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 ] ( 5197 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 ] ( 2010 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 ] ( 7931 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 ] ( 4979 views )
One Way or Another by Rhonda Bowen 
submitted by Damera



Toni Shields is a hard-nosed reporter who will go to great lengths for a story. This is how we find her at the beginning of One Way or Another. Toni and her best friend, Afrika, are caught snooping on the mayor of Atlanta and they are arrested and taken to jail.

It is here that she runs into Adam Bayne. Adam is the director of a youth halfway house called Jacob’s House. Although they don’t exchange words, there is electricity between the two of them that can’t be denied.

When Toni is reassigned to the journalist pool at work, having almost caused the paper a lawsuit, she still finds a way to get front page stories using a pseudonym. Her big story revolves around a young man’s incarceration, Jacob’s House, and Adam Bayne. Adam appears to have a dislike for Toni, who he learns is the sister of his best friend, Trey. Toni also appears to not take to Adam as well but, as they see more of each other and begin to know each other better, their feelings begin to change.

Adam has hidden a secret for years from everyone including his best friend. When this secret is revealed, it causes a rift between Adam and the boys at the youth center, and also between Toni and himself. How will Toni handle this betrayal? And how can Adam rectify his image, which has now been damaged?

I felt that the author, Rhonda Bowen, captured the essence of her characters throughout this book. Toni was a no holds barred type of woman, but that was just her outer shell. On the inside, Toni was deeply fragile and still unable to cope with the tragedies of her past. Adam, on the other hand, seemed to be level headed and in control, but he too had things in his past that he needed to deal with in order to be complete.

This book is a Christian Fiction novel. Readers can feel refreshed with its content and the message that it portrays, which is to face your past, deal with the consequences, and learn to live your life. Ms. Bowen has another novel, Man Enough for Me, which is also a page turner.



I think that people will truly enjoy One Way or Another and look forward to hearing others' thoughts.

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 ] ( 2142 views )

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