Just Kids by Patti Smith 
submitted by Tommy

I’ve been meaning to read this book for two years and just got to it. I regret that it took me so long. Having been a fan of Patti Smith’s music for decades, I am now a fan of her writing. These memoirs have the ease of her speaking voice. At once both soothing and painful, it is one of those books that I can’t put down. She has been through a lot of personal grief, but is able to use her wisdom and the teachings of other wise people to pull through.

But as much as I’ve been into Patti and her music, I knew nothing about Robert Mapplethorpe, her lifelong soul mate, except that he was an artist. Just Kids is a good starting place for information about him and his tragic death. I must admit that this part of the book made me cry.

The more I read about Patti, the more I like her. She likes all the stuff that I like: poetry, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, Jim Carroll, Janis Joplin, The Beats, The Velvet Underground, and Sam Shepard.

Even before she was a singer/songwriter, she was in love with music. She lived in NYC in the late 60’s/early 70’s. She lived in the Chelsea Hotel for a time, and at a wonderful time to be at both The Chelsea and in NYC. This book makes me lonesome for New York.

This book has many stories and they weave through time like a history lesson that is both personal and universal. Her honesty is remarkable. Just Kids is a must read!

The library has a lot of her music which you can find by clicking here.

The library also owns a great DVD on her called Dream of Life.

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

[ add comment ] ( 6200 views )
Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen 
submitted by Natalie

When a former United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006) and Pulitzer Prize for poetry winner (2005) sets their pen to writing for children, it’s hard not to be curious of the outcome. The House Held Up by Trees, published by Candlewick Press in 2012, is the second picture book by the acclaimed poet Ted Kooser. Jon Klassen adds digitally edited watercolor visuals and brings illustrator-of-the-moment status to the project. Klassen is also the author and illustrator of the brilliantly deadpan I Want My Hat Back as well as the companion title This is Not My Hat.

The main character in The House Held Up By Trees seemed familiar to me and then I realized that I have lived next door to this man more than once. Once where the neighbors cut their grass three times for each one of my lazy mowings and currently where the man adjacent is so fastidious with the upkeep of his yard that I have witnessed him using a leaf blower during a rainstorm. Much like them, the owner of the small country house at the center of this picture book world meticulously and deeply cares for the appearance of his lawn. He ritually manicures it as his young children watch from the outskirts of the neat green clearing.

Helicopter like seeds of maple rivet down to earth and take root but at the first sign of growth the father appears to pull them individually from his immaculate rectangle. Many seasons of careful maintenance pass and the daughter and son who have watched their father’s devotion to order are now of an age for moving from their childhood home. Retirement comes for the man which only increases his drive to tame nature. More time passes and eventually he is unable to keep up and he begins to long for living close to his children once more. And so he does and the house is put up for sale.

“As it happened, nobody wanted to buy the house. Nobody could explain why, but it just didn’t seem like a house where anybody wanted to live. That happens sometimes.”

Without the property’s caretaker, seedlings that were once carefully plucked from the ground are now allowed to grow. Years go by and the seeds become trees and the once new and well cared for house has become dilapidated. Glass from the windows has been broken and shingles fallen away from the roof and then we can see that oddly enough trees have begun to grow from the interior.

Considering the general picture book audience, disintegration and the passing of time may not pop out as go-to themes. But why not devote some time to pondering such matters? Children will come to see that things that were once new eventually break and that nature will have its way with us be it in the end or points in between. These concepts are simple enough to grasp and yet there’s no fear here of exposing an elementary aged reader to morbidity; instead here lies an opportunity to introduce the concept of acceptance. There's also a quietness and sense of awe aimed at the natural world both of which could always bare cultivation. This picture book does nothing to overstimulate the reader and is compelling enough for those who have come to rely on such.

“And very gradually, the growing trees began to lift the house off its foundation. First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then in a few more years, you could see all the way across the top of the foundation.”

Because who wouldn't be intrigued by the idea of a clump of trees that raise a house from up off the ground? I know I am.

Watch an interview with Kooser and see the actual house that inspired the story.

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

[ add comment ] ( 12639 views )
The Impetuosity of Youth (or Youthful Thinking): A Review of Arcadia by Lauren Groff 
submitted by Rob

There are myriad behaviors shared among all humankind that tie each person to the next. Over time, these behaviors form recognizable and predictable trends. Among these is the seemingly innate desire by some to organize society or select groups in the attempt to maximize happiness and achieve some level of worldly perfection. From the Essenes of Ancient Judea to the Transcendentalists of Nineteenth Century America, people have endeavored for thousands of years to build a utopia.

Earlier this year, Lauren Groff published her second novel entitled Arcadia. It follows a fictional group of Americans in the 1970s which forms a commune sequestered in rural New York on the land surrounding an old, decaying house known as the Arcadia House. There they wish to live what is - in their minds - a righteous life of free love, strict vegetarianism, shared work, and the prohibition of the keeping of pets (considered by them to be animal slavery).

With the narration being a mixture of omniscient voice and the internal musings of the son of one of the founding couples, Ridley Sorrel Stone (but referred to almost exclusively as Bit), the reader follows this ragtag band of merry pranksters in their journey from traveling caravan to Arcadia and beyond. As a spectrum of characters is introduced throughout, the reader is constantly engaged with their personal quirks and life stories.

Despite the best efforts by many, the fruit that results from these idealistic labors is bittersweet, and through it all, Bit remains a steadfast observer. He witnesses the happenings and consequences of the wishful dreams of gentle people who wanted nothing more than to live in peace and harmony. However, the realities of modern life cannot be avoided forever, and the world that was being eschewed nevertheless came to Arcadia, sans invitation.

Framing the story is Ms. Groff’s wonderful writing. Her descriptions of nature, people, and events bring the reader directly to that Arcadia. The reader feels surrounded by the characters, sharing in their everyday joys, sorrows, hopes, and triumphs.
“But this morning, Bit wakes alone, heart racing. The icicles in the window are shot with such red light of dawn that Bit goes barefoot over the snow to pull one with his hand. Inside again, he licks it down to nothing, eating winter itself, the captured woodsmoke and sleepy hush and aching cleanness of ice.”

Ms. Groff is also the author of the novel The Monsters of Templeton (2008) and a collection of short stories, Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories (2009).

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

[ add comment ] ( 3497 views )
Computing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi 
submitted by Tony

Computing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, is part of the M.I.T. Essential Knowledge series. The series started a little over a year ago but topics covered already span the gamut from ocean waves to corporations.

Computing is a short work, barely 200 pages long (and the pages are only 5” X 7”). While a regular user of computers, I admit that my understanding of the actual mechanical aspect of them is a bit sketchy. Even so, Computing is easy to read, leaving almost all jargon aside. When necessary, terms are quickly and clearly explained in such a way as to not impede the story being told.

The story begins with the creation of modern computers in the 1930’s and 1940’s (only deviating briefly to mention earlier systems that influenced modern computers). From there, Ceruzzi traces developments in the field up to the social networking era of the past few years. He focuses on four key themes:

1) Use of binary code to operate machines
2) Convergence of different machine systems
3) Use of solid-state electronics
4) Means of communication between people and computers

This big picture approach makes computing seem much like a social movement - as a complicated and evolving set of events that conflict and complement each other.

If you like this work and are so inclined to delve deeper, there are several interesting histories of computing that LFPL carries. The most current (just released this March) is George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. For a list of some titles available at the library, click here.

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

[ add comment ] ( 17158 views )
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt 
submitted by Caren

If you at all enjoy history and the play of ideas across centuries, you will enjoy The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which was a National Book Award winner. The author, Stephen Greenblatt focuses on an ancient poem (De Rerum Natura by Lucretius) nearly lost in the "teeth of time" (as he so colorfully puts it). The poem was plucked from its obscurity in a German monastery library by an early fifteenth century Italian book hunter, Poggio Bracciolini.

I have read the criticism that the subtitle, "How the World Became Modern", is a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps, but the author is using this specific example as representative of the people and thoughts that shimmered across the centuries. In my mind, I could visualize a pebble tossed out into time, with concentric circles of influence spreading further and further. It is the way in which the author follows these silvery trails that is engrossing. I thought it was interesting that these humanist scholars were so well-versed in the existing ancient literature that they could follow clues about works that had once been widely read, but had disappeared from known literature.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries were the repositories for literature. Their books were copied by hand and stored. A person searching these libraries, though, had to have some idea of what he was seeing. He also had to have some hunch about the best places to search across Europe. The fact that this particular poem, with its subversive ideas, was found by this particular person is just amazing.

Greenblatt sets the stage by introducing Poggio and telling us his situation, so we see how he came to be nosing around monastic libraries in Germany. He then goes on to tell how this poem, itself influenced by the ideas of Epicurus, left its imprint on the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and beyond, even to our own Thomas Jefferson. The controversial ideas contained in the poem are outlined on pages 185-199.

For anyone who enjoys this book, I would also recommend How to Live – or – A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. Montaigne, too, was a link, carrying the Epicurean ideas of Lucretius forward. I love these words from page 247-8:
"There are moments, rare and powerful, in which a writer, long vanished from the face of the earth, seems to stand in your presence and speak to you directly, as if he bore a message meant for you above all others. Montaigne seems to have felt this intimate link with Lucretius..."

Lastly, if you are a bookaholic, as I am, certainly you can empathize with Petrarch, quoted on page 119:
"Gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomed estates, pious paintings, caparisoned steeds, and other things of this kind offer a mutable and superficial pleasure; books give delight to the very marrow of one's bones. They speak to us, consult with us, and join with us in a living and intense intimacy."

The Swerve invites us to join the conversation, to commune with minds across the ages. Who could resist?

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

[ add comment ] ( 8399 views )

<<First <Back | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | Next> Last>>