Staff Choices

Posted by cclapper on 12/17/11
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#5. The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
 
City girl, making her way as a writer in New York.  Farmer boy with intractable ideas for the future.  She falls for him, then falls in love with farming ("the Dirty Life").  I have dreamed of a small farm, myself, and this real-life story (complete with all the dirt, manure, and elations) grabbed me.
 
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#4. Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening by Stephen Orr

I love gardening books.  I study all the photos and diagrams, and skim in and out of the text.  (Doesn't everyone?)
 
Well, not this time.  I read every word.  This one rewards you.
 
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#3. Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield
 
Do you read?  Well, of course you do!  And what we read, we see through the filter of type, layout, and design.  Even if we are concentrating on the text, fonts play a huge roll in our reading and Mr. Garfield exposes the curious characters and sometimes riotous events that helped create the fonts we communicate with today.
 
With modern computers we all have amazing control over how our text appears.  Fonts are lenses that color our reading life- even when we don't realize it.    
 
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#2. See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould

Listen to NPR?  Heard the show Sound Opinions?  Greg and Jim speak often about Hüsker Dü, a seminal Punk band that's still influencing the growth of modern music.  Bob Mould, one of the founders, has been through some remarkable experiences- the growth of Punk and his own personal evolution, growing through his conservative upbringing and coming to terms with who he really is.
 
An odyssey.  Worth the trip.
 
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#1. We The Animals by Justin Torres
 
Three mixed-race brothers bursting into life.  If you love storytelling, spare/sharp, and high-voltage language- try this.  Brief.  Intense.  Brilliant.
Posted by mingh on 12/17/11
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#5. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
 
A wonderfully quirky, but moving story, of a young woman who can taste the emotions of the person who made the food she eats. This creates a burden as she learns more about her parents and her brother who has his own odd abilities.
 
 
 
#4. Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad by Jehanne Wake
 
A biography of an American family of rich sisters who married well, including into royalty, but never lost their sense of what it means to be American. It is also the story of a Father who protected his daughters so that the men in their lives could not leave them destitute.
 
 
 
#3. Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad
 
Mattias is a fan of Buzz Aldrin because Buzz Aldrin did everything Neil Armstrong did, but second. Mattias likes being second. He says, "The more you put yourself forward, the more stones people can throw at you." A poignant and funny story filled with pop culture references about a young man who needs to go to the ends of the earth to find his way home.
 
 
 
#2. Life, on the Line : a chef's story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat
by Grant Achatz
 
Life on the line is a foodie memoir and more. Grant Achatz tells of growing up in Michigan in the family business of running restaurants but feeling a calling to do something more. Achatz was on top of the world running two acclaimed restaurants in Chicago when he learned that he had a virulent form of tongue cancer. An interesting read for foodies, anyone interested in the restaurant business, and reading about someone dealing with a life-threatening illness.
 
 
 
#1 The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
 
A starkly beautiful novel about two hired assassins, Charlie and Eli Sisters, who travel from Oregon to San Francisco to make a hit during the 1850's gold rush era. Each person they meet holds up a mirror of their own morals and values in which to be judged. All the humor and brutality of a Coen Brothers movie. Brilliant!
Posted by jfreier on 12/16/11
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Inspector Alan Banks is on holiday in America resting from the  traumatic conclusion of his last case.
Meanwhile back in Yorkshire a neighbor comes to see him after she finds a gun in her daughters closet, a major offense in England. The girl Erin is roomates with Banks' daughter Tracy and when the police go to retrieve the gun things go very awry.
Tracy warns Erins' boyfriend who is the guns owner and "Jaff" kidnaps her and hooks up with his very unsavory cohorts. Banks' colleague Annie Cabot takes the case and when Alan returns they must race against time to save Tracy from this very Bad Boy.
Mystery
Posted by Pam I am on 12/15/11
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Libby Day was 7 years old when her mother and two sisters were brutally killed in their home and she narrowly escaped.  At the time, Libby testified against her brother Ben and he is serving a life sentence in prison for the grisly murders and is thought to have been in a satanic cult.  Now, 25 years later, Libby meets with a group that firmly believes in Ben's innocence.  She reluctantly begins to revisit the horrible murders and try to find the real killer.  Flynn alternates chapters from Libby in present day, to Ben on the day of the murders, and Ben's mom, Patty, on the day of the murders.  The narrative of the day of the murder begins in the early morning and chronologically goes through the day.  At the same time, the chapter's told in the present day from Libby slowly uncover inconsistencies and clues to what really happened.  What an inventive and interesting way to tell a mystery!   There are parts of this book that are very gruesome and troubling so it is not for the sqeamish.  But, if you like a page turner, I recommend this.
Posted by mingh on 12/07/11
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Having only had the TV show, Northern Exposure, as my reference for flying in Alaska, this was an eye opening look at flying in the last wild American frontier. Flying in Alaska is like flying no where else in America. In addition to the cold, fog, snow, and lack of visibilty, there is the tremendous pressure of flying the mail and supplies to places that have no other means of getting them. All Alaskan pilots know of other pilots who didn't make it.
 
Colleen Mondor, the author, worked for one of the airlines and notes how the pilots felt about flying during good weather and bad. Also, the pressures that they had from the front office and from each other. Flying in Alaska is like joining a daredevils club. You can't be too cautious.
 
Mondor writes about famous Alaskan rescues and losses. She notes that many airfields and roads are named after dead pilots. This book is filled with stories of close-calls and those that didn't make it. These airlines are so crucial to connecting people from all parts of Alaska to each other. The pilots know it but it is also very dangerous terrain with mountains hidden behind clouds and icing on planes. When the FAA comes to investigate crashes, it almost always is pilot error. The pilot forget where he was.
 
This book would be of great interest to those flying single engine or double engine planes or anyone who likes to read about adventure. It is filled with stories of the history of flying in Alaska. There are many sad stories but living like this also makes for many heroes. But sometimes the heroes wonder if it was worth it.
Alaska, Aviation
Posted by mingh on 12/07/11
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Sometimes love can take you to unexpected places. Leslie Leyland Fields learns this when she marries the son of an Alaskan fisherman. She moves to Bear Island, a small island off of Kodiak Island in the Alaskan peninsula.
 
There, subsistence living is the norm. No running water for bathing, dishes or drinking. Running to a well to bring up the water that you will need for the day has to be done. If it is washing day, sometimes making three or more runs to fill the wringer washer. Because washing is difficult and time consuming, wearing the same clothes day after day is done making them even dirtier and harder to clean. They also must use oil or kerosene for lighting. As Leslie and others remark, their life has not really entered the 20th century.
 
In this memoir subtitled, Life on the Wild Edge of America, you learn how the salmon fishermen live and work. Although they have nine months off during the Fall/Winter/Spring, their Summers are nonstop with 20 hour days separated by four hours sleep. It is very grueling and dangerous work setting the nets, picking the fish from the nets and bringing them in to the cannery. This goes on for weeks until they are doing it in their sleep.
 
Sometimes Leslie is out on the boats and sometimes she is at home doing the laundry, mending the nets, making the meals for the workers and eventually tending to her own children. Leslie, her husband, and eventually two children live alone on an island off of Kodiak island. If they want company, they need to take a small boat known as a skiff to other islands. If the weather is bad or the waters are difficult then they are on their island for weeks at a time. In the Fall they travel or take part-time jobs to help with the expenses. But home is the island.
 
This is a truthful memoir of the difficulties and joys of living on an island with no electricity or running water, where reading is a major past-time and just watching the beautiful landscape fills hours. Leslie has her faith to help her during difficult times but she is also very capable in her own right. Her Mother would purchase and rehab houses and then re-sell them. All the children were expected to help with the rehabilitation. They were poor but the skills she learned growing up helped to make her adjustment to the island easier.
 
This is a realistic but loving portrait of the people and environment of the Alaskan peninsula, specifically the salmon fishers. While she is there, she experiences the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its impact on the beaches, the fishing and the economic impact to the small fisher communities. These are hardy people who work hard and love what they do. Having read this book you will appreciate the work that went into your salmon dinner.
Posted by Pam I am on 12/04/11
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Eugenides describes the lives of three college seniors at Brown University in the early 1980s.  Madeleine, an English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, authors of books about marriage that lie at the heart of the classic English novels.  Leonard Bankhead, is a charismatic and depressed “bad” boy.  Soon Madeleine finds herself in an erotic and intellectual relationship with Leonard. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell begins studying Christian mysticism and becomes obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.  Eugenides explores this love triangle and if there can be a new “Marriage Plot”  written for current times including feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/01/11
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Having been awarded a scholarship to study architecture at the Ecole Speciale in Paris in 1937 was no small feat for Andras Levi, a poor Hungarian-Jew from the small Hungarian town of Konyar.  He arrived from Budapest with only a single suitcase and a mysterious letter he had promised to deliver to a C. Morgenstern.  He makes friends with some fellow Jewish students, allying with them against increasing Nazi threats.  He falls in love with C. Morgenstern - Klara - a beautiful Hungarian ballet instructor nine years his senior with a hauntingly dark past. With war threatening, Andras is forced to return to Hungary and Klara insists on coming with him.  Andras and his two brothers find themselves pawns in the Nazi chess game of using Hungary to advance their invasion of Russia, sent out in work details for months at a time in labor camps that were little more than concentration camps.  By the autumn of 1939, all of Europe erupted in the full-blown catastophe of World War II.  Even Hungary, thinking themselves safe in allying with Germany, was been invaded by the Nazis. As in Dr. Zhivago, lovers Andras and Klara cannot escape the horrors of war, but find courage in their love for each other and in their families.

I must admit that I balked a bit at reading a 600 page novel that appeared to be yet another novel about World War II.  I was surprised to find myself unable to put it down, taken in by the grandeur of Paris opera houses and the Parisian architecture.  Andras' simple yet close family ties in Hungary contrasting with his new life in Paris as student, friend and lover was beautifully portrayed by the author, Julie Orringer. As the inevitable history unfolded with the characters caught up in it, I found myself totally absorbed and caring very much about how they would survive the war.  The Invisible Bridge is a novel of epic proportions but so well written that it felt intimate.  

Posted by mingh on 12/01/11
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Gina has fallen in love with her sister's neighbor, Sean, to the point of parking outside the home he shares with his wife and young daughter. She is not sure why this happened or even how. She loved her husband but this affair has now consumed her. Although he spends a lot of time with Gina, Sean continues to live at home because of his daughter.
 
The Forgotten Waltz is a story about how families get on with life. Gina marvels that Life hasn't stopped to marvel at her joy with Sean or cry at the loss of her Mother. Life still goes on. And people need to get on with life also.
 
After her Mother dies, Gina goes to live in the house she grew up in. This forces many memories of her life growing up. Gina tells the story of her life with Sean and begins to see her growing years with her Mother and Father differently. As Sean focuses on his daughter, Gina sees her and her sister's lives through the eyes of her Father who died when she was in her teens.
 
Gina concedes that her viewpoint is one sided when it comes to Sean. Why can't he spend all of his time with her? Because she doesn't have children of her own, she views Sean's daughter almost as an adversary keeping her Father away from Gina.
 
Almost a coming of age story for a woman in her thirties, Gina has to learn that her life does not exist in a vaccum. She has to learn to live with the others who surround her.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/01/11
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It was the summer of 1880 in Paris, 10 years after France's crippling defeat in the Prussian war.  Even though France was finally recovering from a serious economic depression, the devastating psychological effect of the war could still be felt.  Parisian energy rebounded, however, when workers were given Sundays off.  A new society emerged - la vie moderne - and cafes, caberets, dance halls, and theaters all flourished.  The building of railroad lines to the countryside allowed Parisians to enjoy their Sundays in the enchanting riverside villages west of Paris.

A small group of artists, called Impressionists, had discovered the new engergy and modern individualism as well.  Breaking away from the classic artistic traditions of form and line, with scenes from the Bible or history as inspiration, the Impressionists left their studios to paint "La vie moderne" as they saw it and lived it.  Boldly using feathery touches of unblended color in textural brushstrokes, they painted scenes from the caberets, dance halls, theaters and Sunday boaters and picnicers.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one such painter. The Impressionists met with much criticism, since their technique was such a radical break with the classic artists.  One such critic threw down the gauntlet by saying "the Impressionists are inferior to what they undertake.  The man of genius has not arisen."  August Renoir picked up the gauntlet and created a work of true genius - "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

Susan Vreeland, the author, has given the reader a wonderful fictional accounting of the creation of this masterpiece by Renoir.  Renoir met with almost insurmountable obstacles.  He had only eight weeks of Sundays to paint it on the terrace of La Maison Fournaise at Chatou before he would lose the good summer light.  He was totally broke but somehow had to pay for the huge canvas, paints, fees for 14 models and rent for the terrace each Sunday.  When he began working on the painting his right arm was broken, so he painted with his left.  Crippling rheumatoid arthritis was beginning to take its toll on his fingers. Woven throughout the book are the personal stories of the 14 people who are in the painting.  Their colorful stories paint their own picture of la vie moderne in Paris - an actress, a mime, a journalist, an adventurer, a singer-flower seller, an art collector, a poet, a boatman, a baron, a yachtsman-painter.  Vreeland gives us a good taste of the conflicts and hedonism of the era, as well as the anguish and the joy, without which the Impressionists would have had no inspiration.

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6.012 Patron-Generated Content

04/27/2011
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