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Librarians

A Portrait of the President as a Depressed Young Man

The HypoCountless books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, some of which cover his mental health issues. In The Hypo: the Melancholic Young Lincoln, Noah van Sciver portrays Honest Abe’s depression in a way rarely seen so clearly. Starting from the point of Lincoln’s arrival in Springfield, Illinois, in 1837, van Sciver’s words and pictures bring to life the world of this place and time in American history. Lincoln comes to work as a lawyer with John Stuart, while also serving with the Illinois state legislature. Soon after getting to Springfield, he meets the philandering but good-hearted Joshua Speed with whom he shares an apartment and who becomes his closest confidant. Working at their two-person law firm, Lincoln meets Stuart’s cousin, Mary Todd, and is introduced to society life. Although Abe and Mary Todd quickly fall in love, her family disapproves of his low social standing, and each of their mental health issues hasten the dissolution of their engagement. Lincoln has a total breakdown, and is “nursed” back to health by a doctor using methods such as bloodletting and mercury treatments. Mary Todd’s own undiagnosed issues are manifested in debilitating migraines. With the help of Speed and other friends, they are eventually reunited, engaged again and married.

 

Completely rendered in black and white, Van Sciver’s pen-and-ink, crosshatch style is perfect in telling the story of our beloved sixteenth president’s pre-wedlock years. He captures Lincoln as often ill-at-ease, bumbling, and very much prone to sadness, but who is also occasionally able to command a room with amusing tales, poetic language, and political finesse. The frontier, with all its grime, poverty, and its class divide is also intensely illustrated, placing the reader directly into the setting. Readers of David Herbert Donald’s biography Lincoln, Joshua Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy, and those interested in the biopic of the legendary president (starring Daniel Day-Lewis) will find much to appreciate in this graphic presentation.

Todd

 
 

Sand in the Wound

Sand in the Wound

posted by:
November 5, 2012 - 9:30am

A Hologram for the KingRecession-weary businessman Alan Clay lives in a maelstrom of uncertainty brought about by his own self-doubt and poor decisions in A Hologram for the King, the trenchant new novel by National Book Award finalist Dave Eggers. Divorced, broke, and obsessed with a lump on his neck, the fifty-four-year-old arrives in Saudi Arabia with an opportunity to redeem his mundane self in a ruthless global economy. He is greeted by a strangely out of place vinyl party tent where he and his team wait, and wait some more, for their one chance to impress the elusive King Abdullah and his newly built city of the future. 

 

As far as mirages go, there are plenty here. King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC)  is referred to as the "city to be in the desert by the sea"  when Clay and his team of young techies from Reliant Systems Corporation show up to demonstrate holographic teleconference systems. At stake is a citywide technology contract for their company and an emotional and financial turn-around for Clay. When Clay is not getting drunk, the former bicycle salesman is worrying about his daughter's fractured relationship with his ex-wife and how he will pay her next college tuition bill. He spends his free time writing her in a heartfelt voice several unfinished letters that he never mails.

 

Social commentary is nothing new for the multi-accomplished Eggers whose previous books include Zeitoun and What is the What. In the complex, somber Alan Clay, Eggers has created a wry character whose attempts to remain relevant and connected mirror America's own efforts to stem a decline of its own making. A pitch-perfect capture of the repercussions of today's international economic climate and the chicanery of the manufacturing industry, this solid and spare, quote-less novel is a reflection on how we live and work in a changing world.

 

Cynthia

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Mr. Rich or Mr. Right?

Mr. Rich or Mr. Right?

posted by:
November 5, 2012 - 8:45am

The Jane Austen Marriage ManualKate Shaw is broke, single, and approaching forty, but she is happy with her job as a freelance magazine writer and her circle of supportive friends. Unfortunately, Kate’s happiness is short lived in The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo, when she loses her job and her beloved grandmother dies. Still mourning that loss, Kate learns that the home she shared with her grandmother will have to be sold. Kate finds herself camped out in her sister’s living room, sleeping on a couch when she resolves to take a page from the lives of so many women in her favorite Jane Austen novels and find a rich husband. After all, it’s hard to live on love, but diamonds and Dom Perignon make everything a little brighter.

 

Her friends rally round by connecting her to other freelance jobs and presenting her with a unique birthday gift – a Scottish title! This title comes in handy for the newly named Lady Kate of Loch Broom. Her first job is to test the theory that to stay afloat in tough economic times a woman should find herself a wealthy man. Kate begins her research in earnest in London, Palm Beach, and St. Moritz where she rubs shoulders with the rich and richer. She is wooed by one wealthy man, but it is the charming bed and breakfast owner who keeps popping up at events and in her head.

  

Kate’s search for love is an age-old odyssey, but Izzo manages to freshen it up with a memorable cast of supporting characters and some hilariously embarrassing moments. The descriptions of lavish, spectacular parties and couture clothing read like something from The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and add pizzazz to Kate’s quest. Ultimately, underneath the fun and frivolity, this is an honest story of one sympathetic woman looking for money, but finding love instead. 

Maureen

 
 

Ill-Gotten Gains

Ill-Gotten Gains

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:03am

 

Live by NightPhantomFor best-selling authors like Jo Nesbo and Dennis Lehane, even if the adage “crime doesn’t pay” is true, writing about it most certainly does. Nesbo offers up Phantom, the ninth book in his police detective series, while Lehane continues his Boston-based Coughlin family saga with Live by Night. Joe is the baby boy of the Coughlin brothers, introduced to us in The Given Day. All grown up and despite coming from a line of Boston Irish policemen, Joe chooses the gangster life of the Prohibition-era 1920s. Moving between rival mobs with bloody street wars and after a stint in Boston’s infamous Charlestown prison, Joe ends up with a promotion to expand Maso Pescatore’s “family” businesses in Florida, including hooch distillation and prostitution. Cuban immigration, evangelical tent revivals, the love of women both good and bad, and some rather snappy dialogue (along with a plethora of weaponry) illuminate Joe’s struggle to balance his humanity against his choices. Better known for the psychological thrillers  Mystic River and Shutter Island, Lehane shows his versatility as an author in Live by Night.

 

 Nesbo is the Norwegian author of the Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh) books. In Phantom, Hole, having been dismissed from Oslo’s force, is working independently to prove Oleg Rauke, the drug running son of Hole’s former lover, innocent of murder. Nesbo has a “sins of the father” theme running through this book; as he is dying, the victim addresses his dad as part of the ongoing narration while Hole’s motivation stems in part from his guilt at abandoning his paternal role in Oleg’s upbringing. The Harry Hole series is tightly written and often weaves politics and institutional corruption into its intricate plots. Fans of Stieg Larsson and Nelson DeMille won’t want to miss Jo Nesbo and Phantom.

Lori

 
 

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:01am

 

What I DidIt all begins with a boy, a father and a busy street. Christopher Wakling’s latest book, What I Did, shows how one small incident can become a case study in multiple viewpoints, having a much greater impact on people as a result. Billy runs into the road ahead of his father on an outing to the park. His father reacts with the typical fury of an overworked parent, cursing and roughly handling his son. What takes this incident from minor to major is a woman who sees him disciplining the boy and calls child protective services, who launch an investigation. What is equally intriguing and at times baffling for the reader is trying to determine the details of what actually happened, since the story is told by an unreliable narrator--six-year-old Billy.

