Fun Fact: The Daniel Boone Regional Library owns all five titles in Heather Brewer’s “Chronicles of Vladimir Tod” and our patrons have borrowed these books over 2,000 times in the last five years! Mark your calendar now for this best-selling author’s visit to the Columbia Public Library on Wednesday, October 16 at 7 p.m.
If you haven’t had a chance to read all about Vlad’s hilarious story as a coming-of-age vampire, there’s no time like the present to catch up. You can borrow a print copy from the library, listen to the audiobook or download the eBook to your tablet or smartphone.
Originally published at Author Heather Brewer Visits October 16.
The circle of recommending: the recommended becomes the recommender, which is what I call a teacher. And Adam Levin had a great recommender in the form of my first recommendation: George Saunders. But it turns out his student had some INSTRUCTIONS of his own to give! (You’ll get it in a minute, and if you’re enjoying a beverage while you read this, I suggest you check the trajectory of your nostrils and line anything in their path with absorbent materials.) While Saunders has been gently sprinkling his brilliance on readers in the form of short stories and essays, Adam Levin chose to drop a semi truck full of anvils from a crashing zeppelin. What I mean, I’m sure you gather, is that he wrote a huge novel. It’s a thousand plus pages of first person narration by a ten-year-old genius whose penchant for fighting for justice (with his fists) has gotten him kicked out of multiple schools and kicked into a special program for unruly children. Like most children, Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee believes it’s likely he’s the messiah, but unlike most children he combines this with a spectacular ability to inflict pain and spin sentences. He has total knowledge of the Torah and, in an unheard-of turn, is inspired by religion to go on something of a crusade. The document he’s created and that we’re reading, ”The Instructions,” is his scripture. I’ll move to a new paragraph to give you time to gather up your newly saturated nostril-fluid blockers.
The scripture begins with an experiment between friends in which they go to the brink of drowning each other in an effort to gauge their reactions as the possibility of dying looms. It ends four scant days later with a hostage crisis, a phone call from Phillip Roth and a mysterious happening that I wouldn’t spoil even if you parted the sea to get it out of me. Along the way this brilliant little scamp of a narrator will make you chuckle, convert you to Judaism and teach you how to make a gun that shoots pennies.
If you’re not into huge novels, or still haven’t finished the last huge novel I recommended, Mr. Levin offers you the short story collection “Hot Pink.” There’s humor, there’s weirdness, there are vomiting dolls, there are walls that just won’t stop oozing no matter what you do and there are even stories where things don’t excrete stuff.
“The Instructions” is a masterpiece, and “Hot Pink” is excellent, which is all that really matters when I get to the business of recommending. But maybe after you get enamored with these books you’ll do some Googling and come to the conclusion that Mr. Levin isn’t a gentleman. He curses like your angry parrot does after your foulmouthed nephews bird-sat it for a week. He gets interviewed by porn stars that your nephews Googled while they weren’t occupied by expanding your parrot’s vocabulary. I’m of the infallible opinion, even as a fellow given to simply exhaling a frustrated ”Hot mustard!” after stubbing my toe, that these facts don’t prohibit his gentlemanhood. I think it’s best to remember that famous scripture, from the book of Steven, I think: “let she who hasn’t been the least little bit rascally fire the first volley of ammunition from her penny gun.”
This year we had over 300 area young adults participate in the library’s annual Teen Summer Reading Challenge. As part of this program, teens were asked to read for 20 hours, complete seven library-related activities, and submit three book reviews. The library collected 315 individual book reviews from teen summer readers! Below is a list of those titles that received that most rave reviews.
- “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
- “Divergent” by Veronica Roth
- “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- “Hidden” by Helen Frost
- “The Mark of Athena” by Rick Riordan
- “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins
- “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick
- “I Am Number 4” by Pittacus Lore
Originally published at Summer Reading’s Most Popular Teen Titles.
Agatha Christie is nothing short of inspirational. Not only did she write over 60 novels during her lifetime, she also wrote several short stories and stage plays, all while being a woman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (divorced and widowed, I might add). Although she penned a few romance novels under a pseudonym, Christie is most well known for her murder mystery novels.
