Winter Readers' Picks

As I looked in my file to come up with my reader’s picks for this winter, I was horrified to discover that I have read very little non-work related material. Uggh. At first I couldn’t understand why this could be. After all, I am usually a fairly voracious and (as many of you have probably realized) non-critical reader. What I did do this summer though was take a month-long graduate class in teaching college composition, and after completing the lengthy reading list for that, I apparently was all “read out.” So I can give you the names of all sorts of wonderful articles to read about teaching students to write, but I suspect those wouldn’t make it to anyone’s winter reading list! Actually, as a counterpoint to all of that heavy-duty theory reading, I read all seven Janet Evanovich novels. Andy Anderson recommended them as Readers’ Picks this past summer, and they provided the perfect amount of escapism and brain candy this summer as I slogged my way through class.

After the departure of Carol McNeely, our fearless book club leader, the Ekstrom Library book club has been on a bit of a hiatus, but the last book we read was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Ekstrom Browsing PR 9499.3 .R59 G63 1997). There were mixed reactions in the group, but we had a lively and interesting discussion, made more enjoyable by a professor’s son who was certain that this was the best book ever. He was instrumental in explaining parts of the book that had escaped our notice. This is not a book for someone looking for a light read. The story revolves around Ammu and her two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen whose lives are destroyed because of a forbidden love.

I did spend some time reading several books related to the teaching of writing including Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Ekstrom Browsing PN 147 .L315 1994). Basically this is the written form of Lamott’s writing workshops. It is in short, witty, inspiring chapters such as “Getting Started,” “Perfectionism,” and “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Someone who read the book before me marked all the places where Lamott goes into self-indulgent mode with the word “schtick” and it is a fair criticism, I suppose. To me, though, these are the best parts of the book and hilariously funny. One women’s “schtick” is another’s complete self-indulgence, I guess.

Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Conner (Ekstrom Browsing PN 147 .O27 1999) was another that I checked out at the same time as Bird by Bird and returned it long overdue. It was not nearly as interesting to read, but it does have some short helpful chapters about issues such as “Verbs that Zing”, “Pronoun Pileups”, “Well-Matched Sentences”, “What to Do When You’re Stuck” and “Getting to the Finish Line.” Perhaps most helpful was a mnemonic for there and their. The first has “here” in it so it is the place, and the other has “heir” as in the possessor of something.

Finally, I read Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call by Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss, (Ekstrom LB 3609 .L28 2000). Unfortunately, this one came in handy this semester. The book covers all types of cheating and plagiarism and stresses the importance of academic honor codes and of talking about the issues with students. Chapters are fairly short and there is much resource material, some of it available to be photocopied.

Lastly, I would recommend Lowis Lowry’s The Giver (Ekstrom Browsing PZ 7 .L9673 Gi 1993). It was the 1994 Newberry Medal Winner and is the story of a boy, living in a world without pain, deep emotions, hardship, or anything remotely unpleasant. At 12 years old, he is given the task of becoming his community’s Receiver of Memory, a job with great honor, but with much loneliness and difficulty as he comes to discover. This fantasy novel doesn’t take long to read, but it is quite powerful, a perfect read for a cold winter afternoon.

James Adler, Kornhauser Library
Yep, yep, yep, there’s just no time for reading good books quite like the wintertime. And what better book to start off the holiday season with than William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Ekstrom DD 256.5 .S48 1990). Man, this one has everything, from stolen elections, shameless use of propaganda and fear, to fabricated incidents, staged wars and coups, exploitation of racial minorities, secret military tribunals, utter negation of civil rights and so on and so on, all of it carried out with virtually unanimous public support. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. Might dig into John Toland’s biography Adolf Hitler, if I can stand it (Ekstrom DD 247 .H5 T56 1976).

After a cheery start like that, I reckon I’ll move on and revisit some old classics; this might be a good time to re-read the Harry Potter books! Yeah, all of them! Starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Ekstrom PZ 7 .R79835 HAR). If you like Roald Dahl, you’ll probably like Potter. The movie can wait. And when I’m done with Potter, I can dig out Lord of the Rings! Or I can go see the movie…or both.

Mary Barbosa, Ekstrom Reference
I just finished reading Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson (Ekstrom Browsing PR 9199.3 .W4987 D37 1998). I’m not a science fiction fan, but I really enjoyed it. It combines history, science fiction, and a GREAT story about alternative creations. If you can imagine a combination of the movie Highlander, a Discovery Channel nature documentary, a History Channel film about the early 20th century, and the best war-time love story you’ve ever read, you might come close to this little novel.

