It’s flower season here in the great northwest! If you want to get up close to fields and fields of colorful tulips, don’t miss the 25th Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
If you’d like to explore some of the fascinating history of these blooms, here is a bouquet of books exploring the appeal of flowers past and present:
Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash
In the Netherlands in the 1630s, during the height of what would become known as “Tulip Mania,” single tulips were being sold for more than the price of a house. This slim fascinating page-turner Continue reading “Flower Frenzy”
A war is not one story, but many.
Here are some novels that view the war through many eyes, reflecting the diverse experiences of civilians and soldiers around the world whose lives were drawn into the Second World War.
When Louis Belk is deployed to Alaska to head off and diffuse a barrage of dreaded Japanese balloon bombs, he could not have imagined the strange, haunting freight drifting towards him across an ocean of air.
As the world stumbles blinking into the light of peace, Aldred Leith feels the chill of war’s long shadow as he surveys a devastated Japan, wondering how human warmth and dignity can flare forth from the ashes. Continue reading “The War in Fiction, part 3: The Pacific”
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle is seriously the funniest book I’ve read in the last two years. During his graduation night speech, Denis Cooverman, valedictorian at Buffalo Grove High School, urges his fellow classmates to leave with no regrets for the things they wanted to say but could not. Our hero pauses for dramatic effect, and then blurts out, “I love you, Beth Cooper.” Beth — voted Most Popular and Best Looking by 513 BGHS seniors – is, predictably, a cheerleader; Denis’s team of choice is debate, and for recreation he reads the Journal of Juvenile Oncology. Graduation night heads a different direction after Denis’s memorable speech, and soon Beth and her two sidekicks are meeting up with Denis and his best friend, Rich (who likes to tell people about his “female fiancée” who works at Hooter’s). The characters and plot may be a tad predictable, but I laughed so much I’m not sure I noticed.
The author wrote for The Simpsons and Daria (as well as The New Yorker, if the first two didn’t impress you), and his debut novel is packed with lines to savor and quote, just like an episode of The Simpsons. This is total movie material in the spirit of Dazed and Confused, and it didn’t surprise me at all to see that the book was optioned and may hit the big screen in 2009 (with Chris Columbus directing/producing and Hayden Panettiere playing Beth Cooper).
Websites aimed at readers are often labors of love created by people who would really rather be reading, and so even the most promising sites come and go with unsettling rapidity. So when a site like Overbooked.org sticks around for a dozen years, it is something to celebrate. Years before metacritic or bookmarks magazine began summarizing critical consensus from the vast array of book reviews, Overbooked set out to save the reader huge amounts of time by scanning four standard professional review sources (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal), and pulling out just the starred (or highly recommended) titles. The resulting lists represent the cream of a decade’s worth of crops, neatly arranged into major genre categories (including selected non-fiction) – a rich field for readers to graze. Only have time for the most outstanding of titles? Check out the all stars – books that received three or more starred reviews. The site also has handy tables of forthcoming titles, a wealth of thematic booklists, and ample links. All-in-all, one of the most useful literary sites out there, period.
If I’m ever really stranded on a desert island, the books I want to have with me must have titles like Raft Building for Dummies, 500 Ways to Cook Coconuts, Getting Along with Your Invisible Friends, and of course, How to Escape a Desert Island.
For that desert island visit with a small working sailboat, I want these four books instead.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
This book introduced me to Calvino, one of the great fabulists of the 20th Century. Reading more like a prose poem than a novel with a plot, it is essentially a dialog in gestures and signs between Marco Polo and Genghis Khan as the explorer describes the empire of cities to its emperor. Brief and beautiful.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To me, this is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Two men love the same woman, and when one dies, the other one steps up to take his rightful place. But will she have him?
Ulysses by James Joyce
Joyce recreates 1904 Dublin in such detail I could reread this a hundred times and find new alleys and old friends each visit.
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
My favorite historical buddy novel. Mason and Dixon create the line that divides north from south in the American colonies, meeting some of the stranger Founding Fathers, a Learned English Dog, a mechanical duck and the French chef who chases him… you get the idea.
How about you? What are your desert island books?