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Julie's Picks

Book Cover for The Art of Fielding Harbach, Chad
The Art of Fielding

Fiction
An underdog baseball team at a small, liberal arts college on Lake Michigan sees a rise in their fortune after a nearly magical shortstop is recruited by the student captain. When these two meet another member of the team known as the Buddha, he introduces himself by coyly stating, “I’ll be your gay mulatto roommate.” The remaining cast includes the college president, who is a renowned Melville scholar, and his prodigal daughter. As you cheer for the home team, you’ll root for the endearing characters. Though set in our era of cell phones, this 500-page novel is rooted in good old-fashioned story telling. A midlife crisis, quarter life crises, and illicit affair place it in the psychological fiction category. The Art of Fielding is spiced with literary references, but you don’t need an English degree or passion for baseball to enjoy this witty tale of love and friendship. If you enjoy the fictional worlds created by Jonathan Franzen or John Irving, give Harbach’s popular debut novel a try.
Recommended March 2012

 
Book Cover for Saveur: The New Comfort Food Saveur
Saveur: The New Comfort Food – Home Cooking from Around the World

Nonfiction
The pages of this book offer more than 100 recipes for comforting foods from around the globe—spring rolls, empanadas, potato latkes, hummus, huevos rancheros, Korean fried chicken, kimchi pancakes. Many are recipes of fare prepared by home cooks. Though the dishes are not fussy, these recipes don’t cut corners. Many require planning ahead. The beautiful design of this book includes hunger-coaxing photographs and sidebars offering cultural and historical information. Dig in, and satisfy both body and soul.
Recommended December 2011

 
Book Cover for At Elizabeth David's Table David, Elizabeth
At Elizabeth David's Table

Nonfiction
Elizabeth David was born in England in 1913. During WWII she lived in the Middle East, which along with time in Greece inspired her to write a prose cookbook. A Book of Mediterranean Food, published in 1950, became the first of five influential books she wrote that changed the course of cooking in Britain and America. The recipes don't include strict lists or formulaic instructions. David expects you to improvise with what's in season and on hand. Standards for ingredients are high, and she assumes the reader knows her way around the kitchen. Her descriptions make you want to cook. This new edition, compiled by Jill Norman, David's literary executor, is the first to illustrate dishes with photographs. At Elizabeth David's Table is a beautiful introduction to an important, spirited food writer.
Recommended October 2011

 
Book Cover for And the Pursuit of Happiness Kalman, Maira
And the Pursuit of Happiness

Nonfiction
In January, 2009, Kalman began a year-long exploration of democracy and history in the U.S., posting monthly on the New York Times Opinion Page web site. Printed on paper, the hand-lettered text and illustrated pages (sprinkled with photographs that surprise the eye) become a 400+ page picture book for grownups. The year kicks off with January's chapter, "The Inauguration. At Last." February, "In Love With A. Lincoln," includes a visit to a Lincoln archive in Philadelphia, a Lincoln scholar in Illinois, and to the battlefield and Lincoln Diner in Gettysburg. In March, a tour of Monticello. April, "May It Please the Court," features a chat with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And so on. As Kalman travels, interviews, and muses, her stream-of-consciousness prose narrates a sincere, inquisitive, cheering, appreciative, and optimistic romp across the country and back.
Recommended August 2011

 
Book Cover for Sugar Snaps & Strawberries Bellamy, Andrea
Sugar Snaps & Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden

Nonfiction
Andrea Bellamy grows enticing edibles on her balcony and in a community garden in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her credentials include a certificate of garden design from the University of B.C., which she puts to good use in Sugar Snaps & Strawberries. Her book (and blog, Heavy Petal) brim with smart advice on cultivating fruits and vegetables in tight quarters, but her work stands out for its design sense. Photographs of small and smaller working gardens inspire, teach, and delight. See narrow planter boxes in alleys, basil seedlings thriving in a hanging basket, sage shooting up in a tin can. Let Bellamy lead you, and before long you'll savor your own small, tasty harvest.
Recommended July 2011

 
Book Cover for Emily, Alone O'Nan, Stewart
Emily, Alone

Fiction
80-year-old Emily Maxwell lives alone in the Pittsburgh house where she and her late husband raised their children. Emily is stoic about her age, but not resigned. She cooks and cleans, gardens, shares weekly breakfasts at Eat'n Park with her sister-in-law. Having outlived many of her neighbors and friends, she spends time meditating on the past, thinking her way through the days. She's a frank, refreshing narrator. O'Nan portrays an ordinary life full of gentle humor and wisdom.
Recommended May 2011

 
Fukuoka, Masanobu
The One-Straw Revolution

Nonfiction
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) was the son of a rice farmer in Japan. He trained as a plant scientist, and after the end of WWII returned to his home where he farmed for the rest of his long life. In 1975 he wrote this manifesto, which could be called "Zen and the Art of Farming." The philosophy by which he lived and farmed emphasized reverence for all life. He also brought a skepticism of specialist knowledge to his farming techniques. The One-Straw Revolution advocates interfering as little as possible with nature, which means no tilling, no chemicals, no flooded rice fields. Fukuoka called this his "do-nothing" method. One-straw refers to returning harvested straw back to the field where it was grown. The straw composts over the next season, replenishes the soil, keeps weeds from flourishing, retains moisture. Though you'll find similar advice in many current gardening books, read The One-Straw Revolution for the charming, light-hearted, poetic words of a founding "organic" farmer.
Recommended April 2011

 
Book Cover for Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing Ruhlman, Michael
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

Nonfiction
Bologna sandwiches and PTA-sponsored hot dog days, my childhood lunches often supported Oscar Mayer. (Remember the jingle, "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener"?) Years later I learned that cold cuts are part of a centuries-long tradition called charcuterie. Pullman’s contribution to the craft of making bacon, sausage, ham, salami, pâté, confit, and other cured meats is a food book that's inspiring, detailed and scientific. It is also a lyric love letter to meat that is salted, smoked, and cooked to preserve it. These are not recipes for tonight's dinner. They require a commitment of time, but like other preserved foods (sauerkraut, cheese), taste that develops over days (months, in some cases), is a delicious, nearly magical, reward.
Recommended March 2011

 
Book Cover for Winter's Tale Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Fiction
Tale, as in fairy tale, includes fantastic characters, events, places: time traveling Peter Lake, his flying horse, a lake so far upstate in New York no one could find it. It's an epic tale, written in poetic, often breathtaking prose, whose narrative voice never tires of describing color, sound, beauty, benevolence, balance, and justice. Winter's Tale is a story of New York City between 1900 and the turn of the millennium. 700 pages divide into four books. The island of Manhattan and a very mysterious cloud wall that hovers nearby function as characters. Icy winter, too, plays a constant roll. In the late 19th century, orphan Peter Lake is raised by illiterate marsh dwellers. At age twelve, they send him alone to live in the city. Ignorant of civilization, he quickly learns what money is, dances for coins, and becomes a thief. He learns the trade of mechanic, joins a gang, makes a lifelong enemy of the gang leader, Pearly Soames, surviving by his wits and the speed of a magical horse. (That brings us to page 100.) Helprin brilliantly borrows from Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Whitman, and Einstein, yet offers the willing reader an entirely new experience. Winter's Tale contains a description of a character's library, an apt summation of the novel itself. "The shelf was filled with books that were hard to read, that could devastate and remake one's soul, and that, when they were finished, had a kick like a mule."
Recommended February 2011

 
Book Cover for Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture Hemenway, Toby
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Nonfiction
Permaculture is a design approach to create landscapes that function like ecosystems, with the diversity, stability and resilience found in nature, whether prairie grassland, native forest, or something in-between. If you are an urban gardener, you'll want to see the second edition of Gaia’s Garden, published in 2009, which includes an additional chapter, “Permaculture Gardening in the City.” I appreciate the focus on practicality in Gaia’s Garden. A wise advisor, Mr. Hemenway offers detailed, well-organized information. His highest wisdom stems from the notion that idealism should not get in the way of making a garden that is ultimately effective for the people who use it. He writes, “Overall, doing an imperfect something is better than doing a perfect nothing.” That’s good advice in and out of the garden.
Recommended November 2010

