Sacre Bleu- so weird you just might like it!


I could not wait to get a hold of Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore! According to the descriptions I found on Amazon and the like, this was a book about the mystery surrounding Vincent van Gogh’s death. What if he didn’t really kill himself? What if he was actually murdered? And what if his artist friends set about finding the killer? Now that sounds like a terrific book.

The only problem is that this book had almost nothing to do with van Gogh! He is rarely mentioned and makes no appearance after the very first chapter. This book is really about a fictional character named Lucien and his obsessions with painting and a girl named Juliette. Several artists do make appearances, including Toulouse-Lautrec who is a central character. But Lucien and Toulouse-Lautrec are not really investigating their friend Vincent’s untimely death. They are investigating a particular type of blue paint that seems to have a profound effect on all the great artists of this era, from Gauguin to Monet. In between copious drinking and frequent trips to brothels, they do manage to figure it out in the end.

But I had to wonder: why are the book descriptions of Sacre Bleu so misleading? My final conclusion is that this book is so bizarre--it’s hard to say exactly what it’s about. Lucien and Toulouse-Lautrec pretty much just bumble around until they make a connection between the blue paint and the man and women who sell it. So if you check it out hoping for the next Da Vinci Code, you may be disappointed and confused (this is not an art mystery). If you check it out hoping for something strange and fantastical, you might be pleasantly surprised. For those who already enjoy Moore’s irreverent style, this psychedelic trip through the art history of blue will undoubtedly be among the most unique books you pick up this fall. Just remember that it’s really not about van Gogh no matter what the book jacket says!


Love Singer-Songwriters?


Title: Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation
Author: Sheila Weller
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Year: 2009, 2008c
Call Number: 782.42164 WELLER S
If you listened to the radio at all during the late 1960s through the late 1970s, the airwaves were filled with the music of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. And although this music is now considered vintage by many—relegated to easy-listening and sometimes present in incarnations of elevator music, many of us who grew up listening to the music of these three trailblazers from the singer-songwriter genus have their songs as a sort-of-soundtrack of our coming of age years, as author Sheila Weller points out. The book has two interesting aspects: it is a pop-history of the lives of Carole, Joni, and Carly and the men in their lives; and it is a revealing look into the music industry of the 1960s and 1970s and the double-standard they were confronted with when compared to their male peers (who were, in many cases, also their romantic partners). I must confess to indulging in the guilty pleasure of the first, in addition to appreciating the second. It is fun to know who all of these songs were written to, or what inspired them. What inspired “Up on the Roof” (James Taylor and Joni Mitchell sang background on this one on Carole's Tapestry album)? Who is Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” (yes, there was a real-life “Carey”)? Who did Carly Simon write “Anticipation” about? In addition to songs about the men in their lives, there is the poignant story of Joni’s “Little Green.” And come on admit it—don’t you really need to know who Carly wrote “You’re So Vain” about (no, it was not Mick Jagger!)? About the only disappointing thing I have to say about the book is it seemed to sort of peter out when Weller wrote about the years after the 1980s. And when I read the last page, I turned it expecting the next chapter and there was no more! Not that I was expecting more, but Weller could have done a better job of wrapping up her story. Still, this book is worth the read for music fans of these women, and of other singer-songwriters from this era (there is quite a bit about James Taylor, and, as many of you might already have guessed, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, along with mentions of many others). And there is a terrific index in the back that includes, among other things, song titles of most of Carole’s, Joni’s, and Carly’s work up to circa 2008 (in addition to much of James Taylor's work). 


New Fall Fiction

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

Get your library cards ready—it’s that time of year again.  New fall fiction is about to be released.  There’s just something about the shorter, cooler days that makes us want to sit down with a good book.  The following are coming soon to OC Public Libraries.  If you want to read them first, be sure to put them on hold—we’re bound to have quite a few takers!

NW by Zadie Smith

The “NW” of this title refers to northwest London, one of the rougher corners of the city, where the story unfolds.  The book explores class and identity, and also the ties we have to one another.  When a new book by Smith comes out, I can’t get it fast enough.  In the meantime, you can read White Teeth, Smith’s first novel, where her beautiful prose and masterful storytelling won me over from the beginning. 

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli

Claire and Forster are citrus ranchers in California.  This novel takes us through the highs and lows of their marriage and subsequent divorce, and Claire’s struggles to hold on to the farm, even as she battles cancer.  The lyrical language and precise descriptions in Soli’s first novel, The Lotus Eaters, made me feel the heat of Vietnam and hear the explosions.  I can’t wait to see where The Forgetting Tree will take us.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

Like the original novel, Trainspotting, and its sequel, Porno, this prequel is bound to raise some eyebrows.  (Warning:  If you prefer pretty language and tame plots, Welsh probably isn’t for you—but not to worry.  There is a lot of other new fiction to choose from!)  If you’re all caught up with the exploits of Sick Boy, Renton and Spud, you might want to try Welsh’s short stories (If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work, The Marabou Stork Nightmares) while you wait for Skagboys.

Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill

When Jimm Juree is forced to leave her job as an up-and-coming journalist and move to a ramshackle beach resort in Thailand, she is sure her career will suffer.  Until a head washes up on the beach and she finds that she might just have a story to write after all.  You can meet Jimm in Killed at the Whim of a Hat, the first novel in this series.  And if you like what you read, you can move on to Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series (the first is The Coroner’s Lunch), which takes place in Laos.


Charming Graphic Novel

Maggie McKay in Friends with Boys, a graphic novel by comic book artist Faith Erin Hicks, faces the unnerving first day of high school. Maggie, like her three older brothers, is homeschooled by their mother up until 8th grade. At the beginning of this poignant graphic novel, their mother has already left, making Maggie’s first day of school even more daunting. Of course, just the mention of homeschooling paints an awkward picture of Maggie and her family, making it seem like her parents may have chosen homeschooling as an authoritative and controlling measure. But their father, a sheriff in the small town where they live, is more of a loving, support figure. Once in school, and after a few days of observing from the sidelines, Maggie befriends Alistair and Lucy, a brother and sister. Both are outcasts for various reasons, but mainly because of the way they look and dress. Maggie has only had her brothers for friends so Lucy is her first female friend. As the three become friends, Maggie learns about her own brothers and their interactions with the general student population. Also, all along Maggie misses her mother and blames herself for her leaving. If all this isn’t bad enough, there’s a ghost stalking Maggie. Yes, that’s right---paranormal activity!

These characters, and captivating story are brought to life with artwork that is slightly nostalgic of the classic comic style. This graphic novel for teens isn’t as much a coming of age novel as it is a coming into the world novel while making discoveries in stride. Even though the mood of the story is melancholy, there is an undertone of hope. It’s about teens longing for connection and belonging, rather than suffering from lonely angst. This book is in the Older Teens section of the OCPL system.


Weekend Page-Turner

If you’re looking for something quick and exciting, The Third Gate by Lincoln Child is my recommendation this month.  I thought the book jacket sounded fascinating, so I put myself on the waiting list right away.
In this latest installment from thriller veteran Child, paranormal investigator Professor Jeremy Logan takes a job in the Sudd (a huge swamp) on the Nile searching for the lost tomb of an ancient Pharaoh.  If unearthed, the tomb would presumably contain one of the most important archeological discoveries ever found.  Admittedly the story is shaky at times; I mean, it doesn’t even seem like Logan has anything to do on the site, even though he’s being paid a ton of money to be part of a top-secret excavation!  And the complete lack of obstacles (non-paranormal) to such a massive undertaking is ridiculous.
And yet, it’s so very entertaining!  In the same vein as his other books, Child manages to hook you right away and doesn’t let go until the end.  When the project team starts experiencing horrible occurrences on the site, they can’t help but wonder if it’s related to the curse on the Pharaoh’s tomb.  In spite of Logan’s hesitancy, the team moves forward with the expedition.  As they do, the true meaning of the curse unravels itself with deadly consequences.  At just over 300 pages the pace never lags, making this the perfect choice for your next plane ride or weekend at home.


