World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

If you love natural history, biology, poetry, or lyrical memoir, you’ll probably love World of Wonders. Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Nakamura have created an enrapturing book-cum-artwork which shows the breathtaking biodiversity of our world alongside the mosaic of memories that makes a human life remarkable.

Nezhukumatathil (nuh ZOO KOO mah tah till) skillfully interweaves her own story of growing up and living in many different places (Kansas, Arizona, and Ohio to name a few, not to mention visits to family in Kerala, India) with profiles of vital plants and wildlife which feature in that locale and her memories of it. One of my favorite examples is the chapter in which she describes the corpse flower, an enormous plant which blooms into a foul odor only once every few years. Not only does she describe the plant’s origins and lifecycles, but she also tells the reader how she used to use this flower as a story to test potential dates: her date’s reaction to hearing her enthusiasm for the corpse flower told her whether or not they should get a second date. Only one reacted with interest and curiosity and without judgement, and she married him. It makes for a fascinating, funny, and ultimately heartwarming chapter.

Other entries take the reader to more serious places: the enigmatic smile of the endangered axolotl is woven into Nezhukumatathil’s memories of the casually racist comments she endured growing up and well into adulthood. The fabulous flair of the peacock is part of a painful memory of a prejudiced teacher who assigned the class to draw their favorite animal — so long as it was an “American” animal. Even the first chapter about the catalpa tree is a bittersweet memory of going with her sister after school to meet their mother at her workplace – a Kansas mental institution – and facing the ridicule of classmates. In any circumstance, Nezhukumatathil found comfort and advice in the myriad strategies and adaptations of nature.

A book full of wonder, hope, gratitude, and ecological appreciation, peppered with lovely sketch-like illustrations, World of Wonders is not something you’ll want to miss.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A life no one will remember. A story you will never forget.

The tagline for V.E. Schwab’s latest book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the best I’ve seen at perfectly distilling a book down to its essence. V.E. Schwab is mostly known for her children’s and young adult fiction that she published under the name Victoria Schwab, but The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue  is a wonderful addition to historical fantasy for adults that you’ll want to cozy up and read as soon as you can get a copy.

France, 1714. Addie LaRue is desperate. Growing up in a small town in France, Addie thought she had successfully avoided marriage until she is promised to a man with young children. Knowing if she marries him she will be live and die in this same small town, Addie manages to slip away before her wedding. Stumbling in her desperation, Addie kneels in the woods and prays for freedom to a god who only answers after dark. This god, or is he a devil, answers Addie’s call and makes a deal with her that she so desperately wants. Over time, Addie learns the limits of the deal and regrets it: she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by every single person she meets. Every time they turn away, every time they close a door, Addie will slip from their memory, a person or a thought always just out of reach. She will spend her years traveling the world, never quite feeling at home anywhere, and never able to make her mark on the world. Addie must get creative in order to leave her legacy as she visits artists of all types and notices that the seven freckles that dot her cheeks can be found throughout history, like a scattering of stars.

Flash forward 300 years. Addie is searching for something new, anything new that will shake up what she’s already discovered in her 300 years. Walking the streets of New York, she yearns. Suddenly, Addie finds a bookstore that she has never seen before. In it, a boy named Henry will change her life with three little words, ‘I remember you’.

Those three words. How is it possible? Did Luc, the god who made her deal, mess up? He must have. She yearns to be remembered, yearns to belong to someone. She has found the one her soul has been searching for after 300 years. Both Henry and Addie have been yearning for years to not be alone, though Henry’s life has been considerably shorter than Addie’s, but his desire is just as strong. Wanting to feel that connection while they have been alone for all this time is something pressed deep into their souls. Addie and Henry are fearful of what they’ve discovered, that fear running strong in Addie as the anniversary of her deal approaches. Knowing that Luc may show up at any second, whenever the mood hits him, Addie is desperate that Henry remember as much of her life as he can before Luc makes him forget.

