I read a review of Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden’s first novel of World War I, which mentions that this isn’t necessarily an anti-war novel. I had to read the sentence in that review several times to make sure I wasn’t misreading or misunderstanding. Does a war novel have to come out and specifically declare a stance?
Really, Boyden includes anti-war elements right up to the breathtaking ending: senseless killings, madness, morphine addiction, shortsighted military leadership, dehumanization, and the day to day terror. The characters in this book do seemingly impossible and horrible things in the name of combat. Is that not stance enough? Is it even important?
It is true that this book is about more than the descent into the hell of trench warfare. It is a really poetic story of Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack, Cree Indians who have grown up in Canada near Hudson Bay. They have spent their childhood patiently hunting, skills which serve them well as snipers in some of the worst battles of World War I, including around Vimy Ridge and the Somme. Maybe it needs to be said, but being good at killing moose to survive the winter is different than being good at killing Germans. Xavier and Elijah react differently, but equally destructively, to war. Read more »
I journeyed back into the 1950s with this novel about a closeted gay editor. It’s all here: the strong prejudice against homosexuality, the gender stereotyping, the cold war, the loyalty oaths, friend turning against friend and colleague against colleague. Some accused Communists leap out high-rise windows when their livelihoods are destroyed.
But McCarthyism is just a side issue in this intriguing novel—The Man on the Third Floor centers on a very successful editor who has a secret domestic life. When he and his wife, Phyllis, and their two young children move back to New York after the World War II years in Washington, Phyllis decides they can afford a house of their own. They—rather she—finds a nice brownstone with three floors, the top of which was originally servant quarters. But Phyllis is a modern woman, college-educated who worked in radio and journalism until she had children, and she’s not keen on having servants live with them.
But one day, a very handsome man comes to measure Walter’s office for new carpeting. Although Walter has had only one sexual experience with another male in his life--he was raped at camp as a teenager--he immediately finds himself inviting Barry, the carpet man, to a bar. Almost immediately, he offers him a job as a driver despite the fact the family owns no car, and soon gives him a room on their third floor. For some reason, Phyllis agrees to both ideas. Read more »
This novel is the first that I’ve read that tackles the problem of climate change head-on. An environmental tragedy in Mexico has forced most of the continent’s monarch butterflies to find a new winter habitat. Flight Behavioralso narrates the story of a young woman, Dellarobbia, who lives on a hard-scrabble farm in Appalachia. She’s herded in by a strict mother-in-law, Hester, and even more so by the family’s poverty. One day she decides to risk her marriage by having a tryst on the family’s mountaintop with a telephone lineman named Jimmy.
After hiking up the mountain, Dellarobbia sees through the fog (despite her severe myopia) that the hills and trees are on fire: hundreds of monarch butterflies have nestled there. The young woman abandons her plan for an affair and returns to her mother-in-law’s to pick up her two young kids, Preston and Cordelia.
Dellarobbia’s history affects many pieces of the narrative: she’s lost both her parents when she was young, got pregnant as a senior in high school, and married Cub to do “the right thing.” Then she suffered a miscarriage and it took many years for her to have a child. Read more »
This slim memoir about one of the great stars of cinema is a quick and easy read. As you might guess, it provides some really fine images of the star that you might not have seen. Yet because of the book’s small format, the photographs are not as big as you might hope.
The photographer, memoirist Lawrence Schiller, was only 23 years old when he first got the opportunity to photograph the actress. What I like especially in this book, is how he humanizes Marilyn, shows how uncertain she was, longing yet afraid to have a child; Schiller started his family over the couple year-span of the memoir and they often talked about his wife and family.
Marilyn & Meshows the actress to be incredibly smart. Also, Schiller reveals her skills at conversation—when she was in the right mood—she could really draw people out. On the day she met the author, she discovered that he had blindness in one eye caused by a childhood accident. This fact she never forgot. Read more »
I love the long winter nights of December and January for reading. You can start a book at dusk, and if you’re lucky and don’t get distracted, finish it before bedtime. It’s also a good time of year to discover new authors, subjects you’ve never investigated, and different formats. (Power up that e-reader!) Magazines, newspapers, and websites also offer their best book lists this time of year.
Librarians have the advantage of being able to browse the stacks and the new book section often. Frequently, they employ the magic of serendipity, accidently discovering that dynamic cover that draws one inside a book, or they notice a title on the cart they’ve seen reviewed, or find themselves staring at a never-read classic that’s been on their lists for years. It’s also a great place to overhear book gossip, “That’s the best book I’ve read in months.”
In the spirit of sharing new authors and titles, I asked our staff members to recommend a favorite book of the year. Most recommended fiction but the nonfiction reads looked just as interesting--everything from visual essays about daily life in Christoph Niemann’s Abstract City to Susan Cain’s account of introverts in a book titled appropriately enough Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Also, recommended was Ian Frazier’s On the Rez, an absorbing description of current life on an Indian reservation. Not to be left out is the terrifying Escape from Camp 14--a young man’s account of growing up in a brutal labor camp in North Korea and after living through countless horrible events, he escaped and experienced an outside world that he did not even know existed.
There are plenty of Young Adult books that portray the difficulties of being a teenager. Some are funny, some serious, and some are pretty dark. There's even a name for ones that focus on a specific issue – the problem novel (you've got your teen pregnancy, drug abuse, suicide – you name it). Some are great, but often times the more one topic takes center stage, the less realistic these books seem. It's never just one problem in real life, is it? For pretty much anyone at this age, times are hard all around. Paul Griffin writes about hard times. Read more »
I love making lists, reading lists and cross referencing lists. I especially love December when many journals publish their year-end best-of lists. The New York Times has a top ten list, as does Publisher's Weekly and Amazon's Editors chose 20 books that they considered the best for 2012. The only book to make it to all three lists? Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is the follow up novel to Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell and Henry the VII. Both books won the Man Booker Prize and a third book is in the works.
Other than Mantel's struck-it-gold novel, there isn't a whole lot of other crossover. Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times both list Building Stories by Chris Ware. This graphic novel is really an unusual collection of printed material, collected in a large box, which shares the stories of the residents of one building. Tackling a wide range of themes, the New York Times calls it "simultaneously playful and profound". Read more »
Because they seem so personal and individual, I’m attracted to novels written in blogs, diaries, and letters. You really feel as though the writing comes directly from the blogger’s heart. Ceci Radford’s wonderful first novel A Surrey State of Affairsprovides hundreds of delightful escapades while involving you with a cast of peculiar though mostly likeable characters.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: on the advice of Rupert, her IT consultant son, a middle-aged married suburbanite named Constance begins a blog where she tells of exciting and not-so-exciting events in her life. She doesn’t work outside the home and has a surly eastern European housemaid named Natalie. Constance’s main hobbies are throwing dinner parties (including faux detective ones), visiting her Mom in a nursing home, and improving her skills as a competitive church bell ringer. (Who knew Brits even competed at this?)
Pretty soon, you discover that she is also heavily involved in matchmaking: the aforementioned son with the minister’s daughter and also with a bell-ringer’s child. Did anyone accidentally give out her son’s address to a gentle stalker?
While Constance learns the nitty gritty of posting blogs, she entertains her husband’s burly Russian guest who has nasty spats with Natalie, and then takes off with Sophie. Oh Sophie! I failed to mention Constance’s 18 year old surly daughter who is on her gap year counting fish in France but comes home often for non-talking visits with Mom. Read more »
Just released today (so new, it isn't even in our catalog yet!) is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, the debut novel by Ayana Mathis. This book has gotten some good reviews, including a glowing review from the often hard to please New York Times reviewer, Michiko Kakutani. But what makes this book especially noteworthy? One word: Oprah.
Yep. In case you missed it, last year Oprah renewed her book club, renamed Book Club 2.0 and chose Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her redemptive and inspring through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.
This year Oprah chose something completely different, but no less interesting sounding. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is about a young African-American woman who during the Great Migraration leaves Georgia and settles in Philadelphia. Hattie's struggles and those of her children are interwoven in twelve narrative threads coming together to paint an intimate picture of a singular family, but also that of a greater nation. Sounds great. I can't wait until it hits the library shelves!