Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Non-Fiction

Here's a sampling of some new non-fiction book hitting our shelves:

Arts & Crafts: Living With the Arts & Crafts Style by Judith Miller. A photographic look at the wares of famous Arts & Crafts makers, from Grueby to Tiffany to Oakes.

Hand Made Baking: Recipes to Warm the Heart by Kamran Siddiqi. Perfect recipes for a cold winter night, with gorgeous photos help you along the way.

 It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario. Memoir of a female war photographer (who has been kidnapped twice).

Journeys Home: Inspiring Stories, Plus Tips & Strategies to Find Your Family History. Those interested in travel and/or genealogy will want to check this out. Includes an entry by Andrew McCarthy, the 80s "Brat Pack" actor. Lots of nice photos.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It's kind of amazing that this book is only 443 pages, although it does say "brief."

Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro. Letters of the famous 20th century poet. Presented chronologically by decade.

This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth?: From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets of What's Inside Everyday Products by Patrick Di Justo. Ignorance is bliss, right? After you read this, you might change your mind about some of the products you consume.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Motivation for the New Year

Are your New Year's resolutions waning by now? Did you even bother to make any? Well, if you're still hanging in there (or want to be inspired) try out these books.

For those of you planning to get healthier this year, I'd recommend The New Health Rules by Dr. Frank Lipman. This is not a diet book; it includes no elaborate plans or instructions. Every other page is a photo and an accompanying paragraph describing a lifestyle change to make. It reminds me greatly of Food Rules by Michael Pollan, but this book also incorporates exercise, the mind, and overall wellness.

If you're looking to clear the clutter, try The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I'm not hugely into this topic, but this book seemed different- and it is. Kondo challenges the status quo in de-cluttering. She does not advocate buying tons of storage bins (that's just organized hoarding). She doesn't want you to decide what to get rid of, but what to keep. She advises letting your items "rest" while not using them and to thank them for their service to you. It's a bit odd at times, but I think this book has the potential to really change lives.

If you're looking to just simplify your life (this can go along with the above recommendation), try Lessons From Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer L. Scott. Her points are about adopting the lifestyle she witnessed as an exchange student for six months in Paris. It's in line with the francophile books that have been popular the last several years, but I think Scott does a better job of describing ways of applying simpler ideals to your lifestyle. In particular, she discusses the idea of a capsule wardrobe, where you only keep and wear a small amount of clothing each season. Quality over quantity, from clothing to food. If you like this book, Scott recently published a companion book, Madame Chic at Home.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hot Sun… Blue Skies… Desert Sands…Tropical Breezes …

It’s warmer this week than last week, but we still have a lot of winter ahead of us. So, to make everybody feel better, the card catalog display features books set in places where the sun is shining and the skies are blue: Miami, Hawaii, Arizona… Singapore and Mexico… Saudi Arabia and the Caribbean…

Read about romance, solve a mystery, or learn something new about a warmer latitude.

Or you can check out the featured titles for this week:

The All You Can Dream Buffet –Barbara O’Neal
Lavender Wills has spent most of her life on her Oregon farm, creating a legacy within the organic food movement. When she realizes that her heirs will be her nephews, who will sell the farm to the highest bidder, she invites her three closest online friends to visit her, without telling them that she plans to leave her farm to one of them.

Vanessa and Her Sister – Priya Parmar
Vanessa has always made her sister Virginia the focus of her support and attention, even after they move to London in 1905 and form a bohemian group of friends known as the Bloomsbury Group.

The Scent of Death – Andrew Taylor
During the Revolutionary War, while Manhattan is held by the British, Edward Savill arrives in the city from London. He will be investigating the claims of loyalists dispossessed by the rebellion, but his overall orders require the ‘administration of justice in the city in all its aspects.’ He believes, even though British military authorities disagree, that this includes the investigation of murder, especially when that murder could affect the outcome of the war.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reading Resolutions Start at the Library

It’s the last week of December so, like all die-hard idealists, I’m thinking about New Year’s resolutions. (I haven’t actually made any – I’m only thinking about them.)

I could lose weight… or I could start my taxes early… or I could clean out my sons’ closet…

One of the problems with resolutions is that, after you’ve made several years’ worth, you know that setting the bar too high pretty much guarantees failure. Which is no fun. Another problem is that most of us are even more serious and responsible with our resolutions than we are with our To-Do lists, and if we are conscientious, we end up having even less fun than we otherwise would. We watch our kids curl up with a book on a snow day, and wish we could do the same. We look at Ken Follett’s latest epic, and tell ourselves we’ll wait until he finishes the trilogy. [He’s finished.] We make lists of books to read ‘when we have time.’

Only we never have extra time.

So maybe we should flip New Year’s Resolutions around: make some willpower-required, socially approved resolutions – maybe two or three – and then focus the rest on fun.

The library can help.

For instance, if you have always wanted to learn more about music, we have lots of DVDs and CDs and books.
Watch Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary. Catch up on musicals you’ve missed. See the award winners before the awards ceremonies. Share your favorites with your kids.
Music CDs? We have Billie Holiday, and Elvis, and the Rolling Stones.

We have just as many materials related to art, or hobbies, or travel.

Make a reading resolution, for the fun of it. You can always set a goal you’re pretty much guaranteed to meet. Commit to half an hour a day, or fifteen minutes, or even five. Steal the time to read from chores, or television, or social media. We have lots of books to choose from: funny books and scary books, page-turners and classics, books about weighty, important topics, and guilty pleasures.

Check out this blog for new possibilities. Every week, three New Fiction titles will be featured.
This week’s titles are:

In the summer of 1964, Ibby’s mother sends her, and the urn containing her father’s ashes, to her grandmother’s New Orleans mansion, where she meets Queenie, the cook, and Queenie’s daughter Dollbaby.

The title says it all. Read the stories, then check out some of the movies they inspired: Captain Blood, The Mark of Zorro, or The Adventures of Robin Hood.

When a divorced London mother with three sons inherits a 300 year old mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast, she’s not sure she wants everything else that comes with it.

So come on in, and check out something just for you. Because that closet can always wait until the kid leaves for college. Or the kid can clean it. While you sit back with a cup of coffee and a good book. Because who wants to wait to have fun?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Recommended Read: I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

I love a sardonic wit. 86 year-old Betty Halbreich is the personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. A position she's held for 39 years. (She's featured in the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, which apart from Betty, is somewhat of a bore.) Part biography, part style guide, she discusses her privileged life and how she landed at Bergdorf's. Many rich and famous people have visited her dressing room, including Candice Bergen and the late Joan Rivers. She has even helped studios outfit their actors for shows, in particular she helped Patricia Field dress the women on Sex and the City.

She may appear proper, but she's not afraid to tell it like it is. In fact, that is what attracts customers (repeat customers value that quality too). And that is what attracted this reader to her book. She's not only honest about her successes, but also her failures in life, and quite eloquently to boot.

Halbreich says "As soon as I get home, I undress, brush my clothes, put them on the proper hangers, and give them an airing before they return to the closet- which, containing a lifetime of garments, is a Narnian portal to times and place that no longer exist." She is a relic, not because of age, but because of her habits, which is oddly refreshing.

I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Podcast Obsession: The Planet Money Podcast

Lest you think I’m responsible citizen of the world, just saying the words “global economy” pretty much puts me to sleep.  I had one measly economics class in college, and it was the only course I took pass/ fail.  Usually thinking about the economy makes me a little confused and a lot scared.  So, I’m not exactly the target audience for this NPR podcast.  

However, after hearing a plug for the show on the Slate Culture Gabfest (another podcast favorite), I checked out Planet Money and it has since become one of my favorite podcasts.  The show has a unique perspective on the global economy, and always finds unique and quirky ways to highlight different economic issues. For instance, they recently had a show on cattle theft in Oklahoma and the special agent who tracks down the thieves (Episode 583: Cow Noir).  Another recent show (Episode 575: The Fondue Conspiracy) described how fondue’s popularity was actually caused by the dominance of the Swiss Cheese Union in Switzerland during the early part of 20th century.  

The show’s various hosts and reporters are good at explaining economic theories and principles while still being interesting and fun; so even economic neophytes like myself understand and remain entertained.  The podcasts are always enjoyable and are sometimes very funny.  While I certainly haven’t become an economic genius from listening to show, I do have a better grasp of world issues and can occasionally make smart chatter at dinner parties.  Fans of Freakonomics would probably enjoy the show. Although, I personally like Planet Money quite bit more than those books.  It’s worth a listen whether or not economic issues are something you are super interested in.  The show is a spin off the NPR juggernaut, This American Life, so fan of that show may enjoy it as well.

For more information on Planet Money check out their blog on NPR, or listen to the podcast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Recommend Reads: Recent Releases

 Contrary to popular belief, librarians are paid to read all day (I wish!).  Instead we have to fit reading in when we aren't working.  Meaning we pretty much have endless "To Read" lists.  Luckily, I had the opportunity to take a couple trips recently, so I had time to catch up with a few good recent titles:

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai (2014).

Makkai's previous book The Borrower was one of my favorite reads of 2011.  So I was super excited to see that she had a book coming out this year. The Hundred Year House is set in a large mansion in the northern suburbs of Chicago (::cough:: Lake Forest ::cough::) that used to be an artist colony called Laurelfield.  The first part of the book takes place in 1999, when the house is on the verge of its centennial, and then the book works back through the house's history.

In 1999, we follow the saga of Marxist English professor Zee and her unemployed academic husband Doug.  Zee was raised at Laurelfield, and she and Doug move into the coach house when the couple falls on hard times. Doug is purportedly working an a career making tome about a poet Edwin Parfitt, who once stayed at Laurelfield.  However, he spends more of his time writing for a Baby Sitter's Club like series and flirting with Miriam, the artist wife of Zee's brother-in-law Chad with whom they share the coach house. When Dough starts asking questions about the artist colony and looking around for papers, he's surprised to find Zee's mom, Gracie, oddly standoffish and protective of the topic.  Is she hiding something?  This section is very funny and works as both an academic satire and a very shaggy mystery novel.

The book then cuts to earlier history of the mansion.  In 1950s, the artist's colony is shut down, so Grace DeVohr (Zee's mom) can move their with her abusive, alcoholic husband.  Separated from her family and without a friend nearby, Grace finds her situation increasingly desperate.  We also glimpses of Laurelfield in the 1920s, as an active artist colony, including when Edwin Parfitt stayed there.  Finally, the book ends were the house began, with the original owners, including Zee's ancestor, a beautiful woman who committed suicide and supposedly "haunts" the mansion.

The Hundred Year House is a great read  There are various connections between all of the stories taking place at Laurelfield throughout the decades.  Once you finish the book, you'll probably want to reread it to catch all the links.  Makkai has a lot of fun filling the book with made-up cultural references.  I googled a lot of the artists and celebrities she created for this book, thinking they might actually be real.  The Hundred Year House has occasional dark moments, but it is definitely a lot of fun.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (2014).

Rainbow Rowell is a staff favorite.  I highly recommend reading any book by her.  Landline is her latest release, which focuses on the struggling marriage between the hard-working TV writer, Georgie McCool, and her stay-at-home husband, Neal.  Two days before Georgie is set to go with Neal and their two daughters to Neal's childhood home in Nebraska, she and her writing partner Seth get the opportunity to write their dream pilot.  Unfortunately that means staying in L.A. and working over Christmas.  Neal is not so thrilled with the idea, and takes his two daughters to Omaha without Georgie.

Meanwhile, Georgie is left fretting over the state of her marriage.  Did Neal leave for vacation or her all together?  Rather than be alone in their house, Georgie stays temporarily at her mom's house with her sarcastic sister Heather.  While staying there, she makes an interesting discovery, the landline phone in her bedroom allows her to call back into the past, and she begins talking to Neal from a time shortly before they became engaged.  Will the phone time travel save her marriage, or prevent it from ever happening?

The premise for the book sounds a little bit unusual (certainly much more Sci-Fi than Rowell's other work), but don't let it sway you from checking out the book.  Rowell is able to write really funny characters and dialogues.  The interactions between Georgie, her free-spirited mom, and her sister Heather are often laugh out loud funny, and were one of my favorite parts of the book.  It was also refreshing to read a story where the romantic arc is between a long married couple, rather two people just falling in love.  Rowell does a great job of showing how external strains can really affect the relationship between two people who genuinely love each other. 

Station-Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014).

Sci-Fi books and dystopias usually aren't my cup of tea, but something stood out about this book by Canadian author Mandel.  It takes place in the recent future and begins at a Toronto production of King Lear starring famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander.  During the production, Leander suffers a fatal heart attack on stage.  Soon Georgian flu sweeps across the world wiping out 99 percent of the population.

The plot then pick ups twenty years later when civilization no longer exists as we know it.  There is no longer air planes, telephones or even electricity.  Kirsten, one of the child actors playing Lear's daughter, is now a woman who is part of a traveling theater company known as the "Traveling Symphony."  The symphony travels from ram shack town to town performing plays (Kirsten prefers Shakespeare) and music.  While journeying through the ruins of the Midwest, the symphony encounters a dangerous man called the "prophet."

The book also follows several other people connected to Leander: the paramedic who tried to save his life, his first wife, Miranda, and his best friend.  Most of these plots take place before the Georgian flu epidemic, but don't be too surprised to see some of the characters pop up later on in the book.

I really enjoyed Mandel's inventive descriptions of how towns and society functioned in a post-apocalyptic environment.  Mandel also slips in some nice satire about current society, mostly delivered by Arthur's best friend.    The book is incredibly dark at times, but also moving or lightly funny.  It definitely is an absorbing read.