Wednesday reads: short stories and looooooooong stories

This week I am reading short stories and a memoir. And a seriously thick, small font, no pictures non-fiction tome. It’s drought or monsoon with me, folks.

bergThe Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and other small acts of liberation by Elizabeth Berg is a collection of short stories about women, food, dieting, self esteem, and every other emotion and life struggle that women go through (put themselves through). This book inspired me to stop counting calories, just for a week. I’m currently 5 days in and happier than I have been in a long time. More on this when I review it.

jumpThe Reason I Jump: the inner voice of a thirteen year old boy with autism by Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. A boy with severe autism found a way to communicate, and he hasn’t stopped since. This is being praised as a breakthrough for families learning to communicate with and better understand their autistic children. I do not have an autistic child, but occasionally work with them or meet them…so this was important for me to read. More on this later…

daughter2Daughter of Empire: life as a Mountbatten by Pamela Hicks is the real-life story of a British girl’s experience with the Pakistan Revolution of 1947.  I am reading this after I read a fictional account, so it’s nice to read the true story.

Five-Days-at-Memorial-by-Sheri-Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. Still working on this one y’all. It’ll be a while because it is quite crammed with details and accounts and history. But it is fascinating to read how these doctors came up with euthanasia as a way out of the horrible, unsanitary, unsafe situation of being in a hospital without electricity after Hurricane Katrina.

What are you reading? 

Review: Talking Pictures images and messages rescued from the past by Ransom Riggs

ransom

Talking Pictures: images and messages rescued from the past by Ransom Riggs is a beautiful collection of photographs found by the author throughout his life. He describes in the intro his fascination with found photographs, which began as a young man when his mother dragged him to antique shops.

Each chapter is a different theme – love, hardship, humor – and had me simultaneously crying (see the photo above that I put on Instagram) and laughing out loud. Two days before I read this book I was looking at old photographs with my best friend. She is getting married in 2 months and we were choosing photographs of her fiance’s family in Portugal to display at the reception. Similar to the photos on my own guest book table, of hubby’s and my parents and grandparents on their wedding days.

family

I love old photographs, postcards, and really any object that transports me to a time in history…so I found Talking Pictures especially beautiful.

Riggs put together a really beautiful yet simple collection of photographs. He could have crammed in 3-4 per page, but limited it to one. For most pictures he included the description written on the back or scrawled on the front, which gave even more insight into the photographer and its recipient.

Recommended for:
This is the kind of book that anyone could get into. Most people are a bit nosey, so these brief glimpses into the lives of others sates our appetite for such snooping.

Read-alikes:
A fictitious take on this would be The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a novel in pictures by Caroline Preston. The scrapbook contains diary-like text and scrapbooked photographs, magazine-page collages, ticket stubs, and more than represent the life of a 20-something in that era.

Any of the Post Secret books by Frank Warren. These user-submitted postcards tell the sad/humorous/boring secrets of their creators. Warren was the keynote speaker at my graduation in 2009, and was just great!

EXTRA EXTRA! 

Do you live in the Northern Virginia/DC area?? One June 5, Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi will be at the Gum Spring Library in Aldie, VA (Loudoun County). They will both talk about their works, and books will be available for purchase and signing. Please contact me for details: librarian.april [at] hotmail.com

Some excellent books worth recommending

I feel like I have hit the literary jackpot these past few months. I have been picking up awesome book after awesome book; staying up late to finish one while reading another during my lunch break while listening to another every time I get in my car. The following books come highly recommended:

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor takes place in Prague…and Elsewhere, a beautifully-crafted world where angels and devils (beasts) are fighting for control. Young, parent-less Karou has no idea she belongs to that other world until her current one begins dissolving from beneath her feet. Will she learn enough about herself in time to get her old life back?

Her interactions with the beings in both worlds are realistic and haunting. Love, hate, and deception are key themes throughout the book. You absolutely must visit the book’s website and explore the stunning illustrations and descriptions of the characters and Elsewhere. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys exploring fantasy worlds and Romeo and Juliet-style relationships.

**A special thanks to Amy from ReadingTeen.net who let me borrow her copy of the book before its October publication date. Her review of the book is much more passionate and comprehensive than mine.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick is the story of Matt, a teenaged Soldier in the Iraq war. He wakes up in the hospital but with no recollection of how he got there. Snippets of the fire fight that caused the accident slowly come back to him, but he doesn’t want to believe what he remembers.

This powerful story of 2 teenagers and one child is set in today’s war, but, changing some terminology and location, could be set in any war in US history. The times have changed, but so much about the psychological and physical repercussions of war has not. McCormick perfectly illustrates the stark contrast between relationships of soldiers, both with the folks at home and the buddies fighting alongside them. I recommend this book to everyone.

I was honored to spend the day with Patricia McCormick when she visited Loudoun County as the author of our 1Book1Community title, which I blogged about here. In one day she met with teens at the county’s alternative school and the juvenile detention center. She fielded their questions with grace and honesty, and really engaged them. I will forever be a big fan of hers.

