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Posts by acvannor:


Jan 04 2017

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

Reviewed by Callistus Ndemo, NCSU Student, Applied Mathematics

The Course of Love takes us through the love life of two ordinary couples, Rabih and Kirsten. It explores “what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence.”

With great empathy, De Botton makes us appreciate that “love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.” His piece, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person”, was the most-read story in the New York Times this year.

Jan 04 2017

The Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson

Reviewed by Ajit Kanale, NCSU Student, Electrical Engineering

A French journalist’s diary account of his six-month stay in Siberia on Lake Baikal visualizes nature’s beauty vividly. His philosophical thoughts and comparisons to the books he reads during this period provide a surreal feeling to the overall experience. Reading this book in the middle of a hectic semester works as a balm for the stressed mind.

Dec 20 2016

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

Reviewed by Chris Tonelli, Director of Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

Somebody finally gives poetry a break…thanks, Ben Lerner! The Hatred of Poetry diagnoses why every few years our culture declares that, or at the very least asks if, poetry is dead. His basic thesis is that there are two kinds of poetry haters, both of which, he argues, are pretty unreasonable/irresponsible. One line of haters sets up unreachable expectations for poetry–that it can cause in the reader some sort of divine transformation. Most things fail under such scrutiny, and poetry is no different it turns out. The other camp goes one step further, revising history so that it contained poetry that actually achieved such lofty heights, and then unfavorably compares anything written since. No matter where on that spectrum a reader falls, Lerner, himself a lapsed poet–his two most recent books are novels–gives a whirlwind tour through the history of such treatises and provides a few useful lenses through which to view them.

Dec 20 2016

A Hole in the Sky by Philippe Aronson

Reviewed by John Papalas, Friends of the Library Board Member

A Hole in the Sky, by Philippe Aronson is a novel about the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.  With ribaldry and wit, Aronson brings the iconic American back to life through a lively and in the end very touching account of his life. For North Carolina history enthusiasts, the story of Jack Johnson is often overlooked. The controversial international superstar was mortally wounded just 30 miles outside of Raleigh and taken to die to a hospital whose ghostly ruins still peer above Oakwood cemetery.

Dec 13 2016

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Reviewed by Rob Ross, Executive Director, NCLIVE

Years ago, after exiting an elevator that had experienced the briefest of hesitations between floors, presaging more serious mechanical issues to come, my companion asked me:  “So, which one?”  I didn’t follow.  “Which one would you have eaten?” she clarified.  She already knew which of our fellow passengers she’d have chosen and why.  This readiness to shed all moral pretensions and think strategically and myopically about survival would have served her well as a character in Ballard’s High-Rise, a 1975 dystopian novel about a 40-floor luxury apartment building that devolves, along with its residents, in spectacular fashion.  High-Rise skewers our obsession with modern creature comforts, exposes our affectation of atavistic morality, and posits that humankind’s ultimate goal is to achieve “a realm where their most deviant impulses [are] free at last to exercise themselves in any way they wished.”

Dec 13 2016

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

Reviewed by Will Cross, Director, Copyright & Digital Scholarship Center, NCSU Libraries

“LASCIVIOUS BAT PEOPLE ROAM THE MOON!”

Beginning with this real life, turn-of-the-century newspaper headline, law professor Tim Wu charts the history and practice of “attention harvesting.” From wartime propaganda efforts and patent medicine ads touting the miraculous powers of the Carbolic Smoke Ball to modern clickbait headlines, Wu tells the stories of the hucksters, politicians, charlatans, preachers, and ad men and women working tirelessly to catch your eye. In an era dominated by fake news and micro-targeted ads, this guide to the “alchemy for turning attention into money” could not be more timely or arresting.

Dec 12 2016

Psychotic States in Children by Alex Dubinsky, Helene Dubinsky, Maria Rhode

Reviewed by David Applegate, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

Presenting unrealistic, impossible situations, this book somehow remains nonfiction. Horrors related with empathy and care. Rendered in an accessible and unpretentious style, recommended for the adventurous reader curious to understand how wrong the human mind can go. Trigger warning: contains sensitive material allsorts, proceed with caution.

Dec 12 2016

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Reviewed by Marian Fragola, Director, Program Planning and Outreach, NCSU Libraries

I was lucky enough to read Kent Haruf’s magical Our Souls at Night, then have the opportunity to discuss it in Read Smart with Belle Boggs, now on faculty at NC State. I was actually quite overcome by this book — it is quietly astonishing. With perfectly crafted but unshowy prose, through scenes that shimmer with feeling, Haruf reflects on some of life’s most challenging issues– loss, loneliness, the complexity of family, and memory.

