It has been a while since I have helped readers to Better Know a Genre. What have I been doing instead of writing? Hibernating. But I’m back, and there are still a few weeks left until spring, so let us take these last days of winter to focus on the genre known as “cozy mysteries.”
Imagine the television show “Murder She Wrote” as a book. (Wait! You don’t have to imagine it.) Cozy mysteries, like all whodunits, begin with a crime. The crime usually takes place in a small town. Although the stories can contain murders or sexual activity, these are not explicitly described. There are not graphic depictions of violent crime. It is not usually the examination of forensic evidence from the crime scene that leads to the arrest of the perpetrator. Instead, there is a focus on solving the puzzle using knowledge of the town and its inhabitants.
The crime is often solved by a female amateur detective. The women tend to have a job that puts them into contact with the community, such as a teacher, author, librarian (hi!) or caterer. She might also have a hobby that serves as one of the themes of the book or series. Cooking and crafting are popular examples, and sometimes the books even contain recipes or patterns. She herself does not often work in law enforcement but will likely have unofficial help from someone on the police force. She is likable and engaging, not like the unfriendly Sherlock Holmes or the hard-drinking Philip Marlowe.
Also, cats. Lots of cats.
Check out some of these popular cozy mystery series from our collection!
These are just two of many many many cozy mystery themes. What is your favorite series?
VOTE NOW through March 11 for the Elite 8!
After an exciting two months of voting, DBRLTeen is proud to announce the Sweet 16 in our March Madness Teen Book Tournament. However, if you are just joining in the fun, here’s a little background to get you caught up. Through a series of votes, we are narrowing the library’s list of the 32 most popular teen books to one grand champion. By supporting your favorite book, you’ll also be entered to win prizes like a gift card to Barnes & Noble!How the March Madness Teen Book Tournament Works:
- Round 1: Voting complete for the Sweet 16.
- Round 2: VOTE NOW through March 11 for the Elite 8.
- Round 3: Vote March 12-18 for the Final 4.
- Round 4: Vote March 19-25 for the final two contending titles.
- Round 5: Vote March 26-April 1 for the book tournament champion.
- April 7: The champion is announced!
Don’t forget to vote for your favorite eight titles by Wednesday, March 11 at 3 p.m. The winners from this round of competition will be announced next Thursday, March 12.March Madness Teen Book Tournament: Sweet 16
- “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins
- “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner
- “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
- “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
- “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman
- “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
- “The Fellowship of the Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer
- “Legend” by Marie Lu
- “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare
- “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
- “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper
- “The Raft” by S. A. Bodeen
- “Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
- “Shiver” by Maggie Stiefvater
Originally published at 2015 Teen Book Tournament: Sweet 16 Announced.
The list of books publishing this month that librarians across the country love is nearly all fiction. And the one work of nonfiction — by the accomplished Erik Larson, author of the bestsellers “The Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts” — is narrative nonfiction, its propulsive storytelling making it read much like a novel. Still, the selections are wide-ranging in terms of topic and appeal, with everything from the character-driven follow-up to the extremely popular “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” to a new steampunk fantasy spin-off from the writer of the Parasol Protectorate series. Here’s this month’s LibraryReads list.
“The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce
“Miss Queenie Hennessy, who we met in Joyce’s first book, is in a hospice ruminating over her abundant life experiences. I loved the poignant passages and wise words peppered throughout. Readers of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ will enjoy this book. There’s no fast-paced plot or exciting twists — it’s just a simple, sweet story of a life well-lived.” - Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA
“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson
“In cinematic terms, this dramatic page-turner is Das Boot meets Titanic. Larson has a wonderful way of creating a very readable, accessible story of a time, place and event. We get three sides of the global story — the U-boat commander, British Admiralty and President Wilson — but what really elevates this book are the affecting stories of individual crew and passengers.” - Robert Schnell, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY
“Prudence” by Gail Carriger
“I was hoping we’d be seeing Prudence in her own series. Baby P — Rue to you — is all grown up and absolutely delightful. First-time readers will think it’s a wonderful book on its own merits. However, it becomes spectacular when we get to revisit some of the beloved characters from the Parasol Protectorate. Gail Carriger is always a delight!” - Lisa Sprague, Enfield Public Library, Enfield, CT
And here’s the rest of the list with links to the library’s catalog so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles!
“The Witch of Painted Sorrows” by M. J. Rose
“Cat Out of Hell” by Lynne Truss
“Vanishing Girls” by Lauren Oliver
“Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
“The Fifth Gospel” by Ian Caldwell
“The Pocket Wife” by Susan Crawford
“Where All Light Tends to Go” by David Joy
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
Alan Paton’s South African novel is full of lyrical phrasing like that. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The action takes place in the late 1940s, amid apartheid practices and attitudes. There’s another sentence in the book I believe could be the title, as far as it describes the story: “All roads lead to Johannesburg.”
When Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo hears that his sister needs him, he leaves the small village of Ndotsheni for Johannesburg. Since he’s going anyway, he decides to try to find his only son, Absalom, who moved to the city and stopped writing home. Also, Stephen’s brother who went there several years ago. Oh, and one of the pastor’s friends has a relative there. Would he possibly be able to check on her as well? Kumalo finds his family members, one by one, but the reunions are not joyful occasions. People move to Johannesburg because it’s where the jobs are, but it is an overcrowded city full of corruption, vice and crime. Everyone lives in fear.
The wealthy white farmer who lives near the pastor’s village also has a son in Johannesburg, a son who has been working for racial justice, until he is shot dead by burglars who expected to find nobody home. Kumalo remembers him as “a small bright boy.” Paton’s wording is everything when it comes to capturing the emotion of a scene: “…he was silent again, for who is not silent when someone is dead, who was a small bright boy?” An even more tragic turn comes when Absalom Kumalo confesses to the crime, explaining how he fired the shot in panic.
