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Staff Picks for 2004

Fiction

  • Ablow, Keith
    Psychopath
    A forensic psychiatrist writes a book about a forensic psychiatrist helping the FBI hunt down and capture the Highway Killer who happens to be a psychiatrist sans forensic. Sounds good to me. Sounds like a triple whammy. So why is the first burning question I have, 'What happens to the earth-toned-natural-fibered clothes our killer sports? Is he so successfully control freaky that he can keep the mess of murder off his ensembles?' He is also supposedly outdoorsy. No mention of flannel or denim. Does he go camping in his bloodied day clothes? If this isn't riveting enough, he, a doctor mind you, takes blood from his victims with a syringe and keeps it mixed in a vial from which he has the occasional taste. I guess his victims look healthy. The most frightening thing about this book is how easily this could be about a Highway Killer, who is a forensic psychiatrist, writing a book about a forensic psychiatrist who is writing a book about a forensic psychiatrist hunting a forensic psychiatrist who is killing people and writing a book about it.
    Perversely, I fully intend to read all his other books. Oh, and don't worry, I haven't let any cats out of the bag. I didn't even tell you about the naked ego running rampant throughout or the truly pathetic female characters and that's only the ones that are allowed to live.
    Write on Ablow. I'll be there.
    Recommended By: Geo, December 2004

  • Adams, Douglas
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    This very silly sci-fi series has a very complicated plot. It is basically the story of "average guy" Arthur Dent, of England. He's rescued from the Earth shortly before it's blown up to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass, and spends many years afterwards traveling through space and time. His companions are Ford Prefect, an intergalactic hitchhiker pretending to be from Earth, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Universe, Trillian, an Earth woman pretending to be an intergalactic hitchhiker, and Marvin the Paranoid Android, a frighteningly intelligent robot with low self-esteem. Using the cutting-edge technology of the Heart of Gold (a space ship run on the newly-developed "improbability drive"), they attempt to find out just what the deal is with this Universe, anyway. This is best read in the complete and unabridged omnibus, "The More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide." The story is complicated enough without forgetting bits between volumes, and besides, you won't want to stop reading!
    Recommended By: Denise, October 2004

  • Baker, Nicholson
    Checkpoint
    I don't normally enjoy Nicholson Baker's work, and "enjoy" is probably the wrong word to describe what reading this novel is like. Nevertheless, I would recommend Checkpoint to anyone who is still trying to make sense of the September 11th tragedy and the subsequent war on terror. Baker's protagonists, Jay and Ben, spend an afternoon together in a hotel room talking about matters both incendiary and banal-sometimes within the same breath. What unites them is their sense of grief for America. However, they disagree about what our country's next steps should be. Although the word "cathartic" is often overused to describe books these days, I really believe that this book captures the spirit of post-9/11 America, and that it should be read and discussed as a cultural artifact of a difficult age.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, October 2004

  • Card, Orson Scott
    Ender's Game
    Ender Wiggin is a rare Third child in a society that permits couples to have only two. From birth he's attracted trouble, because of this distasteful circumstance, and also because he's one of those bright, sensitive kids who just naturally seem to enrage bullies. The government that allowed his birth, however, sees great potential for Ender to become an outstanding military commander, and his strategies with the bullies only emphasize their hopes. For the Earth is at war with an alien, insect-like race that seems determined to wipe out all of humankind. Ender's training is cruel and merciless, however, and his Battle School may be teaching him more than they realize. Will Ender become the salvation of Earth, or will he give in to doubt and be broken forever?
    Recommended By: Denise, October 2004

  • Clarke, Susanna
    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
    Once upon a time, in the time of the Raven King, England was awash in magic and Faerie. Susanna Clarke's brilliant debut novel, which took over a decade to write, uses this notion as the base for her sumptuous story about wizards who duel…but only philosophically. Gilbert Norrell is a scholar who prefers magical theory to actual practice. His pupil, Jonathan Strange, is an adventurer who wants to push the envelope of spellcraft. Their shaky relationship, a risky spell with lingering consequences, and a mischievous fairy are all elements of a thrilling story, complete with faux historical footnotes and a guest appearance by Lord Byron. You don't need special powers to love this book: just the willingness-and the free time-to be swept away by 782 pages of literary goodness. Read it by candlelight or by starlight, but please: read it!
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, November 2004

  • Due, Tananarive
    The Living Blood
    This book is the sequel to My Soul to Keep, Due's riveting fantasy/thriller novel about Jessica and David Wolde. Their second child, Bee-Bee, was born with unusual gifts, and Jessica is too new to her powers to teach her daughter. Her only option seems to be a reunion with David, and the people who he calls "Life Brothers." However, Jessica's only previous experience with the Life Brothers has been terrifying. How can they welcome her now, when they were determined to destroy her before? Furthermore, seeing David will reawaken all the painful memories surrounding their parting. Can Jessica contend with her own unresolved past in time to save Bee-Bee's future?
    Recommended By: Denise, October 2004

  • Evanovich, Janet
    Ten Big Ones
    Pass the Tasty Cakes: Evanovich's latest novel is worth its weight in snack food. Stephanie Plum's most recent misadventure ratchets up the romantic rivalry between Joe Morelli, her steady, and Ranger, her mysterious colleague. Throw in a Frito thief, gang warfare, a cross-dressing bus driver, and some overly friendly guard dogs, and you have one stunner of a beach book.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, August 2004

  • Faust, Minister
    The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad
    Edmonton, Alberta is crawling with inter-dimensional beings. Who knew? Certainly not Hamza and Yehat, the self-proclaimed Coyote Kings of E-town. Their relatively normal lives of minimum-wage toil, community service, and endless geekdom is rudely interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Sheremnefer, an ethereally lovely woman who leads our heroes on an adventure far greater than any their twenty-sided dice could possibly roll up. Liberally laced with both high-brow and pop culture references, this book is deliciously geeky fun. Final stats: ninety-nine hit points with a plus-five charisma bonus.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, September 2004

  • Hart, Erin
    Haunted Ground
    When an ancient head is unearthed in a bog, a recent mysterious disappearance is brought back into focus. Haunted Ground weaves the subjects of anthropology, pathology and Irish history into a well-researched and interesting mystery.
    Recommended By: Susan, September 2004

  • Hiaasen, Carl
    Skinny Dip
    Joey Perrone is mad. She knew things weren't going perfectly for she and her husband Chaz, but she never thought he'd throw her off of a cruise ship. Surviving eight hours in the cold ocean by clinging to a bale of Jamaican pot, Joey is rescued by Mick Stranahan (protagonist from Hiassen's Skin Tight). Instead of going right to the police, Joey is determined to get revenge on Chaz by slowly revealing to him that she is still alive. Hiaasen introduces new characters that delight and repulse, all set against the backdrop of the Florida Everglades and the corruption inherent in protected lands. Hiaasen's newest exposure to the world through his words is a satisfying and thought-provoking read.
    Recommended By: Hilary, August 2004

  • King, Stephen
    The Dark Tower
    All good things come to an end someday, and so it goes with the Dark Tower series. The bittersweet end of Roland's journey, with its T.S. Eliot overtones, may possibly infuriate long-suffering readers who think Roland and his ka-tet deserve a better end than the one King has written for them. In my own humble opinion, however, the reader would do well to remember what the series has told us all along: "Go, then. There are other worlds than these." You might want to keep your Kleenex handy, as the resolutions of several story arcs are definitely weepers. My favorite chapter? "The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear)," with its drawing motif.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, October 2004

  • King, Stephen
    The Gunslinger
    This book contains possibly the best first line I've ever read: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." This, the first in King's epic "Dark Tower" series introduces readers to protagonist Roland and his journey through an ominous, macabre world in pursuit of the Man in Black.
    Recommended By: Chris, August 2004

