In The Story of Charlotte's Web, it was E.B. White. In his new book, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau, accomplished nature writer Michael Sims turns his eye to one of 19th-century America's most iconic figures. Our reviewer deems the book—which focuses on Thoreau's youth—"an amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond." (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Sims has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
The Ghost in the Glass House
By Carey Wallace
I read a lot of children's and YA books, and lately my trend has been ghost stories. Most have been picked up randomly at library book sales—excellent older stories such as Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders and Colby F. Rodowsky’s The Gathering Room. But I've just read a fine new one by Carey Wallace, the author of the gorgeous 2010 novel The Blind Contessa's New Machine. Her first YA novel is elegant, witty, poignant and just as rich for adults. During the Jazz Age, 12-year-old Clare Fitzgerald travels with her wealthy, restless mother from hotel to rented house, from Europe to the United States. The mother is on the edge of having to address her demons, the daughter on the edge of adolescence. Then Clare meets Jack—or rather his ghost.
Wallace writes beautifully: “The unfinished walls were hung with a whole museum of curiosities: garden tools with handles rubbed smooth as driftwood, a pail full of the stubs of beeswax tapers, a few of Mack’s work shirts, soft with age, and a neat collection of herbs tied with scraps of ribbon and labeled. . . . As Clare’s eyes adjusted, she realized the shadows beyond the jars were full of roses, dozens of them, dried and stacked bloom to bloom like the skulls Clare’s mother had taken her to see, packed cheek to cheek in the Paris catacombs.”
By Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, revised and annotated by William C. Carter
I’m always rereading. I reread my favorite writers from childhood and everything else that I love: Kenneth Grahame, Jim Kjelgaard, Ruth Rendell, Dickens, Rilke, Hazlitt, Kevin Henkes, Philip Pullman, Annie Dillard, Thoreau, E. B. White, Beverly Cleary, Ovid, Raymond Chandler, Homer. Currently I’m re-reading Swann’s Way, which I’ve read twice before in its entirety and dozens of times in pieces. I’ve read the whole vast In Search of Lost Time, originally in the Moncrieff (and Kilmartin & Co.) translation, and I’m working my way through it a second time now in the multi-translator Penguin edition from several years ago. Now, thanks to this annotated revision of Moncrieff, I find myself returning again to the first volume. It’s a handsome deckle-edged trade paperback with crisp type, broad margins, and helpful annotations by the foremost biographer of Proust in English, William C. Carter (who is rivaled only by Jean-Yves Tadie, whose French masterwork was translated by Euon Cameron). Most importantly, it’s a full revision of Moncrieff, with endless corrections and thus a spectrum of restored nuances. Also it’s easy to hold in bed. And it smells great, which is only appropriate.
I read Proust for his psychological insight and his breadth of vision, but mostly for the cinematography. Has any other writer so beautifully captured the fleeting experience of everyday life? “For many years have now elapsed since the Combray days, when, coming in from the longest and latest of walks, I would still be in time to see the red reflections of the sunset in the panes of my bedroom window.”
The Letters of Pliny the Younger
I’m reading these vivid, lively, elegant letters in a sturdy red cloth edition from the original 1909 set of Harvard Classics. I grew up in the country in eastern Tennessee and never made it to college. The seeds of my personal library were the 50-odd volumes of the Harvard Classics, which I bought in a cardboard box at a library book sale for four dollars when I was in my mid-20s. I’m still reading and re-reading them.
They include Pliny’s account of the death of his esteemed uncle, now called Pliny the Elder, and a terrifying eyewitness account of the latter’s death during the eruption of Vesuvius, because he was determined to get closer to the volcano and understand what was happening. The letters provide a time-machine panorama of the intellectual, moral, and social issues dominating Roman life in the first century. They make me want to write about this era. Pliny also brings to life his ordinary days and the surprising comfort of his villa: “Adjoining this angle is a room forming the segment of a circle, the windows of which are so arranged as to get the sun all through the day: in the walls are contrived a sort of cases, containing a collection of authors who can never be read too often. Next to this is a bed-room, connected with it by a raised passage furnished with pipes, which supply, at a wholesome temperature, and distribute to all parts of this room, the heat they receive. . . .”
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Adventures of Henry Thoreau—or any of Sims' recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Lauren Sloan Patterson)
With just a few days left in February, let's take a look at the March LibraryReads list, which features the 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about sharing with their patrons.
Coming in at #1 is Laura McHugh's The Weight of Blood, which our reviewer describes as "a tense, taut novel and a truly remarkable debut. . . . a suspenseful thrill ride that satisfies in all the right ways." (Read our full review here, and our interview with McHugh about the book here.)
What do you think, readers? Will any of the March LibraryReads books be going on your TBR list?
Bich Minh Nguyen's enthralling second novel, Pioneer Girl, offers a version of the immigrant experience that's different from the one we usually read about: the Middle America Asian-American experience. Our interview with Nguyen about Pioneer Girl highlights the fascinating inspiration behind the book, also offering a peek into her creative process.
We were curious about the books Nguyen has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Happiness, Like Water
By Chinelo Okparanta
I love the distilled experience of reading short stories, and Okparanta’s debut collection is powerful and heartbreaking in the best way. Set in Nigeria and the United States, the stories follow characters struggling in their relationships, families, and social and political circumstances. The question of identity, especially for women, is always at the forefront, as in two of my favorite stories here, “On Ohaeto Street,” about a couple’s doomed marriage, and “America,” about a woman whose decision to emigrate creates hope but also signals the loss of family heritage.
Son of a Gun
By Justin St. Germain
I recently taught this memoir, which is as clear-eyed, beautiful and intense as one could hope for in a work of nonfiction. While St. Germain focuses the narrative on his search for understanding in the years after his mother’s murder, he also reflects on the landscape of Tombstone, Arizona, and its culture of myth-making and violence. With restraint and care, St. Germain weaves together ideas about past and present, rage and stillness, loss and reinvention.
By Natalie Baszile
I just started this lovely and absorbing novel about a mother and daughter who move from Los Angeles to Louisiana, drawn by an inheritance of 800 acres of sugarcane land. The farming life and the Southern country life are completely unfamiliar to Charley Bordelon and her daughter Micah, and they have to learn quickly. Much is on the line here, as Charley feels like this is her one big chance to start over and make a life for herself and Micah. And there’s a tantalizing mystery, too: Who was Charley’s father? Why did he leave all this land to her? I can’t wait to see how the stories and secrets unfold.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Pioneer Girl—or any of Nguyen's recommended books—to your TBR list?
How popular was Shirley Temple among Americans in the 1930s? "Within a year of her breakthrough in 1934, hers was the second most popular name in the country," John F. Kasson writes in his upcoming book, The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America (Norton, April). In fact, Shirley Temple was popular not only in America, but around the world, becoming a global sensation on a scale that could make even Justin Bieber envious. From 1935 through 1938, Kasson reports, "she was the most popular star at the box office both within the United States and worldwide, a record never equaled." Among the countless fans who treasured portraits of Temple was Anne Frank, who kept a picture of the child star in the room where she hid from the Nazis.
Shirley Temple Black's death last week at the age of 85 will likely prompt a re-evaluation of her life and legacy, and Kasson's timely volume is a first step in that process. A professor of history and American studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he focuses on Temple's boundless optimism and its effect on the Depression-weary public. Both insightful and filled with interesting details about Temple's career (her "preternatural talents" fostered persistent rumors that she was an adult midget), The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression is a case study of the interplay between celebrity and culture. Look for it in bookstores and libraries on April 14.
Science and love? At first, it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in his highly informative new book, The Science of Happily Ever After, Ty Tashiro, PhD, presents tips for how to best go about choosing a mate—wisdom generated from examining lots of true-life stories and scientific research in the fields of sociology and psychology. In this guest post, Tashiro explains how we should stick to three wishes—and no more—when it comes to selecting our ideal partner.
If a fairy godmother granted you three wishes for your ideal romantic partner, then what traits would you wish for? When a bright undergraduate in my Psychology of Relationships course at the University of Maryland asked me this question five years ago, I found it so compelling that I eventually decided to devote two years of my life searching for the answer. I knew that guidance about how to wish wisely for enduring love was buried somewhere in the thousands of scientific papers about dating, sexual attraction and marriage. The answers I found are explained in my new book The Science of Happily Ever After.
I know that three wishes does not sound like much, but consider the following thought experiment to see why three is the magic number: Imagine that a bachelorette has an opportunity to choose among 100 eligible bachelors who are randomly selected from the population. Let’s say that her three wishes for traits in a partner include some who is: tall, college educated and employed at a good job.
1. If we conservatively say that someone “tall” is 6' or taller, then 80 of the 100 eligible bachelors would walk out of the room because only 20% of men in the United States are 6' or taller.
2. The wish for someone who is college educated would rule out 16 of the remaining 20 bachelors because 30% of men have a bachelors degree.
3. If having a good job were code for someone who has a job that pays pretty well, maybe someone at the 70th percentile in yearly income ($60,000/year) then only one man would remain out of the initial 100.
You can play this wishing game with just about any set of three wishes, and it almost always whittles down 100 possible options to just about no options. However, this is more than just a game. In online dating situations, it’s common for people to inadvertently narrow their pool of available dating options by specifying certain characteristics of people they will date. Although people should certainly maintain standards for who they will date, it’s unfortunate when something that is not a real necessity, but is rather just a preference (e.g., height, love of the outdoors), rules out hundreds of potential partners who might have possessed the traits that really matter for long-term relationship success.
I wrote The Science of Happily Ever After with the goal of explaining why it’s important for singles to prioritize the three things they want the most in a partner and to be stubborn about getting partners who fit those criteria. This is not a book about settling for someone mediocre, but rather a book about how to be smart about prioritizing what you really want.
The Science of Happily Ever After is filled with entertaining stories about people looking for love, the common problems they face while trying to choose a partner, and straightforward explanations of the vast body of research on romantic relationships. I also explain why many people squander their three wishes on superficial traits and provide suggestions about the traits that can significantly improve the odds of finding relationships that are satisfying and stable.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, sometimes it’s easy for singles to wish that they had somebody, anybody, who could fit the “responsibilities” of being a partner. However, one of the saddest situations is ending up with a lifelong partner who simply fills a role. For singles looking for happiness that can endure, they should be sure that they have a good idea about what it is that they want in a partner, so that they can be sure that they find exactly what they wish for.
Thanks, Ty! Readers, will you be checking out The Science of Happily Ever After? Visit Ty's website to learn more.
Melanie Shankle's best-selling memoir, Sparkly Green Earrings, delivered a laugh-out-loud portrait of the good, the bad and the hilarious aspects of motherhood. In her new memoir, The Antelope in the Living Room, Shankle turns her keen observation to marriage, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments of her own 16-year union with husband, Perry—all with her trademark, relatable humor. In this guest post, Shankle takes a refreshingly honest look at the holiday of love: Valentine's Day.
I’m sorry if the title led you to believe this was going to be any sort of actual researched work detailing the true history of Valentine’s Day. Because you’ll never convince me that it’s not just a holiday made up by Mr. Hallmark to find a reason to sell greeting cards and boxes of chocolate in that historically dead period between Christmas and some relative’s birthday.
And since the dawn of Valentine’s Day, it has proved to be a harbinger for most women as the day of the year we most prepare ourselves for disappointment. Maybe you’re in the minority of women and your husband actually shows up with two dozen roses and a piece of jewelry from the jewelry store at the mall to tell you he’d marry you all over again. If that’s the case, good for you. We’re all happy for you even though we may not like you. Also, you can quit reading now.
But for the rest of you, I will share a little story. In The Antelope in the Living Room, I write about the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I spent together. We’d been dating a little less than a year and he showed up at my apartment with a giant tin full of red cinnamon-flavored popcorn. And because I was a 24-year-old girl in love, I assumed there was a good chance that there might be a ring box containing an engagement ring at the bottom of that popcorn.
I was wrong.
My daughter read the story from my book out loud about the popcorn the other night, and she stopped at the end of it, looked up at me with a look I can only describe as pity and said, “I can’t believe you thought Daddy was going to put a ring in a bunch of popcorn to ask you to marry him. You didn’t know him AT ALL back then.” And I laughed out loud because she is so right.
Back then I had all these romantic, sappy notions of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and it involved candlelit dinners, roses and other grand gestures. But the truth is that real love isn’t just about a day of the year. True love is the daily commitment to share a life together that is sometimes messy and beautiful and frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. It’s the courage to pick up the pieces and fix what’s broken and constantly work to keep it all woven together.
And so for me, I’ve learned that Valentine’s Day isn’t going to look like it does in the movies or on Hallmark commercials, which is probably for the best because I really do not care for the chocolate assortment contained in those heart-shaped boxes. (It only takes biting into something with coconut filling once to scar you for life.)
So Valentine’s Day at our house is going to look pretty much like every other day of the year. There will be dishes to wash and dinner to cook and kids to drive to soccer practice. There might be pizza delivered for dinner and maybe a card that says, “I Love You” if it happens to be a particularly good year. There will be a car already started in the morning to warm it up for me before I have to leave the house and trash cans rolled out to the curb and leaves blown off the back patio because he knows they drive me crazy.
And what I’ve learned is that all those things look a whole lot more like real, true, lasting love than any piece of jewelry ever could.
Thanks, Melanie! What do you think, readers, will you be checking out The Antelope in the Living Room? Learn more on Melanie's blog.
(Author photo © 2013 by Leslie Lonsdale)
Very few people are lucky enough to love their job as much as David Menasche loved teaching high school English in Miami. One of his favorite lessons was called "The Priority List," in which he asked his students to rank ten words—wealth, love, education, for example—in order of importance to them.
Even after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2006, David continued teaching—until a debilitating seizure in 2012 made returning to the classroom impossible.
Instead of giving up and letting his illness become the focus of his life, David reevaluated his own priorities, ultimately deciding to end his treatment and embark on a journey to reconnect with former students, who were scattered across the country. Fifty cities and 8,000 miles later, David has reunited with more than 100 students, all eager to let him know the positive influence he's had on their lives.
Menasche shares his courageous journey in his new, incredibly moving memoir, The Priority List, which will inspire readers to reflect and reassess their own priorities. In this guest blog post, David shares the story of the "no-going-back" day he realized he wanted to become a teacher.
For me, teaching wasn’t making a living. It was my life. Nothing made me happier or more content than standing in front of a classroom and watching my students “catch” my passion for language and literature.
For 16 years I taught 11th graders at a magnet high school in Miami, and my classroom was my sanctuary. So much so that on the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 when, at the age of 34, I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiforme, an incurable form of brain cancer, and told I had less than a year to live, I did what I always did: I went to school.
I am a pragmatic man. I know there is no reason I should still be alive. The cancer never lets me forget that it and ultimately it will win this battle of wills. But I choose to live for today and cherish the memories of yesterday. I may no longer get to be in a classroom, but my time as a teacher was time well spent.
The novelist Alice Sebold wrote, “Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.” I backed into my dream-come-true while I was studying journalism at Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village. One of my favorite professors convinced me to sign up for the Teachers and Writers Program. The program placed aspiring writers in New York public schools and gave them the opportunity to teach. I was sent to teach a group of eager first-graders in upstate New York.
The small village, with its frozen pond in the center, was enchanting to a Miami kid like me. On my very first day, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach the kids by the book. Instead, I read to them from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I couldn’t help but be animated and energetic when I read it, as Whitman had always had that effect on me. When I looked out at my six-year-old students, sitting Indian-style in front of me, I saw wonder in their eyes. Their hands shot up, and they called out questions before I’d even finished reading. Watching their reaction to Whitman’s poetry, I got an idea. “Tell you what,” I said, “why don’t we go outside and write our own poems.”
The kids squealed with delight. I bundled them up and marched them outside like a flock of ducklings. Giving each one a small stack of yellow Post-it notes and crayons, I asked them to write down the things they saw—one item per piece of paper. They ran around looking at everything, and like Whitman, I thought, they had a blissful enthusiasm for their surroundings. They wrote words like “rock” and “leaf” and “snow.”
After I noticed one of my little duckies with frozen snot on her upper lip and shivering, I shepherded everyone back inside and asked the kids to stick their notes up on the board and rearrange them until they were in an order that they liked. When they were finished, they had written a poem. The students jumped up and down with the same sense of accomplishment and joy that I felt watching them learn.
That was it for me. There was no turning back. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
Thank you so much, David. Readers, The Priority List is out now, and you can continue to follow David's journey on Facebook.
(Author photo by Chris Granger)
With February right around the corner, let's take a look at the February LibraryReads list, which features 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about sharing with their patrons.
Topping the list is Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which Cindy Stevens of the Pioneer Library System in Norman, Oklahoma, proclaims as "the next great read for those who loved The Hunger Games."
While the list offers up lots of suspenseful thrillers to curl up with by the fire—The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (our Top Pick in fiction for February!) and The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin, among them—it also features much-anticipated new novels from best-selling authors Matthew Quick and Wiley Cash. See the full list right here.
What do you think, readers? Any of the books going straight to the top of your TBR list?
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby
by Sarah Churchwell
Penguin Press • $29.95 • ISBN 9781594204746
On sale January 23, 2014
Some people may be tired of reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby and the 1920s . . . but I'm not one of them. My feet are firmly planted in the can't-get-enough camp when it comes to my favorite novel of all time. Which is why, this week, I'm reading Sarah Churchwell's new book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.
In it, Churchwell focuses on one particular year in the life of Fitzgerald: 1922, the very year in which The Great Gatsby would be set (and, many say, the pivotal year that ushered in modernism). In 1922, Fitzgerald was just 26 and a rising literary star. He and Zelda settled right in the midst of a bustling New York City (and on Long Island), partying it up with the literati and everyone else snubbing their noses at Prohibition. As Churchwell points out, Fitzgerald was also doing a little first-hand research for a new book idea.
In her meticulous research, Churchwell combed through Fitzgerald's Princeton archives, through old newspaper articles, and other historical records, resulting in this fascinating account of a brilliant writer, a vibrant city and a tiny slice of American history and culture. While reading, you can almost imagine how the wheels must have turned in Fitzgerald's head.
In this excerpt, Churchwell describes the familiar landscape that Scott and Zelda (accompanied by none other than John Dos Passos) drove through while on a car trip from Manhattan to Long Island, where they were hunting for a house to rent:
About halfway between New York and Great Neck, just beneath Flushing Bay, stood the towering Corona Dumps, vast mountains of fuel ash that New York had been heaping on swampland beyond the city limits since 1895, in a landfill created by the construction of the Long Island Rail Road. By the time the ash dumps were leveled in the late 1930s (and eventually recycled to form the Long Island Expressway), the mounds of ash were nearly a hundred feet tall in places; the highest peak was locally given the ironic name Mount Corona. . . . By 1922, desolate, towering mountains of ashes and dust stretched four miles long and over a mile across, alongside the road that linked the glamor of Manhattan to the Gold Coast. In the distance could be seen the steel frames of new apartment buildings braced against the sky to the west. Refuse stretched in all directions, with goats wandering through and old women searching among the litter for some redeemable object.
What are you reading this week?
Looking to gift a great photography book this holiday season? Lonely Planet's Beautiful World, with over 200 large-format images, captures jaw-dropping sights and destinations from all corners of the globe. Spark your spirit of adventure with photos from the lush prairie of Nebraska to the remote Galápagos; this book will have you planning your next getaway in no time. The Lonely Planet editors are no strangers to the wonders of the world, but as they said, "we don’t see them every day and sometimes we need to be reminded that they are there.” Watch the gorgeous trailer below and prepare to be swept away with wanderlust.