November 23, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Our last discussions of the year will focus on three holiday stories, two mysteries, two historical novels, and any number of books about the joys and perils of family life.
Adrift and depressed in the summer of 1997,Owen Keane heads to Kenya, at the urging of a mutual friend, to help out Father Philip Swickard, a former seminary classmate. Father Swickard has been quite vocal with his opinions, and his priestly stature doesn’t give him immunity in Kenya’s unsettled political climate. Locally, the recent appearance of a mysterious man claiming to be the reincarnation of a long-dead chief, Wauki (killed in the late 1800s by the British), has heightened tension. Then there’s a sword that’s been stolen from a retired British schoolteacher, a longtime resident . . . Owen listens, solves the mystery, and rediscovers purpose in his life. VERDICT Readers are transported immediately into Kenya’s border region by Faherty’s graceful prose. His unhappy protagonist may be uncertain, but he’s profoundly curious. — Library Journal
Hoffman makes ancient history live and breathe in this compelling story, set in 70 CE, detailing the siege of the mountain stronghold Masada, where 900 Jews held out for months against the Romans. Hoffman’s novel follows four extraordinary women. Red-haired Yael has long been shunned by her father, a renowned assassin, because of her mother’s death in childbirth. Forced to flee from Jerusalem, she makes a tortuous journey across the desert, during which she becomes involved with a married man, and after finally reaching Masada, is assigned to the dovecote, where she meets three charismatic women: Revka, a baker’s wife who witnessed her daughter’s horrific death at the hands of Roman soldiers; Shirah, a tattooed wisewoman; and Shirah’s daughter Aziza, a warrior of uncommon skill. Forced to deal with the outside forces intent on eradicating them and with their people’s patriarchal system, which is quick to condemn unconventional behavior, the women draw great strength from their own inner resources and from each other. This is both a feminist manifesto and a deeply felt tribute to courageous men and women of faith, told with the cadence and imagery of a biblical passage. — Booklist
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. — Random House
Henry Winkler’s I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River : Reflections on Family, Photography, and Fly-Fishing will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, December 5th at 10:30 a.m. The Maltese Falcon, as it turns out, will not be read until April.
Actor, director, and children’s author Winkler offers an amalgam of memoir, self-help, fishing, and photography in this slim, illustrated volume. Born to German immigrant parents in Manhattan, Winkler had undiagnosed dyslexia that wreaked havoc on his early education and self-esteem (his parents calling him “dumb dog” didn’t help either), yet he managed to graduate college, earn a drama master’s from Yale, get film work, and land a career-defining role on a popular sitcom. An invite from a friend introduced Winkler to fly-fishing; he was instantly smitten. Fly-fishing became his overwhelming passion, and his angling jaunts to the trout heaven of Montana’s rivers became an annual ritual. The majestic scenery surrounding the water led to an interest in nature photography (the book sports numerous pix). Winkler’s message is positive and upbeat, making the book as much a motivational title as a fishing memoir . . . Well done, Henry.– Library Journal
THE SHARED READING GROUP AT SPADES PARK WILL PROBABLY FINISH MOBY DICK IN DECEMBER! I SAW FRED AT THE BOOK SALE, THIS WEEK, AND HE SAID . . .
I’m sorry. Have to collect myself. Just meant to say that the Shared Reading Group at Spades Park will read from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, will discuss what they’ve read, will enjoy some refreshments, and will read a poem, on Friday mornings, December 6th, 13th, 20th, and probably even 27th, from 10:00 until 11:30.
Fred thinks they’re going to read The Scarlet Letter next. It’s a great time for new members to join.
And I just heard from Fred that Anja, “our glorious founder and fearless leader,” is back on a regular basis. Hurrah.
