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.


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.



In defense of reading

iRead…therefore iAM (in defense of reading)

A fellow board member tossed over this link from Timothy Egan’s NYTimes Opinion Piece and I thought I would share it out.


Every now and then, someone who is brilliant says something stupid — often the result of spending too much time riding a jet stream of high praise. Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple Inc., did such a thing last month when he all but declared the death of reading.

Asked about Kindle, the electronic book reader from, Jobs was dismissive. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is,” he told John Markoff of The Times, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”


I echo the sentiment in the blog post that it’s unfortunate when someone so powerful, with the potential for such incredible impact on shaping trends, says something so unbelievably stupid. And also couldn’t state it more eloquently myself:

“People are eating fewer vegetables than they used to – or should – but that doesn’t mean carrots have no future. ”

Brilliant. 🙂

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize Speech

doris.jpg Doris Lessing’s Nobel prize speech is well worth reading. Whether you agree with everything she says, it’s a moving piece about reading and books.Lessing, at age 87, was not able to travel due to poor health. She was awarded the 2007 Nobel yesterday in London, transmitting her acceptance speech to Stockholm for Monday’s ceremony.

Other links: