Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2012
Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel by Hilary Mantel
(New Books, Library of Congress PZ4.M292 Br 2012)
This second of Mantel’s trilogy about the much-told story of Henry VIII and his wives, picks up in 1535 where the first, the Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall, left off. Thomas More has been executed, Henry has challenged the Pope by declaring his own first marriage annulled and marrying Anne Boleyn, and through his favorite minister is scooping up the lands and holdings of smaller Church properties to refill the royal coffers. The story is told through the fascinating character of Thomas Cromwell, a man who rose from an abject childhood to become the chief minister to the King. Mantel’s Cromwell – as, indeed, all her characters in this series – is richly drawn and very human. Unlike so many tales of Henry VIII, neither is More wholly saintly nor Cromwell wholly evil. In fact, one finds much to like and respect in Cromwell, a man of remarkable talents, not unlike in Mantel’s vision the next great British administrator and minister, Samuel Pepys. Cromwell’s great skill at reading others, and his highly pragmatic approach to finding a way to rid Henry’s life of the scheming Anne, bring into sharp focus the character’s humanity and inhumanity simultaneously. Mantel has promised a third, concluding book, presumably carrying the reader forward to 1540, when Henry created Cromwell an Earl and at nearly the same moment beheaded him. One of the joys of reading Mantel’s version of the oft-told story is that we can cast forward to a century or so later, as puritans and pilgrims set off for the new world and see how the conflicts set in motion by Henry VIII continued to ripple through the lives of the early Boston settlers.
The Beginner’s Goodbye: A Novel by Anne Tyler
(New Books, Library of Congress Classification, PZ4.T979 Beg 2012)
I highly recommend A Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler. Amazon’s blurb is a fair description: “Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market. Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye. A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.”
Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox
(Library of Congress TH7900.B68.2010)
The author of four acclaimed works about farms, farming and our evolving relationship with the farmscape, in her fifth book Jane Brox turns her considerable curiosity to the evolution of a more interior, internal force: the development of artificial light. From the lamps of the Pleistocene era to the development of LEDs—including an ingenious, firefly-driven lamp plied by nineteenth-century cat burglars plying their trade, the poignant tales of women working with phosphorescent materials to create safety matches and dying in the process, and the programs that brought electric light to rural farms and enclaves—Ms. Brox explores the ways our lives have been changed by being unshackled to daylight and its natural rhythms. In prose that is as searching as it is generous, Ms. Brox sheds both light and warmth on a topic that might seem slight in the hands of another author, creating a book that befits its title: brilliant. (Jane Brox read from her work as the 2010 Torrence C. Harder Endowed Lecturer at the Boston Athenæum in December 2010.)
God’s Secretaries: the Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson
(Library of Congress BS186.N53.2003)
“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light, that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel,” wrote Miles Smith in his preface to the King James translation of the holy book. It’s a longer quotation than that, with even more images abutting each other—and in this searching reflection upon one historic translation and the act of translation itself, Adam Nicolson deftly teases apart each of the many threads of the tapestry that the King James translation was to become. He follows the scholars and the issues of the times, underscoring just how daring and how formative the project of translating the Bible was to contemporary readers, and hints at ways in which the inherited poetry of the KJV remains a comfort to moderns, as well.
A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
In what is possibly the best nightstand-reading of the decade, Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor has taken a hundred carefully chosen objects from his habitat and created delightful essay-length mediations that underscore their beauty and significance. In MacGregor’s hands the sarcophagus of an Egyptian priest, bedecked with a map of the stars within, becomes a time-travel machine; a Victorian tea set with its milk jug, sugar bowl and teapot provides the occasion for a lesson on locomotives and slave-trade; a modern credit card issued in the United Arab Emirates is both passport to the global economy and evidence of the social and cultural challenges facing unfettered globalism. The radio podcasts on which the book is based, complete with the voices of guest experts, are available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ahow . It’s probably best to ration these chapters: read too many at once and there’s a bit of a hallucinogenic, Night at the Museum effect to all this beauty, but listening along with the podcast can slow the process down and help one maintain proper British reserve.
Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900 by Tim Bonyhady
(New Books, Library of Congress CT917.G34 B66 2011)
The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne Marie O’Connor
(New Books, Library of Congress ND511.5.K55 A618 2012)
The glitter of 20th century Vienna is manifest in these two new Athenæum titles that revolve around two enigmatic portraits by Gustav Klimt. Immerse yourself in the glamour of Austrian society and culture. 1920’s Vienna was at the pinnacle of artistic expression, art patronage, music, social change and anti-Semitism. Good living street traces the female line of Bonyhady’s family beginning with his great grandmother Hermine Gallia whose portrait is illustrated by Klimt. The women, in the Gallia family, struggle to find their place in a society that is constrained for women and limited for Jews. The rise of Nazi Germany necessitates the family’s relocation to Australia with, surprisingly, much of their valuable art collection. The lady in gold commences with Gustav Klimt’s emergence as a note worthy and popular artist, his relationships with women, including Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of the Lady in gold. Bloch-Bauer was the muse for several other paintings by Klimt and may have had more than a platonic relationship with the artistic master. The story continues following the lives of Adele’s family and their experiences during WWII and the exploits surrounding this famous portrait. Both books illuminate Vienna’s golden moment and the lives of two women that were immortalized by Gustav Klimt.
La Planète des Singes (Planet of the Apes) by Pierre Boulle
(Cutter VFF .B66115 .p Offsite storage [in French])
You will not find Charleton Heston or English speaking apes in this novel – the apes fittingly enough speak their own simian language. Instead, you will find a rich philosophical satire that tackles otherness, class, race, science, love, vegetarianism, and humanness. It utilizes a story within a story framework to recount the tale of a scientist, his assistant, and a journalist who have decided to leave France for the outer reaches of the universe. The journalist has been brought along so that he can document the trip, and his eyewitness account makes up the majority of the book. Included are descriptions of hunts and experiments that would have been too graphic for the films but here provide a true juxtaposition of roles that force the reader to examine human actions from the victim’s perspective.
World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey
(Library of Congress TX837 .J15 1999)
After reading La Planète des Singes you may be in the mood for a meat free meal, if so, look no further than Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. This impressive and exhaustive book contains vegetarian recipes for any mood, occasion, or taste.
Recently, I pulled from our new acquisition shelves, more or less at random, three titles about the rebirth, or at least the resurfacing, of reading in contemporary culture. In The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, English professor Alan Jacobs reassures us that “the cause of reading is not a lost one by any means.” In 2008, Professor Jacobs notes, Apple’s Steve Jobs dismissed the new Kindle eReader, saying “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.” Two years later, Jobs was back with his iPad, proclaiming it the best for reading newspapers, magazines, and even books. (New Books, Library of Congress PN83 .J36 2011)
Susan Hill, author of Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, recounts how the search for a lost volume led to the rediscovery of her personal library. She resolved to “spend a year reading books already on my shelves” so that she could “repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and to map this house of many volumes.” Over the course of the year, Hill moves higher and higher until she reaches the top of the house, where she still finds dozens of books she wants to read or reread. “I need at least another year of reading from home,” she realizes. “But now I have reached the landing and here it is: Howards End. There is a shaft of sunlight coming through the small window, in which I just fit, so that I can sit on the elm floorboards with my back to the wall. I open the book.” (New Books, Library of Congress PR6058.I45 Z46 2009)
When Nina Sankovich’s eldest sister died at forty-six, she “looked back to what the two of us had shared. Laughter. Words. Books.” In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Sankovitch interweaves a time of sorrow, when she read a book every day for a year, and a memoir of her book-loving, immigrant family. At the end, Sankovich concludes: “My hiatus is over, my soul and my body are healed, but I will never leave the purple chair for long. So many books waiting to be read, so much happiness to be found, so much wonder to be revealed.” (New Books, Library of Congress Z1003.2 .S26 2011)
What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World By Jon Young
(New Books, Library of Congress QL698.5 .Y68 2012)
A thrilling book about the language and patterns of birds where one can easily take the lessons to the backyard or park.
Point Omega: A novel By Don DeLillo
(Library of Congress PZ4.D346 Po 2010)
Published in 2010 this short novel is a breathtaking mix of contemporary art, war and the fragile state of human existence all written in a DeLillo’s beautiful control of language. He gets to the heart and mind in a compact and elegant way in the setting of New York City and the desert.
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
(Library of Congress PZ3.W5196 Re)
Published in 1918, West’s first novel and the first WWI novel written by a woman, is about a British soldier, shell-shocked, returning to his home, family, and society finding it not as he remembers or desires.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
(Children’s Room, Library of Congress PZ7.S855625 Sc 2011)
Every November, vicious horses emerge onto the shores of Thisby. Let the races begin! While this young adult novel certainly retains a mystical quality, it is also grounded in the harsh realities of island life in what we presume is either the Celtic or Irish Sea. As a shy young hero and a feisty young heroine both vie for the honor of winning the dangerous Scorpio Races, younger readers will likely appreciate a novel with a Hunger Games variety of excitement, while students of Celtic myth will certainly find many satisfying allusions.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
(Library of Congress S521.5.A67 K56 2007)
For one year, the author and her family vow to eat only food which they have either raised themselves, or purchased from a local farm. The tale that results is sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, and overall, realistic. This is the story of a family working together to care for their food, and ultimately, their land and their selves. Her husband and older daughter contribute.
Pulse by Julian Barnes
(Library of Congress PZ4.B2588 Pul 2011)
Collection of short stories. Wry, Sophisticated.
The Infinities by John Banville.
(Library of Congress PZ4.B223 In 2010) Inventive and playful novel rich in detail. Narrated by the Greek God Hermes.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
(Library of Congress PZ4.G218 Ol 2006)
British novelist Gardam has twice won the Whitbread and was shortlisted for the Man Booker, but she is largely unknown and unappreciated in the US. Old Filth stands for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong—the nickname of Sir Edward Feathers, a retired judge who spent most of his successful career in the Far East. His story begins at the end of his life, when he is recently widowed and living in seclusion in Dorset. The story, inspired in part by the life of Rudyard Kipling, takes the reader from his early childhood in colonial Malaya, his evacuation as a “Raj orphan” to Wales, on to Oxford and eventually Hong Kong. There are twists and turns, a mystery, and interesting well-developed secondary characters. The Guardian said “Gardam’s superb new novel is surely her masterpiece…one of the most moving fictions I have read in years…This is the rare novel that drives its readers forward while persistently waylaying and detaining by the sheer beauty and inventiveness of its style”.
Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking: My Part in the Cultural Revolution by Frances Wood
(Library of Congress DS795.13 .W66 2000)
The Diamond Sutra: The Story of the World’s Earliest Dated Printed Book by Frances Wood
(Library of Congress + Z186.C5 W66 2010)
The best books lead you to other books. I have mentioned before my enchantment with Slightly Foxed editions, reprints of 20th c, British memoirs. In this example, Frances Wood writes in Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking about her year studying Chinese at the Foreign Languages Institute in Peking in 1975-1976 when China first began to open to outsiders after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. In addition to all we learn about an unfamiliar place, Wood’s description of her journey, both there and back, evoke a special time in one’s life, when on the threshold of a new adventure or prospect. I have no great interest in Asian culture; however, upon turning the last page, I immediately looked for other books by Wood, currently curator of Chinese collections at the British Library, whose Diamond Sutra features an overlooked yet significant book. Books and printing history do interest me. While Westerners give pride of place to Gutenberg and his 1450 bible in the history of printing, China produced the oldest surviving printed book in the world in the 868. Both of these slim books make for pleasant reading of a slightly more intellectual bent than the usual summer fare.