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Staff Picks: Books

Built : The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures

Roma Agrawal, at only 35 years of age, is an experienced structural engineer who has been involved in building some very large projects, such as London's 'The Shard,' western Europe's tallest tower. She is also a promoter of technical and engineering careers to young people, particularly women. In this book, she describes in easy-to-understand terms many aspects of the work that has gone into some of the world's buildings and structures, both ancient and modern. Among these are the pyramids, the Northumbria University Footbridge, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, and Brooklyn Bridge. As Henry Petroski of Duke University says, this is 'a book about real engineering written by a real engineer who can really write.'


Year-End Review

As 2018 winds down, its a customary tradition for staff to compile a list of those books, movies and albums that have inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, stoked our imagination, and provoked us to think deeply about the relationship between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy and art and life. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Becoming, Michelle Obama
WKW: the Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, John Powers
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, John Banville
Meaty, Samantha Irby
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
The Largesse of the Sea Maidens, Denis Johnson

 


End of Year Scramble

It never fails.

Every year at this time, I find myself scrambling to read, before the end of the year, at least one or two more books; titles that are appearing and re-appearing on many “best of [insert year]” lists. Of course, it’s a self-imposed deadline; I can certainly read these books whenever I please. But in just a matter of weeks, we’ll be on our way to starting a new “best of” list, so I use this opportunity to add a couple more contenders to my personal “best books of the year” list.

That Kind of Mother follows the life of Rebecca Stone—white, poet, dreamer, wife, and mother—through her first twelve or so years of motherhood. A sequence of events involving the woman of color Rebecca hired to be her older child’s nanny at a time when, as a new mother, Rebecca was unsure and afraid, leads her and her husband to adopt a black son too. The result: an in-depth examination of what it means to be a mother and to be a family, and of how Rebecca makes sense of that experience at different times in her life. 

If you like character-driven plots, with complicated, strained, and tender relationships all rolled into one story, I urge you to pick this one up. And yes, I consider it one of my favorites of the year.


ONE HUNGRY BUNNY WITH EARS SO FUNNY

Hungry Bunny is a fun, interactive preschool picture book about, ( yes, you guessed it), a hungry bunny. This bunny's tummy rumbles and grumbles, so he sets off to pick some juicy apples that just might be the perfect snack to appease his appetite.

The young reader can help bunny perform his apple gathering task by shaking the tree so that the apples fall down, blow away the leaves, etc. This book also has a handy "red scarf", ( really a bookmark ribbon), to help our little buck-toothed protagonist climb the tree and even make a makeshift bridge. In the end, bunny and his family enjoy some freshly baked apple pie and share it with the reader! Imagine that!

By New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Claudia Rueda. This is an all-around wonderful book to please the fancy of the younger set!


The Season of Styx Malone

I really enjoyed the new book by Kekla Magoon. It reminded me a little bit of Orbiting Jupiter but more lighthearted. When ten-year-old Caleb and older brother Bobby Gene meet sixteen-year-old Styx Malone, they are in for a not-so-boring summer. Caleb and Bobby Gene have really different personalities even though they are very close. Of course, that's typical of siblings, but the way their relationship is portrayed is really well done. And while I started out thinking that their dad was going to be nothing but a jerk, his character changes over time. Styx's character also grows over the course of the book. I kept turning pages because I wanted to see if what I thought was going to happen would happen. Well, I can tell you that it did and it didn't. No plot spoiler there at all, right? 

Great storytelling, great turns of phrase, and a diverse and interesting cast of major and minor characters makes this a really good read. The Season of Styx Malone asks: What are the limits of friendship? When does being protective become overprotective? The small-town summer-time setting reminded me of summers from my own childhood. This is a great book to enjoy as a family over the Thanksgiving break.


My Beijing by Nie Jun

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everday Wonder by Nie Jun is a children's graphic novel that collects four brief but fantastic stories. The tales bring Yu'er and her grandpa's neighborhood to life, all with interesting characters and a twist of magical realism. Nie Jun's art is whimsical and bright. I read this graphic novel quickly, but it stayed with me, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more from this author. Although you'll find it shelved with children's books, My Beijing is for all ages of comic fans.