  • Lahiri, Jhumpa
    The Namesake
    Lahiri writes with a poetic clarity that makes the act of reading akin to being born again. Her style is such a pleasure to read that it almost relegates the story she is telling superfluous -- almost. Instead, you are softly carried along and privileged to be present as a gentle Bengali couple adjust to life in the Northeast with their two children. The cultures involved loom large and create tension without overshadowing the characters or derailing our sympathy for them. Hopefully, Lahiri will be a prolific author so that when other authors exhaust, there will always be a place to go to be refreshed.
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Mahfouz, Naguib
    The Journey of Ibn Fattouma
    This book is written by the leading Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. It is a short but important work. The Journey... is set in a mythical, timeless Middle East, and yet based on a classic of Western literature: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The story shows the challenges of exile, following a trip by a young Koranic scholar, Ibn Fattouma, who is disappointed in love and disillusioned with his own country -- as is the case of many young people in the Middle East. Ibn is travelling as a way of finding the true meaning of life. He joins a caravan and sets out to explore the world, his ultimate destination the enigmatic land of Gebel, where perfection, truth, and happiness prevail. Ibn Fattouma finds, to his surprise, that many of the countries he visits, though heathen, are in some ways superior to his own. His first stop results in marriage to a non-believer. However, war with another country and a clash with a city official cause him to lose his family, and he is forced to leave. In another country he is imprisoned because he is accused of crimes against the state. Civil war frees him, and he continues his journey, always seeking an insubstantial truth he is never able to find, always vulnerable to the winds of social and political change. Finally, he joins a caravan bound for Gebel -- a country so distant and mysterious that no one has ever been known to reach it and return to tell the tale. I enjoyed every chapter of this book that reveals the vast differences in the cultural assumptions between East and West.
    Recommended By: Noufissa, August 2004

  • Miller, Max
    I Cover the Waterfront
    Max Miller is a 28 year old waterfront reporter for the San Diego Sun in this partial autobiography (told as fiction). Originally written in 1938, this cult classic withstands the test of time in its descriptions of life on the docks.
    Recommended By: Chris, August 2004

  • Nimmo, Jenny
    Midnight for Charlie Bone
    This book is one of the many touted as a great choice for people waiting for "the next Harry Potter," and in my opinion is one that actually lives up to the press. Midnight for Charlie Bone is a story about a young man living with an unkind family, who is sent to a special school when it is discovered that he has special powers. Sound familiar? But there the similarities end -- some of Charlie's family is quite nice, he has some truly excellent friends, and his school only has a few of "the endowed" (the rest of the kids are just normally talented). Upon discovering his new power, hearing the voices of people in pictures, Charlie also discovers that eight years ago a scientist sold his daughter to some evil magicians. Charlie thenmeets the girl's aunt, who wants her back. And guess where she's likely to be? That's right -- Bloor's Academy, Charlie's new school. Charlie gets himself mixed up with some very cool kids -- and some very uncool kids --to solve the mysteries of the missing girl and the tool that may help him find her. I recommend this quick read to fantasy lovers young and old(er).
    Recommended By: Karen B., August 2004

  • Oates, Joyce Carol
    Small Avalanches and Other Stories
    This is a fantastic collection of short fiction that recounts tales of teens and adolescents navigating critical adult encounters. Oates develops a heightened sense of discomfort by revisiting and reframing description with every line. The teen and adolescent worlds often shift dramatically through outlook and perception -- not necessarily plot. Oates here presents a fresh way of looking at literature: through the eyes of a teen and the constant reframing of perceptual cognition taking place. Pick it up if you're looking for something both edgy and literary.
    Recommended By: Joseph, August 2004

  • Perrotta, Tom
    Little Children
    Todd, the stay-at-home dad who has repeatedly failed the bar exam, and Sarah, the frustrated feminist who finds herself married with a young daughter and living in the suburbs, hedonistically turn to each other to relieve the ordinariness of their lives. Surrounded by characters as illuminating and disquieting as themselves, Todd and Sarah try to make sense of their lives and those with whom they have chosen to create families. Perrotta deftly moves the plot, revealing aspects of each life and the imperfections of the human condition. The conclusion of the story is a bit too tidy for the mess Perrotta stirs up, but the return to supposed normalcy echoes the facade of suburbia.
    Recommended By: Hilary, August 2004

  • Rendell, Ruth
    A Sight for Sore Eyes
    Rendell starts off with a character whose interesting problem solving technique -- serial killing -- is not only justified, but cheerable. Halfway through the book, Rendell turns you back into a civilized human being and returns you to the right side of the law. From entertainingly creepy to sinisterly edgy, she holds you until justice is served -- a perfect justice.
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Roth, Philip
    The Plot Against America
    This book has received a great deal of hype and critical acclaim in the last few months, all of which is richly deserved. In this novel Roth departs from his usual rambling, philosophical style to tell a riveting, plot-driven story about an alternate American history in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR and becomes president in 1940. Using a clever mix of historical and fictional characters, including his own family members, Roth shows how democracy can be undermined by an insidious series of small actions that gradually erode the Constitution and plunge the country into madness and anarchy. I especially enjoyed Roth's fictional interpretation of the firey, peppery Walter Winchell, who was already larger than life and only gets better in this book. Even if you normally write off bestsellers as hype machines, I strongly recommend you give this book a chance. At the very least, it will make for some provocative dinner table conversations about liberty, democracy, and religious tolerance.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, December 2004

  • Shields, Carol
    Unless
    Shields has created an interesting torment for her characters in a story that pivots on the abdication from life of an apparently healthy young woman. When a daughter opts to sit on a corner wearing a sign with just the word "Goodness" on it, the rest of the family is thrown into psychological turmoil. The reader is immediately drawn into the mystification of this family -- especially that of the mother, Reta. Reta's obsessive self examination seems strangely out of place, but actually provides the depth of this novel as well as the answer to the burning question: Why?
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Tademy, Lalita
    Cane River
    Cane River tells the story of four generations of African American women starting with a young slaved named Suzette. Though the book is fictional, the author used carefully researched family documents to create a realistic and revealing portrait of post-slavery society in Louisiana. This was an Oprah book pick in 2001.
    Recommended By: Susan, September 2004

  • Thomas, Scarlett
    Going Out
    Luke is allergic to sunshine, and as a result hasn't been outside since he escaped at age seven. Julie is afraid of absolutely everything and therefore lives a very narrow existence. And then a healer says he can heal Luke, so Luke, Julie, and their friends (one who thinks she might be a witch, one with cancer, and one who blames herself for her boyfriend's death) set off on a roadtrip to find a cure. Comparisons to "The Wizard of Oz" are unavoidable, especially since the author shoves the parallels in your face, but all in all this is a well-written and very enjoyable book. Anyone who's been afraid of a thunder storm or felt impotent to change anything in their life will appreciate the candor with which this story is told. Although the ending is rather predictable, this book as a whole is a welcome departure from the typical contemporary Brit-lit that peppers bookshelves today.
    Recommended By: Karen B., August 2004

  • Waugh, Evelyn
    A Handful of Dust
    If you ever get curious enough to revisit an author who has survived the test of time, make it Waugh. A Handful of Dust will lull you into complacency then deliciously betray you in a manner so outrageous, it will make you want to read all his other books just to see if he can do it again. Although previous readers have been alarmed and confused by Waugh's brutalization of the main character, I say sit back and enjoy. You're perfectly safe.
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Weiner, Jennifer
    Little Earthquakes
    Set in contemporary Philadelphia, two - time bestselling author Jennifer Weiner introduces four very different women who become friends while dealing with the joys and heartaches of pregnancy and new motherhood. Through the alternating voice of the four characters, Weiner exposes the insecurities each woman is dealing with and the resolution each makes to improve their circumstances. While the story tends to drag toward the end, Weiner has again created endearing characters that the reader will resolutely cheer for.
    Recommended By: Hilary, November 2004

  • Zielnski, Stephan
    Bad Magic
    This short, sharp novel knocked me off my chair with its dark humor and snappy dialogue. San Diego is awash with magic, but only those with their third eyes open can see how much damage has been done by the forces of evil. Eight quirky mages are out to save the day as much as they can, even though they know deep-down it's too big a task for such a small posse. That doesn't stop them from trying, however, or from cracking jokes at each other's expense. Loaded with inside genre jokes and bizarre creatures designed to make your head hurt, Bad Magic is a treat for people who love fantasy, but don't have the time to get started on yet another hack-em-up trilogy. As a bonus, check out the faux-scholarly essay at the end, which teaches you everything you've ever wanted to know about that misunderstood species, Zombi Diego.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, December 2004
 

Nonfiction

  • Armstrong, Lance
    Every Second Counts
    Champion cyclist Lance Armstrong recounts his struggle to overcome cancer in this inspiring book. In addition to the uplifting nature of the work itself, Armstrong sheds light into the rigors of preparing for (and performing in) the world's toughest bicycle race, the Tour de France.
    Recommended By: Chris, September 2004