The realities of apartheid are consistently woven into the fabric of the story. When a black man falls, a white man would like to help, but he finds himself at a loss, because “it is not the tradition” that people of different races should touch each other. The white churches are magnificent. The Ndotsheni church has multiple leaks when it rains. The children in the village have no milk.
But this book is not all pathos and tragedy. Though it is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.* As the two fathers cross paths and attempt to resume their lives, they both draw deep from the well of compassion to create meaning from their losses, to give the world a continuation of whatever positive they saw in the spirits of their respective sons.
Every January the American Library Association hosts its annual Youth Media Awards Press Conference. At this time, authors and illustrators of children’s and young adult literature are recognized for the amazing works they have published over the last year
Have you read any of this year’s award-winners? What did you think? Who might you have picked for this year’s top awards?
Alex Award Winners are the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences.
- “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
- “Bellweather Rhapsody” by Kate Racculia
- “Bingo’s Run” by James A. Levine
- “Confessions” by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder
- “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng
- “Lock In” by John Scalzi
- “The Martian” by Andy Weir
- “The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice” by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles
- “Those Who Wish Me Dead” by Michael Koryta
- “Wolf in White Van” by John Darnielle
Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizes an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
- Award Winner: “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
- Honor Book: “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander
- Honor Book: “How I Discovered Poetry” by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Hadley Hooper
- Honor Book: “How It Went Down” by Kekla Magoon
Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults.
- Award Winner: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson
- Honor Book: “And We Stay” by Jenny Hubbard
- Honor Book: “The Carnival at Bray” by Jessie Ann Foley
- Honor Book: “Grasshopper Jungle” by Andrew Smith
- Honor Book: “This One Summer” written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adult.
- Award Winner: “H. O. R. S. E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination” by Christopher Myers and narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers
- Honor Book: “Five, Six, Seven, Nate!” written and narrated by Tim Federle
- Honor Book: “The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place” by Julie Berry, and narrated by Jayne Entwistle
- Honor Book: “A Snicker of Magic” by Natalie Lloyd and narrated by Cassandra Morris
Pura Belpré (Author) Award honors a Latino writer whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience:
- Award Winner: “I Lived on Butterfly Hill” by Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by Lee White
- Honor Book: “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes” written by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.
- Middle School Award Winner: “Rain Reign” by Ann M. Martin
- High School Award Winner: “Girls Like Us” by Gail Giles
Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award is given annually to children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.
- Award Winner: “This Day in June” by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., illustrated by Kristyna Litten
- Honor Book: “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin, photographed by Susan Kuklin
- Honor Book: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson
- Honor Book: “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress” by Christine Baldacchino, pictures by Isabelle Malenfant
William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens.
- Award Winner: “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
- Finalist: “The Carnival at Bray” by Jessie Ann Foley
- Finalist: “The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim” by E.K. Johnston
- Finalist: “The Scar Boys” by Len Vlahos
- Finalist: “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults.
- Award Winner: “Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek” by Maya Van Wagenen
- Finalist: “Laughing at My Nightmare” by Shane Burcaw
- Finalist: “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming
- Finalist: “Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won!” by Emily Arnold McCully
- Finalist: “The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights” by Steve Sheinkin
Originally published at 2015 ALA Teen Book Award Winners Announced.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is as popular and ubiquitous as this simile is confusing and ineffective. For some it is a gloomy respite from the constant barrage of good news, utopian grocers and complementary snacks. For others it is a chilling vision of events horrifyingly near at hand. For others still it is a genre of stories that they read for pleasure.
Unlike the supplies in these stories, there is a massive selection of such books to peruse. Readers know that one of the following, in order of likelihood, will be what brings civilization to its knees: zombies, super flu, war, aliens, weather or vampires. We know roughly how things will play out and that the most important people left will be attractive and/or magical. We know it will be nearly as excruciating to experience as it is fun to read about. But what we don’t know, and what has long been one of my chief concerns about life in a hellscape, is whether or not there will be traveling bands of actors and musicians, and if there are, whether or not they will eventually run into trouble. Emily St. John Mandel’s gnarly novel, “Station Eleven,” answers my questions while being really fun to read.
One of this novel’s nifty tricks is to jump around in time and among characters. It opens, just prior to the “Georgian Flu” outbreak it uses to decimate the population, with one of its main characters dying on stage, and then proceeds forward and backward in time to check on characters connected to the dead thespian. One connected character is the child actress that helped provide a twist to his production of “King Lear,” and twenty years later was one of the world’s foremost traveling actors. Another is a paparazzo that hounded the actor until switching careers to be a paramedic and attending the actor’s fateful play. Another, the dead actor’s agent, starts a “Museum of Civilization” (its most popular exhibits include stilettos and cell phones) in an airport where several people take refuge after the outbreak. (The airport is home to one of the novel’s best and most distressing images: a plane, landed safely on the runway but with its doors sealed to forever contain infected passengers.)
This novel quickly introduces a plethora of questions (like why is the nefarious prophet’s dog’s name taken from an extremely limited edition comic that happens to be another character’s most prized possession?), and as the answers start to come the book becomes extra-impossible to put down. “Station Eleven” bounces between post-apocalyptic suspense and pre-apocalyptic drama, but its characters and language are always well-crafted and immersive. It is doubtful the looming Armageddon will be anywhere near as enjoyable.
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins follows the mundane life of down-and-out Rachel who commutes daily into London by train. Before long she realizes she has been observing a couple every morning as they enjoy breakfast up on their roof top. Rachel begins to fantasize about their life, creating names for the couple while wishing their life was all hers. Then one day she notices a stranger in the garden, and the woman she fondly named Jess is no longer there! Written in the same vein as “Rear Window,” you will soon find yourself entangled in this psychological thriller. Place a hold on this popular best-seller, then pick up one of these similar books that draw in the curious observer.
“A Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan
Mr. Hemming, such a nice man. He is a real estate agent for a small community and likes to spy on his clients. He does this by keeping keys to the homes he has sold — all of them. Then his creepy little secret life gets put on hold when they find a dead body in one of his homes.
“Death Match” by Lincoln Child
Eden Incorporated — surveillance, artificial intelligence, state of the art matchmaking. It’s a perfect company. They create the perfect couple, the perfect match. Young, attractive, they have everything — it’s perfect. Now, a double suicide on their perfect living room floor. How is it that if everything was so perfect, they are dead? Isn’t Eden perfect?
“The Other Woman’s House“ by Sophia Hannah
Unable to sleep, Connie Bowskill uses her husband’s laptop to log on to an Internet real estate site to view a home she has become obsessed with. While taking the virtual tour, she is witness to a woman lying face down in a pool of blood! Flustered by what she sees, she awakens her husband to show him, but when they return to site the photo is no longer there!
Have other similar titles to recommend to your fellow readers? Let us know in the comments!
The post What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train appeared first on DBRL Next.
If you’re a Denis Johnson fan, part of the excitement about a forthcoming book is anticipating where he will take you this time. He is not an author to be pigeonholed. His wonderful novella, “Train Dreams,” was originally serialized in “The Paris Review” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. (Nobody won that year — the Pulitzer Committee couldn’t come to a final decision.) The story follows a day laborer’s travels in the American West during the early 20th century. Before that Johnson published another novella, “Nobody Move,” this time serialized in Playboy. It tells an archetypal noir story about a group of shady characters in pursuit of a bag of cash. You can get an idea of the diverse subjects he is interested in through his nonfiction collection, “Seek.” There he writes about hippies, militia groups, gold mining in Alaska, Christian biker gangs and war-ravaged Liberia.
Some of his experiences in Liberia were inspiration for his newest book, “The Laughing Monsters.” This book treads some similar territory to a previous one, “Tree of Smoke.” That was Johnson’s “Big Novel,” which won the 2007 National Book Award. It focuses on a spy-in-training during the Vietnam War engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, but its scope is broad. Covering a span of 20 years, it is as much about the character of America as the war in Vietnam. “The Laughing Monsters,” on the other hand, is a novella with a small cast of characters, set in the present day, and covers a short period of time. Like “Tree of Smoke,” it concerns intelligence operatives who have represented western governments, although their original countries of origin are convoluted, and their loyalties/allegiances are dubious. These operatives are also traveling through damaged and war-torn countries on missions, and maybe counter-missions, while opportunistically pursuing personal profit. It might be the closest thing to a comedy Johnson has written, although there aren’t many belly laughs to be had. The New York Times picked the book as one of it’s 100 notable books for 2014 and described it as “cheerfully nihilistic.”
Two of the main characters in “Tree of Smoke” are soldiers in the Vietnam War, the brothers Bill and James Houston. Bill Houston is also one of the central characters in Johnson’s first novel, “Angels.” Bill meets a wife running away with her two kids on a Greyhound bus. Together they bounce around the fringes of America through bus stations, bars and cheap motels. They encounter lots of dispossessed, strange and dangerous people. They inevitably get into trouble and make bad decisions, which get them into even more trouble. The book’s bleak subject matter could come off as exploitative in another author’s hands, but Johnson’s deft characterization and artful sentences make this story of marginal characters about something bigger than them. While it isn’t necessary to read “Angels” before reading “Tree of Smoke,” there is an added poignancy to reading about Bill Houston’s past when you already know his future.
The setting, time period and character types of Johnson’s stories can vary greatly from book to book, but there are shared characteristics within his body of work. Like most writers, he returns to certain themes and fascinations. You can see his interest in the spy genre in “The Laughing Monsters,” and “Tree of Smoke.” They are more like the spy stories of Graham Greene or John LeCarre than Ian Fleming, but the trappings of spycraft are there, as is the thrill of reading about it. He’s also a fan of crime, noir and hard-boiled fiction. (He adapted the Jim Thompson novel, “A Swell Looking Dame” for the screen.) His novel “Already Dead” is a complex noir about a descendant of a wealthy family who’s at risk of losing what remains of his fortune. After crossing a member of a drug syndicate, he’s on the run from two of his goons, including one who likes to punctuate punches to the face with quotes from Nietzsche.
While the protagonist in “Already Dead” might already be dead, the protagonist in “The Name of The World” is living a “posthumous life,” or so he has felt since his wife and child were killed in a car crash. An excellent addition to the genre I’m going to call “University Novels,” “The Name of The World” is about an academic in a small college town who finds himself forced to “act like somebody who cares what happens to him” despite his tentativeness about re-engaging with life. It is another short, poignant and beautifully written novel by Johnson.
Denis Johnson started his writing career as a poet. His first book of poetry was published when he was 19. I think this is the reason so many of his novels are short, but they never suffer for it. The books are as long as they need to be and crafted as precisely as his sentences. Sometimes he illuminates the emotional weight of his stories with language and images that are borderline hallucinogenic. There are always elements that surprise in his work and a consistency of quality, whether it’s short stories or plays, fiction or nonfiction. Despite some of his awards and critical acclaim, he remains an underappreciated writer in many ways. Just as he deserves the accolades he has received, he deserves to be read widely.
This month’s LibraryReads list definitely has something for every reading taste (just like the library itself)! The list of books publishing in February that librarians across the country recommend includes an entertaining historical fiction set in Hollywood during filming of “Gone With the Wind,” as well as a Regency romance, fantasy and plenty of mysteries to keep you and your cup of tea company. Top of the list is the latest penetrating look at a family’s inner life from Anne Tyler. Enjoy this month’s selections!
“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler
“In this book, we come to know three generations of Whitshanks — a family with secrets and memories that are sometimes different than what others observe. The book’s timeline moves back and forth with overlapping stories, just like thread on a spool. Most readers will find themselves in the story. Once again, Tyler has written an enchanting tale.”
- Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
“A Touch of Stardust” by Kate Alcott
“With the background of the making of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ this is a delightful read that combines historical events with the fictional career of an aspiring screenwriter. Julie is a wide-eyed Indiana girl who, through a series of lucky breaks, advances from studio go-fer and assistant to Carole Lombard to contract writer at MGM. A fun, engaging page-turner!”
- Lois Gross, Hoboken Public Library, Hoboken, NJ
“My Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh
“A crime against a 15-year-old girl is examined through the eyes of one of her friends — a friend who admits to being a possible suspect in the crime. This is a wonderful debut novel full of suspense, angst, loyalty, deceit and, most of all, love.”
- Alison Nadvornik, Worthington Libraries, Columbus, OH
And here is the rest of the list with links to these on-order books in our catalog.
- “The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy” by Julia Quinn
- “Half the World” by Joe Abercrombie
- “Finding Jake” by Bryan Reardon
- “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V. E. Schwab
- “A Murder of Magpies” by Judith Flanders
- “The Siege Winter” by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman
- “Dreaming Spies: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes” by Laurie R. King
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The February 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
Lewis Carroll introduced the world to Alice, a young girl who stumbles out of her dull reality into Wonderland, an absurd world of talking cats, mad hatters and a croquet-playing queen. Carroll was also an accomplished poet, turning the art of poetry on its head (check out his “Jabberwocky,” a personal favorite of mine that manages to make sense out of gibberish — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”). His sense of humor and tales of the absurd have engaged readers of all ages for over a century.
Lewis Carroll, born Charles L. Dodgson on January 27, 1832, was the third of 11 children born to a country parson. As an adult, he taught and published material on math and logic in Oxford. His vivid imagination was visible even in his teaching. “Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life” explores Carroll’s body of mathematical publications, with a special focus on the fascinating (and fun!) puzzles, riddles and ciphers he created to use in his teaching.
Carroll spent his time outside of the classroom engaged in photography, and he was particularly interested in portrait photography. This hobby introduced him to Alice Liddell, the girl many believe inspired his most famous character (although he denied that Alice was based on any one person). “The Alice Behind Wonderland” explains the technology and techniques involved in Carroll’s photography and offers a glimpse at the life of the “true” Alice.
Due to his private nature, Carroll remains a bit of a mystery. Many of his private diaries have been lost. Fortunately, he was a prolific writer of letters to friends and family and much of that correspondence remains. Both “Very Truly Yours, Charles L. Dodgson, Alias Lewis Carroll: A Biography” and “The Letters of Lewis Carroll” draw on Carroll’s letters, photos and writings to construct engaging and insightful biographies. Carroll was considered a bit odd and that certainly inspires many questions about him that cannot be answered due to lack of access to his private writings. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created ‘Alice in Wonderland’” draws on Carroll’s personal bank records and correspondence from his family and the Liddell family in an attempt to explain just who he was and whether he was as odd as he seemed.
At his death in 1898, Carroll was a beloved, best-selling children’s author. His stories remain popular to this day. People are still drawn to him and his work because they are fun stories, but also because of the questions they raise. For example, “Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser” looks at Carroll’s stories from a philosophical point of view and ponders the deeper meanings behind them, relating them back to different philosophical ideas. Lewis Carroll was a fascinating man, both in his writing and in his life. Understanding him is certainly not an easy task, but there are many wonderful books in the library that offer insight into who he was and how he created those imaginative tales.Source of Carroll’s photo of Alice Liddell: serenity_now via photopin cc
Trudy Lewis is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri and author of two full-length novels (“The Empire Rolls” and “Private Correspondences“), along with many acclaimed short stories. Her latest novel, “The Empire Rolls,” is about roller derby and captures the changing social and financial climate of the Midwest surrounding the economic crash in 2008.
DBRL: Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for “The Empire Rolls”?
TL: “The Empire Rolls” was inspired by several factors: the Missouri landscape, the recession of 2008, a friend’s encounter with industrial polluters at a local creek and the changing status of public space and private interests in our national imagination. I began writing “The Empire Rolls” when I returned to Columbia after a stint as the Viebranz Visiting Writer at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. I’d been writing a historical novel, but when I came back to Missouri and saw the changes that had occurred in a single year, I realized that I needed to capture the shifting scenes and values of our own times. One of the changes was the new roller derby team in town, the CoMo Derby Dames. Roller derby had all the elements that appealed to me: women’s empowerment, Midwestern populism, spectacle and ambiguous sexuality. Of course, the book is about more than the roller derby. It is about the changes that overtook our culture at this precise moment—the fall of 2007 leading into the great recession of 2008. It was around this date that roller derby, first developed in the depression, began to see another dramatic rise in popularity. At the same time, the war in the Middle East was coming home to Middle America, as veterans returned from military duty. In my novel, there are a number of returning veterans, and the skaters take on warlike identities such as “Raven Pillage” and “Gigi Haddist.” My protagonist, Sally LaChance, moonlights as the emcee at the roller derby. But by day, she works as a park ranger in Karst Park. In this capacity, she carries a gun and engages in a questionable use of force to defend her territory against polluters. Sally’s story mirrors both the violence of the war in Iraq and the comic mock aggression of the roller derby.
DBRL: Do you play roller derby?
TL: No, I don’t play. But I have two friends, Whiskey ShinDig (Felicia Leach) and Stonecold Janeausten (Devoney Looser) who are former members of the CoMo Derby Dames. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time at the roller rink, waiting for a longtime crush to look up from the pinball machine and skate with me. So I’m sure that’s another factor in my attraction to roller derby.
DBRL: The novel is set in the Boonslick area of Missouri. From what I understand that was a deliberate choice for the book. Would you like to discuss why you chose that location?
