Monday, June 29, 2015

June 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

June 29, 2015 

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War 
By Lynsey Addario 

Browsing our collection of new non-fiction, I opened a book at page 232 and landed smack dab in a riveting account of a fierce firefight in the Korengal Valley being covered by combat photographer Lynsey Addario. I did not recognize her name. I knew of the Korengal Valley; I knew of Sebastian Junger’s documentary about Restrepo, a Korengal outpost and had seen him speak at the Kennedy Library;I had read about a Captain Kearney in a New York Times Magazine article; so, I had a dim familiarity with the scene traceable to that 2008 NYT Magazine article written by Elizabeth Rubin. The pictures accompanying that article were photographed by Lynsey Addario. I had not paid much attention to the photographer’s byline. My mistake. 

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (Penguin Press: New York, 2015, ISBN 978-1-59420-537-8) by Lynsey Addario is a biography of Addario’s life with a large focus on her many years spent in places in the Middle East that, for most of us, were television news stories from areas such as Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria and others spots we would not want to be. It is also a story about how seeing a Sebastio Salgrado photojournalism exhibit while working for the Buenos Aires Herald affected her budding career. Addario was basically raised in Westport, CT by her hairdresser parents in a very free-wheeling extended “family” scene. After finally getting to work for the New York Times, her reputation grew exponentially as she went into some of the most dangerous turf of this century. It is also the story of her relationships with some men while chasing after pictures to tell the “real” story--the human impact--of these conflicts on women and families. Addario’s book is an intense, dramatic, and often suspenseful page turner. It is also an important mirror into events which still remain, unfortunately, quite current. She was shot at, kidnapped, escaped, and in the end, survived… 

I don’t want to tell any more. Her story is very well written. It is an important story. Personally, I feel that her book reaches the levels of some of the best combat photography reporting I have ever read. And one last thing – I read very recently that Steven Spielberg is going to make a film version of Addario’s book and that Jennifer Lawrence will play the role of Addario. I hope they do it justice. 


June 15, 2015

God Help the Child 
By Toni Morrison 

“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” 

Because I loved Beloved, I periodically attempt Toni Morrison’s novels. Admittedly, some of them, like Paradise, are so thick with magic realism I feel like I need a machete to whack through the prose and figure out the plot (I suppose Cliff Notes would do). However, her latest work, God Help the Child, while still employing a small bit of magic realism, is blessedly readable. 

Unlike Morrison’s past work, this tale is a modern one, featuring an ad exec protagonist . Essentially, the story examines how adults display or deny the long lasting after-effects of childhood trauma. Bride, because her skin is “blue black”, is such an embarrassment to her light-skinned mother, she is raised to call her Sweetness, in lieu of any maternal assignation. Withholding and emotionally distant, Sweetness’s treatment of Bride, however well-intentioned, compels Bride, to take extreme action to win a morsel of her affection. Flash forward to Bride’s volcanic love affair with Booker, a mysterious loner with an equally painful past of his own, and the reader sees just how deeply the psyches and hearts of children are imprinted despite their often-noted resilience. 

Less than two-hundred pages, this slim volume is a relatively easy read. But Morrison’s trademark lyricism is showcased, as she tosses off phrasing like the master of the form that she is. And her characterization of seven-times married Queen is not to be missed. If you are a Morrison fan, check it out. 


June 8, 2015

By Naomi Novik

In my opinion, one of the most important elements of any fantasy novel is the seamless joining of plot and world building. Nothing irks me more as a reader than being taken out of the story in order to understand the background details. A good fantasy author will entwine these details into the tale without drawing attention to the effort. This tricky feat is beautifully accomplished by Naomi Novik in her newest novel, Uprooted

Agnieszka has lived in a small valley village all her life. And all her life she has lived under the shadow of the Wood, a malevolent forest full of dark magic and fell beasts. All that stands between the valley denizens and destruction is the protection of a powerful wizard, the Dragon. All he asks in return is one village girl every ten years. The girls he takes are not harmed. They only serve him for the agreed period and then leave the Valley forever. The book opens with the choosing and, predictably, our protagonist is the one. But Nieszka isn’t like the other girls. She has a spark of magic that the Dragon recognizes. He trains her as an apprentice and together they learn the secrets of the Wood’s origin and attempt to stop it once and for all. 

At first glance this sounds kind of familiar: the chosen one who discovers she has magical powers she never knew about. But the novel quickly deepens into a complex fantasy featuring court intrigue, highly developed characters and a fascinating backstory. Nieszka’s style of magic is earth-based. A spell is as simple as planting her feet in the dirt and speaking a single word with feeling. Novik’s writing is as simple and wonderful as this magic. She creates a truly terrifying villain in the Wood that can walk in the guise of loved ones and plant corruption abroad. The romantic tension between the Dragon and Agnieszka grows steadily and believably without detracting from the drama of the overarching story. 

The sexuality and dark themes in this novel mark it as adult fiction however there is sure to be a lot of crossover appeal with young adults. As far as I can tell Uprooted is a standalone novel with no sequel in the works. You might find this refreshing in these days of abundant trilogies. It’s nice to read a fantasy novel without feeling obligated to read its ten sequels as well.


June 1, 2015
Jane Austen: A Life
By Claire Tomalin
Many Jane-ites share a sense of proprietary ownership over their favorite author.  Perhaps it comes from reading her novels over and over.  There’s an intimacy between the author and her devotees that exists in spite of the distance in time.  This can make the relative lack of information regarding Austen’s life incredibly frustrating to her fans.  We know that she lived a quiet country life that, according to her favorite brother, was“…a life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event.”  But we also know, from her own novels, that a quiet life can be just as full of sorrow, joy, disasters and miracles as even the most eventful one.  What every Austen fan yearns for is a candid glimpse at the author’s life unmediated by relatives’ foggy memories or well-meaning agendas.  Claire Tomalin attempts to provide this by presenting all the evidence and filling in the rest.
There are some points that most fans are familiar with: the youthful flirtation with Tom Lefroy, the famous one-night engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither.  We expect to find these--Jane’s only known real life romances--delicious.  But I was struck even more by her family relationships:  her brother Henry, the ambitious flirt, who just might have inspired Austen’s famous bad boys Wickham, Willoughby and Crawford; her exotic cousin, Eliza, to whom she dedicated one of her early works; and, always, her devoted sister Cassandra.  Cassandra was executor of Austen’s estate and responsible for burning most of her sister’s letters—presumably at Jane’s request.  It’s easy to feel outrage at this destruction, but consider that the author herself refused to attach her name to her novels, her “darling” children, because she did not wish to lose her privacy.  It’s impossible to stay angry with the sister who so touchingly described her loss on the occasion of Austen’s death,“She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
Tomalin’s meticulous research and deep understanding of Jane Austen’s work and life make this an informative and fascinating read.  Highly recommended for all Austen fans.