Another 2017 “Best” list to keep you interested and able to add additional books to your “to read” list!
Brought to you by:
Another 2017 “Best” list to keep you interested and able to add additional books to your “to read” list!
Brought to you by:
NPR’s long awaited picks for the year 2017. Surely something for everyone!
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
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)
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
/* 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
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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.)”
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.”
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.”
“She is twenty, restless in New Delhi. Her mother has died; her father has left for Singapore. He is a few years older, just back to India from New York.
When they meet in a café one afternoon, she—lonely, hungry for experience, yearning to break free of tradition—casts aside her fears and throws herself headlong into a love affair, one that takes her where she has never been before.
Told in a voice at once gritty and lyrical, mournful and frank, A Bad Character marks the arrival of an astonishingly gifted new writer. It is an unforgettable hymn to a dangerous, exhilarating city, and a portrait of desire and its consequences as timeless as it is universal. ”
“Are you someone who has always been fascinated by the story of Shackleton and The Endurance, but felt that the ending was just too damn happy? If so, I highly recommend reading this book.”
“In 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.”
“Fascinating, what a gift she gave us with her writings!”
‘As someone who fell off a chair not long ago trying to hear they what they were saying at the next table in a restaurant, I suppose I am obsessively interested in what some might consider the trivia of other people’s lives’
Maeve Binchy is well-known for her bestselling novels, the most recent of which was A Week In Winter. But for many years Maeve was a journalist, writing for The Irish Times.
From ‘The Student Train’ to ‘Plane Bores’, ‘Bathroom Joggers’ to ‘When Beckett met Binchy’, these articles have all the warmth, wit and humanity of her fiction. Arranged in decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, and including Maeve’s first and last ever piece of writing for The Irish Times, the columns also give a fascinating insight into the author herself.
With an introduction written by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, this collection of timeless writing reminds us of why the leading Irish writer was so universally loved.
“A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.
Outline is a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form.” From Goodreads
“From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection; winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.” From Goodreads
“A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading-how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.
What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like?
The collection of fragmented images on a page – a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so – and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved – or reviled – literary figures.
In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature – he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader – into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.” From Goodreads
~Mary Anne Mead~
“This title is on the shortlist for the Maine Readers Choice Award and he’s coming to the Library on July 8th to do a book talk. Liking it a lot!”
“They’re calling it the “Storm of the Century,” so Eric stops at the market for provisions on his way home from work. But when the unkempt and seemingly unstable young woman in front of him in line comes up short on cash, a kind of old-school charity takes hold of his heart—twenty bucks and a ride home is the least he can do, right? Trouble is, Danielle doesn’t really have a home. She’s squatting in a cabin deep in the woods, no electricity, no heat, nothing but the nearby river to sustain her. She’ll need food, water, firewood, and that’s just to get her through the storm: there’s a whole Maine winter ahead.
So he gets her set up, departs with relief, climbs to the road, but his car has been towed with his phone inside, and the snow is coming down with historic speed and violence. There’s no choice but to return to the cabin. Danielle is terrified, then merely hostile—who is this guy with his big idea that it’s she who needs rescuing? As the snow keeps mounting, they’re forced to ride out the storm together. For better and for worse.
The Remedy for Love is a harrowing story about the truths we reveal when there is no time or space for artifice.
“The Remedy for Love is not the remedy for sleep deprivation. You’ll stay up all night . . . It is relentless and brilliant. Leave it to Roorbach to tease out the subtlest nuances in the progress of love while stoking a tale that is as gripping as any Everest expedition—and that is also tender and terrifying and funny and, in the end, so true it seems inevitable. I’m not sure there’s another American writing today who can lay down a love story, or any story, with the depth and appeal and freshness of Bill Roorbach.” -Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars
“Fantastic – every chapter like a poem – beautifully written.”
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
“The title says it all. It was a fun read – entertaining.”
Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
“In honor of the Muslim Journeys program I was reading In the Country of Men.The writing is beautiful, very lyrical.”
“Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand-where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television.”
“Hooked on the Vorkosigan Series by Lois Bujold McMaster. Classic space science fiction with intelligent dialogue and intriguingly unpredictable protagonists. Trying to limit myself so I don’t wiz through them and miss out on interacting with family and friends as happens when I get hooked. In attempting to slow myself down on the series, I read 2 of the Curse of Chalion series also by Bujold. Medieval fantasy.”
“In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan – he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr” – and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.
Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar – and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.”
“A book that should be on the high school reading list. This is about her girlhood in a harem in Morocco in the 40s. Wow. No matter your thoughts on Islam, this is an amazing read for the context of female-female power struggle and political history of French and Spanish tug-of-war over Morocco.”
”I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco…” So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth—women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.”