Monday, February 24, 2014

February 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

February 24, 2014;fg%3Aformat_filters=6;qtype=title;locg=142

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
By Susan Bordo

Available as a digital download through Overdrive on the Worcester Public Library’s web page, Bordo’s book is a serious look at the religious, psychological, emotional, political, historical, fictional, non-fictional, and media interpretations of the relationship between Henry VIII and his doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn. Make no mistake: this book is not for the casual Anne Boleyn curiosity seeker that may hold a passing interest in reading about her, nor for any thin-skinned fan of some of the more popular Tudor period fiction writers. Bordo seems to have an overpowering aversion to seeing any fiction, with its interpretive creations, being construed as fact, especially facts that she does not see as facts, by readers. Bordo herself is a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky and specializes in gender studies, feminist philosophy, and popular culture. Thus her interest in Anne Boleyn is very broad and certainly spans writings across time, and also the cultural context of each author and each author’s claims to their particular “spin” on Anne Boleyn.

One of Bordo’s focal points is body image and its language, so she is very critical of Hilary Mantel’s and Phillipa Gregory’s descriptions of Anne’s supposed physical flaws, such as small “duckies”, moles, a third nipple, and jaundiced complexion all of which indicate or imply satanic connections. Her mission is to restore Boleyn to her proper historical significance, as a strong, independent woman, free of the myths of any creative baggage hoisted upon her by historians, creative writers, playwrights, and filmmakers and directors. She is not a big fan of the very popular but soap opera-like Tudor series with its wonderful period clothing, constant drama, and frequent bedroom romps. However, she does like Natalie Dormer’s brainy interpretation Anne Boleyn, while hating Natalie Portman’s bitchy Anne in The Other Boleyn Girl. Bordo’s book is a very interesting critique and cultural interpretation on the subject of Anne Boleyn, but you should be prepared to have done substantial homework on recent print and film interpretations of her life and fall from grace with Henry VII. Additionally, be prepared for scathing remarks about novelists and movies that you might have really enjoyed. If you haven’t done the homework, her criticisms will be lost but the language she dresses them in can be enjoyed nevertheless.


February 18, 2014

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind
By Scott Stossel

“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some forty million Americans, nearly one in seven of us, are suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder at any given time, accounting for 31 percent of the expenditures on mental health care in the United States.”

Among these anxious millions is author Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, great-grandson of a well-respected and mentally ill Harvard dean. In this book, Stossel thoroughly yet concisely summarizes the concept of anxiety as it has been observed throughout the ages. Despite the modern development of SSRIs and benzodiazapenes, philosophers and physicians have wrestled with both the soul’s unrest and its possible cures for many centuries. 

Stossel describes the history of mental illness treatment in a well-researched, page-turning style. While the title suggests a heavy, depressing read, it is the reader’s good fortune that Stossel possesses a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor that he uses to full effect while chronicling his own lifelong battle with anxiety. Highlights include a hilarious tale of incontinent mayhem while visiting the Kennedy compound in Hyannis in a chapter entitled “The History of My Nervous Stomach”, which details his still-continuing journey toward lasting serenity. Also examined is the nature-versus-nurture argument, weighing the roles of each in developing neuroses. 

Admittedly written to help save himself, Stossel does an admirable job of educating and entertaining on a devastating topic. Similar to the work of contemporary science writer Mary RoachMy Age of Anxiety will teach you tons and make you laugh out loud.


February 10, 2014

Rose Under Fire
By Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s historical fiction novel follows protagonist, Rose Justice, an American flygirl working for the English Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. Rose, a pilot, a poet, a friend, a daughter, is captured by the German Luftwaffe while flying over France following D-Day. She was not strictly supposed to be flying in Europe as a female civilian pilot. She is escorted over the front line and into the Third Reich’s territory where she’s imprisoned in the infamous women’s camp Ravensbruck.

This is a book about life and death and the evil of which humans are capable. Though Wein’s book is fictional, it is exquisitely researched, and as a result, it reflects the true horror of what happened to millions of prisoners during Hitler’s regime. Wein relied on actual witness testimony to fill in the details of her story and bring it to life. Rose’s poetry, as well as excerpts from Edna St. Vincent Millay, lend a lyrical beauty to a bleak story. This companion to Code Name Verity stands on its own as a beautiful, page-turning piece of literature.


February 3, 2014

“Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing. Like my father. I think that’s where he lived. In that in-between space. In that ecotone. My mother, too, maybe. She’d locked my brother somewhere deep inside of her. And now she was trying to let him out.”
This lyrical novel tells a story of friendship, family, and self-discovery. Ari is angry and sad all the time and doesn’t know why. His brother is in prison and his parents won’t open up to him. Dante is enlightened, intelligent, and keeping a secret from his parents. Though Ari seems emotionally closed off, the reader discovers that this boy hides a deep well of confusion, curiosity and pain beneath his cold fa├žade. In contrast, Dante is an open book. He shares his feelings freely and cries over injured birds and friends alike. But he is hiding a truth from his family that he fears will disappoint them. The two boys seem like opposites, but when they meet at the pool one day, they form a friendship that will endure trials, pains, and revelations.
Throughout the novel Dante and Ari ask themselves philosophical questions about life, the universe and everything. Each struggles with his identity; Dante feels at odds with his Mexican heritage, while Ari clashes with his family and denies the transforming nature of his friendship with Dante. This beautiful and compelling young adult novel will appeal to readers young and old. Its emphasis on self-discovery and coming-of-age make it particularly appropriate for older teen readers.

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