December 22, 2011 by Reader's Connection
We begin the year´s book discussions with Eliot. Not T. S. Eliot, the other Eliot. Kurt Vonnegut´s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, January 3rd at 6:00 p.m. Since I couldn´t find a suitable review on the web, I’ll make do with something that Eliot Rosewater says to a group of science fiction writers.
“You’re all I read any more. You’re the only ones who’ll talk about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstandings, mistakes, accidents and catastrophes do to us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distances without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.”
Also on Tuesday, January 3rd, also at 6:00 p.m., Janny Scott’s A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother will be discussed aty the Brightwood Library.
A richly nuanced, decidedly sympathetic portrait of President Obama’s remarkably accomplished, spirited mother . . . Kansas-born Stanley Ann—named after her father, though her mother was enamored by the Bette Davis character named Stanley in the 1942 film In This Our Life—early on set herself apart by her intellectual curiosity, wit and openness to new adventures. When her parents relocated to the new state of Hawaii upon her graduation in 1960, she became simply Ann, and immersed herself in the nascent East-West Center, where she would fall in love with the Kenyan student Barack Hussein Obama. He was 24 and married to a woman back in Kenya; she was 17 and soon pregnant; though they married quietly, they separated soon after. Ann’s resilience and dogged spirit emerge continuously throughout her story. She struggled to gain her degrees while raising first “Barry,” then her daughter, Maya, by her second husband, the Javanese surveyor Lolo Soetoro, all the while moving frequently to do fieldwork on Indonesian cottage industries. Her work in far-flung community outreach and microfinance gained her jobs at the Ford Foundation and the Women’s World Banking, in New York City, and greatly inspired her son in his own political activism. — Kirkus Reviews
Hailed for preserving the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 in January 2009 from all but certain catastrophe, pilot Chesley Sullenberger attracted intense interest from a hero-hungy media and public. In this hybrid of autobiography and second-by-second narration of the now-famous flight, Sullenberger reflects on the influences on his life, principally his parents, his first flight instructor, his military service in the 1970s, his commercial airline career, and his wife and adopted daughters. One of the remarkable facets to emerge about Sullenberger was his prior professional activity to improve flight crew performance during emergencies, which echoes Winston Churchill’s famous remark in The Gathering Storm (1948) about saving Britain in 1940, “that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” The modest Sullenberger doesn’t take sole credit for the success of his emergency landing; rather, he names his first officer, Jeff Skiles; an air traffic controller; and three flight attendants as making up the team that brought five-minute-long Flight 1549 to its Hudson River ditching with all souls safe. Concluding with Sullenberger’s diffidence about his unsought renown, this memoir-drama imparts insights about the piloting profession as it enthralls readers with its exultant plotline of disaster averted. — Booklist
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful as beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigold in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change—in painful, devastating ways. With its vivid evocation of the feat and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of it’s fulfillment, The Bluest Eye remains on of Toni Morrison’s most powerful, unforgettable novels—and a significant work of American fiction. — Oprah.com
44 SCOTLAND STREET first appeared in serialization ala Charles Dickens in 110 daily installments in The Scotsman newspaper. Not a book in the ordinary sense of the word, it also is not a mystery, which is what we have become accustomed to expect from Alexander McCall Smith, creator of Mma Ramotswe in THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY series. There is a wee puzzler involving a painting in the art gallery where our heroine, Pat, works. Is it or is it not an undiscovered painting by eighteenth century painter Samuel Peploe? . . . 44 SCOTLAND STREET is a paean, with tongue in cheek to Edinburgh society — high, middle and low. McCall Smith clearly loves the extraordinary city and its slightly stuffy denizens, but you don’t need a guidebook or a Scotts burr to enjoy his wry social comments and endearing characters. — bookreporter.com
Kalotay makes a powerful debut with a novel about a Soviet-era prima ballerina, now retired and living in Boston, who confronts her past as she puts up for auction the jewelry she took with her when she left her husband and defected. Nina “The Butterfly” Revskaya, 79, reveals little about the past to curious auction house representative Drew Brooks as he peruses her cache of exquisite jewelry. Nina likewise rebuffs inquiries from foreign language professor Grigori Solodin, who has translated the works of Nina’s poet husband and who offers an additional item for auction: the amber necklace he inherited from the parents he never knew. In extended flashbacks, Nina recalls intimate moments and misunderstandings with her husband, happy and disturbing times with his Jewish composer best friend, and encounters with her own childhood friend. Meanwhile, Drew and Grigori delve into the jewelry’s provenance, hoping to learn as much about the jewels as their own pasts. — Publishers Weekly
Sweet Little Lies by Michele Grant will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, January 9th at 6:30 p.m.
A younger man challenges a driven San Francisco career woman’s heart and mind in Grant’s sassy “he said/she said” romance. Cynical journalist Christina Brinsley’s dismal track record with men includes three broken engagements. Steven Williams, a sexy dreadlocked delivery man, tries and fails to convince her that he’s trustworthy. After witnessing Christina’s bitter breakup with her latest boyfriend, Steven reconnects with her, and they have a fling before he begins grad school at Columbia. Five years later, Steven’s a transportation science professor and Christina’s a Valiant News Network special correspondent investigating the misuse of funds earmarked for Project Mercury, a transportation research project connected to Steven’s foundation, Chi-Wind. Grant smoothly explores their passionate reunion as their burgeoning trust and affection are put to a serious test. — Publishers Weekly
Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts : Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, January 12th at 1:30 p.m.
In 1933 William E. Dodd led a comfortable but not altogether satisfying existence as a history professor at the University of Chicago. What he longed for was a position that would pay well but also allow him time to complete his masterwork, a four-volume history of the Old South. After offering the position to several other candidates who declined, President Roosevelt selected Dodd, who had studied in Germany, to be ambassador there. Dodd pulled up stakes, bringing his wife, son, and daughter with him to Berlin. Hitler and his Nazi Party had recently gained control of the government, and they were relentlessly working to consolidate their power over the nation. Larson . . . has written a brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. Dodd is seen here as a decent but frustratingly naive figure who keeps obtusely expecting “moderate” Nazis to emerge, even as the outrages against Jews and even American citizens intensify. His 24-year-old daughter, Martha, is attractive, flirtatious, and initially entranced by the apparent dynamism and revolutionary spirit of the Nazis. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status. — Booklist
On Thursday, January 12th at 1:30 p.m., Alice Ozma’s The Reading Promise : My Father and the Books We Shared will be discussed at the Irvington Library.
When Ozma was in fourth grade, her dad, school librarian Jim Brozina, agreed to read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights. It was just the two of them, since Ozma’s older sister had left for college and her mom had left, period. They liked this bonding experience so much that they continued it until Ozma left for college, embracing everything from Shakespeare to all 14 of L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books–many of which feature the powerful Princess Ozma, clearly the author’s namesake; her full name is Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina. The Streak, as they call it, lasted 3,218 nights, with Ozma sometimes dropping home at 11:30 p.m. when she was out with friends. When Ozma wrote about the Streak for her graduate school application essay (she made the University of Pennsylvania), an enchanted official at her undergraduate school contacted the New York Times. The subsequent story led to an outpouring of media requests, but Ozma decided to hold off until publication of this book, in which she pitches the importance of the reading experience. — Library Journal
Change is threatening the little world of Edgecombe St. Mary. Lord Dagenham is about to sell off part of his ancestral estate to developers, and Pakistanis have taken over the village shop. Major Ernest Pettigrew is definitely old school, but he has been lonely since his wife died, and though he is is prey to various unattached ladies it is with shopkeeper Mrs. Ali that he forms a bond, nourished by their mutual interest in literature. Meanwhile, his ambitious son Roger comes to town with a sleek American girlfriend and starts renovating a nearby cottage. And the village ladies are busy hatching plans for the annual Golf Club dance, for which this year’s theme is “An Evening at the Mughal Court.” There is a great deal going on in these pages–sharply observed domestic comedy, late-life romance, culture clash, a dash of P. G. Wodehouse, and a pinch of religious fundamentalism. First novelist Simonson handles it all with great aplomb, and her Major, with his keen sense of both honor and absurdity, is the perfect lens through which to view contemporary England. — Booklist
A fat detective arrives from Athens–or maybe somewhere loftier–to investigate the death of a restless wife within a small, sad Greek island community.If Poirot has his trademark mustache, Hermes Diaktoros’s calling card is his footwear, a pair of flawlessly maintained white sneakers which might be a modern version of the trusty winged sandals worn by that other Hermes, messenger of the Gods. The unusual mystery certainly suggests there’s more to the investigator than meets the eye as he arrives on the island of Thiminos in search of the truth about Irini Asimakopoulos’s death. The sleazy local police chief claims it was suicide, but Irini’s passion for Theo Hatzistratis had upset many people, including her heartbroken husband Andreas the Fish. In an unspoiled landscape, among a traditional community with protective, tribal instincts, Hermes encounters the innocent and the unscrupulous, the lecherous and the likable . . . Not only does the fat man solve the riddle of her death but he leaves Thiminos a cleaner, fairer, more honest place than he found it. Quirky crime gains an appealing new detective in this soulful, affectionate series debut. — Kirkus Reviews
Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion’s venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple’s only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne’s death propelled Didion into a state she calls “magical thinking.” “We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss,” she writes. “We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” Didion’s mourning follows a traditional arc-she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief-but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. “Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.” — Publishers Weekly
After Alan Christoffersen lost the life he made in Seattle (his wife, home, and career), he went on a walk. With this simple premise, Evans launched this life-affirming series, which has now sold over half a million copies. As the protagonist also reveals in Miles to Go, the intended destination, Key West, was chosen for being “simply the furthest point on the map” from his starting point. The second book begins with Christoffersen facing a major hurdle–after he is robbed and stabbed by several teenagers, he must learn how to walk again. Ultimately, a near-stranger takes him in until he heals. Evans has a gift for con-veying emotion through fictional dialogue. Besides being a story of hope and redemption, Miles to Go is a stand-alone page turner which will certainly hook many people on Evans’ series. — Publishers Weekly