Posts Tagged ‘Biography’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Clare B’s Picks

December 22, 2014

I read both fiction and non-fiction.  I prefer books that have rich characters, who feel like people I know by the time I finish the book.  Here are the best books I read in 2014.

Ten Things I've Learnt About LoveTen Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler
Alice is a wanderer, unable to decide on a career.  She has a strained relationship with her family, but has returned to England to be with her father during his final days.  Daniel is a middle aged homeless man on the streets of London, who uses found items to make small, transient art pieces.  He is also searching for the daughter he has never met.  The chapters in this amazing debut novel, alternate between Alice’s and Daniel’s voice, as events lead them inexorably towards each other.

The Death of SantiniThe Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy returns to his troubled relationship with his father in this excellent biography, where he also explores the dynamics between he and his siblings, particularly his sister Carol.  In the prologue, Conroy says that he has been “writing the story of my own life for over forty years…but I must examine the wreckage one last time”.  He does, using soaring language, and descriptions that are both tragic and hilarious.  The picture Conroy paints is not always pretty, and at times he is especially brutal in describing his own actions.  However, Pat Conroy is the ultimate storyteller, and that amazing talent shines in this retelling of his life.

March, Book OneMarch, Book One by John Lewis
I am not generally a fan of graphic novels.  However, this is perhaps the most powerful book I have read this year, and I think the format is an excellent way to describe the Civil Rights struggles.  Congressman Lewis recounts his early meeting with Martin Luther King, which led to his commitment to the non-violence movement.  Illustrator Nate Powell’s images help bring to life the incredible bravery and determination of the young men and women who risked their lives to right the horrible wrong of segregation.

The Other TypistThe Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
New York City in the 1920s:  women’s roles are changing, Prohibition is in full swing, and crime is hidden right in front of you.  Odalie Lazare is the new member of the typing pool at a police precinct.  Beautiful, mysterious, sometimes charming, sometimes cold, she fascinates the staid, reliable typist, Rose Baker.  Odalie pulls Rose into her world of intrigue with the promise of friendship and excitement.  Told in Rose’s voice, this satisfying tale will leave you asking, “what just happened?”

Guests on EarthGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, arrives at Asheville, NC’s famed Highland Hospital, in 1936. Her mother has died, her father is unknown. she is alone, abandoned and has virtually shut down.  Dr. Carroll, the hospital administrator, and his wife, a concert pianist, take Evalina under their wings.  Part patient, part ward of the Carrolls, Evalina lives at Highland on and off over the next several decades, as she struggles to find a life for herself.  Smith has not only written a well-crafted novel, but she has also explored the changing attitudes about mental illness, and its treatment, using the factual story of Highland Hospital and the tragic fire that killed its most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Zelda has a cameo role in the novel, providing a fleeting, but enduring influence on Evalina.

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Dan B’s Picks

December 18, 2014

Some of my favorite books that were new to me this year include a space adventure with hostile aliens, the memoir of a comedy legend, a dystopian teen novel, a fantasy with a magic-wielding librarian, and a story of super heroes in the big city.

DreadnaughtDreadnaught by Jack Campbell
Admiral Jack Geary was rescued from cryogenic sleep several years ago to lead the Alliance Fleet to victory over the Syndicate. Now, however, humanity is also up against an unknown and hostile race of aliens on the far side of human colonized space. Geary also has to deal with a government that fears and resents him, as well as the remnants of the Syndic forces. This is the first in the Beyond the Frontier series, which is a continuation of Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, which starts with Dauntless.

What's So Funny?What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway
Whether you know him from McHale’s Navy, The Carol Burnett Show, Dorf, or any of his numerous other appearances on TV and in film, Tim Conway is one of the great funny men of the last century. His touching memoir gives readers insight into his Midwestern upbringing, his Army service, and his career from the middle of the Twentieth Century through recent years. Anecdotes along the way will have you smiling, laughing, and genuinely appreciating Tim for all he’s given us. My only disappointment was that he didn’t narrate the audio book.

For the WinFor the Win by Cory Doctorow
In this dystopian future teens in countries like India and China must work for the corrupt bosses of huge corporations “gold farming” from massive online video games. The large cast of characters, each struggling to make enough money for their families, begin to learn that their plight is not unique. They start to form relationships online while also forming unions for this new kind of labor. The story is compelling as Doctorow blends a tech-heavy dystopia with real world lessons about economics. It’s also a great audio book.

LibriomancerLibriomancer by Jim C. Hines
What’s not to love in a book about magic wielding librarians versus evil vampires?! Isaac Vainio works as a librarian in Michigan, but, he also catalogues books for a magical group of libriomancers. Those are people who have the magical ability to draw forth objects from inside books. This branch of magic was founded by none other than Johannes Gutenberg. But what happens when Gutenberg goes missing and vampires start attacking libriomancers, leading to a war which could expose all magic to the rest of the world?

After the Golden AgeAfter the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
Celia West knows that her lack of super-powers has always been a disappointment to her father, billionaire industrialist Warren West, a.k.a. Captain Olympus. Celia is an accountant whose firm is working with the D.A.’s office to prosecute The Destructor, her parents’ arch-nemesis, for tax evasion. While he’s behind bars, a new crime wave breaks out, and though her parents think he’s behind it, Celia isn’t so sure. Is there a new evil at work in Commerce City, or is what’s going on now related to events from over fifty years ago?

Best New Books of 2014: Sharon S’s Picks

December 12, 2014

It is said that “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and to me it is just as interesting. I read fiction and nonfiction for the same reasons: to be entertained, instructed, and inspired. Here are my favorite new books for this year:

Pastor Needs a BooPastor Needs a Boo by Michele Andrea Bowen
A former FBI agent as well as a dedicated pastor, Denzelle Flowers of New Jerusalem Church in Durham got burned on the romance scene when his wife left him for a richer man. When the perfect Proverbs 31 woman shows up in his life he’s not ready to admit it, even though everyone else sees that she’s the one for him. Meanwhile, Pastor Denzelle decides to run for bishop, and has to pack both his gun and his Bible as major corruption sweeps through their denomination.

What Makes Olga Run?What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson
What makes a 93-year-old woman participate in track events worldwide, and set records that compare (in her age category) with those of the best athletes in the world? Well, she loves doing it, and her ability to do it stretches our stereotypes about aging. She is not alone—there are other “super seniors” like her around the world. Bruce Grierson leads us through a fascinating investigation of what keeps them going strong. See my full review.

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher
Hang on to your lightsabers! Doescher cleverly conflates famous lines from Shakespeare with famous scenes from Star Wars, making for a blend of comedy and drama worthy of the Bard himself. What I like best is getting to see into the minds of the characters through the asides and soliloquys. The series is continued in The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return. My family and I have been reading it aloud to each other (my husband plays the role of Chewbacca, and my 12-year-old son plays R2D2). See my full review.

Life is a WheelLife is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber
The death of his parents and other major changes shook Weber up and gave him a lot to think about concerning life, love, and death. It didn’t help matters that he had spent the last three years of his middle-aged life writing obituaries for The New York Times. He decided to do something to prove to himself that he was still alive and kicking — bike across America! I love books like this, where someone decides to do something semi-crazy, and I can go along for the ride without the expense or the sore leg muscles! Based on the daily blogs he sent back to the newspaper, this book is a very entertaining and interesting read.

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on CaesarThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow
One reason I like to read is to experience vicariously things I may never experience myself, or at least not in the same way. I love owls, and Martin Windrow gives me a window into what they are really like, close-up and personal. Mumbles is a charming little tawny owl who is nevertheless no pushover! I loved reading about her daily life, and her and Martin’s close relationship of many years. See my full review.

Best New Books of 2014: Stephen B’s Picks

December 4, 2014

I’ve truly enjoyed my second career as a part-time librarian in the Wake County system. I’m in my 14th year, and that says a lot. My favorite genre is good solid mysteries, but this year a few interesting nonfiction books slipped in.

The Gods of GuiltThe Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly has created some memorable characters – Homicide Detective Harry Bosch, and his half-brother, attorney Mickey Haller. We first met Mickey in The Lincoln Lawyer, where the reader learned his penchant for operating out of the back of his car…a Lincoln. In Gods of Guilt, Mickey gets a text “Call me ASAP – 187.” 187 is the state code for a murder, and murders are Mickey’s bread and butter. Andre LaCosse is accused of murder and contacts Mickey on Giselle Hallinger’s recommendation. There are two problems with this recommendation: first, Mickey knew Giselle by another name; and second, Giselle is the murder victim. With a pace and a plot that are pure Connelly, this book is ready to be made into a movie. Enjoy!  See my full review.

SuspicionSuspicion by Joseph Finder
Danny Goodman becomes a single father when his ex-wife dies and daughter Abby comes to live with him. He’s please when she soon makes a new friend, Jenna Galvin, but surprised when Jenna’s father, Danny, offers him money, supposedly with no strings attached. Danny is financially strapped because his latest book deal is on the verge of collapse. He accepts the money, but eventually learns he was right to be suspicious – the “strings” attached to the money lead right to a Mexican drug cartel! Now Danny finds himself pressure by the DEA to bring down some big time, dangerous operators. Finder doesn’t disappoint with this fast-paced read!  See my full review.

Operation PaperclipOperation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen
Near the end of WWII, the Nazis realized they were losing the war and set out to destroy all evidence of their crimes. Meanwhile, both the United States and Russia were attempting to capture as many of the leading German scientists as possible, with the goal of controlling scientific knowledge, and through that, the world. Much of the documentation about this true story has only been released from the archives in the last few years. You won’t believe what the United States was prepared to do to capture scientists and secure the knowledge they carried!  See my full review.

The CloserThe Closer by Mariano Rivera
This is the story of a tall, skinny kid from Panama, who thought he would end up working in his family’s fishing business, specializing in sardines. That all changed when, in his teenaged years, a baseball scout discovered “hey, this kid can throw a baseball pretty good!” and the rest is history. You will never read about a more humble person, and his 19-season career with the Yankees will surely put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible. I’ve been a Yankees fan for 70 years, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an excellent book and a fascinating story!  See my full review.

The DollThe Doll by Taylor Stevens
Vanessa Michael Munroe is a special person, a survivor who has taught herself all the skills necessary to survive. Working for an agency in Texas, she is sent out all over the world to gather information, rescue people and when necessary, kill someone. On a busy Dallas street, Munroe is kidnapped and thrust into an underground world where women and girls are just merchandise. She must both escape and bring to justice the mastermind of the operation, a mysterious villain known as “The Doll Maker.” This is the third book by Stevens describing the adventures of Munroe. Each of them can stand alone, but it wouldn’t hurt to start at the beginning of the series with The Informationist. Side note: Be sure to read the jacket notes; Taylor Stevens’ interesting background surely gave her an advantage when creating the fascinating character of Munroe.

Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks

December 2, 2014

When a book calls my name, I will not turn it down. Somehow, the books know how to find me.

No Place to Hide No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
“Cincinnatus” was the alias Edward Snowden used when he contacted Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and a former constitutional lawyer. Cincinnatus referred to a real life hero, a farmer who in ancient times defended Rome against foreign forces, and then voluntarily gave up absolute power and returned to life on the farm. Edward Snowden was a former National Security Agency contractor, and the revelations brought about by him altered the course of history. This book – a curious blend of real life thriller, lecture, moral-ethic discussion, and petition – shows how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities have become, and what it means in a world in which people increasingly find and display their inner lives online.  See my full review.

War of the WorldsWar of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review.

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Emi’s goal is to become a set designer in Hollywood, and as an intern on a movie set, she visits the estate sale of a legendary Hollywood actor. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient. The mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, and life begins to take on film-like qualities.  See my full review.

Cycle of LiesCycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
If the mountains of Le Tour de France are the dragons of that particular classic, then the riders are the knights. And when Lance Armstrong started slaying and devouring these opponents he seemed to be living a real life heroic poem of epic proportions. Armstrong had bravely defeated a monstrous cancer, made a mind-boggling comeback, and then developed into one of the most revered and remarkable athletes in the world. However, the tale took a nightmarish turn as evidence of highly advanced and organized doping mounted. Here is the story of Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall as understood by New York Times journalist Juliet MacurSee my full review.

Little FailureLittle Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review.

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda

October 30, 2014

Clouds of Glory: the Life and Legend of Robert E. LeeClouds of Glory is not the definitive book on Robert E. Lee, but not even Douglas Freeman was able to do this in four volumes. Highly readable, Clouds of Glory is largely sympathetic to Lee. Korda does not present much in the way of new information. There is little analysis of Lee’s impact on postwar national culture. But Korda does an excellent job of describing Lee’s family and youth. Surprisingly, he shows that Lee was flirtatious and adored his children. The book also recounts how Lee’s life was shaped by his religious beliefs and the strong anti-federalist tradition in his family.

The account of Lee’s service in the war with Mexico is superb. Usually thought of as a minor conflict, Korda amply demonstrates that the Mexican war led directly to the Civil War. His descriptions Lee’s Civil War battles are pretty conventional, yet he does present Lee’s strategic thinking clearly and concisely. He also details Lee’s challenges working with Jefferson Davis, who was notorious for micromanaging and compartmentalizing the war. Korda also gives a compelling view of Lee at Gettysburg, making the case that, in the end, Lee’s leadership style and, in Lee’s own words, his overconfidence in the abilities of his men were key factors in the Confederate failure there. Lee worked best with aggressive subordinates like Stonewall Jackson, but fared poorly with those that needed a firm hand such as Richard Ewell. But still, it’s hard to fault Lee’s overall utilization of the scant resources available to him.

Korda presents Lee’s view on slavery as being benign and moderate, which has been somewhat disputed by recent evidence. But Clouds of Glory is a fine complement to the books of Burke Davis and Emory Thomas. Korda’s book is highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, and the Civil War. Lee was one of the few leaders of the Civil War who did not write a memoir. There is much about Lee that can never be known, but Korda provides a glimpse of the “marble man.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Join us at the Southeast Regional Library on November 1st at 2 p.m. for the opening ceremonies of the Wake County Public Libraries participation in Civil War 150, a national program designed to encourage public exploration of the American Civil War.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

October 20, 2014

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherThis is an amazing account of the life of photographer Edward Curtis. It begins in 1866 in Seattle, where Princess Angeline is living in a 2 room damp shack down among the piers. She is the oldest and last surviving child of the chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and also the most famous person in Seattle, her image on china plates and other knickknacks sold to tourists of Puget Sound.

Seattle is also where Edward Sheriff Curtis runs a successful photography business. Curtis is sought out by politicians and wealthy patrons, but also trolley car drivers and sailors who have saved for a session in front of the camera.

Curtis eventually photographs Princess Angeline, first in a studio portrait, and then in Shantytown, where he captures her in her daily chores of digging clams and gathering mussels. Angeline tells of other Duwamish and Suquamish people living on the edge of the city and the Tulalip reservation to the north. He visits, even pays for access, and photographs them. This is the beginning of what becomes a lifelong endeavor of photographing all intact Indian communities left in North American before their way of life disappears.

This plan entails traveling the Southwest, the plains, the Rockies, the fjords of British Columbia and Washington State, northern California mountains and southern California desert, and the Arctic. Curtis gives up a successful photography studio in Seattle for this pursuit.

He is constantly broke and struggles to obtain backers as he continues documenting Native Americans as their numbers are plummeting. While America is laying down railroad lines and paving roads for automobiles, the Indians who wish to continue living as they always have, end up hiding from dominant ever encroaching culture (the government has banned many ceremonies and children are sent to boarding schools).

Even when Curtis presents his picture opera–Indians in hand-colored slides and film, accompanied by music–to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Belasco Theater, he still faces bankruptcy: a penniless state that follows him through the rest of his life.

When he completes Volume XX of The North American Indian in 1930, thirty years have passed since the onset of the project, and Curtis is sixty-one years old. Sadly, his book goes unnoticed after his death in 1952, but resurfaces in the 1970’s to great acclaim. The Curtis family set goes to the Rare Books Library at the University of Oregon, and a gallery devoted to the work of Curtis is in Seattle.

Thankfully, because of Edward Curtis’ steadfast dedication to record the Native American tribes’ way of life before its tragic demise, we have an immense photographic and written historical record. And because of Timothy Egan’s exhaustive research, we have a sense of what Edward Curtis went through to accomplish this great feat.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur

September 30, 2014

Road bicycle racing was the first sport to ignite my imagination. The dynamics of the peloton (the main group of racers), the nature of the teams in the competitions, the individual contributions to the group effort, the silent sacrifices by the domestique, the physics of the sport, the incomprehensible physical effort, and the epic quality of the races – it was all endlessly fascinating. Later in life, when I heard French philosopher Roland Barthes refer to le Tour de France as a heroic poem – the substance of legend – I concurred.

Many years after the first encounter, I reconnoitered an upcoming Tour de France stage in the French Alps. When I left the car, the gradient was so extreme that I almost toppled over, and when I walked up the mountain road, the altitude offered only exhaustingly thin air. It was easy to appreciate just how extreme these athletes were. But by now I knew that the riders were not just exceptional human beings. With the help of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone, and human growth hormone, many of them were, in a very real sense, superhuman.

Cheating has been part of le Tour de France since the very beginning. During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, cheating reached an unprecedented level of sophistication, and ringleader Lance Armstrong – who won Tour de France seven times in a row! – became the face of the deception.

Cycle of Lies is in part a journey through a sport that had become deeply corrupt, but the book also exposes the dangers of weak journalism. When Lance Armstrong began to dominate the Tour de France, American journalists who knew little or nothing of cycling flew over to Europe to write about the superhero. As Armstrong and the Postal Service team crushed the competition, newly arrived journalists saw heroic efforts; veteran journalists who had covered le Tour for years saw something else. What Armstrong and his teammates were doing simply wasn’t possible. Headlines in French media read, “Armstrong, the Extraterrestrial of the Tour,” “On Another Planet,” and “Hallucinating Armstrong.” In the U.S., the mainstream media stood behind Armstrong, and Washington Post reported that the French were jealous: “France’s motto: If you can’t beat them, investigate them.”

The message of Juliet Macur‘s book is clear: Don’t find your heroes in the images produced by media.

When the accusations finally started to find traction in the U.S., writer Malcolm Gladwell defended the actions of Lance Armstrong, but then he went on to say, “When you write about sports, you’re allowed to engage in mischief. Nothing is at stake. It’s a bicycle race!”

He’s wrong, of course. The physical and mental well-being of human beings is at stake here. People’s livelihood is at stake. Their ethical and moral interactions with the world are at stake.

If that doesn’t matter, what does?

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