Halfway Home : San Francisco

Hello Fellow Readers!

How are you liking our trip to San Francisco so far? Do you have an overwhelming urge to eat Rice-a-Roni? (omg that aged me!) Have you managed to soak up some of the atmosphere and culture and history of this lovely city?

If you’re having trouble settling on a book, you might want to try a movie. Some great classics are set in San Francisco including Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood and Vertigo with James Stewart. Or check out the award winning Milk starring Sean Penn (who won an Oscar for his performance) about the first openly gay man to hold an elected public office. Or try a TV series set in San Francisco such as Monk starring Tony Shalhoub as a private detective with OCD.

And don’t forget, we have lots of Books on CD, especially nice for a summer road trip. Or check out Overdrive which has both ebooks and audio books – your local library is never far away, no matter where you are in the world!

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain had been sitting in my wish list in RiverShare OverDrive for a few months before I decided to give it a listen. The plot grabbed my interest, but every time I scrolled through my list to find a new book, I never picked it because the cover wasn’t appealing. Well, I finally decided to read it when I discovered that our Info Café Blog’s Online Reading Challenge had Kenya listed as the country for May. Circling the Sun takes place in Kenya! It was a win-win. Now that I’ve finished it though, I wish I had started reading this book a lot sooner.

Circling the Sun tells the story of Beryl Markham, a real-life record-setting aviator who lived a life of adventure full of strife and unconventional desires. She was born in England and then brought to Kenya by her parents because her father wanted to farm, despite the fact that he had no experience doing so. Her mother left her and her father in Kenya when Beryl was very young to move back to England. As a result, Beryl was raised in a very unconventional way by her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who worked on her father’s estate and lived close by. Growing up without what the English considered to be a ‘traditional’ female role model, Beryl because a bold young woman who was not afraid to share her opinions, to try new things, and who understood the balance of nature, something that her father passed down to her.

Once Beryl reached a certain age, her father decided that she needed to have a more traditional life and thus threw the cozy life Beryl is familiar with into utter chaos. Her relationships began to dissolve and she was left floundering and confused about what exactly she was supposed to do with her life. Taking the skills she learned from her father as a horse trainer, she decided to become the first woman horse trainer in Kenya, which of course proved to be a very tricky process. Her decision to become a horse trainer led her more deeply into the European Expat community in Africa where she met and became entangled in a messy love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixon, who was the author of the classic memoir Out of Africa. Their tangled relationship and Beryl’s continuous desire to try more, to do more, and to be able to fend for herself leads her to journey all over the world and to meet many remarkable people.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book, but I did find myself confused sometimes about who different characters were referring to. I know this was probably because I listened to the book and missed seeing the names in print, but I still was able to figure it out at the end. I also highly encourage you to listen to/read the epilogue where the author gives readers a glimpse into the real life of Beryl Markham and what happened to her, her friends, and family after the book ended.

The author also mentioned the book West with the Night that Beryl Markham actually wrote! She praised it highly and Ernest Hemingway even reviewed it with his quote directly on the cover. This book is on my to-be-read list and I can’t wait to read more about Beryl’s life from her own point of view.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is not what I thought it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised! (To be honest, I picked this book purely based on the cover, something I’m guilty of doing a lot.) This book is a literary thriller that tells the story of the far-reaching consequences of identity theft. Await Your reply begins by introducing the three main characters: Miles, Ryan, and Lucy.

Miles is on a mission to find his missing twin brother, Hayden. Hayden disappeared over ten years ago, leaving Miles desperate for clues. His search takes him everywhere and has Miles deciphering letters and clues that will hopefully lead to Hayden. The brothers’ relationship and their shared childhood is a major driving factor in Miles’ concern over where his brother is.

Ryan is struggling in college and basically in his life in general. He doesn’t know what to do. Add in that he just realized that he’s adopted(how could his parents hide that secret from him his whole life?!) and Ryan is even more lost than before. His desire to learn more about his past and figure out what he wants to do with his life lead him down a dark road.

Lucy is completely over her small country hometown. She wants to escape, travel the world, and find her purpose. Lucy is presented with a way to leave her hometown in the dust, something that she jumps on! Lucy’s escape quickly proves more dangerous and mysterious than she initially thought. The consequences of her rash decision will leave her reeling and confused over just who she should trust.

