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Tag Archives: Friday Reads
Hello, Library People. I can pretend I’m writing this Friday Reads for the whole world, but I know my likely audience, and I’m writing it for library people. So, hi there, library people!
Today I walked into my public library for the first time in months, and I went to the shelf to look for a book (that I looked up in the online catalog before I went into the building), and the book was where it was supposed to be, and I got to check it out and take it home, and I am excited to read it. I appreciated every step of this process so much. I know and love people who work in libraries, and I care about their safety—and I even care about the safety of library people I don’t know (or love?)—so I understand why I wasn’t able to go into my public library’s physical space like this last month, or the month before that. I will understand if circumstances require that it happens again, that I can’t soup-to-nuts my whole borrow for myself. I just want to emphasize that I appreciate being able to go into my local public library, and I won’t take it for granted.
Now, that book I’m excited to read (or, at this point, to keep reading). I was looking online to see what Octavia E. Butler works were available to check out at my local branch, and I saw they had this book that I was surprised I didn’t already know about: a graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s novel, Kindred.
Speculative fiction gets a bad rap for being escapist, which is a hard argument to fight because it presupposes there’s something wrong with escapism in entertainment. And graphic novels get a bad rap for being comic books, which again is a hard argument to fight because it presupposes there’s something wrong with comic books. For this reader, though, I saw the recipe for a great read.
If you want a story that lets you leave your world completely, yet teaches you more about the world you eventually have to go back to, then Octavia E. Butler is a writer for you. Butler writes literary speculative fiction, or speculative literary fiction, whichever word arrangement makes you more comfortable. Library people, since I’m writing this for you, I will tell you why you’ll like Kindred in particular. As a library person, you have strong views about genealogy. Whether you love or hate genealogical research, that familiarity facilitates an instant interest in this plot: A young Black author in the living in 1970s California meets her White slaveholder progenitor—and her safety and her very existence depends on his survival in the antebellum South.
Kindred is available as a novel, and an audiobook, and a graphic novel. (A movie is in post-production, but theatrical releases are all messed up right now, so no telling when that’s coming out, but it stars Janelle Monae, so you’ll be hearing good things about it.)
Duffy, Damian, John Jennings, Nnedi Okorafor, and Octavia E. Butler. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. , 2018. Print.
I read this novel for my book club and was grateful to have discovered the Montana author, Ivan Doig, who unfortunately died in 2015. The Bartender’s Tale is a slow and pleasant read. It has the pace of a nice morning walk through a small rural Montana community where everyone knows your business.
The book takes place in 1960 and begins with Tom Harry, the owner of a well-worn bar called The Medicine Lodge as he drives to his sister’s home in Arizona to reclaim his 12-year-old son Rusty. The atypical single father and son forge a new life together based largely in and around the bar. At The Medicine Lodge, life-long lessons in treating people right are more than just good business practice. Tom is something of a local ombudsman in every way but by election.
Rusty knows that his mother and father split the blanket shortly after he was born but nothing much beyond that. Rusty befriends Zoe, the daughter of the couple who own The Spot – an average eatery down the street – who is also new to town. Their jokes, laughs, and shtick are typical of kids coming of age. Their favorite thing to do is to listen to conversations through the vent in the back room of the bar; an activity that provides a curriculum of adult vocabulary and sex education.
When Del Robertson shows up with a grant-funded project through the Library of Congress to record people’s stories, there is a shift of focus for Tom and Rusty. They assist Del in helping persuade often-unwilling volunteers agree to participate. Then, another disruption named Proxy (a nickname for her hair color) arrives in a red Cadillac with her moody 21-year-old daughter in tow. Proxy has a past with Tom, from another bar named The Blue Eagle, and everyone seems to know that these still waters run deep.
This was a book I was sad to finish. Despite Doig’s death, I’m grateful to know that he completed 12 books in this series. Even though this book is 10th in the series, this book worked quite well on its own.