You’ve probably had a run-in with what is arguably her most popular novel, “And Then There Were None.” If you haven’t, I highly recommend DBRL’s audio drama available for download through OverDrive. It’ll leave your skin crawling, but in a good way. It’s the classic “whodunit” and elimination parlor room mystery that Christie is famous for mastering!
You also may have run across two of her more famous detectives: Miss Marple, the not-so-incompetent old woman who put away many a dastardly devil, or Hercule Poirot, the Belgian whose moustache strikes fear in the hearts of villains everywhere! There have been many television and radio adaptations of both these characters. Poirot is even featured in a couple of video games, and yes, before you ask, I have played one, beat it, and loved it.
Agatha Christie is so beloved and famous that she appeared in an episode of “Doctor Who” where she, Donna and the Doctor solve their own whodunit thriller!
In celebration of the upcoming anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth (September 15, 1890), here are more of her mysteries for your enjoyment, all available from your library:
- “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (Christie’s first novel, which features Hercule Poirot)
- “The Thirteen Problems” (a collection of short stories that introduce Miss Marple)
- “N or M? A Tommy and Tuppence Mystery“
- “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?“
- “They Came to Baghdad“
- “Murder is Easy“
I will use any excuse to write about (or eat) food. So, when I discovered that not only is September national rice month and national mushroom month, but that today is also James Beard award-winning chef Mario Batali’s birthday, well, I just had to bring it to your attention. Sounds like a good excuse for whipping up a pot of creamy risotto, yes?
The library has a number of Batali’s cookbooks. One of my favorites is the relatively slim and fairly impractical “Holiday Food.” These are not get-it-on-the-table-in-30-minutes dinners but are instead let-me-show-you-how-much-I-love-you-by-making-you-a-Mythic-Pasta-Dome menus. (Batali also appears on the cover in those ridiculous but endearing orange clogs of his, which always make me smile.) If you need recipes more conducive to weeknight cooking, check out “Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking at Home.”
Of course, nothing says Italian cooking like pasta. If you want a book that is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to cook from, “The Geometry of Pasta,” published by the aptly named Quirk Books, is for you. Or perhaps you don’t want to cook pasta but want to read about other people cooking pasta. (I suggest cooking pasta and then eating that pasta while reading about pasta.) “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is a lighthearted memoir about the food that sustained New Yorker Giulia Melucci through several failed relationships. I also recommend “On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta,” cooking teacher and travel writer Jen Lin-Liu’s attempt to discover who actually invented our beloved noodles.
There are Italian cookbooks galore on the library shelves, so join me in celebrating Mario, rice, mushrooms and more. Buon appetito!
The popularity of book clubs and community-wide reading programs, such as One Read, reinforces Nicholson’s assertion. People like to know someone else is out there, thinking about the same things they are. In honor of the slate of One Read events coming up next month, I go meta and present four books about book clubs:
“The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
A friend once asked me what I would do if I knew this was my last day to live. Without hesitation, I answered, “Read faster.” Will Schwalbe’s mom was of the same mind-set. This is the non-fiction account of the two-person book club he and his mother formed in the final months of her life, as he sat with her through chemo treatments. Both avid readers, they’d always bonded through literature. Their tastes were wide-ranging, and each chapter is titled after a book they discussed.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler
Six acquaintances meet to discuss Austen’s novels, even as their own lives play out similarly to the plots they discuss. The club organizer, Jocelyn, is a figure much like Jane Austen’s “Emma.” She delights in organizing and planning the lives of others. Since Fowler’s story is set in 21st-century California, there are also modern elements, including divorce.
“The Cherry Cola Book Club” by Ashton Lee
I’m automatically in favor of any book where a librarian is the hero. Maura Beth Mayhew runs the public library in the fictional town of Cherico, Mississippi. She starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an effort to increase circulation numbers and save the library from city council members who see it as an expendable luxury.
“Read and Buried” by Erika Chase
Things are going well for the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straw Society, until their guest author is murdered. It turns out Derek Alton was not only a mystery author but also a mysterious character with dark secrets. Now the book club members have their own whodunit to solve.
We read about book clubs to know that we are not alone in our desire to discuss what we’ve read.
