Friends of Seattle Public Library Blog

The goings on of the Seattle Public Library.

Armchair Travels: What the Board is Reading July 14, 2010

The board members of the Friends of the Seattle Public Library seem to be doing a lot of armchair traveling these days, even if it’s exploring what it means to be an outsider here in America.  Here’s a sample of what they’re reading in case you’re looking for recommendations:

Tall Man : The Death of Doomadgee, by Chloe Hooper.  This true-crime story explores the death of an Australian Aborigine who was arrested for swearing at a white police officer and then died in jail within an hour.  While the book follows the manslaughter trial, Hooper also explores Aboriginal life and the long history of institutional racism in Australia.  Board member Connie found the story tragic, exhausting, and worth reading.  Critics have compared the novel favorably to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

 

 

Nomad’s Hotel : Travels in Time and Space, by Cees Nooteboom; translated from the Dutch by Ann Kelland.  Nooteboom is a Dutch novelist and travel writer, and this series of travel essays covers trips made from the 1970s through 2002.  The Booklist review notes that “descriptive travelogue ranks second to considerations of the destinations as repositories of the past. Whether in Venice, Isfahan, or Timbuktu, Nooteboom sees a place through its physical relics and literary associations. The traveler’s innate foreignness, however well informed before arrival in a new place, burgeons with significance for Nooteboom. A traveler arrives, sees, and departs, not likely to return.”

 

Gertrude Bell : Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations, by Georgina Howell.   Board member Mary enjoyed this biography of Gertrude Bell, an extraordinary woman who took the world by storm in the early 1900s.   The starred review in Booklist by Donna Seaman notes that “Born to British industrial wealth and civic prominence during the Victorian era, [Gertrude Bell] possessed boundless self-confidence, courage, and vitality. The first woman to earn top honors in history at Oxford, Bell was fluent in six languages, and became an intrepid traveler and celebrated mountaineer. Tragically unlucky in love, she romanced the world instead. Discovering her spiritual home in the Middle East, Bell transformed herself into a cartographer, archaeologist, writer, and photographer as she undertook perilous journeys to fabled desert outposts, commanding the respect of powerful Bedouin sheikhs. During World War I, Bell became the expert on Mesopotamia for British military intelligence, and a more crucial force in the forming of modern Iraq than that of her friend, T. E. Lawrence. From Cairo to Basra to Baghdad, Bell, against fierce adversity, devoted herself to justice.”

Digging to America, by Anne Tyler (e-book read by Blair Brown).  This novel follows two families who meet by chance at the airport to greet their newly adopted baby girls from Korea.  One family is very “American,” while the other family has more recent immigrant roots.  As the two families get to know each other, the Iranian-born narrator grandmother explores impressions of American, and what it means to try to fit in . . . . or not.  Board member Joan especially enjoyed listening to Blair Brown’s reading of the book, so the link above is to the Books on Tape version, which can be downloaded electronically.  It is of course also available in hardback and in large print.

 

 

 

 

Need Help Keeping Track of What’s on Your “To Read” List? March 10, 2010

At the Columbia City Book Fest last October we met a woman who keeps a small book (like an address book) with a list of all the books on her “to read” list.  That way, she has her list ready when she wanders into a library branch or a book sale. 

I clip out book reviews and scribble down recommendations from friends, and then log onto the Seattle Public Library website to put those books on reserve.  Or if I’m in a rush I’ll email myself a reminder or create a note on my Blackberry.

Did you know that if you log into your account on the Library website you can create your own list of books you want to read or have read?  Click here if you want instructions on setting up and managing your list. 

And if you’re looking for suggestions on what to read, consider these book recommendations from members of the Friends’ Board.  You can click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve copies.

Spooner, by Pete Dexter.  Daniel Kraus’ review on Booklist Online  notes that “Dexter’s sprawling account of the life of Warren Spooner may be classified as fiction, but it incorporates plenty from the author’s own history. True, false, it doesn’t much matter—this gregarious curriculum vitae is just the ticket for those who like their comic realism served up with a side of Garpian absurdity. . . .  The emotional core, however, is Spooner’s relationship with his cautious yet luckless stepfather, Calmer. A once-promising ship commander whose botching of a sea burial began his slide toward mediocrity, Calmer is the steady path that forever eludes Spooner. But as both men grow older, their emotional fumbling toward each other becomes downright moving. A big, satisfying maybe-memoir.”