Doig, Ivan. The Bartender’s Tale. Riverhead Books, 2012
I first picked up this book because I was drawn to the cover art and soft, muted color scheme, but also because I’m a sucker for historical fiction. I expected a straight forward period romance, boy meets girl, boy goes to war, there’s pining, an injury, and a happily ever after. Don’t get me wrong, there is some of the expected, but let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised by this novel’s unexpected plot and characters.
It all starts with a torrid affair between gods, Aphrodite and Ares to be exact. Then turns into two love stories the goddess orchestrated during the last World War. The author introduces us to interesting characters from different walks of life, weaving their stories together for the reader. Berry dives in to overlooked parts of World War I history like the roles of black American soldiers, James Reese Europe’s introduction of Jazz to France, and YMCA volunteer work to name a few. I really appreciated the appendix and bibliography included at the end of the book. They let the reader know which parts of the story are factual and expand on those issues. Berry also includes references to nonfiction works that she used, so the reader can keep learning.
This title comes from our large collection of children’s and young adult books sent to us as review copies from book publishers. When our Children and Young Adult Library Services Coordinator, Sally Snyder, is done with them, the review copies are available for the Library System Directors to distribute to school and public libraries in their systems. Public and school library staff are also welcome to stop by and select some titles for their library collections. We think this one would be a great addition to any library. Contact Sally Snyder for more information.
Love this #BookFace & reading? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!
Berry, Julie. Lovely War. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019.
With the absence of baseball in the spring of 2020 comes the opportunity for an alternative – a good baseball book. I came across a copy of Michael Shaara’s For Love of the Game among my books. I don’t recall that I actually read the book at some time in the past. I do remember the movie version that starred Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel, the baseball legend and sure to be future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, the book’s protagonist.
Having read the book recently, the book and movie versions have some significant differences. So it goes. In short, Chapel will pitch the final game of the season and likely his last as a major leaguer. This with the background of an uncertain personal relationship and also the knowledge that the team he has been with for his entire career is about to betray him.
Michael Shaara is best known for The Killer Angels, his Pulitzer prize-winning classic regarded as one of the best Civil War novels. For Love of the Game was published after Michael Shaara’s death. The book includes an introduction written by Sharra’s son, Jeff.
Michael Shaara began his career writing science fiction short stories. A family vacation to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1966 was the inspiration for his novel, The Killer Angels. It was his love for baseball that resulted in For Love of the Game.
Shaara, Michael. For Love of the Game. Ballantine Books, 1991.
Intro: With all the unrest in the nation that started in the Minneapolis area, I thought it appropriate to post this FR. Years ago, I had a high school friend who moved to Chanhassen, Minnesota (just south of the Twin Cities), where Paisley Park is. I visited my friend a few times in Chanhassen, and quickly realized January was not a good time. Summers were nice, though. Sadly, my friend has passed away (cancer). He never saw his 26th birthday.
Opening: Yep, it is another music biography. I have a sort of love and hate relationship with music biographies, but this one is well done and I recommend it. A few years ago, I was in the Minneapolis area (after the death of Prince) and thought of touring Paisley Park. I decided against it because I did not think that Prince would have wanted visitors that way. However, I completely understand the estate’s decision to do so. By not opening it up, there’s no way it would sustainable. Musical biographies can be quite a hit or miss, but often are a miss due to the fact they come across as braggadocios. Prince certainly seemed like the antithesis of that.
Background Info: Before he died, Prince was working on this book, with the help of Dan Piepenbring. The intro was written by Dan, summarizing his first meetings with Prince, and Prince’s vision for the completed work (he intended for it to cover his childhood up to his performance at Super Bowl XLI (in 2007). Dan’s anecdotes provide an interesting segue into the actual writing of Prince, and the numerous photos published in this book. The stories, including Dan staying at the local Country Inn and Suites (the place closest to Paisley Park in Chanhassen, MN), Prince driving him around in his Lincoln MKT, and live performances at Paisley Park.
