Book Buzz

Comedy Club: Memoirs by Female Comedians

Next Book Buzz - November 23, 2015

Book cover for Tina Fey's BossypantsLike many readers, I was charmed by Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” Though it’s already a cliché, I’ll admit that my favorite part of the memoir was “The Rules of Improvisation that Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat.” Sadly, I have not experienced a reduction in belly fat, but the falsity of that claim was disclosed in the footnote, so the period of jubilant hope was a short one. Fey exhorts us not only to say yes but also to say “Yes, and.” I know that I can always use a reminder to contribute, whether to an improv set, a project at the office or dinner plans.

On that note, yes, “Bossypants” was a delightful read, and here are a few other memoirs by female comedians that I found delightful as well.

Book cover for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy KalingI am never one to skip a “Mindy Project” episode or a book by Mindy Kaling. “Why Not Me?” is her latest, but I’ll admit to being fonder of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns),” which is a more straightforward memoir (with all the kookiness you’d expect). “Why Not Me?” overall feels less substantial, more joke than the kind of meaty substance I want in a memoir. But it’s a quick, fun read, and Mindy fans would be remiss in skipping it.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” isn’t for all readers. (Note that the book contains both explicit language and images.) But if you find Sarah Silverman’s provocative variety of funny . . . well, funny, then check out her memoir. Silverman allows readers a glimpse into her childhood, including (as you may have guessed) a propensity to wet the bed far beyond the typical bed-wetting years. She also talks about her struggle with depression during her teen years and her journey to becoming a comedian.

Book cover for Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect When You're a LiarTwitter sensation Kelly Oxford proves her writing skills extend past the 140-character limit in “Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar.” Be warned that this isn’t a book about Twitter — go there instead for one-liners. If you’re interested in her backstory and a more traditional narrative, you’ll enjoy her tales of the struggles of adolescence and the trials of parenthood.

Last but never least, no list about female comedians would be complete without the incorrigible Joan Rivers. This isn’t a memoir — or even a book — but I can’t recommend the funny and heartfelt documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” highly enough. Rivers’ swank New York City apartment has to be seen to be believed, but her tireless drive to work is the most remarkable reveal.

On My To-Read List:

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Categories: Book Buzz

Film Adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue

Next Book Buzz - November 18, 2015

Ragtag CinemaRoom by Emma Donoghue will be debuting the film adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue this Friday, November 20. This movie has been generating a lot of Oscar buzz, so now’s a good time to grab a copy from the library before film awards season begins in earnest.

“Room” is the story of five-year-old Jack who has lived his entire life in a tiny fortified garden shed with his kidnapped mother. I’m not gonna lie; it’s a tough read. It echos the gruesome experiences of real-life abduction victims Jaycee Lee Dugard and Amanda Berry.

However, since the story is told entirely from the child’s perspective, the reader focuses more on the relationship between Jack and his mother and less on their abuser, Old Nick. For some people, Jack’s voice presents an opportunity for some unique and creative storytelling. For others, though, having such a dark tale told from a child’s perspective is a deal-breaker, and they feel compelled to put the book down.

Since Donoghue also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, I’m hopeful that it will remain faithful the major themes of the book. Ultimately, this story is a testament to the bond shared between parent and child.

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Patrick deWitt (again)

Next Book Buzz - November 16, 2015

Book cover for Undermajordomo MinorKeen readers might notice this is the second time I’ve recommended Patrick deWitt’s work. Some will exclaim, “Sir, are there not a practically infinite number of worthy writers to recommend? Why recommend an author twice?” I will respond, “Indeed, there is a seemingly endless sea of writers deserving of my endorsement, but several factors conspire to cause a repeat recommendation of his work. I’m particularly enamored with Mr. deWitt’s writing. His newest novel was published subsequent to my previous recommendation and it is amazing. And while some quick and dubious math tells me I read upwards of 8,000 books a year, I cannot read everything, but I did recently read “Undermajordomo Minor.” Furthermore, as I saunter around town twirling my cane and mustache, my query of, ‘Have you yet mined the depths of Patrick deWitt’s talents?’ is nearly always met with either confusion, averted eyes or a non-sequiturial admonishment to ‘be careful with that cane, you nearly hit my baby.’ (I’ve said this countless times, but I will reiterate here: I never twirl my cane with anything less than utmost precision, and your baby could stand to toughen up.) Clearly, I have not been sufficiently persuasive. So until passersby respond to my deWitt-centric interrogations with a tip of their headgear and an enthusiastic, ‘Yes. And by the way, you are rather precise in the manner with which you twirl both your mustache and your cane,’ I must continue to espouse the virtues of Mr. deWitt’s work.”

So, to espouse, “Undermajordomo Minor” is a dryly hilarious novel containing brilliant sentences, memorable characters, an uncanny setting and a captivating plot. The word choices alone were enough for decorum to dictate that I employ my trusted chuckle hankie to mitigate the unseemly act of laughing. The novel’s other assets mandated that I draw my chuckle curtains.

This sort of fairy tale concerns a young man named Lucien (Lucy) Minor. Lucy isn’t sure what to make of his life, and so when that time comes, as it does in every young man’s life I assume, when a man draped in burlap asks, “What do you want from life?” Lucy responds, “Something to happen.” And so something does. The man in burlap seemingly transfers Lucy’s life-threatening illness to Lucy’s cruel father. Lucy secures work in a majordomo’s castle and buys a pipe. The pipe makes him cough. On the train ride to the castle seeds are planted for a relationship with a father and son pickpocket team. Lucy’s new pipe is pickpocketted. Once arriving at the castle grounds, Lucy finds himself in the midst of a very small war. A handful of men fire rifles at each other and ask for Lucy’s nonexistent valuables. Once he manages to secure entry to the castle, he is entreated to always lock his door at night. He is made aware of the “Very Large Hole.” Eventually, having disregarded his curfew, he comes across a ghastly sight in the castle halls — rarely does a scene manage to be so horrifying and hilarious. Also, he falls in love.

If this blog post and my street-side hectoring are not enough to convince you to read “Undermajordomo Minor,” then perhaps Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler’s unprecedented act of writing an amusing book review will convince you. I warn you, more informative and insightful though he may be, I doubt Handler capable of twirling a cane with even a modicum of the grace and majesty I employ.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Best Books of 2015: Early Bird Edition

Next Book Buzz - November 4, 2015

I know, I know. We just turned the calendar page to November, and bookish types are already making pronouncements about the best books of 2015. We can’t help it. As a book person and a list-maker, this time of year makes me positively giddy.

Before sharing some of the year’s best titles, we want to hear what you think was the best book of 2015. Specifically, what book did you read this past year that you think would make an excellent selection for next year’s One READ program? Our reading panel is looking for books that will appeal to adults of different ages and backgrounds and that have numerous topics for discussion. Pop on over to oneread.org, nominate a book, and then come on back to this list. I’ll wait.

Back? Okay. Here we go.

 A Surfing LifePublisher’s Weekly is one of the first out of the gate with its best books of 2015 list. The lyrical and important “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coats, previously reviewed here on the blog, tops their list. Other stand-outs (and their publishers’ descriptions):

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan
This memoir describes the author’s experiences as a lifelong surfer, from his early years in Honolulu through his culturally sophisticated pursuits of perfect waves in some of the world’s most exotic locales.

Book cover for Black Earth by Timothy SnyderBlack Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” by Timothy Snyder
It comforts us to believe that the Holocaust was a unique event. But, as Timothy Snyder shows, we have missed basic lessons of the history of the Holocaust, and some of our beliefs are frighteningly close to the ecological panic that Hitler expressed in the 1920s. As ideological and environmental challenges to the world order mount, our societies might be more vulnerable than we would like to think.

Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene’s travails, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor. The desperate circumstances that test the unshakable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham’s treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion.

Book cover for A little LifeA Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome — but that will define his life forever.

Happy list season!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Chilling Tales of Terror!

Next Book Buzz - October 30, 2015

Good evening.

Before we begin, I would like to set the mood with some music. Here is the first verse of a song called “Black Sabbath” by the band Black Sabbath from their album titled . . . “Black Sabbath“:

Zombie book display at the Columbia Public Library“What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me.
Turn around quick, and start to run.
Find out I’m the chosen one.
Oh no!”

Oh no, indeed.

This is a spooky time of year. It gets dark earlier, trees look like they’re dying, and people stand outside in the cold with crazed looks saying it’s “good football weather.” Then there’s that eerie orange hue to their eyes from starting the day with pumpkin lattes and ending it with pumpkin beers. Also, Halloween is coming!

Twilight Zone DVD cover artAs a kid, the scariest TV shows were “Tales From The Darkside” (just the opening credits are terrifying), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone.” Many of the episodes of those shows were based on short stories. I think there is something claustrophobic about short stories, which makes them such a good medium for tales of horror and suspense. You’re always expecting something to happen, something to be around the corner, because you know the end is near. So here are some collections of suspenseful stories and a short novel to make sure you spend this season properly terrified.

Charles Beaumont is credited with writing several classic “Twilight Zone” episodes. “The Howling Man,” “Miniature,” “Printer’s Devil” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” are a few of the episodes he gets credit for. “Perchance to Dream” is a collection of his short stories that play with the same variety of genres that appeared in “The Twilight Zone.” Vampires, magicians, monsters, aliens and more populate these well-crafted stories.

Book cover for Haunted Castles by Ray RussellHaunted Castles,” a collection of Ray Russel stories, contains the story “Sardonicus,” which Stephen King has called “perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written.” Do you need to know more than that? This book is also part of the Penguin Horror series, which is curated by director, writer and all around fan of horrors and monsters, Guillermo del Toro. Also, the book is titled “Haunted Castles” and contains creepy castles, monsters and grotesques.

The Haunting of Hill House” is another book in the Penguin Horror series by master of the Gothic, Shirley Jackson. The setup is classic: four people staying in an old house looking for proof it’s haunted. But this ain’t Scooby-Doo, and neither is it Amityville.  Something weirder – and deeply psychological – might be going on in Hill House.

One more from Penguin Horror is “Book cover for The Thing on the DoorstepThe Thing on The Doorstep,” a collection of a dozen tales spanning the career of H.P. Lovecraft. Besides skillfully creating a weird mythos combined with classic horror tropes, Lovecraft was a master of dread. You can feel it descend on you a little more page by page. This book contains one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, “At The Mountains of Madness.” If the story’s awesome title isn’t enough of a hook, it contains giant penguins.

Speaking of dread, how about some influenced by the works of Lovecraft, philosophical pessimism and existential nihilism? Sounds like a recipe for fun! Thomas Ligotti is a writer of experimental works of “cosmic horror.” “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” is a collection of his first two books of short stories. Relatively free of gore, these stories are meant to frighten readers on a deeper level.

McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories” is the second pulp-inspired collection from McSweeney’s and Michael Chabon. Although not all the stories strictly fall into the horror category, they are intended to keep you on the edge of your seat with contributions from Stephen King, David MitchellChina Miéville and Mike Mignola.

Happy Halloween!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The November 2015 List

Next Book Buzz - October 26, 2015

In November the nights get longer and colder, which makes this the perfect month to snuggle up with a good novel. The latest LibraryReads list – the top 10 books publishing in November that librarians across the country recommend – is heavy on the historical fiction but still includes a few thrills, mystery and even some fairy tales to keep you warm on cold nights. Happy reading!

Book cover for The Japanese LoverThe Japanese Lover” by Isabel Allende
“Irina is a young Moldavian immigrant with a troubled past. She works at an assisted living home where she meets Alma, a Holocaust survivor. Alma falls in love with Ichi, a young Japanese gardener, who survived Topaz, the Japanese internment camp. Despite man’s inhumanity to man, love, art and beauty can exist, as evidenced in their beautiful love story.” – Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

Book cover for The Improbability of LoveThe Improbability of Love” by Hannah Rothschild
“The engaging, totally unexpected story of Annie, a lonely young woman who wanders into a junk shop and buys a painting. The painting turns out to have a long and storied past, with powerful people searching high and low for it. Unpredictable and fascinating; I loved the peek into the cutthroat art world and watching Annie blossom as she discovers her true calling.” – Heather Bistyga, Anderson County Library, Anderson, SC

Book cover for Little VictoriesLittle Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living” by Jason Gay
“This was a quick, enjoyable read that offers a refreshing perspective on some of the trivialities we all find ourselves caught up in. I enjoyed the tone and humor throughout. A standout for me was Gay’s list of recommendations for his child’s future baseball team. His open letter to this imagined future team envisions a team that can just let kids be kids. My only disappointment with this book was that there wasn’t more of it – it seemed to end all too soon.” – Lindley Homol, Chesterfield County Public Library, Chesterfield, VA

