Readers' Advisory

Musician Biographies for Every Taste

Have you signed up for the OPL “Read to the Rhythm” Adult Summer Reading Program, yet? All you have to do is:

  1. Pick up a raffle card from any library location.
  2. Either read a book and write a short description/review OR complete three different activities listed on the card.
  3. Turn in your completed card at the library.
  4. Do it again!

Sure, reading is its own reward, but our Summer Reading prizes this year include a variety of gift cards and a Kindle Fire HD, so get those raffle cards in by the program end date of August 8th!

Among the listed activities, in keeping with the musical theme, is to read a book about a musician. To further that goal, here is an annotated list of 10 of the best musician biographies and Music Memoirs we have on our shelves:

Beneath the underdog: his world as composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus; edited by Nel King (1991)

The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.

                                                                                                            

A broken hallelujah : rock and roll, redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz (2014)

A meditation on the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist discusses his performing career, which began despite his crippling stage fright, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

 

 Girl in a band: a memoir by Kim Gordon (2015)

A founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story--a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.

 

George Frideric Handel: a life with friends by Ellen T. Harris (2014)

An intimate portrait of Handel'€™s life and inner circle... a tale that reveals an ambitious, generous, brilliant, and flawed man who hid behind his public persona.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)

An artist and musician recounts her romance, lifetime friendship, and shared love of art with Robert Mapplethorpe, in an illustrated memoir that includes a colorful cast of characters, including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs.

                                                                                                            

Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)

The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.

  

Mo' meta blues: the world according to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)

A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture. 

   

Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)

The legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on his seven decades in music, tracing his early years as a musical prodigy and work in Miles Davis' second quintet to his multigenre explorations and collaborations with fellow artists. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Spirit rising: my life, my music by Angélique Kidjo, with Rachel Wenrick (2014)

Dubbed Africa's Premier Diva by Time Magazine, the singer/songwriter/activist shares her compelling story of escape from Africa where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to become a Grammy Award-winning, Billboard-topping musician and UNICEF Ambassador.

 

Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)

The world-renowned composer traces the story of his life and career and his professional collaborations with such peers as Allen Ginsberg and Martin Scorsese while sharing evocative insights into his creative process.

 

This is but a small sampling of the wealth of musician biographies and music memoirs spanning numerous genres. To get a personalized list of books based on your music and literature interests, try Book Me!, our new online Readers' Advisory Service. Go on and "Read to the Ryhthm".