Justice:  What’s the Right Thing to Do?, by Michael Sandel.    Professor Michael Sandel teaches a popular course at Harvard about the every day moral decisions we face.  Although our board member hasn’t read Sandel’s book, she enjoyed watching the PBS DVD of some of Sandel’s actual classes at Harvard, in which he uses hypotheticals to help his students and (the viewer!) think critically about issues such as affirmative action, same-sex marriage, surrogate motherhood,  and how to determine how much a life is worth.  Watching students stake out and defend their positions and the logical consequences of those positions, is touching, maddening, and ultimately inspiring.

Read My Pins : Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, by Madeleine Albright, with Elaine Shocas, Vivienne Becker, and Bill Woodward.  Our board member enjoyed this memoir by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who used her jewelry to make both personal and political statements.  “Before long, and without intending it, I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal. Former president George H. W. Bush had been known for saying “Read my lips.” I began urging colleagues and reporters to “Read my pins.” ” The book includes over 200 photos of pins from Albright’s collection, as well as many of the political figures and celebrities she met while wearing them.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, by Amy Stewart.     “They may look sweet and innocent, but anyone who has ever broken out in a rash after picking a hyacinth blossom or burst into violent sneezing after sniffing a chrysanthemum knows that often the most beautiful flowers can pack the nastiest punch. . . . . There are plants that can kill with a drop of nectar, paralyze with the brush of a petal. From bucolic woodland streams choked by invasive purple loosestrife to languid southern fields overrun by kudzu, some plants are just more trouble than they’re worth. Culling legend and citing science, Stewart’s fact-filled, A–Z compendium of nature’s worst offenders offers practical and tantalizing composite views of toxic, irritating, prickly, and all-around ill-mannered plants.”  –From Carol Haggas’ review on Booklist Online.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.  Here’s Kristin Huntley’s assessment from her Booklist Online review:  “Mystery writer See, author of The Interior (1999) and Dragon Bones (2003), takes readers to nineteenth-century China to explore a complex friendship between two women. Lily is the daughter of a farmer in Puwei Village, and Snow Flower is the daughter of a respectable family from Tongkou, and though the two girls have very different backgrounds, Madame Wang pairs the two as laotong, or “old sames,” a bond that will last them a lifetime. . . .  . Their friendship is cemented during their youth and then put to the test when the girls prepare for marriage and Lily discovers a startling secret about Snow Flower’s family. . . .  See’s writing is intricate and graceful, and her attention to detail never wavers, making for a lush, involving reading experience. This beautiful tale should have wide appeal.” 

Reviews from Booklist Online are excerpted with permission.

 

More Book Recommendations from the Friends’ Board October 16, 2009

With the advent of the rainy season, what a comfort to think of curling up by the fireplace with a drowsy cat and a good book.  Here are recommendations from the Friends’ October board meeting.  You can click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve a copy of these books.

emperor

Emperors of the Ice : a True Story of Disaster and Survival in the Antarctic, 1910-13, by Richard Farr. Farr’s debut novel has been named winner of the 2009 Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award (part of the annual Washington State Books Awards) in the category of Books for Middle Grades and Young Adults (10-18 year old readers), although our board member believes it will appeal to adults as well.  This story of the ill-fated Antarctic journey led by Robert Scott to find the South Pole is told from the viewpoint of Apsley Cherry-Garrard:  “A bad navigator, inexperienced with dogs, blind as a bat, I was not the best man for the job, but I was the man available for the job.”

picture exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sara Houghteling.  This novel, set in Paris, is about a Jewish family dealing with the Nazis’ looting of French art masterpieces during World War II, including the destruction of the family’s art gallery.  The son returns after the war to try to recover the family’s masterpieces and in the process learns about family secrets and the many losses caused by the war.

 

school ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister.  Our board member first heard about this book through the Phinney Neighborhood Association blog, and characterizes it as enjoyable escapist fiction, with wonderful descriptions of cooking.  The  characters in the novel all attend a weekly cooking class together, lead by a chef who doesn’t believe in using recipes.  We learn about what has motivated each student to attend, what they each wrestle with, and how their cooking and their lives are transformed by learning to listen to their senses.  Per the PNA blog entry, the author is a PNA member and volunteer instructor in the PNA  education program.

 

labor dayLabor Day, by Joyce Maynard.  According to Carol Haggas’ review in Booklist, “Stranger danger” is a concept unfamiliar to 13-year-old Henry, who befriends an injured man during one of his and his agoraphobic mother’s rare shopping excursions in town—with disastrous results for all. . . . Told from Henry’s point of view, Maynard’s inventive coming-of-age tale indelibly captures the anxiety and confusion inherent in adolescence, while the addition of a menacing element of suspense makes this emotionally fraught journey that much more harrowing.”  City Librarian Susan Hildreth confessed that this was the first book she’s read in a while that made her think “I wonder what Nancy Pearl thinks of this book?”  She checked in with Nancy, who hasn’t finished reading it yet, so stay tuned for Nancy’s verdict . . .  . or read it yourself and let us know what you think!

 

Summer Reading Program a Smashing Success! September 23, 2009

Well folks, the results are in, and all of you readers out there helped exceed every goal for The Seattle Public Library’s 2009 Summer Reading Program, both as to books read and number of readers:

Category Goal Actual
Books Read (overall) 125,000 156,361
No. of Readers (overall) 12,029 12,352
Books Read by Teens 2,018 4,898
No. of Teen Readers 734 871
Books Read by Adults 5,220 14,035
No. of Adult Readers 2,040 2,380
Books Read by Children 112,170 137,428
No. of Child Readers 8,505 9,101

Congratulations and thanks to all those who participated!   The Friends of the Seattle Public Library were pleased to join the other entities (The Seattle Public Library Foundation, Verizon Wireless, U.S. Bank, the Burke Museum, Parent Map and Sheraton Seattle Hotel) who sponsored this worthwhile program.  Check back in spring 2010 to see what the Library has planned for the 2010 Summer Reading Program.

And if you are looking for book recommendations for this fall, here are some suggestions from the Friends’ Board meeting in September.  You can click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve a copy of these books.

borkmann Borkmann’s Point:  An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery, by Hakan Nesser.  This mystery won the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Prize for Best Novel in 1994.  The Inspector is an irascible and occasionally near intuitive character who is called on to solve a mystery in a small town.  The board member who recommended this believes that Borkmann’s point (that in every case a point is reached where enough information is available to solve the crime with “nothing more than some decent thinking”) applies equally to life and the conduct of board meetings.  Having said that, our board member admitted that he hadn’t been able to figure out who had done it until it was revealed at the end of the book.  Why not read this novel and see how long it takes you to figure it out?  Starred review by Booklist.

fieldwork Fieldwork: A Novel, by Mischa Berlinski.  Several board members enjoyed reading this novel with its multiple and overlapping story lines about a young anthropologist living in Thailand, a nomadic hill tribe, and the multigenerational missionary family seeking to convert the tribe members.  One member was entranced by the detailed descriptions of the fictional hill tribe and their rituals and culture, calling it a tour de force.

 

Start Reserving Books to Tide You Over During the Furlough August 13, 2009

A friendly reminder that that all branches of The Seattle Public Library will be closed Monday, Aug. 31 through Sunday, Sept. 6 due to citywide budget cuts.  The Library will also be closed on Monday, Sept. 7 for  the Labor Day holiday, so regular Library operations will resume on Tuesday, Sept. 8.  Click here for more information about the closure.

Here are suggestions from the Friends’ Board meeting in August in case you need books to read during the furlough.  You can click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve copies of these books.

Olive picture

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.  This novel features 13 interconnected stories, elegantly and sparingly told, of life in rural Maine.  Olive Kitteridge is a retired schoolteacher who provides a common thread in all of the stories, and we see how her choices in life play out as she moves from middle age to old age.

disreputable historyThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart.  Nancy Pearl recently recommended this young adult novel on a radio show, and I wasn’t able to write down the title while driving, so was delighted that another board member brought it in to our meeting.  Frankie attends a private boarding school and finds intrigue in infiltrating an all-male secret society called the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds.  Can our heroine turn the tables on her male high school classmates who underestimate her and the other girls at school?  Read it and find out!

the help

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.   A college graduate and aspiring writer returns to her hometown of Jackson Mississippi in the 1960s and decides to write down the stories of the black women who provide the domestic “help” in many of the white households.  The three narrators must deal with the fears and repercussions (and sense of pride) that result from publishing stories that challenge the prevailing concepts of race, class, family and gender roles.

loving frank

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan.  This historical novel explores the relationship of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a scholar in her own right.  The board member who recommended this especially enjoyed the lively discussion held at one of the branch library book groups, and commented that “Librarians run the best book groups!”   For more information about upcoming book group meetings at various branches, click here.

 

Liberate Your Books! July 14, 2009

Booksale
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of books yearning to breathe free in the hands of a new reader! That’s right, folks, although the Fall Book Sale isn’t until September 25 – 27, the Friends accept book donations year-round (except for the 2-week period before and after each sale). We’re looking for the following:

 

 

 -Hardback and paperback books
-Audio books
-CDs and DVDs
-Computer software
-Sheet music
-Art prints and posters (framed or unframed)

Click here for more information about donating these materials.  You can get a charitable donation AND feel good about supporting the Library.

