Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.
The Wish List
James McBride’s The Color of Water was our 2005 Reading Together title. If you attended his talk or his concert the following evening, you too remember how engaging he was both evenings, how much we enjoyed having him here. We bonded with him.
His new book, The Good Lord Bird, was just released last month to strong reviews; it is already included on many best-of lists and is likely to be one of my 2013 favorites.
It is the story of abolitionist John Brown leading up to the raid in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, before the Civil War. Brown takes “Little Onion,” a slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the smock he was wearing when his master was shot. Little Onion travels with Brown to meet Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to muster support for his mission to liberate African Americans and end slavery. It all leads to the bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry.
The book is much better than this brief review conveys. McBride has been compared to Mark Twain in tone; this book affirms his mastery of historical fiction.
The Good Lord Bird
Looking for a great audio book? I loved the audio version of “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett. On a dark and stormy night (what else) in Victorian London, a young 17 year old man named Dodger happens upon a young woman who is being kidnapped. He rescues her, and being a young man who makes his living from the streets, knows how to survive and protect her. It fast becomes apparent that some very bad men are trying to get Felicity back. Whirlwind action, mystery and history combine to make great listening. I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the years, and the reader can make or break a story. The reader here does a great job, and sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
Pratchett has some real life people make appearances, such as Charles Dickens as a sharp newspaper reporter, and also Sweeney Todd, the famous barber murderer. Dodger interacts with them, in what Pratchett calls “historical fantasy.” It’s so well done that it seems perfectly natural.
I really enjoyed this audio version from start to finish, and hope Pratchett does a sequel, preferably soon!
Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old boy genius who kidnaps a fairy in order to get her gold. This is the first in a series and is titled Artemis Fowl. Artemis is what every 12 year old boy wants to be. His mom has dementia so he is not hampered by her rules and having to go to school, yet he does miss her and would still like to have her back as his mom. Artemis has a man servant with the last name of Butler who is huge and protects Artemis. The first thing that happens is that Artemis captures a fairy book. With this first chapter we are introduced to Artemis and find out that he has a castle, has a great computer network, that he is always two steps ahead of everyone and that Butler is very strong and dedicated. Artemis uses the knowledge in this fairy book to ambush Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon fairy unit. He holds her hostage and demands a ton of gold. The fairies try to get Holly back but are defeated time after time by Artemis. Root, a commander in the LEPrecon unit decides to send in a dwarf named Mulch. This book is written for a teen age audience. It is heavy into to fairies, dwarfs, goblins, trolls etc. It also has the gassy fart humor that teen age boys enjoy. The drawf can unhinge his jaw and tunnel through dirt. Prior to starting he also opens the back flap of his tunneling pants because what goes in the jaw comes out the other end. He also builds up a tremendous amount of air pressure and he actually is able to use this to incapacitate Butler. This book is full of details about fairy life. This is book one of a series. I got my copy from KPL's digital audio collection but we also have them in hard copy. I look forward to “reading” (having them read to me) the others.
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
You Know When the Men are Gone, a collection of eight loosely connected stories, is centered on Fort Hood, Texas. The title of the first story and the collection refers to what is not heard through the thin walls of military housing: no boots stomping, no football games, no early morning doors slamming as they leave for drills. You know the men have deployed.
The women and the children wait, they cope in different ways. The men on deployment cope in their ways also; the homecoming can be bittersweet, challenging.
These are personal stories, not political. The tone is straightforward, the stories are compelling. They put a human face on the news stories.
You Know When the Men are Gone
A few months ago, I happened to catch a show on PBS called “Half the Sky,” a series about the oppression of women in developing countries. The film followed a
number of women throughout the world who have devoted their lives to freeing women and young girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare (including access to better prenatal care and freedom from genital mutilation). The topics were heavy and the film footage often heartbreaking, but the work being done by these selfless, heroic women was inspiring.
Come to find out, the film was based on a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote Half the Sky in an effort to address the oppression of women—a problem they saw reaching a crisis point but not being discussed at a global level. Not only does the book attempt to raise awareness of the issues that women and girls face worldwide, but it also acts as a call to arms to inspire and enact change. They believe that empowering women, while morally right, also serves to help the global economy and combat poverty, and they give plenty of examples of organizations working hard to fight for women’s rights. Don’t be frightened away by the weighty topic—this powerful and enlightening book will leave readers full of hope and optimism.
Half the sky
In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two stories into one engaging novel, which takes the reader back and forth between historical fiction and modern day murder mystery. While the former helps to lay the groundwork for the latter, each is its own journey. Using a series of fictional documents to tell the story of Ann Eliza Young, whose divorce from Brigham Young in the mid 1870’s, and outspoken criticism of polygamy became national news, the author provides the almost unbiased feeling of being a researcher. Meanwhile, his first person narrative of Jordan, the excommunicated son of fundamentalist Mormons from an isolated community, immediately draws you into to his struggle. This is the character I really cared about, and what keep me up at night to read “just one more chapter.” This definitely does not read like a judgment of a religious practice, but rather a glimpse into a different world. As you follow Jordan on his path to confront his past, you feel the weight of how much history has defined it, and you really care about him, and the unlikely heroes who help him find his way.
The 19th Wife
How does creativity work? Moreover, how do we harness creativity, both individually and as a group? These are the questions explored in the book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide.
The book is divided into two parts, “Alone” and “Together,” where Alone uses current brain research to discuss individual creativity, and Together explores history to uncover the roots of societal and group creativity. In Alone, Lehrer distinguishes two types of individual creativity. The first is what I call the “Aha!” creativity. These Eureka moments occur most often when one is not overly-focused, letting one’s mind drift and broaden enough to make subtle connections between seemingly-unrelated points of knowledge. In contrast, the second type of individual creativity is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” That is, in order to materialize one’s new ideas and Eureka moments, one must maintain enough focus and persistence to carry the concept to completion. While these two creative processes, non-focused and hyper-focused, may inhibit one another, they are complementary ways for an individual's creative ideas to be realized.
In part two, Together, Lehrer discusses how creative outputs of societies and organizations often depend on how they are structured, both physically and socially. For example, the dynamics of cities with high population densities almost force their inhabitants to interact with a diverse range of people and ideas, enabling various forms of thought and action to synergize in new ways. On a smaller scale, companies have gone so far as to design their campus architecture in ways that maximize casual communication and idea sharing among disparate departments. There is even historical evidence to show that groups seeking competitive advantage by hiding their innovations from one another (with non-disclosure agreements, etc.) actually hamper the group's own creative potential in the long run. These are fascinating conclusions for both groups and individuals about how diverse experiences and cooperation are often invaluable for creativity.
In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about "how creativity works." The main concepts I’ve gleaned from Imagine are: on a personal level, a state of non-focus (almost akin to boredom) allows one to see the big picture and let those “Aha!” moments arise. On the other hand, many incredible works of art, literature, and science have been created by persistent focus and sustained concentration. On a social level, exposure to new ways of doing and thinking—often through unintended or casual collaboration—is the best way to create novel concepts among groups. Imagine helped me understand the creative process and gave me some new ideas of my own.
I note that, in "reading" the audiobook version of Imagine, this is the first audiobook I’ve heard that was narrated by the author themself. Thereby, I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re interested in the audio version of this book, I think that the author does a pretty good job of narrating the stories, conversations, and research throughout.
Publication Issues: Self-Plagiarizing and Quote Fabrication
Imagine—or rather, its author’s reputation—has been marred in the media by the author’s oversight on two critical publishing issues. The first is that Lehrer “self-plagiarized” by virtually cut-and-pasting portions of his magazine articles into the book without citations. Second – and most infamous – is his fabrication of a quote by folk rock legend Bob Dylan. It seems that, in centering the first few chapters of the book on Bob Dylan’s creative process, Lehrer basically conjured up a short but non-existent quote by the artist, perhaps to bring the narrative together. Not a good move.
Jonah Lehrer, as a fairly young but brilliant journalist and author, received ample notoriety and job opportunities prior to finishing Imagine. Did Lehrer simply stretch himself too thin as an impressive new writer? Whatever the case, I strongly think that (omitting the Dylan quote) Imagine is an excellent book that I would strongly recommend to readers interested in the creative mind, the artistic process, and the ways that groups can innovate.
Imagine : how creativity works
This fall is an exciting time for fiction readers. A handful of greatly loved, established writers are releasing new books this season. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith released her fourth novel, NW. Louise Erdrich's fourteenth novel, The Round House, will be published at the beginning of next month. Early November will see the publication of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, and Dear Life, a new collection of stories by Alice Munro. And later this week, J.K. Rowling's much anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves. Place your holds today!