Staff Choices

Posted by NealP on 09/18/18
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Andrew Yang is an American entrepreneur who has worked with tech startups and is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.  His book The War on Normal People: The Truth about America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future presents a bleak economic outlook for “normal people."

Yang’s thesis is not entirely new, but it is compelling.  He focuses on six cities where he sees a high concentration of what he identifies as “highly knowledge-intensive” individuals pursuing career paths in finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, and academia.  This, he believes, has led to increasing stratification with American society as those who qualify, leave their hometowns for college and universities, and then stay in these cities to follow careers in these sectors.

What sets Yang apart from others who have studied this stratification is his argument that elites within these fields, especially tech, are consciously working to put the rest of society out of work through automation so that they can keep up with their competition.  Yang’s evidence shows the consequences of this shift are severe.  59,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016 surpassing car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.  The suicide rate is rising, marriage rates have decreased dramatically for working-class individuals, and single parenthood rates have risen.
 
Yang notes that automation may not be a problem for just blue-collar workers.  The disappearance of local white-collar jobs to automation in fields like insurance, banking, journalism, and other sectors will further drain money from local economies.
Whether one agrees with Yang that Universal Basic Income (UBI) will be necessary moving forward, his ability to trace the effects of automation on American workers is compelling.
Non-Fiction
Posted by SherriT on 09/11/18
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Since reading The Great Gatsby in high school, I have loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. His dynamic personality and glimpses into his own life through his novels has always intrigued me.

Another Side of Paradise by Sally Koslow is a book that will captivate readers from the very first page and tells the story of the affair between famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald and 1930's Hollywood gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham. The story is told from the perspective of Graham as we read of her tragic and sad upbringing to her short and tragic love affair with Fitzgerald. I found Sheila’s life story fascinating and filled with so many hardships. Their relationship is told with gritty detail, heartbreaking moments, and leaves the reader with no doubt about their love. I especially loved the old, nostalgic Hollywood feel of the story.

Sally Koslow has done extensive research, and writes so vividly with great description of the colorful cast of characters and various timelines. I recommend Another Side of Paradise for both fans of Fitzgerald’s and for those who enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Posted by Lucy S on 09/07/18
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Who is Vera Kelly? A spy? A troubled, conflicted young woman seeking escape and adventure? While working at a radio station in 1960’s New York, Vera’s technical and bilingual skills become known and noticed by a CIA recruiter. Unaware of the political danger brewing in Argentina, she is sent there to radio surveil a high-ranking government official’s office. Another element is at the fore when the U.S. suspects Communism is brewing with young radicals at university. Vera takes on a new name and poses as a college student to try to learn about this undercurrent of unrest.
 
This is not a typical spy novel. It has a quieter tone, a slower build as a military coup is gaining strength around her with Vera caught in the middle. Betrayal, disillusionment and extreme measures come to light in author Rosalie Knecht’s well-written novel with historical fiction components. Readers who enjoyed The Alice Network by Kate Quinn might like to add this book to their reading list.
 
 
Suspense
Posted by Katie M on 09/04/18
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The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes features a wide variety of recipes from Austin’s award-winning, destination food scene. The author says that this book highlights what’s “unique, beloved, and/or especially Texan” about each of the restaurant and food truck recipes in the book, and I would agree. It’s a cookbook filled with detailed information about its recipes with lots of Texas recipe and restaurant history sprinkled throughout.
 
This book may not be meant as a quick weeknight meal book, but these recipes are attainable. Because many of the recipes are restaurant recipes, with a focus on developing flavors, some have multiple steps or components as part of the recipe and might take some time to put together. I tried the Lentil Chili, Buttermilk Pie, and the Jalapeno Cheese Grits and all came out great and were easy to make. As someone who grew up eating authentic Tex-Mex, the book covers many of the classics, with a variety of recipes for enchiladas, queso and margaritas, but also features “New Austin Classics,” with modern food and drink recipes, like the popular Beet Fries from East Side King and the Grilled Quail with Green Mole from Lenoir. Some other recipes that I plan to try are the savory Everything Bagel Kolache, the Salted Brown Butter and Dark Chocolate Pecan Cookies and the Grapefruit Salsa.
 
I think this book is ideal for anyone homesick for Austin, craving some Bob Armstrong Dip or Central Texas-Style Smoked Brisket, or interested in reading more about the current Austin food scene.
 
Cookbooks, Texas
Posted by BARB W on 08/29/18
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The Comet Seekers (2016), by Scottish physicist Helen Sedgwick, is a challenging book to categorize. There are elements of mysticism and a touch of the paranormal, and just enough bending of science to add in a fringe element of science fiction. There is also a love story.

Wait a minute, how does love fit into this scenario? Be prepared; it is unconventional, deeply personal, and spans the centuries. Sedgwick creates a sensuality between the lovers that draws you into their story and sets a powerful, urgent tone.
 
The author’s decision to set part of the story in Antarctica adds complexity if you stop to consider the unusual reasons people choose to be in such an enigmatic location. It is remarkable that the story spans time and space so extravagantly yet creates such an intimate portrait of love, all punctuated by the sporadic appearance of the comets. This is truly a story for anyone, anywhere, in any time.
Fiction
Posted by Lucy S on 08/07/18
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Author Nina Willner is from a strong family. Forty autumns, forty years of an oppressive, ruthless regime that once in place, no one believed it would ever end. After WWII ended, communism took hold in East Germany; one war morphed into a different kind of war. Eventually, the Berlin Wall went up around the entire perimeter of the city. With such a constant state of fear, oppression, deprivation and suspicion, Nina’s grandmother created a safe haven in their home, a family wall.
 
Many of us watched on television as the Berlin Wall fell. Nina’s perspective and her family’s first-hand accounts make this story come alive as quite a history lesson. This memoir provides an intense, unique portrait of life behind the Iron Curtain.
memoir
Posted by Katie M on 07/24/18
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Dina Nayeri’s novel, Refuge, focuses on a father-daughter relationship after part of the family flees Iran in the 1980’s.

Dr. Bahman Hamidi’s wife and children leave Iran for the United States, while he chooses to remain, tied to his life, love of home, and an opium addiction. As Bahman’s daughter, Niloofar (Niloo), transforms into an overachieving Westerner, and eventually a European transplant in Amsterdam, the story follows her relationship with her father, as they interact during sporadic visits. Nayeri explores their intimate family relationship during these visits, as well as the cultural differences and changes that occur over the decades, to the members of the family, and in Iran and the world, through the lens of Bahman, as an Iranian citizen, and Niloo, as an Iranian refugee.

I found this book insightful, thoughtful and threaded with relatable humor, as Nayeri captures the complicated roles that time and place play in the idea of “home,” while maintaining characters and storylines that are candid and realistic. Nayeri skillfully writes about the conflicts facing refugees of all nationalities in Europe, as well as the interconnected role of family relationships and the refugee identity. This is a well-written, poignant book for those who enjoy literary fiction and who want to learn more about contemporary Iranian experiences.
Posted by jonf on 07/19/18
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In modern day Russia, led by Putin, state intelligence officer Dominika struggles to survive in the bureaucracy of the new Russian Federation. Drafted against her will to become a "Sparrow", a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is ordered to operate against Nate Nash, a new CIA officer who handles the most sensetive penetration of Russian intelligence.
 
The two young officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in the charged art of tradecraft, deception and a forbidden spiral of mutual attraction that threatens their careers and an American asset in Moscow. Seeking revenge against  her masters, Dominika begins a double life, recruited by the CIA to find a traitor in Washington and return to Moscow as a new generation agent for Putin. Dominika and Nate's love affair and spy game lead to a deadly conclusion in this timely spy thriller.
 
This is Jason Matthews first book in the "Red Sparrow" trilogy. Matthews had a 30 year career in the CIA and the book is proof of his past experience. Great read for lovers of the spy genre.
Spy Suspence
Posted by BARB W on 06/22/18
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Have you ever wondered what kind of films do best at the box office, which tower above the rest in terms of ticket sales?

Science fiction films are by far the fan favorites. Star Wars, Avatar, The Avengers, the Jurassic Park films. If these are what we choose to watch, why are we so hesitant to read science fiction?

Maybe we are afraid to hold a mirror up to who we are. Reflection is the essence of good science fiction. It may seem to transport you to the unknown, but it really explores the possibilities of who we are and the expectations of who we can be.

Check out Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer; book one of the Neanderthal Parallax. In an alternate universe, the Neanderthals have evolved at a faster rate than the Homo sapiens have, a situation that perplexes the human scientists. They discover that there is much to learn and share for the two civilizations, and a collaboration begins. But what is the cost for this rapid development?

In The Left Hand of Darkness, by the late, revered Ursula K. LeGuin, gender is fluid, making opportunities in childbirth and leadership available to all. We may not have that option, but once you take gender out of the equation, the prospects become endless. On the planet Gethen, recognition occurs based on ability, not predetermination by gender.

In The Secret City by Carol Emshwiller, we see the conditions of hospitality and hostility imposed on Others, people different from ourselves, and we grapple with the difficulties of assimilation and inclusion.

Real world problems, reimagined by brilliant minds; writers asking the big questions and taking a stab at explanations or alternate pathways. Check out some science fiction today and be part of the discussion.
 
Posted by BARB W on 06/22/18
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The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri is a superb summer read. Dimitri, often referred to as the “Italian Neil Gaiman”, has written a suspense thriller that manages to keep one foot in the real world while dipping the other foot into a pool of wonder and fantasy.

Four friends, now grown and scattered about the world, return to their hometown once a year for their “appointment” together. For some, this is a welcome respite, for others a reminder of their inability to leave their old selves behind. When one of them does not show, a quest begins to find him and unravel the mystery.

This is a magical, fantastical tale of sacrifice and choices. It is also about the truths we face and the changes we must make in adulthood. The author takes this a step further by exploring families and friendship; those we construct and those we are born into.

Well-composed fiction, an affecting story, wrapped in an impressive fantasy adventure!
fantasy, Suspense
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6.012 Patron-Generated Content

04/27/2011
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