Our blog about books, authors and reading

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

ArtofFieldingHenry Skrimshander is a slight shortstop with a love and strong appreciation for baseball.  Henry isn't a great player, and not very strong at bat but he does have potential.  When his sister writes the message "Call Mike Shorts!" by the phone, Henry's life changes forever.

Mike Schwartz is the captain of the baseball team at Westish College in Wisconsin.  Mike is addicted to painkillers (also the captain of the football team, he has bad knees), hardworking and spends a lot of his time helping his teammates become the best players they can be.  He is hard on them, pushing them through more squats, more lifts, and more runs than seemingly possible. 

Just as Henry is about to break the NCAA record for most error free games, an errant ball slips out of his hands and flies into the face of his roommate Owen Dunne who is sitting in the dugout reading a book.  This seemingly innocuous error sets into motion a series of events that become life changing not only for Henry, Mike, and Owen but also the President of Westish, Guert Affenlight, and his daughter Pella who has just returned to Wisconsin after some personal problems of her own.    Read more »

The Best American Science Writing, 2012

ISBN: 
9780062117915

Science has always appealed to me, but it's hard to carve out enough time to keep abreast of all the new science books; that's one reason I really enjoy the Best American Science Writing series. It's always fun to discover trends and reconnect with intriguing topics in the field. One good aspect of contemporary science writing is that the authors really write well and can summarize complex subjects in easily understandable language. So what's on science writing's 2012 burner? Medicine, for one. The first four essays explore medical themes, among them: new heart vessels for babies born with weak hearts, and immune systems trained to kill cancer cells.  As Denise Grady's article about the latter reveals, after an experimental treatment one man suffering from leukemia lost over two pounds of cancer cells. And a year later is cancer was in total remission.

My favorite essay in this collection is Evan Ratliff's "Taming the Wild." It's about a Russian research team that has been breeding foxes for over fifty years. Their foxes are now so tame that not only are they adopted for pets, but they share many puppylike traits such spotted coats, wagging tails, floppy ears and curly tails. A contrasting group of foxes has been bred for aggression and, believe me, you'd want to stay clear of their cages. Read more »

The Orphan Master's Son

ISBN: 
0812992792

Every so often a novel comes along that takes your breath away. The Orphan Master's Son remained unopened on my nightstand for a couple of weeks. But as soon as I dove into this literary thriller that also includes a love story I was hooked. It's set in North Korea, and amazingly, it's written by an American.

Pak Jun Do grew up in an orphanage, yet he was no true orphan (as he repeats many times in these pages) since his father raised him, or more accurately, Jun raised himself near his father. Years earlier, his mother, a singer, had been whisked off to Pyongyang, the capital, where all the beautiful women of the provinces were sent, so he never got to know her. Jun Do's job was renaming each orphan upon his arrival--he named each boy after the 114 North Korean martyrs. Jun Do also assigned jobs, taking the worst for himself. But since even children in North Korea work Read more »

There's Monsters and Then There's Monsters

ImageHorror fiction: There're a lot of arguments about what it is and isn't -- it's bloody; it doesn't have to be bloody. It's supernatural, like werewolves and ghosts; it can have just people -- they're scary enough. It's got sparkly vampires who can inexplicably run around all day; vampires don't fall in love, they fall with their fangs into your neck. Whatever version of horror you subscribe to, with Halloween coming up quickly, it's what's for dinner. Read more »

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

ISBN: 
9780802120106

If you think for a moment that you had a hard childhood, read this memoir. Mrs. Winterson, as Jeanette calls her adopted mother throughout this account, was incredibly tough, and often cruel. Routinely, she locked her young child out all night, so that Jeanette sat frozen huddled on the front stoop until her dad came home from his overnight shift. Other punishments included being locked in the coal bin and forbidden food. Repeatedly, Mrs. W. told Jeanette that the devil sent her to the wrong crib when she chose Jeanette for adoption. Even food was a scarce commodity in the Winterson home. When Jeannette attended the grammar school for older kids, her mother never applied for the lunch program even though they were poor and ran out of food and gas (to cook it) each Thursday before payday.

