Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 19, 2011
From My Shelf
Screening The Help
This week I took my 13-year-old daughter (aka Mini Maven) to see the film adaptation of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Like many readers and viewers, I have mixed feelings about both the book and the movie; others have written eloquently about Stockett's debatable view of mid-century race relations in Mississippi. However, I was impressed by how faithfully director Tate Taylor has translated Stockett's immensely popular novel into film.
One thing you can't deny about film in general is its visual impact; some of the story's details hit me differently as I watched them than they had when I read them. I was particularly struck by the scenes about President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The photograph of the president that Aibileen hangs on her wall, next to Jesus Christ's and her late son's, is an added, though relevant, detail. The visual punch of film helped me to notice those small moments.
Those small scenes added up to a big teaching moment for me as a parent. As we exited the theater, Mini Maven asked, "Why was everyone so upset about President Kennedy's funeral, Mom?" I realized that her education thus far had not included Kennedy's role in fostering hope among Americans of many different races and creeds, and so we spent a while talking about that, and about why Skeeter would have been happy to let her family's African-American servants watch the televised state funeral in the living room (although her mother shoos them away). I encouraged my daughter to ask her favorite librarian for some reading suggestions about the Civil Rights era (in which, of course, President Lyndon Johnson wound up playing a far more significant role than did President Kennedy).
This all served to remind me that no one can predict what someone else will take away from a story. Regardless of how you feel about The Help--the book, the movie or both--as you talk about it, keep that in mind. One woman's inspiration is another's revisionist history, yes--but one woman's faithful adaptation might also be one girl's surprising lesson. --Bethanne Patrick
Ann Patchett's New Bookstore
Author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes have found a location for their much-anticipated indie bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. They plan to open Parnassus Books this October in Greenbriar Village--where Abbott Martin Rd. meets Hillsboro Pike--with a staff headed by Mary Grey James, formerly of Ingram.
"I think Nashville wants this and needs this, and I don’t want to live in a city that doesn’t have an independent bookstore," Patchett told the Tennessean. "The location was great. I would rather thrive in a small space than shiver in a big space. David Crabtree (executive v-p of Brookside Properties) is so spectacular. Some people said we don’t want a bookstore. Bookstores are dead, but he got our vision."
In addition to a curated book selection, Parnassus will stock greeting cards and journals, magazines and newspapers, locally produced products and art, and store-branded merchandise. Customers will also be able to buy e-books through the store's website. Web outreach will include an e-mail newsletter, Facebook page and a website featuring a monthly blog written by Patchett.
The owners also shared their mission statement for the new bookshop: "As Mt. Parnassus was the center of Greek learning and culture, Parnassus Books will serve as a center for Nashville's literary community by hosting author readings, workshops, book clubs, and music events. As a local independent bookstore, they will support the economy of Nashville, partner with area businesses and schools, and become an institution and resource for culture and community. It is Parnassus Books' goal to complement and enhance the rich cultural character of The Athens of the South."
Book Candy: Literary "Kicks," Novel Chandelier, Weighty Bookshelf
Your book-nerd editors would have killed for a pair or three of these literary Pro-Keds sneakers from Zazzle when we were in junior high. The pink-and-green Animal Farm pair might appeal most to distaff-side readers, but the others have mostly unisex color schemes and include titles from The Scarlet Letter to The Catcher in the Rye to Romeo and Juliet.
If you feel that books illuminate your life, you might enjoy this book-binding chandelier. Made from sliced-up vintage spines, it's one more way to upcycle outdated volumes otherwise destined for the rubbish heap. The price ($30) is so reasonable that we could see buying a few for a bookish event or room.
Need to balance out that TBR pile? Try this bookshelf from Niko Economidis: The "Read-Unread Bookshelf" shows which side hangs heavier on your conscience.
Further Reading: City of Promise
City of Promise (Simon & Schuster, Aug 9, 2011) by Beverly Swerling is the fourth of the author's historical novels about Manhattan (City of Dreams, City of God, City of Glory), covering the years from 1864 to 1883. If there are "eight million stories in the naked city," well, there are also several hundred authors who mine those stories for their work.