This novel tore me apart. It’s not a thriller or a swift ride through the characters’ lives. Instead Schwab introduces both Addie and Henry’s lives in a wonderfully leisurely way, one where readers get to know the characters as they work through whatever newness they uncover. Schwab mixes the past with the present, switching between long stretches of Addie’s 300 years with Henry’s exquisitely awkward and painful shorter life. These moments are presented in a way that tugs at your heart as you wish for peace and comfort for both Henry and Addie in the end.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Love, of a Kind

love, of a kindLove, of a Kind is the seventh book of poetry put together by Felix Dennis. Dennis was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 2012. As a result of that diagnosis, he began bringing together and revising poems for what he believed to be his last book. The poems here run along the themes of pain, life, death, and love.

The author lived a fairly loud and extravagant life after a humble beginning. Dennis was born and lived a life of poverty in a south London suburb where he dealt with his father moving to Australia, his mother choosing not to follow, and their subsequent divorce in a time where divorces just did not happen. As a consequence of their divorce, Dennis’ mother chose to not let her previous failed marriage be a reason for her or her children to not succeed in life. Dennis’ career spanned from publisher to poet to spoken word performer to philanthropist. Never one to stray from the limelight, various interviews with Dennis can be found online.

After his diagnosis in 2012, Dennis created Love, of a Kind as a way to cope. Dennis pairs his poems with woodcut engravings that help pull readers more completely into his world. Read along and feel Dennis as he pours his feelings about love into the words that he chose to be his memory after his death in 2014.

This is My FAVORITE Book

I Remember NothingA key to good readers advisory is to be able to remember titles and authors.  One of my favorite audiobooks is I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron. The problem is that I can never remember this title. Not only do I keep checking it out, thinking I haven’t listened to it before,  I also fail to remember the title when I’m telling staff and patrons what a great Book-on-CD it is.

And it really is. Ephron read the book herself and she has a marvelous voice and impeccable timing.  Particularly interesting, I thought, were the stories about her early career in newspaper and magazine journalism. She isn’t shy about dishing about the legendary writers and publishers she worked with, whose names I can’t recall (except for Katie and Phil Graham of the Washington Post).

She also has some handy tricks for social situations in which names (or whether you, in fact, really know a person) escape you.

Recommendation:  check the box marked “Reading History” in your library account, and you’ll always have a record of what you’ve checked out.

 

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

housekeeper-and-the-professorThis lovely jewel of a novel, set in Japan, explores the power of memory and how it shapes our lives, and how love and friendship can transcend hardship and loss.

The Professor is a brilliant mathematician, able to describe and demonstrate the most complex formulas into something simple and poetic and beautiful, but due to a traumatic head injury his short-term memory lasts only 80 minutes. The Professor spends his days in his study, working on difficult mathematics problems; everything before that fateful night in 1975 still clear and real to him, everything else more than 80 minutes old, new and confusing.

The Housekeeper, a struggling single mother, is assigned to care for him. Gradually they make a connection – the Professor pins multiple notes to his coat to help him cope with his handicap – and the Housekeeper’s young son often joins them. The Professor shares his love of numbers with them and joins the boy in his love of baseball.  Together the three form an unconventional family.

Thoughtful, poignant and bittersweet, this spare, elegant novel will stay with you long after you’ve finished.

Measure of the Heart by Mary Ellen Geist

Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease most of us would rather not think about, much less read about. Still, I’ve just finished reading a lovely book entitled Measure of the Heart: A Father’s Alzheimer’s, A Daughter’s Return by Mary Ellen Geist. Perhaps I was drawn to it because my own mother had Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the black and white photo on the cover brought back memories of me walking with my mom. Still, I approached it with a degree of ambivalence. Did I really want to read this and risk drudging up a very sad time? Well, I’m glad I did. It was not at all depressing, but rather a touching and tender tribute, reinforcing my own experience that caring for our loved ones can be both and a blessing and a privilege.

As I watch the leaves fall to the ground, it seems appropriate that November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month. If you’re interested in learning more about this affliction, I would recommend The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, currently in its 4th edition. This is a virtual bible for caregivers, and one I relied upon heavily.

Another interesting read is Voices of Alzheimer’s, The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength, a compilation of personal anecdotes and experiences, edited by The Healing Project.