Here is the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure – enjoy!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Staff Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Next Book Buzz - October 23, 2015

Book cover for An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United StatesI love reading about history, especially histories with unique perspectives! Traditional histories omit so much, and what we know has been carefully shaped by what schools usually teach and promote. The myths these texts create often overshadow the realities.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” is a book that dispels many of the myths surrounding indigenous people, such as the myth that the “New World” was sparsely populated at the time of first contact by Europeans or that their cultures were unsophisticated.  The indigenous populations were actually much denser than European societies at the time, and they were “supportable because the people had created a relatively disease-free paradise. There certainly were diseases and health problems, but the practice of herbal medicine and even surgery and dentistry, and most importantly both hygienic and ritual bathing, kept diseases at bay. “

We tend to ignore the centuries-long genocidal campaign of the indigenous peoples by US settlers even while we deliberate on genocides perpetrated by others. Here, the author shows that many famous authors, such as Walt Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, helped champion and advocate for drastic policies and helped shape the national narrative related to native populations. Even thinking of indigenous people as a monolithic culture is a myth, as there were hundreds of distinct nations.

I was particularly fascinated by this book because my own family has an oral history of Cherokee ancestors who tried to hide their heritage by claiming to be “Black Dutch.” They fled the Carolinas for Texas during Andrew Jackson’s campaign after the Civil War.  They hid so well in fact that part of our heritage is all but lost.

“An Indigenous Peoples’ History” is a very thought-provoking and well-documented book that connects Europeans’ first contact with native populations to modern conflicts of “settler colonialism” by, as the author puts it, “a thin red line.” She asks us to face the reality of the past, “…not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless indigenous peoples are erased.”

For other recent books that offer history with a unique perspective, you can try some of these titles.

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Categories: Book Buzz

NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Favorite Short Novels

Next Book Buzz - October 19, 2015

photo of the words story boardNovember will be year 17 of National Novel Writing Month. (I promise “NaNoWriMo” has a certain ring to it after you say it enough times!) Those who finish the challenge write rough drafts of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. Whether you’re NaNoWriMo-curious or a seasoned finisher, be sure to check the calendar for events at both the Columbia and the Callaway County Public Libraries, including starter sessions later this month and write-ins in November.

The thought of writers across the nation sharpening their pencils (okay, double-clicking on the shortcut for their word-processing program of choice) makes me want to read short novels. Here are a few I have loved.

Book cover for The Great GatsbyA longstanding high school assignment, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s  “The Great Gatsby,” deserves a read post-adolescence.  Forget Gatsby and Daisy — this tale of the excesses of the 1920s and the enduring truths of human nature owes its charm to the stunning narration of Midwestern outsider Nick Carraway.

Recounting the events of only a few days in the 1940s-era South, Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding” is a masterful portrait of the ignoble experiences of adolescence. At 12, Frankie’s only companions are Berenice, the maid, and John Henry, her 6-year-old cousin, but her brother’s upcoming nuptials bring a desperate agitation to an otherwise tedious summer.

Book cover for Play it as it LaysPublished in 1970, “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion is a quintessential Los Angeles novel. Separated from her husband and her institutionalized daughter, Maria Wyeth drives the freeways methodically and yet without hope of arriving anywhere or escaping the void that is her life. Maria’s journey is told in extremely short chapters, the white space on the page mirroring her emotional landscape.

Remember the first Mrs. Rochester in “Jane Eyre“? Jean Rhys reimagines her story in “Wide Sargasso Sea.” With language as lush as the Caribbean setting, Rhys gives a voice not only to Antoinette (Bertha’s birth name) but also to Mr. Rochester. This alternate literary history proffers the blossoming — and withering — romance that inevitably led to the tragedy at the Rochester mansion.

Book cover for Ask the DustIt seems appropriate to include an autobiographical novel about a young writer. Set against 1930s Los Angeles, John Fante’s “Ask the Dust” is the story of Arturo Bandini’s struggles to write, to find love and, frankly, to be able to afford enough to eat. (Charles Bukowski considered Fante his principal literary influence; his short introduction to “Ask the Dust” is not be skipped.)

What are your favorite short novels? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share a recommendation or two!

photo credit: PICT1441.JPG via photopin (license)

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Categories: Book Buzz
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