Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
(New Books, Library of Congress PS3553.O47478 A73 2013)
Billy Collins’s poems will be familiar to readers of the New Yorker and the Atlantic. He has been Poet Laureate of the United States twice, an honor that suggests the universal appeal (and accessibility, in the best sense of the word) of his work. This volume features over fifty poems: so you can read one a day, to the end, and, by the time you’re finished, spring will (almost) be here.
Some favorites: “Obituaries,” “Greek and Roman Statuary,” “What She Said,” “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl,” “Lincoln,” “Central Park,” “A Word About Transitions,” “The Names,” and “The Trouble with Poetry,” in which Collins tells us that “the trouble with poetry is / that it encourages the writing of more poetry.” In Collins’s case anyway, thank god for that.
Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame by Ty Burr
(Library of Congress P96.C35 B85 2012)
This look at movie stardom starts with stars of the silent screen and ends with a complex look at today's celebrity culture. By taking a historical approach, Burr is able to pick out common archetypes that practically every famous face fits into. So maybe this year, resolve to avoid picking up the tabloids and pick up a deeper understanding of what exactly is so appealing about the tabloids.
Gardening Women: Their Stories from 1600 to the Present by Catherine Horwood
(Library of Congress SB451 .H67 2010)
After the first frost and as soon as winter begins to settle in, I start planning and revamping my gardens for the next year. Gardening women by Catherine Horwood is an inspirational read for the avid gardener.
Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West maybe familiar to many as the mavens of gardening women; Horwood enlightens us to a few of the more elusive plants women. These women sponsored and funded plant hunters, cared for unique tropical plants such as orchids and lilies in their greenhouses and traded seeds they had harvested with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. They also fostered the art of horticulture by breeding specialized varieties of orchids, roses and irises.
Now I just have to wait until the ground thaws to begin anew.
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
(Library of Congress PZ4.B3375 Fr 2012)
Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, this epistolary novel will not only entertain you while staying indoors (hopefully by a fire), but may inspire you to write a few letters and revisit the works by the writers who inspired this novel.
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
(New Books, Library of Congress PZ4.B9185 Pan 2013)
This is the story of three sisters living in Paris during the late 19th century. Recently, their father passed away and their mother spends more time drinking absinthe than doing anything else. The chapters go back and forth between the two older sisters, Marie and Antoinette. Marie describes her time dancing with the ballet and her relationship with Edgar Degas, while Antoinette's story details her struggles taking care of her family, her love affair with a dangerous young man, and finally her redemption. An engaging family tale with a bittersweet ending.
Winter’s Bone: A Novel by Daniel Woodrell
(Library of Congress PZ4.W891 Wi 2006)
An Appalachian odyssey of sorts. Our heroine is a sixteen year old girl traipsing through the heavy Ozark snow in a skirt, boots and her late Mamaw’s old coat. It’s a struggle against time and the elements as she searches for her “crank chef” father before the law takes the family home. Some of the most raw, creepy and fascinating characters I’ve ever *met* in a book. I’ve saved the 2010 film for the holiday break.
Humorous Readings from Charles Dickens for the Platform, the Social Circle, and the Fireside edited by Charles R. Neville
(Library of Congress PZ3.D55 Hu)
I would say, “The subtitle says it all,” but that would be robbing you of a sneak peek of some of the most amusing chapter titles in print, including “Mr. Pickwick and the Middle-Aged Lady—A Comical Little Bedroom Farce,” “How Sam Weller Gave Sergeant Buzfuz More Information Than He Wanted,” “The Milliner Proposes to Put Her Expensive Husband on a Fixed Allowance” and “The Cooing of Widow Nickleby’s Mad Lover.” If this book isn’t on the shelf, it is probably because I am reading it, as directed, by the fireside.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(New Books, Library of Congress PZ4.A225 Am 2013)
Americanah is the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who travels to the United States to pursue an education. While here she starts a blog about race in America from the perspective of a non-American black person with inspiration coming from her experiences in school, her employers, and the people she dates. It's an interesting, telling, and witty commentary about assumptions and perspectives surrounding an uncomfortable topic, as well as a story of an individual's journey from being an expatriate to her return home.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.B9335 We 2013)
A fresh debut novel by a young Zimbabwean author, this book was short listed for the Man Booker Prize. Bulawayo tells the story in the voice of ten-year old Darling, who lives in abject poverty in a shanty town in Zimbabwe, where corruption is rampant and children run wild. She is one of the lucky ones with a relative in the USA, however, and in the second half of the book, we follow her struggles as an immigrant trying to better her position in life. Written in short chapters, a totally unflinching look at the life of a forthright and engaging young girl’s coming of age.
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
(New Books, Library of Congress PZ4.L89925 Bo 2013)
This is the story of an American rare book dealer in England. He’s involved in a mystery about documents proving the true identity of the Shakespeare plays. And lots more. Many details involving libraries, rare book rooms, collectors & dealers, provenance, book conservation, conservation labs—and murder! Three separate plot lines spanning different eras all combine to solve the mystery. Perfect for bibliophiles!
Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade by Rachel Cohen Yale
(New Books, Library of Congress CT275.B467 C63 2013)
Bernard Berenson, the legendary art historian and connoisseur, started out with nothing, went to Harvard, knew everyone, may have shared a mistress with J. Pierpont Morgan, wrote many books, inspired and infuriated people by the dozens, had no real profession or business yet lived better than a millionaire, hid out from the Nazis, taught several generations of leading professors and curators without ever being a professor or curator, reinvented himself multiple times, and, almost impossibly, survived well into his nineties. Born in Lithuania into a poor Jewish family, Berenson came to Boston as a small child and, though he lived almost all his long life in Europe, remained in some deep sense a Bostonian. He helped Mrs. Gardner find the greatest works in her Boston museum and left his Italian villa and library to Harvard as a research center for scholars of Italian Renaissance Art. This, the first Berenson biography in a quarter century, tells all with grace, economy, and deep sympathy for the foibles of its subject.
Mr. Selden's Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer by Timothy Brook
(Library of Congress GA1121 .B76 2013)
The seventeenth century is one of my least favorite time periods, yet I was eager to read this book about a manuscript map acquired by John Selden, famed constitutional lawyer (perhaps known best to Athenӕum members for his involvement in the Antiquarian Society), and bequeathed to the Bodleian in his large gift of the mid-seventeenth century. I have been reading about China lately. First a mystery set in Peking and revolving around the disappearance of important prehistoric fossils during WWII (Claire Taschdjian's The Peking Man is Missing, Cutter Classification VEF .T181 .p), then a history about a crime in Peking just before the start of WWII (Paul French's Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, Library of Congress Classification HV6535.C43 F74 2012) which I chose because I wasn't ready to leave Peking behind. I commonly succumb to this tendency to follow a tread (as in rut), but why should I consider it a temptation rather than focused study? Because I know myself; I'm following my interests down whatever paths of digression they take me and enjoying the coincidences along the way. One such was encountering an author I have mentioned before in my dilettantish look at China; Brook thanks his friend Frances Wood of the British Library for pointing out materials relevant to his study. Brook and Wood both studied in China at a time when that was rare (see her Hand-grenade Practice in Peking: My Part in the Cultural Revolution, Library of Congress Classification DS795.13 .W66 2000), and in fact Brook introduces his book by describing his attempt to leave China with a then-current map in his backpack. Map aficionados as well as those interested in book history, economic history, library studies, and China will enjoy Brook's ability to tell a story as well as illustrate history's relevance to current events. Some chapters stray far from the map at the center, but the information provided was necessary. Was it an accident that the chapter on the map's compass was at the center of the book? If maps are your main interest, you may want to focus on that chapter and the last one which address cartographic questions in most detail.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(Library of Congress PZ4.C605 Jo 2004)
This historical fantasy novel follows the rise and fall of English Magicians. The book opens on a private group of “magicians” in London whose emphasis on academics have left them so far removed from the practice of magic, they could not perform a single spell. Our two title characters (one cautious and knowledgeable, the other a daring amateur) arrive on the scene and turn the idea of modern magic on its head. This novel is an artful blend of realistic history and gothic fantasy. Most notable with this story is the writing style. Published in 2004, the language reads like a historical account directly from the nineteenth century.
Feeling skeptical? Bear with this story a little ways and you won’t regret it. Non-fiction readers: the historic detail of events such as the Napoleonic War and the realistic world of historic London might hold your interest more than you expected, not to mention the authentic-feeling antiquated writing style. Young Adult and Fantasy readers: have a little patience with the vocabulary and pace of this novel and you will be rewarded with devious faerie princes, pathways to other worlds behind every mirror, and even a brush with the legendary Raven King. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a unique, genre-bending story worth the little trip outside your usual comfort zone.