Best-selling author Evans takes the biblical story of Joseph and transposes it to contemporary times in Denver, Chicago and New York. This novel turns biblical archetypes into authentic, believable characters and uses an interesting and credible plot to convey an important message. Joseph Jacobson, or J.J as he likes to be called, is his father’s 12th son, one of two sons born of his father’s fourth wife. His 11 brothers are jealous of him because he is also his father’s favorite. The biblical coat of many colors is, in this modern tale, the father’s Navy flight jacket from Vietnam decorated with the colorful patches of his deployment. Joseph’s father chose to give him this precious gift at a family dinner on the same night he celebrated his favorite son’s success in saving an account for the family advertising firm. And so the story begins. The oldest brothers find a way to banish their hated younger brother . . . Readers will relate to these characters, be moved to tears and laughter by them, and most importantly, be inspired by them. If you know how the biblical story ends, it won’t spoil anything for you to know that this book has a happy ending. Getting there is a journey you should definitely take. — Kirkus Reviews
Mean Girls gets an urban makeover in this bleak rags-to-riches tale from Bryant. Four high-school friends from hardscrabble Newark, N.J., drift apart as they elbow their way to success. Monica goes from ruthless mistress to savvy CEO of an investment firm with celebrity clients; hard-hearted Keesha sheds a drug habit, bad men, and an abusive mom to raise a caring daughter and become a promising author; Latoya survives her domineering religious family and promiscuous past only to get hooked on pills and endure a loveless marriage to an ambitious minister; and Danielle defies her foster-care upbringing to become a successful TV career woman, but loses her true love. Each woman guards an ugly secret that threatens her carefully calculated life . . . Bryant . . . gives these sexy, fearless women a razor-sharp edge that reveals admirable grit and honesty. — Publishers Weekly
Word by word, metaphor by metaphor, McDermott writes the most exquisitely perceptive and atmospheric fiction published today . . . In her sixth and most commanding novel, National Book Award-winning McDermott continues to till her verdant fictional home ground, Irish-Catholic family life on Long Island, in an extraordinarily refined through-the-decades family saga. The story begins as Mary steps out of church on a wildly windy day at the close of World War II and hurries into a diner, never imagining as she sits at the counter that she will soon marry the stranger beside her and with him raise two sons and two daughters. As their lives unfold, every beautifully rendered occurrence resonates deeply on both personal and social planes, from a tree toppled by a hurricane to quietly hilarious classroom scenes; a premature birth, an abortion, and a high-school pregnancy; a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair to see Michelangelo’s Pieta; a son serving in Vietnam; and a life-changing college year abroad . . . McDermott elucidates all that changes and all that endures with wondrous specificity and plentitude of heart. — Booklist
Lamb offers up a charmingly nostalgic tale for the holidays. Felix Funicello, a distinguished professor of film studies, recalls an eventful fall. In 1964, he was a mischievous fifth-grader who spent his days getting into trouble with his best friend, Lonny, and fantasizing about his third cousin, actress Annette Funicello, whose poster graced the wall of Felix’s family’s bus-station diner. A well-meaning scamp, Felix inadvertently causes Sister Dymphyna, his teacher, to have a breakdown when he scares a bat out of hiding during class. The vibrant Madame Marguerite takes over the class and shakes things up, as does the arrival of a new student: the bawdy and daring Zhenya, whose thick accent, colorful language, and athletic prowess make her a hit with the boys. Big things loom for Felix–his mother is going to be in a televised baking contest, and he’ll be in the Christmas nativity play, then a calamity provides him with an unexpected chance to shine. Sweet and old-fashioned, Lamb’s Christmas yarn will appeal to readers wistful for more-innocent days. — Booklist
Self-published in paperback during the Christmas season 1994, Evans’s first novel quickly gained national media attention. Now the cleverly told tale, which the author reputedly wrote for his daughters . . . is available in hardcover. The story relates how a young couple, Richard (who narrates) and Keri, accept a position to care for a lonely widow, Mary Parkin, in her spacious Victorian mansion. As Christmas draws near, Mary becomes anxious about Richard’s obsession with success and his failure to make time for his family. She urges him to reconsider his priorities, but he is always too busy to heed her advice. — Publishers Weekly, 1995
