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Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2015

Elizabeth Borah
Alien The Archive: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies by Titan Books
(Library of Congress Lg PN1997.A32253 A45 2014)

For admirers of the classic Alien film(s), this oversize art book is a visual feast. And not only that, but a wonderful read: it’s full of cast and crew interviews, which offer an unprecedented behind-the-scenes history. This book is said to be the most complete volume on the film franchise’s history yet to date. For film buffs in general, it’s an amazing resource for exploring the rise to fame of Ridley Scott, H.R. Geiger, Sigourney Weaver, and many others. Additionally, the book explores a number of unused concept artworks and scenes that never made the films’ final cuts.

As someone who revels in learning how films’ practical (physical, not computer-generated) effects were accomplished, Alien The Archive has granted me hours of insight into some of cinema’s finest gritty world/creature creation. If you’re wary of the famed xenomorphs, this may not be the right book for you. But if you’re a sci-fi fan, I’m assigning it as your summer reading as of today!

Wool by Hugh Howey
(Library of Congress PZ4.H8588 Wo 2013)

This might not be the most summertime-evocative novel, but it certainly is one of hope for a fuller world beyond the confines of the indoors, something I'm sure we've all experienced this winter. Set in a silo miles underground, Wool weaves together the stories of a succession of inhabitants. Humanity, as it is known, lives entirely within the levels of the silo, with a single camera view of the terrain above. There are stories remaining of the times above ground, but they are taken as mythic fictions...but a few hold to a hope there's more out there than they know. I won't spoil the rest! A gripping read for this season of slow change, natural revelations, and renewal.

Andrew Hahn
The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow
(Library of Congress PC2075 .N33 2006)

If the Hermione and the exhibition, Lafayette: An American Icon, have left you in a particularly French state of mind, turn your attention to The Story of French, a detailed exploration of the French language, its evolution, its expansion, and its future.

Judith Maas
The Reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann
(Library of Congress CT918.E44 H15)

This is an absorbing biography of Elisabeth (1837–1898), wife of the Habsburg ruler Franz Joseph (1830–1916). Her title—Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary and Bohemia—expressed grandeur, wealth, and tradition. She wanted none of it. Elisabeth had enjoyed a lively, carefree youth in the Bavarian countryside. Married into a family of staunch conservatives, she sympathized with the democratic and nationalist movements of the era. At the Vienna court, with its snobbery and rigid protocols, she was an outsider and sought solace in her own, obsessive pursuits: travel; moonlit hikes; horseback riding; poetry; a menagerie of birds and monkeys; grueling exercise and diet regimens. Amidst regal surroundings, she created an alternative world, isolating herself from her royal duties, her children, and her baffled, adoring husband. Biographer Hamann draws on many first-hand materials, including Elisabeth’s poetry, to bring the people and period to life. Drama is plentiful, from European politics to family conflict. Elisabeth, alienated, rebellious, and struggling to express herself, emerges as a very modern figure.

Amanda McSweeney-Geehan
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
(Library of Congress PZ7.L79757 We 2014)

Cadence’s extended family spends their summers on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. On the surface, they are perfect. Everyone is healthy and beautiful and confident in their strong family bonds. This façade begins to crumble and a year after a mysterious accident, Cadence struggles to recall what happened and what led up to it. Due to a severe head injury, Cadence’s narration is unreliable. But hers is the only point of view we have. The story is presented in a fractured way that adds to the sense of unease as the reader pieces together what really happened to Cadence, her cousins, and her first love, an intense outsider named Gat.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
(Library of Congress PZ4.M97373 Ad 2007)

This book takes place over the course of a warm night and revolves around two sisters. Eri sleeps alone in her room. Or, at least she appears to be alone. Meanwhile Mari is reading by herself in a twenty-four hour Denny’s in Tokyo. Here, she meets a young man who swears they’ve met before. From there, the story unfolds. It’s a short, quiet story with an emphasis on atmosphere. Characters drift in and out as the night deepens, then fades into dawn.

Katie Mika
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
(Library of Congress PZ4.Y223 Li 2015)

At more than 700 pages Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is actually a great big post-identity novel that chronicles the lives of four young men as they navigate friendship, adulthood, and creative culture in New York City. Although the beginning reminds the reader more of a brilliant, if typical, story of upper middle class twenty-somethings in the style of Clair Messud’s The Emperor’s Children or Mary McCarthy’s The Group, A Little Life quickly reveals itself as one of 2015’s most ambitious, challenging, subversive, often upsetting, and yet truly astonishing works of literature. Yanagihara writes a complex story that is magnificently characterized. The four protagonists—Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude—meet as undergraduates at a prestigious (yet unnamed) Boston area university and maintain their friendship to varying degrees over the following three decades. The apparent normalcy of the first 50 pages belies the sinister and traumatic past endured by the main character, Jude St. Francis. While the book includes graphic descriptions of abuse that are rare for literary fiction, the strength of A Little Life is in its most moving and tender moments that constitute great friendship. The book can be difficult and bleak at times, but it will reward you with an elegant and evocative story of the power of long-term family and friendship.

Carolle Morini
The Beat Generation and The Angry Young Men by Gene Feldman
(Library of Congress PZ1.F312 Be)

Short stories are the perfect beach size. Where else can one find compilations titled The Beat Generation and The Angry Young Men (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Mailer and Amis) next to The Fireside Book of Dog Stories (Thurber, Mann, Lawrence and Kipling)?  2G is the place! Immerse yourself in a specific year, for example: The Best Short Stories of 1923 (Anderson, Dreiser, Hemingway and Prescott) or The Best British Short Stories of 1931 (Du Maurie, Lowry, Sackville-West and Warner). Curious about embarking on a new genre, like mysteries, pick up: Treasury of Great Mysteries Vol. 1 and 2 (Christie, Simenon, Sayers and Chandler). Does your summer have days filled with thinking about exotic travel from a seat on the T? Sail away with stores by Melville, Hugo, London and Cooper in Great Sea Stories. Transport to new scenery through the eyes of Dickens, Trollope, West, and Bishop in The Oxford Book of Travel Stories. Use the heat waves of summer to introduce yourself to a new author, genre, or particular time period of publishing by checking out a PZ1.

Kaelin Rasmussen

(Library of Congress PZ3.H3219 De 2014)

I was intrigued and delighted to come across the British Library Crime Classics series in my recent cataloging efforts. A series of reissues of previously forgotten early crime stories and novels, it promises a wealth of new (or old) discoveries for mystery fans. Several volumes have hit the New Book Shelves in the past few weeks. Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay stood out to me immediately because of its similarity to one of my old favorites, Gaudy Night. Like the latter, Death on the Cherwell takes place at a fictitious women's college at Oxford University circa 1935. Death on the Cherwell opens on an Oxford afternoon in January—a prospect guaranteed to bring a cool, foggy shiver to the sweltering summer reader! Four inquisitive undergrads spot a canoe floating down the river, containing the apparently-drowned body of the college's contentious bursar. Scandal threatens to break over the idyllic Persephone College, unless our young sleuths can untangle the mystery in time to preserve the college's spotless reputation. Though at times a trifle silly, this book was a real treat for me. It was clever and funny, with the added bonus of true-to-life Oxford scenery.

(Library of Congress PZ3.C551205 Ren)

Need a break from the heat? Try the absolute zero of outer space! This 1973 novel from science fiction great Arthur C. Clarke takes place in a future where Earth has been decimated by a giant asteroid, and humanity has sought refuge in colonies throughout the solar system (except on Pluto, naturally!). When it becomes apparent that a gargantuan space object, dubbed "Rama," is in fact a planet-sized spacecraft intentionally approaching the sun's orbit, the scattered colonies must come together to decide on a course of action. A hastily-assembled exploratory mission is assigned to investigate Rama, and what they find will amaze, enthrall, and terrify. Though on the surface familiar to those of us with a taste for space-themed stories, Rendezvous with Rama still has a few twists and surprises. It's classic science fiction bordering on horror, full of cold, dark, lonely places and uncomfortable speculations. And like all the best science fiction, its characters are as smart and sharply drawn as the speculative world around them.

Mary Warnement

(Cutter Classification VE5 .H187)

(Cutter AE .H193)

Even though I am no longer a child with whole summer days to spend flopped on my stomach with a book open before me, I anticipate the season as a time to revel in reading, which for me naturally leads to daydreaming. I recently reread Helene Hanff's epistolary collection with Frank Doel and her travel diary, two books easily read together in one sitting, though I recommend letting a few days pass, if only to prolong the pleasure. How could such thin volumes evoke so many thoughts? Reading and rereading this is like having a conversation with her and all her books. She's a strong personality; you won't agree with her every assessment; that is half the fun. Being thorough and arguing every point would require writing my own book. The conversation of course was half (or wholly) in my imagination, but if you are a bookish person, you must put these on your reading list. Note also, Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins star in a 1987 adaptation for cinema.

Hannah Weisman
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
(Library of Congress PZ4.S165 Fr)

Salinger’s meditative narrative weaves the story of the Glass family with particular focus on Franny, her quest for spiritual enlightenment, her older brother Zooey, and his quest to fix his sister. The book’s appeal lies in Salinger’s uncanny ability to tell a universal story through the eyes of his exceptional, yet deeply damaged, protagonists.