Photo: Oliver Kay, Acquisitions/Serials
Summer Prescription: 1) Grab your sunglasses and sunscreen. 2) Head for the beach, back deck or pool. 3) Escape with one or more of the books on the Berkeley Law Library 2013 Summer Reading List. 4) Should be taken with food and drink. 5) Repeat as necessary.
by Stephen King (Audiobook)
If you could travel back in time, and change just one thing, what would it be? Not a new premise for a novel or story, but it's fun to see what Stephen King does with it. King presents his protagonist, Jake Epping, good natured, 35 year old divorced high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine with this opportunity. Of course, the title tells anyone of King's generation just what Jake will try to change, President Kennedy's assassination.
I listened to the audiobook of this title. It's a long listen, over 30 hours. The trip back in time isn't all horror by any means. It's a long visit to less jaded time when peopled lived more simply, trusted one another more and seemed to take more joy from life. Jake enjoys the journey and the people he meets, and one he falls in love with enough not to ever want to leave. But this is Stephen King, and you know that would be much too easy. Changing the past, no matter how pure your intentions, has nasty unintended consequences. And if those consequences turn out to be worse than the original event, well, what then? It took me a while to become accustomed to Craig Wasson's drawling narration, but he grew on me and those 30 hours went by pretty fast.
by Jess Walter
Summer is here, and Beautiful Ruins is your ticket to that perfect beach read - a well written, exceedingly clever, funny, intelligent novel that makes you want to put your life on hold until you've finished reading it. Maureen Corrigan, the Fresh Air critic, called Beautiful Ruins “a literary miracle”. Described by another reviewer as a “cannonball splash of irresistible fun”, this book travels between time periods, countries, and characters while cleverly linking their stories together. Voyage to Cinque Terre,Hollywood, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and experience Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra, a young Italian dreamer attempting to make his family's run down village into the sixth “terre”, a beautiful but naive American actress, an aspiring author's hilarious (really) screenplay about the Donner party, and a well-preserved movie producer. Determined to avoid aging, this producer is depicted as “a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.”
Some books do not lend themselves well to description. They just have to be experienced, and this is one of them. Jump in - the reading is fine.
by Stephen Talty
This is a murder mystery, a brutal one at that, not designed for the squeamish. Yet it pulled me in. It is a portrait of a brilliant young woman, Absolam ‘Abby' Kearney, who escapes from Buffalo to the Ivy League but who returns as a police woman. It may have been the portrait of Buffalo, a hollowed out former booming port, with its empty downtown and fading structures, that sucked me in. Having grown up in the Great Lakes area, where industry and shipping pulled up stakes long ago, I could feel the cold and grayness. The Irish troubles still live on there, just like the old port does, and many old tales are unwound. Don't read it unless you have tolerance for gore, but if you do, you are in for a fine mystery.
by Jessica Warman (YA Novel)
Katie Kitrell, a high school sophomore who has a dysfunctional home life, experiences a drastic change in her circumstances when her parents send her to boarding school at an Ivy League high school. There, the new environment exposes her to lots of unfamiliar experiences, such as a hardcore swim team and unusual classmates. As new doors open for Katie, one door inside her remains closed. Back at home, Katie has an older brother who is hospitalized with severe schizophrenia. When Katie began her new life, she decided it would be easier to tell her new friends that her brother was dead. But as her friendships deepen, Katie begins to open up about her mysterious home life. Swimming is Katie's safe haven. How long will she be able to stay breathless under the water with her secrets submerged?
After connecting with the complex and well-developed characters and heart-wrenching plot, you will be eager to jump into a pool and cool down. Schizophrenia, difficult family relations, and the power of growing friendships set in an east coast world of pool parties, boyfriend troubles, rich new friends and self-absorbed, narcissistic parents makes for a great summer read.
by Laura Moriarty
15 year-old Louise Brooks is the catalyst for this fictionalized account of Cora Carlisle, the chaperone sent with Louise when she travels from Wichita Kansas to study at the Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. While trying to keep tabs on the extremely precocious Louise, Cora is in search of a mother she can barely remember and her past which started out in New York as a child and ended up in Kansas where Cora was adopted by a kindly couple and eventually married and became a mother herself. This is a trip that becomes truly life changing for Cora and those around her.
In addition to this story, it might be worth it to check out Louise Brooks' own account of the trip in her very well written and funny Lulu in Hollywood.
The Chaperone is here in the library's bestsellers section. Check it out.
by Andrew Solomon
This long but compelling book explores families who must deal with children who do not fit into the usual categories. Children born with disabilities, children who are prodigies, children who challenge parents at every level, they are all here. Topics that one often turns away from are discussed with honesty and frankness. Though I normally do not bring long suggestions to the summer list, I know of no one who has not been moved by this book. A check with my son and his pregnant wife in New York City demonstrated that each of them had read it as had many of their friends. When a book cuts across generations like that on questions like these, you know that you have something special. The press release about the book says that it took the author ten years to write. You will be surprised as how quickly you can read it. Parts will make you cry, some will make you smile, much of it will renew your faith in the adaptability and universality of the human experience.
by Barbara Park (Children's Book)
Do you have a new reader who's ready to start reading chapter books? Time to try a Junie B. Jones book! Written by Barbara Park, this series is a great entry point to “big kid” books, with funny titles, engaging plots, short chapters and comical illustrations. Junie B. is a high energy girl, full of trademark phrases, big emotions and over the top behavior. The first book in the series, Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, tracks Junie B.'s misadventures on the first day of Kindergarten. Junie B. manages to exasperate her teacher, “Mrs.”, meets her first friend and her first enemy, and attempts to avoid her ride home with the meanies on the “stupid, smelly bus.” There is even a happy ending. Just be ready to hear the title repeated many times, with giggles. I recommend this series: my Kindergartener loves the Junie B. books (and so do her 3d grade brothers)!
by Kate Atkinson
In British writer Kate Atkinson's latest novel, Life After Life, Ursula Todd is born in 1910 to an English banker and his wife. In one scenario she dies at birth, the midwife unable to reach their country home during a blizzard. In another scenario, she survives. As she grows up she dies repeatedly, or alternatively lives, and the story unfolds in various ways. The brutal history of the time from the trenches of World War I to the rise of Hitler to the London Blitz serve as backdrop as with various scenarios Ursula's life changes the course of human events in both minor and major ways. In any less capable hands than Atkinson's the book would be a mere conceit. However, Atkinson creates a level of suspense around the various paths Ursula's lives take and reminds us again and again on how what seem like small choices at the time can fundamentally impact the course of our lives.
As with all Atkinson's work there is a darkness (particularly in Ursula's growing psychic awareness that she can somehow prevent bad things from happening). The writing around the London Blitz is particularly strong in the harrowing descriptions of the bombing raids. But this book also has remarkable bits of humor and charm. Supporting characters, especially Ursula's parents and siblings, are well drawn. You won't want to put down this summer read until you find out how all Ursula's many lives play out.
by Jojo Moyes
Louisa Clark, a working class English girl, takes a job as companion to Will Clark, an upperclass young man who was injured in a car accident and is now a quadriplegic. Over time they come to care for one another. Sounds horribly cliché, right – a Lifetime movie in the making. Instead Moyes novel is a wonderful story of how chance can bring two completely different people together in a life changing way. Will's mother hires Louisa as a last ditch attempt to find someone who will stay with her depressed, bitter son. Louisa, with no employment options and desperate for cash, has no choice but to take the job and stick with it no matter how unpleasant. Moyes graphic descriptions of Will's physical limitations and the care required to maintain his fragile health take the kid gloves off any preconception you may have about this type of injury. Prior to his accident, Will was a golden boy in every way, a good looking wealthy investment banker who skied, bungee jumped and climbed mountains. His anger and humiliation at his condition are searing.
In time, Louisa learns that the mother's real reason for hiring her is to prevent Will from committing suicide (an earlier attempt failed). The book provokes moral questions about what is a life worth living and who should make that decision. Louisa's quirky personality and her doggedness in dealing with Will are appealing, and Will's reluctant interest in Louisa's future is touching. Yet, this is really not a love story. It is, however, moving and heartbreaking and, unless you're made of stone, you will be sobbing by the end. Indulge yourself in this perfect summer wallow. And don't forget the tissues.
by Amy Dickinson
I had heard about The Mighty Queens of Freeville through Peter Sagal's introductions of Amy Dickinson when she appeared on Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me! on NPR. I don't consider my Saturdays complete if I miss Wait Wait so I heard the book mentioned many times. When I came across it by chance in a bookstore I grabbed it. Then I didn't let it go until I finished reading it. I was drawn in from the beginning by the author's compelling story and engaging writing style. This is an autobiography of a woman who grew up in a tiny village in upstate New York. (Yes, there is a village called Freeville! See http://freevilleny.org/). Her father abandoned his family and her mother managed to hold onto the family home but little else. Nevertheless, she prevailed. And her daughter followed in her footsteps. Amy Dickinson chronicles her journey to London as a newlywed, back to Freeville as a single mother, to Washington, D.C. for work and then to Chicago to take over for Ann Landers as the advice columnist for the Chicago Tribune. I was inspired by her courage and her determination and I am more confident that she is in a position to give advice to a modern audience than I ever was with either Ann Landers or Dear Abby. Finally, Amy Dickinson moved back to Freeville and she found a movie-worthy happy ending. Now, I'm not making any promises. This book might not strike the same chord with you but I know it resonated with me personally.
by Neil Gaiman (author), Brett Helquist (illustrator) (Children's Book)
Neil Gaiman writes good stories. He writes especially good children's stories. This story is about a boy named Odd and his experience with three Norse gods in animal forms and a goal to end a never-ending winter. Maybe you are familiar with stories about Odin, Thor, Loki, and the Frost Giants from the string of Hollywood blockbusters that include these characters. Prepare yourself because this is nothing like those movies. It's a short book and if you are a fan of children's stories where the protagonist achieves success through logic and a well-reasoned argument without physicality, then this story is for you. If reading a book full of pictures sounds like too much of a time commitment there is also an audio book version, read by the author, that takes only about 2 hours.
by Russell Hoban
Russell Hoban died in late 2011. This prompted me to go to my bookshelves and pick up his book Riddley Walker, which had been sitting there for close to twenty years. I can't believe I waited so long. The book is more often than not described as a "cult" or "post-apocalyptic" classic. It is set in an indefinite time in the future after nuclear war has destroyed society and follows a twelve year old boy, Riddley, as he crosses what is the Kent countryside towards present day Canterbury. There are semi-nomadic roaming groups of people and dogs instilling fear into Riddley at every turn, and fragments of long lost technologies that Riddley can only speculate as to their full form and function.
The most remarkable aspect of the novel is Hoban's use of language. The entire novel is written in a language that is a bastardized, irrevocably mutated form of English, with phoneticised spelling and minimal punctuation. It can make for slow reading at times but I found that actually reading out loud allowed me to get into the flow of Hoban's language. For example the first sentence reads:
"On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen."
This is a truly remarkable book that is worth the little extra effort that might be required to navigate the language. And on a side note Hoban is also famous for being the author of the Frances books for children. From cute, precocious badger to dystopian classic - not a bad career.
by Sam Pink
Have you ever walked around thinking that your running internal dialogue would make you sound insane if anyone could hear it? If you don't want to think about this but want to know the answer, read this book. Rontel is written from the perspective of a friend giving you a play by play of his life without a filter as he travels through a regular day in Chicago. There were a number of times while reading this book that I thought it would be an interesting idea to write down things I was thinking as I go through my day. Rontel shows that this is a bad idea and that internal dialogue is often better internally. I have a friend from Chicago and I was convinced that he wrote this book (he says he didn't). Maybe this fact made the book better for me because it was like having an audio book in my head. Either way, I found myself laughing in public places and sometimes trying to hide my smile because I was concerned that the person next to me knew about the insane thing I just read that made me laugh.
by Ann Patchett (Audiobook)
I'm a sucker for tales of treasure hunters lost in the jungle, and stories about the Amazon. I got them both and then some in State of Wonder by the wonderful Ann Patchett. This fictional tale, which begins and ends in staid, comfortable Minnesota, but spends its broad, decidedly uncomfortable middle, in Amazonia, is a tale of treasure seekers. Modern day seekers after modern day treasure, big pharma is in hot pursuit of a miracle fertility drug. The big pharma company in question has lost Dr. Anders Eckman, one of its researchers, down in the jungle. In fact, Dr. Annick Swenson, the elusive and formidable director of the project, reports succinctly from the Amazon, he's dead and buried. The company may not be terribly concerned about Anders Eckman, but it is desperate to contact Dr. Swenson to find out exactly what the state of her research is. This she feels it unnecessary to keep big pharma appraised of, just as she feels it unnecessary to let Eckman's wife know the details of his death. In fact, Eckman's wife is quite certain that he is not dead. He would never leave her widowed and their three beloved sons orphaned.
Clearly someone must be sent to find out what happened to Eckman and to find Swenson. The obvious choice to everyone but herself is Dr. Marina Singh, Eckman's fellow researcher and friend. It would be hard to find anyone less interested in a jungle adventure, the stoic Dr. Singh who would appear to be as staid and settled as her beloved Minnesota. Years before as a student of the terrifying Dr. Swenson Marina made a mistake that changed her career, one which she's never recovered from. So, now off she goes, to face her own heart of darkness, not to mention debilitating heat, anaconda attacks, warring Amazonian tribes, miraculous properties of jungle flora and fauna, various interesting and misplaced Americans and Europeans and, of course, Dr. Swenson. I listen to the audiobook version of this book, enhanced by Hope Davis's wry narration. I loved getting to know Ann Patchett's characters. And though I found some elements of the story a little ludicrous, in the end it makes up for that in suspense. I defy anyone to stop listening when you reach the last hour of the story.
by Tea Obreht
I just recently finished The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. If you like magical realism, folk tales and mysterious relationships, The Tiger's Wife is for you.
The narrator, a young doctor, travels through the Balkan Peninsula on a humanitarian mission, and on a personal one, because she wants to find out more about the mysterious circumstances of her grandfather's death. She recalls the phantasmagorical stories her grandfather, also a physician, told her from his youth, while the country was at war. While searching for the truth, she retells the stories from his life amongst legends and superstitions, such as the stories of the “deathless man”, the tiger and the tiger's wife. This heartbreaking, beautifully written novel entwines the past and the present, grandfather and granddaughter, and perhaps gives new insight into this ethnically diverse region.
by Thomas Mallon
You probably thought that all that could be said/written about Watergate has been said/written (or erased). However, this book is a very funny and clever spin on the whole scandal. Over the years, I've read quite a bit about Watergate – in fact, I've always been fascinated by it (I won't say how old I was during this time in history, but I watched the hearings on TV in school). And, I love cover-ups because they tend to illustrate people's stupidity. This fictional work faithfully covers the broad strokes of the real events, but it adds a good deal of juicy depth to the characters (and I do mean characters!). Of particular interest are the women: Pat Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, Martha Mitchell and Alice Roosevelt Longworth (daughter of Theodore Roosevelt). Longworth has the very best lines of all the characters in the book. For example, Longworth makes a remark right before Ethel Merman sang the national anthem at the 1972 Republican National Convention, “I believe she's to be released back into the wild after the benediction.” (Note, if you aren't familiar with Alice Roosevelt Longfellow, she used to have a pillow embroidered with this saying: "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me.")
If Watergate history is not your thing (or if you are younger than 50), this book probably isn't going to make you laugh like it did me. If you recall the basic events and want to read some entertaining political fiction, then this book is well worth your time. There's a handy list of the people (and their roles during this time in history) at the beginning of the book to help jog your memory. Don't believe everything you read in this book -- but do laugh at it. I don't believe Pat Nixon had a love affair … did she?
By Jeanette Winterson
Chances are your parents didn't leave you outside all night when you were 11 years old. Jeanette Winterson's adoptive mother did, and the memoir Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? chronicles life with Mrs. W, a Pentecostal evangelist. A Pentecostal evangelist who smoked, although her smoking was meant to be a secret, and was covered up with fly spray kept in her handbag. (“No one seemed to think it was unusual to keep fly spray in your handbag.”) A religious zealot disguised as a mother, who kept two sets of false teeth, “matt for every day and a pearlised set for ‘best'. “ A “relentless brooding mountain range” of a Pentecostal evangelist who read the Bible every night to her family for half an hour, starting at the beginning and arriving, eventually, at the Book of Revelation, and the Apocalypse. (“When she got to her favorite bit, with everyone being exploded and the Devil in the bottomless pit, she gave us all a week off to think about things.”)
There was a lot to think about in the Winterson household, located in a northern English industrial town in the 1960s and 1970s, with “no bank accounts, no phones, no cars, no inside toilets, often no carpets, no job security and very little money.” There also weren't any books, except that well-used Bible, and somehow Jeanette Winterson went on to study at Oxford University and write several prize winning books, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Sexing the Cherry.
Why Be Happy is about learning to love and live, in a full and rich way, after an unimaginably horrible childhood. The book is hard to put down, by turns hilarious, and then ghastly, and always vividly written. Jeanette Winterson learned a love of words from Mrs. W and her Bible reading, and then used those words to save herself.
by Maria Semple
Any attempt to describe this charming epistolary novel seems like overkill. It starts with Bee Branch graduating from 8th grade and earning from her family anything she wants, which turns out to be a trip to Antarctica. Before they can leave, Bee's mother disappears. Bee and her father take the trip anyway to find Bernadette. Several stories swirl in the background. Does it help to tell you that it was written by a screenwriter from Arrested Development? Sweet and complicated and slightly deeper than that – a great summer read.
by Kevin Powell
Since the beginning of recorded history, wars have created great literature. It is almost a parlor game to see which novel will best capture the world of some particular conflict. Kevin Powell's The Yellow Birds will probably not be dubbed the great novel of the Iraq War, but only because it is something more complex than a war novel. The story follows the fates of two privates from boot camp to aftermath, weaving a history in flashbacks and flashforwards that ultimately distance the reader from the war's horror. Powell uses a powerful and unexpected metaphor for his combat experience in Iraq: it was like the moment in an automobile accident from the time you know collision is inevitable to the sickening reality of the impact. This quietly disturbing novel explores that long instant.
From all of us at the Berkeley Law Library...
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