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Farewell, BFGB

Dear readers,

Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book is ending.  We have been publishing reviews since March of 2007, but it is time to move on to other ways of building our community of readers.

Need help now with finding your next good book?  You’re invited to talk to staff in the building or on the Mobile Library Services vehicles for recommendations. Or join the conversation about books, reading, and more by liking us on Facebook (facebook.com/WRLibrary) or coming to a themed book discussion.

WRL card holders are welcome to fill out a Looking for a Good Book profile for a personalized list of recommended books.  You might also be interested in some of WRL’s other reader resources.  From Books and Reading for Adults (www.wrl.org/books-and-reading/adults) you can access NoveList, pull up themed book lists, or locate new titles at the library.

We would like to thank all of our readers for your comments and likes, and particularly would like to thank the WRL staff members who participated in this project. Happy reading!

The World's Strongest LibrarianI’ve read several librarian memoirs. For the most part, they didn’t capture my profession as I experience it.

I’ve read many inspirational stories of overcoming health problems, and for the most part, they seem either to be self serving, to promote some hidden agenda, to be laden with false cheeriness, or just to fail to capture the experience in terms that others would understand.

And finally, I’ve ready many descriptions of growing up in the Mormon faith, and they either haven’t matched my experience, or again, have been tainted by  hidden agendas.

That’s why I found it remarkable that Josh Hanagarne’s memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian: a Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, proved successful on all three fronts. Hanagarne grew up in a somewhat unusual but loving family, but he encountered an obstacle early in life, when all of the tics associated with Tourette’s Syndrome began to manifest in him.

The book is the story of his family life, his many struggles to keep his illness in check, and how his connection to his religion, his discovery of an occupation in librarianship, his love of weightlifting, and his relationships with his parents and wife all helped him in his struggle. Each chapter begins with a story from his library work, then follows the strand of that experience to connections in the rest of his life and personal history. It’s an odd construction, and an odd combination of personal traits, but Hanagarne makes it work, and in the process really captures the daily experience of working with the public in a library.

This is the kind of story that could easily become maudlin, but Hanagarne’s easy use of humor, finding laughs in the most embarrassing of situations, overcomes any note of false sentiment. He’s also refreshingly honest, willing to embrace life’s contradictions, his own failures, and his moments of doubt. This combination of humor and honesty left this reader with a strong sense that Hanagarne would be a great acquaintance: insightful, but not so stuck in his own experience or so full of himself that he couldn’t admit when he didn’t have the answer. Those are great qualities for a memoir writer, and Hanagarne shows them plentifully.

Check the WRL catalog for The World’s Strongest Librarian

Lovelace and BabbageCharles Babbage, once described as “a logarithmetical Frankenstein,” was an eccentric Victorian inventor who is widely credited with inventing the first computer, although it was never built in his lifetime. Ada Lovelace, the daughter of mad, bad, and dangerous Lord Byron, was an exceptionally talented mathematician widely credited with creating the first computer programs, although she had no computer on which to run them.

Babbage died a bitter man, offended that the British government never funded his “Analytical Engine.” Lovelace met an even unhappier end, bankrupting herself at the horse races and dying at the age of 36. That’s the history. But wait!

In this alternate history graphic novel, animator and cartoonist Sydney Padua brings Lovelace, Babbage, and the Analytical Engine thundering back to life for adventures in a steampunk London. History, mathematics, gears and cogwheels, bad puns, and Boolean logic jokes mingle in this thoroughly geeky appreciation of computing history’s early days. There are cameos by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who presides over the invention of the lolcat; Luddites; a 19th-century version of the oh-so-helpful Microsoft paper clip; and that cigar-chomping, rock star engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The graphic novel is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster itself, a comic adventure stitched together with anecdotes of Victorian mathematics and computer science excavated from period letters and publications. Padua meant to post just one web comic about Lovelace, but her research led her down a rabbit hole that first became the blog 2dgoggles and later transmogrified into this book. There’s no straight-line narrative; you’ll flip back and forth between the comic panels and the extensive, no, really extensive footnotes1 , which explore historical Babbage and Lovelace’s lives and writings. An appendix concludes with diagrams of Babbage’s steam-powered calculating monstrosity.

1 I don’t just mean that this comic has footnotes, I mean that the footnotes have endnotes2.

2 And the endnotes also have footnotes.

Both the book and the blog are particularly recommended for fans of Kate Beaton’s Hark, A Vagrant! and others who enjoy tongue-in-cheek history with lots of all caps and exclamation points.

Check the WRL catalog for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

Bud here with a few mini reviews of some good non-fiction books.

Helter SkelterHelter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry

The fascinating story of Charlie Manson, his fanatically loyal hippie followers and the savage Tate-LaBianca murders is engrossingly recounted by the author Vince Bugliosi, who was directly involved as a prosecuting attorney in the case. Forty-one years after its original publication, it deservedly remains one of the best, and most popular, True Crime books of all time.

Sample sentence: “It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes down the canyon.”

Check the WRL catalog for Helter Skelter

 

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, by Daniel James BrownIndifferent Stars Above

The story of the tragic Donner party expedition in 1846 is vividly recounted in this fine history book. Told primarily through the experience of one young woman, the narrative is grim and occasionally heartrending but also educational. You learn a lot about what everyday life was like for pioneers on the overland trail and, in particular, about the astonishing ability of people to endure great suffering and survive. A tragic tale eloquently and engrossingly re-told.

Sample sentence: “When she first looked into the survivors’ eyes, Eliza Gregson was startled by what she saw looking back at her, and she later marveled at it. ‘I shall never forget the looks of those people, for the most part of them was crazy and their eyes danced and sparkled in their heads like stars.’”

Check the WRL catalog for The Indifferent Stars Above

 

Empire of the Summer MoonEmpire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne

The lifestyle, battles with white settlers, and eventual decline of the Comanche Indians in late 19th century Southwest America are detailed in this extensively researched and elegiac history. In particular the lives of white Indian captive Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, last war Chief of the Comanche are poignantly recounted.   A remarkable story graphically brought to life by a skilled writer. A good choice for anyone who thinks history is boring.

Sample Line: “What was she (Cynthia Ann) in the end? A white woman by birth, yes, but also a relic of old Comancheria, of the fading empire of high grass and fat summer moons and buffalo herds that blackened the horizon.”

Check the WRL catalog for Empire of the Summer Moon

Or try Empire of the Summer Moon as an audiobook on CD

DeathWoreWhite

This is the first entry in a series featuring Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and his Detective Sergeant Bob Valentine in Norfolk, England. It’s a police procedural with a “locked-room” element to the main plot: A line of cars is stranded in a snowstorm on a desolate coastal road. When help arrives, the driver of the first vehicle in the convoy is discovered dead at his steering wheel, murdered seemingly under the noses of the other drivers stranded behind him. With no footprints in the snow, Shaw and his team are stumped as to means and opportunity. As to motive, however, the police begin to uncover some very convoluted relationships between the other drivers–supposedly all strangers to each other–in the convoy. Complicating matters are two other murders in the immediate vicinity, one corpse floating to shore on a toy raft and another found buried in the sand. Could all these deaths be related? You’d be surprised!

The plot was satisfyingly byzantine, and the atmosphere deliciously chilling and bleak. But what piqued my interest was the back story of DI Shaw and his relationship with Valentine. Valentine is an older man who fell from grace and was demoted as a result of implied corruption in the fall-out of a failed investigation years before. His partner had been DI Shaw’s father, since deceased. Shaw Jr. wants to know the truth about this unsolved case, which involved a murdered child, and his father’s true role in the investigation. Valentine would like his name cleared and his position back, but suffers from resentment of serving under the younger man. A mutual lack of trust complicates matters even further, but over the course of the story each man begins to develop a grudging respect for the other’s detective abilities. One can tell that this back story will continue to develop in future series entries, which will keep me reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Death Wore White

amazing mauriceNancy from Circulation Services concludes the week with this review:

Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents focuses on a group of rats led by a sly, conniving cat.. Oh, and let us not forget, the animals have gained the ability to speak to humans, think for themselves, reason, and gain a conscience. Pratchett allows his reader to contemplate the possibility of a society where animals, namely rodents, can not only live in peace and harmony with humans, but the two can help each other in the process.

In the town of Bad Blinitz Maurice the cat and his cohorts decide to pull their “Pied Piper” con. Little did they know that the town was fighting a food shortage thought to be brought on by the current rat population, and thus have hired rat catchers and deployed menacing traps throughout the city both above and below.

The fear of a plague from these rats caused scam artists of all kinds to attempt to capitalize on the growing fear of famine. Enter a small boy playing a magical rat pipe, who for a tidy sum would rid the town of rodents. Add in a know-it-all and somewhat bratty, young girl named Malicia, and the mayhem begins.

Pratchett’s sarcastic wit comes out in the actions and words of Maurice, the streetwise alley cat, while his fantasy and adventurous side is enjoyed through the antics of rat characters such as Hamnpork, Darktan, Dangerous Beans, and Sardines.

While reading this I found myself forgetting the main characters were simply animals for their wit, anxiety, emotional expressions, and snide comments fit many humans I know. Pratchett also adds an interesting aspect to the story in the form of quotes from another book introducing each chapter. The rats revere what is later discovered as a children’s book, “Mr. Bunnsy has an Adventure;” treating it as wisdom to live by.

Enjoy!

Check the WRL catalog for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

unstuffNathaniel from Circulation Services shares this review.

“Gentle reader; less-than-gentle reader; kind, clumsy, unfocused, slightly desperate reader… this book is for you.”

This isn’t the kind of book I usually read. It’s definitely not the kind of book I usually review. But my parents have told me (politely, but firmly) to get my boxes of stuff out of their garage, so I’ve found myself turning to books like Unstuff Your Life! in hopes they’ll help me out.

Surprisingly, they do! And of the ones I’ve read, Mellen’s book has stuck out for me in that it offered a lot of good-humored, practical advice, useful even for a twenty-something who lives in a small apartment.

Andrew Mellen is a professional organizer. He works with clients ranging from business owners to homemakers, and in his book he writes as though you, the reader, are one of his clients and he’s working through everything with you. His focus is on the psychological causes of clutter, and he makes a point of reiterating, “You are not your stuff.” He asks questions that prompt you to think about the way you think about your possessions. He reminds you that you can’t take it with you. He relates his conversations with other clients and shows how they worked through their mental stumbling blocks.

You might be thinking “Wait, I thought you said practical advice?” Well, he gives you that as well. The book is separated into specific areas to tackle – Kitchen, Paperwork, Mementos, and so on – and each section contains detailed instructions, checklists, and other information that you can use even if you don’t follow Mellen’s instructions to the letter. For instance: the cleaning tools you need before you start on a certain room, a checklist of things that might go in a car, and tips, like reminding you to sort stuff first and then buy storage, not the other way around.

The end goal is to get rid of clutter both in your space and your mind, so you can focus on you and your life. As Mellen says “I don’t think paying bills or filing papers or cleaning out the junk drawer is or should be that important. The messes that surround you are keeping you from what is important.”

If you have a garage full of boxes to deal with (or any clutter problem) and want some help with it, Unstuff Your Life! is a solid choice.

Check the WRL catalog for Unstuff Your Life!

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