Ex Libris brings reading recommendations from library staff readers. Our goal is to showcase Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Browsing Collection and to identify a range of contemporary fiction and nonfiction for the general reader. In addition to staff choices, we highlight a few recent books by faculty and alumni and recent literary award winners. All readers in the Marquette community are invited to suggest books, or better, to write a brief review for Ex Libris. If you missed an alert, earlier issues of Ex Libris are available online.
Clicking on the title or cover image will take you to the book's MARQCAT record; please note locations carefully as items may be in the Browsing Collection (now located on Raynor's 2nd level) or in the Memorial stacks. Books that are checked out may be reserved by clicking on the MARQCAT record's "Request" button.
Still looking for something to read? Check out the libraries' new "virtual" browser. Click on a jacket image to see the full MARQCAT record.
Louis Bayard. New York: William Morrow, 2008.
Although it follows in the well-worn tradition of "did the royal child heir really die," this historical mystery is a good one. Young, impoverished and insecure Dr. Hector Carpentier is accosted in his own house by a policeman, Vidocq, about a murder that took place nearby (the victim had a slip of paper with the doctor’s name on it). The year is 1818 and the place is Paris; Vidocq was also an historical and infamous policeman. But the murdered man is only a clue in the real mystery: what happened to the young son and heir of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI who had supposedly died in prison many years before? The story involves some incongruous elements—the journal of Hector’s dead father, a simpleton Swiss gardener, noblewomen (survivors of the Revolution) down on their luck, and the politics of the post-Napoleon restored monarchy . The timid Hector and the grating, ferocious and tenacious Vidocq make an interesting pair of detectives; but do they actually solve the mystery? You’ll have to decide! The novel begins slowly and disjointedly, but starts moving soon enough to keep you reading. And wondering if and how things will resolve…
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Donald E. Westlake. New York: Grand Central Pub., 2009
This is sure to be a bittersweet read for Westlake fans. The mystery/crime Grand Master died last New Year's Eve, so this will be the last Dortmunder novel. There will be no more of Richard Stark's Parker novels, either—a double loss in the mystery field. In Get Real, Westlake's gruffly lovable gang of thieves—the moody John Dortmunder, the suave Andy Kelp, the giant Tiny, Stan Murch the driver, and the kid—are handed a timely proposition by Murch's Mom the cab driver, after giving a reality show producer a ride. Doug Fairkeep is looking for his next hit reality series, and he thinks The Gang's All Here (working title) is a good bet. It's been "long time no crime" for Dortmunder's boys, so they agree to a suitable cash payment and per diem, and immediately start looking for the caper within the payday, which may turn out to be the multi-story building owned by Get Real Productions, one floor of which is protected by a fancy new techno lock. Whatever's behind that lock, the gang reasons, is what they really want. But even though still worried about their necessary anonymity, they begin to enjoy playing themselves for the camera. Nothing goes as planned, as anyone who remembers the early novels (The Hot Rock and Bank Shot) might suspect. Dortmunder and his gang are deadly serious about their business, but they tend toward lucklessness as sardonic comedy incessantly swirls around them. This time, however, they might hold a winning hand. While not laugh-aloud funny, Westlake's last novel gently but definitively skewers the unreality of reality shows, and their scripted unscriptedness. Get Real is an entertaining and perceptive comic mystery. Westlake's always been a good read solely for his wit and his voice, and sadly both are now silent forever.
Recommended by Bill Gagliani, Stacks Supervisor, Access Services
E. L. Doctorow. New York: Random House, 2009
The title of E.L. Doctorow’s latest novel refers to brothers Homer and Langley Collyer of New York City, who packed their three-story Fifth Avenue home with 130 tons of rubbish, including 14 pianos, a model-T, baby buggies, chandeliers, and stacks upon stacks of books, magazines and newspapers. They were both found dead in 1947—within 10 feet of each other—discovered weeks apart amidst the clutter they’d amassed. Doctorow does not offer a strict historical account of Homer and Langley. He simply used the basics of their lives to create a story that has less to do with the state of their home than with the state of their minds. Told from Homer’s perspective, made all the more interesting by the fact that he has been blind most of his life, we observe their lives together, just as the Collyers quietly observe the world around them. Events take place (World War II, the moon landing, political assassinations) and people come and go (their Japanese housekeepers forced into an internment camp, a group of hippies "crash" at the Collyers’ home, a wounded gangster hides out). Through it all, Homer and Langley remain devoted to and dependent on each other, and wary of the world outside their home, becoming increasingly reclusive and further buried under the items they collect. I am a big fan of Doctorow, although truthfully I wanted to read this book more because of my own fascination with hoarding. But Homer and Langley isn’t really about hoarding; rather it is a sweet, sad story of the bond between two eccentric brothers, completely dependent upon each other and more than happy to retreat from the outside world together.
Recommended by Leslie Quade, Bindery Preparation/Book Preservation Supervisor, Technical Services
Sandra Dallas. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
Ellis, Colorado, is the fictional location for this engaging and thought-provoking novel set in the early 1940s. The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war to American soil and the nation is caught up in the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice. For the residents of this small farming community, the war also brings a Japanese-American internment camp, called Tallgrass, to their doorsteps. Local reaction to the residents of Tallgrass is polarizing, straining the fabric of this close-knit community and turning former friends and neighbors against each other. The story is told from the perspective of 13-year-old Rennie Stroud whose family lives on the beet farm next door to the camp. With so many of the local boys, including Rennie’s brother, going off to war, her parents hire young men and women from Tallgrass to work in their beet fields and take over some of the household chores. Through Rennie we see events unfold, individuals’ true characters revealed, secrets come to light, and witness Rennie’s journey from childhood to adulthood. Sandra Dallas has captured the best and the worst of human nature and evokes the emotional depths of the time through the voices of her characters. Inspired by the author's interest in the history of the Amanche camp near Granada, Colorado, Tallgrass is part of a growing body of literature dealing with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Recommended by Pat Berge, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Dan Brown. New York: Doubledauy, 2009
Let me begin with full disclosure: I loved The Da Vinci Code. I began reading it on the bus home Friday night and could not put it down until I finished. Brown’s newest episode in the Robert Langdon series is slightly less compelling. The plot is a mixture of action, mystery, and esoteric science. Langdon must solve ancient Masonic riddles and follow the clues through Washington, DC, landmarks to find a prize that will ransom his much-loved mentor from a malevolent kidnapper. While I found the setting of our nation’s capital wonderful and the main bad guy truly frightening, some of the characters were formulaic. Some readers may find the short chapters and multiple changes in narrator distracting. However, The Lost Symbol is a good read even if there were far-fetched plot devices and formulaic characters. Readers who are able to overlook the book’s flaws and go along for the ride will enjoy this book.
Recommended by Sharon Olson, Acquisitions
Richard Russo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
Readers of a certain age will be all too familiar with Russo’s theme, namely our fears that we are becoming our parents, or at least, too much like them for comfort. Russo’s protagonist is a 57-year old English professor, Jack Griffin, in the throes of a meltdown and a crumbling marriage. The novel takes place during the year between a wedding on Cape Cod and his daughter’s wedding in Maine—a year in which both of his parents die. However, his parents are driving him nuts and causing him to rethink everything about his childhood, especially summer vacations on Cape Cod. Even worse, he starts to hear and speak the words of his mother, calling her a “dead ventriloquist.” The novel is not as grim as this sounds and has some hilarious, almost burlesque scenes, reminiscent of his early academic novel, Straight Man (1997). Russo peels away the themes of memories and family, making this a bittersweet tale about revisiting childhood and exorcising the ghosts that haunt our middle years.
Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian
Jhumpa Lahiri. New York: Knopf, 2008
Jhumpa Lahiri received a Pulitzer Prize for her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, and followed up with the interesting novel Namesake. With Unaccustomed Earth she returns again to the short story. In this collection of eight interwoven stories, she once again delves into the lives of two generations of Bengali immigrants to America—the parents and their hyphenated children. Each story is thoughtful, absorbing and beautifully written as the author probes cultural and generational clashes that are part of the immigrant experience of alienation and assimilation to American lifestyles and values. A daughter married to an American feels guilty for not offering her home as a residence for her visiting, recently-widowed father. A sister who introduced her younger brother to alcohol must now deal with his behavior and the disappointment he has caused his parents. A teenager cannot accept his mother's death or his father’s new wife. A marriage between a Bengali and non-Bengali slowly unfolds to reveal a lack of understanding and trust. Each story is written in spare and beautiful prose that reveals the emotional details of the characters in a quiet and meditative manner, transcending culture, gender and class, and presenting universal themes of loss, pain, disappointment, identity and familial love that will remain with the reader long after the book is read.
Recommended by Kristina Starkus, Acquisitions Librarian
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. New York: William Morrow, 2009.
