Ex Libris brings holiday reading recommendations from a broad cross-section of staff readers. Our goal is to showcase Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Browsing Collection and to identify a range of contemporary fiction and nonfiction for the general reader. In addition to staff choices, we highlight topical reading on the economy, faculty writings, and recent literary award winners. All readers in the Marquette community are invited to suggest books, or better, to write a brief review for Ex Libris. If you missed an alert, earlier issues of Ex Libris are available online.
Clicking on the title or cover image will take you to the book's MARQCAT record; please note locations carefully as items may be in the Browsing Collection (Raynor 1st level) or in the Memorial stacks. Books that are checked out may be reserved by clicking on the blue recall/hold button at the top or bottom of the MARQCAT record.
Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2008)
This is either a collection of short stories that all feature Olive (actually, some offer only a glimpse of her) or a novel with episodic chapters. Olive is a retired junior high math teacher, married to an affable pharmacist, and is the main character in a cast that also contains many town folk in the coastal Maine town of Crosby. Strout captures something of small town life in which everyone knows everyone else’s business and yet remains detached. Olive is outspoken, even abrasive at times, and is not entirely likeable. She suffers (as do several of the book’s other characters) from gloominess and even suicidal thoughts, but at the same time she reaches out with empathy to others in times of need. Olive and Henry’s son, Christopher, seems so unable to engage with his parents that he has moved to California. Several of the marriages deal with attraction to others or infidelity, making this a book of complex characters. Strout’s earlier novels, Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me, also take place in small New England towns; she knows this setting well and has returned with a winner in Olive Kitteridge.
Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian
Richard Stark (Grand Central Publishing, 2008)
When writing as Stark, Donald Westlake chronicles the criminal life of master thief Parker. With Dirty Money, he ties up the loose ends left with his two prior Parker novels, which take place immediately before this one. In Nobody Runs Forever, Parker becomes involved in a complicated heist involving an armored car transfer between two banks. As usual, the score goes bad and the gang has to hide the cash and run. Ask the Parrot picks up the story--while running, Parker bumps into someone who lays out a separate score that Parker can't afford to ignore, but his brazen ways come to the attention of a couple really good cops. When Dirty Money begins a week after the armored car heist, one gang member has been caught and has escaped, and a general movement back to the hidden money has begun. The money's poisoned (marked), however, and can only be laundered overseas. First Parker has to maneuver the money from its hiding place. The cops and their roadblocks are closing in, a rogue bounty hunter deals herself in, and the gang members themselves are at odds. Too many outside parties are ogling the cash haul. This is Parker's most lethal chess game yet and Westlake's most cerebral novel of late–at least until the climax, when Parker's hand is forced. Always writing in stark, hard-boiled prose, Westlake also adds a dash of spice: the brassy female bounty hunter whose game is playing everyone against each other, and Claire, Parker's rarely-seen companion. If you like your crime fiction peppery and don't mind wanting the bad guys to win, you'll enjoy watching Richard Stark put the screws to his characters in excruciating ways.
Recommended by Bill Gagliani, Stacks Supervisor, Access Services
William P. Young (Windblown Media, 2007)
In little over a year, William Young’s man-meets-God tale has caught the imaginations and hearts of people everywhere. Mac has suffered a loss that is unimaginably painful--his youngest daughter is abducted and apparently murdered, although her body was never found. The story takes place four years later with Mac struggling through his "Great Sadness" and a damaged relationship with God. Under strange circumstances, Mac appears to get an invitation from God to join Him at the mountain shack where his daughter was killed. Not really understanding why, Mac travels to the shack where he spends the weekend with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For many, the appeal of the book lies in Young’s non-traditional personifications of the triune God. Jesus wears a tool belt and fixes and builds things; God listens to music on an mp3 player and spends Her time in the kitchen preparing food for their meals; the Holy Spirit works in the garden, preparing the soil and gathering the harvest. Mac’s conversations with them are brutally frank at times and reveal to Mac a loving, forgiving, patient, understanding, healing, redeeming God, who wants a face-to-face relationship with him. Some have criticized the book for not being Biblically or doctrinally correct; others have praised it as an allegory of a loving, personal God. Great literature? No, but what many readers find in the tale is the freedom to imagine God not as a distant deity, but as someone with whom you can set the table, hammer nails, weed the garden, and admire the stars; with whom you truly can share your anger, pain, fear, love, joy and trust.