 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

This may have been the best meeting ever! 19 of us were there. There were several new people who came just because of this wonderful book. Not all had finished it, but all planned to do so. A couple had not yet started, but planned to read it. We all LOVED this book and recommend it highly to everyone.
Our group was very diverse and the stories in this extremely well researched history and the personal stories of three different people who left the South and moved to what was hoped to be a better life, affected us all in their universality.
Isabel Wilkerson, is the first Black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting. She has won many, many other awards for her writing and many for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. This book took fifteen years of research and over 1,000 interviews. Ms. Wilkerson is from Atlanta and involved her parents in her research, even having them accompany her in following the root of Dr. Robert Pershing Foster from the South to California. Dr. Foster's trip is one of the many stories in this book that brought some of us to tears.
Many of us thought we were knowledgeable of Black History, but found that even though many of us were young when major Civil Rights events happened, and, even though many of us had read extensively about Black History, we DIdn't Know Much About The Great Migration!
Two of our group are African American and the children or grandchildren of those who left the South. They learned much they didn't know. The stories of leaving the South and coming to difficult lives in the North or West, are so very personal and many who lived it don't talk about it. It is just too painful to remember. One of these ladies commented that she wished she knew the stories, but some who could tell her have passed on. She plans to ask some remaining members what they knew of those years.
Two women from India, one who has lived in England, Canada and The United States, discussed the prejudice they have endured and/or witnessed everywhere they have lived. One mentioned how college educated professionals have had to go to soup kitchens in Canada, because they could not find jobs. The other woman from India, a medical doctor who worked in rural, white, Appalachia and in the Deep South, spoke of the prejudice all round. It was gratifying to find that she was finally accepted by suspicious white and reluctant Blacks. It was noted also, that in some of the very rural communities, entire enclaves of Blacks disappeared, almost overnight, due to threats to their lives from white neighboring communities. This happened, not that many years ago!
Our leader, for the evening, did a wonderful job telling us about Isabel Wilkerson and getting us started by asking with which of the three migrants, Robert Pershing Foster, Ida Mae Gladney or George Swanson Starling, we most identified or with whom we felt the strongest connection. We went around the table and answered that question and added our general strong impressions of this book. The results of choosing our favorites of the three, were just about even!
People who chose Dr. Robert Foster, the person who seemed to be the most completely drawn by Wilkerson, liked him, because he seemed the most damaged by the rejection by Southern Institutionalized Racism. The Racism continued with even more rejection in the U. S. Army in Germany, where he was not allowed to care for white women, and by the society of California, white AND BLACK, BOTH!! Yet, he NEVER GAVE UP! His was such a human story, filled with horrible emotional pain in the midst of hard won, and socially and financially, upscale life.
People who chose Ida Mae Gladney loved her ability to weather all the adversity with love for everyone and without ever changing who she was. She stayed true to her Southern culture, keeping her accent, her wonderful cooking, raising her children, working long hours, bettering her family, enduring racism around her and the disintegration of her Chicago neighborhood into a dangerous drug dealing area. She is an inspiration to everyone.
The people who chose George Swanson Starling, noted that he would have been killed if he had not escaped from the South! The reason was that he stood up for fair wages for Black field workers. He never stopped working for the rights and safety of others. He was never able to get the education he always wanted, but worked hard his entire life for his family as a Pullman Porter. He helped many from the South, safely escape on the trains where he worked! While he had some flaws, is inner core was strove always for justice. Our knowing of his choices in adversity, encourages us to also step up when others need an advocate.
Every member of our group shared personal experiences. Many included the exact experience when they first understood that something "was not right" with our society. It was as if the scales of innocence fell from our eyes when we found out that an entire population of the United States was not allowed to function as the others.
The white leader of our group, who is from Oakland, shared that she met her African American husband in kindergarten. Her in-laws move to an affluent part of Oakland many years ago from Louisiana. The white community planned protests, but other members of the community joined together to stop the protest. Her in-laws still live in the same home.
Our leader also said that Berkeley schools were integrated when she was 7-years-old. Her family accepted integration and she has always been an activist in equal rights. She thought The Warmth of Other Suns is a masterpiece of history and storytelling. She felt uplifted when she read it. We all did!
People who grew up in Oakland seemed to be more aware of the Great Migration simply, because they met many people who came from many different parts of the South to work at Kaiser or other war factories during WWII and then stayed. The large contingent of Cajun Black people here was mentioned, because of Zydeco music. We noted the Blues and Jazz in Oakland, which are famous and a direct result of the migration to Oakland.
One member mentioned that she met Isabel Wilkerson at the 2010 World Affairs Conference and was most impressed with her. It was also pointed out that Dr. Robert Foster's daughter is a radiologist in Emeryville!
One other member told me after our meeting that our discussion "was one of the most satisfying and personally fulfilling discussions of a work of literature (and, like all great histories, it is definitely that)" he had ever experienced. He said that, "this book, and our discussion, will remain with me the rest of my life." He learned from people, "who speak from the heart about what each reading experience means to them." He said that Wilkerson is such a great story teller that she brought out stories from us.
An example of a few stories are, one member described what it was like as a Jewish family to move to a small town in Maine and feel the culture shock for herself, her family and the town. Another shared that in his "integrated" high school in the early '60s, the Black students were in the basement learning trades, while the white students were upstairs learning college preparatory subjects. Another talked about how the mid-60s were still not integrated in Baltimore. While working for the Social Security Administration, a staff diner deliberately excluded the few Black workers. The angry white friends had a hard time finding a place they could go with the excluded Black friends. One of our African American members mentioned that after her family moved to Oakland, it was many, many years before a Black family could move East of Broadway!
One member pointed out that "Evil is Insidious!" The example was the story where Dr. Foster, during his migration to the West was unable to find a motel which would let him stay. This happened after untold hours on the road without food, bathroom or sleep. In Arizona there was a wife of a motel owner who wanted to let him stay, but the husband pointed out that they would put their own lives/livelihood in danger if anyone from their community ever found out. Truly "no room in the Inn" and not even a barn with hay in which to stay.
We noted that the large migrations ended up at the terminus of a railroad line, one to Chicago, one to Washington, D. C. and others to California, as examples. We marveled that entire families had to actually escape as if they were still slaves! They had to secretly sell and give away their belongings, split up the families and take circuitous routes to a distant town's train station! That was more than 100 years after slavery ended! We noted also that many early Black leaders of social justice ended up murdered. Some such stories were new to us.
We pointed out that some of the very first non-Native American people to this country were Black and we were never taught this! One member who was the last to have a turn, read the final summary of Ms. Wilkerson to us, about the meaning of the three stories she chose to feature in this history. You could hear a pin drop. Many times during our discussion people were fighting back tears. This new history changed our knowledge and perspective for all time.
A Lakeview patron was so unhappy she missed this meeting, she asked if we recorded it, so she could listen to it. We might have to think about that in the future!
We look forward to another ground breaking history from Isabel Wilkerson and we are so thankful we could use this history as a springboard to share and learn from each other!
Happy Reading!
Respectfully,
Mary Farrell
Branch Manager
Lakeview Branch Library

Typical American by Gish Jen: A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

Typical American by Gish Jen, is a first novel published in 1991. Our leader for the evening brought some biographical information about Ms. Jen. The name "Gish" was a nickname from her high school years, named for actress Lillian Gish.  Gish is Chinese American. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940's. She grew up on in and near New York City.
 
She writes of characters in her world and the inevitable clash of cultures lived with difficulty by our new Americans. This is a comic novel, sometimes dabbling in the darkness of poor choices and misspent love. The characters were not all sympathetic. In fact, the anti-hero, Ralph, was not well liked by many of our group. He was weak, undisciplined, easily led by shady characters, autocratic and pig-headed......yet, very human. Some of our group thought he was a sad character.
 
The strong family dynamic was the major entity of the book. Although the characters betrayed each other, there was strong underlying love and sense of unity that truly pulled them all through, even when near death.
 
It was pointed out that the type of places they lived and worked in became metaphors for their current status as Americans, from seedy apartments with marginal neighbors, to the poorly-made suburban tract home which quickly slipped into disrepair, from the chicken-killing kitchen on the down-low and the claustrophobic closet tower classroom to the fried chicken shop which literally was falling down around them, we see constant adapting and constant adversity.
 
Throughout the evolution of this family odyssey the phrase "typical American" was used as a slur against each other and against Americans they held in distain, the loud, greedy, avaricious and just plain rude Americans.
 
Yet, as they pointed out the typical American foibles, they were gradually acquiring those traits themselves. Even so, they grew stronger; they endured; they developed and ultimately became people we really cared about.
 
Some of Gish Jen's stories have been featured in the New Yorker and other literary magazines. Our leader told us of one he read where the same major character, Ralph, is badgered into wearing a new, hot and uncomfortable seersucker suit coat to a country club party. He leaves the price tag on so that he can return the jacket later. All the Americans at the party are dressed casually and the host offers him a polo shirt to wear instead. In anger, Ralph takes off his new jacket and throws it into the swimming pool, says some rude comments and stomps off to return home, only to find out in the parking lot, that his car keys are in the pocket of the jacket at the bottom of the pool. Yep! That's Ralph!
 
We thought that Gish Jen is a wonderful storyteller using beautiful prose to build great suspense. We were all compelled to read this book quickly. Some of us liked it so much that we found her other novels and started them. Those members reported that her later books, Mona and the Promised Land and The Love Wife were even better than Typical American.
 
The characters were so very naïve, careening from one misadventure to another on the advise of questionable people. They had bought into the myth of American exceptionalism. The few non-Chinese characters in this book were, for the most part, not people you'd want to invite to your kitchen for brownies and coffee and the Chinese Americans who were assimilated weren't much better.
 
Ralph was given his name by Cammy, the American civil-servant who helped him with his visa and student status. He became mesmerized by her flip style, wise-cracking ways and curly red hair. Although Ralph finally got his mechanical engineering degree and was a professor, the lure of riches and of being a self-made man, led him to his businessman years with the fried chicken shack. This fried chicken shack was used for money laundering by his assimilated Chinese American friend, Grover. Oily and slimy Grover seemed to be able to lead Ralph everywhere. After all, Grover had a mansion and a maid, so he had to be someone of note! The "kidnapping" joy ride-trashing-a-restaurant by Grover with abductee, Ralph, was a very memorable episode in this novel. We all sort of would like to see this in a movie.
 
The female characters were ultimately very strong. They evolved, became educated, found their talents, took lovers, cheated on husbands and developed professional careers or businesses. The transition was fascinating! 
 
We noted that Ralph, when compared to his sister, Theresa, was actually weaker, that is, their sexes should have been reversed, as Gish Jen notes. Poor Ralph had to keep reminding his family of women (wife, sister and two daughters) that he was THE MAN OF THE FAMILY! Men were to rule the roost, but it all got away from Ralph.
Ralph was passive aggressive. He taught the family dog to hate and attack anything with a cat smell and finally the dog attacked his sister Theresa! Ralph was jealous of Theresa. She had true love with “Old Chow” the older married family friend who helped Ralph in his engineering career. The image Ralph kept in his mind of Old Chow and Theresa luxuriating in a wading pool holding hands, lying peacefully together is one which made him ache with longing for such a relationship.
Ralph’s wife, Helen, had a sexual relationship with the evil Grover, we think. We actually weren’t sure it was completely sexual or just working up to being sexual, or, if it was sexual, it must have been the stain on the love seat that made her discard that prized piece of furniture.
We commented on the writing style. Gish Jen used many Chinese aphorisms and used italics when she was using translated Chinese. We thought the book was compelling and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
We digressed and spoke of friends we knew who are recent immigrants from Asian countries. One member of the group later mentioned that she thought a major difficulty for this family was the language barrier. Some new people to this country who already speak English do not have the same intense learning curve with language and culture.
Ultimately, we thought this book was a tragedy, albeit, redeemed by the family love and support. They gave up everything for a dream that was never truly actualized. “Every river has its own course.” They just kept going. There is always hope!
We highly recommend this title and any other by Gish Jen.
Happy Reading!
Mary Farrell
Lakeview Branch Manager
 

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit: A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

 
In spite of the seasonal craziness, daily pressures and weeks of heavy rain, five of us came to discuss A Paradise Build in Hell by Rebecca Solnit!
 
We just launched in and barely took a breath talking about parts that really impressed us. By the time we looked up we had gone over our time! We all agreed that we REALLY liked this book. The only criticism is that it had so much detail and analysis that it slowed the reading down so that the reader had to really think about the concepts. Another member thought that the detail and the analysis was the best part. Not everyone finished this title, but they might finish it. Several of the group tabbed passages that were excellently written and inspiring, with many, many post-it papers!
 
As a little background, Rebecca Solnit, born in 1961 and lives in San Francisco. She has written on many subjects, including the environment, politics, place and art. She is an editor of Harper's Magazine. A native of Novato, and a victim of family violence.  She did not finish high school. She received a G.E.D., went to junior college, studied in Paris and received her journalism degree form U.C. in Berkeley in 1984. She has been an independent writer since 1988.
 
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, began as an essay in Harper's Magazine that was published the day that Katrina hit the coast and was inspired by the Loma Prieta earthquake, "when everyday life ground to a halt and people looked around and hunkered down."
 
One member brought in a book about Katrina she was reading, called 1 Dead in the Attic by Chris Rose and recommended it for further reading that supports Sonit's concepts. 
 
