Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
At a library conference this summer, I heard Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, rave about a soon-to-be released book, The Goldfinch, by her good friend, Donna Tartt. I added it to my reading list.
I just finished this lengthy novel. At almost 800 pages it does take a substantial investment of time and I agree with some reviewers that some sections dragged, but overall I liked it.
The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills narrator Theo Decker’s mother and leads to his unlikely possession of the Dutch masterpiece “The Goldfinch.” His life and fate revolves around the painting as the novel covers the next 14 years.
At times the story seemed just too coincidental but I was totally caught up in it and had to read to the end.
If you take on this book, I’d be interested in what you thought of it. I’d give it four out of five stars.
I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.
I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.
After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.
As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.
Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination
When I recently came across a book that was the subject of an earlier blog post by Sue, I noticed it has a new sticker on it: PEN/Bellwether Prize Winner for Socially Engaged Fiction. This led me to look up more about this award and its background. Here’s what I learned:
The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. The PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2014.
Past winners include:
2000 – Donna Gershten for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth [now on order for KPL]
2002 – Gayle Brandeis for The Book of Dead Birds
2004 – Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape
2006 – Hillary Jordan for Mudbound
2008 – Heidi W. Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
2010 – Naomi Benaron for Running the Rift
2012 – Susan Nussbaum for Good Kings Bad
PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.
The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.
I recently read accounts of two long solo walks. One was fictional; one was a memoir. One takes place in England; the other transpires on the west coast of the USA. Still, both books drew me right in, and I found intriguing similarities in the stories.
Harold, the unassuming hero of Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, leaves the house one day to post a letter to a dying friend. Suddenly, his feet take off and before he knows it, he’s headed across England to see her in person, convinced that his journey will keep Queenie alive. Cheryl Strayed was still reeling from the death of her mother and the end of a marriage, when she set off hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, weighted down by much more than her far-too-heavy backpack.
Harold and Cheryl are both compelled to continue, day after harrowing day, despite torturous run-ins with ill-suited footwear and other gear. Strayed starts off Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail with a punch. We learn that she has just lost one of her hiking boots down the side of the mountain. They never fit well, anyway, and what good is one boot without the other? Her reaction, then, is to heave the other out into the abyss, and we are left wondering how on earth she made it safely home, without hiking gear for her feet. (Read the book to find out!)
Strayed and Joyce each give excellent descriptions of nature discovered, and human connections created, along the way. The people they meet enrich their experiences; however, ultimately both the heroine and the hero find the strength to complete their journeys solo, facing down inner demons in the process.
Wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail
Does my dog know what I’m thinking? It always fascinates me to ponder the possibilities of communication between animals and humans. That’s just one reason why I found “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler so mesmerizing.
When we meet eighteen year old Rosemary, she’s a college student drifting through life. Rosemary meets bad girl Harlow, and it forces her to confront events in her past. It’s only part way through the book that we discover Rosemary’s dad was a famous psychologist, and Rosemary’s twin sister was a chimpanzee named Fern. They were raised together as an experiment, along with older brother Lowell, and it profoundly affects all their lives, in ways none of them could have expected.
This book raises a whole host of unsettling and provocative issues, told in Rosemary’s words. The story is by turns funny, poignant and totally readable, and I really cared about the characters in this book. It's one of those stories that you find yourself thinking about later at random moments- it stays with you.
We are all completely beside ourselves
I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.
The Wish List
Today while maintaining the shelves to the high standard of orderliness to which you have become accustomed, I found this book: Killer librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin, and I immediately wanted to read it. However, duty called (sadly, my duties do not include dropping everything to read every fun book I run across while at work) and I am adding yet another title to the list. This happens a lot, and the list is long. I plan to check this out some day when I want a quick and easy read, as it looks to be the sort of cozy mystery to curl up with on a lazy afternoon, and finish by bedtime with no fear of nightmares.
Last month in this spot I wrote about This Is Not My Hat, the 2013 J. Klassen book that won the Caldecott Award. I had seen a picture of the cover in The New York Times Book Review. Even though I don't fall into the recommended age group of 4-8 years, I wanted to read more by Mr. Klassen. Checking the KPL catalog, I discovered I Want My Hat Back. This one, written two years earlier in 2011, is about a bear who lost his hat but, after conversations with lots of other animals, remembers that he had seen it on a rabbit and recovers it. Both text and illustrations make this pleasant reading for children (and others such as myself who might enjoy taking a three-minute vacation from their usual reading patterns).
I want my hat back
As Andrea says below, teen books are great ffun to read for adults as well as teens. As additional prooff, I offer you The song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde. Fforde, who has written several series for adults, started a series for a younger crowd with The last dragonslayer. In this sequel, you will find light spheres that run on sarcasm, additional references to marzipan as a controlled substance, and an enlightening and thought-provoking view on how trolls view the human species (on page 200), as well as the most delightful sentence I've read recently.
"She was so crabby, in fact, that even really crabby people put their crabbiness aside to write her gushing yet mildly sarcastic fan letters."
The song of the Quarkbeast