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ShareReads

Jul 26 2013

ShareReads: Adventures with the Classics

by Dea Anne M

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When I was 14, I went into the school library and checked out a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Later that day, my English teacher saw me carrying annait in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow and said, voice dripping with scepticism.

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit much?”

Well, that just made me more determined than ever to read the whole book. What I didn’t admit to myself (or to anyone else) was that as interested as I was in the book, I was even more interested in being seen carrying it around. Trying to impress others with my reading choices was a youthful bit of vanity that it took an unfortunately long time to shake. Anyway, I finally finished the novel though I had no real idea of what I had read. Not that I would have let anyone know that.

High school had its required reading as did college but none of the assigned northangertexts, though interesting enough, inspired me to take up reading classics in my leisure time. The change occurred in my Romantic Literature class when the professor assigned us to choose one of two novels and write a paper about it. I think the only reason I picked Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was because I just didn’t want to read the Last of the Mohicans. I was only a few pages into the book, however, before I realized that I’d fallen in love. Since then, I’ve read all of Austen’s work and have happily reread most of them as well – notably my two favorites – Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In the years since that first delightful experience with Jane Austen, I’ve brothersexplored classic novels sporadically. I went through a Dostoevsky phase which was pretty heavy going but overall worthwhile (favorite novel – The Brothers Karamazov). After that, I experienced a year long flirtation with the works of Henry James of which (and I’m a little embarassed to admit this) I like most the shortest namely The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller. Thomas Mann followed Henry James then came James Joyce and after that I stopped setting myself the “project” of trying to read any author’s entire body of work.

Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring the classics again though this timedavid I want to take a less studied approach and select books with an eye toward sheer reading pleasure. Remembering how much I enjoyed Great Expectations, I recently checked out Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very long book so it took me a good while to get through and I’m sure that the inmates of my house became less than charmed with my nightly cries of “Poor David!” and “I hate Uriah Heap!” but I really found it that engaging a novel. I followed Dickens with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I’m happy to report that experience as every bit as enjoyable. I suppose I’ve finally learned that I don’t janehave to  read a classic work of literature in order to “improve” myself or (cringe) in order to impress other people. I can just relax and relish the reading experience. As Italo Calvino reminds us in his book of essays The Uses of Literature, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

If you’re interested in dipping into the classics but don’t know quite where to start, check out the “Best Classic Literature Ever” list on the Goodreads website. You can get more ideas from Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. This last is actually two lists in one – the board’s list which is dominated by classics and the reader’s list which leans more toward genre fiction and includes more science fiction and dark fantasy.

What’s next on my reading list of classics? Middlemarch by George Eliot. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Anna Karenina again!

What are some of your favorite classics? How do you define a classic?

 PS – This is the last ShareReads post. Hope you had fun with us, and don’t forget to submit your reading and activities completed on our Adult Summer Reading page. Click here to see all of our ShareReads posts this year.

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Jul 12 2013

ShareReads: A View From the Peanut Gallery

by Veronica W

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For anyone who loves sci-fi and/or fantasy, the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins was a treat. It held you enthralled until the very end and when the movie came out, it was greeted with cheers. Although I didn’t go to the movies to see it, I didn’t want to be number 328 in line for a library copy either. So, when I found it on sale, I grabbed a copy. Big mistake. The book was wonderful; the movie, in my opinion, not so much. Even on sale, I felt it cost me too much.

FredericaAs I read my way leisurely through the summer, I can’t help thinking sometimes “What a great movie this book or that book would be!”  I even select the cast for them. A friend and I lament continually about the injustice of Jane Austen’s many works being made into movies (which we love) while the fans of the prolific and wonderful Georgette Heyer must make do with rereading her books over and over again.  (I know, literary elitists will be appalled that we would compare the two). However for those who often find it tiring to read Austen but love the regency era, Heyer’s works are clever, witty, true to the times and darn good reading. I would recommend starting with Frederica.

motherrainwaterThis summer, in addition to rereading Heyer, I have been drawn to fiction about the Dust Bowl during the depression era and can recommend two very good books. Mother Road, by Dorothy Garlock, has everything you need for some lightweight, on-the-beach reading, as does Rainwater by Sandra Brown. They have drama, history, suspense, action and romance. Also, they would both make great movies.

Have you ever been disappointed in a book’s transition to the big screen? Is there a book you feel screams to be made into a movie? Let me know. I have Warner Bros. studio on speed dial.

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Jun 28 2013

ShareReads: Anti-Summer Books

by Jimmy L

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I never understood the concept of a summer read. It’s supposed to be light, breezy, and fun, right? Well, I’ve always gone the exact opposite route. This summer, I decided to revisit Gitta Sereny’s books. A while ago I read her book Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell. It was captivatingly dark; I was spellbound by Sereny’s journalistic prowess, and her writing was always clear and empathetic. If you don’t already know the story of Mary Bell, here it is in a nutshell:

Cries Unheard coverIn 1968: an eleven year old girl named Mary Bell killed two boys (ages 3 and 4). The courts tried her, found her guilty, put her in jail until she was in her 20’s. This book revisits her case years after she was released from jail and tries to figure out why she did it, what her life was like before she committed this crime, and whether she really understood the gravity of what she did at the time. I don’t want to give any of it away, but I was so engrossed that I wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting… I couldn’t only because it was so overwhelming: at times so depressing, at other times funny and even joyful. I had to take breathers because it was so intense.

The author does a good job of bringing out the various threads of the story. She’s compassionate and understanding, but also she makes it clear that none of this is an excuse for the crime itself. She makes the case that when a child commits a horrible crime like this, the court’s job is not only to say whether she was guilty of the crime or not, but also to ask why a child would do this? And to help the child psychologically with their problems.

This time around, I am reading her book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It’s about Hitler’s architect and armaments minister. He was “one of the few defendants at the Nuremberg Trials to take responsibility for Nazi war crimes, even as he denied knowledge of the Holocaust.” Sereny is drawn to these dark corners of humanity, and yet she does not blindly accuse. She stares into evil and tries to understand every thread of how it came to be. Through hours of interviews and research, she has written a biography full of insight and compassion. I’m only a fraction of the way into this huge book, but I’m already enjoying it immensely.

Do you also have an unconventional take on what makes a good summer book? What’s your idea of a good summer read?

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Jun 21 2013

ShareReads: I don’t read that!

by Heather S

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outliersI’ve always been one of those folks who claims to never read non-fiction books, but, as I started thinking about what to write about and reviewed the list of books I’ve read in the past few months, I realized that I honestly cannot make that claim.  I have read on average a nonfiction book a month this year.  The one title that has resonated and remained with me the most is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this short, quick reading book (also available from the library as an eBook, which is actually how I read it), Gladwell examines why the outrageously successful, those that he calls outliers are so successful.  As old adages say, success is due in part to passion, persistence and preparation. Bill Gates and the Beatles perfected their crafts with over 10,000 hours of practice. However, it is also due to a fair amount of luck, such as being born at the right time and in the right place.  For example, he explains why many professional hockey players are born in January, February and March.   He also uses generational legacies, such as those that benefited the Robber Barons or certain corporate lawyers in the 1950s.

The book is not the most academic, and I can see how many could argue against Gladwell’s claims.  I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read, as well as one that continues to come up in conversations.  Perhaps this is why I find myself reading nonfiction, despite my self-professed dislike for it; I often find it engaging and relevant in ways that linger.

So, dear readers, share!  Are there genres or categories of books that you do not think you read, but you do?  What are books that have continued to reappear in thoughts or dialogues?

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Jun 7 2013

ShareReads: Cryptonomicon

by Jesse M

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ShareReads - Cryptonomicon coverAs long-term readers of DCPLive know, I am a big fan of the science fiction genre. In past ShareReads posts, I’ve talked about the sub-genres of space opera and cyberpunk, and this year, I am going to discuss a different type of science fiction novel, one that seems to straddle the boundaries between science fiction, historical fiction and techno-thrillers: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Unlike some of Stephenson’s other novels, in which the imaginative/speculative element of science fiction is more prominent (such as in the seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash or its loosely related “post-cyberpunk” sequel, The Diamond Age), Cryptonomicon features technology that while complex and technical to the layperson isn’t fictional at all. Information security is a major theme of the book, and in-depth asides and descriptions of cryptography and digital espionage techniques such as Van Eck phreaking pepper the narrative. The lengthy story (the paperback version owned by DCPL clocks in at 1152 pages!) is split between two time periods, one circa World War II and the other in the late 1990s, and as the plot evolves the connections between the two storylines become increasingly apparent (in fact, the main protagonists of the latter storyline are direct descendants of the protagonists in the WWII storyline). With the exception of a very few instances in the novel where phenomena seem to occur without any basis or explanation in modern science, Cryptonomicon can be considered to be very hard science fiction. The World War II storyline, while sparing no technical details of the complex struggle between Allied and Axis cryptographers and codebreakers, also features several notable historical figures including Alan Turing and General Douglas MacArthur, placing the book firmly into the category of historical fiction as well.

Fans of Stephenson’s digressive style will love Cryptonomicon, which features informative tangents in spades, from the mechanics and structure of pipe organs to the description of a manual cryptosystem calculated with an ordinary deck of playing cards. Indeed, such asides are a major factor in the book’s appeal. Upon finishing Cryptonomicon, readers looking for something similar should check out Quicksilver and its sequels, which form a sort of prequel to Cryptonomicon (featuring ancestors of the protagonists and shedding light on a few of the unexplained mysteries in Cryptonomicon) and are also written in a digression-heavy style. I also encourage interested readers to pick up a more recent work by Stephenson, Anathem, which although more speculative in nature than Cryptonomicon possesses similar qualities in terms of informative asides.

And if you’ve just finished Cryptonomicon and are feeling like you’ve missed some references, or that a plot point went unexplained, take a look at this site, which offers a good deal of insight into some of the more complex and esoteric references and plot points. But don’t click the link until you’ve completed the story, as there are spoilers aplenty to be wary of.

What are your favorite books that straddle genre boundaries? How do you feel about the digressive writing style that Stephenson so often employs? For the sci-fi enthusiasts out there, would you consider Cryptonomicon to be science fiction? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

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May 31 2013

ShareReads: Groundbreaking Reads

by ShareReads

Adult Summer Reading-Groundbreaking ReadsThe DeKalb County Public Library kicks off its 6th Annual Summer Reading for Adults program beginning May 25 and ending July 31, 2013. This year’s theme is Groundbreaking Reads. Hold up before you panic and think this is going to be a labor intensive task of critiquing books and a writing mini-dissertation. To the contrary, it’s as easy as 1, 2, and 3. Truly, just record three book titles or attend a branch book discussion or read/comment on our weekly ShareReads blog post (posted every Friday right here on DCPLive) or any combination of the three and be registered to win gift certificates from area DeKalb restaurants and a gift bag full of good books and goodies. Allof these activities make you eligible to enter into the reading program. I realize that summer is a time of travel, fun with family, gardening and for some just plain ol’ leisure. Therefore, if reading isn’t your thing ?feel free to listen to an audiobook or attend and listen to an interesting book discussion being held at one of our library branches. Don’t delay. Register online or at your closest branch and participate in our 6th Annual Summer Reading for Adults reading program.

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Aug 31 2012

ShareReads Wrap Up 2012

by Ken M

The days have flown by, and here we are at the end of another summer of fulfilling reading. Adult Summer Reading participants have until September 4 to turn in forms and be eligible for prizes. Revisit the posts listed below to see all the recommended titles. Thanks to all for participating!

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Aug 24 2012

ShareReads: Caution School Zone!

by ShareReads

ShareReads intro

As I was driving to work I realized traffic was busier than usual. Unaware of the start of the school year I was smack dab in the middle of blinking lights, stop signs, twenty-five miles per hour school zones and  happy kids eager to enter school to learn and make friends. A jolt of reality hit me of how far I had come from those formative years but how in ways I yearned to return to a more structured and protected life. So I went in search for the authors who I loved as a child but could still enjoy as an adult. I allowed Shel Silverstein to remind me about relationships in The Missing Piece Meets the Big O:

“The missing piece sat alone waiting for someone to come along and take it somewhere. Some fit… but could not roll… Others could roll but did not fit. One didn’t know a thing about fitting”

or the power of change in Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss:

“You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and  you may, I say. Sam! If you will let me be I will try them. You will see.”

Who could forget the comfort of unconditional love and family in The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown:

“If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,” said his mother. “ I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”

The memories…

Though I can never return to elementary school and the carefree world of childhood, remembering these books created for kids but still needed for adults gave me hope and renewed me for the day. I said to myself, “I’m going on a bear hunt. I’m going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! I’m not scared…”

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Frances Farmer (1913-1970) was an American film and stage actress better remembered today for her traumatic private life than her professional accomplishments. In the early 1980s, Jessica Lange was Oscar-nominated for her starring performance in the film Frances, a somewhat fictionalized account of Farmer’s life, including the years she spent involuntarily confined to a mental hospital. Many of Farmer’s fans and supporters believe that she may not have been as seriously ill as her family believed, that she may have been mostly guilty of being an unhappy, outspoken, and volatile woman at a time when those traits were not always well-received.

Peter Shelley’s Frances Farmer: The Life and Films of a Troubled Star has two major components. The first section of the book tries to sort out fact from fiction in previous accounts of the actress’ life, as told in biographies, the aforementioned film, and a controversial memoir that Farmer authorized but may not have written. In the second half, Shelley takes a detailed look at the legacy left by Frances Farmer in her films. While she may not belong to the pantheon of great actresses, Shelley convincingly makes the case that the best of her work merits serious critical attention, which he provides here.

As so often happens when you read one book, Shelley’s led me to another. One of the long unanswered questions about Farmer’s life, which Shelley investigated in writing his book, was whether she was lobotomized during her years as a mental patient. In The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, author Jack El-Hai wrestles with a complex question. Was Dr. Walter Freeman (1895-1972), the controversial physician who championed the widespread use of lobotomies to treat mental illness (and was long-rumored to have performed the procedure on Frances Farmer), a fearless pioneer, a grossly irresponsible doctor with delusions of grandeur, or simply a tragically misguided man who did his best to help patients who otherwise had few chances for a productive life? (If you’re a follower of the Kennedy family history, you might know that one of Dr. Freeman’s patients was JFK’s sister Rosemary, though the operation apparently did her more harm than good).

These may not be the kind of books you want to drop into your beach bag to read by the pool this summer. But if you’re in the mood to read something that will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned the last page, give one, or both, a try.

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Aug 10 2012

Sharereads: Fiction and Nonfiction

by Joseph M

ShareReads intro

I’m a voracious reader, and working in the library, I come across interesting books on a regular basis. That being the case, I often find myself reading multiple books at a time. What I’m reading at any given moment depends on the occasion and my mood, and can run the gamut of content and format types. Generally, I find it easier to juggle more than one book at a time when I’m switching primarily between a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction. Earlier this summer, I found myself in just such a situation, dividing my reading time between two great books, which I’m going to talk more about below.

First, the fiction. The novel is called Hunter’s Run, and I found it noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a collaborative effort between three authors: George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. All are notable writers on their own. George R. R. Martin is, among other things, the author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series of books, on which the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based. Gardner Dozois was the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work as a writer and editor of short fiction. Daniel Abraham is a prolific voice in American science fiction, and no stranger to successful collaborations, having penned the lauded epic Leviathan Wakes (unfortunately not yet available at DCPL) with author Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey.

There are many different ways for authors to collaborate on books, and in this case the story took shape over the course of several decades, passing back and forth between the authors and appearing in a number of different variations before publication in its present form in 2007. You can click here for a more detailed summary of the process. In addition to Hunter’s Run, Abraham and Dozois have separately collaborated with Martin on other projects.

But the writing process which created it isn’t the only fascinating thing about Hunter’s Run. It’s a science fiction novel, but with elements reminiscent of Western and Adventure/Exploration genres of literature. In many ways, it could be classified as a Space Western. The sense of a wild frontier is established with a description of the setting: a mostly-unexplored alien planet, settled by human colonists within living memory, and much of the action takes place in the wilderness away from the human communities. A majority of the characters and place names have a Latin American or Caribbean flavor, which also adds to the “Western” feel of the book.

Another aspect of the novel worth mentioning is the main character, Diego Rivera. Diego could definitely be classified as an antihero (and we’ve written about antihero protagonists before on ShareReads) at the start of the story, but he undergoes a fascinating internal transformation as the plot unfolds, providing an interesting counterpoint to his travels in the external world and allowing the authors to explore complex themes of memory, identity, communication, and the ways we are shaped by our experiences.

In addition to all of that, Hunter’s Run is also quite an exciting book, and does not lack for action and suspense; I certainly had trouble putting it down once I got started.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the excellent nonfiction work I enjoyed concurrently with the novel discussed above. Peter and Faith are a husband and wife team who have traveled the world and documented the lives of people they met through photography and essays. In previous works such as Material World and Hungry Planet, they arrange “family portraits” based on the theme of the work; all the household possessions of the family were piled together for the portraits in Material World, while in Hungry Planet the families were pictured with a week’s-worth of food. In What I Eat, the authors alter the concept, focusing on the food intake of individuals over the course of a single average day, and using meticulous research to determine a caloric count. In all, 80 individuals were profiled in the book, and are ranked from first to last in order of calories consumed. The result is fascinating, informative, and poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For a “taste” of what the book has to offer, you can visit the official website. Or, you can just check it out from your local library!

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