The War in Fiction, part 2: The Home Front

prisoners.bmpA War is not one story, but many.

Here is the second of three lists of fiction that views 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.

As the war draws to its close, the lives of men and women in a rural Kentucky town are indelibly changed whether they are returning from the front lines or waiting back at home.

Humor and pathos punctuate this coming-of-age novel in which Josh, a witty 17-year-old, navigates Continue reading “The War in Fiction, part 2: The Home Front”

Books About Autism

Why are there so many good books about autism? Sadly, maybe it’s because there are so many families dealing with this very difficult diagnosis. I love to read “my problem and how I solved it books” (think Ladies Home Journal’s long-running “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” series). Unfortunately many of the family members with autism in their lives do not have solvable problems. Nevertheless, the novels mentioned here show sensitivity, intelligence and often the dark humor needed to survive.
In Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach, Melanie Marsh, an American living in London, tries to keep her marriage going after she and her husband learn that their two-year-old son is autistic. Lots of humor and a white knight of a therapist.

Another mother, Rachel, battles fiercely for her young son’s emotional health and the health of the rest of her family in Ann Bauer’s Wild Ride Up the Cupboards. In the compelling mystery Eye Contact, by Cammie McGovern, an autistic child is found next to the body of a murdered child. Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a gently humorous exemplary first novel in which a 15-year-old autistic boy, falsely accused of murdering a dog, sets out to find the real killer. Family Pictures by Sue Miller is a timeless saga by the master novelist about how an autistic son directly affects the whole family.

What’s Up with Autism? is the title of a free lecture tonight at the Central Library, as part of the Medical Series of lectures sponsored by The Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington School of Medicine. Topics covered will include the increase of autism diagnoses, current understanding of autism and approaches to treatment. ~ Susan

Blurring Boundaries: translating the digital to the book

With all the press lately about Kindle, the latest wireless reading device to take a stab at capturing the book reading market, it is interesting to see books traveling the other way, out of the ether and on to the printed page.

The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda an internationally respected graphic designer, visual artist and computer scientist with MIT’s Media Lab came out of his ongoing work, then ruminations on his blog, finally “simplified” onto the written page. It proposes ten laws of simplicity to consider in design, corporations, perhaps even for the person. Most interestingly is his goal to allow his thinking on his mission for simplicity in our increasingly complex world to evolve past the thinking captured in the book via his ongoing blog.

The physical book here acts as a slide or snapshot of a point in the intellectual process in a very immediate way.

We Are Smarter Than Me by Barry Libert & Jon Spector and thousands of other contributors evolved from a collaborative effort of students, faculty and alumni of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as leaders, authors, and experts from the fields of management and technology, as a how-to-do-it manual for ways to implement web 2.0 sharing practices in real world businesses. 

Once again the book freezes the frame, hits the print command and saves your work for the ages – as long as our libraries continue to collect and retain these artifacts of our communal learning. We are interested in knowing about other cross-fertilization efforts; please feel free to share what you run into on your travels, online and off.

~posted by Kay K.

Thinking about people with disabilities

March is Disability Awareness month. This is a great time to remember the achievements of people with disabilities — folks who live in a world designed to accommodate people whose bodies, minds or senses work a little differently from their own.

I recently discovered two really interesting memoirs on this subject. Both demonstrate that disabilities can affect anyone and that a disability may restrict life in one way while simultaneously enhancing it in another.

My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke by Robert McCrum, is a very witty and often humorous narrative of how 42-year-old McCrum went from being an energetic man and popular novelist to a paralyzed stroke victim literally overnight, and then fought his way back to mainstream life. I was hooked from the first scene.

Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro M.D., provides a really powerful look into how the authors’ relationships with each other and with the outside world evolved as one twin developed schizophrenia and the other did not.

Anyone interested in exploring disabilities through fiction might enjoy these books, which I really love.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. The narrator and main character here is an amateur detective with Tourette’s syndrome, who scours the shady side of Brooklyn to find his mentor’s killer. The writing is by far my favorite part of the book. Tourettic tics are woven into the narrator’s internal monologues as well as his conversations with other characters, revealing the effect of the condition on his life without obscuring the underlying detective story. Many passages were both thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. In this bittersweet, philosophical story set in the near future, Lou, the narrator, is forced to choose between life as an autistic man and an experimental cure that may make him “normal” at the cost of his identity and the insights his autism grants. Corporate morality and the ethics of genetic testing are important sub-themes.


On a related note, if you or anyone you know has a disability and lives in the Seattle area, you may also be interested in the many resources available to people with disabilities through The Seattle Public Library. These range from audio books to an adaptive technology computer lab. 

~posted by Anne C.

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. When Jody becomes a vampire, she realizes that even though being young and beautiful forever is kind of cool, there are a few serious draw backs — like blood thirst, dropping dead at dawn, and the problem of finding suitable employment. So what’s a girl to do when she can’t hold a job, eat a bagel, or buy new shoes? Enter Tommy Flood, a wanna-be-writer working the night shift at the local Safeway. With Tommy’s help Jody can become the creature of the night she was reborn to be. That is if Elijah, her maker, and the Animals, Tommy’s vampire-hunting buddies, don’t kill her first. Bloodsucking Fiends is by turns goofy and quick witted, a combination that will make you laugh out loud in public places. If that’s not your thing, you might want to skip it and its sequel, titled You Suck.

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. As far as Tommy Flood’s concerned, being a vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s the blood drinking, the sunburns, and the teenage goth-girl who wants to be his ‘minion.’ As if that wasn’t bad enough, he and his girlfriend (also undead) are being hunted by a centuries old vampire as well as a group of vampire-hunter-wannabes who know exactly how Tommy thinks. After all, he used to be their leader. It’s a race for survival, and a comedy of errors that will make you laugh until your funny bone hurts.

~posted by Lindsay S.