Now that summer is definitely, apparently (?) upon us, it’s time once again for the Free-For-All to share with you some of our lovely staff’s selections for summer reading!

We are a staff of diverse reading/listening/viewing habits, which makes these posts so much fun.  There is such a wide range of books and media that our staff enjoy that there is bound to be something in here to help make your summer that much more entertaining!  And so, without further ado, here is our second round of Staff Selections:

From the West Branch:

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

“An engaging story with a dual narrative of mother and daughter. I appreciated the themes of the struggles of bi-cultural life experience, the mother-daughter relationship development, the symbolism, and the historical fiction aspect. A warning regarding the historical aspects of the book – the abuse the mother shares in her narrative that takes place in the very painfully patriarchal early/mid 1900s China may be triggering for victims of abuse”

From the Upstairs Offices:

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

One of the most profound and moving works of Native American literature, a novel that is itself a ceremony of healing. Tayo, a World War II veteran of mixed ancestry, returns to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, deeply scarred by his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese and by the rejection he encounters from his people.  Only by immersing himself in the his people’s past can he begin to regain the peace that was taken from him. Masterfully written, filled with the somber majesty of Pueblo myth, Ceremony is a work of enduring power.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina so damn happy?  In a unique mix of travel, psychology, science and humor, Eric Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions…I would love to see an update of this book now that social media has become so saturated in our lives.

From the Reference Desk:

Furiously happy : a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best….Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence….This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are – the beautiful and the flawed – and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways.


The Man Booker International Prize Winner!

We’re a little late on this news, dear readers, for which please accept our humble apologies.  However, we are still thrilled and delighted to offer some big Free For All congratulations to David Grossman and Jessica Cohen for the novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar!

Description: The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling before their eyes as a matter of choice. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell.

Dovale Gee, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

The Guardian quoted the chair of judges of the award, who said of Grossman’s work:

“David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly…A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”

Jessica Cohen and David Grossman, from The New York Times.

Grossman shares the award with his translator, Jessica Cohen.  The New York Times did an interview with Cohen and Grossman just after the prize was announced at the V&A Museum in London, and discussed the process of finding a translator, and the incredibly laborious, loving effort that goes into translating a work–and often, the un-translatable nature of humor:

“A Horse Walks Into a Bar” obviously raises a particular question of how to translate jokes. Are there any examples of jokes you weren’t able to translate?

COHEN There were a few examples of jokes — not so much because of pacing or sound but because of cultural knowledge a non-Israeli reader wouldn’t have — that just weren’t going to work in English. Obviously if you have to explain something, it’s not funny. There were some cases like that where I managed to come up with a kind of equivalent. Some things we just had to drop.

You can read the full text of the interview here.

Congratulations to David Grossman and Jessica Cohen!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Bloomsday to you, beloved patrons!

As we discussed a while back, Bloomsday celebrates James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, which is set entirely on June 16, 1904–which Joyce chose because it was the anniversary of his first meeting with his wife and muse, Nora Barnacle (pictured on the left).  Festivals are held around the world to commemorate the day in the life of Leopold Bloom (hence the name of the day), but there is no one who can outdo Dublin .  Don’t believe me, check out the Bloomsday website, with the week-long schedule of festivities!  For those of you on Twitter, also check out the feed of the National Library of Ireland, which is having way too much fun today with their mini-Joyce:

While we don’t have a Tiny Joyce wandering through out stacks today, we do have plenty of new books that have strolled onto our shelves this week that are very much looking forward to making your acquaintance!  Check out some of them below:

Love, Africa: Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman has covered every world conflict for the past twenty years, and has spent the last decade as the New York Times bureau chief in East Africa–the fulfillment of one of his life’s goal, which this book documents.  At nineteen, Gettleman fell in love, twice. On a do-it-yourself community service trip in college, he went to East Africa—a terrifying, exciting, dreamlike part of the world in the throes of change that imprinted itself on his imagination and on his heart.  But around that same time he also fell in love with a fellow Cornell student—the brightest, classiest, most principled woman he’d ever met. To say they were opposites was an understatement. She became a criminal lawyer in America; he hungered to return to Africa. For the next decade he would be torn between these two abiding passions.  This book is his coming-of-age story that deals with tortuous long-distance relationships, screwing up, forgiveness, parenthood, and happiness that explores the power of finding yourself in the most unexpected of places.   Critics are cheering that Gettleman brings the same passion and drive to this, his debut novel, as he does to his journalism, creating a book that is at once a love letter–to Africa, to journalism, and to life–and a fascinating glimpse into the very challenging world of international journalism.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “[An] exciting, harrowing memoir …. there’s a thrilling immediacy and attention to detail in Gettleman’s writing that puts the reader right beside him…Gettleman’s memoir is an absolute must-read.”