I found the plotlines and each character’s timelines to be a little tricky to follow at first. If you decide to read this book, I urge you to not give up because everything becomes clear towards the end. I honestly was very surprised about some of the connections and the twists/turns that the author came up with. I didn’t see them coming! Highly recommend (If you can listen to this book, do it! The narrator was very good.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Subtle Art OF Not Giving A F#*K: A Countnerintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

What is bright orange, shiny, and maybe half as cool as Miles Davis? (and that’s pretty cool–just sayin’).  Though the title of the book itself isn’t an obvious indication, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F%ck isn’t exactly a throwback to 90s slackerdom. On the contrary, my contrarian friends, this book is for anyone who could benefit from being strategic and mindful about prioritizing how–and to whom–we give our precious time.  And that’s probably just about everyone. This book is for those of us who care too much.  This book is essentially about choices and in turning a widely-held assumption about happiness on its head.

In many ways, Mark Manson concisely re-packages the basic tenants of Eastern philosophy and religion in a hilarious and concise self-help guide . “In case you haven’t heard of him,” Manson says of the Buddha, “he was kind of a big deal.” Manson continues:

There is a premise that underlies a lot of our  assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school or building a really complicated Lego set. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy. This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness (26).

What Manson offers in his book is the strangely comforting idea that striving for happiness is itself a negative act. Yep. And his ideas make a lot of sense. Manson seamlessly weaves in Alan Watts’ “backwards law” which says that “the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place” (9). Kind of makes sense, right? Manson ultimately rejects the established dogma in the self-improvement literature in favor of recognizing and even embracing suffering. You can thank the Buddha for that.

Charles Bukowski, a poet known for his irreverence and salt-of-the-Earth writing style kicks off Manson’s book, and for good reason. Bukowski–offering up all kinds profane-yet-sage wisdom noted that there is no way around the fire: “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire”. No sugarcoating here, folks. And that’s a welcome and refreshing approach to the happiness conundrum. Is it at all ridiculous and miraculous that Charles Bukowski turned out to be a self-help guru? (And not the self-appointed kind). If you haven’t read any of the late great Bukowski, do yourself a favor. Sometimes the sacred & profane are two sides of the same coin.

If suffering and struggle is inevitable, Manson frames the happiness dilemma like this: for what are you willing to struggle? Those things–the things you’re willing to do the hard work to attain–those are the things that define you. In other words, you have to choose where to ration out your four letter words. And this book has all the 4-letter words, be sure. You know how your mother or sister or aunt or best friend told you to choose your battles” ? Yeah–that. Because life is short. Maybe you figured that out already, and maybe one of your employee-sponsored motivational speakers reminded you that you yourself are what appears between the two dates on your tombstone. You are the hyphen. Make it count.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I found Manson to be a sort  of new-breed George Carlin, and if you are a fan of comedy and satire, look into adding some George Carlin comedy sketches to your list of library holds (of course, not if you’re easily offended by expletives and socio-political satire). One of my personal favorites, George Carlin,  makes no appearances in Manson’s book but poignantly asks in one of his comedy sketches: “why do we call them self-help books when we didn’t write them ourselves?” Aw, the best comedians were and are some of the most insightful poets and philosophers of our time, indeed.  But for a moment ponder the implications of writing your own self-help book. Writing it would require the type of self-reflection and self-awareness (and Manson would say self-doubt) required of self-improvement and even, ahem, tracking down the big, elusive Happy Dragon that lives in the distant castle of your mind. Even more: Manson discusses how the “pursuit of certainty” is a barrier to living a good life.

While this little book contains many noteworthy nuggets of insight, I’ll highlight my other favorite: namely, that action is not the result of being motivated, but rather action is itself motivation. Mmm hmmm. I’m sayin’. Do you feel inspired by that? Manson outlines a sort of flow-chart to illustrate his point, and it looks like this: Action ——>Inspiration——>Motivation. Instead of waiting around for the spirit to move you or for a lightening-strike of inspiration, just simply do and the rest will follow. And the rationale is quite simple. Manson calls this recipe for motivation the “do something” principle, and he credits a former Math teacher. Many of the impediments to living a good life can simply be removed by the “do something” principle.

A personal example of the do-something rule in action in my life: when I’m not doing work in the library, I’m a songwriter and performer. I personally enjoy the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment I derive in bringing a song into the world–in crafting something completely new and original that only I can produce. And the way to craft something new and original is not to wait. On the contrary: I write. so. many. songs. They’re really just poems or short stories or sketches, anyway. Or notes on my iPhone app. Or doodles. But that writing begets more writing. And one idea or concept leads to the next, and so forth. And before you know it, you’re a writing machine, churning out all kinds of new songs. Like, lots of new, really crappy songs. But guess what? The more songs you have, the higher your chances of writing a song that is great.

