Friday, August 22, 2008
Many of the essayists are either young 20 something essayists or reminiscing about their youth – and I must say after awhile I did tire of yet another “ah…it was my first apartment in the big city. Small as a postage stamp, it yet fulfilled my yearning for a life on my own and my cooking and dining grew with me as I explored this brave new world called adulthood.” Yes, yes, enough with the “I’m finally an adult” stories!! (In fairness, the book seems inclined to favor such stories with the first few essays – once you get past these, by reading or skipping lightly – you get into more mature tales of eating alone – tales which may, I realize not interest the 20-somethings nearly as much as they do me!
But to return to our stories….as good nonfiction will sometimes offer, these stories of cooking (and dining) for one can be as engaging as a good fictional short story. And why not? Both these essays and much fiction revolves around character driven stories – and characters abound in ALONE IN THE KITCHEN WITH AN EGGPLANT – be it the narrator or the foods they prepare!
There are stars of the food and literary world in this collection: MFK Fisher shares her secrets to enjoying dining alone (and if you’ve not read MFK Fisher yet – get on the stick!). Nora Ephron writes of potatoes and love, and Ben Karlin regales us with a tale of his cooking for members of an equally young Italian rock band for whom moma’s home cooking reigned supreme until THAT fateful evening.
But my favorite from ALONE IN THE KITCHEN WITH AN EGGPLANT is an essay by Holly Hughes, “Luxury”, a tale of the bittersweet travails of cooking for a suburban family and the delights of dreaming of dining alone.
Whether you’re single, involved, or just curious about how best to enjoy the dining experience with only yourself I think you’ll enjoy this collection of essays.
Listen to Nick's review as a podcast from WBAA radio by clicking here.
Meanwhile, a young American journalist named John Murphy discovers Elisa and her secret, and begins to find ways to help fight this one small battle against Hitler. Elisa and John begin to fight in the Jewish Underground Resistance, and together their lives intertwine in the race to stop Hitler before its too late.
I read this book when I was in high school, and I was so fascinated by the story and the writing that I was prompted then and there to study history when I finally went to college. This book is beautifully written and rich in detail; I highly recommend it!
Check it out @ your library: Vienna Prelude by Bodie & Brock Thoene
Friday, May 23, 2008
- William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar.
Written by Jennifer Lee Carrell, this book is a delicious romp through the history and lore of Shakespeare, all thrown in to a daring mystery that takes place in today's world. Kate Stanley, a scholar of cult Shakespeare, is the first American woman to conduct Hamlet at the Globe in London. During rehearsal, her old PhD professor, Roz, shows up - a most unwelcoming surprise for Kate. Her former mentor gives her a gift and tells her that she has found something big. They set a time to meet after rehearsal, and when Roz doesn't show, Kate feels sure that Roz is again leading her on. But off in the distance, Kate notices something sinister in the air - a dark cloud is spilling forth from the earth, in the direction of the Globe. Terrified that her beloved theater is burning, on the same day and date as it did in 1613, Kate runs towards the Globe to find out that only the offices were ablaze. Relieved, Kate enters her office to find a gruesome spectacle - Roz, dead. Kate realizes that whatever Roz had in store for her is in the gift, and she most follow where it leads - for Roz's sake.
Thus begins a bold adventure taking the reader all around the world and into the heart of the desert south west on the quest for Shakespeare - not only for the man, but for a supposed lost play. But the bodies keep piling up as her quest progresses and Kate can't help but feel she is somehow leading the people that help her to their deaths. The ending is one as shocking as you are likely to find!
Check this book out @ your library! Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Beginning with the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, author Mak takes us from a Europe where war was a distant sound of gunfire from long, long ago through a century that all too soon saw two major world wars ravage a landscape and destroy peoples, peoples who yet rose from the ashes - twice - to remain one of THE leading political, cultural, and economic powers in the world.
Assigned by his Dutch newspaper to bring a continent’s century long story to its readers, journalist Mak takes us on his journeys across Europe on the cusp of a new century.
IN EUROPE is what I mean when I talk about a “page turner”. IN EUROPE is graphic, awe inspiring, sad, and riveting. This is the TRUE story of a continent in a time of radical change, the story of people buffeted by war, elated by peace, ground down by politics over which they seem to have no control, buoyed by the liberation of D-Day, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of dictatorships in the South. Often told through the lives of "everyday" people who lived through and now relate the events of this incredible century, IN EUROPE is compelling reading.
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review on WBAA radio or http://www.wlaf.lib.in.us
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Flash forward: we are watching a group of pilgrims traveling back to Cambridge. In a cart in the back of the group are three very strange individuals: a Jew, a Saracen, and a woman. This troupe, we soon come to learn, has been sent by the King of Sicily himself to discover the murderer of children.