In 2001, there was a serious famine in Malawi. Afterwards, with the help of a library book and a couple of friends, a teenage boy built a windmill in his rural backyard out of spare bicycle parts and junk he found in a local scrap yard, and wired his family’s house for electricity. He had the time to do this because his family could no longer afford to send him to school, which he missed terribly. Those are the basics of this short and unusual autobiography. The author worked with a journalist to write his story and that created some dissonance in its tone; sometimes you hear the voice of a young man very clearly, and at other times that voice seems quite muted. Still, they relate incidents and events from Kamkwamba’s childhood and youth that illustrate his tenacious and curious nature, and what it’s like to live in and grow up in rural, poor Africa. The passages about the famine and living without electricity at night are especially moving, but so is William’s clear affection for his friends and family. This is a quick and easy read, and the story is simply remarkable.
Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Christopher McDougall. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2009
If you are a runner, chances are you have been injured while pursuing the sport. Christopher McDougall’s own search for relief from his running injury resulted in his bestseller, Born to Run. The book crescendos with a 50-mile race in the Copper Canyon of Mexico featuring the Tarahumara, a tribe of distance runners who regularly run races totaling 300 miles, and some of America’s best ultrarunners like Jenn Shelton, a free spirit who listens to Beat poetry while running and holds the women’s record for a 100-miler. She explains her passion for running: “everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It’s just me and the movement and the motion. That’s what I love…” The book also contains a compelling argument that high tech running shoes are the cause of many running injuries because they weaken the feet and cause the runner to run unnaturally. Born to Run reads like a novel and is highly entertaining and informative. So whether the book feeds your running addiction or encourages you to get off the couch, you will be convinced to get out there and run.
Recommended by Jean Zanoni, Associate Dean of Libraries
James Sullivan. New York: Gotham Books, 2008
Dubbed the “Godfather of Soul,” “Soul Brother Number 1” and the “Hardest Working Man,” James Brown was one of the most electrifying and influential performers in the history of R&B and pop music. At the height of his career in the 60s and 70s, Brown had blockbuster hits such as “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got the Feeling,” “Make it Funky,” and many others. Journalist Sullivan gives a brief overview of Brown’s life starting with his extremely poor beginnings in South Carolina to his death on Christmas Day, 2006. The book highlights his work in the fight for civil rights and the advancement of the African American community. Brown, a school dropout, was an advocate for education urging black youth to stay in school. Publicly criticized by militant black nationalists, he respectfully responded by urging peace among the races, while maintaining pride in the black identity and community. Immediately after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown was instrumental in working with the City of Boston to help prevent mass rioting. Although Brown’s last years were fraught with legal and personal issues, he left a legacy of not only phenomenal music and performances, but also of his work for civil rights.
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Larry Widen and Judi Anderson. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2007
An extensive and entertaining history of Milwaukee theaters over the decades, this revised edition offers a fond look back at the movie theater experience. Because of the book's arrangement by time period, the reader gets a sense of context helping describe and explain the ebb and flow of neighborhood and other theaters. Rich with photos and illustrations, the book is a fun read. Some information would be difficult to find elsewhere, including biographies and photos of independent theater owners, charts and graphs covering the cost of early films, and a list of drive-in theaters. There is an index and a substantial appendix listing all past and present movie theaters, years of operation, and architects. An excellent bibliography offers further exploration through articles, books, interviews, Web sites and more. In our modern time of renting or buying DVDs and cocooning at home, this is a nostalgic look back at a different era of movie watching.
Recommended by Nia Schudson, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Sharon Moalem with Jonathan Prince. New York: Morrow, 2007.
Would you take a medicine guaranteed to kill you in forty years if it saved you from dying tomorrow? This is the question Dr. Sharon Moalem poses to his reader—scientist or lay person. The seeds for this interesting investigation into the relationship between evolution, disease, and human lifespan were sown when the author was only 15, and first suspected a relationship between his grandfather's Alzheimer's and the blood disorder they both shared. Asking himself why medical diseases and disorders haven't been bred out of the population yet, as Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory suggests should happen, Moalem suggests that our evolution, and the very survival of our species, has been dependent on the some of the same conditions that we suffer from today. Could diabetes have been the key to our survival during the Ice Age? Would the death toll of the terrible plagues of the past have been higher if fewer Europeans suffered from hemochromatosis, a build-up of iron in the blood? Would making certain diseases easier to spread between humans, but less virulent, be beneficial to humanity? How have viruses manipulated and changed our DNA? His novel way of looking at traditionally accepted scientific theories may sometimes seem extreme, but his method of challenging historical patterns of belief in the scientific canon opens up whole new worlds of inquiry into our place within the history of our world.
Recommended by Elizabeth Wawrzyniak, Office Associate, Dean's Office
Amir D. Aczel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009
Since the fateful detonation over Hiroshima in 1945, there has been a steady stream of books about the development of the atomic bomb. More are scheduled for publication in 2010. So do we really need one more? The answer, in this case, is “yes” because the focus here is on scientific research into the heaviest and, perhaps, strangest naturally occurring element in the periodic table. Popular science writer Amir Aczel has written accessible accounts of relativity, probability and chance, as well as about evolution (The Jesuit and the Skull). In Uranium Wars Aczel traces the discovery of radioactivity and atomic fission and describes how scientists came up with the idea of splitting an atom to release a massive amount of energy. He follows the zigzagged path across countries and around the world over several decades involving scores of scientific teams. Many names will be familiar: Enrico Fermi, Marie and Pierre Curie, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg, But the lesser known scientists are perhaps more interesting just because they are unfamiliar to the lay reader: German chemist and Nobel Prize winner Otto Hahn; Hahn’s French competitor and Nobel Laureate daughter of the Curies, Irene; German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, who received the Nobel for discovering X-rays; British physicist Ernest Rutherford, Nobel recipient for identifying an atom’s nucleus and its particles; Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard who recognized that uranium can create a chain reaction; and American physicist and co-discoverer of fission John Wheeler. In sum, Aczel’s brief narrative sets the context for the nuclear age in which we live. His concluding chapter on “Uranium’s Future” is both hopeful and cautious.
Recommended by Nicholas Burckel, Dean of Libraries Emeritus
The Best Kept Secret: Single Black Fathers by Roberta Coles (Associate Professor, Social & Cultural Sciences) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009
Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11 by Louise Cainkar (Assistant Professor, Social & Cultural Sciences) New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009
Speaking of God: Theology, Language, and Truth by D. Stephen Long (Professor, Theology) Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. Eerdmans, 2009
Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts by Jame Schaefer (Associate Professor, Theology) Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009
To celebrate the centennial of women at Marquette, the Libraries have posted an extensive bibliography of books by alumnae and women faculty. Selected books from the collection are featured in a year-long rotating series of exhibits in Raynor's lobby.
Gail Collins. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2009
Collins (Journalism ’76) was the first woman to hold the position of editorial page editor for the New York Times (2001-2007); she currently writes a column for the Times’ op-ed page. She was recognized by Marquette in 2005 when she received the Alumni Merit Award for Professional Achievement. Although her new book is extensively documented, it doesn’t read like a scholarly treatise. Instead, she tells the story through the recollections of more than 100 “regular” women, aged 20s to 80s, who were extensively interviewed. Her timeline includes the decline of the double standard, women’s liberation, work and children, concluding with Hillary and Sarah, with generous doses of icons of the decades, including Barbies, Mary Tyler Moore, Claire Huxtable, Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and Sandra Day O’Connor.
Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian
Greg Kot. New York: Scribner, 2009
Marquette grad (Journalism ‘78) Kot has been the music critic for the Chicago Tribune since 1990. He also reviews music for numerous magazines, such as Rolling Stone and People Weekly. He co-hosts Sound Opinions, a syndicated National Public Radio show, conducting interviews with today’s artists and groups, including Spoon, Neko Case, Nick Cave, Tori Amos, Grizzly Bear, and The Hold Steady. Kot’s second book about music (he published Wilco: Learning How to Die in 2004) discusses the tremendous impact that the Internet and technology have had on the industry during the last fifteen years. He also discusses the rise of digital music and how large conglomerates no longer hold all the power; musicians can utilize the Internet and become their own promoters, distributors and sellers, as well as directly enlist the help of their fans. He chronicles the digital revolution, including Napster's and iTunes' roles and how the Recording Industry Association of America was slow to adapt. Kot focuses on artists who have taken the lead in the digital revolution, among them Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, Wilco, and Prince. Ripped does a good job examining the music industry and providing background on its business side. Definitely a must read for music fans!
Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian
Margaret Coel. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2009
Coel (Journalism '60) is back with the 14th in her Father John/Wind River mystery series, solving two murders that took place more than a hundred years apart. For more about Coel, her previous book, The Girl with Braided Hair was featured in the November 2007 Ex Libris.