Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
There are loads of picture books that feature animal sounds and kids love them. Add a veterinarian with the longest latex glove ever and Jules Feiffer's comic genius and you’ve got this hilarious picture book that kids and adults will enjoy on several levels. Bark, George is a picture book about a trip to the doctor. Or maybe it’s a book about animal sounds with just a sprinkling of gross-out humor for good measure. I first fell in love with this book when it brought explosions of laughter from a gymnasium filled with second and third graders (and teachers) as I read it aloud. While the text alone is hilarious, Feiffer’s cartoon illustrations are just delightful. When my daughter was two, she and I also had lots of fun with Jules Feiffer’s The Daddy Mountain, a book she still references from time to time. Pulitzer Prize winner Jules Feiffer is well-known for his cartoons in The New Yorker and The Village Voice as well as for the illustrations in The Phantom Tollbooth, a modern classic. Though Bark, George is available in a DVD format adaptation along with other funny animal stories taken from picture books, it’s more fun to play with and savor Feiffer’s comic timing at your own pace with the picture book – surprise ending and all!
I find it somewhat difficult to describe what exactly it is about the essay writing of Joan Didion that strikes a chord with me but needless to say her work as both journalist and novelist has positioned her as one of this nation’s most respected storytellers and “prose stylists.” Her lyrical yet non-obstructive prose is clear and concise as she effortlessly chronicles the meanings and mythologies lodged behind the cultural values and norms that reside within the national fat cells of the American psyche. From her early California-centric pieces to her award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking (about the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunn), Didion’s work is a well-crafted lens that helps us to understand the broad macrocosmic shifts throughout history by examining the minutiae and the ephemeral.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live : collected nonfiction
Why is it that most baking recipes – even for the sweetest of treats – calls for a touch of salt? A little salt makes it sweeter, says Shirley Corriher, food scientist and author of BakeWise.
Corriher’s kitchen wisdom has been sought by home cooks, chefs and even by a Keebler plant manager trying to get the right texture for his cookies. You may have seen her on Food TV’s Good Eats, talking chemistry with Alton Brown.
In BakeWise, Corriher shares the hows and whys of good baking, offering 200 recipes for everything from brownies to baguettes. She explains with enthusiastic delight why the cookies crumble (or don't), why the muffins lose their tops, and why the soufflés are flat.
Knowing a bit more about food chemistry will take the mystery out of baking, but not the adventure.
Deep Dish / Mary Kay Andrews is the first (hopefully) of a new series featuring a feisty Southern thirty something foodie named Gina Foxton who has a very successful local cooking show until she finds it cancelled and replaced by a manly outdoors cooking show featuring the not so hard to look at Tate Moody.
The main feature of this light novel is a Gina/Tate cook-off at an out-of-the-way lodge on a Georgia Sea Island, Eutow. When the cook-off turns into a real food fight, it is easy to see where this duel is going, but the read is fun and light and good for a few hours waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey to cook. One hopes to see more of Gina and Tate in the near future.
I have enjoyed looking at the new state quarters that have been issued by the U.S. Mint over the last ten years. It has been interesting to see what theme each state would choose to represent its history and people. Now comes Jim Noles, an attorney from Birmingham, Alabama, who has written A Pocketful of History, a book about the images that appear on each of the 50 coins and the history behind them. I immediately turned to the chapter on Michigan, and right away disagreed with the first sentence in which he says, “At the risk of irritating Michigan’s nearly 10 million citizens, it is difficult to ignore the obvious: Michigan’s state quarter is perhaps the most boring of the bunch.” I remember that when Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm selected the design from five finalists, I thought she chose very well. Noles does go on to discuss Michigan’s maritime history, with an interesting account of the “White Hurricane” of November 1913. Intriguing questions emerge in this volume, such as whether Ohio’s quarter violates federal law. The review in Library Journal says that the fifty chapters are not “a comprehensive history of the United States but a serving of individual slices.” This is a distinct advantage of the book’s format – one can read as few or many of the five-page chapters as one wants and still gain something. Noles’ effort is the result of a clever, nicely researched idea and serves as a good companion to the coin series.
A pocketful of history : four hundred years of America --one state quarter at a time
As they say, “everything old is new again.” Jan Karon is a perennially popular author who has written a series of books about life in the tiny village of Mitford as seen through the life of its Episcopal pastor – Fr. Tim.
Though the last volume of the Mitford Series was written in 2005, Jan came out with a last and final Fr. Tim title in 2007 – “Home to Holly Springs” which brings the series back full circle as Fr. Tim visits his hometown after a 25 years absence.
This series of 10 books is a delight. From the first volume when we meet Fr. Tim through the last title in 2005 “Light from Heaven” we feel like we are a part of this village, these people, this life.
Seems like this series is so very popular because people enjoy being a part a simpler, happier life where everyone is truly your neighbor – even if only in the readers eye.
You don’t need to read the whole series, but start at the beginning with “At Home in Mitford.” It will leave you smiling and peaceful!
At Home In Mitford
John Irving fans will find a lot to like in this novel full of interesting, complex characters, nearly all of whom have serious flaws and idiosyncrasies. Jack Burns is about four years old, precocious and just becoming aware of his world when his mother Alice begins to “educate” him. Young Jack travels with his mother, a tattoo artist known as “Daughter Alice,” to search for his father. Jack grows up abused by the young women in his school and by the adults in his life.
When his mother dies of cancer, Jack is a dysfunctional, highly successful Hollywood actor who has never had a meaningful relationship. When he decides to unravel the tales his mother told him growing up, his psychosis deepens as he learns the truth. When Jack finally finds his sister and father, the book ends interestingly and even positively. It is a long book, but as most Irving novels are, it is well worth reading; extremely sad but somehow fulfilling.
Another bonus is that this title is available on audio cd and cassette as well as in large type.
Until I Find You
Do you like murder mysteries, but sometimes wish modern authors wouldn't include quite so much graphic detail about the murder, sadistic murder methods, and amounts of blood? I just finished what I call a "gentle" murder mystery. Someone does die, and there is an investigation, but the focus is on the investigator, Alafair Tucker, her husband and 10 children living on their ranch in early 1900's Oklahoma. There are plenty of details, but they are about the characters and what life was like back then, everything from driving to town in the buckboard to get a block of ice from the icehouse, packing it in straw, and hurrying home to get it in the icebox before it melts to recipes for real down-home food such as Fried Okra Pie, Chicken and Dumplings, and homemade Peach Ice Cream. Alafair is a no-nonsense but loving wife and mother who also has a gift for investigation, much to the amusement and sometimes chagrin of the local sheriff. In the third book of the series, The drop edge of yonder, Alafair's young brother-in-law, Bill, has been shot and killed and his fiancée almost killed by an unknown "bushwhacker" - and Mary, Alafair's second-oldest daughter, has been wounded. So this investigation is personal - and Alafair wastes no time in gathering information to help protect her child. Because, it seems, the bushwhacker isn't finished with Mary. You should read this series in order: #1 is The old buzzard had it coming -- #2 is Hornswoggled. I guarantee you'll really get attached to the characters in these entertaining and heartwarming books written by Donis Casey.
The drop edge of yonder
While doing some book re-arranging recently, I came across The Angel with One Hundred Wings : A Tale from the Arabian Nights by Daniel Horch. This book is loosely based on one of the many Arabian Nights tales and is a fun, quick read. It encompasses a love story with a little treachery and betrayal. Set in Baghdad in the 9th century, it is truly a "once upon a time" story--enchanting and mystical. The main character is an alchemist who dares to lose everything to help the Prince of Persia pursue the young lady with whom he is enamoured. So, for a weekend read during a dreary fall, pre-winter season, light a jasmine scented candle, cuddle up in your favorite blanket and join Abulhassan on his journey...
The Angel with One Hundred Wings
One of the founding members of severely underappreciated '80s slowcore band Galaxie 500, lounge-rock group Luna, and half of the duo Dean and Britta, Dean Wareham has made a life out of almost, but not quite, breaking through to fame and stardom. Rolling Stone magazine once declared Luna "the greatest band you never heard of", and that pretty much sums up most of Wareham's career. With Black Postcards, every last awful detail about being a middle-rung rockstar is laid bare: the booze, the pills, the anonymous hookups with groupies during European tours, and the inevitable breakup(of both the band, and later, his marriage). While that's oddly entertaining in itself, what's even more interesting is Wareham's tales of the indie rock explosion of the late '80s to mid '90s, and the subsequent rise and fall of the grunge era. Through it all, Wareham provides a brutally honest, often ugly look at the frustrating position of being marginally successful in the music industry.
Black postcards : a rock & roll romance