She writes, “Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union.” And whether you believe in the Christian God, or Allah, or Buddha, or Earth Mother, or some other Great Being, simple variations of these prayers cover just about every situation.
It’s hard to describe the writing in this book. It is almost a stream-of-consciousness style – thoughts and insights as well as practical advice about how we can communicate with a higher power, and why it can make us a better person to do it.
Lamott is not preachy, nor does she write exclusively for one religion over another. She doesn’t give steps to follow in order to pray the “right” prayer. Through her examples you realize she is advocating that anything goes as long as the feelings or words come from your heart.
Some thoughts from the author
Praying “Help” means that we ask that Something give us the courage to stop in our tracks right where we are, and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems. (p. 40)
“Thanks” can be the recognition that you have been blessed mildly, or with a feeling as intense as despair at the miracle of having been spared. (p. 46)
When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is “Wow,” that’s a prayer. (p. 73)
This is a short book, easily read in one sitting. But I think you’ll find that it is better to take it in small sips. There’s a lot to absorb in these pages. I’d recommend this for discussion with a book group.
Check the WRL catalog for Help, Thanks, Wow
I have found a new series to follow in K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson novels.
Dawson is a modern day samurai, a black belt in karate. He is a husband, father, and part-time employee for a hip clothing store in the mall. But his most important job, and the one that really doesn’t pay very well, is being part of a loose organization of champions that fight demons to take back someone’s soul. How does a champion win the soul back? By negotiating a trade — take the champion’s soul in exchange for the other person’s — then fight the demon to the death. It goes without saying that the stakes are very high if you lose…
In A Devil in the Details, an aging baseball player, Nelson Kidd, makes a deal to give up his soul if he regains the skills he had as a younger ballplayer. It works, Kidd has a breakthrough season and his team makes it to the championship. But after the winning, Kidd starts to have second thoughts about what he will have to give up. Like most people, he wants to get out of his “deal with the devil.” He knows a friend of a friend who puts him in touch with Dawson.
In the midst of making the negotiations to win back Kidd’s soul… and recovering from injuries received from the previous demon battle… and dealing with the smarmy baseball agent who is trying to discredit him, Dawson learns that some of the other champions, including a close friend, have gone missing. He and all the other champions are put on alert to watch for anything unusual.
So why do it? Why put myself on the line for people I don’t know, and like even less? Because it needs to be done. It’s not even a choice for me.”
The story is fast-paced and grounded in everyday events, not a whole lot of otherworldly happenings. Sure, the demon fighting is pretty paranormal (and his wife is a practicing wiccan), but you won’t see fairies, vampires, or werewolves in this story. I found it really appealing that the good guy might be someone you might see around the neighborhood – or at the mall. Just a regular person who needs to buy his mom a birthday present…
And I didn’t see the plot twist coming. Love it when an author surprises me! Hoping the rest of the series stays true to this form.
Check the WRL catalog for A Devil in the Details
Alison Jay has managed to start with a book about colors, a beautiful book about colors, and by combining that with Mother Goose rhymes has ended up with a spectacular book you will want to read over and over again.
“Little boy Blue’s asleep in the hay. His sheep and his cow have run away.” “Poor Humpty’s purple from his fall. These men will try to mend it all.” “The Owl and the Pussycat set to sea…in a beautiful boat as green as a pea.” Each page, like the examples above, will combine a rhyme and a color and give you the chance to search for the hidden character, recall and recite the rhyme and talk about all of the other colors on the beautifully illustrated pages.
Check the WRL catalog for Red Green Blue: A First Book of Colors.
The plot synopsis sounds like the saddest story ever. Lennie and her sister Bailey were abandoned by their mother when both were quite young. They live happily with their quirky grandmother and uncle, believing that one day their mom will wander back into their lives.
Lennie is an introvert and band geek who lives in her vibrant sister’s shadow. She likens herself to the companion pony that walks beside the sleek racehorse to keep it calm before a race. And suddenly Bailey dies.
Lennie thought she was happy walking behind Bailey, letting Bailey make decisions on what to do, and now Lennie is floating through each day without that anchor.
That’s the sad part. And believe me, you’ll need to keep some tissues handy. Why put yourself through that? Because you’ll quickly come to realize Lennie is more than just Bailey’s little sister. She has to work through her grief – and reconnect with friends – and fall in love – and forgive herself for feeling happy again. But that discovery is compelling, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Some of it is like watching a train wreck, but it ends in a good place (I promise!).