  • Bakan, Joel
    The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
    This critical examination of multi-national corporations and the profound influence they have come to wield over our social and political institutions is enlightening and provocative. More than just a scathing denouncement of corporate culture, Bakan's book (which recently inspired an equally engaging documentary film) offers reasoned insight into the rise of these mammoth institutions and the legal loopholes that make their "pathological pursuit of profit" a danger to the well being of the world.
    Recommended By: Brad, August 2004

  • Ben Jelloun, Tahar
    Islam Explained
    This book was written in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The author Tahar Ben Jelloun is a French writer of Moroccan origin. His book is useful for all educators who know very little about Islam and a good introduction to scholarly books on Islam. It is also a very valuable source of information to recommend to young people or adults who have no background in the religion. In an accessible question-and-answer format, Ben Jelloun explains the doctrine of Islam and traces its history -- starting with a brief outline of Muhammad's life and the tenets of the religion, then focusing a good deal on the Golden Age of Islam (about 900 years ago) before he comments frankly on the 'decline' of Islam as a unified culture in the following centuries. He finally elucidates the current politics of Islamic fundamentalism. He also offers fairly balanced clarifications of the key words that have come to dominate coverage of the current crisis: terrorism, Jihad, fundamentalist, fatwa. He uses simple language to explain Islam. He implies that the current situation, with fanatical and violent people 'claiming to be' adherents of Islam, is due to the long slide of Islamic culture (as opposed to the Islamic religion itself) into 'decadence.' He goes further to decry the current atmosphere of terrorism and violence as a corruption of the idealistic principles of Islam -- denouncing it forcefully.
    Recommended By: Noufissa, August 2004

  • Bin Ladin, Carmen
    Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia
    The author's candid account of her rocky marriage to -- and subsequent divorce from -- a member of the Bin Laden clan is patently disturbing. Although Osama Bin Laden's name surfaces from time to time as an example of extreme religious fundamentalism, Bin Ladin is more concerned with describing the role of women in Saudi culture. Part tell-all and part cultural critique, the short chapters and intimate details make this a quick, interesting read.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, August 2004

  • Campbell, James
    The Final Frontiersman
    This is the story of Heimo Korth, a modern day pioneer who lives with his wife and two daughters off the land in extreme Northern Alaska. A book for adventure buffs or those in search of a good "Man vs. Nature" read.
    Recommended By: Chris, August 2004

  • DeParle, Jason
    American Dream
    Although many non-fiction writers strive to be "fair and balanced," DeParle is one of the few authors I've read lately who actually manages to succeed. This is surprising and gratifying, particularly since his subject is welfare reform, the mere mention of which sends many otherwise rational pundits into a tailspin of partisan vehemence. This multifaceted book is primarily the story of Angie, Opal, and Jewell, three women directly affected by Bill Clinton's vow to "end welfare as we know it." However, it is also the story of welfare itself: how it came into being, what it was originally intended to do, and how its purposes changed over time. Several chapters focus exclusively on the political wheeling and dealing that went into Clinton's welfare reform plan. And just to make sure he's covered all of his bases, DeParle gives us the story of Mike, who becomes a welfare caseworker largely by accident and gets to see firsthand just how the system works-or doesn't-for women like Angie, Opal, and Jewell. What I enjoyed most about this book was DeParle's refusal to depict his subjects as victims, saints, or lost causes. What we get in these pages is, instead, a well-rounded story about the complex social issues that contribute to the culture of welfare in America. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about welfare without getting bogged down in a lot of emotional rhetoric.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, November 2004

  • Dubner, Stephen J.
    Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper
    Journalist Stephen Dubner has had an obsession with Franco Harris since he witnessed the "Immaculate Reception" of 1972. Drawing parallels between his own life and that of Franco, Dubner tracks down the former athlete and attempts to forge a relationship with him.
    Recommended By: Chris, December 2004

  • Feinstein, John
    The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever
    Sports author Feinstein covers the infamous 1977 NBA on-court sucker punch (Kermit Washington's single blow inflicted enough damage on Rudy Tomjanovich to cause spinal fluid to leak into the afflicted's mouth) incident in this account. This book examines how each man's life has been affected since the brawl-- Tomjanovich would never be the same player again and would eventually become a successful coach while Washington never lived down the stigma of being a dirty player. An interesting read but may be a bit much for non-basketball/sports fans. A similar, albeit less tragic event happened recently in a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.
    Recommended By: Chris, December 2004