TL: Boonslick is a cultural region that includes Columbia, along with a number of nearby counties. By using the name, I set up a regional reference point without actually claiming to write about Columbia (although, if you are looking for verisimilitude, you will recognize mirror images of many Columbia institutions). I’m also trying to evoke the underlying Missouri culture. Many people think of Columbia as a place that is made livable by its cultural connections to urban areas elsewhere. I’ve found, on the contrary, that I’m energized by Columbia’s Missouri connections: the physical landscape, the small towns and rural areas, the music and folklore. My husband Mike Barrett teaches at Moberly Area Community College and I’ve been inspired by his students, who are often deeply embedded in the local culture and who don’t feel the need to disavow their roots in order to pursue some other goal, whether it is travel or art or career. So the invented town of Boonslick allows me to write about these issues and to work in the vein of realism without establishing a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional city and the Columbia readers may recognize. I’ve published a number of short stories set in Boonslick in addition to “The Empire Rolls.”
DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend?
TL: I’ve been teaching and recommending “Fools” by Joan Silber, a book of linked stories about anarchists, lovers and other quixotic idealists. Silber will be reading in MU’s Visiting Writers Series in the spring (April 23). Another favorite is “A Tale for the Time Being,” Ruth Ozeki’s cross-cultural, cross-generational Buddhist novel. I’m also a big fan of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn; his most recent book “Lost for Words“ is a hilarious sendup of the literary awards system, including brilliant parodies of familiar writerly types. I’d like to take the opportunity to recommend some excellent books by local writers: Deb Brenegan’s “Shame the Devil,” a lively fictional take on the life of Fanny Fern, and Phong Nguyen’s “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History,” a provocative collection of short stories examining history’s missed chances and close calls. Finally, anyone interested in Missouri fiction should look up “The Moonflower Vine“ by Jetta Carleton, originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2009. This book vies with “Stoner” (John Williams) as the best Missouri novel of the 20th century.
For more information about Trudy Lewis and her work, please visit her website. Be sure to check out “The Empire Rolls” at the library, or buy it from The University of Arkansas Press or locally at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Don’t miss her presentation here at the Columbia Public Library on February 10th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room!
During a typical evening of discussing literature, violins and politeness in my conversation parlor, a colleague said to me, “Gentleman, it seems you love everything you read.” I stopped reading a cake recipe and smacking my lips and rubbing my stomach to consider. Considering all it takes is a savvy recommendation and/or a glance at the first few sentences to gather enough clues to know if a book will be to my taste, I am plenty fond of nearly every book I read. But while it’s true there are more great books than anybody could read in a lifetime, perhaps a gentleman’s effusions lose their weight when they’re spewed forth with identical giddiness and on a schedule one could set their tailor’s visits to. So take heed, I want to effuse really hard right now: “F” by Daniel Kehlmann makes the short list of my favorite books of all time.
It’s all the things I so often say about books I love: hilarious, heartbreaking, beautifully written. Rather than offer cogency and worthwhile words to demonstrate this, I encourage you to peruse the links I’ve provided above so that I can proceed in my typical slapdash fashion. “F” begins with Arthur taking his three sons to see a hypnotist’s show. His emphatic claims that he cannot be hypnotized are maintained even as he’s on stage and interspersing them with the words and actions of the thoroughly hypnotized, among them some things a parent shouldn’t say in front of his child. He’s hypnotized into being a vehicle for his ambition, which once unfettered by obligations like parenthood and not stealing his spouse’s money, is massive and fruitful. Arthur empties the family bank account and disappears to be a reclusive genius author. (One of his books so convincingly argues that existence isn’t real that it inspires a spate of suicides.) “F” then jumps years to delve into the adulthood of Arthur’s children.
Each child gets an awesome chapter. One, a faithless obese priest and Rubik’s Cube expert (though not championship caliber), eats candy in the confessional and reasons that his lack of faith can’t stop him from being an adequate priest. Another forges art under the name of his much older lover, a man he met while interviewing him for his thesis on artistic mediocrity. The forger’s twin is a finance guy, struggling to maintain his sanity while trying to prolong his clients’ ignorance concerning the millions of their dollars he’s lost. The offspring’s chapters sometimes intersect: one delightful instance is the priest’s lunch with the finance brother. When we see it from the priest’s side, we see his brother’s behavior as absurd and unexplainable. When he see it from the money brother’s side, the unexplainable behavior is gloriously explained, which isn’t to say that he’s not in need of a balanced regimen of medication. Also, there’s an apparition imparting crucial messages to the twins, but unfortunately it can’t tell them apart.
I’m wary of translated works because I worry something often gets, to coin a phrase, lost in translation. Since I can’t read German (I’m barely even comfortable in lederhosen), I don’t know if anything was lost, but I am sure this book looks great in English, as does “Fame,” the other Kehlmann novel carried by DBRL. Kudos to Carol Brown Janeway for the translation.
Daniel Kehlmann is a literary superstar in Germany (meaning he sells lots of books and probably gets all the writing implements and sausages his minions can carry), but he should be one everywhere.
History! History! History!…and a little travel too! The 900s in nonfiction are a must for the history buff and the travel enthusiast. Did I mention history? In this section there is a wide variety of books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, ancient civilization, baby names, genealogy, geography, travel guides, world history, biographies and even local history! While browsing the aisles I found these curious titles tucked away on the bottom shelves.
- “Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania and Other States That Never Made It” by Michael J. Trinklein
This book was written to acknowledge these absurdly named territories that never made it to statehood for one reason or another. It’s a fun book with maps, stories and trivia to enhance any history buff’s knowledge!
- “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!” by Megan Smolenyak
Ms. Smolenyak has been call the “Indiana Jones” of genealogy. She is best know for revealing connections between famous people such as Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, using DNA to solve crimes for the real NCIS and FBI and to locate family members of fallen soldiers as far back as the Civil War! This book is not a how-to book, but a novice genealogist could learn some pointers from this super sleuth.
