Shelf Life Blog

If you like The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

 The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

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 Power of Babel by John McWhorter: There are approximately 6000 languages on earth today, the descendants of the tongue first spoken by homo sapiens some 150,000 years ago. How did they all develop? What happened to the first language? In this irreverent romp through territory too often claimed by stodgy grammarians, McWhorter ranges across linguistic theory, geography, history, and pop culture to tell the fascinating story of how thousands of very different languages have evolved from a single, original source in a natural process similar to biological evolution. While laying out how languages mix and mutate over time, he reminds us of the variety within the species that speaks them, and argues that, contrary to popular perception, language is not immutable and hidebound, but a living, dynamic entity that adapts itself to an ever-changing human environment." (Catalog Summary")

If you like The Power of Babel by John McWhorter, you may also like these selections.

The Beginning of Language: Opposing Viewpoints by Clarice Swisher
Discusses historical, philosophical, and scientific theories about the mysterious origins of human language. (catalog summary)

Empires of the World: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
Head of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, Ostler draws on his extensive study and research, mostly into now dead languages, to trace the history of the world's major languages. Language is always linked to a particular time and place, he says, but at the same time it is a unbroken link to all people in all times, and has played a larger role in history than any prince or economy. First he considers early languages that became dominant in certain areas or by migration, then more recent ones that have spread throughout the world by colonialism.(catalog summary)

 

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter and illustrations by Red Nose Studio

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

On a blazing summer's day, there's nothing quite like the aroma of piping hot...garbage. It's gross, slimy, and we each make about four pounds of it per day. The one thing that everyone can agree on is that no one wants to deal with garbage, and that notion is exactly what Here Comes the Garbage Barge!  is all about.

In 1987, over 3,000 tons of Long Island, New York's garbage was loaded onto a barge and pulled by the tugboat Break of Dawn.  The plan was to unload the cargo in North Carolina, where poor farmers had been paid to bury the waste. But when the barge and its captain arrived, they met a police boat which refused to let them dock there under any circumstances. So began a wild goose chase up and down the coast to find a place to store the disgusting floating dump.

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

Grief is a love story told backwards.

Heidi is no strangers to loss. She almost lost her mother as a child; she lost a baby. Two years ago Heidi lost her husband Henry, and she has been lost ever since. She is a gifted pastry chef who cannot even bake a cake for her sister’s wedding. The world has moved on but she has not. She is literally grief-stricken. She cannot explain to her now anxious germ-phobic son Abbott how in one moment your safe world can change suddenly and irrevocably. In The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, Bridget Asher captures Heidi’s sadness and her path back to love with great empathy, gentle humor and vivid imagery. The novel is sweet without being sappy and great for the armchair traveler to Provence.

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson

Robopocalypse

My first thought upon reading the description of Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse was "Terminator rip-off."  But I kept thinking, "Robots and the apocalypse, two of my favorite things to read about in fiction."  I'm not making that up.  And really, anything after Terminator 2 in the franchise doesn't, in my mind, count.  I've always wanted a lot more detail about how the robot uprising occurs and how people struggle in the coming war, especially people who are not John Connor.  After reading Robopocalypse, I want to assure you that it is as far removed from Terminator lore as anything "robot apocalypse" could possibly be.  If you're someone who likes to be frightened and enjoys books where the mundane is made decidedly strange, then you might enjoy Robopocalypse.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, is an example of dystopian young adult fiction at its best! It takes place in a Chicago of the future--in a world that has been rebuilt after society collapsed. In an attempt to avoid the problems of the past, this new Chicago society is divided into five factions - Dauntless (bravery), Amity (friendship), Erudite (knowledge), Candor (truth), and Abnegation (selflessness). Each faction follows a strict code of conduct; each has its own ideals; and each has its own role in governing the new society. At the age of 16, every person throughout the city must go through a simulation designed to show him or her which faction would be most suitable to join.

If you like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: "At stake is the future of English magic, which has nearly dwindled to all theory by the early 1800s, after centuries of prominence. When the book opens, only the reclusive and jealous Gilbert Norrell is practicing. Enter Jonathan Strange, a natural who has never studied magic formally. Norrell resents, then adopts Strange as a pupil whose growth he insists on controlling until the two come to the impasse that nearly leads them to destroy one another. Strange champions the 12th century's "Raven King" as the greatest magician in English history and hopes to summon him from Faerie, an alternate world. Norrell is determined to erase both from English memory-to hide the fact that he himself made a bargain with a fairy that has cost three people their lives, though their hearts go on dismally beating." (School Library Journal) 

If you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, you might like the following titles:

Susanna Clark suggests these authors/titles:

"Comparisons with other books are useful as rough guidelines for readers. If you like Harry Potter/Jane Austen/The Quincunx/Instance of the Fingerpost, then maybe you'll like this - or maybe you won't. Readers are very sharp people - they'll know how to take such claims." (see here for a full interview)

The Alchemist's Door by Lisa Goldstein
"Scientist, mathematician, and court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee is also one of the sixteenth-century's most renowned alchemists, driven by a passion to fathom the elemental secrets of the cosmos. But when his reckless assistant, Edward Kelley, succeeds in using a crystal sphere to summon angels, Dee is catapulted into an awesome struggle that may extinguish the light of reason forever." -- summary from the catalog

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
"Just released from prison, Shadow encounters Mr. Wednesday, an enigmatic stranger who seems to know a lot about him, and when Mr. Wednesday offers him a job as his bodyguard, Shadow accepts and is plunged into a dark and perilous world."-summary from the catalog

 

 

Boys Against Girls by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Boys Against Girls

Does your town have an elusive creature called an abaguchie roaming around and causing trouble? The abaguchie is the local legend in the town of Buckman, West Virginia. Ever since the Malloy girls moved across the street from the Hatford boys it has been a constant war of practical jokes and attempts at humiliating the other. The Hatford boys Jake, Josh, Wally and Peter just cannot stand Eddie, Beth and Caroline Malloy and want them to go back to Ohio. They scheme and plot in order to make the Malloy girls hate Buckman. However, the Malloy girls do not take this lying down and vow to get even.

The newest Hatford scheme is actually a town legend and that is the abaguchie. No one in Buckman has actually gotten a good look at the abaguchie but things mysteriously disappear when a townsperson has claimed to have seen it. The Hatford’s use the legend of the abaguchie to scare the Malloy girls and it is a running theme throughout the book.

Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West

Mermaids in the Basement

 Michael Lee West’s Mermaids in the Basement finds screenwriter Renata DeChavannes grieving from the recent loss of her mother and stepfather in an airplane crash. She retreats to her family home in the Outer Banks where she eats uncontrollably. While she is buying her movie-producer boyfriend a sweater in a little clothing store, she happens to see the tabloid article telling that her absent love is rumored to be dating his latest movie’s star in faraway Dublin.

Devastated, her drinking, too, begins to get out of control. One night, a drunken Renata has a beach bonfire and burns her manuscript. When she wakes up not knowing what she has done, she looks through all of her drawers to find it but instead discovers a letter from her mother instructing her to contact her paternal grandmother in order to find out the stories of her mother’s “dirty deeds.”

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby will not comfort you, or soothe you, or ease you into a restful slumber. It will most likely disturb and haunt you, though. Palahniuk is a master of modern horror, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that this novel’s title refers to a sweet song which has the power to obliterate humankind.

Lullaby is narrated by Carl Streator, a bitter misanthrope who works as a journalist. When Streator is assigned to investigate a series of crib deaths, he fixates on the minute details associated with each case. This strategy allows Streator to keep thoughts of his deceased wife and child from overwhelming him, but it also brings him closer to a terrible revelation. Each time he visits another stricken home and memorizes another tragic scene, he gets closer to identifying the pattern lurking within these seemingly random deaths.

We Were Always Free by T.O. Madden, Jr.

Cover to We Were Always Free

Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment.  T.O. Madden, Jr.'s  We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy.  The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.

Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents.  Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners.  In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves.