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Staff Picks: Books

The Collapse

I was in grade school when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and very clearly remember the crisis that this act by the Soviet Union and the regime in East Germany engendered. It was the subject of many class discussions over the next several years, and of course, it was all over the news. I also remember how elated the world was when the Wall came down in 1989 and the people of East Berlin could be free again. Author Mary Elise Sarotte, visiting professor of government and history at Harvard University, indicates in this 2014 book that the breach of the Wall was neither planned nor the result of negotiations, but was an accident. This is a dramatic account of the events that changed Berlin, Germany, Europe, and the world.


Good for Amy Poehler!

I recently started listening to the audiobook of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and I love it. Amy Poehler is a modern feminist heroine to me; she’s funny, passionate, and confident, not to mention extremely successful and hard-working. Her book offers a glimpse into her life--relationships, career, and motherhood—and exudes all the happy humor you’d expect from the SNL alumni and Parks and Recreation star. Her motto, “Good for her! Not for me,” has really stuck with me; it’s a great way of admiring and encouraging other women while still being kind and confident with one’s self.
If you’re a fan of Amy Poehler’s television shows or movies, or enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants, give Yes Please a try. I highly recommend listening to it, as born-performer Amy Poehler reads it herself, along with guest stars such as Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and Carol Burnett.


How Rich People Roll

If you are expecting a book about how evil the new global rich are, then you will be sorely disappointed. Well, not quite. The book basically takes a middle-path. It's a fascinating in depth look at the lives and, more importantly, the worldviews of the new global rich (the .1% of the 1%). Do they fly around the world in private jets? Yes. Do they care about profit, expansion, the bottom line, global markets, and moving companies to India for cheaper work? Well, yes.

But the book does a good job trying to humanize these people. For example, how they think of themselves as "world citizens," not just "Americans." And how we can hate them for shipping jobs to India, but the fact remains that people are being pulled out of poverty because of it. And how many of them did not "come from wealth" - they earned it. And how all of them are workaholics (sure, from their private jet, but still).


Chris Stein / Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk

All great rock n roll is about more than just the music. Think of any great rock band and you think about their “look” as a component of the overall feeling you get from them. The band that first illustrated this for me was Blondie. I remember my dad receiving the album Parallel Lines (yes, original vinyl from 1978) as part of one of those mail order record deals that were big at the time, and before the shrink wrap was even off I remember looking at that album cover and thinking “Wow, those guys look so cool in their black suits and who is that woman?” Since that day the notion that a band or artist looking cool adding something to the way you feel about the music has stuck. So when I saw that Blondie founding member Chris Stein had a new book of photographs taken mostly during the late seventies and early eighties – which is visually and musically an era that fascinates me – I was thrilled. The photographs do not disappoint and directly illustrates that visual element in rock n roll that I first felt when I saw the Parallel Lines cover.


Nothing to Envy

“A National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle finalist, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is a remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens.”

As one of the most eye-opening accounts I’ve ever read, Nothing to Envy follows the very personal narratives of six people who defect to South Korea after living in the most repressive totalitarian country in the 21st century. The time during the supreme communist leadership of Kim Jong-il from 1994 to 2011 brought much political, social, and economic devastation and complete isolation to the citizens of North Korea. The characters are under slightly different circumstances from each other, yet there is a shared theme in each story which displays the grim reality of the hostile regime that is their home state.

This powerful non-fiction work is as haunting as it is inspiring. It requires you to see things that cannot be unseen and prompts an active contemplation on the realities of the vastly different lives people share in the world we live in. The strength of the individuals revealed through their heartbreaking circumstances is truly affecting. This combined with its absorbing and brilliant form of storytelling, Nothing to Envy is a must-read for anyone interested in the human condition.


Monopoly and Musicals and Mysteries Oh My

Here are some books that have caught my eye over the past two months as I read reviews to decide what to purchase for the library:

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon
When an economics professor, Ralph Anspach, in the 1970s invented an anti-monopoly game, he is threatened by Parker Brothers, which leads to a lawsuit and research into the origins of the game. Anspach uncovers that the game goes back to the early 1900s and that it was invented by a woman, not the traditional story of the inventor being an unemployed man during the Great Depression. The reviewer in Booklist states, “The book abounds with interesting tidbits for board-game buffs but treats its subject seriously. After reading The Monopolists —part parable on the perils facing inventors, part legal odyssey, and part detective story —you'll never look at spry Mr. Monopoly in the same way again.”

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil
Kurzweil was bullied while at a Swiss boarding school by a twelve year old native of Manila named Cesar Augustus; once being whipped to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. The reviewer in Library Journal wrote, “It moves like a thriller, is very funny, and in the right hands, would make a great movie.”

By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates
Former Harvard librarian, Lucy, finds her dream job in a lighthouse library on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and can’t believe her luck, until a priceless Jane Austen first edition is stolen and people start getting murdered. For some, I’m sure combining libraries and lighthouses in a mystery is like combining horses and mermaids in an adventure tale for my daughter. Can it get any better?


Every Day He Fought

For those of you who loved ESPN’s Stuart Scott, may I present to you his autobiography, finished shortly before he lost his battle with cancer in January of this year, at the age of 49. Scott's legacy included becoming the most popular and recognized sports anchor of his generation, coining terms such as "cool as the other side of the pillow" and of course, "Boo-yah!" 

Every Day I Fight chronicles Scott’s childhood, career, and his 8-year fight with cancer – fighting every day to stay alive because he could not leave his daughters. Through his memoir we learn that behind the face of SportsCenter was a true family man, who felt being a dad was the most important thing he’d ever done.


Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Here's a 2014 book that I probably would have passed by if I hadn't seen a review of it which told of the author's connection to Michigan. Subtitled 'A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family,' it's a collection of brief stories and recipes by Kathleen Flinn, who grew up near Flint. The stories are about her rural upbringing as half Irish and half Swedish, but the food descriptions and recipes she includes would transcend several nationalities. Some of the recipes are for foods I grew up with as well, such as the apple crisp and oatmeal cookies. For a retrospective on Michigan rural culture and cuisine, try this one.


Night of the Gun

New York Times journalist David Carr died yesterday at the age of 58. His critically acclaimed 2008 memoir Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own shined a light upon his struggles with addiction. Even as he rose through the professional ranks as a feisty and hard-nosed reporter, Carr’s life spun out of control, leading to homelessness and eventually to recovery. Carr was also prominently featured in the 2011 documentary film Page One: Inside the New York Times, a portrait of a year in the life of several New York Times reporters.


What's Indie Next?

Based on how the books are flying off our Library Reads display at the Central Library, we gather that this has become a trusted place to find some great books to read. 

 
Librarians got the idea for the monthly Library Reads Top 10 list from independent booksellers who started putting together a monthly Top 20 list called Indie Next. Because of how much you love the Library Reads display, we decided to use another one of our display locations to feature books on the Indie Next list.


Check it out in the rotunda of the Central Library where you will find “inspired recommendations from independent booksellers.”