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Staff Picks: Books

Rising Strong

Self-described researcher-storyteller Brené Brown is well known for her research and writing on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the most viewed. Several of her books, including The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead are bestsellers. Her fourth book, Rising Strong, published earlier this week, deals with what happens when we exercise courage and fail. Resilience is a hot topic right now, and Brown's new book is definitely worth checking out.

 


The Nightingale

The World War II time period with a European setting is a particularly popular fiction genre within the past two to three years. I have read many of them, but my favorite to date is Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

The story focuses on two sisters set in a French village beginning in 1939. Both are overcome by the death of their mother and the abandonment of their father. One remains in the village which is ultimately taken over by the Germans, the other joins the French underground.

One of the sisters narrates the story from the present, but the reader doesn’t know until the end which sister is telling their shared story.

As expected from a novel of this time and setting, Hannah examines life, love, the ravages of war, and the different ways people react to unthinkable situations. It is well-written and a good read.


Between the World and Me

The talk of the book world today will surely be Harper Lee's greatly anticipated Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to her beloved 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. But another book released today, one that will certainly inspire a lot of conversation, also deserves your attention. Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog for the Atlantic magazine is where the best writing on American life today is happening and his new book, Between the World and Me, continues with that subject in a personal way. Written as a letter to his teenage son Samori, Between the World and Me lyrically describes Coates' experience living in a black, male body within the context of American history.

Coates will visit Kalamazoo in November to speak at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's community meeting. The event is free and open to the public; find more information at the Community Foundation's website.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I might be making a professional faux pas, but I’m going to tell you to judge this book by its cover.  Look at the light and airy design of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—doesn’t it look so calm and beautiful?  I imagine calm and beautiful is what my house will be after I put Marie Kondo’s tidying tips into action.  Marie Kondo is a tidying guru in Japan, but her simple, yet inspiring book was just recently translated to English.  Her secret to keeping a house in order, with no clutter relapses, is to throw everything away--well, at least all the items in your home that don’t “spark joy.”  She has a strategy for attacking clutter in a particular order and then explains how to store possessions that are kept.  It’s a fast read and has inspired me to start sorting through my stuff.


Take a Chance with a Couple of Kooks

Miranda July is a Renaissance woman; she’s a fearless explorer in multiple artistic mediums: a filmmaker, a writer, and a performance artist. I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her movie Me and You and Everyone We Know, an idiosyncratic independent film that addresses loneliness and human connection in contemporary society.  Loneliness and connection are common topics in her work, and her latest artistic venture, the novel The First Bad Man, is no exception to that.  Cheryl Glickman is a middle-aged single woman who has her life organized to virtual non-existence; she has an elaborate system set up (this includes having just enough dishes for one person for one meal) to avoid devolving into a depressed, hoarding, non-bathing mess.  But there wouldn’t be a story here if her life just continued on lonely and tidy—things change drastically when her bosses’ 21-year-old daughter moves in with her.  The First Bad Man is weirdly wonderful. The characters appear odd at first, but really their thoughts, emotions, and illogical natures are so utterly human. I’d recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of Miranda July or who likes eccentric, well-developed characters.


The Girl on the Train

I don’t usually seek out psychological thrillers but I did enjoy The Girl on the Train, often compared to Gone Girl.

The story centers on Rachel who takes the train into London each day, traveling past the backyard of a happy-looking couple she names Jess and Jason. One day, Rachel sees “Jess” kissing another man and the next day “Jess” is missing.

The story is told through the eyes of three characters with plenty of inventive twists and surprising developments – at least to me. This is a page turner, perhaps to be saved for a summer beach read.


How We Got to Now

This 2014 book by Steven Johnson is subtitled Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Those six are each described in chapters which are entitled glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. Various inventions are recalled under each heading. For example, the chapter on cold discusses the development of refrigeration and the chapter on clean covers advances in public health. The illustrations and photographs by themselves make this book worthy of examination. One of my favorites is the reproduction of the old Clorox ad on page 153. Available in four formats: e-book, digital audiobook, compact disc, and print.


101 Two-Letter Words

For someone who loves books and reading, and is inflicted with an incurable case of curiosity, working in a library is often both a blessing and a curse. I read hundreds of book reviews every year, I see tons of books every day, and I talk about books with patrons, coworkers, and friends incessantly. On top of those sources, my love of bookstores and the existence of the internet means there are untold book discoveries to be made. All those books lead me to seek out even more books, and there's really no hope I'll ever get to all the titles that catch my eye. Earlier this week, while working in the 400 Dewey range of adult non-fiction (the section for language) I stumbled upon a newer book called 101 Two-Letter Words by musician Stephin Merritt, front man of pop band the Magnetic Fields. It's a little book of short poems, one for each of the two-letter words allowed in Scrabble. I recently started playing Scrabble again, so this book was a happy discovery. Merritt's poems make memorizing the two-letter words easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few poems:

AI
The ai, a threatened three-toed sloth
Found only in Brazil,
munches on leaves and sleeps in trees.
I hope it always will.

QI
Qi, in Chinese medicine:
vitality, or breath;
say it "chee," as in "Say cheese!"
Its opposite is death.

SH
"Sh," says the librarian,
"people are trying to read.
And turn that goddamn cellphone off,
before I make you bleed."

The book is illustrated by Roz Chast, whose graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, appeared on numerous best of 2014 lists and was a National Book Award finalist. 101 Two-Letter Words persuaded me to finally pick up her book and reminded me that the library's digital magazine service, Zinio, now offers access to the New Yorker, which Chast works for as a cartoonist. My to-read pile continues to grow!


Good for Amy Poehler!

I recently started listening to the audiobook of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and I love it. Amy Poehler is a modern feminist heroine to me; she’s funny, passionate, and confident, not to mention extremely successful and hard-working. Her book offers a glimpse into her life--relationships, career, and motherhood—and exudes all the happy humor you’d expect from the SNL alumni and Parks and Recreation star. Her motto, “Good for her! Not for me,” has really stuck with me; it’s a great way of admiring and encouraging other women while still being kind and confident with one’s self.
If you’re a fan of Amy Poehler’s television shows or movies, or enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants, give Yes Please a try. I highly recommend listening to it, as born-performer Amy Poehler reads it herself, along with guest stars such as Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and Carol Burnett.


An Unplanned Reading Emphasis

As I look back over the list of books I read in 2014, I am surprised how many of them have a European, World War I or II setting both fiction and nonfiction. That was not intentional. Many of the books I read are relatively new so I can only assume there has been many books with this setting and time published in the last year or so.

Fiction favorites include:

The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton

Lovers at the Chameleon Club 1932 by Francine Prose

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

My nonfiction favorites of this setting and time include:

The Hotel on Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit and An Epic Quest to Arm an American at War by Albert J. Baime (Not a European setting but WW II)

Do you have any of this time and setting to recommend to me? Contact me