NoveList Plus 2017 STAFF PICKS

Visit the bottom left hand side of the Library’s website and you’ll see an icon for MARVEL!  Take an adventure and visit NoveList Plus to see what that librarian staff picks for 2017 must-reads!

THE ESSEX SERPENT

Publishers Weekly:

In Perry’s (After Me Comes the Flood) excellent second novel, set in the  Victorian era, recent widow Cora Seaborne leaves London with her 11-year-old son, Francis, and loyal companion, Martha, and goes to Colchester, where a legendary, fearsome creature called the Essex Serpent  has been sighted. Scholarly Cora, who is more interested in the  study of nature than in womanly matters of dress, tramps about in a man’s tweed coat, determined to find proof of this creature’s existence. Through friends, she is introduced to William Ransome, the  local reverend; his devoted wife, Stella; and their three children. Cora looks for a scientific rationale for the Essex Serpent, while Ransome dismisses it as superstition. This puts them at odds with one another, but, strangely, also acts as a powerful source of attraction between them. When Cora is visited by her late husband’s physician, Luke Garrett, who carries a not-so-secret torch for her, a love triangle of sorts is formed. In the end, a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent  will dictate the  ultimate happiness of these characters. Like John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay. Cora makes for a fiercely independent heroine around whom all the other characters orbit. (June) –Staff (Reviewed 04/17/2017) (Publishers Weekly, vol 264, issue 16, p)

 

FATAL

Library Journal:

With his new stand-alone, Lescroart takes an infrequent step away from the lives of lawyer Dismas Hardy and his pal Abe Glitsky (last seen in The Fall) to introduce Sgt. Beth Tully of the San Francisco homicide squad. Beth is a hardworking single mom whose longtime friend Kate Jameson initiates an affair with a married man named Peter Ash six months before he is murdered. Beth and partner Ike McCaffrey are assigned to investigate the killing, propelling Beth into the uncomfortable position of interrogating Kate in a manner that barely falls short of accusation and causes a painful rift between the friends. What follows is a complicated turn of events that brings about the deaths of two more victims before Beth and Ike are able to sort through their growing list of suspects. VERDICT True to form, Lescroart handles his multiple story lines with aplomb, enticing readers to leave Dismas Hardy behind—for now. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/16.] –Nancy McNicol (Reviewed 10/01/2016) (Library Journal, vol 141, issue 16, p73)

 

THE ALICE NETWORK

Library Journal:

/* Starred Review */ In May 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair and her mother have crossed the Atlantic so the unwed Charlie can discreetly end her pregnancy in a Swiss clinic. A chance to search for her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared during World War II, gives Charlie the courage to break free and head to London. Rose may have been involved in the French Resistance, and her last known connection was a woman named Eve, who carries her own war secrets. Even with the background detail given at the  novel’s outset, there is so much more to learn as these characters are thoughtfully developed through interior decision making and the  actions they take. Allowing Charlie to describe present events, while Eve shares her experience as an English spy for the  real-life Alice Network  during World War I, creates a fascinating tension that intensifies as the  finale approaches. VERDICT A compelling blend of historical fiction, mystery, and women’s fiction, Quinn’s (“Empress of Rome” series) complex story and engaging characters have something to offer just about everyone. [See “Summer Escapes,” LJ 5/15/17.]—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH –Stacey Hayman (Reviewed 06/01/2017) (Library Journal, vol 142, issue 10, p96)

 

THE HEARTS OF MEN

Booklist:

Butler’s best-selling debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs (2012), garnered widespread praise for its poignant depiction of small-town life in a Wisconsin farming community. Using the backdrop of  his home state once again, this time centering on a Boy Scout campground in Wisconsin’s north woods, Butler’s latest work follows the  erratic fortunes of  Nelson Doughty, an aspiring Eagle Scout and virtually friendless outcast. During the life-changing summer in 1962, Nelson unexpectedly befriends a popular older scout named Jonathan Quick, who, after the pair loses a clandestine contest between scout troops, abruptly betrays him, prompting Nelson to rat out his peers in a camp scandal. Decades later, after surviving a harrowing tour of Vietnam, Nelson ascends to the rank of  scoutmaster and finds himself in charge at the  same campground where Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter in-law are involved in a very different but similarly unsettling incident. Butler achieves a rare triple play here of  brilliant characterizations, a riveting story line, and superlatively measured prose, putting him in the  front ranks of  contemporary American writers of  literary fiction. — Hays, Carl (Reviewed 2/1/2017) (Booklist, vol 113, number 11, p28)

 

THE GIRL BEFORE

School Library Journal:

Emma and Jane have a lot in common; they even look alike. Each has been through a traumatic experience and needs to move into a new London apartment, but neither has much money. They both see a gorgeous, glamorous (but minimalist) flat on Folgate Street that is, miraculously, within budget—assuming that the  renter meets the  owner/architect’s strict requirements: no alterations, no rugs or carpets, no pictures, no potted plants, no throw pillows, and about 200 other stipulations. The flat should be experienced as is and, in fact, is meant to transform the occupant rather than the  other way around. But there’s something very compelling about the apartment. When Jane moves in, she learns that Emma was the previous resident—and that she died there. Told in chapters that alternate between Emma’s and Jane’s stories, the  book ratchets up the  tension page by page as Jane can’t resist looking into Emma’s life and death. By the end, readers will have no idea whom to believe or how far any of the characters will go to get what they want. VERDICT Teens who gobbled up Paula Hawkins’s The Girl  on the  Train and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl  will be clamoring for this page-turning psychological thriller, which is already being made into a movie by Ron Howard.—Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Public Library, CA –Sarah Flowers (Reviewed 03/01/2017) (School Library Journal, vol 63, issue 03, p153)

