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Category: 2014 Entries

Dec 08 2014

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Book: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Author: Francine Prose

Reviewer: Jody Herring, Graduate – English (American Literature), NC State

This book came out of Prose’s love of the work of Hungarian photographer Brassai and showcases her incomparable ability to blend fact and fiction. From start to finish (what a beautiful, postmodern ending), it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in many years. If you are interested in photography, gay/lesbian cultures, sports cultures, or Holocaust literature certainly add this beautiful book to your list.

Dec 08 2014

The Book of Mormon

Book: The Book of Mormon

Author: Transl. Joseph Smith

Reviewer: Elizabeth Hassell, Student, College of Science

The Book of Mormon is the centerpiece of a major religion and a compelling historical narrative, but what surprises me is its tendency to become personal. It leaps into intimacy and draws forth one’s most pressing questions. Its insight into what makes life satisfying and where to look for solid happiness are compelling, and no other book I read this year has motivated me more to be my best self or to think more clearly about my life.

Dec 08 2014

All the Truth is Out

Book: All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid

Author: Matt Bai

Reviewer: Will Cross, Director, Copyright and Digital Scholarship, NCSU Libraries

Growing up in the 1980s, I knew Gary Hart primarily as a Bloom County punchline: that zany politician caught canoodling with a young staffer on a boat called – seriously – “Monkey Business.”  After reading 2014’s All the Truth is Out, I’m starting to wonder who the joke was really on.  Written by superstar political correspondent and House of Cards featured cameo Matt Bai, the best book I read in 2014 tells the story of Hart’s disgrace and exile from Democratic politics.  It also tells the story of a watershed moment for political correspondents like Bai who, after years of winking at dalliances from George Washington to JFK, hounded the Democratic frontrunner with sensationalistic coverage and tactics borrowed – at several points quite literally – from the National Enquirer.

I loved Bai’s discussion of the complex circumstances that led to Hart’s downfall, including the rise of cable news powered by satellite relay and fax machines, a desire to emulate journalistic folk heroes Woodward and Bernstein, and Hart himself, whose prickly demeanor and invitation to “follow me around” proved too tempting for, first local and then national, media to ignore.  As a result, Bai writes, “the walls between the public and private lives of candidates, between politics and celebrity, came tumbling down” driving candidates away from candid, substantive discussion for fear that a single misspoken line or Howard Dean-like show of emotion may come to define them.  All the Truth is Out is a tremendously entertaining, fast-paced read for those who want to rediscover a lost star in the Democratic firmament and revisit the week that the media lost its way.

Dec 03 2014

Chasing Chaos

Book:  Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid

Author: Jessica Alexander

Reviewer: Gwynn Thayer, Associate Head and Curator of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

I picked this book as my personal favorite for the year because it captures the “behind-the-scenes” culture of international aid workers so beautifully. I’ve always admired the work that humanitarian workers do (such as the doctors and nurses from Doctors without Borders) and moreover, I wish that I had their courage! The subculture of international aid work is nicely revealed by the author, a young woman (of my generation) who deals with its ups and downs with humor and grace. Of particular interest to me is how she struggles to balance her personal life with the myriad challenges, both physical, emotional, and intellectual, of aid work.

Dec 03 2014

The Book of Dolores and Livability

Book: The Book of Dolores

Author: William T. Vollmann

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I have been a fan of Vollmann since I lived in the San Francisco neighborhoods he writes about in a few of his early novels, and I understand that his work can sometimes seem impenetrable to the uninitiated.  I found The Book of Dolores to be the perfect introduction to his work, and perhaps most representative of both his fictional and his journalistic writing.  The book is a photo essay and process narrative of the time Vollmann spent cross dressing and living as a woman named Dolores (Dolores is the protagonist of one of his future novels, and he found the best way to research her was to become her).  If anyone is interested in finding a jumping on point to the work of an author who is likely to be a future Nobel Prize winner, The Book of Dolores is a great starting spot.

Book: Livability

Author: Jon Raymond

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I picked Livability up on my way to Portland, Oregon because I wanted to read a book by an Oregon author.  What I ended up with is one of the better short story collections I have read in recent memory.  Two of the stories became the films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, and the other stories are equally heart wrenching and profound.

Dec 02 2014

The Wars of Reconstruction

Book: The Wars of Reconstruction:  The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era

Author: Douglas R. Egerton

Reviewer: David Hiscoe, Director, Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

You probably have some idea in your mind about what the south was like immediately following the Civil War.  If you went to the same sorts of schools that I did, it’s probably wrong, unless you are thinking “Baghdad or Syria, 2014.”
Targeted assassinations of idealistic teachers and preachers, the killings of people as they tried to vote, murderers roaming in the night eliminating opponents, especially black elected officials, often heroes who survived the battlefield but died during the peace that followed.  All led by an accidental president who had held slaves himself until two years before he took office—and tolerated by a public that was tired of war and ready to move on.
Dec 02 2014

Still Foolin’ Em

Book: Still Foolin’ Em

Author: Billy Crystal

Reviewer: Bob Cairns, Page Turners from the Past

I’ve been concentrating on reading older books, ones from the past that I think deserve a good dusting off, and then posting the reviews on my Page Turners from the Past website (www.pageturnersfromthepast.com).

