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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Book Shopping Lists

Braving the crowds on Black Friday? These best books of the year lists will help you find something for everyone on your holiday list.

If you are shopping for children, take a look at School Library Journal's Best Books 2014. Their list is divided into four categories (picture books, middle gradeyoung adult and nonfiction) to help you find the perfect match for your reader.

For the adults on your list, who better to make recommendations than librarians across the country? Each month, the librarians behind LibraryReads post reviews about their ten favorite new books. Their latest post whittled down the year's best books to the best of the best. See their ten top choices at LibraryReads Favorite of Favorites 2014.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Feast of Books

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is reading the annual Food Issue of the New Yorker. It is perfectly timed to arrive close to Thanksgiving, when food and feasting take center stage in our minds and bellies. If your tastes run to the literary as well, many branches of Fairfax County Public Library subscribe to the magazine. This year’s Food Issue was November 3.

If you prefer longer form journalism, then you’re in luck. In addition to thousands of cookbooks, the library owns a substantial collection of food writing. You’ll find classics by MFK Fisher as well as a multitude of culinary memoirs of chefs, restaurant critics and home cooks – an area of publishing that took off after Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain showed the wide-appeal these books could have.

I’ve put two of the library’s newest books in this genre on my to read list this fall: Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg and Sous Chef: 24 hours on the Line by Michael Gibney. I was excited to see these two, because a few years ago I blazed through this genre and felt like I checked out everything the library owned on the topic. A few standouts from that reading adventure:

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson – Samuelson was orphaned as a child in Ethiopia, raised by adoptive parents in their native Sweden and educated in central Europe before settling in New York City. The New York Times called the memoir “beautiful.” A great read that spans the poorest of rural Ethiopia with the most sophisticated of Western cooking in the world’s richest cities.

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton – a true literary work. I read it at the same time I was reading a novel, and I kept putting that book down to return to this one. Anthony Bourdain, no slacker when it comes to literary writing, called Hamilton’s book “the best memoir by a chef, ever.”

Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz – James Beard award-winner Achatz experienced the cruelest twist fate for a chef when he was stricken with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma tongue cancer. The aggressive treatment, which saved his life, left him without a sense of taste. He relays the journey to save his career and his restaurant in this book.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford – Buford, a former New Yorker staffer, left his publishing job and convinced Mario Batali to let him work in the kitchen at Babbo, despite having no professional kitchen experience.
Now, I need to channel the same enthusiasm I had when I raced through these books. There’s a Thanksgiving dinner that needs my attention.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lucky Lindy, Babe Ruth and All That Jazz

Do you ever check out a book only to return it, unread, because you just have too many books piled up at home? This happens to me more than I care to admit. Some of these books drop off my list and are never given a second thought. Other books, however, keep whispering to me even after they’re long gone from the pile. This happened recently to me with Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927. When I finally got to Bryson’s wandering, spectacle-strewn stroll through the roaring twenties, I realized why this book stayed on my radar. Bryson depicts the characters and events of a decade that has always seemed just a little bit larger than life. He gives you the full story of Lucky Lindy’s famous flight, prohibition, Babe Ruth and the first talkie. But he also covers less familiar events like the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and the sensational Sash Weight Murder – a relatively unknown case today, portrayed in the classic Hollywood movie Double Indemnity.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald first immortalized this notable decade in fiction, but so many authors have followed their lead. So, give one of these more recent works a try. Then read Bryson’s book and decide for yourself whether fact really is stranger than fiction.

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Charles Lindbergh didn’t just fly across the Atlantic in 1927. He also swept young Anne Murrow off her feet and into marriage. Benjamin tells their troubled story from Murrow’s perspective.

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. Best-selling author Lehane weaves many of the personalities from Bryson’s book, including Babe Ruth, into his family saga featuring anarchists, prohibition, race relations and the 1919 Boston policeman’s strike.
Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Okay, this book is set in 1920s London, not America.  But the themes are familiar – a sensational murder, a shocking love affair and individuals swept up in a quickly-changing world.

The Girls at theKingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. This retelling of a classic fable casts the 12 princesses who can’t stop dancing as 1920s flappers in New York.
-Rebecca Wolff, CE

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Unleash Your Creativity

We all use creativity every day to solve problems, whether as artists, writers or entrepreneurs or by generating ideas to improve work and family life. Fairfax County Public Library has many titles to help maximize those creative efforts. Here are a few favorites.

The War of Art: Break Through Barriers and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. In this brief but rallying guide to taking charge of your creative path, the author writes about the constant struggle with what he terms “Resistance.”  Resistance is the force that seems to keep us from getting down to the business of creative excellence. Sometimes that force comes in the form of self-doubt, inertia or merely the mundane distractions of daily life. In any case, Pressfield frames his book as a manual to fight the inner battle against Resistance in order to achieve one’s higher creative purpose.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp. Tharp, still achieving in the field of choreography and dance in her seventies, is a lot like Pressfield in her work ethic. Becoming successful, she asserts, is not about having inborn talent or waiting for inspiration to strike but about showing up day after day and getting the work done. As unromantic as it sounds, the key is the discipline of daily habit. In The Creative Habit, she outlines over 30 exercises to inspire new ideas and break out of creative ruts. 

 A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life by Nancy Peacock. This is an engaging book about a published novelist who earns her living as a housecleaner. Nancy Peacock’s first novel, Life Without Water, was selected by The New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year. Although she received an advance for her next novel, the money ran out before the book was finished, and Peacock went back to cleaning houses. She writes humorously about houses she has cleaned and their inhabitants, and in the process, readers learn about her writing process. It will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had to work a “day job” to support a dream. In a special section at the end, she gives advice on writing. Writers should also read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. In 2012 Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech at University of the Arts of Philadelphia which became an instant YouTube sensation. “Make Good Art” is now available in book form. While Gaiman ignited controversy by admitting to falsifying some credentials in early efforts to get published, there is nevertheless much wisdom in his speech. He encourages artists to make mistakes: “If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, ‘Coraline looks like a real name...”’  (Coraline became an award-winning book and movie.) 

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library