Staff Picks

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

October 13, 2014

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918
by Barthas, Louis
940.41244 BAR

Louis Barthas may have been a barrelmaker, but he was well educated and intelligent. That’s one of the main characteristics that makes this book such an important war remembrance. His “common man” experiences are reported in a perceptive and insightful style. Barthas was no officer (he resented even being a corporal) which makes this story almost unique. The notebooks document what happened as it happened. They record the death, mutilation, mud, cold, boredom and absolute futility of trench warfare from the poilu’s (“the hairy ones” – the French nickname for the common soldier) point of view. While they tell of the humane members of the officer corps, Barthas generally had no use for the imbecilic “bosses.”

In this centennial year of the beginning of World War I (the “Great War” – Barthas would have scoffed), Poilu is a most important read – “lest we forget.”

         --Recommended by Gregg Jackson, Southport Library


October 6, 2014

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family
by Hanagarne, Josh
362.19683 HAN

Why would a man who has Tourette’s Syndrome choose to work in a library, a place where his involuntary tics and vocalizations would be especially noticeable? In The World’s Strongest Librarian author Josh Hanagarne explains his choice of profession and his journey to get there.

Josh started exhibiting symptoms when he was six years old. Tourette’s afflicts the sufferer with urges to blink, howl, screech, and lash out with arms and legs. But Josh was determined to live his life as normally as he could. He even resorted to drugs which left him lethargic and Botox injections in his throat which left him voiceless.

It was while he was on his mission as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Josh reached a low point in his life. He became depressed and ill and finally had to return home to his family. Although raised as a Mormon, Josh began to question his faith. His father suggested that he try lifting weights, something to give him focus. Soon Josh found that strength training gave him the ability to control his tics somewhat and ultimately, control over the rest of his life.

Through all of his childhood, Josh was an avid reader. He fell in love with Fern after reading Charlotte’s Web. It seemed inevitable that he should ultimately become a librarian. But why? He chose librarianship, he says, not just because of his love of books and knowledge but also because a library was one of the most inhospitable places he could think of for someone with Tourette’s Syndrome. It compelled him to consistently maintain silence and self-control. “Silence and stillness were in short supply in my life,” Josh says. One has to wonder if the title "The World’s Strongest Librarian" is referring to Josh’s physical strength training or the mental and emotional strength that he exhibits on a daily basis.

  The World’s Strongest Librarian is also available as a downloadable audiobook and an audiobook on CD.

                       — Recommended by Kim Vanderwilt, Lawrence Library


September 29, 2014

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Mathis, Ayana

Go North was the cry for many African Americans in the south during the 1920’s.

North offered freedom from the Jim Crow Laws; the Ku Klux Klan and all manners of racial hatred and segregation. Fifteen year old Hattie Shepherd seizes the opportunity to escape the south by marriage. This is Hattie’s story as told through the lives of her eleven children and one grandchild. They are The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Sickness; the death of her infant twins; insanity; infidelity, love; homosexuality and spirituality are the ingredients of a story of a mother’s faith and courage. You, the reader, can decide if Hattie’s life was one of success or failure.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and an audiobook on CD.

                          — Recommended by Millicent Jackson, recently retired from the E38th Street Library


September 22, 2014

The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting

The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting
by Parkes, Clara
B Parkes, Clara PAR

We have dog whisperers and horse whisperers, so why not a yarn whisperer? Clara Parkes, one of the stars of the yarn world, has written a lovely collection of small essays stitching together the story of her life and her passion for knitting. Biographical in nature, each chapter reveals not only incidents in Parkes’s life but different aspects of knitting, from casting on that first stitch to unraveling a great mess. In between we learn about brioche—both the bread and the stitch—sailing in Deadman’s Bay, her unhappy childhood move to Tucson, and her love of mysteries. Parkes’s writing style captivates the reader so that whatever the subject it is fresh and delightful. Known for her detailed works on yarn and knitting as well as a regular e-letter on knitting and a mostly food-oriented blog, Parkes here has demonstrated again her knitting knowledge and a beautiful grasp of the written language.

                            --Recommended by Miriam Guidero, Glendale Library


September 15, 2014

The Blue Cliff Record

The Blue Cliff Record
by Cleary, Thomas and J.C. Cleary, translators
294.3927 YUA 1992

A monk asked Chao Chou: "'The Ultimate Path has no difficulties--just avoid picking and choosing'--isn't this just another cliché for people of these times?"
Chou said, "Once someone asked me, and I really couldn't explain for five years."

Got that? Any questions? That was the 58th Case from the Blue Cliff Record, a book of 100 Zen kōans. Let's tie up loose knots with the 59th Case:
A monk asked Chao Chou, "'the Ultimate Path has no difficulties--just avoid picking and choosing. As soon as there are words and speech, this is picking and choosing.' So how do you help people, Teacher?"
Chou said, "Why don't you quote this saying in full?" The monk said, "I only remember up to here."
Chou said, "It's just this: This Ultimate Path has no difficulties;just avoid picking and choosing."

A kōan is a "public case," and these cases are meant to knock their readers off their mental rails. When reading one of these very brief cases, if you give it what the author of the Forward calls "a reality reading," you might be joggled from your ordinary means of thinking, into enlightenment. "In this mode, you yourself become the case . . . " This may sound frightening to you, but I've always been a case.

Laughing at the kōans is a permissible response, at least in the East 10th Street School of Zen. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, I was working for the library, and on Sundays (this is probably a sad thing to admit) I would walk from Woodruff Place to Central Library, sometimes in the snow. I would laugh my head off (while keeping it warm), thinking about Chao Chou. It's okay to laugh because you think these cases are nonsensical, but some readers may be laughing because they've been moved to where Chao Chou wanted them to go.

The Notes and Commentaries and Pointers can be helpful, but don't expect them to be rational explanations.

                                   --Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Information Technology