August 24, 2010 by Reader's Connection
Summer´s not quite over, as far as our book discussions go. Four August get-togethers remain.
Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo´s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo´s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. — Publishers note
Gladwell, author and journalist, sets out to provide an understanding of success using outliers, men and women with skills, talent, and drive who do things out of the ordinary. He contends that we must look beyond the merits of a successful individual to understand his culture, where he comes from, his friends and family, and the community values he inherits and shares. We learn that society s rules play a large role in who makes it and who does not. Success is a gift, and when opportunities are presented, some people have the strength and presence of mind to seize them, exhibiting qualities such as persistence and doggedness. Successful people are the products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy, and success ultimately is not exceptional or unattainable, nor does it depend upon innate ability. It is an attitude of willingness to try without regard for the sacrifice required. — Booklist
Captain Robert Snow will be on hand for the discussion of his book Looking for Carroll Beckwith: The True Story of a Detective’s Search for His Past Life at the Franklin Road Library on Thursday, August 26th at 6:30 p.m. Captain Snow will be signing and selling half-price copies of his book.
Indianapolis police homicide commander Snow offers a dryly nonplused account of his discovery of his “past life” as 19th-century portrait painter Carroll Beckwith. Snow participated in (and taped) a therapeutic “recovered memory” session as a lark, and, once hypnotized, was jolted by a series of clear images and recollections that seemed even then strangely plausible, despite his cop’s hard-nosed, empirical perspective. Later, when he walked into a New Orleans gallery at random and confronted a painting that had appeared to him in his vision, he determined to put his detective’s investigative skills to work and research congruencies between his “memories” and the artist’s life. Surprisingly, the evidence that he painstakingly assembled through retrieving Beckwith’s journals and work from obscurity seemed fully to confirm that Snow’s “recollections” were authentic. Snow relates all this ruefully, hardly eager to be perceived as “New Age.” — Cahners Business Information
Never one to rest on her laurels, famed Canadian author Atwood redeems the word sequel with this brilliant return to the nightmarish future first envisioned in Oryx and Crake. Contrary to expectations, the waterless flood, a biological disaster predicted by a fringe religious group, actually arrives. In its wake, the survivors must rely on their wits to get by, all the while reflecting on what went wrong. Atwood wins major style points here for her framing device, the liturgical year of the God’s Gardeners sect. Readers who enjoy suspense will also appreciate the story’s shifting viewpoint and nonlinear time line, which result in the gradual revelation of key events and character relationships. Atwood’s heroines seem uniformly grim and hollow, but one can hardly expect cheerfulness in the face of the apocalypse, and the hardships of their lives both pre- and postflood are moving and disturbing. Another win for Atwood. — Library Journal
And now September:
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor,will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, September 2nd at 10:30 a.m.
In a probing literary collaboration that moves from Greece to their home in Charleston, S.C., novelist Kidd and her daughter, Taylor, explore and record the changing stages of a woman’s life. At 50, Kidd, a wife and mother who had found fulfillment as a writer in recent years, was approaching menopause and anxious about tapping the “green fuse,” or regenerative energy, for the next step in her life. Traveling to Greece with her daughter, Taylor, 22, when the latter graduated from college in 1998, Kidd recognized that her daughter, who had just received a stinging rejection from a graduate school, was also undergoing another kind of wrenching transformation–from child to adult faced with decisions about what to do with her own life. In passages narrated in turn by Kidd and Taylor, the two create a gently affectionate filial dance around the other, in the manner of the fertility myth of Persephone and her mother, Demeter. In travels through Greece, Turkey and later France, Kidd and Taylor found strength and inspiration on their respective journeys in the lives of Athena, the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc, but mostly through a new understanding and appreciation of each other. — Publishers Weekly
In a memoir that is frequently hilarious, occasionally terrifying, and ultimately bittersweet, Wolff forces readers to consider whether racial identity is the result of nature, derived through nurture, or constructed and reconstructed throughout life. The author was born to white parents and raised into early adolescence mostly by her father, a man who worked harder to remake his own and his children’s identities as black than he did at earning a living. From early childhood she tried hard to sort through evidence of her own sense of self and belonging: rougher kids in their working-class black Seattle neighborhood rejected her while adoring her younger (equally white) sister; other black kids accepted her as an equal or pitied her confusion; her father’s second wife (black) rejected her cruelly; and her mother was willing to take her in but not to confront her former husband’s careless child rearing . . . Father and daughter eventually found a bridge through sports, but this rapprochement was made possible as much by the author’s maturing emotional health as by her father’s realization that he risked losing her. — School Library Journal
Italian citizens saved more than 43,000 Jews during the last 20 months of World War II. Russell has transmuted this little-known history into an expansive, well-researched, and compelling novel. As the story opens, the mountainous region of northwest Italy has been relatively untouched by WWII, and even Jews have been safe. When Italy breaks with Germany in 1943 and pulls out of southern France, thousands of Jewish refugees cross the mountains in search of safety. But the German occupation of Italy poses a new threat. Even with the list that’s provided, it can be hard to keep track of all the characters–Catholics and Jews, priests and rabbis, Germans and Italians, old and young, Nazis and Resistance fighters. But Russell is good at presenting the human story while never using the war merely as a backdrop for personal dramas. In fact, to mirror the arbitrary nature of survival during wartime, she has said that she flipped a coin to determine who among her characters would live and who would die. — Booklist
Rare bookstore owner Ken Saunders relishes catching book thieves, and his favorite target is John Gilkey, a repeat offender who has spent multiple stints in jail for using stolen credit card numbers and bad checks to purchase books estimated to be worth together more than $100,000. In this intriguing account, journalist Bartlett takes readers behind the scenes at antiquarian book fairs and rare bookstores, where sellers are always on the lookout for thieves. Bartlett first meets Gilkey when he is serving time near San Francisco. Over several meetings, Gilkey explains that he feels he builds his image through books, proving himself a man of taste, knowledge, and affluence. VERDICT This excellent tale of people’s intimate, complex, and sometimes dangerous relationships to books will be relished by readers, writers, and collectors who are passionate about books as well as fans of true crime stories. — Library Journal
This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone’s civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare. Beah’s harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army forces. Beah then finds himself in the army in a drug-filled life of casual mass slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he’s brought to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a gifted spokesman for the center’s work after his “repatriation” to civilian life in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle . . . Told in clear, accessible language by a young writer with a gifted literary voice, this memoir seems destined to become a classic firsthand account of war and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide. — Publishers Weekly
David Grann’s The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, September 13th at 6:00 p.m.
What could compel someone to repeatedly enter a place so inhospitable it was called “Green Hell” by early explorers? Could the legend of El Dorado still hold a fatal allure to this day? The author attempts to answer these questions as he traces the life and disappearance of Colonel Percy Fawcett. Among the first modern explorers to venture into the unmapped vastness of the Amazon, Fawcett repeatedly faced incredible dangers and privations. Hunger, disease, insects and animals made life miserable. Attacks by Indians were a constant threat. But Fawcett somehow convinced himself an incredible lost city lay hidden in the jungle, just waiting for someone determined enough to discover it. Fawcett defied the odds by making repeated expeditions until he too succumbed to the jungle and simply vanished. It is estimated that over one hundred people have died or disappeared trying to find Fawcett and his city. This is a gripping account of how an experienced and educated man could develop such a strong obsession that he was willing to die attempting to fulfill it. — Mark Kincaid, Decatur Library
Set in a small town in the early 1900s, Heads Deacon Tails Devil is the story of Robert Grant, an elementary school teacher, long-standing deacon, and spirit-stirring soloist at church. He shows his best side to his adoring, unsuspecting public, but is the devil incarnate at home. Rachel married him against her mother’s advice and was sorry for it from the first night. She tries her best to shield herself and her five children from his devil side. As he becomes increasingly frustrated with his ability to control his family and his life, the devil side grows stronger, and Rachel and the children suffer horribly because of it. Robert turns to other women to ease his mental and physical needs. As he tries to destroy one life in hopes that another will satisfy him, Rachel and her mother put in place a plan to show Robert that the devil is a liar. — Publisher’s note
Full-immersion journalist Kidder tries valiantly to keep up with a front-line, muddy-and-bloody general in the war against infectious disease in Haiti and elsewhere. The author occasionally confesses to weariness in this gripping account–and why not? Paul Farmer, who has an M.D. and a Ph.D. from Harvard, appears to be almost preternaturally intelligent, productive, energetic, and devoted to his causes. So trotting alongside him up Haitian hills, through international airports and Siberian prisons and Cuban clinics, may be beyond the capacity of a mere mortal. Kidder begins with a swift account of his first meeting with Farmer in Haiti while working on a story about American soldiers, then describes his initial visit to the doctor’s clinic, where the journalist felt he’d “encountered a miracle.” Employing guile, grit, grins, and gifts from generous donors . . . Farmer has created an oasis in Haiti where TB and AIDS meet their Waterloos . . . Skilled and graceful exploration of the soul of an astonishing human being. — Kirkus Reviews
For NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas, there is no such thing as a holiday from work. Eve had just settled into a quiet Peace Day at home with her husband, sexy Irish billionaire Roarke, when the call comes in. When NYSPD Captain MacMasters and his wife arrive home early from a vacation and find their daughter viciously murdered, the first thing MacMasters does is request that Eve head up the investigation. Eve and her team are determined to quickly and successfully close the case, but despite a number of potential leads, the murderer always seems to be one step ahead. All it takes, though, is one misstep for Eve to put an end to the killer’s criminal career forever. With its ingenious, adrenaline-rich plot and addictive combination of edgy suspense and sexy romance, Kindred in Death proves that even after orchestrating more than two dozen cases for Eve, Robb can still surprise readers and jangle their nerves. — Booklist
When Catherine Land, who’s survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a “reliable wife,” she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she’s deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn’t die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. — Publishers Weekly
With this heart-stopping collection . . . [Akpan], the Nigerian-born Jesuit priest, relentlessly personalizes the unstable social conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout, child narrators serve as intensifying prisms for horror, their vulnerability and slowly eroding innocence lending especially chilling dimensions to the volume’s two most riveting entries: “Fattening for Gabon” (one of the book’s three novellas), about the systematic grooming of a Benin 10-year-old and his sister for sale to a sex-slavery ring; and the collection’s title story, a harrowing plunge into the mind of a mixed-race girl during the Rwandan genocide . . . Akpan tackles grisly violence head-on, but most of the stories . . . are lifted above consciousness-raising shockers by Akpan’s sure characterizations, understated details, and culturally specific dialect. — Booklist
American readers will have their imaginations challenged by 14-year-old Kamkwamba’s description of life in Malawi, a famine-stricken, land-locked nation in southern Africa: math is taught in school with the aid of bottle tops (“three Coca-Cola plus ten Carlsberg equal thirteen”), people are slaughtered by enemy warriors “disguised. as green grass” and a ferocious black rhino; and everyday trading is “replaced by the business of survival” after famine hits the country. After starving for five months on his family’s small farm, the corn harvest slowly brings Kamkwamba back to life. Witnessing his family’s struggle, Kamkwamba’s supercharged curiosity leads him to pursue the improbable dream of using “electric wind”(they have no word for windmills) to harness energy for the farm . . . This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams, and is especially resonant for Americans given the economy and increasingly heated debates over health care and energy policy. — Publishers Weekly
As America commits fully to World War I, a lady horse whisperer likewise resolves to succeed.In November 1917, the war has stripped the farming communities of Oregon nearly bare of able-bodied men, so when tall, strong 19-year-old Martha Lessen drops by George Bliss’s farm asking for work as a horse-breaker, George is inclined to listen. If he’s astonished at her gentle, non-coercive methods, he hides it–but there’s no doubting that Martha works tirelessly and uncomplainingly, and that her techniques prove highly effective, even on supposedly intractable beasts. Soon nearby farms are asking for Martha’s services, so she rides a long daily circuit, ensuring that lessons learned stay learned. And though Martha confidently handles the few remaining male farm hands, she’s less sure-footed interacting with the farm women whose loves and troubles seem a world removed . . . Gloss offers an acutely observed, often lyrical portrayal that mirrors our own era and, title notwithstanding, has as much to say about people as about horses. — Kirkus Reviews
Three years after his wife’s accidental death, Trond Sander, 67, settles into an isolated cabin near Norway’s southeastern border with Sweden. It’s where he last saw his father at the end of summer 1948. Then 15 and full grown, Trond helped harvest the timber . . . He also suddenly lost his local best friend, Jon, when, after an early morning spent “stealing horses”–that is, taking an equine joyride–Jon inadvertently allowed a gun accident that killed one of his 10-year-old twin brothers and guiltily ran away to sea. When that summer was over, Trond went back to Oslo, but his father stayed with Jon’s mother, his lover since they met in the Resistance during World War II. . . . The novel’s incidents and lush but precise descriptions of forest and river, rain and snow, sunlight and night skies are on a par with those of Cather, Steinbeck, Berry, and Hemingway, and its emotional force and flavor are equivalent to what those authors can deliver, too. — Booklist