Monday, June 29, 2009

A Child's Garden of Books - for Adults

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
Winnie the Pooh

I was talking with a mother who had just recently begun homeschooling her four children and we began to chat about children’s literature and the books she had read with her children this past year. She confessed that she had never really read much as a child, and was now discovering, in a wonderful and surprising way, the books she had never known. Her favorites this year were Calico Bush by Rachel Field, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. All three titles are rich in history, well written and award winners in their day.

I read a lot as a child, but somehow missed many children’s classics myself, and so when I became a student teacher I, too, discovered some wonderful titles I had missed. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte’s Web are two books I was introduced to as I read aloud to a classroom of 2nd and 3rd graders. I remember barely being able to control my laughter as I recited a tale about a rather rotund bear’s “stoutness exercises” in Winnie the Pooh, and held my breath with the rest of the class as we went with Meg and Calvin to explore a tesseract in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

“I do face the facts, Meg said. They’re a lot easier to face than people, I can tell you that.”
A Wrinkle in Time

This discussion about children’s books had taken place in the presence of a number of other women, and soon everyone was talking about their favorite children’s book – either one they had read while growing up or discovered and appreciated as an adult.

Some that were mentioned include: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (a strong portrait of a small southern boy and his coon dogs – also a real tear-jerker) and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (about two young children who run away from home, and wind up living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York!).

What children’s books were dear to you as a child? As an adult? What are you going to read or are you reading to your children? Meg

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is There a Doctor in the House? Medical Thrillers

If you went looking online for a definition of the fiction genre, thriller, you would find many, many entries. Princeton’s WordNet puts it simply – “a suspenseful adventure story.” If you scroll a little further down, you come upon Merriam Webster’s online definition which starts to become a bit more complex. A thriller, says MW, is a “work of fiction designed to hold the interest by the use of a high degree of intrigue, adventure or suspense.”

This definition seems a bit more wordy than it needs to be, but it does begin to point to the fact that in today’s genre-filled publishing world there are many different kinds of thriller. This is the first in a series of posts that will discuss three very popular kinds of thriller: medical (in today’s post), technological and conspiracy (in future posts).

Back to our definition search. Putting “medical thriller” in as a search term produces a number of interesting sites to check out. The first that comes up is the Wiki entry for thriller in general, but that entry goes on to discuss 13 (count ‘em – 13!) different sub-categories of thriller, one of which is the medical thriller. The Wiki article says that the medical thriller is one in which the hero/heroine are medical doctors or personnel working to solve an expanding medical problem. The article then goes to on mention several recommended authors of medical thrillers.

The next most interesting result of our search is a link to Library Thing (have you checked this site out?), and a (very long) list of all the titles in Library Thing that have been tagged “medical thriller.” There is no attempt at evaluation here – simply a listing, with those works that have the most tags appearing first.

Most sites and readers of medical thrillers seem to agree that there are three authors who are simply superior at their craft - Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and Michael Palmer. Just about any book that you read by these three authors is guaranteed to bring a shiver to your spine and some nervous moments to your brain. Robin Cook’s latest, Intervention, is due out in August. (You may place a hold on it NOW at the library or through the library’s website and online catalog.) Gerristen’s latest is called Keepsake, and Palmers’ newest, The Second Opinion, was just released this past February.

Three other titles that are not part of a series, but that are highly recommended are:

Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card

The Eleventh Plague by John S. Marr and John Baldwin

Isolation Ward by Joshua Spanogle.

Give them a try – and let us know what your favorite medical thriller is. Meg

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Easy To Remember

I don’t often read about music, but Easy To Remember, by William Zinsser is one of those books that make reading about music almost as pleasurable as listening.

The subtitle of Easy To Remember is The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs and Zinsser takes us on a fascinating grand tour of the history of American songwriting from Sigmund Romberg (The Desert Song), through the “golden age” of American song with Jerome Kern, (Show Boat) George and Ira Gershwin, (Someone to Watch Over Me, The Man I Love and so many more), early and late Rodgers and Hart (We’ll Have ManhattanPal Joey) to some modern day composers such as Lerner and Lowe (My Fair Lady) and Kander and Ebb (Cabaret and Chicago).

The book is very well written, in a breezy, conversational style that is compelling, but at the same time instructive. As familiar as some of the lyrics of these songs are, their derivation – how they are musically constructed and what kinds of cultural backgrounds they were derived from – were (to me at least) totally new and unexpected.

In the chapter about the Gershwin brothers, Zinsser tells us about how they managed to combine their own Russian-Jewish musical heritage with the African American rhythms they were hearing in Harlem to produce the unique syncopation and notation that they were famous for.

"You’re sweet expression, the smile you gave me, the way you looked when we met,
It’s easy to remember, but so hard to forget."

Zinsser’s chapter on Cole Porter is masterful. He states that “It was from Cole Porter, in 1934, that I first glimpsed what it might mean to be sophisticated,” and surely his narrative about Cole Porter and Porter's music is just that – sophisticated and sparkling.

You’re the top – you’re Mahatma Gandhi,
You’re the top, you’re Napoleon brandy
You’re the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire,
You’re an O’Neill drama, you’re Whistler’s mama, you’re Camembert.

There used to be an afternoon show on NPR radio out of Boston called The Great American Songbook. I loved listening to that show, because it played many of the show tunes and classic American songs I loved. Easy To Remember is a book about that music and how it grew. Meg

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Get Ready for Hurricane Season with Tin Roof Blowdown

As we head into hurricane season 2009, I wanted to recommend a book – actually a mystery – that does a really good job of portraying New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina – and presents a great mystery as well.

Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke (the 16th Dave Robicheaux novel), places Iberia Parish’s Sherrif Robicheaux directly in the path of one of the strongest storms to hit Louisianna’s southern coast and its criminal aftermath. The book’s blurb calls it an “apocalyptical nightmare” in which Robicheaux is searching for two serial rapists, a morphine-addicted priest and a vigilante whose methods may be more dangerous than the criminals he is targeting.

The Washington Post calls Tin Roof Blowdown Burke’s “most ambitious novel” and I have to agree. The combination of hideous criminal activitiy and cataclysmic weather is always a sure bet, and Mr. Burke does a masterful job on both fronts. Hint: This book has been recommended for use in book clubs! Check it out. Meg

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Year's Best Crime Novels

Mystery lovers are often voracious readers and always on the lookout for a great mystery. Booklist – the American Library Association’s magazine of books and reviews – has just recently published its list of the year’s best crime novels, and I thought I would share those titles with you.

Some of the top ten are, in no special order

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow – San Diego private eye, Boone Daniels, is off in search of a missing stripper. It’s the locale that is special here – the light and dark sides of San Diego with a special nod to surfing and oceanside cultures.

Exit Music by Ian Rankin – Another elder statesman of crime, Inspector John Rebus of Edinburgh, investigates one last crime.

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child – Jack Reacher spots what he thinks is a suicide bomber on the New York subway’s Number 9 train – and his knowledge (and the bombers failed attempt) finds Reacher targeted by the federal government and Al Qaeda for a secret he might know.

Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure – A masterfully constructed psychological thriller that compares favorably to Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.

The rest of the top 10 are
Cold in Hand by John Harvey

Mine All Mine by Adam Davies
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Spade and Archer by Joe Gores
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson. Meg


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