From the Shelves

The Best Books I Read in 2018

by Anne Wilmoth on January 3rd, 2019

As a new reading year dawns, I’d like to recommend some of my favorite reads of the past year. Mind you, these are books not necessarily published in 2018, but all are books that I eagerly devoured during 2018.

Adult books: 38 nonfiction; 29 fiction

Juvenile/YA books: 3 nonfiction; 44 fiction

Total: 114

Because it’s impossible to judge adult and children’s books on the same plane, I have to enthuse about my favorites in each category.

Top 5 Adult Fiction I Read This Year:

ThumbnailNine Perfect StrangersLiane Moriarty (2018)

In Moriarty’s newest book, nine strangers meet on a remote Australian health retreat. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different guest, and we learn incrementally about the background of each and their reasons for joining the retreat. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and then becomes creepy – Moriarty is a master of the slow-building thriller. Events become more and more outlandish as the plot builds but in a completely delicious way. The ending is a little weak but by that point you don’t care because the roller coaster has been so exciting.

ThumbnailEligible Curtis Sittenfeld (2016)

I feel defensive of this book because I don’t want people to dismiss it as fluffy “chick lit.” The cover image doesn’t help, but please believe me when I say that Sittenfeld has some of the most sharp, incisive, crisp (and hilarious) writing you’ll ever read here. (If a man writes a book about relationships, it’s taken for granted as valuable literature appropriate for the edification of all, whereas if a woman writes about relationships, it’s frivolous, idiotic “chick lit” that would only appeal to other women [i.e., no one important]…okay, that’s a whole other blog post.) Anyway, this is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, in which the five single, adult Bennet sisters return to their childhood home in Ohio after their father’s health scare and their mother obsesses about marrying them off.

ThumbnailThe Underground RailroadColson Whitehead (2016)

Despite the fact that this book won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, I was skeptical when I heard that in this book, the Underground Railroad is a real, literal train operating underneath the ground. BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE MAGICAL REALISM. However, I gave it a try anyway, and I was so glad I did, because my mind was absolutely blown by this book. Protagonist Cora endures unthinkable suffering in bondage before her daring escape North, state by state, on the Underground Railroad, launching a twist-filled, page-turning narrative (and the train thing just works). It’s difficult to read, to say the least, but the sanitized version of slavery that fills school history books is not enough to understand our American legacy.

ThumbnailClock DanceAnne Tyler (2018)

Tyler has written 22 novels, but this is the first of hers I’d ever read. This book’s protagonist is Willa, and the book is divided into four sections that describe the four defining periods of her life. In the final section, her son’s ex-girlfriend (who Willa barely knows) is temporarily sidelined with an injury and Willa ends up moving in with the ex-girlfriend and her young daughter in an unfamiliar city. Tyler’s style is fairly understated, in that the details are richly observed, the characters are deeply developed, and the reader is left to largely draw her own conclusions. Some conclusions: women’s choices have been constrained in different ways throughout history; women have been taught to be quiet and not make a fuss about anything; in the modern world, you might have to actively create your own community.

ThumbnailMrs. FletcherTom Perrotta (2017)

In case you haven’t noticed, I like female-driven fiction. In this book, Eve Fletcher is a middle-aged single mother of one son. When he leaves for college, Eve is at loose ends. Then she experiences something of a sexual reawakening when she receives an anonymous late-night “sext,” at the same time she is trying to decide how to address her son’s casual misogyny. Her fixation on this digital overture begins to affect other areas of her life – this book is filled with ethical dilemmas and has much to say that is timely and relevant about gender relations and expectations.

Top 5 Adult Nonfiction:

ThumbnailNomadland: Surviving America in the 21st CenturyJessica Bruder (2017)

You know how you see older adults rambling down the highways of America in their RVs, and you think they’re taking it easy now that they’ve retired, seeing the sights on a great road trip? Well, that might not be the case. This book describes a new, low-cost labor pool exploited by America’s corporations: transient older adults, who lost everything in the Great Recession or simply can’t afford to retire at all, who live full-time in vehicles and work as campground hosts, seasonal Amazon warehouse workers, Adventureland ride operators, or at other short-term, scattered hustles across the country, many of which offer poor working conditions. Prepare to have your eyes opened by this stunning work of investigative journalism, in which author Bruder spent months living in a camper van to document this group, hidden in plain sight.

ThumbnailStranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitMichael Finkel (2017)

This book tells the shocking true story of Christopher Knight, who unceremoniously took to the woods in 1986, when he was 20 years old, and reemerged almost three decades later. During that time, Knight lived alone, year-round, without once seeing or speaking to another human being, in the woods of Maine. Knight had no real agenda or statement to make – he just really, really preferred to be alone. So much so that he stole from nearby summer cabins and camps to survive and evaded law enforcement for thirty years. This is a fascinating account of one man’s dedication to life on his terms.

ThumbnailThe Not Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USADoug Mack (2017)

This was the first book I read in 2018, and it stuck with me the whole year. If, like me, you know nothing about America’s territories beyond a vague awareness that they exist, you will find this book incredibly enlightening. There is a section dedicated to each of America’s five inhabited territories, and interesting facts abound – for example, I didn’t know American Samoa has the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory. (This is despite the fact that those born in American Samoa, unlike those born in any of the other five inhabited territories, are considered U.S. nationals, not U.S. citizens). This book is written as an exciting travelogue, as Mack travels to each territory and writes about the culture, landscape, and history of each location.

ThumbnailSmall Animals: Parenthood in the Age of FearKim Brooks (2018)

It all started when Brooks ran briefly into a suburban Target and left her three-year-old son alone in the car. After she was arrested and battling child-endangerment charges, Brooks began researching the modern-day hysteria surrounding child safety. (Spoiler alert: kids have a literally one-in-a-million chance of being snatched by a stranger off the street.) Brooks, self-deprecatingly and with humor, examines how parenting has changed over the years and the role fear plays in modern parenting.

 

ThumbnailNorthland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten BorderPorter Fox (2018)

Fox travels by canoe, car, foot, and steamship along the longest land border between two countries in all the world: the border between the U.S. and Canada. Along the way, Fox examines the history of the border region, including the indigenous peoples and European exploration; how climate change has affected the Great Lakes region; the political climate’s influence on borderlands; and the modern culture of those who live along the border. Fun fact: though the vast majority of American resources go to protecting our border with Mexico, the only two known terrorists who have crossed overland into America have come in from Canada. Also, Fox lovingly describes the breathtaking landscapes so you’ll want to go canoe and camp in the Boundary Waters immediately.

Top 5 Juvenile/YA Fiction:

ThumbnailThe Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 Christopher Paul Curtis (1995)

I have never laughed so hard while reading a book! This multi-award-winning book by autoworker-turned-author Curtis describes one summer in the life of 10-year-old Kenny, a kid tortured by his teenage brother Byron, who is an “official juvenile delinquent” in early-1960s Flint, Michigan. In an attempt to straighten Byron out, the Watsons embark on a road trip to Alabama to visit an intimidating older relation. Some poignant moments hint at what’s to come, but the stunning ending will take your breath away.

 

ThumbnailLong Way Down Jason Reynolds (2017)

In another multi-award-winner, Will’s older brother is shot and killed in an act of gang-related violence, and Will, consumed by with shock and grief, grabs his brother’s gun from their home and goes to avenge his death. However, on the elevator ride down from their apartment to the street, the elevator begins stopping at every floor to admit the ghost of a person from Will’s life who was killed previously by gun violence. They all have a story to tell that influences Will’s understanding of the code of the streets by which he’s always abided – in the end, what will Will choose to do? This book is written in staccato verse, takes place over just 60 seconds, and will leave you reeling. A good choice for reluctant readers, as it can be read quickly and the story is extremely compelling.

ThumbnailMidnight Without a MoonLinda Williams Jackson (2017)

This work of historical fiction describes a summer in the life of Rose Lee Carter, who lives a harsh existence with her grandparents on a sharecropper plantation in Mississippi in 1955. When Emmett Till is murdered nearby, fear and anger reverberate through the community, ultimately leading to some hard choices for Rose Lee. What I enjoyed most about this book are the fully-developed, multi-faceted characters, the nuanced – never simplistic – portrayal of conditions in the American South in this period, and the bold dialogue.

 

ThumbnailThree Times LuckySheila Turnage (2012)

Strong female protagonist Moses LeBeau, a “rising sixth grader” in the tiny town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, has a mystery to solve. When a local eccentric turns up dead, Mo and her best friend Dale (named after Dale Earnhardt), find themselves evading a smooth-talking, out-of-town lawman while they attempt to pinpoint the killer themselves. Mo’s own existence is something of a mystery, seeing as she washed ashore in a hurricane and is being raised by two more eccentrics, who own the local cafe. Mo’s Southern voice is delightful here, and wisdom and wit fill every page (“I’m Baptist. So far, Fast or Never is the only speeds I got with forgiving.”) The book is funny, and the suspenseful mystery keeps the pages turning.

ThumbnailA Case in Any CaseUlf Nilsson (2016)

I don’t know why, but any children’s book translated from the Swedish is a pure delight, and this book is no exception. The third in a series (the first two were just as good), lovable curmudgeon Detective Gordon (a frog) and his deputy Detective Buffy  Then, when two mouse children go missing during a class outing, Gordon and Buffy must find them! A sweet and gentle mystery perfect for reading aloud to children ages three and up, this book is so cute and funny that I had to read certain bits over several times, just to let the pleasure sink in. (“It was all the forest children from the kindergarten on an expedition. Buffy saluted the teacher mouse at the front of the line. The children all wore flowery tops and backpacks.”) The messages of kindness, community, and looking out for one another were welcome, too.

Happy reading! Did you have a reading goal in 2018? What were some of your favorites?

The Undoing Project

by Tom Jordan on November 5th, 2018

If you’re a reader of nonfiction, there’s a good chance you’ve read something by Michael Lewis.  The Big Short, The Blind Side, and Moneyball are three of his books (all good reads) that have been made into movies.  

His The Undoing Project: a Friendship that Changed Our Minds probably isn’t going that route.  If it were a television series, it would be sort of like Masters of Sex but without the sex. Read the rest of this entry »

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH Reading

by Maeve Clark on October 25th, 2018
ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH Reading Cover Image

 

Alexander McCall Smith, the author of No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, will be reading from his newest book, The Colors of All the Cattle in Iowa City on Monday evening, November 12 at the First United Methodist Church @ 214 Jefferson Street. While this is a ticketed event, (with your ticket you can receive a book to be singed by the author, you can ask questions and take home your book to read that night), but if you can’t attend, don’t despair, you can find nearly all of his books at the Iowa City Public Library, including The Colors of All the Cattle.  To place a hold on this title or any others, just click on the link below and reserve a copy.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexander McCall Smith at an earlier author event and, he is, as you might imagine, as charming as the day is long. McCall Smith, a Scotsman, was born in Bulawayo in 1948 in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). His father worked as a public prosecutor in Bulawayo. McCall Smith was educated at the Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo before moving to Scotland at age 17.   Zimbabwe is adjacent to Botswana and McCall Smith writes knowingly of the urban and rural lands and their people in southern Africa. He earned a PhD in law at the University of Edinburgh.  He returned to southern Africa in 1981 to help co-found the law school and teach law at the University of Botswana. While there, he co-wrote The Criminal Law of Botswana with Kwame Frimpong.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is one of my favorite characters in detective fiction.  Her understated means of detection by learning as much about those involved are more important to her than finding who committed the crime. Mma Grace Makuts, her sole employee, who began work as secretary, first as secretary, then as assistant detective, and then as an associate detective, and finally as a partner in business. They and others in their circle of friends and acquaintances always do solve the mysteries. Obed Ramotswe, Precious’s father, figures highly in the stories.  He lived in the rural area of Botswana, and was a keen cattleman with an eye for the best. It was Precious’s inheritance, her father’s cattle, that allowed her to move to the capital Gabarone, purchase a home and set up her agency.  If you haven’t read the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, I suggest you get started tout suite.  There are now 19 books, but each is captivating and you will want to read them all.

If you are already a fan of McCall Smith, he has more series to his name – the 44 Scotland Street series, The Sunday Philosophy Club series, the Corduroy Mansions series, the  Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainments series, a good number of children’s titles, including several series and many stand alone novels for both children, teens and adults.  He has also authored a number of academic and professional texts on law and medicine.  The library has 181 titles by McCall Smith in print or on compact disc and 60 titles to listen to or to read online.

 

 

 

 

 

Other

Bare wall syndrome?

by Candice Smith on July 27th, 2018

Attention all newcomers to Iowa City and new, or soon-to-be, apartment dwellers: do you have the dreaded “bare wall syndrome?” Are you surrounded by unsightly beige expanses? Are your walls freckled with the Spackle from previous tenants and their pictures and posters? Do you long for something to gaze at besides the nondescript shade of white covering the drywall, or the window-view of your neighbors across the street? If so, you need help, now!

Iowa City Public Library has the remedy: our Art-To-Go collection! Take your pick from 400 framed prints and original works of art by local artists! Cardholders can check out two pieces at a time, for two months. All works are framed with wood or metal, and have secure wire hangers ,and covered in Plexi–all you need is a nail, a hammer (or heavy textbook), and a little elbow grease. Transform your walls, brighten up a hallway, turn any room into a very small, private gallery!

Recent acquisitions include:

Edgar Degas’ Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green)
which captures a young ballerina executing a
graceful turn. Painted during the years of 1877-1879,
Degas’ masterful use of brisk strokes of paint convey a
sense of movement and transience.

 

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Trumpet, painted in 1984, using
acrylic and oil-stick. Basquiat was a young artist with Haitian
and Puerto Rican roots, and he went from spray painting on the
streets of New York City to displaying his works alongside
famous artists in a dizzyingly short amount of time. This work
displays his penchant for bold colors, words and poetry, and an
energy that is both demanding and joyful.

 

William Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder. This pen and ink drawing was
created in 1799-1806 by artist Blake, who was also a poet; he is
widely considered to be one of the foremost artists of the era
of Romanticism. This work depicts the Biblical subject of Jacob,
and the dream he had of the stairway to Heaven, as he fled from
his brother Esau. I believe it also shows a lady who’s sure,
all that glitters is gold.

 

Do Not Disturb! by Yoshitomo Nara. Nara has a knack for
picturing people and animals that are at once young and maybe
a little petulant, as well as wise and somehow at peace. This
sweet little dog reads a book, and his smile conveys the feeling
we all know of being so absorbed in a story, in the world of a
book, that we want nothing to intrude.

Drop by the Library and take in some art; it’s on the first floor, along the red wall between the main room and the Children’s Room. And get those walls fixed!

Welcome, Cities of Literature!

by Stacey McKim on March 30th, 2018

Representatives from the global Cities of Literature will be in town next week for their annual meeting.  While only one event is open to the public (a panel discussion about the cities’ innovative programs on Thursday, April 5 from 5:15-6:00 at Hancher Auditorium), we’re pretty excited about the chance to think about these twenty-eight cities with rich literary cultures.

Check out a book written by someone from another City of Literature off our display.  We have books by writers from most of the cities, including Durban (South Africa), Reykjavik (Iceland), Krakow (Poland), Lviv (Ukraine), and many more.

While you’re at it, learn a little bit about why each city qualified from the nearby map.  For instance, did you know that Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne was reputed to be the largest bookshop in the world at the turn of the twentieth century with two million books, and attracted the attention of visitors like Mark Twain?  How about the fact that Norwich was home to the first female to write and publish a book in the English language?  Or that a Krakow bookstore has been continuously in operation at the same address since 1610?

The Edinburgh City of Literature website has excellent information about each city, if you want to learn more.

Free access to the New York Times!

by Melody Dworak on March 16th, 2018

New York Times Digital AccessNever hit a paywall again with your Iowa City Public Library card! We are pleased to announce that residents now have free access to the New York Times website anywhere, anytime. From quick news updates to deep dives into a topic, The New York Times keeps you up-to-date on what you need to know.

You will need an access code to use this resource. You must also live in Iowa City, Hills, Lone Tree, University Heights, or rural Johnson County. Further details can be found on the New York Times resource page on the ICPL website. Happy reading!

Edit: This access is available through the Digital Johnson County collections we share with the Coralville Public Library and the North Liberty Community Library. That means that Coralville residents can get free access through the CPL website, using their CPL card, and North Liberty residents use the NLCL website with their NLCL card.

It’s Book Madness Time at ICPL!

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on March 5th, 2018

It’s Book Madness time at ICPL!

Voting in Round One of our annual literary competition starts today! Stop by the Library before closing time on Sunday, March 11, to see what books are in this year’s competition and submit a vote for your favorite(s). If you want to vote for just one book, you can, or you can choose 32 titles to move forward in the first round; it’s up to you!

Here are the voting dates to remember:

  • First Round: March 5 through March 11
  • Second Round: March 12 through March 18
  • Sweet Sixteen: March 19 through March 25
  • Elite 8: March 26 through April 1
  • Final 4: April 2 through April 8
  • Championship Game: April 9 through April 15

Be sure to check in and vote regularly! The winning book in each bracket will be announced on Monday, April 16.

New Urban Fantasy on OverDrive/Libby

by Melody Dworak on February 26th, 2018
New Urban Fantasy on OverDrive/Libby Cover Image

Those of us who use Libby regularly may have noticed that there have been some new fantasy books on the “just added” list. I’m happy to spread the news that our fiction buyer has gotten us several Helen Harper books. Helen Harper is an independent author from the UK who writes excellent series books in the urban fantasy genre. I first learned of her through the podcast Smart Podcast Trashy Books, which is hosted by a popular blog that reviews romance books.

Keeping with urban fantasy tradition, Harper’s books have strong female protagonists, as well as more alpha males than you can shake a stick at. I have yet to read her Blood Destiny series but I have made it through the 3 audiobooks for the Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series. I will warn you that she likes bad jokes and puns, and for me that makes the series more lighthearted and fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Books About Fathers

by Heidi Lauritzen on February 21st, 2018

I have just finished two special books about fathers and highly recommend both. I took them home because of the titles: “An Odyssey” (I was a Classics major), and “The Wine Lover’s Daughter” (I do enjoy a glass of wine). While I learned much about Odysseus, and about Clifton Fadiman and wine, mostly I was touched by the relationships between the adult children and their fathers who are the subjects of these memoirs.

Author Daniel Mendelsohn is a classicist who teaches literature at Bard College. “An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic” is about the semester his 81-year-old research scientist father joins his seminar on Homer’s Odyssey.  The elder Mendelsohn provides commentary in class that often is in stark contrast to that of the young undergraduates–and frequently in opposition to his son’s professorial ideas as well.  After the seminar, the father and son decide to join an educational Mediterranean cruise that traces Odysseus’s homeward journey. The book blends the telling of these two experiences as it takes us through the Odyssey, and is rich in emotion and humor. Their adventure will remind sons and daughters that there likely are many facets of their parents’ lives that are unknown to them, until the circumstances are right to hear the stories. You need not have read the tale of Odysseus to enjoy this book, although if you have studied the Odyssey you will probably come away with some fresh insights about it.

In the book’s introductory chapter, Mendelsohn says “it is a story, after all, about strange and complicated families…about a husband who travels far and a wife who stays behind…about a son who for a long time is unrecognized by and unrecognizable to his father, until late, very late, when they join together for a great adventure…a story, in its final moments, about a man in the middle of his life, who at the end of this story falls down and weeps because he has confronted the spectacle of his father’s old age, the specter of his inevitable passing…”  He is speaking of Odysseus, and his son and father, but we also will learn that it is about something much closer to home.

Anne Fadiman is the wine lover’s daughter, and this is a book about her relationship with her father Clifton Fadiman. Although she is the well-known author of Ex Libris and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, her father perhaps was even more famous in his time: an editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, book critic for The New Yorker, a Book of the Month Club judge for forty years, and emcee of the NBC radio quiz show Information Please. And from an early age, he also educated himself about wine and began creating a wine cellar that ultimately reflected his extensive knowledge and savvy acquisitions. He co-authored two editions of The Joys of Wine.

Clifton Fadiman came to all of this through relentless hard work, and a quest for self improvement that would raise him above his humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York and life with his parents, recent immigrants. He studied how to speak without an accent, how to dress, how to eat, and what to drink. Despite his successes, he never felt entirely comfortable that he had achieved the level of society that he wished for.

The love he showed his children is evident however:  he nurtures the talents in his children, and generously teaches them about wine.  Anne Fadiman’s burden is that she doesn’t really enjoy wine, although she desperately wants to in order to please her father. A fun thread of the book describes her efforts to determine scientifically why she doesn’t like wine. And while there is an element of competition with him in her early writing career, it seems primarily self-imposed and she always credits him with influencing her to be a reader and writer.

And what can be better than books and wine? Fadiman writes “My father had long associated books and wine: they both sparked conversation, they were both a lifetime project, they were both pleasurable to shelve, they were the only things he collected. The Joys of Wine called wine cellars ‘wine libraries’.”

Like Mendelsohn’s book, this also is about an adult child coming to terms with an aging father, learning that father’s full story, and sharing much love and warmth along the way.

 

Fantastic Embroidery Projects and Where to Find Them

by Mari Redington on February 15th, 2018

I have always been a craft dabbler. In high school I learned how to sew when I made Juliet’s dress for my final project during Romeo & Juliet. It was the one of the dresses in the class that looked “mom interference-free.” Collaging in college. I’ve made exactly 1 quilt. I learned how to knit but for me it was not the relaxing pastime advertised.  My latest craft dabble has been embroidery, which was a past hobby revived after I attended embroidery classes offered at the library this past fall. This hobby has seemed to stick longer than most, and I thought I would share some great resources I’ve come across over the past few months. Hand embroidery has recently become modernized and popular again. It translates really well from drawings and paintings and offers lots of options to express sentiments and pop culture references. If it can be drawn or traced, it can be embroidered. Supplies are inexpensive and easy to obtain at craft stores and even second-hand stores. I hand embroidered personalized gift for friends and family for the holidays. Since I’ve started posting pictures of works-in-progress and finished pieces on Instagram, a lot of my friends have told me that I have inspired them to pick up the hobby.

Getting Started:

There are over 200 different kinds of embroidery stitches, but most projects only require knowledge of the basics. Craftsy has a great tutorial offering instructions with pictures of the top ten most commonly used stitches.

My favorite way to learn a new stitch is to watch a YouTube video and stitch along. That way I can pause, start over, and repeat until I have the stitch mastered. The YouTube channel I frequent the most is Mary Corbet’s Needle ‘n Thread. Her videos show the stitch clearly, at a good pace, and she offers tips as she goes. 

 

 

 

 

A great place to start for patterns is DMC.com. They offer over 250 free patterns with tutorials ranging from beginner to advanced. DMC is a popular thread company, so you can easily “Buy the Kit” to order the thread needed to complete the pattern. DMC patterns are made from collaborations with artists, and new patterns are added every week. I have close to a dozen patterns saved that I hope to create eventually! Read the rest of this entry »