Recommended by Pat Berge, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Kate Atkinson (Little Brown and Co., 2008)
When, indeed, will there be good news? Well, it does come in the end but on the way there is much murder and mayhem. In fact, every single character in this novel has been touched in some way by violence, whether by drowning, suicide, or by the random murder of a mother and two siblings (not to mention the family dog). When Will There Be Good News is definitely a crime novel but not really a mystery. The story does brim with little mysteries but they largely resolve themselves through the unfolding of events rather than through artful detection. Oddly, this is Scottish novelist Atkinson’s third novel featuring private investigator Jackson Brodie (after Case Histories and One Good Turn), yet his actual role in the story is rather more limited as he spends much of his time in hospital with a slight case of amnesia. He does sort of crack the one real mystery of the story but the clues to the solution have already been amassed by the true heroine of the novel, 16-year old Reggie (Regina) Chase. More than crime, this is a story about how people soldier on in spite of the tragedies that befall them in their lives. Atkinson further leavens the sometimes gruesome happenings by maintaining a playfully sardonic tone throughout, while never minimizing the traumas suffered. This is no mean feat.
Recommended by Steven Blackwood, Access Services
Jill Bolte Taylor (Viking, 2008)
My Stroke of Insight is the fascinating personal account of neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s massive stroke at age 37 and eight-year recovery. She offers unique insight into her experience from both a clinical and personal perspective. The chapter describing the morning of the stroke is absolutely gripping as Taylor struggles to call for help while experiencing a sense of peace and euphoria. The book includes information on the warning signs of a stroke and provides the reader with a greater understanding of what happens during a stroke and how best to help the stroke patient during recovery. Taylor writes that her stroke ultimately changed her life for the better, and readers will find her story uplifting and inspiring.
Recommended by Jean Zanoni, Associate Dean of Libraries
Kris Holloway (Waveland Press, 2007)
In 1989, fresh out of college, author Kris Holloway went to Mali (in West Africa) as a Peace Corps volunteer. There, she worked in a small rural village with a local midwife, Monique Dembele, both learning from her and helping her. Most chapters present vignettes from the two years that Holloway spent there--mostly about the lives and health of the women and children. Indeed, the concerns of poor women are central to the book: malnutrition, birth control, female circumcision, marital strife, simple overwork. These issues and more come up in the stories. But there are comic stories too, such as her attempts to use the local language (of course this involves body parts!) and to wear the local dress. There are also truly poignant scenes, such as how she felt when she first helped Monique with a birth in the village. As a woman helping with health care provision, Holloway was immersed in the lives of women and children, so this is not a balanced view of life there. Nor is it a scholarly book. Instead, this is her personal memoir of a time that was enormously influential on her own later life (she went into public health), and a tribute to Monique, who became her very good friend. Holloway does a good job at giving the flavor of life in the village of Nampossela; she describes the rhythm of life there, the good things as well as things that were hard or strange for her. Occasionally the writing is a bit labored, but overall, the book is a quick and easy read.
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Business Reference
Andrew J. Bacevich (Metropolitan Books, 2008)
This is a small book with an important message and should be required reading for the incoming president and his cabinet. In a remarkably prescient analysis Bacevich, retired U. S. Army colonel and current professor of history and international relations at Boston University, examines America at a crossroads. Well before this fall's financial meltdown he anticipated our troubled economy. To the financial crisis, he adds an imperial presidency that challenges democratic principles and a nation that relies on military might as the first solution to conflicts abroad. He sees the country moving from a position of hegemony and moral leadership to one of rampant consumerism, declining power, loss of founding principles, and a lack of realism. While not immediately fatal, these tendencies, if not addressed soon, will reach a tipping point that will spiral out of control. It’s a sobering message, but not without hope. His call for a return to realism, a rejection of easy solutions, and an acceptance that we cannot unilaterally control global warming, impose democracy on other countries, or demand religious and social conformity of other nations, is a tall order. But it’s one worth examining and debating, and —possibly— adopting. Such a discussion would have dramatically elevated the quality of our recent presidential campaign.
Recommended by Nicholas Burckel, Dean of Libraries Emeritus
Paul Tough (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)
The story told in this book is awe-inspiring, and given that it’s about public policy and poverty, that’s pretty remarkable. Tough, a New York Times journalist, mingles very personal stories with the policy discussions to good effect, making the problems of poverty immediate and comprehensible, and making the theory relevant. He followed and reported on educator Geoffrey Canada for five years, describing Canada’s personal journey (from a poor, urban childhood to a prestigious college, and then back to his old neighborhoods as a teacher and administrator), the evolution of his theories regarding poverty and education, and his attempts to build institutions and services that he hopes will change Harlem. Tough also writes about the teachers, social workers, and philanthropists who now work with or for Canada. And above all, there are stories about some of the poor people Canada is determined to help--kids in his charter middle school and their parents, especially Cheryl and Victor, a couple of very young, homeless parents. Canada is trying to create a system of services for poor children and their parents, a "conveyor belt" that will lift children out of poverty without alienating them from their own culture and neighborhood. Canada wants to contaminate (his word) or seed poor areas with education and hope. Though the book occasionally seems disjointed, skipping from personal stories to scholarship and back again, it is well-written and an easy read.
