For the Love of Reading

Five Days at Memorial

Physician, humanitarian, and international journalist Sheri Fink has written an amazing book about what happens to even dedicated professionals in a crises that lasts for days. When a hospital became a flooded, steamy place without electricity, and the media constantly harangued about dangerous people attempting to break in, normal procedures quickly disappeared.

Do you remember that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina much of New Orleans flooded and that the area covered included some hospitals and nursing homes? Do you also recall a heated trial at which one doctor was accused of mercy-killing elderly patients?  This well-researched book investigates not only what happened during the five days that NOLA’s Memorial Hospital was flooded but also the people involved: doctors, nurses, the New Orleans city coroner, patients and their families.

The subtitle says it all “Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.”  The story is as riveting as any good thriller.

The Great War

If you are a fan of graphic novels or comic book histories, Joe Sacco’s incredibly detailed book about the battle of the Somme is a keeper.  The accordion style of the book imparted a narrative push to this graphic history that has no text.

The folded-over 24 foot long drawing also gave Sacco a large expanse of space to record the planning for the war on the ramparts of Montreuil-sur-Mer, the gathering of horses, laden carts and howitzers before the battle, and the trenches, explosions and destruction of the battle itself.  

The artist also vividly captured the digging of graves and the field of white crosses after the bloodshed ended.  Sacco’s drawings are very accurate, expertly rendered, and they convey emotion. To get the full effect of this book, you should spread it out across a long table or even two tables.

The one-day battle had 60,000 British casualties—the largest of any battle Britain has been involved in before or since. Included in a separate booklet is Adam Hochschild’s narrative essay that places the art in context.

Difficult Men

This is an interesting book detailing the rise of what the author terms the "Third Golden Age of Television". He provides in-depth details on the development, reaction, and impact of several critically acclaimed television shows (The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men) and touches on others more peripherally (The Shield, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad and various others). [Note: The Library may not, and probably will not, have the entirety of some of these shows, so check the catalog if you are inclined to (re-)watch any of them]. The author provides a context for how these new shows developed (going back to briefly recap the first two 'ages' on network television) and traces how this third Age was able to come about only on premium and basic cable stations.

The Yellow Birds

I’m not one for war novels, but this little gem hooked me from the start. The writing is stellar and the characters speak and act with a naturalness that only comes from actual combat experience. 

Kevin Powers, the author, is an Iraq War veteran. The story he has written about his experiences is heart-breaking.  The narrator, 21 year old Private Bartle, had literary aspirations in school and received a lot of taunting from his friends, so he decided to prove his manhood by becoming a soldier. This mirrored the author’s life who enlisted at age seventeen.  At basic training, he meets, the pimple-faced newbie, Murph, whose mother begs Bartle to promise to bring him back from Iraq unharmed.

Of course, no experienced soldier would ever make such a promise but something about the woman reminds the private of his own mother, so he readily agrees. Big mistake. They soon get sent to Al Tafir where a series of bloody battles, including civilian deaths, jade both men. 

Little Jewels--Haiku

If you like haiku or are merely curious about the art, dive into this book. It traces the origin of the form in English from Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro” through the effusive Beats (Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsburg) to contemporary masters of these powerful small poems. In the introduction, Billy Collins describes his love for these small gems and unlike many of the other artists included here, he writes in the familiar 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. 

Here are a few of my favorite haiku included in the collection. But alas, there were so many good ones, it was hard to choose a small sample:


passport check

my shadow waits

across the border                            --George Swede

Fangirl

Over Christmas after a Griffy walk, gift-giving and catching a new flick, I picked up this this YA book about a Nebraska college freshman obsessed with writing fan fiction. Now if you don’t know what that is—I didn’t until a patron explained it to me a couple of years ago--it’s a new trend where people (mostly young) write new endings, beginnings, and middles, sequels and prequels for books they love in the style of the author.

"Fan Fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker," Lev Grossman said in Time magazine. Cath loves the Simon Snow series--magical fantasty--and the book includes many postings from the invented FanFixx.net where her tag-name is Magicath.

But when Cather enters college, life gets complicated. First of all, her twin Wren decides not to room with her.  And Wren already abandoned fan fiction as too juvenile for a college student. Do you notice the wordplay in the twins’ names? Their parents had expected one child whom they planned to call Catherine.

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