Five Book Friday!

And, as everyone has probably noticed by now, it’s Friday the 13th.  A day of bad luck, of ominous premonitions, of evil portents?  According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day.  Donald Dossey, founder of the SMC, notes, “It’s been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do.”

But it’s important to bear in mind that the concept of Friday the 13th being unlucky is absolutely culturally constructed…and that construction is not as large as you might think.  For example, in Italian popular culture, Friday the 17th is considered the unlucky day, and 13 is considered a lucky number.  In a number of Spanish-speaking counties, Tuesday the 13th is the unlucky day, not Friday.   These beliefs are evolving now with the steady progress of Americanization, but nevertheless, it’s perhaps helpful and perhaps necessary to realize that the day doesn’t really have it out for you.

In fact, today seems like a perfect day to check out a few new Library books!  Why not have a look as some of the new titles that have fallen, like autumn leaves, upon our shelves this week…

Paradox BoundPeter Clines’ books are wild and inventive, and their stories feel so big that they can’t quite be contained by any descriptions–especially this book.  But here goes.  Eli Teague lives in Saunders.  A town where nothing ever happens.  A town that still has a video store.  But Eli refuses to leave.  He’s still waiting to see again that mysterious traveler he’s seen twice before–a traveler who stops  just long enough to drop tantalizing clues before disappearing in a cloud of gunfire and a squeal of tires.  So when the mysterious traveler finally reappears, Eli’s determined that this time, he’s going to get some answers. But his hunt soon yields far more than he bargained for, plunging him headlong into a dizzying world full of competing factions and figures, with the history and fate of America itself at its heart.  Fans of Doctor Who and Jules Verne alike are going to find plenty to enjoy here, and Clines’ characters are always so real that you tend to miss them when they’re gone.  Kirkus Reviews agreed, giving this book a starred review and calling it,  “A timey-wimey, full-barrel adventure novel that also teaches a non-ironic lesson in American civics…[featuring] an epithet-wielding, pistol-packing heroine that will capture hearts.”

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War IIAnother book about “Girls”, but this is a true story, and a remarkable one that readers of military history, as well as women’s history and American history will all be able to savor.  More than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II.  Recruited from small towns, college, and universities across the country, they moved their lives to Washington, D.C., and undertook to learn the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through painstaking research and interviews with surviving code girls, Liza Mundy brings their riveting stories, and their enduring contributions to the Allied forces, to worldwide scientific knowledge, and to American history, to life.  The Washingtonian praised Mundy’s work, noting how her “fascinating book suggests that [the Code Girls’] influence did play a role in defining modern Washington and challenging gender roles–changes that still matter 75 years later.”

The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American LifeGrowing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, Ernesto Flores had always had a fascination with the United States, the distant land of skyscrapers and Nikes, while his identical twin, Raul, never felt that northbound tug. But when Ernesto ends up on the wrong side of the region’s brutal gangs he is forced to flee the country, and Raul, because he looks just like his brother, follows close behind—away from one danger and toward the great American unknown.  In this stunning and harrowing tale, journalist Lauren Markham follows the seventeen-year-old Flores twins as they make their harrowing journey across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and eventually to life in California, where they try desperately to fit in with American culture without the language and only each other for support.  This book is a story of a beautiful bond, a nuanced portrait of Central America’s child exodus, an investigation of U.S. immigration policy, and an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience that is sure to rivet news junkies and novel-readers alike.  The New York Times gave this book a glowing review, noting that it is an “impeccably timed, intimately reported and beautifully expressed. Markham brings people and places to rumbling life; she has that rare ability to recreate elusive, subjective experiences—whether they’re scenes she never witnessed or her characters’ interior psychological states—without taking undue liberties.”

What The Hell Did I Just Read: A perfect selection for All-Hallows Read, David Wong’s third installment of the blackly-comic, spine-chilling series that began with John Dies at the End is absurd, the most artistic of ways, emotional in the most surprising of ways, and creepy in all the ways you’ve come to expect if you’ve ever savored one of his stories.  While investigating a fairly straightforward case of a shape-shifting interdimensional child predator, Dave, John and Amy realized there might actually be something weird going on. Together, they navigate a diabolically convoluted maze of illusions, lies, and their own incompetence in an attempt to uncover a terrible truth they — like you — would be better off not knowing.  Your first impulse will be to think that a story this gruesome — and, to be frank, stupid — cannot possibly be true. That is precisely the reaction “They” are hoping for.  Who are “They”?  What do “they” want…you’ll have to read the book to find out!  (Though that might be just what “They” want!)  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, and noted, in their delightful, delighted review, that “While the story gleefully wallows in absurdity, thoughtful themes of addiction, perception, and the drive to do the right thing quickly emerge beneath the vivid and convoluted imagery. The plot’s rapid pace holds the reader’s attention to the truly bitter end.”

The ApparitionistsIn the early days of photography, in the death-strewn wake of the Civil War, one man seized America’s imagination. A “spirit photographer,” William Mumler took portrait photographs that featured the ghostly presence of a lost loved one alongside the living subject. Mumler was a sensation: The affluent and influential came calling, including Mary Todd Lincoln, who arrived at his studio in disguise amidst rumors of séances in the White House.  Peter Manseau brilliantly captures a nation wracked with grief and hungry for proof of the existence of ghosts and for contact with their dead husbands and sons. It took a circus-like trial of Mumler on fraud charges, starring P. T. Barnum for the prosecution, to expose a fault line of doubt and manipulation. And even then, the judge sided with the defense—nobody ever solved the mystery of his spirit photography. This forgotten puzzle offers a vivid snapshot of America at a crossroads in its history, a nation in thrall to new technology while clinging desperately to belief.  Kirkus also gave this book a glowing review, which reads, in part: “Written like a novel but researched with academic rigor, this account of a photographer whose work seemed to incorporate images from the spirit realm stops short of either endorsing the veracity of the photographer’s claim or debunking his work as a scam…A well-paced nonfiction work that reads more like a historical novel than an academic study.”

Until next week, beloved patrons….happy reading!