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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hottest Books in the County

Do you want to know what other library customers are reading? The following adult fiction titles recently had the longest waiting lists:

The Confession by John Grisham
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Room by Emma Donoghue
Worth Dying For by Lee Child
Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace
I still Dream about You by Fannie Flagg

Here are the top ten adult nonfiction titles:

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Decision Points by George W. Bush
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Life by Keith Richards with James Fox
I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 1 edited by Harriet Elinor Smith (et al)
Earth (the Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart (et al)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sleepers of 2010

If you are looking for last-minute holiday gifts for a reader, the Associated Press recently published a list of some books that quietly lured more readers than expected in 2010. ("Hits, Misses and Sleepers of 2010," Dec. 20, 2010). Among them are:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. A novel about a mysterious death in Mississippi.

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman. A scholar’s comic survey of Russian literature.

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood. A delightful children’s book that celebrates the daily moments of silence.

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. A readable history of the Commanches.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book News of the Decade

The Huffington Post is polling its readers on what they think are the best book news stories of the past ten years (Books Story of the Decade). Among those already posted are:

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. May have gotten kids reading again.

2. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Good vampires kept teen girls and others enthralled.

3. eReaders. Around since the mid-1990s, but by 2010 on many holiday wish lists.

4. Fake memoirs. Among them James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Writes the Huffington Post, “Is this the decade in which truth was overtaken by ‘truthiness’”?

5. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Published in 2003, it sold more copies than any other single volume in the decade.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Books to Give

The Huffington Post recently polled its readers on Facebook and Twitter to compile Fifteen Books You're Giving for the Holidays. Here’s a few owned by the library if you want to sample a title or two.

Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain

Changing Shoes: Getting Older – Not Old – With Style, Humor and Graceby Tina Sloan

Strength in What Remains by Tracey Kidder

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

By the way, you can now follow the library on Twitter @fairfaxlibrary to learn about events, activities, services and much more.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

What Writers Read

Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides and most recently South of Broad has just published My Reading Life. A collection of 15 essays, Conroy’s latest work chronicles his youthful reading from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. ("Pat Conroy's 'My Reading Life' Opens a Door to Literature," USA Today, Nov. 29, 2010)

“Before I'd ever asked a girl out,” Conroy writes. “I had fallen in love with Anna Karenina, taken Isabel Archer (Portrait of a Lady) to high tea at the Grand Hotel in Rome, delivered passionate speeches to Juliet beneath her balcony, abandoned Dido (The Aeneid) in Carthage, made love to Lara in Zhivago's Russia, walked beside Lady Brett Ashley (The Sun Also Rises) in Paris, danced with Madame Bovary — I could form a sweet-smelling corps de ballet composed of the women I have loved in books."

As USA Today reporter Bob Minzesheimer writes, “Call this fiction you can use.”

To reserve a copy of My Reading Life in print, audio or large print format, visit the library’s catalog.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Late-Night Laughs

I’m a great fan of Flashlight Worthy, a website devoted to “recommending books so good they’ll keep you up past your bedtime.” The site, run by book lovers Peter Steinberg and Eric Mueller, compiles lists of books that are the best in their category not just bestsellers. They have gathered more than 400 lists, some a bit quirky, such as the new "Laugh-Out-Loud Funny Books Written by Women." Whatever your gender, if you’re looking for some late-night humor, try these Flashlight Worthy picks:

Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living
by Bailey White

Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

IFeel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Sarah Jane Gilman

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gifts for Kids

If you are seeking gift ideas for young readers as you begin your holiday shopping, check out Publisher’s Weekly’s "Best Children's Books 2010." Among the recommended picture books are:

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip C. Stead

For older readers, consider these recommendations:

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving: Little Known Facts

Thanksgiving is still more than a week away, but as your plans are finalized, you may be interested in some little-known facts offered by the History Channel:

●   It is not true that the pilgrims wore only black and white clothing or had buckles on their hats, garments and shoes. Buckles didn’t become fashionable until the late 17th century. Men also dressed in beige, green and brown and women also in red, green, blue, violet and gray.

●   Virginia is one of a handful of states that produce two-thirds of the nation’s more than two billion turkeys. Others include the top-producing state, Minnesota, as well as North Carolina, Missouri and California.

●   The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving dinner is 15 pounds.

●   Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and writer, who launched the campaign to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday in the mid-19th century, also wrote the children’s nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

●   Snoopy has appeared more times in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade than any other character.

Friday, November 12, 2010

On This Date: Ellis Island Closes

On Nov, 12, 1954, Ellis Island, which had served as an entry point for more than 12 million immigrants, closed. According to, it had opened in 1892 as the first federal immigration processing center. Prior to that time, individual states had been processing immigrants. Today, more than 40 percent of all U.S. citizens can trace their heritage through Ellis Island.

The center’s $160 million historic restoration began in 1984 and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened in 1990. About two million people visit each year.

For more on this historic site, see:

American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent Cannato

Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants by Barry Moreno

The Family Tree Guide to Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors by Sharon Carmak

Ellis Island Interviews: In Their Own Words by Peter Coan

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Veterans Day Reading

As many of you know, Veterans Day celebrates the end of World War I when Germany signed the Armistice at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. According to the PBS series “The Great War,” World War I was “the first manmade catastrophe of the 20th century.”

With November 11 fast approaching, you may want to check out some of these books on the war that changed European economics, politics, society and culture forever.

An Illustrated History of the First World War by John Keegan

The Greatest Day in History: How, on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, the First World War Finally Came to an End
by Nicholas Best

World War I by Norman Stone

A World Undone: A Story of the Great War: 1914-1918
by G.J. Meyer

Fighting the Great War: A Global History by Michael S. Neiberg

Friday, November 05, 2010

Prehistoric Lives

It’s hard for me to believe that Jean Auel is still chronicling the adventures of Ayla, the Cro-Magnon raised by Neanderthals, who she introduced in The Clan of the Cave Bear 30 years ago. According to a recent AP article, the sixth book in the Earth’s Children series, The Land of Painted Caves, is due out in March 2011 ("Author May Not Be Done With 'Earth's Children,'" Nov. 3, 2010). She published her first book in the series while in her 40s and now she is 72. I remember hearing Auel speak back in the 1980s when she told of trying to learn the various skills, such as tanning leather, which her Ice-Age characters would have to know.

For those of you who have read all the earlier adventures of Ayla but still enjoy the adventures of Bronze Age, pre-Columbian and other prehistoric peoples, here are some other books to try:

Beyond the Gap by Harry Turtledove

Woman of a Thousand Secrets by Barbara Wood

Tales of Adam by Daniel Quinn

Inez by Carlos Fuentes

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Books You’re Excited to Finish

HuffPost Books recently asked its readers “What are you going to finish reading this weekend that you’re really excited about?” While next weekend is still days off, its interesting to see what great books readers couldn’t wait to finish during their leisure hours. I, for one, am re-reading Peter Taylor’s A Summons to Memphis and Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and enjoying both immensely.

Here are a few titles Huffington Post readers recommend:

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mark Twain’s Autobiography: A Bestseller?

USA Today reports that the recently published first volume of Mark Twain’s uncut autobiography has entered the paper’s bestseller list at no. 30, just 13 places below teen pop star Justin Bieber’s First Steps 2 Forever ( "Book Buzz: Mark Twain Gets the Last Say in 'Autobiography,'"Oct. 27, 2010).

Four years before his death in 1910, Twain dictated his 500,000-word autobiography to a stenographer, but demanded that the full text, which included passionate rants against U.S. imperialism and Wall Street, not be published until 100 years after his death.

According to an article last summer in The New York Times ("Dead for a Century, He Said What He Meant," July 10, 2010), versions of Twain’s autobiography were published in 1924, 1940 and 1959, but his original editor cut out entire sections which he thought might be offensive and respected the wishes of Twain’s daughter, Clara who wanted to protect Twain’s image. She died in 1962.

For more on this complex American icon, check out the new Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 or try these other books:

Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
by Michael Shelden

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers

The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens
by Andrew Jay Hoffman

Image Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have You Signed up for Wowbrary Yet?

The library recently introduced the weekly e-newsletter Wowbrary to let customers know what new materials have been ordered. Learn what’s coming in fiction, sports, children’s books, DVDs and more. The e-newsletter arrives every Saturday, and you can link right from the newsletter to the library’s catalog to place your hold. You can even sign up for RSS feeds if you want to know what materials are arriving in certain subject areas.

To sign up, visit Wowbrary. Type in your zip code, click on Go and follow the instructions. You will be amazed each week at the quality and variety of materials your library buys for you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Remembering Belva Plain

Popular author Belva Plain died last week at the age of 95 according to an obituary in The New York Times ("Belva Plain, Novelist of Jewish-American Life, Dies at 95," Oct. 17, 2010). Plain’s first novel, Evergreen, was published when the author was 60, although she had been writing and publishing short stories for a number of years prior to that. Considered a writer of “cozy” novels, the Times reported Plain once said “Even great geniuses like Dostoyevsky entertained.”
According to her publisher, Plain’s books sold close to 30 million copies and were translated into 22 languages.

If you would like to sample Plain’s work, here are a few novels to try:

Crossroads (2008)

Her Father’s House (2002)

Legacy of Silence (1998)

Secrecy (1997)

Promises (1996)

Blessings (1988)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dewey’s Extra Lives

The orange, tabby protagonist in librarian Vicki Myron’s Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat That Touched the World is no longer with us. Myron, however was overwhelmed with the response to her bestseller which sold more than one million copies and will soon be a film starring Meryl Streep. She also received thousands of cat stories from readers around the world. The author has gathered some of them in a new book, Dewey’s Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Cat That Inspired Millions.

In a recent interview in ("Dewey, the Library Cat Lives On in 'Nine Lives,' Oct. 10, 2010), Myron talked about the difficulty in deciding what to include in the new book: “We had thousands of very good stories. We had a variety of happy ones, sad ones and unusual ones. It was a great mixture. Then there were some new stories about Dewey, too, so I included those.”

You can place a hold on Myron’s new book in the library’s catalog.

Here’s a few other books cat lovers may enjoy:

The Cat Who’ll Live Forever: The Final Adventures of Norton, the Perfect Cat and His Imperfect Human by Peter Gethers

The Cat Who Covered the World: The Adventures of Henrietta and Her Foreign Correspondent by Christopher S. Wren

Ninety-Nine Lives: Cats in History, Legend and Literature by Howard Loxton

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stalling for Time

If you are regular reader of The Washington Post’s Outlook section, you may have noticed a review of Gary Noesner’s Stalling for Time in yesterday’s edition. Noesner, a retired FBI hostage negotiator, gave a library-sponsored presentation at the Fall for the Book Festival in Fairfax last month.

The Post writes that Noesner’s memoir “makes clear that this work is practically an art form. His accounts of dealing with right-wing militias, prison rioters, terrorist hijackers and even jealous ex-husbands show that negotiators must be masters of persuasion, pillars of unflappability and skilled improvisers who can make split-second decisions in perilous situations.”

Check out Library Director Sam Clay’s audio interview with Noesner at BookCast, the library’s series of chats with authors – local and beyond.

Friday, October 08, 2010

It’s Pigskin Season

With last Sunday’s win over the Eagles, things may actually be looking up for the Redskins. Those who spend their Sundays devoted to the game might be interested in a new book by former quarterback Ron Jaworski, The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays ("Ron Jaworski Looks at the Evolution of Pro Football," AP, Oct. 4, 2010) . Jaworski focuses on seven coaches, including Sid Gillman, Don Coryell and Bill Walsh, whose innovations have raised the game to new heights.

You can place a hold on Jaworski’s book in our catalog and be among the first to get it when it arrives; if you want to check out some gridiron books already on our shelves, here are some suggestions:

NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football
by Anthony Gargano

More Than a Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL
by Brian Billick

Bloody Sundays: Inside the Dazzling, Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL
by Michael Freeman

The GM: The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares That Go With It by Tom Callahan

A War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro-Football’s NFC East by Mark Maske

Friday, October 01, 2010

Beyond Borders: Fiction of the Middle East

At last weekend’s National Book Festival, I had the honor of hearing Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. He joins Egyptian writer, Naquib Mahfouz, who won the same prize almost two decades earlier, as a chronicler of a culture that is still unfamiliar to many Westerners. If you would like to further explore the Middle East in fiction, here’s a few online lists:

Literature of the Middle East

The Arab World

Want to sample some recent titles? Try the books below:

The Bathhouse by Farnoosh Moshiri

The Family Orchard by Naomi Eve

The Same Sea by Amos Oz

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Immigrants in Fiction

At the National Book Festival on the Mall last Saturday, I had a chance to hear Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee, whose Native Speaker I had read years ago. That experience plus a recent article in USA Today Fiction Roundup: Immigrants Share Diverse Stories got me thinking about some of my favorite novels on the immigrant experience. Among them are:

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Bajerjee Divakaruni

Typical American by Gish Jen

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beyond Borders – Fiction of Mexico and Latin America

The territory that stretches from south of the Rio Grande to the southern tip of South America has produced a grand tradition of literature. Among the region’s more well-known authors are Octavio Paz, Carlo Fuentes, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Borges.

Here’s a few of the region’s best you might want to try:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beyond Borders – Fiction of Canada

Having sampled some of the regional fiction within our borders, it’s time to take a leap across the 49th parallel to Canada. Some Canadian authors are recognizable in the lower 48, such as L.M. Montgomery who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series or Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and other dystopian novels. Many good Canadian reads, however, don’t seem to drift south. Here are some lesser-known recommendations from

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Burden of Desire by Robert MacNeil

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

A Boy of Good Breeding by Miriam Toews

Friday, September 17, 2010

Libraries in Odd Places

An article this week in The New York Times got me thinking about unusual places for libraries ("At Schiphol, an Unlikely Sanctuary for Books," Sept. 16, 2010). Apparently, last summer, a 1,200-volume library opened at Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. ProBlio, a non-profit agency that supports Dutch libraries, opened the library in Europe’s fifth busiest airport. The library specializes in books by Dutch authors or on subjects about The Netherlands in two dozen different languages.

A Google search revealed some other odd sites for libraries – a mule’s back in Venezuela ("Venezuela's Four-Legged Mobile Libraries," BBC News, Aug. 7, 2007) and a hobbit house in Pennsylvania. A Seattle resident tried to convince the Seattle Public Library to place a library branch in his apartment. (Library Shenanigans).

In Chile the Department of Libraries, Archives and Museums has placed libraries in metro stations and in parks. Spain has initiated a project to place libraries at beaches, pools, rivers and public parks – any place where people might wish to read. One Spanish town has placed a library in a city market.

There is, of course, The Library Hotel in New York, and I’ve also seen mention of libraries in boats.

Probably there are few places where readers gather that wouldn’t welcome a library.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What’s New? Wowbrary Is Here

Would you like to be among the first to know what the library is adding to its collection? Go to the library's Web site and click on the Wowbrary icon. Then enter your zip code, select “Fairfax County Public Library,” and enter an e-mail address to sign up for Wowbrary ’s weekly e-newsletter.

Once you begin receiving Wowbrary, be among the first to place holds on incoming great reads in history, science or science fiction, mystery, romance, sports, cooking and more. The newsletter will arrive via e-mail every Saturday listing material the library has ordered.

Here’s a few new additions highlighted in a recent Wowbrary newsletter:

Troublemaker, Book 1: Alex Barnaby Series 3 by Janet Evanovich and Alex Evanovich

The Death of an Adversary by Hans Keilson

A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair

The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O’Connell

Winning in Troubled Times: God’s Solutions for Victory Over Life’s Toughest Challenges by Creflo Dollar

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nine Books on 9/11

Today’s Huffington Post features 9 Unforgettable Books on 9/11, a list compiled by Peter Steinberg, co-founder of the website

“As someone who adopted New York as my home just two years before 9/11 -- and who watched the first tower fall with his own eyes,” writes Steinberg, “I debated whether to create this book list. In the end though it deserves coverage like any other topic; ignoring it won't make it go away. I think that no matter your literal or emotional distance from Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 there's at least one book on this list for you.”

Here is a sampling from Steinberg’s list:

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Kevin Flynn and Jim Dwyer

Firehouse by David Halberstam

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center by William Langwiesche

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Ernie Colon, Sid Jacobson

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer

I would add one more for D.C. metro readers:

Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11 by Patrick Creed

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Fiction of Place – The Midwest

These past few weeks, I’ve toured the country looking at regional fiction. Fiction from the middle of the country is perhaps a bit harder to characterize than novels from more unique regions. I had an opportunity to live in a Midwestern state for a decade and as an East Coast transplant, I did meet a different breed. The Midwest was settled by immigrants and there is a no-nonsense openness to their descendents that sneaks into the region’s fiction.

It is no accident that some of the best of early-20th-century realism, such as Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie or Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street came out of the Midwest. But there is also a softer side, a quiet dignity to the characters that populate much of Midwest fiction.

If you would like to sample some lesser-known works set in the Midwest, try these:

Grand Avenue by Joy Fielding

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Staggerford by Jon Hassler

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg

Friday, September 03, 2010

“Does It Scroll?”

Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog recently published an interview with children’s book illustrator Lane Smith about his new work It's a Book ("It's a Book" Author Lane Smith on Kids and Technology," Aug. 31, 2010) . Smith, who created the illustrations for such popular children’s books as Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales decided to tackle the younger generation’s skepticism about the printed book.

The book features a monkey and a jackass sitting across from each other. The monkey is trying to read and the jackass keeps interrupting. As the book opens the jackass asks. “What do you have there?” “It’s a book,” says the monkey. “Does it scroll?” the jackass continues. “No. It’s a book.” “Can it text? Can it tweet,” the jackass continues to ask. Ultimately he borrows the book and becomes so enthralled he refuses to return it. “But, I’ll charge it up when I’m done,” he tells the monkey.

“You wake up one day and the whole world has changed,” Lane told The Wall Street Journal. My feeling, probably because I don’t have kids, was that I wasn’t aware of the [tech] evolution and all of sudden, everywhere I looked, people were on their gadgets and I decided that the situation was ripe for a little humor between the two camps.”

Lane created a video trailer for the book which you can view at the link above. The library has ordered a number of copies of It’s a Book. Place your hold early. It is going to be popular!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Northwest Fiction

It seems appropriate to move from the desert settings of Southwest fiction to the damp, tall forests of the Pacific Northwest or the peaks, plains and valleys of Montana and Idaho. Settled in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th, this area has a more recent literary tradition than the East Coast. Among well-known novels set in this part of the U.S. are Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion and David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

Oregon’s Multnomah County Library has compiled a North by Northwest reading list that offers fiction written after 1960 by authors who live, or have lived in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska and who write about those regions.

Here are a few you might want to sample:

Mountain Time by Ivan Doig

Mommies Behaving Badly by Roz Bailey

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fiction of Place – The Southwest

Since I recently wrote about regional fiction of the South and New England, it seems appropriate to extend the topic. Over the years, I’ve made numerous trips to the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area in New Mexico. For a Connecticut Yankee like me, it was eye-opening. In addition to a clear, azure sky and red, red rock that stretches for miles, its culture and history have little in common with the East Coast. In the Southwest, three peoples – the Spanish, Mexicans and Native Americans – merged to create a place like no other in the U.S.

Fiction of the regional reflects this unique identity, and as with the South and New England there are some classics. Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop, Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, Edward Abbey’s The Monkey-Wrench Gang and the mysteries of Tony Hillerman come to mind.

Here’s a few more, you may want to try:

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

Redeye by Clyde Edgerton

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New England Fiction

Since my last post dealt with the pleasures of Southern writing, it seems appropriate to move north to another region – New England. As with the South, there are classics. Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott come to mind. Also Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. They are near the top of The Boston Globe’s The 100 Essential New England Books.

Twentieth century fiction set in New England includes Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (although I prefer his short stories) and Couples by John Updike.

Others on the list, while less familiar, are worth trying. They include:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Requiem, Mass. by John Dufresne

Friday, August 20, 2010

Southern Fiction

Having lived in Virginia for more than two decades, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I was born above the Mason-Dixon Line and grew up across the river in Maryland. Still – I’ve grown to appreciate Southern sensibilities – especially the region’s literature. Lists of great books of Southern fiction always include certain classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, the novels by William Faulkner and stories of Flannery O’Connor.

A newer generation of Southern writers includes Fannie Flagg, Pat Conroy, Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, among many others. About a year ago, another Southern writer, Elizabeth Spencer, published her list of best books of southern fiction in the Wall Street Journal. Among them were:

On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Sample and enjoy some of the South’s best!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time to Laugh

Thurber House has announced the finalists for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. The winner will be announced October 4 at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City where humorist James Thurber once lived. Among the contenders owned by the library are:

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Mennonite in a Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Past winners include:

Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

My Lucky Star by Joe Keenan

If you need a good laugh as the summer winds down, try any of the above.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Books Into Film

With the opening today of Eat, Pray, Love, another bestseller has become a movie. In fact, according to at least five more August movie releases are based on books. They are:

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Twelve by Nick McDonell

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

The Nurse Matilda series by Christianna Brand (“Nancy McPhee Returns”)

Make sure you check out the book as well the film, and enjoy the waning days of summer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When a Book Disappoints: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

It’s been an international bestseller for several years, so when my library staff book discussion group decided to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I opened its pages with great anticipation. I had to put it down some 50 pages later – although I did read the last chapter to see if I had missed something.

Perhaps I’m not cosmopolitan enough or don’t understand the European obsession with “the intellectual” and class distinctions, but this novel by French author Muriel Burberry just couldn’t capture my attention. It is told in alternating chapters by Renee, a concierge in an upscale apartment building who feels she has to hide her intellectual interests from its occupants, and Paloma, a 12-year-old resident of the building who feels her life is meaningless. Both have great disdain for the class-conscious people in the building.

I agree with Caryn James, who reviewed The Elegance of the Hedgehog for the New York Times ("Thinking on the Sly," Sept. 5, 2008):

“Especially in the early chapters, Barberry, a professor of philosophy, seems too clever for her own good . . . Her brief chapters, more essays than fiction, so carefully build in explanations for the literary and philosophical references that she seems to be assessing what a mass audience needs. In just a few pages, RenĂ©e offers a mini-treatise on phenomenology.”

Actually, it was after the explanation of phenomenology that I felt I had to quit the book.

Renee and Paloma are interesting characters – both must hide aspects of themselves to survive – but that bond was not enough to sustain my interest. I understand the book improved when a third character Mr. Ozu moves into the building, but it was taking me too long to get to that point.

For it to be a bestseller, others must have found Burberry’s characters more engaging. Her first book Une Gourmandise was also popular, but isn’t available in English translation until next year.

Alas, that is the peril of being a book lover. Sometimes a novel disappoints.

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, August 06, 2010

Horror Fiction – Part II

Several weeks back, we listed some of the winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Awards. The association’s website also has a fascinating essay, "What is Horror Fiction?". The essay quotes Douglas Winter, author of the anthology, Prime Evil, "Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion."

If the only requirement for horror is that it elicits emotions of fear or dread, then books such as Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones could be classified in this (non) genre according to the essay’s author.

The essay laments the marketing niche invented by Stephen King in the 1980s, which tended to foster imitation rather than evolution, but sees a broader definition of horror fiction as it evolves in the 21st century with topics such as nanotechnology gone amok, etc.

“Just as our fears and terrors change with time, so too will the definition of horror, not just from age to age but from person to person,” the essay concludes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

More on The Art of Racing in the Rain

Back in May and June we posted some thoughts on the library’s All Fairfax Reads selection, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Now that some of you may have read the novel, we’re curious what you think.

Here’s what some reviewers said:

The Art of Racing in the Rain is getting all kinds of buzz, and it deserves every accolade. Readers will be moved by this warm hug of a story (and may find themselves looking searchingly into the eyes of their own canine companions). Enzo is a charming and witty narrator. His tale, while hilarious at times, is quite often heartbreaking, but it is ultimately uplifting and heartwarming. And I found the ending to be oh so very satisfying.” --

“Stein’s Enzo is the perfect narrator, wickedly observant of the world around him, even if limited in his ability to interact with humans. Oh how he yearns for a proper tongue and vocal chords so he can string a sentence together. And opposable thumbs!” – The Seattle Times, May 9, 2008.

“Enzo ultimately teaches Denny and the reader that persistence and joie de vivre will see them through to the checkered flag. Stein creates a patient, wise and doggish narrator that is more than just fluff and collar.” – Library Journal, May 2008

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Have You Listened Lately?

We have recently posted podcast interviews between library director Sam Clay and Michelle Singletary, Gary Noesner, Todd Kashdan, Garth Stein and Pete Earley. Visit the BookCast page to listen to the interviews. BookCast is sponsored by Dominion Resources through the Fairfax Library Foundation.

Mary Mulrenan
Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, July 23, 2010

Horror Fiction

They could be considered a subgenre of fantasy or sci-fi, but horror novels – as any aficionado knows – are a class onto themselves. Masters of the form – such as Stephen King – have passionate followings.

Each year the Horror Writers Association bestows the Bram Stoker Award – named for the author of Dracula – for Superior Achievement in various categories. Recent winners include:

Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan

Duma Key by Stephen King

Creepers by David Morrell

The Hour Before Dark by Douglas Clegg

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Friday, July 16, 2010

Romantic Suspense

As a subgenre of the romance novel, romantic suspense usually contains an element of mystery and intrigue. Unlike gothic romances which feature windswept moors and haunted houses, romantic suspense deals with more contemporary plots involving drug dealing, serial murders, smuggling or other complications.

Some of the more well-known authors of romantic suspense include Catherine Coulter, Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Andersen, Tami Hoag and Iris Johansen among others.

As with regency romance mentioned in last week’s posting, romantic suspense is also popular enough to merit a category in the Romance Writers of America annual RITA awards. Here are some past winners:

Take No Prisoners by Cindy Gerard

Ice Blue by Anne Stuart

Survivor in Death by J.D. Robb

I’m Watching You by Karen Rose

Three Fates by Nora Roberts

Friday, July 09, 2010

Regency Romance

Anyone familiar with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility understands the regency romance novel. A popular subgenre of historical romance, regency novels usually involve a comedy of manners and are set in early 19th-century England between about 1810-1820. The novels occur normally during the reign of George IV and William IV after George III was declared insane by Parliament’s Regency Act. His son was then declared acting king.

Regency romance is so popular that the Romance Writers of America bestow annual RITA award each year in the category. Here are some past winners:

My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn

A Reputable Rake by Diane Gaston

Much Obliged by Jessica Benson

Friday, July 02, 2010

Romance Fiction

Even more than science fiction, the subgenres of romance fiction are plentiful. One article lists 15 (Romance Subgenres by Lee Masterson) ranging from glitz or glamour romance to regency, pirate, western or other historical romance subgenres.

To be considered a romance, a novel must meet two criteria. First, it must have a love story as a central plot. Two people meet, struggle with their relationship and ultimately find love. Second, it must have a happy ending. The good guys win; the bad guys get their just rewards.

Contemporary romance is one of the most popular subgenres. Visitors to voted the novels below among the “best ever contemporary romance books.”

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

Paradise by Judith McNaught

Friday, June 25, 2010

Science Fiction – The Hugo Awards

Each year since 1955, attendees at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) have honored the best in science fiction and fantasy with the Hugo Awards. Unlike most literary awards, which are chosen by select committees, the Hugo winners are determined by the vote of attendees to each year’s Worldcon. Here are the Hugo selections in the best novel category for the past five years. The 2010 award will be announced in September at Aussicon Four in Melbourne, Australia.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke