Monthly Archives: September 2013

My Summer Nightstand Pile of Books in Review

For better, or for worse, I will share what I read this summer with the Hopkins community. Due to my faulty memory, I must rely on my Goodreads “read” list and other trusty clues…such as my overdue notice from Mr. Gette.

Assuming I marked books “read” in Goodreads as I actually completed them, this is also more or less the order in which I completed my summer reading from mid-June through August. There is rational behind [nearly] every reading choice. Even the terrible one, which is the first.

*deep, yogi breathing*

Here we go:

1. Inferno, by Dan Brown

Yes I jumped at the opportunity to read the new Dan Brown book. Yes it was terrible. Yes it was a waste of my time. I read it on my very first beach trip of the summer (which is only a kind-of excuse). He should have quit when he was ahead-ish . Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself – the Calarco Library has a copy!.

2. The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

For those of you who love dystopia (*raises hand*), the roles of women in dystopian worlds (*waves hand in circles*), trilogies (*jumps up and down in chair*), overlapping plots (*waves both hands furiously in an air traffic controller fashion*), and mad scientists and the impact of their genius/craziness (*abandons all decorum and shouts ME!*), you MUST read Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. Between kindles and books, the Calarco Library has a copy/version of all three installments – Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam (coming soon). If you want to read more about Atwood, the MaddAddam trilogy, and her other works, check out the articles/posts that were published by on Margaret Atwood Day.

3. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

I am a member of what I can confidently dub The World’s Best Book Club. We skipped a meeting mid-summer and instead read two books for our meeting in September. As you read further down the list, you will probably quickly identify the second assigned book. McLain’s historical fiction novel reveals the 1920’s Paris ex-pat/literary/art scene through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. McLain was staunchly loyal to archival materials and correspondence between Ernest and Hadley, as well as their communications with their friends and associates. I love this book because the historical accuracy is rewarding – I spent an entire layover in 1920’s Paris instead of Chicago-O’Hare. Hadley’s voice is sometimes lost and overwhelmed amidst her husband’s – which is sometimes frustrating, but also revealing of how Hadley may have felt while married to Ernest. A worthwhile check-out from Calarco for anyone who is fascinated by Paris, the 1920’s, and/or Hemingway.

4. Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

Premise – genius. Plot – hilarious. Characters – unbelievable but likeable. Messages RE: social issues – commendable. Writing and overall grade – eh. Reading Beauty Queens made me realize why some books that are widely considered Young Adult (YA) Fiction are major flops for me. Overwriting. Bray’s multi-narrative story would be great if she would just stop writing so many damn internal monologues for the characters. I found myself skimming several “pages” (kindle version) of the story because, “I got the point, Libba. I understand what that character feels, thinks, wants for breakfast, etc.” I think the writing was playful and interesting, but Bray could take it down a couple notches and stop assuming that teenagers (or anyone) cannot possibly understand her characters unless she explains every last thing about them.

5. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

I still have no idea if I like this book – honestly. I cared about the story, about Wolitzer’s incredible interwoven exploration of why some achieve greatness and some reside in mediocracy. And then she of course asks you, “Wait, who is an interesting? What and who is mediocre?” I also appreciated the realistic portrayal of lifelong friendships – things change and people definitely do not stay the same, and often the “nevers” happen and the “always” fades into the background. Did I care for the characters? Ehhh….but worth the hype and definitely enjoyable for anyone who enjoys reading about the late 1970s/80s and New York City.

6. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Of course I read this book in high school for American Lit – as did anyone who went to public high school in the late 1990’s or early 2000s (and maybe they still do). For those who don’t know the story of Chris McCandless or the writing of Jon Krakauer, read it. For those who have read Wild before, read it again. For those who think McCandless was an arrogant, naive kid, read this article published by The New Yorker a few days ago. This was the best book I read this summer, and in fact all year. Sometimes it pays to re-read.

7. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

Bray, take a leaf out of Danforth’s book – this is YA fiction that is compelling without being over-written. Danforth takes the common YA “orphan” storyline and combines it with the less-common (but thankfully increasingly prevalent) “wait, am I gay?” character. What makes this more than a writing formula is Cameron Post herself. In the hands of a less-talented author, Cameron could have come to be nothing more than a character representative of the audience Danforth is trying to reach. But Danforth’s Cameron is real. This is only enhanced by Danforth’s choice to place the story in the midwest and creating circumstances that allow the reader to view the Ex-Gay movement through the believable lens of Cameron’s perspective.

8. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson

Again and again I make the mistake (or awesome choice?) of reading Bill Bryson in public, where I receive cautionary looks and complaints regarding my roaring laughter. For anyone who has read Bryson, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is not an ace hiker. You will be regaled with tales of his misadventures along the Appalachian trail (with his sidekick/buddy Katz) and simultaneously steeped in the history of American wildlife and national parks. A great choice if you are experimenting with your first summer of hiking (*bows head and shyly raises hand*).

9. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

The second installment of my summer book club series and also a “check” on the literary classics list. Overall assessment – I could have skipped the entire book excepting the story of Hemingway’s cross-country automobile trip with Fitzgerald. A drunk, a drunk who doesn’t think he’s a drunk, hypochondria, a broken convertible top that just possibly can’t be fixed (Zelda), bad weather, bath thermometers – if it was made into a 21st century comedy film starring Zach Galifianakis, it would get a favorable review.

10. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (or The Beatles?)

Hi, have you met Haruki Murakami? Because you should – you really should. Whether you are introduced through Kafka on Shore, 1Q84, or this very book, you should get around to meeting him. Narrator Toru Watanabe is in love with a girl who does not love him, and he must struggle between living in the very real world of 1960s Tokyo and lingering in the shadows of Naoko’s unstable unreality. A+ for scoffing the protest movements as shallow and hypocritical, and an A++ for prose, characters, musical references, and deciding to become a writer during a baseball game in the 1980’s, Haruki Murakami.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (whose reading habits will be in the toilet until Breaking Bad ends)

Summer Reading Review: What I Actually Read

Last Spring, I wrote a blog post outlining what I planned to read over the summer. So, how’d I do?

Let’s start by confessing what I didn’t get around to:

1. Anything by Jane Austen. Or anything about Jane Austen. Nope.

2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.  “But Mr. Gette,” I hear you say, “you have a copy in the library!” Why yes. Yes we do. And it stayed in the library. 

3. Ready Player OneSome day, book. Some day.

4. Scott Pilgrim.  I watched the movie again…

Alright, that’s enough public wringing of hands. Now, what did I read?

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1. A whole lot of fantasy. I took a class over the summer on fantasy literature, which had a lot of required reading: Lewis Carroll,  C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, and J. K. Rowling. I’d read everything accept The Amber Spyglass before, so I won’t review anything in depth here. But I will say that you have not lived until you have seen 10 teachers and librarians fight over whether Harry Potter is or will be a classic.

Also, given that I read 12 books for this, I feel like I get a pass on some of the stuff above.

2. The Black Count. Probably my favorite of the books I read this summer.  Popular nonfiction at its finest, this book chronicles the life of Alexander Dumas the eldest, which bears some similarity to his son’s novels – in particular, The Count of Monte Cristo (which I started reading the second I finished The Black Count). Part biography, part story of the rise and fall of French abolitionism and civil rights. Coming soon to a Calarco library shelf near you!

3. WatergateI’m a huge fan of All the President’s Men, and I’ve read it multiple times. I decided I wanted to read a more comprehensive view of Watergate – one that covered more than Woodward and Bernstein’s points of view. This one took me a while to get through, mostly because of how exhaustive it is, but it covers a lot that I’d never heard about. If you want a quick read, go with All the President’s Men. If you want a thorough one, go with this.

4. The DivinersNot as good as Beauty Queensbut better than Going Bovine. A supernatural tale set in the Roaring 20’s. with plenty of mystery, romance, and dead villains. The characters were solid, even if I wished that Evie would stop using slang in every single sentence.  Plenty of questions are raised that don’t get answered – obvious hooks for the sequel.  I should be used to such tricks by now, but it’s still disappointing.

5. A Simple MurderA weaver goes to a Shaker commune to find his son and is enlisted to solve a murder.  A solid mystery, with plenty of red herrings. I had to keep reminding myself that William Rees’ awful misogyny was period appropriate (the book is set in the late 1700’s). Only the fact that I was in England and had no space for books kept me from immediately getting the sequel.

6.  Five Flavors of DumbA deaf teenager becomes the manager for a band. Do you really need more of a hook than that? Smart YA, with teenagers acting like teenagers, and not adults with a layer of hair dye and math homework.

7. Midnight Riot. I don’t like urban fantasy – unless it involves a government agent or private detective and some ghosts or demons or other things that go bump in the night (please see Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Charlie Stross’s Laundry Files series). In this case, it’s a police officer who can speak to ghosts, which comes in handy when a spectre is the only witness to a murder.

8. Murder on the Orient ExpressA classic mystery, which I had never read before. Perfect for a day when it would. not. stop. raining. Since it’s a part of the common culture, I was pretty sure I knew what happened, but it was still a good read – which should be the test of any mystery.

And some other books that I can’t remember right now. Not a bad list, if I do say so myself. Not enough epidemiology, though.

-Signing off, Kit Gette (who is already planning his list for Thanksgiving break. Is that wrong?)

Calarco Library Welcomes You Back

*brushes off keyboard*

*takes vacuum to cobwebs*

*checks cautiously for mold*

*throws up shade*

KG: Hello, and welcome back to Hopkins! I hope you all had a good summer – I certainly did!

JB: Yes! My summer was filled with reading…and more reading. I never fail to fulfill my most beloved of librarian stereotypes.

KG: Whereas I managed not to read most of the stuff I said I would. But that’s a different post.

JB: Yes, let’s lament what we did or did not read on another day. For now, our only task is to welcome all students, faculty and staff back to the Calarco Library. So. Welcome.

KG: It’s the same four faces here at the library this year: Mrs. Prendergast, Mrs. Dubois, and, of course, Ms. Barrows and myself, Mr. Gette.

JB: For those new to Hopkins, we are providing a crash course in Calarco.

KG: The library is in Baldwin Hall, by the patio next to Hopkins House. We have two floors.

JB: Fiction and reference is upstairs, as well as some fantastically comfy seating, tables and computers.

KG: There’s also a reference desk, with an embedded librarian, for all your questions and book-finding needs.

JB: The librarian is actually part of the physical structure of the desk.

KG: Please bring snacks. For us.

JB: Non-fiction, DVDs and CDs are downstairs, as well as MORE computers, another desk with a structurally embedded librarian in need of snacks, study rooms, and the infamous library classroom.

KG: It’s haunted.

JB: With the research, papers, and presentations of projects past.

KG: We provide books, Kindles, DVDs, VHS (yes, still), and more, that can all be checked out and taken home with you. For a time. For use IN the library, we have computers, laptops, headphones, and textbooks. Also two copiers. And a lot of tissues.

JB: The structurally embedded librarians and the currently mobile ones eagerly await you! Especially the structurally embedded librarians – they get quite lonely.

KG: We love answering questions, as we are actually cyborgs that are wired into all of our databases.

JB: AND, as was alluded to earlier, we are benevolent book monsters

KG: B is for Book, that’s good enough for me.

JB: In your many travels today and during this first week, please stop by to visit the sideshow of librarians attached to desks, cyborgs, monsters, and more. For the many of you who will not peer cautiously inside this week, we hope to see you this year. And by “hope,” we actually mean, “We will see you this year, muawhahaha!”

KG: …Yes. Anyway. Happy first day, and happy learning, all!

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows and Kit Gette (who also need to dust off their blogging skills)