Best Books, Part 4

Here’s the last entry in our Best Books of 2011 from our blogging librarians.

Maggie says “My favorite of 2011 is Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. It’s a dense, relatable, beautifully written book by my favorite author. It’s also the most moving book I read this year. P.S. very hard to pick just one….”

And here’s Ann’s choice. “2011 wasn’t a particularly “good” reading year for me; I read several entertaining books, but nothing that knocked my socks off. However, there was one book from this year that will always be a stand-out for me – Rick Steve’s Paris 2011. With the huge number of travel books available, Rick Steves is a great choice for the first-time traveler, showing you the basics yet encouraging you to get off the beaten tourist path. You can be sure that all of his recommendations have been personally vetted (and they have never steered me wrong) And yes, the trip was fantastic!”

Now it’s your turn – what was your favorite book that you read in 2011? Let us know in the comments!

Best wishes for a Happy New Year in 2012 – may it be overflowing with great books!

Best Books, Part 3

The thing about librarians is, they’re always reading about books and hearing about books and reading books. So they’re bound to know the best books. Here’s the next in our end-0f-year recap of best books.

Rita listened to her favorite book, Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. “When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer. Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans – and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

“This recording kept my attention from beginning to end. It is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait for the next one. The writing is excellent, her description and use of words is brilliant. This book is for anyone who enjoys good literature and fantasy”.

Best Books, Part 2

More best books from our Blogging Librarians! Michelle and Lexie kind of cheated since they each picked two titles; however, they’re both so good at picking books we don’t mind a bit.

Michelle starts with a mystery. “Louise Penny’s quirky, yet endearing characters make A Trick of the Light one of my favorite mysteries of the year. Penny’s clever writing style combined with her main character, the legendary Inspector Armand Gamache, make for a superb mystery book (and the latest release in the series)”. Read more in her blog post from earlier this year.

A fiction book is Michelle’s second pick. “Katie Lee’s debut work of fiction, Groundswell was a favorite beach read in 2011. Groundswell follows a main character who becomes caught up in the glitz and glamour of stardom only then to discover what is important in life after a traumatic event”. Michelle’s blog post about this book is here.

Lexie says go big or go home with George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. “An epic fantasy series set in a land where seasons can last for decades. The series is filled with political intrigue, plenty of shocking plot twists, romance, and engaging characters who don’t fit into a traditional mold of good or evil. This complex world that Martin created has become an absolute obsession for me; the fifth book was just released in July and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next installment”. Read more from Lexie about it in her earlier blog post.

Her second pick is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. “31-year-old “carer” Kathy looks back on her youth, which was spent in an isolated English boarding school with her two best friends and plenty of secrets. This book is haunting and incredibly thought-provoking. I couldn’t put it down once I started, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it once I finished”. Lexie blogged about it here.

Best Books, Part 1

It’s that time again – the end-of-the-year recap time! Here at Info Cafe we’re going to take a look back at our favorite books of the past year. Not all of these books were published in 2011, but were read and enjoyed in 2011. Thanks to our diverse group of bloggers, over the next few days you’re going to find a wide range of titles covering all kinds of interests. Enjoy!

Lynn’s favorite book was Following Polly. “It is rare to find a book that surprises you by breaking out of whatever preconceived ideas and expectations you had about what the book was going to be. I also love a book that makes you laugh out loud, or at least snicker a little. Often these are the same books that make you a little sad when you finish them because you’ve come to liek the characters in all their eccentricity and weirdness”. Lynn tells you more about the book in her blog post from earlier this year.

Amber’s vote goes to  Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell. “In Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (creator of acclaimed comic strip Mutts), the reader is introduced to the amazing Jane Goodall as a little girl having adventures with her stuffed toy chimp named Jubilee. Together they begin to wonder about the natural world and explore it for answers – all lovingly captured through the simple, emotive art of McDonnell and actual images of Jane’s childhood drawings and ephemera. Me…Jane is easily my favorite picture book of the year, and, judging by how many people on my holiday gift list will be receiving a copy, it has swung up to be my favorite book of 2011 overall”.

Stay by Allie Larkin

This book is a lovely mix of what a romantic comedy should be – light and funny with some undertones of seriousness. Stay by Allie Larkin will make you laugh (out loud), think about some of the big issues in life (without sending you into a tailspin) and wrap it all up with a happy ending.

Savannah (“Van”) Leone has long been in love with her college pal Peter, but he falls for Van’s best friend Janie instead. Van is forced to stand by (as the Maid of Honor) and watch them get married, leaving her to her lonely life. In a fit of self-pity, she gets drunk while watching a marathon of Rin Tin Tin movies and gets it into her head that she needs a German Shepherd that will save her and always be with her. A little drunk-googling soon finds her the perfect puppy and before she can sober up, she’s bought a dog.

Imagine Van’s surprise when the expected cute little puppy turns out to be a huge, nearly full-grown, black, long-haired beast. Who only understands Slovakian commands. And takes over half the bed in no time flat. At first Van is terrified, but Joe (as she renames him) worms his way into her heart almost as quickly as the bed and he turns out to be exactly what she needs – someone who sticks with her no matter what, who makes life more interesting and a lot more fun, someone who will love her back. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Joe’s new vet is super gorgeous and available!)

The romance here is pretty predictable – girl-has-heart-broken, girl-meets-cute-guy, girl-and-cute-guy-have-issues, girl-and-cute-guy-overcome-issues, happy-ending. But the characters are likeable and realistic with messy, imperfect lives who try hard to be better. Van’s continuing struggle with her grief over her Mother’s death and her search for her own “family” adds depth and complexity.  The real charm of the book though is Joe with his cheerful personality and big heart. And in no time,  just like Van, you’ll fall in love with Joe too.

The Discerning Palette #1

This post brought to you by Liza, our newest blogger!

Welcome to the first installment of the The Discerning Palette, a new blog series about the online art world. In the news this week is the art of Tony Bennett. Yes, that Tony Bennett. When he’s not crooning, Mr. Bennett enjoys painting watercolors. His art can be viewed and purchased through his website, Benedetto Arts. Benedetto is Mr. Bennett’s original family name and how he signs his paintings. Mr. Bennett has done commission pieces for the Kentucky Derby and the United Nations and has works in the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery. He has also lectured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This week Mr. Bennett’s art is in the news due to a photo shoot with Lady Gaga and famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Gaga and Leibovitz were shooting for an upcoming Vanity Fair issue and Mr. Bennett was invited to sketch Lady Gaga. The charcoal sketch of Lady Gaga is being auctioned off for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Bennett’s Exploring the Arts charity. For other Bennett/Gaga collaborations, check out their duet of “The Lady is a Tramp”from the Rogers and Hart musical “Babes in Arms” which is featured on Bennett’s new Duets II CD.

Gloat global, insult local


Hey Madge, I soaked in it!

In a self-immolating polemic in the Atlantic,  University of Iowa “journalism” professor Stephen Bloom (seen mugging at left in what must be a pretentious Palmolive print ad) has succeeded in making “reporting” a smug act of self-pleasure. Read it…I’ll wait.  Are you reveling in his urbane wit?  Neither is the rest of the state.

I loved Postville, which makes his level of probing insight gleaned from twenty years of experience into the folkways of us ignorant herkamur jerkamur locals all the more indicting. One would think there’d be a statute of limitations on vaingloriously claiming alien status, but nope, he’s apparently STILL NOT ONE OF US.  Et tu, Stephen? Bloom turns the dagger against his meal ticket in Karl-Rovian fashion, swift-boating our most enduring strength into our greatest failing.  The fiber of Iowan character and honesty is mystically morphed into the bullheaded complacency of the docile, meek, and stupid.

“Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow.'”

By that rationale, only an abject failure would choose to gorge himself on the public teat for a score of years in a dank cesspool of human filth, no? Perhaps Agent Donnie Brasco is striving to meet the irony-hungry readership of jaundiced university-town hipster literati. Unlike his target demographic, Bloom won’t be an office temp this summer. He’ll come home from his current stint as a visiting scholar in Michigan (a true, Tom Joad), where he moonlighted by scratching together an egotistical rant on the putrid state of Iowa’s economics and culture, ultimately comdemning the Hawkeye state as a place so woefully backward to not deserve the first-in-the-nation caucus on the grounds that most of the unrepresentative citizenry will probably spend the evening walking into walls and groping with childlike glee at shiny things.

With broad brush, Bloom paints a mishmash of cartoonesque semi-Southern sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that would make Joseph Goebbels proud. In any other pocket of the world, such irresponsible erudition would be condemned as racism or bigotry. Subject matter plays second-fiddle to his own reflected self-glorification when not unlike a beleaguered Jane Goodall, Bloom is seemingly forced on our public dole at a redneck’s gunpoint to entrench himself among Iowa’s mouthbreathing, knuckledragging chimps for two decades. If that’s true, kindly lift your barrel off his turtleneck, Cletus, and let this card-carrying member of the sophisticate be on his way.

Come deadline time and lacking of a poetic capstone to this composition, Bloom clumsily contrived a story a la Jayson Blair of how he can’t walk his Labrador around Iowa City without a hayseed Elmer Fudd inquiring of him how well she can track a scent. Clearly his constitutionals lead him past noted cobblestone-paved coondog haunts such as the New Pioneer Co-op and International Writer’s Workshop.

Bloom has offered up in defense that he was doing “the real job of journalism” and if you feel affronted, it is because you want to “kill the messenger, ignore the message.” That’s fine. There is a whole heck of a lot of truth in the article.  All of Iowa’s fiscal and cultural ills, incidentally, are not being courageously battled in “Keokuk…a depressed, crime-infested slum town”, but by smug, suede-elbowed cosmopolitans on sabbatical in between lattes as they ride the gravy train in academia’s ivory tower.  Ones like Bloom who valiantly in the face of logic persevere a cush lifestyle of oppressive yawns, having his TAs scribble red letters on top of lazy, uninspired doggerel (remind you of anyone?) and taking semesters off paid to write bestsellers. Were he a Christian (he’s not, a belabored point he trounces in every other paragraph) he’d describe this as his cross to bear.

The rub is the subtext, where Bloom basks in his own intellectual glory comparatively, finding a way somehow to thrust himself in the role of detached omniscient third-party observer while wholesale impugning the Iowa electorate as thoughtless sub-sentient bovine in a tone that would only makes sense as an expatriate, not your employee.  Thank you, good sir, for altruistically miring yourself in the Marianas Trench that is Iowa for so long.  We really had no idea your bathysphere went that deep, you cut-rate Jacques Cousteau.

So what will become of Stephen Bloom? He is parrying off rebuttals such as this one as examples of aforementioned ignorance and anti-intellectualism. He’ll deservedly cower behind the bedrock Constitutional principle of free speech. In Iowa City, he will be protected as a generously publicly-subsidized snob and dandy. In the hearts and minds of the citizenry, he looks like something dragged out of the packing plants he documented a dozen years ago and has rendered and repurposed in every essay he’s written since.

You see, being a pompous (insert your word of choice) is inherently and indefensibly un-Iowan wharever y’are in these here Yoonahted States. And like his absurd east-side Iowa City Labrador, that dog don’t hunt..  Lookeee ma, I can fabricate a cutsie homespun ending too.. in “skuzzy” Davenport no less.

Merry Christmas Stephen Bloom.

Hit the bricks.

Miss Potter

If you ever need a DVD for all generations – say, around the holidays…,  Miss Potter is perfect for this situation – it is whimsical without being overly saccharine.

This is a peek into Victorian society – in which Beatrix is encouraged from childhood on to exploit her talent as an artist, yet her parents are bound by rigid class lines when it comes to marriage.

The cast is filled with great British character actors, including  Barbara Flynn and Bill Paterson as Beatrix’ parents. And the wonderfully weird chaperone, Miss Wiggin, is played by Matyelok Gibbs. Emily Watson plays the sister of Beatrix’ fiance, who immediately adopts Beatrix as a soulmate and friend.

As a bonus, it is  beautifully produced with a wonderful soundtrack by Katie Melua.  Even though this isn’t technically a holiday movie, it will add a bit of magic to this festive season.

Don’t forget to check out the actual books (The Tailor of Gloucester was Beatrix’ favorite and perfect for the Christmas season).