And if you are looking for something fun to read, consider the book recommendations below from the Friends’ Board meeting in July. You can click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve a copy of these books.

What Was Lost: A Novel, by Catherine O’Flynn. O’Flynn’s first novel opens with 10-year old Kate Meaney, who acts as a detective of possible criminal activities in her neighborhood. “Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn’t be too late.” Twenty years later, the novel traces the repercussions of Kate’s haunting disappearance on her friends and acquaintances. Received a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly.

Inside Inside, by James Lipton. James Lipton is the host of the TV-show Inside the Actor’s Studio, where he conducts in-depth (and often parodied) interviews with famous actors and directors. This autobiography includes excerpts from interviews with luminaries such as Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg, but also traces Lipton’s career and insights.

Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, by Ruth Reichl. “Irreverently immortalized as the klutzy cook who renounced edibility in favor of creativity, Reichl’s mother, and her quirky kitchen habits, provided frivolous fodder for Reichl’s previous culinary memoirs. But in this keenly felt retrospective, Reichl reveals another side of her mother, whose life seemed a shining example of what not to do.  .  .  .   Only upon discovering a hidden trove of diaries and letters after Miriam’s death was Reichl able to understand the full extent of her mother’s sacrifices. Candid and insightful, Reichl’s intensely personal and fiercely loving tribute acknowledges her mother as both the source and inspiration behind her success.” — Carol Haggas

Quoted book review excerpts are reprinted with permission from Booklist.

 

The Newest Superheroes: Your Neighborhood Librarians April 9, 2009

 If there was any doubt that your neighborhood librarians should be given superhero status, take a look at this New York Times article about how the economic downturn is putting new stresses on libraries and librarians. Librarians are facing increased demands as “first responders” to patrons who are seeking help in filling out job applications and unemployment forms, using the library’s computers and free wi-fi access, looking for language and citizenship training, borrowing books and DVDs for free entertainment, and dealing with the emotional strains of making do with much less. Even Nancy Pearl’s beloved Librarian Action Figure might find it difficult to deal with all of these demands.

So how can you help? First of all, take the time to thank your neighborhood librarians – a kind word goes a long way. Second, consider volunteering at the Library – there are many different ways you can get involved. Third, email City Councilmembers and ask them to preserve funding for the Library: jean.godden@seattle.gov, richard.mciver@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, sally.clark@seattle.gov, tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov, jan.drago@seattle.gov, nick.licata@seattle.gov, tim.burgess@seattle.gov, richard.conlin@seattle.gov.

If you’re looking for books that feature fictional librarians, here’s a list from the Library’s Shelf Talk blog. And although the following books don’t feature librarians, consider the book recommendations below from the Friends’ Board meeting in April. You can just click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve a copy of these books. Quoted book review excerpts are reprinted with permission from Booklist.

Bone [Vol. I], Out from Boneville, by Jeff Smith. “One of the most acclaimed new comics of recent years, Bone is a Tolkien-meets-Pogo fantasy about the Bone cousins, who leave their home, Boneville, for adventures in the outside world. . . . Smith, with his clean draftsmanship and flawless comic timing, has been compared to comics masters Walt Kelly (Pogo and Carl Barks (creator of Uncle Scrooge McDuck). Like Pogo Bone has a whimsy best appreciated by adults, yet kids can enjoy it, too . . .” — Gordon Flagg   This review was written in 1995, and there are many other volumes available.

Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, by Muhammad Yunus with Karl Weber. Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus is the founder of Grameen Bank, which lends small amounts of money to poorer individuals to help them start small businesses. This is an inspiring tale about the possibilities of “micro-lending”, and businesses that are helping people while still being profitable.

Why I Wake Early : New Poems, by Mary Oliver. This is a lovely collection of poems about nature and contemplative ideas, and encourages us to slow down and appreciate nature.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This is Verghese’s first book of fiction, and starts in a charity hospital in Ethiopia while spanning three continents and several generations. This garnered a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

A Hand to Guide Me, Denzel Washington with Daniel Paisner. Actor Denzel Washington, a national spokesman for the Boys and Girls Club of America, has collected stories from over 70 celebrities (including himself) of how mentors made a difference in their lives. Contributors include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinhem, Whoopie Goldberg, Bonnie Raitt, Cal Ripken, and more.

Readers, who are your favorite neighborhood superhero librarians?

 

 
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