I’m a fan of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer ” like small children are fans of candy. I credit Buffy with getting me hooked on the Horror-Fantasy genre. As for many Buffy devotees, my favorite character in the series is Spike, played by the handsome James Marsters. When I learned that Marsters was involved with Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, a series that revolves around a modern day wizard in Chicago, I jumped on these books like Harry Potter jumps to conclusions before he has all the facts.
Marsters is the reader for most of the audiobook versions of The Dresden Files, and he is the perfect narrator to play Harry Dresden, a private eye solving all manner of supernatural crimes and battling a variety of fantastical creatures. Marsters’ voice is gruff, sarcastic and appropriately self-deprecating to allow for humor without humiliation. Harry is down-to-earth and a well-rounded character.
Newcomers to this series should be aware of one major pitfall, however, which I personally find very distracting: its women. It seems that most of the women are sexualized, vapid or motherly. The only woman that comes close to being strong and independent is Murphy, but she is described as a tiny cheerleader. This successfully undermines the reader’s ability to take her seriously. This wouldn’t bother me so much if there weren’t also tons of male characters that are tough, complex and miles more capable of handling situations than the women. In the three books that I read, only a third of the characters are women, and of those women, nearly half of them are highly sexualized.
Complaints about female characters aside, Jim Butcher is a master of plot. He obeys the writing rule that states when you drive your character up a tree, throw stones at him. The reader actually doesn’t know what will happen next or how Dresden will get out of the current jam, but when he does, the method is not only surprising but also delightfully well thought out. Butcher is a talented writer, and if you’re looking for a fantasy adventure noir-inspired novel, then the Dresden Files are for you! Start with the first in the series, “Storm Front.”
If there’s one thing hilarious jokes have taught me, it’s that chickens will use any number of ridiculous excuses to cross a road. The second thing they’ve taught me is that lawyers are dangerous cads always on the lookout for ways to further their self-interest and stick gum under your door handles. Occasionally books contradict some previously held wisdom, like that clowns aren’t ancient monsters in disguise or that a child can’t survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet. Sergio de la Pava’s ”A Naked Singularity“ managed the immense task of convincing me that not all jokes are absolute unbendable truths, that some lawyers might be not only good people that don’t constantly walk into bars but also in fact downright heroic, and that there is only one right way to make empanadas.
Sergio de la Pava is, in addition to being a writer that wins awards and is worthy of the sort of praise that leaves vocal chords frayed and blogging fingers exhausted, a lawyer, and not the sort to dispose of his gum improperly. His narrator, Casi, is a brilliant and devoted public defender. He takes an out-of-state case pro bono so that he can save a man with the mind of a child from death row. He loves his family, including a young niece that refuses to speak and a young nephew constantly peppering him with typical childish questions like, “What happens to the homeless when they die?” He’s the sort of gentleman who insists on committing a heist with swords instead of guns. He’s an expert on the history of boxing and manages to make it interesting even to a gentleman like me who prefers to settle disagreements with handshakes and dove races.
When people write about “A Naked Singularity,” they, in addition to praising the tar out of it, tell of its journey from repeatedly rejected manuscript to self-published anonymity to something a few people are praising the tar out of to being published by a prestigious publisher, but, given space constraints, I’m not even going to mention that.
A gentleman is generous, so I understand there may be those that get to caterwauling about the recommendation of a writer with only one novel. First, in just a couple of months the library will have his second novel, “Personae.” Won’t you join me on the waiting list? Two, this isn’t your regular “one novel.” It’s nearly 700 dense and hilarious pages. There’s some legal thriller stuff, some straight up thriller stuff, and there’s a neighbor immersing himself in constant “The Honeymooners” reruns in an experiment he hopes will turn one of its characters into a real person. Perhaps my favorite chapter, Chapter 10, manages to weave a series of digressions around a clockwork that tumbles them back into each other until by the end you finally find out what happened with the angry monkey.
This is the sort of novel that dominates you while you read it and doesn’t disappear when you’re done. This is a novel readers will talk about until society crumbles and books are nothing but what the more hygienic mutants use for toilet paper. This is a Great American Novel.