1901, Ontario, Canada
Riding the train to a small farming community, young Mable and her older—and rather bossily annoying—sister Viola are about to embark on an autumn of possibilities, although certainly everything seems dull as dishwater on the surface. Goodhand Farm, where they will be rooming, seems the same as countless other family dairy farms, and the one-room school where 19-year-old Viola will be teaching seems much like countless others across territory. But there are some very important details in Marthe Jocelyn’s book, Mabel Riley, that change the dull into the brilliant to illuminate the friction of a swiftly changing world.
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Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: "Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny." (Book summary)
If you liked "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut, you might enjoy these other titles for their mix of science fiction, satire and social commentary:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
"A master of inventive fiction pens the story of an ex-con who is offered a job as a bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, a trickster and a rogue. Shadow soon learns that his role in the man's schemes are far more dangerous and dark than he could have ever imagined." - catalog summary
Catch 22 by Heller
"At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn't even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved."-catalog summary
I absolutely love Piper Reed! She is a spunky 10 year old with lots of personality. Piper doesn’t let the fact that she doesn’t read as well as everyone else in her class (she is dyslexic) get her down. And neither does moving--well, not for long, anyway. Her Dad is in the Navy, and so they move a lot. Sometimes it’s really exciting, like when they go someplace overseas, but now they are moving to Florida and Piper isn’t sure she really wants to. She has a great group of friends in her “club,” but she decides she’ll just have to start a new club in Florida!
But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.
First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.
Most people know David Byrne as a musician, with the Talking Heads and as a solo artist. In his three-decade career, Byrne always managed to incorporate a diverse collection of international influences in his sound. In Bicycle Diaries, he has found an equally engaging role as a worldwide cultural critic. The book is much more than a travelogue though. It is a grand celebration of how people live, observed from the seat of a two-wheeler as it whisks through city streets worldwide. It is made up of meditations on art, politics, architecture, and so much more.
When biking through a city, one is more agile than a car, faster than a pedestrian, and taller than anything that isn't a Hum-Vee or on horseback. You see details that others can not, providing a wholly unique perspective of how this particular city works.
Emma has just graduated from college when she meets Dexter. She’s smitten with his beauty and drawn to his easy self-confidence. For his part, Dexter realizes that Emma is probably the most intriguing person he has ever met. That’s high praise, indeed, from a guy to whom women flock in great numbers. One Day by David Nicholls follows the two over the course of almost twenty years.
While Emma has plans to change the world, life simply happens—and in a big way—to her handsome friend. Despite her considerable talents, Emma can’t seem to jumpstart her career. Dexter, on the other hand, falls into a media job. His natural attributes make him an instant success, and considerable fame and fortune follow shortly. But what Dexter was certain was the path to happiness leads him instead to a hollow existence.
“Since Saturday, I’ve fried Sergio like catfish, mashed him like potatoes, and creamed his corn in ten straight games of bowling. And it’s just the middle of the week. People call Wednesday 'hump day,' but for Sergio it’s 'kicked-in-the-rump day.' I’m his daddy now, the maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler ever.”
Lamar Washington talks big and backs it up with even bigger bowling skills. You would never think that he started playing just because he has terrible asthma, and all other sports make him wheeze. Unfortunately, Lamar’s got a basketball star brother named Xavier who doesn’t treat him very well which all leads us to find out How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.
“A haunt in the wind”
That’s how Al Hoots described the small, thin filly named U-See-It who happily crunched his peppermints in the saddling shed before her big race. Al picked up such talk from his wife, Rosa, of the Osage tribe. In the newly-minted state of Oklahoma, the spring weather of 1909 saw most everybody who lived near the Chisholm Trail come out to watch the match race between little U-See-It and a big-striding mare from Missouri named Belle Thompson. Soon enough Al Hoots had traded 80 acres of land for the little filly, and she began winning races for him. That’s just the beginning of the story Black Gold, by Marguerite Henry.
It's 1933 and President Roosevelt is having a devil of a time finding someone to appoint to the post of ambassador to Germany in Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. All of the usual picks politely decline the post, as news of Germany’s foreboding political atmosphere drifts to America. Roosevelt eventually settles on William E. Dodd, a historian at the University of Chicago whose primary goal is to finish his multi-volume historical treatise on the antebellum South before he dies. By most accounts, Dodd is an odd pick for ambassador, being neither rich nor well-connected. Most ambassadors entertain lavishly during their appointments, and it is expected that the costs will come from their own coffers. Frugal Dodd immediately made waves by pledging to live solely on his meager income, almost unheard of in cosmopolitan Berlin.
Dodd naively sees the appointment as a respite from the trials of University department chairmanship and a boon of time to work on his project. He, like most Americans, is grossly uninformed about the political machinations happening in Germany, as Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels vie for power and German Jews are increasingly menaced. The entire Dodd family decides to come along to Berlin, ready for a new lark: the professor and his wife, Mattie, their son, William Jr., and their beautiful, flirtatious, 24-year-old daughter, Martha (who happens to also be fleeing the wreckage of a precipitous marriage to a banker).
In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, 23-year-old veterinary student, Jacob Jankowski, is looking forward to graduating with a degree from Cornell University and joining his father’s veterinary practice. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Jacob’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. Jacob learns that his parents have no savings and plenty of debt, having bartered for veterinary payments from cash-poor farmers (it is the Depression, after all) and mortgaged their house to the teeth in order to pay his tuition.
Bereft of both parents and financial future, Jacob despairs and jumps a train moving through the town. It happens to belong to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a poor cousin to Ringling Brothers. Once it’s discovered that he has veterinary experience, he is put in charge of the animals, a task that is at once heartwarming, thankless, and distressing. The circus is run by the greedy Uncle Al and the brilliant but mercurial August, the animal trainer who keeps the circus afloat. August, a paranoid schizophrenic, alters between warmly welcoming Jacob and trying to kill him.