I came to the Island shortly after Vancouver made his brief stop at Restoration Point and have lived here off and on ever since. In the ensuing years I’ve been a member of the library cart precision formation marching on the Fourth of July. I’ve donned skin colored long underwear and ridden a horse in the Scotch broom parade. I’ve lived through lengthy power outages, watched, each spring, for my favorite cherry tree to burst into bloom, and welcomed the long hours of daylight in the summer..
Nineteen years ago I joined the crew at the bookstore and ever since then I’ve been shelving books, looking up titles, recommending favorite publications, making up limericks and of course buying and reading a whole array of books.
Jonasson, who delighted us with The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, gives us another glorious romp. It’s a gallop through the life of Nombeko Mayeki—a fourteen-year-old latrine cleaner in Soweto, South Africa—who, because of her intelligence and her agile wit, ends up in Sweden with an unregistered nuclear missile, a twin who doesn’t officially exist, his brother, an idiot, and a sampling of other weird and incompetent characters. As with its predecessor, this novel is wickedly absurd. ~ Ann
In May of 1927, with five sandwiches, a quart of water to sustain him, and The Spirit of St. Louis loaded with fuel, Charles Lindberg left New York and became the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. It was an astounding feat, but not the sole event to mark that summer. Also, Babe Ruth chased a home run record, Gutzom Borglum began work on Mount Rushmore, Henry Ford rolled out the Model A, The Jazz Singer—the first talking motion picture—debuted, and Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Bryson chronicles these and other notable occurrences with ease and grace, and as the reader finishes this fascinating book he has to agree with Bryson that “it was one hell of a summer.” ~ Ann
This is the sort of novel one hates to describe in too much detail, since it might ruin the story. Ove is a curmudgeon and a grump whose life is interrupted by boisterous new neighbors: pregnant Parveneh and her husband Patrick who, Ove notes, can’t even back up a trailer successfully. Ove is cantankerous. He has no patience with imperfection. He snaps at pleasantries. He rages against those who ignore the rules. And he’s an absolute delight. This was my favorite novel of 2014. ~ Ann
Christmas isn’t really Christmas without Dylan Thomas’s classic. Once the children are bathed and in their pajamas, once the stockings are hung and there’s a fire in the fireplace, this is the perfect read-aloud book to make the season complete. ~ Ann
This entertaining French novel is like a modern game of “Drop the Handkerchief.” Francois Mitterand’s black felt hat, initially left by the head of state in a Parisian brasserie, proceeds to make its way briefly through a series of owners, each time giving the new and often beleaguered recipient unexpected courage, sudden inspiration and essential new wisdom. It’s a delightful tale, cleverly told and in the end quite satisfying. It has won several prestigious awards in France, and I recommend it highly as a light winter read. ~ Ann
Sandra Boynton, who with her Philadelphia Chickens rescued parents and children from too many verses of “The Wheels on the Bus,” is back with another lively book/CD package that features musicians including Dwight Yoakam, Alison Krauss, and Ben Folds. She’s given us a country-western, sometimes bluegrass, sometimes honky-tonk romp through twelve wonderfully goofy songs such as “They Make Me Clean My Room,” and “I’ve Got a Dog” (with the Scotty Brothers playing the spoons in the background). She recommends it for ages “one through older than dirt,” and its accompanying CD is guaranteed to sound fresh even after you hear it forty-two times. Ages 1-9. ~ Ann
The underpinnings of any religion are often nebulous and dependent on tradition and basic faith. But the origins of Scientology, a created religion, can be traced to the mind of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wright examines all aspects of Scientology including the beliefs, the rules, and the pursuit of Hollywood stars including John Travolta and Tom Cruise. It is a meticulously researched book, years in the making, with more than two hundred interviews. Wright provides a fascinating look at the subject, sometimes disturbing, sometimes unbelievable, but in the end comprehensive. ~ Ann
We know all about Lincoln’s assassination and John Wilkes Booth. But the particulars of James Garfield’s untimely death are not generally known. Millard describes the incident: the attack by a madman with delusions of grandeur, the intended convalescence hovered over by a physician unwilling to seek or accept advice, and the fact that his care was in the hands of a medical community blasé about Joseph Lister’s rules concerning cleanliness and sterility when treating wounds. Millard recounts this tragic event with meticulous detail and leaves the reader angry at the idiocy of stubborn and power hungry people, and a true regret at what might have been, for Garfield was an exceptional president and could have been one of the greats. ~ Ann
For those of us who loved Gerald Durrell’s memoir, My Family and Other Animals, this is the last of what might be called the Corfu Trilogy. The book recounts the Durrells’ escape to the Greek island to avoid yet another British winter, and it is delightful. Larry is still wonderfully insufferable. Mother is still harried, put upon and somewhat dotty. Brother Leslie is still ready to shoot at anything that moves. Margo is still self absorbed and Gerry, the youngest, is still curious, still adventurous, and still gathering birds and beasts for his menagerie. This is a refreshing and joyful story, and the chapter describing the various guests at a birthday banquet is in itself more than worth the price of the book ~ Ann
With politics and politicians swarming the airways like fruit flies on a ripe banana, this is a useful book. Written by three former CIA officers with extensive experience detecting deception, it chronicles the observations and the questions these three have used to flush admissions and confessions from those bent on hiding guilt. Their methods are fascinating and the actual interviews they analyze are “ripped,” as they say, from recent headlines. Now when we yell, “Lies… all lies” at political commercials and the evening news reports, we’ll be able to cite explanations to back up our ranting. ~ Ann
The story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the search for John Wilkes Booth is familiar even to elementary school students. However, the details related in this book give a fascinating immediacy to the event. Swanson takes the account from Lincoln’s second inaugural to the assassination itself. He describes Booth’s escape, his torturous flight and eventually to his being cornered and shot in a burning barn. Swanson’s research is meticulous and the account is made ever more real with the recent discovery of a report written by Dr. Charles Leal, who happened to be at the theater when Lincoln was shot and who stayed with him through the night. This is a riveting read, captivating till the end. ~ Ann
This selection of Trillin’s essays, fiction and poetry serves as an antidote to the unending diatribe of this year’s political campaigns. He describes his childhood, which he admits was unfortunately happy. He tackles the subject of his tuxedo and gives evidence that he bears a strong resemblance to T.S. Eliot. He wonders whatever happened to chicken a la king, and he claims his dentist only calls when his son’s college tuition is due. There’s also a chapter of delightfully scathing political poetry, including “If You Knew What Sununu.” The whole collection is wonderful, and just enough to carry us through to November. ~ Ann
On April 18th and on into the morning of Easter Sunday, April 19th, 1981, two minor league teams struggled to end the world’s longest baseball game. Barry gives us the game in gloriously descriptive detail. He tells of the players who later make it to the majors—Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs for two. He gives a full accounting of the team owner and tells of the radio broadcasters who wonder if anyone out in the night is still listening. There’s the father and son who stay on, having made a pact never to leave a ballgame until the final out; the bat boy whose mother comes to demand that her son come home to bed; even the umpire who, because of a fluke in his playbook, refuses to call the game. All in all, it’s a fascinating piece of sports history and a mesmerizing read. ~ Ann
This book is a delight! The author is a third grade teacher who loves his work, and his funny, goofy students are the reason why. Teachers will love it—so will parents . . . so will anyone who’s ever been in the third grade. ~ Ann
In the late 1990s Peter Hessler, a teacher and Peace Corps volunteer, was sent to Fuling, China, a small city on the Yangtze River. Among the most surprising and fascinating aspects of this account of his two-year stay are his interactions with the students and their adherence to the party line, and his dealings with the ever-curious and often suspicious townspeople. I highly recommend this book to anyone with China on their itinerary. ~ Ann
Here’s the classic tale of Ping, the duck of the Yangtze. This story has been a childhood favorite since it was first published in the mid-1930s. But the tale of the young duck who wanted to avoid punishment for being late never grows old. Ages 4-8. ~ Ann
Simon Winchester's journey from the mouth of the Yangtze to its headwaters in the foothills of Tibet is a trip across China and through time. He evokes a panorama of history, everything from the Rape of Nanking to Mao's legendary swim across the river at Wuhan. He also beautifully describes the course of this amazing river, one of the world's longest and most important. Winchester's prose is eminently informative and lyrical; all in all, this is an extremely satisfying read. ~ Ann
Forget, for the time being at least, about improving yourself, your relationships, and your sagging abdominal muscles. Relax. Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail for you. As a result, you won't have to move a muscle to be treated to magnificent scenery, exhausting days of climbing, a fascinating history of this environmentally fragile trail, and, best of all, explosions of laughter that will have you doubled up and falling out of your chair.
Bryson at his delightful, absolute best as he revisits his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, making the reader alternately think, "Thank heavens I wasn't his parent," and "What fun that must have been."
In an age when literary recollections of childhood too often are painful and disturbing, it's a quiet delight to reread Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, the tale of a boy's twelfth summer in Green Town, Illinois, in 1928. His lyric prose of a time when every morning was brand new and summers were endless make this classic an all time favorite.
The author of The Uncommon Reader and The Clothes They Stood Up In has once again cast a mischievous eye on British society, this time with the help of two aging matrons. Mrs. Donaldson is a widow augmenting her income by posing as a patient for the benefit of medical students. She is also a landlord, and here is where the story takes a playful twist, for when her renters fall behind in their payments, they suggest that in lieu of what they owe, they let Mrs. Donaldson watch them have sex. She would have preferred they offer to clean or perhaps paint, but reluctantly she acquiesces. The second matron, Mrs. Forbes, is a woman for whom nothing is acceptable, her son’s new wife for instance. She’s not nearly attractive enough for “my young man.” Perhaps so, but as it turns out, she is bright, far brighter than both her new husband and Mrs. Forbes. Only Mr. Forbes is wise enough to realize this. So, in true Bennett style, both ladies mutter and putter along and are a delight. ~ Ann
To a Mountain in Tibet is a travelogue. It’s a pilgrimage. And it’s an adventure. But most of all, since the author’s mother had recently died, leaving him the family’s sole survivor, it’s an attempt to acknowledge the fact that his mother, his father and his sister had all been present on this earth. The mountain in Tibet, Kailas, is sacred to four separate religions, and for hundreds of years, though it has never been climbed, pilgrims of many faiths have circled its base in search of penance and solace. Thubron must first reach the mountain high in the Himalayas, and then circle it himself. This he does, recounting it in exquisite and poetic detail. It’s a beautiful and enriching journey. ~ Ann
In The Art of Travel Alain de Botton gives no advice on when to schedule a trip to the Bahamas. He doesn’t recommend any restaurants in London or Paris. And he doesn’t tell us how to pack clothes for a three week trip in just a carry-on bag. Instead de Botton teaches us how to appreciate our travels. In England’s Lake District he recalls Wordsworth and, while sitting under a oak tree, feels the peace the poet so treasured as he listens to the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves above him. In Arles he remembers Van Gogh, and the artist’s choice to capture the bright colors of Provence. He even takes a trip around his own neighborhood and realizes the local butcher shop he had taken for granted is adorned with fascinating Gothic gargoyles. This book is a delight, to savor and remember. ~ Ann
In the late 1880s, murders were not solved through fingerprints on the murder weapon or blood spatter patterns. People in those times claimed that criminality was genetic. Thus, certain facial characteristics or physical conditions constituted proof of a person’s guilt. What changed all that was the arrest of a “vagabond” named Joseph Vacher, who had been moving from village to village across the French countryside in a spree of horrendous murders. Two men—magistrate Emile Forquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, head of the Department of Legal Medicine at the University of Lyon—began to incorporate what would become modern forensics to prove Sacher’s guilt and convict him. Starr traces the development of forensics in measured and fascinating detail, and this book reads like the most modern of crime novels. ~ Ann
Roger Rosenblatt admits to having a talent for one domestic chore—that of breakfast duty and the ability to make the perfect piece of toast for each of his grandchildren. He is called upon to practice this art after the sudden death of his daughter, Amy. Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, leave home and move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three grandchildren. In Making Toast they are still there. This is a gentle book peppered with fond memories of Amy, with instances of healing as each of them deals with his grief, and with the adjustments they all go through as the three generations learn to live together. Through it all, Rosenblatt’s skill with language and form prevents this eulogy from being either too stark or too sentimental. Instead, it’s the story of a family dealing with tragedy one day, one crisis and one piece of toast at a time. ~ Ann
From approximately 565 million years ago, when organisms, not yet animals, inched their way across the prehistoric mud, Moor has traced the tracks that spider-web the earth. He examines ants busily marching, caterpillars threading their way along branches, and elephants traveling to food, or water, or even the graves of fellow elephants. He studies Native American trails that weave across the land and, in many cases, have become our modern highways, and he recounts his own trek on the Appalachian Trail. He does it all in fascinating detail in this engrossing account.
From ants marching seemingly in lock step, to Native American footpaths that are now interstate highways, to his own trek on the Appalachian Trail, Moor’s examination of the trails that spider-web the earth is vast and fascinating.
There are thirty-some short, magically exquisite pieces in this collection. There is one about the Archbishop who loses his faith after the salad course at a country club function. There is a letter from two sons to their mother starting with, “all the charges were dropped.” And there’s the Catholic priest who develops stigmata that disappear on Easter. All have a certain fantastic twist. But most wonderful is Doyle’s recounting of his father’s delight in his sons’ Christmas and Easter performances at Saint John Vianney Grade School. It will have you, as his father says, “spitting your apple tea across the table.”
Joy and infectious playfulness enliven these thirty-some short, magically exquisite pieces. Most wonderful is Doyle’s recounting of his father’s delight in his sons’ Christmas and Easter performances at Saint John Vianney Grade School. It will have you, as his father says, “spitting your apple tea across the table.” This is a book that can brighten even the dreariest winter day.
Jonas Jonasson, the author of The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is at it again. His motley cast of characters in this adventure consists of a defrocked lady priest who doesn’t believe in God; her paramour, a receptionist in a former brothel; and the titular Anders, whose skill at breaking assorted bones has endeared him to underworld characters who have both money and a grudge. It’s a delightful and unpredictable romp as Jonasson gleefully lets his characters go with every possible murderous whim that occurs to them. Well worth a sampling.
For someone who grew up with dinner conversations on the proper usage of “lie” versus “lay” and “who” versus “whom,” is a delightful journey to yesteryear. Norris, a long time copy editor at the New Yorker, covers every aspect of language, from spelling to punctuation to the admonition against saying “between you and I.” She does so in a bright and entertaining fashion. I gratefully accept her advice not to “ultracrepidate,” (use words beyond my expertise.) And I embrace her declaration that, “The semicolon can be done without.” Between you and me, this an entertaining and instructive read.
Greg O’Brien, a writer and investigative reporter for 35 years, has Early-Onset Alzheimer’s. His mother died of the disease as did his grandfather. In stark and careful prose, O’Brien recounts the agony of its progression until the forgetting completely swallows memory and thought. He also details his own struggles and in the process examines and illuminates the terrifying world of losing one’s mind. It’s a powerful tale.
After he had been soundly defeated in his 1912 run for the Presidency, Theodore Roosevelt decided to explore the uncharted tributary of the Amazon called the River of Doubt. It was a dangerous endeavor: a seemingly endless procession of rapids, the all-enveloping jungle, and Indians armed with poison arrows lurking in the shadows. Roosevelt fell ill, and in his deteriorating physical condition, the journey proved to be nearly fatal. Millard tells the story in breathtaking detail and, at times, agonizing suspense. It is well worth it.
This recounting of the Bataan Death March and World War II is not an easy read, but it is powerful, fair, and meticulously told.