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Tinkers by Paul Harding

TinkersWhen 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 »

Split by Avasthi

SplitSome of the best fiction books take a situation of which you have very little first-hand knowledge and through sympathetic characters and solid storytelling create some sort of understanding of what living that life would be like.  Swati Avasthi's first Young Adult novel about domestic violence and abuse, Split, is a great example. Avasthi is able to allow the reader to care about the main character and his struggles with both the violence of his father and the legacy he is hoping to avoid.

Teenage Jace leaves his parents' house with almost nothing after a particularly brutal fight with his father.  He sets off from Chicago with his camera and the New Mexico address of his older brother who disappeared several years earlier.  Jace's brother Christian is less than thrilled to see him with a bruised face despite having come from and escaped the same back ground.  Their transition is rocky and a lesser book would have trivialized this time. Instead their difficulties felt genuine.

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We Almost Disappear

ISBN: 
9781556593314

April is National Poetry Month. All across this great land, people are celebrating in schools, libraries, galleries, parks, etc. For that reason and also because discovering new poets is just fun, I will be showcasing some new poetry titles this month.

In  We Almost Disappear, David Bottoms writes about the South, childhood, camping and fishing, and aging. Nature features predominately in these poems.  There are also many poems about his childhood, including some lovely ones about his grandparents, his sense of personal history handed down through generations. I found the poems to be calming, beautiful, and full of a deep humanity.  Emotive and rich, they share Read more »

The World of Downton Abbey

ISBN: 
9781608833894

My husband, who seldom brings books home from the library, surprised me recently with this one.  I laughed and said, "I'm not that desperate" but after dinner I found myself browsing through the pictures. But soon I was drawn into the writing.  If you're a Downton Abbey fan, you'll love this book and if not, you'll probably at least sample the series after reading it.

The World of Downton Abbey is a social history of the times--Edwardian England to shortly after World War 1.  In eight essays, Fellowes describes life then.  She also gives an idea of how many people worked in service in those years--more than in farming or mining.  Families would rejoice when a child got hired by a wealthy landowner, especially one as highly regarded as an earl. Not only would the person have a secure job, but the family would no longer have to provide housing, clothing or food as they would have needed to if the person worked as a clerk.

This book is full of interesting facts about working in service at the beginning of the last century. There was a network of downstairs folk who spread news of job openings from place to place and also kept a black-list of rich people who mistreated their help.

Also, covered are corsets--just know you are very lucky to be spared the agony of wearing one. Even Daisy the kitchen maid had to don this straitjacket under her uniform. A woman in those days could not take hers off by Read more »

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 »

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