Perhaps novelists who are drawn to city histories would, in another life, be urban planners--but regardless of what motivates their alternate routes through real eras and events, readers love them. Some of our favorites:
London by Edward Rutherfurd wins the prize for greatest amount of time covered: Nearly two millennia! Rutherfurd has a rather captivating shtick for his protagonist family: they tend to have webbed hands and feet, reminding readers of the great city's aqueous origins and dependence.
I, Claudius by Robert Graves doesn't cover century after century, but it does provide one of the most evilly good views of late-Roman decadence and deceit. If your only memory of this story derives from the BBC adaptation, run and buy a copy of Graves's novel now--you'll be more than pleasantly surprised.
Fragrant Harbor by John Lanchester tells the story of the "heung gong," or "fragrant harbor"--Hong Kong to most modern Westerners. Lanchester's dual narrative of the still-colonial 1930s juxtaposed with turn-of-the-21st-century big business is unexpected but works; graceful and elegant prose.
Obama's Book List
Read like a POTUS by following the President Obama's book club. The Daily Beast offered an infographic timeline of every book the Reader-in-Chief has read since the last campaign. How many have you read?
Lists for Book-to-Film Adaptation Fans
Ten great movies for book lovers were recommended by Flavorwire, which conceded that film adaptations don't always "do right by the written word, but a few fine films have celebrated literature and writers in ways memorable, thought-provoking, and entertaining."
Flavorwire also asked, "What are critics' favorite 'chick lit' film adaptations?" The search for an answer led first to an admission that "chick lit can be a loaded term--just ask Jennifer Egan. But it also provides an easy (if admittedly dated) shorthand for a category of fiction written for a female audience about the female experience." Then the researchers used Rotten Tomatoes to compile of a short list of "chick lit film adaptations that were a hit with critics."
The Daily Show on Borders
Turn Borders into a "book store" preserved in the style of Colonial Williamsburg ("Ye Olde Borders-Towne"). Replace "old-fashioned" bookshelves with "beautiful, well-appointed downloading pods." These are just two of the suggestions comedian John Hodgman made on Tuesday night's episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to help bricks-and-mortar bookstores survive in a digital book world, GeekWire reported.
TV: It's a Literary Season
Word & Film featured its "hand-picked selection of vitamin-packed offerings from TV’s current crop of shows and features in various stages of development," qualifying the selections with a few ground rules, including the fact that "some of the shows we mentioned weren't technically based on books, but each is literary in spirit. Even though "Mad Men" sprung from creator Matthew Weiner's imagination, the suburban anomie at the heart of the show has clearly been shaped and influenced by the work of Arthur Miller, John Cheever, John Updike. In fact, the last time we interviewed Weiner, he admitted that the idea for the show was indirectly inspired by one of his favorite books about a disillusioned ad-man: Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. And if you looked hard enough, you could probably divine Vince Gilligan's literary touchstones for Breaking Bad." (If anyone cares to venture a guess on this subject, we'd love to hear your thoughts.)
The list includes Good Morning Killer, an adaptation of April Smith's novel; Next People, with which Salman Rushdie "makes his debut as the creative force behind this original Showtime pilot"; A Visit from the Goon Squad, based on Jennifer Egan's novel; Hobgoblin by "power literary couple" Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman; and Dexter, adapted from Jeff Lindsay's series of bestselling thrillers.
After the Party
by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell's fans will be delighted with this long-awaited sequel to Ralph's Party, an engrossing novel in its own right even if you didn't read the previous work.
After the Party picks up where most romances leave off, delving into what happens after you finally find the one, cohabitate and have a few babies--showing us protagonists Jem and Ralph 11 years after the romantic payoff that ended Ralph's Party.