The Girl Who Knew Too Much: Amanda Quick creates terrific historical romantic mysteries, and this mystery brings all the glamour and danger of the 1930’s to the page with her signature flair for detail and character.  When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to an idyllic small town on the coast, where the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel caters to their every need. It’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.  The dead woman had a red-hot secret about up-and-coming leading man Nick Tremayne, which Irene, a rookie at a third-rate gossip rag, is desperate to discover.  But when Irene’s investigation threatens the famous actor, she finds herself teaming up with the Burning Cove Hotel’s owner, a once-famous magician who suffered a mysterious injury during his last performance.  Together, they realize the dreadful secrets behind the Burning Cove Hotel’s glitz and glamour–but will they live long enough to expose the truth?  Quick’s books are the perfect summer reads, and this stand alone novel is sure to keep you guessing right up until the final scene.  Library Journal loved this one, saying “This swiftly moving romance brims with surprising plot twists, delicious sensuality, and a delightfully classy 1930’s California setting. An adventurous romp that will have readers hungry for more.”

The Teeth of the Comb: I don’t think that Osama Alomar, a Syrian writer living in exile in Pittsburgh, PA, sees the world quite like most of us do.  And that is a gloriously wonderful thing, especially because he is so talented at bringing his world to life in these little parables, political allegories, and short stories, all of which feature personified animals (snakes, wolves, sheep), natural things (a swamp, a lake, a rainbow, trees), mankind’s creations (trucks, swords, zeroes) as characters. They aspire, they plot, they hope, they destroy, they fail, they love. These wonderful small stories animate new realities and make us see our reality anew.   This tiny book with big messages and grand tales is getting enormous, rave reviews from all corners–I am fairly sure some of the quoted reviews are longer than the stories!  But that just shows you what a breath of fresh air Alomar’s writing is.  Take, for example, Publisher’s Weekly‘s starred review: “There are no wasted words in Alomar’s beautiful collection of very short fictions. Philosophical and subversive, these tiny parables deconstruct human failings with a keen insight. The title story, an anecdote about the uneven teeth of a comb, reveals a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of social stratification…By working together with C.J. Collins on the translation, the author succeeds in highlighting the inherent poetics of his prose….Alomar’s work swims in the aspects of the modern world that do not make sense upon closer inspection, like the correlations between poverty and capitalism. These brief narratives are not nihilistic; they convey a plea for progress and improvement. Alomar’s writing brims with hope, and this slim volume is full of compassion and depth.”

The Loyal Son: The War in Benjamin Franklin’s House: Ben Franklin is usually portrayed as the most lovable of America’s founding fathers. His wit, his charm, his inventiveness—even his grandfatherly appearance—are legendary. But this image obscures the scandals that dogged him throughout his life, as historian Daniel Mark Epstein’s new book explores.  When he was twenty-four, Franklin fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. He adopted the boy, raised him, and educated him to be his aide. Ben and William became inseparable. After the famous kite-in-a-thunderstorm experiment, it was William who proved that the electrical charge in a lightning bolt travels from the ground up, not from the clouds down. On a diplomatic mission to London, it was William who charmed London society. He was invited to walk in the procession of the coronation of George III; Ben was not.  But the outbreak of the American Revolution caused a devastating split between father and son, who was, by then, royal governor of New Jersey. In 1776, the Continental Congress imprisoned William for treason. George Washington made efforts to win William’s release, while his father, to the world’s astonishment, appeared to have abandoned him to his fate.  Epstein gets under the skin of this well-known story to show the very personal effects of the American Revolution on one very famous family.  Historians and readers alike have always praised Epstein’s work, and this book earned a starred review from Kirkus, who hailed it “A gripping history of a family torn apart by political upheaval . . . Drawing on much unpublished correspondence as well as published works, the author constructs a fast-paced, vivid narrative with a host of characters whose appearance and personality he etches with deft concision. . . . A perceptive, gritty portrayal of the frenzy of war and a father and son caught at its tumultuous center.”

The Refrigerator MonologuesCatherynne Valente’s imagination is absolutely limitless, and she is a marvel at analyzing, dissecting, and re-conceiving pop-culture, media, and our human fascination with in.  This book presents a series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.  In an entirely new and original superhero universe, Valente subversively explores these ideas and themes in the superhero genre, treating them with the same love, gravity, and humor as she has analyzed fairy tales (and really, aren’t superhero tales pretty much the same thing in the modern age?).  With illustrations by Annie Wu, this is a wholly unique collection that showcases superheroes is a wholly novel way.  The Washington Post agrees, saying “In this novella, the superhero girlfriend gets to tell her own version of events in the afterlife. The women’s voices are strong: bitter and full of pain, yet steel-tipped in sarcasm and humor.”


Until next week, dear readers–Happy Reading!

And Happy Bloomsday!

Summer Staff Selections!

Now that summer is definitely, apparently (?) upon us, it’s time once again for the Free-For-All to share with you some of our lovely staff’s selections for summer reading!

We are a staff of diverse reading/listening/viewing habits, which makes these posts so much fun.  There is such a wide range of books and media that our staff enjoy that there is bound to be something in here to help make your summer that much more entertaining!  And so, without further ado, here is our first round of Staff Selections:

From the West Branch: 

Nancy Clue and the Not-So-Nice Nurse  by Mabel Maney
“A cute, tame lesbian parody of Nancy Drew and Cherry Aimes (RN). and part of a two-book series. The utter paucity of men through most of the book, the diction, the lesbian innuendos, the cluelessness of the main character Cherry, the positive portrayal of a trans woman, and the decent mystery plot make this light novel a delightful and cute read. This is the first in a series, but does just fine as a stand-alone as well.” (Note: Use the Commonwealth Catalog to access this title, or call the Library!)

From the Adult Services Department:

The Hour of Land : A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams
“For years, America’s national parks have provided public breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why close to 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now, to honor the centennial of the National Park Service, Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, what they mean to us, and what we mean to them. Through twelve carefully chosen parks, from Yellowstone in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas, Tempest Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making.”

From the Information Desk:

Swiss Army Man, starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe
Hank is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. One day everything changes when a corpse names Manny washes up onshore. The two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams…supremely weird but awesome!”

Table 19, starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Amanda Crew, Wyatt Russell
“Ex-maid of honor Eloise, having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to hold her head up high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the ‘random’ table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers.  In a way, reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, and in a way a beautifully modern romance, this is nothing like you expect, and everything you needed in a movie.”


Announcing the New Poet Laureate!

Big news today from the Librarian of Congress:  See this press release for full details:

Librarian of Congress Names Tracy K. Smith Poet Laureate

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today announced the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2017-2018. Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work at the Coolidge Auditorium.

Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Princeton University, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said. “Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”

“I am profoundly honored,” Smith said. “As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”

Smith joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

The new Poet Laureate is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Duende (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize.  Smith is also the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972, and raised in Fairfield, California, Tracy K. Smith earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

Background of the Laureateship

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1937, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry—a position which the law states “is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States.”

During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in the spring. In recent years, Laureates have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.

For more information on the Poet Laureate and the Poetry and Literature Center, visit  Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service can be found at To learn more about Poet Laureate projects, visit

In praise of distractions

Last week, we mentioned that you, our dear readers, might need a distraction.  And, in typing that, it made me consider how many times we use the word “distract”, and all its grammatical forms (distraction, distracting, etc.,) to refer to something in a negative light.

But the truth of the matter is that distractions can often be a good thing, and a positive addition to your work, learning, or daily life.  This is especially true if, as in so many things in life, you are healthy and mindful about your distractions.

Studies have shown that people who open themselves up more to sensory perceptions and engagement–listening to other people talk, hearing music, touching different surfaces and textures–actually engage more of their brain, and thus, their creativity, than people who force their brain to focus, without any outside input.  Distractions can also give your lizard-brain–the part of your brain always on the lookout for threats, danger, and stampeding elephants–a break, lowering generalized anxiety, and aiding in relaxation.

But distractions don’t just have to be mental.  They can be physical.  Getting up and moving engages muscles, and our bodies work better when more than one muscle group is engaged at any one time, usually doing the most mundane of tasks.  This is why you get your best ideas in the shower.  Or while going for a walk.  Or gardening.  You get the idea.

Finally, and this may be more a personal observation than a citeable fact…life is too short.  There are flowers blooming out there.  There are cat videos that will make you laugh.  There are interesting people doing interesting things, and your brain is wired to want to take those things in.  So rather than deny you, your mind, and your heart all those great things that make them happier, work better, and feel more fulfilled, why not just be more mindful of your distractions?  Perhaps plan them out?

Perhaps, let the Library help you find a few terrific distractions!  Here are some that I’ve come to appreciate enormously:

Making things:

Knitting is one of the few things in my life that I am totally confident in doing.  Thus, when I’m really stressed, or facing a particularly intimidating challenge, I usually bring my knitting along with me.  Taking a few minutes to walk away and knit, and get a few rows finished, gives me the morale boost I need to finish.  And best of all, when all is said and done, I actually have something to show for it!

If you, like me, finds solace in a ‘maker’s break’, then use your distraction time to try a new craft, like Brioche Knitting, Soutache (orate braided craftwork), or even baking eclairs!  A note: as ever, the Library Staff are more than happy to taste-test any pastries that you make using Library materials.

Listening to music:

I have music playing almost constantly while I’m working, as to many of the people I know.  But how often do you really, actually hear the music in your ears?

One day, when I was in the middle of Academic Writing and wishing I were somewhere and someone else, I read this post from Michael J. Nelson (yes, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame), that not only gave me pause to think, but provided one of those pieces of music that I just love to sit and hear.  Here is his post below:

Full text of the post, in case you need it:

Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is so obviously great you are tempted to think that it’s always existed and take it for granted. It’s like Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: you so want to dismiss it because it’s been around too long and you’re supposed to like it.

But listen to it in its original form before he expanded it; the 2nd movement of his Op. 11 string quartet and you may hear it with fresh ears, to use a term that is anything but fresh.

Incidentally, the story goes that Barber sent the only existing score to Toscanini who returned it without comment. They met later and a visibly irritated Barber snubbed Toscanini, who caught up with him and said, “I know you’re angry because I sent the score back to you, but I plan to premiere it with the NBC Symphony.” A dumbfounded Barber asked how that was possible as it was the only score. Toscanini tapped the side of his head with a finger and said, “It’s all up here.”

True? Hell, I don’t know. But that’s the story and I’m sticking with it.

(if the link doesn’t go to the 2nd movement, it’s at about 8:40)

Watching Things:

Let’s be honest; sometimes there is nothing whatever to be done but just let your brain rest and enjoy some quality tv or movie time.  And here, the Library is also the perfect place to feed your need!  Check out Hoopla for free streaming videos, and our extensive DVD collection.  Might I recommend Fortitude, a phenomenally weird murder-mystery series set in the Arctic?  Or perhaps Pretty Little Liars, a show that has captivated patrons of all ages?  Or a raucous spoof like Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles?  Whatever your tastes, we are here, and delighted to help you find the perfect productive distraction for your busy lives!

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, dear readers.  And…happy summer?  It looks as if my grumpy post about wearing sweaters may have finally persuaded Mother Nature to cut us some slack.  So you can bet I’ll be whining about the heat very very shortly.

But, until then–and after then, and always–there are books.  Here are some of the new titles that leapt onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Here’s a book that’s been getting stellar reviews and press coverage since it was first announced, and seems to be an ideal pick-me-up for your summer reading list.  Eleanor Oliphant struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.  But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.  Funny, breezy, and full of hope, heart, and humor, Gail Honeyman’s debut earned a starred review from Booklist, which said in its review “Walking in Eleanor’s practical black Velcro shoes is delightfully amusing, her prudish observations leavened with a privately puckish humor. But readers will also be drawn in by her tragic backstory, which slowly reveals how she came to be so entirely Eleanor. Witty, charming, and heartwarming, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a remarkable debut about a singular woman. Readers will cheer Eleanor as she confronts her dark past and turns to a brighter future. Feel good without feeling smarmy.”

The Grantchester Mysteries: Sydney Chambers and the Persistence of Love: Some time back, Lady Pole wrote about her appreciation of the Grantchester series, and, because I take all her literary advice to heart immediately, I myself have become fond of the full-time priest, part-time detective Sidney Chambers–and I hope you will, too!  In this sixth installment, set in 1971, now Archdeacon Sidney Chambers is walking in the woods with his daughter Anna and their aging Labrador, Byron, when they stumble upon a body. Beside the dead man lies a basket of wild flowers, all poisonous. And so it is that Sidney is thrust into another murder investigation, entering a world of hippies, folk singers, and psychedelic plants, where love triangles and permissive behavior seem to hide something darker.  Sidney is kept on his toes in this series of clerical who-dun-its, along with his old friend, Detective Inspector Geordie Keating.   Between the disappearance of an historic religious text from a Cambridge college, and the later disappearance of Sidney’s nephew, and the burgeoning free love movement, which complicates a number of relationships in this deceptively quiet parish, this is a collection that series’ fans and newcomers alike will enjoy immensely.  The New York Times Review of Books agrees wholeheartedly, saying “Taken individually, each of these clerical whodunits poses a clever puzzle for armchair detectives. Viewed as a collective study of British life as it was lived when Elizabeth II first ascended the throne, these stories present a consistently charming and occasionally cutting commentary on ‘a postwar landscape full of industry, promise and concrete.”

The Answers: Catherine Lacey has already established a strong reputation for herself as a genre-bending author, and this book shows her challenging conventions–literary, grammatical, social–with relish, gusto, and style.  Her tale focuses on Mary Parsons, who is broke.  Like seriously broke.  Between an onslaught of medical bills and a mountain of credit card debt, she has been pushed to the brink. Hounded by bill collectors and still plagued by the painful and bizarre symptoms that doctors couldn’t diagnose, Mary seeks relief from a holistic treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia―PAKing, for short. Miraculously, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive.  So Mary, like so many of her generation, decide to scour Criagslist for work.  And it is there that she finds a job…as Emotional Girlfriend in the “Girlfriend Experiment”―the brainchild of a wealthy and infamous actor, Kurt Sky, who is looking for a scientific solution for how to build and maintain the perfect romantic relationship, with himself as the constant. There’s a Maternal Girlfriend who folds his laundry, an Anger Girlfriend who fights with him, a Mundanity Girlfriend who just hangs around his loft, and a whole team of girlfriends to take care of Intimacy.  As Mary falls deeper and deeper into Kurt’s ego-driven universe, Catherine Lacey gives us a brilliant feminist analysis of modern-day romance, society, and an utterly unique story that Vogue called a “darkly funny, tartly feminist look at the tender state of our bodies and souls in the Information Age . . . [Lacey’s] work …captures the absurdity of a culture that persists in thinking that enlightenment is a matter of the right purchase, hashtag, or Google search.”

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century:  Chuck Klosterman has written about, I think, nearly every subject in the human experience, from sports to politics to food to pop culture…and this last is the main topic of this latest collection of essays, culled from his writings in Esquire, Vanity Fair, GQ, and other media sources.  What’s even neater is that Klosterman presents many of these articles in their original form, featuring previously unpublished passages and digressions that didn’t make the final cut in other outlets. Subjects include Breaking Bad, Lou Reed, zombies, KISS, Jimmy Page, Stephen Malkmus, steroids, Mountain Dew, Chinese Democracy, The Beatles, Jonathan Franzen, Taylor Swift, Tim Tebow, Kobe Bryant, Usain Bolt, Eddie Van Halen, Charlie Brown, the Cleveland Browns, and many more cultural figures and pop phenomena.  These are interesting times in which we live, friends, but Klosterman somehow manages to keep them interesting, engaging, and somehow just a little bit worthwhile.  Plus, the page-ends are black, giving this book a very exciting ninja quality that I’m sure you’ll appreciate.  Paste magazine wrote a terrific review of this book, saying, in part: “Klosterman is a master of the high-low…He injects a level of intellectual rigor into subjects that receive precious little…With X, Klosterman wallows in the trivial…but he’s not trivializing…proving that culture essays can teach us something about ourselves and the people around us…Each of his essays is a love letter to a moment.” 

American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World: I love this title, and the subject matter of David Baron’s book sounds just as lofty and exciting.  On a scorching July afternoon in 1878, at the dawn of the Gilded Age, the moon’s shadow descended on the American West, darkening skies from Montana Territory to Texas. This rare celestial event―a total solar eclipse―offered a priceless opportunity to solve some of the solar system’s most enduring riddles, and it prompted a clutch of enterprising scientists to brave the wild frontier in a grueling race to the Rocky Mountains.  This book details the fascinating, sometimes absurd, sometimes terribly poignant adventure, as eclipse-seekers around the country raced to become the Gilded Age’s Galileo–including Maria Mitchell, a female astronomer who faced down not only rough conditions, but the prejudices of her profession to be a part of the events.  Baron–a gifted and celebrated science writer–has had a lifelong fascination with eclipses, and that passion shines through in this bizarre and beautiful story that has drawn praise from critics, other writers, and readers alike.  Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying “Baron shares a timely tale of science and suspense in this story of rival Gilded Age astronomers contending with everything from cloudy skies to train robbers to overserve the historic total solar eclipse of July 29, 1878. . . . Baron skillfully builds tension, giving readers a vivid sense of the excitement, hard work, and high stakes in play. With the first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. in 99 years set to occur in late August 2017, this engrossing story makes an entertaining and informative teaser.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass