last trainA decade ago, Paul Theroux’s best-selling Dark Star Safari chronicled his epic overland voyage from Cairo to Cape Town, providing an insider’s look at modern Africa. Now, with The Last Train to Zona Verde, he returns to discover how Africa and he have changed in the ensuing years. On this trip, Theroux is journeying through West Africa for the first time. From Cape Town, South Africa, to Namibia to Botswana, he covers nearly 2,500 miles before he is forced to give up what is to be his final foreign trip, a decision he chronicles in a delightfully curmudgeonly and unsparing chapter titled “What Am I Doing Here.”

Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers. (description from publisher)

This book is written by a dog.  Granted, a very special dog —  a golden retriever named Trixie.  And even though Trixie passed away in 2007, she is still, remarkably, writing books.  Of course, it probably helps that she was owned by bestselling author Dean Koontz, who may still have a little something to do with her success.   In fact, Koontz states that the Trixie  page on his website is one of the most visited features.

Trixie has inspired several books, including A Big Little Life, in which Koontz wrote about his relationship with his beloved pet.  But she’s also inspired some new children’s books, such as I Trixie, Who Is Dog , the rights to which have recently been purchased in order to create a new family comedy show.  But her speciality is definitely books such as Life is Good or Bliss to You, which are written in dog-speak, as is if Trixie is narrating the story.  Though for the most part, this is utterly charming, I’ll warn any ex-English teachers out there (myself included) that dogs apparently do not always use correct syntax.  Still, the book is warm, funny, inspirational and short –you can easily find bliss in one short sitting — making it an ideal gift for dog-lovers come Christmas time.

One other reason to support these books:  since Trixie originally served as a Canine Companions for Independence (before she went to live with Dean and Gerda) all royalties are donated to this organization.

Every night before bed, I try to catch the newest episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  So I was surprised and excited when I saw that one of my favorite Daily Show correspondents, Samantha Bee, had just come out with a book of humorous essays about her life.   In her new book I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Bee covers everything from her upbringing by her Wiccan mother to teaching her friends about the birds and the bees using her Barbie dolls to trying to come up with the perfect gift for her husband and failing miserably.  I was reading this book on a road trip to Chicago and found myself laughing out loud and sharing  passages with my sister and husband, who couldn’t help but laugh out loud themselves, particularly at the passage where she described her son wanting to put the family cat in his mouth in order “to be kept safe forever in a protective human boy suit.”

Though she stays out of the realm of political humor that she is famous for on The Daily Show, Bee has no problem finding hilarious situations in her own life to write about.  One of my favorites is her story of how she met her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones:  they were both in a traveling stage production of the childrens cartoon Sailor Moon, complete with anime-style outfits and a lot of very displeased children in the audience.  You don’t have to be a fan of The Daily Show to enjoy this book; you just have to be looking for a good laugh.

Falling in love in Paris – what could be better than that? How about falling in love in Paris with recipes! Elizabeth Bard lets us tag along in Lunch in Paris as she meets and falls in love with Gwendal, maintains a long-distance relationship (with frequent visits to France), and then at first reluctantly, then whole heartedly, becomes an ex-pat living in Paris.

As a student in London working on her PhD, Elizabeth is able to make frequent weekend trips to Paris to visit friends. Her travels quickly center around food – the sidewalk cafes, the shop with the best croissants, the tiny restaurants known only to the locals. When she begins dating Gwendal, she begins to view meals and eating like the French do – even the simplest meal should be created with care and attention, eaten slowly and enjoyed. She learns to shop like a Parisian, buying just enough food for each meal, going to the fishmonger, the butcher, the farmer’s market for fresh ingredients. Along the way she finds a doorway into the French culture and thought, while gaining new insights into her American heritage.

Bard writes with confidence and wit, unafraid to expose her American learning curve. She is enthusiastic about trying any dish, and an adventurer in the kitchen. Each chapter is wrapped around a meal (or the memory of a meal) that fits the current stage of her life and finishes with recipes for the food she’s written about. While the recipes are mostly French, she has rewritten them for Americans, with ingredients that are easy to find in the US. This a delightful, mouth-watering memoir will satisfy the cook, the foodie and the traveler in all of us.

changemeintoA colleague shared with me that one of her favorite authors, Barbara Robinette Moss, had died recently (Oct. 9, 2009).  Considering that Moss had lived in Iowa (Des Moines and Iowa City) for a good portion of her life, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of her passing.  Moss was both an artist and an author.

Her memoir, Change me Into Zeus’s Daughter, is one of our Book-Club-in-a-Box selections.  It’s compelling reading.  The opening scene has her mother preparing a meal of seeds they had intended to plant — seeds saturated in pesticide.  The family is starving and there is nothing else to eat.  Her father is an alcoholic, often out of work and often abusive.  Barbara is particularly unfortunate in that malnutrition has caused the bones in her face to elongate, giving her a “twisted, mummy face.”   Her wish to change her appearance — which she eventually is able to do —  is the basis for the book’s title.

Though at times it’s difficult to witness the hardship the family endures, this is truly an uplifting book. In her follow-up memoir, Fierce, Moss covers later episodes in her life, including finally leaving Alabama and her abusive second husband for art school at age 27, with her 8 year old son in tow.  To know that she overcomes her harsh beginnings and becomes a productive and successful adult is amazing.   It’s unfortunate that we cannot look forward to more work from this creative talent.

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.

The Davenport Public Library is happy to announce the creation of our own weekly-ish podcast. The intent of the program is to focus on the Quad-Cities community and library issues in general.

Some of our podcasts will present the highlights of interviews conducted with local area veterans as part of the World War II/Korean War oral history project conducted . Our very first podcast looks at the experiences of area veteran Robert Rubley as a minesweeper (15:01).

Please subscribe to this free show in the Itunes music store so you’ll get a piping hot MP3 every time a new episode comes out. Or, just stream them off this blog by hitting “Play” below.