Sarah Jent, Ekstrom Reference
Stygo by Laura Hendrie (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .E49523 S78 1994) is an interesting collection of short stories, each one written from the point of view of a different citizen of the gritty, fictional small town of Stygo, Colorado. I was intrigued by Hendrie’s work, so I am now reading her novel, Remember Me (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .E49523 R46 1999). Also set in the western United States, this time New Mexico, Remember Me centers on Rose Devonic, orphaned at age 16, insistent on living in a town full of people that seem to dislike her. She has only a few friends. One is Birdie, who has been letting her live free of charge in his family’s motel during the winter months. When Birdie suffers a stroke, Rose is kicked out of the motel. During a strange turn of events, Rose ends up caring for Birdie and his sister Alice, who is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. So far the novel has been extremely engaging and I’m hoping for a happy ending for Rose.

Midwives by Christopher Bohjalian (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3552 .O495 M5 1997). Midwife Sibyl Danforth has helped over 500 women give birth to their babies at home, but one stormy Vermont winter night Charlotte Bedford dies while under Sibyl’s care. Sibyl is charged with involuntary manslaughter and goes to trial. This gripping tale is told from the perspective of Sibyl’s teenage daughter Connie.

River, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke (Ekstrom Browsing PS3553 .L298 R58 1999). Johnnie Mae Bynum is haunted by the memory of her younger sister Clara, who drowned in the Potomac River while under Johnnie Mae’s care. Johnnie Mae’s defiance after the incident causes a rift between her parents. Johnnie Mae becomes a champion swimmer, and by the end of the novel the reader has high hopes for her future. Winner of the 2000 Alex Award. The Alex Award is sponsored by ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association and is given each year to books that provide teenagers with an introduction to adult literature.

Melissa Laning, Assessment Team, Ekstrom Library
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. (Browsing PS 3552 .A854 F43 2000) If you like Anne Tyler, you will probably like this. The story is about a bunch of hapless characters whose lives intertwine and end up better for it. The writing is tender and funny, and the author invents the word glimmerless to describe a state of being associated with middle age.

Catherine Lavallée Welch, Kersey Library
During the semester I had a short Nick Hornby reading streak. I started with About A Boy (Browsing PR6058 .O689 A6 1999) about the relationship between a nerdish teenager and a middle-age man who thinks he has found his dating niche among single mothers. A nice cast of characters. Reading it though, I couldn’t help but remember Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole Diaries (not held by UofL). I followed with How to Be Good (Browsing PR6058 .O689 H69 2001), which I found rather cynical about marriage and liberal ideals. Now I will finish with High Fidelity (Ekstrom stacks PR6058 .O689 H54 1996). I liked the movie and Hubby tells me he enjoyed this novel out of the three the most.

Rebecca Maddox, Ekstrom Reference
Steve Fiffer’s book Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought over T-Rex Ever Found (Browsing QE 862 .S3 F54 2000) may not be as exciting as some of the latest dinosaur movies, but if you’re looking for a good real life paleontological drama that includes lost paleontologists, long court battles, and a happy ending, then check out this book.

Amy Purcell, Special Collections, Ekstrom Library
Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3570 .Y45 B33 2001) I always read her books and I’ve never been disappointed. Her books are about everyday people and their quirks.

Straight Man by Richard Russo (Browsing PS 3568 .U812 S77 1997). The main character of this book is an English professor at a university in Pennsylvania. He is an insufferable smart aleck and I found the book full of laughs. The university setting was also pretty familiar. I guess it’s the same old stuff wherever you go.

The Aerialist by Richard Schmitt (Browsing PS 3569 .C5166 A68 2000). This is a story about a young man who escapes life by joining the circus. This book sparked an interesting conversation I had with my mother who also joined the circus — not just any circus of course — she was a seamstress for the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in Sarasota, Florida in the middle 50’s – early 60’s.

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, (Browsing PS 3553 .H4367 F35 2001). This story begins in London on New Year’s Day 1901. Two families become acquainted as they visit their family plots that are next to each other during the mourning period of the Queen. There was a significant amount of etiquette surrounding proper mourning at that time. As the families visit the cemetery, the reader also learns all about the running of a cemetery, mainly through a young boy who is a gravedigger’s son and at a very early age, a gravedigger himself. Another interesting character in the book gets caught up with the suffragettes. This was interesting to me due to all the work we did on the Suffrage Symposium last year. As with her first novel, A Girl With a Pearl Earring, Chevalier gives the reader a clear feeling of the time and place of her stories.

Jill Sherman, Ekstrom Content Access
Yes, I have a book or two that I plan to read as soon as this semester is over. I heard about this book on NPR, on the Radio Reader series. It’s called The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3571 .D36 M57 2001). I heard a couple of installments of this story, and I decided to stop listening and to read it myself during Christmas break. It’s a story about a boy who survives severe head trauma at the age of seven. The reader then follows little Edgar through his childhood, and how he deals with the bad hand that life dealt him. I have a feeling that Edgar will persevere, though. To those who have read the book already: If little Edgar doesn’t persevere, don’t tell me — I want to read this book!

Also, I wish to read the latest book by my favorite authors On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons (Ekstrom Browsing PS 3558 .E49523 S78 1994). I tend to love anything that this person writes. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one, as well as the others I have read.