On Sunday May 6th, come join us to discuss Steinbeck's masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck wrote this novel longhand in only five months. The story of the Joads during the depression-era has many parallels for many Americans today.
Please come and share your thoughts about this American classic. As always, we'll provide snacks and drinks.
Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.
The Edgar Awards are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America and are often considered the most prestigious awards for the mystery genre. This year's awards were presented this week and the winners include:
Investigating a serial carjacker whose actual targets are young children in back seats, Jack Caffery teams up once again with police diver Sergeant Flea Marley, whose life is endangered by a discovery in an abandoned, half-submerged tunnel.
Celia Scott and her family move back to her husband's hometown in Kansas, where his sister died under mysterious circumstances twenty years before, and where Celia and two of her children struggle to adjust--especially when a local girl disappears.
In 1919, the McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry located in Evesden-a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer. But then eleven union men are butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this and uncover the dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton.
In 1885 the year of its US publication, a number of public libraries banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from their stacks. According to the American Library Association, it was the fifth most-frequently-challenged book in the United States in the 1990s. Despite strong arguments that the book supports positive racial themes, Huck Finn has been controversial from the beginning. Last year NewSouth Books published a sanitized edition, effectively keeping this book in the news and on the minds of both those who have loved and hated this classic American book. When was the last time you visited Huck Finn? Interested in learning more and sharing your ideas?
Join us next week for a panel discussion of this story that continues to both attract and repel members of our community. Does Huckleberry Finn belong in the literary canon and in our schools? What does it reveal about race relations, art and the power of language? Read more »
Forget the sappy title--James Tate’s poems are accessible yet deep, eccentric, and sometimes bizarre. His gifts include a fluid poetic style and the ability to continuously surprise. Here’s how “It Happens like This” begins:
“I was outside St. Cecilia’s Rectory / smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me….” The poem’s speaker admires the goat, wonders if there’s a leash law for them, and then when he walks away the goat follows him. “People / smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,” / I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking / my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,” / one of them said, “I wonder when my turn is…” Whether you’re a goat-lover or not, you will enjoy the odd realism here, the tongue-in-cheek humor.
In fact humor is another one of Tate’s paramount qualities. Check out some of his other poetic titles in The Eternal Ones of the Dream: “Uneasy about the Sounds of Some Night-Wandering Animal,” “Doink,” “The Flying Petunias,” Read more »
I’m both a poetry and quotation aficionado, so what could be better than a twofer? Dennis O’Driscoll’s wonderful gathering of quotations about poetry Quote Poet Unquote: Contemporary Quotations on Poets and Poetryis the kind of book you read through to inspire you, make you laugh, or help you figure out what modern poetry is and does. Appropriately, Copper Canyon Press (the publisher) chose for their pressmark the Chinese character for poetry. It’s constructed of two parts that mean word and temple.
O’Driscoll begins his introduction with Boswell’s question to Samuel Johnson (the famous dictionary maker), “What is poetry?” Johnson’s witty reply was, “Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not.”
The book itself is arranged in sections each beginning with a phrase. Examples include: “What is it anyway,” “Making a Start,” “Inspired Moves,” “Call Yourself a Poet,” “Best Words,” “The Audience,” “On the Contrary,” and “In Memory.” This is just a sampling. O’Driscoll has devised a lot more categories.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes (although there are so many good ones it’s hard to winnow them down to a short list.) Read more »
The spirit of Graham Greene whispers through these pages. Pico Iyer is my favorite contemporary travel writer. The Man Within My Head differs from most of his books because he delves more into his own past than usual in this volume, detailing many connections he sees between his own life and that of Greene: they lived near each other in Oxford but never met, and each suffered a major house fire. They also traveled to many of the same places including Viet Nam.
Especially involving are the sections about Pico’s childhood. He lived first in Britain, his father having come to England from India as a Rhodes Scholar. He was an only child and some of his earliest memories are stacking magazines with articles by his father. The little Pico loved to arrange them and stare at his Dad’s pictures. When he was in grade school both of his famous parents were invited to California to be part of a think tank promoting ways to end violence. Pico tried to be an American student, to wait in the hills for the school bus with his plastic lunchbox, but he soon realized that education in the states did not challenge him. He asked his parents to send him back to England to attend boarding school.Read more »
The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week with the announcement that there will not be a fiction winner for 2012. This isn't the first time that there was no prize, but the announcement still comes as sort of a shock. Three finalists had already been announced, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace.
While Sig Gissler, an administrator for the Pulitzer Prize awards says “it is not a statement about fiction in general – just a statement about the process”, Ann Patchett disagrees. Patchett who is an author, reader and book store owner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the lack of award. She argues that there were actually many deserving books this year and the excitement created for both readers and sellers of books is something that is desirable and necessary. Read more »
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is still a bestseller and heavily in-demand at the library, after receiving lots of publicity late last year. This exploration of intuitive vs. deliberate thinking makes fascinating points about what motivates decisions both personal and business-related. It’s top notch popular psychology, a genre I really love for the way it forces you to examine actions and thoughts that seem simply natural or logical. Here are a few other great examples.
Another newish title that’s making a splash is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. The subtitle pretty much sums it up. It explores the differences between introverts and extroverts and makes the case for the values of introversion, which are often ignored in a society that holds extroversion to be the ideal.
Malcolm Gladwell is a giant in this area. One of his great books is Blink, which, like Kahneman’s, uncovers what’s really going on in our heads when we make decisions, illuminating everything from how prejudice works to why marriages fail.
Oliver Saks, a neurologist, also has several great books. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, for example, demonstrates how complex the brain is by showing how weirdly things can go wrong. It’s more neuroscience than psychology, perhaps, but seeing how knocking out one little area can cause hallucinations or destroy one very limited function, is fascinating.
Steven Pinker recently wrote a book (The Better Angels of Our Nature) proposing that humans are becoming less violent, but I really like his 2003 book The Blank Slate. It touches on the emerging field of evolutionary psychology, arguing that people aren’t born with completely plastic minds, but that we all have certain (possibly very powerful) innate tendencies and capabilities.
In The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson teaches us how to spot a psychopath, and finds that, far from being universally confined to mental hospitals, they are all among us—especially, it seems, in the world of business.
The Believing Brain takes a critical look at how belief—not just religious, but in general—is formed and reinforced. Michael Shermer argues that it is natural, but that we need to temper such instincts to see the world clearly.
Snoop has a fun (and kind of unsettling premise): the things we surround ourselves with and the way we arrange them speak volumes about who we are. Our personalities leak through in what seem like insignificant places.
There aren’t many good novels about chess. A Partial History of Lost Causes is a fabulously good one. In Jennifer Dubois’s debut novel, two chess players from different countries alternate telling their stories until their paths cross in Russia in 2006.
The first, Aleksandr Bezetov, a child prodigy, moves to St. Petersburg to attend an elite chess school while he is still a teenager. Exceedingly naïve and innocent, he’s assigned to a boarding house where prostitutes and a crazy assortment of other Russians live.
On his first day, while attending a celebration honoring Stalin’s memory, he meets two young dissidents who invite him to their gathering spot, Café Saigon. Soon Aleksandr is drawn into a world of samizdat and far-left causes. Read more »
When Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize, I put it on my to-read list where it lingered for two years. I had a hard time summoning enthusiasm after reading the description every time I went looking for a book. A few months ago, I deleted it off my to-read list acknowledging that I would probably never read it. Last week I thought I would give it another shot and now I wonder why I waited so long. Paul Harding's first novel sucked me in right from the hallucinatory beginning and I didn't want it to end. The banalities are such: George is dying and reflective on his life, family and career. The narrative alternates to a time when George is very young and focuses on his father, a man who ends up being unfairly defined by his grand mal seizures. In between these paragraphs, there are excerpts from the fictional book called The Reasonable Horologist and other shorter paragraphs that seem nonsensical at first, but end up working at the end. Time and memories are the main theme and this book has a rural New England setting. Read more »