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As a young adult, I sometimes feel like a fraud — a kid just playing pretend at being a grownup. I think most people have feelings like this occasionally, but the unnamed narrator in Gillian Flynn’s latest is a fraud and has made a living at it her entire life. Growing up poor, she and her mother would beg on the streets, and they had an intricate system: they knew who to ask, how to ask, when to embellish and which specific embellishment to use on a particular mark.
As “The Grownup” opens, the narrator makes ends meet by a rather unsavory profession, which she simply calls working in “customer service.” When she gets the chance to work as (read: pretend to be) a psychic, she jumps on it, knowing that her ability to manipulate people would make for easy money. She takes on Susan as a client, a housewife with a rocky relationship with her seemingly evil stepson and a house that appears haunted. Is the narrator finally in over her head? One thing is certain: something malicious exists, but where it originates and what can be done to stop it will keep you guessing.
This book, clocking in at 64 pages, is an incredibly short yet satisfying read. It was originally published as part of a collection of short stories — “Rogues,” edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Flynn acknowledges Martin at the end of the book, thanking him for asking her to write him a story, but this reader would like to thank Flynn for providing us with this intriguing little tale.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Last year I broke my foot and had to have surgery. That meant recovery time, which actually meant reading time. During the week following my surgery, between bouts of nausea and fatigue, I read the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I also exclusively drank Harney & Sons Green Tea with Coconut Blend. Now anytime I drink that coconut green tea, the scent bombards me with reminders of magic, time travel, alchemy and romance.
While my magical fantasy + coconut green tea pairing happened organically, it inspired me to think up some other tea and book pairings.
Classics like “Jane Eyre,” an enduring romance centered around a strong, non-traditional heroine, or Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in which a fisherman battles with a marlin, need a classic tea, no? I suggest an English Breakfast tea (decaf, if you’re reading past your bedtime).
If you’re interested in books with a more elaborate storyline, perhaps “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield is for you. A famous reclusive author commissions a biographer, and both women must confront family secrets. Or try “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson. This story follows the progeny of the few survivors from Earth who have lived in space for five thousand years, and now they must return to the drastically changed planet. Whichever book you choose, pair it with the complex and sophisticated Earl Grey to make a great duo.
Maybe you’ve managed to get your hands on a copy of “Alexander Hamilton,” the biography by Ron Chernow on which the Tony-winning musical, Hamilton, is based. Or perhaps you’re perusing “Hamilton, the Revolution,” the complete libretto itself, including photos and cast interviews. You’ll want something a little more patriotic, a little less sophisticated (like young and scrappy Hamilton himself): freshly brewed iced tea — sweetened if you’re more of a Southerner like Thomas Jefferson.
Perhaps some fun and easygoing books are more your cup of tea (ha!). “Not Working” follows the life of Claire, who spontaneously quits her job and loses all semblance of a routine. With her new free time she is forced down a path of self discovery. Emma Straub’s newest, “Modern Lovers,” is about a close bunch of college friends who have grown up and have college-aged children of their own. When their children start having relationships with each other, the parents’ lives begin to unravel. Both of these recently published books are sure to leave you happy and content, and what could go better with a fun story than a refreshing cup of fruity tea? Wild berry would pair excellently with either literary pick.
When the summer began, I had all sorts of plans. One of my plans was to add variety to my reading by reading more fiction. Yes, you read that right — more fiction. This was sparked by a conversation with my husband.
Husband: Why don’t you read something for fun for a change?
Me: I am reading something fun!
Husband: But all you read is nonfiction.
Yes, that’s me. I like nonfiction. This summer was going to be different, but here it is, time for school to start up again. Those lazy days of summer have led to me reading mostly… nonfiction. In my defense, there are a lot of really good nonfiction books that have been published this year! I won’t mention all of them, but I will tell you about three that I really loved.
“Lab Girl” by Jahren Hope
“Because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.” Jahren is a botanist who is passionate about her field. She weaves the insights she discovers in the lab and in the field seamlessly with her personal day-to-day life. “Lab Girl” is one of those odd books that is part science book, part memoir, with a bit of philosophy thrown in, and it reads more like poetry at times. “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”
“Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger
This is another memoir-ish book combined with journalism and science. At only 192 pages, Junger has written a very concise book about post-traumatic stress disorder in our society, including the Native American population and returning war veterans, as well as our society as a whole. “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.” I really connected with the longing for community that this book invokes.
“The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Once again, this is a memoir mixed with science, or maybe it’s science mixed with memoir. (I think I’m sensing a pattern here.) Mukherjee traces the history of the gene from Aristotle, Mendel and Darwin, on through the German and American eugenics programs, to Watson and Crick and modern gene therapy. This is a very personal odyssey for Mukherjee because of mental illness that runs in his family. He delves into the factual science of genes and our understanding of them and examines the ethics of genetic manipulation. This is a very moving account of a very complex topic, and at times it borders on the poetic: “History repeats itself, in part because the genome repeats itself. And the genome repeats itself, in part because history does. The impulses, ambitions, fantasies, and desires that drive human history are, at least in part, encoded in the human genome. And human history has, in turn, selected genomes that carry these impulses, ambitions, fantasies, and desires. This self-fulfilling circle of logic is responsible for some of the most magnificent and evocative qualities in our species, but also some of the most reprehensible. It is far too much to ask ourselves to escape the orbit of this logic, but recognizing its inherent circularity, and being skeptical of its overreach, might protect the week from the will of the strong, and the ‘mutant’ from being annihilated by the ‘normal’.”
I will keep trying to add more fiction to my reading list, but when there is nonfiction this interesting, how can I resist?
Noah Hawley is a great example of a writer who does not need this gentleman’s boost. In addition to the thousands of projects he has in the works (including a television adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle“), Hawley is the showrunner of “Fargo,” one of my favorite television shows ever. He’s also a novelist, because apparently brilliant, hard-working people get to experience all manner of professional satisfaction. (Join me, won’t you, in declaring it’s high time some of this good fortune is distributed to all the frequently recumbent and mostly slovenly gentlemen out there just trying to peaceably make their way through the world’s bakeries without having their various flasks constantly confiscated.)
“Before the Fall” is Hawley’s latest novel, and anyone who has experienced the rich tapestry of detailed characterization, deft and often hilarious dialogue, and rapid-fire plotting of “Fargo” will not be surprised to learn that is a delightful piece of entertainment. It tells the tale of a plane crash and the lives it ended or, in the case of two passengers, the lives it upended. The crash and the surviving passengers’ harrowing journey to safety occur in the first several pages, then the novel gives us a mix of flashbacks (fleshing out the characters and the possible reasons for the plane crash) and post-crash scenes largely concerned with one of the surviving passengers and government efforts to determine why the plane crashed. In reading the dead’s stories, the reader will learn some theories about the how the plane crashed (with one seeming particularly likely).
Among the dead are the owner of a fictional news network, a bodyguard, a guy that makes lots of money by doing things to money (including laundering money for terrorists), some spouses, a child, two pilots and a flight attendant. This is how the rich travel. (Join me, won’t you, in declaring it’s high time some of this luxurious travel, minus the crashing part, is shared with those of us who generally get around by balancing on our only functional rolling skate and tossing a grappling hook at passing automobiles or bikes pedaled by people whose strength is readily apparent.)
One of the survivors, a 47-year-old painter who was just finally beginning to experience a taste of potential success before the crash, is judged a hero by most, but a villain by some, including a host of a right-wing “news” show. The reader may join the blowhard host in finding it curious that the painter has recently produced a series of paintings of disasters, the descriptions of which indicate that Hawley may also be a gifted painter, which would be another of his gifts that I do not envy.
“Before the Fall” is a mystery, a satire and an outstanding read. It doesn’t need the sales surge that a gentleman’s recommendation inevitably causes, but it merits it. You have my blessing to continue thriving and producing things that thoroughly entertain me, Mr. Hawley.
There once was a time that I scoffed at romance books, and I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead reading one. “They’re not literary,” I would say, high on my horse. Maybe my mind started to change when I read the genre-defying “Outlander,” or maybe I matured a little and realized I was being judgmental. I just know that at some point I found myself checking out “The Duchess War” by Courtney Milan, complete with a young woman in a poofy ball gown on the cover. And, guys? I loved it! The book was smart, well-written, had great dialogue and believable development of the romantic relationship — basically all the things I like in any book. And it’s not alone; there are a ton of great romances out there! In honor of August being Read-a-Romance Month, here’s a short list of books to help ease you into the waters of romance novels.
“A Knight in Shining Armor” by Jude Deveraux
A distraught, modern woman, abandoned by her lover, suddenly meets a real knight, complete with clanking armor, in a cemetery. Also, according to the gravestone next to her, he died in 1564. This classic romance, by the legendary Jude Deveraux, includes time travel, grand adventure and, of course, excellent romance.
“For My Lady’s Heart” by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance with a complex heroine and dashing English knight (I promise not all romance novels feature knights . . .). Dialogue is written in Middle English and it has an intricate plot. “For My Lady’s Heart” has been compared, by some readers, to literary giants George R.R. Martin and Tolkien in terms of its world building.
“The Grand Sophy” by Georgette Heyer
Many romance readers consider this book to be one of the best Regency romances by one of the greatest Regency authors. Sophy is the independent heroine of this story, which is lighter on the romance scenes. “The Grand Sophy” is sure to appeal to fans of Jane Austen.
“The Iron Duke” by Meljean Brook
Zombies, airships, kraken, pirates — oh, and romance, too. This steampunk romance follows Rhys, who finds a dead body dumped from an airship at his front door. He and Detective Mina Wentworth uncover a conspiracy that threatens the whole of England. This adventurous, fast-paced and very steamy novel is great for those readers who want to get lost in another world.
“Natural Born Charmer” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
The story starts with Blue (our heroine) walking on the side of the road in a beaver costume. Hunky quarterback, Dean, spots her and pulls his car over. What comes next is a hilarious and sweet romance. This book is great for rom-com lovers.
“The Secret History of the Pink Carnation” by Lauren Willig
This one has a story within a story. Eloise is working on her dissertation on English spies (the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian) and learns of the Pink Carnation: a spy who nearly single-handedly saved England from Napoleon. The story of the Pink Carnation is full of adventure and sensual romance.
If none of these titles tickle your fancy, check out the full Romance for Newbies list in our catalog.
If you’re reading this in English, thank Geoffrey Chaucer. His “Canterbury Tales”, published in 1400, was the first book of poetry written in English, rather than Latin or Italian. By using the common language, he made literature accessible to the common person. Having opened the way for everyone from William Shakespeare to Janet Evanovich, Chaucer can rightly be called the father of English literature.
The poems in his book relate the stories shared by travelers in a group heading from London to Canterbury. The members of the group come from disparate backgrounds, and their tales run the gamut from bawdy comedy to sober religious parables. Pieced together, they provide a picture of life in Medieval England. The larger story, about the trip itself, serves as a frame for this picture.
Though this story-within-a-story framing wasn’t new with Chaucer, his use of it influenced later writers. “Canterbury Tales” is well worth reading, but the Middle English requires some effort. If you want a Chaucer-like read without as many trips to the footnotes, I can recommend a few titles with layered narratives.
- “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood is about two sisters, one of whom is an author and has died a mysterious death. Her novella, which might provide clues to her demise, is contained within the pages of the larger story. Within the inner novel, readers will find another complete short story – “The Blind Assassin.”
- “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, contains six stories set in different time periods, past and future. The first half of the book provides the beginning of each story, while the second half gives their conclusions, in reverse order. So the sixth story is sandwiched between the pages of the fifth, which is nested within the fourth, etc. All of the narratives connect – the diary of one character falls into the hands of a character in a different story, who writes about it in letters to a friend who ends up with his own tale.
- “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd merits its own category as a novel started by one author (Dowd) and, after her death, completed by another (Ness.) 13-year-old Connor lives with his mother, who has cancer. He has been abandoned by his father and is a target of bullies. A monster appears in his dreams and tells him three fables in return for hearing Connor’s own story.
Chaucer understood that each language is worthy of a cultural heritage, even though it takes all languages to make up the world of human communication. All of these authors help us remember that each individual’s story is complete and worthy to be told on its own but is also only one part of the larger picture of humanity.
Have you ever been in a reading slump? Your to-be-read pile can be bursting with books you’ve been meaning to read, but nothing sounds good, or, once you start to read one, it just doesn’t stick. A slump happens to me occasionally, and I’m in one now. I’ve tried reading books from various genres, I’ve tried new authors, and I’ve even tried revisiting old favorites, but to no avail! So now I turn to you, fellow readers. I’ve gathered a few books that look promising and want your feedback so I can decide what to try next.
“A Man Called Ove” has been receiving praise as a New York Times bestseller. It’s quite popular here at DBRL, with a long holds list and more copies on order. This debut novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman tells the story of a cranky old man whose wife has recently died. His depression leads him to consider ending his own life, but when a young family moves in next door and runs over his mailbox, a comical string of interactions begins. This book is promised to be witty and heartwarming.
Martha Woodroof’s first novel, “Small Blessings,” is touted as a book for bookish people. Sign me up! The story follows Tom Putnam, an English professor with a wife who, because of an affair between Tom and a poetess a decade earlier, is a complete shut-in. When the two take part in a social engagement for the first time in a long while, Tom hopes that things are changing. However, when they return home, he finds a letter from the poetess telling him that he fathered a son, and the 10-year-old is on a train heading his way. The vibrant, quirky cast of characters carries this sweet tale of life and the unexpected.
One of my favorite authors is Alice Hoffman, so it’s surprising that I haven’t read this one yet: “The Marriage of Opposites” is an historical fiction novel about the mother of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Hoffman provides the readers with a slightly dysfunctional family saga taking place on the tropical island of St. Thomas. The main character, Rachel, is forced to marry an older man to save her father’s business. When she becomes a widow, she starts a scandalous, passionate affair with her late husband’s nephew. Their relationship affects her entire family, including her son, who would become known as the father of Impressionism.
Have you read any of these titles? Maybe you’ve been wanting to read one of the books I’m considering, but want another opinion on it before you take the plunge. I’ll write a review of whichever book you folks pick for me. Leave a comment so I can decide which book to read next!
It’s my favorite LibraryReads list yet! Why, you may ask? Because this month’s list of forthcoming titles that librarians across the country recommend includes “Arrowood,” the latest from local author Laura McHugh. The novel follows Arden Arrowood as she returns to her declining Iowa hometown and her childhood home after a failed attempt at graduate school. She is haunted by the memory of her twin sisters, kidnapped from the front yard while they were in her care. McHugh is masterful when it comes to vividly rendering place and setting, as well as the psychology of her main characters. This novel is moody, atmospheric and melancholy with a delicious undercurrent of suspense. Place your hold now, and enjoy this month’s other recommendations!
