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January 28, 2013
by Mandelman, Avner
I tried to read The Debba earlier this month, while I was watching the first season of Homeland, but something deep within me cried out NO NO NO I CAN'T DO THIS. I couldn't deal with more than one suspense story embedded in dark political machinations. I'm glad that I picked the book back up, when the season was over, and my thanks go to Curt in the Booksale for recommending it.
David Starkman has been living in Canada. He is called back to his homeland, Israel, when his father is murdered, and the father's will contains a provision that David finds ridiculous. His father had written a play called The Debba, which had been staged only once, decades earlier, and had caused a riot. The will states that David must stage the play within 45 days of his father's death. David refuses, at first, but then agrees to do it, in part because there are obviously forces around him that don't want the play to be staged.
I wasn't always sure that I was keeping the story lines straight, but emerging from the Raymond-Chandler-in-Israel plot is a vision of the confused relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel. David has been living with nightmares about the dreck, the dirty work, that he had been called upon to perform as an Israeli soldier; and now, enmeshed in the production of this provocative play, he finds himself donning his espionage gear once again. His ideas about his father, and literature, and the past, are forever being pulled inside out.
Side note: Author Mandelman has written, in a little essay called "Necessary Evil and Necessary Hypocrisy," about how he felt "electric shock" when he first encountered John LeCarré's master spy George Smiley. If you click on the link, scroll down on the Amazon page to see the essay.
This novel is also available as a downloadable e-book
Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Information Technology
January 21, 2013
A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures
edited by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson
891.6 CEL 1971
The word "Celtic" is thrown around almost as loosely as "organic" or, in my professional sphere, the phrase "Web 2.0." According to this volume's editor, though, the slipshod usage of the term is nothing new. Even in 1951 and the second edition in 1971, Jackson was weighing in against "the fashion to think of the Celtic mind as something mysterious, magical, filled with dark broodings over a mighty past; and the Irish, Welsh, and the rest as a people who by right of birth alone were in some strange way in direct contact with a mystical supernatural twilight world which they would rarely reveal to the outsider.."
His solution to the problem was this anthology, spanning twelve centuries, with sections on nature, Celtic magic, religion, love, bardic poetry, epigrams, elegies and satire. I contacted the publisher a year or two ago, to ask if I could reprint some passages in our Reader's Connection blog, and Penguin referred me to some other group who owned the rights, and who wove a band of Celtic flame around the book. They don't want passages to appear on the Web, even for a fee.
The flame-band, however, affects only my efforts to mine the Miscellany for the Web. You can open the library's copy without suffering injury. Have you ever tried to read The Cattle-Raid of Cooley? It may sound like a western, but it is, as Jackson puts it, "the Iliad of Irish story," and if its combination of violence and boredom reminded you of A Fistful of Dollars, try some of the excerpts in the Miscellany's Hero-Tales and Adventure section. You might see the work in a new light.
I'm looking out my dining room window on Martin Luther King Day. The flurries seem to have stopped, and the sun is shining. I don't have a problem with January, myself, but for those of you who do, I wish I could reprint "To May and January" from the Nature section. It closes by hurling a curse at this chilly month, and you might feel some kinship. Rath oraibh go léir.
Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Information Technology
January 14, 2013
Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital
by Beam, Alex
McLean Hospital outside Boston Massachusetts has for nearly two hundred years been the location for (primarily) the gently and mildly insane well-to-do, who visit for a “rest cure”. Its patient lists read like a who’s who of art, literature, business and politics in America. The founding of Mclean in 1811 was seen as a step toward great reform, the end of treating patients like incurable wild creatures left in chains, beaten not as a torture but as a type of cure. Developed through a series of land grants, donations and government funds, the buildings and grounds were unified and beautifully redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted who himself became a patient there at the end of his life.
The book is more than a gossipy tract about patients like Ray Charles, John Forbes Nash (made famous by the biography A Beautiful Mind and the movie based on it, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Susanna Kaysen (who wrote about her stay in the book Girl, Interrupted, which was also made into a movie). It is a history of the treatment of mental illness. We read about the idea that rest would restore a distraught mind, and about the pros and cons of electroshock and today’s modern pharmacopeia; about the genteel men and women who only infrequently managed to wander off, and the wild children of the ‘60’s being locked away by confused parents and treated by doctors as nearly helpless. Beam also compares the longer, more social stays of the past with the brief evaluations, prescriptions and quick releases mandated by regulation and insurance today. He also gives a primer on business survival in an age of HMOs and outpatient care.
I recommend Gracefully Insane for anyone who is interested in the changes and challenges of mental health treatment in America and those who are looking for an interesting look into the mental health of those we deem “upper class.”.
— Recommended by Deanna Long, East Washington Library
January 7, 2013
by Tropper, Jonathan
CD FIC TRO
This title was recommended to me by someone in our monthly Book Discussion Group. Having not read the author, I ordered the cd version and was hooked. (It's also available as a downloadable e-book or downloadable audiobook, but our last paper copy has vanished. Everything changes.) This is the story of man who seemed to have it all, a lucrative career, a fiancé who is both smart and beautiful, and a rich best friend who lets him live rent-free free in his Manhattan apartment until he is confronted with his own mortality. Re-evaluating his life while he waits for the results of his biopsy, Zack realizes that he doesn’t want to take the fall for his customer’s mistake and that he is actually in love, not with his fiancé, but with the widow of his best friend who died two years earlier in a car accident on their way home from a road trip to Atlantic City. If that is not enough to contend with, Zack’s wayward father, who abandoned the family twenty years early, comes back to town and worms his way back into the family, failing to inform them of the real reason he came back to town.
— Recommended by Peggy Wehr, Fountain Square Library
December 31, 2012
Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners
by Emmins, Alan
After the CSI people have dusted for fingerprints and sprayed for blood and the detectives have detected, Neal Smither is the man who comes in to clean up the mess when people decide to pull the trigger on life. This book is, by turns, gruesome and graphic, obscenity-laced and irreverent; but it is also laugh-out-loud funny in parts. Emmins is a rank amateur when it comes to death: “Fear and murder have no bearing on my reality. I come from Copenhagen, where for the most part we ride our bicycles from café to café and drink overpriced lattes.” To get the story, Emmins shadows Neal for a month. Emmins finds himself immediately put to work—and totally grossed out—as he scrubs at blood, flees maggots, and learns to clean up after himself when his stomach recoils at the sight of death gone awry. Emmins starts on his journey being appalled at Neal’s cavalier attitude; a few short weeks later he is appalled to find echoes of Neal in his own thinking. But perhaps most amazing of all is how Emmins can take such a grim topic and turn it into an entertaining read.
— Recommended by Cheryl Holtsclaw, West Indianapolis Library