 
Book Cover for The Bradbury Report Polansky, Steven
The Bradbury Report

Science Fiction
In the year 2071, the U.S. is the only country where cloning is legal, paid for by the government, and part of the health insurance system. Nearly every citizen has one, but clones ("copies") are not thought of as human, instead they are used for spare parts when the "original" is sick or injured. Clones are kept in a secret compound. Anna, a member of an underground abolitionist group, helps hide the first escaped clone, hoping he will become an anti-cloning spokesperson. Strong, thought-provoking writing.
Recommended August 2010

 
Book Cover for The Chosen Potok, Chaim
The Chosen

Fiction
In 1944 Brooklyn, New York, a deep friendship is born after two teenagers face each other on the softball field, in a game that takes on the significance of a spiritual war. Set during the final years of WWII, Reuven, an Orthodox Jew, and Danny, son of a Hasidic Rabbi, meet at age 15, and help each other negotiate their separate sacred and secular worlds. A novel as powerful and tender as when it was published in 1967.
Recommended July 2010

 
Book Cover for The Little Stranger Waters, Sarah
The Little Stranger

Horror
The Little Stranger came highly recommended. Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too. Just a few pages into The Little Stranger I knew I’d found a gem. Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator, an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess his thoughts, time, and energy. It’s a strangely beautiful novel, creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to ponder.
Recommended June 2010

 
Book Cover for Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer Carpenter, Novella
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Nonfiction
A child of back-to-the-landers, self-sufficiency runs in Ms. Carpenter's blood. Smart, tenacious, literate, firmly committed to life in a gritty city, she cultivates a vacant lot in a blighted neighborhood of Oakland, CA. From raising a turkey she serves for Thanksgiving dinner, to adopting a strict "100-foot diet" for one month (eating only what she's raised or grown on her borrowed lot), her stories are compelling and, yes, educational.
May 2010

 
Book Cover for Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home Janzen, Rhoda
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Nonfiction
When she leaves home for college, Janzen withdraws from the conservative Mennonite community she grew up in and embraces the secular world. She marries outside the faith, earns a Ph.D. and teaches English and creative writing at a Midwestern college. At age 43 a double disaster sends her home to live with her mother, who is a church deacon, and her father, a former "Mennonite equivalent of the pope." Instead of spending a planned sabbatical researching, she reengages in Mennonite culture. Weaving sharp details with deadpan humor, Janzen explores her past and present, focusing on her parents' values. Stoicism, honesty, hard work, good cheer, faith, generosity, and tolerance shine. While at home, Janzen sews her own pants, whips up delicious food from scratch (Zweibach! Borscht!), sings a lusty alto, edits an academic book (she's a crack grammarian). And she tells a heck of a story.
Recommended April 2010

 
Haasse, Hella S.
In a Dark Wood Wandering

Fiction
In a Dark Wood Wandering, first published in the Netherlands in 1949, follows strict parameters of the historical fiction genre: it presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history (beginning with the reign of Charles VI, known as the Wise, the Well-Loved, and the Mad King); the story centers on a significant event in that period (the second half of France’s Hundred Years’ War with England, which includes Joan of Arc’s military career); and the novel presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period (the majority of In a Dark Wood Wandering is from the point of view of Charles VI’s nephew, Charles d'Orleans, poet and mediator, who sacrificed personal happiness in a long life's struggle for peace). A compelling fictional account of a fascinating era.
Recommended February 2010

 
Book Cover for The Anthologist Baker, Nicholson
The Anthologist

Fiction
A poet who can't quite complete the introduction to his poetry anthology, writes instead to the reader of this novel. Brimming with charming digression, he muses on his own semi-successful career as poet, the lives of famous and obscure poets, history of rhythm and rhyme—ultimately reminding us why we read poetry.
Recommended December 2009

