October 2008 Archives

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

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A couple of months ago another librarian asked if I'd heard of the new novel about Laura Bush, and though it wasn't on my radar, I'm glad it was brought to my attention. The time spent reading this book has been purely enjoyable. Sittenfeld, in her acknowledgments, notes that she drew inspiration from The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush, by Ann Gerhart.

Part of what made this story so compelling was that its set largely in Wisconsin. Names and places are familiar and a strong sense of nostalgia is present too. Sittenfeld gets Wisconsin right; for example, an old fashioned cocktail, it goes without saying, is made with brandy rather than whiskey here.

American Wife is written as a memoir, told by the first lady, Alice Blackwell, and, rather than chapters, it's told in four parts, each a significant part of Alice's life. There is a life-changing accident in high school where a classmate is killed in a car accident, friendships are gained and lost, and of course, there is the first meeting of Alice and Charlie Blackwell, their ensuing romance and then married lives while campaigning first for governor of Wisconsin and later President of the United States. Check catalog for availability.


Ray Davies - Not Like Everybody Else by Thomas Kitts

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When Ray Davies and his younger brother Dave belted out the classic riff and melody of "You Really Got Me" with their seminal British band The Kinks in 1964, some say "Hard Rock" was born. Regardless if you believe that statement or not, the genius and influence of songwriting great Ray Davies is indisputable. The induction of The Kinks into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 only validated their rightful place among rock's elite bands.

Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else isn't a typical biography in the traditional sense, but rather, it examines the career of Davies and The Kinks single by single and album by album. The author academically analyzes Davies' songwriting and themes in an engaging and thoughtful way that adds much insight into the works of a true rock n roll demigod. Though this scholarly book will most likely appeal to fans of The Kinks (which I happen to be), fans of rock n roll history will gain some great insight into the 40 plus year career of a truly special and gifted songwriter.

- Submitted by Dan @ Central

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel
This breezy memoir will make all librarians twitch and shout in myoclonic horror. It details the felonious caper of writer Lee Israel who forged more than 400 letters imputed to notables like Noel Coward and the B-Is-For-Boozers literary troika of Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, and Louise Brooks.
A modest New York literary success, Israel rented a small but comfortable studio west of Zabar's while enjoying intravenous martinis and an affair with a bartender named Elaine. Israel was imprudent with money and Dionysian to the quick. Eventually flirting with welfare and desperate to stay in "restaurants and taxis," Israel found a letter written to her by Katharine Hepburn, a thank-you note for an Esquire profile. Israel sold the letter for $250.
Then inspiration struck.
One day at the library, she slid three letters written by Fanny Brice into her Keds and walked out. Fetching only $40 apiece after the dealer explained that the content wasn't great, Israel added another wrinkle to her scheme. She added a postscript to another purloined Brice letter about a new grandchild: "He has my old nose. Do I leave him an extra something for repairs?"
From there, it was a quick descent into total invention. Israel stole stationery from old notebooks in libraries and traced signatures atop the screen of her ancient Sears Roebuck television.
While the ending might strike some as a splendid artichoke of abbreviation, remember Orson Welles said that if you’re looking for a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story. Check catalog for availability.

Submitted by Jane H. @ King

Dumbfounded: A Memoir by Matt Rothschild

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A candid, and quite funny memoir about growing up as a plump Jewish kid under the care of his grandparents because his mother leaves him for Italy and her fourth husband. Rothschild shares his struggle to fit into the WASPy world of Upper East Side Manhattan and his eccentric and dysfunctional family. Check catalog for availability.

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The "Dark Ages" often conjure images of Attila the Hun or a crazed Saxon on a horse pillaging a medieval village and burning everything in their wake. Though these events certainly took place, the term "Dark Ages" generally refers to a time in European history between the fall of the Roman empire and the reign of Charlemagne, roughly 400 AD to 900 AD. The term refers to the lack of written records during this period in history, thus what happened remains "dark." We do know that the building projects initiated by the Romans ceased to be maintained and that a central hub of rule seemed to have vanished. The basis of Wells' book is to show that many creative and important advancements on society occured during these times. Since few written records exist to explain everyday life, Wells, an renowned archaelogist, uses artifacts from archaelogical digs to piece together a picture of society during those centuries. For instance, Wells devotes a short chapter describing what the funeral of a Frankish king named Childeric (approx 436-482 ) would have been like during the Dark Ages. His entire description is conjecture based solely on archaelogical artifacts found in his grave. Written for a general audience, Wells condenses years of research and theory into a concise examination of the subject. A fascinating and easy read. Recommended for general readers interested in history.

Check catalog for availability.

- Submitted by Dan @ Central

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

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Based on the true story of Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, this is a story of brotherhood, greed, and murder. White mule, white lightning, firewater, popskull, wild cat, stump whiskey, or rotgut -- whatever you called it, Franklin County, Virginia was awash in moonshine during Prohibition. When Sherwood Anderson, the journalist and author of Winesburg, Ohio, was covering a story there, he christened it the "wettest county in the world."

In the twilight of his career, Anderson finds himself driving along dusty red roads trying to find the Bondurant brothers, piece together the clues linking them to "The Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy," and break open the silence that shrouds Franklin County. Check catalog for availability.

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino

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Thoreau at Walden (2008) by John Porcellino
John Porcellino is best known for his long-running, journalistic zine entitled King-Cat Comics. Over the years, his drawing and writing style has tranformed from crude angst to a thoughtful zen-like calm. Here he takes on Thoreau's Walden and deftly distills it into graphic novel form, elegantly capturing its essence with simple line drawings and an economy of text. Check catalog for availability.

- submitted by Tom @ MPL Central

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

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When Germany invaded Poland, bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, and lynxes.

World War II from the Polish perspective was not something familar to me and I learned a lot about the uprising and Ghetto experience in Warsaw. I also didn't realize that the Nazi's (especially Hermann Goering) not only wanted to create and maintain a pure human race, they wanted a pure and Aryan animal race as well. Soldiers 'borrowed' animals from various zoos and interbred them to try to recreate extinct species such as forest tarpans and aurochsen.

Ackerman is also a poet and naturalist which comes across very nicely and makes this a lyrical and compassionate read not to be missed. Check catalog for availability.


Run Man Run by Chester Himes

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Published in 1966 during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Run Man Run tells the story of Jimmy, an African American worker who witnesses Walker, a caucasian police detective, murder two coworkers while in a drunken rage. After identifying the detective to the authorities, Jimmy finds himself targeted by Walker because he's the only one who can testify about the shootings. This racially charged novel focuses on the inability of the establishment to take Jimmy's word as truth against one of their own. The dirty streets of Harlem offers the perfect backdrop for this gritty, hard-boiled tale of truth, deception and eventually, redemption. Check catalog for availability.

Himes also created the first two African American detectives in literature, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones, who appeared in many detective novels that were labeled "The Harlem Cycle." His most famous work from that series is Cotton Comes to Harlem.

- Submitted by Dan @ Central

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

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The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd.

I found this book on the Staff Recommends table at the Central Library. The book jacket summary intrigued me although this is not a book I would normally read. I'm glad I did. The main character, Jessie, simultaneously undergoes four life changing events. Her mother becomes ill, she has an affair with a monk, separates from her husband, and learns the truth about her father's death. I couldn't stop listening to this book as I constantly wondered what choices Jessie would make next. I thoroughly enjoyed Eliza Foss the reader of this book. Check catalog for availability.

Author's website.

Submitted by Paula N. @ MPL Central

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's childhood and coming of age. Marji grows up within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval are detailed as well as her high school years in Vienna when she must face adolescence far from her family.

It couldn't have been easy growing up amidst so much repression, especially considering how progressive her family was. First published as a two volume graphic novel, it is now available in one combined volume and as a film. Read the novel for full impact or watch the film in Satrapi's native French language with English subtitles. Check catalog for availability.

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Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design (2008) by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl
As the DIY craft movement has gained prominence and spread across the USA in recent years, Faythe Levine has been Milwaukee's key player. Locally, she initiated and runs the twice-annual Art vs. Craft Fair and co-owns Paper Boat Boutique. Nationally, she has been documenting the output and efforts of the indie craft community at large.

With Handmade Nation (which parallels a documentary film of the same name that will be released next year), Levine and Heimerl shine a light on things with a handful of insightful essays, a bevy of great photos and profiles on 24 individual knitters, stitchers, printers and fabricators. Check catalog for availability.

- submitted by Tom @ MPL Central

Dracula by Bram Stoker

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"I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome." Welcome indeed! When Bram Stoker wrote that famous greeting from the vampire king in his influential 1897 novel, he created a cultural icon that has spread over the past 100 years like the vampire plague he invented. Most cultures throughout the world have some type of vampire-like creature included in their folklore and these tales fascinated Stoker in his native Ireland. Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent years studying European folklore and was so impressed by the tales of Transylvania that they inspired the creation of his now famous vampire. Stoker's novel, though not the first vampire story - for example, John Polidori published Vampyre in 1819 and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu published Carmilla in 1871 (which later became the basis of 1932 German film Vampyr) - has certainly become the most famous.

The Dracula story has been filmed well over 100 times throughout the world. The first film adaptation of Stoker's novel was the 1922 German silent film Nosferatu. The director of the film, F.W. Murnau, could not obtain the rights from the Stoker family to name his film Dracula so they named it Nosferatu, a word Stoker used to describe vampires in his novel, though the word doesn't seem to exist in Romanian vocabulary. It may be a corrupted form of "nesuferit" in Romanian or the Greek "Nosophoros," both of which translate as "plague-bearer."

Perhaps the most famous of these film adaptations is the 1931 Universal Pictures version starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula. The Hungarian born Lugosi's portayal of Count Dracula is still considered the quintessential vampire role today.

In 1992 director Francis Ford Coppola released another film adaptation that won three Academy Awards. Though Coppola titled his film Bram Stoker's Dracula, it is not an entirely faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel.

There are many, many other film and book variations on the plot and themes that Stoker created. So why not read the great novel and then compare it with the great film adaptations listed above!

- Submitted by Dan @ Central

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