For the Love of Reading

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Book jacket for BruiserWhen I picked up Shusterman's Bruiser, I expected to read a book about an angry kid who taunts and punches away his insecurities. While this book does deal with bullies, Brewster, the character of the title, is almost the opposite of a bully and a bit magical to boot. A hulking and shabbily dressed 16-year-old, Brewster is an outsider who people vote to be the Most Likely to Go to Jail, and generally treat as if he's not there. Which suits him fine, even if he's never stepped on an ant, because he takes on the physical and emotional pain of anyone he gets close to. Read more »

New Tech High School Great American Author Project

New Tech High School logoIn the fall of 2011, Monroe County Public Library asked the students of Rachel Bahr's English and American Studies classes at New Tech High School to consider the "Great American Author." We were interested in getting teens' opinions about what criteria an author has to meet to be included on this rather arbitrary list, whether some authors considered great Americans have aged ungracefully or are no longer relevant, and who should be considered "great" that is not already.

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Me and Mr. Darcy

ISBN: 
9780345502544

While suffering withdrawal pangs from Downton Abbey last week, I came upon Alexandra Potter's light but literate Me and Mr. Darcy.  Like Downton Abbey it offers fancy English estates, afternoon tea on fine china, cool British accents, and couples in love.

You can tell that Alexandra Potter, a Brit, writing about an American heroine, has spent a lot of time in the States. Her bio notes that she travels often to New York and L.A. She has the American idiom down and captures Yankee humor well.

The book starts out with Emily (a New York bookstore manager) out on a date with a cheap guy who is calculating how much extra she owes for the pizza that they just shared. (She added toppings for her half.)  Unfortunately, Emily has a track record of being unlucky in love.  Her fashionable friend, Stella, who also works at the bookstore, invites her on a winter beach vacation with the hope of meeting new men. Emily refuses. Glancing at a flyer on the counter, Emily has a ready excuse--she can't because she's going on a one week "Jane Austen Tour."

Impulsively, Emily snags the last spot for the event and joins a coterie of much older ladies on the bus tour.  The only two men are the aged driver and a rather obnoxious, poorly dressed reporter who will be covering the event.

Potter has a good ear for snappy dialogue. Spike, the reporter, and Emily don't click at all. In fact, Emily really Read more »

To See Every Bird on Earth

To See Every Bird on EarthMicrohistories are a subgenre of non-fiction books which take a particular subject or single event and through intensive historical research try to contextualize the chosen subject within the broader picture.  Both Simon Winchester and Mark Kurlansky are well known microhistorians.  Kurlansky in particular is known for Salt: A World History, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell.  As a history nerd, I find that a well written microhistory uncovers a previously unthought-of subject or event and breathes life into the history cannon as a whole.  Curious?  Check out titles like Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, or Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.  Several years ago I read and enjoyed a microhistory called Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. Read more »

Blue Nights

ImageOK. I confess. This book sat for most of its check-out period on my night table. I had read Didion's excellent book The Year of Magical Thinking but I knew that this new memoir covered another territory  of loss--not that of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, but of her daughter who had the wonderful name of Quintana Roo (a state in Mexico.)

And yes, Blue Nights is sad. As would be any book about losing your only child. But it's also amazingly human, full of insights and many questions, some of which go unanswered.

First the title. It comes from those late June, early July nights where twilight seems to linger for hours until darkness finally comes. The light is soft; the world is warm and alive. Didion speaks of them as occurring only in the north, not far south in LA where she spent much of her life as a screenwriter, essayist, and novelist and where Quintana grew up. No, the blue lights happen in New York City where Didion now lives now and where Quintana died young at the age of thirty-nine from a massive infection. To make matters even more tragic, she first got ill only five months after her wedding.

The book covers other things as well adoption, meeting with biological family for the first time as an adult, parenting, the failures of parenting, and, in particular, aging.  Didion writes with brutal honesty especially about this last topic. Read more »

War Books

MatterhornMy question of the week - Do women read war novels?  I don't mean to ask this in a polarizing and dramatic way, but out of genuine interest. 

I recently finished the excellent Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a novelization about the Vietnam War.  Marlantes is a highly decorated Marine who served in Vietnam and this 600 page book was 30 years in the making.  The book is technical and almost solely set in Vietnam.  There isn't room for families, girlfriends, or real life.  This book is intense - filled with racial tensions, horrifying wounds, tigers, leeches, jungle rot, thirst, hunger, diarrhea, boredom, bad language and inept military structure.  I probably lost some of the technicalities of the military maneuvers, but in the end you really care about the characters.  At times, reading this was stressful but the pain and longing seems universal and touching.   Read more »

National Book Critics Circle Awards

ImageLast night the National Book Critics Circle awards were presented to the best books published in English.  They are the only awards chosen only by book critics.  The National Book Critics Circle "honors outstanding writing and fosters a national conversation about reading, criticism and literature".  Great mission!  We like fostering conversations about reading too!  

The winners include: Read more »

Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness

ImageAlexandra Fuller writes beautifully about Africa. This is her second memoir set there. Both Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight also give homage to her parents, particularly her mother, Nicola, or Nicola of Central Africa, as her mom playfully nicknamed herself.

Nicola loves books and reading and wanted her first daughter to become a writer but Vanessa held firm about spurning books and taking up art. So Alexandra became the writer in the family, but not one that her mother could not control.  For Nicola, Alexandra's career as a writer is a mixed blessing.  She constantly calls her daughter's first memoir that "awful book" probably because Alexandra tells the truth in it about her Mom's drinking. Read more »

Me and You

ImageThis short novel describes a teen's experience not fitting in at school.  What makes Me and You different is that it's set in Rome, so you get a feel for the modern Italian family. Lorenzo has trouble making friends. Observing other kids at school closely, he sees what they do to fit in--what clothes they wear, how they talk, where they hang out, etc. and he tries to blend in but pretending to be someone he's not goes against his basic being. Nobody hangs out with him at school; he has no friends. But it's driving his overly-doting Mom crazy.

So one day he informs her that he has been invited on a ski week with several of his most popular classmates. It's a bold-faced lie to make her happy and to get her to leave him alone. But then he must improvise a place to stay as well as provide chirruping conversation on his cell to convince his mom that he has gone to Cortina and is having a grand time.He sneaks back into the basement of their house where the former owner's furniture is stored. Apparently, his father bought the house on a reverse mortgage plan, and even though the woman has died, they have never gotten rid of her belongings. Lorenzo has set up a cot and stored enough food and sodas for the week. Also, carefully gathered are piles of books. Read more »