Gone are the dizzying smooches, long painting sessions and fun jalapeño-tasting contests. Jem is now obsessed with being a mom, while a rejected Ralph smokes his days away, pouting about his wife's transition from sexy goddess to nagging battleaxe. Jem, meanwhile, is resentful that the lazy Ralph doesn't seem to care about her career. They both start flirting with other people, and just when Jem escapes by crawling into a bottle, life-long atheist Ralph finds God. And that's when you'll really get interested in Jewell's tale.
Jem and Ralph's story is an exquisite conundrum that's uplifting, relatable and jarringly similar to many modern relationships. Jewell's account reminds us that love may begin with grand romantic gestures but only by putting effort into the unglamorous minutiae of everyday life can love survive, grow and last. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: Lisa Jewell's new novel reexamines happily ever after and what transpires when day-to-day living challenges a couple once madly in love.
Henry VIII: Wolfman
by A. E. Moorat
Henry VIII is perhaps best known for having six wives--and disposing of most of them through divorce or execution. However, with the release of A.E. Moorat's new horror novel, Henry VIII is revealed to be... a werewolf. British author Moorat has spent years writing fiction, and his first horror novel was Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, released in 2010. Henry VIII: Wolfman is something of a follow-up--different time period, same use of royalty and same gory humor.
A secret uprising of "wolfen" is threatening Henry's rule; however, he is protected by a secret society known as the Protektorate. Henry just wants a male heir. The trouble begins when Henry's male heir is eaten by a wolf and Henry is bitten, leading to a tale of vengeance and self-discovery. Does Henry want revenge on the wolves that murdered his child, or does he give in to his own flesh-eating tendencies?
Like Moorat's Queen Victoria, the setting and backstory of Henry VIII is based on fact. We meet such real-life characters as Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn. There are royal intrigues, beheadings and plagues. Readers may wonder--What if Henry VIII really had been a werewolf?
Moorat's characters are expertly well-rounded; change--full-moon-related or not--is inevitable. He cleverly mixes grotesque description with comic delivery. If you've ever wondered what a werewolf thinks about, wonder no more. Read Moorat's new release and ask yourself: Am I a sicko for laughing at all the horrid bits? --Sara Dobie, blogger at Wordpress
Discover: A historically based horror novel with clever prose that may help readers overcome resistance to reading about werewolf-related gore.
by Maxine Swann
The Foreigners' narrator, an American named Daisy, moves to Argentina ostensibly to study the city's waterways but ultimately to rediscover herself after her divorce leaves her psychologically adrift. There she befriends an unpredictable Argentine named Leonarda and a polished Austrian named Isolde, two radically different women who are wandering Buenos Aires with the same muddled desire to find themselves.
Daisy finds herself entangled in Leonarda's harebrained schemes and propping up Isolde's disintegrating Euro-artist façade; soon, her plans to study waterways and her post-divorce depression are forgotten. Feeling trapped, she makes a break for Uruguay, only to discover that her true chances of returning to herself lay in Buenos Aires--with or without her new friendships. Meanwhile, Leonarda and Isolde come to some surprising conclusions of their own, as the city pushes each woman toward her own personal metamorphosis.
Astonishing, precise and beautifully written, The Foreigners offers not only a stunning view of Argentine life, but also a literary trip that is neither overplanned nor easily forgotten. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia
Discover: Buenos Aires through the eyes of three women on journies of self-discovery, destination unknown.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Daniel Polansky
Picture the Baltimore of The Wire: a city where the criminal subculture has evolved not just into a shadow economy, but a shadow society, flourishing under the surface of official "law and order." This is Low Town, the world of the Warden, a drug dealer who has carved out a bit of territory for himself and will get his hands dirty to protect it, if need be. But the Warden is not just a brutal thug, and when a young girl is kidnapped and murdered in his neighborhood, he decides to hunt down the killer, because he knows how incompetent the city's investigators are--having been one himself before leaving in disgrace.
So far, this sounds like a standard urban thriller, but Daniel Polansky includes a twist: in the dark, swashbuckling fantasy world of Low Town, magic is real. Instead of forensic investigators, for example, the guard has "scryers" who glean psychic impressions off dead bodies. Although the Warden solves the dead girl's murder quickly, it involves a demonic force that causes the law to shut the case down and order him to keep his trap shut. Then another child goes missing, and the guard is back to put the squeeze on the Warden, who will have to see the case all the way through this time.
Polansky's imaginary city has resonances to our world, like the parallels between his Kirentown and a real-life Chinatown. Those help hook the reader into the story, which turns into the type of noir narrative where everything and everyone is tainted by corruption. Meanwhile, solving these murders forces the Warden to confront his old life. spurring its own set of emotional aftershocks. Polansky writes with a steadfast commitment to the downbeat noir sensibility, while leaving room for a sequel if readers' interest warrants. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: Fantasy fans may be more likely than mystery fans to give Polansky's mashup a try, but both genres benefit from his carefully calibrated integration of their tropes and themes.
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
by Charles C. Mann
In elementary school we learned that Christopher Columbus landed on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1492, stage one in his plan to find a western route to China. In this landmark book, Charles Mann (1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus) refreshes, corrects and amplifies our long-ago memories of those lessons. Columbus's voyage was about more than an alternative route--it changed the world; here, Mann focuses on the ecological and economic changes.
Trade in tobacco and silver was the spur for the "Columbia Exchange," yet it involved more: large domesticated animals arrived in North America; common nightcrawlers, red march worms and bees, not seen on the American continent since the Ice Age, arrived in Virginia; mosquitoes that carried malaria and yellow fever were brought in from Africa; and so on. As scientist Cindy Hale told Mann, "Four centuries ago, we launched this gigantic unplanned ecological experiment. We have no idea what the long-term consequences will be."
Though we can't predict how the experiment will end, Mann's stories of what we have learned so far will rivet readers. Consider his statement: "The industrial revolution depends on three raw materials: steel, fossil fuels, and rubber. If one member of that triad suddenly vanished, it would have unwelcome effect."
1493 bristles with insights like this. African sweet potatoes averted a food crisis in China, introduction of potatoes from the Andes had the same effect in Europe, and something called the "Duffy antigen" played a critical role in the slave trade. Mann portrays Mexico City as "a troubled, teeming, polyglot metropolis with an opulent center and seething ethnic neighborhoods... that is struggling to fend off ecological disaster" and sees it as the world's first 21st-century city, although it was already that way in 1642. Setting sail for China, Columbus started it all. --John McFarland, author
Discover: An eye-opening study of worldwide ecological changes brought about after Christopher Columbus first set foot on the land in the Caribbean.
Sweet Heaven When I Die
by Jeff Sharlet
Jeff Sharlet rose to prominence in political media circles as the author of The Family and C Street, two books that probed the intersection of American politics and fundamentalist Christianity. He describes the essays collected in Sweet Heaven When I Die as "attempted escapes" from that subculture, but it's far from a clean break. In one chapter, he accompanies members of a youth ministry to a local "hell house," where the evils of secularism are portrayed in graphic detail; another short essay describes Sharlet's encounter with "Vera," a German teenager who found Jesus as an exchange student in Oklahoma, then struggled to find a church in Berlin that spoke to her with the same power. Even a profile of the radical cultural critic Cornel West is distinguished, in this context, by the differences between his self-described "Christocentric" pragmatism and mainstream fundamentalism.
The collection does branch out, though, with compelling portraits of a Yiddish novelist who spent years writing about life in the ghettos of Lodz; a far-left activist murdered by Mexican law enforcement officials while trying to cover political riots; and a New Age healer in post-9/11 New York who's grown rich providing clients with the security of "spiritual health." Sharlet's own journey of discovery is often an integral part of these profiles, and interspersed among them are even more personal reflections, drawing upon his experiences and those of his friends to describe a world where the search for meaning never ends. In the end, he says, it's in not knowing the ultimate answers, in leaving ourselves open to the possibility of change, that we can continue to draw hope. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: Call it narrative journalism or creative nonfiction, Jeff Sharlet's collection of feature-length pieces demonstrates his mastery of the form.
Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice
by Alia Malek, editor
Patriot Acts might make your stomach hurt. While nausea isn't normally a book-review highlight, in this case such a visceral response should be counted as a measure of the book’s success. The editor, Alia Malek, is the American-born child of Syrian immigrants and author of A Country Called Amreeka: US History Retold Through Arab American Lives. Her stated goal in Patriot Acts is to give a voice to people whose human rights were violated after 9/11.
The heart of the book is 18 first-hand accounts of what Malek calls "the darker side of the War on Terror." Members of America's Arab, Middle-Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, the narrators differ in age, ethnicity, gender and, unexpectedly, religion. Some stories are horribly disturbing: a 16-year-old Muslim girl from West Africa held on suspicion of being a suicide bomber, a young Sikh who lost two brothers to hate crimes. Others are black comedy, like the student detained by TSA because of Arabic-language flashcards and a Lebanese great-grandfather.
What holds these narratives together is the question raised by Sikh business owner Rana Sodhi, whose brother was shot to death because he wore a turban and "looked like the enemy": "How many times can a person be stopped before they feel like they are not seen as American? What does an American look like?" Published 10 years after the September 11 attacks, Patriot Acts is a powerful reminder of the importance--and fragility--of America's civil liberties. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Individual stories of injustice that illustrate the larger experience of America's Arab, Middle-Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities after the September 11 attacks.
The Missing of the Somme
by Geoff Dyer
There are countless books on World War I, and countless more on the wars following it, but The Missing of the Somme stands out among the crowd because instead of discussing strategy, timelines and numbers of the war, author Geoff Dyer (But Beautiful; Out of Sheer Rage) focuses on the remembrance of World War I.
Though short, Dyer's treatise is incredibly thorough--he draws on his experience traveling to the cemeteries and monuments across Europe; surviving photographs, films, letters and journals; and his own family history to craft a story about the impact of war on the generations that followed it. In doing so, he covers most, if not all, of the many ways we use both to remember and memorialize the war and the losses in which it resulted. Ultimately, The Missing of the Somme shows us how much our need to commemorate an event is capable of shaping our memories of it, even as the event is still in progress.
Originally published in the U.K. in 1994, this new edition is the first time The Missing of the Somme is being published in the U.S. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and lose the last remaining veterans of the war itself, it proves a timely and important look at both the memory and memorial of the war so terrible as to be named The Great War. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A striking examination of how the memorials of World War I have shaped our memory of the war itself.
If I Have to Tell You One More Time...: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling
by Amy McCready
Amy McCready, founder of the online course Positive Parenting Solutions, takes the positive therapeutic approach of Adlerian psychology and translates it for parents who may be struggling with traditional techniques. She posits that modern times and families benefit from modern parenting techniques. Time-outs, yelling, reminders and nagging don't produce the long-term behavioral changes modern parents hope for.
McCready uses a predictable pedagogic formula. Each chapter begins with a sample interaction between parent and child that typifies modern Western society, like getting kids to help around the house or to do their homework. The perspective is that human beings (kids) do the things they do for specific reasons; namely, to feel as if they belong and are significant. As such, kids are goal oriented, and will behave other than is good for them and their families if they feel discouraged in this pursuit.
The techniques in the book are simple yet powerful. They ask parents to spend quality time with their children, to notice their own behavior, preferences and style and to re-think control. Each section has practical applications of the technique, a "why this works" explanation and a revision of the original case study, with the technique applied to show a different, hopefully better, outcome.
It's possible for every type of parent to find something of use in this book. While children may or may not respond as positively or easily as the book at time suggests, adding new strategies to our parenting toolbox is not a bad thing. The clear and direct style make what could be a complex subject seem attainable and, in the end, worth the read. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A well-grounded parenting manual with an Adlerian basis, with a cleanly written set of techniques that anyone can add to their parenting toolbox.
Children's & Young Adult
by Shelley Rotner , Sheila M. Kelly, photos by Rotner
The team behind Shades of People helps answer some of the most commonly asked questions from children who are adopted. The authors set a conversational tone from the beginning: "Children can bring joy to a family," they write. A handful of photographs depict a variety of families--a single parent, two parents, an only child, multiple siblings, and as many skin tones as there are colors in the rainbow. Yet nothing feels posed or staged. Rotner's photographs look like treasured candids in a family album.
The authors also tackle hard questions, with candor and compassion: "Mothers love their babies, but sometimes a mother is unable to care for her child." They offer possible reasons--the mother may have been too young, too poor to buy food, medicine and clothing, or her country may have been "made dangerous by a war." The book reassures children that they are not alone in their observations and feelings: "Sometimes adopted children look different from the other members of their family." But photos show the children fully integrated into their family's activities, getting a piggyback ride from a sister, or playing in the back yard. Families are depicted in both urban and rural settings, nearly always outdoors to better focus on the commonalities rather than the differences between children. Parents and children alike will welcome this invitation to talk about what makes them family. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A welcome resource to open a conversation about why your family decided to adopt.
King Jack and the Dragon
by Peter Bently , illus. by Helen Oxenbury
This adventure by dusk-light will quickly become a bedtime favorite. The rhythmic, rhyming language flows as a read-aloud, and the story builds suspense with each turn of the page. Jack, a confident fellow sporting a yellow paper crown and a blanket for a royal robe, leads a procession of three. King Jack, along with Sir Zack and preschooler Caspar, set out to make a "mighty great fort." The great fort rises from rudimentary materials: a giant box, sheets, sticks and "a few broken bricks" (to hold down the fort's corners). Oxenbury's (There's Going to Be a Baby) step-by-step charcoal renderings prove that nothing goes to waste in the trio's project, and a full-color illustration reveals the battlement in all its glory. "Protect your king's castle from dragon attack!" King Jack shouts.
Suddenly, they're on a battlefield of fire-breathers. As Jack and Zack do battle with wooden sword and javelin, Caspar dangles a stick toward a benign-looking dragon's tail. Oxenbury gives a nod to Maurice Sendak with her beast-filled forest, Jack's crown and the cloth-draped castle akin to Max's throne among the Wild Things. In Bently's (A Lark in the Ark) smooth merging of the boys' real and fantasy worlds, "a giant came by and went home with Sir Zack," and another giant carries Caspar away. King Jack continues his solo struggle, despite goose-pimply sound effects (like the "skitter-scurry" of a mouse). A comforting conclusion depicts the young monarch safely tucked into bed. Bently and Oxenbury prove that the imagination makes riches of the simplest ingredients. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A rollicking read-aloud starring a courtly trio who builds a monument to the imagination.
by Paul Dowswell
Thirteen-year-old Piotr Bruck is one of the lucky ones. Orphaned the night Poland was invaded by the Nazis, he is sent to a Warsaw orphanage where German doctors hunt for children racially pure enough to "rehabilitate." They choose Piotr as a "magnificent specimen of Nordic youth," rename him Peter and send him to Berlin. There he becomes the foster son of Professor Franz Kaltenbach of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Peter must join the Hitler Youth, where he reluctantly begins to absorb the ideology of the Nazi Party. Everything changes when he discovers Anna Reiter, the beautiful squad leader of the League of German Maidens, sequestered in Peter's favorite corner of the library--mocking a picture of Adolf Hitler. Together the two find the courage to join an underground movement to help hide and transport Jews and smuggle food to starving Polish workers.
Dowswell (the Adventures of Sam Witchall series) has garnered positive reviews for his historical accuracy and stirring battle scenes. He has also written many nonfiction books for children. Socially and historically accurate, The Ausländer (in German, the "foreigner") is not only a mesmerizing read but would also be an excellent discussion book in high school history classes. --Jane Henriksen Baird, public librarian in Alaska
Discover: The journey of a Polish boy of German descent as he rebels against the indoctrination of Nazism.
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