symphony for the city of the deadBiographies or any sort of nonfiction relating to the siege of Leningrad that occurred amidst World War II can become depressing to read because of the many, many atrocities committed and the vast number of people who died. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson is the opposite of the traditional heavy nonfiction. Anderson breaks up his story of Shostakovich and the evolution of Leningrad by dropping in back-and-white historical photographs that allow readers to put a face to a name. This inclusion breaks up the chaos and destruction happening within his descriptions of Stalin’s purges and the eventual siege of Leningrad by bringing in pictures and maps to connect the history presented with an actual physical place and actual people. It may seem easy for people to ignore and write off atrocities committed, but I find that when authors choose to add pictures into their books, the subject matter becomes even more real and life-changing.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad really brought to life for me the importance of art and culture to a nation and its citizens, both in a negative and a positive light. Anderson tells readers the story of Stalin and his purges: how he rid the country of top military officials, science experts, and a wide variety of other people and effectively set his country up for more widespread disaster when Hitler invaded and he had no experts to ask for advice. This book focuses on art and culture, specifically music and Dmitri Shostakovich. This Russian composer escaped death at the hands of Stalin and instead found himself navigating the tricky tight-rope of composing the music that Stalin finds appropriate while still staying true to himself. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony is the one that he writes for Leningrad, “The City of the Dead,” and this book effectively sets the stage for discovering Shostakovaich’s mindset around that time and also the necessary cultural and political framework that he was up against. Highly recommended!

Check out the following fiction and nonfiction books for more information about the siege of Leningrad and related topics!

the madonnas of leningradcity of thievesleningrad siege and symphonyinferno the world at warstalin the court of the red tsarabsolute war

If you have not listened to an audiobook before, I strongly encourage you to try it. It is amazing how many books you can listen to during your daily commute.  The Davenport Public Library owns a variety of audiobooks! Whether you like myseries or fantasy or thrillers or any other genre, the library will have something for you.  If you are new to listening to audiobooks, I recommend listening to biographies and memoirs. Most celebrities will read their own memoirs for the audiobook and they are highly entertaining.

The following audiobooks are biographies and memoirs that will be new to the Davenport Public Library in May:

i must sayI Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short-Comedian Martin Short, best known for his roles on Saturday Night Live, Three Amigos and Father of the Bride recounts his often funny and sometimes tragic life.  Short reveals the stories behind some of his most famous SNL characters as well as shares the spotlight with his friends and costars, such as Steve Martin and Tom Hanks. But not all of Martin Short’s life has been funny. He talks about losing his brother and parents before the age of twenty and as well as losing his wife of thirty years to cancer all with his upbeat personality.

hooeyA Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk – You probably know Bob Odenkirk from the television show, Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.  But before Odenkirk starred in these shows, he was an Emmy award winning comedy writer on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Odenkirk’s debut is a collection of funny short stories, resembling a hilarious sketch show.  If you enjoy laughing and like comedy sketch show, then this audiobook is sure to please.

 

eleanorAutobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt – An insightful look at one of our country’s best known women, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Niece to President Theodore Roosevelt, and wife to Franklin Roosevelt, she witnessed life during the Gilded Age through the Great Depression up to the Cold War.  Eleanor was a champion for those less fortunate and used her influence as First Lady to help those in need. Often called inspiring and controversial, she continued to work for the downtrodden throughout her lifetime. Written in her own words, Eleanor Roosevelt comes alive telling her story of her life, living with her husband, her life as First Lady and years of work abroad.

Special DeluxeSpecial Deluxe: a Memoir of Life and Cars by Neil Young – In this memoir, Neil Young recounts his childhood in Canada and his family. He also discusses his living like a rockstar and his passion for cars. Young talks about his life with his collection of vintage cars. He has also been devoted to clean energy and converting his collection so that it does not have a negative impact on the environment. Witty and candid, this memoir will please fans.

brooke shieldsThere Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me by Brooke Shields – Brooke Shields began modeling at the tender age of eleven months. Her mother Teri manager her career but in private, Teri was troubled and drank heavily.  Brooke describes her changing relationship with her mother over the years, including how Brooke was a mother to her own children. Teri passed away in 2012 with Brooke by her side.

