2014 Staff Picks: Nonfiction Favorites

We are featuring our thoughts on all of our 2014 Staff Picks for the next two weeks here at Read More!  But, if you have impatient streak (like me!) and want the list immediately, please check out our online list in two parts, 2014 Staff Picks for Adults and 2014 Staff Picks for Children list. Or you can visit any of our library locations for a handy paper list!

Here are our favorite nonfiction selections for 2014:

Animal Architecture by Ingo Arndt

Animal ArchitectureFilled with beautiful photographs of all sorts of creatures’ homes, this book further cements my long-held belief that the natural world is a strange and wondrous place, magical even. Close-up shots and cut-a-ways reveal hidden detail and repeating patterns. The photos are simply and dramatically spotlighted through the use of stark background and minimal writing. – Jenni

 

Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents by Brendan Powell Smith

Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US PresidentsThis odd, but fascinating, album of photographs features Lego tableaus of famous assassination attempts on United States presidents. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to how the idea for Assassination came about. Even in these days of “Lego” everything, it’s still surprising subject matter and may be the first history book which relies on classic children’s toys as teaching tools. I’d say this book holds more appeal for the adult history buff than for the typical Lego fan, but it certainly makes for interesting conversation no matter what the audience. – Jenni

 

Dead Mountain: The Untold Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
by Donnie Eichar

Dead MountainIn 1959, nine young Russian hikers died mysteriously while hiking in the Ural Mountains. Author Donnie Eichar details his quest to find answers that make sense, bringing to life the lives of college students in cold war-era Russia, as well as his own obsession to find real answers among almost 50 years of speculation. – Jennifer

 

 

Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Lawrence in ArabiaLively book about the fascinating life of T.E. Lawrence and the Middle East during WWI.  Very accessible reading for those unfamiliar with the history and it’s helpful in understanding current issues in the region. – Christy

 

 

 

Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Not that kind of girlI was not sure how I would feel about this book because I have a love/hate relationship with Dunham’s HBO series “Girls”.  I loved this book! It is an honest, painful, brash, warm and funny. If you like Caitlin Moran or Jenny Lawson, this is the book for you. – Lesley

 

 

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I JumpConnecting with others requires communication, both verbal and nonverbal. What would happen if you couldn’t reliably speak or gesture in a way that made sense to the people around you? Naoki Higashida shares his unique perspective as a young person living with autism. Thirteen at the time this book was published, it is Naoki’s plea to be seen, heard, and valued as a human being. His writing exposes the raw vulnerability of a child struggling to connect with others and himself. There were times when I lost Naoki’s train of thought, but this only increased my interest. David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, and his wife, KA Yoshida, translated the book. Overall, The Reason I Jump was a fast, informative, and moving read. – Suzanne

 

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

Scandals of Classic HollywoodAnne Helen Petersen has a deep love and appreciation of Golden Age Hollywood that borders on obsessive, but it makes this collection of essays on the glitzy, messy lives of silver screen stars even more enjoyable for its readers.  Each chapter is both a glimpse into a world long past and an exploration on how media spin can make or break a star.  The tone of the book is chatty and casual – like you are reading an email from an extremely knowledgeable friend.  I highly recommend reading this book, then going and reading all of Peterson’s earlier essays online at The Hairpin so you don’t miss any of these entrancing, well-researched essays.  – Katie

 

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherI wanted to read this because the Bellingham Public Library is collaborating with the Whatcom Museum to bring Timothy Egan to Bellingham in 2015; his appearance complements a display of Curtis’ photographs at the Museum, and Egan will speak about this book.  In addition to this upcoming program, Curtis’ photographs have been fascinating and mysterious to me so I was interested to learn more about him and how he did his work.  Curtis’ goal was to document as many Native American tribes as was possible before they were gone forever.  Egan details Curtis’ struggles to find funding to support his life’s work and the publication of his photographs into a twenty volume series.  This is both an adventure story and a biography about one of America’s most determined, famous photographers. – Pam

Stop by on Friday for our favorite graphic novels and dvds!

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The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey

First ImpressionsBook Cover
My love of adventure, Hawaii and wanting to listen to something humorous I decided to download this audio book from Washington Anytime Library.

Drive-by Summary
I was intrigued by the picture of a hula girl on the cover. She is the hula girl of pure stench. The thought of a hula girl with gas was a cheeky idea. For me, Hawaii is somewhere between heaven and earth; the air is permeated with exotic scents and delightful sounds.

Two men are given a gift of a “treasure map” to the Golden Monkey by a wizen travel agent which leads them to adventure, danger and possibly regret.  Satirical, witty, and outlandishly bizarre think of fairy tales as told by Hunter S. Thompson or Jimmy Buffett’s zany stories. Jack Handey is quite dandy with world play:

“Sticky dynamite, souvenir hula girl made of pure stench, pineapple wood, a cardboard canoe and polinkas.”

Jack Handey, a humorist for the New Yorker takes you on a psychotic inspired journey and will make you laugh out loud with his stories too bawdy to be told to children.

Sound Bite
Jack Handey also narrates his own audiobook and does a masterful job.  Check it out:

https://soundcloud.com/hachetteaudio/stench-of-honolulu-jack-handey

My Favorite Character
Jack as himself – although you really not sure who he actually is!

Words to Live By
The following quotes came from a chapter called “Theories”.   They are theories the narrator had developed while staying as a guest at Dr. Ponzari’s, a scientist:

“Humans are evolving into a higher form and a lower form and at the same time. Confused? Then guess which one you are.”

“Birds evolved from dinosaurs, but guess what dinosaurs evolved from? That’s right! Birds!”

“When you die you become pure energy, but it’s not what we call reusable energy.”

Recommended For
Anyone who would like to be entertained or disgusted because Jack Handey will do both in a matter of minutes!

Final Say
I expected something very different from this audiobook and am happy to say that it had me laughing maniacally.  I had to stop listening to it at work for fear someone may hear me and wonder if I had lost my mind.

You can grab The Stench of Honolulu, in multiple formats, at the Bellingham Public Library.

– Keyla

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

First ImpressionsBook Cover
Worst.  Person.  Ever.  is a fast-paced story of terrible things happening to a terrible person; brought to life by prose steeped in the witty energy of pop culture.  Coupland satires everything including junk food, nuclear testing and airport security.  His mockery may be too low-brow at times, but sometimes you just need to roll with it and watch the nonsense unfold.  And if you miss a brand name or song reference?  Coupland will explain it for you, using the handy book equivalent of Pop-Up Video.

The results?  Such offensive.  Much sex.  Many profanity.  Very laughing.  Wow.

Drive-By Summary
Raymond Gunt is a washed-up, lecherous, self-glorifying cameraman whose equally despicable ex-wife offers him a job shooting a Survivor-style TV show in Kiribati.  Bereft of friends and in need of a production assistant, Gunt recruits the help of Neal, a homeless person he attacked only hours prior.  The pair clink glasses at the airport and jet off – what could go wrong?  Their adventures are a sarcastic send-up of consumerism, celebrity and dignity, with Gunt finding himself going from bad to worse to unspeakably, cringingly appalling; all while entertaining delusions of being an unfairly-targeted-by-fate version of Jason Bourne with no personal responsibility.

My Favorite Character
If Gunt is the worst person ever, Neal is the best – hard-working and humble, his successes make Gunt’s failures just that much more infuriating.

Words to Live By
“Behind her desk sat Fiona, elfin, her pixie hair dyed a cruel black.  She cocked an eyebrow at me.  “Jesus, Raymond, I’ve seen rhesus monkeys that look hotter than you.”  She was busy piling caviar atop a Ritz cracker.

“Lovely to see you, too, dear.”

Her office was well-oiled leather and chiseled steel, a fine enough reflection of her method of handling daily life.  What was painfully evident was that Fi was minting money with her casting agency.  The joke was on me for having suggested that she give the casting gig a try.  She’s an expert at meeting people and figuring out instantly what their personal style of lying is and how to make it work for them.  What else if acting, if not that?

But you do need to know that Fi is a dreadful, dreadful, dreadful person.  She is monstrous.  She is the Anti-shag.  She is an atomic bomb of pain.  If you puncture her skin, a million baby spiders will explode from her body and devour you alive, pupating your remains, all the while making little squeaking noises that will taunt you while you die in excruciating agony.”

Recommended For
Fans of Max Barry, Chuck Palahniuk and The Cure.  If you cannot stomach the obscenities of South Park, despair of a Graham Linehan comedy or the puerile absurdity of a Jackass sketch, then this isn’t the book for you.

Final Say
This May, Coupland unveiled an eight foot tall statue of his head outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, which the public will be invited to contribute to by pressing their discarded chewing gum onto his fiberglass face.  If that isn’t enough to make you curious about an author, this is the only book that has sent me racing across the room to look up a YouTube URL.

You can pick up Worst. Person. Ever. at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove book coverFirst Impressions
I normally don’t like short story collections.  I prefer books that pull me in, keep me absorbed for 400+ pages, and leave me (more than a bit) wistful when they end. But Vampires in the Lemon Grove is shockingly good.  The stories are short (sometimes too short), but the world-building is superb.  You feel that every place in the book is absolutely real and improbably inhabited by the most fantastical characters that are as understandable as you or me.

The emotional impact of many of the stories is devastating and tense.  I found myself setting the book down several times in order to lessen the tension I was feeling.  But the overwhelming concern and fascination I felt for various protagonists kept me coming back for more.

The writing in this collection is also amazing. It is clear, crisp, and innovative.  Russell tends to brief in her prose, but the impact is powerful and lingering.

Drive-by Summary
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is comprised of eight short stories written by author, Karen Russell, who wrote the award-winning Swamplandia!.  Each story is a self-contained world filled with unlikely, unusual, and disquieting people that inhabit realities much like our own.

My Favorite Story
“Barn at the End of Our Term” is hands down the funniest and most bittersweet story in Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

The story follows Rutherford B. Hayes, a former US president who has been reincarnated as “a skewbald pinto” and is stabled with ten other former, and equally transformed, presidents somewhere in Kentucky.  This absurd tale takes a turn for the profound as Hayes wanders the property looking for his wife or his freedom –whichever comes first.

Words to live by
“I think we needed that librarian to follow us around the hallways for every minute of every school day, reading us her story of our lives, her fine script of who we were and our activities — but of course she couldn’t do this, and we did get lost.”

Recommended For
Horror fans, fantasy-lovers, literary adventurers, and prose geeks who want a quick, satisfying read.

Final Say
This book is bizarre, heartbreaking, and deeply weird.  It is also fun and well-deserving of the praise I am lavishing upon it.

You can grab a copy  of Vampires in the Lemon Grove at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Katie

 

Staff Picks of 2013: Non- Fiction

For those readers that like facts more than fiction, here are the Bellingham Public Library’s favorite non-fiction titles of 2013:

500 Paper Objects - New Directions in Paper Art

500 Paper Objects : New Directions in Paper Art by Gene McHugh
Filled with gorgeous photographs of fantastical paper art – this book fills me with inspiration and wonder each time I crack it open. A mind-blowing showcase of variety and ingenuity on display.  –  Jenni

 

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.
This book has everything: a fast paced plot, a well-described, local and historical setting, interesting characters and one of those fun come-from-behind underdog wins stories – a winning combination! I couldn’t put it down. – Georgi

 

Bloodlands - Europe between Hitler and Stalin

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
There has been much written about the Holocaust, somewhat less about Stalin’s starvation and execution of millions, but Timothy Snyder does something new by treating the murders by the two dictators as one history. He tell the larger story of what happened in Eastern Europe from 1930 to 1945, but also tells the stories of individuals caught up in the horrors of that time. Much of what happened disappeared behind the Iron Curtain after the war, but Snyder, with access to recently declassified Soviet and other archives reveals new facts and perspectives about that harrowing time. This is not an easy book to read, but a brilliant history of an almost unbelievable period. – Beth

 

Dad is Fat

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
I’ve always enjoyed listening to Jim Gaffigan’s comedy routines. I think his observations are sharp and clear-eyed, but based in humility and understanding. Plus he is hilarious. Dad Is Fat is a series of short essays on life with a wonderful wife and five young children living in a 2 bedroom apartment in New York City. I had to stop reading it on the bus because it was too difficult to suppress my laughter. – Deborah

 

One Summer - America 1927

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of the leading popularizers of science, nature, and history. In his new work, Mr. Bryson focuses on a few famous characters (Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth) and events of 1927 to create a readable but fact-filled story of that pivotal year. While we may know the story of Lindbergh flying the Atlantic and the Babe setting a home run record, Bryson also cover less known history. That was the year that the federal reserve made the fateful decision that led to the depression, and the explosion of tabloid journalism and radio marked what could be considered the birth of modern popular culture. A fine way to painlessly swallow your history lesson. – Beth

Join us tomorrow for our favorite Teen picks of 2013!

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Mad About the Boy book coverFirst Impressions
I suspected when I picked up Mad About the Boy, just as with the previous Bridget Jones novels, I would be in for a treat full of chaotic experiences and random Jonesey thoughts.  I was definitely correct in that assumption.  Bridget’s diary entries begins with one of her famous lists, that she rarely ends up following.  Yes, Bridget Jones inner dialogue supports her character’s tendency to obsess about every little thing, which more often than not ends up turning into outer humiliation.  I knew this book would leave me in tears of laughter.

Drive-By Summary
A spoiler was released regarding the love of Bridget’s life, Mark Darcy.  In case you have not yet been spoiled, I will just say she and Mark are not together in this novel.  From the very beginning, it’s obvious Bridget is a single parent raising two children, Billy and Mabel.  Many of the humorous hijinks involve her children.  From nits, to Xboxes, to clothing covered in chocolate, to the perfect nanny, this story will have you rolling on the floor laughing.  Bridget is now in her fifties, trying to navigate her way through the current trends in dating; including texting, tweeting, and dating websites.  We can’t help but feel Bridget’s insecurities as if they were our own.  We want to cry over her bad luck, and yet laugh over the absurdity of it all.  Bridget wears her heart on her sleeve for all to take, and we gladly accept it, giving her ours in return.

My Favorite Character
I love Bridget Jones.  That’s more often than not a given, considering she’s the main character, however, my favorite secondary character is Mr. Wallaker.  He has such wit underneath that business like exterior.  He’s actually quite down to earth, although Bridget doesn’t see him that way.  Of course, Bridget has never been the best at reading people.  With Bridget’s sweet, yet tough inner core, and Mr. Wallaker stuffy, yet humorous outlook, make for excellent characters.

Words to Live By
Bridget Jones: “…I was FRIGHTENED of you because you were perfect, because it made me feel so not perfect.”

Chloe: “But, I always think YOU’RE perfect!”

This just goes to show that we are all equally perfect and not perfect.  One person’s perfect, is another person’s imperfect.

Recommended For
Even though those of the male gender can enjoy this, it is definitely more relatable to women.  Especially those who are single parents, though I’m not, and found it just as relatable.  So, I suppose anyone who finds humor in everyday life, even in things that we don’t laugh at now, but later.

Final Say
Life is full of seemingly random, insignificant moments that often turn out to be rather important down the line.  They can be sad or just outright hilarious.  Mad About the Boy, magnifies these little moments into a big beautiful picture.  So, pick up a pair of bifocals, and experience life through the eyes of Bridget Jones; it’s a journey not to be missed.

You can find Mad About the Boy at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Laura

Summer Reading Reviews, Week 3

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick NessThe Knife of Never Letting Go book cover
Over the course of this last week I read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This book has a very intriguing story line that may seem far-fetched but I feel that it is just close enough to become a possible reality for human beings. The concept at first was a bit confusing until Ness slowly began to reveal the secrets behind the life of the main character and how different it is from the way humans live here on earth. This was an excellent, thought-provoking read that deals with topics such as human survival, the fight for power, etc. One aspect that I found to be very interesting was the idea of “noise”.  All males in this story are able to hear each other’s “noise” and eventually an individual is inundated with so much “noise” that each single thought is no longer distinguishable and it’s always simply there, floating around in your head. This reminds me of today’s society. As humans are constantly being fed information via cell phones, TV, computer, etc., there is only so much that each of us can actually focus on before it simply becomes noise. I would definitely recommend this book to others who want to take a step into a fictional but potentially realistic way of life.

The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean CarrollThe Particle at the End of the Universe
The untold story of the Hunt for Higgs-Boson is still largely untold as the book progressed from a moderately user-friendly discussion of particle physics to an in-depth journey into the world of the muons, gluons, bosons, fermions and quarks that only a physicist’s mother could love. I couldn’t understand 80 percent of it, so I stopped trying (and reading). And I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory (the TV program, not the theory.)

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere’d You Go, Bernadette book cover
I fully enjoyed Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. It was breezy, fun yet there was meaning and a lot of feeling to it. I like a flawed character, and the main one was. Yet I felt myself rooting for her and her daughter all the way. I really liked this book!

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We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

First ImpressionsWe Learn Nothing book cover
We Learn Nothing, by Tim Kreider,  hooked me from the first sentence  and held me in its grip all the way through to the last. Honest, irreverent, and hilarious – it’s an examination of  whether or not we have the ability to grow from past experience. Are we doomed to repeat our own personal histories again and again?

Drive-by Summary
This is a collection of highly personal essays based on the life experiences of author and cartoonist Tim Kreider.  It ranges in subject from surviving a throat-stabbing, to nursing an aging parent through severe illness; suffering from extreme love-sickness, to how good anger can feel when it consumes us, and much more. It is a delightful, and at times heart-breaking, blend of humor,  cynicism, and self-awareness. A deeper look into the relationships and experiences one finds oneself enmeshed in and what we gain from them.

My Favorite Character
Tim Kreider has charmed me. I find his perspective and sense of humor deeply refreshing. In  We Learn Nothing, Kreider introduces us to a motley and fascinating cast of characters. By turns they are charming, brave, exasperating, and sometimes deeply flawed. I recognized friends of my own in his friend Skelly, estranged family members in the crowd at the Tea Party rally he infiltrates, and even myself, as I followed him on his journey of hope, disappointment, and truth-seeking.

Words to Live By
“There’s a fine line between the bold romantic gesture and stalking. The tricky crux of the matter is that it depends to a great extent on how that gesture is going to be received – which factor, unfortunately, the impetuous suitor/obsessed stalker has lost all ability to gauge. A friend of mine reports that all the women he’s polled have been enthusiastic advocates of the bold romantic gesture, but this, he suspects, is because they’re all automatically picturing John Cusack making it, not Steve Buscemi or Peter Lorre or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Often  you don’t know whether you’re the hero of a romantic comedy or the villain on a Lifetime special until the restraining order arrives.”

Recommended For
I would recommend this book for anyone in need of a laugh, and particularly, for those to whom it’s beginning to seem as if life is nothing but a series of repeated mistakes. Fans of Augusten Burroughs’ work will appreciate the wit and humility of the writer, combined with the  odd characters and situations he puts on display.

Final Say
What I learned from We Learn Nothing is that I am a huge fan of Tim Kreider’s work. His stories are a gift, his cartoons are brilliantly drawn (though I recommend a magnifying glass to read the print, as it’s very fine), and this book is not nearly long enough.

You can pick up a copy of We Learn Nothing at the
Bellingham Public Library.

— Jenni

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

First Impression
I have been a fan of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant online comics for a few years (http://harkavagrant.com/). Her quirky comics take a funny, satirical jab at famous authors, books, and historical characters.  No one is safe from mockery.

Her book, Hark! A Vagrant, is a collection of her best comics and it does not disappoint.  She makes literature and history fun for her readers.

Quick Plot Overview
There is no over-arching plot in Hark! A Vagrant as it is just a collection of comic strips.  But the lack of plot does not detract from her well-researched, witty stories about famous authors crushing on each other, famous generals being dense, and literary characters acting outside their written-roles.

My Favorite Character
Beaton’s Wonder Woman is hands down my favorite character in the book.  She is mean, vain, selfish and not really into helping anyone.  It is so unexpected and hilarious and the character perfectly represents Beaton’s sharp wit and unique storytelling style.

Case in point:
http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=275

Favorite Quote
“The world needs heroes.  America sends its best hunks to save the earth.  Ugly people and other countries may have fought against the Nazis, but we’ll never know for sure.”

Recommended For
I would recommend this book to history and literature geeks.   This book is full of in-jokes for people who love to see intelligent send-ups of their favorite subjects.

I would also recommend this book to adults who haven’t really read graphic novels or online comics because the art work and subject matter are very approachable.

Final Say
This is a great, light read for days when you want to read something short , funny, but also smart.  It had me giggling from cover to cover.

Browsing: Where Did You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Never under estimate the power of a good book cover!

I picked this book up today because I was intrigued by the cover.  Much of the new fiction I read is found by browsing the New Book shelves at my library.  Browsing is sometimes a great way to find a book or a genre you never thought you’d read.  And it makes your local librarians very, very happy.

This is author Maria Semple’s second book and, judging by the interview and book trailer, it is one rollicking read.

Want to know more?

Here is the New York Times interview with the author:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/books/maria-semple-author-of-whered-you-go-bernadette.html

And here is an awesome book trailer for Where Did You Go, Bernadette:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F38VhHUcFSA