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Staff Picks: Books

Monopoly and Musicals and Mysteries Oh My

Here are some books that have caught my eye over the past two months as I read reviews to decide what to purchase for the library:

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon
When an economics professor, Ralph Anspach, in the 1970s invented an anti-monopoly game, he is threatened by Parker Brothers, which leads to a lawsuit and research into the origins of the game. Anspach uncovers that the game goes back to the early 1900s and that it was invented by a woman, not the traditional story of the inventor being an unemployed man during the Great Depression. The reviewer in Booklist states, “The book abounds with interesting tidbits for board-game buffs but treats its subject seriously. After reading The Monopolists —part parable on the perils facing inventors, part legal odyssey, and part detective story —you'll never look at spry Mr. Monopoly in the same way again.”

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil
Kurzweil was bullied while at a Swiss boarding school by a twelve year old native of Manila named Cesar Augustus; once being whipped to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. The reviewer in Library Journal wrote, “It moves like a thriller, is very funny, and in the right hands, would make a great movie.”

By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates
Former Harvard librarian, Lucy, finds her dream job in a lighthouse library on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and can’t believe her luck, until a priceless Jane Austen first edition is stolen and people start getting murdered. For some, I’m sure combining libraries and lighthouses in a mystery is like combining horses and mermaids in an adventure tale for my daughter. Can it get any better?


Another One from Anne Tyler

I always look forward to a new novel from Anne Tyler and put it on hold as soon as announced. Spool of Blue Thread, her 20th novel and published in early February, has received strong reviews. I agree.

Once again, the setting is Baltimore and the characters are an ordinary family. Like most families though, there are back stories, history, celebrations, family dynamics.

The overarching theme is the uncomfortable shift that occurs in families as the parents decline and the grown children and parents begin to exchange roles. The story follows three generations of the Whitshank family centering on the stately home which has become part of the family lore.

Tyler’s manner of storytelling and her insight into the ordinariness of family life always results in a satisfying read for me.


Do Bears and Libraries Mix? Silly Question. Of Course, They Do!

 A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is a humorous picture book about a bear who had never been to the library.

 

One morning, Bear hears a tapping at his door. He sees the bright-eyed face of his fervent  friend Mouse who is excited to take Bear to the library to show him around, and because he thinks that it’s just a doggone fun place to visit. While previously Bear did promise to accompany Mouse, today he thinks that this expedition will be a complete waste of his very precious time. After all, he already owned a grand total of seven books and believed that this private collection would more than adequately cover his needs for the foreseeable future. But a promise is a promise, so off they go.

 

Upon their arrival, a very grumpy Bear is once again quick to criticize. In his estimation, the library building is much too big and contains “far too many books”. All this, he declares, is nothing more than pure excess.

 

But enthusiastic Mouse persists with positives, pointing out that the library is quite exciting and declares that he will find Bear a perfect book about pickles, since pickles is the one topic that Bear seems to find most intellectually stimulating. But no matter which title Mouse suggests, Bear is dismissive of the selections and voices his displeasure in a very loud and disruptive manner.

 

Before long, he is shushed into quiet by two mothers (one squirrel, the other raccoon), whose youngsters are gathered around a smiling librarian conducting story time. Bear is upset at being told to quiet down and wants to leave the library pronto.

 

However, on his way to the exit, he overhears the librarian read a story about a very brave bear and a treasure chest filled with very special pickle slices. Oh my, Bear becomes entranced, and it is now he who quickly tells Mouse to quiet down!

 

After story time, Bear checks out a number of new books including one titled “The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island”, which Bear reads to Mouse back at his home that very same day.

 

Wonderfully expressive illustrations compliment this top notch choice for young children, that gently promotes libraries and all that they offer!

 

And it’s a great selection to celebrate “Read Across America Day”, March 2nd, 2015.