Books were not allowed, and when Jeanette became a teenager and found a job, Heaven was a bookshop filled with thousands of books. She brought a few home every week and hid them in the only place her mother would not check--under the mattress.  Alas, one night a copy of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love slipped over the Read more »

Promising New Fall Fiction

TelegraphAvenueWorking in a library, I try to read a wide variety of books -- romance books, graphic novels, memoirs, young adult fiction, fantasy and popular non-fiction titles.  But my one true love is contemporary literary fiction.  A coworker once remarked to me that I didn't like reading novels by authors who weren't alive.  Yep.  Give me Jhumpa Lahiri over Jane Austen any day. 

But I assume like a lot of readers I get stuck in a rut and go long periods of time without being excited about the fiction I am reading.  This fall might be the answer to all my book desires.  Four of my top ten favorite authors have new books coming out!

Michael Chabon wrote one of my all-time favorites and former One Book One Bloomington title, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  His newest, Telegraph Avenue is out this week.  It tells the tale of a used record shop and the two friends who are co-owners.  Spouses and children complicate the story as well as a mega-store moving in down the street.  Set in Northern California in 2004, Chabon explores parenthood, family, music, and the American Dream.  

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Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

BreadButterWhen enthusiastic home cook, Jennifer Reese lost her job she wondered if making homemade staples would be more cost effective.  Is homemade mayonnaise cheaper than the tub you buy in the store?  And just as important, does it taste better?  Her book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter has over 120 recipes for the from-scratch cook - looking for both cost savings and taste improvements. 

Reese's journey to make and taste homemade versions of cupboard regulars like peanut butter and bread and the more exotic like camembert and prosciutto includes helpful input from her family. She makes it sound like making your own ginger ale isn't crazy -- but actually fairly easy, cheaper than store bought, and delicious.  Her voice throughout the book is casual and often really funny.  The best part of the book is her interest in the highly practical and includes a 'hassle factor' for each item.  Every recipe has a realistic cost comparison with store bought and an indication of how difficult each item is to make.  Right there is bold print is a verdict on each item: Make it or Buy it.  A few items get a warning.  Make or buy cream cheese?  Reese says to make it once and then decide.  Make or buy English muffins?  Depends on whether you are eating them plain or as a base for eggs benedict.

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Carry the One

ISBN: 
9781451636888

Violence changes everything that happens after. This interesting novel covers family and friends in Chicago after a tragic event occurred at the end of a Wisconsin wedding. In 1983, a carload of friends and siblings leaves a wedding party in the middle of the night. Their car crashes into a ten-year old girl, killing her.  Most of the 20-somethings were high that night from either drugs or alcohol. The driver, Olivia, gets a jail term; the rest suffer through a lifetime of guilt.

In Carry the One Anshaw presented herself with a hard task: introducing five or six characters and following them over the course of 25 plus years: their relationships, their passions, their fears, their daily occupations. Luckily, she has mastered creating authentic and interesting characters. First there are the three siblings: Carmen, Alice and Nick. It's Carmen's wedding that they are celebrating that fateful day. Carmen is the political one: she runs a Read more »

Helen Keller in Love

ISBN: 
9780670023493

Just after college I worked as a social worker at an agency for the blind in New Orleans. I remember one client particularly well. He was totally blind and deaf--an older fellow who spoke in a modified sign language and by spelling letters lightning-fast into your palm. Pat, who had worked there for years, was his favorite person to communicate with, but when she was gone, he'd come to me. Occasionally, while biking home from work, I'd see him from a distance crossing four lanes of traffic on St. Charles Ave.--usually against the light--his white cane held like a sword before him. He was always too far away for me to help, but my stomach would clench, and I'd hope that he'd make it across safely another time.

Reading Helen Keller in Love gave me a fresh awareness of what blind people endure especially the deaf and blind. When I was young, The Miracle Worker played in movie theaters (with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) and this movie painted Helen in saint-like tones. How refreshing and humanizing is this biographical novel. In her first novel, Rose Read more »

Dreams of Significant Girls - Not Building Romans

ImageEvery reader knows that once in a while, you come across a strange word, often from another language. This word may take hold of your imagination because it looks or sounds so weird, or you might be exposed to it over years and years in the most disconnected contexts, until you just have to look it up. Such is the word Bildungsroman. Read more »

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