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A Tub of Tomes for 2013

BookTalkBooklist

A Tub of Tomes for 2013
Bethany Branch Books Talk, October 4, 2013
Lisa V.

Listen to this booktalk as an audio podcast!

At Home
by Bill Bryson [392.36 Bry]

“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygie≠ the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice ™ and so on, as Bryson shows how each has fig­ured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

Bill Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and he is a master at turning the seemingly isolated or mundane fact into an occasion for the most diverting exposi­tion imaginable. His wit and sheer prose fluency make At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.


The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier [Chevalier]

In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.


Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks
by Keith Houston [411 Hou]

A charming and indispensable tour of two thousand years of the written word, Shady Characters weaves a fascinating trail across the parallel histories of language and typography.Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger (+)–which alternately illuminated and skewered heretical verses of the early Bible–or the at sign (@), which languished in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet, Keith Houston draws on myriad sources to chart the life and times of these enigmatic squiggles, both exotic (#65533;) and everyday (&).From the Library of Alexandria to the halls of Bell Labs, figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Vladimir Nabokov, and George W. Bush cross paths with marks as obscure as the interrobang (?) and as divisive as the dash (–). Ancient Roman graffiti, Venetian trading shorthand, Cold War double agents, and Madison Avenue round out an ever more diverse set of episodes, characters, and artifacts.Richly illustrated, ranging across time, typographies, and countries, Shady Characters will delight and entertain all who cherish the unpredictable and surprising in the writing life.


Miss Anne in Harlem
by Carla Kaplan [700.92 Kap]

A charming and indispensable tour of two thousand years of the written word, Shady Characters weaves a fascinating trail across the parallel histories of language and typography.Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger (+)–which alternately illuminated and skewered heretical verses of the early Bible–or the at sign (@), which languished in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet, Keith Houston draws on myriad sources to chart the life and times of these enigmatic squiggles, both exotic (#65533;) and everyday (&).From the Library of Alexandria to the halls of Bell Labs, figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Vladimir Nabokov, and George W. Bush cross paths with marks as obscure as the interrobang (?) and as divisive as the dash (–). Ancient Roman graffiti, Venetian trading shorthand, Cold War double agents, and Madison Avenue round out an ever more diverse set of episodes, characters, and artifacts.Richly illustrated, ranging across time, typographies, and countries, Shady Characters will delight and entertain all who cherish the unpredictable and surprising in the writing life.


The Book of General Ignorance
by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson [031.02 Llo]

Misconceptions, misunderstandings, and flawed facts finally get the heave-ho in this humorous, downright humiliating book of reeducation based on the phenomenal British bestseller.

Challenging what most of us assume to be verifiable truths in areas like history, literature, science, nature, and more, The Book of General Ignorance is a witty “gotcha” compendium of how little we actually know about anything. It’ll have you scratching your head wondering why we even bother to go to school.


If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? Smart Quotes for Dumb Times
by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson [808.882 Llo]

John Lloyd and John Mitchinson have proven themselves to be masters at digging up obscure facts, abstruse information, and amusing anecdotes and presenting them effortlessly, somewhat slyly, with either great wit or at least a little bit of tongue in cheek. Their gifts are on full display in Quote Interesting, a lively, wonderfully enjoyable anthology of hundreds of quotes you probably have never heard before, arranged thematically from A to Z. From laugh-out-loud-funny bon mots to some real headscratchers, Lloyd and Mitchinson have gathered a universe of star-studded blurbs.


1,227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off
by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson [031.02 Llo]

Did you know?* Cows moo in regional accents.* The international dialing code for Russia is 007.* The water in the mouth of a blue whale weighs more than its body.* Pants are responsible for twice as many accidents as chain saws.* Saddam Hussein’s bunker was designed by the grandson of the woman who built Hitler’s bunker.* Heroin was originally sold as cough medicine.1,227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off is a trove of the strangest, funniest, and most improbable tidbits of knowledge–all painstakingly researched and distilled to a brilliant and shocking clarity.


King’s Mountain: A Ballad Novel
by Sharyn McCrumb [McCrumb]

John Sevier had not taken much interest in the American Revolution. Homesteading in the Carolina mountains, Sevier was too busy fighting Indians and taming the wilderness to worry much about a far-off war, but when an arrogant British officer sends a message over the mountains, threatening to burn the settlers’ farms and kill their families, the war becomes personal.

