Book Buzz

Ask the Author: An Interview With Trudy Lewis

Next Book Buzz - January 21, 2015

Book cover for The Empire Rolls by Trudy LewisTrudy 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?

Trudy Lewis - by Jon K via Photopin httpswww.flickr.comphotosjonu2353448078151TL: 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!

photo credit: JonU235 via photopin cc

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Daniel Kehlmann

Next Book Buzz - January 19, 2015

Book cover for F by Daniel KehlmannDuring 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.

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Categories: Book Buzz

It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s

Next Book Buzz - January 12, 2015

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.

  • Book cover for Hey American Your Roots Are ShowingHey, 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.
  •  Everything You Ever Wanted to KnowLondon: 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!

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Categories: Book Buzz

2015: A Banner Year for Books

Next Book Buzz - January 9, 2015

Book cover for God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonBook cover for The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroBest 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 IshiguroNick 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.

What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Fitter, Happier, More Productive

Next Book Buzz - January 5, 2015

Book cover for Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick OffermanBook cover for Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-ShapiroAnother 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.

Book cover for Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. JacobsDrop 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.

Book cover for Helping Me Help Myself by Beth LisickHelping 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.

Book cover for The Will to Whatevs by Eugene MirmanThe 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.

Book cover for How to Sharpen Pencils by David ReesHow 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.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Kill the Messenger

Next Book Buzz - December 31, 2014

Book cover for Dark Alliance by Gary WebbI 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.

Book cover for Cocaine Politics by Jonathan MarshallWe 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.”

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Categories: Book Buzz

Young Adult Books For Adults: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Next Book Buzz - December 29, 2014

book cover for Ashes by Ilsa J. BickAlex 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.

Thankfully, “Ashes” is the first in a trilogy, and all three books are available. So, once you’ve finished “Ashes,” make sure to check out the second book, “Shadows,” and the third, “Monsters.”

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The January 2015 List

Next Book Buzz - December 22, 2014

Library Reads LogoIt’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.

Book cover for As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs 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

Book cover for The Rosie Effect by Graeme SimsionThe 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

Book cover for The Magician's LieThe 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!

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Categories: Book Buzz

A Few Thrilling Recommendations

Next Book Buzz - December 19, 2014

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:

 

  • Book cover for Blood Work by Michael ConnellyBlood 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.
  • Book cover for Trouble in Mind by Jeffery DeaverTrouble 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.
  • Book cover for People of the Book by Geraldine BrooksPeople 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.

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Categories: Book Buzz

For the Love of Food

Next Book Buzz - December 17, 2014

Book covers for The Language of Baklava, Garlic and Sapphires, and Mastering the Art of French EatingIt’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.

Book cover for Biting Through the Skin“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!”

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Michel Faber

Next Book Buzz - December 15, 2014

Book cover for The Book of Strange New Things by Michel FaberThe best way to read a book is to read it without knowing anything about it. But of course there’s only so much time to read, so it’s nice that there are gentlemen out there recommending awesome books. A gentleman doesn’t review a book, he merely recommends it and maybe adds some details about the book so his posts aren’t just absurd rambles or thinly veiled political rants or pointless introductions. But the book review industry is, in large part, in the business of summarizing works and spoiling as much fun as possible. And the book review industry is an unstoppable behemoth that eats books and poops cash and then doubles back to grab some of the cash. Yes, I’ve got a finger or two clasping at the beast’s tail. How else would I be able to afford the tremendous amount of pancakes a gentleman requires to start and end his day?

I’m going to tell you some stuff about a great book, but really you should just close this page, then open and close it several more times, electronically mail the link to all your friends (encourage them to open and close it several times), regular mail it to all your enemies, post the link on your social medias, shave the URL into your hair and read “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber. Really, one of the most satisfying things about this novel is the way details and plot are slowly released. If you prefer blog posts to novels or you like to know more about a book before you read it or you’re my mom, then keep reading. Might as well grab a snack. The gentleman recommends pancakes.

Michel Faber wrote this book, about a man and wife separated by immense distance, while his wife was dying of cancer. Pretty intense. Here’s a nice article if you want more details about Mr. Faber and the creation of his book.

The Book of Strange New Things” begins with a husband and wife on the way to an airport. The husband will be whisked away for a substantial time, and though both parties see it as a necessary (glorious even) whisking, they are terribly sad to be separated. Then, matter of factly, we learn the man is going away because he’s to do some missionary work on a distant planet. Peter gets into one of those moist bed things that helps science fiction characters sleep whenever they must travel incredible distances. Bea goes home to their cat and their church. Peter arrives on Oasis (named by a contest held by the corporation that owns it) to minister to the aliens. Turns out he’s the third pastor they’ve had.

Since I didn’t read a bunch of reviews I had no idea whether the aliens were friendly or disturbingly hungry or basically just a bunch of pasta that some corporate bigwig thought it would be funny to have a pastor talk at. I also didn’t know what happened back on earth while Peter was ministering to the Jesus-loving aliens (whose faces resemble something like a walnut crossed with a couple of fetuses). I also didn’t know how Peter would acclimate to his new planet while natural disasters and human cruelty made a devastating mess of life on earth. The book is haunting and sad, but not hopeless. Kinda like eating a pancake without an absurd amount of toppings, except much more fun to consume.

I never wanted the book to end, but great things must. Also, as much as I’d like to mention pancakes again, this post must end. Have a great day, Mom!

The post The Gentleman Recommends: Michel Faber appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

What to Read While You Wait for Gray Mountain

Next Book Buzz - December 12, 2014

Book cover for Gray Mountain by John GrishamOne extremely popular title on the New York Times best seller list this fall is the legal thriller “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham. Like in all great thrillers, there is a hero pitted against a villain. Grisham’s hero is Samantha Kofer, third year associate with the prestigious Lehman Brothers law firm in New York until the financial crisis of 2008 upends her life and transplants her to the Appalachian coal country of Brandy, Virginia. There she works as an intern for the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic. While defending the citizens of the county and meeting the handsome litigator, Donovan Gary, she stumbles onto deadly secrets surrounding Big Coal mining!

This highly sought after title has created a rather lengthy waiting list at the library. So, if you are currently on this list, you might like to try these titles! (Publisher’s descriptions included)

Raylan” by Elmore Leonard
When Federal Marshall Raylan Givens squares off against a known offender, he will warn the man, “If I have to pull my gun I’ll shoot to kill.” Except this time he finds the offender naked in a bathtub, doped up and missing his kidneys. Raylan knows there’s big money in body parts, but by the time he finds out who is making the cuts, he is lying naked in a bathtub himself, Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys. It turns out all the bad guys Raylan is after are girls this time.

Book cover for Stand Up That MountainStand Up that Mountain” by Jay Erskine Leutze
This is the true story of an outdoorsman living alone in Western North Carolina who teams up with his neighbors and environmental lawyers to save a treasured mountain peak from the mining company. One day the author got a call from a young woman, Ashley, and her Aunt Ollie. Ashley and Ollie said they had evidence that Clark Stone Company was violating the Mining Act of 1971 up on Belview Mountain, one of the most remote and wildest places in the eastern United States. They wanted Jay, a non-practicing attorney, to sue the company to put a stop to their mining operation. This is an underdog David vs. Goliath story with lots of good guys you love, and bad guys you love to hate. Not only did the case against the Clark Stone Company set groundbreaking legal precedent, but also the good guys won a complete victory. How they did it is chronicled in this book.

Book cover for The Perfect Witness by Iris JohansenThe Perfect Witness” by Iris Johansen
She had the perfect life. She had the perfect cover. She was the perfect witness, until they found her. From the blockbuster bestselling author of the Eve Duncan novels comes a new, stand-alone thriller about a woman with a photographic memory who has lived her life in the Witness Protection Program. What she once saw put her entire family in jeopardy and now, years later, her cover is blown. She’s on the run, and the lives of those she holds dear hang in the balance.

