Here's Matthew, Branch Administrator at the Belmont Library. He's reading Charles Portis' The Dog of the South. He says that the blurb by Roy Blunt Jr. on the cover says it best: "Charles Portis could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he'd rather be funny."
An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.
Welcome to our new blogger, Edna, who says this about herself: First thing to know is that I'm Louisiana to the core with a dash of Latin cultures: Creole & New Mexican. That means food and music, preference depending on which is closest to hand. We talk too much, love too hard, and take afternoon naps as adults. The old folks teach that life on earth is meant to be enjoyed and not a moment of it wasted. I thank my Dad and Mom for my love of books. Because they passed that love on to me, my time is never wasted or boring.
I grew up 60 miles from Roswell, New Mexico; so my love of SciFi is natural. CJ Cherryh writes a very entertaining SciFi series called The Chanur Saga about a galaxy far, far away that is full of Hani, Mehendo'sat and Kif with sundry other species, and not a human in sight. Family, Trade and inter-species Diplomacy are the bedrocks of society. Then the Outsider stows away aboard the Hani ship 'The Pride of Chanur' and all hell breaks loose.
You don't have to love SciFi to appreciate Cherryh's world building (spoiler alert-methane breathers!); or the ironic way she depicts the Powers that try to rule over folk perceived as weak or inferior. She handles culture shock with humor and insight enough to make you wonder: Suppose it was me who made First Contact. What view of human kind would I give?
The Chanur Saga is fantastic! George Lucas would want to film it if it ever came to his attention.
So I haven’t been this knee-deep into a tv show since The Sopranos ended and believe me you don’t want to know the withdrawals I had from that North Jersey family. Only four episodes into HBO’s new crime series True Detective, and I have regained faith in episodic storytelling. Inspired, I had to post a tribute to one of my personal literary heroes, Ambrose Bierce, the "Devil's Lexicographer," following dialogue I heard from characters in True Detective. Suspects in the juicy crime story, interrogated by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, reference his story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” as well as The King in Yellow, a collection of stories by Robert W. Chambers. This is the perfect segue to highlight these pioneers of early American weird fiction.
For those not familiar with Bierce’s life, he was a versatile man known for a sharp, sarcastic tongue and deadly with the inkwell. He fought for the Union in the Civil War, an experience that generated his Tales of Soldiers, eerie pieces that begin as war stories and end up nails of psychological terror. This all sounds quite gruesome, and much of it is, but another Bierce trademark, black humor, always finds its way into his work. He wrote with this sardonic style and in fine retrospection, it defined him.
During his time in San Francisco William Randolph Hearst gave him his own column, Prattle, which sustained his journalism career and earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.” He lived in London briefly with Twain and Bret Harte and his mysterious disappearance in Mexico while chasing Pancho Villa was a fitting ‘end’ to his Wild West, accomplished life. However, it was his stories of horror and the supernatural, many written with different narrative devices unknown in literature at the time, that would establish a diverse legacy of an important American genre initiated by Poe, Hawthorne, Irving, and Charles Brockden Brown. Ghosts, werewolves, Confederates, zombies, the unknown, or agoraphobia, Bierce wrote it all.
“An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and other Bierce stories influenced Robert W. Chambers, a successful romance novelist whose stories in The King in Yellow tell of a cosmic terror controlling our world through an infamous play that spells doom for anyone who reads it. This in turn would eventually inspire H.P. Lovecraft, who called “The Yellow Sign” ‘altogether one of the greatest weird tales ever written,’ in his Cthulhu mythos and dreaded Necronomicon. Each generation inspired the next, but Chambers and especially Bierce were integral to the timeline of American horror fiction. Their stories are still fresh and it’s comforting to see their presence in 2014, even on television. Buy the ticket, take the ride: early American weird fiction.
Larry recently discovered Anna Kavan's Asylum Pieces and really enjoyed it. Ice was her final book. Published in 1967 it's described as "a surrealistic dream-novel set in an unrecognizable world padded by ice and snow, run by a secret government, invaded by aggressors, and threatened with nuclear destruction."
Larry is a Library Assistant at the Gresham Library.
Our guest blogger is Rod, who says this about himself: "Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by history and technology. Instead of reading juvenile literature, I read my father’s military history and aviation books. Somehow, those interests morphed into science fiction as a teen. I guess I liked the technology that didn’t exist yet . . . Today, I read a lot of history because I teach it part-time and not as much fiction as I would like."
I was a teenager in the 1980s and had a morbid fascination with nuclear war. Honestly, I was certain that my short life would end with a brief, brilliant flash followed by radioactive oblivion. That was my realistic understanding of what would likely happen, but I also enjoyed reading the many novels and watching the many films that came out during the Cold War depicting what life would be like in the aftermath of World War III. While many were flimsy background for some sort of monster tale, there were also those that made a serious effort to imagine what the world would look like if the Cold War turned hot. If you have similarly “fond” memories, maybe you’ll find something on this list worth checking out.
On the Beach by Neville Shute This is both a great novel and film. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have destroyed each other in a nuclear holocaust. The Northern Hemisphere is a radioactive wasteland and the fallout is slowly moving south. Those living in Australia are faced with the certainty of death. This includes the crew of the USS Scorpion, an American submarine. As the Scorpion prepares to voyage north to investigate an unexpected radio signal, the men and women who have survived contemplate how to spend their final days.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Sleepy Fort Repose, Florida is untouched by the bombs but suffers nonetheless. Cut off from the rest of the U.S., the town falls back on the resources it can find gather from the countryside and scrounge from the mechanized world they can no longer support. It is an ultimately hopeful take on the subject.
A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This one starts many years after a nuclear war brought an end to modern civilization. A group of Catholic monks in the American desert seek to preserve as much of the world’s knowledge as possible. The story follows the same monastic order over the centuries as a new technological civilization reemerges only to be faced, in the end, with the same threat of nuclear annihilation.
Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick
Most people blame Bruno Bluthgeld, a physicist, for destroying the world, so he goes into hiding and seeks psychiatric help for his overwhelming feelings of guilt. This is complicated, however, as he believes he has magical powers. He is just one of the many survivors who have, or may have, telekinetic abilities. It isn’t always clear what is real and what the characters imagine to be real. Regardless, it does not stop them from engaging in the same selfish behavior they practiced before the world exploded. Like so many Phillip K. Dick novels, this one has a strong surrealist slant with elements of the absurd.
This is a powerful, understated film about a family trying to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear war. Carol Wetherly lives in a typical suburban city. When the war occurs, her husband is away and she doesn’t know if he is alive or dead. She tries to keep her family together as her neighbors slowly succumb to radiation and despair. This is a grim movie that, similar to On the Beach, makes no effort to sugar coat the likely fate of those who did not perish directly in the war. Despite that, it is still very compelling.
The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson
A small fishing village has grown up along the California coast in what was Orange County. The older residents remember the world before the war, but their stories are just that, stories,to the succeeding generations. The residents try to be self-sufficient but must scavenge from the ruins at times. While there are those who would like to recreate a technological society, powerful forces work to prevent a resurgent America.
Beyond Armageddon edited by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and Martin H. Greenberg
This is a collection of 21 short stories that imagine a variety of different post-nuclear war futures. There is a mix of well-known and obscure tales collected here. Perhaps best known is Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" which was made into a movie starring a very young Don Johnson in 1975. Like most compilations, the quality isn’t uniform but I found all of them to be worth the time.
The Postman by David Brin
This is a great novel and, well, judge the movie for yourself. Gordon Krantz is something of an idealist in a world ten years after a limited nuclear exchange. While making his way to the Pacific Northwest as a modern minstrel, he stumbles upon an abandoned postal vehicle with the unlucky postman inside. To stay warm he takes the deceased occupant’s jacket and, suddenly, those he meets see him as a symbol of hope, a fact he cultivates for his own benefit. This becomes problematic when he finds another group in Corvallis, Oregon with their own secrets. Ultimately, they must all work together to resist an invasion from the south led by a seemingly unstoppable army.
The Last Ship by William Brinkley
USS Nathan James, an American guided missile destroyer on patrol when World War III erupts, finds itself alone at sea after the spasm of nuclear annihilation has eliminated any safe port. After encountering a Soviet nuclear submarine, the two agree to cooperate in their efforts to survive. Maintaining morale and the chain of command become serious problems as the American crew seeks a refuge in the vast Pacific Ocean. Will they succeed? Will the crew destroy themselves? Will the Soviets prove to be reliable allies?
I love the screwball, slapstick, fast-talking romantic comedies of the first half of the 20th Century. Wild dream sequences? Triangles? Ridiculous misunderstandings? Yes please!
I’m slowly working my way through a perhaps-too-academic study of the genre, Romantic Comedy in Hollywood from Lubitsch to Sturges by James Harvey. It relates what I always suspected: the best directors of the era felt duty-bound to “get really dirty jokes into [their] script or picture, and to get away with them.”
Lubitsch and Sturges were probably the all-time champions of this sneaky ribaldry. The 1944 New York Times review of the wartime comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek begins by marvelling that Sturges got its “irrepressible impudence” past the Hays office, and, after relating the bold content of the film, concludes that “he made the film so innocently amusing, so full of candor, that no one could take offense.”
What might this bold content be? Betty Hutton plays Trudy Kockenlocker (that's right, Kockenlocker), who goes out for a night on the town to support the troops and gets hit on the head, then gets married. The next day she can't remember the name of the soldier who she got hitched to. And she's pregnant.
So, in less coy terms, this is a frothy 1944 comedy about a small town girl who gets drunk and knocked up. The performances are excellent, with Eddie Bracken and William Demarest rounding out the cast as Hutton’s hapless paramour and harried father, respectively.
And for more in sophisticated risqué viewing, from the falling of walls of Jericho between Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable to the wholesome sexiness of Doris Day bottling ketchup, take a look at the list Romantic comedies with a double dash of sass.
Ugh, Valentine's Day is the worst!
The only reason I look forward to this time of year is the flourishing of Valentine's chocolate and candy. Because in Portlandia, eating seasonally applies to candy, too, right? Jelly beans and Peeps at Easter. Candy corn at Halloween. Best of all is the chalky goodness of Sweethearts, made by NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) since 1901. Maybe it's nostalgia for my New English youth.
But it also provides an annual zeitgeist check. Timeless messages like "SOUL MATE" or "QT PIE" mix with fads like "FAX ME" or "TWEET". (Heads up - if you find "FAX ME", there's a good chance that bag is well past optimum freshness.)
"143". What the heck does that mean?
Wait, what's this? "LET'S READ"! Awesome!
According to NECCO's website, "in 2014, the longtime favorite “Let’s Read” also reappeared in the mix."
Yeah, "Let's read"!
Let's read Walt Whitman's yawps and H.P. Lovecraft and Batman comics and Mary Oliver's poetry.
Let's read Rumi's chickpea, Chuang Tzu's fish, Icelandic sagas.
Garcia Marquez, Garcia Lorca, cat detectives, dog detectives.
Zombie novels, Amish romance, Zombie-Amish Westerns.
Let's read zines like Librarian Cathy's own Sugar Needle.
Eduardo Galeano, Paco Ignacio Taibo, Italo Calvino, just to say their names!
Let's read blogs! Let's read on phones and laptops. Paperbacks on the bus, or audiobooks in the car!
Let's read magazines and newspapers while they still exist.
Dr. Seuss at bedtime, or breakfast, or whenever, really.
Let's read with friends, with family, alone, or alone in a crowd.
Let's read Dar Williams' lyrics to "What do you love more than love."
(Pizza! No, wait - beer! No, wait - pizza AND beer!)
Or Dead Milkmen's love letter to "Punk rock girl."
Oh, man, Valentine's Day is the best!
Our guest blogger is Eric, who talks about himself in third person: "Eric has been enjoying libraries since the '60s, man. In his 4th decade at MCL, he drives the library's tiniest truck, which some people still call The Bookmobile, for Adult Outreach. His favorite movie, if it existed outside his mind, would be "Batman vs Godzilla", with Chow Yun-Fat as Batman and Nicolas Cage as Godzilla. Co-directed by John Woo and Guillermo del Toro. Scored by David Byrne and performed by The Ukrainians featuring Yo-Yo Ma. The graphic novelization is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mike Allred.
Danielle is excited to read Legends, Icons & Rebels, a children's nonfiction book about the legends of music who change how we hear and feel about the world. 27 mini-biographies, playlists, and accompanying CDs will introduce a new generation to the Greats of music.
Danielle is a Youth Librarian at the Hollywood Library.
Welcome to our new blogger Carol, who says this about herself: I read widely and profusely, propelled by a natural curiosity about everything under the sun and the belief that for me there is no better place to be than living inside a good book. I have deep love for all things fiction and could not imagine my life without any of the works of Nevil Shute, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited or Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, just to name a few.
It’s 1917 and May Dugas is on trial for extortion. Did she take the money? Well, May Dugas has been taking money all her life! From her early years working in a Chicago bordello to her financially rewarding marriage to a Dutch baron, May has earned her living being the arm candy of some very rich men. May is the ultimate social climber, blackmailer and seductress, skills she developed and utilized in the name of supporting her family. But despite all her scheming, May doesn't plan on the dogged determination of Reed Doherty, a Pinkerton detective who has tracked her across the globe, from Chicago to San Francisco, to Tokyo and London and parts in-between and finally to a Wisconsin courtroom where May must finally answer for her supposed crimes.
Based on an extraordinary true story, Portland writer Maryka Biaggio’s Parlor Games is a non-stop global chase, a thrill ride whose last stop isn’t revealed until the very last second. Cold-hearted grifter or resourceful family provider. When the gavel comes down in that courtroom, will May Dugas finally meet her match?
Somewhere in the past few years Portland morphed from a Tonya (Harding) into a Nancy (Kerrigan) kind of town - from a scrappy backwater to a burgeoning condopolis full of fancy ice cream shops, artisan beard oil, and chic boutiques peddling faux lumberjack outfits. I kid, I kid... but believe it or not, touring bands often used to skip Portland, due to it being a grey, unfashionable spot with small audiences. There wasn’t much for young people to do here, and not much employment either, so they had to form their own bands, and make their own fun.
Which brings us to Sooner or Later, the new double album that collects the recordings of the Neo Boys. One of Portland’s most notable punk bands, they often played with the Wipers, and opened for X, Nico, and Television, among others. Their sound is a very early form of punk, not frenetic or thrashy at all - in fact, it’s very catchy and melodic, with guitar parts that go beyond the usual couple of power chords. The tracks are in chronological order, so be sure to listen past the first few to get a feeling for them at their most skilled - try “Give Me the Message” if you want to get hooked fast. And, oh yeah… despite the name, they weren’t boys at all - over ten years before the whole Riot Grrrl movement, these four young women, some in their late teens, were shaking up local music. They’re worth a listen if you’re interested in early punk, the history of Portland music, or women who rock.
To learn more about the Neo Boys, the Wipers, Poison Idea, and other Portland punk and underground bands, try some of the items on this list.
February is shaping up to be a month for intriguing puzzles and mysteries, in both fiction and non-fiction. We're also seeing a trend towards new WWI books, given the 100th anniversary. Also look for some sweet titles for children and teens.
Adults: The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean
MacLean came to awareness in the middle of a train station in India, having no idea who or where he was. This is the story of the mystery he hopes to solve - they mystery of himself.
Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany's Secret War Against America by Howard Blum
This meticulously researched account focuses on Manhattan just before the outbreak of WWI when New York City Police Detective Tom Tunney is perplexed about a number of incidents of sabotage. Publisher's weekly says the book combines "the best features of a police procedural and a spy novel with a firm base in verifiable events."
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
When 12-year-old Easter and her 6-year-old sister Ruby are orphaned, they're placed in foster care. But just as they settle into their new life, their errant father, Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player whom they haven't seen in years, suddenly reappears and steals them away in the middle of the night. Fans of Charles Frazier, Daniel Woodrell and baseball allusions in their fiction may enjoy this one.
Children and teens:
Maple by Lori Nichols combines a love a nature with welcoming a new baby. Maple loves the tree that was planted for her before she was born. One day her family plants a Willow.
What's Your Favorite Animal?, edited by Eric Carle, asks famous children's authors about their favorite animals. They respond with quirky, funny and sometimes imaginary creatures. Parents and kids will have a fun time exploring this one.
Also look for Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin. A spin on Hans Christian Andersen's "Nightingale", it is a story with a little magical realism set in Texas, for middle grades.
Sometimes kids get all the breaks. I ask you, when was the last time that you sat at the knees of someone who was willing to read a book to you, AND was able to read upside down so you could study the illustrations? It happens everyday in schools and libraries, though there's rarely an adult sitting cross-legged among the children. 'All well and good', you might say, 'but who writes picture books for adults?' Maira Kalman, that's who.
I've been a fan of Kalman's work ever since I came across Ooh-la-la (Max in Love). The book, admittedly written for kids, tells the story of the poet dog Max, who goes to Paris, gains enlightenment and falls in love. At one point he is awakened by "a k-k-k-k-knocking" and into his hotel room enters "a long mustache followed by a man". The words 'long mustache' form the thing itself curled under the Parisian waiter's nose.
Not content to stick to children's books, Kalman is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, and has since illustrated The Elements of Style. Yes! How? You'll just have to take a look at it - it's hard to describe.
But my favorite of her recent offerings is The Principles of Uncertainty. The book is a mix of memoir, philosophical musing and photographic record - but the photographs are actually paintings. Paintings of people caught in different aspects: of the museum guard who sits in Proust's room; of elderly New Yorkers walking the streets; of her sister sitting at a kitchen table eating honey cake and telling stories. And all of it accompanied by prose that is matter-of-fact and poignant at the same time:
MY sister and I go to Israel during the short, furious, the world-is-doomed war. For a wedding. Because you CANNOT postpone weddings in DARK TIMES - especially in dark times. Who knows when the light will come on again. Are things normal? I don't know. Does life go on? YES.
Through her pictures and words, Kalman captures what is essential about life. So think about it. Do you know of an adult who misses storytime?
More of Maira Kalman's art here.
I want a book that will suck me in, make my brain spin, and not let me go until the very last page. Thank goodness there's been a surplus of books lately where the authors have written books that do exactly that.
One book is Karen Fowler’s We Are All Completely beside Ourselves. I’m rather mad that many reviews (and even Multnomah County Library’s catalog) describes with too much detail what this book is about. The best thing to do is just check it out and dive right in. It’s beautifully written, haunting, heartbreaking. At its core, this is the story of a family and the loss they experience. And after you read it, please don’t reveal the secret at its center so other readers can feel the surprise!
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is another twisty book that I couldn’t put down. Lionel Shriver has written quite a few novels that take on big issues. In her latest book, she takes on obesity. As an American woman, I’ve struggled with body image and weight issues since I was a young adult so I found this book really interesting. The main characters are a sister and her obese brother. She decides to devote a year of her life to help slim him down. And boy does he. Or does he? Shriver’s book is a commentary on the epidemic of obesity and the ties of family. How can we help our family and at what cost? After I read the last section of this book, I had to meditate a while on everything that I had read in the previous parts. It made my head hurt just a little. But in a good way.
And speaking of heads hurting, a must read for anyone who wants a twisty, turvy book who isn’t put off by quite a bit of gruesomeness, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is your book. Harper Curtis is a serial killer, a repulsive, horrible, yucky killer. He’s exactly what murderers should be like. He’s not the gentlemanly, charming, oh-so-relate-able serial killer that has become the norm in pop culture today. He finds a key to a house that allows him to travel back and forth across time to find his victims and then escape into another time. And then one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and begins to hunt him back with the help of ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez. This story will make a fantastic tv series (Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company have bought the television rights). And after you read it, please let me know what you think happens at the end. It made my brain spin.
Welcome to our new blogger, Patrick, who says this about himself: "I work at the Holgate Library where I answer questions all day. When I'm not doing that (and if you don't believe me, check with my coworkers who have given up hope of engaging me in lunchroom conversations) I'm probably reading or playing games. I read lots of comics and graphic novels, but also enjoy dystopian fiction, rousing adventure tales, classic sci-fi and fantasy, Dickens, good writing about science, and the occasional bit of warm and fuzzy pop philosophy."
I like 'thoughtful'. Thoughtful and reflective and true, all things that bring about a calm philosophical life. (I'm also a fan of whimsical, dystopian and heroic but those will be other entries.)
It turns out that I have been finding many of those thoughtful moments via MCL's zine collection, particularly the works of John Porcellino. I discovered them randomly in the form of an issue of King-Cat Comics & Stories that passed in front of my face, and there was something about the simplicity of the line art that made me want to open it. What I found was a little handmade collection of comics and... well, 'essays' sounds boring, but 'stories' doesn't sound true enough. 'Reflections' seems to fit. John talks about his beloved cat Maisie, his sweetie Misun, sunrises, moving, music, and all sorts of things that occur to him. He's someone who struggles to find meaning in life, and he frequently questions things he has previously held true. What I like best are the little vignettes like 'Football Weather' from King-Cat #66 where all the neighborhood kids decide to help him with his lawn and then a football game ensues. It's not about leaves or football, though... it's about things like community, and appreciating life, and What Is Important to You.
If you enjoy King-Cat, there are hardbound collections, or you might also like his other work, including the short and sweet Three Poems about Fog, or a hardcover graphic novel called Thoreau at Walden. As is usual for me, a thing aimed at younger readers can actually be pretty universal.
And if you want another good autobiographical zine with less philosophy but equal self-discovery and more sass in it, try Jesse Reklaw's Ten Thousand Things to Do. where he describes his lifestyle of "inking, drinking, and anxious thinking".
I'll admit I do not have the world's classiest taste in movies. I adore the summer blockbuster season (even if I frugally wait for the really really bad ones to hit DVD and wait for my hold to come in). If like me you think winter means slow talky movies with a depressing minimum of explosions, I have a couple of books to suggest that you might like.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson is set in a world where people suddenly turned up with superhero like powers. Only nobody who has developed the powers is heroic; instead everyone who developed the powers seize what power and slaves that they can without regard for the lives of others. Most have given up hope and have submitted to the rule of their new masters. David was a child of six in Chicago when the Epics came to be. At eight, he watched his father murdered by Steelheart whom everyone thinks is invulnerable to any physical harm. At eighteen, David wants revenge and he has spent the last decade gathering every scrap of information that he can find on the Epics and any weakness they might have. David saw Steelheart bleed once when his father died and he'll see Steelheart bleed again if it's the last thing he does.
The one type of action movie I have no real interest in is a zombie movie, although Warm Bodies was cute. I have no interest in seeing World War Z even on DVD. With that dislike in mind when I read the summary for The Darwin Elevator by Jason M Hough, I was almost ready to ignore this debut novel. "The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures"... Okay. I'm not the target audience for this title. But the Library Journal review compared it to Joss Whedon's Firefly... Hmm, perhaps I'm being overhasty I thought! So, with cheery disregard for my husband's free time I hand him this novel and tell him that this book should be his next choice! (The poor trusting soul...) In short order he had it finished and comes back to me saying "This was fun! You'll love it! When can I have book two?" So I read it and found it everything I love about a good action movie. The plot runs along so quickly you'll have finished before you know it. Fortunately books two and three are already out and waiting for you because the publisher realized it had a hit on its hands and put this debut trilogy out in a three month window to build the author's readership. Every time a publisher has done this I've loved the series, so I should have realized that this series would be worth reading too!
How much did I know about James Garfield before reading Candice Millard's most recent book, Destiny of the Republic ? Almost nothing. He was just a trivia answer to me, one of our four assassinated presidents. But here's the thing: Garfield didn't die from the assassin's bullet. He died from massive infection eighty days after the shooting, almost certainly caused by his doctors.
Luckily for Garfield, the wound caused by his shooter was not mortal, though that would have been merciful. Unfortunately, the U.S. medical profession, for the most part, did not believe that there were such things as microorganisms. In 1881 doctors in America believed in the "old stink" of surgery, and were proud of it.
The infection that raged through Garfield's body was introduced within moments of the shooting by the unwashed hands and instruments of the doctors who battled to attend to him, determined that they would be the one to find the bullet. Their poking and prodding would continue daily, and it makes for cringe-worthy reading. Garfield lingered for months, getting weaker, always in excruciating pain, suffering in the heat of a humid D.C. summer, in a White House in disrepair where rats were a constant problem. When he finally succumbed and the autopsy was done, the doctors knew immediately what the cause of death was. The bullet was not where they had insisted it had to be, but on the other side of the body, "safely encysted." However, infection was everywhere. The doctor's words were "Gentlemen...we made a mistake." Profound septic poisoning was the cause of death.
The story of Garfield's life and death by Candice Millard is a stunning read, and gets an "un-put-downable" rating from me. Two remarkable ironies: had Garfield been an average Joe in America in 1881, he would've likely survived the shooting without a doctor's care, and simply walked around with a bullet in his body, like tens of thousands of his fellow Civil War veterans. Second, had the shooting happened just a few years later, it would have been easily survivable, even with a doctor's care.
[Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 2011]
2013 was a year of plenty for good books, and there's no reason to think the new year won't be the same. Here are the January titles that our selectors - the people who purchase books for the library - are looking forward to reading.
Meg's Picks for upcoming non-fiction:
Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel is the remarkable story of an ordinary man whose world was transformed when a traumatic brain injury left him with an extraordinary mathematical gift.
Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away by Rebecca Goldstein debunks the theory that philosophy is obsolete. In fact, the author shows how philosophy underpins much of our thinking, and imagines what Plato would say to the host of a television show who insists that there can be no morality without religion.
Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland, the only daughter of Meyer Lansky opens up about her life as a wild child of the 1950's, her heartbreak and tragedy -- including the insanity of her mother, and the crippling handicap of her baby brother - and her father's unexpected tenderness.
Amy's picks for hot teen books:
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson isn't so new and already has some buzz, but I keep coming back to it, and recommending it. Future Sci-Fi Romance in Brazil.
I can hardly wait for Cress by Marissa Meyer, Book 3 in The Lunar Chronicles. It's coming Feb 4th and the hold list is building. Look for it in Lucky Day when the time comes.
Melissa's Picks for adult fiction:
Booklist says of Rachel Snyder's What We've Lost is Nothing, "Veteran journalist Snyder crafts a muscular and fearless debut novel that boldly tackles the heady themes of prejudice, self-preervation, poverty, and privilege."
Gregoire Delacourt's My Wish List asks the question, "if you won the lottery would you trade your life for the life of your dreams?" When Jocelyn, a woman who lives in a small town in France, wins the lottery, she decides to tell no one, and instead evaluates what she wants from life now that she can have everything.
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen is billed as a fictional prequel to Girl, Interrupted. Susanna, the precocious narrator, who longs for what she considers home while living in the realm of academics and artists who made up her father's life.
When I was on a tour in Germany about ten years ago, we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Nuremberg. While I was admiring the red roofs and the medieval architecture, I was surprised to learn that many of the buildings we were looking at had been bombed during World War II, but had been rebuilt to match the pre-war structures. In The Aftermath, a new historical novel by Rhidian Brook, Colonel Lewis Morgan is in charge of rebuilding Hamburg, a city that was heavily bombed during WWII. The British government has requisitioned a beautiful home for him in an unscathed area of the city and has informed the current owner, Stefan Lubert, that he and his daughter must move out. Lubert, an architect before the war, is now working at a menial job while he waits to be cleared as a "good German", one who was not heavily involved with the Nazis. While Colonel Lewis is awaiting his wife and son's arrival in Germany, he decides that Lubert should stay and share the house with his family. His wife is NOT happy with that decision. Their older son was killed by a German bomb while playing in a house in Wales, and she is not ready to forgive the Germans or her husband, whom she partially blames, for that tragedy. I was fascinated by Rhidian's stories of people in immediate post-war Germany, both the Germans and the British, and was touched by the humanity and forgiveness that shines through the characters. This novel, based on the post-war experiences of the author's grandfather, will stay with me for a long time.
For another historical novel featuring strange bedfellows, check out Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Based on the life of the last woman executed for a crime in Iceland, Kent tells the story of Agnes who, along with two others, is accused of murdering a man. Because there are no suitable prisons in Iceland in the early 1800s, she is sent to live with a family on a remote farm until the time of her execution. The waiting period of several months gives the characters a chance to adjust to each other and move from anger and resentment to acceptance. Burial Rites is a quieter, more slow-moving book than The Aftermath, but is similarly compelling. Both novels made me want to delve into other historical events that I know little about (and there are many)!