 

Despite the serious plotline, the narration is often laugh-out-loud funny. Billy’s voice is similar to the young narrators of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Emma Donoghue’s Room. Lacking in social skills, he is imaginative and has a unique perspective of the world around him. He also has a fascination with animals and science, and his commentary is interspersed with random bits of trivia. Still, the reader only has Billy’s perspective, and his actions are steered by a six-year-old’s intellectual capacity for understanding what to do and say in order to bring this incident into proper perspective. A few sections read like a “Who’s on First” routine, when Billy misinterprets what is being asked by social workers and doctors. Wakling has an interesting background, and mentioning on his website that this book was in part inspired by his own experience with fatherhood and the character flaws it has exposed in him. This is a unique, engaging read where the reader roots for Billy and his parents, despite their flaws.

 

 

Melanie

 
 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit

 

The Mansion of HappinessAnyone who has ever played Milton Bradley's The Game of Life knows that, whether you are winning or losing, players inexorably move in one direction. Fresh faced college graduates turn into employees who become parents and eventually, if all goes well, age gracefully into retirement. But real life doesn't really end (or start) that way.  Jill Lepore, Pultizer Prize finalist and frequent essayist for The New Yorker, challenges our understanding of the origins and rules of the modern game of life in her recent book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

 

Lepore uses Bradley's game and its antecedents (one which carries the name of the book) to frame her humorous and often biting discourse on such disparate topics as abortion, cryogenics, time management, and children's libraries. Each chapter explores an aspect of a different stage of life, starting with before birth and ending after death along with nearly everything in between. In every section, Lepore features an eccentric, influential, and often morally ambiguous cast of characters who have all shaped how we view our lives and our society.  She draws these wide-ranging people and subjects into a fluid and accessible narrative that is, though not historically comprehensive, certainly thought provoking and resonant for a modern audience. And for those who are especially inquisitive Lepore provides a wealth of footnotes and a well-developed index, which the more casual reader can safely avoid. Like many of the best histories, The Mansion of Happiness uncovers insights into our twenty-first century lives in the decisions, coincidences, and consequences of the past. Fans of American history and the intellectually curious will both be satisfied with this engaging and compelling journey through the game of life. 

Rachael

 
 

What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading?

posted by:
November 1, 2012 - 7:01am

 

The End of Your Life Book ClubA wonderful accolade to literature and a memorial to his incredibly gifted and generous mother, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club combines the two gracefully. From the title, it is clear that this book club eventually comes to a close. However, this is not a maudlin tale, but instead a celebration of a mother and son’s love.The book’s table of contents gives an immediate impression of some of what the book club covered; each chapter carries the title of the book that was discussed between the group’s two members. Schwalbe, a former editor at Hyperion, immediately sets the stage in the Sloan-Kettering care center where his mother, Mary Anne, receives chemotherapy for her advanced pancreatic cancer, and where many of their book discussions took place. Mary Anne has always been a dynamo, from her teaching days to doing aid work overseas (her passion is getting a national library built in Afghanistan), to the uncanny way she remembers everything. Each family member is well-described, from his younger sister, torn about moving to Geneva when she learns of her mother’s diagnosis, to Will’s older brother, a rock of support for the family. While the family has the means that many others may not, their situation, suffering, and grief is universal.

 

Books certainly play a major role in the text, and while there are many discussions about fictional works (titles by Wallace Stegner, Steig Larsson, and Alice Munro, among others), the most memorable passages come from books of poetry, self-help, and spirituality. Mary Anne and Will have differing views on matters of faith, but it is clear that each of them respects the other. This is a title that will resonate with many readers, especially those who were moved by memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home

 

Todd

 
 

This Ain’t Mayberry

This Ain’t Mayberry

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 8:10am

A Killing in the HillsCarla is pissed. She is a petulant, angst-riddled teen stuck in a stupid boring diner, in a stupid boring small town, in stupid boring West Virginia waiting for her mom, who is late, again. Out of nowhere POP, POP, POP! The three elderly men sitting at a table near her are executed, systematically shot in the head one after another. Thus begins A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller, the first novel by this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

 

The main character is Belfa Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for the community of Acker’s Gap, who is also Carla’s mother. Bell, as she is known by her friends, was born and raised in Acker’s Gap and is all too familiar with the difficulties and crime particular to this rural and impoverished community. After completing her law degree, she returned to her hometown to try to help with the fight against crime. Similar to its big city counterparts, drugs have taken a stronghold in the region and there has been a steady increase in violent crime and death as a result.

