Recommending books — a little like matchmaking?

I’ve always found recommending books to be a little like matchmaking . . . . you know, you size up your friends and think about their likes and dislikes, and then you run through your mental list of your favorite books until you think “AHA! I know the perfect book for that person.” And so you make the recommendation and then sit back, a bit nervously, hoping that it will work out, because of course your recommendation is also a reflection of you and what you think of your friend. It’s hard not to take it a little personally, after all, when your friend says “What were you thinking? I kept trying but I couldn’t get past page 32.” On the other hand, what a feeling of glee when your friend emails you to say “I stayed up until 1 in the morning reading and I don’t want the story to end!”

Here’s a sampling of the book recommendations from the Friends’ February board meeting. Your poor scribe could not write fast enough to get the reports down verbatim, but this will give you a general idea (think 2-line Weekly personals ad) of the promised attractions. I hope one of these ends up being a perfect match for you!

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar: “This book answers the age-old question of what is the purpose of life . . . . i.e., to be happy. I was glued to it! When I was young I thought the goal was to be happy all the time, and of course it isn’t that at all.”

The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike. “The women featured in this novel were first seen in Updike’s earlier book The Witches of Eastwick, but it picks up 30 years later – and you don’t need to have read the earlier book. It reminded me of how a really good writer can convey images and feelings so effectively in a compact fashion.” Special note: An autographed John Updike novel (unsure of which novel at this time) will be available at the Spring Booksale Auction, so Updike fans and autograph hounds should make sure to look for it at the Auction.

Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman: “This juvenile fiction book won a Newberry Awards Honor Book designation and tells the charming tale of a medieval girl whose father wants to marry her off to the highest bidder, and of her efforts to thwart his plans.”

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Diane Eyer: “This was a good reminder to just let kids play. We get so hung up sometimes on making them do things when we should just give them a chance to relax.”

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: “This is a fictional book of letters between a group living on the Isle of Guernsey in Britain during World War II and a young woman who is the author. I’m listening to the audio version, and I do not want it to end! When it ends I’ll feel like I’m losing a group of friends and will have to go into mourning.”

Just click on the links in this post and it will take you to the SPL site to reserve your copies today.


What the board was reading in August

Flower Hunters by Mary Gribbin and John Gribbin  Checked in at SPL


This book chronicles the adventures of 11 intrepid explorers who searched the world for extraordinary plants.  Details of their trips and the impact their findings had on science and our yards are told in a way that very much impressed one board member.


King Jesus by Robert Graves


Robert Graves uses his superb narrative powers, his painstaking scholarship, his wit and unsurpassed ability to recreate the past, to produce a magnificent portrayal of the life of Christ on earth. Long out of print, SPL does not have a copy.  (Description adapted from the publisherʼs note on Powellʼs Books which also says that it is a controversial book.)


The Mitford Years (Series) by Jan Karon  All but The Wedding Story are checked in at SPL


This is a series of novels about folks including Father Tim in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.  It is so popular that there is a cookbook with recipes from this mythical town.  The first novel is At Home in Mitford others include A Light in the Window, A New Song, The Wedding Story, and Shepherds Abiding.  (Note that the SPL list of suggested books includes The Mitford Sisters written by Nancy Mitford.  These sisters are not like the residents of Mitford, N. C. but The Mitford Sisters is a good book.)


The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson Checked in at SPL


This is a lively social history of London and environs in the very hot summer of King George Vʼs coronation and labor strikes. Ms. Nicolson makes good use of papers and diaries of notable individuals including Queen Mary and Winston Churchill and also gives details of the life of the poor such as detailing the cost of a childʼs funeral.


The Redheaded Princess by Ann Rinaldi  Checked in at SPL


The author has written a number of other historical fiction novels for children, young adults and adults. This one tells the story of Queen Elizabeth starting when she was only 9 and a long way from next in line for the throne.  The story primarily concentrates on her time in exile. 


The Twilight Saga (series) by Stephenie Meyer


This series consists of four novels Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.  A teenage girl moves to Forks, WA and falls in love with a vampire.  The fourth book completes the story.  The series is extremely popular with all 4 books having many holds at SPL.


Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin  Checked in at SPL


The author is known for her excellent American histories.  In this memoir, her focus is on childhood summers spent following the Boston Red Sox on the radio.  She tells how her love of the team facilitated a special connection to her father who was also a fan.





What the board was reading in July

Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton c. 2007  checked-in at SPL

This is a wonderful description of an idealistic US librarian who goes to Kenya to start a bookmobile serving semi-nomadic groups.  There are serious issues of tradition vs the modern world and eager outsider bumping up against Kenyan bureaucracy.  Lots for a book group to discuss.

The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America by David Domke and Kevin Koe  c 2008  A few holds at SPL

The title give a good idea of the topic but does not convey how readible the book is.  From FDR to Bush II this book chronicles how polititians have used religion to appeal to voters.  This work is especially helpful as we hear from the current crop of candidates.

Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson c 2003  a few holds at SPL

Set in 17th c England, this novel involves three main characters:  a conflicted Puritan, a street urchin who became an adventurer and a spy who was rescued from a Turkish harem.  Sounds like a good one for the plane or the beach.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln  by Doris Kearns Goodwin  c 2003 checked-in at SPL

This very readable history tells how Lincoln brought his opponants together to form the most unusual cabinet in the history of the US.  By involving men who were not his cronies, Lincoln got a team that did much to win the Civil War.

Stay Cool!

Latest Reads From The Friends….

Hello Earthlings,

Rain, rain, rain! Enough already. Below we share our booklist from this week’s Friends meeting –

camel.gif The Camel Bookmobile: A Novel by Masha HamiltonAbout a librarian going to the African bush…raises a lot of philosophical questions, very enjoyable read. Raises the issues of written versus oral traditions and brings to light a very real issue of how to bridge cultural divides.
worst.gif The worst hard time : the untold story of those who survived the great American dust bowl by Timothy Egan.BeautifulTerrible, very educational… a striking account of how the great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the winds created storms as bad as a biblical plague. But it was all man-made, the plains weren’t conducive to farming. Throw in the economic disaster of the Depression, top it with eight years of drought and you have a decade where you wish you had just not gotten out of bed. Egan’s interviews with survivors produce tales of courage and suffering: Hazel Lucas, for instance, dared to give birth in the midst of the blight only to see her baby die of “dust pneumonia” when her lungs clogged with the airborne dirt. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan’s powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers’ minds.
omni.gif The omnivore’s dilemma : a natural history of four meals by Michael PollanReally fascinating. I just finished the fast food part. I had no idea how ruled we all are by corn! Pollan coins the phrase and examines what he calls “our national eating disorder” (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) taking us up and down the food chain. “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.” Pollan takes four meals and traces their roots. With the exception of Stephen King, I’ve never been so freaked out about corn before…
index.gif Three cups of tea : one man’s mission to fight terrorism and build nations– one school at a time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver RelinOne kind act leads to another and develops into a school system in the Pakistan region when an American nurse’s unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain. Gravely ill, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.
hardy.gif Thomas Hardy : the guarded life by Ralph PiteLots of history, very enjoyable read. Hardy in society, his troubled marriage. In death, his wife turned into his greatest muse…. “The wounds inflicted by life never quite healed over in Hardy,” writes Tomalin, although she avows she cannot completely fathom the underlying cause of his acute sensitivity to humiliation.

Just click on the links in this post and it will take you to the SPL site to reserve your copies today!


FSPL Reading List: January-08

Hello World,

The turn of a New Year is always an occasion for high hopes. Whether your resolutions are achievable or merely admirable (say, actually getting through that stack of books on your night stand before next year), we’ve been plowing through our reading lists with burning ambition, unfulfilled desires, and brilliant realizations. Below we share our booklist from this week’s Friends meeting –

roman.gif The Decline and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
“Well, it’s been on my shelf for a number of years now and now I can see why. It’s the most convoluted, rambling tale I’ve ever read!”
snow1.gif The Palace of the Snow Queen by Barbara Sjoholm
“I like stories about snow and cold places. This is the story of a local Seattle writer who goes to Norway and writes a travelogue (of sorts) about what the fascination is behind ice, snow, and wanting to sleep in an ice palace.”
ronnie.gif Ronnie by Ronnie Wood
“Story of long-term Rolling Stone rhythm guitarist who describes his relationships with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts; his evolution as a musician at the height of the band’s success; and his perspectives on the music scene of the 1960s – really interesting!”
steve.gif Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
“Story of Steve Martin’s life and career. I don’t read much fiction, but his book was so pleasant, I’m looking forward to checking out his other work. He’s had an interesting life.”
spy.gif “So there are two men I could marry tomorrow if given the chance: George Smiley and J P Beaumont. The new York Times commented that the novel An Ordinary Spy, the hero within is the hero for the Enron set. The book has redactions (a la CIA) throughout – every page. I loved it!”
devil.gif Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
“A pick from my book club…there is a constant sense of foreboding, a prologue, aboard the Olympic (1912), which was crossing the Atlantic opposite the Titanic — Frozen music (Chicago, 1890-1891)…. I haven’t made it to the end yet, but it’s been a hard book to read right before bed. It should come with a warning to watch 30 minutes of cartoons (or news) before actually retiring.”

Just click on the links in this post and it will take you to the SPL site to reserve your copies today!


FSPL Reading List: December

At the beginning of each meeting, we start by sharing the books we are reading, below is a short list of what we do in our spare time.

Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo: “Before the Deluge…. if Seattle had half of the night life Berlin did, Mayor Nichols would have a heart attack! My word…”

Story of small town unable to adjust to economic changes, a story about ordinary people struggling to get by. On the first page of Bridge of Sighs, Russo dismisses any concern about provincialism: “Some people, upon learning how we’ve lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying.” 

Millionaire’s Row, Linda Johns:  “…I know it’s for kids, but it made me feel young and giddy.”

Hannah West (our own Nancy Drew) is back—living in the lap of luxury in a mansion on Millionaire’s Row in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Hannah investigates missing items in her neighborhood – what a nice alternative to the lemonade stand!   

No I Don’t Want To Join A Book Club, Virginia Ironside: “I argued with the author through the whole book! But I liked it.”

London journalist Ironside cuts right to it. On the cusp of 60, Marie starts journaling, and her 18 months of entries chronicle all life’s events with unique perspective and sensitivity.   

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde: “Literary detective, outrageous word play.”

Full of bizarre subplots, many of which don’t go anywhere, Fforde’s fifth novel to feature intrepid literary detective Thursday Next blends elements of mystery, campy science fiction and screwball fantasy. Part sci fi mystery, part Rip Van Winkle (in that sleeping away one’s future kinda way), part mean side kick – how will it end? 

The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate by Marjorie Williams (Author), Timothy Noah (Editor): “Very good essays on political figures and Washington DC culture. Beautifully written character sketches, very insightful.” 

Washington, D.C. is a city ruled by insiders, and few writers make it on the “inside.” Williams is a keen observer, reflecting honest, detailed profiles of the great and minor figures who have made D.C. for the past two decades. She eloquently reflects her subjects’ complexity and true internal struggle we all face. The book closes with her final essays on her lost battle with cancer – worth the read. Williams thoughts on death: “whatever happens to me now, I’ve earned the knowledge some people never gain, that my span is finite and I still have the chance to rise and rise to life’s generosity.”

Just click on the links in this post and it will take you to the SPL site to reserve your copies today!

rainy day mocha