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Literary Gifts

Literary Gifts

posted by:
December 6, 2012 - 9:05am

The Books They Gave MeMany of us can remember receiving a life-changing book and the story behind it. Maybe it was a childhood birthday present, a memento from a failed relationship, an impulse buy, a bequest from a late relative, or a suggestion from a favorite teacher. Whatever the reason, the ways in which these special books enter our lives can often be as powerful as the books themselves. The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit, based on editor Jen Adams’ blog of the same name, chronicles over two hundred anonymous anecdotes about the books we give one another and why.

 

These candid submissions – with themes ranging from “How did she know?” to “What was he thinking?!” – celebrate the humorous, profound, and sometimes disastrous connections that our lives make through literature. A good number of the stories focus on breakups, but the collection never feels dull thanks to the constant stream of different voices and experiences. In fact, this charming, accessible little book can easily be read in one sitting. For those looking for further reading, this collection doubles as an extensive book list, cataloging a variety of classic novels, memoirs, poetry, self-help guides, and even dictionaries. Color illustrations of each featured title provide appealing visuals from beginning to end. The Books They Gave Me is a bibliophile’s dream and encourages readers to reflect upon their own treasured books. As one contributor beautifully puts it, “I believe that giving a book to a person is like giving a piece of your soul to them.”

Alex

 
 

Just in Time for Flu Season

SpilloverSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen is a fascinating look into the world of infectious diseases, specifically those that travel from animals to humans, otherwise known as zoonosis or spillover. Humankind is all too familiar with zoonoses in the form of influenza, Ebola, SARS and AIDS. In order to get a sense of the scope of interspecies diseases, keep in mind that about 60% of all infectious disease cross between animals and humans. According to Quammen’s research, zoonosis has killed 30 million people since 1981. To investigate spillover viruses, he travels all over the world with virus hunters. He describes multiple mysterious outbreaks of disease, coming from a wide range of animals such as bats, gorillas and pigs. Quammen believes the next major pandemic will come from a nonhuman animal virus that will infect and spread into the human population.

 

David Quammen is a terrific science writer and he knows how to tell a good story. He is excited about his subject and takes a warm, personal approach with his readers. He makes this very complicated and frightening subject accessible and easy to understand. Spillover is thoroughly researched, includes an extensive bibliography and is chock-full of fascinating, engaging material. Although Quammen takes issue with Richard Preston’s Hot Zone, readers who enjoyed Hot Zone will love Spillover.

 

Zeke

 
 

A Girl, a Guy, and a House

A Girl, a Guy, and a House

posted by:
November 29, 2012 - 8:30am

Young House LoveIf you’re looking for fresh DIY ideas for your home, look no farther than Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update, and Show Your Home Some Love by Sherry and John Petersik. The Richmond, Virginia couple bought their first home in 2006. It was in need of a lot of TLC, and they soon began a blog where they documented their home improvement projects. The popularity of their Young House Love blog grew beyond their wildest expectations, currently receiving over 5 million hits per month. After the Petersiks' daughter Clara was born, they purchased a second fixer-upper and started the process all over again. They are now chronicling the transformation of their new home on their blog.

 

Their new book pulls together some of their favorite budget-friendly ideas with clear photos and step-by-step instructions to help you create the same looks for your own home. The Petersiks warn readers that they will have to get their hands dirty to complete the projects in the book and that home improvement may be addictive. Creative projects like dressing up an old dresser with wallpaper, creating wall art from a drop cloth, or crafting 3-D butterflies from pages of old books are inspiring. Each project includes the cost of materials as well as an estimate of time and skill level required for completion. Their style includes a variety of textures and pops of color that add modern flair. The Petersiks’ engaging narrative makes Young House Love great for both DIY-ers looking for new ideas and less-motivated readers who prefer watching HGTV to tackling their own projects.

 

Beth

 
 

Hungry Like the Wolf

In the Pleasure GrooveFor the children of the eighties, big hair and make-up ruled the music world. MTV made music visual, and successful artists embraced the music video as both a promotional tool and a method of self-expression. Perhaps no band embodied the visual storytelling of this decade as completely as Duran Duran, Britain’s “other” Fab Five. John Taylor, founding member and bass player, chronicles the band’s career highs and lows with In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran.    

