Ex Libris brings reading recommendations from a broad cross-section of staff readers. Our goal is to showcase Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Browsing Collection and to identify a range of contemporary fiction and nonfiction for the general reader. In addition to staff choices, this issue highlights two recent books--by a faculty member and an alumnus--and recent literary award winners. All readers in the Marquette community are invited to suggest books, or better, to write a recommendation for Ex Libris. If you missed an alert, earlier issues of Ex Libris are available online.
Clicking on the title or cover image will take you to the book's MARQCAT record; please note locations carefully as items may be in the Browsing Collection (Raynor 1st level) or in the Memorial stacks. Books that are checked out may be reserved by clicking on the blue recall/hold button at the top or bottom of the MARQCAT record.
Frank Schätzing, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell. New York: William Morrow, 2007
The building of a great medieval cathedral and coincident political turmoil form the backdrop to this historical novel/thriller. It’s a translation of the first book by this author, who may be better known for a subsequent sci-fi bestseller, The Swarm. The master builder of Cologne’s cathedral is pushed from high scaffolding and murdered in what looks like an accident. But the murder is witnessed by a young thief, Jacob the Fox. The killer chases Jacob through the city in a futile effort to prevent his telling what he saw. Jacob finds some refuge and help from Jasper, a physician and church’s dean, and his brother and niece. This foursome must try to understand what’s going on, what’s still to happen, and avoid being killed themselves. There’s never any question about who the murderer is, nor who is paying him, but the motivation for the killing is only slowly revealed. Schätzing is sometimes awkward and heavy-handed in incorporating things political and theological, and the English translation is occasionally jarring with oddly modern colloquialisms. But still I found this a well-paced novel with good dialogue and historical flavor. Although the political machinations of the upper classes are vital to the story, it’s the middle and lower-class characters who carry the story and make it interesting.
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Marilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008
Robinson’s previous (and second) novel, Gilead (2004), told the story of two families in 1950s Gilead, Iowa. It would be tempting to label Home a sequel, but it actually is the same story told from another point of view. While Gilead is a long letter written by the elderly Rev. Ames to his 8-year old son, Home relates the story from the point-of-view of Rev. Boughton’s 40-ish youngest daughter, Glory. Glory has left her job and almost-fiancé to return to Gilead and care for her old and ailing father. Out of the blue, her ne’er-do-well and emotionally fragile brother, Jack, also appears at home after a 20-year absence. The relationships between siblings, the Boughtons and their father, and the two ministers are variously tenuous and strained. As the story unfolds, the reader is dazzled by Robinson’s beautiful writing and the interwoven themes of father-son, aging, families, and homecomings.
Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian
Barry Eisler. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009
The author of the Rain assassin series changes gears, producing in Fault Line a fast and furious cat-and-mouse game of a thriller in which no one knows who the cat might be. Attorney Alex Treven is about to hit it rich with a client's patent for Obsidian, revolutionary high-level encryption software, but the client is murdered and suddenly Alex is on the run, certain he's next on somebody's list. But who, and why? After a home invasion, Alex has no choice but to call his long-lost brother Ben, who had left home years earlier after a lapse of judgment led to his beloved sister's death. Since then, he's become a soldier and covert ops specialist--essentially a government-sanctioned assassin--and his experience may be the only way to keep yuppie Alex alive. But the brothers each blame the other for what happened to their family. Can they set aside their intense animosity long enough to figure out why gunmen want Alex dead? Beautiful Sarah Hosseini, a young Iranian-American attorney in Alex's firm, just complicates matters by being involved--and possibly part of the conspiracy. Events move rapidly as Ben and Alex go head-to-head while ducking assassination attempts and trying to figure out why Obsidian is so important. Eisler uses his years as a covert CIA op and wisely weaves in numerous actual past and current events, managing to snag some major news bits off the latest headlines. Though somewhat predictable, chances are you won't mind while reading this novel that has movie written all over it.
Recommended by Bill Gagliani, Stacks Supervisor, Access Services
Joseph O'Neill. New York: Pantheon Books, 2009
Netherland is a post-9/11 novel that barely mentions 9/11, but 9/11's long shadow darkens the main time frame of the story (2001-2003). It is also a novel whose two main characters are not native-born Americans. Hans, the narrator, is Dutch but a British citizen on temporary assignment to New York; Chuck Ramkissoon is a native of Trinidad who claims to be a naturalized American citizen. Chuck’s and Hans’s worlds intersect while both participate in the English game of cricket (Do they even play cricket here? You will be surprised to find that, yes, they do!). Add to this mix the eccentric residents of the Chelsea Hotel where Hans lives, his condo having been deemed unsafe in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings. Also, Hans’s wife has left him, returning to England. Also, Chuck Ramkissoon, in addition to his passion for cricket is, shall we say, a bit of a shady character. Also, also, also… To read this summary, one suspects that this is all rather improbable, but Hans’s narration is so engaging that the reader will have no problem believing in this delightful slice of magic realism.
Recommended by Steven Blackwood, Access Services
Irina Reyn. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008
What Happened to Anna K. is more than a modern retelling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Anna K. lives in a close-knit Russian-Jewish immigrant community in Queens, N.Y. but does not fit in with its customs and values. A beautiful woman, used to attracting men, she is a dreamer who loves literature and yearns for a very different sort of life. Single at 37 and living with her parents, she compromises and marries a much older wealthy businessman and moves to the Upper East side. She settles into an unhappy marriage and has a son, but this does not fill her emptiness and restlessness. She begins an affair with her cousin Katia’s boyfriend, ruining her relationship with Katia and severing her ties to her husband and child. The stifling Russian-Jewish community condemns her. Anna K. flirts with Katia’s husband. Having chosen to continue her uncertain love affair rather than return to her husband and son, Anna K.’s life loses focus. Now in her early 40’s, feeling that her beauty and youth are fading and that life has passed her by, she becomes depressed to the point of self-destruction. While the story is tragic, the author’s debut novel is beautifully written with vivid descriptions of Russian food and social culture, along with witty observations of the immigrant community’s residents. These elements provide the reader with insight into the Russian-Jewish community and add to the uniqueness of the story.
Recommended by Kristina Starkus, Head of Library Acquisitions
Gary S. Cross. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008
A cultural historian at Penn State, Cross has written a history of today’s “Boy-Man.” C’mon, we all know one. These are Gen Xers who have rejected or delayed the traditional social markers of maturity (marriage, childbearing, civil engagement) in favor of “an ultra-individualism built on surfing the endless waves of manic consumerism.” But this book is more than a Boomer’s rant against Generation X. Cross describes a crisis in masculinity unfolding across three generations--the “Greatest Generation,” the Baby Boomers, and Generation X. At heart is the breakdown of a pre-WWII Victorian model of masculinity and the failure to forge a healthy alternative in the face of post-war economic and social changes. This book should provoke discussion, and in the last chapter Cross offers his own prescription for the Boy-Man malady. Along the way he provides fascinating discussions of cultural phenomena like movies, television programs, video games, thrill rides, hot rods, and the like. If nothing else, you will come away with a heightened awareness of how media and advertising have helped to create a lifestyle where youth is not a stage in life but a refuge from life.
Recommended by Bill Fliss, Archivist
Malcolm Gladwell. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2008
If you liked his best sellers, The Tipping Point and Blink, you’ll like Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book. If you’ve not read Gladwell, Outliers is a good place to start. His engaging style and unorthodox, if logical, approach to his subject make for entertaining and informative reading that explains extraordinary success. Did you know that the birth months of most of the best hockey players in Canada are January, February, and March? What accounts for this? What about Bill Gates’s success--is it merely the result of genius? And why are Asian students especially good at mathematics--is it genetic? The answers to these and many other successes can be found, Gladwell argues, by examining family, culture, class, and the timeframe in which a person is born. At first glance it may seem improbable, but each of his case studies illustrates that ambition and intelligence are not an adequate explanation for success. In a concluding epilogue Gladwell personalizes his story by tracing his own success to his Jamaican grandmother. To explain these apparent anomalies here would be to deprive the reader of the excitement of discovering the reasons for success imbedded in each story.
Recommended by Nicholas Burckel, Dean of Libraries Emeritus
Rose George. New York, Metropolitan Books, 2008
You’d think that a book about human waste and toilets would be … well, probably a lot of things. Somehow, journalist Rose George has managed a book that has very amusing parts, yet is also thought-provoking and serious. The Big Necessity discusses a mostly taboo subject (since kindergarten, anyway) and brings up aspects that are not so obvious, such as how inadequate bathrooms affect education and how flush toilets and sewerage affect the world’s water supply. The book begins with two trips: one into the sewers of London, complete with some history of sanitation and scenery descriptions (and the detail that sewers smell musty rather than horrible); then to Japan to learn about the development of the "robo-toilet" and the basics of the wipe vs. wash divide. Then, through profiles of different projects and their leaders she gets "down to business" about various aspects of waste management: how to make toilet installations self-sustaining, how to persuade people to use toilets when they rarely have before, what to do with bio-solids, and how to empty urban pit toilets. For her research, George visited many places, including India, China, Tanzania, Virginia, and the International Space Station. Ok, no, she did not actually visit the space station, but she describes how waste water there is re-used (ick!?) and brings this into the discussion. This is a fascinating and well-written book.
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Jeannette Walls. New York: Scribner, 2005
"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." So begins writer and journalist Jeannette Walls's both heart-warming and heart-breaking memoir of growing up in the Walls family. A few days after this incident, her mother refuses the latest offer of assistance and a frustrated Jeannette asks what she should tell people about her parents. Her mother replies, “Just tell the truth.” The reader watches the "truth" of Walls’s story unfold with a sense of horrified fascination, following the family's early nomadic life throughout the American west, to West Virginia, and finally to New York City. Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary, clearly loved their four children yet were incapable of providing a stable life. Rex was a brilliant alcoholic with big dreams, but no ability to follow through on any of them. Rose Mary was an aspiring artist with no interest in mothering or homemaking. The family moved frequently, often doing "the skedaddle" in the middle of the night, and lived in rundown houses, abandoned buildings, in their car, sometimes sleeping out under the stars or in cardboard boxes. Going hungry was a common experience and the family often resorted to scavenging for food and rooting through the trash. In spite of the instability, the children were well educated and convinced themselves that their lives were an adventure. A fateful decision to return to Rex’s hometown in West Virginia sent the family into a downward spiral. They ended up living in a shack that was literally rotting away around them, with no plumbing and rarely any heat. The Walls siblings persevered and eventually helped each other escape one-by-one to New York City, where they supported themselves, finished their education, and built successful careers. Yet, there really was no escape--Rex and Rose Mary followed their children, ended up living on the streets of New York, and were always a presence in their children's lives. Walls tells her tale frankly, without bitterness or sadness. This is a fascinating tribute to the bond of families and the strength of the human spirit.
Recommended by Pat Berge, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
David Halberstam. New York: Hyperion, 2007
This is David Halberstam’s last book and certainly one of his best. Famous for The Best and the Brightest, which described the leaders and policy intellectuals who brought us the Vietnam War, Halberstam analyzes here the politicians and military officers who directed, and misdirected, the Korean conflict. He excels at integrating policy analysis with dense and dramatic descriptions of both the officers and the foot soldiers. His descriptions of battles are some of the best I have ever read, in part because they combine the feel of the battle with embedded analysis of why it evolved the way it did. A special treat is his analysis of the Chinese and Russian leadership, beginning with Mao and Stalin, who used and betrayed each other with finesse. For me, however, the highlight of the book is Halberstam’s seamless integration of the American war effort with domestic politics during the Cold War. He convincingly shows how military decisions were shaped by the powerful China Lobby and its ties to the media through Henry Luce of Time and to Douglas MacArthur. Telling and painful parallels with current events abound, beginning with the misuse of military intelligence for political purposes. And by the way, if you ever thought you liked Douglas MacArthur, you won’t after reading this book.
Recommended by John Jentz, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Spain Rodriguez; edited by Paul Buhle New York: Verso, 2008
The image of Che Guevara is a potent symbol of those who stand up to imperialism and this is the story of how he developed into the man many would admire and respect. Che tells the story of his life from birth to his death in graphic novel format. Spain Rodriguez weaves the narrative with black and white illustrations using his acclaimed skills. The reader learns about Che’s early influences during childhood, his adventures traveling in Latin America as a young man, his participation in Cuba's revolution, and his last words, “Shoot, coward. You are only killing a man.” I recommend this graphic biography to readers who want an informed sketch of Che Guevara but don’t want to read a lengthy account. Interested readers will find an informative essay at the end of the book, providing more detail of Che's history. Intrigued readers can learn more about Che in the films Che (Part One) and Che (Part Two), which recently played at the Landmark theatres in Milwaukee.
Recommended by Carolyn Weber, Library Intern
Tom Farley Jr. and Tanner Colby. New York: Viking, 2008
Chris Farley, a native of Madison, WI, attended Marquette University and graduated in 1986 with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Theater. Chris went on to become one of the most memorable members of Saturday Night Live, which in turn, led to greater fame as he began to star in a number of successful comedy films. Unfortunately, however, Chris suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction and in 1997, at the age of 33, he died of accidental drug overdose. This book is a collection of memories about Chris from many of those who knew him--his brothers, high school and college friends, fellow Second City and SNL actors, writers, and producers (Among the SNL personalities represented are David Spade, Chris Rock, Tim Meadows and Lorne Michaels). Chris’s Marquette years are covered and there are reflections from then College of Communication dean, Michael Price. Chris emerges as a loving, generous, genuinely talented, yet insecure individual who underwent numerous rehabilitation attempts to overcome his addictions. Ultimately, Chris was unable to take control of his life. Serving as a tribute to Chris, as well as a means of helping others, this book was co-written by Chris’s brother Tom, who recently spoke at Marquette University (click here for the Marquette Tribune article) and who serves as president and managing director of the Chris Farley Foundation, which helps educate young people about substance abuse and addiction.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni. New York: Random House, 2006
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, lawyer and activist, Shirin Ebadi writes about her struggle in fighting for human rights in her homeland of Iran. Her autobiography details how the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to a serious erosion of rights for women and children. Prior to the revolution, Ms. Ebadi was a court judge, but afterwards was demoted to secretary. She responded by using her law degree to represent and advocate for those who were victims of the Iranian government. Ms. Ebadi is now known world-wide for her courageous and peaceful work attempting to restore a just legal system and government in Iran. Ms. Ebadi was recently awarded an honorary degree from Marquette University and she served as the keynote speaker of the 2009 Mission Week. Ms. Ebadi is truly a role model for all who work for justice and peace. Her very accessible book provides an inside look at Iran's current government, legal system, and society while detailing how she and her family have worked to bring about change, justice, and hope.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Angela Sorby. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
Meet associate professor of English, Angela Sorby, whose research focus is American poetry and who, in addition, teaches Transcendentalism, the Gilded Age, and the 50s Beats. Her earlier books include a collection of poems, Distance Learning (1998) and Schoolroom Poets: Children, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry 1865-1917 (2005). Bird Skin Coat gathers newer poems, filled with natural objects—doves, frogs, sparrows, geese—and nature imagery of the Midwest and her native Northwest. Her new collection won the 2008 Brittingham Prize in Poetry, conducted by the University of Wisconsin—Madison English Department. She is currently working on a literary history of American poetry at the margins, 1820-1920.
Czeslaw Miloscz. New York: Ecco, 2001
What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2002
At Blackwater Pond; Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver (sound recording). Boston: Beacon Press, 2005
My class read Merton and Milosz last fall and we couldn’t get enough of Milosz’s very down-to-earth and insightful poems. For myself, I’ve been listening to Mary Oliver’s poetry. At Blackwater Pond is a GREAT selection to “get into” Oliver’s work. Ecology, spirituality, but also very concrete and insightful.
Recommended by Ed Block, Professor of English
Paul Wilkes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
This terrific new memoir by alumnus Wilkes (B.A., Jour ’60) joins 11 previous nonfiction books, one work of fiction, two books for children, television documentaries, and countless articles for magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, America, and Commonweal. Wilkes was raised in an immigrant Slovak, Catholic family in Cleveland, Ohio. When he showed a flair for writing, his Cathedral Latin guidance counselor aimed him at Marquette because it was "the only Catholic school in the Midwest that had a journalism major." Alumni from his era will appreciate the memories of Red Arrow Park, Father McEvoy, and the dental school chapel. However, the penniless Wilkes worked as much as 30-40 hours weekly in factory jobs to eke out an existence. Wilkes's memoir moves through Navy service, a graduate degree in journalism at Columbia, a decade or so as a Methodist, and years as founder/director of CHIPS (Christian Help in Park Slope), formed on the model of a Catholic Worker House. As his writing career picked up, always searching for a spiritual life beyond the trappings of affluence, he began to explore the faith of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, and eventually Benedictine monasticism. This short review cannot recount all the ups and downs in his life of faith, but I believe this very personal account will appeal to persons of many Christian faiths who seek a life that incorporates faith and vocation. Since two stints with traditional newspapers in the 60s (Boulder's Daily Camera and the Baltimore Sun), Wilkes has made his living as a freelance writer and teacher of writing at Brooklyn College, University of Pittsburgh,, Boston University, College of the Holy Cross, Clark University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In one of those publishing synchronicities, writer James Carroll has also just published a new account of his religious life, The Practicing Catholic (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), which might make an interesting comparison.
Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian
The National Book Critics Circle announced its winners in March, covering books published in 2008. For the first time, a tie vote awarded dual prizes for poetry: Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World In Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press) and August Kleinzahler’s Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (Farrar, Strauss). The late Robert Bolaño’s masterpiece 2666 (Farrar, Strauss) won the fiction award. The general nonfiction award was given to Dexter Filkins for his first-person reporting on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, The Forever War (Knopf). The biography award went to Patrick French for his “unsparing look at a contentious author,” in The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul (Picador). Ariel Sabar won the autobiography award for My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq (Algonquin). Finally, the criticism award was presented to Seth Lerer for Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter (University of Chicago Press).