 

This is a cleverly-written tale with as many twists and turns as the snakelike West Virginia mountain roads. Keller, who was born and raised in West Virginia, accurately depicts the harsh realities of the unemployed who reside between played out coalmines and towns where more businesses are closed than open. The complicated relationship between Bell and her daughter is poignantly realistic they forge a prickly path through the turbulent teenage years. Carla can identify the shooter and takes it upon herself to try to help with his capture, and this keeps the suspense building to a surprising climax. The combination of the family storyline and the mystery of the killer’s motive and identity make this a captivating read. Hopefully this won’t be our last visit to Acker’s Gap.

 

Jeanne

 
 

A Little Bit Country

A Little Bit Country

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 7:45am

City Girl, Country VetLondon veterinarian Maz Harwood is out of work, unlucky in love, and in need of a home when her best friend Emma asks her to fill in at her vet practice in City Girl, Country Vet by Cathy Woodman.  While Maz dreads the doldrums of the country, she wants to help her friend who is taking a six month leave of absence. Maz accepts the offer thinking that a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered to help heal her recently broken heart.

 

Maz thought the hardest part of the move would be trading in her heels for wellies. She quickly learns that country life is anything but uneventful and the people are definitely not boring. There are the unwelcoming locals who are suspicious of the newcomer. There is the town’s only other vet practice which is determined to destroy any competition. There is the fact that Emma’s practice is in dire financial straits. And of course, there is the handsome son of the rival vet who is most unsuitable, particularly when Maz has sworn off romance.

 

As Maz learns to navigate the perilous politics of country life, she encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her quest to win over the locals, save the lives of her patients, and keep Emma’s practice alive. From rescuing animals from a burning building to dealing with the resentment following her failure to save a beloved pet, Maz has her hands full and is ready to flee back to the comfort of the city. Readers will be transported to a delightful small town and enjoy the slow pace of life in this warm, breezy, romantic comedy with plenty of adorable four-legged friends.

 

Maureen

 
 

Lightning Strikes Twice

The Garden of Evening MistsOne of the literary world’s more prestigious prizes is Great Britain’s Man Booker prize for contemporary fiction. On October 16, Mantel’s novel, Bring Up the Bodies, won this year’s Booker award. Second in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Mantel won the same prize in 2009 for her first book in the series, Wolf Hall. While Mantel is only the third author (and the only woman) ­to win the Booker twice, she is also the only author to win again for a sequel. Between the Covers looked at Bring Up the Bodies in September.

 

One of the short list nominees was Indian poet and musician Jeet Thayil’s debut novel and an homage to the sub-continent’s drug culture, Narcopolis. Thayil, a self-confessed former addict, takes the reader on a fantastical journey through Bombay’s opium dens and brothels. Often revolving around Dimple, a beautiful enigmatic eunuch working as a prostitute and pipe-preparer, the narrative slips in and out of the side stories of other characters while the arrival of heroin begins to exert its influence in this underworld. In interviews, Thayil says he wanted to honor the “poor and marginalized, the voiceless,” whose story rarely is told and he does so in a portrayal that is disturbing and graphic but not gratuitous.

 

 Also on the short list was author Tan Twan Eng for his novel The Garden of Evening Mists. In the earliest stages of dementia, Malaysian judge Yun Ling Teoh is retiring from the bench. Once a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in the Malayan jungle where her sister died, Ling Teoh then survived the pursuant guerilla civil wars by taking refuge in the Highlands with an exiled Japanese royal gardener and artist. Elegantly written, grim with historical detail, The Garden of Evening Mists tantalizingly reveals the secrets in Ling Teoh’s complex past.

Lori