The coolest thing about this book is the poems and brief memories that Lennie writes on walls, paper cups, homework assignments, books, benches… These memorabilia are described every few chapters, along with where Lennie left them. How cool would it be to find a piece of someone’s life like this? It is so much more honest and revealing than “Lennie was here” or other typical graffiti.
The book is certainly worth waiting on a long hold list for — so if you can’t pick it up right away, keep it in mind once you hear the movie hype.
FYI – the movie option was purchased by Selena Gomez’s production company. The Disney star is set to play the main character, Lennie. I haven’t seen anything that gives more details than the movie is “in development.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Sky is Everywhere
One red square equals infinite possibilities. Each day of the week the square meets a different fate. It’s cut into pieces, poked full of holes, torn or snipped, and yet instead of feeling ruined it reinvents itself into something beautiful. At first glance you might think this is a book about shapes and colors and you’d be right but there is also a message about making something out of everyday difficulties. Our square is a perfect example of the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” philosophy. What will happen on the last day of the week when the square is left alone? Will it find one more way to reinvent itself?
You’re going to enjoy this book’s easy text, simple illustrations and eye catching colors. You may even be inspired to get a square of your own to investigate its infinite possibilities.
Check the WRL catalog for Perfect Square.
I was looking for something easy to listen to and picked up the YA book Rot & Ruin without really knowing what it was about — except that it was about zombies. I was expecting a pretty typical “run from the monsters” plot and was completely surprised by the sympathy the author evoked for the zombies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s action, plenty of “uh-oh the monsters might catch me” suspense, but I was surprised at who was the real monster.
The world has been changed by a cataclysm – some sort of medical or environmental disaster that caused some people, including Benny’s parents, to turn into zombies. And as people turned to zombies, they infected others until their sheer numbers overran cities large and small…
Groups of survivors gathered in outposts with fences and patrols to keep the zombies out. Most people don’t venture into the “great Rot & Ruin” – the zombie- infested expanse separating the outposts from each other.
That’s the post-apocalyptic world Benny Imura has grown up in. And he hates zombies with a white hot passion. His older brother, Tom, is a zombie hunter, supposedly one of the best. But Benny doubts it. His earliest memory is of Tom running away when his parents were turned to zombies. Benny hasn’t forgiven Tom for not staying to fight.
Benny goes to school and hangs out with friends. But some of Benny’s favorite times are when the “real” zombie hunters like Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer tell stories of how they fought zoms in the Rot & Ruin. It sounds so cool when they tell the stories.
In the fall after Benny turns 15 he has to find a job or face having his rations cut. When he runs out of options, he reluctantly approaches his brother about going into the family business. But hunting zombies is not what Benny thought it would be.
There’s depth to this story, as well as lots of nail-biting tension and some really heart-wrenching revelations. Rot & Ruin is the first in a series. I can’t wait to see what happens next to Benny and his friends!
Check the WRL catalog for Rot & Ruin
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Rot & Ruin
It is always interesting when you discover that an author you enjoy for one type of writing also writes in other forms. For many fiction writers, this second form seems to be poetry. Wendell Berry and John Updike, though better known for fiction, are fine poets, and I was pleased to discover while browsing the new books here that Ursula K. Le Guin, whose fiction has been a favorite of mine for years, is also an eloquent poet who has been writing poems for over 50 years. This collection brings together some of Le Guin’s best poetry from 1960-2010.
Like her prose, Le Guin’s poetry is carefully made and reflects a joy in words and ideas. Her poems are precise and crystalline, and there does not seem to be a word used that was not carefully chosen and thoughtfully placed. Le Guin writes equally well about nature (“Wild Oats and Fireweed”) and about the world of the mind (“Learning Latin in Old Age”).
There are some themes that resurface throughout the collection. Loss—of friends and family, places, and abilities—is a recurrent theme, particularly in some of the later poems, but it is balanced by a palpable joy in living that is apparent in even the darkest moments in Le Guin’s verse. The roles of women too are studied here—daughter, wife, lover, mother, Maenad or shepherdess. These are themes that Le Guin has explored in her fiction as well, and it is fascinating to see them here distilled to poetry.
