Timeless Relevance and Great Craft

There’s a saying in libraries, “Every book, its reader.”* Indeed, every piece of writing is a unique experience for each reader. For me, the beauty of The Things They Carried is its humanity. Tim O’Brien conveys the intensity and subtlety of those who experience war first-hand with powerful descriptions of what lies beyond death counts and political decisions.

Several passages from this book will stick with me for a very long time, such as,

“And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains to do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen” (p. 85). 

This book is exquisitely crafted, expressing at once such depth, beauty, and terror. To write a war story in this way is a great artistic feat and a profound tribute to the service and courage of those who endure the most grueling of circumstances. 


* Ranganathan, S.R., The Five Laws of Library Science, Bombay: Asia Pub. House, 1963.

Magical Realism

Magical realism is one of my favorite reading genres. If you’re not familiar with this style of writing, it is not fantasy, science fiction, or escapist fiction. Rather, magical realist stories typically portray the world in ways beyond the objective – life described richly with delight, passion, and wonder.

The House of the SpiritsNancy Pearl describes magical realism as “a style of writing that allows authors to look at our own world through the lens of another world, an imagined yet very familiar one in which past, present, and future are often intertwined.”

Some of the best-known writers of magical realism are Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez

A few of my all-time favorites include Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Aphrodite, and My Invented Country, as well as Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan

The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan by Marisol and Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin are a few you may have missed.Volver

And, of course, Pedro Almodóvar movies are a wonderful accompaniment to these books, especially Volver.


Thought for Food

I read cookbooks like I read novels. Start to finish, savoring every word. Although a lighter fare, cookbooks make up a complete and beautiful story in their own way and can be a nice reprieve from the full depths of a novel.

Three cookbooks that I have read recently, and which I whole-heartedly recommend, include The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal, Get Cooking by Mollie Katzen, and Cooking with My Sisters by Adriana Trigiani. 

Fat Duck is a visual delight, almost more of an art book than a cookbook. Whether for art or recipes, foodies will adore the gastronomic wonders in this book.

Get Cooking cookbookGet Cooking is by Mollie Katzen, author of the perennially popular Moosewood Cookbook. Touted as a book for beginners who want to ‘eat really well all the time,’ this concise and creative cookbook is for novice and seasoned chefs alike. Chock full of everyday recipes, it includes several photographs of the end result, such as the beautiful (and very easy!) roast chicken.

The popular novelist, Adriana Trigiani, who is mostly known for her delightful stories of shoe designers, Italian Americans, and chick-lit romance, also wrote a memoir-cum-cookbook about her family in the kitchen. As Trigiani describes in Cooking with My Sisters, cooking was the centerpiece of their lives — Cooking With My Sistersfor food, conversation, laughter, stories, and the weaving together of generations. With tips from her sisters, letters, irresistible photographs, and the sweetest recipes, such as “Grandmom’s Buttermilk Cake,” you cannot go wrong with this book either in the kitchen or on the couch.

Readers of M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl, anyone who loves stories about food and life, and those curious to try a new recipe, are sure to enjoy these tasty books!


Oh, you lovely book

Do you know the feeling of picking up a book and within just a few pages feeling like the book was written precisely for you? The way the words form, the characters who feel like best friends, the descriptions of how the dinner table was set, and the way she fell in love last year? Sometimes it’s even so precise that you feel as if you wrote the book yourself? Like your heart and soul poured onto the page with an elegance that exists deep inside you but is seldom revealed? 

Gourmet RhapsodyMuriel Barbery‘s Gourmet Rhapsody was just that book for me. It’s the story of ‘the world’s greatest food critic’ who is about to die and must decide his final meal.

What I found so wonderful about this book, however, was not so much the storyline but its poetic language and magical characters. Even with these delightful underpinnings, it is also the kind of book (my favorite kind) that is fabulously political and prophetic at hidden turns — reminiscent of such literary pleasures as Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon and the visual delight of Babette’s Feast

Barbery fills the book with exquisite sentences, such as, “That is sashimi: a fragment of the cosmos within reach of one’s heart, but, alas, light years from the fragrance or taste that is fleeing my wisdom, or is it my inhumanity…”

Exactly. If those words touch the depths of you like they did me, you will love this book.


Stories of the Year

If you’re looking for last minute gift ideas, or holiday reading suggestions for yourself, look no further than the Everett Public Library. Our Gift Guide points you to book and music buying ideas for all ages and interests. Our Best Books list includes our favorites from 2009.

Here are a few other year-end lists that I will use to stack my shelves:

The New York Times Top Ten is my personal favorite. At just five fiction and five non-fiction books, this is a slim list of outstanding titles.

Library Journal produces a solid list, including genre and how-to books.

Nancy Pearl’s 2009 Under-the-Radar Books is unbeatable. I don’t know about you, but I always benefit from the action figure librarian’s serious crush on books.

Oh, and there’s so many more, such as The New Yorker, Salon.com, and Publisher’s Weekly. How lucky we are to have such rich stories to fill our lives.

From my pages to yours, happy reading and very happy holidays!


“Literary Chick Lit”

Last spring I met Katherine Center, author of The Bright Side of Disaster and Everyone is Beautiful, while she was on a book tour stop at the Watermark Book Company.  Katherine writes smart, entertaining books about women’s lives, and she is a very cool chica herself.

Since blogs are not an exact science, I feel modestly comfortable and enthusiastically proud to proclaim that Katherine and I coined the term “Literary Chick Lit” that night.  Think Bridget Jones gets a PhD. 

While not yet an official genre, Literary Chick Lit is a great choice for enjoying a light-yet-with-depth-and-wit read about women’s lives — perfect for holiday travel, holiday distraction, or the retelling of a funny story over a cup of warm eggnog. 

My latest Literary Chick Lit favorite is Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, an entertaining story of college student Tassie Keltjin observing the peculiar twists and turns of adult life.  If you like quirky stories and witty characters, give this Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2009, a try!