You remember the 10,000 hour rule from the wildly popular book Freakonomics? The rule is simple: what you practice, you become. If you practice something for 10,000 hours, like the Beatles relentlessly practiced and performed their music, you’re bound to get really good at it. Manson has a similar idea which is namely this: “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement” (61). Here again is the resounding mantra that what defines us is what we are willing to struggle for–whether that be in cultivating a family, excelling in our careers, painting a masterpiece, or juggling flaming tennis rackets while balancing on a unicycle.

It’s no-doubt time for me to wrap up my ramblings. Check out this book if you like Eastern philosophy, suffering, pleasure, pandas, inspiration, self-defeat, self-improvement, the F word, Pakistani freedom fighters, the other F word: fun, Dave Mustaine from the band Megadeath, and hilarity in general.

You’re welcome!

 

 

 

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Hamilton Affair tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. The book begins with young Alexander living in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix (one of the U.S. Virgin Islands). Hamilton and his mother run a small store. They own a slave Ajax who is the same age as Alexander. The boys have been friends growing up but now his mother is coaching Alexander on how to be a proper gentleman. This includes giving orders to Ajax instead of being his friend. Alexander works very hard on his manners and his deportment. If he looks and acts like a gentleman, perhaps the people of Christiansted will forget that he was born out of wedlock. After his mother dies, Alexander Hamilton moves to New York and goes to school to college. The Revolutionary War begins and the reader finds young Alexander Hamilton a captain for the American Army. Captain Hamilton is close to General George Washington and works with him regularly. On one of his errands, he stops at General Schuyler’s house. This is when he first meets the General’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth cannot stop thinking of the young captain. She is impressed with the way that he carries himself. Also, her father, General Schulyer, had recently lost command of his army to General Horatio. Hamilton does not agree with the situation; neither does Elizabeth. While Elizabeth is visiting relatives, she finds herself at a dance with Captain Hamilton. The two begin a courtship and they are married. The author Elizabeth Cobbs gives us Alexander and Elizabeth’s viewpoints throughout the book. Usually, the chapters alternate their respective stories which I enjoyed. It was nice to see how each one viewed an incident or a historical figure. Of course, this book is historical fiction, so the author took some liberties with parts of the story.

Alexander Hamilton was an interesting person. He was born an illegitimate child but desperately tried to prove himself a gentleman. As a child, his mother owned slaves, yet Hamilton did not believe in slavery. One of his closet friends was a man named Ajax Manly whom he met during the Revolutionary War. They were friends until Alexander’s death and Ajax and Elizabeth remained friends. Ajax falls in love with a slave woman and Hamilton helps the woman gain her freedom. George Washington liked Hamilton a great deal and promoted him to General during the Whiskey Rebellion. But Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe did not like Hamilton. Some people believed that Hamilton’s insistence on a centralized government was a sign that he was a monarchist. Jefferson especially took issue with Hamilton’s views on central government and a federal bank. The two would be rivals until Hamilton’s death in 1804 at the hand of Aaron Burr.

I believe that most Americans take for granted all of the work that the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) did to create this nation. We forget about how long the war was or long it took to ratify the Constitution. The date July 4, 1776 is engraved in our minds but we forget that other events transpired in order to form our government. Reading a book like The Hamilton Affair is a reminder of the hard work, the disagreements, the stress and the worry that the Founders faced.

The Whistler by John Grisham

John Grisham is an author whose name, when I was younger, always had me cowering because he seemed to write SO MANY BOOKS. He’s up towards the top of the famous author list in my head alongside Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and James Patterson. Those five authors are all ones that I never really felt the need to read when I was younger because everyone was talking about them or reading them. Now as a librarian, I’m making my way through the authors that I previously steered away from. Current author choice: John Grisham.

The Whistler by John Grisham is a darkly mysterious, dangerous, and suspicious read. We all expect our judges to be ethical and balanced, but what happens when one goes rogue? The Florida Board on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating complaints that deal with judicial misconduct. Lacy Stoltz has been an investigator for the Board for the last nine years, something that gives her great joy, but also can give her headaches. Lacy is a lawyer, not a cop. This distinction is key to her job. The cases reported to her usually end up on her desk due to sheer judicial incompetence, not actual corruption. One case, however, lands on her desk that is so corrupt and a bit convoluted that Lacy and her coworker believe it may be made up. Investigations ensue!

