I read a lot of narrative non-fiction – historical, microhistory, natural sciences, travel, and environmental. I read these to be better informed, but also for pleasure so my ultimate test for a narrative non-fiction book is whether it would have made a better magazine article. I hate finishing something that I think was interesting, but could have been boiled down into a 20 page magazine article with the same impact. I’ve recently read two non-fiction books passed the magazine article test and then some.
The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mysteries & Madness Shaping the New Era of Water by Charles Fishman isn’t about how to make changes in your lifestyle with regards to water conservation. It isn’t a how-to book for urban or rural planners. It is a book that will challenge what you think you know about water from the big picture including where it comes from and what do we really mean by “clean”. This book will also identify our emotional connection with water and will put those assumptions to the test. Near the end of the book, an economist presents a model for future water use that makes sense for both dry places like Las Vegas and Australia should also be considered for wetter places like Atlanta and even Bloomington. There are pages and pages of research, calculations and notes at the end, but the book was captivating, accessible and provides much food for thought. Read more »
The Edgar Awards were announced last week and because I am not normally a mystery reader, I usually only give a cursory glance at the winners. But this year, not only are there several winners and nominees that are pretty high on my to-read list, but I’ve even read one of the winners.
The Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar Award to the best mystery books every year in a few different categories. This year there looks like many good choices. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a mystery reader yet! Check out the entire list of winners and nominees at the Edgar Award website.
Warning: this book contains Serious Issues. You’ve also been warned that there aren’t any angels, zombies, vampires, demons, or changelings. No one has supernatural superhero powers. It isn’t set in the future and there has not been an apocalypse. Still interested? Yes! I loved this. Shine by Lauren Myracle is a realistic, gritty and powerful coming of age story that is raw and emotional but also completely worthwhile.
After Cat’s friend Patrick is brutally assaulted, marked with a gay slur, and left for dead at a gas station in their hometown of Black Creek, NC she decides to figure out who could have done something so horrible. The sheriff is investigating, but seems sure that it was outsiders – just someone passing through. At face value, this book is a mystery. Cat sets out to interview people who were with Patrick the night of the attack to establish a timeline and she tries to determine motive. Patrick was friends with many people in town who were also uncomfortable to some degree with his homosexuality.
But really the heart of this book isn’t so much figuring out who did it, but how the characters come to terms with the resolution. Cat also has to face her own demons in this process. I liked that she wasn’t a superhero, but a girl who got kind of messed up and is really trying to do the right thing. Read more »
Despite being short, Étienne St. Clair not only has amazing hair and slightly crooked-cute bottom teeth, but also is a perfect combination of French maturity and American goofiness – with a British accent! Does it get any better? Anna doesn’t think so. But it could get worse. St. Clair (as everyone calls him) is taken.
Anna and the French Kiss, a recent Rosie Award nominee, begins with Anna’s move for her senior year in high school from Atlanta to Paris. Anna’s dad thinks it would be a good experience for her to attend the School for Americans in Paris and pulls some strings to get her into this exclusive school. It is tricky at first, because the school is small and Anna is the only new student (aaaand doesn’t speak any French). Despite feeling homesick for her best friend, a new romance from her old job at the movie theater, and her little brother all back in Atlanta, Anna makes friends with her neighbor in the dormitory and starts hanging out with her and St. Clair’s circle of friends. Read more »
The Oxford English Dictionary is the premier dictionary of the English language. It is famous for its easy-to-understand definitions and word etymology, which strives to record the earliest known usage. The seemingly simple verbs set, make and put vie with each other for the longest entries – over 60,000 words each to describe all of the uses and senses!
The current editor of the OED, as it is commonly known, is set to retire later this year. John Simpson was briefly interviewed on Morning Edition on NPR yesterday. What makes his position newsworthy is that he is only the seventh editor of the dictionary since the project's beginning in 1879 and has been working in this high profile position of the world’s most famous dictionary for more than 35 years.
In addition to some specialized copies of the Oxford dictionaries for foreign languages and picture dictionaries, MCPL owns a compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary. The print is so tiny, you need a zoom text reading machine (which MCPL also owns!) to really read any parts of this mammoth book. Read more »
Today is Shakespeare's birthday and to celebrate a Goodreads contributer created a great infographic to help you select your next read. A comedy? A tragedy? MCPL has works by Shakespeare, books to help you get through the plays and of course biographies. One of the best biographies is Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World. Shakespeare expert and Harvard historian, Greenblatt does an excellent job of integrating a basic biography with the sights, sounds and feel of Elizabethan England. This book is dense with detail, but also entirely readable is a great choice for both self professed Shakespeare know-it-alls and newcomers alike.
Seeing as it is a classics sort of day, I thought I would also link to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This fictional video blog chronicles the modern day Lizzie Bennet, her sisters Lydia and Jane, and her best friend Charlotte Wu as they navigate between the pressure of their parents and potential boyfriends including the new-to-the-neighborhood Bing Lee. Read more »
The Pulitzer Prize is an annual awards given to excellence in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition and are administered by Columbia University in New York City. The 2013 awards were announced yesterday. For books, the following awards were given.
Ambitious and inventive, this novel is set in an orphanage in North Korea. Protagonist Pak Jun Do is forced to become a fighting tunnel expert and a kidnapper before he takes his fate into his own hands. Johnson is able to tell the tale of touching humanity set within the backdrop of a brutal regime. Read more »
Roger Ebert, film critic extraordinaire and Pulitzer Prize winner, died last week after a battle with cancer. Immediately following his death, there were lots of quotes circulating online from Ebert which reminded me what a great writer he was. In writing about movies, Ebert was able often able to put his finger on the pulse of real life human behavior and articulate the human condition – both the happy and the sad. I forgot how funny he was, and his reviews are a joy to read even if you disagree on the rating.
Those interested in starting with the basics, check out his Movie Yearbooks – complete with movie reviews, essays, tributes, journal entries, and new additions to his popular Movie Glossary. If you are looking for critiques that might lead you to viewing of really good movies, try The Great Movie series. However, some of Ebert’s best writing was in critiquing bad movies. If you aren’t looking for movie suggestions, but just some hilarious examples of his writing check out Your Movie Sucks. Read more »
This summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War. The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war. Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle. This is well researched, and really readable. The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.
One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened. Read more »
In April, as poets have for centuries, we’ll celebrate poetry. For our next Books Plus discussion program, we’ll be highlighting sonnets—one of the shortest and most versatile of poetric forms. Did you know what King James I, Prime Minister William Gladstone, American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, President John Quincy Adams, and Edith Wharton all had in common? They loved to write sonnets!
Now you don’t need to compose any of your own, but if you have a favorite that you’d love to read aloud, please come and share. Or sit back and let language flow around you. We’ll explore this little song’s history, discuss its variations, how contemporary poets have made it their own, and why a sonnet is still a sonnet even if it doesn’t rhyme.
We hope you can join us this coming Sunday, April 7 at 2:00 p.m. in discovering anew one of our best creations--the sonnet. All are welcome and refreshments are provided. More information about this and upcoming Books Plus discussions below.