- “London: Everything You Wanted to Know” (part of the Not for Parents series) by Klay Lamprell.
This is not a travel guide, rather it is an insider’s guide to the native’s life. The book is a collage of colorful, funky photos and drawings similar to those in the “Guinness World Records” books, with facts, true tales and trivia interspersed. You will see photos of weird cuisine (eels on a plate!) and punk style dress with mohawks. You’ll read about murdered kings, famous and infamous people such as Jack the Ripper, the Royals’ ancestral tree, creepy underground catacombs, a famous graffiti artist, how the streets in London were named and much, much more!
The post It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s appeared first on DBRL Next.
Best books of the year lists are one of my favorite things about winter. Adding titles I’ve overlooked to my to-be-read list is a great pleasure, and I enjoy looking back at the year in publishing. However, time for reminiscing is short, because suddenly blogs and magazines are all atwitter over those books they can’t wait to read in the New Year. The buzz seems warranted, with forthcoming titles from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison (“God Help the Child,” April 2015) and Jonathan Franzen (“Purity,” September 2015), as well as a boatload of promising debuts. Neil Gaiman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Nick Hornby and many other big names also have books hitting the shelves in the next several months. I’m going to have to get a bigger night stand for all of these novels and learn to do with less sleep.
Here’s a sampling of recommended books. There is some overlap among the lists, but each has at least a handful of gems the others omit.
- “2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read” from The Huffington Post
- “Most Anticipated: The Great 2015 Book Preview” from The Millions
- “Top 10 most anticipated novels of 2015” from The Washington Post
- “Anticipations: Coming in Early 2015” from Barnes & Noble
What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!
Another year completed, another year begun. This is when we look behind us and say, “What was that all about?” while looking forward saying, “This time it will be different!” If you’re like me, this is also the time of year you take a long look in the mirror and say, “Grandpa?” To paraphrase the band They Might Be Giants, “We’re older than we’ve ever been, and now we’re even older.” We can’t hit the brakes on this process, and we can’t hit the reset button. Time waits for no one while it marches on like sands through the hourglass, or something. So we find our resolve, and we make promises we don’t keep, and we say to ourselves, “This time it will be different. We will eat better and get in shape. We will get a hobby, learn a skill or at least finally paint the house. We will find the cause of our dissatisfaction and fix it.” Then, next thing we know, it’s another new year.
So how do we break free from this Sisyphean hamster wheel of broken New Year’s resolutions and take care of business? Books (obvs)! There are many useful books to help guide and inspire us on the path to self-improvement. It just so happens that I have written three manuscripts which fall under this category (totally crushed my resolutions for that year!): “Cooking, With Food,” “Find the Right Pilates Instructor for Your Blood Type” and “Being Fat Is Stupid, Stupid!” Unfortunately, I have yet to find a forward-thinking publisher who wants to purchase the rights to these books. Until then, here are some titles that have actually been published to help you achieve your goals for 2015, or at least keep the trials and tribulations of this annual ritual in perspective.
“Stretch” by Neal Pollack
Based on Neal Pollack’s earlier satirical work it’s difficult to believe this man has a sincere dedication to the practice of yoga, but it’s true. Finding his career at a crossroads, and his body aging, he gives yoga a shot. He now writes a column for Yoga Journal and is a yoga instructor. The book is in a part a memoir of his experience as well as a look at the different corners of the yoga world. Don’t worry – despite the sincere devotion to his practice, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor or skeptical eye. This is an excellent introduction to yoga for people who think it “isn’t for them,” or are allergic to the earnestness often associated with it.
“Drop Dead Healthy” by A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs has cut out a successful career as a writer of “stunt journalism.” He regularly immerses himself in a subject to see what it’s like, using himself as a guinea pig (in one case, literally). In this book he sets a two-year goal to become as a healthy as possible. The book’s combination of thorough research and humorous tone make it a great survey of various health fads. It’s nice of him to put himself through all this so we don’t have to.
“The Road to Wellville” by T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle’s comic historical novel is set in Dr John Harvey Kellog’s (yes, the Corn Flakes guy) Battle Creek Spa. The book pokes fun at the strange “cures,” pseudo-science and hucksterism of the time. The scary part is when you start wondering how much resemblance there is to present-day health fads.
“Helping Me Help Myself” by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick wakes up on New Years Day to find she is tired of dealing with the same problems year after year. Despite her skepticism, she binges on the works of successful self-help gurus. In addition to reading their books she attends their seminars and starts to fear she might actually learn something from these “gurus.”
“Promise Land” by Jessica Lamb Shapiro
Jessica Lamb Shapiro’s book takes on a similar challenge to the one in “Helping Me Help Myself,” but her skepticism has a more personal source because her father was an author of self-help books. The book is part memoir and part exploration of self-help culture. With an irreverent tone, she points out some of the snake-oil salesman in the field and attempts to determine if self-help culture really can be helpful.
“The Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life” by Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman is a writer and stand-up comedian. He also is the voice of Gene Belcher on the television show “Bob’s Burgers.” With a resume like that, why wouldn’t you accept his advice on life and act accordingly? His book contains advice on family, school, romance, money (to be exact, “The Money Lover’s Guide to Making Money”) and my favorite, “The Theory and Practice of Organizations Connected With Government, I think.” I’m pretty sure you could just read this book and throw all the others I’m recommending in the trash. (Wait! Forget that last part. Treat library books with kindness!)
“Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Principles for Delicious Living” by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is another comedian on another TV show (“Parks and Recreation” – watch it!). Messrs. Offerman and Mirman are making me me think the real answer to all our problems is to tell lots of jokes and get a TV show. Offerman’s character on “Parks and Rec” has taken on some of the traits of the man himself, most notably his appreciation of whiskey and his skills in the woodshop. Offerman’s book is part memoir, part manifesto for a life well lived, and all hilarious. It might even inspire you to dig your jigsaw out of that mess you call a workbench and start making something.
“How To Sharpen Pencils” by David Rees
For some, learning a new craft or honing a skill is simply a hobby. For others, the act of mastering that craft is transformative. Can mastering the art of pencil sharpening be transformative? The last chapter of this book is titled, “How to sharpen a pencil with your mind.” We’re talking about some serious Jedi-level pencil sharpening here. I doubt you come out of that experience the same way you entered into it.
“Simple Times” by Amy Sedaris
Not everyone’s New Year’s resolutions aspire to change their body, mind or entire way of life. Some people just want to get around to learning that craft they’ve never made the time for. Now is the time! Amy Sedaris has some excellent crafts to teach. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching squirrels get diabetes at the Donut Squirrel Feeder I’m going to construct. The perfect accompaniment to that scene will be the gentle clanging of the Rusty Nail Wind Chime I will also make. Very soon. Before 2015 is over. I swear.
I saw a wonderful film not long ago called “Kill the Messenger.” That phrase is an old saw about taking out one’s displeasure on the one who brings bad news. This particular messenger was the San Jose Mercury reporter Gary Webb, and the message was his work tying the explosion of crack cocaine in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s to important leaders of Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras. The Contras were mercenaries who fought against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who (believe it or not!) were supported by drug sales in Los Angeles and other cities after Congress voted down funding for Reagan’s war in Central America. Turns out they were protected by the CIA and the mainstream press, as well as functionaries close to the White House.
The film was a thriller with a bit of pathos thrown in to demonstrate what happened to a reporter who embarrassed the US “deep state.” It can be found online (if you have a credit card), but in any case, DBRL has Webb’s book “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” as well as a few other interesting titles on the subject.
If you find it difficult to believe that the government prioritizes the “War on Drugs” and at the same time elements within the state are supporting the importation of those drugs, check out Douglas Valentine’s “The Strength of the Wolf,” which elucidates the many connections between the “deep state” and drug trafficking as discovered by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics prior to 1968 when the FBN was dissolved.
We also have Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall’s “Cocaine Politics,” perhaps the first to document the drug trafficking of Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) and the complicity of mercenaries and US government leaders and institutions. Here I bow to another reviewer, Marilynn Larew, who reviewed the book for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 22, 1991, N9):
“Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall expand on revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal and the 1989 Kerry Committee Report. They assert persuasively that the CIA has long-standing alliances with men who deal drugs while doing dirty tricks for us in Latin America. The links go as far back as 1961 and the Bay of Pigs. Their story, however, is about the contra war, in which drug money paid for arms, the planes that carried ‘humanitarian aid’ in [and] flew drugs out, and Latin American colonels [who] made fortunes on drugs destined for American streets, all with our government’s connivance….The core of the book, the adventures of Jack Terrell…the soldier of fortune who tried to blow the whistle on the contra drug dealers, is taut as a thriller….The authors appear to evaluate the murky evidence in the government documents and news stories temperately. The thesis rings true.”
Alex believes she is going to die. The tumor growing in her brain, she expects it to be her end. When an electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, all of Alex’s expectations change. Suddenly, everyone in the age range of 20 to 60 is dead. Technology no longer works, and the world Alex knew no longer exists. Alex bands together with a little girl and a young soldier to survive, finding family and friends in them she never expected.
Obviously, by my description of “Ashes,” you can tell it’s apocalyptic fiction. I admit I’ve never been a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. For me, I find it a hard genre to read because reading about the world ending can be a pretty depressing topic. But Ilsa J. Bick is an amazing writer, and “Ashes” is easily in the top five best books I have read in the past two years.
It’s a fast read, and if you like the TV show “The Walking Dead,” I’m pretty sure you’ll love “Ashes” too. “Ashes” has the same feel as “The Walking Dead.” Odd characters come together, they fight together, create bonds, and then bad things happen. You’ll scream internally for the characters, root for them and cry for them, all because Bick creates them so beautifully. Before you know it, you’ll have finished the entire book in a few days.
Bick is an amazing writer, and although “Ashes” is considered YA, I would highly recommend it to the adult reader. Bick’s writing style is very honest. She’s got a unique take on action scenes, and I believe this is due to her background as an Air Force major. Her writing has a militaristic aspect, which happens to be perfect for apocalyptic fiction. Between this and her beautifully rendered characters, “Ashes” stands apart from the other reads in its genre.
The post Young Adult Books For Adults: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick appeared first on DBRL Next.
It’s cold and dark outside, so warm up with a recommended book from LibraryReads! The January list is full of thrills and mystery, just the thing to get your blood pumping. Here are the top 10 books librarians love that hit the shelves next month.
“As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust” by Alan Bradley
“After the unexpected recovery of her mother’s body brings the de Luce’s family secrets to light, Flavia’s life is turned upside down. Now on her way to a Canadian boarding school, she must survive her first term – and more importantly, uncover the mystery of a corpse found in her dorm room chimney the night she arrives. A delightful installment in the series!” – Lizzie Gall, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI
“The Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion
“Don Tillman and Rosie are back again, and they’ve relocated to New York. Rosie is continuing her studies, while Don is teaching and even adding to his small circle of friends. But when Rosie announces that she is pregnant, Don is once again out of his depth. What follows are crazy situations that could only happen when Don is involved. Funny and heartwarming.” - Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
“The Magician’s Lie” by Greer Macallister
“Arden is a famous illusionist whose show involves sawing a man in half, but one night, she grabs an axe instead of a knife and her husband is found dead under the stage. Can Arden, an expert at deception, get away with murder – or is she really innocent? Recommended to anyone who likes historical fiction, strong women characters and surprisingly twisty plots.” - Paula Jones, Brockton Public Library, Brockton, MA
Here’s the rest of the January list with links to these on-order titles in our catalog for your hold-placing pleasure. Enjoy!