A Very Large Expanse of Sea

With stunningly beautiful prose and a protagonist who will make you laugh and cry, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi, has just risen to the very top of my "Best of 2018" list. The book follows a year in the high school life of 16 year old Muslim girl, Shirin. The year is 2002 and unfortuneately, Shirin is no longer surprised by how awful other humans can be. To protect herself she projects indifference as she moves from school to home and back again. Of course, as in so many teen stories, something interrupts her planned indifference. The readers' heart will break and mend and break again along with Shirin's in this incredibly moving, sometimes devastating, and ultimately hopeful, snapshot of her life. Check it out today! You'll be so glad you did!                                            

This is the first book I've read by Tahereh Mafi. She's also the author of the Shatter Me teen series and the middle grade fantasy novels, Furthermore and Whichwood. I'll be reading every word she writes! 


100 Places You Will Never Visit

Subtitled The World's Most Secret Locations, this book that lists 100 Places You Will Never Visit is good for both information and entertainment. There are descriptions and photographs (some from a distance, of course) of 100 sites, many of which the general public has not even heard of, let alone visit, such as the Rosslyn Chapel vaults, Room 39, Pionen White Mountains, and the Oak Island Money Pit. Others are famous because of their secrecy, such as the Fort Knox Bullion Depository, the Coca-Cola Recipe Vault, Air Force One, and the Queen's Bedroom at Buckingham Palace. This is another example of a book that can either be read straight through or looked at by individual site.


What Makes a Garden Grow?

A really wonderful, sad and yet hopeful story, The Rough Patch written and superbly illustrated by New York Times bestselling author Brian Lies is about a fox named Evan and his devoted dog.

Truly the best of friends, Evan and his pooch do everything together. Of all the activities that they engage in, they most relish working in Evan's magnificent garden! It is almost a magical place for plants, and everything they planted there thrived.

But one day , completely out of the blue, Evan sees his beloved canine friend lying dead in his doggie bed and everything in their wonderful existence changes.Evan first shuts himself out from the outside world by staying inside his house. He then decides to vent some of his dark feelings by cutting and slashing his beloved garden to the ground and disposing of the resultant plant trash by throwing it into a large pile. In place of his once beautiful garden filled with fragrant flowers and vibrant vegetables, newly sprouted, unattractive, prickly, dark weeds grew and so this garden became a sad, desolate place which matched his now never-changing mood.

However, one day he finds a pumpkin vine had snuck under a fence from the neighboring yard. His first inclination is to destroy it, but he rationalizes that since it was fuzzy, prickly, and spidery, that he would let it be. Evan ends up watering it and caring for it and decides to enter the pumpkin in the local fall fair. His pumpkin wins third place and as a prize he gets to choose either ten dollars or a pup found inside a cardboard box. Evan's first inclination is to take the money but he then hears a scratching sound coming from inside the box and thinks it wouldn't hurt to peek inside. He ends up adopting one of the pups and drives it home in his old red truck. And the rest( as they say) is history.

 A well written book on the topics of friendship, loss and redemption. Accompanied by beautifully detailed illustrations done with heart. This winner of a book is sure to please kids and many adults as well!

 

 


No one tells You this

Glynnis MacNicol celebrated her 40th birthday by herself, intentionally, even though her dear friends wanted to throw her a party. She was unmarried with no kids, no partner and no plans for either. She was squirming a bit under the burden of others’ expectations that she should be married, should be a mother by now. In No one tells You This, MacNicol chronicles how, during the year following her 40th birthday, she shook hands with that expectation, then let go of it for herself. Meanwhile, she embraced her full and interesting life--with gratitude for the flexibility her schedule allowed her to support her parents, sister, niece and nephew with some life changes--and found new choice adventures of her own.

MacNicol has a captivating writing style, and this is a meaningful memoir. There are so many single people in our culture, living vital multi-dimensional lives. Yet our media and our literature too rarely illuminate this reality. I hope MacNicol will publish more soon.