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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Great Pick for Book Clubs

Many book clubs have read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the compelling true story of a young man who turned his back on a life of privilege to hitchhike across America. Chris McCandless grew up in Annandale, Va. After graduating from Woodson High School and Emory University, Chris gave his remaining college funds to charity, abandoned his car and embarked on a two year journey (self-described as a "spiritual pilgrimage”) through the U.S. ending in Alaska. He took some of his favorite books and reflected on what it means to live an unscripted life. Sadly, he was eventually found dead of starvation in Alaska. The book became a hit film with the same title.

While many admired his quest for self-sufficiency and meaning, many readers of Krakauer's book were angered and puzzled by the fact that Chris refused to contact his worried parents while he was away. They had gone so far as to hire a private investigator in attempt to locate him, but Chris had jettisoned his old identity and was traveling under an assumed name. 

In The Wild Truth, a new book by Carine McCandless, the sister of Chris McCandless clears up some of the mystery surrounding his choices. Carine reveals family troubles, including deceit and domestic abuse, which were at least partially behind Chris’ decision to disappear. She includes letters from Chris, one in which Chris declares his plan to "divorce" their parents forever.

Carine had shared these letters with Krakauer as he was writing Into the Wild, but asked him not use the material in the book. Krakauer writes in his introduction to The Wild Truth that he attempted to imply some of the reasons behind Chris' disappearing act without revealing confidential sources or creating further pain for the grieving parents. Carine McCandless explains that she felt it was time to set the record straight so that people would have a better understanding of Chris and his motives. Far from being just a salacious tell-all, the book is a touching story of their brother-sister bond and Carine's own personal journey recovering from a dysfunctional home.

The story of Chris McCandless has fascinated people around the world, but it is of particular interest to readers in Fairfax County, Va., due to the fact that Chris spent most of his life here. Book clubs that have already read Into the Wild may wish to further their exploration of the subject with The Wild Truth. 


-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library



Monday, December 22, 2014

Best of 2014 lists - Nonfiction

Last week's post on critics' choices for the best fiction of 2014 showed far more convergence than the nonfiction lists the same reviewers created. Fiction, however you write it, is somewhat narrow in scope. Nonfiction is another beast altogether as seen by the variety of notable titles listed below.

The New York Times top five picks for nonfiction include incredibly diverse books ranging from New Yorker cartoonist
Roz Chast's illustration-filled memoir about coping with aging parents to Lawrence Wright's historical account of the Camp David Agreements.

The Washington Post's best of list has a similarly broad set of genres: biography, two city histories, a look at the medical profession by MacArthur genius award winner Atul Gawande and a repeat from the Times' list of Elizabeth Kolbert's study of mass extinction.

But Slate magazine's critics show truly just how hard it must have been to limit nonfiction choices to five. Their picks include a book of poetry, a consideration of modern parenthood, two very different types of collected essays and a repeat of Chast's book.

I keep thinking back to Washington Post critic Ron Charles's
frank discussion of compiling best of lists, "The books we’ve read are always better than the books we haven’t read, and we haven’t read most of the books." In no other case can I imagine this to be more true than with nonfiction. So while these books might not have made everyone's list, I for one am glad to have some of these titles brought to my attention so that they will remain unread by me no longer.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best of 2014 lists - Fiction

First, a disclaimer: I love lists. To do lists, Buzzfeed lists, best of lists. All the lists. Perhaps it is the perfect convergence of my desire for order and my fear of missing out. This time of year you can't open a newspaper or magazine or browse the web without encountering "Best Books of 2014" lists.

Here are the five fiction titles that made the New York Times'
"The 10 Best Books of 2014":

 These fiction titles were noted by Slate's editors: "The Top 10 Books of the Year":

Rounding out the lists I've been watching is the Washington Post's "The Ten Best Books of 2014":

You'll notice some overlap in these lists, though not a lot. After all, this is a subjective exercise. But I still found this line from Washington Post critic Ron Charles quite startling:
I see novels listed on other publications’ best-of lists that were among the worst books of 2014, and I suspect their editors feel the same way about a few books on The Post’s list, but, of course, we wouldn’t disturb one another’s day by expressing that out loud. It’s as though the whole literary community has taken Mom’s advice: "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all."
So, what is the value of these lists? I wondered this recently when my neighbor confessed she thought one of the Times' top picks was mediocre at best. Charles says that while best of lists are fun to peruse:’s wise to remember that such lists — like literary prizes — are just a snapshot of a few sincere, harried people’s best judgments at a particular moment. The printed page endows a list with the aura of objective finality, but another group of smart readers at another time might have assembled a different roster entirely. The books we’ve read are always better than the books we haven’t read, and we haven’t read most of the books. We editors are trying to satisfy a broad range of tastes. We’re trying not to be influenced by personal or professional relationships. We’re trying to deal with notes from reviewers who confess — after the fact! — that a book they praised really isn’t very good. We’re trying to weigh judgments made in January against judgments made in November. We’re not sleeping well because we know we’re missing an important book, because we know that that reviewer will be offended that we ignored him, because we know we’re including a book that is deeply flawed, because we know readers will take this list into the bookstore, because we know this is the Most Important Thing We Have Ever Done in the History of Civilization. And then the list is out, and it’s over, and the new year begins, and we’re excited to find new books to love and treasure.
There you have it. Make of them what you will. As for me, I'll gladly keep using these lists to find new books, hopefully ones that will make my own personal top ten list.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

You Must Hear This: Great Fiction Audiobooks

If you haven’t tried audiobooks before, now is the time. A good audiobook can turn a bad commute into a decent drive, a long, sleepless night into a less troubled one and walking around the track into pleasurable exercise. Here are just a few of my favorites.{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVERBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is narrated by Oliver Wyman, one of my favorite audio-narrators. Billy Lynn and his squadron are young, immature, irreverent Iraq War vets being showcased at the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game halftime show. Despite their silliness, they’ve been through a lot--witnessing atrocities abroad and ignorance at home. Numerous sub-plots (their families, lost dreams, intriguing pasts) echo the themes of loss, struggle and courage. Oliver Wyman’s inventive take on the characters’ voices will keep you laughing (and sometimes weeping).

In Dave Egger’s What is the What, we meet Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy of Sudan. (Deng is a real person, but this novel is a fictionalized version of his life.) Valentino has seen horrors that most of us can barely imagine, yet his life in the United States is one struggle after another, whether financially, academically or practically. When we first encounter Valentino, he’s been taken hostage in his own apartment. Flashbacks to his previous life are expertly done, with Valentino’s “thought tale” giving us insight and understanding into his past and the past of his former country. The audio-narrator, Dion Graham, does a variety of accents and voices with skill and humor.

In the mood for something lighter? Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster chronicles the daily life of a manager at a Red Lobster, with surprisingly humane and profound insights. Manny DeLeon works hard to keep both his customers and staff happy, with limited results. He’s in love with one of the waitresses, his girlfriend is pregnant, the restaurant is being shut down, and his job is relocating. Yet, his sense of dignity is poignant, and his desire to serve is humbling. Steward O’Nan has been called the bard of the working class, and this novella is proof of that.  

 If you like social commentary disguised as beach reading, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple will definitely make you laugh. It will also make you deeply suspicious of parent-teacher associations, other parents and judgmental neighbors. Bernadette, a brilliant architect disguised as the well-dressed mother of a teenager, is at odds with virtually everyone she knows. It’s not necessarily all her fault either. Her husband, a Microsoft administrator, thinks she’s paranoid, and the mothers at her daughter’s private school think she’s an oddball. In fact, her only friend seems to be an offshore personal assistant hired to take care of tiresome personal business. When she vanishes – to a particularly surprising part of the world – you can hardly blame her.

-Carey Hagan, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Welcome to the Post-Apocalypse

It’s the end of the world as we know it – visions of future dystopias and apocalyptic collapses have been somewhat inescapable these past few years. From television’s "Walking Dead" to the teen dystopias of The Hunger Games and Divergent, gritty visions of mankind’s future have never been more popular. 

Readers with more “literary” tastes, however, might have been surprised to see a novel from this genre put forward as a nominee for the National Book Award this year. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven follows a traveling band of artists, all survivors of a catastrophic flu. Their quest to bring Shakespeare and symphonies to isolated communities forms a quiet, thoughtful look at how culture and art are redefined in a post-apocalyptic world. Station Eleven ultimately did not receive the National Book Awards highest award for fiction. Phil Klay’s compelling collection of voices from the Iraqi war, Redeployment, won that honor. However, sci-fi/fantasy author Ursula Le Guin made headlines at the award ceremonies with her spirited tribute to fellow authors of that genre. She went on to say, “Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.” Try Station Eleven or one of the other literary post-apocalyptic suggestions listed below –see if you think they meet that call., cormac&srchfield2=AU^AUTHOR^AUTHORS^Author Processing^Author&searchoper2=AND&thesaurus2=AUTHORS&search_entries2=AU&search_type2=AUTHOR&special_proc2=Author Processing&searchdata3=road&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER
In this acclaimed novel,  McCarthy takes on a father and son’s quest for humanity amidst the search for survival."bone clocks"&srchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^Words or phrase&searchoper1=&thesaurus1=GENERAL&search_entries1=GENERAL&search_type1=SUBJECT&special_proc1=Words or phrase&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER
The author of Cloud Atlas depicts a psychic teenager and her past, present and future worlds."oryx and crake"&srchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^Words or phrase&searchoper1=&thesaurus1=GENERAL&search_entries1=GENERAL&search_type1=SUBJECT&special_proc1=Words or phrase&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER
Atwood’s work looks at love and loss as mankind’s excesses lead to our world’s collapse. stars&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

A poetic look at a lonely aviator and the value of  friendship, nature and a really great dog in the  post-apocalypse.^AUTHOR^AUTHORS^Author Processing^Author&searchoper2=AND&thesaurus2=AUTHORS&search_entries2=AU&search_type2=AUTHOR&special_proc2=Author Processing&searchdata3=passage&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

This genre-crossing novel takes on vampires, military-created viruses and the struggle of lone pockets of civilization to survive.{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVER

An interstellar missionary finds the bonds of faith, love and culture tested in a new world, while life on earth collapses.