Whether you’re a fan of competitive crawdad eating and country music or parades and giant vehicles, the Fulton Street Fair has something to entertain you this weekend. And the Callaway County Public Library is just up the street from the carnival rides and vendor booths, so on Saturday you can take an air-conditioned break from the festivities during our open hours (9 am – 5 pm).
Our big bookmobile will be at the fair’s “Touch-a-Truck” event Saturday, June 22, 10 am – 1 pm at Memorial Park Field. Check out a DVD or a book and sign up for Summer Reading while you are there!
Want to know about other festivals happening this summer? Check out the library’s Events & Festivals subject guide for a comprehensive list of regional event calendars and links to popular annual fests.
Congratulations to Nancy J. of Columbia, the winner of our first Adult Summer Reading 2013 prize drawing. She is the recipient of a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.
If you have not registered for the library’s Adult Summer Reading program, you can still do so online or by visiting any of our locations. Once you sign up, you are automatically entered in the prize drawings. These weekly drawings will continue throughout the summer, so everyone keep your fingers crossed. Also, don’t forget to submit book reviews to increase your odds of winning.
A young woman private investigator (and former police officer) is hired by an ex-convict to find a teenage boy who had done him a favor. He gives the PI a check for $25,000 to deliver to the boy, and then disappears. Days later, his body is found washed up on a beach. The PI runs into obstacles, and her own life is placed in danger while trying to find the boy and the person or persons who murdered her client.
I liked this book because it is light and easy reading. Mystery novels are one of my favorite genres. This author’s descriptions of the PI and the other characters allow the reader to really feel as though you know them personally.
Three words that describe this book: suspenseful, humorous, surprising
You might want to pick this book up if: you are a person who enjoys light, clean detective mysteries with a touch of humor.
As a gentleman that recommends things, my priority is to recommend great stuff, but given the angle I’m working it does help when the stuffs’ creators are fine folks. Fortunately, there are enough great writers who qualify as gentlefolk to keep me from needing to recommend a pirate or Wall Street tycoon for some time. Perhaps one day, though, a thorough Googling won’t be enough to reveal the heart of a person and I’ll end up recommending a writer that spends his down time screaming at waiters and going to laundromats just to take wet clothes out of dryers or to add some bleach to washers from the canteen he carries around for just that twisted purpose. I’m certain today’s recommended writer is more likely to politely converse with a waiter as a means of sating his voracious thirst for writerly details than yell about the “misalignment of the restaurant’s chi” like *name redacted by legal counsel* is prone to doing. No, this is one author that isn’t going to go around pulling a *name as verb redacted by legal counsel* and slyly dropping candies into strollers with the intention of giving your children cavities. He is so humble he is humble about how humble he is. But kindness and expert chopstick etiquette aside, I wouldn’t be recommending David Mitchell if he wasn’t one of the best novelists in the known universe.
Others have described Mitchell’s brilliance better than I can, and while I could claim their words as my own I’m no *name redacted by legal counsel* and will give credit for their insights. Tied for my favorite novel ever, “Cloud Atlas” is, in the words of Dave Eggers, “one of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is — and should be — read by any student of contemporary literature.“ Another critic included these high-falutin words of praise in a review that was actually (and wrongly) not entirely positive: “let it be said that Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.“
While my jaw dropped the hardest at “Cloud Atlas,” David Mitchell always writes in magma. His first novel, “Ghostwritten,” is composed of nine interlocking tales and has something for everyone: chapters from the perspective of an art thief, a ghost, a terrorist, a sentient satellite and even a drummer. His second novel, “Number9Dream,” is another mind-bender and has little to do with that old pop band. After “Cloud Atlas” Mitchell wrote “Black Swan Green” an excellent (even absent post-apocalyptic goatherders) novel about a thirteen year old boy growing up in early 80s England. His most recent novel, “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” is the thrilling tale of an accountant, 18th century trade between the Dutch and Japanese and a monastery with secrets I’d regret spoiling.
Read David Mitchell: he tells huge, gripping stories packed with truths and with details that’ll tempt you to stop reading to savor the imagery if only you could manage to put the book down. He delivers them in shapes a reader may never have seen before and does so not just to flaunt his immense talent but because that is the way the story needs to be told. And he doesn’t go around demanding that his name be redacted from every document brave enough to reveal his vulgar behavior unlike that rascal *name redacted by legal council*.
This fourth novel in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series finds our hero waking in a hospital in Florence with a gunshot wound to the head and no memory of how he got there. As the doctors try to explain to him his injuries, an assassin bursts into the room and tries to kill him. Thus begins a non-stop journey through Italy that mirrors Dante’s famous epic “The Inferno” and leads Langdon on a quest to save the world…one way or another.
I enjoyed this book, but found myself feeling strangely empty as I reached the end. I absolutely loved “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code,” but while I liked this book, I didn’t feel a connection to it as I did with the previous novels. It has been many years since I’ve read Dante’s “Inferno,” and while knowing it well wasn’t integral to understanding the plot, this time I felt a little under-prepared to understand the parallels between Langdon’s journey and Dante’s. I also felt the ending really left us hanging – and not in a positive, “can’t wait for the sequel” way.
Three words that describe this book: engrossing, fascinating, highbrow
Editor’s note: This is the first patron-submitted review we’ve published as part of this year’s Summer Reading program. Sign up today and submit reviews of your own for chances to win book store gift certificates!
I love lists. I love reading them, making them and crossing things off of them. Apparently I am not alone, as every magazine and media outlet has published lists of recommended summer reading. We library folk also have plenty of suggestions, from this year’s 10 One Read finalists to our lists of groundbreaking works of fiction and nonfiction. Here are some other ideas for books to pack in your suitcase or relax with in your backyard hammock.
NPR asked independent booksellers for their favorite reads for the season, and the result is a quirky mix that includes funny and touching stories of middle- and advanced age (Elinor Lipman’s “The View from Penthouse B” and Jill McCorkle’s “Life After Life“), as well as some promising debuts, like the suspenseful historical fiction “The Other Typist” by Suzanne Rindell.
Salon.com looks for this year’s “Gone Girl” and provides a summer readng list that avoids run-of-the-mill thrillers and instead names novels that find “the sweet spot where literary quality mingles freely with crackerjack storytelling.” Try Joe Hill’s “NOS4A2,” or for some real-life thrills, pick up Mitchell Zuckoff’s nonfiction work “Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival, and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II.”
What books are in your beach bag?
I used to spend my days underground, working for a company that manufactured precision measuring instruments. To achieve a stable environment, they built their facilities inside a cave. The environment added an element of otherness to a routine office job. A storm could rage outside and we’d never know unless the power went out. I understand why an author might choose an underground setting to evoke the right atmosphere.
In keeping with the Summer Reading theme “Groundbreaking Reads,” here are six books with stories taking place underground:
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Published in 1952, this National Book Award winner features an unnamed African American narrator who tells his story from a secret basement home in New York. As the story moves from his upbringing in the rural south to his life as an activist in the north and his eventual disappearance underground, it delves into issues of race relations and economic disparities.
“Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters
This volume of free verse poetry tells the story of a fictional Midwestern town through the voices of the late citizens in its cemetery. From their graves, they relate the hopes, secrets and heartbreaks that comprised their lives.
“The Great Stink” by Clare Clark
A work of historical fiction, Clark’s tale takes place in the London sewers of 1855. Traumatized war veteran William May takes on the job of redesigning said sewer system and ends up witness to a murder, for which he becomes the chief suspect.
“Wool” by Hugh Howey
In a future where the earth’s environment has become unlivable, a community survives in an underground silo. Going outside is forbidden. One day the rule is broken. Intrigue ensues.
“The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin
The second book in the “Earthsea” fantasy series can stand on its own. Arha has been raised to be the high priestess of the tombs, and she knows the passages better than almost anyone. When the wizard Sparrowhawk breaks in to steal a treasure, Arha must decide whether to help him find his way back out.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
Missouri native Twain wrote one of the best-known underground scenes in American literature. Even folks who have never opened the book know about Tom and Becky lost in the labyrinthine cave tunnels in this classic adventure that appeals to all ages.
You don’t have to wait for Antiques Roadshow to come to town to get real market-based information about your antiques, artwork and family treasures. The library recently added the p4A Antiques Reference database (p = price, 4 = for, A = antiques) and is making it available free of charge through the library’s website for DBRL cardholders in our two-county service area.
The p4A Antiques Reference database is focused on the American regional marketplace but also includes the top scale New York art and antiques markets. This means you have a better opportunity to find the types of material seen locally and regionally at auction and retail outlets. These antiques are organized into 1,280 different categories including furniture, glass, pottery and porcelain, paintings, prints, clocks, toys, dolls, advertising collectibles, books, autographs, lamps, silver, firearms and historical documents. Each record includes information on when and where the item was sold as well as the price realized. Better yet, there are pictures of each item in the database!
So, if you have some treasures in the attic or basement, picked up an unusual item at an estate sale or have ever asked “What is this and what it is worth?” you need to check out this database. Let us know how you like it!
My grandfather, who passed away in 2009, was attached to an infantry unit that served in a support role during the Second World War. He was a combat engineer who would have taken part in the Normandy Invasion (and most likely on the deadliest beach of them all–Omaha Beach) if a leg infection had not taken him off the front lines and left him in England for six weeks in June and July of 1944. In his bunk near Dover, as he lay in bed sweating from fever, he could literally hear the advance shelling from allied warships permeating the night-time air in the days leading up to the invasion. The following goes without saying: if he had actually been part of the land invasion, I would have had about a 50/50 chance of being here. Combat engineers died in droves on Omaha Beach, the casualty rate well over 40%.
The 69th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasions will occur on June 6, 2013. Most veterans of the Second World War have now passed away, and with so few living survivors, what memories remain fill a large number of well-tended archives and war museums, are shown in feature length and documentary films and belong to descendants of the veterans. Dozens of books have also been written about the invasions.
DBRL has many of the most recent and popular titles about the Normandy Invasions, otherwise known as Operation Overlord or D-Day. The most recent is titled “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies,” written by Ben Macintyre and published in late 2012. The book recounts the extraordinary workings of a group of six men and women, double agents ostensibly part of the German secret intelligence service–the Abwehr–who were in fact working for the British intelligence unit M-16. These men and women were not the usual button-down, black suited spies. Of varied ethnic and international backgrounds, not one was a native German, although all of them spoke (and wrote) the language fluently. Macintyre points out throughout the book that because of the web of deceit these spies wove, the actual location of the Normandy landings was a complete mystery to the Abwehr, the Werhmacht and Adolf Hitler himself.
The same year that my grandfather passed away, 2009, “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy” was released. Written by Antony Beevor, who has authored several best sellers about the Second World War (including, arguably, the best book about the Eastern Front ever written: “Stalingrad”), “The Battle for Normandy” is a thorough, and often thrilling, chronological recounting of the invasion that includes maps, photographs and a timeline that ends with the invasion of Paris. The book also recounts in detail many of the less well-known and messy operations that occurred directly after the invasion, including Operation Goodwind and Operation Cobra.
The coffee-table book “D-Day: The Greatest Invasion: A People’s History,” published in 2003, includes documents, maps and rare color photographs taken during the summer of 1944. A readable piece of social history, what is most unique about this book is that it includes many personal accounts and photographs of regular English, American and French soldiers. The book also includes many photographs of the buildings, houses and landscapes taken by officers during the invasion, comparing them with contemporary photographs (if the buildings were left standing).
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Invasions, the Imperial War Museum in Great Britain released a book in 2004 entitled “D-Day, 6.6.44.” With additional personal accounts from soldiers and a discussion of the planning and execution of the invasions. The book accompanied the BBC film “D-Day.” “D-Day, 6.6.44″ is a nice introductory book if one is looking for a broad overview of the history of the invasion. It includes several insightful chapters about the French resistance, which in tandem with the spies involved in Operation Double-Cross offered vital military intelligence to the allies.
DBRL has an exceptional collection of Second World War books. Please come see us and check out the fantastic titles listed above (and many more) if you are looking for a history of the conflict that led to the making of the modern world.
Don’t you hate the doldrums? That awful time of year between the NFL draft and preseason games. Sure, there are other sports to watch. Baseball is heating up with the All-Star break approaching, the NBA and NHL will crown a champion soon and the US Open is right around the corner. But there’s nothing quite like a good NFL game. Sadly, September is a long way off.
Fear not, football fans! There are plenty of great books out there to keep you entertained and get you ready for the 2013 NFL season.
“Warpaths: The Illustrated History of the Kansas City Chiefs” by Alan Hoskins
Expectations are high for every team months away from the opening game. The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs’ expectations might be a little higher than most. Take an illustrated stroll through Kansas City’s football history.
“On Every Play, Eleven Men Believed: The Story of How the St. Louis Rams Rose from the Cellar to the Super Bowl“
Remember the 1999 St. Louis Rams? Follow their path to the championship through a collection of articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read about Marshall Faulk’s first year in St. Louis, Kurt Warner’s MVP, “The Tackle” and other great stories of the legendary “Greatest Show on Turf.”
“That First Season” by John Eisenberg
Experience the beginning of a dynasty. Eisenberg tells us about Vince Lombardi’s first season in Green Bay and how he took the Packers from obscurity to dominance.
“Take Your Eye Off The Ball” by Pat Kirwan
We live in a golden age of watching football. We have an analyst or expert to break down every play on both sides of the ball. Pat Kirwan shows how to look past the pretty lights and flashes and focus on the real greatness of the game.
“The Games that Changed the Game” by Ron Jaworski
From Bill Wash’s West Coast Offense to the Zone Blitzes of the Steelers, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski uses seven unique games to highlight major transformations in the modern NFL playbook.
You like to read. You like to win free stuff. With Summer Reading, you can do both! Groundbreaking Reads invites you to dig into some big and new ideas through books and programs, now through August 3. Registration is open, and participating is easy. Here’s how:
- Sign up online or in person at any of our libraries and on the bookmobile. As a summer reader you’ll be entered into weekly drawings for Barnes & Noble gift cards.
- Read! Browse our fiction and nonfiction lists for inspiration. This year our patrons shared titles they found personally groundbreaking. Or simply dive into that pile of books waiting on your night stand.
- Attend related programs. You can learn about literal groundbreaking with a gardening program, find out how to turn a groundbreaking idea into a business, unearth your family’s history or go underground to explore Missouri’s caves.
- Submit book reviews. With each review, we’ll enter your name into a weekly gift card drawing; the more reviews you submit, the better your chance of winning! We’ll feature the best of the reviews we receive here on DBRL Next.
Get ready for our annual Adult Summer Reading program! Starting May 31 your library invites you to dig in to groundbreaking books and ideas of all kinds. Sign up here at DBRL Next, share your book reviews to be entered into weekly drawings for book store gift certificates and join us for a range of inspiring programs. Who knows what new interests you might uncover?
Unearthing the Mysteries of Mars
Tuesday, June 11 › 7-8:15 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
Mars has the same day-length and axial tilt as Earth, an atmosphere with clouds, ice caps at both poles and what look like continents in a planetary ocean. Val Germann of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association will tell us why Mars remains the planet in our solar system most likely to be fostering some form of life. He’ll also discuss what the Mars rovers have revealed about the dangers to our own atmosphere here on Earth.
- Thursday, June 13 › 7-8:30 p.m.
Southern Boone County Public Library, Meeting Room (To sign up call 573-657-7378)
- Saturday, June 29 › 9:30-11 a.m.
Callaway County Public Library (No registration required)
Amanda Lake of the Genealogical Society of Central Missouri will show you how to use the “Find a Grave” website to do genealogy research, beginning with the free sign-up process and demonstrating searches by name and cemetery. She will explain how to become a photo volunteer and how to put together a virtual family cemetery. Registration begins Thursday, May 30.
Growing Edible Herb Gardens
Monday, June 17 › 6:30-8 p.m.
Callaway County Public Library, Friends Room
Christine Breakfield, a community health educator with the Callaway County Health Department, will show you how to grow potted herbs and use them to create flavorful dishes. You’ll pot your own herbs to take home. Adults. Registration begins Monday, June 3. Call 573-642-7261 to sign up.
Learn how to unearth the history of your house and neighborhood. Are there any fascinating stories buried in the past? Architectural historian and historic preservation consultant Deb Sheals will tell us what records to look for to date historic houses and identify their early owners and occupants and where to find records online and locally.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day due to the practice of decorating veterans’ graves with flowers and flags and has roots in our nation’s extreme grief following the Civil War. Beginning in 1866, May 30 of each year was designated as Memorial Day, but this was later amended so that the holiday always falls on the last Monday in May. Local communities are marking this holiday by honoring soldiers in various ways, from performances and parades to services in local cemeteries.
The 2013 Salute to Veterans weekend is one of the largest local celebrations, providing an airshow May 25 and 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Columbia Regional Airport. The annual Salute To Veterans Parade begins at 9:55 a.m. on May 27 on Broadway in downtown Columbia.
All library buildings are closed this Memorial Day (and Sunday, May 26), but there are plenty of resources you can access online 24 hours a day.
- Learn about the history of Memorial Day in American History Online.
- Research your family history, including relatives who served in the military, using resources listed in our Genealogy subject guide.
- Find out about other area celebrations in our Events & Festivals subject guide.
- Browse books about the Civil War in Missouri, and place holds on those titles you would like to pick up when the library reopens.
Microsoft has announced (again) that its support for the Windows XP operating system will end in April of 2014. Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest and greatest, lends a very new look to your PC or laptop. It functions differently than previous versions of Windows, with a “start screen” appearing on start-up instead of your desktop. This screen displays tiles representing different applications and providing dynamic information instead of static icons, and that familiar start button is nowhere to be found. Also, a lot of Windows 8′s functionality is made for touch screens, with the ability to swipe across the display to see other applications or functions, to reveal hidden icons, etc.
If you are thinking about upgrading to Windows 8, or you already have Windows 8 and want to learn more about how it works, the library has some great options for learning the ins and outs of this new operating system.
If you learn best through an actual course, Universal Class has recently added a course on Windows 8. This learning tool is accessible through the library’s website, is free with your library card, and offers more than 500 online continuing education courses taught by real instructors with remote, 24/7 access. The Windows 8 course, which you’ll find under the computer training category, features an in-depth tour of the operating system and how-to instructions so you can learn to navigate the seemingly complicated interface, locate the files and folders you need and more.
Of course, we also have books!
- The popular Teach Yourself Visually series of computer books has a simple-to-follow Windows 8 guide.
- If you are a fan of the For Dummies books, we have several of those as well.
- “But I have a tablet!” you protest. Not to worry. “Windows 8 for Tablets” has you covered.
Love (or hate) Windows 8? Let our readers know what helped you become more comfortable with the new interface in the comments.
The 2013 One Read book is “The Ruins of Us” by local author Keija Parssinen! Each year as part of this community-wide reading program, the public helps choose a single book that we then invite everyone to read. Pick up your copy today, and join us in September to explore the novel’s themes through discussions, art, film, presentations and more. Sign up to let the library know you are reading “The Ruins of Us,” and you will be entered into a drawing for a free autographed copy of the book.
To learn more about this gripping and well-crafted novel, visit www.oneread.org.
Hey, y’all! Spring has FINALLY arrived, and this is the perfect time of year for a Mid-Missouri day trip. Get out your light jacket and some good walking shoes and head to one of these outdoor destinations not far from our own backyard!
Foremost Dairy Center
Located just 6.5 miles west of Columbia off old Highway 40 is the University of Missouri’s research and teaching dairy farm. You can arrange for a tour of the facility, which includes plenty of hands-on fun. You might see a baby calf, and you just might get to help milk its mama! You’ll also get to learn how the milk goes from the cows to the bottle factory to your dinner table. Visiting a working dairy farm is a great adventure for young and old alike. To arrange a tour, visit their website.
Dairy Farm Lake No. 1
Located next to the Foremost Dairy Center is Dairy Farm Lake No. 1, owned and maintained by the University of Missouri. Take the family (or escape by yourself!) for a day of fishing, canoeing or bird watching. The lake is 15 acres and has boat access. Don’t forget to purchase a fishing license if you are going to fish. You can buy a permit online through the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website. The MDC also has a handy online tool for finding other public fishing areas in Missouri.
Warm Springs Ranch
How about heading just farther west and visiting those beautiful ponies before they become the full-grown Clydesdales you see at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis? Yes, these horses – over 100 of them – are born and trained right here in our own backyard. You can schedule a tour through the Warm Springs Ranch website or call them at 1-888-WS-CLYDE. (Note: there is a fee for touring the ranch.)
Get outdoors while the weather is nice. Then, if you are feeling inspired to learn and explore some more, check out our Travel subject guide, or come to the library and get some good books on dairy farms, fishing or horses. We also have Missouri travel guidebooks aplenty, so get day-trippin’!
My daughter and I learned how to bike in the summer of 1984. She was 7 and I was 32, so I learned first, and then I spent another month pushing her bike and catching her (and her bike) when she lost her balance. My quick biking progress made me sure of my athletic abilities, and despite the fact that I didn’t do any biking between that summer and the time I moved to Columbia in the summer of 1991, I began my new American life by buying a used bike and riding along the MKT trail.
I did a lot of walking, too: for one thing, I never drove a car in my hometown Moscow, Russia, so passing a driver’s exam with very little driving practice – and my broken English – was extremely difficult. Well, it would have been difficult had I actually attempted to listen to my examiner. Instead, I somehow persuaded him that it was not my English that mattered, but my driving ability, so if he just showed me which way to turn, I would be fine. Amazingly, he did just that, and I passed my driver exam on the first try (little did he know that even today I have problems distinguishing right from left ).
In any case, between biking and walking I got myself in pretty good shape, and I even began passing some people on the trail. I did so well that when I began dating my American husband-to-be, the very first time we biked together, I quickly left him behind in the dust. Not for long, mind you, just for five minutes or so. Still, those five minutes impressed him so much that he quickly decided to marry me, and we soon found ourselves biking together along Katy Trail.
I was already working at the library then, so I had a library copy of Brett Dufur’s “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook,” and, for a while, we spent every weekend biking a different stretch of the trail – from Rocheport to Weldon Spring. This boosted my self-esteem even more, so when one summer we drove to Colorado, I talked my husband into taking our bikes with us and doing some mountain biking there. “How hard can that be?” I said to my husband when he raised objections. Well, I was right. It wasn’t hard. It was absolutely terrifying! Because during those three minutes I spent bouncing on rough mountain terrain before plunging to what could’ve been my imminent death, I felt like I was riding a wild mustang! (Not that I ever rode one, mind you, but it must be very similar, I’m sure of it!)
Anyway, after my mountain fiasco, we decided to stick to the Katy trail, especially to the part described in another of Brett Dufur’s books – “Exploring Missouri Wine Country.”
From Marthasville to Defiance, the Katy Trail runs very close to several Missouri wineries (not to mention Rocheport and Hermann!), so one can bike along the trail and stop for wine tasting, too .
Of course, wine tasting is not the main reason for bicycling. Many people choose to do it to get around town and even go to work – including some of my colleagues. In fact, during the time I’ve lived in Columbia, bicycling has been gaining popularity, and from what I hear, this has been happening in other U.S. towns, too, not to mention abroad. Have you ever been to Amsterdam? There more bikes there than cars, and when you cross the road, you must watch for bikes more attentively than for cars!
Going back to Columbia, the city’s 12th annual Bike, Walk and Wheel Week is upon us. So, let us join its challenge in becoming more active, less sedentary and more philosophical. After all,
“Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
~ Albert Einstein
Welcome to the first installment of THE GENTLEMAN RECOMMENDS. This series is intended to get people (especially gentlemen) excited about the books/authors/eating-contests I’m excited about. I’m an ideal person to represent and recommend things to gentlemen and I’ll prove it: in the last hour alone I’ve: 1) removed my trousers and draped them over a puddle so that a particularly well-coiffed golden retriever could avoid soiling her paws, 2) not sneezed into anyone’s face and 3) responded with the gentlemanly phrase “No, thank you” when asked to please put some pants on. Credentials established.
I can think of no better inaugural recommendation than pizza, but, after that, I think George Saunders is pretty spiffy. Not only is he a Great Writer, but reading everything about the fellow I could find convinced me he’s one of this world’s premier gentlemen. Mr. Saunders’ short stories have been sending readers raving since 1996 with the publication of “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” but this year the adoration has skyrocketed, beginning in January with a lengthy profile published in some magazine claiming that Saunders has written the best book you’ll read this year and culminating in May with a much briefer, if more prestigious, post from what may very well be the greatest blog in the world.
Readers love George Saunders because he slakes our thirst for stories in which sword-wielding tortilla chips decapitate the elderly or the corpse of a previously chaste aunt reanimates and advises her nephew that he should be showing more skin at his stripper-waiter job because that’s how you make the big bucks. But he isn’t loved just because he’s a master of stories that make curmudgeons’ eyes roll when they hear a terribly reductive description of them. He does what great writers do: write with huge-hearted empathy and humor about toe-less barbers or theme park exhibits or dystopian-reality-show contestants or tortilla chips, and he does so in voices that describe their perspectives perfectly.
If you’re more in the mood for nonfiction, Saunders writes essays that will make you chuckle and maybe improve your person. His collection, The Braindead Megaphone, is hard to put down and full of beautifully rendered wisdom like the lines that close the profile linked above and which I will reprint here because they should be reprinted everywhere:
“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”
So, after you read some George Saunders and try some pizza, I hope you’ll join the pants-loving cashier at my local gas store in attesting: I’m the perfect gentleman to recommend stuff, and, also, I smell nice.
“The Time Machine“ by H. G. Wells is a classic example of speculative fiction and has led some sci-fi fans to call Wells the father of steampunk. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this fast-growing science fiction sub-genre, it is, in short, Victorian alternative history. (Books in this genre also typically contain a lot of clockwork, goggles, airships and advanced technologies based on outdated power sources.) I’d say a scientist who builds a coal-powered bronze machine to fling himself from the 19th century to the year 802,701 A.D. is pretty alternative! This steampunk precursor is a great first step if you are thinking about exploring the genre; it’s short, but it reveals the potential of books written in this vein.
“The Time Machine“ centers around a genius on a quest for answers about the future of mankind. He is a man possessed by his desire to be a legend in his own time, to boldly go where no man has dared to go before, but he winds up experiencing much more than he bargained for.
H. G. Wells is a great plot writer. Every chapter holds something new to develop the characters further and to thrust the reader deeper into the tale of earth’s possible future. From the eerily calm story of the Eloi people to the lurking dangers of the unseen and hungry under-worlders, the Morlocks, Wells’ tale will keep you fascinated with the sickening possibilities of where humanity may be headed.
I highly recommend the album “This Delicate Thing We’ve Made” by Darren Hayes as background music for your journey. You may know Hayes from his pop career in the ’90s as front man for Savage Garden. In this album, Hayes explores the time machine as a concept to tell the story of his jaded past, using divine lyrics and super-sonic tones.
Mother’s Day is nearly here! Flowers and breakfast in bed are nice, but for the ladies in your life who would rather escape with a good read, I have some recommendations. The mother-child relationship provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploring topics like gratitude, trust, love, the ways we communicate (or don’t) and what it means to be a family. Some of these books are funny and irreverent. Others are thoughtful and heartfelt. Some are both. Whatever her taste, I think you’ll find something on this list a mom would be grateful to receive.
“The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
Yes, the fact that this book centers around a mom who is dying of pancreatic cancer makes it a tricky gift book. However, the main themes that shine through are ultimately uplifting. Books allowed Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Ann, to talk about difficult issues, big questions and draw closer to one another. The loving portrait Schwalbe paints of his extraordinary mother shows the importance of a well-read life and the ability of books to make us more empathetic people, willing to do good work in the world.
“Everyone is Beautiful” by Katherine Center
Center’s books have a reputation for being populated by characters that feel real, women and circumstances you recognize from your own life. Lanie, a mother of three small boys, moves with her family across the country so her husband can attend graduate school. She begins to feel a bit lost in her own life and launches a campaign to find who she is besides someone’s wife and someone’s mother. Center’s sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, but always spot-on descriptions of managing the chaos that comes with parenting small children will have moms nodding in recognition.
“Instant Mom” by Nia Vardalos
Vardalos, of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame, suffered through years of fertility treatments before she and her husband adopted a preschooler from the foster care system. Funny and surprisingly informative, the book includes an appendix of questions and answers about adoption.
“Then Again” by Diane Keaton
Confession: I love the movie “Annie Hall,” particularly because of Diane Keaton’s portrayal of the title character. I found her seeking, goofy, naive and insecure self so likable. In Keaton’s memoir “Then Again,” the story of her rise from an everyday girl to a famous actress is coupled with an exploration of her defining relationship with her mother and how their shared and separate dreams influenced their experiences. What emerges is a thoughtful meditation on how the family we come from shapes our relationships with our own children.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple
This offbeat work of fiction centers around teenage Bee, daughter of Microsoft genius Elgin Branch and architect Bernadette Fox. Bernadette is notorious, volatile, troubled, agoraphobic and suddenly missing. The precocious Bee begins an investigation that takes her to the ends of the earth to find her mother. A witty and completely unique mother-daughter romp.
What books do you think are best bets for mom? Let us know in the comments!