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Staff Picks: Books

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.


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...Well, Not Exactly

C. Roger Mader has done it again! He’s the author of Lost Cat, a children’s picture book I had previously blogged about. Supposedly, this newest work Tiptop Cat is based on reality as it mimics the adventures of his niece’s cat living in Paris ...“who roamed the rooftops of her neighborhood and survived a six story fall”. Yikes! 

 

As the story and pictures describe, a young girl gets a black and white cat for her birthday, who becomes her most favorite gift. Although the cat enjoys his indoor life, he also especially likes the outside balcony. This cat is no slouch – so he roams and jumps from one rooftop to another and then another, and then one more until he finally reaches “Le Grand Prix”; a prime sitting spot on a chimney that happens to have the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris.

 

However, one day he submits to his baser animal instincts and pounces upon a pigeon intruding on his balcony domain. Unfortunately, it’s a misjudged jump. As a consequence, he falls many floors down, right through a café canopy and into the arms of a man who just happens to be in the right spot, at the right time!  Luckily, the cat doesn’t break anything except maybe his spirit for hunting. For a while, he shies away from the balcony and rooftops until one day he once more spots someone landing on his domain; this time an irritating crow. And then he can’t help but give chase.  

 

The author states that he himself lives in the Normandy countryside of France with his wife and a petite cat named Pete, who is not allowed to hop on rooftops in search of excitement. That’s very good to know. Because you should never, ever let your cat wander over balconies, rooftops or anything else located high off the ground! The depth perception of domestic cats is not as keen as their agility, so accidents happen much more often than is commonly known. And in the end, the danger of losing your feline friend for a lifetime is just not worth their temporary happiness.

 

A wonderfully spirited book with many bright, evocative illustrations. Just remember one thing: Unless you’re a stunt cat, don’t try this at home!

 

 


Recommended in the strongest possible terms

Julie Schumacher’s funny and inventive novel Dear Committee Members hysterically skewers the world of academia from a perspective that feels intimately familiar with the absurdity of the world it depicts. Structured entirely in a series of satirical recommendation letters from Jason Fitger, a beleaguered, immensely egotistical, and more than a little unhinged professor in the English department of a small Midwestern liberal arts college, written to a variety of colleagues (including multiple to his ex-wife), HR departments, academic muckety-mucks, etc. The letters which drip with sarcasm and aggressiveness, both passive and not so much, work to slowly illuminate the very sad state of Fitger’s life and position. Dear Committee Member is laugh-out-loud funny, insightful, touching at times, and has a mischievousness about it that I found a joy to read.


Mom Ran Away With Bigfoot

Are you tired of vampires and zombies, but still want some fantastical realism? How about Bigfoot, lake monsters, half-human puppies and bird-women? You will find all of these in Sharma Shields’ debut novel The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.

After Eli Roebuck’s mom runs off with a sasquatch when he is nine years old, he spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the creature. Could this book possibly be compared to Moby-Dick? Yes, and not just once.

Booklist says, “Eli's quest is not unlike Ahab's, and Shields writes with piercing insight about the monsters that keep us from connecting with one another in this funny and wise first novel.”

A reviewer in Kirkus wrote, “ Imagine a mashup of Moby-Dick and Kakfa's Metamorphosis (with a hearty dash of Twin Peaks thrown in), and you'll begin to get an idea of what Shields' ambitious tale of disenchantment sets out to do.”

It comes out January 27th, but we have already ordered it so you can place a hold right now.