Monday, January 27, 2014

January 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

January 27, 2014

Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side, and the Prime of Our Lives

By Brendan Jay Sullivan

Rivington Was Ours is available both as an ebook, downloadable through Overdrive on the Worcester Public Library’s web site and in print format through CWMARS. Just for the record, Lady Gaga’s real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Sullivan, a dee-jay, known as Vh-1, playing clubs on the Lower East Side in New York in the mid- 2000s, became a close friend of Lady Gaga and his book covers the chaotic night club and relationship scene of those days. Sullivan’s book is a detailed chronicle of the daily life (mostly night life), of Lady Gaga, her boyfriend, and Sullivan and his female friend and a shifting montage of clubs, musical performances spreading word of mouth, late night dramatics, and emerging collaborations that eventually put Lady Gaga into the national spotlight and fame.

Sullivan’s description of Lady Gaga’s family is an interesting part of the book. Her flamboyancy certainly did not spring from her family. They are portrayed in contrasting normalcy to Gaga’s early striptease and nearly nude musical performances. The club scene in the Lower East Side is depicted as a relentless, drug and alcohol-fueled scene that could provide a temporary thrill for straight people and a potentially dangerous environment for those who perpetually live in it. Sullivan’s book details the nuances of romantic relationships that he developed and also those of Lady Gaga’s boyfriend. These relationships are far from idealistic and Sullivan portrays them honestly.

The story culminates in a music video shoot and then a TV shoot…the rise to fame for Gaga is suddenly underway and Sullivan has done a great job in portraying the bittersweet year and a chaotic New York scene that served as a training ground for a now iconic pop star.

--Bill

January 21, 2014

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
By Jesse Andrews

Loss and death are important themes for younger readers. It can be difficult, though, to find a young adult novel which handles these issues without feeling maudlin or insincere. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is a wildly popular example of a young adult novel which speaks about death and loss without condescending to its readers or being insincere. Jesse Andrews’s debut novel stands beside Green’s as a book ringing with truth, humor, and grief. Like TFIOS, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deals with juvenile cancer while maintaining a sense of humor. Just as Green perfectly embodies the mindset of a teenage girl in his narrator, Hazel Grace, Andrews similarly channels the teenage boy in Greg S. Gaines, amateur filmmaker and navigator of the social jungle of high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Here’s the deal: Greg’s mom finds out that his classmate, Rachel (who sort of used to be Greg’s fake girlfriend back in middle school), has aggressive leukemia. Never passing up an opportunity to guide her children in Doing the Right Thing, she forces Greg to reconnect with Rachel. This leads to the crumbling of Greg’s carefully developed non-identity at school. He’s spent years never getting too close to anyone lest he succumb to the horror of high school social politics. Now, seen with a girlfriend dying of cancer, it’s impossible to lie low. Greg struggles with his emotions of resentment and anger over Rachel’s sickness. He feels guilty that he doesn’t care in the way he thinks he should. Does this make him a bad person?

This is no sappy love story—Andrews describes grief, guilt and human emotion with a refreshing lack of anything coming close to “sappy.” In fact, after finishing this novel, I’d say that the laughter to tears ratio is about 10:1. The raunchy comedy of Greg’s best friend, Earl, will appeal to male readers in particular. Andrews frequently shifts between prose and screenplay format, making this a quick read and ideal for reluctant readers.

--Chelsea

January 6, 2014
Stella Bain
By Anita Shreve

The popular Massachusetts author Anita Shreve's latest novel, Stella Bain, is sure to be read by many book clubs and might as surely appear on the silver screen at some point. Stella Bain is a somewhat complicated novel set primarily during the World War One era in New England, France, and England. The novel, although historical to a degree, explores many contemporary themes, including marriage, abuse, war, psychology, post traumatic stress disorder, amnesia, homosexuality, parenting, love, and woman's place in society. Shreve deftly maneuvers her characters through these themes to the novel's conclusion.

This novel is difficult to discuss without giving away important story elements since so many things are intimately connected. Shreve's prose is clear and concise and keeps the reader moving along and wanting to know what will unfold next. The combat and recovery descriptions are written well and link up logically with the amnesia that Stella suffers while on the front lines in France. Her amnesia is a major plot element in the novel and the subsequent court hearing that follows. The novel is very entertaining and to continue discussing it is to risk unraveling the tightly connected plot. However, one quote from the book, hopefully, will intrigue a potential reader: "The solemnity and horror of the war has, perhaps for the first time, entered the chill courtroom."

--Bill

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