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Tag Archives: notables

I Geek Books and Authors

A library promotional campaign is underway–Geek the Library.

It celebrates that streak of nerdiness-curiousity-obsession in who-knows-what that many of us harbor. Of course, your public library is the place to indulge this inner Geek.

I had a Geek spell just the other night when I was researching some authors. For a talk I’m preparing, I was searching for quotes by authors with books on the One Book One Lincoln list, and on this year’s American Library Association Notable Books list.

Lo and behold!  Geraldine Brooks, the author of the One Book One Lincoln finalist, “People of the Book,” is MARRIED to Tony Horwitz, who wrote “A Voyage Long and Strange,” one of this year’s Notable Books, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

I can’t tell you how VERY pleased I was to learn this.

I’ve noticed that people feel like they know my husband because they’ve heard his voice on their radio, and they believe that they’ve welcomed him into their kitchens, bedrooms, and even bathrooms. I feel a little like that about authors whose books I’ve enjoyed. I have a sense that they’ve visited my home. In my why-yes-I-did-grow-up-in-a-small-Nebraska-town way, I love learning about the connections between those people. Even though I don’t know them.

So what do you geek? Consider yourself invited to indulge YOUR geek at Lincoln City Libraries!

Do I HAVE to finish it?

My Facebook status today states that I don’t feel compelled to finish books that I don’t find compelling.  Many people seem to agree with me on that.

The book that inspired my status is “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work” by Nick Taylor.  I was reading it because it’s on this year’s American Library Association Notable Books List.

VERY interesting and timely topic.  The first 100 or pages set the tone for what our nation was facing at the start of the Depression, as FDR was preparing to take on the presidency.  The questions raised at the time, such as the role of the federal government, the effectiveness of massive spending, and the ability to know when the economy was turning around, seemed SO applicable to 2009.

My complaint is that Taylor misses the opportunity to make this book really sing by weaving in the stories of actual people whose lives were impacted by the Works Progress Administration.  I want to be upfront in saying that I usually prefer a book where I care about somebody.  I’m generally interested in the history of this time period, but not interested enough to keep reading, without that connection to people.  “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan, the One Book One Lincoln featured title from 2007, weaves stories throughout the book, and I’d say this is what made it readable despite its brutal topic.

So I’m putting this one down.  Often, I set books aside with the idea that I might return later, thinking that maybe when I’m in a different mood, a book will work for me.  I don’t think that’s going to happen here.

I’ll move along to either the final One Book One Lincoln selection that I haven’t at least sampled, “What Is the What?” by Dave Eggers, or perhaps to another of the thick nonfiction titles on the Notables List–maybe “Defying Dixie: the Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919 to 1950” by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.

How okay are you with putting a book down once you’ve started it?  Is what you’re reading now compelling?  Share!

What a Notable Book! City of Thieves

Several months ago, I read “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, one of this year’s Notable Books. And I LOVED it.

Briefly, it’s a novel set during the siege of Leningrad, of two men who meet when they share a jail cell one night. Instead of being executed the next morning as they expect, they receive a chance to live, IF they bring the colonel a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. This in a city where people are cooking down the glue in book bindings to have something to eat.  What an idea.

As I read this, I was reminded of a pattern that I’ve noted in some of the fiction I read. The set-up of the plot holds great promise, but the follow-through disappoints. “City of Thieves” lived up to its potential, and grandly.

The two men, Lev and Kolya, set out on their way. The banter between the two of them stays lively. Their quest is absurd. On the one hand is this silliness, but in the other is the drop-dead seriousness of the time.  Starvation visits every home. Nazis kill and torture on a whim.

When I read these Notable books, I try to find excerpts that I can share later with a wide range of audiences. I had a hard time finding good excerpts that weren’t full of coarse language, but I hadn’t been aware of that as I read.  Instead, I was aware of the growing friendship and respect between Lev and Kolya. I tend to want to get books finished and marked off of my list. I was sorry when I got to the end of City of Thieves.

This book was also on this year’s Alex List of adult books that would have interest for older teens. I think “City of Thieves” would also satisfy readers interested in the historical time period, in books about buddies, and in the yin and yang of funny and serious.

I know that the people in the wonderful Friday morning Bethany Library book group have had lively discussions of this one. I’m going to suggest it as a great title for book groups.

Have you read it?  What did you think?

Another Notable Book–The Bin Ladens

I just finished another book from the American Library Association Notable Books list, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll.

I enjoyed reading it (which surprised me a little), and learned a lot about the recent history of Saudi Arabia.

Coll describes Osama Bin Laden’s story, but takes pains to provide a broad picture of the family. He begins by tracing Mohamed Bin Laden’s beginnings as a humble Yemeni, growing a remarkable fortune due to his savvy leadership of his construction firm. Mohamed’s children include Osama, but Coll spends possibly more time describing the older “first among equals” of that generation who were expected to take leadership of the family business and fortune. The family remains closely allied to the Saudi royal family. The modern history of Saudi Arabia shapes the fortune of the Bin Ladens.

I enjoyed Coll’s skill at describing the various personalities, and placing them into context. He explores the differences between male and female roles, as well as the range of experiences that people have with the West. Many Bin Laden sons and daughters were educated in America and Europe, and many live at least part of the time outside of Saudi Arabia.

I redrew the mental picture that I had of Osama Bin Laden going into this book. Coll shows how the prominent Bin Laden family distanced itself from Osama, essentially disowning him, using the courts to demonstrate their lack of financial support for him and his work.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it because I expected that it might be a little dry.  Coll’s storytelling ability kept me engaged.

I’d recommend this to people interested in the current situation in the Middle East, to those interested in other cultures, and to people who enjoy well-written and researched exploration of contemporary issues.

Another Notable–Olive Kitteridge

So far, “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout may be my favorite from this year’s Notable Books List.  It also won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is a character in each of these short stories, set in a small town in Maine during the late twentieth century.  Olive stars in some of the stories, but barely walks through other ones.  She’s a teacher, and so in a position to know many people.  Strout describes her as physically large and awkward.  Socially, she often says the wrong thing and finds herself stoking her own resentment when people disappoint her.

Strout makes the most of the short story.  Each one seems to answer a “what if” question.  What if the mother of the groom hears the bride laughing at her?  What if a man on his way to commit suicide is called on to save a drowning woman?  What if a little girl must keep her older sister’s secret about running away?  She turns a sharp eye to social interactions, not looking away when cruelty enters where kindness would help.  And yet, people figure out how to connect with each other and get on with life.  In some ways, Strout reminds me here of my favorite short story writer, Alice Munro.

I read this book more like a novel, straight through.  I usually find, though, that I enjoy short stories more when I take some time to savor one before moving on to the next.

To whom would I recommend this?  To people who like short stories, and to some who say that they don’t.  To people who find small town life interesting, and to people who love everyday life described well.

Have you read this?  What did you think?