Shelf Life Blog

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig

I am a loving (and interfering) mother of a 20-year-old son so I thought I would read What I Wish I Knew When I was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World and pass it on to him. I admit to sending him emails about Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development and what he should be doing as a young adult: intimacy versus isolation (Son, pick the correct side of the equation!) so I thought this book would give him a head’s up.

The author, Tina Seelig, also a mother of a 20 year old son, teaches courses on entrepreneurship at Stanford University and is a voice for creative thinking and problem solving. I especially like her examples in this book of innovative ways to come up with solutions. She gives her students an item – paper clips or rubber bands, for example – and challenges them to create as much value as possible with the item. 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

What would happen if you met someone who had the exact same name as you? Would you examine them, looking for any similarities and differences desperately trying to figure the other one out? Two high school students from suburban Chicago are about to find out, and both of them are Will Grayson in Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan.

One lives by two rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut Up. By following them, Will has made it through life without too many bruises. Unfortunately, his best friend Tiny Cooper is royally wrecking everything for him. Royal is appropriate for Tiny, a gigantic queen who just happens to be the school’s best football player and the writer/director/star of his own biographic musical, Tiny Dancer. This, along with Tiny’s constant attempts to get Will to go out with their mutual friend Jane, is exactly the kind of attention that Will does not want.

If you like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

If you like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This readalike is in response to a customer'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 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden, gnaws at her octogenarian uncle, Henrik Vanger. He is determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder. He hires crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, recently at the wrong end of a libel case, to get to the bottom of Harriet's disappearance. Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old, pierced, tattooed genius hacker, possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age--and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness--assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, an astonishing corruption at the highest echelon of Swedish industrialism--and a surprising connection between themselves.

If you like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (followed by the next two books in the Millennium trilogy: The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), you may like these titles -- some have intriguingly complex plots, while others offer portraits of unusual, unique females.
 

Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
The carefully orchestrated life of Manhattan emergency room doctor and witness-protection program participant Peter Brown unravels in the course of a high-stakes day that begins with a mugging, an elevator encounter with a sexy pharmaceutical rep, and a new patient who knows him from his previous existence.

 


A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla NunnA Beautiful Place to Die
by Malla Nunn
"Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique, 1952. An Afrikaner police officer is found dead. Detective Emmanuel Cooper, a man of uncertain parentage in a country that demands racial purity, follows a trail of clues that lead him to uncover a shocking forbidden love and the imperfect life of one Captain Pretorius."-catalog summary
 

My Life in France by Julia Child

Chef, author, and T.V. personality Julia Child, communicates her joy and passion for life, people, and French food in My Life in France, written with Alex Prud’homme. Beginning with her and her husband’s move to Paris working for the United States Information Service, Julia Child relates their adventures as government employees living in post-WW II Europe. From Paris to Marseilles to Bonn to Washington D.C. to Norway, Child provides a rich, sensory experience for the reader.

Ranger’s Apprentice 1: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Ever since he was a small boy, Will, hero of The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (Book 1 of The Ranger's Apprentice series), has dreamed of Choosing Day and the moment he can start training as a knight. Will, along with Horace, Alyss, Jenny, and the other castle wards raised by Baron Arald’s generosity, is now 15 years old, and about to leave the familiar confines of the castle to start his career apprenticeship. The other wards have obvious talents that will translate easily into their apprenticeships: Horace, a muscular boy and natural athlete is destined for battleschool; willowy and sophisticated Alyss for the Diplomatic Service; and friendly, food-loving Jenny to Master Chubb’s kitchens. Will’s destination is harder to predict, for where will this tree-climbing, wall-scaling teen fit in?

It turns out that Will is not selected for battleschool, but rather to become the apprentice of Halt the Ranger, part of an enigmatic group of men who use camouflage, superior bow skills, and secrecy to achieve their missions on behalf of the King. Over the next few months, Will’s disappointment over battleschool changes to grudging respect for Halt and the grueling training that the Rangers undergo to become proficient in their craft. He also starts to see in the quietly competent Halt the father figure that he has been without for his childhood.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

One of those classics that eluded me through high school and college English classes, The Good Earth surfaced for me recently as I read a favorable review of a new biography of Buck [Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth by Hilary Spurling]. I was reminded that TGE had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and Buck the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938. Maybe I should see if the library still has a copy... Yes! Many copies, many formats. People are still reading it, these many years later.  The CRRL paperback that came my way was identified as an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2004.

TGE tells the story of peasant farmer Wang Lung, his lifelong relationship with the land and the family he creates with his wife O-Lan. Buck makes these simple people the face of a China that is in the beginning throes of the political upheaval that would transform centuries-old cultural and societal norms over the course of the 20th century. At the outset we follow Wang Lung as he sets out to buy his wife, a slave in the house of Hwang; O-Lan is considered a good buy since she is too ugly to have been defiled by the rich men in the big house. The book is suffused with irony; the author draws her characters, paints the world for the reader as seen through their eyes. The devastating effect of years of flood and famine on the Wang Lungs across rural China is remarkably drawn without fanfare or hyperbole. Their brutal world where begging, infanticide, and mysogeny are unquestioned is filled with stoic, illiterate, patient people. In the end, the land enriches Wang Lung, and his epic rags to riches journey is a page turner.

If You Like Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love

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.

Eat, Pray, Love "presents the memoir of a magazine writer's yearlong travels across the world in search of pleasure, guidance, experience and wholeness."

There have been some wonderful books with the theme of self-discovery through travel, as in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Their journeys have been life changing for them and perhaps also for the reader.


Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape by Barry Lopez.
This classic won the 1986 National Book Award. This book is based on a number of extended trips the author made into the Arctic region. His descriptions of the flora and fauna not only evoke the northern landscape, but give a true sense of the Arctic's importance to the health of our planet. More than twenty years after its publication this book has an even more important message for us.

 

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
A wild and fun travel narrative focusing on Horwitz's adventures sailing on a recreation of Captain's Cook's ship. Like Eat, Pray, Love it is well written and a lot of fun to read.

 


 

The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

“The crime that inevitably intrigues me most is murder. It’s so final.  At a fresh murder scene you can smell the blood and hear the screams; years later, they still echo in my mind. Unsolved murders are unfinished stories. The scenes of the crimes may change over the years; highways are built over them, buildings are torn down, houses are sold. I drive by and wonder if the new occupants, as they go about their daily lives, ever sense what happened there. Do they know, or am I the only one who still remembers?” – The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edna Buchanan spent years covering Miami, “America’s Hottest Beat,” for the Miami Herald.  Edna went from factory worker to crime reporter in a matter of just a few years with nary a college degree. Though at first appearances she was simply another beautiful blond in high heels and a mini-skirt, beneath her glamour lay the steel-trap mind of a reporter who always wants to know who, what, when, where, and why.

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley

In A Vision of Light, Margaret Kendall of Ashbury is a young and beautiful housewife living in 14th-century England. She is the mother of two healthy children, loved, and surrounded by many luxuries, but there is one thing more Margaret wishes, and her doting merchant husband is pleased to indulge her. Yet it is such a shocking thing that it is a harder wish to grant than a ring of rubies. Margaret wishes to write a book.

There are many difficulties. Of course, Margaret can not write--or read, for that matter—so she must find someone willing to take down her words. Three clerics refuse her, but they snigger as they point out their compatriot. Tattered, starving, and arrogant, Brother Gregory takes the job--which comes with frequent visits to Margaret’s well-stocked table. But he does so very grudgingly. What could such a feather-headed female have to say that is worth the expense of setting it down on vellum? A monk-in-training should be writing down great deeds and high-minded, philosophical points—not recipes and domestic notions.

The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson

What makes good bedside reading? I’m talking about that particular kind of reading that consists of paying close attention for about ten minutes, dozing for ten more, then waking with a jerk as the book crashes to the floor. This is not the place for “War and Peace.” 

I’ve found that two kinds of books lend themselves to the bedside. The first are the tried and true books that I can happily read over and over, even re-reading chapters or skipping them by mistake with no loss to the reading experience. Thank you, Angela Thirkell, Margery Allingham, and Betty MacDonald.
 
The second kind of bedside reading consists of short pieces, such as stories or essays. They can’t be too demanding, of course – no Montaigne, no Faulkner. For this kind of reading, I thank authors like L. Rust Hills (“How to Do Things Right, or the Confessions of a Fussy Man”), Eleanor Perenyi (“Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden”), and James Thurber (just about anything). Each is entertaining, and each is forgiving – because of length or lightness of touch – of a short attention span.

My newest addition to the bedside table is of the second sort.  Geoff Nicholson’s “The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism,” despite its daunting title, is really a series of personal essays on walking.