Blogs: Books & literature

Book jacket: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly PrentissIt feels how buttery popcorn smells, or seeing chartreuse flashes while your ears pop from an underwater dive.

Like a rebellious cigarette you had smoked when you were twenty, or a night under the stars with a girl or a boy who had only wanted to be your friend.

These are just some of the ways that the character James Bennett, an art critic with synesthesia, describes paintings and people in Molly Prentiss's debut novel, but he could just as easily be describing the book. One that has left me in such a daze that I'm at a loss for my own words to describe how much I loved it.

Set in a pre-gentrified SoHo, Tuesday Nights in 1980 follows Argentine artist Raul Engales, bright-eyed New York newcomer Lucy Olliason and the wonderfully odd art critic James Bennett; whose lives are all irreversibly altered on a series of Tuesday nights at the start of the new decade.

Whether you're an art lover or just up for visiting a unique time and place through vivid characters, check out this vibrant whirlwind of a book.

 
 

 

There are a couple of flavors I like in Highlander romance -- I enjoy the ones that are straight up historical; but mmm, a Highlander story especially if it involves time travel? Yes! Maybe you have seen the new Outlander television series? Guess what? It's based on a book!

The story starts with Mrs. Claire Randall on her second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s 1945 and she's a former combat nurse who has taken up the hobby of botany to fill her free time. She is gathering plants at the stone circle Craigh na Dun when she is transported through time to 1743, and finds herself in the midst the fighting prior to the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

This first novel of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is a passionate romance with depictions of wartime violence, and steamy sex scenes. If you're squeamish about these things this isn't for you. Presented in the context of the times, these details give the story historical resonance. I found comic relief in Claire’s swearing. She doesn’t swear like a sailor but she swears like a healthy woman dealing with brawny men, exciting, brutal times, and frustration. I don’t know about you, but if I was a fish out of water I might swear a lot too.  If romance, brawny men in kilts and time travel are among your favorite flavors too, there's more to explore in my list, Scottish highland romances.

 

When people object to a book and ask their library to remove or move it, the library shares the complaint with the American Library Association (ALA).  The ALA then compiles all the complaints and every year announces a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books.  This is the list for 2015.

Folks in my family came to Oregon in, on and around covered wagons, part of the great migration that brought about 400,000 people across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to occupy the land that they thought was available up and down the West Coast. (There were people living here already, it turned out.) My indirect ancestor on my mom's side (something like great-great-uncle, I believe) was Ezra Meeker.

photo of Ezra Meeker

Meeker came out via covered wagon, and then after a very busy life of business, planting hops, founding a town and going to the Klondike in gold rush days, noticed that now, in the early 20th century, people were forgetting about the Oregon Trail. He opted to do something about that. Ezra mounted an expedition - at age 71 - to travel the trail backwards, by ox-drawn wagon, to raise awareness for the trail's preservation. He succeeded, and kept going, eventually reaching New York and Washington DC, meeting with President Teddy Roosevelt. He eventually crossed the country by wagon, train, automobile and airplane and managed to place (or have placed) hundreds of Oregon Trail markers. You can read more about him and his trips in his journals, available in physical form or online.

 A New American Adventure book jacket
So? 
 
So, the Oregon Trail is well-known. And, people are still doing this kind of pilgrimage. Well, at least a couple of guys.
 
Meet Rinker Buck (and his brother Nick). In 2011, they traveled the Trail by wagon, the first people to do that in more than a century. They stuck to the original ruts as much as modern highways and civilization would allow and crossed from Missouri to Oregon with three donkeys and a Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Nick was a practical sort, with horse-driving skills, carpentry experience and a fix-it mentality. Rinker brought a shoe-shine kit and a pasta steamer. The book he wrote about their adventure, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, tells why they dropped everything and traveled the trail for four months. It tells about the Odd Couple-like relationship of the brothers, and the wagon vacation with their father that inspired their own trip. And it is a look at middle America from the slow lane, small-town hospitality, river crossings, and lots of places with no cell phone reception.  Ezra Meeker would be proud.

 

Original photo: Alyssa L. MillerFinally -- a reason to celebrate insomnia.

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? book jacketOur guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

Raymond Carver’s tales offer portraits of run-of-the-mill Americans living in unexciting monotonous places.  His characters are mostly working-class whites, residing in small-town America where life is plain and ordinary.  There is nothing special going on in their social environment, and the daily routines of the characters are fairly monotonous.  The simplicity of their world makes their constant preoccupations for the basic needs in life dull.  Their strengths and flaws, even between those who have stable lives and those who do not, share similar features, in part because their vigor and imperfections are the products of the same banal world.

However, there is more than meets the eye in these representations of the mundane.  Carver portrays a realism that is humane, complex, and universal.  His fictional characters such Earl and Doreen Ober in “They’re Not Your Husband” and Del Frazer in “Dummy” are not only sketches of ordinary people living uneventful lives, they are portraits of working-class Americans whose lives were and are overlooked in favor of ones that express exceptionalism. 

If you enjoy the works of realist writers, you will appreciate the literary representations of plain folks in Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, Cathedral, and Where I’m Calling From.  His ability to dig deep into the daily and simple worlds of the ordinary Americans puts his fictitious universe at odds with triumphal post-World War II Americana. 

Recently I decided to see if I could up the number of books I finished in a year if I moved the books that were well reviewed to the top of my reading list.  I know it takes me longer to finish a book that's only just barely good enough not to put down than it does to finish a top-notch page-turner of a book.

Uprooted book jacketTwo well-reviewed titles I've finished recently are Uprooted by Naomi Novik and A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly.  Uprooted is a charming fairy tale about Agnieszka, a peasant girl in a humble village on the edge of a corrupted Wood.  The village is kept safe by the Dragon who asks only that a girl of his choice from one of his dependent villages enter his service every ten years.  At the end of her term of service, she is let go with a fine fat pouch of silver coins for her time.  But the girls are never the same after and they always leave their village homes.  Agnieszka never thinks that she'll be the chosen one....
A Criminal Magic book jacket
A Criminal Magic is about a 1920s America where prohibition doesn’t ban alcohol; instead it bans sorcerer's "shine".  Sorcerers can bottle their shine which gives an incredible and addictive high, but the shine loses its power after only a single day.  After prohibition begins, shine distribution falls to mobsters - the same as alcohol did in the real1920s world.  Joan is a sweet young orphaned sorceress from the back woods who only wants to earn money and look after her little sister and her cousin. Alex is a Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a scandal in his past who is forced to go undercover into the world of "shine" dens.  Both are forced to confront all the unpleasant realities of the world they find themselves in.  It's early in the year but I can already tell you that A Criminal Magic will be in my top ten titles for the year.

If you are looking at a title in the newer version of the catalog (Bibliocommons), scroll down past the title information to "Opinions" then look for "From the critics" to see professionally published reviews.  In the classic catalog, click on the cover picture for the book (you'll need allow new windows to pop up) and any published reviews will be available in the new window.  I found these two titles as delightful as the reviews promised and finished both in short order since I didn't want to put either one down!

Part of the joy of reading The Improbability of Love was that it was like revisiting the art history classes I loved in college. Author Hannah Rothschild clearly knows the art world, and it was such a pleasure to learn about the mechanics of that world, the kinds of characters that populate it, and the art itself. I learned to keep my iPad close by so I could look up paintings and statues that were mentioned, and all that beauty became part of my experience of the book.

In this novel, a young woman impulsively buys a painting that’s been moldering in a London junk shop for decades. It winds up being an important (imaginary) painting by Watteau, a (non-imaginary) French painter from the eighteenth century- a Rococo painting, featuring attractive people in nice outfits in an outdoor setting. There’s a bit of romance as well as a family secret that is very dark indeed. The painting itself is one of the narrators, telling us about its long, fascinating history, from Madame Pompadour's boudoir to dark days in Nazi Germany. 

Treat yourself and read this book. Then take a look at my list of fiction about art and artists.
 

I can’t get enough of some authors that I love. I also try to slowly savor authors I discover. I don’t read all their books in one fell swoop: I read one every couple months. I am on my third book by Rainbow Rowell: Carry On. I love how Rowell writes about contemporary life, people, class issues and love through her adult and teen fiction.

There’s a reason she’s a best seller. She can tell a love story. I am haunted by the amazing and awkward love story of Eleanor and Park. I want to reread Fangirl which alludes to the romance between Baz and Simon in Carry On. Fangirl has its own marvelous, slow paced romance but I don’t want to give anything away.

I grew up working class: my father was a surveyor’s aide, and my mother was a part time key punch operator. The worries of Rowell’s working class characters really resonate with me. For instance, Eleanor worries about clean clothes with her small wardrobe, and Simon just wants enough to eat like many growing teens. These details add to the realistic aspects of the world she is building. She nails it without rubbing it in your face.

I’m so happy to find another author to love! Have you found any new authors to love lately?

Spring 2016 teen booksSpring 2016 kids booksAh, spring break! In my memories of childhood, it was always filled with chocolate Easter eggs and lots of time to read the stack of good books I’d just checked out from my local library. In honor of those memories, I’ve gathered up a crop of new books for kids and teens that I want to read over the upcoming spring weeks that are bound to be cool and rainy.  I might just have to buy a bag of chocolate to go with them!

Check out the kids’ stack here and the teen stack here.

Pages

Subscribe to