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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!