When I was in school, history was not my favorite subject, but Sarah Vowell has convinced me I didn’t give it a fair chance. Vowell’s chatty books about American history relate the stories of our country in a way that brings alive the figures involved and paints a vivid picture of the times in which they lived, with the bonus of showing how past events still affect our lives today.
“Unfamiliar Fishes,” a volume about Hawaii, opens with these words: “Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch? Because the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor with the first boatload of New England missionaries bound for Hawaii in 1819.” Vowell makes a pretty good case for giving Hawaii the ‘Most Multicultural State’ award. As she explains how this came to be, she examines the effects of 19th century missionaries plus vacationing sailors on the island culture. It wasn’t all roses and butter, we discover. The story of Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, makes for compelling – if heartbreaking – reading.
In “The Wordy Shipmates” Vowell shows us the Puritans as interesting, complex human beings with more layers than the earth’s core. Much of the narrative centers on John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, along with his best frenemy, Roger Williams. The ins and outs of their friendship proves junior high drama predates the existence of junior high and can present itself in the cloak of religious disputes. After Winthrop banished him from Massachusetts, Williams founded Rhode Island. He was soon joined there by the remarkable and also exiled upstart, Anne Hutchinson, who had convinced her husband to pack up their 15 children and follow the clergyman John Cotton across the ocean to the colonies.
Speaking of travel, what’s a dedicated historian’s dream vacation? Visiting landmarks associated with assassinations, of course. “Assassination Vacation” is a road trip book like no other, focusing on sites important in the lives and mostly the deaths of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Vowell speaks not only of the facts of the events, but explores how legends surrounding these political murders have been used to shape and sometimes exploit culture and politics. Also, a fascinating bit of trivia about Robert Todd Lincoln.
The future of history includes Vowell’s forthcoming book, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” due out in October. I can’t wait to find out everything I don’t know about the French general who played such a large role in the American Revolution.
The kids are back in school, and the September LibraryReads list is here! Time to brew a cup of tea and enjoy a freshly published book. Here are the books hitting shelves next month that librarians across the country recommend, including the latest from the hilarious, refreshingly honest, irreverent, library-loving Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” has gone immediately on to my personal holds list. Add a few of these forthcoming titles to your list, and enjoy!
“The Art of Crash Landing” by Melissa DeCarlo
“At once tragic and hilarious, this book is a roller coaster of a read. You’ll find yourself rooting for the snarky and impulsive but ultimately lovable Mattie. At the heart of this tale is a beautifully unraveled mystery that has led Mattie to her current circumstances, ultimately bringing her to her first real home.” – Patricia Kline-Millard, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH
“Make Me” by Lee Child
“Jack Reacher is back. Jack gets off a train at an isolated town. Soon, he is learning much more about the town, and its residents are learning not to mess around with Jack Reacher. Readers new to this series will find this book a good starting point, and fans will be pleased to see Jack again.” – Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA
“House of Thieves” by Charles Belfoure
“Belfoure’s intriguing novel is set in Gilded Age New York City. John Cross, head of the family, finds an unexpected talent for planning robberies, while his wife and children also discover their inner criminals. The historical details and setting evoke old New York. I enjoyed every minute of their escapades.” – Barbara Clark-Greene, Groton Public Library, Groton, CT
And here is the rest of this list with links to the catalog for your holds-placing pleasure.
- “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff
- “Did You Ever Have A Family” by Bill Clegg
- “The Gates of Evangeline” by Hester Young
- “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
- “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” by Jonathan Evison
- “Girl Waits With Gun” by Amy Stewart
- “The Scribe” by Matthew Guinn
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The September 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
While making for the nearest suitable reading cubby, I hold my chosen novel aloft as a means of recommending it without the need for electricity or wires (though, to be fair, I often employ a complicated series of large wires and pulleys to ease the burden of its weight upon my musculature and indeed have been researching the possibility of adding an electric motor to my contraption). This month’s recommendation did cause me some consternation, though. Fine book though it is, “A Cure for Suicide” is a title apt to raise eyebrows among those that don’t wish to see you dead. I bypassed this conundrum by merely regularly exclaiming, “Fear not for my well-being – this is a novel. I do not intend to curtail my glorious traversal through this magnificent existence!” My calls, in addition to allaying concerns and dispelling confusion as to why such a distinguished gentleman might consider cutting short his glorious traversals, earned me wide, respectful berths, providing me expedited arrival to the nearest cozy chair or nest of pillows and wigs (wigs are soft) that I’ve secreted around town so that I might recline comfortably with my reading material.
Onlookers’ dismay aside, reading Jesse Ball’s newest novel was a pleasure. Not only was it a fancy book, indicated clearly by the significant amount of blank space between most of the paragraphs, but it was also good. And that blank space wasn’t just indicative of fanciness and the author’s and publisher’s contempt for trees but was actually a useful style choice that emphasized the elegiac tone of the work and its fable-like qualities. And, as time passes, this novel continues to provide fodder for my mind monkeys to vigorously pull their various levers and add coal to their various furnaces. (Editor’s note: this book made the gentleman think.)
The premise is: a man, known initially only as the “claimant,” awakens with no memories. His “examiner” is at his side. Her task: to teach him the names of objects, how to interact with people and generally how to exist. We watch the claimant improve and regress and some twisty psychological drama enters the stage: there are injections, creepily idyllic villages and villagers, the claimant goes to sleep in one house and village and wakes up in a different house and village, etc. There is a great deal of discussion about the “whys” of things, sure to please the philosophy buffs that, as I understand it, make up much of our modern civilization. Then we come to perhaps the novel’s best section, the one that explains why our claimant is here, why he was driven to spoiler alert seek a cure for suicide. This relatively lengthy chapter foregoes the lovely blank space that dominates the rest of the novel, the better with which to gently bludgeon you with heartbreak. Later we return to the previous format and tone and are left with a doozy of a closing section and a complex query that might have the reader lingering in their nest of pillows and wigs, contemplating several facets of existence while they conceal the title from onlookers (as the reader is too deep in thought to be capable of calling out an explanation for the title of the work they hold, and so must hide it to ensure no one is concerned for their well-being).
How does it work?
- Sixteen young adult book clubs from libraries nationwide are responsible for narrowing down a list of nominees for teens to consider. (Does your book club want to get involved? Learn how.)
- Based on the recommendations of these teen book clubs, the list of this year’s 24 nominees was announced in April during National Library Week.
- Throughout the summer months, teens are encouraged to read as many of these titles as humanly possible.
- Readers ages 12-18 are invited to vote online through October 17.
- After Teen Read Week, October 18-24, the 10 most popular titles will be announced as the official 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten” list. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog updates to have this and other teen book news delivered to your email inbox!
Originally published at Voting Begins for 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten”.