  • Gold, Elizabeth
    Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity: One Year in a Progressive School
    What happens when a writer-by-trade, fueled by the prospects of connecting with youth and a steady paycheck, takes a job teaching ninth grade English? According to Elizabeth Gold, not learning. With surprisingly wry & wistfully hopeless language, Gold describes her experience teaching at New York's School for the New Millennium - a school that promises to develop "New York City's leaders of the future." In Gold's story, what we learn is that the school does not seem poised to deliver what it promises. Gold is the fourth teacher the students have had that year alone, and nobody seems to have any real control over the students. In fact, the only moment of control Gold seems to have is when she herself loses it. Although the book pushes along with great wit, Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity itself doesn't seem to deliver what it seems to promise: a social treatise about teaching and the education system. The book rarely leaves the emotional landscape of the author. But please don't think about it as a critique rather than a simple caveat. If you are looking for a broader social survey or an immersion that attempts to extend itself more, then I suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are looking for an insightful look at a person who is flailing around when she is needed most, then look no further. Where else are you going to find a book about teaching that includes a chapter on the eroticism of firefighters?
    Recommented By: Joseph, December 2004

  • Goldsmith, Kenneth
    I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews
    Warhol found art in what was predictable and repetitive: the canned commonalities of everyday existence. And like soup cans, postage stamps, and Coca-Cola bottles, the interview to him was regarded just as such -- more a scripted song-and-dance conducted by the interviewer than an explorative analysis of the interviewee. In this selected anthology, Goldsmith successfully illustrates the subversive, absurd, and ingenious ways that Warhol exploited the interview format as an extension of his artwork and public image.
    Recommended By: Brad, August 2004

  • Klosterman, Chuck
    Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
    While this is "much ado about nothing" (The Sims, Billy Joel, tribute bands, etc.), the ado is very entertaining and instructive. Klosterman is a master at turning an opinion about anything into a deconstruction and morphing this into a philosophy. By the time you finish this book you will be able to supply your own weft to the warp of life. So get on board the Deconstruction Train and head for Philosophy City.
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Krakauer, Jon
    Under the Banner of Heaven
    Jon Krakauer chronicles the history of the Mormon Church and a horrific murder that was committed by radical separatist Mormons in this bestseller. This book can be a bit dry at times and is unlike any of Krakauer's other titles. Interesting and worth reading despite the occasional tedium.
    Recommended By: Chris, August 2004

  • LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole
    Random Family: Love, Drugs, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
    This true story follows the trials and tribulations of Latino family over the course of several years. Written with vivid detail, this riveting book will leave you wanting to know more.
    Recommended By: Susan, September 2004

  • Olds, Sharon
    The Wellspring
    Olds' fourth collection is a nice series of poems detailing a woman on the crux of birthing and being born. Olds constantly twists and turns phrases and images into metaphor and back again until it's almost as though Olds is physically wresting meaning from these narratives with her bare hands. However, the poems don't hit as hard and aren't bursting with the detail and intensity of Olds' previous work. Rather, but rather creep slowly with a nuanced emotional claw. This book will appeal to fans of Olds, but doesn't serve well as a starting point.
    Recommended By: Joseph, August 2004

  • O'Nan, Stewart and King, Stephen
    Faithful: Two Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season
    In this highly amusing testament to the spirit of baseball, celebrated novelists O'Nan and King dispatch with trademark tales of marauding aliens, undead pets, and uncontainable epidemics, and tackle something even more surreal: a championship season enjoyed by the famously cursed Boston Red Sox. The two die-hard fans began documenting the historic season from its earliest days, and later conspired to collaborate on a book that would chronicle the devotion of the Red Sox Faithful despite the team's notorious history. As it happened, the pair would experience not only the greatest comeback in baseball history, but also Boston's first World Series win in eighty-six years. Witty, emotional, and obsessive, this is a great read for any devoted baseball fan.
    Recommended By: Brad, December 2004

