Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2016
Tales by H.P. Lovecraft
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3.L9417 Tal 2005)
“Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end,” but I can recommend curling up by a fire with some cocoa, and chilling oneself through reading. Explore the well-known streets of New England in these short stories, and enjoy the possibility of never looking at those streets the same again.
(Cutter Classification L9Z64 .W93)
It’s not exactly up-to-date or enthralling subject matter, but this little record of birds encountered in the Public Garden may prove of interest to those looking to examine the changes to Boston’s urban avian population in the past century. As the author states in introducing the volume, published in January of 1909, “It may be said that should the records herein set forth lead others to obtain future records and continue the study of migratory life within the Garden […] the pursuit will be all pleasure and the result so much gain.” Happily, for ease of access by modern birdwatchers, it’s available for free online in full (both web-view and e-book) via Google Books.
Further reading: for urban wildlife enthusiasts whose interests extend to mammalian histories, I highly recommend these two articles on the social and somewhat experimental impacts of the eastern gray squirrel.
Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways by Gustave Flaubert; translated with an introduction and notes by Lydia Davis.
(Library of Congress Children’s PZ3.F618 Ma 2010)
A sure antidote to the numbing effects of winter! In Lydia Davis’s translation Flaubert’s verdant pastures and dusty roads of provincial France come alive, as does Madame’s hunger for the good life and fiery passions. A Gallic workout for the senses.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
(Library of Congress NEW PZ4.F841 Pu 2015)
Some folks despise Jonathan Franzen’s face. Some despise his voice. Others despise his face and his voice. There are those who find his constructs and characters insufferable, and still others who claim he is a misogynist. But Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, is his finest work to date. He exacts laser-sharp social analysis in a tale that rolls out invitingly slow and builds to a bullet-train’s pace for a touching finish. When I finished, I missed the characters. Self-admittedly his most reworked and reedited novel, Franzen’s prose is clear and smooth and resolves both a reader’s and reviewer’s criticisms of his prior novels. I may stand alone, but Purity gets my vote for favorite book of 2015.
The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning
(Library of Congress PZ3.M3213 Gr)
The Great Fortune is Book I of Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy, published between 1960 and 1965 and drawn from Manning’s own experiences as a young married woman and British expatriate in southeastern Europe during World War II. The novel is set in Bucharest in late 1939 and early 1940, the period known as the “phony war.” Manning’s subject is not the privations of war, but its forebodings: she explores the day-to-day lives of her characters amidst uncertainty as newsreels, propaganda displays, and radio broadcasts create a sense of impending disaster.
The main characters are British newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle and their circle of acquaintances. Guy, a teacher, revels in sociability; he is a friend to all, happiest when in a group. The novel’s point of view belongs mostly to Harriet, lonely in her marriage, ill at ease in a foreign country, and cool and appraising in her observations.
Manning creates characters from many different worlds and backgrounds, and charts the strains and intrigues in their relationships. As a onetime painter, she has a great gift for describing places—her images of city and countryside are not just background, but add to the novel’s sense of menace and unease.
Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe—and Started the Protestant Reformation by Andrew Pettegree
(Library of Congress NEW CT1098.L88 P47 2015)
The title of this book pretty much says it all! It lets you know immediately the author’s premise that without the new technology of printing, Luther’s message of reformation of the Catholic Church would never have ignited the movement that ultimately resulted in Protestantism.
We are introduced to the sixteenth century world where Luther lived and worked. The author does an excellent job of illustrating the impact of Luther’s writing on the fledgling printing industry, and of showing how printers (and Luther) began to understand the usefulness of highlighting Martin Luther’s name and developed a recognizable ‘brand’ of his pamphlets that would stand out in the book-selling market.
Having just finished the book Gutenberg’s Apprentice, I was drawn to this book and was not disappointed. It’s thoroughly engaging, well written, and nicely illustrates the impact and development of printing that allowed Luther’s message to spread.
(Library of Congress TX631 .S225 2006)
I haven’t finished this book and do not plan to anytime soon because I want to savor it a page (or two, or three) at a time. This pretty volume—with brightly striped endpapers and built-in ribbon bookmark—sits among cookbooks in my kitchen on a bracketed wooden shelf made for me by my father (coincidentally a Korean War veteran like Salter, whose first novel, The Hunters, explores the experiences of a pilot in that overlooked war-that-wasn’t-named). There are recipes, but this is not a cookbook; it’s more like a conversation with Salter and his wife Kay, also a professional writer. Almost as if they’ve invited you to a dinner party. There are snippets of history, literary references, and of course advice (how to become a “regular” or how to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant). Both were known to friends as great hosts, and this is an enjoyable, charmingly illustrated glimpse into a life of shared conviviality. Don’t worry: I bought my own copy. The Athenæum’s copy is available. If you need to keep it longer than two months, we’re happy to renew it. Just keep in mind you must return it someday.