Some of the topics we discussed in random order were:
 
The media doesn't report the truth. It is sensationalist and ultimately destructive. One member said that years ago she stopped watching regular tv news and reading newspapers, because they are so slanted with an agenda and so sensational in their approach that it was upsetting. She gets her news from "alternative" news, foreign news programs, which seem more balanced. Conventional media seems to try to stir up the emotions rather than reporting what happened. One example was the tv showing over and over a young black man robbing a store. Once is enough. Over and over is inciting prejudice.
 
We thought that what is happening now regarding the peaceful marches to call attention to the number of young blacks being killed by police, showed the outpouring of concern from people in all walks of life and from all backgrounds. The social change that Solnit described coming from spontaneous movements that arise over catastrophes is actually happening now!
 
We talked of the enforcement of "order" from the top down is where the problems really arose. People over the centuries all over the world have spontaneously stopped whatever they were doing to help people in need during a crisis. When government tried to take over to support "elite panic," (the fear of those with power and possessions), that is when the problems happened. Her description of the mayhem during the 1906 earthquake, where troops shot and killed citizens trying to dig people out from under collapsed buildings, where troops killed people retrieving their own belongings from their own homes, where troops looted and robbed stores themselves, and finally set more fires trying to make fire breaks, caused more chaos than the quietly spontaneous efforts of citizens to help each other.
 
She gave examples from disasters in history that were truly inspiring, from the revolutions in France and Spain brought on by drought, financial debt in France and for Spain an earthquake. Parts that stood out for us were when people helped each other escape from the 911 towers in the pitch black stairwells by putting their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them and calmly leading each other down. In the Halifax explosion a telegrapher stayed and continued to broadcast about the disaster knowing that he would soon be consumed by the fire, people after the Mexican earthquake who organized for the basic fairness of being able to stay in their homes and how a small restaurant owner and wrestler in costume, became the persona of justice, eventually sparking a people's revolution that changed the government of Mexico. We discussed the government corruption after the Nicaraguan earthquake that led to their revolution and the beginnings of real democracy.
 
We talked of the recent Napa earthquake in which a woman of 79, who had always been independent, lost everything and how people have spontaneously come together to help her be independent once again.
 
We discussed how our society isolates people. We thought people really want to be part of a community. Some members of our group donate time and know of others who donate time to food kitchens. One story told of recent immigrants to Toronto, who were professionals in their country of origin, have been temporarily reduced to going to a soup kitchen or to a food bank for help, because there are no jobs for them. Emphasis was not judging people in need. In other circumstances it can be we who need help. We noted that hobbies can bring a sense of community where people give of their time and expertise without requiring anything in return.
 
We were inspired by the work of Dorothy Day, who's work was directly inspired by the community activism and spontaneous organization for help after the 1906 earthquake.
 
World War I came up as insanity enforced from the top down. We briefly mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. Both books showed how disaster comes from the top down and in the Silent Night history, the reader learns of the spontaneous efforts at peace and love that came in the form of singing, giving gifts and even playing soccer between the enemy sides. People want to connect. They want to belong to each other.
 
We talked about how people are taught to objectify others, therefore, making them non-human, and thereby, giving the excuse that they are expendable! We cited the high school experiment  by Jane Elliott, the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise which showed how very fast people can be trained to turn on each other.
 
We thought that even though competition for place or resources can turn deadly and is visceral, we can see that altruism also is visceral. In the book Dark Nature: A natural history of evil  by zoologist, Lyall Watson, examples were given showing natural altruism in animals as well as people. People are good!
 
Another amazing example of people rising up to help was the flotilla of ships that showed up at the edge of Battery Pak in lower Manhattan to take people to New Jersey after the towers fell. The number of boats and people was greater than the famous rescue of stranded soldiers at Dunkirk in World War II. Amazing!
 
We thought people need to learn compassion. People in hard times don't deserve to be there! ...and not just people! Animals were stranded after Katrina! Sometimes there was more compassion for the animals than the people. We noted the example of prisoners locked in, some drowning. They were abandoned without food or water for six days!
 
We were heartened by the need to have a sense of place. Some families had lived in New Orleans for many generations and have moved back. We thought that FEMA failed in New Orleans and that the time between the hurricane and any help for the city was partly a function of racism as much as poor planning. One of our members spoke of a friend who survived and moved back into a FEMA home and had to deal with the formaldehyde leaking from the walls of the trailer.
 
One of our group mentioned that a good program to watch is Spike Lee's When the Levee's Broke. You can find it on YouTube and there are many, many copies in OPL.
 
Over and over, in this book , we saw that individuals and groups rose to help in a truly meaningful way in disasters of all kinds, whereas governments stood in the way or actively added to the problems caused by the disaster. The impromptu solutions to the disasters' effects, often have led to social movements which have brought long term progressive changes!  We thought that this book gave us an entirely new perspective on the future. With the real concerns of global warming and mutant viruses coming in the near future (or present), we very well may likely find ourselves in a disaster. We can be assured that our neighbors, even if we don't know them now, will join us in helping others or even help us. We will plan to be prepared, but will also have confidence that good things will come from the bad! Some of us thought this was a life changing concept! 
 
We were all glad we read this book! OPL has many of Rebecca Solnit's other books. You might want to look into those!

The ‘Reading Minute’ presents: Funny Ladies

                                                      

I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I am a librarian with little time to read these days. I read some wonderful books with my young children, and there are the informative journal articles I read for work, but my “spare” time is used for sleep, if I’m lucky enough to get some. It could be a good while before I revisit those long lazy days curled up with the perfect novel, I’m afraid. Worse, I don’t even think I have the capacity for sustained concentration anymore, having not had an uninterrupted moment for several years. I suspect my predicament is relatable by many. And so I bring you the 'Reading Minute'.

When I do pick up something to read for leisure I tend to look for the following qualities: Light and easy to digest, but still smart; discreet sections I am able to finish in one sitting without totally losing the thread when inevitably interrupted; finally, if it’s not too much to ask, just make me laugh and feel like I am connecting with a witty, insightful friend.

Lately I have been finding what I am looking for in these sort of autobiographical short essay-type books written by brilliant female comedians and comic writers. Most recently, I listened to the e-audiobook Seriously... I'm kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, which came out in 2011. I enjoyed listening to Ellen read her own book, with plenty of asides especially for audiobook listeners. Her quirky inflections made this series of silly stream-of consciousness musings (Some chapters are between 1-5 lines long, others are 20 pages.) delightful to take in while walking around Lake Merritt, laughing out loud and distractedly wandering into joggers. What I like about Ellen is that, besides being a naturally funny person and a writer with years of experience as a stand-up comic, she also has a profoundly kind take on everything and everyone. She wants us to feel great about ourselves, and to get along with each other, and to take care of the earth. And to laugh all the while, which I did.

Before that I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, also out in 2011. I have heard that this audiobook is worth a listen, too, as she is the reader, and you can’t beat a comic actress performing her own material. Tina, who was a longtime writer on the set of Saturday Night Live, knows how to punch you in the gut with funny. I came dangerously close to wetting my pants reading some of her thorny responses to ugly criticism of her found on the Internet. Bossypants is mostly about her time as the producer/writer/star of the popular sitcom 30 Rock, with hilarious yet affecting flashbacks to SNL, The Second City improv group and her awkward younger years. She goes deep, getting into what it is like being a woman in comedy and not following the lifelong conditioning of trying to please everybody. I think that, in large part, her success comes from giving an authentic voice to the way many talented women today still feel insecure and undervalued. Then she makes fun of the whole thing.

Here are a couple of books on the horizon on which I have already placed my holds with high hopes:

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (just out this month), the twentysomething fresh-voiced dynamo behind the hit HBO series Girls, is called "really out-there honest" by The Library Journal. Says Lena of her book:  "No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."

        

 Yes Please by Amy Poehler (out in late October), Tina Fey's BFF and castmate on SNL, as well as The Second City, is described by the publisher as a "big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice". Amy is a veteran comic known most recently for her work on Parks & Recreation and, earlier in her career, for several seasons on the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Gotta run, now!

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, A Lakeview Book Club Report

Kate Chopin was from St. Louis and married a wealthy man from New Orleans. She lived in New Orleans and was soon a widow with six children. She supported her family by writing and lost her popularity, because of the scandalous nature of The Awakening. She died in 1905.

We discussed that Guy de Maupassant was an influence on her and she was an influence on many of the upcoming great authors of the 20th century. Her style is called "naturalism," which one member explained meant that the stories contain the hard parts of life, the seamy or gritty parts.

Eight of us brought many opinions about this short novel. There seemed to be a consensus in the group that those who had never read this before were really surprised by the ending. We didn't ask if people liked it, but everyone seemed to have really been caught up in it and had strong feelings about the story. I think everyone really liked it on many levels, if not all the way through.

We thought that the story was universal, that is, a story of awakening sexuality, of first real love, of disillusionment with the possibilities of the expectations put on the future and choices of women, of a broken heart, of the need to escape to try a different course and the despair over what seems to be a hopeless lot in life.

We commented that Edna had choices. She had some money independently from her husband. She could have chosen a life alone and perhaps would have had a fulfilling life that way, as her single older woman friend had. Is the choice for an independent, strong woman only a life alone?

The concept of Awakening, we agreed, encompassed physical, spiritual, moral and emotional awareness. Her movement away from her constricted life was gradual and as unstoppable as plate tectonics.

We disagreed as to whether or not Edna actually had sex with either of the two different men to whom she was attracted. Some of us thought she had not. Others thought she had.

We thought that Chopin did not let us know enough about the internal motives of the men in her book, but by leaving that information out, we could experience her frustration as if it were our own.

We discussed Edna's choices in the current concepts of mental health. Was she clinically depressed? Was she bipolar?  Did she have postpartum depression? One member of our group said she recently read that postpartum depression can happen much after the child is born or even during pregnancy. We thought she was depressed and dissatisfied with many areas of her life. While some of these concepts may have applied in the real world to someone who made Edna's choices, we also agreed that she had fewer choices of a fulfilling life, even though her husband was wealthy, than most any American woman has today. We are happy to live in this time.

She seemed to be "property" to her husband, who was much older than she. We also thought she was so very young and immature, that she was just figuring out what her status in life really was.

Her statement that she loved her children, but would not die for them was in great contrast to the other mothers in her circle and even surprising to us, yet understandable.

We liked her foreshadowing the end with the beautiful description of learning to swim in the ocean. We thought the writing was lyrical.

We compared Edna to other heroines in other book club selections, such as from House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy and our main character in The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing...also from our upcoming book, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

Two or more of our group also read other short stories by Kate Chopin and also really liked the characters and the surprise endings. One person commented that short stories usually do have surprise endings.

We wondered if relationships with a lover are ultimately about power.

The Awakening remains an American Classic and will endure as a beautiful example of very early feminist literature.

Lakeview Book Club Update: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The seven off us, including new member liked the book, even if it wasn't our typical type of book we usually choose to read. Not everyone finished it. A few thought it slowed down in the middle. We all found parts that made us really laugh, some of us more than others. There was a great deal of laughter during the meeting as we discussed some of the sillier and surprising elements.
 
One member thought the plot was predictable and the humor was because of the way the events were described. That member noted that the translator had to have been exceptionally good.
 
We wondered if Jonas Jonasson was really that funny in real life. (I figure he has to be.)
 
Mr. Jonasson, born in 1961, was a journalist who at one time owned a large publication, which he sold so he could write his novel. This novel has been made into a movie. OPL does not own it. I'll have to recommend it. He is currently writing another novel called An Alphabet Who Knew How to Count (the working title).
 
Here is an interview in English (the titles are in German) with the author:
 
 
We went around the circle and talked about what we liked and what we didn't like, but mostly we just mentioned the parts that made us laugh.
 
There was a difference of opinion as to whether our hero, Allan, had knowingly stolen the suitcase of money.
 
Many loved the historical parts, which made us question if anything remotely like what was described actually happened.
 
We talked about how many people from other countries know more about our history than many Americans. We think that Mr. Jonasson really knows his history.
 
We read some sections aloud to each other and laughed all over again.
 
Some elements we really liked:
Allan walking out in slippers and taking the suitcase, because the man at the bus station had greasy hair and was rude.
The elephant sitting on the car and squashing the bad guy.
The coven of characters explaining to the police what "really" happened and Beauty feigning innocent ears and an aversion to salty language (she cussed a blue streak).
The Bibles were the solution.
The strange other deaths of the bad guys...in the freezer, etc.
The attribution of the "death" smell on the railroad push cart to the 100-Year-Old Man, who, after all, while not actually dead, had to be very near to death due to his age.
The body in the barrel being "alive," because his jewelry and identification resurrected in Djibouti.
The drinking bouts with Stalin and Truman.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek manipulating the Chinese debacle
The escape from Russia through Korea
Allan giving the solution to building the atom bomb.
That the final group of Allen's followers consisted of police, bad guys, quirky friends and an elephant.
Allan marrying Einstein's dumber bother's Philippino wife, who was beautiful and not bright, but became the country's leader.
We liked that he escaped "the home," and thought the description of the home's administrator Alice was really good.
 
While this book was not not everyone's cup of tea, we all got a few good laughs out of it. Many of us got way more than that.
 
I'm waiting for his next book.
Happy Reading!

Discover your next favorite book with NoveList

You may have noticed that our online catalog is looking snazzier these days. We have enhanced it with Novelist Select, offering over 5 million reading suggestions to help you find your next book.

The Readers' Advisory database known as Novelist Plus is not new to us, as we have offered it for several years. OPL patrons have often been delighted to find a NoveList match made in reading heaven for their interests. Here you will find "read-alikes" for favorite titles, authors, and series, or browse by topic or genre for lists of recommended titles. Access to NoveList Plus is also available through a mobile interface

Novelist Select is an extension of this service that has turned our catalog into a place for book discovery, with reader-focused features such as recommendations, series information, book reviews and more. We are seeing NoveList Select gather a community of OPL readers extending beyond the library walls. If you are at home looking for a book recommendation or want to expand your librarian recommendations, NoveList Select can be like a well-read friend who always thinks of the right book just for you.

Say, for instance, you search in the catalog for Flash Boys, a very popular new title by local author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, 2003), holding steady with around 60 holds on our 11 copies. Of course, we have many more copies on order, as we endeavor to maintain a 1 to 3 copies to holds ratio on books. But, while you wait for the supply to catch up with demand, you may scroll down to the bottom of the results screen to find some helpful suggestions about what might interest you in the meantime:

 

Among the titles and authors recommended here is David Wolman's The End of money.

Great. You follow the link to that title and look at reader ratings and reviews on GoodReads, also embedded in the catalog:

You further scan the professional review literature included right there in the catalog:

You place a hold, and pick it up within the next week.               

Done. And, who knows? It may end up being your next favorite book. 

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

We started with a few interesting facts about Thomas Hardy, who like the "Native" in his novel, loved his "heath" wilderness and rual community more than any other place he could choose to live. Hardy has said that he never wanted to grow up. He wanted to stay in the world he lived in when he was 6 years old. Many can relate to that from time to time.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived 88 years! During those years life changed drastically in his world, with major industrialization, the changes brought to rural life. The major big thinkers, Freud, Marx, Darwin, Einstein changed the world. Two major authors of his time were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
For a person who loved his roots, his wilderness, his neighbors, the outside world was alien to him. This was a theme in this wonderful classic. Hardy's wife was probably very much like Eustasia, strong willed, beautiful and someone who did not like the world Hardy chose.
When the public did not embrace his novels the way he wished, he switched to poetry. In this novel, in a footnote, at the end, he even complains bitterly that he did not want to make a happy ending. It didn't fit the story. The publishers insisted, because of public pressure from the serialization of this novel in magazines before it was published in novel form.
 
The Return of the Native is really a tragedy. Hardy is often compared to Shakespeare, and surely the complexity of this tragedy has Shakespearean elements.
There was quite a range of opinions on this title. A few of us loved it from the start and charged through savoring the language, the descriptions of nature, the characterizations, the surprising plot, the strange "happy" ending. Others never really got into it, finding the language arcane and difficult, the dialects hard to embrace, the characters in some respects one-sided and the combination of all of that made a few not finish it.
 
There was another set of members within our group, who found it difficult to get into, but then found it very rewarding, liking what ones who loved it savored. We noted that Hardy included comments that were of current events and past history that readers of that era and some now might not know, unless highly educated. Many of us were googling words and we had never heard before. Several of us looked up furse, which are reedy bushes, which the poor people cut to burn for fuel. We commented how Hardy pointed out the class differences, mentioning that wealthy people could burn hard wood! We saw Clym descend into poverty and how he embraced it. Hardy obviously loved his poverty class friends, using their own dialect in the novel. One member of our group actually got the Cliff Notes so she could understand what they were saying! That's dedication!
 
A few never got into it. They thought the characters were unsympathetic or unengaging. They also could not relate to the plot.
 
Part of the difficulty of understanding the plot and decisions the characters made was that these decisions were set in Victorian times. Scandal was just an easy mistake about the timing of a marriage or who spends time with whom. We compared it to The House of Mirth which also focused on the tragedy of decisions made against the norm.
We were asked to name our favorite character. For several of us it was the Heath, an ocean of nature that changed from nurturing and lush to cold or extremely hot and deadly. The Heath changed as the story changed, mysterious, sensual, harsh, unforgiving, beautiful and loving.
We also mentioned the Aunt as a strong attractive character. A few wondered at her changing her mind over Thomasin's wedding and her son, Clym's wedding after making strong objections. We thought, after discussing it, that is was indeed believable for the aunt to forgive them. It was the dichotomy of Victorian rules versus a mother's love, with mother's love eventually winning.
Most of us liked Eustasia, even though she was selfish, convinced of her beauty, arrogant and alienated from the community. She was REAL! She was foolish! She was smart. She was young! She was driven by boredom and a dream of Paris and all that entailed. She thought Clym would take her away from the "backwater" world! She thought she could change him, in spite of Clym telling her he would not go back to Paris. We thought that if she could have gone to Paris on her own, which she was planning, that she would have succeeded. She was driven! Though she didn't have the freedom modern women have, she would probably have found a rich husband or sponsor to keep her in style.
We commented that all of the characters lived in their heads and did not understand the motives of the people around them. Hardy has fatalism and desolation in his novels.
All of us liked the Reddleman, Diggery! His was a mysterious role of changing the destinies of the people around him. He recouped the gambling debt, he protected the niece and the aunt's servant and he did it all in secret.
It was pointed out that drama has three elements: Time, Place and Action. For this novel the time was exactly one year, the place was the mysterious/murderous and beautiful heath and action was the many disastrous decisions our main characters made.
We wanted to know what the underlying theme was. One member said it was, "We have little control over the world. We are delusional!" We agreed that this was the theme and we agreed it was true!
We thought the death scene was very dramatic. One wonders if the Hardy's rural community had a waterfall driven whirlpool who claimed lovers.
Another thought she felt the same about The Return of the Native now as she did when she read it as an undergraduate. Other classics, she finds different, such as The Leopard by Giuseppi Di Lampedusa, which is written about what is lost when society changes. Di Lampedusa was at the end of a long rich life, full of war and many harsh changes. Hardy was 38 when Return of the Native was published. It has a younger person's sensibility and focus on mismatched love.
We ended with commenting about how the happy conclusion had the wedding and a carriage driver hired from a larger community who wanted to know after seen the poverty of the area, "Why do you want to live here?" For some of us we understood that this stark rural community had everything anyone would want, friends, relatives, drama, beauty and peace. Who would want more? Maybe Eustasia.
 
Happy Reading!

Lakeview Book Club Update: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Eight of us discussed House of Mirth and all seemed to really like it a great deal. We agreed that the writing was wonderful and many quotes were shared that pointed out Edith Wharton's fabulous writing style.

Our discussion leader came with a noted biography of Edith Wharton written by Louis Auchincloss, which she passed around so we could see photos of Edith, her home, her husband, her friends and her style of living. Edith Wharton was born a few blocks from Teddy Roosevelt and was of the same incredibly wealthy class of Americans as Teddy Roosevelt. She lived most of her life abroad, (One aside comment was that she may have had to, because her books put her class in a bad light.) During World War I she was involved with raising money from her wealthy friends to aid Belgian refugees and other needed charities. She received the French Legion of Honor for her good works during that war.

 She started writing as a child. Her education was through tutors. Her first major publication was House of Mirth, which made her world famous. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Age of Innocence. She also wrote travel books and books on interior decoration, that are discussed as major influences in that art. A major influence on her work was from her good friend, Henry James. Regarding her knowledge of decorating, we discussed that her descriptions of the world her characters inhabit, made it seem real, that her stories about about the interiors they inhabit and about their own interiors such as the secret lives of their worries, loves, emotions, disappointments, hubris, and despair.

 She had an appropriate marriage with someone from her class of the very wealthy, but it was an unhappy one. Her husband died after a mental breakdown. She had one affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist, who was the great love of her life. Edith Wharton died at the age of 75.

 Before we started discussing the novel, Milena also shared with us a photo of a famous tableau which was the inspiration for the tableau in the novel. We reviewed that a tableau was a popular entertainment during the 1800s where people attending a large ball or party would dress up to match exactly a famous painting, often depicting nymphs and sprites cavorting through the woods. In this tableau the famous woman in the photo was a wearing practically see-through gown and it was considered scandalous. This was a time of corsets and long dresses where even an ankle was considered seductive. We could see how our main character Lily crossed the line if that is the way she dressed in the tableau in the House of Mirth. We also thought that not only did she bare her body, but in the novel her soul was bared to us.

 One member talked about Lily Bart's similarity to Anna Karenina, who also sabotaged her future with impulsive and also carefully planned decisions. We talked of the tragic ending and how many books written in that era, about woman going against the societal rules, often ended tragically. The Awakening by Kate Chopin was also mentioned as an example. We also talked about the double standard for women. Men can gamble and go into debt, but women cannot, in some cases, even gamble. Men can openly have affairs and keep mistresses, but women cannot. Men were in power in the real world, but women were not. There is one rule for men, one rule for married women and another for single women.

The vicious machinations among the women our heroine had to deal with, were compared to Machiavelli.

We talked about the weak men in the novel. Selden was one who came to understand and perhaps love Lily, but would not step forward to help save her from her self-destruction.

We ultimately liked Rosedale, because he was a pragmatist and truly understood the reality of Lily's dilemma, even though he would also not "save" her at the end, because doing so might jeopardize his own social climbing aspirations. We thought Edith Wharton captured the rampant anti-Semitism of the time and noted that even though Rosedale might never be" truly accepted in society," he would be allowed to attend functions and help make money for the "In Crowd."

We noted that Lily Bart needed guidance, especially from her mother, who had long since passed. She did, however, not follow guidance offered her which might have saved her as she spiraled down.

We talked about this being a "Determinist Novel," which ultimately means the dark reality of the big fish eating all the little fish. Poor Lily didn't have a chance surrounded by the sharks of her social milieu.

We discussed Carrie Fisher, who had a symbiotic relationship with the ultra-rich, providing them "happily" with service and therefore being allowed to attend "In" events and therefore be supported. We wondered if it is still the same for the very rich today. Several people offered examples that led us to believe that such relationships are still common with the very rich. We mentioned the Vanity Fair and New York Times social pages which mention the top of society and their gatherings and marriages, etc.

We discussed the difference between the ultra-rich of that era and the ultra-rich of today. Several of us thought that the differences between the 1% and an the rest was much worse then, as compared to today, because there was no true middle class at the time.

We talked of Lily's innocence, but not all agreed that she was innocent. Perhaps she was in denial, or pretending to not understand the consequences of her behavior, gambling, incurring debt from an older man who had ulterior motives and Lily's being a diversion for ladies who wished to dally with men who were not their husbands. Every "innocent" choice led in an escalating pace to her downfall.

Regarding the pace, it seemed at first that the progression of the story was slow. It seemed nothing of huge consequence was happening, that we were watching the idle diversions of the idle rich, when suddenly we realized we were caught with Lily in a tragedy. It seems similar to the analogy of the frog in a bucket of water over a low fire. The frog doesn't notice until it is fatally overcome by the heat. In some ways it felt like a horror story. As we started to realize there was no way out for Lily, we were frantic with frustration and some of us were ultimately in tears.

We discussed some of the class differences and blindness of Lily and others of her world, who had no idea how "the others" lived. We felt sad when Lily realized that her almost thoughtless act of generosity saved a working woman from scandal and that woman found a man who loved her and accepted her in spite of the working woman's mistakes.

We talked about how the pace of the downward rush picked up after the incident at the yacht. We were impressed with Lily's strength under duress and that she took the moral high road in many of her choices. She didn't use the letters to blackmail her way out of her own undeserved scandal as other characters in the novel would.

We noted that today people can discuss their emotions, but then the norm then was to keep those feelings hidden, "stiff upper lip" style. F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that in his writings that nothing is open, nothing is said directly. While talking of other authors we are reading, we noticed many are from this generation. Perhaps someone would like to do a timeline to see the overlap and similar influences of these writers on each other.

Although the title "House of Mirth" has a reference in the book, it is also found in the Bible in Ecclesiastics, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the House of Mirth." Once you understand what it is all really about, it is hard to be happy and in the moment. The reality is just too very sad.

We discussed the reference to Caliban and Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Caliban is the monstrous giant with evil intensions from a barbaric place. Other characters were discussed. Many of us thought the early possible love matches for Lily were also boring and oafish, but some did not. It was pointed out that Percy wore galoshes! It just wasn't Done in polite society. It was repellent to Lily.

So, Lily was shallow. Lily was vain. Lily was beautiful and used her beauty, yet she took the high road morally. She never betrayed a friend or stranger. She gained in wisdom as her world melted around her. We were expecting too much from her. She wanted the life she felt entitled to, but didn't want to make the required bargain. As Gerty said of the tragic end, "It is a blessing." Many of us can get weepy just thinking about it.

Edith Wharton nailed her wealthy, American, shallow, ignorant world in this work. Living in France in a world of her own choosing was better. Hurray Edith! You escaped!