Tap the Power
Publications available from the Theobald Legislative Library
Favorite Books VI
Reading suggestions by Wisconsin legislators and legislative staff, May-August 2007
The following titles and book reviews were gathered as an activity for National Library Week 2007. Submitted by legislators and legislative staff, the reviews in this online edition were altered only to correct typographical errors. The bibliography also includes Web sites of interest to book club groups and readers in general.
Natalie Wood: A Life / Gavin Lambert, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Critical reviews proclaim this to be a very good Hollywood biography written by an acclaimed novelist, screenwriter, biographer, and friend of the Wood/Wagner family. The book itself is well written and documented, but is emotionally difficult to read at times. This is the story of a child movie star (known best as the precocious daughter in the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street), burdened by an overbearing, mentally-ill stagemom. In spite of all the bad elements of Hollywood, Wood still surfaced with real acting talent. The relationship with Robert Wagner whom she married, divorced, and remarried is prominently featured in this biography. Genetically prone to depression and to the abuse of alcohol and painkilling drugs - all of which were possible factors in her drowning death - this book captures Wood as an intelligent, but vulnerable, actress whose life was cut short much too soon.
The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley
(1874-1958) / Jack Beatty, Da Capo Press, 1992. If you like
thick books and biographies, you'll like this book. Curley was a
Boston politico from the days of political machines, but Curley's
"machine" had only one concern - Curley. The novel The Last Hurrah
and movie of the same name are based on Curley's life.
Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity / Siva Vaidhyanathan, New York UP; 2003 reissue. An accessible, but thorough, discussion of the issues surrounding copyright in the digital age. It helped me understand how copyright works and the profound effect it can have on innovation and creativity in the marketplace.
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader / Anne Fadiman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. In this delightful collection of essays, Fadiman shares her love of reading and the integral role books have played in her life.
Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir / Danielle Trussoni, Henry Holt & Company, 2006. Set mostly in La Crosse where she grew up, it is a memoir of the effects on the family of her Vietnam War veteran father and her own visit to Vietnam in hopes of finding understanding and closure.
Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World / Christopher Mark O'Brien, New Society Publishers, 2006. O'Brien combines a serious historical overview (5000 B.C. to present) of beer's role in human civilisation with occasional humour to make an argument for sustainability and community, concluding with a 24-point plan for restoring ecological balance, strengthening community, and creating healthier and more rewarding lifestyles. In ancient times, production of beer was a female-dominated craft, but began to become a male-dominated enterprise in Europe as early as the 16th century when beer became more of an economic commodity and something subject to taxation. Following Prohibition, the corporate consolidation of the beer industry away from local and regional production to national production and distribution began an era of "globeerization." The recent growth of craft brewing represents a reaction to industrial consolidation and a return to equitable and democratic community, sustainability, and "beerodiversity," in many respects like the emerging "buy local/eat local" sustainability movement in other aspects of food production, distribution, and consumption. Blandness of the mass-market products aside, O'Brien does give the mega-breweries credit for being more environmentally responsible than other types of industry, citing high recycling rates, lower waste, and use of renewable materials, but notes that transportation to national markets remains a significant environmental burden compared to beer that is produced closer to where it is consumed. O'Brien reviews small brewers' efforts in using organic ingredients; supporting small farmers; reducing net waste and emissions; offering greater inspiration, creativity, and variety; and expanding the participation of women in the industry. O'Brien views the return to beer in the local community as democratic, healthful, and natural, and urges beer drinkers to become "beer activists" in promoting economic and ecological sustainability.
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade / Ann Fessler, Penguin Press, 2006. While the title may imply that this book is a push for a pro-choice agenda, it is not. The author, herself an adoptee whose birth mother relinquished her unwillingly, wrote this as a catharsis for herself, [and] also to make public what happened to so many women and men years ago. This is not just a bunch of case histories. As you get deeper into the book your astonishment is reduced and your sad realization that our culture allowed and encouraged this involuntary surrender of babies (with the best of intentions the majority of the time) seeps in and sits on your heart. Fessler is eloquent, questioning, and very human in her reticence to find out her own history. This stunning book should be read by men and women, regardless of your views on life issues. It would make a great book club discussion book.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius / Dave Eggers, Simon & Schuster, 2000. This is a fantastic autobiography about a 20-year-old college student who moves to San Francisco with his little brother after both of their parents die. The author is thrown into the role of father to a kid that is only a few years younger than him, which gives the pair a very unique relationship both with themselves and the world around them. Sometimes it is hard to tell where the truth ends and the author's imagination begins.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir / Bill Bryson, Broadway, 2006. This is a very funny look back at life in the 1950s and 1960s in Iowa. Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines and tells many amusing, heartfelt stories of life in an eccentric family.
The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything / Brian McLaren, Thomas Nelson, 2006. What would it mean to live the message of Jesus today? McLaren argues that many Christian churches have gotten it all wrong about the core teaching of this Jewish prophet, that the "kingdom of God" is not a matter of waiting for some abstract future, but is instead a powerful message of justice, reconciliation, love, and revolutionary change to be lived in the present. McLaren examines the message of Jesus in the political, religious, and social context of his time as a leader of a Jewish sect seeking liberation from foreign occupation, with a message for people of all faiths about how we treat our neighbours, children, the poor ... and our "enemies." The kingdom of God cannot be an exclusive blessing only to one group, but is a command for each of us to be a blessing to all. It is a revolutionary idea promoted in more recent times by Gandhi, King, Romero, Mandela, and others, but also by those "ordinary" people who take that leap of faith in how they treat others - not with violence, bloodshed, hatred, and revenge, but with faith, reconciliation, and love. This message, McLaren notes, makes some people very uncomfortable because it is - now as it was then - such a threat to the status quo. The message may not appeal to the far-right, pro-war, guns-'n'-gays, "us v. them," televangelist crowd whom McLaren says have misunderstood or distorted Christianity, but it is a message that has been challenging many to look deeper into their faith and how they live their lives.
The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate / Marjorie Williams, PublicAffairs, 2005. Williams was a Washington, D.C., journalist who died young of cancer. Her husband put this book of her work together posthumously. Not only was she a thorough and talented writer at documenting interesting politicos, she was so human and real at describing some parts of her cancer diagnosis and what it meant to her, her young children, her family, and her outlook. Really amazing book.
For One More Day / Mitch Albom, Hyperion, 2006. Very good book, insightful and an easy, interesting read.
The Greatest Salesman in the World / Og Mandino, Bantam, 1983 reissue. Don't let the book's title fool you. Og Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World is a MUST READ! If you're in need of a little inspiration, this book is for you! If you are a zealous reader and would like to have an extraordinary reading experience, apply the Scrolls as directed in the book daily!
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams, Del Rey, 1997 reissue. "[A] whimsical odyssey. ... Characters frolic through the galaxy with infectious joy."-Publisher's Weekly
In the Name of Salom / Julia Alvarez, Plume, 2001 reissue. Another compelling, insightful and warmly human story from the author of In the Time of Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. This book follows the life, writings and family history of Salom Urea, a real woman who was the national poetess of the Dominican Republic in the late 1800s. Alvarez is a master of making all of her characters come to life while, at the same time, giving us new perspectives on the tumultuous political climate of the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti over the last 100-plus years. Alvarez is an inventive writer who knows how to make a story unfold in ways that surprise and captivate the reader.
Like We Care / Tom Matthews, Bancroft Press, 2004. Clever concept and wonderful language in this novel about how companies use marketing and advertising to seduce and profit from us, being especially aggressive when it comes to getting teen money. Gritty language and themes make this okay for high school and above. Todd is a high school jock who, with his geek friend, ends up having a huge impact nationwide on the sale of a new CD. This story features the germ of an idea that with the right planning and timing ends up making a big bang. If everyone read this and thought about it, they might realize how much power our dollars really have, especially in the free market. I also laughed out loud in several parts of the book. This author wrote the movie Mad City (similar theme of how the press can show you only what fits their agenda). A treat, and this makes you think.
Links / Nuruddin Farah, Riverhead Books, 2003. This is an amazing and touching book about the effects of war-torn and corrupt Somalia on its residents. His writing style is very powerful and this book is certainly among the best I have ever read.
Meeting the Enemy / Arthur Rathburn, Brite Publishing, 2003. This is the story of a young German prisoner of war captured in South Africa and brought to the U.S. The story follows him through several prisoner of war camps in the United States, England, and Germany. Not one to read war stories, I was totally fascinated by this book. It is based on a true story.
Slaughterhouse-Five / Kurt Vonnegut, Dell Publishing, 1999. Kurt
Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to
Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes `unstuck in time' after he is
abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a
plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim
simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his
(and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of
war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Suite Franaise / Irene Nemirovsky, Vintage, 2007 reprint.
Irene Nemirovsky was a Jewish Russian immigrant who fled Russia as a
teenager. She spent her adult life in France and was an accomplished
writer. She began work on what was to be a five-part novel about
Nazi occupation of Paris and northern France. Before completing the
novel, she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in the summer of 1942,
where she died a month later. Her daughters preserved their mother's
notebooks for over 50 years. Unbeknownst to them, they contained the
manuscript for Suite Franaise. They donated the notebooks to a
French archive. The unfinished manuscript eventually was translated
and published as Suite Franaise, 64 years after the author died. The
book contains an appendix explaining the circumstances of its origin
and the author's plan for its completion.
Related Web Sites
AbeBooks: www.abebooks.com "AbeBooks, the world's largest online marketplace for books, lists over 100 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books from more than 13,500 booksellers."
American Library Association:
Book Clubs Resource: www.book-clubs-resource.com "A comprehensive guide to discount book clubs and reading groups."
BookFinder: www.bookfinder.com A "one-stop ecommerce search engine that searches over 125 million books for sale - new, used, rare, out-of-print, and textbooks."
BookSpot: www.bookspot.com An "invaluable resource for book information online."
TheCapitol.net: www.thecapitol.net/Recommended/bookspolit.htm Political and Government classics.
Gardiner (ME) Public Library: www.gpl.lib.me.us/wrw.htm "Who Reads What Celebrity List." Interesting reading list; includes a celebrity name index and reading lists, 1988-2007.
Reading Group Choices: www.readinggroupchoices.com Selects discussable books and suggests discussion topics for reading groups.
ReadingGroupGuides.com: www.readinggroupguides.com The Online community for reading groups.
Wisconsin Library Association: www.wla.lib.wi.us/readers/WLAC/lac.html Wisconsin Literary Awards.
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