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    Librarians Who Read
    compiled by
    Rebecca Feind
    , Reference Librarian

    Summer Reading: what library faculty and staff read and recommend!  Here are the results of a survey of library faculty and staff. We hope these reviews might provide some titles to add to your own “To Read” list.


    Betsy Bugg, Government Documents : Breaking Out by Laura Fairchild Brodie
    If you interested in the concept of women attending previously all-male military schools, you will love this account of the transformation of VMI to a coed institution. Brodie is no outsider to life at VMI; she is the band director's wife, holds a doctorate in English literature, and has part-time teaching responsibilities. She describes herself  as a member of the VMI family, and a feminist "not a man-hater, not a witch, not an inflexible opponent of all things patriarchal, but a supporter of a society equally fair to its mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters."  Brodie sets the stage with several chapters of background, then moves to the planning, then to the actual implementation. The intricate sociological and psychological maneuvering by the administration, alumni and students makes fascinating reading, and Brodie is a fine writer. VMI is "close to home"; many of us know teachers and students, past and present, and that makes this story all the more relevant. Co-educating military students is an interesting dilemma when viewed from a distance, but Brodie gives a view of the passionate and frustrating process from the inside out.


    Reba Leiding, Assistant to the Dean: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
    This rollicking, sweeping novel, which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize  for fiction, brings together a number of themes—magic, Jewish history,  World War II and the Holocaust, homosexuality, love, revenge, art and the advent of modern popular culture, plus a group of characters you  really care about. The story opens in 1939, when Sammy Clay, a savvy Brooklyn teenager and his newly arrived Jewish refugee cousin Joe Kavalier pair up to create a comic book superhero—the Escapist.  Pragmatic but devoted to Joe, Sammy sees comic books as a way out of  Brooklyn and into Manhattan’s world of artists and celebrities, while  Joe hopes to use his comic book art to build a fortune in an attempt to  save his brother and parents in Europe and to deal with his survivor’s  guilt. Ultimately, art can’t fight reality and the book drags a bit  during the sad days of World War II, but things sort  themselves out. Chabon has really done his homework (his father was a  cartoonist) and along the way you learn a lot about the history of comic  book art. The book has a touch of roman a clef, with folks like  Salvador Dali and Orson Welles wandering through. Chabon’s earlier  novels (Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys) are great too, but very  different, set in the present day and on the fringes of academic life.

    Karen Milne, Technical Services: The Raj: A Novel, by Gita Mehta.
    This is a historical novel of one
    woman's role in Indian society during the British Raj in India (circa 1927-1940's).  She is born of a royal family, married into another at a young age to a husband who largely ignores her in favor of socializing with the British and American film stars.  She is actively involved in the politics of India during the time Gandhi and others seek to wrest control from the British over their own destiny.  This is probably one of the few books written about the British Raj from an Indian perspective and it is informative as well as entertaining and a window on the life of higher caste society in India. I highly recommend it. 



    Two recommendations from Jennifer McCabe, CISAT Library: 
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers.
    The title, combined with the hype it received with its release, put me off of this book for over a year.  But I bought it when it came out in paperback, and I am very glad I did.  This is a memoir.  The heartbreak is that both of the author’s parents died of cancer within six months of each other, leaving the author, at the age of 22, to raise his eight year old brother.  The genius is how he tells the story with no traces of self-pity, sentimentality or sappiness.  Despite what at first seems to be a glib (do not call it ironic) writing style, the dialog is wonderful, the story compelling, and the scenery vibrant.  In addition to telling the story of his new family life, he also writes a lot about being young and creative and trying to earn a living in a new city.  Readers of the paperback edition get an appendix titled “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making” in which the author offers some clarifications and fleshes out some scenes that had been edited.  But the real treasure of the appendix is the perspective that Eggers gained in the time between the writing of the book and the release of the paperback edition.  He likens the writing of his memoir, and the requisite reliving of experiences, to being in a sauna with someone who will not stop pouring water on the rocks.  Thus anyone who feels the author did not emote enough in the book proper gets some insight into the intensity of his experience.  I loved this book and did not want it to end.   

    Also, recommended by Jennifer: 
    Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich
    In these post welfare reform years, Ehrenreich set out to discover what it is really like to work in low wage jobs in America.  She lived in different cities (with varied climates) and took “unskilled” jobs, waiting tables, cleaning houses, shuffling merchandise at Wal-Mart.  She lived in motels and apartments, and befriended her coworkers in order to form a picture of the working class.  Not only does this book offer valuable insights into the working lives of many in America, it reveals the dismal conditions that are imposed on them.  One of the most valuable and humbling insights comes near the end of the book when Ehrenreich reflects on the fact that never, during any of her stints as floor cleaner or clothing sorter, did she feel that her education (she has a PhD) or prior work experience gave her an advantage in the workplace.  She also reveals that the work she did was not only backbreaking, but psychologically and mentally demanding.   Add to the demands of the actual work the challenges of finding affordable, safe, housing and child-care, reliable transportation, and nutritious food, and you begin to see the challenges faced by thousands of our neighbors every day.  It is an excellent book that reveals a lot about working in America.

    Candace Miller, Reference Librarian
    I read the latest P.D. James mystery, Murder in Holy Orders a few weeks ago.  This was a very good book, up to her usual high standards in regards to character development, plotting and mis-en-scene. A must read for mystery buffs in my opinion.


    Gordon Miller, Reference Librarian
    The Mystery of Jacob Amman by William R. McGrath
    Jacob Ammann, the individual for whom the Amish are named, is written about in this book.  The Amish, at times, have received a negative press and are among those who are sometimes called the “Dumb Dutch.”  The author has spent time in Switzerland and Alsace researching in archives and libraries.  He portrays Ammann as being a mystery because not much has been known of him and because those writing about him have frequently cast him in a negative light. McGrath writes very favorably about Ammann and his movement that began in Alsace and the Emmenthal region of Switzerland in 1693.  He details much of why Ammann believed the way he did and how other Anabaptists of the time followed him in his beliefs. This book was of much interest to me because of my Amish ancestry and because of a trip to Switzerland and Alsace this spring, in which I saw the areas where Ammann had lived and worked.  This is an excellent book that will give its reader’s new insights into the life and times of Jacob Ammann.


    Kathy Clarke, Business Librarian:  Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
    This is the story of the relationship between an unlikely racehorse, his owners, his trainer, his jockey(s) and the public's fascination with each.  With this backdrop, the bond between this "family" that forms in the care of this horse is remarkable and seems to have happened long ago, instead of the 1940s.  Hillenbrand takes the reader through the very unseemly world of horseracing and touches on enough detail to make the point without losing the reader in technicalities. The research done to make this true story come to life coupled with author's storytelling skills made this the first book I actually purchased in a long time.   


    Patricia Williams, Media Resources:
    Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whale ship Essex tells the story we know as Melville’s Moby-Dick but with a fascinating new twist to the historic context.  Philbrick tells us in incredible detail what happened leading up to and after the whale ship Essex was rammed by the huge enraged sperm whale, how the 20-man crew survived 3 months in the open ocean in 3 small boats, who made it home, who did not, and how they did it. 
    The book is less than 300 pages, including notes. A quick read well worth your time.   The New York Post says: “If you loved “Titanic” and gobbled up The Perfect Storm then  In the Heart of the Sea is just for you.  It’s a seat of the pants real life tale …”


    Mary Wilson Stewart, Preservation: 
    The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga
    My favorite book of the summer!  It was a well-written novel with a very unusual story. A young librarian volunteers as a book conservator to go to Italy to help salvage rare books and manuscripts but ends up involved in an intriguing mystery. If you like Italy, Italians, Italian art--you'll love this book.  Here’s a quote from the cover: "The Italians called them "Mud Angels," the young foreigners who came to Florence in 1966 to save the city's treasured art from the Arno's flooded banks. American volunteer Margot Harrington was one of them, finding her niche in the waterlogged library of a Carmelite convent. For within its walls she discovers a priceless Renaissance masterwork: a sensuous volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings.  Inspired to sample each of the ineffable sixteen pleasures, Margot embarks on the intrigue of a lifetime with a forbidden lover and the contraband volume--a sensual, life-altering journey of loss and rebirth in this exquisite novel of spiritual longing and earthly desire....."


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