Monday, September 22, 2008

The Great Mortality

Author John Kelly has produced a scholarly yet personal look at the plague, which swept through Europe in the mid-14th century. In places, half or more of the local populace succumbed in the span of weeks. It's something almost unimaginable to us in our comfortable modernity (save the venerable film genre involving zombies; I'm left wondering if that's an echo of our culture's awe at the black death).
Of course, the plague was unimaginable then, too. That's what makes it so scary. A simple virus has the potential to etch itself permanently into our social consciousness. In the process, the 14th century outbreak changed society in some interesting ways. Kelly argues that it in part paved the way for human progress.
The real draw of this book, though, is its heavy reliance on eyewitness accounts. It's easy enough to talk about numbers and medical theories. The firsthand accounts provided by Kelly, though, are chilling and highly revealing both of the illness and also of life in the 14th century.

The Midnight Disease

This is an older nonfiction book that I happened across while perusing the 800s. This section of the Dewey Decimal System--representing writing and literature--is woefully underused, not just in Twinsburg but in libraries everywhere. I suppose "underused" is a relative term since not everyone is a literature buff, but for me, it's sad to see so many wonderful books not read. Anyway, The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty is an interesting combination of neuroscience and memoir. Flaherty is a neuroscientist who has suffered mental conditions that have changed her moods and thus her writing style. This book doesn't give the reader writing tips, but instead explains the brain science that contributes to our mental states while writing, including writer's block and hypergraphia, the state of writing too much. It's fascinating material and well worth the read, even if you're not a writer yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Grift

I talked about this book on the latest TPL Radio News podcast. It's by Debra Ginsberg, who wrote Blind Submission, a book I just loved. I wasn't disappointed by her latest effort. The Grift follows the story of Marina Marks, who makes her living giving psychic readings. Through the years, she has learned to read people's expressions and gather information from them intuitively, but in the sense that most people think of psychics, she's a fake. The book is told in parts that jump forward in time, a tactic I've seen in a lot of modern novels (A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Memory Keeper's Daughter) and it works quite well with the story. The characters--Marina and her clients--are exposed over time, and the reader sees how they all interact with each other. When Marina makes the startling discovery that she does, in fact, have psychic powers, her business and her entire life changes, and every supporting character is shaken as well. This is a powerful read, deftly written, and expertly plotted.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Talk Talk

T.C. Boyle is one of the most unpredictable writers in business today. His books span a huge range of styles and themes. Some have been instant hits, others languish in obscurity. Even in his less than stellar novels, though, Boyle is always interesting.
Talk Talk follows a deaf woman who's identity has been stolen. It also follows the thief. What unfolds is a compelling look at identity, communication, and our relationships with those around us. Boyle is one of those writers who always has something deeper simmering beneath his plots, but this book doesn't suffer from the heavy-handed pretense so many works striving to be "deep" suffer from.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Homicide Special

This book on CD takes a look at a year in one of the most advanced, and also most scrutinized, detective units in the nation. It tracks about five teams of detectives working on a variety of homicide cases. Some involve forensics, some are just time-tested police procedure. It's an interesting book in a "day in the life" kind of way.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Between Here and April

by Deborah Copaken Kogan


As a librarian, we sometimes receive advanced copies of soon-to-be-released titles for review. Every once in awhile, we get our hands on something fabulous that the public hasn't been able to read yet. This is a must-read new release and you can reserve our copy on order through our library catalog.

Elizabeth Steiger is on a mission to find the truth behind the disappearance of her friend, April. The two had been inseparable in 1st grade, until one day, April didn't come to school and never returned. Now, thirty-odd years later, Elizabeth's journalistic instinct remembers the oddity surrounding the circumstance and wonders what happened. After she reveals that April had been a victim of filicide, her mother killing herself along with her two daughters, Elizabeth tries to unravel the details surrounding the deaths - as well as the complicated web of her own life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld comes out today, and I was lucky enough to get a copy from an advanced reading program for librarians. At 551 pages, it's long, and I finished it just before the release date! Sittenfeld is the author of Prep, which I absolutely loved, but she also wrote Man of My Dreams, which I had a hard time getting into. Coupling that with the fact that the book is supposed to be a thinly veiled version of Laura Bush's life, I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened it. I found the book to be lush, beautifully written, with a story I was immediately pulled into. Because I am not a political person in general, I read it strictly as a novel--I saw a few parallels, but I don't know enough about Laura Bush's life to know what was made up and what was "true." Those who are highly politicized in either direction might see faults, but in general, I enjoyed this book, and I'm looking forward to see what others think of it.