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services
Howard Zinn (Metropolitan Books, 2008)
Historian and social scientist Zinn’s critically acclaimed 1980 book, A People’s History of the United States, offered an alternative viewpoint on historical events. Now readers can also enjoy his graphic adaptation, A People’s History of American Empire. The story is written and drawn as if Zinn is giving a lecture to a group of students. The detailed illustrations merge cartoon characters with historical documents and photographs, covering events surrounding U.S expansion within the United States and globally. A glimpse into Howard Zinn’s research is provided through this shorter graphic text and, for interested readers, an index and bibliography are provided. Overall, this is a quick and enjoyable read for those who are interested in an alternative recounting of history or those who enjoy graphic novels. Because the text throughout presents the harsh reality of warfare, this work is for older readers. Raynor Memorial Libraries are very selectively adding notable examples of graphic novels. To browse the Libraries’ holdings, use MARQCAT’s “genre” search and enter "graphic novels".
Recommended by Carolyn Weber, Library Intern
Michael R. Frontani (University Press of Mississippi, 2007)
book jacket illustration from The Beatles This scholarly yet very accessible text analyzes media coverage, such as the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, of arguably the most influential and revolutionary band in the history of rock music, the Beatles. Providing a cultural history of the group, the author focuses on the Beatles’ image beginning with their startling rise to stardom, their status as teen idols prompting the mass hysteria of Beatlemania, their role as agents in the 60s youth and counterculture movement, and finally, their bitter 1970 breakup. Initially recognized for their uniqueness, energetic performances, and good humor, critics in the beginning did not think highly of their music. However, as the Beatles became more creative and innovative, their appeal went beyond teenagers and they were hailed by both critics and the general public. Image problems later arose with allegations of drug use, rising tensions and disputes between band members (especially after the death of manager Brian Epstein), and incidents such as John Lennon’s statement (for which he later apologized) regarding the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. All Beatles fans, whether around at the time, will enjoy reading about their music and recordings, their impact and influence on culture, and how 1960s media covered this incredible phenomenon.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Steve Turner (Harper, 2005)
Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney are among the most notable of 20th century songwriters and music journalist Turner provides fascinating background on each song written and recorded by the Beatles. Early on, Lennon and McCartney agreed to share writing credits. The two made a very talented and creative combination; they also had opposite qualities--McCartney was happy and optimistic, whereas Lennon tended to be introspective and moody. This provided for a rich and varied range of compositions. There was also intense competition between the two as to whose song would be released on the A side of a single and whose would be the B side. One tidbit from the book: one morning McCartney woke up with an unidentified tune playing in his head. Sitting down at the piano, he played the song’s melody in its entirety. Because it was so familiar, he was certain he must have heard it before. For a month, he played it for everyone he knew, but no one could identify it. At that point, he realized that it was truly an original, but he marveled at how mysteriously and effortlessly the tune had come to him. He then added words and the song became “Yesterday,” which remains in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most covered song ever with over 3,000 recordings by various artists. This book is full of anecdotes that will enhance any fan's love and appreciation for the songs which revolutionized rock music.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Paul Salsini (iUniverse, 2008)
A part-time professor in the Journalism Department, Salsini is capping a long career in newspaper journalism by publishing his second novel. The first, The Cielo, published in 2006, told the story of his ancestors' wartime life in Tuscany, and was recognized by several notable literary prizes. The sequel continues the thread by telling the story of Ezio Maffini, The Sparrow, who sought revenge for a Nazi massacre in his village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema. In an interview with BookReview.com, Salsini talked about the extensive background research required for his writing and about the historical events in 1944 Italy.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Crash! Meltdown! Depression! Implosion! Recession! If you want to read something to help you understand the crisis on Wall Street and the world economy, here are a few recent books you will find in the Libraries.
Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (Penguin, 2007)
Ann Pettifor, The Coming First World Debt Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)
Kevin P. Phillips, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (Viking, 2008)
Robert J. Shiller, The Subprime Solution: How Today’s Global Financial Crisis Happened and What to Do About It (Princeton University Press, 2008)
George Soros, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means (PublicAffairs, 2008)
Joseph Stiglitz et al., eds, The Economists’ Voice: Top Economists Take on Today’s Problems (Columbia University Press, 2008)
John Talbott, Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity will Replace Trickle-Down Economics (Seven Stories Press, 2008)
Mark M. Zandi, Financial Shock: a 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis. (FT Press, 2009)
The 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. The committee called him "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization." Little known in the United States, few English translations of his works are available. His first novel (1963), Le Procès-verbal is available in English as The Interrogation and his 1980 story, Le Désert, won wide recognition by receiving a prize from L'Académie Française. An author search of MARQCAT turns up some 33 books and his American publisher has promised forthcoming English translations.
The Man Booker Prize for 2008 was awarded in October to Indian novelist Aravind Adiga for his debut novel, The White Tiger. Now in its 40th year, the prize recognizes the best novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The committee cited the novel for undertaking "the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humour."