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Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to Hans Fallada!

Via Melville House Press

You might not have heard of Hans Fallada.  That’s ok.  His work fell into general obscurity over the second half of the twentieth century.  However, the grand and glorious people at the Melville House Press (whose blog is very nearly almost as terrific as ours), have gone a long way to bringing him back into the literary fold, so to speak, and to put his work in front of the eyeballs of a new generation.

Fallada (whose given name was Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen) was born on this day in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany. Though he always seems to have had trouble fitting in with his peers, his real struggles began in 1909, when he was run-over by a horse cart, and kicked in the face by the horse, and 1910, when he contracted typhus.  The pain and isolation of these events marked Fallada for life,–as the drug addiction he developed from the pain killers he was given.  His battle with depression was a life-long one, as well, meaning he spent a good deal of time between the wars in asylums and prison as a result of his drug addictions, even as he grew in prominence as an author.

Fallada was very much a writer of the moment, and his books dealt with contemporary scenarios and politics.  As a result, it wasn’t long before some of his most popular works were banned from German libraries, and Fallada himself was declared an “undesirable author”.  Fearing for his well-being, Fallada’s British publisher, George Putnam, send his personal yacht to Berlin to pick up Fallada and his wife.  Though their bags were packed, Fallada declared at the very last minute that he couldn’t leave (he had confided to a friend years before “I could never write in another language, nor live in any other place than Germany.”)  He wrote children’s books and other non-political pieces in order to remain under the radar, until he was called upon by Goebbels to write a specifically anti-Semitic novel that would be backed by the Nazi party.

As the result of an altercation with his (now ex-) wife, Fallada was incarcerated in an insane asylum in 1944.  In order to protect himself, Fallada told officials he had an assignment to fulfill for Goebbels’s office, which protected him from the inhuman treatment to which asylum patients were typically subjected. But rather than writing the anti-Jewish novel, Fallada used his ration of paper to write a novel called The Drinker (Der Trinker), a deeply critical autobiographical account of life under the Nazis, and a short diary In meinem fremden Land (A Stranger in My Own Country).  He wrote in a dense, overlapping hand that obscured most of his words, allowing the manuscript, and Fallada himself, to be saved until he was released in December 1944 as the Nazi government began to crumble.

Fallada died in February 1947, aged 53, from a weakened heart due to years of addiction to morphine, alcohol and other drugs, leaving behind the recently completed novel Every Man Dies Alone, an anti-fascist novel based on the true story of a German couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who were executed for producing and distributing anti-Nazi material in Berlin during the war.  Though many German writers who had escaped Nazi German disparaged him (and his work) because he chose to remain, we thankfully now have the chance to meet Fallada anew, and to realize just how brave a survivor he was, and to encounter his words anew–when we may need them more than ever.

Via http://www.fallada.de

And speaking of books, let’s take a look at some of the other books that traipsed onto our shelves this week…

Vexed with Devils: In a week that saw the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials memorial, it seems fitting to showcase Erika Gasser’s new book, which focuses on the cultural history of witchcraft, witchcraft-possession phenomena and the role of men and patriarchal power.  As she discusses in this fascinating work, witchcraft trials had as much to do with who had power in the community, to impose judgement or to subvert order, as they did with religious belief.  Essentially, witchcraft was used as a form of social policing.  She argues that the gendered dynamics and power-plays inherent in stories of possession and witchcraft show how men asserted their power in society and over each other (and the women around them). While all men were not capable of accessing power in the same ways, many of the people involved—those who acted as if they were possessed, men accused of being witches, and men who wrote possession propaganda—invoked manhood as they struggled to advocate for themselves during these perilous times.  This is a wonderfully researched and insightful book, and, as Publisher’s Weekly noted,  “Anyone seeking a fresh perspective on, and deeper understanding of, such possession accounts will not be disappointed.”

Like a Fading Shadow: Using recently declassified FBI files, Antonio Muñoz Molina has reconstructed a fiction look into James Earl Ray’s final steps through the Lisbon, where he hid for two months following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Molina has also wrapped his own story up in this tale of self-identity and deception, alternating between Ray in 1968 at the center of an international manhunt; a thirty-year-old Muñoz Molina in 1987 struggling to find his literary voice; and the author in the present, reflecting on his life and the form of the novel as an instrument for imagining the world through another person’s eyes.   The result is a deep, complex, and enlightening work that Kirkus Reviews noted, “delicately oscillates between an author’s quest for truth and a criminal’s search for safety . . . A tragically poetic study of the calamity that set back the civil rights movement.”

At the Table of Wolves: Kay Kenyon is a science fiction writer beloved by reviewers and readers alike, and the opening of her new series–described as a mix of espionage and X-Men is sure to win her even more followers. In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War.  The British haven’t managed to outpace Germany in weaponizing these new powers, until the ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall is established.  Kim Tavistock, whose power allowers her to draw out truths that people most wish to hide, is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.  As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England.  Though no one believes her story, Kim is determined to expose the plan and save England–even if she has to do it single-handedly.  With deft characterization and quick pacing, Kenyon has created a book that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it  “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.”

Less: Picture it: You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re Arthur Less, you accept every single one of those invitations, and embark on a marvelous, unexpectedly touching, madcap journey around the world, through surprise encounters and unanticipated birthdays and into love.  This sharp satire on Americans abroad is also a lovely look into our shared humanity, and a book that encouraged The Washington Post to declare, “Greer is an exceptionally lovely writer, capable of mingling humor with sharp poignancy…. [His] narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”

The Epiphany Machine: “Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too”–that’s the slogan for an odd, junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. A number of city dwellers buy into the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents, and even though they move away, Victor can’t ignore the stigma of those tattoos–or their accuracy.  So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine, he’s only too happy to oblige.  But when he meets the machine’s surprisingly charming (if slightly off-putting) operator, Adam Lyons, Venter finds himself falling for the machine, as well…until Venter gets close enough to recognize the undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes.  A pattern that’s gone unreported.  A pattern that proves the machine may be right, after all.  This big, imaginative, tragicomedy of a book earned another starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered that “This is a wildly charming, morally serious bildungsroman with the rare potential to change the way readers think.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Summer Staff Selections!

Now that summer is definitely upon us (definitely here this time around–it’s baking hot out there!), 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 fifth round of Staff Selections:

From the Reference Desk:

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

Russian spies, government corruption, and collusion in the United States government?  It’s not CNN.  It’s Allen Drury’s seminal 1959 Cold War novel.  The intrigue swarms around the confirmation of prominent liberal political Robert Leffingwell to the position of Secretary of State…a man who is backed by the Communist Party.  Though the nomination is supposed to be a quick, sure-fire thing, several politicians have grave doubts about Leffingwell’s character, leading to a race-aginst-time investigation.  Advise and Consent was the first in a series that continues these themes of Cold War intrigue, and are sure to grip your attention!

From the Children’s Room

Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

The Weetzie Bat books broke new ground with their stylized, lyrical prose and unflinching look at the inner life of teens.  This collection brings together the five luminous novels of the series, allowing readers to revel in the full saga of these interwoven and magic lives.  These postmodern fairy tales take us to a Los Angeles brimming with magical realism: a place where life is a mystery, pain can lead to poetry, strangers become intertwined souls, and everyone is searching for the most beautiful and dangerous angel of all: love.  Block’s quirky, lush descriptions make this story into something utterly divine.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

In this darkly fascinating book, Amy Stewart takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations, compiling an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. You’ll learn which plants to avoid (like exploding shrubs), which plants make themselves exceedingly unwelcome (like the vine that ate the South), and which ones have been killing for centuries (like the weed that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother).  Menacing botanical illustrations and splendidly ghastly drawings create a fascinating portrait of the evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard. This is a book that will enchant (and chill) nature lovers, scientists, and gardeners alike!

From the Upstairs Offices:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and there is a lot of discussion swirling about her works, their meaning, and Austen’s place in the world of letters.  So why not take this opportunity to enjoy (or enjoy again) one of her most beloved novels–one of the most popular novels in English literature and the foundation of some of the most beloved tropes in romance?  This book is a favorite with a number of our staff, so let their combined wisdom be your guide!

On Forgeries and Fakeries…

Last Friday, a major exhibition of the works of Amedeo Modigliani at the Doge’s Palace in Genoa announced that it would be closing early, after authorities confirmed that most of the paintings in the exhibit–21 out of 30, to be precise–were fakes.  

Via hyperallergic.com

As reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph, Carlo Pepi, a 79-year-old art critic, raised the alarm after seeing advertisements for the exhibit featuring a 1918 portrait titled “Marie, Daughter of the People.”

“My goodness, when I saw the poster of Marie and then looked through the catalogue and saw the others, I thought, poor Modigliani, to attribute to him these ugly abominations,” Pepi told The Telegraph.

Via telegraph.co.uk

I am fascinated bytale  art crimes.  I know that’s a weird thing to admit, but I do.  Maybe it’s the bizarre combination of ruthlessness and beauty that go into so many of these crimes.  Maybe it’s the dirty history behind images that we tend to take for granted–for example, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has been stolen twice, in outlandish circumstances…and recovered in operations just as over-the-top.  To be honest, I’m thoroughly enamored with the idea that you could get a job hunting these forgeries down, too.   Tales of the FBI’s Art Thefts department

It seems like the stuff of fiction–and yet the repercussions of art crime are international and unforgettable.  If you’ve ever been to the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum, and looked at the empty frames that still hang on the wall in memory of the (still missing) paintings that were cut out of them, you know what a palpable loss those pieces still have (see image to left, via the New York Post).  For those who have lost, or found, pieces stolen by Nazi authorities or during the Stalinist purgers, the enormity of the crime committed cannot be contained in a frame.  Art speaks to us in a way that words and deeds cannot, and to rob someone of that is to rob them of their humanity.  It also robs humanity of some truly staggering works of genius as well–the number of pieces that now have dubious provenance (the official history of a painting that traces its whereabouts throughout its life) is enormous, and is ever-growing.

However, if you’re even in Vienna, check out the Fälschermuseum to learn how much fun fakeries can be.  This museum is dedicated to the history of fake art, forgeries, and art fraud, and, though small, provides a fascinating education on the hows and whys of fakes, as well as some of the incredible stories behind some of the world’s best fakes, and most oddly satisfying stories–like Tom Keating, who wrote notes on his canvas before painting over them so that when the painting was x-rayed, his forgery would be discovered.

Even better, if you don’t feel like leaving your armchair/couch/beach chair/office, then check out these fantastic books on art forgeries, fakeries, and the wild stories behind them in these books!

Provenance: Speaking of Modigliani forgeries….John Myatt is perhaps one of the 20th century’s most famous (and most prolific) art forgers, and his talents for visual mimicry are shocking (check out his website here!).  In 1986, trying desperately to stay financially afloat, Myatt advertised his talents in the hopes of painting a few copies for money.  Instead, he was contacted by con artist John Drewe, who embroiled Myatt in one of the biggest, most wide-ranging art frauds in history.  In the end, a Modigliani forgery played an enormous part in bringing Drewe’s scheme down, and though Myatt spent time in prison for his role in the con, his paintings are now some of the most highly-sought in Britain.  Laney Salisbury tells his and Drewe’s story with insight, wit, and a perfect sense of timing.  Though we as readers never lose sight of the gravity of the crimes being committed, the book still reads a lot like a crime caper, and provides an enormously entertaining education on the art world.

The Forger’s Spell: In 1945, Han Van Meegeren, a Dutch artist, was arrested and charged with collaborating with the enemy, for having allegedly sold a Vermeer painting to Nazi officer Hermann Goering.  Van Meegeren’s defense was a shocking one–the painting, he claimed, was not a Vermeer.  It was a Van Meegeren.  Moreover, he had traded the false Vermeer for 200 original Dutch paintings seized by Goering in the beginning of the war.  Van Meegeren was actually called upon to paint another forgery before the court before his story was believed, and Van Meegeren’s charge was reduced to forgery, for which he spent about a year in confinement.  In this engaging work, Edward Dolnick not only relates the story of the forgeries, but placed Van Meegeren’s work in the context of the Second World War, emphasizing what a dangerous game he was playing–and the real effects his actions had on the art world.  It’s an enlightening and tense story that will appeal to military historians as well as art lovers.  You can see Van Meegeren’s forgeries for yourself here .  If you like Dolnick’s writing, be sure to check out The Rescue Artistabout the theft and recovery of Munch’s The Scream, too!

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa: On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s most celebrated painting vanished from the Louvre. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, young provocateurs of a new art. The sensational disappearing act captured the world’s imagination. Crowds stood in line to view the empty space on the museum wall. Thousands more waited, as concerned as if Mona Lisa were a missing person, for news of the lost painting.   Though she was recovered in Florence in 1913, R.A. Scotti emphasizes that still in the case still linger: Who really lifted Mona Lisa…and why?  This story is part mystery, part history (the case was one of the first to use modern forensic science and profiling), and part love story to Paris, the Louvre, and the art it holds, this is a really engaging look into the history of what has become the most famous painting in western culture.

On Book Shaming…

One thing you won’t find in the Library.

I realize that my social media feeds probably look very different than most people’s, dear readers.  I subscribe to a lot of book review sites, book lover’s sites, library sites, reader’s advisory sites…to be brief, there’s a lot of book talk going on.  Today, when I logged in, two links were posted back-to-back that got me thinking.

The first was a page that presented a list of books that an “educated, literate” person “would never admit to reading”.   This list, bizarrely, ran the gamut from the Twilight Saga to The Protocols of Zion (a terrifying work of anti-Semitism that was celebrated by the American Nazi Party), from John Grisham’s earlier works to the Scarsdale Diet Manual (a fad diet from the 1970’s that contributed more to heart disease than it did to weight loss).

That a list would run such an enormous gamut without comment or critique was in itself…odd to me.  A lot of the books there were ones I had read in history and literature classes in college (The Valley of the Dolls was on more than one syllabus, actually).  There were a lot of books written by wom

en, or written for a primarily female audience (romance novels, etc).  A lot of them were just old.  And there’s nothing wrong with reading old books.  They may be a little anachronistic, but…so is The Fall of the House of Usher.  But I haven’t heard anyone try and use that against it.

The second link was to a list of “Great Books” that the author had lied about reading (they had told people they had read these books even though they didn’t).  And you know what?  I hadn’t read any of those books, either!

And it got me to thinking…why on earth do we attach so much shame and emotion baggage to the books we’ve read, or the books we haven’t read?  Maybe it speaks to the cultural power of books (or, at least some books) that we feel like we aren’t ‘whole’ people without having experienced it?  But I never finished War and Peace, and I’m still here.  I’ve also read Anna Karenina in the original Russian, and am no better off, either.

Never finished it.

And why are we embarrassed to admit that we have read something?  I ask this as someone who routinely advocates the Choose Your Own Adventure novels for grown-ups, so clearly, this is a genuine question on my part.  I can understand being disappointed by a book.  There have been plenty of times where I am bummed that I spent so much time on a book that wasn’t worth it.  There are times I am embarrassed that I didn’t finish a book on time.  But the implications with these lists is that our self worth is (or should be) attached to our literary choices in a way that is pretty damaging to our psyche…

These kind of lists make me worry.  I worry because there are people out there who don’t read because they don’t know what is “cool” or “right” to read.  Or they don’t read because they don’t have anyone to discuss books with them, or feed their interests.  I worry that people don’t read because other people have made fun of their reading choices.

So let me be very clear here:

At the Library, you can read whatever you want.  And no one has the right to make you feel badly about what you read, or what you don’t read.  Not even you yourself.

If it interests you, if you want to learn something, if you want to try something new, or if you want to re-discover something you loved, we are here for you, and are more than happy to help you find them. And if you don’t like it, if you didn’t learn anything stunning, if you still want to try something new, or go back to something familiar, that’s is absolutely, 100% ok.  But if you never try, or if you spend your time worrying about someone judging you for what you’re reading (or not reading), or, even worse, judging yourself, then you are never, ever, going to get something meaningful out of the book.

So let’s put all these lists about what we “should” read, or what we “shouldn’t” read, and, instead, focus on reading more: Reading outside our boundaries.  Reading to learn.  Reading to live.  Reading to make connections.  Reading to grow.  And not feeling bad about any of it.

Five Book Friday!

And a very joyous la fête du 14-juillet to you, beloved patrons!

Storming of The Bastile by Jean-Pierre Houël

July 14th is indeed the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, when, in 1789, some 950 inhabitants of Paris, who were opposed to Louis XVI and his conservative regime, gathered around the Bastille prison in the hopes of securing the cannon, gunpowder, and other weaponry being housed there.  Three of the crowd were sent into the prison to negotiate with the 32 guards who were posted inside, but after hours has passed, the crowd grew impatient, and began marching into the inner courtyard.  Panicked, the soldiers began shouting at the crowd to disperse, but in the confusion, their calls were mistaken as a welcome to enter.  Gunfire started (I couldn’t find an accurate assessment of who first opened fire), and the crowd quickly turned into a mob, while the handful of guards were reinforced with guards and cannon.  Fearing a massive loss of life, the Governor de Launay capitulated around 5:30pm, and the now-mob swept in to liberate the fortress.  Fearing reprisals at the hands of government, the citizens of Paris began building barricades in the streets and arming themselves, officially marking the battle lines of the French Revolution.

Claude Monet

The holiday, however, began in 1790, when a feast was held to celebrate peace and the unity of the French nation.  Another feast was held in 1878 to commemorate and celebrate the French nation–a celebration that was commemorated in the painting by Monet above–and was such a rousing success that the day was enshrined as a national holiday in 1880.  So you don’t have to wish anyone a “Happy Bastille Day”, or anything like that.  But you can come in and check out some of the wonderful new books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week!

Why?: What Makes Us Curious: An astrophysicist himself, Mario Livio is fascinated by the mechanisms that make human curiosity–why we are more distracted by only hearing one side of a conversation, why we care about places and people and things we cannot see before us.  Why we invent thins. In order to attempt to answer these questions, Livio interviewed scientists, examined the lives of two of history’s most curious geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, and talked to people with boundless curiosity: a superstar rock guitarist who is also an astrophysicist; an astronaut with degrees in computer science, biology, literature, and medicine.   And in this enormously readable book, he concludes that there is no definitive scientific consensus about why we humans are so curious, or about the mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity–but doesn’t that just make you more curious in the end?  Livio’s work has earned praise from Nobel winners, scientists, and readers alike, with Kirkus Reviews calling this fascinating book “A lively, expert, and definitely not dumbed-down account of why we’re curious.”

The Reason You’re Alive: From the author who brought you the Silver Linings Playbook comes another fascinating tale that transforms a personal journey into some much, much bigger.  After sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam Vet David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard–that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline, and whom David is now determined to track down and make amends.  As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and good-hearted American patriot fighting to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand. Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche that Publisher’s Weekly calls “Dark, funny, and surprisingly tender.”

Gork, the Teenage Dragon: With a title like this, how could you not resist a peek into Gabe Hudson’s debut novel?  Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.  In the course of his interactions with his fellow dragons, from the nerds to the jocks, from Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist to Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords, Gork begins to realize that his biggest weakness–that big heart of his–may just be the secret power he needed all along.  This is a delightful, silly, honest, and uplifting coming-of-age tale that will capture the hearts of readers of any age, and that Publisher’s Weekly hailed  as “Cleverly plotted and executed. . . . Gork’s amusing growing-up story unfolds in vignettes of encounters with various kooky fellow dragons. Throughout, Hudson makes…brilliant reflections on humans’ often reptilian behavior.”

Hannibal: If everything you know about Hannibal begins and ends with elephants, you are definitely not alone.  But thanks to Patrick Hunt’s insightful new biography, you can realize what an incredible tactician and leader Hannibal really was, and just what an impact he had during his life, even though he was by no means undefeated…or, indeed, successful.  Nevertheless, to this day Hannibal is still regarded as a military genius. Napoleon, George Patton, and Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. are only some of the generals who studied and admired him. His strategy and tactics are still taught in military academies. He is one of the figures of the ancient world whose life and exploits never fail to impress. Historian Patrick N. Hunt has led archeological expeditions in the Alps and elsewhere to study Hannibal’s achievements. Now he brings Hannibal’s incredible story to life in this riveting and dramatic book.  Though this is a book that will definitely appeal to military history buffs, Library Journal points out that “The military history is thorough and balanced. . . . Drawing on both ancient and modern scholarship, this book is accessible for the nonspecialist; military history buffs will enjoy.”

Live from Cairo: Another debut here, this one from Ian Bassingthwaighte, whose own work in refugee legal aid informs much of this story about an American attorney, a methodical Egyptian translator, and a disillusioned Iraqi-American resettlement officer trying to protect a refugee, Dalia, who finds herself trapped in Cairo during the turbulent aftermath of the January 25, 2011 revolution.  As these individuals come together, united to save Dalia, laws are broken, friendships and marriages are tested, and lives are risked—all in an effort to protect one person from the dangerous sweep of an unjust world.  Though very much a book of–and for–the times, Bassingthwaighte’s work is also a story about the human need to seek connections and hope in the darkest of moments, and the joys that can be found, even in the midst of tragedy and fear.   Kirkus gave this book one of its many starred reviews, saying “There are far too many great things about this book to list in this small space: the tension and energy of the plot…the richness and subtlety of detail in the writing…profoundly humanizing the global refugee crisis. Bassingthwaighte’s virtuoso debut deserves the widest attention.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

Summer Staff Selections!

Now that summer is definitely (I think it’s fair to say definitely now, don’t you?)  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 fifth round of Staff Selections:

From the Circulation Desk:

The Meat Cake Bible by Dame Darcy

Dame Darcy is an artist of many and varied talents: musician, actress, fortune teller, dollmaker, Gen X/feminist icon, and last but not least, cartoonist to the core, delighting readers with her neo-Victorian horror/romance/humor comic Meat Cake.  This collection brings together her delightful (and occasionally gruesome) fairy tales and the Meat Cake comics, featuring Effluvia the Mermaid, the roguish roué Wax Wolf, Igpay the Pig-Latin pig, Stregapez (a women who speaks by dispensing Pez-like tablets through a bloody hole in her throat), the mischievous Siamese twins Hindrance and Perfidia, Scampi the Selfish Shellfish, the stalwart Friend the Girl, and the blonde bombshell Richard Dirt.  Take a peek inside this tiny little fun house and discover all the marvelous treats inside!  Voluminous, quirky, dense and delightful!

From the Reference Desk:

The Last Hack by Christopher Brookmyre

Since we were talking about this series earlier this week, it seemed like a good time to let you know that this book (and this series) are some of the most engrossing, bizarre, and twisty mysteries you can find.  I truly loved this eighth installment, in which we learn the true identity of a character whose had a major influence on this series–but this time, the hacker known as Buzzkill is facing blackmail, and is calling in every favor that Jack Parlabane owes in order to secure his help in a massive industrial espionage attempt.  And when they realize they have both been played and set up for murder, an attempted break-in becomes a manhunt that could cost Parlabane everything he has fought to recover–and could cost Buzzkill even more.

Tim’s Vermeer, a Penn & Teller film featuring Tim Jenison

Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor, attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did seventeenth century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer manage to paint so photo-realistically, 150 years before the invention of photography? Spanning ten years, his adventure takes him to Delft, Holland, where Vermeer painted his masterpieces, to the north coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, and even to Buckingham Palace to see a Vermeer masterpiece in the collection of the Queen.  You can watch the trailer by clicking this link!

From the West Branch:

Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard. What could possibly go wrong? An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.  Fans of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One will find a lot to enjoy in this book, and the entire Magic 2.0 series!

Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Today, we celebrate the 200th birthday of Hery David Thoreau–pencil maker, nap taker, revolutionary, intellectual lover of long walks.

Henry David Thoreau was born into a family of pencil makers on this day in 1817.  Though it was assumed he, too, would get involved in the family business, he found getting up early in the morning to get to work, and spending long hours engaged in a single activity (that he wasn’t terribly fond of to begin with) inexplicable, tedious, and….no pun intended, rather pointless.  Things only got worse as the graphite dust from the pencils got in his lungs, causing long, no doubt frightening bouts of night-time coughing.  He developed insomnia that persisted even when he gave up pencil-making, and tried private tutoring to earn a living.

Now, let’s, for just a moment, be honest here.  Who hasn’t felt like the young Henry, staring out the window, fantasizing about giving it all up and just going for a walk in the sunshine because it was a nice day out?   Or taking a nap because you were tired and unproductive otherwise?

Walden Pond

We learn a lot about Thoreau’s revolutionary sensibilities–his refusal to pay his poll tax to a government that held a sixth of its population in slavery, because it made him, in a small way, complicit with the institution of slavery.  In his own words:

I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with—the dollar is innocent—but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance.

We learn about his “hermit” lifestyle at Walden Pond, a house which he built with his own, two, pencil-making hands.  The quote my high-school teacher always threw around was:

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

But I don’t think either of these views actually tell us much about what a unique individual Thoreau was.  Because he was far, far more human than any quick portrait of him portrays.

When he was living at Walden, Thoreau brought his laundry home to his mother.  He had dinner with his friends in Concord, most especially Ralph Waldo Emerson, not only because he wasn’t really big on cooking, but because he enjoyed the company.  He invited Louisa May Alcott and her sisters to Walden Pond, gave them lessons on nature,  and told them fairy stories about the creatures that lived under the ferns around his house.  He planted a garden for Nathaniel Hawthorne as a wedding present, not only because wedding presents were expensive, but because he wanted to give Hawthorne a place where he could think freely (check out a photo of Thoreau’s garden from this photo, courtesy of the Trustees of Reservations).  And, according to Hawthorne, Thoreau had a really good sense of humor.

Just an aside, but seriously, the friendship between Hawthorne and Thoreau is one that really deserves far more attention.  They were the most mis-matched buddies you could imagine, but they both genuinely appreciate each other, as you can see from this quote by Hawthorne on the first dinner that he and Thoreau shared.

Replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

But, to get back to my point, what I really think made Thoreau unique and, in his own way, revolutionary, was his ability and determination to keep asking WHY: Why he was getting up early and going to work if he hated it, and what benefit it was serving him, or the greater world to keep doing it.  Why he was paying taxes to an institution that he hated.  Why he wasn’t living the life he believed would make him thoroughly content.  And why other people weren’t living their own life, either:

Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

He believed, above all, in honesty, and confronted the problems of his life with his eyes wide open.  He recognized that nature, by itself, was beautiful and balanced, and that, if humans could just get out of their own way and recognize the lessons of nature, they probably would be better off. He recognized the beauty and the joy around him, without turning a blind eye to the terrible stuff.  He wasn’t afraid to be unique–and to call out a society that tried to enforce conformity:

It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that you shall speak so that they can understand you. Neither men nor toadstools grow so. As if that were important, and there were not enough to understand you without them. As if Nature could support but one order of understandings, could not sustain birds as well as quadrupeds, flying as well as creeping things…As if there were safety in stupidity alone.

Now, it is very, very true that Thoreau was in a  unique and privileged position.  He had friends who were willing to support him , he didn’t have dependents who needed his labor or financial support.  He was provided an education (at Harvard, no less).  Ultimately, he had time, and used it to create the space he needed to live the life he wanted.  Few of us today are in a position, financial, familial, or otherwise, to do what Thoreau did.  But that doesn’t mean that his choices are impossible to emulate.  For all the awful going on around us, there is still beauty around us, and, like Thoreau, we deserve to enjoy it,  and the people who make us better and happy, as well.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.

If you’re interested in learning more about Thoreau, check out this new, sensational biography by Laura Dassow Walls!