Staff Picks

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

April 8, 2013

How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life

How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life
by Heti, Sheila

The subtitle of Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? caught my eye: “A Novel from Life.” Perhaps a fictional memoir could be expected, yet within a few pages I knew that identifying the precise type of this book would not be possible.

Sheila, a young creative and aspiring playwright, offers a story of self, art, and friendship told through literary prose, strings of emails, recorded conversations presented in screenplay form, and personal observations that go above stream of consciousness and land in finely crafted questions with echoes of acute self-wondering and self-reckoning.

When her marriage ends, so does Sheila’s creative flow, specifically with a play that she has been commissioned to write. She begins to question not only the creative process but the process of self. When she meets a painter named Margaux, Sheila explores both the strength and delicacy of true kinship and how friends help form us. The rest of the cast include fellow creatives—one, Israel, a new exotic lover—and it is through all of these relationships that Sheila studies closely the idea of “how a person should be.”

“You can admire anyone for being themselves,” Heti poses in her prologue. “It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how do you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux? Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?”

This "novel from life," written in unconventional form that is both highly readable and relatable, How Should A Person Be? is a rare and raw beauty of a read. I was drawn in by the author's honest, probing questions and real-world realizations, burgeoning with a deep homage to friendship and its lasting effect on who we are and might become.

— Recommended by Leigh Thomas, Central Library


April 1, 2013

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared
by Jonasson, Jonas

This title is another Swedish import, but a far cry from those dark mysteries like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Camilla Lackberg’s Stonecutter. Allan Karlsson is having a birthday, his 100th, and he does not want to attend the party in his honor at the Old Folks Home. Allan has had enough of Director Alice and her vodka ban and impetuously decides to leave through his bedroom window. Still in his slippers, he makes his way to the bus station where he finds the first bus out of town. It just so happens that a gang member, Bolt, is also looking to get away. He asks Allan to look after his suitcase while he uses the restroom. The bus arrives. Allan decides to take the suitcase, figuring there would be some shoes and other essentials for his trip, and gets on board. And we’re off on a crazy chase through Sweden, as Bolt and his gang track Allan, the suitcase, and the people he meets. We also get to know Allan’s past and this is not the first time he’s been on the run! I thought this was a charming mash-up of Forrest Gump and Water for Elephants.

— Recommended by Ann Grilliot, Lawrence Library


March 25, 2013

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
by Abercrombie, Joe

“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?” – Sand Dan Glokta, The Blade Itself

Shortly after ripping through the "Game of Thrones" series, I found myself scrabbling for another story with the same kind of gritty violence, underhanded scheming, and raw human characters. Sadly, nothing quite scratched that itch. It is rare to find a fantasy story that breaks free from the classic tropes: elves, orcs, dwarves, and an ancient prophecy fulfilled by an unassuming farm boy who’ll face a monolithic force of “pure evil”. All accomplished, of course, with the help of a kindly old wizard who’ll drop in to help just enough to leave room for a challenge. You know the drill, right?

Enter Joe Abercrombie’s "First Law" Trilogy, starting with The Blade Itself. And by “enter”, I mean “kicks the door off its hinges, turns all the old clichés upside down, and shakes them a few times for their spare change.” When the “good guys” are a battle-scarred barbarian who’ll turn on his own allies when he flies into a rage, a cold-blooded imperial torturer with no sense of fear, and a former slave turned assassin with nothing to live for but revenge, you know you’re in for a wild ride. This is a story with no room for simplistic notions of good and evil with characters that are, at the end of the day, merely human. It is all done with a heavy slathering of cruel wit, which one might call parody if the end result were not so true to life. As Logen Ninefingers, terror of the North, would say, “You have to be realistic about these things.”

If The Blade Itself has a weak point, it’s that it is the first book of a trilogy that takes time to reveal all of its twists. If you’re only in it for one serving, you might leave thinking that you’ve got the inevitable love story all figured out, or that Bayaz, the resident wizard, is nothing more than another Gandalf/Dumbledore figure. That would be a big mistake.

Joe Abercrombie is a refreshing voice in the fantasy genre, and readers who couldn’t get enough of Tyrion Lannister, Royce and Hadrian of Riyria, or the exploits of The Black Company, owe it to themselves to check him out.

— Recommended by Daniel Perez, East 38th Street Library


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