance Bánffy describes will meet a cataclysmic end by the assault of WWI.
Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation by Alan Burdick
(Library of Congress QB213 .B925 2017)
As the New Year fast approaches, people take the time to reflect on the transpirations of the past 365 days (8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 3.154e+7 seconds). Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies explores all aspects of “father time” and how it operates—on a scientific level, a social level, and even in popular culture. Well researched and flawlessly presented with just the right amount of self deprecating humor, Why Time Flies is helping me reflect on how I will spend more of my “time” in the New Year—perhaps it can help you, too!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
(Library of Congress PZ4.S2548 Li 2017)
I found this book to be truly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in 2017. It was a lovely and honest book to read regarding grief and loss. Saunders weaves primary resources with his text in a wonderful way.
The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki; translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker
(Library of Congress PZ3.T1626 Mak)
Snow seen atop Mt. Fuji from far off, and the spring-time custom of viewing cherry blossoms bring a nice escape from winter. The Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki spent many years writing this, one of his greatest novels, and it was first published in Japan serially between 1943 and 1948. The Seidensticker English translation came out in 1957. The story follows the decline of the once-grand Makioka family of Osaka leading up to World War II, 1936 to 1941. It focuses on the family’s attempts to find a husband for the third sister, Yukiko, who is approaching 30 and dangerously near spinsterhood. As Yukiko navigates unsuitable suitors, the youngest sister Taeko seems to invite modernity into the sedate Makioka household by contemplating a career and falling in love without her family’s approval. Hints of turmoil in the larger world filter through to color the domestic scene, but even as their traditions wane and fortunes suffer, the Makiokas continue with their lives, unaware of the approaching war.
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
(Library of Congress PZ4 .M162 Mi 2017)
A long winter weekend away to Amsterdam gives Gerry and Stella, a retired couple with “not that much marriage left in us,” an opportunity to reflect on love, faith, aging, and their future together or apart. The writing is strong and the observations subtly keen in this moving novel by Booker shortlisted author Bernard MacLaverty.
Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear
(Library of Congress NEW PR9199.4.M32 Z46 2017)
I bought this book published by 4th Estate (there is at least one other edition) at the London Review Bookshop and loved its subject, size, illustrations—both drawn (including a map) and photographic—as well as the portion of Anne Carson’s poem on the page after the dedication. A slim Penguin Modern Poets including Anne Carson as one of three also tempted me, but I only had a carry-on and had to choose wisely. I ordered that once home and was disappointed LRB didn’t have an online shop. I felt I owed the purchase to them for their wonderful suggestions. I saw at least 20 books I hadn’t known about that caught my eye—or books in editions I hadn’t known. I typically know what I want so the bookstore that can lead me to something new is a treasure. But this is a review of Maclear’s charming meditation and not of that bookshop. It’s hard to classify it, but I’d call it a reader embracing the experience of the natural world and reconciling it with her interior, artistic life as well as her family and social life. I enjoyed her use of words and phrases infrequently seen in print. She clearly was playing with words, testing thoughts. I didn’t always agree with her generalizations or conclusions, but that’s why I read, to encounter another’s viewpoint. She evoked T.S. Eliot for me when she enjoined readers to, “die knowing something. Die knowing your knowing will be incomplete” (122). I have many notes to consider more deeply or people or facts to look up. Maclear learned about “spark birds” from Olivia Gentile’s Life List. These are birds that awaken an interest in birdwatching (113). Then, she “began to think about “spark books…that ignited love of reading” (115). I expand that to mean more than the first book that inspired one’s affinity for reading (which would be hard to pinpoint for most—who can remember) but to also describe a life of linked reading. The mark of a good book, I always say, is it leads you to other authors, other books. I bet Maclear would love to know she wrote a “spark book.”
Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman
(Library of Congress TX715 .L795 2016)
My recommendation for the winter is Sarah Lohman’s Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, 2016). It’s an easy but fascinating read that explores the rise in popularity of eight of the most common flavors used in US-American kitchens. Indulging in comfort food is always a cozy way to beat the winter blues and Lohman delivers delicious narrative alongside clever recipes.
The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace by David B. Woolner
(Library of Congress NEW CT275 .R667 W66 2017)
More than 70 years after his death, Franklin D. Roosevelt remains one the most beloved and fascinating American presidents, about whom there is no shortage of excellent biographies, specialized monographs, and articles. Among very recent additions to the bulging shelf of works on him is David Woolner’s The Last 100 Days. As the title suggests, the author, a senior fellow and resident historian of the Roosevelt Institute and Professor of History at Marist College, is concerned with FDR’s last months, from December 1944 until his death on April 12, 1945. In declining health and conscious that his life was slipping away, a gaunt and exhausted FDR exerted himself to the limits of his diminishing strength, determined to see a postwar world of peace, security, and stability. Key to his vision of international cooperation was the creation of the United Nations, and vital to the world organization’s future, in the president’s estimation, was the Soviet Union’s participation in it. “It was this goal above all others,” Woolner writes, “that FDR pursued in his last 100 days, and that determined many of the policy decisions he made during the Yalta conference and in the weeks and months that followed.” Woolner’s story is, in most respects, a familiar one, but his rich narrative and timeliness of his book, as the Trump administration appears to be following a foreign policy whose aim is to unwind the international order that FDR helped to build and reject the global leadership position he forged for the United State, makes it an important and rewarding read.