Shelf Life Blog

07/22/2015 - 4:31pm
How Music Works by David Byrne

How Music Works offers many answers to a question that I had never even asked. Now that I've read it I wonder, "How could I have gone so long without this information?" Musician and writer David Byrne crafts such an enticing collection of essays, dropping factoids and anecdotes along the way, that I was equally informed and entertained.

More of a blend of personal experience and hypothesis than a hard-line course in objective facts, Byrne tackles nearly every conceivable aspect of the art form: venues throughout history; the creative process; collaboration; recording; and business.

12/24/2012 - 3:32am
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

He was happy enough to share his dinner with the lanky man as they were both seekers. He sought the beauty of the Wisconsin countryside in the early autumn. The fellow who sat down beside him, his wool shirt buttoned tight though the day was a warm one, sought the relief of his misery in the beginning of The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.

At last he stripped off his shirt in the heat.

"…he was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body. When his flesh twitched, the tiny mouths flickered, the tiny green-and-gold eyes winked and the tiny hands gestured. There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest. The people themselves were in twenty or more odd groups upon his arms, shoulders, back, sides, and wrists, as well as on the flat of his stomach. You found them in forests of hair, lurking among a constellation of freckles, or peering from armpit caverns, diamond eyes aglitter. Each seemed intent upon his own activity; each was a separate gallery portrait."

He was an Illustrated Man, he explained tiredly. A witch from the past and future had stitched the glowing colors into his flesh forty years ago. He had wanted it done so he could always find a job at a carnival, but the pictures, all eighteen of them, came with a curse, and ultimately no traveling show would hire him and no man or woman would be his friend.

12/21/2012 - 3:33am
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett: Follows the fates of five interrelated families--American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh--as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

If you enjoyed the use of different character perspectives and tumultuous historical change over a period of time, here are some other novels you may enjoy:

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
A tale of love and war early this century. The protagonists are Stephen Wraysford, a British businessman, and Isabelle Azaire, a married Frenchwoman. They meet in 1910, she elopes with him, gives birth to his child, then remorse sends her back to her husband. But World War I will bring them together when he returns to France as an officer in the British army. (worldcat.org)
 

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The story of a farm family's Depression-era journey from the Dustbowl of Oklahoma to the California migrant labor camps in search of a better life. (worldcat.org)

 

 

07/22/2015 - 4:30pm
Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

It sounds almost too perfect to be true. Famed primate expert Jane Goodall had a stuffed toy chimpanzee as a little girl. She went everywhere with it, and together they explored the mysteries of nature. 

Me...Jane is Patrick McDonnell’s peacefully expressive interpretation of Goodall’s childhood through his art, actual photographs of Jane, and the drawings of her youth. Jane starts out a very curious young girl, studying all sort of animals around her home. That curious nature leads to many answers.

12/19/2012 - 3:31am
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Only Jonathan Lethem could turn an homage to the classic noir style into a wildly inventive exploration of language, loyalty, and the principles of Zen Buddhism. Lethem’s fascination with noir played a major role in his debut novel, Gun, with Occasional Music. In Motherless Brooklyn, the reader is treated to a gritty interpretation of noir filtered through an unforgettable narrator—Lionel Essrog. As always, Lethem’s writing is superb, and the construction of Lionel’s narrative voice is a rare accomplishment.

Lionel Essrog is an inexperienced detective who has a complicated relationship with language. Lionel is always looking for an antidote – some sensation or substance that will temporarily quell the feral language percolating in his brain. White Castle hamburgers can have therapeutic properties, and fear will work in a pinch. But Lionel’s mind always reverts back to an intricate arrangement of associative tics, repetition, and wordplay.

12/18/2012 - 3:33am
The Meowmorphosis by Coleridge Cook and Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is a short story about Gregor Samsa, a salesman who wakes up one day to find himself turned into a large insect.  It is a grim tale of social alienation that is frequently considered one of the most depressing short stories ever written.  How could any writer possibly expand such a profoundly melancholy text into a novel-length adaptation? Quirk Classics, the specialty publisher behind such “revised” versions of classic texts as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Android Karenina, has attempted this with The Meowmorphosis, an adaptation of “The Metamorphosis” that has Gregor turning into a human-sized kitten rather than a bug.  Although perhaps still too grim for some tastes, The Meowmorphosis does provide an interesting take on social alienation and a clever satire on Kafka’s writing technique.

12/17/2012 - 7:43am
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

What Lyra enjoyed most was scrambling across the rooftops of Oxford, committed to the serious fun of war that raged amongst the children of all the colleges and the townies in between. There were pummelings with armfuls of rock-hard plums, mud fights, and even the occasional kidnapping. Yet for all of her wild behavior, Lyra was not an ordinary child. She was a lonely, genius child with aristocratic blood in her veins, and every so often some unfortunate young Scholar would be dispatched by the Master of the College to round her up for a hot bath and tedious lessons at the start of The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman.

12/14/2012 - 7:36am
The Green Mile by Stephen King

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Green Mile by Stephen King: Welcome to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, home to the Depression-worn men of E Block. Convicted killers all, each awaits his turn to walk the Green Mile, keeping a date with "Old Sparky," Cold Mountain's electric chair. Prison guard Paul Edgecombe has seen his share of oddities in his years working the Mile. But he's never seen anyone like John Coffey, a man with the body of a giant and the mind of a child, condemned for a crime terrifying in its violence and shocking in its depravity. In this place of ultimate retribution, Edgecombe is about to discover the terrible, wondrous truth about Coffey, a truth that will challenge his most cherished beliefs...and yours. 
 
If you enjoyed this novel's writing style and themes, here are some other titles you may enjoy:
 
Now that his father is dying, William Bloom realizes he hardly knows him, but the father is more interested in evading his questions than answering them. So Bloom reconstructs his father's life with a series of heroic tales and in the process gets to know him. (worldcat.org)
 
 
 
 
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen. For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child. Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish? (worldcat.org)
 
12/13/2012 - 3:33am

Jan Brett's Mossy is a special turtle because she has a gorgeous garden growing right on her shell. The moss that grows on her carapace is a perfect spot for wildflowers and ferns to take root. When Dr. Carolina sees the magnificent turtle strolling around Lilypad Pond, she takes Mossy back to her museum. Dr. Carolina believes that because Mossy doesn't need to worry about finding food, staying warm, or escaping from danger, she will be happy. But Dr. Carolina doesn't know that Mossy just met someone special—another turtle friend named Scoot—and that Mossy dreams of being back at home with her friend.

12/12/2012 - 3:32am
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

The entire town knew that the Vicario twins were planning on murdering Santiago Nasar, and nobody stopped the brutal murder.  Determined to understand how a man liked by the town and his murderers could be killed without anyone stopping it, the narrator sets out 27 years after the event to talk to the townspeople and reconstruct what happened that fateful day in Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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