Librarian's Pick

Here's what our librarians are reading lately.

Librarian’s Pick: A Wonderful Stroke Of Luck – Ann Beattie

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie“A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, Ben’s adolescent angst and ensuing quarter-life crisis is riven with hope and humor.

The story begins when the bucolic bubble encompassing Ben’s posh New Hampshire boarding school is burst by news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, propelling the students further into the thrall of their Svengali-like teacher Pierre LaVerdere, whose role as their charismatic mentor and in loco parentis is solidified.

Beattie’s novel moves from the abrupt conclusion of Ben and his friends’ boarding school days straight into young adulthood, giving only a cursory mention of their college days. Wealthy and smart, Ben and company were admitted to the likes of Cornell and Stanford, but their elite pedigrees have not prepared them for the indignities of the early aughts. Struggling to hold a steady job and even harder to maintain a relationship, Ben pivots between his devotion to a sex-crazed narcissist and his obsession with an old boarding school crush.

When Ben escapes Manhattan and buys a house in the Hudson Valley’s idyllic Rhinebeck, he finds a kind of family in the warm embrace of his new neighbors, Steve, Ginny and their young daughter, Maude. Beattie’s belief in Ben’s inherent decency is most evident in these passages, as our brooding antihero discovers friendship, camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Alas, without spoiling the ending, LaVerdere arrives back on the scene, delivering a shocking revelation that brings Ben—and readers—into the heart of Beattie’s postmodernist Greek tragedy, where the luck of these self-absorbed scions of the so-called “1 percent” is not nearly as wonderful as one might think.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Save Me The Plums – Ruth Reichl

Save Me the Plumbs by Ruth Reichl“The initial phone call was a surprise. “Is this the restaurant critic of the New York Times?” a British voice asked. Ruth Reichl confirmed her identity, but the name of her caller meant nothing to her: James Truman, editorial director of magazine publishing company Condé Nast, was calling about Gourmet. The magazine had introduced an 8-year-old Reichl to the magic of food and its influence on the world. But she couldn’t imagine why Truman was calling.

That phone call ultimately led Reichl to a role she’d never dreamed of: editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. Truman’s name was the first of many things she had to learn. During Reichl’s first visit to the office, an editor gushed that she’s great at the “teeosee.” Reichl, whose background was in newspapers, didn’t realize the editor was talking about the TOC, or table of contents.

Save Me the Plums, Reichl’s memoir about her years at Gourmet, is filled with such endearing, revealing moments. Although she considered herself a writer, not a manager, Reichl reimagines the magazine that captured her youthful imagination. Alongside her talented staff, Reichl took the publication from a staid magazine that delivered the luxury readers expected (and no more) to a sometimes scintillating examination of not only food but also its impact.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Island Of Sea Women – Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See“Early in her life, Ayaana’s compass is set when her mother tells another character, “You shall only point my daughter to eternal possibilities. She was not born for limits.” From her childhood on Pate Island to her adventures in the Far East as a charming young woman, Ayaana’s life is marked by both violence and great beauty. Assorted characters alter her destiny, from a sailor who fills the role of the father she’s always wanted to a powerful Turkish mogul who seeks to possess her soul.

The story is deftly interwoven with a sense of life’s fragility, as if it’s holding its breath in anticipation of some danger. This feeling of vulnerability assails Ayaana: “Life was passage, nothing lingered.” Jealousies and troubled kinships affect husbands, fathers and lovers who travel on the ocean tides and are often lost, swept away by storms or twists of fate, but the author brings the story full circle with passages that dazzle and enlighten.

The singular culture of the haenyeo (sea women) of the Korean island of Jeju is at the center of bestselling author Lisa See’s captivating new novel, The Island of Sea Women, a quietly amazing story of two close companions whose friendship is transformed by misunderstanding, cultural prejudice and the terror of war.

Young-sook and Mi-ja are part of Jeju’s female free-diving collective, which forms the economic backbone of the island community in the years leading up to World War II. The friends are bound by ancient female spirits that watch over the island, and by the age-old ties of cooperation that enable their community’s survival. See interweaves details of the island’s semi-matriarchal culture with the adventures and travails of the two women, whose differences grow throughout the decades. Poignant chapters reveal the perspective of an aging Young-sook as she encounters the family of her old friend, forcing her to confront past missteps and the horrors of a 60-year-old massacre, ultimately bringing the generations together to forgive and heal.

Within this enthralling story is a fascinating historical perspective on Korea, a country long victimized by war and foreign occupation, and the ways in which the strains of modernization have forever altered Jeju’s island culture.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Women’s Work – Megan K. Stack

Women's Work

“Stack, whose previous book, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award, had imagined quiet days of working on her novel while her newborn son slept, angelic and obedient, until she was ready for him to awaken. She had not imagined colic, hormones and sleep deprivation that was almost physically painful. To add insult to injury, her journalist husband, Tom, “had slipped easily back into his old life while I had been bombed back to some prehistoric version of myself. And I was angry that he had accepted this superior position, this lesser disruption, as sort of a birthright.”

Enter Xiao Li, the first in a series of nannies, cooks and cleaners who help Stack find equilibrium. But like most women who hire help, Stack felt a deep uneasiness that she couldn’t do it all herself. And while Stack paid Xiao Li a good wage, it was for work that took Xiao Li away from her own young daughter. Xiao Li later admits she would sometimes pretend Max was her own baby to take away the sting of separation. It’s an uncomfortable truth that moms who work need help and that help mostly comes from lower-income women. That transaction comes at a price beyond money.

Furthermore, dads seem to navigate these issues without the noose of guilt, and Tom is no exception. He comes across as a bit of a schmuck, complaining about the quality of Xiao Li’s cooking and insisting that he can’t take even half a day off so Stack can finish a draft.

When the family moves to India for Tom’s job, Stack is in charge of setting up the household and finding help while again pregnant. In Delhi, Stack truly becomes aware of the hardships facing the women she employs: alcoholism, domestic violence, poverty. She delves into their stories with searing honesty and self-reflection.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths “English teacher Clare Cassidy is deeply troubled after the murder of fellow teacher and friend Ella Elphick. Ella’s death eerily mimics the plot of Clare’s favorite Victorian ghost story, “The Stranger,” by author R.M. Holland, whose historic home remains a landmark on the school’s campus. When Clare seeks solace in her daily diary, she finds a chilling message written by another hand: “Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me.” When another teacher is found slain, this time inside the notorious Holland House, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur believes Clare is the link between the two deaths, prompting the teacher and her teenage daughter, Georgia, to flee Sussex on a sleeper train to Scotland.”

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Librarian’s Pick: I.M. – Isaac Mizrahi

I.M. by Isaac Mizrahi“The youngest of three children in a conservative Brooklyn family, Mizrahi was an outlier from the get-go. “The Syrian-Jewish community had never seen anything like me before,” he writes. “I stuck out like a chubby gay thumb.” While his peers were playing ball, Mizrahi was sewing costumes for his puppet shows and belting out Liza Minnelli tunes. He was perhaps destined to be a designer: His mother subscribed religiously to Women’s Wear Daily, and his father manufactured children’s clothing. But while his parents could tolerate—even nurture—his creativity, their hearts were not open to the possibility of a gay son. He thrived at Parsons, an elite Manhattan design school, but essentially lived a double life for years throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s: dutiful Jewish son at home, openly gay man in the city.

Even as he struggled with his personal identity, Mizrahi’s star rose as he worked at Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein and opened his own atelier. He gained a reputation as the rare male designer who really understood women and their bodies, in part because of conversations with his mother about fashion.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Little Faith – Nickolas Butler

Little Faith“Lyle Hovde and his wife welcome home their adopted daughter, Shiloh, and her 5-year-old son, Isaac, who need help getting back on their feet. Lyle dotes on Isaac, taking him to neighbor Hoot’s house for ice cream or to the apple orchard where Lyle works in retirement. But when Shiloh joins a radical church in nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin, she pushes her parents away. Lyle, with the help of his mates, must decide how to act when his beloved grandson’s health is in danger.

Little Faith is filled with biblical elements, starting with its bucolic, Eden-like setting, where the Hovde family enjoys togetherness after a long estrangement. Lyle is tempted to savor this fairy-tale scene, but like the apples he tends, the moment doesn’t keep well. Salvation is an open-ended question in this story. Is Lyle saved? Or is it Lyle who saves Isaac? Like a good parable, the novel’s message is worth patient interpretation.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Lady From The Black Lagoon – Mallory O’Meara

“When horror superfan and film producer Mallory O’Meara watched The Creature from the Black Lagoon at age 17, her life changed forever. She found a lifelong heroine when she discovered that the movie’s titular creature had been created by a female artist named Milicent Patrick. “For all of my adult life and film career, Milicent Patrick has been a guiding light, a silent friend, a beacon reminding me that I belonged,” O’Meara writes.

Patrick was a footnote long lost to film history, but O’Meara has decided to change all that with her fascinating biography, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Patrick’s story is enthralling: She spent part of her childhood on the grounds of Hearst Castle, where her megalomaniac father was an architect. A talented artist, she became one of Disney’s first animators and, later, the only woman to create a classic Hollywood monster―only to be fired because her boss was jealous of the attention she was receiving. Nonetheless, her legacy continues to inspire, as her creature was the impetus behind the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water. Patrick was also an actress (albeit not a great one) and a glamorous personality who embodied the allure of Hollywood.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Gingerbread – Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread

“We follow the life of a girl named Harriet Lee, daughter of Margot and Simon, who grows up in the land of Druhástrana amid the idyllic wheat fields, in a life of serfdom to the wealthy and legendary Kercheval family. But Druhástrana, once a powerful small nation, seems to have fallen off the map, and now only exists as a myth for the rest of the world. No way in. No way out.

Or so it seems—until Margot gets a message via a homing pigeon from a very distant cousin in Britain (also a wealthy Kercheval), who somehow comes across a video clip of Harriet and sees promise in the young girl. He wants to rescue the Lees, so to speak, and thanks to Margot’s magical gingerbread, Harriet and Margot are able to leave Druhástrana, but with a new debt to the Kerchevals.

That was then, and this is now. Living in a seven-story walk-up apartment, Harriet is now 34 years old and a mother to a very curious 17-year-old named Perdita. Will Perdita be the reason that Harriet and Margot are finally forced to revisit their Druhástranian roots? And were they really able to escape their history while forging a new life in Britain?”

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Librarian’s Pick: The River – Peter Heller

The River by Peter Heller“Dartmouth classmates Jack and Wynn have cleared a few weeks for fly-fishing and whitewater canoeing in northern Canada. Raised on a ranch in Colorado, Jack finds camping and hunting to be as natural as breathing. Wynn is a gentle soul from rural Vermont whose random trailside installations of stones, twigs and flowers do not take away from his acumen out of doors. The young men share a love of literature and outdoor sport, and imagine their two-week trek to be one of leisurely paddling, blueberry picking and reading around the campfire. This idyll is abruptly shattered when they sniff out the fumes of a swiftly approaching forest fire. Wynn and Jack agree to turn back and warn a couple they heard arguing the day before. This proves to be a fateful decision, as the woman, Maia, is found injured and bloody, and her husband, Pierre, no longer on the scene. The two men, with the badly shocked Maia in tow, are now on the run from the fire and, equally threatening, from a possibly homicidal husband. As if this weren’t bad enough, the crises put a strain on the two men, and an element of mistrust creeps into their friendship.”

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