Readers' Picks by Anna Marie Johnson

Summer and reading are two words that just go together for me. Like McDonald's and french fries or Kentucky and Derby or library employee and big paycheck. Oh, wait, scratch that last one. Anyway, summertime to me equals long stretches of free(er) time. As a teenager, some of my happiest times were spent on my family's deck, outside our kitchen (this is important because it meant close proximity to frozen miniature Peppermint PattiesTM), stretched out on a lounge chair with my favorite book. My mom would tell me to do some chore, and I, fully and completely absorbed in whatever book I had, would automatically say "o.k." Unfortunately, when two hours later the chore still wasn't done, there would always be trouble. . . The good thing is now that I'm an adult, I can sit like that and read all day if I want to, right? In any case, here are my picks for the hot, slow, "lazy" days of summer.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3562 .A4645 Z47 1999) This was one of Wendy Bronson's (former compiler of "Readers' Picks") picks a couple years ago and I echo her sentiments. One of the best books I've ever read. I laughed often and loudly and I cried almost as much. The sense of connection to this author's experience of faith deepened my own. I can't praise this book highly enough.

The Edge of Marriage by Hester Kaplan (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3561 .A5577 E33 1999) To me, these stories seemed as if the author was trying a bit too hard, but apparently I'm not much of a judge because the book won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction last year. The stories are about relationships, mostly marriages where things are going wrong--not in large dramatic ways, but in small crumbling ways which makes them sadder I think. Not exactly a pick-me-up kind of book.

Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher (Ekstrom Browsing HQ 1063.6 .P57 1999) Mary Pipher is a psychologist and the author of Reviving Ophelia and In the Shelter of Each Other. She writes easily understandable, pop-psychology kinds of books, but I enjoy them. Another Country is her foray into the world of our elders, specifically the parents of the Baby-Boomer Generation. She talks about the differences between the generations, how we can learn from and value those differences. This was a really moving book with lots of personal vignettes from the elderly whom she interviewed.

Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott (Ekstrom Browing PS 3562 .A4645 C7 1997) There are some books where I really begin to care about the characters--so much so sometimes that I find it hard to read on when I know something unhappy is about to occur with them. This was one of those books. The story is about Elizabeth and her thirteen year old daughter Rosie and their year-long struggle with each other and with the burdens that each carries: Elizabeth is still holding on to her husband now 5 years deceased and Rosie is dealing with growing up, having cheated at tennis (her favorite pastime) and her best friend getting pregnant. Fortunately, for these two they have friends who care deeply about them, the theme of the book. Having read Lamott's Traveling Mercies, one can recognize a little bit of the author in most of the characters and parts of her life interwoven in theirs.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (PQ 8180.17 .A73 C513 1995) This story stretches over more than 100 years and reading it felt like it too! That isn't a negative criticism, though it might sound like that. It was simply that there was so much to absorb and contemplate that reading this book was much like the book itself. There were reflections and reflections of reflections, much like the characters who continued to pass the same names on to their children and their children's children. Many times I had to read passages over several times to grasp what was happening. I especially enjoyed the lyrical quality of the author's descriptions that contrasted so sharply with his characters' foul mouths.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (Ekstrom Browsing PR 9199.3 .S514 S76 1994) An interesting little book that explores one woman's life and the meaning (or lack thereof) in it. A friend of mine didn't like this book at all--but I found it oddly compelling. The characters are not all that likeable, but the story is told from different perspectives and in a halting way that made me want to read on; however, I could see that the same elements which attracted me might drive another reader crazy!

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3515 .E288 M66 1996) I'd read some Heinlein but never this classic. This novel explores a self-aware computer (before Arthur Clarke and William Gibson) and ideas of government in a story that involves the colony of the Moon (Luna), a computer repairman, an eccentric Libertarian professor, and a revolution against the Federated Nations on Terra (earth). This is easily one of my favorite Heinlein novels.

The Apartheid of Sex: a Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender by Martine Rothblatt (Ekstrom Browsing, HQ1075.R68 1995) This really is a "manifesto" and not one for the close-minded! Although I didn't agree with all of the author's points (she is prone to broad generalities--but then, it is a manifesto), it really was a thought-provoking read. The author proposes that two genders (male/female) are simply not enough to encompass the multitude of gender variation that people express throughout their life. She proposes a system where three traits would intersect to form a "color" as opposed to a male/female designation. Color, she feels is much more expressive and nuances a way of proclaiming gender.

Glenda Neely also recommended to me that people check out the New York Times Summer Reading Issue at You'll need a free New York Times account to enter, or in the June 4, Sunday New York Times Review of Books section.

James Adler (Kornhauser Library)
I have been reading a number of travel books, and now I am ready to head west. I started out with William Least Heat Moon's River Horse, (E 169 .O4 .H4 1999) in which the author and assorted friends travel from coast to coast by way of America's lakes and rivers. In keeping to the rivers, and largely, to the small, rural towns along the way, the author uncovers a lost side of America that many of us never consider. The section of the book dealing with the voyage from the Missouri River to the Columbia is particularly good, as it parallels the route taken by Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery. River Horse is also a voyage of discovery, a rumination on time, change, wonder, and the spirit of exploration. The book is a worthy successor to Heat Moon's earlier works Blue Highways (E 169 .O4 .H43 1982) and PrairyErth (F 687.C35 .H44 1991).

Ian Frazier's Great Plains (F 595.3 .F7 1989) and On the Rez (no library holding) also take the reader on a journey west, through the "great American desert," the "sea of grass" that is and was the American Great Plains. Occupied with characters as disparate as Lawrence Welk and Crazy Horse, and filled with anecdotes new and old, the books made me want to hop in the car and motor west. I am already making tentative plans to visit the plains next summer. On the Rez, a look at Lakota Indian reservation life today, is probably the better book of the two, but both are worth reading.

Heading back East, I took Walk in the Woods (F 106 .B92 1998) with Bill Bryson, a humorous account of walking the Appalachian Trail. The book is an easy read, and frequently very funny. I'm not quite ready to walk the trail though.

I've also been reading a lot of stuff on the web, but I'll save that for the next Favorite Web Links edition of The Owl.

Jerry Beasley (Website Coordinator)
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins (PS3568 .0233 S75). A wonderful comedy that I've read about five times over the years, laughing every time. Not for the easily offended though. Anyone with a sense of humor will love it. It's about...well, you'll just have to read it...

Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson (PE 1072 .B76 1990) A very entertaining and insightful book about how most of the world ended up speaking a language that "drives on a parkway and parks on a driveway), and exactly why we can't split infinitives...

How the Irish Saved Civilization : the Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe byThomas Cahill (DA 930.5 .C34 1995). You've always expected it, here's the proof. By the way, St Patrick was born in Wales.

Bill Carner (Ekstrom, Photo Archives)
Carl Hiaasen continues his series of eco-criminal/developers getting their comeuppance books with his latest novel, Sick Puppy. (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .I217 S53 1999 ) Regular readers of Hiaasen's books will be glad to know that the Governor, a.k.a. Skink, is back and he's got a worthy understudy in this book's protagonist, Twilly Spree. Spree is the son of a Florida beachfront property developer and has an anger management problem. He gets equally and royally teed off at litterbugs and unscrupulous real estate developers alike.

Hiaasen's books are formulaic, with skewed protagonists, noble women, self-serving politicians and unscrupulous business types (just like the REAL Florida) but the formula sure works for me. Stormy Weather (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .I217 S76 1995 ) may be my favorite but Sick Puppy is a delight. WARNING: if you plan to read this while sitting on the beach at a heavily developed island resort take along your anti-irony pills.

If you enjoy Hiaasen's books you may enjoy the Florida novels of James W. Hall. This Kentucky native's stories are just as outrageous but a lot darker than Hiaasen's. I'd start with Bones of Coral (PS 3558 .A369 B6 1991). Hall has a recurring protagonist in the reclusive fishing fly-tier, Thorn. Thorn harks back to the classic loner hero of the Florida gothic tradition, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. A trip to the used paperback store to pick a pile of MacDonald's Travis McGee books would also fill the bill for escapist summer reading.

Gary Freiburger (Kornhauser Library)
I would like to recommend Timeline by Michael Crichton. (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3553 .R48 T56 1999) This book is great for light summer reading. The style is very similar to Jurassic Park and other Crichton action stories. Half science fiction and half Middle Ages adventure (complete with knights, swordfights and damsels), it's a great book for passing a few hours in the shade or on the beach.

Carolyn Gettler (Music Library)
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (D810 .J4F72713 1992); about $6 in paperback at Hawley-Cooke) Necessary reading for Everyman, puzzled by innocent suffering and death and the apparent meaninglessness of life for those who "only stand and wait."

Gail Gilbert (Art Library)
Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss. (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3562 .I7814 C66 2000) Here's a review that I have plagiarized and edited from Amazon: In David Liss's ambitious first novel, the year is 1719 and the place London, where human greed operated then in much the same manner as it does today. Liss focuses his intricate tale of murder, money, and conspiracy on Benjamin Weaver, ex-boxer, self-described "protector, guardian, bailiff, constable-for-hire, and thief-taker," and son of a Portuguese Jewish "stock-jobber."

Investigating his estranged father's murder, Weaver comes into contact with larcenous investors involved with the shady South Sea Company. Liss does an admirable job of leading the reader through the intricacies of stock trading, bond selling, and insider trading with as little fuss, muss, and confusion as possible. What really makes the book come alive, however, are the details of 18th-century life--from the boxing matches our hero once participated in to the coffee houses, gin joints, and brothels where he trolls for clues. And then there is the matter of Weaver's Jewishness, the prejudices of the society he lives in, and his struggle to come to terms with his own ethnicity. A Conspiracy of Paper weaves all these themes together in a manner reminiscent of the long, gossipy novels of Henry Fielding and Laurence Stern.

Karen Habeeb (Kornhauser Library)
My latest reading: the Sano Ichiro mystery series set in Edo Japan (shogun era) by Laura Joh Rowland. Shinju, Bundori, The Way of the Traitor, The Concubine's Tattoo, and The Samurai's Wife; [Editor's Note: Alas, you'll have to go to the Public Library for these.] Also, one of my favorite books to reread every year: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. [Editor's Note: we have other books by Banana Yoshimoto in Ekstrom, but not this one.]

Melissa Laning (Assessment Team)
Plainsong by Kent Haruf. (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .A716 P58 1999) Wonderful writing and very touching characters.

Map of the World (PS 3558 .A4427 M36 1994 ) and Book of Ruth (no Ekstrom Library holding), both by Jane Hamilton. Bad things happen to good people could be the subtitle of both books. The storytelling is so good that you keep reading anyway.

Carol McNeely (Ekstrom, Special Services)
One of the things I like best about working at a university is the opportunity I have to hear some of the wonderful writers who visit our campus. They certainly influenced what I chose to read this past six months.

After listening to Jane Goodall, I was curious to know even more about her, so I read Reason for Hope: a Spiritual Journey (Ekstrom Browsing QL 31.G58 A3 1999) and watched the KET Author Forum video, which is an engaging and charming interview between teacher and former student. I finished reading Edwidge Danticat's book, Breath, Eyes, Memory (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3554. A5815 B74 1994), about an hour before she arrived on campus. Danticat is barely in her 30's and speaks and writes with a gravity and lyricism that belies her age. This book, chronicling the lives of different generations of Haitian women and their assimilation into American culture, moved me to tears.

Elie Wiesel's very presence in a room is captivating. I have a difficult time reading about the Holocaust…it seems unbearable. But his book, Night, (which I acquired from the Louisville Free Public Library), is a short, powerful story that will remain in your conscience the way The Diary of Anne Frank does.

I never know when I walk into a poetry reading whether I'm going to "get it" or not. So, what fun it was to listen to Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, and I only wish it could have lasted longer. I continued the pleasure by reading Sarah Gorham's Tension Zone: Poems (Bingham Poetry Room PS 3557. O7554 T4 1996).

There are certain writers I've wanted to read for ages and finally I started on that list by reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (Ekstrom Browsing PQ 8180.17 .A73 C513 1995) and Bobbie Ann Mason's Shiloh and Other Stories (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3563 A7877 S49 1995). I read the former too fast, which means I must reread it and the latter really slowly which didn't seem to matter. Both books lead to lively discussions in my book group. And if you haven't read Isabelle Allende's latest novel, Daughter of Fortune, ( Ekstrom Browsing PQ 8098 .1 .L54 H5513 1999), it's wonderful! I Know Just What You Mean: the Power of Friendship in Women's Lives (Ekstrom Browsing BF 575. F66 G66 2000) is a new book out by Ellen Goodman and Patricia O'Brien. It's an honest account of their friendship over the past several decades. As someone who is addicted, via e-mail, to staying connected with some friends from college, they articulated so well what we know and feel and say to each other so often.

Bill Morison (University Archives)
A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr (Ekstrom Browsing KF 228 .A7 H37 1995) I hadn't been paying attention (what else is new, you say), so I didn't know the book was nonfiction until I started to read it. Highly recommended account of an obsessed lawyer victimized by his own ambition, distraught families victimized by uncaring corporations, and a dramatic trial victimized by a legal system that can lose sight of what is right. I also thought John Travolta's portrayal of attorney Jan Schlichtmann had a good authentic ring to it, helping make the movie a better-than-average rendition of its namesake book.

Eric Neagle (Media & Current Periodicals)
Making Love to the Minor Poets of Chicago (no Ekstrom Library holding) is James Conrad's first novel. The federal government has located a mountain in the Nevada desert in which they are going to bury nuclear waste for 10,000 years, the time it takes for it to become non-radioactive. A poet, Vivian Reape has decided that part of the grant for this project should be used to author an epic poem warning future generations of the dangers of Yucca Mountain.

Conrad weaves together this story line with the personal lives of the faculty and students of two universities near Chicago, creating a wonderful story where you are never sure who is loyal to whom. One interesting character is Rose, the socialist librarian, who is on probation with the university for demonstrating against it.

Amy Purcell (Special Collections)
Widow for One Year by John Irving (Ekstrom Browsing: PS 3559 .R8 W53 1998) The central character in this book is a famous author named Ruth and about three significant time periods in her life. There was quite an informative bit about the red light district of Amsterdam in her research. If you like John Irving, you'll love this book. It's typical Irving … comic, tragic, erotic.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Ekstrom Browsing: PS 3553 .H4367 G57 1999) History and fiction are merged in this book that tells a story about a 17th century Dutch painting by Johannes Vermeer and the young servant girl who was his model. The painting has been called the Dutch Mona Lisa. I found Chevalier's details of the typical daily goings on in 17th century Delft with its strict social order ... the division between rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant ... very interesting.

Katrina Rowe (Ekstrom Circulation)
The Green Rider by Kristen Britain (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3552 .R4964 G74 1998) This is an enthralling and fast-paced coming of age story. A young woman runs away from University and a Kings' messenger falls dead in her lap with two black arrows in his back. Foolhardy and desperate to avoid her father's disapproval, she accepts the dying messenger's final wishes and swears to deliver the secret message for him. So, with monsters and evil soldiers breathing down her neck and a hardheaded Messenger horse to ride, she races across country to complete her vow. This is a real page-turner.

Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies (CB353 .G48 1969) If you were ever interested in what life was REALLY like in the Middle Ages, give this book a look. The narrative is readable and entertaining. The text provides a lot of the little details of medieval life neatly arranged in brief pertinent sections. The Doctor, The Church, The Cathedral, Weddings and Funerals, and Childbirth and Children are only some of the topics covered.

Melissa Long Shuter (Law Library)
Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn (PS 3567 .U338 I8 1992) A provocative dialogue about earth, civilization and individual actions. This book leaves you looking at the world in a different way. Highly recommended.

The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3561 .I496 B44 1998) An endearing story of a woman with a fear of exploding tires. Her journey takes her into many situations, all of which shed a parallel light on her rural Kentucky upbringing. I look forward to reading more of this Kentucky author.

Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3552 .A487 G57 1999 Light and airy novel on dating. A good quick read.

Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew (no library holding) Grow all you will need for two people in a 4x4 area AND reduce the amount of weeding you will need to do! Mel Bartholomew of public television acclaim shows you the way to garden in 80% less time than the typical row garden requires. Learn about companion planing, interplanting and more in this great gardening resource.

Elizabeth Smigielski (Kornhauser Library)
Guests of the Sheik , Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (HQ 1735 .Z9 N344 1989) While on vacation, and desperate for some reading material, I stumbled on this at the Juneau, Alaska Salvation Army for 25 cents. It is an ethnographic study of women's lives in an Iraqi village, written by a woman who lived in Iraq for two years while her husband did research for his doctorate. It is well written and lively, and gives a surprisingly frank interpretation of life within the harem, despite being filtered through a 1950's American view. If you'd like your very own copy, you can have mine - free.