Reading Room Blog

04/03/2014 - 12:42pm
Cover to Secretariat's Meadow

It’s been almost forty years since Secretariat made horse-racing history, winning his Triple Crown races with record times. Born March 30, 1970, at Meadow Farm in nearby Caroline County, Virginia, “Big Red’s” driving runs to the finish, “like a tremendous machine,” as one sportscaster phrased it, caught the country’s imagination in a decade of woes from Watergate to the Energy Crisis.

Check out the official Web site devoted to this incredible horse, and check out books from our list, And, They’re Off: Books About Thoroughbreds and Their People.

03/13/2012 - 2:31am
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, seeks to determine through investigative journalism exactly what goes into deciding what we should eat. Pollan explains that as omnivores, humans have such a vast variety of foods that they are able to eat—plant, animal, and even fungi--that it creates a problem within the human mind. Other species such as the koala bear only have one choice for dinner, eucalyptus leaves; because humans have so many choices, deciding what to eat can take up a large part of humans' time. 
 
In order to investigate exactly how we have come to use the supermarkets and the industrial-style meal preparations today, Pollan looks at all of the ways in which people are able to feed themselves. He analyzes first the industrial-style food change, which starts with large farms in other parts of the country—or, in some cases, other parts of the world—and consists mostly of corn products, which leads to a meal served at your local McDonald's. Then he looks into the organic phenomena that we're seeing today, which stemmed out of early ideas about better ways to manufacture food that does not contain hormones and antibiotics that other industrial food chains add. Next, he looks at some alternative food production models, such as grass feed farms. The one that he examines most thoroughly is Polyface Farm, which is located in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Lastly, Pollan looks at the most traditional way of food production—food foraging—with which he produces an entire meal using his own skills in Berkley, California.

04/03/2014 - 12:41pm
Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall

If you don’t live in Vermont, the name Ethan Allen may just be a furniture brand to you. But the life of this key figure in the American Revolution embodied a lot of the conflict between the colonists and their English overlords. From relatively humble beginnings, the Allen family became involved in trade and land ownership. The problem was, wildly rich speculators from New York had in mind to keep New Hampshire land under the tenant farm system whilst the struggling farmers wanted to be able to own their land outright.

02/28/2012 - 3:30am
Native Son by Richard Wright

Richard Wright’s Native Son is an exceptional example of dynamic, participatory literature. Rather than allowing the reader to effortlessly absorb the words on the page, Wright undermines the passivity and comfort we often expect when reading. Both the content of the novel and Wright’s literary style provoke and disturb, immersing the reader in a dense psychological terrain that is simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in squalor with his mother and siblings. Bigger’s mother holds him accountable for the welfare of the family, but his ability to work towards a stable life seems perpetually hindered. He can’t overcome his poverty because he can’t get a job that pays well, and he can’t get a decent job because of his lack of education and limited social mobility. He is also imprisoned by the sense that, as an African-American man, his mere existence has been criminalized: “There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong.”

02/21/2012 - 3:30am
The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

It is a year after the death of Sherlock Holmes when Watson again sets pen to paper to record another of his sensational investigations, a series of events so scandalous they could not be related earlier, as told in Anthony Horowitz’ The House of Silk.

When Edmund Carstairs believes he and his family are being threatened by a man in a flat cap, he turns to Holmes for help. It appears that the man has followed him from America seeking revenge. The pursuer’s murder does not solve the puzzle, but instead leads Holmes and Watson ever deeper into a dangerous London underworld of opium dens and worse with links to the most powerful and influential levels of British society. In this dark world, they hear whispers about the House of Silk. But inquiries lead to threats, and they are warned off the investigation in no uncertain terms by those in the highest levels of government. Soon Holmes finds himself in prison, accused of murder.

08/14/2014 - 1:15pm
The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill

Author Reginald Hill died January 12th, 2012, at the age of 75. Best known for his "Dalziel & Pascoe" series, he also wrote a number of stand alone novels. The Woodcutter is a fairy tale of a thriller set in the almost mythic Cumbrian countryside.

Hadda Wolf has been living Happily Ever After. The son of a Cumbrian woodcutter, he fulfills three tasks--getting an education, some social polish and amassing great fortune--to win the hand of an almost-princess, the daughter of the lord of the castle. Hadda and Imogen marry, have a daughter, and he truly feels he is living beyond his wildest dreams.

02/01/2012 - 3:30am
The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault

The last thing editorial assistant Billy Webb expected to stumble upon in his new job was an unsolved murder. But when fellow employee Mona Minot approaches him about references to something deadly in the company’s research files, Billy is immediately intrigued. And thus the two begin their amateur sleuthing in Emily Arsenault’s novel The Broken Teaglass.

01/31/2012 - 3:31am
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, tells the story of one man's attempt to promote peace in the Middle East by building schools. Journalist David Oliver Relin chronicled Greg Mortenson’s life in order to encourage further support for his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

01/04/2012 - 3:31am
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The plot and characters in The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, are full of surprises. Grown-up siblings Annie and Buster Fang end up back home with their parents when both their lives implode in creative ways. Buster, while writing for a macho magazine, was shot with a potato gun, doing serious injury to his face. Actress Annie shed some extra clothes on a movie set and got blacklisted. Adrift and in need, they naturally return home.

But coming home for them is no staid Norman Rockwell gathering. Annie and Buster Fang grew up being conduits for their parents’ eccentric artistic visions. Chapters describe parents Caleb and Camille Fang’s disturbing performance art events with their children, stage-named Child A and Child B.  The elder Fangs tightly tangled their family and their art, and, not surprisingly, the children are “messed up.”   Funny, thoughtful and disturbing, this novel tests the boundaries of how most of us define art and family.  

01/03/2012 - 3:30am
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

A nubile co-ed is missing from the same small, rural Mississippi town where another young woman had disappeared twenty-five years earlier—the mystery unsolved, her body never found. So begins Tom Franklin’s stellar novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

Socially-awkward Larry Ott was 16 years old when Cindy Walker, both beautiful and popular, asked him out on a date. That momentous occasion—at least through Larry’s eyes—was the point when his young life began a downward slide from which it would not recover. Walker was never seen again. Although no evidence was ever found connecting him to the girl’s disappearance, the townspeople unanimously convicted Larry without the benefit of any trial. Shunned and taunted, he became the local pariah.