For Dr. Gabriella Mondini, there is no other option besides following in her father’s footsteps into a life of medicine in Regina O’Melveny’s debut, The Book of Madness and Cures. She is passionate about healing the citizens of Venice. For a woman residing in this part of the word in the late 16th Century this proves to be a challenging feat. In the male dominated Italian medical society, Gabriella gains credibility with her father’s colleagues by assisting him with research on “The Book of Diseases.”
A few years prior, Gabriella’s father, the elder Dr. Mondini, disappeared unexpectedly with only an occasional letter as to his whereabouts. In addition to the sporadic correspondence, his writings are cryptic and give little clue to Gabriella and her mother of his condition, which has a tendency to gravitate toward madness. With the prospect of continuing her medical career in jeopardy without her father’s guidance, Gabriella, her maid and a few additional servants embark on a journey to solve the mystery of what happened to her father. The journey takes them across Europe to France, Germany, England, Spain and south to the tip of Morocco, all the while encountering danger while traveling and encountering locals who met her father and are able to provide clues to the group of travelers.
While in Morocco, Gabriella finds out the shocking truth about her father, his nearly completed book on diseases and her own future. O’Melveny’s debut provides a rich look at late 16th century day to day life, the logistics of cross continent travels and the lives of women during this time.
Fresh on the heels of Elizabeth Berg’s visit to the Quad-Cities, comes Robert Hellenga, author of many best selling novels. He is the keynote speaker Thursday, June 25th at Midwest Writing Center’s annual conference. This year, events are held at St. Ambrose University.
My favorite novel by Robert Hellenga is The Fall of the Sparrow, which is partially set at a liberal arts college in Galesburg (the author is a Knox College literature professor), and partly in Italy. Though there’s a insider feeling of intimacy when you’re familiar with the local references; the novel resonates with many themes. The main character is a classics professor and the reader learns about Latin, Greek, Persian rugs, as well as the blues, and shares Woody’s deep appreciation of Italian culture.
Barnes & Noble and the Moline Public Library snagged a pretty big fish; the Quad-Cities should be proud! Berg read from Home Safe and answered wide-ranging questions from a full house at the Moline Public Library Tuesday afternoon.
We learned that both daughters are writers (one professionally and one potentially), she’d like to serve tea to E.B. White and have a drink (vodka) with Marilyn Monroe (this in response to a question about who Berg would most like to have tea with). She said she’d be too nervous to drink tea with White, so would rather serve him and a guest.
We learned also that the Oakbrook, IL author was a nurse before she was an author, was involved in a Second-City type of drama group in the Twin Cities, and likes to quilt but doesn’t think she is good at it. The book she recently recommended to NPR was Beat That by Ann Hodgman – a cookbook that is just fun to read.
She talked about how devastating her experience with writer’s block was and how this led to her current book. Her daily routine of writing all morning (she normally writes till early afternoon in her pajamas and said her Fedex man must think she had a very long-lasting case of flu). She talked about her dry spell with her daughter, who suggested that she write about it. Home Safe is about Helen, a well-known novelist, who is unable to write after husband of many years dies suddenly. Helen gradually “fills her well” with life experience, such as teaching a writing class of disparate individuals (a high point of the novel). All of Elizabeth Berg’s fans are grateful that her daughter’s suggestion was successful.
The end of the year always brings an avalanche lists and awards – winners for being the “best” in various fields and lists of the “Top 10″ of just about everything. In that spirit, the Davenport Library is joining in with our own end-of-year list. Here are the favorite books that our Blogging Librarians read in 2008.
Lynn’s favorite was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett about the Queen of England taking up reading. It had great insight into the life of the Queen and the (sometime subversive) value of reading. Read her description of it here.
Bill liked Red White and Brew : an American Brew Odyssey by Brian Yaegaer. Follow Yaeger cross-country as he explores the brew pubs and small breweries of America.
Rita recommends following the Harlan Coben mystery series on CD. With great characters and interesting puzzles to solve, you’ll want to read/listen to them all.
Rebecca loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, about a boy who runs away with the circus. Rebecca says this was one of those rare books that is life-changing, making you stop and see the world from an entirely new perspective. She blogged about it here.
Tana’s favorite was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Tana wrote about it before Oprah picked it for her bookclub, predicting that this was a book that would take the country by storm. Read her blog post here.
My choice is So Young Brave and Handsome by Leif Enger, a poignant coming-of-age story set at the end of the Wild West era. Full of adventure and emotion, I wrote more about it here.
Those are our picks – what about you? What was your favorite book that you read in 2008?