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ShareReads

Aug 3 2012

ShareReads: A Nonfictional Summer

by ShareReads

Nothing fires my imagination quite as much as a brilliant work of nonfiction. I tend to be drawn to creative, informative and, many times, fairly serious nonfiction, works that offer a glimpse into the lives of others and, in many cases, the opportunity to understand ourselves better. With summertime winding down (I know, I know—it’s going by fast isn’t it?) why not delve into a great book about someone you’ve never met, a country you’ve always wanted to visit or a time in history that you’ve always been fascinated by?

In considering which books to discuss in this post there is one book that tops the list: a fascinating and thoroughly engaging book called India Becoming: A Portrait of Life In Modern India by Akash Kapur. Kapur, an Indian living in America since he was 16, returns to the country of his birth to explore the opportunities and challenges of 21st century India. His journey takes him far and wide—from bustling vibrant cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai to small towns and villages Tindivanam and Molasur—across the nation. Along the way Kapur introduces us to folks of all walks of Indian life including young Hari, a call center worker excited about the prospects of the new global economy,Veena, a 30-something careerwoman trying to strike a balance between her professional ambitions and her desire for family life and Sathy, a rural zamindar whose wealth and status is diminishing in the wake of New India’s shifting economy. Kapur is an incredible writer but also an exceptional listener, allowing the truths of his characters (for lack of a better word) to come forth, offering a compelling glimpse into New Millenium India.

Another intriguing and challenging nonfiction work that I have read a few times is Poor People by William T. Vollmann. The title, and indeed the subject matter, strikes an initially uninviting chord but I highly recommend this book. Poor People shines a light onto the lives of people from around the world subsisting in various states of poverty. The crux of this book lies within the author’s question to all of his interviewees: “Why are you poor?” The answers to this question range from simple (“Because I don’t have a job”) to philosophical (“I think I am rich,” says Wan, a young, emaciated beggar-girl in Bangkok) to fatalistic (“Money just goes where it goes”). Vollmann’s work is insightful in his discussion of the nature of poverty. His writing is vivid, expressive  and journalistic in his presentation of his subjects’  lives. Vollmann makes no pretense of owning the solution to the blight of poverty but perhaps this book and others like it brings its readers a step closer to understanding our fellow man.

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Jul 27 2012

ShareReads: My Very Zombie Summer

by ShareReads

ShareReads intro

This was my very ambitious summer. Between summer school, work and other obligations, I was determined to read a few books for pleasure. I requested several books and even started a few but nothing would hold my attention. My only source of pleasure reading was article reviews and textbooks for class. Though my head was filling with knowledge, I still needed some form of escapism in the few precious moments of down time I had.

So when a friend suggested that I read Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, I hopped on the Library’s catalog and requested the book. I mean, a book with zombies, conspiracy theories and secret agencies that protected the world, who could ask for anything more? I started reading it, but alas, life happened and there the book sat for weeks, waiting for me to continue my journey through its pages whenever I had a break in my schoolwork.

Then one day, I read a DCPLive blog post about a 5K obstacle course with zombies that included a list of a few good books to read. Imagine my excitement as I perused the list of the post-apocalyptic fiction. I mean, who doesn’t love a good zombie story right? So, I requested a copy of Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry’s YA zombie fiction and could not put it down.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Rot and Ruin is about Benny Imura, a young teen who is about to turn sixteen, and is faced with finding a job or losing half of his food rations. He tries out for everything, wanting any job but a zombie hunter like his older brother Tom. His career choice will set off a chain of events that will forever change his life.

I was truly engaged with the story and amazed by the care that Maberry took with such a subject. It went beyond the simple see-zombie-run-from-zombie formula and grabbed the reader. Before I knew it, 464 pages passed me by and I do not want the story to end. Thankfully, there is a sequel, Dust and Decay, that just as enjoyable as the first book.

After reading both books, I think I will give Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series another try now that I have a break from school and a taste for a zombie thriller.

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Jul 23 2012

ShareReads: How Books Learn

by ShareReads

So with all the extra activities of summer time, I enjoy my magazines even more because they offer succinct, timely windows on things of interest. One of my favorite magazines is The Atlantic which is the oldest, continuously published magazine in the United States. Now we have a choice of reading it in print or electronic form. That is, in fact, the topic of Alan Jacobs’ article “How Books Learn”. He extended my knowledge of a new movement I was only vaguely aware of: object-oriented ontology or OOO. As he wrote, “The key question of OOO is summed up in the subtitle of Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology: What It’s Like to Be a Thing.”

Citing a recent OOO book, How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, he goes on to discuss how books are things in an often more personal way than buildings. Yet both change over time and with varying use. He notes the difference between the physical book as the format holding an idea or narrative and the concept of that idea or narrative that exists and gets re-formated and even translated, so to speak, over time and in different cultures that have other related events or ideas in play. The extended example he outlines for the reader is the Iliad which he traces from song, through transcription, to being copied by scribes, eventually printed and now available electronically.

It is a very short article but one I value because he helped me understand that “electronic reading is simply another stage in the education of books, and maybe not one of the more eventful ones”. I love that because it may finally help my aging eyes (and concept of reading) find peace with what feel like big changes to me. My age peers wax eloquent on the wonders of e-readers that allow us to change font size and background color. I think some of my resistance has been related to fear-of-losing-the-text.

Now that I consider the possibility that what seems a big change is only one step in a long process that has preserved (and changed, I know) many of the classics I still enjoy reading, I am ready to go back to my magazine reading online.

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Jul 13 2012

ShareReads: Summer Reading Times Two

by Patricia D

ShareReads intro

My summer reading has taken a two-pronged approach.  Not only am I reading for myself (some cookbooks, Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody books, Arabella by Georgette Heyer, The President’s Club: Inside the Worlds Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and My Life in France by Julia Child ) but I am reading with Junior.  We’ve worked our way through The Mouse and the MotorcycleThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and a huge stack of picture books.  Favorites out of that pile have been Mr. Pusskins, who can give Rotten Ralph a run for his money in the horrible department, the Pete the Cat books with wonderful illustrations by James Dean and favorite since toddler-hood Lyle the Crocodile.  Most importantly though, Junior has been reading to me, taking full advantage of any reader we can lay our hands on, as well as every bus, street sign and inappropriate billboard we pass.

Reading has been a hard-won skill for her and the only way I know to keep that skill sharp and improve on it is constant practice, something that is harder to achieve during the summer.   She has latched on to one reader in particular that was a hand-me-down from her cousin.  In all honesty, I am not enjoying repeated readings of the adventures of Stan, Dan and Lee at the pool.  Yes, there are plenty of wonderful readers out there but she prefers Stan and his ilk over Mr. & Mrs. Green, Mr. Putter and Tabby  and  Little Bear.  While I still make some selections for her, she is now insisting on her own choices when she is doing the reading.  I know she reads better when it’s something she wants to read, and that repetition in reading builds both comfort and confidence.  So, I listen while she reads the same books (there are others also not to my literary tastes) over and over.  This is what is called, in the world of parenting, a sacrifice. Yes, the book is meh but the payoffs?  The sound of my child’s voice as she works her way through a book with only 64 words and the obvious thrill she gets from conquering something that looked impossible last winter.  I imagine it will be pretty easy to forget the not so exciting books she loves this summer, but I will cherish the moments she’s cuddled next to me, frowning over how to sound out the word “aw,” while the miracle of learning to read becomes ordinary.

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Jul 6 2012

ShareReads: Altered Carbon

by Jesse M

Every year, I read a lot of books. Most of them are good, some of them are great, and occasionally a book is of such exceptional quality that I recommend it to people who don’t usually read that genre, and gift it for birthdays and holidays because I am so confident the recipient will enjoy it. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is one of those books.

Altered Carbon is a novel which straddles the boundary between the Cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction and the Hardboiled sub-genre of crime fiction. It features one of most compelling anti-heroes in modern literature, Takeshi Kovacs, a former interstellar special forces soldier turned mercenary/criminal who finds himself drafted into the role of private detective by a very wealthy and powerful patron who is in a position to make him an employment offer he cannot refuse. Complicating matters is that Kovacs is a stranger to 25th-century Earth (his consciousness was digitally “needlecast” from his home planet of Harlan’s World to Earth, the only method of faster-than-light interstellar travel available to humanity) and the body he is “re-sleeved” in, that of former policeman Elias Ryker, had complex relationships of his own that Kovacs must navigate in order to succeed in and survive his new assignment.