 
Book Cover for Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Wrangham, Richard
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Nonfiction
In a concise 207 pages, biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham tells a story of human history centered on food modified by flame. Wrangham’s idea that cooking made us human departs radically from previous evolutionary theory. Before Wrangham, the evolutionary change credited with development of the large human brain was the addition of meat to a strictly vegetable diet. Darwin thought fire was irrelevant to how humans evolved. Even a century after Darwin, anthropologists regarded cooking as unnecessary to human development, though they understood that cooking is one defining activity that separates us from other animals. Wrangham writes that cooking increased our food’s value. It affected the way we walk, the size of our brains, how we spend time, and helped define our social lives. Highly recommended.
Recommended October 2009

 
Book Cover for A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table Wizenberg, Molly
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table

Nonfiction
An anecdote accompanies each recipe in this memoir/cookbook written by a popular food blogger. The entries (blog length, aimed at those of us with sustained attention challenges) range from how the writer met her husband to what she cooked her father for breakfast as he suffered with terminal cancer. Wizenberg writes primarily in an informal, intimate blog voice. Reflections on her father's life and death carry the weight of a more literary effort, and made the book worth reading. Recipes focus on local, fresh ingredients.
Recommended July 2009

 
Book Cover for Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes Bittman, Mark
Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes

Nonfiction
Food Matters, by the cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, doesn't contain new information, though it offers a refreshingly concise history of the influence government, big business, and science have had on current dietary problems. Bittman turns Michael Pollan's catchy mantra from In Defense of Food, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," into the less snappy but more specific, "Eat more plants, fewer animals, and as little processed food as possible." This approach to eating is practical, focused on cooking at home using familiar ingredients. Recipes are more like guidelines than strict lists of ingredients and instructions. Bittman calls himself a foodie, but he's not a snob, and he aims to help readers learn how to enjoy everyday food in ways that will help their bodies as well as the environment.
Recommended May 2009

 
Book Cover for Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times Solomon, Steve
Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Nonfiction
Steve Solomon is the gardening grandfather I never had, a kind but firm voice offering strong opinions backed up by long experience. Since Mr. Solomon started Territorial Seed Company in 1979 (he sold it in 1985), he has grown about 50% of his family’s annual calories. From this self-described "capital-O Organic gardener with capital-O Opinions," the reader will learn about quality hand tools (you only need 3), how to make a once-a-year compost heap, why gardening centers should be avoided in favor of planting seeds directly in the garden, which seed companies sell the highest quality seed, and how to increase soil fertility by mixing up a batch of COF (complete organic fertilizer – a highly potent, correctly balanced mix made entirely of natural substances) to use throughout the garden. Drawings of each vegetable’s root system illustrate the space required for each plant’s optimal growth. Educated and inspired by Gardening When it Counts, rather than waiting in lines at the nursery this spring, I’ll be preparing beds and planting seeds.
Recommended April 2009

 
Book Cover for Mrs. Woolf and the Servants Light, Alison
Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury

Nonfiction
The title of one review, “A room of one's own -- and someone to clean it,” aptly describes the era in which Virginia Woolf lived, (1882-1941). In England during the post-Victorian era, upper-class household life changed as former live-in servants took jobs in shops, where shorter work hours and independent living meant autonomy and freedom. Woolf grew up with full-time servants, and employed a live-in cook until she was 53. For Woolf, being home alone meant alone with the servants, and Virginia and her husband Leonard were not actually home alone until their seventeenth year of marriage, when they traded live-in help for a daily housekeeper. This thoroughly researched and insightful book divides its time equally between the lives of Woolf and her domestics, while exploring issues of dependence/independence, and the nature of human intimacy.
Recommended March 2009

 
Book Cover for The History of Love Krauss, Nicole
The History of Love

Fiction
The History of Love is divided into four tales told by four narrators whose stories gradually merge. The History of Love is also the title of a book one of the characters has written. These facts alone spell “postmodern novel.” But don’t dismiss this gem because of the labyrinthine narrative. The History of Love’s poetic prose offers the reader startling rewards. Krauss draws fully formed characters who live lives of undying faith and love, and who embody the power of creativity, especially the written word. Life and literature intertwine in a beautiful story of patient faith in love.
Recommended February 2009

 
Book Cover for Birds of America Moore, Lorrie
Birds of America

Short Stories
I took a humor writing class once, and the instructor’s main premise was that humor bubbles up best through the morass of personal sadness and even tragedy. Of the model stories she handed out, my favorite was one of the short stories in Birds of America. Lorrie Moore’s characters are familiar folks, people you know, your relatives, you. They act in familiar ways, but they react in ways that are funnier than in my familiar world. These stories offer little lessons in constructive humor. Birds of America is a stunning collection, dark yet lit brightly.
Recommended November 2008

 
Book Cover for The Road Washes Out in Spring Wormser, Baron
The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living Off the Grid

Nonfiction
It starts as a familiar story. In 1970, a young couple longs for an authentic life in the Maine woods. With construction help from a neighbor who can see that these outsiders are unprepared to erect their own house, they make a home miles from town, foregoing indoor plumbing and electricity. Kerosene lanterns light the darkness, forty-eight treed acres supply fuel for heat and cook stoves. Garden produce put up in late summer becomes minestrone soup in February. What’s unfamiliar is the passionate perseverance evident in the twenty-three years Wormser and his wife live off the grid while raising their daughter and son. Wormser is a devoted high school librarian who mindfully carries out the daily chores that make possible living without a furnace, running water, or refrigeration. He thrives in the woods’ quiet, the place that nurtures his rich development as a poet. (In 2000 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Maine). Neither preachy nor defensive, in calm prose Wormser reflects on reading and writing poetry, “first-hand” cooking and eating, old time Maine farmers whose livelihoods are waning, troubled high school teens, and the desperation and violence in the local community that keeps romantic ideals of rural life in check. Employing neither chapter divisions nor linear time, Wormser explores questions such as, “What does it mean to be a poet in the United States?” “What kind of work can a man do in a suit and tie?” “What do the trees say?” “What are we doing and why are we doing it?” A thought provoking, satisfying read, highly recommended.
Recommended October 2008

 
Book Cover for The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family Schenone, Laura
The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family

Nonfiction
By shining a light on both the joys and pains of her multi-generational family's history, Laura Schenone attempts to understand her own passions. These take the form of multiple research trips to Liguria, the region of Italy from which her great-grandparents emigrated, honing painstaking techniques for handmade ravioli, and raising two sons while pursuing her writing career. Her sorrows are affecting, her successes triumphant. She also shares recipes, so you can delve into the mysteries of ravioli.
Recommended by Julie, July 2008

 
Book Cover for Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death Beaton, M. C.
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Mystery
Agatha Raisin's dream is coming true. She has sold her PR firm in London in order to begin early retirement in a quaint cottage in the Cotswold countryside. Once ensconced in her carefully chosen new setting, she realizes that her personal life has always, in fact, been professional. Nor is she inclined domestically. No one asks her to tea. The vicar's wife does not call. Entering a quiche in the village baking contest purchased from her favorite London bake shop seems like the perfect solution-a sure way to win friends. But her entry kills the judge, and the embarrassing truth that the quiche was purchased spreads quickly. Agatha's dreams are turning nightmarish. Published in 1992, The Quiche of Death is the first in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton. Number eighteen, Kissing Christmas Goodbye: An Agatha Raisin Mystery, arrived last year. And the fun continues: September 30, 2008, is the release date for A Spoonful of Poison: An Agatha Raisin Mystery.
Recommended by Julie, June 2008

 
Book Cover for A Short History of the American Stomach Kaufman, Frederick
A Short History of the American Stomach

Nonfiction
Americans seem to be obsessed with dieting, health, and nutrition, while at the same time the incidence of diseases related to over-eating are increasing. I’ve been reading food history books, both old and new, searching for how we arrived at this schizoid state. A Short History addresses these questions in a new way. Though Ben Franklin and Cotton Mather are prominent characters, this is not a dusty history of food. Employing hip language and humor, Kaufman’s revelations surprise and even shock. Kaufman contends that the American Puritan practice of fasting is the clinical ancestor of anorexia nervosa, and goes on to explore our “separate-but-equal urges to stuff and starve ourselves” (as the book jacket copy puts it). He backs up his thesis with enough evidence to convince me.
Recommended May 2008

 
Book Cover for Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening Sorin, Fran
Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening

Nonfiction
If I were categorizing this book, I’d invent the term, “garden therapy.” Sorin is a counselor who wants to help gardeners (including indoor gardeners) think about their gardening wants and needs, while understanding and accepting the limitations imposed by their garden spaces. Though the chapters include instruction on actual plant cultivation, the reason to read Digging Deep is for its lessons in creativity. Your garden is a perfect place to imagine, explore, play, work, risk, share, and celebrate.
Recommended by Julie, May 2008

 
Book Cover for An Invisible Sign of My Own Bender, Aimee
An Invisible Sign of My Own

Fiction
This novel requires more than the usual suspension of disbelief. If you haven’t read within the magical realism genre, the extreme quirks of character and plot may surprise you. One definition of magical realism includes “heightened reality in which elements of the miraculous appear while seeming natural and unforced.” An Invisible Sign of My Own offers large doses of heightened reality as well as miraculous events that defy expectations. Though the protagonist is an obsessive counter, knocker-on-wood (or paper if no wood is available), and a compulsive quitter, it’s easy to sympathize with her as she teaches math to second graders, worries about her ill father, and tries to avoid emotional encounters with the attractive male art teacher who has a few quirks of his own.
Recommended by Julie, April 2008

 
Book Cover for Last Harvest Rybczynski, Witold
Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century and Why We Live in Houses Anyway

Nonfiction
In an intimate, conversational style, architecture critic Rybczynski tells the story of New Daleville, a "neotraditional" residential subdivision in rural Pennsylvania. Over the course of five years, Rybczynski met the developers, the community leaders whose approvals they needed, the home builders and sewage experts, and the first families who moved in. Along the way, he explores how Americans came to prefer single family houses and other pertinent housing history. As a committed pedestrian, I loved reading about how smaller lots, narrower streets, and other seemingly old-fashioned, small town characteristics of communities like New Daleville contribute to a community that accommodates walkers as well as cars. Exciting, too, is the planning for new communities where people can choose to live within walking distance of their work, and where opportunities for shopping and entertainment are also within walking range.
Recommended by Julie, July 2007

 
Book Cover for Setting the Table Meyer, Danny
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

Nonfiction
Danny Meyer opened Union Square Cafe in 1985 when he was 27 years old. Since then his New York City restaurant empire has grown to include 11 establishments. In Setting the Table Meyer explores his family, business, and taste history with an emphasis on food. Readers interested in dining and restaurants are likely to enjoy his stories. But what I value most about this book is that Meyer has woven his management philosophy throughout, showing the development of what he calls "Enlightened Hospitality." I got excited about "Enlightened Hospitality" while reading an interview just before Setting the Table was published, in which Meyer emphasized the importance of making his customers feel heard. He said, "The customer is certainly not always right. But they must always feel heard." Setting the Table has inspired me to pay more attention to the importance of listening to others, whether customers, employees, supervisors, or friends, regardless of my reaction to what they might be saying. Among many other important lessons, this book has encouraged me to focus on the act of listening. We take listening for granted, but careful listening really is a gift we give each other.
Recommended by Julie, April 2007

 
Book Cover for Returning to Earth Harrison, Jim
Returning to Earth

Fiction
Returning to Earth chronicles a year in the life of a closely knit family in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Four characters are each given one-quarter of the novel to tell their first-person tale. Donald, who is Chippewa-Finnish, begins the story. He is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease at age forty-five. As he dictates to his wife the story of his ancestors, he weaves family history, strong ties to the natural world, and hints of private, mystical views of life, death, and an afterlife. On page one Donald says, "I don't have the right language to keep up with my thinking or my memory or all of my emotions over being sick." But his authentic, distinct voice and stream of consciousness style is just right for a man overwhelmed with love for life. The members of Donald's family who narrate the remaining three sections of the novel face their private grief as well as struggle to help each other cope with Donald's death. Each narrator's voice is distinctive and utterly believable, and the themes of integrity and reverence for the earth are completely compelling.
Recommended by Julie, February 2007