Greg Myers, a previously disbarred lawyer with a new identity, has dropped this bombshell case on Lacy. He alleges that a judge in Florida is stealing millions of dollars and is more corrupt than any judge in the entire United States. Lacy must figure out where that money is coming from. That investigation leads her to the shady dealings and construction of a large casino built on Native American land. The Coast Mafia helped to build the casino and, as a result, is skimming money from the till. The leader of the Coast Mafia felt it would be best to have a judge in his corner, so in return for looking the other way and making sure certain cases fall the way of the Coast Mafia, the judge is getting some money too. How Myers’s informant came to know this information is messy, but the informant is keen on the fact that under Florida law they can collect millions by being a whistleblower. Lacy and her colleague are immediately suspicious of this complaint, but once it’s filed, they must investigate. Full of dark twists and turns, this book had me on the edge of my seat a few times. I’ll admit that it took some time for me to get into the plot, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I had listened to a very light and fluffy read before this. Highly recommend.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

The second book by the author of the bestselling mystery The Girl on a Train will not disappoint!

Into the Water takes place in a rural Beckford, England. A river flows throughout the town; with so many twists and turns that one character comments that, “everywhere you turn, you run into the river”. But there is a particular place in the river that is famous in the town. The Drowning Pool. There is no mystery as to why it is called the Drowning Pool. The first page of the book introduces the reader to a young woman that is being tied up and forced into the water. We quickly learn about the latest victim of the Drowning Pool, Nel Abbott. Nel had been researching the former victims of the Drowning Pool for a book. It turns out that women have been found submerged in the river for hundreds of years. While it looks like a suicide some people wonder if there was foul play. Nel Abbot had made enemies.

Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to take charge of her niece, Lena. Lena has not only lost her mother, but a few months earlier, she lost her best friend to the Drowning Pool. People are unsure why Katie Wittaker decided to commit suicide. Katie’s mother, Louise is having a terrible time coming to terms with her daughter’s death. Louise’s son, Josh, notes that the night that Nel Abbott went into the water, Louise was gone for most of the night. When detective Erin Morgan, who is new to town, asks people about Nel Abbot, it seems that no one really cares that she died. Except of course, her family, Jules and Lena. To complicate matters, Jules has been estranged from her sister for quite some time. So Jules and Lena do not know each other at all. Throughout the book, we learn more about Nel Abbott and Katie Wittaker and the people in their lives. The more that we learn, it becomes harder to trust anyone in Beckford.

If you listen to audiobooks, you will enjoy this one. Into the Water is read by five voice actors and they do a wonderful job. Read by Laura Aikman, Sophi Aldred, Rachel Bavidge, Imogen Church and Daniel Weyman.

 

 

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

Now Departing for: San Francisco

San Francisco, the beautiful city of fog and cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Victorian “painted ladies” houses. There’s a lot of history here too, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to the site of the former prison Alcatraz. This month’s reading adventure is sure to be action packed!

As for reading choices, there seems to be a lot – I mean, a huge number – of murder mysteries and private detective stories. You can go with the classic, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (or the film starring Humphrey Bogart) or go contemporary with any of James Patterson’s titles from the Women’s Murder Club series (shelved in Fiction under “Patterson”). Also check out Locked Rooms by Laurie King or the “Nameless Detective” series by Bill Pronzini.

If murder isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’d recommend Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. This is a YA novel, a quick read but thoughtful and charming, and modern San Francisco is woven expertly into the story. (It’s also the follow-up to Anna and the French Kiss so if you read that for our month in Paris, this would be perfect for June!)

This would also be your chance, if you haven’t read it already, to dive into Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, a beautiful book about mothers and daughters, the weight of the past and the struggle to find balance between the old ways and new. Because of the large immigrant populations from China and Japan, there are multiple books that examine this clash of cultures including Lisa See’s China Dolls and Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover. Check our displays at all three library buildings for lots more titles.

My choice this month is Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan about a bookstore (duh) that is hiding something larger. It comes highly recommended – I’ll let you know what I think.

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month?

Now Arriving from: Kenya

Hello Friends!

How did your month in Kenya (or African country of your choice) go? Sadly, the quantity of books isn’t especially generous, but the quality of what is available helps make up for that.

This month I read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. This is not an actual bird guide, but a novel, although the birds and wildlife of Kenya make many appearances. Rather, it is about Mr Malik, a widower, who has attended the weekly bird walks of the East African Ornithological Society, which are lead by a certain Rose Mbikwa, for years. Mr Malik is desperately in love with Ms Mbikwa and, just as he’s nearly gotten up the courage to ask her to the annual society dance, a rival appears in the most horrible form – Harry Khan – brash, good-looking and flashy, the very opposite of Mr Malik.

A competition is cooked up by their fellow birders – whoever can identify the most species of birds in a week wins the right to ask Ms Mbikwa to the dance. What follows is a charming love story (think Alexander McCall Smith) set against the sweeping landscape of Kenya. I have always thought of Africa as dry and hot and empty and while some of this is partly true, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa also shows how gorgeous it must be, a land of wide open skies and teeming with birds and wildlife as well as people from all walks of life. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

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