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Bitter is the New Black

Status: Bookseller Picks


Sarcastic, witty, and fun; Jen Lancaster brings humor to the unemployment line in pearls. Never before have I read such an entertainingly playful memoir with an actual story. From the rise of the dot com era to the fall of the industry and Jen right onto her self proclaimed smart-ass, this book will have your attention. Endless e-mails, job applications, interviews, phone calls, the unemployment office, an awkward proposal, a wedding, pet adoption, not being able to make rent, and a blog; this book has it all. I've never laughed out loud so hard while reading a book in my life and with this quick and witty read, you'll be cracking up in no time.



The most important thing to know about Swiss-British writer Alain de Botton is that he is a philosopher of everyday life. In previous books, he has offered reflections on love, travel, architecture, and anxiety, making our experience of each more relevant and understandable. In The Pleasures & Sorrows of Work, he examines the working world, where many of us spend most of our lives. To discover what it is about the daily labors that so dominate our mental lives, he gleans observations from his encounters with factory workers, artists, career counselors, accountants, fishermen, and others. His insights about subjects such as what are the qualities that make works happy or sad; meaningful or mindless drudgery. Work is a topic we all think we know everything about; this insightful book proves us wrong.

A Refreshingly Clear Look at Iran

Status: Bookseller Picks

It's hard to find an American writing about contemporary Middle Eastern politics - especially in the context of US foriegn policy - who isn't doing so with the obvious intent of making some glaringly partisan statement more relevent to the constant bickering of our own political scene than to the realities of the Middle East. 


Baer's book breaks down the common perceptions of Iran espoused by American politicians on both sides of the aisle, showing us Iran as an increasingly powerful - and power-hungry - nation who's expanionist goals are driven more by pragmatism and realpolitik than by the religious zeal most Americans associate with the country.


Conducting military and political campaigns though the use of proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and others, Iran's methods have proven successful in Lebanon and Iraq - and Baer's careful examination of each of these cases shows us an Iran well on the way to accomplishing many of its goals without signifigant attention or opposition from western powers preoccupied with the nuclear issue and the use of Middle Eastern affairs as a tool for internal political infighting.


Recent events uncovering an Israeli intelligence campaign inside Iran shed an interesting light on Baer's revelations in this book, and while his portrayal of the religious and cultural struggle in Iraq following the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime certainly correlate with what other sources are now telling us about the region, it is unclear to which the extent of Iran's war-by-proxy in other regions as portrayed by Baer matches up with the reality.


Nonetheless, the book offers a view far freer of rhetoric meant to establish a position on the American political spectrum than much other current writing on the Middle East, and is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of Iran's relationship with the United States.   

Message Edited by PaulH on 03-05-2009 01:53 PM

Graphic Journalism

Status: Bookseller Picks

Art Spiegalman's Maus is renowned for having dramatically pushed foward the artform of comics with his very personal tale of his family's experiences in the Holocaust.

Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde now pushes the form even further, taking us into the fractured Bosnia of the early 1990's with the eye of a journalist. The narrative concerns the city of Gorazde, a predominantly Bosniak (Muslim) area that is surrounded by Serb territory and which is only connected to the rest of the soon-to-be Muslim-Croat federation only by one narrow road on which UN convoys run. At first the story appears light-hearted as Sacco makes friends with the inhabitants of the town and gets his bearings - but as these inhabitants tell us their stories the truly gruesome nature of this conflict is unveiled and grotesquely illustrated through Sacco's detailed artwork. The narrative is supported not only by Sacco's illustrations (which provide a very realistic sense of the atmosphere of the place - something lacking in many other non-fiction books covering this conflict) but also by substantial research - at several points Sacco takes some time to explain the often confusing historical background to the conflict.

My only complaint is that the scope of the story is somewhat narrow and comes off as a bit biased - we never see anything from the Serb or Croat perspectives in this book, and that's a signifigant lack. But given the focus on a particular geogpraphic location it does to some extent make sense.

Anyone interested in the history of the Balkans or the recent conflict should certainly read this, as should anyone who is a fan of comics that truly push the artform in a new direction and show what it is capable of. 

Message Edited by Kevin on 03-05-2009 09:10 AM
Not one of a hundred Americans knows its name, but Exposition Universelle of 1889 stamped its imprint not only on Paris, but also on the world. Its wrought-iron centerpiece and entrance arch Eiffel Tower became the most recognizable icon on the continent, but as Jill Jonnes shows in this captivating history, Gustav Eiffel's engineering marvel was hardly the only attraction at the fair. Visitors, as she notes, were invited to gawk at the four hundred inhabitants of a hastily counterfeited "Negro village" or watch as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley displayed their Wild West skills. Among the other artists and personalities present among the fair's 28 million visitors were Thomas Edison, Paul Gauguin, James Abbott Whistler, and Claude Debussy. In Eiffel's Tower, Jonnes walks us through all the exhibits and controversies, giving us a fresh sense of the bright, brave new world that our ancestors were entering.
Categories: history, nonfiction

Shelf Discovery

Status: Bookseller Picks

Lizzie Skurnick's new book muses over all those teen/young adult books we all just read to tatters.  Spanning over one hundred years of YA - Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle, Beverly Cleary, Katherine Paterson, Joan Aiken, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier - Skurnick's essays, and those by contributors such as Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, and Jennifer Weiner, cover approximately one hundred beloved books, and, just like our favorites, this book is very, very hard to put down.  There's a little something for every type of reader, too.  Did you carry Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret with you everywhere?  Shiver through the pages of Girl With The Silver Eyes or Stranger with My Face?  Did you stand fiercely behind Meg from A Wrinkle in Time or Kit from Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Or did you swipe your older sister's/babysitter's copy of Forever...?  Then Shelf Discovery is the perfect book for you.  It might even introduce you to a book or two that escaped your teenage eyes at the time - Skurnick champions In Summer Light by Zibby Oneal, a book that is currently out-of-print (and can be had used).  If you haven't read the majority of books covered in Skurnick's pieces, get yourself to the nearest library or bookstore and start reading with Shelf Discovery to point the way!  Shelf Discovery is a winding trek back through the library trips and under-the-cover-with-flashlight reading sessions of my childhood and adolescence; I enjoyed every minute of it and I now have a towering list of books to re-read (I have to dig them out of my parents' basement first). 

Categories: nonfiction, teens

Oil on the Brain

Status: Bookseller Picks

In the 150 years since "Colonel" Edwin Drake's well struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the preeminent driving force in our world has been petroleum. Oil has been behind the expansion and collapse of global empires and personal fortunes. Oil was both a key factor in the collapse of Germany and Japan during World War II, and propelled the explosive growth in postwar America. Wars have been fought for it, and nations have revolted over foreign control of it.


Nowhere is this tumult better chronicled than in The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Daniel Yergin's epic Pulitzer-winning history of oil and its affect on industry, geopolics, and world society. Spanning the globe, and featuring a colorful list of players ranging from titans of industry and wealthy desert sheikhs to Texas "wildcatters," The Prize is gripping history that flows off the page.


I first read this book in 1993, after my seventh grade social studies teacher showed the class excerpts from the eight-hour PBS documentary based on the book. It was incredibly informative then, and is even more relevant today as we face important decisions related to energy supply and consumption, and their effect on both the American and global economy. The Prize isn't just another business history title; it speaks directly to the political and sociological issues brought up by how we as a people consume oil in what Yergin dubs the "Age of Hydrocarbon Man." With the 2009 updated edition, which includes a new epilogue covering events and trends since its first publication, The Prize has maintained its place as the essential book on its subject.


I'm a firm believer in the old adage "those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it." The Prize should be mandatory reading if for no other reason than we can't afford to make the same mistakes again as we try and find our path forward.

I was first drawn to The Devil's Ticket not by its nominal subject, bridge, but by its endorsements. That the book had received such vibrant praise from Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City, and Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean indicated that this book, like theirs, threaded its narrative through places we've never been through before. The "devil's tickets" in the title are the queens and aces of card decks, but in author Gary Pomerantz's hands, they are also instruments in an early twentieth century Battle of the Sexes and the calling-cards of self-promoting showmen and politicians. There's an anger spurred bridge spouse killing in this book, but that's only the first card of its well-dealt hand.
Categories: game books, nonfiction
Kirsten Holmstedt's Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq spotlighted the female soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who serve in Iraq; it also extinguished forever the fiction that U.S. women aren't fighting on the front lines in the Middle East. The Girls Come Marching Home isn't just the obligatory follow-up to that award-winning book. It is a standalone tribute to the courage, resilience, but also the hardships experienced by women warriors on their return to the States. As in her previous book (which is now in paperback), Holmstedt profiles individual women in the services, describing how these ordinary women cope with the extraordinary circumstance of combat and its aftermath. This isn't a pro-war book or an anti-war book; it's a book about real women who put their lives on the line and came back to tell about it.

"Dandelions, like humans, don't always have a strategic growth plan."

Picking Dandelions 


In Sara Cunningham’s latest book, each chapter begins with a fact about the pesky weed as the author effortlessly uses them as a metaphor for a life of ongoing transformation.


Readers will find an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor wound up in a narrative spiced with stories, diatribes, laughter, tears, and what at times seems far too much self-deprecating humor.  However her real genius lies in capturing the indescribable, revealing how faith does not grow out of perfect moments, but imperfect ones. . .


Cunningham uses down-to-earth metaphors of growth and renewal, planting and reaping, flowers and weeds mixed with stories from her days of  her conservative childhood as  the daughter of a Baptist minister to her current roles as a public school teacher and mother. Along the way she recognizes that faith isn't a "one and done" event to be marked on the calendar, but involves a lifetime of growing changing and growing some more. Her journey to and through this understanding is full of imagery that challenges readers to examine their own spiritual journey as well.


The narrative begins with a childhood filled with jumping from rock to rock to avoid the lava in the yard, competitiveness for bragging rights at bible school games, eraser dust thievery, WWJD bracelets, voicing her opinion during "grown-up" meetings,  pilgrim shirt debacles, and playground confrontations for being audacious enough to wear pants to a Christian school. Ramona Quimby never had this much fun.


The Book turns more serious as the author describes going to Ground Zero within days of the attacks on the Twin Towers, "I'm convinced God was there somewhere too, browsing about the tents and the conversations, reuniting with people he had not talked to in ages and lapping up quality time with others before the moment passed and our to-do lists invited us back into oblivion, to routine tasks like picking up dry cleaning and washing our cars. But for the moment, in the skeleton of life left in the tower rubble, everyone had the time to reflect about life. We had, as a generation, been detached from the comfort of our past in just one day. And now we were drifting, fallen seeds learning to grow in even life's hardest soil."


Cunningham describes how she outgrew laissez-faire Christianity, and began moving into mature faith, because in the end the Christian life is about, becoming the person you were created to be, not the person the worlds troubles and toils try to shape you into.


What does it mean to change? Does it matter if your faith is stale? How do you go about dealing with spiritual weeds? The author pointedly asks asks these questions of herself with beauty and clarity, all while somehow never getting preachy at the rest of us who may not have yet had the boldness to ask these questions of ourselves.


"I had been faithfully weeding for a while, attacking my flaws left and right, knowing that they must die, but I had no idea how to grow a healthier, fuller life in the extra space I was creating. I needed a blueprint, the layout of a master."


In the end this is a memoir of a conversion and a realization that live as a follower of Jesus is to recognize life is a constant growth process. It is a great read for anyone wishing to explore spiritual things but unwilling to accept status quo faith.

Picking Dandelions  

Homer's Odyssey

Status: Bookseller Picks


I bet your first thought was that I'm recommending the classic The Odyssey, which is a very good read, but I'm not. If you never read another heartwarming tale about a beloved pet, read this one. Seriously.


Homer is blind. In fact, Homer had his eyes removed when he was still a kitten, so he has never had the chance to rely on the sense of sight. That, combined with a wonderful, caring owner, makes Homer a, in Gwen Cooper's words, "wonder-cat."


I've read the other ones -- Marley & Me, Dewey, etc. -- but none have touched me the way this story, about a little blind black cat named Homer, has. Cooper has a knack for storytelling and a way to show her readers the very unique personalities of each of her three cats. But, of course, it's Homer who shines. He has no fear. He knows no bounds. He will try anything once. In fact, if he fails, he will try, try again. Instead of taking the easy way out, as Cooper feared when she adopted him, Homer persevered. He grew into an affectionate, lovable, fearless cat who captures the attention and hearts of everyone who meets him.


The book outlines much of Homer's life, chronicling Cooper's string of boyfriends, apartments and roommates, moves from Florida all the way to Manhattan, where she lived on 9/11 -- with her cats. We see not only a portrait of the cat, but also of the author and how her life was affected and shaped by the love she shared with her animals.

Categories: nonfiction, pets

Seceding From Secession

Status: Bookseller Picks

This is a fascinating new book from Sally Jenkins (co-author of It's Not About the Bike  with Lance Armstrong) and John Stauffer. As a long-time Civil War guy, I was aware of the amazing story of Jones County, Mississippi, but knew I was one of few who did. With this new work, this almost-lost history is memorialized for all.

It's generally well-remembered that there was opposition to the war in the loyal states, most general Civil War books will touch on Copperheads, and the 1863 draft riots. But almost never is it mentioned that the war was also widely unpopular in the South. Nowhere was this opposition stronger than in Jones County, Mississippi. The State of Jones is the story of Newton Knight, poor farmer and Confederate draftee, who deserts the rebel army and leads a violent opposition to Confederate rule from the swamps and thickets of backwoods Mississippi. His story makes for a compelling narrative, from it's realistic, Gone With The Wind-busting coverage of antebellum class tensions, to its frank portrayal of the horrors of war (The phrase "rich man's war, poor man's fight" actually originated in the wartime Confederacy, after the draft was imposed and it exempted wealthy slaveowners.)

But The State of Jones is also a personal story, haunted by a forbidden love whose details are shrouded by the mists of time. What brought Newton Knight and Rachel (a former possession of Knight's extended family) together is unknown; but both this relationship and Newton's stand against secession have echoed through family and Mississippi history, from Reconstruction to the present day.

A few of the niggling details about the war itself and army life are incorrect in this book, but unless you're a dedicated Civil War buff, you'll never notice- and they're so minor, I can't even begin to call them "inaccuracies." Jenkins and Stauffer do a great job of making Newton Knight's story accessible to non-experts, so don't be scared of this book if you're not a Civil War expert.

Categories: history, nonfiction


The arresting story of how a single woman’s struggle to keep a small cottage evolved into a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court.


The little pink house on this book’s cover belonged to Suzette Kelo; or at least, so she believed. In 1997, this strong-minded EMT left a troubled marriage and bought this modest cottage in working class New London, Connecticut. She was still settling in when the city’s development corporation threatened to invoke its right to eminent domain to force home owners to make way for a giant Pfizer research complex. Refusing to abandon her newfound home, Kelo joined neighbors in legal actions that eventually landed her case in the United States Supreme Court. Even a historic decision in that high court, however, did not bring final resolution. In fact, as award-winning journalist Jeff Benedict notes in this powerful book, the saga of the single little pink house has implications that none of us can ignore.

Message Edited by Kevin on 02-19-2009 10:20 PM
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Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

Status: Bookseller Picks


Don’t be mistaken – Julie Powell doesn’t write about cooking. She writes about obsession. She owns obsession.


In Cleaving, Powell sorts through the aftermath of an affair, unable to stop a consuming, emotionally damaging passion; yet she is also unable to fathom separation from her husband, a man who loves her limitlessly and whose life has been intertwined with hers since she was 18 years old.


Powell attacks her emotional turmoil with a raw, brutal honesty that is rarely captured in print. Her candor reminds me of the intimate conversations I’ve had with my closest girlfriends when suffering through heartbreak that we just can’t hide: the kind of heartbreak that leaves you unable to pretend to be strong or brave or even moral. Perhaps this is something that my friends and I have in common with her as New Yorkers – it’s not uncommon to see women unabashedly weeping on the subway – and I’m not sure if love here is just more dramatic or we’re all just used to public emotion. Regardless, Powell suffers NYC-style: openly, dramatically, obsessively.


This is what makes Cleaving so compelling. She barely talks about Julie & Julia, cooking, or her success at all. She manages to keep her voice brutally honest even after the success of her first book, only slightly aware that there will be an audience. (Or maybe she is aware, but is so obsessed with her lover that she just doesn’t care.)  Even her new project, learning to be a butcher, is really just a distraction for her emotional turmoil, something to keep her from constantly checking her Blackberry for texts that never come.


Honestly, this isn’t the best book I’ve ever read: it’s not the most focused, the most beautiful, or even as good as Julie & Julia. But it is a one-woman love story, and for anyone who has been there, it’s impossible to turn away.

Categories: nonfiction
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Andre Agassi

Status: Bookseller Picks


Being the tennis fanatic that I am, I knew I would enjoy this book. What I didn't expect was to learn something about and from this great champion. Most of the world knew who Andre Agassi was in the '90s, but hardly anyone knew what he had been through and what was going through his mind while playing his matches. This book is honest, reads quickly, and will make you laugh, cry. and cheer.


Reading Agassi's impeccable retellings of key matches took me back to those days as I sat on the edge of my seat watching those Grand Slams on TV. I loved hearing how he interacted with other great champions such as Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors. It was also fascinating to be with him, on his side of the court, as he waited to return serve and finally, it became apparent how he was the best returner in the game of tennis.


His dad started him young in tennis and Open takes the reader from those early days through his time at the Bollettieri Prison (I mean Academy) and on to his beginnings as a pro. Agassi tells, with brutal honesty, about his marriage to Brooke Shields, his relationship with his father, and, as has been sensationalized by the media, his  use of a hairpiece and meth.


Finishing Agassi's autobiography will leave you exhausted. Not only does he take you on an emotional roller coaster, but as the reader, you run every hill with him, return every bomb from Sampras, and feel every injury he has.


This is an excellent sports memoir and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sports, people, or great stories.

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Burn This Book!

Status: Bookseller Picks

You really shouldn't burn this book. 


You should read it.  All of it.  Edited by Toni Morrison and published in conjunction with PEN International, this volume contains eleven essays contributed by authors like John Updike, Nadine Gordimer, Orhan Pamuk, and Francine Prose (and Morrison, who contributed the opening essay, Peril), each writing about the importance of words and ideas.  Some of these essays are original and some are adapted from extant writing (like the Updike) and speeches (like the Pamuk).  While not a large book, it generates quite a bit of thought.  I was particularly struck by the contribution by Pico Iyer which describes his "penpal" who lives in Burma/Myanmar and how information was important to that trishaw driver (but not too much information, i.e. no political discussion).  Orhan Pamuk's essay also provides much thought as he mulls over his transition from silent writer to activist, even though he does not always address political concerns in his novels.  This book is also a must-read due to Ed Park's contribution The Sudden Sharp Memory; Park discusses censorship and how young adults encounter literature but instead of a plain essay he makes use of the unique form of Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese, an often censored or banned YA novel.  


Read this book. 

Message Edited by pedsphleb on 05-22-2009 01:41 PM

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