 

 

 

Summer Reading list “Sail-Away-on-a-Good-Read” and Pop Up Bookstore from Island Readers and Writers

In addition to their “Sail-Away-on-a-Good-Read”  summer reading list, the local organization Island Readers and Writers, based in Southwest Harbor, will be holding 2 POP UP bookstores this summer—one of them right here at our library on Friday, July 21st!  We hope to see you there.  Come into the library and see the display in the Young Adult room of books from the summer reading list and take a few home with you to share with your family.

Use the link below to see the full list of books in the “Sail-Away-on-a-Good-Read” collection.

http://islandreadersandwriters.org/

New To You! Great books you might have missed.

NoveList Book Squad – a reader advisory service found in MARVEL! (check out the link on our website) just sent along this poster of wonderful reading suggestions.  Southwest Harbor Public Library has 9 of the 12 titles right on our own shelves and the remaining 4 books can be ordered for you through inter-library loan (Eight Girls Taking Pictures, The Other Typist, Quicksand, and The Star Side of Bird Hill).

Maine Library Patrons Want to Read…

Enjoy seeing what your fellow Mainers wish to read (or listen to) the most!

Each month Josh Tiffany, the librarian at the Gray Library creates a High Demand Hold List from the Minerva Catalog requests.

Books

1)      The Stars Are Fire (Shreve) – 245 holds on 45 items

2)      The Stranger in the Woods (Finkel) – 219 holds on 65 items

3)      Anything is Possible (Strout) – 147 holds on 40 items

4)      A Piece of the World (Kline) – 144 holds on 56 items

5)      The Fix (Baldacci) – 140 holds on 44 items

6)      The Black Book (Patterson) – 100 holds on 38 items

7)      Golden Prey (Sandford) – 96 holds on 33 items

8)      Into the Water (Hawkins) – 95 holds on 13 items

9)      16th Seduction (Patterson) – 94 holds on 26 items

10)   The Women in the Castle (Shattuck) – 67 holds on 33 items

11)   Option B (Sandberg) – 43 holds on 7 items

12)   Shattered: Inside Hilary Clinton’s Doom Campaign – 41 holds on 1 item

13)   Against All Odds (Steel) – 40 holds on 15 items

14)   Robert B Parker’s Little White Lies (Atkins) – 38 holds on 7 items

15)   The Dark Prophecy (Riordan) – 29 holds on 7 items

16)   Old School: Life in the Sane Lane (O’Reilly) – 26 holds on 9 items

17)   Prince Charles (Smith) – 20 holds on 7 items

18)   Less Than Treason (Stabenow) – 17 holds on 8 items

19)   Radium Girls (Moore) – 17 holds on 4 items

20)   Slow Horses (Herron) – 17 holds on 1 item

Audiobooks:

1)      The Stars are Fire (Shreve) – 37 holds on 13 items

2)      The Fix (Baldacci) – 16 holds on 5 items

3)      The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood) – 14 holds on 5 items

4)      The Black Book (Patterson) – 13 holds on 5 items

5)      Golden Prey (Sandford) – 12 holds on 5 items

6)      Beartown (Backman) – 10 holds on 5 items

7)      Bone Box (Kellerman) – 8 holds on 3 items

8)      Fast and Loose (Woods) – 8 holds on 2 items

9)      One Perfect Lie (Scottoline) – 7 holds on 3 items

10)   Unshakeable (Robbins) – 6 holds on 1 item

Graphic Novels

1)      My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Ferris) – 16 holds on 3 items

2)      Valerian: The New Future Trilogy – 4 holds on 1 item

3)      Avengers vs. X-Men – 3 holds on 1 item

4)      Nightwing: Vol 1 – 3 holds on 1 item

5)      Deadpool vol. 4 – 2 holds on 1 item

6)      Deadpool vol. 5 – 2 holds on 1 item

7)      Rising of the Shield Hero – 2 holds on 1 item

8)      Suicide Squad vol. 1 – 2 holds on 1 item

9)      Supergirl vol.1 – 2 holds on 1 item

10)   Supergirl vol. 2 – 2 holds on 1 item

APRIL Reading

 

April 1865: The Month That Saved America

by  Jay Winik

 

One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee’s harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln’s assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war’s denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history and filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.

 

April Morning

by Howard Fast

 

When you read this novel about April 19, 1775, you will see the British redcoats marching in a solid column through your town. Your hands will be sweating and you will shake a little as you grip your musket because never have you shot with the aim of killing a man. But you will shoot, and shoot again and again while your shoulder aches from your musket’s kick and the tight, disciplined red column bleeds and wavers and breaks and you begin to shout at the top of your lungs because you are there, at the birth of freedom—you’re a veteran of the Battle of Lexington, and you’ve helped whip the King’s best soldiers.

 

April’s Rain  

by David Johnson

 

Eight years after losing her closest friend, Tucker struggles to keep her rebellious, self-destructive granddaughter under control. When April accidentally kills her boyfriend while defending herself from his attack, Judge Jack helps Tucker ferry her granddaughter away to Spirit Lake, a remote treatment facility in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. There, April creates a false identity, painting herself as a young socialite, and blocks Tucker’s attempts at communication.

Tucker’s grandson March, missing for eight years, is discovered half-dead, having lost both his sight and his memories. As he recovers, March’s blindness persists but fragments of his life reemerge. When he finds himself at Spirit Lake, he runs headlong into his past.

Will Tucker be able to reunite her family after their paths have splintered?

 

Broken April

by Ismail Kadare

 

 

Two destinies intersect in this novel — that of Gjorg, a young mountaineer who has just killed a man in order to avenge the death of his older brother, and who expects to be killed himself in keeping with the code of the highlands; and that of a young couple who have come to study the age-old customs, including the blood feud.

 

April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici

by Lauro Martines

 

One of the world’s leading historians of Renaissance Italy brings to life here the vibrant–and violent–society of fifteenth-century Florence. His disturbing narrative opens up an entire culture, revealing the dark side of Renaissance man and politician Lorenzo de’ Medici.
On a Sunday in April 1478, assassins attacked Lorenzo and his brother as they attended Mass in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo scrambled to safety as Giuliano bled to death on the cathedral floor. April Blood moves outward in time and space from that murderous event, unfolding a story of tangled passions, ambition, treachery, and revenge. The conspiracy was led by one of the city’s most noble clans, the Pazzi, financiers who feared and resented the Medici’s swaggering new role as political bosses–but the web of intrigue spread through all of Italy. Bankers, mercenaries, the Duke of Urbino, the King of Naples, and Pope Sixtus IV entered secretly into the plot. Florence was plunged into a peninsular war, and Lorenzo was soon fighting for his own and his family’s survival.
The failed assassination doomed the Pazzi. Medici revenge was swift and brutal–plotters were hanged or beheaded, innocents were hacked to pieces, and bodies were put out to dangle from the windows of the government palace. All remaining members of the larger Pazzi clan were forced to change their surname, and every public sign or symbol of the family was expunged or destroyed.
April Blood offers us a fresh portrait of Renaissance Florence, where dazzling artistic achievements went side by side with violence, craft, and bare-knuckle politics. At the center of the canvas is the figure of Lorenzo the Magnificent–poet, statesman, connoisseur, patron of the arts, and ruthless “boss of bosses.” This extraordinarily vivid account of a turning point in the Italian Renaissance is bound to become a lasting work of history.

 

April Witch

by Majgull Axelsson

 

“No excuses will do anymore. Time to put my sisters in motion.”
Desiree lies in a hospital bed thinking, dreaming. One of the children born severely disabled in 1950s Sweden and then routinely institutionalized for life– and one of a very few to survive nearly to the century’s end– she cannot walk or talk, but she has other capabilities. Desire e is an April witch, clairvoyant and omniscient, leaving her own body and traveling into the world denied her.
The working-class woman who gave Desire e up at birth took in three foster daughters several years later, and even as adults they know nothing of the existence of their fourth ” sister.” Christina, abused by her psychotic birth mother and burdened by a sense of inferiority, is now a physician; Margareta, the onetime foundling, an astrophysicist who can never manage to complete her dissertation, is as restless and sensual as she was in her youth; and Birgitta, in her day the fastest, sexiest teen queen in town, is now a derelict alcoholic and substance abuser.
In spite of her physical disabilities, Desire e possesses tremendous intelligence, and she observes the world around her with great acumen. She has developed a very special relationship with her primary care physician, Dr. Hubertsson, who realizes that she could and should know something about her own background. Unbeknownst to him, she goes on to make supernatural use of this information.
Sensing that her own time is drawing to a close, Desire e also feels that one of the others has lived the life that should have been hers. One day, each of the three women– Christina, Margareta, Birgitta– receives a mysterious letter that inspires her to examine her past and her present, setting into motion a complex fugue of memory, regret, and confrontation that builds to a shattering climax.
April Witch created a furor upon its original publication in Sweden, where it was an immense bestseller. Addressing themes of mother-daughter relationships, competition between women, and the failures of Sweden’s postwar welfare state, it is foremost a thrillingly written and fascinating story.

 

BOOKS: President Obama’s Secret Survival Strategy

 

President Obama in the Oval Office in 2012. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

President Obama in the Oval Office in 2012. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

On January 16, 2017 there appeared in the New York Times two articles giving us insight as to how important books and reading have been to the 44th President of the United States.  Here’s a link to the article and the text of the interview transcript when Michiko Kakutani interviewed him in person.  President recently gave one of his daughter’s a Kindle pre-loaded with books he felt were of great importance for her to read.

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

https://nyti.ms/2jP8PuI

President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

https://nyti.ms/2iCrYmb

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him

Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times, interviewed President Obama about literature on Friday at the White House. Here are excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited and condensed.

These books that you gave to your daughter Malia on the Kindle, what were they? Some of your favorites?

I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so “The Naked and the Dead” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think she hadn’t read yet.

Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing, for example. Or “The Woman Warrior,” by Maxine [Hong Kingston].

Part of what was interesting was me pulling back books that I thought were really powerful, but that might not surface when she goes to college.

Have you had a chance to discuss them with her?

I’ve had the chance to discuss some. And she’s interested in being a filmmaker, so storytelling is of great interest to her. She had just read “A Moveable Feast.” I hadn’t included that, and she was just captivated by the idea that Hemingway described his goal of writing one true thing every day.

What made you want to become a writer?

I loved reading when I was a kid, partly because I was traveling so much, and there were times where I’d be displaced, I’d be the outsider. When I first moved to Indonesia, I’m this big, dark-skinned kid that kind of stood out. And then when I moved back from Indonesia to Hawaii, I had the manners and habits probably of an Indonesian kid.

And so the idea of having these worlds that were portable, that were yours, that you could enter into, was appealing to me. And then I became a teenager and wasn’t reading that much other than what was assigned in school, and playing basketball and chasing girls, and imbibing things that weren’t very healthy.

I think all of us did.

Yeah. And then I think rediscovered writing and reading and thinking in my first or second year of college and used that as a way to rebuild myself, a process I write about in “Dreams From My Father.”

That period in New York, where you were intensely reading.

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

And so even though by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in public policy, or I had these vague notions of organizing, the idea of continuing to write and tell stories as part of that was valuable to me. And so I would come home from work, and I would write in my journal or write a story or two.

The great thing was that it was useful in my organizing work. Because when I got there, the guy who had hired me said that the thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories. And he told me that if you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.

But my interest in public service and politics then merged with the idea of storytelling.

What were your short stories like?

It’s interesting, when I read them, a lot of them had to do with older people.

I think part of the reason was because I was working in communities with people who were significantly older than me. We were going into churches, and probably the average age of these folks was 55, 60. A lot of them had scratched and clawed their way into the middle class, but just barely. They were seeing the communities in which they had invested their hopes and dreams and raised their kids starting to decay — steel mills had closed, and there had been a lot of racial turnover in these communities. And so there was also this sense of loss and disappointment.

And so a bunch of the short stories I wrote had to do with that sense, that atmosphere. One story is about an old black pastor who seems to be about to lose his church, his lease is running out and he’s got this loyal woman deacon who is trying to buck him up. Another is about an elderly couple — a white couple in L.A., — and he’s like in advertising, wrote jingles. And he’s just retired and has gotten cranky. And his wife is trying to convince him that his life is not over.

So when I think back on what’s interesting to me, there is not a lot of Jack Kerouac, open-road, young kid on the make discovering stuff. It’s more melancholy and reflective.

Was writing partly a way to figure out your identity?

Yes, I think so. For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.

People now remark on this notion of me being very cool, or composed. And what is true is that I generally have a pretty good sense of place and who I am, and what’s important to me. And I trace a lot of that back to that process of writing.

Has that continued to be so in the presidency?

Not as much as I would have liked. I just didn’t have time.

But you keep some form of a journal?

I’ve kept some, but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for. The main writing that I’ve done during the presidency has been my speeches, the ones at least that were important to me.

How has the speechwriting and being at the center of history and dealing with crises affected you as a writer?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to see when I start writing the next book. Some of the craft of writing a good speech is identical to any other good writing: Is that word necessary? Is it the right word? Is there a rhythm to it that feels good? How does it sound aloud?

I actually think that one of the useful things about speechwriting is reminding yourself that the original words are spoken, and that there is a sound, a feel to words that, even if you’re reading silently, transmits itself.

So in that sense, I think there will be some consistency.

But this is part of why it was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency, because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals. And so working that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction.

Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.

Are there examples of specific novels or writers?

Well, the last novel I read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” And the reminder of the ways in which the pain of slavery transmits itself across generations, not just in overt ways, but how it changes minds and hearts.

It’s what you said in your farewell address about Atticus Finch, where you said people are so isolated in their little bubbles. Fiction can leap —

It bridges them. I struck up a friendship with [the novelist] Marilynne Robinson, who has become a good friend. And we’ve become sort of pen pals. I started reading her in Iowa, where “Gilead” and some of her best novels are set. And I loved her writing in part because I saw those people every day. And the interior life she was describing that connected them — the people I was shaking hands with and making speeches to — it connected them with my grandparents, who were from Kansas and ended up journeying all the way to Hawaii, but whose foundation had been set in a very similar setting.

And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.

And then there’s been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else.

What are some of those books?

It’s interesting, the stuff I read just to escape ends up being a mix of things — some science fiction. For a while, there was a three-volume science-fiction novel, the “Three-Body Problem” series —

Oh, Liu Cixin, who won the Hugo Award.

— which was just wildly imaginative, really interesting. It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping —

It’s really about the fate of the universe.

Exactly. The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade. [Laughter]

There were books that would blend, I think, really good writing with thriller genres. I mean, I thought “Gone Girl” was a well-constructed, well-written book.

I loved that structure.

Yeah, and it was really well executed. And a similar structure, that I thought was a really powerful novel: “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff.

I like those structures where you actually see different points of view.

Which I have to do for this job, too. [Laughter]

Have there been certain books that have been touchstones for you in these eight years?

I would say Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone. Like most teenagers in high school, when we were assigned, I don’t know, “The Tempest” or something, I thought, ‘My God, this is boring.’ And I took this wonderful Shakespeare class in college where I just started to read the tragedies and dig into them. And that, I think, is foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.

Is that sort of comforting?

It gives me a sense of perspective. I think Toni Morrison’s writings — particularly “Song of Solomon” is a book I think of when I imagine people going through hardship. That it’s not just pain, but there’s joy and glory and mystery.

I think that there are writers who I don’t necessarily agree with in terms of their politics, but whose writings are sort of a baseline for how to think about certain things — V. S. Naipaul, for example. His “A Bend in the River,” which starts with the line, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” And I always think about that line, and I think about his novels when I’m thinking about the hardness of the world sometimes, particularly in foreign policy, and I resist and fight against sometimes that very cynical, more realistic view of the world. And yet, there are times where it feels as if that may be true.

So in that sense, I’m using writing like that as a foil or something to debate against.

I’ve read that Lincoln loved Shakespeare his whole life, but when he was dealing with the Civil War, reading the history plays helped give him solace and perspective.

Lincoln’s own writings do that. He is a very fine writer.

I’d put the Second Inaugural up against any piece of American writing — as good as anything. One of the great treats of being president is, in the Lincoln Bedroom, there’s a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by him, one of five copies he did for charity. And there have been times in the evening when I’d just walk over, because it’s right next to my office, my home office, and I just read it.

And perspective is exactly what is wanted. At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president, I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.

Is there some poem or any writing or author that you would turn to, say, after the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., or during the financial crisis?

I think that during those periods, Lincoln’s writings, King’s writings, Gandhi’s writings, Mandela’s writings — I found those particularly helpful, because what you wanted was a sense of solidarity. During very difficult moments, this job can be very isolating. So sometimes you have to hop across history to find folks who have been similarly feeling isolated. Churchill’s a good writer. And I loved reading Teddy Roosevelt’s writing. He’s this big, outsize character.

Have you read a lot of presidential biographies?

The biographies have been useful, because I do think that there’s a tendency, understandable, to think that whatever’s going on right now is uniquely disastrous or amazing or difficult. And it just serves you well to think about Roosevelt trying to navigate World War II or Lincoln trying to figure out whether he’s going to fire [George B.] McClellan when Rebel troops are 20, 30, 40 miles away.

I watched some of the civil-rights-movement documentary mini-series “Eyes on the Prize” after the election.

It was useful.

You do see how far we’ve come, and in the space of my lifetime.

And that’s why seeing my daughters now picking up books that I read 30 years ago or 40 years ago is gratifying, because I want them to have perspective — not for purposes of complacency, but rather to give them confidence that people with a sense of determination and courage and pluck can reshape things. It’s empowering for them.

What books would you recommend at this moment in time, that captures this sense of turmoil?

I should probably ask you or some people who have had time to catch up on reading. I’ll confess that since the election, I’ve been busier than I expected. So one of the things I’m really looking forward to is to dig into a whole bunch of literature.

But one of the things I’m confident about is that, out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read. [Laughter] They’re ahead of me right now. And so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.

When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.

There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.

And part of what we’re all having to deal with right now is just a lot of information overload and a lack of time to process things. So we make quick judgments and assign stereotypes to things, block certain things out, because our brain is just trying to get through the day.

We’re bombarded with information. Technology is moving so rapidly.

Look, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species.

I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people. And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements — we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time.

What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that.

I know you like Junot Díaz’s and Jhumpa Lahiri’s books, and they speak to immigration or the American Dream.

I think Lahiri’s books, I think Díaz’s books, do speak to a very particular contemporary immigration experience. But also this combination of — that I think is universal — longing for this better place, but also feeling displaced and looking backwards at the same time. I think in that sense, their novels are directly connected to a lot of American literature.

Some of the great books by Jewish authors like Philip Roth or Saul Bellow, they are steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up — what you’re willing to give up and what you’re not willing to give up. So that particular aspect of American fiction I think is still of great relevance today.

 

Maine’s Most Wanted

What do Mainer’s want in August (aside from a quiet place away from the crowds to enjoy the fleeting beauty that is summer in Maine?) From libraries they want books and DVDs, music CDs and graphic novels. Below is a list of the top holds in a variety of categories, so get your name on the list soon!

Books
1)      Widowmaker (Doiron)
2)      A Great Reckoning (Penny) *
3)      The Black Widow (Silva)
4)      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Thorne/Rowling)
5)      Truly Madly Guiltly (Moriarty)
6)      A Man Called Ove (Koch)
7)      Before the Fall (Hawley)
8)      Here’s to Us (Hilderbrand)
9)      Barkskins (Proulx)
10)   Bullseye (Patterson)
11)   Crisis of Character (Byrne)
12)   Sweet Tomorrows (Macomber)
13)   Insidious (Coulter) *
14)   Smoother Operator (Woods)
15)   Heroes of the Frontier (Eggers)
16)   White Trash (Isenberg)
17)   Belgravia (Fellowes)
18)   Wired (Garwood) *
19)   Apprentice in Death (Robb) *
20)   Curious Minds (Evanovich) *

 

Audiobook
1)      Before the Fall (Hawley)
2)      Barkskins (Proulx)
3)      Lilac Girls (Kelly)
4)      The Black Widow (Silva)
5)      Truly Madly Guiltily (Moriarty)
6)      Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)
7)      Among the Wicked (Castillo)
8)      A Great Reckoning (Penny)
9)      Sapiens (Harari)
10)   Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)

 

Graphic Novels
1)      Monstress Volume 1
2)      The Vision 1
3)      Deadpool  Collection 1
4)      Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur 1
5)      Black Panther Collection 1
6)      Bombshells vol 2
7)      Marvel Zombies Dead Days
8)      My Little Pony Friends Forever
9)      Preacher 7
10)   LEGO Ninjago, masters of Spinjitzu

DVD
1)      Zootopia
2)      My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
3)      Hello, My Name is Doris
4)      Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
5)      Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
6)      London Has Fallen
7)      Miracles from Heaven
8)      Allegiant
9)      Gods of Egypt
10)   Triple 9

 

TV Series
1)      House of Cards: Season 4
2)      Vera: Set 6
3)      Rizzoli & Isles: Season 6
4)      Shameless: Season 5
5)      DCI Banks: Season 4
6)      Lost Girls: The Final Chapters
7)      The Magicians: Season 1
8)      Father Brown: Season 3, Part 2
9)      Janet King: Series 1
10)   Haven: The Final Season

 

Music CDs
1)      The Getaway (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
2)      Johannesburg (Mumford & Sons)
3)      I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (The 1975)
4)      A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohoead)
5)      Muscle Shoals soundtrack

NoveList’s Best of 2015

The Library’s new display featuring some of NoveList’s best books of 2015. Titles include:

Fantasy:The Mechanical” “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Thriller/Suspense: “Little Black Lies” “The Killing Lessons
Science Fiction:Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits“, “The Water Knife
Fiction:Black River” “Undermajordomo Minor
Historical Fiction:Saint Mazie” “Cleopatra’s Shadows
Horror:The Damned” “A Head Full of Ghosts
Mystery:Badlands” “The Nature of the Beast

Bestof15

2015 Summer Reads

Looking for an engrossing, entertaining or fluffy summer read? Check out some of the titles our patrons have recommended below. Some new, some old, some poignant, others pure entertainment, all noteworthy.

 

“The Meaning of Human Existence”  E.O. Wilson

How did humanity originate and why does a species like ours exist on this planet? Do we have a special place, even a destiny in the universe? Where are we going, and perhaps, the most difficult question of all, “Why?”

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence—from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our “Anthropocene Epoch,” which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as “a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere,” here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different from the spider’s web. Whether attempting to explicate “The Riddle of the Human Species,” “Free Will,” or “Religion”; warning of “The Collapse of Biodiversity”; or even creating a plausible “Portrait of E.T.,” Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham. ~Goodreads

 

“The Birth of Rock and Roll”  Jim Linderman

In “The Birth of Rock and Roll,” Americana collector Jim Linderman has arranged a storyboard of sorts that dramatizes the spirit of rock and roll in its early days-when “a juke-joint with fifty patrons was a big show,” as Linderman writes in his introduction. “A church with fifty congregants was a full house. The annual square dance at the town hall, a rent party, a fish-fry, the honky-tonk piano in the whore house, the union meeting There was no real money in it. A performer was lucky to be fed, get drunk and get laid.” The photographs have little to do with the conventional iconography of the birth of rock and roll: conspicuously absent are pictures of young white men in Memphis, poodle skirts, Alan Freed and Bill Haley’s Brylcream. These photographs instead document and celebrate the pure but indefinable essence of rocking. Ordinary, anonymous men, women and children-some white, some black-are holding guitars and strumming while looking relaxed or frantic, but nearly always blissful. Some of the action takes place in rural fields, some in dance halls, some at civic events, some in living rooms and basements. Wherever there was an urge to make acoustic or electric music-whether to help at a rent party, busk in front of a crowd or testify in the name of Jesus-there was an uncredited photographer there to snap an image, and these are the photographs that comprise Linderman’s fascinating narrative. ~Goodreads

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)“Mistress of the Art of Death Series”  Ariana Franklin

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again.~Goodreads

 

Black River“Black River”  S.M. Hulse

“Reminiscent of Wiley Cash. Her first novel and one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. I got up early this morning just to read this!”
A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town-and the convict-who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release. Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes–undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away. ~Goodreads

 

The Nightingale“The Nightingale”  Kristin Hannah

“Awesome!!! WWII in France. The best book I have read in a long time!”

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime. ~Goodreads

 

A Three Dog Life“A Three Dog Life”  Abigail Thomas
“Highly recommended! A great book for people who are caregivers.”
When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it. ~Goodreads

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

“In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette”  Hampton Sides
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded AgeIn the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world’s attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.”The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice-a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth. ~Goodreads

The Whites“The Whites”  Harry Brandt

The electrifying tale of a New York City police detective under siege-by an unsolved murder, by his own dark past, and by a violent stalker seeking revenge.Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-1990s, when a young Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an aggressive anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while struggling with an angel-dusted berserker on a crowded street. Branded as a loose cannon by his higher-ups, Billy spent years enduring one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he has somehow survived and become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives charged with responding to all post-midnight felonies from Wall Street to Harlem. Mostly, his unit acts as little more than a set-up crew for the incoming shift, but after years in police purgatory, Billy is content simply to do his job.
Then comes a call that changes everything: Night Watch is summoned to the four a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, and this time Billy’s investigation moves beyond the usual handoff to the day tour. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in the unsolved murder of a twelve-year-old boy-a savage case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese-the bad old days are back in Billy’s life with a vengeance, tearing apart enduring friendships forged in the urban trenches and even threatening the safety of his family. Razor-sharp and propulsively written, The Whites introduces Harry Brandt-a new master of American crime fiction.~Goodreads

Uttermost Part of the Earth“Uttermost Part of the Earth”  E. Lucas Bridges

Rapturous praise met the publication of Lucas Bridges’ marvelous chronicle of Tierra del Fuego when it first came out in 1947, and that praise has hardly abated these past sixty years, nor has a book been written which supplants Uttermost Part of the Earth as the classic work on Tierra del Fuego and the little-known culture of the now-extinct Fuegian Indians.When the author was born in Tierra del Fuego in 1874, it was truly an unknown land. On the southern coast was the small settlement established by his missionary parents; the rest of it, over 18,000 square miles of mountain, forest, marsh, and lake, was the hunting ground of fierce and hostile tribes. Bridges grew up amongst the coastal Yaghans, learning their language and their ways. In young manhood he made contact with the wild inland Ona tribe, became their friend and hunting companion, and was initiated into the men’s lodge.Surely the New York Times’ critics’s prediction for this book on its first publication has come true: “I have no doubt that Uttermost Part of the Earth will achieve a permanent place in the literature of several subjects: adventure, anthropology, and frontier history.” Indeed it is still the essential work and indispensable introduction for anyone yearning to experience the breathtaking remoteness and stunning landscapes of this far-flung wilderness at the “uttermost part of the earth.” ~Goodreads

Lisa’s Hot Summer Literary Reads for page immersion, not page turning

As an avid literary fiction reader, I am so thrilled with my options available already in 2015, and very excited about a future publication by one of my favorite authors. I warn you, my taste isn’t for everyone. I love deeply philosophical, often experimental, literary writing. These aren’t books one can read in a weekend. They are meant to be savored. They may make an appearance on the NYT Best Seller list, but don’t stay on long. This isn’t all I read.

I love short stories and a good old fashioned character driven novel.

I am also a fan of graphic novels for adults (and some YA), especially graphic adaptations of very dense nonfiction topics such as History or Biography.

 

I also love Irish fiction (Ireland has a rich modern literary scene that rarely makes it over to the US, aside from the classics.

 

 

 

and literary nonfiction and biography (and nonfiction in general)

I am most passionate about philosophical and experimental literary fiction and 2015 has some wonderful offerings. I thought I’d share a few selections from my “Books I Want To Read” list as well as a link to my Pinterest board of the same name.

 

“The Familiar, One Rainy Day in May” by Mark Z. Danielewski

I can’t seem to read a magazine or paper or turn on the radio without hearing something about Mark Danielewski or “The Familiar.” Fans of his “House of Leaves” and “Only Revolutions” understand what they will be getting into with this 880 page, first volume in an anticipated 27-book series.

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Fabulist and avant-gardist Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000, etc.) embarks upon a long-promised 27-volume fantasia with this sprawling, continent-hopping potpourri.

On its face, this first installment is the story of a girl. And rain. And a “ridiculous dog bed.” And a cat. And then the whole of human civilization and of the human propensity to do wrong while struggling to do right. The storyline is scarcely describable. Think of it this way: what if a prepubescent Leopold Bloom had fallen down a rabbit hole and wound up in Southeast Asia with a Pomona street gang in tow? Young Xanther, bespectacled, mouth full of metal braces, acne-spattered and left-handed, epileptic, self-doubting and sometimes self-hating, is a mess, just as every 12-year-old is a mess. She is also, her doctor assures her, something more: “If I could grant you one certainty, Xanther, one which you could hold on to without dissolving under all your scrutiny, let it just be how remarkable a young girl you are.” So she is: there’s scarcely a thing in this world she’s not interested in and has theories about, spurred on by a brilliantly eccentric dad who’s always talking about engines and the thought of Hermagoras of Temnos, “whoever he was, a rhetor, whatever a rhetor is.” So what does she have to do with an Armenian cabbie, a pidgin-speaking Singaporean, and a Chicano street gang? Ah, that’s the question, one that the reader will be asking hundreds of pages on, tantalized by the glimmerings of answers that peek through rainy calligrams and sentences endlessly nested like so much computer code. Danielewski’s efforts at street-tough dialect verge into parody (“Like this be plastic shit. All scratched up and chipped”), but most everything about this vast, elusive, sometimes even illusory narrative shouts tour de force. Strangely, it works, though not without studied effort on the reader’s part.

And as for all the loose ends? No worries—there are 26 volumes to come in which to tie them up.”

 

Milan Kundera’s “Festival of Insignificance”

His first novel published in English in 13 years, Kundera infuses his latest novel with  the absurd. Some have called this book the culmination of his life’s work, but its strangeness and unseriousness seem to comment on the lack of humor and joy in our modern times. Lovers of “The Joke” will recognize this twist and irony in this tremendous author’s latest work.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“After over a decade away from writing novels, Kundera (Ignorance) returns with this slight lark about four laissez-faire Parisians. In the tradition of existential comedies, the drama is in the dialogue. The four characters—Alain, Ramon, Charles, and Caliban—spend their days in Paris’s gardens, museums, and cafes, chatting and philosophizing. During a daytime stroll in Luxembourg Garden, Ramon bumps into a former colleague who, lying about having cancer, asks for Ramon’s help planning his birthday/death party. Similar to Kundera’s previous novels, the book uses levity and humor to comprehend the lasting effects of horrors perpetrated during World War II, though it’s set in the present. Much time is spent debating disparate, seemingly random issues: Stalin’s decision to rename a German town Kaliningrad, a marionette play that Charles imagines, a fake language Caliban invents for dinner parties. Although events converge at the party, nothing much actually happens. The four friends’ conversations are frivolous yet weighty, leaping from idle musings to grandiose declarations—from the sexual worth of a woman’s navel to the nature of motherhood, from Schopenhauer’s relationship to Kant to Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe. This novel is a fitting bookend to Kundera’s long career intersecting the absurd and the moral. It is also an argument for more books like it: “We’ve known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush. There’s been only one possible resistance: to not take it seriously.”

 

“Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane

 From The Irish Times

“In his 1883 study Nature Near London Richard Jefferies has a vibrant passage enumerating all the wild flowers he encounters on a single roadside verge. Conspicuous among them are buttercups, cowslips and dandelions. The Jefferies passage is quoted late on by Robert Macfarlane in this compelling new study, Landmarks, and it ties in poignantly with a turn of events he has cited earlier.

These words, he tells us, along with others, such as ash, acorn, bluebell, otter, kingfisher and heron, were deliberately excised from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary as being no longer relevant to children’s experience. It’s out with willow and heather and in with blog, broadband and chatroom. It isn’t, Macfarlane says, a case of either/or: both sets of nouns and what they signify have a place in the world of today. But life is unquestionably impoverished if you do away with bluebells, conkers, larks and other common words denoting nature and natural forces.

Landmarks is a book about words, among other things, words for features of the landscape, for ice and snow, for dusk, dawn, night and light. Each of its 11 chapters, with one exception, comes with a glossary containing words peculiar to regions of these islands, from Connemara to Carloway, on the Isle of Lewis: intriguing, expressive and eccentric words. (The exception is the final chapter, whose glossary is left blank to accommodate future coinages.)”

 

Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals

I don’t know much about this author but his blend of the absurd and the absurdly mundane sounds just up by alley!

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“Pierce’s first short story collection is full of compulsively addictive and delightfully strange fare. Some of the 12 offerings are new, others are culled from the New Yorker, the Oxford American, and elsewhere; each takes a mundane experience and adds an element of the extra weird. In “Shirley Temple Three,” the opening, a mother begrudgingly agrees to hide a cloned prehistoric miniature woolly mammoth in her laundry room as a favor to her son, who is a reality show host. The protagonist of “The Real Alan Gass” becomes jealous when his girlfriend reveals that she’s happily married to another man in her dreams. “Videos of People Falling Down,” which is about just that, is a funny, yet quietly poignant interconnected series of vignettes that showcase characters at their most vulnerable. Echoing an old ghost story, the wicked “Saint Possy” shuttles a couple to their wits end as the skull of a dead possum (maybe) simultaneously haunts and taunts them. In “More Soon,” a dead man, quarantined and shipped around the world on a barge following a highly contagious infection, prompts his brother to contemplate where the soul resides. Pierce’s menagerie of colorful characters equally inspires and amuses. The book is expertly paced (there isn’t a dud in this eclectic bunch) and many of the stories’ endings—some sinister, some melancholic, others heartfelt—prompt momentary reflection, though thankfully not always in ways that are expected.”

 

“Get in Trouble” by Kelly Link

From Publisher’s Weekly

“These nine stories may begin in familiar territory—a birthday party, a theme park, a bar, a spaceship—but they quickly draw readers into an imaginative, disturbingly ominous world of realistic fantasy and unreal reality. Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread. The first story, entitled “The Summer People,” in homage to Shirley Jackson, follows an Appalachian schoolgirl, abandoned by her moonshiner father, as she looks after a summer house occupied by mysterious beings. “I Can See Right Through You” features friends who, in their youth, were movie stars; now in middle age, she is the hostess and he is the guest star of a television show about hunting ghosts at a Florida nudist colony. “Origin Story” takes place in a deserted Land of Oz theme park; “Secret Identity” is set at a hotel where dentists and superheroes attend simultaneous conferences. Only in a Link story would you encounter Mann Man, a superhero with the powers of Thomas Mann, or visit a world with pools overrun by Disney mermaids. Details—a bruise-green sky, a Beretta dotted with Hello Kitty stickers—bring the unimaginable to unnerving life. Each carefully crafted tale forms its own pocket universe, at once ordinary (a teenage girl adores and resents her BFF) and bizarre (…therefore she tries to steal the BFF’s robot vampire boyfriend doll). Link’s characters, driven by yearning and obsession, not only get in trouble but seek trouble out—to spectacular effect.”