We again also learn that the King of Sicily did not send a master of the art of death; he sent a mistress. And again, because it is 1100 AD England, the mistress can be condemned as a witch for healing the sick, and especially for investigating the corpses of murdered children. It is under this pretense of secrecy and fear that the band of three must search for the Cambridge child-killer, before he strikes again. They have everything to loose, most especially, their lives.
This novel has been hailed by reviewers as the CSI of the Medieval Ages.
Check it out @ your library: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
What’s up withInspirational books?
Public libraries (and the librarians who run them) collect and make available all kinds of books on all kinds of topics. It’s what we do and what we like to do.
But there is one genre of book that is destined, it seems, to languish on the shelves – with a few bright and popular exceptions – the Inspirational book.*
We’ve had a colorful selection of these books on our special book display shelves at the West Lafayette Public Library for the month of March and lo and behold, those authors we already know are popular checked-out of the Library. The lesser known authors – we had hoped to spark some interest in readers since these lesser known books were on the display shelves – just sat and waited and waited, and waited to be taken home and read.
Sadly this is the same situation with our Library’s Inspirational book collection in the Library’s mainstream shelving areas. Popular authors circulate but there is little interest in serendipitous browsing to find “new to me” authors or titles.
Worse, from a Librarian’s perspective, when Inspirational books move from their twelve month sojourn in the “new books” area to the mainstream fiction (or nonfiction) bookshelves they pretty much drop from the checkout lists! So if it’s not a new Inspirational title, there is not much interest in our Library’s holding on to it our experience seems to say (unless our Library has unlimited space of course.).
I’ve talked with librarians from other libraries about this over the years and they have offered a couple of opinions: “yep, same experience in our library” and “seems if the author or book is recommended by a minister’s wife it circulates a lot – if not, not much if any circulation.”
Fascinating! In my twenty plus years of library work in Indiana I’ve noticed this trend with only one other genre – Western fiction – which is not terribly popular (whether new or older) here in the Midwest.
Our demographics say that Inspirational books ought to be popular with public library users in Indiana. If it’s not a new title though, forget it. Out of sight (not staring out at you from the new book shelves), out of mind it seems!
I’ve always wondered if focusing library patron's attention on the Library’s Inspirational books would prompt a larger circulation – given our month long experience just completed this is evidently not the case. Any thoughts about this?
*By "Inspirational" books I am referring to books written by authors such as Phillip Gulley, Jan Karon, Max Lucado, Janet Oke, etc.- they are sometimes these are referred to as "Christian romances" or "Christian fiction". They are, inevitably, written with a more conservative Christian theme and demur from the use of language or actions that could be read as anything but "G" rated.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
We know we’ve got the “right” book in hand when we spot the book’s cover art with its Hawaiian tropical shirt theme! A quick perusal of the chapters lets us know we’re in for a fun ride – there’s a chapter on the famous “two buck Chuck” wine phenomenon and chapter after chapter lauding the friendly, surprise-around-every-aisle atmosphere of a Trader Joe’s grocery.
Trader Joe’s success as a retail market seems to be both exquisitely simple and thoroughly thought through. Trader Joe’s success is simple: the company works hard to provide a customer friendly – and staff friendly environment which not only brings customers back and keeps employees working hard but encourages both customers and staff to engage in “free” and powerful word-of-mouth advertising that brings even more folks into the Trader Joe’s orbit.
Their success is more thoughtful because of Trader Joe’s efforts to keep stock fresh and ever changing by buying out end-lots or odd-lots of discontinued merchandise AND of searching the world for the oddball but delicious delicacies that appeal to its diverse customer base. And let’s give props to Trader Joe’s management for making the effort to continually learn about their customer’s sense of adventure and putting that knowledge to work in the service of grocery capitalism!
The Trader Joe’s Experience is written by a fellow who has spent his career writing about business for trade magazines, proving once again that journalists often write very readable books – and proving that one can write a reasonably skeptical book without becoming too taken up with either praise or skepticism.
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review on WBAA radio or http://www.wlaf.lib.in.us
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Alcatraz, you see, is a young freedom fighter when we meet him. An orphaned boy, Alcatraz is growing up in modern America - better known in our novel as “the Hushlands” - a land secretly ruled by a cabal of evil librarians.
Unlike other boys his age, Alcatraz has a bizarre talent – Alcatraz often breaks things he touches…and as a result he has been shuttled from one foster family to another. A life time of impermanence has convinced the young teen that love – for him – is impossible; what family could possibly love a boy who breaks what he touches – how do you live with such a boy much less come to love him as one of your own?
Then one day something even stranger happens. Alcatraz is visited by a jolly old man dressed in a tuxedo. The man shows an unusual knowledge of Alcatraz’ life heretofore and introduces himself as Alcatraz’ grandfather – come from a hitherto unknown part of the world - "the Freelands" - and tells the young teen he has come to engage Alcatraz in the adventure of a lifetime – an adventure that will spell the fate of those lands not yet under “evil librarian” rule – the heretofore unknown Freelands!