Walls, who spent years trying to hide her childhood experiences, allows the story to spill out in this remarkable recollection of growing up. From her current perspective as a contributor to MSNBC online, she remembers the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying she and her siblings endured, and she looks back at her parents: her flighty, self-indulgent mother, a Pollyanna unwilling to assume the responsibilities of parenting, and her father, troubled, brilliant Rex, whose ability to turn his family’s downward-spiraling circumstances into adventures allowed his children to excuse his imperfections until they grew old enough to understand what he had done to them–and to himself. His grand plans to build a home for the family never evolved: the hole for the foundation of the “The Glass Castle,” as the dream house was called, became the family garbage dump, and, of course, a metaphor for Rex Walls’ life. Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties–for both good and ill. — Booklist
Amina grew up in Bangladesh, and her family always dreamed of sending her to the United States. She gets her chance when she meets George, an engineer in Rochester, NY, on an online dating site. As Amina adjusts to married life with the kind but somewhat rigid George, she slowly assimilates to American culture while planning to bring her parents to Rochester. Family feuds in Bangladesh, a rough patch in her marriage, and the economic downturn put this plan in jeopardy. With delicate precision, Freudenberger . . .slowly builds a story that feels utterly real and present. The subtle and detailed observation of human relations is reminiscent of Alice Munro, and the bittersweet humor and struggles of modern immigrant life are captured in a manner similar to the work of Bharati Mukherjee . . . Highly recommended. — Library Journal
Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, December 22nd from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The theme this month will be “The Best of 2013?: Discuss the F&SF Award Winners for 2013″.
November 22, 2013 by Reader's Connection
On the library’s Facebook page, Selector Beth Baker Schoch has posted a link to Life Magazine’s new book The Day Kennedy Died : 50 Years Later: Life Remembers the Man and the Moment, and I couldn’t come up with a better idea for a link.
When I search our catalog for john kennedy assassination I retrieve 197 books, 29 DVDs, 23 e-books, and more. The library still owns a copy of Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest; the Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth which, in 1966, was one of the first books to cast doubt on the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination; and we still own a copy of Gerald L. Posner’s Case Closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK which, in 1993, established to the satisfaction of some reviewers, though obviously not everyone, that Oswald had acted alone.
Since Posner’s book was published, readers have learned that Oswald was a “deep-cover intelligence agent who was framed for an assassination he was actually trying to prevent,” that Lyndon “Johnson and the Ciavello mob set up a contract hit on President Kennedy in a town where they controlled law enforcement,” and a number of other things. I was thinking of preparing a booklist, but my heart isn’t in it and I’m too ignorant. Here’s a list from The Daily Beast of “the only five [books on the subject] that count”, and here’s a list from Forbes of four “essential books” on the assassination. The lists are completely different, coming from different angles.
Mayor Ballard has proclaimed that this is a day of remembrance, and I’m remembering that when I came to American History class after lunch, Jerry Klausman told me that President Kennedy had been shot, and others confirmed it. I couldn’t remember Jerry’s surname, just now–I had to scan our yearbook pictures–but I remember my disbelief (Why is he saying such an odd thing?) and that our history teacher, who was late for class that day, had by all reports looked really upset in the cafeteria. The world had changed.
November 21, 2013 by Reader's Connection
The winners of this year’s National Book Awards were announced last night.
James McBride won the award for fiction with his novel
The Good Lord Bird.
Abolitionist John Brown calls her “Little Onion,” but her real name is Henry. A slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the sackcloth smock he was wearing when Brown shot his master, the light-skinned, curly-haired 12-year-old ends up living as a young woman, most often encamped with Brown’s renegade band of freedom warriors as they traverse the country, raising arms and ammunition for their battle against slavery. Though they travel to Rochester, New York, to meet with Frederick Douglass and Canada to enlist the help of Harriet Tubman, Brown and his ragtag army fail to muster sufficient support for their mission to liberate African Americans, heading inexorably to the infamously bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry. Dramatizing Brown’s pursuit of racial freedom and insane belief in his own divine infallibility through the eyes of a child fearful of becoming a man, best-selling McBride presents a sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967). McBride works Little Onion’s low-down patois to great effect, using the savvy but scared innocent to bring a fresh immediacy to this sobering chapter in American history. — Booklist
The nonfiction award went to George Packer for The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America.
Sometime in the late 1970s, the foundations of the American Century began to unravel. In this trenchant account, New Yorker writer Packer charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country stable and middle class. Readers experience three decades of change via the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire. Their lives follow the ups and downs of a changing country, where manufacturing jobs vanish, businesses thrive and fail, and political fortunes crest and recede. There’s a pervasive sense that “nothing was locked down,” thanks to the erosion of bank regulations that for 50 years averted the panics, and meltdowns that now push the middle class to the brink. Adroit homages to John Dos Passos’s “newsreel” interludes provide astute quips and headlines. Brief biographies of seminal figures that shaped the current state of affairs offer the book’s fiercest prose, such as in Packer’s brutal takedown of Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during some key 1990s financial deregulation that amplified the severity of the Great Recession of 2008. Packer has a keen eye for the big story in the small moment, writing about our fraying social fabric with talent that matches his dismay. — Publishers Weekly
Cynthia Kadohata won the young people’s literature award with The Thing About Luck.
Twelve-year-old Summer and her Japanese-American family work every harvest season to earn money to pay their mortgage. But this year, they face unprecedented physical and emotional challenges. It has been a particularly hard-luck year. Among other strange occurrences, Summer was bitten by a stray, diseased mosquito and nearly died of malaria, and her grandmother suffers from sudden intense spinal pain. Now her parents must go to Japan to care for elderly relatives. So Summer, her brother and their grandparents must take on the whole burden of working the harvest and coping with one emergency after another. She writes a journal chronicling the frightening and overwhelming events, including endless facts about the mosquitoes she fears, the harvest process and the farm machinery that must be conquered. As the season progresses, her relationships with her grandparents and her brother change and deepen, reflecting her growing maturity. Her grandparents’ Japanese culture and perspective are treated lovingly and with gentle humor, as are her brother’s eccentricities. Kadohata makes all the right choices in structure and narrative. Summer’s voyage of self-discovery engages readers via her narration, her journal entries and diagrams, and even through her assigned book report of A Separate Peace. Readers who peel back the layers of obsessions and fears will find a character who is determined, compassionate and altogether delightful. — Kirkus Reviews
The poetry award went to Mary Szybist for Incarnadine.
In this highly anticipated second book from Szybist, love poetry and poetry of religious faith blend and blur into one transcendent, humbled substance, in which a beloved is asked, “Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you/ until I’m far enough away you can/ believe in me?” Also blended and blurred are the biblical and the contemporary, the divine and the self, as in “Update on Mary,” a quiet pun on the author’s name and that of her namesake, in which “It is not uncommon to find Mary falling asleep on her yoga mat when she has barely begun to stretch.” “Annunciation” poems spread throughout the book discover god in all sorts of unlikely places, such as beneath the clothes of a cross-dressing man: “And when I learned that he was not a man–/ Bullwhip, horsewhip, unzip, I could have crawled/ Through thorn and bee.” Finally, though, whether or not readers are attuned to the religious content, these are gorgeous lyrics, in traditional and invented forms–one poem is a diagrammed sentence while another radiates from an empty space at the center of the page–which create close encounters with not-quite-paraphrasable truths. This is essential poetry. — Publishers Weekly
November 20, 2013 by Reader's Connection
One holiday gift I have planned: I’m going to give one of my sons, or both of them together (they’ll share it, anyway) a copy of Legends, Icons & Rebels : Music That Changed the World.
It is written in part by Robbie Robertson, guitarist & principal songwriter for my all-time favorite rock group, The Band. The grandiloquent title had me worried that Robbie had written a grandiloquent book, but perhaps his co-authors (his son and two others) helped him avoid that. The three reviews that I’ve read are raves. Here’s Booklist:
Wow. Just wow! This book is big in every way. Robertson, best known as a member of the Band, and his cowriters introduce the heavyweights of popular music to a new generation. Incredible thought has been put into this oversize offering, from selection of the artists to the eye-popping design and even to the quality of the paper. CDs of the artists’ music are included, something books about musicians often miss. The book’s art is hard to resist. Big, bold graphic portraits begin every section. A variety of illustrators have provided the pictures, and each one is so memorable you want to rip it out and frame it. (Don’t do that.) Chuck Berry duckwalks on a checkerboard. Aretha sings her heart out at the piano. In a graphite image, more like a photo than a drawing, a young, beautiful Elvis, guitar in hand, eyes the reader. In a book so visually appealing, it’s a treat that the words grab as much as the pictures. Though each artist gets just a two-page spread, there’s such well-chosen personal and professional information, young people will come away with an understanding of each person’s evolution. All of the material feels fresh, and with back matter aplenty, there are lots of ways that this could be used in schools–or kids could just kick back, read, and listen.
And at the end of its review, Publishers Weekly calls the book “An ideal gift for children whose parents have just discovered that they don’t know who Otis Redding is. ”
A list of gift suggestions for children will be appearing on the Kids’ Blog, but here’s a start.
November 16, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Maxine, a fraud investigator in New York City, is on almost every page of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel Bleeding Edge, so I manage to keep track of her. But most of the other characters are more elusive. A name will pop up–Cornelia, for example–and I’ll wonder if I’m supposed to know this person. Then I’ll realize that Cornelia is married to Rocky, and I’ll think “Oh, yeah, I pretty much remember Rocky.”
Why do I keep reading this thing? Because it keeps me laughing. Reg Despard, who is introduced in the second chapter, and whom I’ve remembered, is a “documentary guy” who helps Maxine with some of her fraud work, but began as a movie pirate, smuggling his camcorder into theaters.
Professional quality tended to suffer around the edges, noisy filmgoers bringing their lunch in loud paper bags or getting up in the middle of the movie to block the view, often for minutes of running time. Reg’s grip on the camcorder not always being that steady, the screen would wander around in the frame, sometimes slow and dreamy though other times with stunning abruptness. When Reg discovered the zoom feature on his camcorder, there was a lot of zooming in and out for what you’d have to call its own sake, details of human anatomy, extras in crowd scenes, hip-looking cars in the background traffic, so forth. One fateful day in Washington Square, Reg happened to sell one of his cassettes to a professor at NYU who taught film, who next day came running down the street after Reg to ask, out of breath, if Reg knew how far ahead of the leading edge of this post-postmodern art form he was working, “with your neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis.”
Because this somehow sounded like a pitch for a Christian weight-loss program, Reg’s attention began to drift, but . . . soon Reg was showing his tapes to doctoral seminars . . .
Hearing this unraveling prose on the audiobook CD while driving must be fun, though a bit unsafe.
Maxine’s current investigation involves embezzlement, strange occurrences on the Deep Web, and at least one murder out here in meatspace–what you and I call the real world. I’m not doing much better with the story line than I am with the characters. Our tale is set in 2001, and I’m not giving anything away when I say that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 come to pass. Maxine is bombarded with paranoid theories about who’s responsible, but I was surprised by the thoughtfulness Pynchon displays when Maxine walks past a firehouse where men have been lost, and surprised by how moving her Thanksgiving meal is, that year. (I’ve only read one and a half Pynchon novels, prior to this one.)
After page 300 or so, I began to do better with the characters. Horst, who hails from the Midwest, is Maxine’s sometime husband. Otis and Ziggy are her sons. She’s a Jewish mother, as well as a fraud investigator, and these identities complement one another. Let’s finish with an upbeat passage:
The spread on the Jets-Indianapolis game Sunday is 2 points. Horst, regionally loyal as always, bets Ziggy and Otis a pizza that the Colts will win, which in fact they do in a 21-point walkover. Peyton Manning can do no wrong, Vinny Testaverde is a little less consistent, managing in the last five minutes for example to fumble on the Colts’ 2-yard line to a defensive end who then proceeds to run the ball 98 yards to a touchdown, as Testaverde alone chases him up the field while the rest of the Jets look on, and Ziggy and Otis lapse into intemperate language their father doesn’t see how he can call them out for.
Almost forgot: Bleeding Edge is nominated for the National Book Award–the winners will be announced next Wednesday, November 20th–and the book would make a great gift for any Pynchon fan on your list who hasn’t already read it.