Armchair Travels: What the Board is Reading

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.

 

 

 

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

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.

A Friend is Someone Who Likes You (and Who Volunteers at the Friends’ Book Sale!)

One of my best-loved books from childhood is A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, by Joan Walsh Anglund.  What child could resist a book (a hardback book of my very own!) that had been inscribed “I bought this in London for a sweet little girl on her fifth birthday.  With love, Auntie Mae.”   That book has accompanied me back and forth across the country through many moves, and still sits on my bookshelf today.  It is a sweet reminder of how much I enjoyed reading books as a child, and of course of my Auntie Mae.

Fast forward more years than I’d like to think, and I’m now a Friend of the Seattle Public Library.  With the help of numerous volunteers, the Friends sponsor their famous twice-yearly Book Sales.  The next Book Sale is on April 16 – 18, 2010, and will be held at Magnuson Park, at the Hangar in Building #30, 7400 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, 98115.  Free parking is available, and Metro bus routes 30, 74, and 75 will also get you there.

Over 200,000 items will be offered for sale, so there’s bound to be something for everyone!  Hardbacks, paperbacks and audio books in the regular section are $1.00, and videos, CDs, and DVDs are $1.00 per piece.  There is also a special room for better books and for rare/collectible books and sets, where prices are as marked.

Once again we need about 350 volunteers to help with all aspects of the sale, from set-up to clean-up.  Won’t you be a Friend, and sign up via the volunteer form on the Friends’ web site or by emailing book.sale@spl.org?  You can volunteer for one (or more!) of the shifts that run from Thursday, April 15 through Monday, April 19.  Volunteers receive a coupon for two regularly priced books of their choice, and can also receive Community Service credit.

Any questions?  See the Booksale FAQ on the Friends’ website, and feel free to contact the Book Sale office at 206.523.4053 or book.sale@spl.org.

More Book Recommendations from the Friends’ Board

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!

Start Reserving Books to Tide You Over During the Furlough

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.

The Newest Superheroes: Your Neighborhood Librarians

 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?

The 2009 Seattle Edible Book Festival: Reading Your Cake and Eating it Too?

My friend Cindy is already thinking about her entry for this year’s Edible Book Festival, which will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2009, at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, 4649 Sunnyside Ave North.  What is an Edible Book, you say?  Well, according to the ground rules, “An Edible Book can look like a book, pun on a title, refer to a character, or just have something to do with books– whatever the inspiration, it must be edible.”  My favorites from past years include

·        War and Peeps

·        The Unbearable Lightness of Bean

·        100 Spears of Solitude

·        Remembrance of Things Pasta

·        The Elements of Style

·        Are You Bare Bun?  It’s Me, Margarine

It’s a fundraiser for the Seattle Center for Book Arts, so put your aprons on and find a way to edibilize (yes, I just made that word up) your favorite book.

If you’re looking for inspiration, consider these book recommendations from the Friends’ Board meeting in March; just click on the links below to get to the SPL site to reserve your copy of these books.   Book review excerpts are reprinted with permission from Booklist.  

Heirloom:  Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, by Tim Stark.  This down to earth and back to basics books may appeal to many in today’s tough economy.  It’s the true story of an amateur farmer who starts growing tomatoes in his apartment in Brooklyn and ends up moving back to his boyhood home in Pennsylvania to raise tomatoes that are sought after at New York City’s greenmarkets.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.  “Fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, a Spokane Indian, decides to leave the res and attend a predominantly white high school, making a daring, possibly desperate choice to grasp his future and step away from his culture, identity, and familiar life. The idiosyncratic first-person voice that Alexie creates for Arnold is the most distinctive feature of this alternately harrowing and funny semiautobiographical novel.” Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass.  In her third exquisite, piercing novel, National Book Award winner Glass juxtaposes the temperamentally opposite Jardine sisters. Analytical, cautious Louisa is destined to become an art critic and gallery owner. Reckless, sensual Clem is drawn to the wild and becomes a field biologist dedicated to protecting endangered species. While Louisa seeks marriage and motherhood, Clem catches and releases a stream of lovers. As the two women struggle for their place in the world, they embody archetypal struggles between nature and civilization, self and society.” Donna Seaman

The Devil’s Highway:  A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea.  So many illegal immigrants die in the desert Southwest of the U.S. that only notorious catastrophes make headlines. Urrea reconstructs one such incident in the Sonoran Desert, the ordeal of sun and thirst of two dozen men in May 2001, half of whom suffered excruciating deaths. . . .  The imaginative license Urrea takes, paralleling the laconic facts of the case that he incorporates into his narrative, produces a powerful, almost diabolical impression of the disaster and the exploitative conditions at the border. Urrea shows immigration policy on the human level.”  Gilbert Taylor

The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, by Jonathan Alter.  “As the generation that endured the Great Depression passes on, it is essential to be reminded what this nation faced as FDR assumed office in 1933. At a minimum, a quarter of the workforce was unemployed. The threat of mass violence loomed as secure families saw their life savings wiped out. . . . Alter recounts the flurry of the first 100 days of FDR’s administration, which forever altered the relationship between American citizens and the federal government. This superbly researched and well-written work serves as a vital reminder of the importance of leadership during this great national ordeal.” Jay Freeman. 

 

Note that Jonathan Alter will be presenting the Seattle Public Library’s 2009 A. Scott Bullitt Lecture in American History at Town Hall on Monday, March 23 from 7:00 to 9:00.  For more information, click here for the Library’s calendar of events and classes.