Americanah: Leaving Home Behind

Americanah, which refers to a person who returns to Nigeria after time abroad, is a 15-year saga centering on Ifemelu, who grew up in poverty in Lagos, but managed to come to the US. Culture shock, poverty, and racism leave her feeling as if she has “cement in her soul” and she defines herself as a “Non-American Black.”

This is a novel about leaving home behind, independence, integrity, not being sure where one “fits,” both in the US and back home in Nigeria.

Its inclusion on many “best of” lists for 2014 and significant media attention is well deserved. One reviewer considers it a “world-class novel.”

 


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

After seeing first-time novelist David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on a few Best of 2014 lists, I finally found a gap in my ‘must read now’ list of books and picked it up last weekend. I’m happy to report that it deserves its place on those best of lists. The book is hard to pin down. It is part hyper-paranoid techno-thriller (think late William Gibson) and part smart literary fiction with a sarcastic bent (think Dave Eggers), but it certainly qualifies as a page-turner and I found it to be a fun read. At least as fun as up-to-the-minute plausible fiction about a looming shadow digital oligarchy can be.


What's Indie Next?

Based on how the books are flying off our Library Reads display at the Central Library, we gather that this has become a trusted place to find some great books to read. 

 
Librarians got the idea for the monthly Library Reads Top 10 list from independent booksellers who started putting together a monthly Top 20 list called Indie Next. Because of how much you love the Library Reads display, we decided to use another one of our display locations to feature books on the Indie Next list.


Check it out in the rotunda of the Central Library where you will find “inspired recommendations from independent booksellers.”


A Short Story Recommendation

Reviewers and readers have raved about Margaret Atwood’s new collection of short stories: Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. I agree….she is the master of the short story.

The first three are interconnected and focus on people who once knew each other: an aging fantasy writer, a poet, and twins, one of whom knew the poet. There is a dark sense of humor running through these stories.

The title story, Stone Mattress, is the story of a woman on an Arctic cruise who seeks revenge on someone who wronged her many years ago. It is compelling.

I admit, I have enjoyed some of Atwood’s books and short stories, others not so much BUT I definitely appreciated this collection and highly recommend it.


As chimney sweepers come to dust: a Flavia de Luce novel

I was delighted to hear that author Alan Bradley had a new book. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: a Flavia de Luce Novel features twelve year old Flavia’s adventures in Canada in the 1950’s, where she has been sent to boarding school. It is a gloomy and mysterious place, and almost immediately, Flavia discovers a mummified body in the chimney of her room.

If you have not made Flavia’s acquaintance before, she is definitely worth discovering. She has been compared to a cross between Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes, and that is an apt description. If you are new to the series, it’s probably best to begin with The Sweetness at the bottom of the Pie, which is the first of Flavia’s adventures.


American Romantic

I have liked all of the many books by Ward Just I have read. His most recent, American Romantic, centers on Harry Sanders, who grew up in a family of Connecticut liberals and is now a promising young foreign service officer in Vietnam just before troops arrive en masse.

Henry is asked to undertake a not-quite-official mission. He becomes stranded in the jungle, injured, and “damaged goods”, but is owed a lifetime of State Dept postings in return.

This is a well-written story of a young, naïve foreign service officer and the two women who love him, beginning at a restless time in our history.

Another satisfying book from Ward Just.


Don't Write In Library Books

Ander Monson is the most bizarre, versatile, prize-winningest writer who hails from Michigan that you have never heard about. He won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award for Other Electricities, the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize for his poetry collection Vacationland, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for his book of criticism called Vanishing Point. If not for that last one, I would have had to add that the prizes he has won are just as unheard of as he is. 

 
I read Other Electricities several years ago which left me with a vivid impression of the mix of tenacious survivalism and self-destructiveness of the residents of the Upper Peninsula and the image of snowmobiles jumping snow banks out on to frozen Lake Superior; occasionally breaking through the ice and disappearing. 

 
His newest book, a collection of essays titled Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, comes out on February 3rd. Check it out and see what you think of Ander Monson and if you can resist writing in a library book about people writing in library books.