Shelf Life

Our Shelf Life Blog features the latest recommendations chosen by library staff and volunteers.
Thu, 04/03/2014 - 1:41pm
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.

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 2:20pm
You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secret of Happiness

If you are a dog lover, you will love this book. Only dog lovers would understand giving up their free time and a good portion of their shoes, which somehow turn into chew toys, in return for the unconditional love of a pup. But really, all animal lovers can relate to this story. You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secret of Happiness by Julie Klam is a hilarious memoir about how one woman went from being single at thirty and by herself in her Manhattan apartment to working in a dog rescue, married, and parenting all with the help of Otto, a Boston Terrier rescue. From Otto, Klam learned to share her life with another living being, which led her to a completely different lifestyle.

Tue, 03/06/2012 - 2:19pm
ThisDark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel introduces us to young Victor Frankenstein in his new book, This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Victor is sixteen years old and very curious about alchemy. He lives with his twin brother Konrad and his cousin Elizabeth. They are victims of typical teen curiosity and idle times. As they explore their extensive chateau in Geneva, they discover the previously unknown Dark Library. Clearly, this is a forbidden area to explore. They discover books about alchemy and ancient remedies. Their foray into the off-limits room is discovered by Victor and Konrad's father. He is incensed and instructs them to never go into the room again and to certainly never explore the writings.

Thu, 03/01/2012 - 3:30am
The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going

Gabriel King is scared of everything. His many fears include spiders, loose cows, and even his best friend Frita's basement. Frita Wilson is a tough girl and she has every intention of helping Gabriel overcome his fears, especially when one of those is going to the fifth grade. The year is 1976, Frita and Gabriel have just graduated from the fourth grade, and they only have one summer to get rid of all of Gabriel's fears. The Liberation of Gabriel King, by K.L. Going, is about a boy who attempts to be brave with the help of his best friend.

Wed, 02/29/2012 - 3:31am

“They’re not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?”

“Who else will go?”

Yossarian is possibly the only sane man in the world. Thousands of people he’s never met keep trying to kill him. No one seems to understand his predicament, and no matter how much he refuses he is still forced to risk his own life over and over again. That would be because Yossarian is a bombardier stationed in a squadron off of Italy during World War II, and the people trying to kill him are German soldiers, although it sometimes seems more like it’s his superiors who want him dead.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, is in its own class as a novel. It has its own logic, structure, and rhythm. The plot sounds simple -- a man is afraid of going on combat missions because he might be killed -- but there is so much more to it than that. It’s funny, heart-breaking, silly, and meaningful. It is an elaborate critique of bureaucracy, showing the useless repetitions and absurd contradictions that bureaucracy creates, such as the eponymous Catch-22 that thwarts Yossarian: if a man is insane, then he is unfit for combat duty. However, if he requests to be removed from combat that proves he is in fact sane and has to continue fighting, because a sane man would want to protect his life, while only a crazy one would willingly going into combat. 

Tue, 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.”

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