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Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2017

Victoria Johnson

(Library of Congress ML3470 .T54 no. 23)

Brooks’s examination of Jeff Buckley’s sole legendary album Grace is a pleasure. This quick read is a personal love letter to the man and his music. Brooks—once tapped to write the liner notes for this album’s anniversary re-release—delves deep into Buckley’s lyrics, live performances, and legacies by examining his previously off-limits journals. It is also a thorough examination of Buckley’s influences (including Nina Simone, Rainer Maria Rilke, Led Zeppelin, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan). If you’re already a Buckley fan, this book re-examines the album you thought you knew, song by song. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Who’s Jeff Buckley?” I implore you to check this book out. As the weeks of summer roll on, set your weekend road trips to the sound of Jeff Buckley’s Grace.*

*If the “mystery white boy” isn’t your preferred travel companion, peruse the shelf where this book is located—there you’ll find biographies of similarly masterful albums—from Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees
(Library of Congress PR111 .D49 2016)

Unless you’ve been living under the world’s largest rock for the past two centuries, you know all about Miss Jane “it-is-a-truth-universally-acknowledged” Austen. While she is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated female authors in history, she alone did not write the book (pun-intended) on making a name for oneself as a woman writer. This excellent debut from Shelley DeWees takes readers through the glorious English countryside as we meet seven women writers who were just as celebrated, successful, and famous in their day as Austen. While the book can only offer guesses at their subsequent descent into obscurity, it emphatically presents seven new authors to add to your Goodreads summer reading queue.

Judith Maas

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
(Library of Congress  PZ4.A545 Su 2016)

In the summers of 1888 and 1889, Anton Chekhov and his family rented a house on a country estate in Ukraine and struck up a friendship with the estate owners. At the time, he was practicing medicine, publishing short stories, and beginning to write for the theater. In this novel, Anderson teases the reader with the possibility that Chekhov wrote a novel during those peaceful summers, inspired by his conversations with Zina Lintvaryova, a doctor and a daughter of the estate owners. 

The story is set in the past and the present and told from the viewpoints of three women, each of whom is facing painful life changes and reassessing her place in the world: Zina herself, who keeps a diary in which she reflects on the events of the two summers; Katya Kendall, a Russian emigre living in London in 2014 who plans to publish Zina’s diary; and Ana Harding, hired by Katya to translate the diary. The different strands of the novel blend together beautifully: the perspectives of the three women; the mystery of whether Chekhov wrote a novel; and the deep connection that blossoms between Chekhov and Zina.

Elizabeth O'Meara
The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio by Andrea Mays
(Library of Congress Z989.F66 M28 2015​)

This was such a fun book. Henry Folger and his wife Emily started collecting Shakespeare even before they could afford it. Their first Shakespeare purchase was made in 1888, a copy of the 1685 Fourth Folio of the plays for $107.50. As Henry’s career advanced at Standard Oil, eventually leading him to president then chairman of Standard Oil of New York, their collecting became truly obsessive. His primary interest was in First Folios but the collecting broadened out to anything related to Shakespeare’s era. He and his wife were real partners in their love and knowledge of all things Shakespeare. The stories of his hunt for First Folios were exciting and it was amazing how many he was able to collect while concealing his identity. After their library was built in Washington D.C. (1932), it took more than six months to locate all the storage units housing the collection and transport the collection to the library. So…it was, at last, all in one place. Interestingly, the year before The Millionaire and the Bard was published, Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger by Stephen Grant was published. He was at the Athenæum in 2015 and his talk is available here.

Hannah Ovaska
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
(Library of Congress PZ3.C4637 An​)

Are you looking for a thrill this summer? If so, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None is the perfect mystery to dive into after the sun goes down. Follow ten characters, trapped on an abandoned island, to discover what lurks in their pasts and if they will live to see the next day. Published in 1939, this best-selling novel remains timeless, spooky, and a true nail-biter for a reason.

Makesha Uditnarain

(Library of Congress  PZ4.R87947 Li 2016)

For all dog owners (as many of our members are) and animal lovers: this is the book for you! Lily is an aging 12-year-old dachshund loved by her owner Ted, a struggling writer who spends his time being a worrywart. Both are confronted by an enemy, the Octopus, which in turns becomes a metaphor for something greater. Rowley does an amazing job describing the love of a dog, and engaging the reader emotionally. The dialogue between Lily and Ted is eccentric, relatable and comedic. Rowley leaves you with lessons and the biggest one of all is fighting for the ones you love. Caution—you might shed a tear or two!

Mary Warnement

(Library of Congress PZ4.C68958 Op 2011)

This is a bookish book, my favorite kind. I took this on a trip to New York City, because I am the sort of reader who likes to pair reading materials with destinations. This novel features a medical resident, an immigrant from Nigeria who wanders the city, meeting friends and strangers and musing about books, art, music, and life in general. I expected the climax to center on his own, fractured relationship with his mother and his desire to reconnect with his grandmother; however, the author caught me by surprise with a revelation that made me turn back the page to reread and make sure I had not missed something. I was confused and questioned what had been my sympathetic sense of the main character. I remain uneasy, no doubt the authorial intent. The book stayed with me. It is about NYC and so much more. My only previous encounter with Teju Cole was his non-fiction essay, “Water has no Enemy” in Granta 124. Cole writes beautifully, and I will read his other novel.

Here is New York by E.B. White
(Cutter Classification VE3 .W583 .h)

I chose E.B. White’s 1948 essay as my post-trip reading, a way to ease back into my routine after a relaxing vacation. White’s description is shorter but offers an interesting comparison to Cole’s more expansive novel. His clever turns of phrases please me, as he turns his observant self to the city around him, to consider other New Yorkers' "emanations from without" (11). He says he's not bringing NYC "down to date..." because that is the "reader's duty" (6). He also claims "New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation" (13). Those who have been to NYC once or who've lived there a lifetime could enjoy agreeing or arguing with him. He was thinking of nuclear war, I suspect—or even conventional warfare—when he wrote his ending: "The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions" (51). Of course he did not have a premonition; he was speaking of his own time. The destruction he imagined resulted from technology and human actions similar to what we saw befall NYC in 2001. His words seemed shocking at first to me, but I realized, soon enough, that humanity has behaved similarly—at its best and at its worst—throughout recorded history. Our own age has no special claim; recognizing that could help us behave better, I think. So I read and recommend you do too.