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!

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?

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Through May

Hello Fellow Traveling Readers!

How is Kenya treating you this month? Because the selection of books about or set in Kenya is pretty slim, probably the hardest part of this challenge is finding a book that interests you. Don’t give up – there are some excellent ones that are well worth the search! (see this post for some suggestions)

Of course, because of the lack of Library Police, there is no rule that says you can’t read a book set in a different African country. Or different country from anywhere for that matter. However, if you’d like to stick with the African continent, there are some amazing books.

Travel to Botswana with any of the titles in the delightful No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. These fun and charming books follow Mma Precious Ramotswe as she untangles the various problems of her clients with wisdom and humor. Her love of Botswana and its people shines throughout. There’s also a beautifully done television series which originally ran on HBO.

The Congo, with it’s dark history, has inspired some outstanding books including The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a journey into the African wilderness and the human heart. I would also recommend The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver about a fire-and-brimstone preacher who brings his family to the Congo to be a missionary. The book is elegant and thoughtful and absolutely devastating.

If you want to explore South Africa, there is no better place to start than with Nelson Mandela. Look in the Biography section alphabetical under Mandela for books about this man’s remarkable life. For a classic, try Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton about a black man’s country under white man’s law, written with dignity, courage and love. Or check out the Tannie Maria mysteries by Sally Andrews, set in rural South Africa. The first in the series, Recipes for Love and Murder, is filled with humor, romance and recipes (and a murder!)

What about you? What have you read this month?

Now Departing for: Kenya

Welcome to the May edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for Kenya!

When I think of Kenya (a country I’ve never visited) I think of large expanses of open savannah grasslands, wide skies and lots of wildlife. I’m afraid I know very little of the people who live there or much about it’s history – but that’s what this year’s Reading Challenge is all about, isn’t it? Exploring new places!

You have a variety of titles to choose from. Try The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre, about the dark side of capitalism and the long-reaching effects of corruption and political intrigue (and it’s also a movie) Suzanne Arruda has written mysteries set in 1920s Kenya including The Leopard’s Prey and Treasure of the Golden Cheetah.  Love, Life and Elephants: an African Love Story is a memoir by Daphne Sheldrick about her lifelong work with the elephants and wildlife of Kenya. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain follows the remarkable story of an independent woman, Beryl Markam (author of West with the Night)

For movies you can’t beat Out of Africa, an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s time spent in Africa trying to establish a plantation. Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, it is both sweeping and intimate and incredibly beautiful. Or search out The Flame Trees of Thika, a gorgeous, heartbreaking story of an English girl growing up in Kenya and starring Hayley Mills.

Unfortunately, the number of books and movies that we have available that are set in Kenya is pretty slim, and the majority of them view the country through the eyes of white settlers. Because of this, I think it’s fine to read a book set in another African country this month if you’d prefer (remember, no Library Police!) It is a disservice and rude to imply that all of Africa is the same when in fact it is made up of a diverse range of nations and cultures with unique (often ancient) histories.  But if you’re having difficulty finding a book set in Kenya that interests you, feel free to explore a different African country.

I am planning to read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. It’s fiction, not an actual bird guide and reviews describe it as “charming” in the same vein as Alexander McCall Smith’s books. “Charming” is always a good idea.

What about you – what are you going to read this month?

 

Now Departing for: Paris

Bonjour!

April in Paris! We’re traveling to the City of Light this month in our Online Reading Challenge, a city of art and beauty (and fantastic croissants!) and a long, complex, fascinating history. Who could resist?

First, a confession: I love Paris. I’ve been three times in the past few years and plan to go again and again for many years. I love the museums and the architecture, the cafe culture (and the food!) and the history. I did not expect to fall so completely head-over-heels in love with this city on my first visit, but I did, almost from the first moment I emerged from the Metro station and glimpsed the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Like any big city, Paris has serious issues to deal with and it is far from perfect, but that doesn’t take away from what’s right and beautiful about it either.

There are oodles of books set in Paris – almost too many. I’ve found that some/too many writers use a Paris backdrop as a shortcut to creating mood and atmosphere – everyone has heard about Paris (usually heavily romanticized) so there’s no need to create a world for their novel. I consider this cheating and rather poor writing and it never feels “true”. Another habit I’ve run across is name dropping, for example “she tied her Hermes scarf around her neck, picked up her Louis Vuitton bag and walked down the Champs Elysees to Laduree’s for a macaroon”.  Um, yeah. All of those are very French, but not very “real” – using name dropping and stereotypes is just lazy writing. On the other hand, there are some incredibly good books set in Paris. Here’s a few to get you started:

The Greater Journey by David McCullough tells the story of American artists, writers and doctors that went to Paris between 1830 and 1900 and how what learned and experienced and then brought back in turn greatly influenced American history. McCullough’s writing is as honey smooth as his voice (he’s narrated several of Ken Burn’s films) and the stories he tells are fascinating.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley and their life in Paris. This is the time period when Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises and developed friendships with other rising stars such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. But the hard-drinking, fast-living lifestyle of Jazz-age Paris puts a strain on Ernest and Hadley’s marriage and threatens the happiness of their early romance.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Although this is a lighter, happier story, this book has a lot of depth that is a lot of fun to read. Anna is sent to Paris against her wishes for her final year of high school but it becomes a pivotal year in her life as she learns what she is capable of and gains independence and confidence. Paris is beautifully integrated as backdrop here.

A Family in Paris by Jane Paech. This is the true story of an Australian family that moves to Paris for the husband’s job. Their two girls are enrolled in the local school and Jane works to integrate herself into daily Parisian life. Fascinating insights into the lives and rituals of ordinary Parisians, the French educational system and the reality of Parisian bureaucracy. Lots of photos too.

Sarah’s Key by Titiana Rosnay is a novel that brings to light a rarely told, shameful chapter in Parisian history – the deportation of Jews from Paris during the Nazi occupation in 1942. Heartbreaking and often difficult to read, this story shows the suffering, the impossible decisions that had to be made and the guilt carried by the survivors. Long unacknowledged, there is now a memorial in Paris dedicated to the victims of the deportation.

Paris Letters by Janice Macleod. Another story of someone packing up and moving to Paris and finding her happily-ever-after. It’d be kind of annoying except that Janice worked really hard to make it happen and she’s pretty funny. The book also acts as motivation to work for what you want and to hold onto those dreams. Also, lovely hand drawn illustrations.

If you’d rather watch something this month you have nearly as many choices. Three of my favorites:

Hugo is breathtakingly beautiful and magical. That train wreck really did happen (in 1895) and that clock is based on the iconic clock at the Orsay Museum. The book the movie is based on, The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the 2008 Caldecott Award and is well worth reading too.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris. I’m not always a Woody Allen fan but this movie is gorgeous and fun with just the right amount of fantastical. Paris never looked so beautiful.

Amelie. If you have not seen this, drop everything and find a copy immediately. It’s quirky and delightful and sweetly romantic and very funny. Filmed entirely on location in Paris, you see the “real” Paris beyond the tourist sites. Yes, it’s in French and yes you have to read subtitles – grow up! Read a movie! It is so worth it.

There are so many more books and movies about Paris from classics (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, A Moveable Feast) to mysteries (Cara Black has a series set in Paris) to history (look in the 944 Dewey subject area) to cookbooks (David Lebovitz and Julia Child to name just two) that there is sure to be something that catches your eye. We’ll have displays at all three of our buildings too so stop in and get your ticket (er, book or movie!) to Paris!

Allons-y! (“let’s go!”)

Now Arriving from: Japan

Hello Challenge Readers!

How was your reading this month? Did you find a great book (or movie) set in Japan that you really enjoyed? It’s such an interesting culture set against a beautiful and dramatic landscape that the possibilities for good reading are boundless.

I read The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton which I blogged about earlier. I highly recommend this book – it’s not only a great story, it has a lot of information about the Japanese culture, much of which is unfamiliar to those of us raised in a Western European tradition.

I also watched the movie version of Memoirs of a Geisha. I loved the book (written by Arthur Golden) but had never seen the movie. I never expect a movie to be as good as the book (and they almost never are), but I had high hopes for it to be visually stunning (as I had imagined when I read the book) I was pretty disappointed – the movie concentrated on the personal interactions (which were petty and brutal) and very little on the history and background of the geisha which was a vital (and fascinating) part of the book. If you hadn’t read the book, there were large parts of the movie that you would have no idea what was going on, or why. Also, it wasn’t as beautiful as I think it could have been – the kimonos, the tea houses, the gardens – all of those were barely touched on. In addition, many of the scenes were filmed in the dark and/or rain making it very difficult to follow the action. And the ending was changed. So. Read the book (which is excellent) and skip the movie (in my opinion!)

Now it’s your turn – tell us what you read this month! Everyone loves a good recommendation!

Keeping Track

Hey Everyone!

Question for you: Do you keep a record of the books you read? If yes, how do you keep track – in a journal or notebook? In a spreadsheet or google doc? Or do you use an online service such as goodreads or LibraryThing? Or do you just live on the edge and hope you’ll remember?

When I was little I would keep track of titles on paper (and, of course, with reading logs from my local public library’s summer reading program), and I have taken a stab at keeping track every once in awhile since then, but mostly I’m pretty bad at doing this consistently. And, quite frankly, most of the lists I did keep were just that – lists, with no hint of what the book was about or if I liked it or not. Boy, I wish I had a list of everything I’ve read though – it’d be fun to see how my tastes changed and remember old favorites.

One way to keep track of your reading is with goodreads a free, online service. With goodreads you can list books that you’ve read or are in the midst of reading or would like to read someday. You can also see what your friends are reading and get recommendations based on titles you’ve read and liked. There’s a rating system and room to write your own review. One of the great things about it is that it isn’t just a list of titles, there is also a summary of what the book is about (as well as a picture of the book cover!) right at your fingertips, ready to jog your memory. There’s even a goodreads app for your phone so your list is always handy and easy to update.

If you’re already using goodreads, or if you join, be sure to request the Davenport Public Library as a friend (we’ll friend you right back!) AND – special bonus – our Online Reading Challenge now has a book club listing on goodreads! Join the “Read the World 2017” book group and you can list the books that you’ve read each month for the challenge, see what others are reading and talk about what you liked (or didn’t like!) in the forums. Hope to see you there!

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

Hello Challenge Readers!

How has the month of March been treating you? Have you found a great book or movie set in Japan? For many of us (and this is a massive over-generalization), the Japanese culture can be very foreign in a way that Europe is not. Western European culture permeates our lives here – even if we have no European blood, we easily recognize and mostly understand their literature and customs (this seems especially true of Great Britain whose power and influence at one time stretched across the globe). Japan, on the other hand, was closed to foreigners, with few exceptions, for centuries and sometimes seems to be an enigma even now.

Of course, no matter our differences we are, at heart, much the same – we love our families, we know pain and joy, great tragedy and incredible luck. It’s simply the setting and the way our society teaches us to handle these truths that is different. And isn’t that why we travel and why we read about other lives? To understand our differences and to see our similarities?

I’ve read an incredibly good book for our Japan adventure – The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. One day Amaterasu Takahashi opens to the door of her home in the United States to a young man with hideous scars on his face and hands. He claims he is her grandson Hideo Watanabe who she believed had died when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, forty years ago. She is understandably skeptical and wary and also frightened – his appearance reopens a very painful part of Ama’s life, of family secrets, betrayals, regrets and loss, pain that she has shut away and is now forced to confront.

What follows is a look back at Ama’s life, her poor, desperate youth, the daughter she protected fiercely, the husband who brought her a measure of peace. When the Allies drop the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, both Ama’s daughter and grandson were within the bomb blast and though they search for days, weeks, months, Ama and her husband are unable to find anything of their beloved child and grandchild. Eventually they move to the United States and Ama is able to fairly successfully ignore the pain of the past – at least until the man claiming to be Hideo arrives.

Descriptions of the day of the bomb and its horrible aftermath are vivid but not sensationalized. And while the fact of the bomb is a shadow throughout the book, it is not an the focus of the story. It is simply an unchangeable fact, a division between the past and the future. And while this may sound like a grim, depressing novel, it is actually about finding joy and accepting happiness and learning to not just survive, but to live.

I also liked that at the beginning of each chapter a Japanese word would be defined and explained. These words usually described concepts that are uniquely Japanese values and do not translate easily to English or to Western society. Many of these concepts are rooted in the ancient history of Japan and Buddhist philosophy and are a fascinating clue to what makes Japan distinctive. This added a lot of depth and understanding to the actions of the characters. This is one of those books that you keep thinking about long after you finish. Highly recommended.

What about you? What are you reading this month?

 

 

Now Arriving from: Seattle

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did Seattle treat you – did you find something especially good to read this month?

I read a great book this month, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and I loved it. Told via emails, memos, letters, text messages and narrative, the story of Bernadette and her unraveling comes together bit by bit. A brilliant architect, a petty argument nearly destroys her and she withdraws with her husband and daughter to Seattle. Bernadette’s acerbic observations of the people and world around her are very funny and her slow descent into madness is heartbreaking. Misunderstandings and missed communications spiral events into a madcap comedy-of-errors until Bernadette’s only choice, she believes, is to disappear. However Bee, her teenage daughter, will not give up on her and goes looking for her, piecing together Bernadette’s story both past and present.

Bee makes a lovely narrator. She’s as scrappy and observant and brilliant as her mother. That Bernadette is able to return and reunite with her husband and daughter is due in large part to Bee’s determination and love. I got a lot out of this book, about how lack of communication can destroy, how forgiveness can heal, how love can overcome many things, but most of all, I felt this book was about being true to yourself. When Bernadette denies her creativity and tries to be someone she’s not, she nearly kills herself and puts her family in turmoil. Despite the seemingly heavy themes, the book is laugh out loud funny and sometimes just this side of absurd – a fun read that quickly captures your attention.

Seattle plays a big part in this book, especially the first half (interestingly – and somewhat oddly (although it works) – the second half takes place mostly in Antarctica!). Some of the characters love Seattle and some hate it, so you get a pretty balanced view of both the good and the bad. Lots of rain, of course, but also lots of descriptions of the neighborhoods and traffic and businesses that keep the city running. A fun, quirky city that makes the perfect backdrop to a fun, quirky book.

What about you – did you find a great Seattle read this month? Let us know in the comments!