  • Pelton, Robert Young
    The World's Most Dangerous Places
    Advertised as an "underground classic among the CIA, mujahadeen, special forces, NGO's, and savvy adventurers", The World's Most Dangerous Places is a sensationalist armchair travel guide to areas of the world most infamously blighted by war, corruption, kidnapping, disease, starvation, and social unrest. Though often less than cheerful, Mr. Pelton's irreverently detailed accounts of the players, politics, and pandemonium specific to each country make DP a fascinating insight into the globe's more notorious hotspots. Idle readers and adventure seekers alike will appreciate this edgy alternative to traditionally lighthearted travel writing fare.
    Recommended By: Brad, December 2004

  • Robbins, Alexandra
    Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities
    Drugs, alcohol, date rape, and eating disorders lace the pages of this candid look at sorority life in the South. Robbins went undercover in four different Greek organizations to find out what really happens to sorority pledges, and the stories she tells are the stories both parents and students need to hear. However, the author's inability to find any redeeming qualities in Greek life leave her writing open to charges of bias. Check it out and decide for yourself.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, August 2004

  • Said, Edward
    Orientalism
    This book is an important clarifying guide for anyone who is interested in the study of the Muslim Orient. It plays an important role not only in the way the Near East is studied but also how it is viewed. I personally think that this book presents a rational explanation for the on-going misunderstanding between the West, the Middle East, and Islam. Though the essays in this book are not an easy read, any reader can still get a grasp of Said's persuasive case against Orientalism. Orientalism, which he defines as "a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient." It is the image of the 'Orient' expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship. Said's evaluation and critique of the set of beliefs known as Orientalism is to the point. Said argues that concepts such as the Orient, Islam, the Arabs, etc. are too vast to be grouped together and presented as one coherent whole. Said adds that Orientalism can be found in current Western depictions of "Arab" cultures. The depictions of "the Arab" as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and --perhaps most importantly -- prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has evolved. Using the above research and indisputable evidence from two centuries' worth of Western writing about the East, Said lays down an indisputable case about how Western so-called "objective" and "scientific" study of the East has been corrupted and is far from describing reality. Many readers who are eager to understand the conflict of today's world will likely find satisfaction.
    Recommended By: Noufissa, August 2004

  • Sedaris, David
    Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
    Don't let the title throw you; this is perfect Sedaris. From being raised by housecats to potpourri and funerals, Sedaris can find the hilarity in tragedies great and small. So what if his family hates him, if they do. Sedaris belongs to us, his global family. His new book begs the questions: is a sense of humor genetic or can it be taught? and if humor were a color, what would it be? I, too, would like to see the world through Sedaris' or puce-colored glasses. Instead, I will accept his generosity and incorporate his memories into my own. Is there a cult out there I can join?
    Recommended By: Geo, August 2004

  • Shirley, John
    Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas
    John Shirley, the award-winning novelist and short story writer, has finally succeeded in creating something the world has been in need of for quite some time: a truly accessible and engaging introduction to the ideas of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, one of the most remarkable and enigmatic thinkers of the 20th century. Known to his followers simply as "the Work," Gurdjieff's no-nonsense system for self-realization bridges the scientific knowledge of the Western world with the spiritual understanding of the East, offering incredible insight into the human psyche and great faith in the power of individual transformation to benefit all of mankind. Shirley's introduction offers fascinating anecdotes about Gurdjieff and many of his well-known students, emphasizing the oral tradition of Gurdjieff's teachings and how they are carried on today.
    Recommended By: Jeff, August 2004

  • Truss, Lynne
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
    British journalist Lynn Truss takes a humorous look at current punctuation trends, or more accurately, the lack of current punctuation trends. Told in a light-hearted, yet informative manner, Eats, Shoots & Leaves looks at each of the major punctuations (comma, colon, semicolon, exclamation point, and question mark) and discusses its current uses and misuses. An exceedingly enjoyable read for anyone intrigued by the fascinating world of punctuation.
    Recommended By: Hilary, August 2004
 

Graphic Novels

  • Rees, David
    My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable
    This graphic novel is an excellent substitute for a Pilates workout. In fact, if your stomach doesn't ache from laughter after the first few pages, I suggest you get yourself to a doctor, as you clearly don't have a pulse. Think that's salty? Wait until you see the frank and honest dialog Rees' characters toss about as they try to make sense of the filing system from hell. I can't decide what I like more: the funky clip art, or the bizarre plotline that makes Dilbert look like a walk in the park. Grab a copy of this book and banish corporate anomie for good…or at least until your next training session.
    Recommended By: Leigh Anne, October 2004

  • Satrapi, Marjane
    Persepolis: The Story of a Return
    The part-two continuation of 2003's Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, this highly anticipated graphic novel/memoir focuses on the author's life as a young adult, her attempts to adjust to a new life in the West, and her eventual return home to a tumultuous, post-revolutionary Iran. As childhood imagination gives way to teenage rebellion and depression, readers experience less of the simple charm that characterized the first installment of Persepolis, but the author does not fail to generate the same heartfelt empathy for her struggles with self-identity. Also ever present are Satrapi's smart critiques of political indoctrination and the sordid realities of life under a militant, fundamentalist regime. In the end, Persepolis lives up to its esteemed praise, as well as its numerous critical comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus.
    Recommended By: Brad, October 2004

  • Thompson, Craig
    Good-Bye Chunky Rice
    This short but affecting graphic novel documents the sorrowful journey of a solemn little turtle named Chunky Rice as he follows a mysterious inner voice that compels him to leave his beloved friend Dandel for a new and unknown future. Each of the characters (including a graceful and stoic mouse, a little misfit birdie, a rough-and-tumble boat captain, and bipolar pair of Siamese twins) is sketched with a depth and emotional poignancy that belies the beautiful simplicity of this tenderly-illustrated book. Thompson's greatest strength as an illustrator and storyteller is his ability to take emotions that simply cannot be articulated in words and make them palpable in a way that no conventional novelist could. For readers who are new to the graphic novel format, this is an excellent place to start. Thompson's longer work, Blankets, is also highly recommended.
    Recommended By: Jeff, August 2004
 

Audio, Video, and Other Materials

  • Cold Mountain
    This visually stunning and very poignant drama tells the story of Ada, a reverend's daughter who moves with her father to the remote mountain town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina, and Inman, the man she falls in love with. When the Civil War breaks out, Inman enlists in the Confederate army along with all the other men in town. Told in alternating viewpoints, the movie chronicles Inman and Ada's struggles to survive: for Inman, the perils of war and ultimately deserting and traveling home to Ada, and for Ada, the learning to live without someone to take care of her. Renee Zellweger plays Ruby, a young woman who comes to help Ada take care of herself and her property. All in all, the story is uplifting, yet incredibly depressing, and clearly displays the lengths people will go to to survive during war as well as the way others will abuse the power they have.
    Recommended By: Karen, August 2004

  • Watanabe, Shinchiro
    Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
    This is a fun and colorful anime with a lot of keen elements. In Cowboy Bebop, a ragtag a group of bounty hunters try to stop an individual hell-bent on bioterror. Though this motley crew is comprised of a wide range of character types -- hip & dangerous, calm & philosophical, smart & sexy, geeky & silly -- the movie allows for fluidity of personality elements between the characters, creating a dynamic that does not set stale archetypal boundaries. The primary villain, on the other hand, is treated confusingly and meanderingly vague. The movie does not seem to be able to decide whether the audience should treat him empathetically or with disgust from one moment to the next. Visually, the movie is able to tread the difficult line between beautiful and stylized. Overall, Cowboy Bebop's fluid combination of action, drama, and humor make it a fun viewing for many age groups.
    Recommended By: Joseph, August 2004

  • Raising Helen
    Despite its mediocre reviews, I found this movie very enjoyable. Kate Hudson convincingly plays the part of an executive for a modeling agency who suddenly finds herself taking on the challenge of raising her three orphaned nieces and nephew. She stumbles into instant motherhood and makes many mistakes, but her heart is always in the right place. Joan Cusack, who plays the older "supermom" sister, also does a great job. I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys light comedies and romances.
    Recommended By: Karen G., August 2004

  • Sonic Youth
    Sonic Nurse
    The 1980s saw Sonic Youth's somewhat reluctant emergence from New York City's musical underworld of creative tunings and artful noise to iconic status as pioneers of experimentation over convention. Two decades later, Sonic Nurse is a continuation in this vein, though a detectable influence of pop melody is difficult to discount. Fans of the band may find this album less ambitious than its previous works, but it is hard to deny the band's ever-strengthening songwriting talents. Worth a listen if just for the subtle protest song "Peace Attack."
    Recommended By: Brad, August 2004