Dec 08 2016

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Reviewed by Karen Ciccone, Director of Natural Resources Library & Research Librarian for Science Informatics, NCSU Libraries

The Book of Strange New Things is both strange and wonderful. Although on the surface it is a science fiction book, it is really a book about a long distance relationship. A Christian missionary, Peter, and his wife, Bea, struggle to remain connected across interstellar distance with access to only a rudimentary text communication channel called the “shoot.” Peter struggles to describe his experiences learning an alien language and witnessing to an alien race on an alien world, while Bea pours forth vivid word images of her life on an Earth in crisis–a life growing increasingly strange and remote to Peter. The book is brilliant, sad, beautiful, and unlike anything else you have ever read.

Dec 08 2016

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Reviewed by Jill Sexton, Head of Information Technology, NCSU Libraries

Sometimes you discover an author who has been writing for many years, but you don’t know, and it makes you wonder: how is it possible that I’ve never encountered this extraordinary voice?  This collection of stories by the late Lucia Berlin, published in 2015, was one of those books for me. Some of these stories literally took my breath away-I’d have to shut the book and sit with it for a while before moving on. Berlin’s writing is spare, economical, sharply observant, hilarious–also dark, harrowing, and real.  Loosely autobiographical, the stories trace the life of a brilliant narrator who struggles with alcoholism and abusive relationships, yet retains her humor and her humanity. Her writing draws you in with its dry wit, disarms you with its humor, then compels you to gaze on something you probably didn’t want to see–and yet you can’t turn away.

Dec 08 2016

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

Reviewed by Will Quick, Friends of the Library board member

I’ve read Wherever You are: My Love Will Find You, a 270 word poem about a parent’s unconditional love for a child, to my son, who just turned one in October, well over hundred times in the past year.  Without fail, I start crying every single time.  In fact, I’m sitting in my office right now with the door shut because I can’t stop tearing up just thinking about the words.  Before finding this Nancy Tillman’s simple, but beautiful piece, I’d have never thought there were enough words in all the languages of the world to capture how I feel when I look at Shep.  And maybe those 270 words aren’t enough, but they sure come close!  I also cry when I read it because I think about the way my own parents supported and loved me unconditionally as a child and how they still do as an adult.  And then finally, I cry because, as an adult, I know there are people in this world who haven’t felt the kind of love I have for my son and the kind of love I have been blessed with in my own life.  So go find a copy and read it during this holiday season!

Dec 08 2016

The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life by Flann O’Brien

Reviewed by Josh Wilson, Systems Librarian, NCLIVE

Perfect oddball satire of wretchedly poor turn-of-the-20th-century rural Irish life. Every meal is potatoes, every day is a downpour, and no one knows anything about the outside world. Flann O’Brien’s writing can’t be neatly defined–it’s funny without really being comic, surreal but about daily life. This one serves as a good intro to O’Brien, too, at just over 100 pages.

Dec 08 2016

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida

Review by Debbie Currie, Collections & Research Librarian, NCSU Libraries

My 8-year-old granddaughter is an absolute joy to behold, in part because she is autistic. However, I have to admit that I am often perplexed by some of the things she says and does, and that lack of understanding can lead to frustration on both our parts. In “The Reason I Jump,” young Naoki Higashida shares his unique insights about living with autism by addressing many of the questions he’s been asked or that he intuitively knows we’d like to ask. By offering me a glimpse into what’s going on inside my granddaughter’s beautiful mind, Higashida’s book proved transformative and left us both jumping for joy!

Dec 08 2016

Partisan of Things by Francis Ponge

Reviewed by Christopher Vitiello, Communications Strategist, NCSU Libraries

The French poet Francis Ponge originally published these prose poems in 1942 under the title Le Parti pris des choses. Since then, they have been translated into English again and again, often under the title Taking the Side of Things. The poems are short, descriptive passages about familiar objects, and have titles like “Orange,” “Cigarette,” “Candle,” and “Blackberries.” If you read them quickly, they’re frankly kind of bland. But translators find them irresistible because Ponge was trying not to make a representation of the object in language, but to make the object itself in words (rather than, say, atoms). Corey and Garneau, in their subtle handling of Ponge’s tone, Duchampian humor, and vocabulary, bring out his phenomenology and, through that, his politics. Ponge, who signed the First Surrealist Manifesto but left the movement to join the French Resistance, becomes a partisan again, fighting on the side of reality itself, in this really enjoyable book.

Dec 08 2016

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Reviewed by Dave Provost, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

A recent visit to Rome got me hungry for reading material about the city’s ancient past. I tried a couple of books that were either too dryly academic or not rigorous enough in providing evidence for their radical assumptions about Roman life. Mary Beard’s SPQR was the perfect mix of being accessible to a casual scholar while remaining carefully researched and supported. It’s a fascinating look at how the ancient world is in some ways shockingly similar to our own in some ways, and dramatically different in others.

Dec 08 2016

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Reviewed by Catherine Bishir, Curator, Architectural Records Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

For decades, I had known that the “divine Jane” had millions of fans, but I just didn’t “get it.” Then I took Sense and Sensibility on a long vacation and was determined to read it, and found out what a glorious observer and satirist Austen was/is. I guess I was too young when I first tried to read Austen as an English major in college.

Dec 08 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

Reviewed by Shaun Bennett, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

This remarkable true story details the heroic acts of Abdel Kader Haidara, a librarian in Timbuktu. After exploring the deserts of Mali for over a decade, seeking out and collecting rare manuscripts for the Timbuktu libraries, he and his colleagues were faced with the growing threat of radical groups backed by al-Qaeda. Haidara and his colleagues smuggled thousands of manuscripts out of the danger zone, risking their lives to preserve the region’s rich history of Islamic philosophy and art.

Dec 08 2016

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed

Reviewed by Gwynn Thayer, Associate Head & Curator of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

I was not able to put this book down over the Thanksgiving Holiday: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD. Although I don’t actually think that the author, Quanta A. Ahmed, MD, is what I would characterize as a good writer – sometimes her prose is excessively flowery and self-indulgent – I do think that her observations about women in Saudi Arabia were keen and deeply considered. Especially intriguing is the fact that the author herself is Muslim, and in many cases, offers a deep criticism of conservative Saudi Wahhabi beliefs. To that end, her experiences during Hajj – in fact, her first pilgrimage to Mecca – were particularly fascinating; even though she experienced a spiritual transformation, she simultaneously observed troublesome social and class hierarchies in play during her journey. Too, she experienced “shaming” from some religiously conservative women who felt that she was “Haram” in some of her behaviors. All in all, given the current political climate, I think that it is important to develop a deeper understanding of Muslim, Arab, and Bedouin Culture, and this book certainly helped to “unveil” some of the cultural differences.

Dec 08 2016

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America & Hillbilly Elegy

Reviewed by Dale Cousins, Friends of the Library Board Member

Ms Isenberg offers, from the founding of our country and through each of its Presidents, a look at myths about equality as well as the history of the country’s powerful elite class and the view of the landless poor “lower” classes. The view of the working poor is both troubling and revealing. Our national leaders and the general social norms presented do not portray us as very noble or graceful people.
Reviewed by Dale Cousins, Friends of the Library Board Member

This examination of the loss of the American Dream in rust belt Ohio and Kentucky is equally disturbing. JD Vance remembers his working class family and their struggles with the poverty, drugs, violence, and ignorance, and general hopelessness he encounters while coming of age. He credits his rough and tough Mamaw as making a difference the led him to both the Marines and a law degree from Yale.

Dec 08 2016

The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson

Reviewed by Daniel Hawkins, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

The best book I read for the first time this year was The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson (available as a standalone novella or as part of the excellent story/novella collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees). This has elements of Lovecraft and David McCullough’s feats of engineering books (The Great BridgeThe Path Between the Seas) but weaves these disparate strands into a masterpiece of concise worldbuilding, believable character development and an deep sense of awe. An engineer must build a bridge across the river of mist, at the bottom of which swim ancient beings while navigating his burgeoning relationship with a woman who ferries people across the mist by raft and will be put out of business by his handiwork.

Runners up: The Plague by Albert Camus, Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers, At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, The Sellout by Paul Beatty and Mislaid by Nell Zink.
Dec 08 2016

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Reviewed by Robin Harper, Preservation, NCSU Libraries

Yes, the title sounds pretty boring, but the story is so wonderful, the writing so elegant and understated, and the setting so evocative; it’s hard to overstate how much I loved this book. It’s set in 18th century Japan, on a tiny island just off the coast. Jacob is the intrepid clerk of a Dutch trading company, with aspirations of making at least a small fortune and returning to the Netherlands to claim his bride. He is surrounded by corrupt company men, duplicitous Japanese officials, and impenetrable customs that continually flummox and humiliate him. But Jacob is a man of integrity, and a quick learner. Mitchell’s descriptions of the internal mental workings of Jacob’s mind, and those of people close to him is so real, I felt like I was living the experience myself. Wonderful twists and turns in the story that I didn’t see coming, and only minimal clues left me holding my breath til the very end.