What are your sure-fire hits when it comes to books?

If you’re looking in on Shelf Talk, chances are good you are a “book person,” and as such, are probably the go-to person for friends and family when it comes to what books they should read. This task requires much thought. What do they normally like to read? What mood have they been in recently? Are they hoping for a surprise, or books similar to what they usually read?
corellis-mandolin-book-cover.jpg Sometimes, however, it is just a matter of putting a title out there so they have something to read. This is the wonderful moment where I pull out my “sure-fire hits” (SFH). SFH are those books that satisfy such a wide variety of readers that they can be suggested to any friend, loved-one or library patron with a high likelihood that they will be enjoyed. These are books that somehow seem to be all things literary in one package. They are intelligent, yet approachable; thoughtful, yet exciting; and wise, yet current and novel.
My number one SFH is Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. This novel has a war story, love story, historical tale, and comedy all rolled into one. It is the engrossing story of life on a small Greek island during WWII and the ways in which the citizens coped with life under Italian, then German occupation.
confederacy-of-dunces book cover.jpg The other title that has worked as a standby for an any-situation read is the hilarious A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Toole’s tale follows Ignatius J. Reilly, an ever-indignant and deluded man-child, as he single-handedly wreaks havoc on 1960s New Orleans. The book, like all great satire, is filled with moments of outrageous and nearly ridiculous hilarity while remaining intelligent and insightful.
Now that the secret of my SFH’s are out, what books do you rely on for the on-the-spot recommendation? ~ Erik

(Reading About) The Great Outdoors

One of the things I love about living in Seattle is our proximity to the ocean and mountains and old-growth forests. Hey, occasionally you can even see the mountains (when it’s not overcast).  Alas, I don’t seem to get out into the great outdoors as often as I would like, but the next best thing to being there is reading about it.

For finding good Nature reads, one place to start is the National Outdoor Book Awards (“Honoring the best in outdoor writing and publishing”).

Following are some other books about the natural world that I’ve enjoyed:sandcountryalmanac.jpg

A Sand Country Almanac, and Sketches Here and There by Leopold Aldo

First published in 1949, this book by one of our country’s foremost conservationists was hailed by the New York Times as “full of beauty and vigor and bite.”

If you enjoy nature writing and personal accounts of extreme outdoor adventure, you can’t go wrong with the classic Continue reading “(Reading About) The Great Outdoors”

Synchronicity in the Backyard

Even with the gardening season right around the corner, the thoughtful gardener will still always find time to read, dream of and ponder the natural world around us.

After reading about global warming via the lengthy series of New Yorker articles exfield_notes_from_a_catastrophe.jpgcerpted from Elizabeth Kolbert’s acclaimed recent book Field Notes from a Catastrophe, documenting the progress of Global Warming, this gardener sought out a course of personal action via Sara Stein’s Noah’s Garden: noahs_garden.jpgRestoring the Ecology of our Own Back Yards, a book about turning away from the formalities of trying to force your garden into a “template” of the perfect English garden and learning to look at your yard as a small portion of a larger wildlife habitat and natural ecosystem.

 Start looking at your fences as hedgerows and your lawn as meadowlands. Your tree planted near your neighbor’s tree, becomes a miniature woodland, all places with their own long evolved natural balances. Of course I lack the square footage on my little piece of the city to really do it up in style, but my small lot does have its advantages. Less real estate means less mowing, less raking up, and less earth to turn and plant. More time to enjoy.

Another advantage of the small will soon coming our way via a change in the way the city assesses wastewater usage fees. Seattle Councilmember Richard Conlin’s enewsletter explains how drainage rates are headed up, with the city Continue reading “Synchronicity in the Backyard”

Bard Bio

As a lifelong Shakespeare fan, I’ve known of the various debates about which of his plays came first, whether Shakespeare was indeed Shakespeare (and not, say, Francis Bacon), whether he loved his wife, how educated he was, and so on with the minutiae.  I admit I haven’t much cared, preferring to focus my attention on the sublimity of his plays and poetry instead.

shakespeare.jpgAlong comes Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson, a writer generally known for his travelogues.  What caught my attention most about this short, engaging book was Bryson’s ability to sum up all the threads of an argument and then not take sides.  There is so little actual information about Shakespeare’s life that it is tempting to speculate wildly about who he was, and many people have, but Bryson invites us to revel in not knowing.

Along the way you learn about everything from the political-religious conflicts of the day and their possible effect on Shakespeare’s career to the wild diet of the average Englishman (both noble and commoner), as well as Shakespeare’s likely education as a country boy and his unparalleled contributions to English literature and our language itself.

This book was so interesting I felt like watching at least a few of the Bard’s plays.

Sleuthing for a good mystery?

I don’t know why, but somehow reading a good mystery has a soothing effect on me. Go figure. The Library has lots of mysteries, but how to know which ones you will like? Librarians are always happy to talk to you and try to match up your tastes with the “right” book. There are also some great lists of recommended mystery reading, and here are some to get you started:

The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association has come up with a wide-ranging list of excellent mysteries, The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century.

To see what other Seattlites are reading, check out Continue reading “Sleuthing for a good mystery?”