That abrasive officer is British Army Major Patrick Ferguson, who is both charmingly antagonistic and surprisingly endearing. The younger son of a Scottish earl, Ferguson suffers constant misfortunes, making his dedication and courage count for nothing. When he loses the use of his arm from an injury at Brandywine, his commander sends him south, away from the war–which, in 1780, George Washington and the Continental Army are losing. Ordered to recruit wealthy Southern planters to the British cause, Ferguson courts disaster by provoking the frontiersmen, and suddenly the far-off war is a sword’s length away. The British aristocrat on a fine white horse is the antihero to Sevier’s American pioneer spirit. Two Tory washerwomen, Virginia Sal–whose lucid voice lends humor and mysticism to the pages–and Virginia Paul, a mysterious woman too well-acquainted with death, portray the human side of the king’s army. With a regiment of British regulars and local Tory volunteers, Ferguson believes he’s an indomitable force.

Threatened by the Loyalists with invasion and the loss of their land, Sevier knows that Ferguson has to be stopped. In response, Sevier and his loyal comrades–many of whom would play key roles in later parts of American history–raise an unpaid volunteer militia of more than a thousand men. Bringing their own guns, riding their own horses, and wearing just their civilian clothes, the Overmountain Men ally themselves with other states’ militias and march toward Charlotte in search of Ferguson’s marauding army.

On a hill straddling the North and South Carolina lines, in what Thomas Jefferson later called “the turning point of the American Revolutionary War,” the Overmountain Men triumph, proving that the British forces can be stopped. Their victory at King’s Mountain inspired the colonies to fight on, ending the war one year later at Yorktown.

Peppered with lore and the authentic heart of the people in McCrumb’s classic Ballads, this is an epic book that paints the brave action of Sevier and his comrades against a landscape of richly portrayed characters. Harrowing battle descriptions compete with provoking family histories, as McCrumb once again shares history and legend like no one else. Both a novel of war and family, crafted with heart and depth, King’s Mountain celebrates one of Appalachia’s finest hours.


The Edge of the Earth
by Christina Schwarz [Schwarz]

In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.

Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart’s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but she’s restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her preordained life.

But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California–an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light station’s only inhabitants–the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks.


The Gallery of Vanished Husbands
by Natasha Solomons [Solomons]

A moving story of family and a life-long love affair in 1950s London, from the New York Times bestselling author of The House at Tyneford .

London, 1958. It’s the eve of the sexual revolution, but in Juliet Montague’s conservative Jewish community where only men can divorce women, she #65533;finds herself a living widow, invisible. Ever since her husband disappeared seven years ago, Juliet has been a hardworking single mother of two and unnaturally practical. But on her thirtieth birthday, that’s all about to change. A wealthy young artist asks to paint her portrait, and Juliet, moved by the powerful desire to be seen, enters into the burgeoning art world of 1960s London, which will bring her fame, fortune, and a life-long love affair.


Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History
by Helene Stapinski [364.109 Sta]

On a summer night when she was five years old, Helene Stapinski watched out her kitchen window as her Grandpa Beansie was carted off to jail for the last time. Beansie (so nicknamed because he had stolen a crate of beans as a child) had spent the better part of that day in the Majestic Tavern, a dive bar on the ground floor of the Stapinskisí apartment building. As the afternoon wore on, Beansie’s usual ranting turned mean. He flashed a loaded gun; a silver .22 glowing in the light from the Yankee game on the tavern TV, and bragged to his drinking buddies that he had a bullet for each of his relatives living above the Majestic. But news traveled fast in the neighborhood, and before Beansie, a convicted murderer and armed robber, could stumble upstairs, the cops had him in handcuffs. The headline in the local newspaper the next day read “Man Seized On Way To Kill 5 Children”. As Stapinski writes, Jersey City was a tough place to grow up, except I didn’t know any better. In this unforgettable memoir, Stapinski tells the heartbreaking yet often hilarious story of growing up among swindlers, bookies, and crooks. With deadpan humor and obvious affection, she comes clean with the outrageous tales that have swirled around her relatives for decades, and recounts the epic drama and comedy of living in a household in which petty crime was a way of life. The dinner Helene’s mother put on the table (often prime rib, lobster tail, and fancy cakes) was usually swiped from the cold-storage company where Helene’s father worked. The soap and toothpaste in the bathroom were lifted from the local Colgate factory. The books on the family’s shelves were smuggled out of a book-binding company in Aunt Mary Ann’s oversize girdle (or taken by Grandpa Beansie from the Free Public Library). Uncle Henry did a booming business as the neighborhood bookie, cousins did jail time, and Great-Aunt Katie, who liked to take a shot of whiskey each morning to clear her lungs, was a ward leader in the notorious Jersey City political machine. No backdrop could be more appropriate for the Stapinskis than Jersey City; a place known for its ties to the Mafia, industrial blight, and corrupt local officials, and the author ingeniously weaves the checkered history of her hometown throughout the book. Navigating a childhood of toxic waste and tough love, Stapinski tells an extraordinary tale that, unlike the swag of her childhood, is her very own.


The Ashford Affair
by Lauren Willig [Willig]

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras, and on different continents, who are connected by one deeply buried secret. As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards; but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . . Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger? From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.