 

While Taylor does venture into the confessional arena, revealing the typical rock-star excesses of sex and drugs, the true pleasure of this biography lies in his first-person account of British music in the seventies and eighties. As a teen in Birmingham, he and friend Nick Bates (later Rhodes) pooled their pence in order to see their idols perform live. Sitting at the proverbial feet of Queen, Bowie, and Roxy Music, they soaked up music like sponges and learned that the look was as vital to the success of the music as the beat. The band that would become Duran Duran was born from these young lessons learned. As they grew into their ruffled shirts, their conceptual lyrics combined with new wave, highly-synthesized music to give birth to the sound known as New Romanticism. Duran Duran was perfectly poised for stardom at the start of the MTV era, and the band created ground-breaking videos that still set the standard today such as “Girls on Film”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Rio.”

 

In the Pleasure Groove is not a tell-all, nor is it simply an insider’s guide to the biggest names in eighties music. It is a smooth glide through more than twenty years of music history. Fans of eighties music, as well as those of us who were teenagers then, will enjoy reliving the decade’s watershed moments such as Madonna writhing in a wedding gown, and Bob Geldof’s charity extravaganza Live Aid. Perhaps the quietest Duran member, Taylor reveals enough about the band to keep Duranies happy; they will certainly want to read this book more than once.

Sam

 
 

Make it Happen

Make it Happen

posted by:
November 23, 2012 - 8:01am

MakersIt used to be really difficult to make things. First, you had a great idea. Then you had to design it, build a prototype, and get a company to buy it. That company would then take your idea, send it through committees, change it to be mass manufacturable, and finally (maybe years later) sell it to the public. By the time your great idea goes through all that, it might not be so great anymore. But with twenty-first century technology, there is a better way. In his book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine envisions faster, cheaper, more open, and more individualized ways to make products that can be sold to a global audience. 

 

Say you want to make an innovative watch using your own design. Nowadays you can buy desktop manufacturing equipment and make the parts in your garage. Or you can post your idea on a website and have people from around the world fund your production costs by preordering the final product. Or you can collaborate with other inventors online to collectively transform your idea into a tangible object. According to Anderson, the people who use this more hands-on personal approach to manufacturing, called Makers, are gaining momentum as a new force in the global marketplace. He advocates the Maker movement as a way for America to reestablish itself as a manufacturing hub through a million individuals and small businesses creating products using the Maker mindset and selling them worldwide. In a book that is as much manual as manifesto, Anderson provides insider tips on how to get started making your own ideas into reality. A Maker-turned-businessman himself, Anderson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. Tinkerers, creative souls, and budding entrepreneurs will be itching to start making after finishing this inspiring read.

Rachael

 
 

Flour Power

Flour Power

posted by:
November 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Simply Sensational CookiesJames Beard-nominated author, columnist, blogger, and dessert expert Nancy Baggett is back with a well-timed compendium of America’s favorite baked goods: Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors & Easy, Streamlined Techniques. Baggett, who has been cooking and baking from her Maryland farmhouse for many years, explains her purposes for writing this cookbook and how cookies have changed over the past few decades. No longer are people satisfied with one-note flavors or simple textures. The demands for the freshest spices and chocolates, unusual infusions, and above all, natural ingredients, have made the home baker of the 21st century reconsider many tried and true methods. Even savory ingredients, such as chiles, lavender, and cheese varieties have made their way into some of her new recipes. Purists need not despair, as there is a bounty of well-known favorites that have been improved for the contemporary baker.

 

After covering the basics of choosing the best ingredients, equipment, and baking methods, Baggett answers a Cookie FAQ, and then gets down to the business of the appealing recipes. She is dogged in her insistence that the ingredients should be easy to obtain, and the amount of time to create the cookies and to clean up is reasonable. Each recipe clearly indicates the ease or difficulty of the cookie, and how to best store them. While not all cookies are photographed, the pictures that are included are attractive and highlight the finished products delectably. With cookie swaps and the holiday season fast approaching, this contemporary collection of recipes is sure to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth, and those who bake for them.

Todd

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Adventure Comes Knocking

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual CompanionThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie GuideTolkien fans, it’s time to travel back to Middle-earth. The first installment in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Hobbit film trilogy is almost here, and the library has two exciting tie-in volumes just in time for the December 14 release. These stylish books complement each other perfectly and will be sure to delight. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual Companion begins with a charming foreword by Bilbo Baggins (actor Martin Freeman), and offers an introductory sneak peek at the film’s story. Everything you need to know about hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and elves is here, along with a visual tour of Bilbo’s home of Bag End among other locations. The centerpiece of this book is a detailed fold-out map of Middle-earth, which charts the company’s journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain. Beautiful color photos on almost every page immerse readers into Tolkien’s iconic fantasy universe.

     

For a behind-the-scenes look at the new film, turn to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie Guide. This book is bursting with details about every aspect of the film’s production. One fascinating section explores the “breakdown” department, where artists use sandpaper and even blowtorches to make the once-pristine costumes appear aged and worn. Exclusive interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed between the more technical chapters, a touch that keeps the book’s pace fresh and lively. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films will be happy to see that most of the creative team has returned for The Hobbit. Actor Andy Serkis steps behind the camera this time as second unit director, in addition to reprising his role of the tragic creature Gollum.

 

Alex

 
 

The Life and Trials of Amanda Knox

A Death in ItalyThe Fatal Gift of BeautyIt has now been a full year since Amanda Knox, tried and originally convicted of murdering her British roommate in Perugia, Italy, was freed from the Italian prison where she spent almost four years. In A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case, John Follain provides an exhaustive look at the proceedings. He builds background,  from the personal histories of Knox, her roommate Meredith Kercher and others intimately involved with the case, to the details of Knox’s and Kercher’s first days in Perugia and their social activities in the days leading up to the attack. He then follows the investigation, trial and subsequent retrial, ending with statements from the courts as to why Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were both freed. A third person who was also convicted, Rudy Guede, remains in prison. 

 

Follain is a crime reporter, and at times the narrative can feel bogged down with details and interviews which are not particularly relevant to the investigation. But overall it provides a good perspective on the case, and shows where errors on both sides were made. It also is a solid testament to the emotional impact of the crime on involved individuals, even those not related to the victim or the accused. A good companion to this book is Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. It was published in 2011 before Knox’s and Sollecito’s convictions were overturned. Having lived in Perugia for the duration of the trial, Burleigh provides an impressive history of the Italian justice system, and how conservative religious theory, ancient paganism and organized crime all played a role in the outcome of the first trial. Both books are excellent reads for people interested in the case, and readers will return to the media version of the investigation and trials with a newfound perspective. 

Melanie

 
 

Like a Rainbow

Cyndi Lauper: A MemoirCyndi Lauper: A Memoir, is a satisfying and poignant account of the girl who just wanted to have fun. But as she writes in this account of her rise to superstardom and ongoing fame, her life has been more than the image she portrayed when she burst onto the international scene in the mid-1980s. Her music, outrageous style, and love of family and friends are represented in a conversational manner. The use of many asides, and the return to topics she had seemingly dropped earlier in chapters makes for a memoir that could be the transcription of a long, chatty visit across a kitchen table with an old friend.

 

From her beginnings in Queens, New York and the early bands that she sang with, Lauper’s path to stardom began gradually. But when her album “She’s So Unusual” struck a chord with the MTV generation, her stratospheric rise to the top of the pop charts was ensured. A string of hits were powered by memorable videos that seemed inescapable to MTV viewers, and her unmistakable voice made even the casual radio listener take notice. While never again matching the commercial success of her breakthrough album, more hits followed, including “True Colors”. The song later became an anthem for the GLBT community that Lauper has long associated herself with. She does not hesitate to discuss her personal life in detail, including her fond relationships with her family, the heartache of a long-term but eventually ill-fated romance with her one-time manager, and a path to find happiness. Lauper touches on the rivalry that never really existed with Madonna, and wonders how her life would have turned out had she permanently relocated to Australia after a tour there. Frankly written, this memoir shines a light on a celebrity everyone knows superficially but few know well.

Todd

 
 

Ripped from Historical Headlines

The Damnation of John DonellanThe Suspicions of Mr. WhicherTrue crime readers usually think of tales ripped from recent headlines, but some of the most intriguing crime writing is based on historical crimes. These two stories are sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats until all is revealed. The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England takes on the shocking death of Theodosius Boughton, the 20-year-old heir to a fortune and baronetcy, in August 1780. Within an hour of taking a physic prescribed by his doctor, Boughton suffered convulsions and died. Could he have died of natural causes or accidentally died of poisoning from his medical treatments? Was he truly murdered? Although there could have been many natural causes of his death or many suspects if he was indeed murdered, Boughton’s brother-in-law John Donellan was tried and executed for murdering Boughton based largely on the fact that he rinsed out the medicine bottle shortly after Boughton’s collapse. Author Elizabeth Cooke breaks down the evidence from the case and the ensuing trial. Readers will see that that Donellan did not receive a fair trial and may have actually died an innocent man.

 

Readers who might enjoy this title should also try Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. When three-year-old Saville Kent was found with his throat slit in June of 1860, the case became a national obsession, dominating English newspapers. People were horrified at the brutality of the crime and stunned by the idea that someone from within the Kent household was believed to have taken the life of an innocent child. Summerscale frames the story as an English murder mystery and keeps the reader engaged until the conclusion of this story that electrified a nation and fed the English obsession with mysteries.  

Beth