Filler Material: The bulk of the middle part consists of Prince’s actual writings, and then the translations. His writings are hard to read, given his affinity for code (e.g. eye symbol for I) and handwriting. The gist of the book, and hats off to the publishers, was not to fill in the chronology after where Prince was at with his writing. Therefore, there is no speculation about his thoughts, as the material is published just as he wrote it, and stops at the point where he was at when he passed (before the Super Bowl XLI performance). As a companion piece, Originals (on CD, vinyl, MP3, take your pick) published after his death, is highly recommended. Toss it on the old (dust off the console stereo) or new hi-fi and turn up the volume.
Killer Ending: “So much has been written about me, and people don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’d rather let them stay confused.” – Prince
Prince. The Beautiful Ones. Spiegel & Grau, 2019.
I don’t know about you, but reading during this pandemic has been a challenge. Between working from home, keeping a school-age kid on track with his lessons and a preschooler out of the cookie jar, not to mention feeding everyone 3-5 times a day (why are we so hungry?!?), and the constant blare of the news, I just don’t have the time or attention span to concentrate on a book. Is it just me? (Apparently not).
Fortunately, my public library recently started contact-less pickup and I got a load of middle-grade novels and picture books for the aforementioned children. The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young was at the top of the pile.
Set on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, this is the story of a half-Irish, half-Ojibwe girl named Billie who is determined to win her town’s annual pumpkin race and get revenge on her former best friend for sabotaging her attempt the previous summer. It is also the tale of how every story has two sides, growing pumpkins is a full-time job, and sometimes winning isn’t something we do on our own. It was the perfect book to kick off my summer reading and yours too!
Young, Cathleen. The Pumpkin War. Random House, 2019.
I am simultaneously mourning the end of The Clone Wars animated series and thrilled over the announcement that Rosario Dawson may be playing the live-action version of Ahsoka in season 2 of The Mandalorian.
So, in honor of both of those events, I am sharing the novel Ahsoka, by E.K. Johnston. It is part of the new series of novels that are being published in conjunction with the new films and TV shows.
Ahsoka Tano is my favorite Star Wars character, after the Rebel Princess Leia. She first appeared in the Star Wars world in The Clone Wars animated movie and series, as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, training under him to become a full Jedi.
Ahsoka takes place a year after the end of The Clone Wars and Order 66, the order enacted by Chancellor/Sith Lord Palpatine declaring Jedi as traitors to the Republic and ordering their execution, which was carried out by their own clone troopers. Ahsoka was one of the few Jedi to survive. The novel explores how Ahsoka dealt with her personal fallout from that devastating event. And reveals how she ended up as a secretive but integral member of the Resistance 14 years later, in Rebels.
Being a huge fan of Ahsoka, I was thrilled to learn what happened to her between her two series appearances. And I was not disappointed. It is a well written story, portraying Ahsoka’s struggle to find her place in the galaxy and decide what her future will look like.
The book was published in 2016, before the final season of The Clone Wars was released this year. So, there are some references and specific dialogue in the book that does not match up exactly with the ending of the series. But, I find them minor issues that do not detract at all from my enjoyment of both the book and the final season of the show.
And the audiobook is narrated by none other than Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Bonus!
Flint, 13 and in 6th grade, is losing his eyesight. It has been deteriorating for a while and now he sits alone at lunch working on his entry for the “Find a Comic Book Star” contest – hoping to finish it before his eyesight is completely gone. His former best friend now bullies him, since Flint can no longer play on the football team as he used to, and now they call him “Squint.”
Then one day the new girl, McKell, sits with him at lunch. He first thinks it must be some kind of a trick, since she is friends with the popular group. When he realizes it is not a trick, Flint and McKell begin to develop a friendship – focused on McKell’s brother Danny’s, challenges on YouTube. She needs help to keep her promise to him – to complete certain challenges.
Hitting topics such as: bullying, empathy, loss, and friendship, as SLJ says, “Recommend for any library serving middle grade readers.”
Set in Lincoln , NE, this title is the 2019 winner of the Nebraska Center for the Book, Teen Novel Award.
Morris, Chad & Shelly Brown. Squint. Shadow Mountain, 2018.
When I was eighteen years old, I hiked with my freshman anthropology class from the Hudson-Meng dig site to Toadstool Geological Park, out in Nebraska’s Panhandle. It was one of the longest, hottest hikes I have ever trekked, the first where I’d ever heard the blood-freezing bone-shake tambourine of a rattlesnake and her tail, mere feet away from where I stood, and where I, with only my own two legs, traveled back in time. It is one of my favorite memories. Standing in a mostly-dry riverbank, after crossing over the pale limestone gashes in the the grasslands, eyes raised to the multicolored strata of the earthen walls around me, I was beneath and surrounded by different ages of the Earth, upon which feet so like mine might have tread. There is nothing that makes you feel smaller, more connected, more human.
Robert Macfarlane’s Underland swept me back to that moment in a breathtaking work of nonfiction. His writing is crisp, lyrical, and heart-cuttingly honest. The mark of an experienced storyteller traces through each paragraph and page like the webs of fungi beneath earth’s forests, connecting and communicating and enriching his experiences and ideas. Whether he is describing the way colors and sound return to the self after exiting a cave system, or forcing his body to crawl inch by claustrophobic inch through an unstable tunnel scarcely bigger than himself, there is a breath-robbing sense of adventure and awe throughout his journey.
There is also the sense of a great ache; we are, he writes, and circles back to, in the midst of the Anthropocene – the geological epoch of human impact, to be noted in the strata of our planet when we are long gone, “what will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain” (77). But this is not a book of pessimism, nor of misanthropy, even as it turns its gaze to The Hiding Place, in Olkiluoto, Finland, where we prepare to seal our nuclear waste. This is not a place of honour, the inscription for that chamber begins – a deterrent for the generations we hope that will come after us. And it is with the hope in the generations of whatever life that will come that the work is being done, Macfarlane realizes.
“The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful” (8). This is why we go down into the Earth, why it features so heavily in our mythologies across our cultures and ages — what we have buried is a part of us, a reflection of us, what we grieve and what we hope for and what we believe in, the unknown selves we wish to uncover. It is as much a part of our future as it is our past. Underland begins with analyzing our reflexive revulsion to the underlands, and then peels back the earth and uncovers beauty and an incredible, unfathomable stretch of time that goes far before us, and will carry on far after.
Macfarlane, Robert. Underland: A Deep Time Journey. W. W. Norton, 2019.
I picked up Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, by Kate Racculia, read the blurb, as I usually do, and thought, I have to see how she makes this work! In reading it, I fell in love with the book.
It all begins with Tuesday Mooney, the title character, who works as a researcher for a hospital, and has volunteered for a charity event the hospital is sponsoring. She grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, yes, that one, and had a fascination with all the morbid, Goth type things. She still wears black, occasionally wearing heels for occasions. At this charity auction, a member of the wealthy Arches family deigns to attend. They strike up an unlikely flirtation, since he is unlike the profile she has pulled together. Her friend, Dex, a VP of a finance establishment, comes over to be somewhere, other than in the bar where he just broke up with his last boyfriend. Dex finds a seat with a lady, Lila Price, who turns out to be the wife of multi-billionaire Vincent Pryce (note, please, the Y, and the character claims to have been named by his parents, Vincent Price’s christening name was Vincent Leonard Price, Jr.—also named by his parents, and father, Vincent Leonard Price, Sr.). During the auction, Pryce dies, mid-bid. Two days later, a self-written, full page, obituary appears in the newspaper, starting a treasure hunt/game, with a wake/masquerade/party on the Boston Common at the end of the month (October.) And off go the seekers, Tuesday, Nathan, Dex, and eventually, many other dreamers and characters from around Boston.
Amid all the eccentricities, these are characters created in the round that are sympathetic. All have suffered and grieved. Tuesday’s best friend went missing in her teen years, and was never found. The young Nathanael Arches’ father disappeared from a rowboat, his body never found. Tuesday’s teenage next-door neighbor and her father have lost her mother due to a car accident. Mrs. Pryce has lost her husband.
The banter itself is enough to endear the book to any reader. The pop culture references alone are worked in well, Batman and Edgar Allen Poe, The X Files, and Prince. The author has an interesting way with words, in one sentence Dex says of Tuesday, “Every time Dex succeeded in making Tuesday smile, it was like seeing a rainbow over a haunted house.”
And the layers, there are the layers of loss, and the layers of the game. The layers of what is said, and all that isn’t said. The ghosts that are memory, regret, and actual. It all works. Tuesday loses her job due to her own mistake. Dex realizes the path not taken, can be returned to, the teenager finds a new friendship with another teenager, and the heir finds a family. None of it is as neat and tidy as I make it seem, and the author does an interesting job of both tying up the threads of the story, and still leaving them seem like real life, and a beginning.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, by Kate Racculia, hardback, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, ISBN 9780358023939
In these interesting times we find ourselves living in I figured a nice fluffy read was in order, and in this case it’s literal!
Buried to the Brim by Jenn McKinlay is part of the “Hat Shop Mystery” series that follow Scarlett Parker on her adventures. Originally from the states Scarlett and her cousin Viv run the hat shop, Mim’s Whims, that was left to the both of them by their grandmother. This book begins with Scarlett’s fiance coming to the shop needing a favor for his Aunt Betty and her dog Freddy. (I told you it was a fluffy read.)
Aunt Betty and Freddy have been competing in the local charity dog show for the last few years and have always managed to only come in second. Wanting something that will give them an edge in this years competition they’ve come to ask if Mim’s Whims will make a hat for Freddy to wear while competing.
My only disappointment with this book is that aren’t any illustrations! Viv, after some convincing, ends up making multiple hats not only for Freddy but matching ones for Aunt Betty as well. To see those creations atop Freddy’s fluffy little head fills my corgi loving heart with glee.
I’m usually not much of a mystery reader but seeing as Jenn McKinlay also has written a few romance novels this definitely didn’t have much of a “who-done-it” feel to it. I also enjoyed the fact that even though this was the sixth book in the series it stands well on it’s own and I never felt like I was missing anything by not having read the other books. Now that I’ve finished Buried to the Brim I definitely want to read the other books in the series, although they can’t be nearly as good without a corgi in them.
But it’s okay though, I have a corgi of my very own. Anyone know where I can pick up a top hat for Charlie?
Tightrope, by married, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is one of a number of recent books spotlighting the hopelessness and dysfunction that have decimated working-class America. In the 1970s, when Kristof was growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, working-class parents with good-paying union jobs had better lives than their parents did; everyone anticipated their children, with more education, would do better still. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. And, as the authors argue, this squandered potential hurts not just individuals who find themselves on a downward trajectory; it hurts the country as a whole.
Kristof and WuDunn document this reversal of fortune with extensive data, tracking declining median wages, life expectancy, educational achievement, and more. Citing the Social Progress Index, they point out that the United States now “rank[s] number 32 in internet access, number 39 in access to clean drinking water, number 50 in personal safety and number 61 in high-school enrollment…. Overall, the Social Progress Index ranks the United States number 25 in well-being of citizens, behind all the other members of the G7 as well as significantly poorer countries like Portugal and Slovenia” (13-14).
Kristof and WuDunn approach this topic not just through statistics, though. They humanize the crisis by sharing stories of friends and neighbors Kristof grew up with in Yamhill, Oregon, many of whose lives unraveled due to poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, incarceration, and despair. Here’s one stark metric they use to illustrate the extent of the problem: “About one-fourth of the kids who rode with Nick on the [school] bus are dead from drugs, suicide, alcohol, obesity, reckless accidents and other pathologies” (8).
Because Kristof grew up with many of his subjects and has had a lifelong relationship with them, he sees and portrays them as individuals possessing strengths and weaknesses. He acknowledges the bad choices they’ve made, but he’s also aware of their talents, their untapped potential, and the points at which their families, their schools, and punitive social policies let them down. Based on this insight, Kristoff and WuDunn contend that to address this crisis, we need to “transcend the customary narrative that focuses only on ‘personal responsibility’ and on glib talk about lifting oneself up by the bootstraps” (19). Additionally, we need to consider seriously what our collective responsibility is and should be.
Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.
“With a dissolving marriage, strained finances, and her life in flux, Ally Anderson longs for normal. Her greatest concerns, though, are the health problems of her young daughter, Kylie. Symptoms point to a compromised immune system, but every doctor they’ve seen has a different theory. Then comes hope for some clarity.
It’s possible that Kylie’s illness is genetic, but Ally is adopted. A DNA test opens up an entirely new path. And where it leads is a surprise: to an aunt Ally never knew existed. She’s a little wild, very welcoming, and ready to share more of the family history than Ally ever imagined.
Coping with a skeptical soon-to-be-ex husband, weathering the resistance of her adoptive mother, and getting maddeningly close to the healing Kylie needs, Ally is determined to regain control of her life. This is her chance to embrace uncertainty and the beauty of family – both the one she was born into and the one she chose.” (Audible)
This book caught my eye because I too was adopted, and as usual, I read and listened to it. I was caught up immediately in the story, and while there are some minor problems with the editing of the audio version, it still held my attention from start to finish.
There are many different ways, and reasons why, adoptees search for their biological families. In Ally’s case, she is desperately looking for answers to explain her daughter’s life-threatening allergic reactions. Ally is so desperate in fact, that she turns to an alternative approach: meditation and desensitization therapy. Through all of the anxiety and uncertainty regarding Kylie’s new treatment, Ally finds not only her “other family,” but her inner strength. That strength helps her resolve issues with her ex, her mom, and her ability to move forward with her life.
Definitely a good read!
I am here!!
Eighty percent of the world’s population has been manifesting fantastic superpowers by the time they turn four years old. Those with more powerful “quirks” have become professional superheroes, working to stop those who would use their powers for evil and to save innocent lives. Young Izuku Midoriya dreams of the day when he can follow in the steps of his idol, All Might – the number one hero and symbol of peace.
When Midoriya learns that he is one of the unlucky few, born without a quirk, he is crushed. However, he refuses to let this setback stop him from his dream of attending U.A. High, the prestigious high school, and enrolling in their hero course. As the entrance exam approaches, it seems all but impossible that Midoriya will have any hope at all getting accepted.
An encounter with All Might and a battle with a sludge villain changes everything and sets Midoriya on the path to his destiny (with some incredibly hard work). Katsuki Bakugo, his rival/friend since childhood is less than impressed. (If you’ve ever seen or read Dragon Ball Z, they remind me of Goku/Vegeta, ha.)
I’ve just started reading this series, but I’m really enjoying it so far. Midoriya is so pure and precious and there’s more to All Might than just his physical strength. (There’s some fourth-wall breaking that I also love with All Might’s character.) The quirks and other characters are all so different and fun. There are animal-based quirks; one character has all the powers of a frog. Others can make things float, have powers of fire or ice, explosions, or powers like one student who has engines in his legs that make him really fast.
This first book of the manga series moves quickly with enough story to build the world and lots of action between villain/hero battles and later in the entrance exam. Intended for young adults/teens.
Horikoshi, K. My Hero Academia, Volume 1. Translated by Caleb Cook, VIZ Media LLC, 2016.
I was ready for a book of short stories, for compelling characters in intriguing situations, and I found that in a book I’d been meaning to pick up for a while: Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat.
Danticat manages to touch on all aspects of life—births and beginnings, deaths and ends, and all in between—while telling stories about the unexpectedly small parts of life.
And it is obvious Danticat knows everything about her characters, even if she doesn’t tell us everything. She knows what they think about when they fall asleep and which sock they put on first. That’s how she knows what details to share with the reader. She’s just telling us what we need to know to tell the story the characters inhabit. So we have a sort of intimacy with them, like we’re right next to them in Port-Au-Prince, in Miami, in an unnamed Caribbean country, or even falling through the air.
Danticat, Edwidge. Everything Inside. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019
Mo Rocca is a multi-talented actor, humorist, and journalist on various radio and television programs. I became a fan listening to him on National Public Radio’s Quiz Show – Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and watching him on CBS Sunday Morning. Because Mo is the narrator, I knew I would not be disappointed with this audiobook.
A Mobituary, as Rocca defines it, is “an appreciation for someone who didn’t get the love she or he deserved the first time around.” What I particularly loved about this book is that Mo’s cultural points of reference often parallel mine. A good example was the love shown for Audrey Hepburn who died the day of Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Hepburn’s younger son, Luca Dotti, explained, “his mother suffered from severe malnourishment at the end of World War II, weighing only 88 pounds… the stress of the war stayed with his mother the rest of her life, but she hid it well. My mother was then a survivor … you always have this duality – you are happy to be alive, but you have this sense of guilt because the person next door didn’t make it.” Hepburn’s older son Sean Ferrer, explained: “I think that this is one of the reasons why she wanted to do the UNICEF work, is that she remembered so vividly herself and her emotions as a little girl and living through the war.”
This book sheds light on many other celebrities, politicians, landmarks, trends, and trees. While not nearly as much in love with Barbra Streisand as Mo, (a very alive Streisand is included in the Fanny Brice chapter), I laughed out loud listening to Mo’s ruminations on both women. I had no idea Herbert Hoover saved Europe from starvation during WWI using his engineering abilities before he became a US President. Also laudable are the Mobituaries on the historic figures memorialized by rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, the death of several fashion trends, and the loss of Auburn University’s famed oak trees. Mo completes his book with a Mobituary on his father Marcel (1929-2004) who resumed his teenage trumpet playing at age 50 in the cellar of their home. It was because of his father that Mo learned to love obituaries. A fitting end to an excellent collection of remembrances. https://www.mobituaries.com/
Rocca, Mo. Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019
I recently re-read this book for a book club and it was just as good the second time around. It’s one of those titles I always end up recommending when talking about books.
Meet Eleanor. She goes to work, buys groceries, she dislikes her co-workers, but enjoys doing crossword puzzles and reading. And every Friday she buys a margarita pizza and lots of vodka. Because that’s what it takes to get through the weekend. This novel brings up several hard issues, substance abuse, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, suicide and depression, but at the heart of it, it’s about being alone. How isolation is only ever a band aid, and not a very good one.
One of my favorite things about this novel is the main character’s inner dialog. For how heavy the subject matter can be, I laughed a lot while reading this book. Eleanor’s inner voice is blunt, quirky, and deeply endearing.
The main character is completely flawed, but not in the normal fictional ways that I read so often. She’s not secretly drop dead gorgeous behind her glasses, or charmingly clumsy. She’s painfully average in almost every way. Except her scars. Those that are on the outside and on the inside distinguish her. The first time I read this book I found her so painfully awkward I wondered if I could keep reading. I did, and I was not disappointed.
I also appreciate that this book doesn’t have the traditional “happily ever after” ending, but a realistic one. All of Eleanor’s problems don’t magically vanish. I think it’s much more important to see how she’s grown, and the baby-steps she’s taken to live a happier, healthier life.
Give this book a try.
Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel. Pamela Dorman Books. 2017
All the Gallant Men is the Nebraska Center for the Book’s 2020 One Book One Nebraska selection. Donald Stratton’s memoir stems from his remarkable experience as a naval seaman serving on the USS Arizona. Stratton was among the survivors from the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The book is the only memoir written by a USS Arizona survivor.
Stratton’s book is not one that I would have selected to read on my own. I read it because of its nomination for the One Book One Nebraska program. It didn’t take many pages before appreciating Donald Stratton’s story. It is remarkable and inspiring. The book is much more than an account of the Pearl Harbor attack. Donald Stratton’s life is chronicled from his early years growing up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, joining the Navy following high school, military experience as a seaman. Later, Stratton traveled the world as a skilled commercial diver in the oil industry.
Stratton was severely burned during the Pearl Harbor attack but managed, along with a few others, to climb hand-over-hand on a rope to an adjacent ship, an astonishing feat considering the 70 feet length and the burned hands of the seamen and the fires burning below. The rope was thrown by Joe George, a sailor from the other ship. The rope throw was a heroic act that was never fully rewarded because George disobeyed an order to cut the lines that tied the two ships. Without the rope, these sailors would have perished. Stratton had a long and painful recovery. Even so, he endured and with determination reenlisted in the Navy. Offered a non-combat post, he instead chose to return to a battleship and rejoin the war in the Pacific.
Donald Stratton’s story is dedicated to preserving the memory of the men aboard the USS Arizona – those that died and those that survived. In Stratton’s words: “I have tried my best to express what I could about what I experienced that day. It isn’t enough, though, because it is only one side of the story. The other side lies an ocean away. When you read a statistic, like 2,403 dead, it says so little. A statistical death is only the skeletal remains of a life. Without flesh and blood; its beating heart or its winking eye; its quick wit or its contagious laugh.”
I hope that many Nebraskans will read All the Gallant Men and that the book will lead to more stories about the experiences and sacrifices of those who serve and have served.
Ken Gire deserves recognition for his collaboration with Don Stratton to bring Stratton’s story to print. How that came about is an interesting story in itself (see writer’s postscript).
Described by family members as a humble and generous man, Donald Stratton passed away on February 15, 2020.
Donald Stratton and Ken Gire. All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor. HarperCollins. 2016.
Friday Reads: The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
In addition to the history of the Biltmore estate, this book also covers the Vanderbilt family. After a bit of background into the wealth inherited by George Washington Vanderbilt, the youngest son of William Henry “Billy” Vanderbit, the book focuses its attention mostly on the life of George, the building of the Biltmore estate, his wife, Edith Dresser, and the chronology of their lives and the evolution of the Biltmore estate. The Vanderbilt wealth was expanded through railroads and shipping and increased through inheritances. In 1877, Billy inherited nearly $100 million from his father, and when he died in 1885, his wealth had doubled to over $200 million. George was the youngest son of Billy, with seven siblings. Being the youngest, his inheritance was less than his siblings, although still in the millions of dollars. George was an eccentric cat, introverted with interests in art and books. Longtime bachelor until his marriage to Edith at age 37. In many ways, the book is also about Edith and her relationship with the Biltmore, especially since George died at the age of 51.
At any rate, the book covers interesting background information about the Vanderbilts, their fortune, philanthropy, and super-rich lifestyles. The book details George’s vision for the Biltmore, and its construction and maintenance. The estate was built from 1889 to 1895. Some of the statistics are staggering; especially considering this was pre-1900:
- A woodworking factory and brick kiln was produced on site, generating 32,000 bricks per day;
- 175,000 total square feet, with more than 4 acres of floor space;
- 250 rooms in the house, including 35 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 3 kitchens;
- Over 100,000 acres of surrounding area, including a robust forestry program (after George’s death Edith sold over 85,000 acres back to the federal government); and
- A library with over 10,000 volumes, many rare and collectible.
The Biltmore has been open to the public since 1930, with a brief hiatus during World War II, when various paintings and sculptures were moved there from the National Gallery of Art to protect them in the event of an attack on the U.S. The home continues to be owned by a private company ran by the Vanderbilt heirs. The Last Castle is overall an interesting read, not only pertaining to the construction and maintenance of the Biltmore estate, but also the Vanderbilt family and surrounding Asheville community.
Kiernan, Denise. The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s largest Home. Atria Books, 2017.
I’ll be the first to admit that you can put the word “library” in any book title, and I’ll read it without hesitation. But I am sure glad I picked up The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander, because it was delightful. I read a handful of middle-grade books around this time each year, and this has been my favorite selection so far of 2020.
Trying to abscond from her nanny at the library and get some quality reading time in, Lenora stumbles into the “staff only” section. Recognizing her potential, the head librarian offers her a job as “Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian”, tasking her to use her wits and valor to serve her patrons. Lenora embarks on a series of adventures, some comical, some harrowing, in her quest to answer patron inquiries. If only my days on the reference desk were this exciting!
This book clocks in at 208 pages, so it’s a fairly quick read, making it ideal for read-alouds. The fast-pace and fun facts will keep middle grade readers engaged. I have a certain niece named Lenora that will be getting a copy soon for sure!
Alexander, Zeno. The Library of Ever. Imprint, 2019.