Monday, July 19, 2010

Books By Theme: Holy Lands

Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses
by Bruce S. Feiler

In this "genial travel-journal-turned-spiritual-exploration" (Kirkus Reviews), Jewish author Bruce Feiler teams up with Israeli archaeologist Avner Goren in an attempt to locate and visit some of the most famous places in the Pentateuch--the five Books of Moses that form the Hebrew Torah and the beginning of the Christian Old Testament. Beginning in Turkey, at the alleged site of Noah's Ark, Feiler and Goren explore the Sinai Peninsula, cross into Egypt, and travel through the Negev desert in Israel as well as throughout the West Bank. If you're interested in the geography of the Ancient World and the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition, don't miss this fascinating book.

Geography of Religion: Where God Lives, Where Pilgrims Walk 
by Susan Tyler Hitchcock

Through the voices of real people, this detailed work explores the beliefs, practices, and history of five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Incorporating essays (including pieces by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama), compare-and-contrast sidebars, detailed maps, and over 200 photographs "stunning in their beauty and simplicity" (Publishers Weekly), The Geography of Religion not only provides information on the origin and development of some of the world's most popular religions, it also provides glimpses into the daily lives of people of faith all over the world.

Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam 
by Asra Q. Nomani

In 2003, Wall Street Journal reporter and American-raised Muslim Asra Nomani made a pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, for the Hajj (the 5th pillar of Islam, which is required of every able-bodied Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime). Yet by her own admission, Nomani is hardly a model Muslim woman: a single mother whose son was born out of wedlock, Nomani has led a campaign in her hometown mosque in West Virginia to allow women to enter and pray in the male-only main hall. As Nomani and her son complete the Hajj, she explores the historical roots of Islam and reflects on some of the major issues surrounding the faith today, as well as her own experiences as both a Muslim and a feminist.

Journey to the Vanished City: The Search for a Lost tribe of Israel
by Tudor Parfitt

While visiting South Africa, religion professor Tudor Parfitt encountered the Lemba, a group of Jews from Zimbabwe who believe themselves to be members of one of the legendary Lost Tribes of Israel and claim to be the direct descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Intrigued by their story, Parfitt, the author of The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500-Year-Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark, embarked on a quest to uncover the origins of the Lemba--using both oral history and DNA testing. Booklist, in a starred review, compares this religious history travelogue to the work of Paul Theroux.

~ For more themed book lists, check out Listless by One Librarian's Book Reviews and Listed by Once Upon a Bookshelf ~

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

Quote of the Week

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.

—Walter Cronkite

Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1817, Jane Austen died, at the age of forty-one. She had been increasingly ill over the previous year and a half, probably from a hormonal disorder like Addison's Disease. Austen's devoted older sister, Cassandra, inherited all the author's papers, from which she expurgated some but not all of Jane's enduring wit and one-liners.

For more literary history, visit Today in Literature.

Book I'm eyeing this week:

by Kate Racculia
Published by Henry Holt, 2010

Summary in a Sentence:

Mona Jones, having created a simple and withdrawn life with her daughter Oneida and the four eclectic boarders at the Darby-Jones boardinghouse in Ruby Falls, New York, receives a visit from the distraught Arthur Rook who brings along a box of his deceased wife's mementos and a never-mailed postcard addressed to Mona which reveal details about Mona's friendship with the woman and a buried secret that changes their lives.

Read the reviews: 

Pudgy Penguin PerusalsBook Magic | The Burton Review

Friday, July 16, 2010

Libraries in the News

“Pimps make the best librarians.”
—Opening line of Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

To Kill a Mockingbird: Enduring at 50 years
July 11 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the endearing and enduring story of racism and redemption and growing up in a small Southern town during the Depression. It is Lee’s only book and one of the handful that could earn the title of Great American Novel. “It has ‘book charisma,’ a term I rarely use,” said Karen MacPherson, children-and-teens librarian at the public library of Takoma Park, Maryland. The Westport (Conn.) Public Library celebrated with a showing of the film version....
USA Today, July 8; Westport (Conn.) Patch, July 12

Old Spice guy talks about libraries
Former NFL player and current Old Spice commercial actor Isaiah Mustafa has a few words to say (0:34) about libraries, thanks to the efforts of librarian Andy Woodworth. “Books are often composed of many many words. And words are the non-pictures that convey many things to other minds, [like] ‘Let’s eat peanut butter.’”...
YouTube, July 14

Libraries must protect the freedom to read
Freedom to Read Foundation President Kent Oliver writes: “Attempts to censor books like J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye often focus on the issues of sexuality and profanity, about which young adults are apparently not supposed to read, despite the fact that we all live through those issues. Herein lies the dichotomy and absurdity of the censor’s viewpoint: While the First Amendment guarantees Americans the freedom of speech and press, the censor asserts an urgent need for protection from our own ideas about the very lives we live.”...
Forbes: Booked, July 8

Thursday, July 15, 2010

5 Minute Factoids: Howard Hughes

On this day in 1938, Howard Hughes set the new speed record. Hughes was an American aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer, film director, philanthropist, and one of the wealthiest people in the world. He gained prominence from the late 1920s as a maverick film producer, making big-budget and often controversial films like Hell's Angels, Scarface and The Outlaw. Hughes was one of the most influential aviators in history: he set multiple world air-speed records, built the Hughes H-1 Racer and H-4 "Hercules" (better known to history as the "Spruce Goose") aircraft, and acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines. Hughes is also remembered for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle in later life, caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder (Wikipedia). 

Fun Factoids:
  • Hughes developed the half-cup bra. Thanks a lot, Howard.
  • Between July 7th and 14th, 1938 he cut Lindbergh's flying record from New York to Paris in half. 
  • In his later reclusive years, Hughes allegedly stored his own urine in large bottles. Hmmm...
  • Hughes never graduated from high school.
For more reading on Hughes, check this one out:

Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos, and Letters
by Richard Hack
Published by New Millenium Press, 2001
444 pages

Summary in a Sentence:

Contains excerpts from journals, memos, and personal letters that chronicle the life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Picture Book Pick of the Week: How to Clean a Hippopotamus

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships
by Steve Jenkins, Robin Page
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2010

“Why does a plover stroll into a crocodile’s mouth? And how does a turtle keep a hippopotamus clean?” This book looks at the strange and wonderful symbiotic partnerships between some unlikely animal pairs, from ravens and wolves that hunt together to the egrets that protect antelope and receive food in return. Additional information about symbiosis, as well as sizes, habitats, and diets of animals are featured in the book.

From School Library Journal:

This book introduces readers to symbiosis, focusing on relationships in which each partner benefits from the collaboration. Jenkins's trademark collage illustrations continue to impress with their vibrant and stunning manipulation of cut and torn paper. The book is formatted in a block, comic-book style and is written at a level that is accessible to young browsers yet suitable for older researchers. Supplementary information about the size, habitat, and diet of each animal is included in the back matter. This title is another outstanding offering from this extraordinarily talented, wonderfully symbiotic couple.

You might also like these books:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Penguin Books, 2009
672 pages
Source: J.T. Oldfield (thanks!)

Summary in a Sentence:

Rare book expert Hanna Heath discovers a number of tiny artifacts hidden within the binding of a fifteenth-century Hebrew manuscript and begins to unravel the mysteries behind its past. 

Not every story has a happy ending.

 Man, I love big, fat books in which I can totally get lost. And this book, spanning multiple countries over 500 years, is the ultimate saga covering art, religious persecution, book conservation, and more. I know that the length of the book can seem intimidating, but readers who are interested in these themes will not be sorry they read it.

Interspersed throughout Hanna's narrative in 1996 Sarajevo are the stories of the various people throughout history who were in some way connected with the survival of the ancient Haggadah. Each period we visit in the book's history corresponds with a fragment or small object found by Hanna's conservation efforts of the ancient book. On the journey, readers will encounter war, discrimination, prejudice, and tradition that lasts for centuries.

The Hagaddah in the book is in fact based on a real object, the Sarajevo Hagaddah, written around 1314 in Spain.

 You might also like:
Other Reviews:

Maggie Reads | Book Nut | Medieval Bookworm

Monday, July 5, 2010

Books by Theme: Armchair Travel to Italy

Italy, my Italy!
Queen Mary's saying serves for me
(When fortune’s malice
Lost her Calais):
"Open my heart, and you will see
Graved inside of it 'Italy.'"

~ Robert Browning (1812–1889), English poet

The City of Falling Angels 
by John Berendt

John Berendt, bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, leaves steamy Savannah, Georgia, and her eccentrics, secrets, scandals, and famous murder behind, and travels to watery Venice, of eccentrics, secrets, scandals, and a possible arson! The Fenice Opera House burned just days before the author's arrival, and he examines the possibility that the fire was intentional--but this book is less an investigation and more "an intimate portrait of a city" (Library Journal). Readers with a love for Venice will be drawn to the intriguing mix of fascinating people, politics, and city lore found in this engaging book.

The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria 
by Marlena de Blasi

Transplanted American chef and writer Marlena de Blasi and her Italian husband move from their home in Tuscany to Orvieto, the largest city in Umbria. There they find the perfect home, which turns out to be part of a 15th-century palazzo in dire need of restoration. While the workmen repair their new place, the couple hang out with the locals and eat magnificent meals. Fans of food memoirs will savor this one--recipes are included and Kirkus Reviews calls the book "delicious." If you want to know more about de Blasi's Italian adventures, pick up her earlier books, A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World 
by Anthony Doerr

Imagine moving to a foreign country for a year...with 6-month-old twin boys in tow. That's just what novelist Anthony Doerr and his wife did after Doerr won the Rome award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In Four Seasons in Rome, first-time parent Doerr writes eloquently of life with small children, sleepless nights, meeting Romans, the death of John Paul II, and the multitude of things to see and do in the Eternal City. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews says this memoir is "delightful, funny and full of memorable scenes." If you're a new parent, you will find it especially entertaining (if you have time to read, that is!).

Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month is Enchanted 
by Annie Hawes

In 1983, two British sisters obtained temporary positions grafting roses in the sun-drenched Italian village of Diano San Pietro to get away from the cold London winter. Diano San Pietro, full of olive trees and olive growers, sits just two miles away from the Italian Rivera but is a world apart--and it's a place that the British women soon adore. The traditional town charms them with its delicious food and old-fashioned locals, and they buy an old farmhouse, fix it up, practice their Italian--and, years later, the author still lives there. Have a napkin handy when you pick this one up--Publishers Weekly says "this blithe account will have gastronomes and travelers drooling."

~All summaries from NextReads~

~ For more themed book lists, check out Listless by One Librarian's Book Reviews and Listed by Once Upon a Bookshelf ~

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

Quote of the Week

My lifelong love affair with books and reading continues unaffected by automation, computers, and all other forms of the twentieth-century gadgetry.

-Robert Downs

Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1862, while rowing on the Thames at Oxford, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) began to tell the three Liddell sisters the story that would become Alice in Wonderland. Alice, the ten-year-old middle sister, was so taken with the improvised story that she badgered Dodgson to complete it; when he had it done two and a half years later he presented it to her, with his own illustrations and bound in leather, as a Christmas gift.

For more literary history, visit Today in Literature.

Segment in which I shamelessly pimp Etsy:

Book I'm eyeing this week:

The Passage
by Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, 2010

Summary in a Sentence:

FBI agent Brad Wolgast vows to protect six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte after a government military experiment she was involved in goes bad, unleashing a toxic virus that turns humans into bloodthirsty monsters.

Read the Reviews:

Presenting Lenore | S. Krishna's Books | Hey Lady! Whatcha readin'?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Libraries in the News

“Libraries are our future—to close them would be a terrible, terrible mistake—it would be stealing from the future to pay for today, which is what got us into the mess we’re in now.”
—Neil Gaiman, in his acceptance speech for the Carnegie Medal, The Telegraph (U.K.), June 24.

Lawmakers override S.C. governor’s library veto

The South Carolina House overrode Gov. Mark Sanford’s vetoes of two critically popular state services June 16: aid to county public libraries and the Department of Archives and History. Lawmakers from smaller counties and rural areas pleaded with House members to overcome the Sanford veto of $4.6 million for libraries, which would have caused some to close and wiped out public access to internet services. The override vote was 110–5....
The State (Columbia), June 16

Rikers Island prison library

Joe Halderman, the CBS news producer convicted in 2010 of trying to extort $2 million from David Letterman, is now an inmate librarian at a makeshift New York Public Library branch started in March at one of the correctional facilities on Rikers Island. The branch is run by Nicholas Higgins, the supervising librarian of NYPL’s Correctional Services Program. Every week, Higgins takes a city bus to the Eric M. Taylor Center, lugging a sack of books that inmates have requested. Watch the video (3:35)....
New York Times: City Room, June 25 

Sherlock Holmes’s first caper for sale

Stephen J. Gertz writes: “The only known inscribed copy, apart from Arthur Conan Doyle’s own, of the first printing of A Study in Scarlet, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on July 15. Published in Beeton's Christmas Annual in November 1887, it is expected to sell for £250,000–£400,000 ($375,000–$600,000 U.S.). There are only three signed or inscribed copies recorded of this classic debut in the detective genre of literature, one of the rarest and most highly sought books of modern times.”...
BookTryst, June 28

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