Archive for the ‘We Recommend’ Category

WE RECOMMEND: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Roach, Mary. Stiff : The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. Call number: R853 .H8 R635 2003.

“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.” So starts the introduction to the book Stiff. If you laughed, you’ll enjoy this book. If you feel the least bit of revulsion, reach for another book. Mary Roach is also the author of Spook : science tackles the afterlife (BL535 .R63 2006), Bonk : the curious coupling of science and sex (QP251 .R568 2009) and Packing for Mars: the curious science of life in the void (not owned). Roach says she write about what interests her. Twelve chapters focus on different ‘uses’ of human cadavers: plastic surgery practice, anatomical research, crash testing, and others. Though the humor is dark, Roach does sometimes leave it behind, to discuss the practical and ethical aspects of cadaver research. The living are the beneficiaries of this research, by providing better vehicle restraints, understanding of air crashes, and more safety for those clearing land mines. The humor does occasionally stray into bad taste territory, but mostly serves to keep the tone light enough to seriously consider the work she describes. Roach’s accounts are vivid, focusing on the people she’s interviewing and on the studies at hand. This title is easily read, with non-technical language, and rather dark humor. There’s even a reading group guide in the back. Don’t skip the introduction, it does a great job of setting the way for the book. And the inevitable question is answered at the end, when Roach reveals her own wishes about her mortal remains, which made me think about my final wishes.

-Jim Hobbs, Online Services Coordinator

WE RECOMMEND: The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits

Julavits, Heidi. The Uses of Enchantment: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2006. Call number PS3560 .U522 U84 2006

A story about teenage abduction at a New England prep school doesn’t exactly sound like a hilarious read, but Heidi Julavits’s The Uses of Enchantment mixes dark comedy with mystery and suspense. While a sixteen year old student at Semmering Academy, Mary Veal disappeared for almost two months and returned claiming amnesia. Exactly fourteen years later Mary comes home for her mother’s funeral and begins to investigate her own disappearance.

OK, so it may not sound funny, but it is. Mary’s drunken aunt projects her own feelings onto her poodle Weegee, who wears a sweater that reads “ÇA VA?” Older sister Regina attacks Mary for throwing out a half-empty box of their mom’s tampons, claiming that maybe their mother wanted them to have the feminine hygiene products as something to remember her by. Semmering Academy has a mural, nicknamed The Grin-And-Bear-It, of “soon-to-be-scalped-or-burned-women” who appear to be enjoying themselves.

Underneath the satirically tragic story in The Uses of Enchantment runs a leitmotif concerning women stripped of the power to tell their own stories. This isn’t always an easy read – the book jumps back and forth between three time periods and multiple narrators – but Mary’s story ultimately pays off with its humor and constant twists. I bet you won’t guess the ending. Recommended for all lovers of contemporary fiction,
especially those with a macabre sense of humor.

-Elizabeth Kelly, Interim Public Services Librarian

WE RECOMMEND: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon, Thomas. Inherent Vice. New York, NY: 2009, Penguin Press. Call number PS3566 .Y55 I54 2009

Set in the greater Hollywood area in late 1969 and early 1970 Inherent Vice tells the story of hippie, private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello. Doc is contacted by his former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, to investigate a conspiracy involving her current lover Mickey Wolfmann, a wealthy real estate developer. Soon after, Doc is hired by Tariq Khalil to find Mickey’s bodyguard Glen Charlock. At the beginning of Doc’s investigation Shasta and Mickey disappear, while Doc is framed for the murder of Glen. These events propel him through a whirlwind of marijuana inspired conspiracy theories, a myriad of side cases, more than one acid trip, and direct conflict with the nefarious and mysterious organization, The Golden Fang.

Inherent Vice is a straight detective story with all the characteristics of a Pynchon novel. Lost continent conspiracies, a plethora of original songs, and a cast of unique and hilarious characters make for an enjoyable read. I highly recommend Inherent Vice to anyone that enjoys Pynchon, detective fiction, or zany fiction.

Brian Sullivan, Online Learning Librarian

WE RECOMMEND: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Boston, MA: Haughton Mifflin, 1986. Call number PR9199.3 .A8 H3 1986

Nothing says “controversial read” like a dystopian novel making social commentary on the United States of America — both of its government and people. The Handmaid’s Tale does just that. Written by Margaret Atwood, this novel takes place in “the near future.” Set in the former United States, this story tells of a new society where many things have changed, primarily the role of women in society. In the fascist Republic of Gilead, society emphasizes procreation due to a recent epidemic of infertility, some say due to a toxic waste spill. As a result, a new caste in society has developed, that of the handmaid.

The story follows protagonist Offred who has experienced the downfall of “freedom” in this new society and been forced into the role of a handmaid. Handmaids, who are chosen for their fertility, are assigned to high-profile couples who are unable to reproduce. The handmaid lives in the home of her assigned couple and is forced to procreate with the husband, providing a child for the couple. Offred’s struggle to change from her previous life to her role as handmaid is unveiled as the novel progresses. Will she be able to escape her place in society as kept woman, and if she does, what happens next?

This is a smart, complicated, and emotional page turner that I would recommend anyone read! The Handmaid’s tale falls at number 88 in the most frequently banned/challenged book list from 2000-2009.

Read a banned book today! Find the Top 100 list here.

Liz Cashman, Outreach and Development Coordinator

WE RECOMMEND: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Bushnell, Candace. The Carrie Diaries. New York, NY: Balzer & Bray, 2010. Call number: PZ7 .B965467 CAR 2010

It’s almost like going back in time – The Carrie Diaries allows you to meet Carrie Bradshaw…before she was THE Carrie Bradshaw. Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw: the shoe-loving, man-toting, sexy single who rules the social scene in New York. The Carrie Diaries focuses on Carrie as she makes her way through high school in a small town outside of New York City. Carrie is crushed when she isn’t accepted into the New School’s Advanced Summer Writing Seminar, and instead begins to resentfully plan her college career at Brown University. But as her senior year rolls along and Carrie joins the newspaper in an “undercover” sort of way, her writing begins to blossom along with her spirit.

For those fifteen and up, The Carrie Diaries will occupy a special place in the heart of Sex and the City fans. Readers are introduced to Samantha Jones in a hilarious, very “New York moment” while Carrie, although not quite yet the fashion guru she becomes in SATC, is endearing and charismatic. Drugs and sex are major topics of the book, so be prepared to see how Carrie…became so Carrie. Recommended for all fans of Candace Bushnell’s works and those who want to slip into that New York slice of life.

Ria Newhouse, Learning Commons Coordinator

WE RECOMMEND: Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich

Reich, Steve. Music for 18 Musicians. LP. ECM, 1978.

Music for 18 Musicians

Music for 18 Musicians

When minimalism (as a style) gets a bad rap, it’s usually for pretentiousness (or perhaps “difficulty” – though it could be argued that the one is a tributary of the other). And while it’s understandable that casual listeners might be flummoxed by the subconscious tone poems of Phill Niblock or – to use the most famous example – Cage’s 4’33, it’s also true that when harnessed properly there is a great deal of beauty available in repetition, silence, and stasis.

Steve Reich went to Africa in the early 70s to study percussion and returned to compose two of his most notable works – 1971′s Drumming and 1976′s Music for 18 Musicians. While Drumming is a clear take on his Ghanan studies, Music for 18 Musicians is a masterwork. Simultaneously propulsive and ethereal, comprised of an ensemble with strings, mallets, pianos, woodwinds, and vocalists performing without a conductor, 18 Musicians is easily one of the most accessible pieces of work to emerge from the 20th Century avant garde.

Though not the first minimalist composition – that honor usually goes to Terry Riley’s In C – and perhaps not as gorgeous as Reich’s own Six Marimbas – a 1986 rearrangement of his earlier work Six PianosMusic for 18 Musicians is nevertheless a seminal piece and one of the best entry points into the often esoteric world of 20th Century composition.

The opening sections of Music for 18 Musicians may be heard at Steve Reich’s website.

Note: This post references the LP version released on ECM in 1978. There are other versions available, including a 1997 recording on Nonesuch, in the library’s collection. The differences are, to me, mostly matters of taste – the ECM recording blurs the players into a murkier ensemble performance while the Nonesuch version has more distinct individual performances.

Phil Rollins, Learning Technologies Developer.