The post What to Read While You Wait for Gray Mountain appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: Starring “Ulysses” as “The Most Dangerous Book”

Next Book Buzz - December 10, 2014

Book cover for The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin BirminghamThe Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses” by Kevin Birmingham tells the story of how one of the great novels of the 20th century almost didn’t come to be. Birmingham provides a look at Joyce’s life and work in the larger social context of the early 1900s. Though the contents of “Ulysses” would hardly cause an eye to bat in the present day, during the time the Irish author was writing the book censorship was thriving in the United States and Europe. In the U.S., the Comstock Act prohibited the circulation of obscene materials through the mail. Only a small handful of men were charged with defining obscenity, and their definitions tended to be broad.  In addition, “Ulysses” was challenged under the Sedition Act, with the accusation that it promoted anarchy.

Book cover for Ulysses by James JoycePortions of “Ulysses” first appeared in a Chicago-based literary magazine, The Little Review. The periodical was publishing the book in installments, right up until the editors were arrested for doing so. Fortunately for literature, Joyce had many supporters who were determined to make his novel available to the world. Ezra Pound, who called Joyce “probably the most significant prose writer of my generation,” coordinated efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Your Classics Maven admits that “Ulysses” can be a difficult work of literature. But she urges interested parties not to shy away from the book without at least trying. She herself has enjoyed it in the way you might enjoy being around an eccentric relative you don’t always understand, yet who supplies enough golden moments to make the occasional confusion worthwhile.

Everyone who reads fiction should know why “Ulysses” is considered important. Birmingham says the book “changed people’s ideas about what a novel is and what it can do.”  The title is taken from the main character in Homer’s ancient Greek classic “The Odyssey,” and different sections of the story mirror bits of that epic. But instead of taking place over a period of decades, all of the action happens in one day. This was a new idea at the time, although it’s a familiar framing device today. Also new was Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness narration, reflecting the way people actually think, instead of tidy summations. Some passages aren’t intended to be understood so much as experienced; the Sirens’ song from Homer is represented by a string of words chosen for sound rather than meaning.

Even if you only read about Joyce’s “Ulysses” instead of working your way through its text, you’ll see its influence in other novels. Some contemporary authors dispense with quotations marks. Joyce has been there, done that.  David Mitchell experiments with structure in a Joycean way. Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” changes format several times as scenes shift, which we completely accept because Joyce first showed it could be done. So even if you haven’t read “Ulysses,” by reading contemporary fiction, you’ve read “Ulysses.”

The post Classics for Everyone: Starring “Ulysses” as “The Most Dangerous Book” appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Best Teen Books of 2014

Teen Book Buzz - December 9, 2014

Best Books of 2014If I Stay” by Gayle Forman. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell. These were the heavy hitters on this year’s New York Times’ “Young Adult Best Seller List.”

Whether you’re looking to purchase a holiday gift for that special bookworm in your life, or you’re looking to get lost in the pages of a good book over the winter break, here are some “best of” lists of recommended young adult titles.

The Young Adult Library Services Association produces several lists each year which encompass books from a wide assortment of genres:

Be sure to check out these lists created by the publishing industry’s most renowned book reviewers, many of whom are librarians:

With 2015 fast approaching, stay ahead of upcoming trends by subscribing to the library’s YA email newsletter. This monthly publication features reviews on the the most popular new releases in young adult fiction. Best of all, this newsletter is delivered straight to your inbox.

It’s also a good idea to monitor Good Reads’  lists of the “Most Exciting Upcoming YA Books” and “Upcoming YA Novels of 2015.” With your library card, you can reserve many upcoming titles before they are even published! Be sure to check out our online catalog, or give us a call at (800) 324-4806  to check on a book’s availability.

Originally published at Best Teen Books of 2014.

Categories: Book Buzz
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