Information, Answers & Reviews

Buddha in the Attic and Narrative Mode

BuddhaAttic"On the boat we were mostly virgins" begins Julie Otsuka's gem of a book, The Buddha in the Attic.  One of the noticeable things from that first sentence is the unique narrative mode.  The whole book is written in the first person plural style.  This type of narration can be awkward -- most fiction is written in either first person or third person.  Convention can be comforting, we know immediately how to read the story and relate to those characters.  In first person plural, the story is told from the group's perspective, and with no main character, the rules are different.

Otsuka said in an interview that she wanted to tell the story of Japanese picture brides -- not just one bride, but that as a group.  And in this case, the narrative mode makes perfect sense.  Between 1908 and the 1920s, thousands of young Japanese women came over to the United States after an arranged marriage agreement.  Instead of focusing on one story, this book introduces the reader to many stories, some devastatingly sad, some happier, but all of them are sympathetic.  And by not focusing on just one story, we read the book with a fuller picture and are moved by their collective experiences and struggles.  The stories begin on the boat, and follow them through marriage, manual labor, child raising and the heart wrenching internment following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.  I can imagine that this book might appeal to a wide range of fiction readers -- fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, immigrant stories, Asian-American experiences, World War II home front, and readers of fiction set in California and the West. Read more »

Crossroads

ISBN: 
9781404954687

There is a legend about blues guitarist Robert Johnson- that he sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play blues guitar like no other. Is it true? Perhaps, perhaps not; it's a legend that surrounds other bluesmen and many a struggling musician has gone in search of "the crossroads" to see if they can also have the skills and influence of Robert Johnson. Crossroads is not about that search, Read more »

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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Proper care and feeding of your DVDs, CDs and BluRays.

Not this wayWhen compact discs first came out they were proclaimed to be almost indestructible.  I still remember watching the Today Show and being amazed as the new media storage for music was demonstrated.  Part of the demonstration was taking a small hammer and hitting the CD disc with it.  A wonder of wonders; the disc still played.  Looking back on this event today I wonder if the disc would have played all the way through.   The Idea that digital disc storage was indestructible has been more than a little overblown.  Digital discs need the same care and sometimes greater care than the old vinyl recordings.   I would like to share with you some guidelines for caring for your digital discs. " Read more »

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