The Best Laid Plans

As you may recall, gentle reader, in June I devised a list of interesting non-fiction titles to guide my summer reading.  Well the good news is that I have been reading non-fiction. The bad news is that none of the titles I’ve chosen so far have been selected from that list. I had hoped to whittle away at my reading list, but sadly I’ve just added to it. Still, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have than a long list of interesting books to read.  Speaking of the grand scheme of things, the titles I have been reading this summer have had a philosophical bent for some reason. Perhaps sunshine makes a person question their place in the universe. Or it could be sunstroke. In any case, here are few more titles you might want to consider for your summer non-fiction reading.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
dyingeverydayWhile this work is definitely chock full of intriguing Roman Imperial history, the book’s central aim is trying to answer a seemingly intractable question: Just what kind of person was Seneca? On the one hand, thanks to many of his surviving philosophical works, we know that he was a dyed in the wool Stoic preaching the rigorous virtues of poverty, morality and the equality of all before fate. On the other we have his career as a shrewd politician and tutor to the young Emperor Nero; Seneca amassed a huge amount of wealth while delicately maneuvering through the deadly and incredibly amoral minefield of the imperial court. The author is a master at examining a tenant of stoicism that Seneca espoused and then contrasting it with the rather seedy political world he found himself in. Romm makes a convincing argument concerning Seneca’s moral character, but ultimately leaves it up to the reader to decide.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
theswerveThis one is a librarian’s, or book lover’s, dream. In the winter of 1417 the Italian humanist and former Papal secretary Poggio Braccilini was searching for forgotten manuscripts, a popular pastime in that era, in the monasteries of Southern Germany.  What he discovered was a fragile copy of an ancient poem titled On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). This text, written by Lucretius and promoting the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus, was praised for the beauty of its language, but the ideas it conveyed were definitely not kosher for the time. A few examples: early atomic theory (discovered centuries before the scientific method was invented), the idea of an indifferent universe, and, worst of all, the concept that seeking pleasure was actually a good thing. Greenblatt’s book is not only an examination of the history of these ideas and their influence on our culture, but also the fascinating story of Poggio Braccilini and his time.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman
accidentaluniverseAll the essays in this short work are concerned with the impact of recent scientific discoveries on our view of the universe and our place in it. The author is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist which I found to be a great help when it came to his descriptions of some of the more complicated scientific concepts such as dark matter and the multiverse which he deftly puts in layman’s terms.  The essays are not simply explanations of scientific concepts. Instead, Lightman tries to integrate the scientific ideas with concepts from history, literature, and his own personal experiences.  This creates a balanced approach that is greatly appreciated when it comes to hot button topics like the often uneasy relationship between belief and the scientific method. This book is not a series of rants from a particular perspective, but rather a balanced and humane attempt to genuinely explore the ideas scientific discoveries are bringing to the fore.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
alifeworthlivingWhile you may associate Albert Camus with past memories of disgruntled youths wearing all black and mumbling the first line from The Stranger (Mother died today. Or was it yesterday; I can’t be sure.) this blend of biography and criticism would argue that there is much more to the man and his ideas for living.  Zaretsky structures the biographical details around a series of concepts that Camus grappled with and that make up the chapter headings: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, Revolt.  What emerges is a set of ideas for understanding the world that are constantly open to exploration and interpretation, far from the static label (existentialism) often ascribed to them. While struggle is definitely a component, Camus finds that there is actually cause for hope and, gasp, happiness in this life:

It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.

So, a few suggestions for a little light non-fiction reading this summer. Perhaps I need to get out of the sun.

Must Reads for Summer 2014

186d4192b2c58e47b37c8609e68ccc36

There are good and bad things about working in a library. The good: all of the great books that you discover and get to read. The bad: all of the great books that you don’t have time to read. We all have excuses and these are mine: full-time work and a toddler who just turned two years old and a baby who is ten months old. Oh yeah, and a house and garden and that guy I married 33 years ago. So, I often feel like that funny old bird the pelican whose beak holds more than his belly can. I have a beak full of great reads these days which may interest you if you’re participating in the summer reading program at the Everett Public Library or if you’re lucky enough to be planning a vacation and need a good book to take along. This list has a little bit of everything so there may be just the right book for you. Let’s start with non-fiction.

indexCA1ADCTLFlash Boys: a Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis is on my list since I read Boomerang and I thought that it was the bomb. This guy also wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side and other excellent books. It reads like a John Grisham novel, but it’s a true story about stock exchanges, high frequency traders, and dark pools. The author is great at explaining complicated technical subjects and telling a good story around them. I want to read it!

indexCA63IMS4Leonardo and the Last Supper has been by my bedside for a few weeks now. It’s excellent! I was an art history major in college and I’ve learned so much more from this book about the creation of this Renaissance masterpiece. Mr. King has managed to focus on a particular theme and give the reader as much information as needed to really understand it. Another of his earlier books accomplished the same thing, Brunelleschi’s Dome, which I can also recommend.

indexCAAEEVC8The President and the Assassin: McKinley, terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century is a great book (obvious from the first chapter) by Seattle author, Scott Miller. He creates a portrait of turn of the century America going back and forth between an under-appreciated president, William McKinley and his anarchist assassin, Leon Czolgosz. This was a time when the powerful were growing more powerful and desperate men turned to terrorism. Sound familiar?

And now for some fiction:

index (16)I have to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because my daughter heard her give a talk recently in Copenhagen and apparently it’s wonderful. The author takes on immigration, race, and what it means to leave home and to return, all wrapped up in a love story. Adichie has also written Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. The first chapter alone is marvelous. Let’s all get with it and read this one.

indexCAZNZBA7The Care of Wooden Floors by Will WIles was recommended to me by two co-workers so I checked it out and my husband read it while we were on vacation. Even though I couldn’t read it, he confirmed that it is funny and interesting and a good book.  It’s an odd couple story of a fellow who house sits for a composer friend. He accidentally spills wine on the apartment’s priceless wooden floor and endures a disastrous week of perfectionist repair and maintenance.

index (1)Delicious! is by Ruth Reichl. I’ve read all of her memoirs from Garlic and Sapphires to Tender at the Bone. This is her first attempt at fiction and she certainly writes about what she knows: the heroine is a woman who works for a venerable food magazine that suddenly ceases publication. It looks like a pretty fun and fast read, and if you’re looking for a souffle-type novel, you could do worse! Plus, the cover is lovely.

indexBroken Harbor is Tana French’s new ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ crime novel and it’s supposed to be every bit as brilliant as her three earlier books featuring that tough cop, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy. This is a murder story which seems easy to solve at first until the details don’t add up. Read this one to get the atmosphere of an Ireland hit hard by the recession, an idea of police procedure and to become engrossed in a well written who dunnit.

index (1)The Possibilities is written by Kaui Hart Hemmings who also wrote The Descendants. You’ll remember that movie with George Clooney. This new book follows a similar theme of family and loss and is set in the paradise of Breckenridge, Colorado. A single mom is grieving the loss of her son, Cully, in an avalanche when a strange girl shows up with a secret from Cully’s past.

indexThe Vacationers by Emma Straub  will take you all the way to the beaches of Spain, where a family’s dramas are set against the beautiful background of a lush vacation. It will leave you feeling like you were just on a family trip – laughing, exhausted and filled with love.

So, check out one of these books to take on your next vacation or simply read one for a great ‘staycation’. Either way, enjoy!

Adult Summer Reading Reviews

We are nearing the mid-way point for the Literary Elements Adult Summer Reading Challenge. Many of you have signed up and received lots of great prizes. Some of you have gone out of your way to share reviews of books that you have been reading this summer. It was hard to choose, but a few selected reviews are shown below from the ones we have received so far. Thanks to all for participating and sharing your reviews with us!

An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James (Reviewed by Patricia R.)

inquiryintoloveanddeathAs a dedicated reader of fiction– Mysteries and Sci-Fi Fantasy–for over 65 years, this book surpassed anything I have ever heard of or read. From the first page to the last, it is a slow builder of suspense! And yes,fear! This is my first encounter with Gothic, though it is not the gory horror stories that make one ill. Ms. St. James has welded together Gothic, Mystery, and Romance with such great skill that the reader should not be surprised if she experiences goose bumps in the final chapters. Location is England in the early 1900′s, shortly after WW1, in a remote village. Ms. St. James writings are filled with spine-tingling, terrifying characters, but, there is also the beautiful romance with a Scotland Yard Inspector and the discovery of Jillian’s family history. I would share with you that this story is so compelling and intense that I would not choose to read this at night before bed. In some ways, a wonderful, old-fashioned ghost story! Her three books have been reviewed and listed on the NY Times Best Seller List with the 4th one to be released in April, 2015.

The Way of All Fish by Martha Grimes (Reviewed by Cathleen V.)

wayofallfishContract killers who take jobs on the condition that they can decide for themselves whether or not the target is worthy of elimination is an intriguing idea. Even though the inside flap of this novel gives the impression that the hit men are the focus of the tale, there are a large number of other characters who are part of the detailed schemes in this book. Some of the characters have talents, skills, hobbies, and occupations that could make them worthy of novels of their own. The twists, devious manipulations, and humor kept me reading through the points in the story which seemed slow or less relevant to the plot, even a few places where I was not certain I wished to continue on reading. I would say this is all right as one of my first reads of the summer. It requires some attention to keep track of several characters and storylines but is not so challenging that it is frustrating.

Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (Reviewed by Cynthia W.)

animalspiritsI like to be reading a novel and a non-fiction book at all times. I have lots of opportunities to share good novels with friends and co-workers but I really value this forum to share an occasional non-fiction book. I just finished reading Animal Spirits, a look at classical economic theory and Keynesian theory in light of our questions regarding the recent behavior of our world economy. I have no training in economics so I was a bit nervous but also encouraged by the funny artwork on the cover and the mention of human psychology in the subtitle. The authors, George Akerlof and Robert Schiller, are economists whose names I have seen and heard in the news. While their collaborative style of writing is not graceful or very engaging, it is also not academic or difficult to understand for readers with a good all-round education in other fields. In fact, there is humor to be found in these pages. Beginning with a brief over-view of the work of Adam Smith and his most influential successor John Maynard Keynes, the authors point out the strengths and weaknesses of both theories as they have historically been applied to policy decisions. The “animal spirits” element of Keynes’ analysis, largely ignored by economists since his time, are explained as elements of non-rational human psychology that influence financial and economic decision-making. Since most decisions are made by people who are not following a theoretical ideology but are attempting to make the right decisions for themselves and their society, human psychology plays a greater role than previously acknowledged by theoreticians and scholars. The human considerations examined here are confidence, fairness, corruption and bad faith, money illusion (a new concept for me) and the human propensity to create a narrative story around our lives and circumstances. The effects that these considerations have on individual decisions, relationships and political discussion are easy to see in the world right now. In part 2 the book attempts to answer questions that depend on the economic concepts and human psychology presented in part 1. Questions like “Why do economies fall into depressions?” (lots of history in this one regarding both the US depression of the 1890′s and the Great Depression of the 1930′s that effected the whole world,) “Why are there people who cannot find a job?” (surprisingly, classical theory and the stripped-down version of Keynesian theory do not recognize the existence of involuntary unemployment,) “Why is saving for the future so arbitrary?” (including individual and cultural influences on decisions to save or spend,) and “Why do real estate markets go through cycles?” Animal Spirits is only 177 pages long but I would not call it an easy read. Neither is it too difficult. The insight into the current economic environment gained from this treatise ( the authors do espouse the view that government has a legitimate and vital role to play in economic health and stability) is well worth the effort. I feel more prepared to engage in discussion with the tools to express my own viewpoint and values and without rancor or accusation.

The Facts of Summer

Just in case you haven’t noticed, the summer reading season is upon us. In addition to great programs at EPL encouraging people to read this summer, there are many summer reading lists from which to choose. Any list, however, has to grapple with an interesting conundrum: what exactly is a summer read? Some recommend escapist ‘light’ fiction while others promote the most popular titles that they claim everyone will be reading. While the idea that the season should dictate the type of book you read does seem a bit dubious, I have found that I tend to reach for non-fiction titles when the sun comes out.  Maybe it is just the extra hours of daylight that encourages me to delve into these often longer titles. In any case, here are two excellent non-fiction titles I’ve just read and a list of interesting ones that are on my ‘to read’ list.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
sixthextinctionThe core topic of this book, the scientific evidence that the rise of the human species has coincided with a huge loss of flora and fauna on par with other mass extinctions, is admittedly a bit disturbing. The amazing thing is that Kolbert presents the topic in a fascinating and, dare I say, entertaining way. She goes out into the field with biologists, geologists and other scientists to examine the demise of present and past species and the resulting evolutionary fallout. Each chapter is a separate story complete with an intriguing cast of characters, both animal and human, adding another piece to the puzzle. This is scientific writing at its best. It also helps to give our rather ego-centric species a rare gift: perspective.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
fivedaysatmemorialThis is the harrowing tale of life and death at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the floodwaters continued to rise, the doctors, nurses and medical staff had to make desperate decisions concerning which of their patients would be evacuated and the even more troubling quandary of what to do with those left behind. Fink uses all her journalistic talents to present the events of those five days after the hurricane as well as the extensive legal battles and moral judgments that came afterwards. The central question of whether there is a separate standard of right and wrong during ‘extreme emergencies’ is wisely left for the reader to decide.

