Staff Picks

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

April 7, 2014

Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay

Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay
by Oliver, Mary
811.54 OLI

I’ll confess up front to being a dog lover and a long-time fan of the poet Mary Oliver. Her latest collection pairs thirty five songs, or poems, with illustrations (by John Burgoyne) of the dogs in her life. I looked forward to this book eagerly and it did not disappoint. From the wanderings of Benjamin the hound to the exuberance of Percy the terrier to the burial of the German shepherd Luke, the poet gives voice to all the stages of dog life.

Oliver has written many collections of poetry and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. Nature, wildness and spirituality are themes she is always returning to as she does here. This book concludes with an essay called Dog Talk, and I’ll quote from it: “But I want to extol not the sweetness nor the placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot step entirely, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also all the good attachments to that origin that we can keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world.”

If you have loved one dog or many you know that your journey together will bring you joy and laughs but also tears and grief as the arc of the dog’s life is much shorter than our own. Reading Oliver’s odes to her familiars in this collection brings it all back in her concrete images and lyrical words.

                             Recommended by Sue Kennedy, Irvington Library


March 31, 2014

The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment
by Ferrante, Elena

Elena Ferrante is a very private, illusive writer--one of Italy's finest. One of her finest novels is The Days of Abandonment which was translated into English by Ann Goldstein. Some say that Elena Ferrante is a pen name for Domenico Starnone, a male novelist. No matter the gender of the writer--in this novel the translator fluidly transports the reader into a realm of a woman's mind....the mind of Olga. Olga tells about her deep emotional responses and experiences during the days following abandonment by her husband. Olga has two children and and a dog to care for in a small Italian village while she tries to find her footing following the initial shock. It is a visceral description of the initial several days with her discomfort at times unbearable, at times comical.

"The hardest day of the ordeal of my abandonment was about to begin, but I didn't know it yet." Hint: insecticide poisoning, child with burning fever, day spent in nightgown, August heat, lock on door not working properly.....think "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka! Don't let the impending anxiety overwhelm you --you, too, at times have felt the uncomfortable heat of these human emotions. Elena Ferrante gently guides us through the stages of the abyss, she (he?) explores how to consciously cope with an ordeal. The story has a solid, stable conclusion. Olga and her children survive. She has changed, having a more realistic world view of love and parenting, and much stronger having faced the abandonment.

                                          Recommended by Sharon McKittrick, Lawrence Library


March 24, 2014

A Flowershop in Baghdad

A Flowershop in Baghdad
by Banzet, Michael
956.704434 BAN

This book is the story of the greatest force for good the world has ever known: the extraordinary, ordinary men and women of the United States military.

U.S. Air Force pilot Michael Banzet tells the funny, tragic, deeply moving story of the year he was grounded in Baghdad working with British and Iraqi forces to build a modern Iraqi air force. Banzet gives eloquent, irreverent voice to one of the “invisible stories” – those never investigated or reported by the media because they are true, because they are profoundly inspiring, and because they undermine the narrative of the “ugly American” so in vogue with the sophisticated set.

In 2007 – 2008, two very different cultures were working together, learning from each other, and quite literally risking their lives to build the foundation for a modern Iraq: dedicated, desperately courageous, ordinary Iraqis, Brits, and Americans – unsung heroes all. It turned out to be the most important year of Banzet’s professional life: “I’ve never seen the might and thunder, along with the tenderness and patience, of a military organization focused on a people before. And I got to see it from their perspective. I was truly blessed to be among those that have been at the epicenter of history in the making.”

Banzet continues “… the ones who have chosen this type of service are the best this society has to offer. They may not be the smartest, best looking, richest, or best connected, but you’d be surprised by the silent quality of these people … The lowest-ranking deployed E-1 has a greater impact than all the ambassadors at all the swell parties with all the swell people.”

“This book was written to share with you how I came to the startling conclusion that I am indeed a superhero … The truly amazing thing about me is that, as a product of this amazing country, I am completely ordinary. However, once I leave the borders of these United States, I start to grow in power and influence until I become someone who can do anything …”

Which he did. Which our servicemen and women do every day. This book will make you proud to be an American.

                                     Recommended by Deborah Jones, Franklin Road Library


March 17, 2014

Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time
by Miller, Adrian
641.59296073 MIL

Have you ever wondered “What is soul food?” Adrian Miller, a culinary historian, takes readers along with him as he researches the history of soul food. Miller “follows the people” by looking at the migration patterns of Africans and the types of food that were eaten after they became acclimated to North America. Miller investigates why at one time soul food brought families together once a week but is now getting a bad rap as a negative representation of artery clogging, high blood pressure food. He also looks at the socio-economic reasons why certain soul food exists. Each soul food dish has a chapter that tells the story of how its’ existence came into being. With chapters on chicken, catfish, cornbread, hot sauce, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and yams this book will reach into your soul with its’ mouthwatering history. 22 soul food recipes are included for your cooking pleasure. Bon appetite!

                     --Recommended by Kim Jones, Central Library


March 10, 2014

The Illumination

The Illumination
by Brockmeier, Kevin

What if pain and injury were expressed as light? What if you could walk down any street and see the illumination of scars and disease? That is the premise of this fascinating book. It starts at 8:17 on a Friday. Carol Page has an accident and ends up at the emergency room. After her hand becomes infected, she returns to the hospital and her injury begins to glow.

While Carol is in the hospital, she comes into contact with a journal written by a husband to his deceased wife who dies in a fatal accident and her light burns out. From there, the journal passes through the hands of unsuspecting patients and changes their lives forever.

You could hardly step out in public without noticing the white blaze of someone’s impacted heel showing through her slingbacks; and over there, hailing a taxi, a woman with shimmering pressure marks where her pants cut into her gut; and behind her, beneath the awning of the flower shop, a man lit all over in a glory of leukemia.

This is a book you will enjoy!

                         --Recommended by Gregory Hill, Decatur Library