But I had to fast forward and read Billy Crystal’s new book Still Foolin’ ‘Em. If you’re moving into your Golden Years, or would just like to have a good laugh at those of us who are heading to the finish line, then I’d suggest you give this The New York Times BESTSELLER a read. Crystal’s subtitle says it all: “Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where in the Hell are My Keys?”

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and when you turn the book’s last page, who knows, you might just remember where in the hell you left those keys!

Dec 02 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

Even though Murakami’s newest novel doesn’t technically contain the elements of magical realism for which he is so well-known, he somehow creates the same disorientation. Maybe it’s because he zooms so far in–on characters, on place–that the familiar feels uncanny. While we follow the narrator, Tsukuru Tazaki, from Nagoya to Tokyo and back, then to Finland, and finally back to Tokyo, as he tries to heal a decades-old trauma, Murakami often operates at the micro level. At this resolution, the real is denatured, for Tsukuru and the reader, and it is this denaturing that allows Tsukuru to experience the everyday anew, free of the incident that had rendered him colorless.
Dec 01 2014

The Taste of War; World War II and the Battle for Food

Book: The Taste of War; World War II and the Battle for Food

Author: Lizzie Collingham

Reviewer: Rob Maddin, Friends of the Library Life Member

This book provides a clear and insightful history of the important role food played in both the causes and prosecution of World War II. Lizzie Collingham’s writing style is succinct and engaging, and the information she provides is surprising, making this history of what might at first glance appear to be a mundane topic a real page turner. Among the many aspects dealt with are the use of food as a weapon, the use of food in the development of wartime policies and strategies, and the struggle to feed most of the world’s population during the second world war. In a comprehensive examination of these topics, the book addresses this important and previously neglected area of second world war history. The book is available in the D. H. Hill Library stacks.

Dec 01 2014

Henry Frye

Book: Henry Frye, North Carolina’s First African American Chief Justice

Author: Howard E. Covington, Jr.

Reviewer: Will Quick, President, Friends of the Library Board

I originally picked this book up because Justice Frye and I are colleagues in the same law firm and we got a discount on the purchase price and a personal inscription.  However, when I opened it up, I couldn’t put it down.  I was fascinated with the struggle this man, who in the office is so quiet and non-assuming, went through to make a better life for himself.  At every step he had to “prove” himself to those who were close-minded and bigoted, but he never backed down.  As a young (30 year old) attorney it was eye opening to read about the experiences that someone I know went through to get his law license, succeed in the practice of law, and ultimately reach the pinnacle of our profession within the state.

Dec 01 2014

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Book: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Author: Roz Chast

Reviewer: Marian Fragola, Program Planning & Outreach, NCSU Libraries

Roz Chast, a cartoonist at The New Yorker, has written and drawn a remarkable memoir about her relationship with her aging parents. At once hilariously funny and heartrendingly sad, this book will resonate with anyone who has experienced or thought about end-of-life issues. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, the first comic book (or graphic novel, call it what you like), ever to be a finalist in the nonfiction category.

Dec 01 2014

The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather

Book: The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather

Author: Sampson Starkweather

Reviewer: Mara Masters, Administrative Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries

This book is exactly what it sounds like- four books of Sampson Starkweather- each with a very different form and feel, all originals but some “transcontemporations,” or loose, creative translations. Starkweather seems to be acutely aware of those every day tensions like life and death, hopelessness and hope, the self and the other, and these poems feel like a sort of fever dream in which the subconscious tries to situate itself in the tension.

Dec 01 2014

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

Author: Chris Hadfield

Reviewer: Clark Pugh, Student, Junior, Civil Engineering, Friends of the Library Student Worker

Chris Hadfield gives readers a detailed, yet entertaining retrospective into the life of an astronaut. As the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, Hadfield gives readers an insight on the qualities one must have to be a successful astronaut and how such qualities can be applied to personal growth. The vivid depictions of daily life on the International Space Station are make this a worthy read to anyone with an interest in space exploration.

Dec 01 2014

Postwar

Book: Postwar

Author: Tony Judt

Reviewer: Kim Duckett, Associate Head, Digital Technologies & Learning, NCSU Libraries

In Postwar historian Tony Judt accomplishes something truly outstanding — a thorough look at the political, economic, cultural, and intellectual history of Europe between 1945 and 2005 encompassing both East and West. I marveled at how Judt could tie together so many historical themes and ideas encompassing so many countries in such an engaging way. Despite the length, I was immensely satisfied all the way through and somewhat sad that my weeks of reading it had ended once I hit the last page.

Dec 01 2014

Tomatoland, Cobalt Blue and A Stricken Field

Book: Tomatoland

Author: Barry Estabrook

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

A report on the Florida agricultural businesses that supply winter tomatoes to supermarkets, Tomatoland focuses on a city most people don’t know – a drained swamp just 42 miles inland from Naples Florida called Immokalee. It investigates the agriculture techniques required to grow tomatoes in Florida, including the heavy use of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, many of which are dangerous to humans. The book also looks at labor conditions and the efforts that have been taken to improve them.  If you care about social justice for farmworkers and their families, as well as your own diet, then this is a book to read before going to the grocery for your winter tomatoes.

Book: Cobalt Blue

Author: Peggy Payne

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

When a down-on-her-luck North Carolina artist is struck one night with the grace of kundalini energy, she struggles with sexual and creative urges caused by her rising kundalini while having to negotiate her biggest commission ever, the official portrait of a right-wing US Senator from North Carolina whose political values are abhorrent to her. Cobalt Blue is a joyous and affirming book about our inner ability to grow and change.

Book: A Stricken Field

Author: Martha Gellhorn

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

With the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited by German speakers, an area that came to be known as the Sudetenland. A Stricken Field is a novel based on a week Martha Gellhorn spent in Prague in 1938 where she got caught up in the plight of the refugees fleeing the German occupation. No longer citizens of Czechoslovakia, they were being forced to return to German controlled territory where they feared for their lives. Confronted all around by the terrible problems of good citizens hiding and being forced to return to the brutal oppression of the Nazis, Gellhorn wrote this novel about two refugees Rita and Peter who, for a brief period of time, had found refuge in each other’s love.

Dec 01 2014

Sabbath’s Theater and Ablutions

Book: Sabbath’s Theater

Author: Phillip Roth

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

Sabbath’s Theater by Phillip Roth is a full length novel that, while I can’t compare it to everything across Roth’s body of work, I can say gave me a character in Mickey Sabbath that I will never forget.  If you consider the following behaviors prohibitively coarse fictional subject matters: autoerotic cemetery folly, bartering with alcohol for favors at a detox clinic, seducing the college students you teach, et cetera,  then perhaps this one isn’t for you. However, if you want to ride shotgun alongside a reckless genius who crashes through life with a perverse drive fueled by a sense of unapologetic conceit, then I think you too will never forget Mickey Sabbath and perhaps like me, wonder if people like him have ever, or even can, exist.

Book: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

“Discuss, the regulars. They sit in a line like ugly, huddled birds, eyes wet with alcohol” opens, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, by Patrick deWitt. Dreams die hard on the Sunset strip, and a chaotic dive bar seemingly on the brink of everything is the backdrop for this autobiographical/fictive account given from the perspective of a deteriorating anti-hero barman. Physically occupying a liminal position at the end of the bar near the door, the narrator sees both inside and out, observes who enters and exits (with no ostensible criteria for either), the chronic practice of which produces a bleak, yet by no means humorless, dystopian Cheers. Ablutions is a story told by the Hollywood bar scene’s Johannes factotum who in turn (like the cheep highballs fleeced from the bar), gives the reader a taste of both the sweet and acidulous as we observe his struggle to escape.

Nov 21 2014

The Gift of Nothing

Book: The Gift of Nothing

Author: Patrick McDonnell

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library

What DO you get someone who has everything?  Mooch the cat solves this problem in a sweet and charming way. And he will steal your heart while doing it! The Gift of Nothing is a Zen like story for all ages. Read it slowly, with your heart. YESH!

Nov 21 2014

The Bone Clocks

Book: The Bone Clocks

Author: David Mitchell

Reviewer: Karen Ciccone, Director Natural Resources Library & Research Librarian for Science Informatics

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is time travel. It begins in a 1984 that is true to memory and ends in a 2043 that is equally believable. One of the characters states then, ”My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing — while denying — that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren with a tab that can never be paid.” Having vicariously lived that lifetime through this book has changed my perspective on now.

Nov 21 2014

Bridge of Birds

Book: Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China that Never Was

Author: Barry Hughart

Reviewer: Hilary Davis, Interim Head of Collection Management and Director of Research Data Services

Set in an off-kilter version of ancient China, the two protagonists, Master Li Kao and Number Ten Ox, thread one wild adventure into another as they seek a cure for a village of children who succumb to serious illness.  A truly imaginative, creative, and witty read. The best thing is that there are two more books about Master Li and Number Ten Ox.

Nov 21 2014

Longtitude

Book: Longitude

Author: Dava Sobel

Reviewer: Dr. Frank Abrams, Friends of the Library Board

A wonderful story of how technological development and human foibles interworked in the 18th century and led to a new way for ships to keep up with where they are!  The clock plays a major role in this new method, and Sobel recounts how a simple craftsman bested the best of the scientists in making a clock that made seagoing less dangerous.  The story is also one of how governmental incentives worked in that time, maybe with some lessons for today.

Note: The book was a selection of my wife’s book club.  She did not like it, what she told me about, i was intrigued.  I loved it, and I am going to read Sobel’s other books: Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets