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Staff Picks

Don't forget to check out our staff picks for kids!

May 6, 2013

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools
by Brill, Steven
371.01 BRI

I had not known who Steven Brill was until encountering his terrific piece "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," a special report which Time magazine published on March 4th of this year. I found the writing to be clear, accessible, and willing to stake out a position (which is something journalist writers often seem to struggle with).

Brill displays all of those traits in this book as well. Structured as a kind of annotated timeline (from January 2009 to Winter 2011), Brill takes a look at Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program, the Harlem Success Academy charter schools, then-New York School Chancellor Joel Klein, then-Chancellor of the Washington D.C. school system Michelle Rhee, and current president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten.

Brill controversially identifies teacher unions as the most conservative and problematic player in education reform. Initially he is able to marshal the work of skilled charter school teacher Jessica Reid as well as researcher Thomas J. Kane to his cause. By the end of the book, however, Brill comes to realize that the problem is too large to solve without the union’s help.

This debate has continued at the local level as well. From conservative Democrat Glenda Ritz defeating Republican reformer Tony Bennett for State Superintendent of Education, to far-right republicans advising that the state abandon Common Core standards, education is one issue where it can be hard to identify who believes what. Hopefully you attended the Library’s recently concluded series “Conversations about Education”, held at the Central Library. You can be sure that this will continue to be a heavily discussed issue both nationally and locally.

                                                      — Recommended by Chris Murray, Central Library


April 29, 2013

The Art Forger

The Art Forger
by Shapiro, B. A.
641.37109 VAL

This is a clever novel with many twists, both a mystery novel and a rumination on art and reality, with a sidelong glance at romance. The “Art Forger” is a talented young painter named Claire Roth, blackballed from major art shows by tragic circumstances having to do with the death of a former lover. To make a living she has been painting openly-acknowledged reproductions of classic works for sales to collectors. Aiden Markel, the owner of the most prestigious art gallery in Boston comes to her with a proposition – if she will forge a copy of an art piece for him and NOT publicly acknowledge it as a reproduction, he will give her a show in his gallery and help re-launch her career.

When Aidan brings the art piece to her apartment, she is shocked to discover that it appears to be a famous Degas painting stolen from a local museum in the largest unsolved art theft in history. Or is this painting itself a forgery? If you have a painting that looks as good as the original and everyone thinks it IS the original, should you be satisfied?

Shapiro gives us many details and history on real art forgery, which is fascinating. And I liked her thoughts on the obsessive devotion of artists and art collectors. But what really makes the story work is how she reveals the story of Degas, the painting, and Clair’s own history layer by layer, like a painter gradually removing the paint from an old canvas and meticulously building a new painting with careful brush strokes of color and varnish. The details of the forgery and even the painting techniques are doled out by the author in just the right amount to keep your curiosity, but without diminishing the accelerating plot as Claire’s life starts to come apart.

Shapiro has written several suspense novels as “Barbara Shapiro,” but this is her first major success.

                   — Recommended by Steve Bridge, Irvington Library, where this book will be discussed on May 16


April 22, 2013

The Rook

The Rook
by O'Malley, Daniel

Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas is born in the rain, surrounded by corpses in latex gloves. A helpful letter in her pocket informs her that the previous inhabitant of her body was just forcibly erased by enemies who will not be inclined to mercy just because the new Myfanwy has no idea what's going on. Luckily, the previous Myfanwy was warned of her upcoming unmaking by several psychics, and left highly detailed instructions to help her replacement cope. This requires quite a lot of letters, since Myfanwy 2.0 must deal with her powerful supernatural abilities, her job in a secret pseudo-governmental organization that handles uncanny (and generally icky) phenomena, and the conspiracy threatening them all. The richly-detailed world, riveting mystery, and likable heroine(s) result in a highly imaginative, frequently hilarious, and deeply satisfying novel.

                                            — Recommended by Sarah Walker, Glendale Library


April 15, 2013

The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals

The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals
by Brown, Jenny with Gretchen Primack
636.0832 BRO

Did you know cows can naturally live to be 25 years old? Or that turkeys enjoy a good massage and are very sociable? The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals is written by Jenny Brown, a woman who started the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary in New York (http://www.woodstocksanctuary.org). Through her work as a volunteer and, eventually, owning her own sanctuary, Brown has learned many fascinating and profound things about the personalities of animals. She has nurtured animals back to frolicking happiness when they had only known humans who were indifferent to their adversity. Brown is no stranger to hardship. When she was just 10 years old she lost her leg to cancer. Not one to let anything slow her down, Brown tells her story of overcoming the challenges of growing up with one leg and how her compassion drove her to purchase a farm and start a sanctuary. This book has the perfect ratio of inspiration and heartbreak. But before you think it might be too much for you I encourage you to read it all the way through. The payoff is learning how happy animals can be if they are allowed to live and that people like Brown exist in this world to make the world a better place. The book includes an extensive bibliography and tips on becoming an herbivore.

— Recommended by Mary Mabbott, Lawrence Library


April 8, 2013

How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life

How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life
by Heti, Sheila

The subtitle of Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? caught my eye: “A Novel from Life.” Perhaps a fictional memoir could be expected, yet within a few pages I knew that identifying the precise type of this book would not be possible.

Sheila, a young creative and aspiring playwright, offers a story of self, art, and friendship told through literary prose, strings of emails, recorded conversations presented in screenplay form, and personal observations that go above stream of consciousness and land in finely crafted questions with echoes of acute self-wondering and self-reckoning.

When her marriage ends, so does Sheila’s creative flow, specifically with a play that she has been commissioned to write. She begins to question not only the creative process but the process of self. When she meets a painter named Margaux, Sheila explores both the strength and delicacy of true kinship and how friends help form us. The rest of the cast include fellow creatives—one, Israel, a new exotic lover—and it is through all of these relationships that Sheila studies closely the idea of “how a person should be.”

“You can admire anyone for being themselves,” Heti poses in her prologue. “It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how do you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux? Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?”

This "novel from life," written in unconventional form that is both highly readable and relatable, How Should A Person Be? is a rare and raw beauty of a read. I was drawn in by the author's honest, probing questions and real-world realizations, burgeoning with a deep homage to friendship and its lasting effect on who we are and might become.

— Recommended by Leigh Thomas, Central Library