Recommended Books from the Recreational Reading Collection

The recreational reading (McNaughton) collection is located on the 2nd floor of the library under the staircase.

Oscar Hijuelos Twain & Stanley enter paradise (Grand Central Publishing 2015) LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) PS3558.I376T93 2015

When Hijuelos (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, 1989, etc.) died of a heart attack in the fall of 2013, he had been working for more than a dozen years on this 19th-century epic concerning the unlikely but close friendship of two of the most famous men in America. They had met working on a riverboat, a couple of aspiring writers, well before one would travel to Africa in search of Dr. Livingstone and the other would become a beloved humorist under the pen name of Mark Twain. Since Hijuelos has long been known for voluptuary narratives of Cuba and Cuban America, filled with song and sex, the Victorian primness of the various tones he employs here stands in stark contrast (though a trip to Cuba proves pivotal). The novel encompasses long stretches of unpublished manuscripts purportedly written by Stanley and his wife, as well as extended correspondence between each of them and Twain. Stanley had been an orphan taken under the wing of a benefactor (whose surname the young man took), and there’s a sense throughout that the way Stanley portrays his life is not the way it actually transpired. With Stanley’s health and that of Twain’s wife in parallel decline, there’s a hint of romantic triangle, what Dorothy Stanley calls “some kind of autumnal infatuation,” though history left that attraction unrequited, as she remarried shortly after her husband’s death. The meditations on time and death in the book’s last third are particularly poignant given the author’s own untimely passing, but the whole of the novel is unwieldy, with awkward dialogue (“I am wondering what you can tell me about yourself”) and juxtapositions (a section titled “Clemens in That Time” follows Lady Stanley’s extended account of her husband’s death). An Afterword by Hijuelos’ widow explains that he was working on the novel up to his death, having written “thousands of pages that he attempted to winnow down to publishable size, even as he continued to expand upon the story.” This book is good news for Hijuelos fans, but considering its flaws, it’s tantalizing to think of what it would have been like if the author had managed to finish it himself. Review from Kirkus Reviews.


New and Notable Non-Fiction from the Library’s Recreational Reading Collection:

(2nd Floor of Library at the base of the stairs)

Rinker Buck The Oregon Trail (Simon & Schuster 2015) McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) F597.B89 2015

Well into middle-age, Rinker Buck found himself divorced, at the edge of bankruptcy, and growing blunt through the twin demons of ennui and alcohol. This was not a state he was accustomed to; instilled by his father with a sense of daring, Buck was no stranger to adventure, having been (with his brother) one half of the youngest duo to fly across the country, a tale documented in his celebrated book, Flight of Passage. On a whim, he found himself in a museum at the head of the Oregon Trail, realizing that even as a fairly serious American history buff, he knew virtually nothing about the pivotal era when 400,000 pioneers made their way West in quests for land, gold, and new lives. On a much bigger whim, Buck decided to travel the 2,000 miles of ruts and superseding highways in a mule-driven wagon on his own “crazyass” quest for a new beginning. The result is a dense-yet-entertaining mix of memoir, history and adventure, as Buck– joined by another brother, Nick, and his “incurably filthy” dog, Olive Oyl–struggle with the mechanical, environmental, and existential challenges posed by such an unusually grueling journey. Buck is an engaging writer, and while the book pushes 500 pages, the story never lags. By the end, you’ll know more about mules than you ever thought you would (just enough, actually), and you’ll have a better perspective on the Trail, its travelers, and the role it played in shaping the modern United States. (And is Rinker Buck not a pioneer-worthy name for an tale such as this?) –Jon Foro — Amazon Best Book of July 2015

By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative. -Kirkus Reviews

Randall Munroe What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Houghton Mifflin 2014) McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) Q173.M965 2014

If you’ve ever contemplated questions such as “How close would you have to be to a supernova to get a lethal dose of neutrino radiation?” or “If you suddenly began rising steadily at 1 foot per second, how exactly would you die?” then Randall Munroe’s “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” is the book for you. Munroe is the Cambridge-based former NASA roboticist turned celebrity cartoonist behind the uber-popular website xkcd. Since 2012, average folk have been submitting oddball “What If?” queries, usually based on some scientific or science-fiction premise. “What If?” the book is a compilation of these Q&As, around half of which are new, and half are “updated and expanded versions” of his most popular investigations. It’s fun to watch as Munroe tackles each question and examines every possible complication with nerdy and methodical aplomb, his distinctive scribblings providing clever running commentary of peanut-gallery jokes as his train of thought (sometimes) happily derails. The delightfully demented “What If?” is the most fun you can have with math and science, short of becoming your own evil genius. To balance every calculation of Yoda’s telekinetic “[f]orce power” (about 19.2 kilowatts, it turns out) or worst-case astrophysical cataclysm, Munroe explores more heady musings, such as the odds of finding your soul mate, or when Facebook will contain more profiles of the dead than living. When he predicts the effects of a magnitude minus-7 Richter-scale earthquake — “[a] single feather fluttering to the ground” — we feel the tug of Munroe’s playful yet existentially-tinged worldview, and all that geek logic and number-crunching becomes unexpectedly poignant. Review by Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe


Featured Books from the Recreational Reading Collection

The recreational reading (McNaughton) collection is located on the 2nd floor of the library under the staircase.

The Paying Guests Sarah Waters (Riverhead Books, 2014) LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) PR6073.A828P39 2014

With two brothers killed in WWI and a debt-ridden father who followed them to the grave soon afterward, 27-year-old spinster Frances Wray knows that she and her mother must take in lodgers (euphemistically described as “paying guests”) to maintain their large house in a genteel section of London. In the postwar social landscape of England in 1922, the rise of a new middle class and the dwindling of the old servant class are disrupting longtime patterns of life. The disruptions occasioned by the advent of their tenants, the lower-class couple Leonard and Lilian Barber, are minor at first. But as Frances observes the tensions in the Barbers’ marriage and develops a sexual attraction for the beautiful Lily, who soon reciprocates her love, a fraught and dangerous situation develops. Lost in the passion of mutual ardor, Frances and Lily scheme to create a life together. An accidental murder they commit derails their plans and transforms the novel, already an absorbing character study, into an expertly paced and gripping psychological narrative. When an innocent man is arrested for the women’s crime, they face a terrible moral crisis, marked by guilt, shame, and fear. Readers of Waters’s previous novels know that she brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places. Waters’s restrained, beautiful depiction of lesbian love furnishes the story with emotional depth, as does the suspense that develops during the tautly written murder investigation and ensuing trial. When Frances and Lily confront their radically altered existence, the narrative culminates in a breathtaking denouement. British writer Waters (The Little Stranger) deserves a large audience. — (Review from Publisher’s Weekly; Starred Review)

Euphoria: A Novel Lily King (Atlantic Monthly Press 2014) LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) PS3561.I4814E97 2014
(Selected as one of New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2014)

The love lives and expeditions of controversial anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson are fictionalized and richly reimagined in New England Book Award winner King’s (Father of the Rain) meaty and entrancing fourth book. Set in the 1930s in Papua New Guinea, this impeccably researched story illuminates the state of the world as clearly as the passion of its characters. Many years into his study of the isolated Kiona tribe, Andrew Bankson (the stand-in for Bateson here) is recovering from a recent failed suicide attempt when he meets with renowned anthropologist Nell Stone (Mead) and her fiery husband Fen (Fortune) at a party. His vigor for life renewed after meeting them, Andrew introduces the couple to the tribe they’ll be studying, who live a few hours away, down the Sepik River. Before long, Andrew becomes obsessed—not just with his work but with Nell, and the relationship tangle sets off a fateful series of events. While the love triangle sections do turn pages (Innuendo! Jealousy! Betrayal!), King’s immersive prose takes center stage. The fascinating descriptions of tribal customs and rituals, paired with snippets of Nell’s journals—as well as the characters’ insatiable appetites for scientific discovery—all contribute to a thrilling read that, at its end, does indeed feel like “the briefest, purest euphoria.” (Review from Publisher’s Weekly; Starred Review)


Featured Memoirs from the Recreational Reading Collection

The recreational reading (McNaughton) collection is located on the 2nd floor of the library under the staircase.

So, anyway… John Cleese (Crown Archetype, 2014) LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) PN2598.C47 A3 2014

With titles like their “Contractual Obligation Album” and “The Final Rip Off,” the British comedy troupe Monty Python have never been afraid to point out that the joke was on you, and it’s almost impossible to believe that Python co-founder John Cleese didn’t undertake his new memoir in a similar spirit. “Most of you don’t give a tinker’s cuss for me as a human being,” he writes in “So, Anyway . . .” “No, you are just flipping through my heart-rending story in the hope of getting a couple of good laughs, aren’t you?”

It’s a joke, right? A passive-aggressive, not very funny joke, written in the tetchy, schoolmasterly tone of Basil Fawlty, his greatest comic creation. Reading “So, Anyway . . .” one can’t help concluding that the author was able to satirize the stiff upper lip so well because no upper lip, literally, was stiffer than his own. This is less of a downer than it might seem as John Cleese appears to have enjoyed so little of what he did during a long and successful career. He presents himself as falling into success almost against his wishes.

What comes through most clearly in “So, Anyway . . .” is the author’s enthusiasm not for contemporary comedy but for Edwardian modesty, his nostalgia for a fictional pre-lapsarian Britain is faux-genteel, in a word Fawltyesque. The writing soars when he first hears The Goons, then later sees “Beyond the Fringe.” The funniest moment is the scene in which Cleese describes a soft-hearted friend stopping his car to end the misery of a rabbit in the final stages of myxomatosis. Repeated punches failed to kill the poor thing and distressed them both. As the man turned to get a penknife from his car, he realized that people from the traffic jam behind him were forming a mob, appalled by his assault on the bunny. It’s just the kind of scrape Basil Fawlty would get into and left me wiping away tears. (Excerpted review by Wesley Stace form the Wall St. Journal)

Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” Lena Dunham (Random House, 2014) LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) PN1992.4.D86A3 2014

Filmmaker (Tiny Furniture) and TV creator (Girls) Dunham has been compared to all manner of comic intellectual impresarios, from Woody Allen to Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. This makes it all the more delightful that Dunham mines her first book from an unexpected source: Helen Gurley Brown’s Having It All, which she stumbled upon in a thrift store in college. Dunham hopes that her collection of personal essays will do for its intended readers—the young and female—what the one-time Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief’s 1982 guide did for her. Having It All is, Dunham admits, full of mostly dated and “bananas” advice—on everything from dieting to man pleasing—but it imparted an important takeaway: meek women can inherit success, love, and self-worth, if not the Earth.

Whether discussing her forays into yo-yo dieting (” ‘Diet’ Is a Four-Letter Word”) or the time she thinks she might have been raped (“Barry”), Dunham is expert at combining despair and humor. The book is filled with amusing phrases, as Dunham delivers sad—and probably, for many readers, sadly familiar—tales of hating her body and trying too hard to make undeserving men love her. Dunham is an oddly polarizing figure in today’s culture—maybe because she’s too young and successful; maybe because she gets conflated her with Hannah Horvath, her self-involved character on Girls; or maybe simply because her detractors are louder than her fans—but hopefully this won’t keep readers away from this collection. It would be a shame, because the book is touching, at times profound, and deeply funny. While Dunham is eager for that something better, she doesn’t want to lose sight of the Mouseburger inside. This is one of the things she grapples with throughout these essays: how we become accepted and loved and popular, without casting aside, or trying to hide, the unloved, unpopular people we once were. In fact, Dunham seems to want to revel in the dark spaces—the terrifying and awkward moments in life—which is pretty great. Not only does this provide her wonderful material, but it’s an invigorating, refreshing slap in the face to a world that is so unwelcoming to all the amusing, sweet, smart Mouseburgers out there. Excerpted review by Rachel Deahl, Booklist (starred review)