If you only know Ursula K. Le Guin as a fiction writer, you should have a look at these poems as well, and if you are not familiar with her writing at all, the poems here are a fine place to make her acquaintance.
Check the WRL catalog for Finding My Elegy
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are different in almost every way yet they are best friends. How is that possible? Pearl loves to solve mysteries and talk talk talk. Charlie is a quiet guy who likes to sit and think. If you’re looking for a book about the power of friendship, your job is done. Pearl and Charlie’s friendship demonstrates how opposites attract and different personalities can complement one another. Families will enjoy this short but meaningful book.
Check the WRL catalog for Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley.
Irish writer Seamus Heaney is one of my favorite modern poets, and I have also found much to enjoy in the work of some of the earlier 20th century Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh and Louis MacNeice in particular. So as I was browsing the poetry collection here, I was delighted to come across this anthology of modern Irish poets. I have discovered here a wealth of new writers to read.
There are poems here about the Troubles and about the history of the Irish people, but what mostly strikes me as I read through these poems is the love of language that seems to be the hallmark of all of the poets here. Here is an example:
She pushed the hair out of her eyes with
her free hand and put the bucket down.
The zinc-music of the handle on the rim
Tuned the evening
(from Eavan Boland’s “The Achill Woman”)
I love the phrase “zinc-music.”
I saw magic on a green country road–
That old woman, a bag of sticks her load,
Blackly down to her thin feet a fringed shawl,
A rosary of bone on her horned hand,
(from Michael Harnett’s “Thirteen Sonnets”)
This is a substantial collection with over 900 pages of poems, from over 50 poets. The poems here are all in English, though some were translated from Gaelic, and each poet’s section begins with a short, but thorough introduction to the author and his or her work. If you have any interest in the poetry of Ireland this is a indispensable collection.
Check the WRL catalog for An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry
One day while in the park lonely Mildred found what she thought was a stray puppy. After taking him home and discovering he only liked to eat one thing she decided to name him Peanut. Peanut wouldn’t roll over, fetch or bark but he loved to squash cereal boxes, water the plants and snuggle on the couch. He just seemed different from the other dogs. Is it possible Peanut wasn’t a dog at all?
Mildred and Peanut eventually meet up with Peanut’s owner and Mildred allows him to take Peanut away, to the circus! Peanut is happy to be home with his circus family but Mildred is lonely again. So back to the park she goes where she finds a stray…kitten…or maybe it’s not a kitten at all.
Check the WRL catalog for Peanut.
I was introduced to Albert Goldbarth through his wonderful poem “Library” (thanks Neil!), that describes what various books have done for and to Goldbarth and others in the course of their existence. It starts off with “This book saved my life” and proceeds through “This is a book of prohibitions; this other, a book of rowdy license. They serve equally to focus the prevalent chaos of our lives” and “This book is guarded around the clock by men in navy serge and golden braiding, carrying very capable guns” to “This book is going to save the world.”
Goldbarth delights in words, and his poems draw the reader into that delight. He also invests his poems with much humor, though these are by no means light verse. The poems here are frequently long, do not rhyme, and often appear dense on the page. But once you get into them, the way Goldbarth plays with language can leave you breathless. He seemingly effortlessly combines personal stories with bits and pieces of facts about everything from the Bible and literature to physics and the natural sciences. He revels in unusual words and made-up words and in “imperfect knowledge.” He can also be pretty blunt about sexuality, as he notes in “The Singing,” “I have (as colleague X once said) an offensively salty mouth.”
Nonetheless, Goldbarth’s poems are worth the effort of close reading. He plays with words the way a good horn player plays with the notes in a jazz tune. You start off thinking you are listening to an old standard, but by the end you see the piece in a new way. Goldbarth’s poetry opens up new vistas and very well may be being read “in 500 years.”
Check the WRL catalog for To Be Read in 500 Years
Two Aprils ago, I wrote about poet Jane Kenyon’s last book, Otherwise. Today’s post is her husband Donald Hall’s moving and powerful collection of poems about Kenyon’s illness, death, and the days and months following, as Hall begins life without her.
Hall is a superb poet, and I have always enjoyed his writing, grounded in the New England granite where Hall lives on his family’s farm. His poems are earthy, substantial pieces, that move easily from the personal to the universal.
The poems in Without reflect Hall’s deep grief over the illness and death of Jane Kenyon: ”Remembered happiness is agony; so is remembered agony” (“Midwinter Letter”). At the same time, they move with grace to explore the necessity of living with that grief, and the possibility of doing so.
These are not easy poems, but no one said that reading poetry (or reading anything else for that matter) should be easy. They are, however, important poems to read as we try to make sense of the human condition, and that is what all of our reading does for us.
Check the WRL catalog for Without
It is poetry month, and this week, Blogging for a Good Book will look at several books of poetry, both anthologies and works of individual poets. We hope that you will take some time this month to read a poem or two. Read them aloud, as poetry is meant to be heard not just read. And if you are ambitious, try to memorize a poem or two: here are some good ones to start with.
Through his Writer’s Almanac programs on public radio, Garrison Keillor has done a great deal to refresh poetry’s place in American letters (at least for those who listen to NPR). His programs each morning conclude with a poem. In selecting his poems, Keillor goes for pieces that express “a little humanity” and that will not send readers away feeling that they have just encountered “a puzzle with no right answers.”
Springing from the Writer’s Almanac, Keillor has edited several anthologies of outstanding poems, old and new. In Good Poems, American Places, Keillor has sought out poems with a strong sense of place; poems that take the reader somewhere, be it Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Central Park (“Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West”), Sarah Freligh’s Tonawanda (“City of Tonawanda Softball Championship”), May Sarton’s “Monticello,” or Donald Hall’s Mt. Kearsarge (“Mt. Kearsarge Shines”). Additionally, there are poems that explore more intimate, private space—the farm fields plowed by Joyce Sutphen’s father (“H”) or John Haag’s resting place of a ’37 Chevy pickup (“Homesteader”).
Keillor has a fine ear for verse, and his selections here represent some of the best American poetry around. The collection includes a mix of well-known writers—Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, Charles Wright—as well as many poets new to me whose work I look forward to exploring.
America is truly present in this book, in the hard work that is done in the factories and farms, in the constant movement from city to rural land, in the bright lights and dark spaces, and in the births and deaths and the in-betweens of the people in these poems. Good Poems, American Places is a superb collection for anyone interested in poetry or America.
Check the WRL catalog for Good Poems, American Places
Bob is a boring bear who likes to count toothpicks, practice humming and sit around in parking lots. As a matter of fact he’s so boring he thinks you probably won’t want to read this book. His Panda friend Jack is just the opposite. Jack loves to do anything that’s wild, wacky or crazy, yet these two bears are the best of friends. Bob and Jack are perfect complements to one another. Their friendship will help kids understand that everyone is different and it is those differences that make life interesting.
Check the WRL catalog for Hello, My Name is Bob.
The compilation of 180 sources is done, and the final version of the All the Best Books Compilation (ABBC) is ready for your download! In final tally, we found mentions of over 2700 books published in the United States in 2012.
You can download the ABBC spreadsheet here: Best2012. Librarians, booksellers, and others who work with readers are welcome to download the spreadsheet, re-sort the results by title, votes, or author and use it to identify great books, develop collections, build displays, or otherwise advise readers. If you re-publish any aspect of the ABBC, just make sure to credit Blogging for a Good Book, Williamsburg Regional Library, and chief compiler Neil Hollands.
Over the past weeks, I have annotated the leading books in each of the ABBC’s twelve categories, either here at BFGB or at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz. Browse through past posts at both sites to find out more details about some of 2012′s most honored (the last of these posts, on the leading books in contemporary literary fiction, will appear April 1st, no fooling!) Don’t stop there! There are hundreds of fantastic books, many of which were less publicized and thus less frequently reviewed lurking further down in the lists.
Thanks again to Largehearted Boy and the Readers’ Advisor Online Blog for compiling links to many of the best-of-the-year lists. That head start makes compiling this resource, what I like to think of as the most thorough best-of-the-year list of all, much easier. Thanks to Williamsburg Regional Library and all of my colleagues here for the time and support needed to get this work done.
That said, here’s the quick version, the honor roll of the 95 books most frequently mentioned by 180 different authoritative sources: all of the books that were mentioned by at least ten different sources. Each listing provides, the title, author, the number of mentions the book received, and the category of the ABBC spreadsheet in which the book is listed.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (65 mentions, crime and thrillers)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (53 mentions, nonfiction)
This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (52 mentions, short stories)
Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (49 mentions, historical fiction)
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (44 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (42 mentions, general fiction)
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (40 mentions, young adult fiction)
Building Stories, by Chris Ware (36 mentions, graphic works)
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (34 mentions, general fiction)
Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro (32 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (30 mentions, general fiction)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (28 mentions, young adult fiction)
The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (27 mentions, general fiction)
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (26 mentions, general fiction)
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (26 mentions, general fiction)
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker (25 mentions, speculative fiction)
Dear Life, by Alice Munro (25 mentions, short stories)
Canada, by Richard Ford (24 mentions, general fiction)
NW, by Zadie Smith (24 mentions, general fiction)
The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (24 mentions, historical fiction)
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson (23 mentions, speculative fiction)
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (23 mentions, young adult fiction)
Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel (22 mentions, graphic works)
Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan (22 mentions, historical fiction)
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (21 mentions, general fiction)
Redshirts, by John Scalzi (20 mentions, speculative fiction)
Broken Harbor, by Tana French (19 mentions, crime and thrillers)
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver (19 mentions, general fiction)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (19 mentions, general fiction)
Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens (18 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (18 mentions, nonfiction)
The Diviners, by Libba Bray (17 mentions, young adult fiction)
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller (17 mentions, speculative fiction)
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: a Life of David Foster Wallace, by D. T. Max (17 mentions, bios and memoirs)
A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers (17 mentions, general fiction)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (17 mentions, speculative fiction)
Every Day, by David Levithan (16 mentions, young adult fiction)
Joseph Anton: a Memoir, by Salman Rushdie (16 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway (15 mentions, speculative fiction)
Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins (15 mentions, short stories)
The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe (15 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon (15 mentions, nonfiction)
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (14 mentions, speculative fiction)
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss (14 mentions, bios and memoirs)
House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid (14 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum (14 mentions, nonfiction)
The Killing Moon, by N. K. Jemisin (14 mentions, speculative fiction)
Railsea, by China Miéville (14 mentions, speculative fiction)
The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (14 mentions, young adult fiction)
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey (14 mentions, historical fiction)
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen (14 mentions, nonfiction)
Defending Jacob, by William Landay (13 mentions, crime and thrillers)
Gods without Men, by Hari Kunzru (13 mentions, general fiction)
Home, by Toni Morrison (13 mentions, historical fiction)
Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane (13 mentions, crime and thrillers)
May We Be Forgiven, by A. M. Homes (13 mentions, general fiction)
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin (13 mentions, historical fiction)
The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley (13 mentions, general fiction)
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (13 mentions, speculative fiction)
The Twelve, by Justin Cronin (13 mentions, speculative fiction)
Why Be Happy when You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson (13 mentions, bios and memoirs)
Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore (12 mentions, young adult fiction)
The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling (12 mentions, general fiction)
Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers (12 mentions, young adult fiction)
HHhH, by Laurent Binet (12 mentions, historical fiction)
The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg (12 mentions, general fiction)
The People who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up, by Richard Lloyd Parry (12 mentions, nonfiction)
Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie (12 mentions, speculative fiction)
Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power, by Jon Meacham (12 mentions, bios and memoirs)
The Cove, by Ron Rash (11 mentions, historical fiction)
Drama, by Raine Telgemaier & Gurihiru (11 mentions, graphic works)
The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (11 mentions, crime and thrillers)
How Should a Person Be?, by Sheila Heti (11 mentions, general fiction)
Jerusalem: a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (11 mentions, how-to)
The Light between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman (11 mentions, historical fiction)
Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer (11 mentions, speculative fiction)
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan (11 mentions, bios and memoirs)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce (11 mentions, general fiction)
At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn (10 mentions, general fiction)
Caliban’s War, by James S. A. Corey (10 mentions, speculative fiction)
Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw (10 mentions, general fiction)
Dare Me, by Megan Abbott (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)
Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (10 mentions, historical fiction)
How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (10 mentions, bios and memoirs)
The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks (10 mentions, speculative fiction)
A Land More Kind than Home, by Wiley Cash (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)
The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)
My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf (10 mentions, graphic works)
Patriarch: the Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw (10 mentions, bios and memoirs)
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison (10 mentions, general fiction)
Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead (10 mentions, general fiction)
Shadow Ops: Control Point, by Myka Cole (10 mentions, speculative fiction)
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman (10 mentions, how-to)
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed (10 mentions, nonfiction)
The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett (10 mentions, speculative fiction)
Zona: a Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room, by Geoff Dyer (10 mentions, nonfiction)
I’ll be back next year, with another installment of the ABBC!
You and your toddler are going to love this book! The question and answer format will spark lots of conversation and the fold out pages are always a hit with this age group. Each page contains a question; for example, “if a calf grows and becomes a cow, can a shovel grow and become (open flap) a plow?” Every fourth page will recap and give you a yes or no answer to the four previous riddles. “Yes to cats no to hats, yes to goats no to coats, etc.” The art is bold and colorful, the riddles are witty and fun and you just might decide that you want to make up your own rhyming game.
Check the WRL catalog for Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?
The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, by Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark
One of the rarest, most valuable gemstones in the world is Jadeite. Smooth to the touch with a lovely luster, it’s sturdy and capable of being carved into shapes and objects. Green is the best known color but it also comes in shades of lavender, yellow, white and black. Being a favored gemstone in China for 3000 years, a wealth of superstition and folklore has developed around it. The best jadeite, “Imperial Jade” has long been coveted by Chinese royalty. The fascinating history of Imperial Green Jade is nicely recounted in the non-fiction book, The Stone of Heaven by Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott.
Levy and Scott, who are both investigative journalists, combed through ancient texts in archives throughout Asia to uncover many wondrous tales of jade and the people who loved it including:
Emperor Qianlong – This powerful 18th century Chinese emperor engaged in a bloody and financially crippling war with the country of Mien-Tien in order to exact tribute from them, and the tribute he specifically wanted was Imperial Green Jade.
Griffith and Bayfield – At the instigation of the British East India Company, two men, Dr. William Griffith, “a ‘hardy and active’ scientist with a passion for exotic tea bushes” and Dr. George Bayfield a British Diplomat, endure a harrowing jungle trek in search of the legendary serpentine jadeite mines. These mines were rumored to be located somewhere in the Kachin Hills region of Burma, in the “Valley of Death” beneath the shadow of the “Great Golden Mountain.”
Empress Cixi – A young court concubine, Lady Yehenara, through luck, pluck and sheer ruthlessness becomes the dowager empress of China. She was also a rabid collector of Jade:
“Cixi’s satin robes were now Imperial yellow and her head-dress bore ‘a beautiful phoenix in the centre made of purest jade’ … Her shoulders were covered by a ‘transparent cape of 3500 pearls the size of canary bird eggs’, fringed by 40 jadeite drops and held at the throat by jadeite clasps, that a lady–in-waiting would later describe as ‘the most magnificent and costly thing I ever saw.’ Cixi wore six Imperial Green Jade Bangles carved into candy twists, triple-hoop jadeite ear-rings and a 108-bead court necklace made from Qianlong’s stone of heaven.”
These are just a few examples of the many colorful stories to be found in the book, which is compulsively readable. In the last section, the authors furtively slip into Burma (present day Myanmar) to investigate working conditions at the jade mines in the 1990s. What they find is horrific, with brutal working conditions and exploited people. Well researched and written, The Stone of Heaven is a fascinating exploration of a renowned gemstone and its role in history.
Check the WRL catalog for The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade
The millennial generation knows Anderson Cooper as a CNN news anchor. Their baby boomer parents know that Cooper’s mother is Gloria Vanderbilt and that she was a famous fashion designer in the 1970s. But the parents of the baby boomers knew Gloria before she was the queen of designer jeans. This older generation will remember her as little Gloria, the poor-little- rich-girl pawn in a scandalous celebrity custody trial, a trial that is scrupulously detailed in the entertaining, true-life social history, Little Gloria…Happy at Last, by Barbara Goldsmith.
Little Gloria’s father was Reginald Vanderbilt, an alcoholic, playboy wastrel, and her mother was the beautiful “Glorious” Gloria Morgan. Gloria and her twin sister Thelma, who was the mistress of the Prince of Wales, were known in the society columns of the 1920s as “the Magnificent Morgans.” Raised to be “a prize for a rich, socially impeccable man” by her overbearing mother Laura, Gloria married the much older Reggie but soon discovered that he had gambled away his inheritance and was living on credit. When little Gloria came along in 1924, a Vanderbilt trust fund was established for her. Upon Reggie’s death in 1925, big Gloria was given access to that trust fund until her daughter came of age and used it to live large on two continents as a scintillating member of cafe society.
Poor little Gloria was left in the care of her doting but neurotic nurse Dodo and crazy, controlling grandma Laura. Concerned about little Gloria’s well being (and her inheritance) Laura and Dodo sought out Reggie’s sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and intimated that big Gloria was leading an immoral life that was harming her child. This set the stage for an epic custody trial that was played out in all its tawdry glory before the tabloid press.
The cast of characters is eclectic and eccentric. Although the tale itself is gossipy fun with details about the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous, courtroom histrionics and dramatic denouements, ultimately the story is quite sad. At the heart of it is a frightened child surrounded by selfish or indifferent adults who just didn’t understand or were incapable of giving her the love and emotional support that she needed.
The fact that little Gloria Vanderbilt was able to overcome her problematic childhood and become an artist, actress, writer and the socialite wife of men such as conductor Leopold Stokowski and director Sidney Lumet is a testament to her remarkable resilience. Well researched and clearly written, this book is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in social history or courtroom tales.
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It’s “Lost in the Stacks” week, and Bud is back with another post:
“Poppa, have you got any idea how a man took to jazz in the early days? Do you know how he spent years watching the droopy chicks in cathouses, listening to his cellmates moaning low behind the bars, digging the riffs the wheels were knocking out when he rode the rods – and then all of a sudden picked up a horn and began to tell the whole story in music? I’m going to explain that.”
So says Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow in the opening chapter of his strange but fascinating autobiography, Really the Blues. Mezzrow, a white Jewish kid, was born in 1899. A wild child from the beginning, he landed in reform school at the age of 15 where he discovered and became completely enamored of black culture in general and New Orleans jazz in particular. He learned how to play the clarinet and immersed himself in the jazz world of the 1920s, a world that, for him, revolved around three big Ms – musicians, mobsters and marijuana. As the story unfolds we learn a lot about all three.
Really the Blues will appeal to music lovers because Mezzrow knew just about every famous jazz artist of the period. He jammed with Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and many others. His unadulterated portraits of these talented people and their colorful milieu are fascinating.
The Mob also played a prominent role in Mezz’s life. He worked in some of Al Capone’s road houses, was turned onto opium by a member of Detroit’s vicious Purple Gang, and had Dutch Schulz try to muscle in on his marijuana distribution business.
And, yes, there is marijuana, lots of, as it was referred to in the ‘20s, muta, tea, reefer or muggles (the word pre-dates Harry Potter). In fact, Mezzrow was such a heavy user (a viper) and dealer that in his circle of acquaintances it became known by another slang term–the mezz–and was referenced as such in the song, “If You’re a Viper” by Stuff Smith. The book contains gritty descriptions of the joys and subsequent lows of drug addiction. His four-year stint as an opium addict is particularly grim.
The stories are great, whether or not they’re all true is questionable, but what makes this book distinctive is the style in which it’s written. As you can tell by the paragraph quoted above, the prose tends to flow like musical cadences and is rife with jazzy slang. This can make for disconcerting reading at first but it soon seems natural and appropriate to the author and what he’s describing. If you have difficulty with the slang, the back pages contain a helpful glossary.
This is not a book for everyone. It’s a strange, often lurid tale, told in a distinctly unusual manner by an arch iconoclast. If you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy this ain’t it. But if you have an interest in the history of music or the Chicago underworld or are just in the mood for something really unusual then give Really the Blues a try. It’s a book you won’t forget.
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Kids will love this fun rhyming book about Bunion Burt who has feet that hurt. Everyone that Burt comes into contact with tries to help him feel better. They suggest home remedies like mud and ice and sun but absolutely nothing works. While most young readers won’t know about bunions, they most likely will be able to guess why it is that Burt’s feet hurt so badly.
The characters have silly rhyming names like Granny Gert, Mama Myrt, Cousin Kurt and Old Doc Smurt. The illustrations are big, bold, amusing and just plain goofy. The plot is engaging and will keep a kid’s attention right up until the end. Be sure to check this one out!
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