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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I'm Reading: March 2009

As I mentioned here, my local library is part of "The Big Read" in the Western suburbs of Chicago. I read the book this month, Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a nonfiction/memoir title by the popular novelist. With the help of her husband and 19-year-old daughter, Kingsolver wrote about her family's decision to move from Arizona to her summer home/farm full time and embarked on a 12 month journey to eat only food they grew, animals they raised, or, food that was produced within a 100 mile radius of their home.

Kingsolver is a very engaging writer, and I was intrigued by her descriptions of their experiences, but, there were times when I felt like she was berating me for eating cucumbers out of season. Despite feeling, at times, like she was telling me how much better she was than me, I still found myself passing on many of the tidbits of information I learned from Kingsolver's book. That is the sign of a good book; one that stays with you and compels you to share it with others.

I am not going to spend my time listing readalikes because The Big Read website has plenty of suggestions here. One of the things I teach my students is not to reinvent the wheel. This is a great example. Librarians share information; it is at the heart of what we do. That is why I started this blog. So go see all the great work that my local library colleagues have done.

I also read another bestselling nonfiction title this month, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. Summerscale tires to unravel the true story behind a particularly grizzly murder of a young boy in 1860. In a Victorian family home in Road England, a young boy disappears from his bed in the nursery and is found brutally murdered in the outhouse. This is the story of a strange family, the creation and rise of the police detective, and the dawning of the modern era.

What makes this true crime story different from many others is that the author takes an interesting angle. She uses this true event to show how it also gave rise to the modern mystery novel. She also throws in a quick discussion of the birth of Aquariums at the end too.

Personally, although I was intrigued by her arguments, I got bored in the middle and didn't really ever get back into the book. Once the sister confesses (don't worry, it's pretty clear from start that she did it), there are only minor revelations and wild speculations in the last third of the book. In fact, I felt it ended rather abruptly. Still, I think Summerscale's discussions of the emergence of the detective and the beginnings of mystery fiction at this time were worth reading it, IMO.

After reading Summerscale's book you will want to run out and read Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, all of whom are mentioned and quoted liberally throughout the book. I am all for books that want you to read more books! There is also the brand new title by Dan Simmons, Drood. In Drood, Simmons reimagines the inspiration behind Dickens' last, unfinished work, narrated by Wilkie Collins.

If true crime is more your thing, according an article by Neal Wyatt on EBSCO's NoveList Plus database, the five key titles to read in the genre are Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, Helter Skelter: the True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

Finally, I was less than impressed with the new satirical, superhero fantasy novel Captain Freedom by G. Xaiver Robillard. Basically it is a memoir by a celebrity obsessed and currently disgraced superhero in a near future America (mostly California). This book poked fun at just about everything in politics and pop culture today. When the hero becomes Governor of CA, he even uses a slogan ("Keep Freedom Free") and runs a campaign similar to Obama's. There is also a section devoted to lambasting the Da Vinci Code. In my opinion, this novel has too musch satire and not enough meat.

If you like Superhero stories, Perry Moore's Hero is much better, as long as you are fine with a parallel coming out of the closet plot line; I wrote about reading Hero here. Also Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, about the comic book industry is one of my all time favorites. Even the Pixar film, The Incredibles, is better than Captain America.

However, there are many readers who loved this book. It has a 4 star rating on Amazon. Also, here is a link to the Shelfari page for Captain Freedom where you can read the opinions of people who loved the book and why. Although I am allowed to dislike a book, as a RA, I prefer to talk about books in a positive way. Just because I did not like a book, that does not mean there isn't another person for whom it is the perfect choice. As the Shelfari link shows, there are plenty of readers for whom this novel is a great choice; I will let them speak for it. They will do a much better job.

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