Staff Picks

Don't forget to check out our staff picks for kids!

March 18, 2013

after the quake

after the quake
by Murakami, Haruki

A series of six short stories written in the wake of the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake: it was the first thing I read by Haruki Murakami, and it inspired me to devour everything he produced. Murakami, known for his use of magic realism in stories, weaves the effects of the earthquake throughout each story presented in the collection. Some stories are framed heavily by the earthquake, while in others it is only a shadow in the background. The earthquake is the only link between the stories, whose subject matters range from talking to a massive toad living under Japan, to going to see a bear at the zoo.

I had read plenty of short stories previous to stumbling upon this collection, whether it was in English class or just for pleasure. But, for me, collections of short stories always seemed tossed together and random. This collection, however, really made sense to me. Each story in this collection seems purposeful and tied together with the thread of the earthquake weaving through. Each of the stories is well written, easy to read, and engaging. Characters are developed wonderfully in the short amount of time you have with them, to the point that it is painful to leave them. I was satisfied with the length of the stories, in that the plot was completely developed and made sense as a short story, but I would have loved more time with each character.

If you have never read any fiction by a Japanese author, I highly recommend doing so, and this is a great place to start. In my experience, these short stories served as the perfect introduction to Murakami before I delved into his longer novels. And even after reading him extensively, I still felt this collection included some of my favorite stories of his.

— Recommended by Austin Senior, Central Library


March 11, 2013

Ordinary Heroes

Ordinary Heroes
by Turow, Scott

Surprised to discover his father was once court-martialed and imprisoned while serving in the army during WWII, Stewart Dubinsky embarks on a journey to try to understand his family’s history. You will be touched by the riveting description of his father’s introduction to war when he parachutes into the middle of the Battle of the Bulge, fascinated by the mysterious Robert Martin, a wayward OSS officer Stewart’s father has been tasked with apprehending, and saddened by the tale of French Resistance operative Gita Lodz. How is it possible that these characters play such defining roles in Stewart’s life and yet he’s never heard of them? Read the intriguing story of Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow and you will learn of the horrors of war as well as its heroes.

                                                — Recommended by Suzy Heilman, Franklin Road Library


March 4, 2013

Midnight Robber

Midnight Robber
by Hopkinson, Nalo
SF H797m

This lyrical second novel by Locus award winning author Nalo Hopkinson stars the flawed yet sympathetic heroine Tan-Tan. Young Tan-Tan has lived on two Caribbean-colonized planets; she was born on the high-tech and lush planet Toussaint, then was stolen away by her father to live with him on the prison planet New Half-Way Tree, after he was sentenced for murdering his wife’s lover. New Half-Way Tree is not an advanced, urban society like Toussaint; Tan-Tan and her father have to learn to live in much harsher conditions. Her father’s temper and judgment gets worse as the years go on, and eventually Tan-Tan is forced to flee. She has friends within the indigenous population of the planet but when they are endangered by her presence she takes to the jungle. With no control over her own life and in constant fear of being caught, Tan-Tan adopts the persona of the Robber Queen, a character from Caribbean folklore, to right the wrongs she sees done all around her.

Weaving together themes of gender, colonialism and the power of myth and story is not enough for Hopkinson. She also creates an amazing dialect that blends the Jamaican and Trinidadian languages. It is a beautiful narrative voice that can take some getting used to, so don’t give up if you find it difficult right away! Your head will move to its rhythm soon enough. This dialect helps us grasp the sensuous and mischievous feel of Carnivale and sense the heat and humidity of the jungle as Tan-Tan tries to escape her past. We feel the weight of being a folk hero settle on Tan-Tan’s shoulders, and suppress a shudder at her rash decisions while our heart breaks for the girl who had to make them. The language that Hopkinson has created lends immense power to the story by reminding us where it came from and evoking setting in a way that cannot be glossed over or forgotten.

Some people still dismiss science fiction and fantasy as not being real literature; Hopkinson shows us what a talented writer can do with the form. This is a great novel for anyone who enjoys solid world-building, beautifully written prose, and strong and compelling characters.

— Recommended by Carri Genovese, Central Library


February 25, 2013

The Queen and I

The Queen and I
by Townsend, Sue

The British have elected a new Republican government and the entire royal family has been ousted from their various palatial residences and relegated to council (slum) housing. This is the premise Sue Townsend’s alternately dark and witty novel.

Queen Elizabeth is doing quite well in her new circumstances, actually, stiff upper lip and all that. She’s trying to comfort Prince Philip, who has collapsed completely and refuses to get out of bed. Princess Anne is being romanced by a local horse trader. Charles is calling himself “Charlie Teck” (the maiden name of his great-grandmother, Queen Mary), and has allowed his infatuation with a buxom next-door neighbor to embroil him in a tawdry alley brawl. Even the Queen’s favorite Corgy, Harris, is running with riff-raff mutts. Can the Windsors learn to cope with life on the dole, cook their own meals and find change for the bus? A truly inspired fantasy!

— Recommended by Emily Talbott, Nora Library


February 18, 2013

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from Privileged Son

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from Privileged Son
by Wise, Tim
305.8 WIS 2008

No matter your race or your feelings about the current state of race relations, Wise’s book will challenge your assumptions and turn your view of society on its head. Well written, not overly scholarly, filled with personal insights and stories, we find out about Wise’s own personal journey dealing with race and the effects white privilege on his family history and upbringing. He writes with insight about institutionalized white supremacy—so pervasive and ingrained as the status quo that most do not question it or even realize that there is such a bias. Two points I found particularly intriguing and that he elucidates very well are that of the “profound denial…and willed ignorance” of this privilege on the part of most whites and about the psychological, social and personal costs to whites because of this privilege—ideas I’ve not heard expressed anywhere else and that are really eye-opening. Find out why Wise so passionately fights racism and why, in this ongoing battle, it’s important for everyone to stand up to racism, in its many shapes and forms, in daily life. Wise gives the reader some tools to do so.

— Recommended by Nicole James, College Avenue Library