Monday, October 29, 2012

That's some catch!

By David Abrams

It's always a little off-putting to hear a new bookespecially a first novellauded as "an instant classic" and compared to some old favorite. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise of Fobbit, David Abrams's dark comedy about the Iraq War, invariably likening it to M.A.S.H., Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five. So, I picked it up fully expecting to be quickly disappointed. But the first paragraph grabbed me so firmly that I hardly put the book down until I reached the end.

"Fobbit" is a put-down, military slang for someone stationed in the relative comfort and safety of a Forward Operating Base during the "Global War on Terror." Fobbits are not "door-kickers" or "trigger-pullers"; they are the "supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians" who work and sleep in air-conditioned comfort. "They were," the narrator sneers, "all about making it out of Iraq in one piece."

Abrams himself was a Fobbit, having done a yearlong tour in Iraq as a Public Affairs Officer. The book clearly springs from his experience and some passages seem to have been lifted straight from the author's diary. Fobbit is set in 2005, when "Mission Accomplished" was giving way to a merciless insurgency and the American casualty count was climbing daily toward 2000. The war that was supposed to be a cakewalk was turning into a meatgrinder.

Abrams name-checks Catch-22 in Fobbit, and the influence of Joseph Heller's sardonic masterpiece is unmistakable. The character names in particular are pure Catch-22: Specialist Blodgett, Sergeant Gooding, Captain Shrinkle, Colonel Harkleroad and so on. The Iraq War is just as absurd and the bureaucracy that feeds it just as impenetrable for Abrams as the Second World War was for Heller. 

Fobbit is sure to join Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five on required reading lists some day. But do yourself a favor and read it now.

Review by Don Beistle

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Haunted Houses

It's the end of October, which means Halloween is just around the corner. I decided to prepare by looking through our horror section for something scary. What I came up with was a couple of ghost stories that might be just the thing to send a tingle up your spine.

By Bentley Little

The Perry family is looking for a better neighborhood. Someplace they can raise their kids. Though they finally agree on a two-story home near the city's historic district, it's not long before they start to have doubts. As soon as they move in their daughter, Claire, starts receiving threatening text messages. James, their son, is beginning to act strangely. And no one in the family likes going into the basement, for reasons they're afraid to discuss. Soon they notice that they hardly ever see their neighbors, and stories about their house's deadly history start to pop up. When they try to contact the real estate agent who sold them the house, she clearly doesn't want to talk about it.  Just what have they gotten themselves into? And how can they get back out?

This is a classic American haunting. An average family moves into an average house and begins a not-so-average descent into terror.

By David Annandale

According to local legend Gethsemane Hall is host to the benevolent spirit of Saint Rose. But after the death of a ghost hunter the house becomes embroiled in controversy. Lord Richard Gray, tired of all the attention, invites a group of skeptics and believers to research the house's spiritual inhabitant. There's a team  who believes that ghosts are inherently good, a team that believes ghosts are imaginary, and a couple of folks with their own agendas. It's soon obvious that something unnatural is going on at the house, but is it also unholy? Even the true believers are left quivering in fear as they learn more and more about the presence that inhabits this place. The residents of the village nearby could have told them to stay away. Every one of them dreads going to the Hall, just as they are drawn to it. They know that if they travel down the tree-lined drive they might never come back.

The language in this book is more florid than that of The Haunted, but the scares are just as potent. There's plenty of blood and gore in this dank horror story set in scary old England.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Click the covers or the titles above to request either of these books.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Americans in Paris

Have you ever wanted to move to another country? Today we're looking at stories of Americans living in Paris. Whether you want tips on what to do when you move there yourself, or just want to live vicariously through the authors, these books are entertaining tours through one of Europe's most famous cities.

Lunch in Paris
A Love Story, With Recipes
By Elizabeth Bard

Elizabeth Bard knew she wanted an international life. A native New Yorker, she was already living in London when she met a Frenchman during a conference. She began crossing the Channel to visit him in Paris on weekends, and then she took a leap of faith and moved to Paris full-time. While trying to find a way to live in a city where she barely spoke the language, she discovered that there are a lot of things that just don't translate. How does one find friends in France? How do you start a business, or at least find a job? What about an apartment? The pace of the city is slower than New York or London, and the social cues are complex. But one area where she definitely found her way was the food. Bard describes many mouth-watering meals throughout her international adventure. She also provides recipes at the end of each chapter if you'd like to try your hand at the cuisine.

Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down 
By Rosecrans Baldwin

Like Elizabeth Bard, Rosecrans Baldwin is a New Yorker. He was still living stateside when he got offered a chance to move to Paris and work for an advertising agency. He had no experience in advertising, and didn't really speak French, but who says no to a job in Paris? Baldwin is a novelist (find his novel here) so he's  good with words. Being surrounded by French speakers, however, made that difficult. He writes, "Living in another language and speaking defectively, I could not be clever. At best, I was genuine." As he bumbles his way through French office culture, supermarkets, and parties filled with fellow temporary expats, he is indeed genuine and candid. You'll laugh along with him as he tries to learn how to exist in Paris, how to communicate without saying something offensive, and who to kiss hello in any given situation. By the time he makes it back to New York, he's a changed man.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ireland in WWII

By Patricia Palvey

Beautiful, 18-year-old Sheila McGee works in a linen mill in Northern Ireland where she lives with her manic mother, her drunken uncle and sanctimonious aunt. Her only desire in life is to flee the country as soon as humanly possible. World War II breaks out and everything changes for her, most importantly her own character and values. While the story is set in a dreary Irish mill town controlled by the British Crown and occupied by some pretty horrible characters, the landscape is beautiful and Sheila's story is both heartbreaking and triumphant.

Review by Anita

Monday, October 15, 2012

Books Made Into Movies

We've all heard the phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover". "Don't judge a book by the movie" is becoming increasingly apt. The following is a list of current or upcoming movies that were adapted for the big screen.

Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell

From Goodreads: "A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small."

The movie, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, will be in theaters shortly.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By Stephen Chbosky

From Goodreads: "This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite."

The movie stars Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller.

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel

From Goodreads: "Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe."

The film is directed by Ang Lee and stars Suraj Sharma as Pi.

How will these tales fare as movies? I guess there is only one way to find out. Read the book and then watch the movie or vice versa. In my experience, the book is almost always better.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A back-to-school kind of mystery

Gone Tomorrow
By P. F. Kluge

Gone Tomorrow is a mystery of sorts. When a famous colleague is killed in a hit-and-run accident after having been forced into retirement, thirty-something writing professor Mark May is surprised to learn that the victim had named him his literary executor. The colleague is George Canaris, a renowned writer who was "compared to Faulkner ... at the start of his career" but "resembled Harper Lee" in the end. And when May discovers a manuscript in the dead man's freezer, it turns out not to be Canaris's long-promised magnum opus but rather a memoir of three-and-a-half decades spent teaching and writing at their small Ohio college. May dubs the manuscript "Gone Tomorrow," and the more he reads of it the more he comes to suspect that Canaris may have been the victim of foul play.

But the central mystery of Gone Tomorrow is not whether Canaris's death was accident, murder or suicide. The driving question is whether Canaris actually wrote anything during his 35 years in Ohio and, if so, why he published nothing in all that time. He claimed to be laboring all the while on "The Beast," an ever-expanding epic sprung from an anecdote recounted in the last of his published books. The heart of "The Beast" is a man's final lonely walk through the nighttime streets of Karlsbad (a famous spa town once part of Austro-Hungary, now known as Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic). It is a prelude to exile first performed by German-Jewish film star Kurt Gerron, then by Canaris's father with his infant son in his arms, and finally by Canaris himself. Kluge offers no direct answer to the question of why Canaris evidently could not bring himself to stop working on the Holocaust-haunted story of his birth city, but the reasons will reveal themselves to an attentive reader.

Gone Tomorrow is a Whitman's Sampler of literary delights. Canaris himself is a near-caricature of a mid-20th century writer: cultured, formal, reserved and absolutely repelled by today's verbose and self-indulgent writing. Canaris's frequent offhand swipes at the contemporary canon ("Oh, God, not Dave Eggers or David Foster Wallace!") are guaranteed to bring a wry smile to serious readers of a traditional bent. Kluge's depiction of teaching is spot on; anyone who has ever stood in front of classroom will recognize the bittersweet voice of experience here. And through it all a Romantic sense that something important has been lost without our ever having grasped it. But maybe, just maybe, Art can preserve some faint glimmer of the evanescent wonder of a world that is here today, gone tomorrow.

Review by Don Beistle

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Monday, October 8, 2012

"Caine Mutiny" Free Onstage Thursday

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial
Thursday, October 11
8:00 PM
New Dawn Theater
3087 Main Street
Duluth, GA 30096

"The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" is a play in two acts based on Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.

Duluth's New Dawn Theater will be presenting "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" throughout the month of October. Admission will be free for the 8:00 performance this Thursday, October 11 as part of Fall into the Arts 2012. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If Wouk's classic tale of wartime mutiny on the high seas leaves you hungry for more, look for the following nonfiction titles at your local Gwinnett County Public Library branch.

The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan and Another Changed America by James Campbell (2012).

Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired "The Hunt for Red October" by David Hagberg (2008).

Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk by Gregory A. Freeman (2009).

Request any of these books by clicking on the titles above.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What it Means to be American

The American Bible
How Our Words Unite, Divide, 
and Define a Nation
By Stephen Prothero

As we head into the final month of this election season, it can be hard to remember that we're all really on the same side. No matter how heated the debate, most Americans want what they think is best for the country. And according to Stephen Prothero, it's our differences that unite us. In his introduction he writes, "To be an American is not to agree with your fellow citizens about a set of propositions. It is to agree to argue with them, and to argue passionately."

Prothero's aim in this volume is to bring together a number of texts central to America's idea of itself. He notes that while we don't often agree on how to run the country, "Americans agree to a surprising degree about which symbols and ideas are central to our national life." He therefore offers excerpts of many quintessentially American speeches, songs, books, and aphorisms. Inside you'll find snippets of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is right beside "God Bless America" and "This Land is Your Land."

Prothero, a professor of religion, uses the Bible as a template, explaining that his book "began as an effort to construct an American Talmud." Like the Talmud, he offers the original texts surrounded by commentary and discussion from many voices. Is Huckleberry Finn the most American novel, or is it Uncle Tom's Cabin? What did George Washington really mean in his farewell address, and how should we interpret Ronald Reagan's most famous political speeches?

It's the interplay of arguments from different sides of the political aisle that makes the book useful. It can remind us what we're trying to do, and even give us some hope. If the size of the book seems daunting, you might try listening to it. It's available as a downloadable audiobook.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Poet Laureate Visiting Gwinnett on Sunday

The 2012 Gwinnett Reads author is Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America.

Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey is the author of four collections of poetry: Domestic Work, Bellocq's Ophelia, Native Guard, for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and her newest book, Thrall. She is also the author of a book of creative non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Join us on Sunday, October 7, at 5:00 p.m., in the Student Center at Georgia Gwinnett College to hear Trethewey discuss her work. Light refreshments will be served and music will be provided by Joyce Parks, director of the B.J. Chorale.

Click on any of the above links to request any of the books mentioned, or click here for a full list.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Buford-Sugar Hill Branch Staff Picks

This is the beginning of a monthly feature. We'll pick a branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library and the staff of that branch will offer some books they've truly enjoyed. Any genre, any subject, any author. Maybe you'll find your new favorite book!

By Daphne Du Maurier

Why you should read it: Rebecca is a classic Gothic romance imbued with mystery and psychological intrigue. An unnamed protagonist marries a widower and moves to Manderley Estate where she begins to feel unwanted and unloved thanks to the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and her fierce loyalty to the first Mrs. DeWinters.

The Informationist
By Taylor Stevens

Why you should read it: You'd like this book if you liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's a fast paced thriller with a memorable heroine.

Catering to Nobody
By Diane Mott Davidson

Why you should read it: If you like cozy mysteries, you will love the first title in the Goldy Bear culinary mysteries series. And be sure you eat before reading. Not only is it a fun read, it contains delightful descriptions of the food Goldy caters. Recipes included!

By Veronica Roth

Why you should read it: If you liked The Hunger Games series, you will love this first book of the Divergent Trilogy. It is set in a futuristic society where people are separated into five factions, each dedicated to their own beliefs. Upon their sixteenth year the characters must make choice and be initiated into their new faction.

Unfallen Dead
By Mark Del Franco

Why you should read it: It's a smart and engrossing paranormal mystery with characters you will love. For fans of Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green.

We'll be back next month with another library branch and another list of favorites. Until then, let us know in the comments if you have any books you recommend!