Staff Choices

Posted by cclapper on 06/30/10
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You may remember this from High School... you probably had to read one or two of these poems in your survey of English Literature.  Cringing already?  Well, stop- you might need to think again!
I only read the required selections when I was in school, too.  But recently I ran into several references to this collection and decided to go exploring.
In these poems, former inhabitants of the imagined town of Spoon River look back on their lives and speak of their hopes and dreams, all too often thwarted, squandered or mislaid.  First published in 1915, could these short poems possibly be of any interest to a modern reader?
Yes, they could.  Surprisingly contemporary, these stories form a mosaic of lives stretching all the way back to revolutionary times.  Some stand alone.  Some dovetail in cool ways.
And the poetry is good stuff.  Not formal, stilted or antique, these people speak in their own colloquial voices.  And together, they create a powerful narration of lives lived to varying degrees of success.
I bet you will find your life reflected in one or two of these quick but pithy verses- none much longer than one brief page.   I know I did.  Which ones made you recognize yourself?  Tell me yours- I'll tell you which ones showed me... me.
Great for quick browsing on a blanket in the park, or while grilling (yourself) on the beach.  Lots of these made me laugh.  Enjoyable...  and it's poetry-  Who knew!?
Posted by mingh on 06/29/10
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The Imperfectionists is a collection of stories about workers, readers and their companions who are influenced by an international paper based in Rome. (The paper is based on the International Herald Tribune). Each chapter covers a different person and their relationship to the paper.
Rachman does a great job of pulling all the characters together. In different chapters you will read about what someone thinks about a person showcased in a previous chapter. Some chapters deal with the same events but told from different characters.
Some reviewers have called this a collection of short stories. Most stories do involve an event that has a beginning, middle and end. But the stories hold together more closely than that. As the book moves along, you begin to wonder which character will be showcased next and what their story is.
The Imperfectionists is time well spent for the reader who likes to learn about characters from angles not necessarily their own.
Posted by emcinerney on 06/26/10
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High school reunions:  the chance to relive the glory days of Friday night football games, first crushes and heartbreaks, and the time before the responsibilities of being an adult set it.  In author Elizabeth Berg’s latest novel, six men and women prepare for their fortieth, and final, high school reunion and all the drama that comes with it. This reunion is the last chance for all of them.  For Dorothy, it is her last chance to finally be with her crush, former star quarterback, Pete.  For Pete, it is his last chance to save his marriage to his high school sweetheart, Nora.  For Lester, a former nerd, it is his last chance to connect with his crush, Candy, the former cheerleader and the most popular at school.  For Mary Anne, it is her chance to finally find out why she remained invisible for all four years.
Berg deftly alternates between the funny and the heartbreaking.  Dorothy, now the vapid and vain divorcee, is determined to do whatever it takes to land Pete and is the quintessential high school mean girl, forty years later.  Candy, now stuck in an unhappy marriage and facing a serious disease, is looking to make amends for her treatment of others, especially Lester and Mary Anne, during high school.   Anyone that has gone to their high school reunion can relate to this book:  the dread, the panic, and the anticipation.  Berg captures all those emotions and brings some closure to these six classmates.  Overall a fun, leisurely read down memory lane.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/23/10
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The Whale is a magnificent adventure through our communal history with cetaceans. Quotes from Moby Dick are interspersed with graphic descriptions of whaling practices and tales of sea serpents. Hoare's prose is a pleasure to read and his obvious fascination with these mysterious creatures is infectious. It's hard to believe how dependent 18th and 19th century people were on whale products for industry, cosmetics, food products and many other surprising uses. An interesting book for anyone who enjoys Victorian history, Herman Melville or who is concerned with the possible extinction of the world's largest mammals.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/18/10
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"'Gee, he was here a moment ago. . .'  This is what George Carlin wanted on his tombstone if he'd had one."

Leave it to Carlin to release his autobiography after he passed away;  or rather his sortabiography, as he referred to it.
The majority of his audience first saw Carlin in the early '60's on The Ed Sullivan Show, with his partner, Jack Burns.  They were two Irish mimic-comedians.  After their falling out, George went solo and had a modestly successful career until he got busted for obscenity.   His career had hit a wall and he was becoming a parody of himself.
This book chronicles his love/hate relationship with his mother, Mary; his addiction to drugs and alcohol; his love for his daughter, Kelly; and how hallucinogens changed the course of his comic genius.
In the late 60's, Carlin began tripping and from those experiences he created "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television."  He credited the drugs to freeing his inhibitions and allowing him to speak freely.  Since he was born a true clown, Carlin's true inner self made millions of people laugh over a 50-year career.
This book was co-authored by Tony Hendra, who some might remember from his role in This Is Spinal Tap, as the band's manager.  Fans of Carlin's will want to read this book, if not to find out more about  his hidden demons, then to just marvel in the way his mind worked.
Posted by mingh on 06/14/10
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Bright Young People: the lost generation of London's Jazz Age is a terrific survey of the people and places and events of the time between the wars. It is hard not to read this and think of today's celebrities. London during in the 20's was filled with young people bent on breaking out from the stodgy Victorian and Edwardian eras of their parents.
The young people were minor aristocrats or had rich parents and they did anything to get their names in the papers with outlandish behavior and outrageous parties. They liked to pretend that they didn't care about royalty and class. They invited black performers to their parties and prostitutes and other working class types to help them feel that they were tearing down walls.
However, who they married said much more about what they really felt about the other classes. Everyone in the upper class married another in the upper class. The mixing of classes was all meant for show and shock value.
Most of the people mentioned became famous for being outrageous. Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brenda Dean Paul were the Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan of their era. Elizabeth Ponsonby had no discernible talent and Brenda Dean Paul struggled with alcoholism and other drugs.
The reality show equivalent of the time was a newspaper column.  You would either be asked, or you would solicit for, a newspaper column in which you could write about yourself and all of your outrageous friends. All of the newspapers had such columns and there were always people wanting to create them.
Certain writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford began their writing careers writing thinly veiled books about these people. While they were participants, they were also able to see the flimsiness and hypocrisy of this group of people who were their friends and peers.
This book does not go in-depth but rather gives you the feel for the times. Although I found the celebrity for celebrity-sake era very identiable to our own, how it will end in today's world is less certain. For the bright young people, the outrageous partying came to an end in the Depression of the thirties and the march into another world war. What will it take today?
Posted by mingh on 06/08/10
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A subtitle for this book could be What Did Capone Really Do? Was Capone responsible for the most gruesome gangland killing, the St Valentine's Day Massacre? Highly NOT likely. Was Capone responsible for the best soup kitchen in the city as others claimed? Probably NOT.
Why did Capone come to represent gangs and criminals throughout the world? Unlike other heads of groups, such as Lucky Luciano in New York, Capone liked the press and talked to them all the time. While most mobsters laid low and tried to do their job under the radar, Capone was out there giving interviews and in small ways incriminating himself, telling the newspapers that he was just giving the people what they wanted.
Its this publicity that forced the Federal government to go after Capone since the local government seemed to be so inept. At the time of his sentencing for not paying taxes, Capone received the longest jail time ever for someone convicted of this crime. Somebody finally "got" Capone.
There is also information here about how the gangs worked, their interactions and how Eliot Ness fit into all of this (Eig claims it is highly possible Ness never even met Capone).  This is a very readable book about a very lucky gangster whose luck finally ran out through the diligence of one honest man in Chicago, and no, it was not Ness.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/07/10
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Lucas Davenport and his crew (including Virgil Flowers) is back.  They are on the hunt for a gang of thugs that hold up Lucas' wife’s hospital's pharmacy, at gunpoint, and kick an elderly pharmacist to death during the commission of the bold, daytime crime.  The gang gets away with about a half-million street-dollars worth of drugs.
The secondary plot is that Dr. Weather Karkinnen, Davenport's wife, is part of a team that are attempting to surgically separate twins joined-at-the-head at birth.   To add to the pressure of assisting in such a stressful and complicated surgery, Weather is the sole witness to the pharmacy hold-up and the gang is hell-bent on eliminating her as a potential witness.
The title aptly forewarns the impending manhunt, ground-breaking surgery, and snowy weather forecast.  Sandford fans will not be disappointed.
Posted by mingh on 06/06/10
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It is rare to like a memoir in which you don't care so much for the person writing it. Dead End Gene Pool is one such memoir. So many of the surrounding people of the memoir rise to the top.
Wendy Burden is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt on her father's side. Her mother's family, who had money once, are now poorer. That means that they have start selling their Picasso's and Monet's to keep their homes.
Wendy and her brother's father disappears early in their lives and is one of the questions that lingers until the the end. Throughout the book you get to meet her Great Grandmother who is made to look silly by Burden but as a reader you can't help but like her.
The same is true for some of the servants, especially Grandfather's poor leagured secretary Miss Pou. She has to handle his calls asking her to get five of the newest Mercedes Benz cars and have them to each of his estates by noon. Some requests she immediately handles and others, which she deems irresponsible and forgettable, she cancels. Although she is briefly in the memoir in snippets, she comes across as someone who cares about the Grandfather.
Fitzgerald wrote, "The rich are different from us." Burden might add, but sometimes, as children, they don't want to be.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/02/10
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This story was like reading a book by Whitley Strieber--only written while he was on crystal methamphetamine.   It is historical fiction of sorts about the mysterious, colorful lights in the sky that have been seen, by some, for centuries, in Marfa, west Texas. 
According to Wikipedia, "...The Marfa lights are unexplained lights (known as "ghost lights") usually seen near U. S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of Marfa, west Texas..."  
Morrell makes this phenomenon the backdrop for his top-secret-government-project-gone-awry-thriller.  One day a police officer's wife disappears from home and he tracks her to the town of Rostov, where she has traveled to view the ghost lights from her past.  While there, the lights somehow cause a spectator to go mad and kill several viewers brought by a tour bus. 
While this is occurring, an Army officer is back in Rostov to continue the hush-hush experiments that his grandfather started during WWI.  Not only are the lights mesmerizing, they also seem to emit a sound that appears to drive people towards exhibiting aggressive behavior.  The military stance is anything that colossal has to be controlled and developed into a powerful weapon! 
Morrell's stance seems to be anything that colossal has to be surrounded by several flashy fire-fights, meddling news teams and an over-the-hill main character.
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