Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Here in libraryland we often talk about the impact that Google has had on our world. The conversations often lead to discussions of not only the change Google has brought to library use, but also its broader worldwide cultural impact. So reading Ken Auletta’s new book Googled: The End of the World as We Know It was both insightful and troubling; giving me a much more nuanced understanding of the Google story but simultaneously raising many questions concerning Google's intentions with its multi-faceted global scope and whether or not a multi-billion dollar global business juggernaut can indeed, as Google’s tagline goes, "not be evil". Best-selling author and journalist Auletta does a great job summarizing the Google story, including informative profiles of its two wunderkind founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, but only hints at the current battle of the titans that has the Silicon Valley and the media all a twitter.
Googled: The End of the World as we Know It
Nancy Pearl used the term “meta-picture book” to describe Melanie Watt’s Chester, and its sequel, in which the title character is actively involved in the subversion of the book itself. Another book by Watt sells itself, its title proclaiming Have I Got a Book for You! Maybe it’s a Canadian thing? Polly Horvath lives there now. In her chapter book The Pepins and their Problems, a great book for third graders and up or read aloud, Horvath asks for and presents suggestions from her readers (sent to her via telepathy) as to what her characters should do to solve their various (and hilarious) problems. Lots of books refer back to themselves to have fun.
Check out Emily Gravett’s Wolves as well as Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, both triumphs of book design and winners of the Kate Greenaway award. As in David Wiesner’s masterful The Three Pigs, in which the wolf blows the pig right out of the story (just the beginning of a wild turn of events), the books themselves are apparently affected by the events unfolding within them as we read them.
In his review of Do Not Open this Book!, Bruce Handy asks, “Do kids really want to explore the artificiality of the fictive narrative? Probably not,” he answers, “unless there are good jokes.” Yep, good jokes-and how about suspense?
Here are two modern read aloud picture book classics. In Go Away Big Green Monster, the reader (or the read-to) causes a monster to appear and then to disappear with the turning of the pages. Get ready for your child to say, "Read it again!" The Monster at the End of this Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover is a favorite because it was read to me when I was a little guy. And I’m not the only one. Lots of adults have fond memories of this book. In an effort to prevent us from having to deal with the monster at the end of the book, Grover implored us, "Please do not turn the page!". Of course, we did turn the page and there sat Grover, in a pile of bricks and dust, observing, “Did you know that you are very strong?” Now that was fun. Read it again!
The Monster at the End of this Book
Not long ago, I was sitting on the couch reading my Sunday morning newspaper and having a cup of coffee (which I look forward to ALL week) while my husband was flipping through the TV channels. He is an avid reader as well so he enjoys checking out the channels where authors do book talks. He stopped to listen to Byron Pitts speak about his book Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges. Pitts is a chief national correspondent for CBS News and a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes so he is a very familiar face on the news tv circuit. I was immediately drawn in to Pitts book talk and had to then check out his book.
Pitts had some major challenges to overcome growing up in Baltimore as he explains in his book. He had a terribly debilitating stutter and was functionally illiterate. While these were huge obstacles to overcome, what makes Pitts book compelling is the story of the key people who took the time and effort to encourage and work with him-the people who literally stepped on nothing to reach him. They told his mother in elementary that he was illiterate so his mother and coach worked tirelessly with him through elementary and high school. He struggled with vocabulary and spelling so his roommate in college worked with him every day. He even had a college professor label him a failure and literally told him to drop out of college but another professor believed in him and helped him find the tools to succeed.
Two things stand out about this book to make it a winner. One, a few people in this young man’s life saw a child in need of some help and stepped up to give it to him, and he gives tribute to them. Two, this young man worked tirelessly and continuously to overcome his challenges and become a success. Pitt’s book is a success in my opinion because he acknowledges that on one hand we all have great challenges in our lives that can be overcome while on the other hand we all have opportunities to step out on nothing and make a difference to someone else. This is an encouraging uplifting story for those late winter blahs.
Step Out On Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges
Recently, I was shelf-reading in the juvenile fiction collection in the Central Library’s Children’s Room when I happened across two books by Paul Shipton. Both had the word “pig” in their titles, and I think that one word is what grabbed my attention.
Book the first, The Pig Scrolls by Gryllus the Pig is a translation of an ancient Greek manuscript written by Gryllus, a talking pig who was once a man, and which opens the door to book the second, The Pig Who Saved the World by Gryllus the Pig, equally as entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny as the first. Did I mention that Gryllus can talk? And recite limericks? “There once was a merry young Spartan. But trouble he always was startin’. The friends that he had, Said the smell was so bad, Because he just couldn’t stop______” (Book the first, The Pig Scrolls, p. 33)
Do you remember your Greek mythology? Do you know who Odysseus was? Did you ever think Greek myths were boring? Well! You certainly won’t when you pick up these two titles and read about a Greek myth turned upside down. Couple the usual gods and goddesses with monsters, transformed humans, humor and danger and you have a pair of winning stories that will appeal to all ages from grade 3 to adult. Great read-aloud choices, too.
The Pig Who Saved the World by Gryllus the Pig
Anne Tyler is one of my “Book My Favorites” authors. It’s always a treat to get her new book shortly after it is published.
Noah’s Compass is a continuation of her quirky characters in a Baltimore setting. Liam Pennywell is a man of “unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means, and curtailed ambition.” He has had two failed marriages and has an emotionally detached relationship with his grown daughters and second ex-wife.
Liam is attacked in his new apartment on his first night there and has no memory of the experience. As he searches to recover those few lost hours, he is lead into an examination of his rather disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept woman half his age, who is a “rememberer.”
Trust me—the book is better than it sounds from this brief description. It is typical Anne Tyler style with no solutions as to why people are they way they are and a main character who will be in a different place by the end of the book, but who will have grown along the way.
I had enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger’s first book, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, and was looking forward to her newest novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.” Moody and atmospheric, it has ghostly elements, but unravels about two thirds of the way through.
Set in modern day London, the story follows the lives of twenty year old identical twins, Julia and Valentina. The young women have inherited a flat in London from their Aunt Elspeth, and the building backs up to Highgate Cemetery, a centuries old burying ground. Their mother and Elspeth, also twins, were estranged, under mysterious circumstances never revealed to the girls by their mother. 30-something graduate student Robert, who also has a flat in the building, was Elspeth’s lover, and is a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery. Niffenegger obviously has a fondness for London and its history, and setting is a strength of the book.
I think this would be a good choice for book groups, since it could lend itself to some lively discussion. Readers seem to have strong feelings both ways- why not take a chance and see which camp you fall into?
Her Fearful Symmetry: a novel
This is not your typical fantasy novel. The Red Wolf Conspiracy is an adventure novel first and foremost. The fact that the characters range from humans to sentient animals is secondary to the tale that grips you from the first pages.
The Mzithrin and Arquali Empires have been locked in a 40-year war over the resources in the Crownless Lands on their common frontier. Pazel Pashkenle, introduced as a victim of that war, becomes a tarboy on the Mega-ship Chathrand, where many of the other characters come together. There are spies and intrigue, a bully or two, a half-mad captain, an unwilling bride, miniature warriors, sentient animals, and a powerful sorcerer all intertwined in Pazel's adventures and misfortunes. Each character is introduced in turn, and all become believable in this fantasy adventure. This novel is part adventure on the high seas, part coming of age novel, and part fantasy. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next installment of Pazel's adventures in The Ruling Sea.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
Acclaimed author Don Delillo’s newest book is a spare yet poetic novella that continues to draw upon the themes of his earlier works but also differs greatly in the way that his prose has become much more taut and compressed. His fiction has grown grimmer and those touches of gallows humor that surfaced in books like White Noise have dried up almost entirely in Point Omega. Unlike his previous novels like the award-winning Underworld, that often sought to explore broad social and cultural facets of the post-war American experience, Point Omega’s narrative is set mostly in the desert with only a couple of characters. It reads like an atmospheric meditation on the subject of time and how it slowly extends and retreats, expands and deletes, all amidst the background of big-picture history (Iraq War) and its menacing Other, the illusory image. Admirers of books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will appreciate Point Omega for its bleak pessimism and stark observations but for those who require the sweet artifice of easy answers and the entertainment of bread and circuses from their fiction, they should look elsewhere. Delillo can be heard talking about his new novel during a recent interview on NPR.
Thinking of evicting a tenant? Are you being evicted? Filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court? Bankruptcy? Fighting your traffic ticket? Charged with a crime?
There is a book published by Nolo (a for-the-layman legal publishing company) for virtually every legal situation that most citizens eventually find themselves in--whether it's getting Social Security Disability, facing foreclosure, or getting your idea copyrighted. If you do a key word search for "Nolo" in our catalog you'll see we have about 200 of them; some are in the Law Library, some in the Business Collection, some in the general stacks (2nd floor), and some in all three locations. These books combine the authority and practical advice of lawyers (most, if not all, are written by lawyers) without the legal jargon.
Represent Yourself in Court
I love modernist furniture and home design. There is just something about the graceful ways in which the masters of modernism brought both functionality together with the ethos of less is more. Modernism, with all of its varying adherents and specific stylistic schools, emerged roughly in Germany (Bauhaus), the Netherlands (De Stijl), the Soviet Union (Constructivism, Futurism), and France (Le Corbusier) around the 1920’s and continued to visually transform the aesthetic landscape of domestic and work environs through the 1950’s. Often referred to as the International Style, modernist designers and architects sought to streamline the process of creating furniture and homes by eliminating decorative elements and ornamentation. There was a direct correlation between the rise in manufacturing technology and the aesthetic ideas posited by many of the movement’s most passionate advocates. Utopian ideas regarding the “good society” and how the arts and crafts could play a vital role in transforming the everyday lives of citizens were often the underlying force behind the revolutionary impulses of many these thinkers.
Even today, modernist design values continue to inspire and sell (see: IKEA). One only needs to look to the popularity of various print publications like Dwell Magazine and Atomic Ranch or scan the online pages of the popular blog Apartment Therapy to see the vestiges of modernist sensibilities and its lasting influence. Southwest Michigan furniture manufacturers like Herman Miller and Cranbrook Academy of Art were important regional leaders in promoting the works of such visionary artists like Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, and many others. Here is a short list of important designers and key terms.
Ray and Charles Eames
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Florence Knoll Bassett
The International Style
Warman's modernism furniture & accessories : identification and price guide