Next is a sampling from my long list of non-fiction titles that I have been meaning to read. While I can’t vouch for them yet, they seem intriguing and just might be worth your summer reading time as well.

carsickdevilscormorantanswertothriddlecubed

Carsick by John Waters
The concept alone, the infamous director hitchhiking across America and recording his encounters, is impossible to resist. The audiobook, which the author will narrate, should be a standout.

The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History by Richard King
I’ve always thought of cormorants as simply cool birds. Apparently there is a long history of mistrust and demonization when it comes to human/cormorant relations. Time to find out more.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David MacLean
A memoir of amnesia, induced by malaria medications no less, and the author’s attempt to rediscover not only his memories, but who he is. Sounds like a mind bender, but in a good way.

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval
Most of us spend a large amount of time in ‘designed workspaces’. How did that happen? Hopefully this book will have a few answers.

danceofthereptileslostartoffindingourwayhistoryofbourbonyesitshotinhere

Dance of the Reptiles by Carl Hiaasen
A new selection of the author’s articles from the Miami Herald. While Hiaasen’s fiction can sometimes be hit or miss, his exposés concerning the beauty and corruption of Florida have always been entertaining.

Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Huth
A curious look at the ways we found our bearings before the recent advent of MapQuest and Google Earth. Maybe this will finally decide the dreaded car argument of whether to consult the smart phone or the map.

Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge
A colorful history of bourbon sounds like just the ticket for warm summer nights. As a plus maybe I’ll finally be able to identify all those bottles they are pouring from in Justified.

Yes It’s Hot in Here by A.J. Mass
A cultural history of the team mascot by a former ‘Mr. Met’ that is just too weird a topic to pass up. It has got to be a surreal experience being inside the suit.

Clearly, you have many choices for summer non-fiction titles. So many in fact, that you just might want to extend your ‘summer reading’ well into fall and winter.

I Challenge You to a Read-Off!

Logo

Summer reading: it’s not just for the kids! Yes, these days your library makes it easy for the whole family to have fun reading all summer long. While we have a great Summer Reading Program (SRP) planned for children and teens, you may be surprised to learn that adults can participate as well. I promise that getting started is quick and painless:

Step 1: Sign up for the reading challenge online starting June 1st.
Step 2: Track your reading progress.
Step 3: Pick up a prize after the 1st, 3rd, and 5th books have been read and logged.

When you complete the final challenge you’ll be entered to win the grand prize, a Kindle Paperwhite! And don’t forget: your library card unlocks thousands of free Kindle downloadable books. All the details can be found on our website. Thanks to the Friends of the Library, who generously donated this year’s prizes.

So what else can you do? If you’d like to try your hand at blogging, write a book review and you may see it published right here on A Reading Life! Maybe my editor will give me the summer off if enough of you write some stellar book reviews. If you’ve seen my list of reading resolutions you can understand how I’d like to spend my summer: getting through some of my tougher reading selections.

If you’re more of a hands-on person, you’ll be interested to learn that we’ll also have some fantastic events that tie in with our theme of Literary Elements. The one I’m most looking forward to is learning home brewing from Don Roberts. Yes, the owner of Everett’s Homebrew Heaven will be at the Main Library June 17th at 7pm, ready and willing to teach us how to create our own craft brews at home. Finally, I can join the ranks of my idol Wil Wheaton–at least in terms of home brewing.

literary not literal twins

Staff have gotten on board as well, a few of us going so far as to purchase Literary Elements T-shirts to promote this awesome reading opportunity. Be sure to stop by and tell us how it’s going. After all, I’ve challenged you, a worthy opponent to a read-off. You’ll definitely want to brag.

Reviews from the Adult Summer Reading Challenge

dig2

The Adult Summer Reading program continues to be a great success here at the library. Many of you have participated and received some great prizes. Some, however, have gone to the extra effort of writing a review to let us know what they think of their reading choices. Below are a few selected reviews that we are publishing on A Reading Life to share. Thanks to all of you who have participated so far.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (Reviewed by Karen S.)

mrslincolnsdressmakerThis book is about Elizabeth Keckley. She was born a slave, but purchased her freedom and became a dressmaker. Elizabeth sewed dresses for important ladies in Washington D.C. and became Mary Lincoln’s personal dressmaker. They became close friends during the Civil War, and this book really focuses on their friendship. I am a fan of this author and enjoyed this story, which is different from Jennifer Chiaverini’s other books. If you enjoy books about people during the Civil War, you’ll enjoy this one.

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks (Reviewed by Shelley W.)

inbedwithahighlanderThe cover of this book does not reflect the book very well which is a good thing actually. The story focuses on a young woman, Mairin, who has lived in an abbey in Scotland for 10 years. She is the only living heir of the King and is abducted from the abbey, escapes the keep of a ruthless lord only to be rescued and forced into a marriage with Ewan McCabe, a commanding savior. Set in the 1700s this historical romance has a good storyline with a little “spice”. I enjoyed it enough to check out the sequel Seduction of a Highland Lass.

Dakota by Kathleen Norris (Reviewed by Kathryn J.)

dakotaThis memoir of Kathleen Norris’ move to her grandmother’s farm-house on the border of North and South Dakota showcases her roots as a poet and her transition to writing on spirituality. In chapters alternating between short “weather reports” and long philosophical and historical essays, she weaves together themes of economic hardship, isolation, and the changing landscape of the Great Plains. Her transformation is helped by the hospitality of a Benedictine cloister which she creatively compares to the rural communities of the Dakotas.  I particularly enjoyed her somewhat random storytelling of marginalized people and places, bringing forth the richness of their chosen simplicity.

How Computers Work by Ron White (Reviewed by Cindy F.)

howcomputersworkSince I don’t know much about computers, this was a great read. It was written really well and was easy to understand. It also had great illustrations that made it easy to follow along. Tons and tons of information and touched on so many subjects. If you want to learn about computers, this helps so much. Really liked it.

The Goth Bible by Nancy Kilpatrick (Reviewed by Diane T.)

gothbibleThis is an extremely well written book! The author has created something that is for both kids and parents. It strikes a balance when dealing with information. Nancy not only covered the basics, but went to several goths around the world and added their input. Granted, the book is 9 years old, but it is still worth a peek if you are curious about the many facets of the goth lifestyle.

What Deane Reads

My husband, Deane, is a voracious reader.  He’s always reading. He reads fast and furiously.  If he’s without a book he begins to twitch and then starts reading cereal boxes, magazines, anything, but is unsatisfied until he gets his hands on another book. Luckily for him I work at a library and can keep him in a constant supply of books, books, books, and more books.

Here is a photo of Deane showing his library spirit at the Everett Fourth of July Parade:

580476_610741848950423_1861228365_n

I’ve gotten to know his reading tastes, of course, after 30 some odd years of marriage. I know that he’ll always read what I call ‘boy books’:  the newest Tom Clancy, Lee Child, and the like. But he’ll also enjoy what I’d consider ‘better literature’ such as The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin which was on my night stand, but is now in Deane’s hands since he needed a book. In fact, his reading tastes have evolved so much that he thought Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was fluffy and vacuous while I really liked it! Who knew?

indexCA06QR4L       index         index        index

Why am I telling you this? Because perhaps you didn’t know that the librarians at the Everett Public Library are ready and willing to provide reader’s advisory service to you and not just that lucky fellow, Deane. You should already know that you can ask the folks at the reference desk for information on the phone (425-257-8000) or better yet, in person, but they can also recommend fiction to you.  And you don’t have to sleep with them. Bonus!

If you can’t make it into the library but have access to the Internet, you can take advantage of  the Reader’s Corner part of EPL’s website which has loads of resources for readers. We also have a database called Novelist which is a fantastic way to find new reads or books similar to the ones you already enjoy.

I like to use the web site Goodreads as a resource for what to read next and to keep track of what I’ve read. It’s like a virtual bookshelf but also offers ways to explore the world of books such as recommendations and lists.

Also, one of our knowledgable reference librarians points out that another source he finds helpful for people just wanting to quickly identify some good new (and older) books is Bookmarks magazine available for use at the main library only.

So what is Deane reading this summer besides my copy of The Orchardist? He just finished reading Winter of the World by Ken Follett. Deane proclaimed that this was a great book with good characters, though he thought that it was somewhat contrived in places in order to weave all of the plot threads together neatly in the end.

Right now he’s sitting in the sun reading Truth Like The Sun by Jim Lynch. Deane says that Lynch describes a pivotal moment in Northwest history when Seattle came of age during the 1962 World’s Fair in a pretty good novel.

index    index     index     index

I brought three books home from work today for Mr. Deane. He glanced at Barbara Kingsolver’s newest work, Flight Behavior, and said, “Oh, yeah.  I’ve read some of her books”. Deane remembered reading books by T C Boyle when I showed him San Miguel, a novel about the families who inhabited the islands off of Santa Barbara, California. But when he saw John Connelly’s newest, The Black Box, he said, ‘Oh, YEAH!’ and put Lynch down like a hot potato. Well, I guess you can’t change a tiger’s stripes or teach an old dog new tricks or some other such expression, but you can get the books of your liking at the Everett Public Library!

Leslie