Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The author of Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden, teaches writing at the University of New Orleans, where my brother is also on the faculty. Boyden's Canadian heritage comes through dramatically in this first novel as does his knowledge of World War I trench warfare, acquired through research and his grandfather's first hand accounts of battle. Three Day Road braids the stories of Native Canadian friends, Xavier Bird and Elijah Wiskeyjack, who enlist in the Canadian Army and become snipers on the western front, and an elder aunt, Niska, who retrieves her broken nephew at war's end. The journey by canoe to their northern wilderness village, Moose Factory, is the metaphorical three day road of the title. As the canoe glides through calm waters, Xavier and Niska, a prophetic Cree healer, share their wrenching stories in alternating voices and in stark contrast to the peaceful surroundings. This book brought to mind other favorite novels of war, All Quiet on the Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun, The Things They Carried, The Captain, and Beach Red. The weaving of rich Native cultural traditions into stark scenes of battle, however, offers a fresh telling of timeless tales. Three Day Road won the Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2005 and was a selection of the Today Show Book Club the same year. In 2006, it was shortlisted for Canada Reads, a unique literary competition sponsored by the CBC.
Three Day Road
I have always gravitated toward books set in the sixties, specifically those having to do with the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps because I was at such an impressionable age during that time. Regardless, I've recently added another to my list of favorites, The Help, a debut novel by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, the story is told in alternating chapters by two African American maids and the young white woman who has decided to write a book that anonymously chronicles their lives along with those of several other black maids in the city at that time. Central to their story, for instance, is the irony of being entrusted to care for the children of their employers while at the same time being relegated to use a separate bathroom for fear of diseases thought to be carried by black people. Strong characters, regrettably accurate accounts of race relations in the South at that time, and good pacing made this an especially captivating and fast read. I look forward to more by this author.
After reading a New York Times Book Review cover story about the new Margaret Atwood novel, The Year of the Flood, I promptly placed the title on hold and then began reading 2003’s Oryx and Crake which is related to the new one but not necessarily a continuation. I admit that I have not read much of Atwood’s clearly impressive body of work, but I am blown away by the very compelling Oryx and Crake. If you love dystopian/end of the world/speculative fiction as much as I do, or just enjoy first class storytelling, it doesn’t get much better than this environmentally devastated, gene spliced nightmare world that Atwood so vividly imagines.
The Year of the Flood
I just finished reading two books that center around the theme of the importance of friendship in the lives of women. I listened to The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow and read Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. Girls is nonfiction that follows eleven childhood friends from Iowa as they mature and grow over forty years. Midwesterners will surely relate to the small-town adventures and tribulations the girls face, as well as the strong bonds created by the close-knit community. Commencement (a novel) begins when four very different girls meet their first year of college and remain friends after graduation. The books' approaches are very different but both succeed in illustrating the tight relationships women have with one another.
The Girls from Ames
Congratulations and good luck to National Book Award finalists Bonnie Jo Campbell and David Small, both of whom spoke at the library about their newest works, American Salvage (fiction) and Stitches (Young People’s Literature). Award winners will be announced on November 18th.
London in the early 1900’s is the setting for the first book in a promising new series by Kenneth Cameron. Jack Denton, an American in his fifties, is living in England after moving from the United States. He wrote best selling crime novels in the States, and achieved notoriety there after tragic events in his own life.
Now in England, Jack is approached by a terrified man who claims to have witnessed a murder by Jack the Ripper. Jack discounts the tale, until a young woman is discovered murdered, and he begins his own investigation. Scorned by the police and hampered by them as well, he encounters London’s dark side as he tries to uncover the truth.
Well drawn and quirky characters add much to this story, and so do the descriptions of London as a great city in the midst of industrial growth and change. You can almost feel you are there, walking down a wet, dimly lit alley….
The Frightened Man
A refreshingly bold and astute essayist, Eula Biss’ critical inquiries on race relations, globalization and cultural identity have found their way into her recently published and award-winning Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. Unburdened with academic theorization or political heavy-handedness, these short yet heady pieces are revelatory for their power to penetrate the opaque surfaces of subjects not often discussed with any kind of attentiveness to nuance within the broader, public discourse. Her prose flows with ease and the way in which she ponders the intersections of American culture and history reminds me of the work of another great ruminator, Joan Didion.
Notes from no man's land : American essays
Theistic minded people have wrestled with this question ever since people have started believing in a Deity: why does evil exist? In philosophy, this has been termed the "problem of evil," and formally reads: if a) God is all good, b) God is all powerful, and c) God created the world; then d) why does evil exist in the world?
Is this the best of all possible worlds? Is evil necessary for free will? Can we not understand the transcendent ways of a totally transcendant God? In this book not only does Nadler give us three unique answers to the problem of evil, but he wraps these answers nicely into three philosophical gaints of the 17th Century--Leibniz, Malebranche, and Arnauld. We enter not only into a philosophical and theological debate, but into the lives and times of these thinkers.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens follows the progress of healing between Sharla Cody, a neglected five-year-old mixed girl, and Addy Shadd, an 80-year-old woman with her own heart-wrenching history. Their reluctance toward getting to know each other dwindles when the love both of them long for slowly appears as Addy’s story unfolds and Sharla’s mother disappears. Addy turns Sharla from a malnourished, over-weight child into a respectable healthy girl while recalling her past.
Addy grew up in Rusholme, a Canadian border town settled by runaway slaves in the 1800’s, but the story begins in 1978 in a Chatham, Ontario trailer park. Intimate details remind her of her rape by a close family friend, a young brother who died, her lover, husband, deceased children, and the many people who betrayed her while historic events like the Underground Railroad, and the Pullman Porter Movement, outline her recollection and reflect some of the hardships suffered. The author beautifully weaves together all these details into a well-crafted and compassionate story. The words “rush home” will not only ring in Addy’s ears but in our hearts.
Rush Home Road
Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors. He is most well-known for his bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie, but he has written many other great books as well. My favorite was The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Albom is one of those authors who can go from writing fiction to non-fiction with the same great storytelling skills.
Have a Little Faith: a True Story is the nonfiction account of Albom's attempt to get to know his Rabbi, in order to be ready to give his eulogy someday. Over a period of years Albom travels from his home in Detroit to his Rabbi's home in New York. At the same time Albom develops a relationship with an innercity Detroit pastor who is a reformed drug dealer and has set up a congregation in a decaying abandoned church. The parallels are heartwarming and touching.
This is a book that leaves you feeling like you know Mitch Albom personally. It's inspiring and a great story at the same time. The kind of work only a man of Albom's talent and skills can pull off.
Have a little faith: a true story