- “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
- “Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy” by Pierce Brown
- “The Dress Shop of Dreams” by Menna van Praag
- “The Bishop’s Wife” by Mette Ivie Harrison
- “Vanessa and Her Sister” by Priya Parmar
- “First Frost” by Sarah Addison Allen
- “Full Throttle” by Julie Ann Walker
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The January 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
For me, the mark of an especially good book is how firmly it grabs hold of me. It’s always a pleasure to stumble across a novel that captures my attention so tightly that it has me longing to get back to it during those moments I have to pause in my reading. Here are a few of my favorite thrilling finds from 2014 that I think other readers will also be captivated by:
- “Blood Work” by Michael Connelly. Readers may be familiar with Connelly’s two series featuring detective Harry Bosch and his half-brother, lawyer Mickey Haller. “Blood Work,” a novel set in the same “universe” as the books about Bosch and Haller, follows former FBI agent and recent heart recipient, Terry McCaleb. Upon learning that his heart donor may have been murdered, McCaleb becomes deeply troubled that his own life was saved at the cost of someone else’s. Despite doctor’s orders not to, he sets out to discover just what happened to his donor and soon finds himself in the web of an insidious killer. I could not put down this book and was unprepared for the story’s twist-filled conclusion.
- “Trouble in Mind” by Jeffery Deaver. I am a big fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes books, which follow a quadriplegic former NYPD detective who uses logic and science to find the solution to mind-boggling puzzles. This collection of short stories proves that Deaver can venture outside of the world of Rhymes and still produce a whopper of a tale. I enjoyed each of these short stories, but a few stood out for me. Rhymes makes two appearances in the book, including one that begins with the disturbing revelation that he has passed away – or has he? In another tale, a man returns to his hometown where he learns his long dead father was not what he seemed. The book concludes with a fantastic novella that follows a crime statistician who believes a series of deaths are not as random as they appear. Even readers who do not normally read short stories should consider this exciting collection of thrillers.
- “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks. This is probably my favorite read of the past year. Brooks’ fabulous novel begins with scholars examining the bits of materials found in between the pages of an illustrated Jewish manuscript called the Haggadah, in the hopes of determining the book’s history. Chapter by chapter the story unfolds in reverse, introducing the book’s previous owners and through this, revealing how the materials found their way into the book’s pages over the centuries. Although not a traditional mystery, this story unwinds in a way that will keep readers guessing as to the exact journey the Haggadah took through the centuries. I know readers will be as enthralled as I was by Brooks’ moving novel.
It’s hard to find a good subject for a book column in December. It’s not a good time for serious subjects. (Who has the time to concentrate at the height of a shopping season?) It’s too early for books about reinventing yourself (wait till January) or humor (better for April ). So, after contemplating my options, I decided to write about books that revolve around food. (We do eat a lot this time of the year .) These are not plain cookbooks, mind you, but books that describe places many of us would love to travel to and lives that have been marked by memories of food.
The first book I’d like to feature (also my personal favorite) is “The Language of Baklava” by Diana Abu-Jaber. It is a touching memoir of a girl coming of age in two worlds: the American world of her mother and the Jordanian world of her father. Growing up without a clear sense of belonging is very disorienting for Diana, but she is not the only one who feels disoriented. So does her immigrant father, who doesn’t seem to be able to decide where he – and his family – should live. He tries to hold on to his identity by cooking his native dishes, and for his daughter, that food becomes a trail she can follow down memory lane. With recipes for all occasions – festive and sorrowful – Abu-Jaber’s book is a joy to read and a joy to use in the kitchen.
“There is something to be done at this season,” begins Nina Mukerjee Furstenau in her book “Biting Through the Skin,” as she contemplates which holiday or festival she – a person born into a family of Bengali immigrants and a raised in the American Midwest – should celebrate. Like Diana Abu-Jaber, Furstenau struggles to define her identity and her culture and to bring order to her life. She solves her longing by cooking, and – later in her life – by embracing the faith and traditions of her ancestral country. Filled with the flavors and aromas of India and peppered with recipes, Furstenau’s book is a pure sensory pleasure, as well as an eloquent meditation on one person’s life.
Would you like to go to dinner with a New York Times food critic? If you said, “Yes,” then let me introduce “Garlic and Sapphires,” by Ruth Reichl. Reichl, a Los Angeles restaurant critic, takes a similar job at the New York Times. Now in New York, she finds herself in a position that can make or break a restaurant reputation, which means that many fashionable restaurants try to prepare for her visit. To make sure that she is not recognized, Reichl decides to wear disguises: wigs, fake jewelry, etc. This allows her to see restaurants through the eyes of their average customers. Unobserved, she witnesses the rudeness of the staff, notices different portion sizes (higher-status customers get bigger portions) and even different menus (unimportant customers are offered fewer dishes). Sincere and entertaining, Reichl’s book is an eye-opener on the world of New York restaurateurs.
No food column can be complete without mentioning French cuisine, and Ann Mah’s “Mastering the Art of French Eating” is just the book to show it off. Food writer Mah comes to France with her American diplomat husband, but she soon finds herself in Paris alone, for her husband is called to Iraq. To quell her loneliness, Mah travels around the country researching its iconic dishes like cassoulet, steak, andouillette sausage and crepes – ten in all. Mah talks to butchers, restaurant owners, chefs and other food aficionados, and she learns how the history of different regions of France is reflected in the evolution of their food. Liberally peppered with French expressions and recipes (I tried her steak recipe and it worked very well!), Mah’s book is a true ode to French food.
If you like spicing your food with stories, try “Secrets of the Tsil Café” by Thomas Fox Averill or “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown. And, if you want to add a little mystery to your plate, don’t forget about experienced literary chefs like Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke and Tamar Myers. Whatever your food preference, you can always find a taste of it at your public library. As they say in the restaurants, “We’re here to serve you!”