10 Best Books of 2009

October 29, 2009

From http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6704263.html

Every year, PW selects its top 100 books, and for the first time ever PW has upped the ante by choosing the 10 books that stood out from the rest. The titles, whittled down from the more than 50,000 volumes considered this year, were picked by the PW reviews editors to reflect the very best of 2009. Here, PW reviews the 10 books.  You can click on the title to reserve your copy from the library.

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
Richard Holmes. Pantheon, $40 (552p) ISBN 0375422226
The Romantic imagination was inspired, not alienated, by scientific advances, argues this captivating history. Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes’s biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy’s self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge. Their discoveries, he argues, helped establish a new paradigm of Romantic science that saw the universe as vast, dynamic and full of marvels and celebrated mankind’s power to not just describe but transform Nature. Holmes’s treatment is sketchy on the actual science and heavy on the cultural impact, with wide-ranging discussions of the 1780s ballooning craze, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and scientific metaphors in Romantic poetry. It’s an engrossing portrait of scientists as passionate adventurers, boldly laying claim to the intellectual leadership of society. Illus. (July 14)

Await Your Reply
Dan Chaon. Ballantine, $25 (336p) ISBN 0345476026
Three disparate characters and their oddly interlocking lives propel this intricate novel about lost souls and hidden identities from National Book Award finalist Chaon (You Remind Me of Me). Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who’s been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed their mother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle. Chaon deftly intertwines a trio of story lines, showcasing his characters’ individuality by threading subtle connections between and among them with effortless finesse, all the while invoking the complexities of what’s real and what’s fake with mesmerizing brilliance. This novel’s structure echoes that of his well-received debut—also a book of three—as it bests that book’s elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence. (Sept.)

Big Machine
Victor Lavalle. Spiegel & Grau, $25 (384p) ISBN 0385527985
LaValle has garnered critical acclaim for his previous works (a collection, Slapboxing with Jesus, and novel, The Ecstatic), and his second novel is sure to up his critical standing while furthering comparisons to Haruki Murakami, John Kennedy Toole and Edgar Allan Poe. Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice takes a chance on an anonymous note delivered to him at the cruddy upstate New York bus depot where he works as a porter. Quickly, Ricky finds himself among the Unlikely Scholars, a secret society of ex-addicts and petty criminals, all black like him, living in remote Vermont and sifting through stacks of articles in a library devoted to investigating the supernatural; the existence of a god; and the legacy of Judah Washburn, an escaped slave who claimed to have had contact with a higher being that the Unlikely Scholars now call the Voice. Ricky’s intoxicating voice—robust, organic, wily—is perfect for narrating LaValle’s high-stakes mashup of thrilling paranormal and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, as the fateful porter—something of a modern Odysseus rallied by a team of spiritual X-men—wanders through America’s messianic hoo-hah. (Aug.)

Cheever: A Life
Blake Bailey. Knopf, $35 (770p) ISBN 1400043948
Rebellious Yankee son of a father who fell victim to the Depression and a doo-gooder-turned-businesswoman mother, father to three competitive children he rode mercilessly but adored, chronicler par excellence of the 1950s American suburban scene while deploring all forms of conformity: John Cheever (1912–1982) was a mass of contradictions. In this overlong but always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist’s eye, Bailey, biographer of Richard Yates and editor of two volumes of Cheever’s work for Library of America (also due in March), was given access to unpublished portions of Cheever’s famous journals and to family members and friends. Bailey’s book is fine in descriptions of Cheever’s reactions to other writers, such as his adored Bellow and detested Salinger. Bailey is also sensitive in describing the prickly dynamic of Cheever’s domestic life, lived through a haze of alcoholism and under the shadow of extramarital heterosexual and homosexual relationships. This Ovid in Ossining, who published 121 stories in the New Yorker as well as several bestselling novels, has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress that situation. 24 pages of photos. (Mar. 12)

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
Neil Sheehan. Random, $32 (560p) ISBN 0679422846
The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America’s intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and ‘60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs. Sheehan gives a fascinating run-down of the engineering challenges posed by nuclear missiles, but the main action consists of bureaucratic intrigues, procurement innovations and epic briefings that catch the president’s ear and open the funding spigots. Like the author’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning A Bright Shining Lie, this is a saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut, this time successfully: the author credits Schriever’s missiles with keeping the peace and jump-starting the space program and satellite industry. Sheehan’s focus on personal initiative and human-scale dramas lends an overly romantic cast to his study of cold war policy making and the arms race, but it makes for an engrossing read. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct. 6)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin. Norton, $23.95 (256p) ISBN 0393068005
In eight beautifully crafted, interconnected stories, Mueenuddin explores the cutthroat feudal society in which a rich Lahore landowner is entrenched. A complicated network of patronage undergirds the micro-society of servants, families and opportunists surrounding wealthy patron K.K. Harouni. In Nawabdin Electrician, Harouni’s indispensable electrician, Nawab, excels at his work and at home, raising 12 daughters and one son by virtue of his cunning and ingenuity—qualities that allow him to triumph over entrenched poverty and outlive a robber bent on stealing his livelihood. Women are especially vulnerable without the protection of family and marriage ties, as the protagonist of Saleema learns: a maid in the Harouni mansion who cultivates a love affair with an older servant, Saleema is left with a baby and without recourse when he must honor his first family and renounce her. Similarly, the women who become lovers of powerful men, as in the title story and in Provide, Provide, fall into disgrace and poverty with the death of their patrons. An elegant stylist with a light touch, Mueenuddin invites the reader to a richly human, wondrous experience. (Feb.)

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Geoff Dyer. Pantheon, $24 (296p) ISBN 0307377377
Two 40-ish men seeking love and existential meaning are the protagonists of these highly imaginative twin novellas, written in sensuous, lyrical prose brimming with colorful detail. In the first, Jeff Atman is a burnt-out, self-loathing London hack journalist who travels to scorching, Bellini-soaked Venice to cover the 2003 Biennale, and there finds the woman of his dreams and an incandescent love affair. The unnamed narrator of the second novella (who may be the same Jeff) is an undistinguished London journalist on assignment in the scorching Indian holy city of Varanasi, where the burning ghats, the filth and squalid poverty and the sheer crush of bodies move him to abandon worldly ambition and desire. Dyer’s ingenious linking of these contrasting narratives is indicative of his intelligence and stylistic grace, and his ability to evoke atmosphere with impressive clarity is magical. Both novellas ask trenchant philosophical questions, include moments of irresistible humor and offer arresting observations about art and human nature. For all his wit and cleverness, Dyer is unflinching in conveying the empty lives of his contemporaries, and in doing so he’s written a work of exceptional resonance. (Apr.)

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
David Grann. Doubleday, $27.50 (339p) ISBN 0385513534
In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn’t stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. He became interested in Fawcett while researching another story, eventually venturing into the Amazon to satisfy his all-consuming curiosity about the explorer and his fatal mission. Largely about Fawcett, the book examines the stranglehold of passion as Grann’s vigorous research mirrors Fawcett’s obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain, Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale. (Feb.)

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
Matthew B. Crawford. Penguin, $25.95 (246p) ISBN 1594202230
Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls manual competence, the ability to work with ones hands. According to the author, our alienation from how our possessions are made and how they work takes many forms: the decline of shop class, the design of goods whose workings cannot be accessed by users (such as recent Mercedes models built without oil dipsticks) and the general disdain with which we regard the trades in our emerging information economy. Unlike today’s knowledge worker, whose work is often so abstract that standards of excellence cannot exist in many fields (consider corporate executives awarded bonuses as their companies sink into bankruptcy), the person who works with his or her hands submits to standards inherent in the work itself: the lights either turn on or they don’t, the toilet flushes or it doesn’t, the motorcycle roars or sputters. With wit and humor, the author deftly mixes the details of his own experience as a tradesman and then proprietor of a motorcycle repair shop with more philosophical considerations. (June)

David Small. Norton, $24.95 (329p) ISBN 0393068579
In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence. The youngest member of a silent and unhappy family, David is subjected to repeated x-rays to monitor sinus problems. When he develops cancer as a result of this procedure, he is operated on without being told what is wrong with him. The operation results in the loss of his voice, cutting him off even further from the world around him. Small’s black and white pen and ink drawings are endlessly perceptive as they portray the layering of dream and imagination onto the real-life experiences of the young boy. Small’s intuitive morphing of images, as with the terrible postsurgery scar on the main character’s throat that becomes a dark staircase climbed by his mother, provide deep emotional echoes. Some understanding is gained as family secrets are unearthed, but for the most part David fends for himself in a family that is uncommunicative to a truly ghastly degree. Small tells his story with haunting subtlety and power. (Sept.)

What your neighbor is reading

October 13, 2009

Gina's selections

From Gina:

   “Well, I have a wide range of books that I enjoy reading… I have read everything by John Lescroart, D.W. Buffa and Harlen Coben. They are murder mysteries that usually have recurring characters. I also enjoy love stories so I have read everything Nicholas Sparks has written. Elizabeth Berg is a great story teller and her books center around a character going through a life changing event. So that’s why I enjoy Jodi Picoult too! For fun, summer reading I adore Jennifer Weiner, Kristen Hannah, and Judy Bloom.”

Would you like to create a display at the library?  Leave a comment here and we’ll arrange it.

5 Under 35

October 7, 2009

Five young fiction writers will be recognized by the National Book Foundation at the “5 Under 35” celebration at PowerHouse Arena in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn on Monday, November 16, announced Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation.

“5 Under 35 is a celebration of emerging talent and the perfect way to kick off National Book Awards Week,” says Augenbraum.

The 2009 5 Under 35 Honorees Are:

Ceridwen Dovey, Blood Kin (Viking, 2008)
Selected by Rachel Kushner, 2008 Fiction Finalist for Telex from Cuba

C. E. Morgan, All the Living (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009)
Selected by Christine Schutt, 2004 Fiction Finalist for Florida

Lydia Peelle, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (HarperCollins, 2009)
Selected by Salvatore Scibona, 2008 Fiction Finalist for The End

Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Vintage, 2006)
Selected by Dan Chaon, 2001 Fiction Finalist for Among the Missing

Josh Weil, The New Valley (Grove Press, 2009)
Selected by Lily Tuck, 2004 Fiction Winner for The News from Paraguay

Teens Top Ten-Vote now!

August 26, 2009

Voting is now open!

Teens’ Top Ten is a teen choice list, where teens choose their favorite books of the previous year. Readers ages twelve to eighteen can vote online, anytime between now and Sept. 18; the winners will be announced in a webcast featuring WWE Superstars and Divas during Teen Read Week, October 18-24.

Books for Dudes

August 18, 2009

Here are some thoughtful coming-of-age suggestions for the man who is looking for something insightful  (from a fellow dude):

Bellow, Saul. The Adventures of Augie March – Augie’s nonconformity leads him into an eventful, humorous, and sometimes earthy way of life.

Brown, Michael. Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – Infatuated with actress Audrey Hepburn, young Toshi comes of age in Tokyo, where he tries to make a living while balancing family secrets, American friends and lovers, and his own burgeoning identity. A first novel.

Chabon, Michael. Wonder Boys – In a story exploring the theme of the artist’s isolation, Grady Tripp, an obese, aging writer who has lost his way, and debauched editor Terry Crabtree struggle to rekindle their friendship, a sense of adventure, and purpose in their lives.

Doyle, Roddy. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Paddy Clarke, a ten-year-old boy who longs to be a missionary, experiences life’s joys and setbacks–specifically his ma and da’s fights–as he grows up in Liffey, Ireland, in the late 1960s. By the author of The Van. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Eberstadt, Fernanda. Isaac and His Devils – Isaac Hooker, a young genius in poor health, is spurred on to new achievements by his father, who has given up on his own early promise

Echenique, Alfredo Bryce. A World for Julius – “Like the best of Dickens’s novels, A World for Julius is a great, fat book that completely engages a reader with its characters and places—so completely that one reads with that often forgotten childhood pleasure of entering an all-encompassing, almost fairytale country of the imagination.”—New York Times Book Review

Hornby, Nick. About a Boy – Will trades his lack of enthusiasm toward children for a date with a truly beautiful woman and single mother in a comic, incisive novel about modern romance by the author of the international best-seller High Fidelity.

Irving, John. The Water Method Man – The main character of John Irving’s second novel, written when the author was twenty-nine, is a perpetual graduate student with a birth defect in his urinary tract–and a man on the threshold of committing himself to a second marriage that bears remarkable resemblance to his first…

Poirier, Mark Jude. Goats: A Novel – Fourteen-year-old Ellis departs from the Southwest to attend boarding school in the East, leaving behind his mother and the Goat Man, the surrogate father figure who has taught him the meaning of stability, commitment, and caretaking.

Sonnenblick, Jordan. Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie – Being a member of the All-Star Jazz Band, having a hopeless crush on the hottest girl in school, and playing the part of the generic role model to his younger brother, Jeffrey, is enough to keep thirteen-year-old Steven busy in his average life, but when a tragic event happens within his family, Steven begins to realize what really matters most in the world.

Graphic novels:

Bennett, Ian. Leap Years – Gr. 10-12. Bennett captures the uncanny feeling of high school in this graphic novel about teenage Jake.

Cruse, Howard. Stuck Rubber Baby – A truly eye-opening comic. The story is set in the South in the early ’60s and deals with homophobia, racism and the gay subculture of that period. The art is absolutely beautiful; Cruse is a master of the cross-hatching technique, which gives a certain “texture” to his art work and brings his pages to life. Stuck Rubber Baby is easily the most important comic book since Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

Thompson, Craig. Good-Bye, Chunky Rice – Chunky Rice, a small turtle, embarks on an ocean voyage, where he meets a shady skipper and conjoined twins, Ruth and Livonia,, but he also leaves behind his girlfriend Dandel, who sends him letters in a bottle.

Thanks to Douglas Lord of Library Journal

What’s missing?

August 7, 2009

Please let us know if you are searching for a book in our catalog and can’t find it.  Click on “Suggest a Book” on the right  if you’re reading this and already are in the library catalog, or use this link.

Authors reflect on their favorite childhood books

July 29, 2009

The authors that write our children’s books talk about the ones they loved most.  You can read the entire article about Anita Silvey’s  Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, but below are some of the highlights.  How many have you read?  What did you love as a child?

Peter Sis – The Little Prince , by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Jean Craighead George – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Leonard Marcus – Profiles in Courage (Young Readers Edition), by John F. Kennedy
Sherman Alexie – The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
Maurice Sendak – Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
Beverly Cleary – The Tailor of Gloucester , by Beatrix Potter
Wendell Minor – Treasure Island , by Robert Louis Stevenson
Thacher Hurd – The Wind in the Willows , by Kenneth Grahame
Eric Rohmann – Charlotte’s Web , by E.B. White
Marc Brown – Where the Wild Things Are , by Maurice Sendak
Eden Ross Lipson – Little House on the Prairie , by Laura Ingalls Wilder