Blackout by Connie Willis is a history major’s dream novel. The book follows half a dozen contemporary (year 2060) historians who time-travel to major historical events in order to get a better idea of the reality of the time, event, people, etc. One historian’s mission is to observe acts of heroism in every-day folks during WWII. Another’s is to study the children voluntarily orphaned when parents were advised to evacuate their children during the Blitz.

The novel is peppered with astonishing true facts that were deemed by historians not crucial to the story, when in fact they are what humanize such major events. The people escaping the bombings in the underground tube stations who put on plays to entertain their peers. The caretakers of orphans who put their own families on hold to ensure the safety and well-being of their charges. These are incredible stories that I am sad to say I never knew before. I recommend this book to history lovers. The dialogue languishes at times and many internal thoughts are repeated, making the book an unnecessary 500 pages. But if you pride yourself on slogging through the not-fabulous parts to reap the benefits of the entire thing, this is the book for you. A sequel Fallout picks up right where Blackout leaves off.

There will be more. 🙂

NOLA/ALA Overview, part 1.

I toured, I tweeted, I learned, I networked, I got autographs, I worked on a Katrina victim’s house…all in a week. ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans was a wonderful learning experience (i.e. I can eat 3,000 calories a day for a week and not have a heart-attack) that has re-energized me for my work in libraries and specifically with young adults.

First, the tourist side. Shane and I landed Tuesday morning and toured my old hometown (Slidell) before doing the obligatory first-night-in-NOLA-Bourboun-Street-tour. To be honest, I was less than impressed. If I never return to Bourbon Street, it will be too soon.
Day two was the Audubon Zoo. In all the zoos I’ve been to (including my personal favorite, the Cleveland Zoo), I have never seen a baby flamingo…until now!! Seriously, how precious is he! He kept stumbling over his big feet, too. I could’ve watched him all day.

That same night Katie arrive and we experienced the corn bread muffins, alligator cheesecake, coconut bread pudding, and locally-brewed Abita Beer. We took the St. Charles Streetcar back to the French Quarter, danced in the rain as we ran to our hotel, and called it a night.

The next day was action-packed with a visit to the National WWII Museum and a ride on the Steamboat Natchez. If you are ever in New Orleans, you must do both. The museum boasts the incredible Tom Hanks-produced and narrated film Beyond All Boundaries which was an overview of the war from the late 1930s to Japan’s surrender. It is 4D and includes fog, music, props, and spot-on narration from famous actors like Gary Sinese and Blythe Danner. To be honest, the 40-minute movie brought me to tears (not like it takes much to make me cry…). The producers left out quite a bit of pertinent information, but I suppose I can forgive them because it’s impossible to cram an entire war into 40 minutes. Also, the museum itself filled in the blanks, so I got all the information, just through two different mediums.

Up next was a 2-hour ride along the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez. It was a history lesson (from the boat we could see the last standing plantation home in New Orleans and we saw where the levees breeched in 2005) and a scenic tour, as we got to see a thunderstorm roll into the city. Afterwards, Shane was accosted by a homeless man claiming he could shine his tennis shoes, which he tried to do with what we *hope* was a squirt of lotion. Shane is still mad. That night we stood in line for about 40 minutes to gain entry to the acclaimed Acme Oyster House. Holy wow are we glad we did, because the char-grilled oysters, boiled crawfish, hush puppies, and pecan cobbler were so worth it! Our esteemed bartender Pamela kept us entertained and satisfied for nearly 2 hours, and we once again had to roll ourselves home.

The next morning Shane left for Virginia and Katie and I kicked-off the library side of our trip.

Side note: History lesson

I am reading Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: love, terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin. I love is books because they are so rich with facts and interesting tidbits. Well, I found the following on my own (thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Larson!).

Just as Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, a young Soviet Comunist by the name of Marinus can der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag building (Germany’s parliament). This occurred on February 27, 1933. He and four other Communists were arrested on charges of arson, necessitating a trial. Hitler saw this as the perfect opportunity to make a stand against Communism and used the goings-on to endorse his efforts. (Some think that the arson was actually set up by the Nazi Party in an attempt to frame the young Communists, thereby giving Germany a reason to ban Communism.)

At the trial, van der Lubbe was the only one convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed January 10, 1934. One look at his headstone piqued my curiosity…why are there three dates on his headstone? Take a look…

The numbers are his date of birth, his date of death, and in the middle, the date the fire was set at Reichstag. How fascinating that whomever buried him chose to add that date to his headstone, the date that surely set in motion his untimely date of death.

According to The Guardian van der Lubbe was pardoned in 2007. According to the article, a 1998 German law “allowed pardons for people convicted of crimes under the Nazis, based on the concept that Nazi law ‘went against the basic ideas of justice'”. Fascinating.

I love history.

Are there any other significant historical figures who have three dates on their headstones?