Dory L.'s blog

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

ISBN: 
9780316204279

TED talks, "pay yourself in chard", shoeless Microsoft techies, Molly Moon ice cream--you don't have to be a current or ex-Seattleite to enjoy this funny book by Hollywood scriptwriter (Arrested Development) Maria Semple. If you've ever lived in a politically correct zone (Bloomington anyone?), you'll recognize many of the interpersonal dynamics pictured here. Where'd You Go, Bernadette tells the story of a family - Bernadette, Bee, and Elgin Branch-- and their relationship to their child's school community.

Bernadette, a former architect and MacArthur genius award winner, has given up working on any creative projects to devote herself to her family. Her daughter Bee was born with a serious heart condition and for years Bernadette felt that she could not commit herself to any new designs due to her daughter's condition. But Bernadette, a woman full of prodigious talent and energy, has been driving herself and everyone around her nuts while her husband worked his way up the Microsoft hierarchy.

Minor Seattle annoyances set her off, say five-way traffic interchanges where one waits an eon for a turn at the green light. Too friendly Canadians provoke Bernadette's ire also. And turning her almost ballistic are messages from her daughter's private school that ask for volunteers. She ignores these but the fellow parents, whom she calls "gnats", mock her for her lack of community involvement--a major Seattle lapse. And then there are all those obnoxious Microsoft slogans that she must turn away from whenever she and Bee visit her husband's office. Read more »

Paris: a Love Story

ISBN: 
9781451691542

The defining moment of Kati Marton's life occurred when she was six and the police came for her mother during the Hungarian Revolution. Her mother was imprisoned for a year, joining her father in prison. The authorities forced Marton and her sister to move in with strangers. Before that their lives had been blessed especially by Communist Hungary standards. Kati's parents had hired a French nanny and she learned to speak French as a child.

If you love Paris or even if you are just curious about life in the famous city, this memoir makes a good read. I wasn't familiar with Kati Marton's books or journalism - she worked as a foreign correspondent for ABC news and NPR - so this memoir made a nice introduction to her work.  

Marton was one of the first women to be hired as an international corresponded for ABC.  She met Peter Jennings in London before beginning her post to German in the 1970s. They fell in love and began an international romance that was mostly centered in Paris. But before that Kati had studied abroad in the city of light during the momentous year of 1968. She came from the States where her parents had emigrated after leaving prison. Read more »

The Man on the Third Floor

ISBN: 
9781579622855

 

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 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 »

Flight Behavior

ISBN: 
9780062124265

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 Behavior also 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 »

Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories

ISBN: 
9780385536677

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 & Me shows 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 »

Library Staff Recommended Books for 2012

ISBN: 
9781594744761

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.  

The fiction includes such enticing titles as Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and Alan Campbell's Damnation for Beginners (about life in Hell, where else?).  There's much more from mysteries to sci-fi and young adult fantasy. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Here's the link if you would like to examine the whole list. And we'd love to hear what books you liked this year.

A Surrey State of Affairs

ISBN: 
9780670023424

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 Affairs provides 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 »

Polar Wives: the Remarkable Women behind the World 's Most Daring Explorers

ISBN: 
9781926812625

What a cool (pardon the pun) idea for a book.  We read so much about men who have conquered the poles or Everest but hardly anything about the women who have explored alongside them or have waited patiently at home. The author knows both how it feels to travel to remote places on dangerous missions and also the anxiety and deep worry that comes with being left at home--she's the daughter of two explorers, Wally and Marie Herbert. She conceived the idea for this book while camping with her father in a tent on a Greenlandic glacier thirty years ago.

Many of the famous arctic and Antarctic explorers' wives are featured here beginning with Lady Jane Franklin, the powerful and persistent lady that pushed for rescue expeditions to find her husband's ship. Also included are portraits of Jo Peary, Eleanor Anne Franklin, Eva Nansen, Marie Herbert (the author's mother), Emily Shackleton, and Kathleen Scott.

What struck me most reading Polar Wives was how talented the woman were in their own right, for instance, Eva Nansen was a leading singer in Norway while Kathleen Scott was a very talented British actress. In addition, Eleanor Anne Franklin, first wife of Sir John, was a Romantic poet who died young at age twenty-nine. Sir John then married her dear friend, Jane.

Imagine how it felt to watch your spouse ship away for a three, four, or five year journey to the coldest and most inaccessible parts of our planet. In the chapter "An Eagle in the Backyard" the author describes the feelings of both Emily Shackleton and her husband Ernest on the British docks. To make matters even worse, many explorers died on these journeys as Sir John Franklin and Robert Falcon Scott did. Read more »

Books Plus Holiday Tea--Dec. 2nd at 2 p.m.

"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home." Anna Quindlen spoke about the importance of books in How Reading Changed My Life.

Whether you're reading about Antarctica or Vinegar Hill, Bloomington, Indiana, books teach us about the world and its interesting and quixotic people. Through books we expand our horizons and experience many lives in one. We're captivated by each of these created worlds for a few hours.

So please come to our annual Books Plus Holiday Tea and Open House on Sunday, December 2nd.   The Friends of the Library will provide delectable treats, and we will also have two booklists to hand out: one of nationally recommended books of 2012, and another of library staff's favorite books of the year. Whether you're giving gifts, choosing next year's reads for your book club, or just want to gather a batch of good books before winter storms slam in, these lists will help.

You can meet and chat with other book lovers. Please come and share your favorite books of the year with us and each other. 

The End of Your Life Book Club

ISBN: 
9780307594037

You don't have to be in a book club to be touched and inspired by this generous, warm-hearted account of a son helping his mother through her last year of life with the help of books. Former teacher and refugee worker, Mary Anne Schwalbe, had always been close to her son, Will, who was an editor and worked in publishing. Not only did they constantly share books and recommend titles to each other, but they also had many discussions--some heated--about these same books.

After his mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Will spent a lot of time with her in hospital waiting rooms before her doctor visits and chemo treatments. On one of those trips they decided to pass the time by exploring the same books. "But how can we have a book club without food?" Mary Anne asked.

But The End of Your Life Book Club is so much more than analyzing contemporary literature à deux. Will also chronicles his mother's illness, her acceptance of her forthcoming death, and the effect these changes had on the family.

In one chapter Mary Anne and her husband revisit her favorite foreign city, London, where she lived as a young student. The book that mother and son shared that month was Felicia's Journey by Will Trevor. In another section, Mary Anne, Will and his brother discuss Russell Banks' Continental Drift while sharing a table with Mary Anne's birthday-bash barbecued pig. Will had stayed awake the night before regretting that he had encouraged his mom to read such a depressing book, but at the party, he heard her recommending it to many people. Read more »

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