Altered Carbon is graphic and unflinching in its depictions of sex and violence, but nicely balances these scenes with more contemplative passages that add depth and flavor to the characters and setting. The quality and complexity of the work earned the novel the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel in 2003. Film rights for the book and its sequels have also been optioned and Laeta Kalogridis, who penned Shutter Island and executive produced Avatar, will adapt the novel along with David Goodman.

Fans of Morgan’s work can find more at the library, including the two sequels featuring Takeshi Kovacs, Broken Angels and Woken Furies. Readers interested in pursuing more novels in the Cyberpunk or Hardboiled genres should check out William Gibson’s Neuromancer (the first book in his seminal Sprawl Trilogy) and The Raymond Chandler omnibus respectively; both Gibson and Chandler are considered among the premier writers of their genres.

While Altered Carbon has a lot to recommend it, for me the key element was the character of Takeshi Kovacs. His story and personality were so powerful and gripping I was unable to put Altered Carbon or its sequels down. Who are some of your favorite “anti-heroes” in literature, and what makes them so compelling?

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Jun 29 2012

ShareReads: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

by ShareReads

ShareReads intro

I am not normally drawn to realistic murder mysteries. I prefer my murders nice and tidy, light on details, heavy on wit and atmosphere. If the crime took place a century ago and on another continent, then so much the better. Every once in a while, however, a more realistic mystery is recommended to me over and over again. It shows up on “Best of …” lists and I feel compelled to see what all the fuss is about. That is how I discovered Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

Set in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is the story of two men, one black and one white. They shared a brief but meaningful friendship when they were teenagers. This friendship ends, however, when a girl disappears and one of them is suspected of the crime. Twenty five years later, the men become reacquainted when another young girl disappears. While working to solve this new mystery, they discover secrets from their past that will either drive them apart or bring them together again.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable for a number of reasons. The characters were colorful and wonderfully flawed. The mysteries, past and present, unfolded slowly. And the mood of the location pervaded every scene. What I appreciated most about Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, however, was the beautifully subtle way in which the author dealt with relationships between races, between family members and between friends. In this book, as in life, things are rarely black or white. Usually, the most important things lie somewhere in between.

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Jun 1 2012

ShareReads: Shhh….

by Dea Anne M

ShareReads intro

I think I can say that most people who know me would not call me “shy.” Quiet maybe and not usually the life of the party, but not shy.

Well, I have a secret.

I am.

I was lucky enough to have parents who let me be myself and encouraged my passions for reading, writing, and drawing.  Both sides of my extended family, however, are filled with boisterous sorts who think that nothing is better than spending nearly every waking moment with each other arguing, joking, and talking…a lot. I love them all dearly but there were many times during my childhood when I longed for a retreat from so much togetherness and chatter. Middle school was just plain awful, as I think it must be for anyone who can’t quite squeeze themselves into the rigid social parameters of that particular environment. My mom finally rescued me from a particularly rough time by enrolling me in drama classes. She didn’t consult me about this and you’d think that a shy, quiet child would be horrified at the prospect. Instead, I found that I loved everything about acting and the theater and discovered an emotional strength that I never knew I possessed. To this day, I honestly believe that my mom’s  intuition and love rescued my essential self from the some of the worst damage it could have suffered.

As you might gather, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years and so, Susan Cain’s wonderful new book Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking really struck a chord for me.  Cain, a former corporate lawyer,  is herself a self-described introvert who, strange as it might seem, does quite a bit of public speaking. Actually, I don’t think this is a paradox at all. I think of my own love of acting and the “rightness” I always felt about being on stage playing a part. Also, although it isn’t addressed in depth in Cain’s book, there are more than a few introverts in the arts who are, or were, dynamic performers and often quite gregarious within the right situations. Steve Martin, Audrey Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix, Meryl Streep are all introverts who have undeniably entertained and moved many. Cain draws our attention to many of those individuals who changed our social and cultural landscape through passion and quiet strength: Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak, Gandhi, J. K. Rowling. All these and more make it clear that our world would be a very, very different place were it not for the contributions of introverts.

This is a thoughtful, very readable, approach to the question “What is the place of introverts in a culture that values the Extroverted Ideal?” (and Cain makes it clear that this ideal is by no means universal). Introverts can lay claim to many qualities that enhance their success as artists, teachers, leaders. Big-picture thinking, listening skills, and the ability to effectively use solitude are invaluable but Cain makes the point that perhaps the introvert’s greatest strength is the quality of persistence.  The old adage tells us that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. For good or ill our culture tends to lionize the glamorous one percent, but on that issue Einstein had, I think, the best last word. “It isn’t that I’m so smart,” he once said. “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

If you are an introvert, you need to read this book. If you are an extrovert seeking to understand a friend, a partner, a co-worker, or a boss, you will find Quiet a wonderful resource. Either way, this book gets my highest recommendation.

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Sep 2 2011

ShareReads: 2011 Wrap Up

by Ken M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Here it is, ShareReads fans: the final list for 2011.

Thank you for participating here on the blog, and for offering these great recommendations. It’s a diverse list, and most titles are available in our collection. That is something to celebrate!

For those titles not found in our catalog, try our Interlibrary Loan service. Happy reading to all!

June 3: Space Opera

June 10: Travel Humor

June 17: Between Fact and Fiction

June 24: Talk Show

[read the rest of this post…]

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Jul 15 2011

ShareReads: Guilty Pleasures

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

After reading Amanda’s ShareReads post last week about the disturbing plots of some teen novels, as well as traveling a good bit on MARTA recently, I have come to the conclusion that I am ashamed of my reading habits.  Yes, I read some books only in the privacy of my home where there are no witnesses.  Yes, I have been known to take a book jacket off, so as to not be judged by the cover art and title.  And, yes, I have even been known to rejacket the book with the cover from the hip, literary sensation that everyone is buzzing about.  I am guilty of reading books that cause feelings of embarrassment and that I don’t want to be seen reading; but, I just can’t resist these books and secretly love to read them.  What exactly are my guilty reading pleasures?  Teen books, including ones with disturbing plots, but my true loves are cheesy, romances where the biggest sources of angst are “Does he like me?” and “Am I going to flunk bio?”  Ah, the simpler, halcyon days of being a teen; these books are my true escapist pleasure!

One such book I recently finished is The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler.  An enticingly covered (how can you resist cupcakes with pink frosting and sprinkles?) story with the basic plot of new girl (Penny Lane) in a small town (Hog’s Hollow) who butts heads with the most popular girl in school and who longs to return home to the big city and her old friends.  It was a cute, fun read to get lost in, and I thoroughly enjoyed Penny’s rediscovering herself and her family in a new setting, as well as her adventures with new friends who challenge the popular clique in creative ways that I only wished I had thought of (and had the courage to do) when I was in high school.   But, I didn’t really want to be seen on the train reading a book with cupcakes on the cover that was written for a 15 year old, so I happily devoured this one sans jacket and with minor guilt.

OK, fair and tender readers, what are your reading guilty pleasures?  What books can you not resist, but don’t necessarily want to admit to reading?  I promise this is a judge free posting.  And, if you’re still not ready for a public declaration, you can post anonymously!

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Jun 24 2011

ShareReads: Talk Show

by Ken M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

A few years ago, I was driving home after visiting a friend, and happened to turn on the radio. I tuned in during a segment in which Dick Cavett was talking with an interviewer about the DVD release of some collections of episodes of the Dick Cavett Show. I didn’t watch his programs when they were on the air (I was too young), but I knew of his work. I was curious to see some of these episodes, and was delighted to find these collections available in the library catalog. Watching these, I became a new fan.

Not too long after that, I found that Mr. Cavett had a blog on the New York Times website. I don’t think it was promoted in the radio interview, and I can’t remember how I stumbled onto it. I followed the blog for several weeks, and then life got busier, as life tends to do, and I fell out of the habit of reading it. Recently, I was very happy to see the publication of Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary and Off-Screen Secrets. This is a compilation of many of those blog entries, with some additional editing and comments from Mr. Cavett. Now I could catch up on what I missed, without the aid of an electronic device, enjoying it in comfy book form.

The book revisits some of his shows, and includes reflections on Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, Groucho Marx, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Richard Burton, Bobby Fischer, Janis Joplin, and lots more. Some of the material about these famous folks is not from the shows at all; it comes from the author’s recollections of other conversations and encounters.

It’s not all about showbiz, rock stars and celebrities, however. There are articles on current events (well, current at the time they were written anyway), and topics which affect us all, like coincidence or depression. Laughter mixed with insight and intelligence can be found on most every page. In fact, I laughed at Mr. Cavett’s famous wit right to the very end of the book. Whether one chooses to dip into it an article at a time or read straight through, I hope there’s another reader out there who enjoys Talk Show as I did.

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