“A Great Reckoning” by Lousie Penny
“Armand Gamache is back, and it was worth the wait. As the new leader of the Surete academy, Gamche is working to stop corruption at its source and ensure the best start for the cadets. When a copy of an old map is found near the body of a dead professor, Gamache and Beauvoir race against the clock to find the killer before another person dies. A terrific novel that blends Penny’s amazing lyrical prose with characters that resonate long after the book ends. Highly recommended.” – David Singleton, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC
“The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena
“This book is so full of twists and turns that my head was swiveling. Who took baby Cora? Marco and Anne decide to leave their baby home alone. After all, they share a wall with their neighbors, with whom they are partying. They would take turns checking in on her baby monitor. But when they return to their flat, the first thing they find is an open door and no Cora. Who’s to blame? Could it be an unlikely suspect that you won’t see coming? If you like a book that keeps you guessing until the very end, you won’t be disappointed.” – Debbie Frizzell, Johnson County Library, Roeland Park, KS
“Watching Edie” by Camilla Way
“Twisty psychological banter makes this book a thrill ride. Edie was the girl in high school who had it all. Heather was the awkward girl who wanted so badly to be accepted. That was high school, and now Edie is a single mom caught in a dead end job. She is about to lose it when Heather comes to her rescue. While Edie loves being able to get her life back, the hold that Heather has on her and the baby is disconcerting. The story jumps back and forth between past and present, and you will change your mind about their friendship right up to the last page.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX
And here’s the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure!
- “The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living” by Louise Miller
- “The Dollhouse” by Fiona Davis
- “The Book That Matters Most” by Ann Hood
- “Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris
- “First Star I See Tonight” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
- “Die Like An Eagle: A Meg Langslow Mystery” by Donna Andrews
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The August 2016 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
Finding a nice place in the shade with a good book is a great way to keep cool. And if that book happens to be set during the dead of winter, that’s even better. Here are some books that will chill you to your core on these hot days!
If a dark and icy-cold New England winter sounds perfect right about now, you should try Jennifer McMahon’s “The Winter People.” Set in a small town in Vermont, the novel recounts the mysterious murder of Sara Harrison Shea outside her home in 1908. A hundred years later, Ruthie, Fawn and their mother move into Sara’s old house. The girls find Sara’s diary hidden under the floor, revealing what may have actually happened to her. This sets into motion a series of horrific events that threaten to destroy their family. McMahon’s writing is spell-binding in this unique approach to the typical ghost story. You won’t want to put this one down!
Mount Everest is definitely colder than Missouri right now, making for an awesome book setting. In the 1920s, the world’s tallest peak still had not been summitted. The race to reach the top always ended at best in disappointment and at worst in tragedy, as in the case of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who disappeared during a climb. In “The Abominable,” Dan Simmons tells the story of a group of adventurers in the late 1920s who set out against nearly impossible odds to reach the top the mountain. Their journey is fraught with difficulties — the cold and snow is expected, but the mysterious person or creature who seems to be pursuing them in the night is not. The book is tense and action-packed, full of nail-biting scenes as the climbers face off against unbelievable terrors. Simmons presents the tale as a “found manuscript,” intricately weaving historical figures and events into a fictional tale that will chill you to the bone.
Of course, on hot days like we’ve been experiencing, a blizzard doesn’t sound all that bad. Christopher Golden delivers not one, but two blizzards in his terrifying novel “Snowblind.” Several folks mysteriously die during the worst snowstorm the town of Coventry has seen in years. 12 years later, a new storm is blowing in and the ghosts of those lost seem to be returning. The story is told ensemble-style, which allows readers to fully immerse themselves into the horrors the townsfolk are experiencing, not only from the endless snowfall, but also from the evil the snow has brought with it. This is honestly one of the scariest books I’ve read in a long time.
Happy (and cool) reading!
If you’re looking for a grim, unputdownable book to block the blistering and incessant shine of the July sun, look no further. Paul Tremblay’s “A Head Full of Ghosts” is the sort of book you read in one sitting (assuming you have sufficient free time, or a willingness/compulsion to prioritize pleasure over obligations, and also that you are not a big ol’ chicken (cause it’s scary)).
“A Head Full of Ghosts” is about a young girl that is either possessed by the devil or by mental illness. (Evidence mounts for both possibilities, and when you’re certain you’ve got it all sussed out, you’re probably still going to have your mind changed a couple of times.) Her family, exhausted both mentally and financially, agrees to allow a reality television crew to film the devil’s/mental illness’s exploits. (It’s surprising that there isn’t already a “reality” television show about possessions, but this book gives us a pretty good idea of what one would look like.)
More than a decade after the possession debacle and the short-lived but successful television series, the possessed girl’s younger sister is being interviewed by a hotshot writer for a tell-all bestseller. The younger sister’s story is relayed through this framework and intercut with blog posts from the world’s foremost authority on the reality television show made about the possession. (The identity of the blogger is revealed early on, and makes for one of many moments in the book that’ll make you say, “Veritably! Now that’s some fine crafting of fiction. This novel brings me pleasure, and I am glad that I forsook sleep and a supposedly necessary medical procedure in order to find the time to partake of its literary fruits.”)
Another spectacular thingy that happens: very early in the novel a character’s quirk is revealed, a cute detail, but it couldn’t be anything crucial, right? No. Instead it is a key to the novel’s devastating ending. The sort of ending that makes you want to comfort fictional characters and perhaps attempt to construct life-size replicas of the characters so that you can properly hug them and even forge a relationship with the hat-wearing sack of hay that you’ve drawn a face on, a relationship that progresses to the point where you’re asking it to, with horrific consequences, transport you home from your various necessary medical procedures.
If you’re in the mood for something a little lighter, do not read Tremblay’s newest novel, “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.” It is about a child’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock. It is a sad, tricky book that makes you think one thing is happening until it makes you think another thing is happening, until it tells you most of what is really happening.
“Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye,” in addition to being a description of British cuisine (haha, I WENT THERE, rimshot, etc.), is a much different novel. A desperate man signs a contract that makes him an indentured servant for an “amusement park” called FARM, which is where people go to see actual plants and animals, as well as people dressed like animals. This novel is frequently funny, as the author always is in interviews, but it also features a scene that manages to be as simultaneously heartbreaking and disgusting as anything I’ve ever read. Read it; share my burden.
In search of a galaxy far, far away: I like a book where anything is possible, including travel through deep space and the kinds of technology we can only dream about. A little time travel is also desired.
The game is afoot! I want a book with a problem to solve, preferably one that gets me using my little grey cells. I prefer twists and turns, with a few red herrings thrown in to keep me guessing.
Looking for my Mr. Darcy! A book will really catch my fancy if it has a nice dusting of romance. Watching two people fall in love is the highlight of my day, especially when it’s opposites attracting!
Do any of these readers sound like you? Have you ever struggled to figure out what to read next or are you curious about trying books that fall outside of what you normally read? Do you enjoy talking with others about books you’ve read? If so, you will want to check out the library’s first ever Speed Date with a Book on Friday, July 15, at 7 p.m. in the Columbia Public Library’s third floor reading room.
The library is always a good place to find your next favorite read, and this month we want to try a new approach to helping readers find a book they can fall in love with. So, what is a speed date with a book? It’s kind of like normal speed dating, only instead of sharing information about yourself in just a couple of minutes, you get to talk about the books you love with other readers who are looking for something new. Along with the speed dating, we’ll have activities including book charades, a “first impressions” contest (because who hasn’t judged a book by its cover before?) and a chance to go on a blind date with a book. There will also be free book giveaways, door prizes and refreshments. Speed daters who find a book they want to read will have the opportunity to check it out and take the book home to find out if it lives up to expectations.
If you’re on the hunt for for an exciting new read, or just love talking about books with other readers, this is the perfect event for you!
The post Summer Reading Program Preview: Speed Date with a Book appeared first on DBRL Next.
When, in 1990, at the age of 39, I emigrated from the USSR to the United States, I did not know about Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank and other victims — or survivors — of the Holocaust. In fact, I didn’t even know the term “Holocaust.” And not because I was a bad student who failed to learn it in school, but because the anti-Semitic politics of the Third Reich were not covered in our school curriculum and our mass media — not before or during WWII, or afterwards. As a result, the atrocities that were well known in the West were hardly mentioned in the East. There, coverage of WWII was dedicated to the bravery and suffering of Soviet troops and, until 1956, to Stalin’s military genius. So the mass killings of Jews — in Europe and Ukraine — did not qualify.
This is not to say that the Russian population had it easy. The war was devastating for the USSR. Overall, more than 26 million Russian citizens died during the war, not to mention those who came back as invalids and hopeless alcoholics. Still, the fact that the Jews were systematically exterminated was not revealed in Russia (where casual anti -Semitism was the norm) for a very long time. Well, we knew about concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Treblinka and Buchenwald. In fact, there was a popular song written about the latter, which went like this:
People of the world
stand up a moment
It buzzes from all sides
It can be heard in Buchenwald
ringing off the bells
ringing off the bells
It’s innocent blood reborn and strengthened
In a brazen roar.
Victims are resurrected from the ashes …
Yet again, we were never told that the main goal of a camp like Auschwitz was the implementation of “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz there were at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, over 140,000 Poles, approximately 20,000 Gypsies from several European countries, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war and over 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities.
When I found myself in Columbia, Missouri, and I had learned enough English to start reading, books about the Holocaust were not high on my list. First, I needed to learn about my adoptive country, its history, culture and customs. So, when one day (I was already working at the reference desk of the Columbia Public Library) a teenage girl came to me and asked about “The Diary of a Young Girl,” I had no idea what that book was about. I just looked it up in the library catalog. And later, when another patron was looking for “Night” by Elie Wiesel, I didn’t know anything about that book either. In fact, I had trouble spelling “Wiesel.”
Time went by, and I learned about the Holocaust, about Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel and others. I saw a collection of victims’ shoes in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington (the Nazis confiscated their victims’ belongings and sent valuables back to Germany; the shoes were to be repaired by the camps’ prisoners and reused). And I heard a reading of names of the Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust (1.5 million names in all) in the Yad Vashem Children’s Memorial in Jerusalem, which is housed in an underground cave and lit by candles that, reflected in a system of mirrors, create the impression of millions of little stars. (The complex was built with donations from a family whose two-and-a-half-year-old son was killed in Auschwitz.) And when I read “Night,” I could hardly keep from screaming; for the way I felt, it all could have happened to me, my parents and my daughter.
There are some events so cruel and traumatic that people don’t want to talk about them, even less read about them. In fact, when Wiesel’s “Night” first appeared in print (in Yiddish) in 1954, its publication was hardly noticed. In America, when the book was published in 1960, it wasn’t an overnight success either. Gradually, though, it began attracting more attention, and when, in 2006, Oprah Winfrey presented “Night” to her book club, it became a New York Times bestseller.
Wiesel went on to write many more books and to become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Above all, he remained a voice for Holocaust victims and survivors – the mission he considered the most important in his life.
“If I survived,” Wiesel said in 1981, “It must be for some reason. I must do something with my life…because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person.”
The best audiobooks provide something readers could not create on their own through reading the text from a page. Narrators create worlds with their voices, crafting performances that leave us sitting in our parked cars, hesitant to stop listening. For your next road trip, check out some of these books on CD or downloadable audio to make the miles fly by. Or, make exercise or housework more bearable by entertaining your ears with a good story. (Book descriptions courtesy of their publishers.)
“All the Old Knives” by Olen Steinhauer (read by Ari Fliakos and Juliana Francis Kelly)
Available on CD and downloadable audio
Nine years ago, terrorists hijacked a plane in Vienna. Somehow, a rescue attempt staged from the inside went terribly wrong and everyone on board was killed.Members of the CIA stationed in Vienna during that time were witness to this terrible tragedy, gathering intel from their sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground with a series of texts coming from one of their agents inside the plane. Had their agent been compromised, and how?
“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson (read by Scott Brick)
Available on CD and downloadable audio
This 100th-anniversary chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania discusses the factors that led to the tragedy and the contributions of such figures as President Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat and architect Theodate Pope Riddle. A dramatic narration brings the details of this tragedy to crisp light.
“The Knockoff” by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza (read by Katherine Kellgren)
Available on CD
The story of Imogen Tate, editor in chief of Glossy magazine, who finds her twentysomething former assistant Eve Morton plotting to knock Imogen off her pedestal, take over her job and reduce the magazine, famous for its lavish 768-page September issue, into an app. Kellgren expertly captures both Imogen’s elegant tone and Eve’s more fast-paced millennial-speak.
“What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” by Randall Munroe (read by Wil Wheaton)
Available on CD, downloadable audio and playaway
What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last? In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, and Wheaton’s humorous tone matches the content perfectly.
While I’ll recommend the work of a rascal if that rascal’s work is great enough, there are enough brilliant and kind writers out there that I’ve rarely had to resort to that. How do I know if they’re kind? The same way you find out if anyone is kind – you google them, show a picture of them to your neighbor’s hounds, and then carefully observe the hounds’ reactions. With this month’s recommendation, I needn’t confirm the internet’s verdict with a hound test. Arthur Bradford’s gentlemanly nature shows in the big-hearted way he renders his characters and because the good sir is dedicated to helping people. In addition to some film work and two incredible collections of short stories, he’s worked at the Texas School for the Blind, been a co-director for Camp Jabberwocky (a camp for people with disabilities), and he’s currently working in a juvenile detention center. He’s not your typical literary superstar who spends all his time eating figs, drinking brandy and bidding for antique typewriters on eBay.
Bradford writes without the sort of fanciful verbiage, flowery descriptions and unnecessary addenda that this immaculately groomed (wearing the casual cummerbund, because it’s Friday) gentleman so vigorously gravitates toward. His sentences are direct, and they’re hilarious. His characters make mistakes, sometimes constantly, but they’re not trying to hurt anyone, and they’re often trying to help someone.
“Turtleface and Beyond” is his most recent collection of short stories, and it’s awesome. The titular Turtleface is an unfortunate young man who, after drunkenly deciding to dive from a cliff to impress his canoeing companions, dives face first into a turtle. Both he and the turtle are in bad shape, but Georgie (the soft-hearted narrator of the entire collection) decides to slap some duct tape on the turtle and nurse it back to health.
There’s a story about an under-dressed man travelling with friend to a wedding. They find a man ailing at the side of the road. He’s been bitten by a snake. He convinces Georgie to suck the poison from his leg. George reluctantly attempts it and ruins an outfit that was already insufficiently formal. There’s one where a reluctant Georgie is cajoled into assisting a boss’s decline into total depravity. There’s one called “The LSD and the Baby.”
When “The Gentleman Recommends” blog post series was first conceived, my primary intent was to highlight books that I like, but I also wanted to further the agenda of the gentleman. That agenda: constant politeness, regular charity, enough hat-tipping/doffing to cause calluses on the fingers you use to tip/doff your hat, always bowing when introduced to someone or when someone you know does something worthy of a bow, and regular snack breaks. I didn’t know that what I really wanted was to recommend a writer who had written a story called “The LSD and the Baby.”
It’s hot and humid, and the LibraryReads recommendations list for July is dripping with twisty, suspenseful and sometimes genre-blending thrillers! Kidnapping, murder on a cruise ship, a mysterious death in an Amish community and a reality show gone seriously awry – there are so many good stories to stow in your beach bag. Here are the top 10 titles publishing next month that librarians across the country love.
“Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch
“Once on the fast-track to academic stardom, Jason Dessen finds his quiet family life and career upended when a stranger kidnaps him. Suddenly Jason’s idle “what-ifs” become panicked “what-nows,” as the humble quantum physics professor from a small Chicago college gets to explore the roads not taken with a mind-bending invention that opens doors to other worlds. This fun science fiction thriller is also a thoughtful page-turner with heart that should appeal to fans of Harlan Coben.” – Elizabeth Eastin, Rogers Memorial Library, Southampton, NY
“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware
“An intruder in the middle of the night leaves Lo Blacklock feeling vulnerable. Trying to shake off her fears, she hopes her big break of covering the maiden voyage of the luxury cruise ship, the Aurora, will help. The first night of the voyage changes everything. What did she really see in the water and who was the woman in the cabin next door? The claustrophobic feeling of being on a ship and the twists and turns of who, and what, to believe keep you on the edge of your seat. Count on this being one of the hot reads this summer!” – Joseph Jones, Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH
“The Last One” by Alexandra Oliva
“The Last One tells the story of twelve contestants who are sent to the wilderness in a Survivor-like reality show. But while they’re away, the world changes completely and what is real and what is not begins to blur. It’s post-apocalyptic literary fiction at it’s best. With a fast pace and a wry sense of humor, this is the kind of book that will appeal to readers of literary fiction and genre fiction alike. It points out the absurdity of reality television without feeling condescending. As the readers wake up to the realities of a new world, it becomes difficult to put down.” – Leah White, Ela Area Public Library, Lake Zurich, IL
Here is the rest of the July list for your holds-placing pleasure:
- “Among the Wicked: A Kate Burkholder Novel” by Linda Castillo
- “The Unseen World” by Liz Moore
- “Truly Madly Guilty” by Liane Moriarty
- “All Is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker
- “The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close
- “Siracusa” by Delia Ephron
- “Nine Women, One Dress” by Jane L. Rosen
I find that the first step in a new challenge for me is often to understand how someone else did it. When I wanted to start running (on purpose!), I didn’t consult a training plan. Instead, I read Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” for inspiration. Similarly, when I wanted to cook at home more often, I didn’t check out a cookbook. I read “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table” by Molly Wizenberg. Sometimes the inspiration works the other way – I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver because it was a One Read finalist in 2008. It motivated me to eat locally-produced, healthful food more often.
Other times, memoirs help me understand an experience that I hope to never have. Sonali Deraniyagala’s “Wave” recounts the deaths of her parents, husband and children in Sri Lanka during the 2004 tsunami. It is unfathomable to me (and probably to most people) how one could survive such loss, and I have recalled Deraniyagala’s strength many times since I read her memoir. Jean-Dominique Bauby fell into a coma following a stroke, and when he awoke, he found that he suffered from locked-in syndrome. He composed “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death” by blinking his left eyelid – the only body part he could move.
Not all memoirs are about such serious topics. A.J. Jacobs has made a career out of undergoing challenges and then writing humorously about such challenges. Jacobs has followed the proscriptions and tenets of the Bible (“The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible”), implemented rigorous health routines (“Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection”), volunteered as a subject of science (“The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as An Experiment”) and attempted to improve his intellect (“The Know-it-all: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World”).
There are plenty of memoirs to help you meet your life challenges – whether self-imposed or circumstantial – at your library. These are just a few.
June is audiobook month, as well as the unofficial start of summer travel season. Spice up that long road trip with some good storytelling with a little help from your library!
1. Check out a 2016 Audie Award winner!
Named audiobook of the year, “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (narrated by Clare Corbett) was last year’s “Gone Girl.” In this psychological thriller, a woman becomes emotionally entangled in a murder investigation because of something she witnesses on her daily commute. Or try the fiction winner, “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah (audiobook narrated by Polly Stone), which follows French sisters Viann and Isabelle as they resist German occupiers during WWII, each in her own way. If nonfiction is more your speed, pick up the winner in history/biography, “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts” by Andrew Chaikin (narrated by Bronson Pinchot).
2. Entertain kids with audiobooks in the car.
If you have little ones in the backseat, check out some family-friendly audiobooks. “Circus Mirandus” by Cassie Beasley is reminiscent of Peter Pan and follows Micah Tuttle who, when he realizes that his grandfather’s stories of an enchanted circus are true, sets out to find the mysterious circus — and to use its magic to save his grandfather’s life. In Chris Grabenstein’s puzzle-filled “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library,” 12-year-old Kyle gets to stay overnight in the new town library, designed by his hero, the famous gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello.
3. Suggest an audiobook selection for your book club.
Hoopla is a service available from your library that allows you to stream and download audiobooks (as well as eBooks, comics, movies and television shows). Sign up for an account (this quick start guide shows you how), download the app and borrow up to 10 items per month. Everyone in your book club can borrow the same book on Hoopla – there’s no limit to how many people can borrow an item at once! Try Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Haftime Walk,” Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” or “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown.
Whether you are a long-time fan of audiobooks or new to listening to books, take advantage of your library’s large collection of downloadable audiobooks, books on CD and playaways. Give a book a listen this summer!
Ah, June is coming! We can smell summer from here. Time to stuff our beach bags with a little romantic comedy, fantasy (featuring librarians, naturally), suspense, memoir and microhistory. Here are the books hitting shelves next month that librarians across the country recommend. Place your holds now to have them in hand for your upcoming vacations or staycations.
“Vinegar Girl” by Anne Tyler
“The newest entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare series brings The Taming of the Shrew into the modern world. Kate is stuck in a life taking care of her absent minded professor father and her sister, Bunny. When her father suggests a marriage of convenience in order to secure a green card for his lab assistant Pyotr, Kate is shocked. This is a sweet and humorous story about two people, who don’t quite fit in, finding each other. Tyler’s wonderful writing updates and improves on the original.” – Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
“The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman
“Directed by powerful librarians, agents roam alternate realities searching out special volumes for their mysterious library’s collections. Irene is a spy for the library but something is a little off about her current mission; there’s something strange about her new assistant that she can’t quite put her finger on and worse, the requested volume has already been stolen. Cogman’s engaging characters and a most intriguing imagined world are sure to delight readers, especially bibliophiles.” – Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
“Under the Harrow” by Flynn Berry
“Nora leaves London to visit her sister, Rachel, in the countryside often. But this trip is different – a silent house, a dead dog hanging from the railing and so much blood. Nora stays, trying to help the police solve the case. She thinks it might have something to do with the unsolved attack on Rachel when she was just a teen but it could be someone new. This story is thrilling and quietly gripping. We become as obsessed as Nora in finding her sister’s killer — what if he strikes again?” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX
And here’s the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure!
- “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” by Mary Roach
- “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
- “Missing, Presumed” by Susie Steiner
- “Stiletto” by Daniel O’Malley
- “We Could Be Beautiful” by Swan Huntley
- “Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley
- “Widowmaker” by Paul Doiron
“The Story of My Teeth” came into existence the way most novels do: at the behest of a Mexican juice company. But rather than merely extol the virtues of juice while spinning a tale about juice bandits who turned to a life of juice thievery due to being criminally deprived nature’s finest nectar during their formative years, Valeria Luiselli chose to tell a better, stranger tale.
The novel, in addition to being a “collaborative translation” with Christina MacSweeney, was also workshopped with workers at a juice factory. She would send a chapter, factor in their feedback, then write the next chapter. The novel’s quality makes it clear that more writers should seek the feedback of factory workers. Indeed, I’m so inspired by her tactics that I’ve taken the liberty of mailing this post to a number of factories. As you can tell, I’ve yet to hear back, but I imagine their feedback will transform this post into something nearly as magical as her novel, at which point I will use their suggested changes for the 10th anniversary edition of this blog post (“Now in 3-D and edited by factory workers!’).
“The Story of My Teeth” is mostly narrated by a man known as “Highway.” Highway opens the novel by declaring himself the world’s greatest auctioneer. He’s also capable, if given sufficient quantities of rum, of imitating Janis Joplin. Regardless of his rum levels, he’s able to balance an egg. Highway is also a fiend for collecting things. As a child, he collected over 10,000 of his father’s nail clippings, stored smartly in envelopes. If this wasn’t enough to have you hooked (I speed-read the novel hoping to find a scene featuring an upright egg), there’s also a scene in which four portraits of clowns menace poor Highway.
I may have opened the book expecting slow, laborious descriptions of teething, lost teeth and their corresponding visits from fairies, and dental procedures, but what I got was much more amusing and interesting, if significantly less fairy-laden. Highway was cursed with bad teeth, so once he has a little money in his pocket, he does what most of us would: buys Marilyn Monroe’s teeth and has them inserted. Soon after, he demonstrates his talents as an auctioneer by auctioning off his own freshly plucked and malformed teeth. He’s able to get a great price by claiming they’re from such famous mouths as Plato’s, Virginia Woolf’s or G.K. Chesterton’s. He gives each tooth its own flash fiction origin story, and the reader is left wishing he had more teeth to auction. Highway also wishes he had more stuff to auction, so he decides to auction off himself, with consequences that include paintings of clowns.
“The Story of My Teeth” does things that make book critics talk fancy. You’ll be questioning the narrator’s trustworthiness. There’s a section of the book that is a timeline. Photographs are included. Authors and philosophers are name-dropped. You’ll wonder whether G.K. Chesterton really damaged his teeth due to his affinity for chewing marbles. But ultimately, you’ll just enjoy this clever novel and redouble your efforts to keep your distance from paintings of clowns.