The Last American Man

When my library’s one male book club member suggested a book club title saying it was one of the best books he had ever read, we immediately put it into the queue.  The book he recommended is called The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is the same Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote the super popular Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.  The non-fiction book features Eustace Conway, mountain man and eccentric character.  When Gilbert first interviewed Conway, it was for a GQ Magazine article The Last American Man Men's Lives: Gilbert expanded the article into a full length book.  Before reading this book, I had never heard of Eustace Conway.  Evidently, he is growing in popularity.  He is now featured on the History Chanel’s show, “Mountain Men”.  The book club very much enjoyed reading this book and it led to a very interesting discussion.

Eustace Conway embraces trades and skills that are fading away and he criticizes how far modern men have disconnected from nature.  One has to respect Conway’s attempt to revive forgotten skills.  In The Last American Man we visit Conway at his home, Turtle Island Preserve, in the Appalachian Mountains.  The book both praises Conway’s unique spirit and lifestyle and portrays him as human and flawed.  I think what is well done about this book is its ability to describe Conway as multifaceted, admirable and misguided at the same time.  Whether you agree with Conway’s philosophy or not, and whether you like Conway as a person doesn’t affect the reader’s ability to enjoy reading this unique story.  Do I want to model myself after Eustace Conway?  No.  Do I think he has some valid points?  Yes.  Do I think you should read this book?  Yes, I do.


My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, was 37 when she had a massive stroke.  Taylor’s knowledge about the brain and how it functions gives her unique insight into how her stroke left her unable to walk, talk, read or remember details.  With the help of her devoted mother, Taylor spent the next 8 years re-learning her lost abilities. Her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’sPersonal Journey describes the incredible journey to regain her faculties.  Taylor’s courage and determination is inspiring, and this book is a fascinating read. The way the brain is able to heal and re-wire itself is truly amazing. Now fully recovered, Taylor advocates a holistic approach to stroke recovery. My Stroke of Insight also includes helpful advice on how to communicate and care for a stroke victim.


Travelling with Jane

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”  --Miriam Beard

It’s not every day we get the chance to take a year off just to travel abroad and read, but Amy Smith gets to do exactly this, and she writes about her experiences in All Roads Lead to Austen:  A Yearlong Journey with Jane.  Smith teaches in a small Californian college.  When she takes her sabbatical, she decides to spend the time travelling in Latin America and running book groups with the locals in Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina.  Each group reads a novel by Jane Austen.  Even though Smith shows us the differences between the people and cultures, she also points out that in spite of their idiosyncrasies and cultural assumptions, each is able to relate to Austen's works.

Austen wrote about 200 years ago and yet, there is something universal in her novels that we respond to even now.  Smith shows us that you don’t have to be a native English speaker to identify with Austen’s depictions of relationships, marriages, character and personality, and the daily life of women in the early 1800s.  In the six countries she visits, Smith arranges book groups for the novels Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility.  In each country, the readers come up with connections to Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor and Marianne.

Not only does Smith show us each country’s people through the lens of Austen, but she also gives us some great descriptions of the countries she visits and of the pleasures and perils of travelling in Latin America.  She brushes up on her Spanish in Antigua; comes down with dengue in Puerto Vallarta; feeds iguanas in Guayaquil; runs away from protests in Santiago; stays in an infamous hotel room in AsunciĆ³n; and shops at bookstore after bookstore in Buenos Aires.  (I admit, I was jealous of her bookstore ventures!)  And true to an Austen novel, by the end of the book, she gets married to a man she meets on her trip.  Since I can’t run away to Latin America for a year, it was fun to travel vicariously through Amy Smith.