Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevlier (2007)

Another wonderful period piece by Chevalier. This one is about London, and the historical figure is William Blake, but he is a peripheral character. I would say that since the main characters are children, this could be aimed at the young adult audience, but the sexual realities are too stark, so I don't think it is meant for them. Wonderful tale.

The Summer He Didn't Die by Jim Harrison (2005)

I have never read anything by Jim Harrison, one of Michigan's own, well know by my friends up north. I really enjoyed this, though it was composed of three very different pieces. "The Summer He Didn't Die" was my favorite, about a partial Indian who lives in northern Michigan and raises a couple of kids. Maybe it is not so important what this story is about, but it just gives a rich sense of this man, the people around him, and the environment. I also found it quite funny. "Republican Wives" was about sorority sisters from University of Michigan, who end up unhappy with their husbands, taking lovers, etc. Again, sometimes very good descriptions, other times it grated on me. "Tracking" is in three parts - childhood, young adulthood, and getting older - the life of a writer. Wonder how much is autobiographical? I will have to see what I can find out about him. Again Michigan figures heavily - as his home base, as the place to get away, fish, the cabin in the UP, etc. I will have to read more by Harrison.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)

Totally unique kind of book. This is a children's book about a historical figure - Georges Melies, an early filmmaker. The book is very visual and meant to give you a sense of watching a movie, but not like a simple picture book. Of the 530 pages in the book, almost 300 are illustrations. The text pages alone would be a fairly short chapter book. The black and white illustrations are great, you actually feel the boy Hugo running through the train station, you see him slipping away in his hideaways by observing the sole of a shoe in a doorway. The story is again my favorite kind - historical fiction. Hugo is fictional, but Melies, is not and the elaborate wind-up toys are also real. The book is so unique it has it's own website where the author explains his process.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday Next in First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (2007)

This is a book I almost gave up on, as the alternate universe was so complex and the literary references seemed too much, but out of inertia I kept putting new CD's in the player, and it grew on me. It was a pretty neat concept, that there is a whole world of characters behind the scenes waiting to be read in books. A lot of issues that are a part of my daily life in the library were brought up, like the decrease in people reading, especially young people.

Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor (2006)

Wonderful biography of Dolley Madison, wife of our 4th president, James Madison. Though raised a Quaker, she created the social world of the new capital - Washington City. I had never thought about the beginnings of Washington, with muddy streets and incomplete buildings for congress, the president, the government. The early years of American history are fascinating. What was it like to set up a new form of government, create a new country, learn to work together? Looks like the bi-partisan system has evolved over these last 200 plus years.

I was exposed to the early years of the U.S., including the War of 1812, which I have to admit I still don't understand. Amazing that it involved fighting with Canada and Michigan played a role at Macinac.

Dolley had the opportunity to meet many interesting people of those times. She knew twelve presidents in her life and people like Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun, who I vaguely remember from a history paper I wrote in high school. I was intrigued by Jefferson after visiting Monticello and the University of Virginia last year. This book offered some criticism of Jefferson, but that doesn't surprise me.

Dolley was know for her social events, where politicians and other important people would gather and exchange ideas. Since there was little else available in early Washington City, she was a pioneer, and the author believes she facilitated the workings of the early government by providing this venue for discussion.

The end of the book discussed what Dolley chose to keep for posterity. She worked hard to save the heritage of her husband, but she destroyed certain of her own letters. The first biographies were written by her relatives, based on things she had written herself. It sounds that for many years that was the "official" biography and only recently new versions have become available.

Though I feel this book could have used some more editing - same things were repeated over and over again, I still appreciate the enormity of the job. Obviously many hours were spent pouring over letters and other documents in archives (always an exciting prospect for me as librarian), and the language of the day needed to be deciphered. Though I usually prefer being fed history through novels, I enjoyed learning about this era through Allgor's book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

J.K. Rowling did not disappoint. A great finish to a great series.

Harry Potter and the Oder of the Phoenix

Just had to listen to this one, so I remembered the details before reading the last book.