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Essays are small windows into a writer’s mind. They can be personal, but many times essays are the author’s commentary about the world around them. Concentrated in topic, but expansive in emotions these small entries can have a powerful punch. The well written essay can make you laugh out loud, wince in pain, squirm in embarrassment, or smile with recognition. The best linger with you long after you have read them.
Here are some of my favorite collections:
Lots of candles, plenty of cake by Anna Quindlen – While examining her own life, Quindlen brings her unique viewpoint to issues most women face — aging and mortality, becoming more comfortable with ourselves, stepping aside for the next generation. Her essays sparkle with style and grace as well as insight.
I feel bad about my neck : and other thoughts on being a woman by Nora Ephron – Known for her sweet, funny screenplays such as When Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You Got Mail, Ephron has written a book full of the silly, wonderful, and not-so-wonderful thoughts that pass through the sharp witted scribe. The chatty breezy style makes for enjoyable reading about subjects such as how hair dye has revolutionized the perception of aging, or how to divorce your once-loved apartment.
I can’t complain : (all too) personal essays by Elinor Lipman – The word that comes to mind is …. quirky. Or maybe smart. Or charming. Or just plain outlandish. But the word that explains Lipman’s essays the best is intimate. She lets you in to her perspective on the world and you just never want to leave that funny, zany place.
What the dog saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell – Complied from essays appearing in the New Yorker, Gladwell adroitly explores the vicissitudes of American life — from looking at the marketing genius of Ron Popeil to a new take on the homelessness problem. He not afraid of tackling complex subjects, like the financial card shuffle that lead up to the Enron collapse, but there is always the human interest story at the center of his writing.
My nest isn’t empty, it just has more closet space : the amazing adventures of an ordinary woman by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Scottoline Serritella – Inspired by their weekly column “Chick Wit”
for the Phildelphia Inquirer, this author mother and her daughter tag-team their way through their dates, diets and dogs (as well as a couple of cats.) You can find Lisa’s perspective of having an adult daughter who doesn’t want her help, just her company or Francesca realizing that she may have lost data when her computer crashes, but not the really important things in her life. This book is like a conversation with your girlfriend over a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream — fun and delish!
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
I always love to ask people what books are on their night stand. It’s a great way to find my next good book. When I interviewed for my position at Sawyer Free Library, one of the interviewers asked me that question and, from then on, I felt right at home. Having a good book waiting for you at the end of the day is one of life’s great pleasures. The following books are those I most happily anticipated.
Hillbilly Elergy by J.D.Vance – Reviewers have frequently dubbed this book as a cultural analysis of the crumbling status of white working-class Americans. But it’s also a tribute to loyalty and love. The author, J.D.Vance, grew up between the hills of Kentucky and the industrial towns of Ohio where many Kentuckians migrated after the coal mines closed. It is a fascinating cultural analysis. But I also found it to be a moving memoir of one struggling to escape the cycle of poverty, abuse and alcoholism resulting from this population’s loss of the American dream.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Like the TV series Lost, this book opens with a plane crash. Only two survive the crash – a young painter and a four-year-old child. Readers find themselves immediately immersed in the danger and chaos of the ocean swells and terrifying decisions facing these two. The suspense never lets up as the story behind the crash begins to unfold. With each chapter, another layer is unfolded in the mysteries behind why the plane crashed and who was targeted. I raced through this one.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Well-deserved winner of the National Book Award, The Underground Railroad is ingenious and fresh. It follows the plight of a young slave woman named Cora who works on a plantation in Georgia. Her mother’s name is legendary as the only slave to have successfully escaped this particular plantation, but her escape made Cora’s situation almost unbearable as a child left to fend for herself. The author’s conceit of having a literal underground railroad may strike some as farfetched, but it does yield an opportunity to observe the horrors of slavery in various places and stages. This one will haunt you for a while.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – Dr. Kalanithi was a brilliant neurosurgeon and writer who suddenly finds himself facing a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. He is able to see his sickness from both sides and, from this perspective, writes perceptively about the process. But he also is confronted with the question of what makes life worth living and his answers to this question as he learns to die well make this haunting, moving memoir valuable to all. I highly recommend.
The Whistler by John Grisham -Okay. This is an easy one. I’m a huge Grisham fan and he never disappoints. This one features a corrupt judge, a powerful real estate mafia, and Florida casinos. This triumvirate is being investigated by a very appealing member of the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct who is in contact with a wily whistleblower. Grisham is not only a fascinating storyteller but also a novelistic culture critic. He’s on his game with this one and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of stories about friendships. There’s something about these novels that draw me in and make me think about my own friendships that have come and gone. What makes a friendship last? Laughter, trust, love, good times…….What makes them end? Lies, betrayal, deceit, scandal……here are some of my favorites:
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – An interesting story of new friendships gone awry. Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal…A murder… a tragic accident… or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three new friends, each at a crossroads. It is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
China Dolls by Lisa See – Loved this novel of the ups and downs of friendship, set in the “Chop Suey Circuit” of San Francisco right before World War II. In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco’s exclusive “Oriental” nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?
Looking for Alaska by John Green – A story of young friendship that you will never forget! Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – International historical fiction brings to light the types different types of friendships. In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – A contemporary classic about lifelong friends. After being drawn together by the shadows of their past, four women start meeting every week in San Francisco to engage in hobbies they all enjoy. After one of the four members dies, her daughter takes her place to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. After the revelation of a secret, the women are forced to think back to their pasts and remember the sometimes painful events of their lives.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.
Animals can enrich the lives of the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the lonely and the connected. While they are dependent upon us, we can learn so much about ourselves through their devotion and their own existence.
Elle & Coach : diabetes, the fight for my daughter’s life, and the dog who changed everything by Stefany Shaheen – Juvenile diabetes can be a tough disease. Blood sugar can range wildly with dire consequences if not monitored closely. Elle Shaheen is diagnosed at 9 years old and finds regulating her diabetes difficult until she gets a service dog. Coach can smell when her blood sugar is too low or too high and alerts Elle. This book is an up close view of how service animals can make a huge impact in the lives of those who need them.
Buddy : how a rooster made me a family man by Brian McGrory – Boston Globe columnist McGrory is a once divorced city guy who falls for his beloved dog’s veterinarian, Pam. Into his life then follows a trek out to suburbia, two young girls and a menagerie of animals, including a white rooster. While Buddy is adored by the girls and admired by the neighbors, his relationship with McGrory leaves a lot to be desired. How McGrory deals with Buddy and the rest of the upending of his peaceful single life is funny and moving.
When Fraser met Billy : an autistic boy, a rescue cat, and the transformative power of animal connections by Louise Booth – Fraser is a British three year old autistic boy who has anxiety and behavioral issues. Looking for any relief, his parents adopt a shelter cat, Billy, just hoping to provide some companionship for their son. But Billy exceeds their wildest expectations, helping Fraser to calm and concentrate, as well as providing motivation to overcome some of his physical disabilities. A heartwarming story to charm any animal lover.
Saddled : how a spirited horse reined me in and set me free by Susan Richards – A battered wife with a drinking problem, Richards’ life is in tatters. The only stable force in her life is the need to care for her beloved horse, Georgia. The horse leads Richards to establish a safe and sober life, but more importantly, helps her face her demons from her nightmarish childhood and grow into a healthy adult.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
If anyone hasn’t already had their fill of politics, or is still undecided on who to vote for, here are some of the latest books:
Hillary’s America by Dinesh D’Souza – Very interesting book about Hillary Clinton and the democratic party. Regardless of political point of view the book will make you think about the politics of the United States.
Year of Voting Dangerously by Maureen Dowd – A noted political columnist traces the psychologies and pathologies in one of the nastiest and most significant battles of the sexes ever, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Intimidation Game by Kimberley A. Stassel – Excellent explanation of just some of the recent ways our government runs amuck. It is disturbing in its examples and in its implications. Although Strassel focuses on the Left, I will not be surprised if the Right makes a comeback and in a few years a liberal is able to write an equally disturbing volume about abuses on the other side. Big Data, sadly, will be abused by all.
Why the Right Went Wrong by E.J. Dionne – Dionne’s book is a history of the right from Goldwater to the present that also parlays into the Clinton and Obama presidencies.
Great Again : how to fix our crippled America by Donald J.Trump – Love him or hate him this book peers into the mind of Trump. His accomplishments and media savvy have brought him international recognition and he is unquestionably a one man phenomenon.
Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton – To her surprise, HRC was asked to serve as Obama’s Secretary of State after he was elected president in 2008. This is a narrative of Clinton’s foreign policy successes, and failures during Obama’s first term.
Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.