Reviews

Book reviews and items of interest for readers, by Library Staff

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

This book describes my dream job, being a fire lookout out west. I could handle the wild creatures, the solitude, even the lightning strikes, but maybe not cleaning out the cistern after vandals pollute it. In the tradition of writers, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey and Norman Maclean. Philip Connors leaves his job as a Wall Street Journal editor and while on vacation signs up on the spot to detect fires for the National Forest Service, or as he jokingly calls it "The National Forest Circus."

How to be Good

As a person raised Catholic, I was drawn to the topic of this novel. Who doesn't want to be a kind, caring person? To do good works? To make the world a bit better each day? OK, maybe not serial killers, some Wall Street tycoons, mafia types, mercenaries, etc. but on the whole most people try (at least part of the time) to be good.

This 2001 Nick Hornby novel zeroes in on Dr. Katie Carr, a London wife and mother, who deals with boils and warts and patients struggling to breathe. She's a physician for Britain's National Health Service. She's married to David, a stay-at-home husband who writes an acerbic column for the local paper about all the myriad things that send him into rages, for instance, the elderly not taking their reserved seats in the front of bus and annoying other passengers by tottering when the bus suddenly stops.

"Why Do We Care About Literary Awards?"

Jamrach's MenagerieAsking that question is Mark O'Connell at The Millions. He makes a good point: it is kind of ridiculous how seriously people take these things, how offended people can get if their favorite isn't chosen. There's no way for one award to please everyone, to choose the one book that is truly, objectively the best--there is very little "objective" anything when it comes to art. However, for librarians these awards are pretty indispensable. You'll see plenty of posts on this blog, for example, about winners and shortlists. We use them when deciding what to buy, what to recommend to people, what to read ourselves. Maybe it would be better if everyone read all of the books and judged every one for themselves, but that's never going to happen.

Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl

Looking for a fantasy story that treads new ground? Look no further than Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. This refreshingly offbeat graphic novel tells the story of a young girl in an isolated community who wants to be a dragon slayer. Mixing elements of fairy tale, Yiddish folklore, and small town dynamics, Barry Deutsch has created a coming-of-age hero tale that is also a magical and poignant picture of Orthodox Jewish life. Recommended for grades 4 and up.

The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and Antarctic

Ends of the EarthOK, here's my technique to get through these incredibly hot days. Wet your hair--I mean really soak your mane without drying it, fill a huge glass with ice cubes and read a book about the arctic or antarctic. In five New Orleans' summers, I covered a lot of very northern and very southern territory including many of the authors represented in The Ends of the Earth.

Short End of the Stick

OrientationI have to admit, even as someone who has great appreciation for short stories, I often find it hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for reading them as I do when approaching the pleasant immersion of a novel. But I've proven myself wrong so many times, as I take up a book with a sense of duty and find myself thoroughly enthralled instead. Short stories are perfect for those with a hectic schedule (or a short attention span); they offer condensed, pithy prose and plot, and they can often alert you to a new talent before everyone's going crazy for their debut novel. I was inspired to write this post by Daniel Orozco's Orientation, which I just read. "Officer Weeps" in particular is one my my favorite short stories ever. His characters are weird and liminal--a woman on a late-night cookie binge, an ex-dictator, a pair of officers falling in love amidst an odd vandalism streak--and he presents them with hilarious and terrible brevity. Here are a few other collections that I really enjoyed, written with a similarly strange focus and an equal blend of heartbreak and humor.

Pages