 

It Was Me Allit was me all along Along: a Memoir by Andie Mitchell – Many people comfort themselves by eating and Andie Mitchell was no exception. But when she weighed herself at the age of twenty, she was shocked to see that she weighed 258 pounds. Knowing that she needed to make some changes, Andie leaves Boston and heads to Rome. She trades pre-packaged pastries for handmade pasta and loses half of her weight. Andie discovers that balance and learns to find beauty and acceptance in herself.

 

closeResilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness by Jessie Close – Sister of actress Glenn Close, Jessie Close recounts her struggles with living with bipolar disorder. After five failed marriages and living on the brink of suicide, she struggled with symptoms for decades until Jessie was finally diagnosed in her fifties.  Included are vignettes from Glenn Close that offer an alternative perspective. Just in time for Mental Health Month, Resilience describes what it is like to live with a mental illness.

the race undergroundThe Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that built America’s First Subway tells the story of the people who had a hand in designing, funding, trying to stop, and building the first successful subway system in America. Tales of previous subway disasters, elevated train tracks freezing, cable cars derailing, horses dying in the streets, and explosions litter the story of people from all over the world working to make travel safer and faster.

Two of the biggest influencers of the subway system were two brothers: Henry Melville Whitney from Boston and William Collins Whitney from New York. Both Henry and William were very competitive and wealthy industrialists who each had a vested interest in wanting their separate cities to come out on top of this development-heavy race. The author, Doug Most, describes the tension between the brothers, the many immigrants who worked underground for days on end, the political kingpins with a desire to control the money coming from this new endeavor, and the competition between the inventors who wanted their names attached to this historic achievement.

Join Most as he discovers how the rapid influx of immigrants into Boston and New York, combined with the perils of steam railways and economic upheaval, paved the way for contractors to blast their way through busy downtown thoroughfares both above and below ground at all times day and night.

lady alminaAre you interested in finding out more about Downton Abbey? Do the characters intrigue you? The surroundings? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, check out Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

Lady Almina tells the story of Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show, Downton Abbey. This book follows the life of Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, who just happens to be the basis for the Lady Cora Crawley on PBS’s Downton Abbey. The author of this book, the current Countess of Carnarvon, intersperses actual pictures and documents from the Highclere archive with the family’s passed down memories to map out the story of the castle and its inhabitants on the brink of World War I. The marriage of Lady Almina and the Earl of Carnarvon was seen by some as a way to keep the castle afloat monetarily, given the scandal surrounding Lady Almina’s birth, her biological father’s vast wealth, and the Earl of Carnarvon’s many expensive trips around the world. Lady Almina’s will to always get her way, the support of her rich industrialist father Alfred de Rothschild(who just never could tell her no), her husband’s desire to never see her upset, combined with her large body of charity work, led her to transform the high society atmosphere of Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War I. Take a look into this book to gain a better understanding of life in England during World War I, as well as life of the real people of Downton Abbey.

This book is also available as an eBook and an audiobook through the library catalog.

not my fathers sonDark, painful memories can be like a cage. Or, in the case of Alan Cumming, they can be packed away in a box, stuck in the attic to be forgotten. Until one day the box explodes and all the memories flood back in horrible detail.

Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan’s father. When television producers approached Alan to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, he enthusiastically agreed. He hoped to solve a mystery that had long cast a shadow over his family. His maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared into the Far East after WWII. Alan’s mother knew very little about him–he had been a courier, carrying information between battalions on his motorbike. The last time she saw her father, Alan’s mother was eight years old. When she was thirteen, the family was informed that he had died by his own hand, an accidental shooting. But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan’s feet. His father, whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan’s life forever.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage. At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father’s Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside. (description from publisher)

oxfordprojectIn 1984 photographer and University of Iowa art professor Peter Feldstein set out to photograph all 676 residents in his town of Oxford, Iowa. Over the course of the summer he succeeded in photographing 670 individuals “as they were”: in street clothes, some lugging shopping bags or carrying pets or children. Peter returned in 2005 to re-photograph as many of the original residents as he could, this time bringing along University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom to interview residents. The Oxford Project compiles the photos and interviews to provide a case study of small town life in America.

The biographies are concisely written and give you a glimpse into the lives of the residents: their personal triumphs and tragedies, their accomplishments and regrets. This book highlights the differences 20 years brings but also the striking similarities in dress, posture, and overall demeanor that people tend to maintain throughout their lives. Like any good book, The Oxford Project encourages the reader to reflect on their own life. In 20 years, what will you look back with satisfaction or regret the chances you didn’t take?

 

 

 

These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.

  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is the latest epic biography by Robert Massie, an author who has written many fascinating books dealing with Russia and her historic leaders (including one of my favorites, Nicholas and Alexandra).  Catherine the Great started her life simply enough as Sophie, a minor German royal whose mother had lofty aspirations of her daughter marrying well.

After traveling to Russia as a teenager to marry Peter, the nephew of Empress Elizabeth and heir to the throne, Sophie is initially embraced by the members of the Russian court – but that quickly changes.  What follows is a whirlwind of betrayals, affairs, and power struggles as Catherine eventually ascends the Russian throne, guided by her studies of philosophy.  She used these principles to rule Russia during civil wars and foreign conflicts throughout her reign and the author portrays these events in vivid detail.   Massie’s writing style brings the entire era to life and personalizes Catherine as only he can – a highly recommended biography.

Everyone’s favorite TV barfly George Wendt makes a foray into the author world in Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional’s Guide to Beer. Before your inner skeptic kicks in, consider this chapter-opening confession from a proud 0.0 GPA recipient during a sojourn at Notre Dame University:

“I’ll be the first to admit that I lucked into the role of Norm Peterson, a character whom I’d been training to play my whole life.

Under one set of covers, Wendt gives you a mini-biography, a slew of interesting beer facts, funny beer anecdotes from his own life, and lighthearted fare regarding his Hollywood friends.  None of these pile up too thick in any of  this collection of 1-4 page essays, so like what the “born-on” date has done for Budweiser products, the book stays fresh.

This title has what is known in some circles as a crisp finish and clean aftertaste.   The funniest and most interesting stories are in about the last third of the liter..er… book.  But, hey, relax.  We’re not talking War and Peace here.  Perfect for the attention span of the mead-swiller in your life.

lincoln-railsplitting2Lincoln and Darwin had vastly different childhoods.  We know that Lincoln was born dirt-poor and was largely self-educated, whereas Darwin was born to wealth and privilege, privy to the best education money could buy. Still, even 200 years later, both have left their mark upon our world.  Unfortunately for both, that mark, or legacy, has become somewhat limited over time.

In the words of Adam Gopnik in his “Twin Peaks” article for the February, 2009 issue of the Smithsonian, ” With the usual compression of popular history, their reputations have been reduced to single words . . . “Evolution!”  for one and “Emancipation!” for the other.”  How true this is.  Both were complex individuals who contributed in many other ways to our relative societies.

One of Lincoln’s legacies, of sorts,  is the vast amount of literature that has been written about him.  At least in the Western world, it is estimated that there have been more books written about Lincoln than any other individual (save possibly Jesus and Napoleon).  And still, writers and researchers are uncovering new information and reformatting the old into numerous intriguing titles about Lincoln.  Check out some of these new tomes about our legendary 16th President:

In Lincoln’s Hand: his Original Manuscripts

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History by Charles Flood

“They Have Killed Papa Dead”: the Road to Ford’s Theater, Abraham Lincoln’s Murder and the Rage for Vengeance by Anthony Pitch

Giants: the Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln by John Stauffer

Looking for Lincoln: the Making of an American Icon by Philip Kunhardt

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson