Tag Archives: Amy

Things Blow Up

When I’m not reading depressing books about people freezing to death, I enjoy reading books about things blowing up.

Bomb     Command and Control

Bomb: the Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin

This book is shelved in our Teen department and the book on CD is in our Children’s department (there are downloadable and Playaway versions too), but don’t let that deter you – it’s a great book for adults who enjoy science, spies, history, and of course, explosions. It’s chock full of fun facts.

  • Once, while on a date, Robert Oppenheimer wandered off to think about physics and left his companion behind (page 8).
  • A super-polite team of Norwegian resistance fighters sent to destroy a German heavy water plant delayed their mission long enough for one of the plant’s workers (a fellow Norwegian) to find his glasses (page 85).
  • Santa Fe’s drugstore owners found so many lost scientists wandering their streets that they eventually started calling the local Los Alamos office for advice (page 93).
  • Chemist Donald Horning spent the night before the Trinity test babysitting the bomb. He sat beside it in a metal shack atop a wooden tower, with a paperback book and a 60-watt bulb to get him through the night (page 176).
  • American-born Soviet spy Lona Cohen smuggled the plans for the atomic bomb out of New Mexico by cramming them into the bottom of a box of tissues. At one point an FBI agent held the box for her as she looked for her train ticket – he passed it back to her just as her train left the station (page 211).

The spy stuff in particular is really neat, mainly because it seems so low-tech today. Who knew that you could confirm your contact’s identity by matching up the torn cardboard flaps of a Jello box? Well, now you do.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser

This book unfolds in the popular dramatic nonfiction style of “let’s bounce back and forth between an exciting crisis (the Damascus Accident) and the somewhat less exciting history of our subject (nuclear weapons).” It’s available in multiple formats, though the print version does have a very handy diagram of a Titan II silo on its endpapers. Here are some more fun facts for you.

  • A dropped socket (the cause of the 1980 Damascus Accident) can put a hole in the fuel tank of a Titan II missile. Oops (page 7).
  • In 1961, a B-52 bomber carrying  two hydrogen bombs crashed in North Carolina. Neither bomb detonated – one was found in a tree, and the other, which landed in a swamp,  was never found at all (page 246).
  • In the late 1970s the United States placed  both real and fake MX missiles on 200 foot long trucks and drove them constantly between concrete bunkers to keep the Soviet Union from finding them (page 364).
  • In 1980, a faulty computer chip almost caused WWIII by putting twos in the wrong places in test messages – so instead of zero incoming missiles, there were suddenly 2,200. Cost to replace the chip? Forty-six cents (page 368).
  • In 1983, a Soviet early warning system detected five incoming Minuteman missiles. The commander on duty, puzzled by the small number (who starts a war with five missiles?), decided that it was a false alarm (whew). The “launches” were later revealed to be rays of sunlight reflected off nearby clouds (page 447).

And that’s just a few of the more memorable incidents listed in this book – it’s packed with countless fires, plane crashes, computer malfunctions, safety shortcomings, and just plain bad ideas. It’s honestly a wonder that any of us made it through the Cold War.

– Amy, whose elementary school was built on the site of a former Nike antiaircraft missile base, and who played on the silo covers at recess

 

 

 

 

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Wrong Movie, or the Devil is in the Details

http://librarycatalog.einetwork.net/Union/Search?basicType=ISN&lookfor=786936838961

You wanted this one, right?

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for the movie Frozen, which is apparently a Disney animated picture with some princesses and an Oscar-winning song and stuff. And that’s great! When people request things, that makes librarians feel needed. So thank you.

Unfortunately, Disney’s Frozen won’t be out on DVD until March 18th, so our customers have been accidentally requesting some less age-appropriate titles.

Frozen

No princesses here.

Frozen, 1996: A young performance artist decides to make his own suicide his last work of art. On the longest day of the year, he melts a huge block of ice with his own body heat and dies of hypothermia. He calls this act of defiance an “ice burial.”

Frozen, 2010: A typical day on the slopes turns into a chilling nightmare for three snowboarders when they get stranded on the chairlift before their last run. As the ski patrol switches off the lights, they realize with growing panic that they’ve been left behind, dangling high off the ground with no way down.

Frozen

That doesn’t look very heartwarming.

The Frozen, 2012: Emma and her boyfriend Mike take an ill-advised winter camping trip and are left to fight for their lives after a snowmobile accident leaves them stranded deep in the mountains. What begins as a struggle for survival against the harsh elements quickly turns into something far more chilling when the couple begins to glimpse a mysterious man who appears to be tracking them through the forest.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen customers confuse titles, though. Many years ago I received a complaint from a person who ordered Air Force One and received a lovely National Geographic special instead of an action-packed Harrison Ford romp.

The Same River Twice

I just wanted to use this picture on the library blog.

And apparently there’s a movie called Same River Twice (recommended by the Dove foundation) that is absolutely nothing like The Same River Twice (which features naked hippies). Oops.

So remember, before you place that hold – please check the publication date and read the summary first. Or you may end up confusing the heck out of your children.

– Amy

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When It’s Very Cold Outside

When it’s very cold outside I like to read books about people who are even colder than I am. When I sit by my heater and ponder the insanity of those who go outside on purpose, I feel much warmer by comparison. So let’s consider, if you will, the band of hikers in this book.

Dead Mountain

Looks cheery, doesn’t it?

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is the rousingly weird story of a group of Soviet students who died under very mysterious and very suspicious circumstances in the Ural Mountains in January 1959.

Basically, they went out on their merry way, caught rides on clunky Soviet trucks and buses, sang lots of folk songs, tramped into the wilderness, and… never returned. A search party eventually found their bodies scattered about their wrecked campsite – food was left unprepared, boots and pants were abandoned, and someone was missing a tongue. Ew. Better yet, tests conducted at the time showed that the bodies were surprisingly radioactive – now things are getting interesting!

The story alternates between the hikers in 1959 and the author in the present, so you get a little about their trip and then a little about the author’s investigation. The chapters are pretty short and often feel disjointed, though I suppose you could just call it “suspenseful” and deal. It’s not quite enough to make you throw the book across the room; rather, it gives you plenty of opportunities to stop and get a fresh mug of hot tea.

bonerecord

What’s that? It’s roentgenizdat! Image from an article at boston.com; click the picture to read it.

The chapters set in 1959 include a Cold War crash course, with just enough information about the era to help you make sense of things – though as a librarian, I was mildly horrified by the lack of a bibliography. But still, there are some mighty Fun Facts in here. For example, did you know that Soviet students with a hankering for Western music would make their own records out of used x-ray film? They’re called roentgenizdat (“bone records,” more or less) and they are amazing. That one weird fact, now lodged forever in my mind, totally makes up for the short chapters and occasional authorial digressions.

The present-day chapters introduce you to the lone survivor of the group (who turned back early due to illness) and to a fellow who maintains a whole apartment/museum dedicated to the incident – he’s the source of the pictures that appear throughout the book. You also get to see what happened to the formerly swanky university town of Sverdlovsk (like many Russian cities, it’s had a few name changes).

The hikers and a clunky Soviet truck, from the camera found at their campsite. Image from the book's website.

The hikers and a clunky Soviet truck, from the camera found at their campsite. Image from the book’s website, deadmountainbook.com.

But what really happened to the hikers? Of course, conspiracy theories abound – weapons test gone awry, crazed animals, serial killers, and (yes, I know) aliens are mentioned, and since the book is set in the Soviet Union there are suggestions of evil government cover-ups. In the end, the author decides to drag Science into it and comes up with a plausible new theory – but since Eleventh Stack is largely spoiler-free you’ll have to check it out and read it yourself (note: it wasn’t aliens; I don’t mind telling you that much).

– Amy, slightly chilled

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The Last Word For 2013

A group of us got together and decided that the last blog post of 2013 should be a shared effort, with each of us offering a notable quote from something he or she read during the 2013 calendar year.  So we each humbly offer you our last words for the year that was 2013.  Just a note: we’ve preserved any idiosyncratic formatting when it seems important to the meaning and impact of the quote.

Scott

In the midst of a tough year I oddly found myself reading Dante for the first time in my life.   Here’s one of many quotes that stuck with me.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Inferno, Canto I  by Dante Alighieri

Don

The best invitation to a classic novel ever comes in the form of this quote from the book itself: Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse:

Anarchist Evening Entertainment
Magic Theater
Entrance Not For Everybody

For Madmen Only!

Natalie

I am not from West Virginia but I married a true mountain man who grew up in the hollows of the southern part of the state. Reading Dean King’s The Feud over the summer gave me a new perspective of this bloody family history that helped mold the state, its inhabitants and the nation.

Mountains make fighting men. No matter where in the world you go, you’ll find that’s true. – Ralph Stanley

The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys. The True Story by Dean King; 2013; Forward

Jess

I’m currently reading The Little Women Letters and as to be expected, it’s put me in the mood for Louisa May Alcott‘s original text.  This line has always stuck with me:

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

Holly

I can identify with Scott: 2013 was a tough year, so this lady was diving head first into self-help books, while she’d spent most of her life rejecting them.  At the end of the year, I was recommended the best self-help-book-that-isn’t-a-self-help-book: Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke.  Rilke praised solitude so highly, and I’ve found solitude to be a great friend.  So apologies for getting a little emo – but this is the quote hit me the hardest this year. And here’s to 2014, may it bring you all peace, love, healing and good books!

Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Leigh Anne

There’s a gorgeous quotation near the end of Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips’s astonishing novel based on actual events, that captures what I’ve been feeling about the darkest nights of the year, and the return of the light. The passage is taken from composer David Lang‘s work “again (after ecclesiastes),” which you can listen to here.

these things make me so tired

I can’t speak, I can’t see, I can’t hear

what happened before will happen again

I forgot it all before

I will forget it all again

Suzy

I took one book with me on my epic bike tour and it was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (somehow in the midst of all those Women’s Studies classes during undergrad I missed reading it). I’m not sorry because I read it exactly when and where I needed to.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

Richard

I’ve written about Phlip Caputo’s The Longest Road : Overland In Search Of America, From Key West To The Arctic Ocean before, but it merits another mention.  In an age dominated by “social media”, how connected are we as Americans; how tolerant are we as individuals?  Which is greater, the ties or the divisions? What is it about being Americans that we discover as Caputo, his wife Leslie and their 2 dogs traverse almost 12,000 miles from Key West to the Arctic Circle and back?

“Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.” – Philip Caputo

Irene

In 2013 I fell in love with the illustrations of Kay Nielsen.  Fairytales have always been one of my favorite genres, and his illustrations perfectly capture how beautiful and disturbing the stories are.  The stories in East of the Sun and West of the Moon are more adult than you might imagine, full of violence and even (implied) sex.  Unlike many other fairy tales I’ve read, in which the princess waits for the prince to rescue her, several of these stories feature strong heroines who need to go to great lengths to rescue their handsome princes (or themselves).  In one of my favorites, The White Bear, the heroine is constantly reaffirming her bravery and strength.  This repeated refrain perfectly illustrates what I love about this character:

“Are you afraid?,” said the North Wind.
No, she wasn’t.

Melissa F.

David Levithan‘s newest young adult novel, Two Boys Kissing, is groundbreaking on a level rarely seen. It speaks to the very truth about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be your own true self.  As one of my favorite books of 2013, it’s an incredibly affecting (and very important) read for teens and adults alike.

The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.

May your 2014 be full of confident first sentences.

spotted at Someecards.com

spotted at someecards.com

Tara

I’ve been a bit of a hermit these past few years, so I found inspiration in 2013 from artist and writer Miranda July to go outside on occasion and take a look around. In her book/art project It Chooses You she writes:

Most of life is offline, and I think it always will be; eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body. But it’s not impossible to imagine losing my appetite for those things; they aren’t always easy, and they take so much time. In twenty years I’d be interviewing air and water and heat just to remember they mattered.

Also, when life gets either too heavy or too dull, a little absurdist British humor never hurts:

“What problems? We’re on the pig’s back, charging through a velvet field.” — Bernard Black, from the BBC television show Black Books

Eric

The following  is the first line of Chapter 3 of  Robert Kaplan’s book Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. This chapter is about Macedonia. This line encapsulates a lot of how Kaplan looks at the world he navigates in this book. Maybe we can take a tip from him, and not just look at the world around us, but read the world around us. Happy New Year!

The landscape here needs to be read, not just looked at.

Abbey

I read a lot of young adult books and I have loved many of them. However, I find it rare for many other readers to love young adult books. This quote and this book though have stuck with me for a long time, and the book has been enjoyed by many other readers I know, adult fiction and young adult fiction lovers in general.

“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”

From The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Maria

My new favorite quote this year relates to all the big changes in my life the last few years, something I instinctively struggle against, preferring the calm waters of routine. As soon as I read it, I instantly felt better.

The only thing constant in life is change. — François de La Rochefoucald, Maxims

Amy

I offer this bit of wisdom from Professor Farnsworth (of Futurama fame) as the perfect antidote for taking-yourself-too-seriously.

There’s no scientific consensus that life is important.

From Into the Wild Green Yonder by, erm, some TV dudes.

Happy New Year!

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“PENNSYLVANIA…..LAND OF PLENTY” (1965)

slides

That’s a lot of slides.

The Main Library’s Film & Audio Department houses nearly 40,000 slides, the remnants of a larger collection assembled in the days before Google image searches. Most of the slides circulate individually but quite a few of them are packaged in sets that also include scripts – they are of course just perfect for church groups, lodge meetings, boring family gatherings, and boring your family gatherings.

I recently rediscovered a lost script hiding under a pile of unused slide carousels. Like the other scripts, it’s a collection of typewritten pages bound into a cardboard cover. This one has the stirring title of

“PENNSYLVANIA…..LAND OF PLENTY” (1965)

Below are a few random excerpts from the script, for your amusement and edification. And if you’re really curious, you can even check out the slides.

– Amy

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Behold: Our Bêtes Noires

bête noire. Noun. Something that is particularly disliked. A person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads.  

Collins English Dictionary

Admit it: somewhere out there, there’s a book you tried to read and just…couldn’t. Even people who force themselves to finish every book they pick up meet their Waterloo somewhere. Thankfully, you’re not alone. One of our regular readers, Valerie, had this to say about her experience of reading Proust:

It started out as a noble effort. I was trying to be cultured and well-read: I was going to read In Search of Lost Time and I was going to read the whole thing. I was so confident that I didn’t even consider aiming just to read Swann’s Way. I ordered the entire set–seven volumes of Proust, in all his glory, 4,211 pages of beautiful, enchanting, intellect-affirming prose. Boy, was I going to feel good about myself when I was done. After all, Edmund White called In Search of Lost Time “the most respected novel of the twentieth century.” Harold Bloom agreed with him. For heaven’s sake, Michael Chabon said it was his favorite book, and he’s a cool dude.

As it turns out, Edmund, Harold, and Michael are all crazy. The main character starts off a sniveling, whiny little brat who won’t stop bugging his mother about coming to kiss him goodnight. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s about the experience of love and memory and anxiety, but still, I wanted to kick that kid. And he really doesn’t get less annoying from there. Then there’s that thing where he goes on and on about the cookie, and again, yes, I know: this is a beautiful, iconic scene. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a little sponge cake. It isn’t even warm and gooey and full of chocolate chips, so really, who cares?

Proust may not be your bugbear, but many of us on the Eleventh Stack team have felt Valerie’s pain via one book or another. We’re guessing you have, too. In today’s post, our team members reveal the books they simply couldn’t bring themselves to finish (though some are still open to trying again).

Behold: our bêtes noires.

*****

Aisha- It’s Not Me, It’s You

Best book ever? I will never know.

Best book ever? I will never know.

I didn’t start reading Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum novels until 2006 so I was late to the party. And it was a party. I loved them. They were amusing and a quick read. I read them rapidly until I was caught up, then waited for the new ones to come out. And then something happened: I stopped enjoying them. I still read them, but it felt like an obligation. I had read 14 of them, 15 of them, 16 of them; I had to keep going, right? When Notorious Nineteen came out, I started to read it and then realized I didn’t want or have to finish it. What was the point? It seemed to be the same story over and over. Stephanie accidentally shoots her gun. Grandma Mazur goes to the funeral home. Lula wears brightly colored spandex and eats a lot. Stephanie thinks about Morelli. Stephanie thinks about Ranger. A car blows up. And? It felt like breaking up with someone I’d been with a long time. Maybe Notorious Nineteen was the best of the series, but I’ll never know. When it’s over, it’s over. And it’s over, Janet.

Don

There was a time, when I was younger, that I finished every book I picked up. Part of the reason was, I remembered reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Up to about page 100, I thought it was one of the worst things I ever read. At page 100 it took off, and, amazingly, it is, to this day, one of my favorite novels. So, there’s the cautionary tale of giving up too soon.

I wish I could say the same thing about Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children, a book that, three quarters of the way through, I literally threw across the room with a resounding thump on the bungalow wall. Why? Well, the man’s ego was so large that he, in my estimation, had literally crowded the remaining 200 or so pages of the book, so I was done anyway.

Amy

Middlemarch, by George EliotMiddlemarch. Oh, how I hate you, Middlemarch. This weighty and terrible tome was forced upon me when I was a freshman in college. That very same year, one week into my first semester of college, I was in a rather nasty car accident. I was GRATEFUL for that car accident because it gave me an excuse to drop that particular English class and cast aside the epic preachy tediousness of this book.

Alas, I was forced back into its pages as a junior, but even then I still never managed to get more than two-thirds of the way through the damn thing. I just could not feel any sympathy for that chick (Dorothea something?) when she married the old preacher dude (cause she thought she was being all noble and shit) and then fell for his hot cousin (the only interesting person in the book). HEY LADY, YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE. YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO MARRY THE OLD DUDE. DEAL WITH IT.

P.S. I also hate Charles Dickens. Sorry, Don.

Holly

My history of unfinished books is long and sordid.  It is an occupational hazard.  A book that seems so promising when it arrives at the library is left behind, mid-page,  for a new, shiny book, and soon forgotten. A recent title that has been returned to the library, swearing that I would one day pick back up, is New Jersey NoirThis series covers all kinds of cities and places, from Pittsburgh to Kingston.  I love the idea of this noir series!  And how perfectly campy is a New Jersey collection?!?!  Sadly, I had to stop reading it after the story of a murder in Hoboken gave me nightmares.  Horror stories tend to do that to me. I promised myself one day I’ll go back and finish the other stories, but that was books and books ago…

Leigh Anne

Dear David Foster Wallace, wherever you are:

I wish you were still with us here, and still writing. From what I’ve read about you thus far, you were a genius, the kind of person who makes some people uncomfortable and gives others hope. But I hope that, wherever you are, you can forgive me for just not being smart enough to understand what you were trying to do in Infinite Jest. The joke is clearly on me, because I just don’t get it. At all. There’s a movie that cracks people up, quite literally, and tennis, and addiction, and satire, and and and. It’s just all too much. Mind you, I’ve read Finnegans Wake cover to cover, on purpose, so it’s not like I can’t handle a good mental workout. Still. Everybody’s brain has a limit.

You’ll have to forgive me. I really appreciate your genius, from a distance. But nobody likes to feel stupid. So I’m just going to acknowledge that you were smarter than I will ever be, and walk away slowly…

Jess

Like Leigh Anne, I put the tiniest of dents in Infinite Jest before wanting to hurl the book across the room. But that book is heavy (1079 pages!), so I just set it down gently and gave it the stink-eye… I’m really here to talk about World War Z, though. I get why this book works for some folks, but the things that didn’t work for me – non-linear plot told through vignettes, no true central character to provide an emotional core – were enough that I couldn’t finish it. The lack of connection and jumping around so much you feel worn out very much serve a purpose, however I almost wish Brooks had focused on just a few locations and spent longer chapters exploring how they were affected.

Joelle

Great GatsbyI am so ashamed to admit that I cannot bring myself to read The Great Gatsby. I have picked it up three or four times in the past 30 years, the latest being right before the Leonardo DiCaprio movie came out. I read just a little beyond the first chapter every time. It is on quite a few lists of books that people read more than once. I already know the whole plot, and I grew up on Long Island so I know the area that the story is set. Maybe knowing too much about it is the very reason I just can’t bring myself to stick with it. My expectation is too high and I’m not enthralled at the outset. I will watch the movie anyway.

Maria:

englishpatient

When I was in my twenties, I tried to read all the widely reviewed books that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. But now, twenty years later, I’m somewhat ruthless when it comes to giving books a chance. I usually aim for one chapter but I can usually tell if a book is for me just from reading a few paragraphs. The one book that comes to mind that I just could not finish is an older book that was a huge bestseller (and was also made into a movie): The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I tried so hard to get into this book but it  didn’t work for me as the author’s voice just didn’t speak to me. And, while I understand that there are different books for different times for different people, I still have no desire to try this one again.

Melissa

(who fancies herself to be the little red-haired girl, when she’s actually probably more of a Marcie!)

peanutsSchulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis. I love biographies. I love Peanuts. This book’s cover looked like Charlie Brown’s shirt, which I also love. What I didn’t love was this book. 566 pages of biography + 6 pages of acknowledgements + 58 pages of source notes + a 22 page index = a comprehensive tome about this iconic cartoonist. But as we all know, quantity does not always equal quality.

But maybe it is a high-quality work. Anyone looking for background information on Charles Schulz, minutiae even, will find this a fabulous read, I’m sure. If you’ve ever wanted to know why Charlie Brown could never seem to get ahead in the game of life, knowing Schulz’s history will help you figure out exactly where he was coming from. But when I got to page 200 and and the Peanuts gang had not yet made an appearance, I got fed up with Schulz’s self-centered, self-deprecating (and not in the endearing way), dopey personality and gave up!

As I skim through the book now, I think that if I had made it just a little bit further–closer to page 260–I would have seen the Peanuts characters come to life and even found out who the inspirations were for each one. I did appreciate the family photographs and comic strips scattered throughout. They were a welcome break from all that text!

Richard

Damascus Countdown / Joel C. Rosenberg

damascus

Synopsis: Israel has launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads. The Twelfth Imam has ordered a full-scale retaliation. CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

Rosenberg does a credible job with the raw material he has – it’s today, it’s the headlines and it’s ripe for a Tom Clancy like techno-thriller follow through, which is what I thought this was.  It is to a good degree, but like the TV huckster says “but wait, there’s more.”  I had no inkling that this Rosenberg writes Christian fiction, which I didn’t discover until I started reading.  Not my cup-o-tea to begin with, but this isn’t just inspirational, this is in-your-face Messianic Fiction.  Where Rosenberg lost me, to the point I stopped reading, are the overt Messianic references and placement.  As good as the rest of the story components are, the messianic references are so unsubtle and out of place / out of character, they failed to hold the story together for me; especially the wishfully thought-out Iranian Shiite converts who seamlessly can include the Gospels in their principal conversations about reactors and radiation levels.

The Decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio

decameron

Synopsis: In the early summer of 1348, as a terrible plague ravages the city, ten charming young Florentines take refuge in country villa to tell each other stories—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fortune. Boccaccio has little time for chastity, pokes fun at crafty, hypocritical clerics and celebrates the power of passion to overcome obstacles and social divisions.

Maybe I’m just not enamored of pre-Renaissance literature, but I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. It felt contrived and forced.  The story concept is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s forward.  It think my problem is I don’t feel comfortable around translations; I already know that nuances and intent get lost from the original language so I’m already leery.  As easily as I can visualize Napoleon, Alexander or Hannibal in their milieus, I have as hard a time visualizing and believing the 14th Century setting – puffy sleeves and leggings. I can’t say I read enough of this work it to criticize the writing, but Boccaccio and Nichols (the translator) didn’t make it interesting enough to keep me reading on.  

Scott

Why I failed to love Glen Cook’s Black Company novels, and why I will try to love them again:

Glen Cook’s expertly written fantasy fiction should’ve been right up my alley. He adroitly blends powerful magic and other fantastic elements with gritty military themes to tell the story of the eponymous Black Company a mercenary unit with a 500 year history of war and conquest. While others have compared Cook’s style to the spartan prose of Elmore Leonard, I find that some of his descriptions–or lack thereof–act as barriers to my understanding of the action.

While I like flawed characters as much as the next post-modern reader, I also found it hard to settle on a character to focus on and root for. Cook’s employment of an odd, first-person present tense narrative perspective also presents a challenge to someone more comfortable with third person omniscient perspective. While I don’t mind first person stories, the strange immediacy of Cook’s narrator just feels weird to me. Read this excerpt from his publisher’s website to better see what I am trying to explain here.

All of my misgivings and bad experiences aside, there remains gold in those hills. I fully plan to return to The Black Company saga for a second go-round. It took me two tries to fully love Frank Herbert’s Dune and now I re-read that every two years or so, so I will not hesitate to climb back into the saddle with the grizzled vets of Cook’s Black Company.

Suzy

DickensClassic I can’t and won’t finish: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I had to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for my 9th grade English class. Keep in mind, I have always been an avid reader and I usually read whatever was assigned to me. However, due to my general dislike of overdramatic behavior (even as a teenager), I hated every single character in Great Expectations from the door. I read the first two “Stages of Pip’s Expectations.” I never started the third. In fact, to this day over twenty years later, I have no idea how it ends. Never bothered to find out, don’t care; even for this post I still haven’t looked it up, still don’t care.

I thought Pip was an idealistic dipstick with unrealistic expectations. Then he got money and acted like a jerk. I was completely unsympathetic to his plight because he should have known better. Done with Pip. Then there is the cruel Estella, with her whole “I don’t have a heart” thing. Hyperbole much? Give a rest, lady. But it was Miss Havisham that really rubbed the 14-year-old me the wrong way. Is there anyone in the history of literature more self-indulgent and frankly, hysterical than that old bat? You got jilted at the alter so your entire life stopped and you never took off the wedding dress? That is too ridiculous for words and also totally unhygienic. (Seriously. Gross.) There is no man on earth worth that nonsense. Then, crazypants, you raise an orphan to exact vengeance? No. Just no. And if you see me, don’t tell me the ending. I like a little mystery in my life.

FranzenContemporary Novel I can’t and won’t finish: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I think this was book club book, but I can’t remember because of the PTSD the first two hundred pages of this book caused me. Freedom actually made me dislike Jonathan Franzen. (I later saw him speak at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday night lecture series and he was fantastic; engaging, funny, and not at all the intellectual snob I was expecting.) As with Great Expectations, I hated all the characters and also found them and the entire story completely unbelievable. (And I completely swallowed whole books like A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. So I can suspend my disbelief.)

Tedium abounds in Freedom. I found the dialogue artificial and even odd. I can’t imagine anyone in a relationship talking like Walt and Patty. And Patty’s autobiography, ugh. (If you want to see how an autobiography/diary can be worked into a novel well, read I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.) As to the plot: Really, uber-liberal couple, you’d let your teenage son move in with a bunch of hardcore Republicans? Or a talented athlete snowed by a weird fan? With its shallow and unlikeable characters and tiresome plot; I believe I can live a full and happy life without finishing this novel.

*****

For more abandoned books, and why they were put down, see The Paris Review and Barnes and Noble blogs.  We’re truly sorry if we’ve carved up one of your sacred cows, but we’re also curious about you: which books have you broken up with, flung across the room in anger, shunned, or simply just couldn’t finish?

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Murder Most Charming

The First Floor: New and Featured section of the Main library has a pretty epic graphic novel collection. That’s where I first came upon the works of Rick Geary, who writes and illustrates A Treasury of Victorian Murder and A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, two of the most delightful historical true crime series that’ll you’ll ever find (though to be fair, I’m not sure that he has a lot of competition in this arena).

I’ve read them all a few times, and always pounce on the new titles as soon as they come in. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

beast

That is not a trustworthy mustache.

The Beast of Chicago: an Account of the Life and Crimes of Herman W. Mudgett, Known to the World as H.H. Holmes – This character may sound familiar to you. It’s because he’s the Devil in Erik Larson’s most excellent book, The Devil in the White City. If you want both murder and lengthy digressions about architecture, read Larson’s book. If you want to get right down to business, read Geary’s book instead – there’s more than enough historical detail in here to make it both educational and an exciting romp. For the best of both worlds, you should (of course) read both books. This one really helped me picture the events described in The Devil in the White City, because, well, pictures. There are excellent diagrams of Holmes’ bizarre mansion, illustrations of Chicago and the World’s Fair, and maps of Holmes’ final flight. Good stuff all around.

(Bonus: Here’s a DVD about architectin’, and here’s one about murderin’. Because I belong to the Film & Audio department and have to work this stuff in somewhere.)

The Borden Tragedy: a Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 – Before I read this book, all I knew about Lizzie Borden could be summarized as “Lizzie Borden took an axe, something something something.” But after reading just the title of this book, my Internal Borden Murder Fact Database instantly tripled in size! And once you crack open the covers, there’s even more good stuff – Borden’s mother wasn’t murdered, it was her stepmother. Borden’s father didn’t believe in hallways, so their house looked really weird (the floor plans are mighty confusing). Mrs. Borden died while cleaning the guest bedroom (19 blows), and Mr. Borden died while napping in the sitting room (10 blows). The back cover even lists the similarities between Lizzie’s case and that of the formerly illustrious O.J. Simpson.

that song

Copyright 1997 by Rick Geary!

Those two are pretty famous cases, like most of the titles in the series – there are books about the Lindbergh kidnapping, Jack the Ripper, and the assassinations of presidents Lincoln and Garfield, to name a few. But there are others – cases that were famous in their day but aren’t remembered now, like the murder of actor and director William Desmond Taylor, the trial of poisoner Madeline Smith, and the story of the Bender family, described below.

Hospitable looking, aren’t they?

The Saga of the Bloody Benders: the Infamous Homicidal Family of Labette County, Kansas – The Bender family (mother, father, son, and daughter) appeared in Kansas in 1870, purchased land near a local trail, and set up a small inn and grocery store to attract the business of people travelling west. Over the next three years or so travelers and locals alike started to disappear, usually after last visiting the Bender property. The family themselves vanished just when the townsfolk decided to start investigating – and then all sorts of things came to light: a missing man’s glasses, an odd assortment of hammers, a blood-soaked basement floor, and a collection of shallow graves. Ew.

If you enjoy true crime, unhappy books, Victorian history, cool illustrations, and gruesome facts, these are the books for you. Or if you have a slightly morbid reluctant reader (with strong nerves) in your home, introduce him (her/it/them) to Rick Geary. His books are educational, beautifully illustrated, and creepy good fun.

– Amy

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I only know three musicals.

My dad is a creature of habit. Every Easter he watches Jesus Christ Superstar. Every Fourth of July he watches 1776. And when I was a little Amy, he made me watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum over and over and over again (it was either that or Blazing Saddles).

As a result of his bizarre-though-benign parenting, I ended up memorizing most (if not all) of these three musicals. I am still not sure if this is a good thing or not.


Jesus Christ Superstar(movie, score, assorted recordings, libretto) Personally, I prefer Original Album Deep Purple Jesus to Wimpy Movie Jesus, but the movie does have tanks. And Disco Judas. (Tanks first appear at :31.)


1776 – (movie, score, assorted recordings, libretto)  Thanks to this movie, I am sometimes tempted to sing “Will someone shut that man up?” during lengthy meetings, though I have managed to resist so far. (That line is at 4:18.)


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum(movie, score, assorted recordings, libretto) I suppose I can credit this one for fostering my early love of Roman history and teaching me that there at least seven geese in a gaggle. (Skip to 2:23 for geese, but the whole clip is great.)


– Amy, who was raised with sarcasm, bad puns, and  history

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Veterans of the Format Wars

All that remains.

All that remains.

Once upon a time the Main library had over 3,000 movies* on VHS tape, but now we’re down to the last few stalwart survivors – less than fifty in all. Our remaining feature films on VHS (with one notable exception**) are movies that are no longer available on DVD, were never released on DVD, or are hard to find in any format. Here are a few highlights from this tiny collection, for your amusement.

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* For comparison, we now have over 9,000 movies on DVD – roughly 7,000 in English and 2,000 foreign films. That is amazing.

** The notable exception is a VHS copy of “Dial M for Murder.” Of course we have it on DVD, but this one brave tape has been checked out five hundred and eighty-nine times since 1993. It deserves a permanent home.

– Amy

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On the Sheepish Retraction of Erroneously Constructed Opinions

Many authors annoy the heck out of me, not so much because of the quality of their work but because of the quantity – I just don’t see how it’s possible for them to crank out books once or twice a year. Can’t they back off a little and let some new authors have a crack at literary fame and fortune? Take a little vacation time, maybe? Learn a new language or pick up some other hobby?

Enough! Please!

I’ll admit that part of my frustration stems from the fact that this building is a historic landmark. Sometimes it’s very cool to work in a historic landmark (and sometimes it’s very cold to work in a historic landmark, when the windows get stuck). Problem is, there are limits to how much you can cram into a building like this – that’s why our book on CD shelves are always so full. There’s never enough room for everything I’d like to offer! So when I find certain authors taking up shelves and shelves and SHELVES, I get a little grumpy. And then I start ranting.

There must be an AMS book title generator somewhere.

I was about to add Alexander McCall Smith to my list of annoyingly prolific authors when I spotted his name on this unlikely looking title: Creating Humans: Ethical Questions Where Reproduction and Science Collide. It’s not a book; it’s a seven CD lecture series on medical ethics. How curious – could this be the work of the same man who produced such adorable-sounding titles as The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection? Turns out that yes, it is. Here’s a little something that I found in one of our databases, Contemporary Authors Online.

The diverse accomplishments of Alexander McCall Smith include a distinguished career as a legal scholar and more recent fame as a best-selling novelist. A professor of medical law at Edinburgh University, Smith has published many works on medical ethics and criminal law. For example, he has written about the duty to rescue and the impact of medical advances on parental rights. Smith also had numerous books of fiction for young children and short-story collections in print before he published a series of detective stories set in Botswana.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009.

Wow. So he has a real job. And he does more than churn out cozy mysteries that crowd my shelves. That’s pretty cool. Alexander McCall Smith, I apologize for my near-scorn! I’ll clear out a few of these old James Pattersons to make a little more room for you.

– Amy

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