And so without missing a beat, our would-be heroes are off on an adventure of a lifetime, an adventure that takes them deep into the bowls of that fortress of evil in the modern world, the downtown city Library! Joined by three diverse characters from the Freelands in their assault on the cabal of evil libarians that holds "our" world in their thrall, Alcatraz and his grandfather don their freelander glasses and Alcatraz discovers the incredible usefulness of his Freeland heritage; it turns out breaking things can be a useful – downright life saving - talent!
Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians will appeal to all readers of adventure and certainly to readers in upper elementary and junior high school. The story’s fanciful take on the far reach of society-wide censorship, the power of conventional wisdom, and the often humorous interplay between older and younger generations gives ample interest for young adult and adult readers as well.
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review on WBAA radio or Check it out @ your library: Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
Shel Silverstein was a fellow who hugged the tree of life and shook it for all it was worth!
A native Midwestern boy – Chicago by birth and upbringing – Silverstein learned early in life to follow his bliss, even using his required army experience to discover his talent as a cartoonist.
Silverstein’s love of life only grew as he worked his way back into civilian life. He refused to fit into the business life of his father – the newly civilian Silverstein had plans of his own and those plans took him from the offices of the newly minted men’s magazine Playboy where he convinced editor Hugh Heffner to publish his cartoons. With published work to his name, Silverstein quickly moved on to New York City, working his way into the publishing world. Immersed in the post war culture, Silverstein reveled in the developing beatnik culture, writing his own music and penning not a few plays over the years.
What about those children’s books? Silverstein is best known as the author of best selling titles including “A Light in the Attic”, “Falling Up”, The Giving Tree” and many others enjoyed by children, teens, and adults, folks of ALL ages. The books were in part a venue for Silverstein's life-long habit of "people watching", a habit he put to good use in developing the wacky but loveable characters that populate his often hilarious and often emotionally charged writing.
Too, Silverstein was a peripatetic fellow, keeping homes in Chicago, New York City, Key West…. And everywhere he lived he collected books – books of fairy tales, books of short stories, and books of writers he just plain enjoyed.
Never married, Silverstein was what one could refer to as “a ladies’ man”; he had lifetime friendships to show for it – not to mention, we’re told, any number of less lengthy get-togethers. Indeed, A BOY NAMED SHEL makes note (often) that our poety/playright/musician was a frequent guest at the Playboy Mansion in hometown Chicago. Silverstein was also a well known visitor in “music city” Nashville, and in San Francisco (where he was an early adopter of the “flower child” movement in the 1960’s).
A multi talented man whose work lives on in the hearts, the ears, and the eyes of many, A BOY NAMED SHEL is a delightful look at a beloved author’s life and times.
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review at WBAA radio's archive or Check it out @ your library: A BOY NAMED SHEL
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
As the threat of the Nuremburg Laws begin to descend upon the Jews of Holland, Cyrla and her cousin Anneke have their own problems. Anneke has gotten pregnant and is to leave for the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke's soldier has disappeared, and the only people who can claim the babies are the fathers - or the baby is taken away. Anneke can't stand the depression of her soldier leaving her and the shame she has brought to her father. She takes her own life and leaves her cousin to flounder in the wake of her loss. And the neighbors have begun to whisper. Because Cyrla, though she looks the Aryan, is Jewish. Her father sent her from her home in Poland to live with her non-Jewish family in Holland. But someone knows what she is and her life is in grave danger. After her cousin's death, Cyrla and her aunt decide that she needs to take Anneke's place in the Lebensborn. But can Cyrla, who is nearly identical with her cousin, fool the doctors and nurses and escape before her treachery is discovered?
Check it out @ your library: My Enemy's Cradle by Sarah Young
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Gone from “Michael Tolliver Lives” are the ‘70’s and ‘80’s cultural references to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, to pop music and to the free wheeling pop culture world that made the original “Tales” so gossipy but endearing. But worry not dear reader, still with us – and robust as ever – are landlady and beloved transsexual Anna Madrigal (now in her 80’s!) and Brian Hawkins – our ladies man/playboy turned waiter turned doting father. We get updates on Anna’s daughter Mona, and we delight again in the topsy-turvy world of the city by the bay – strolling with Michael Tolliver from the (still) gay Castro district to tourist-ridden Fisherman’s Warf.
We look in on the (now increasingly middle aged) counter culture. And, this being a novel by Armistead Maupin, we’re introduced to a charming group of new San Francisco characters – from Brian’s hip (one might say bleeding edge) daughter/journalist to Jake, Michael’s furry little gay landscape co-worker who holds secrets from his life past in Tulsa Oklahoma. We get to know Ben, Michael’s 30 something partner in life who provides Maupin – and all of us - with ample opportunities to look at our new century through the eyes of someone NOT familiar with the free wheeling 70’s. AND, Maupin takes us deeper into the life of Michael Tolliver’s family in Florida – when Michael (with Ben in tow) travels back to his dying mother’s bedside and plunges once again into his earlier life with his older – and oh-so-straight brother Irwin and his evangelical Christian (and leader of her church’s puppet ministry) wife, Lenore. I’ll leave you to imagine the fireworks and the pathos!
Surely NOT a book for the faint of heart - there is enough sex, drugs – but no rock and roll - in any one chapter of “Michael Tolliver” to please ANY reader of today’s saucy minded novels. But, as the always wise Anna Madrigal tells Michael late in the novel “You don’t have to keep up, dear. You just have to keep open.” Keep an open mind with YOU and you’ll delight in reading “Michael Tolliver Lives”!
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review at WBAA : or Check it out @ your library: Michael Tolliver Lives! by Armistead Maupin
Monday, January 28, 2008
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without salt? We use it at the table but Kurlansky explaines in his fascinating biography of the mineral the many impacts this product has had on our civilization. Did you know that salt was so valuable in the ancient world that the Roman soldiers were paid in salt? Our word salary comes from the Latin word for salt, sal. Salt enabled civilizations to expand when it was found that meat and fish could be salted and preserved for later use. Traders and travelers could go farther and faster when they could carry their own preserved food rather than live off the land. Salted cod allowed sailors to cross oceans rather than stick to the coast. Read this interesting book and learn how salt is collected and why it comes in different colors, find out about the salt mines near Saltzburg, why wars were fought over the mineral, and many other salient facts.
Check it out @ your library: Salt by Mark Kurlansky
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
This is my all-time favorite book. I invite you to read the prologue, and tell me that it didn't give you goosebumps. And if it did give you goosebumps, you are in for the read of your life!
Check it out @ your library: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN unfolds as two stories – the engaging story of a young boy as he explores the family and urban world around him and, at the same time, the darker story of a society slowly repressed by a leader intent on imposing his own brand of revolution on the nation.
When we first meet Suleiman the nine year old narrator is living happily with his mom, dad, and friends in Tripoli, the North African seaside capital of Libya, a city already well populated in the time of the Roman Empire.
His life is like that of many nine year old boys – he navigates the changing moods of his mother and father, and is not above pouting to gain his own selfish ends (tales of Suleiman’s manipulation of his young mother on market days are priceless reading! ).
He delights in exploring the ins and outs of his newly built neighborhood with his best friend, enjoys swimming in the nearby Mediterranean Sea, and is excited when asked to join his friend on a visit to the nearby Roman ruins. Too, like many youngsters throughout the world, Suleiman acts as his lonely mother’s companion during those many days when his father is away on “business”.
But danger looms in his young world. First Suleiman’s best friend’s father and soon enough his own father disappear into the maw of the Libyan Revolutionary guards, falling out of sight “behind the sun”. Neighbors spy more openly on neighbors and his (almost) picture perfect world plunges into darkness (though not despair) as the Libyan Revolution comes crashing into their homes on – of all places - Mulberry Street.
This slowly unfolding doom is a strong reason why this novel is so much more than “a day in the life of a nine year Libyan boy”. And as we read on, we find the reason for the title – we focus increasingly on the men in Suleiman’s life – those close to him and those from afar (members of the Libyan national government); we discover it is the men, by far, who are responsible for the growing tumult and pain in Suleiman’s life.
Yet In the midst of this danger and mounting anxiety, we are treated to author Hisham Matar’s beautiful writing - his marvelous facility with English prose.
Nominated for a Mann Booker Prize (which celebrates the best fiction of the year by a member of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland) this semi autobiographical tale is a story worth reading and pondering.
In early 2006 I strongly recommended the book LITERATURE FROM THE AXIS OF EVIL, a collection of stories which includes short stories from Libyan authors permitted to publish by their government. IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN is a different kind of “literature”, written by a Libyan author at work in England. It is no less powerful and moving on its own uncensored authority. Reviewed by Nick Schenkel on WBAA radio and on Library Leaves. Listen to an extended review of this book on the WBAA radio archives link elsewhere on this page!
Find it @ your library: In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Click here to find a copy @ your library: The Covenant by Naomi Ragen
This was a great adventure, and like I said, much like CS Lewis' works. Read it for the sheer joy of reading and adventure!
Check out a copy @ your library: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Click here to check it out @ the library: A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva
Click here to request your copy @ the library: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
This is a great book, though I can't quite figure out how the title is directly related. But no matter, the title is not important when you have a great thriller to read!
Click here to request your copy at the library: The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry.