Reviews

The London Train

Not many novels tell the story of a daughter's pregnancy through her father's eyes, and although this is only one of this book's themes, it's very powerful one. In the first half, we follow the story of the very imperfect Paul--critic, college teacher, husband, father, friend, and neighbor who is involved in a feud over the cutting down of trees. Paul himself admits that he has problems, for example, he's too afraid of showing emotion so he does not ask the undertaker to see his mother's body. He lies to his wife, has affairs, and for years has ignored his oldest child.

   
Travel & Places    Family    Fiction   

The Paris Wife

To be an American during the 1920s in Paris? What could be more trendy and romantic? Especially, if you've just married the dashing young fiction writer, Ernest Hemingway. This absorbing novel introduces you to all the famous ex-pat writers of the time period: everyone from Gertrude Stein ("a rose is a rose is a rose") to Scott Fitzgerald with the wild Zelda on his arms to Ezra Pound and John Dos Passos.

But it's not primarily a biographical novel about Papa Hemingway; it's more the story of a marriage between two smart, witty people who each possess an incredible zest for life and adventure.

   

Fiction! Fiction! Fiction!

I admit to being a streaky reader and will often go through several books on the same subject over the course of a month or so. While not as exotic as reading books about bananas (What? Not exotic either? Well you get the point), I have lately been reading some excellent literary fiction.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I have read some critiques of this book that there are plot holes and lapses of logic. Upon reflection, I would have to agree with this, however it in no way changes my reading experience. I loved this book and was completely emotionally invested in the characters and outcome of this story. I both devoured the last pages, and didn't want the book to end.

   

Turn of Mind

This week Tennessee Lady Vol's basketball coach, Pat Summitt, made headlines with her announcement that she had developed Alzheimer's disease. Coincidentally, I was reading this very readable novel on the same subject.

But how do you write a book from the viewpoint of someone suffering from this disease? Not only write it but combine it with a family drama and a murder mystery? This engrossing book does all of these beautifully.

"Something has happened. You can always tell. You come to and find wreckage: a smashed lamp, a devastated human face that shivers on the verge of being recognizable." That's Alice LaPlante's compelling opening. In her first novel, she helps us understand Alzheimer's disease from the patient's eyes.

   
Fiction   

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, older adults not taking their reserved seats in the front of bus and annoying other passengers by tottering when the bus suddenly stops.

   
Family    Fiction    Travel & Places   

"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.

   
Think Library    Kids    Reviews   

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.

   

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