Is it just me, or do you have days when you just can’t find anything to read? It’s on those no-read days, that I fall back on a secret guilty pleasure. Picture books. Those big, heavy tomes meant to sit on coffee tables, as Wikipedia says, “inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom.” David Brower, former executive director of the Sierra Club is often credited with inventing the modern coffee table book. Indeed, the Sierra Club book, In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World with text by Henry David Thoreau and photographs by Eliot Porter was one of the first books I ever purchased.
My latest coffee table book discovery is Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s based on a 2011 show at the Museum featuring items from the late fashion designer’s collection. Let’s take a leap from fashion to geology. If you ever thought of rocks as dull and boring, check out Within the Stone: Nature’s Abstract Rock Art by Bill Atkinson. After a visit to the Painted Desert, Atkins, a former Silicon-Valley whiz kid, became fascinated with the colors of the petrified rocks he found scattered on the desert floor. He purchased some polished slabs and began photographing them. This stunning book is the result.
Another stunning coffee table book that takes its inspiration from nature is Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees by Cédric Pollet. Just as the title implies, it’s a photographic study of tree bark. After browsing the pages of this splendid book, you’ll never look at trees the same way again.
My favorite coffee table books list wouldn’t be complete without Among the Amishby Keith Bowen. Part sketchbook and part journal, this lovely book records in pastels and ink the day-to-day activities of the Amish community in Lancaster County, Penn.
Shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize, Tom McCarthy’s C recounts the brief and fascinating life of Serge Carrefax, a young British boy who comes of age and enlists in the nascent Royal Air Force. With the advent of World War I, Serge serves as a radio operator for recon flights, often aloft over enemy territory. Eventually, he is shot down, taken prisoner and escapes from a German prisoner camp. Back in London, Serge, now a young man, accepts a position with the shadowy Empire Wireless Company in Cairo, just as a wave of civil unrest overtakes Egypt (the very same upheaval which led to the Egyptian revolution and its subsequent independence from Great Britain). The book concludes deep in a pharaoh’s tomb, where Serge’s comes face to face with his fate. An extremely complex, artfully-written and thoroughly researched book, McCarthy’s C is a good choice for those who like lush language, intertwined narratives, and intelligent dialogue.
Bill Hicks started doing standup comedy in Houston, Texas when he was 15 years old. He died of pancreatic cancer when he was 32. In those short 17 years he maintained a demanding standup comedy schedule which made comics and critics alike take note.
American: the Bill Hick’s Story is a documentary exploring the life of a comedian who was loved by other comics and yet relatively unknown by the American public. This DVD is filled with clips from Hicks’ comedy routines, and interviews with family, friends and other comedians. Bill Hicks’ comedy is thought-provoking, irreverent, satirical, and gutsy. However, a thread of hope and idealism weaves its way through Hicks’ comedy as well; and it is the dualistic nature of his optimism and cynicism that makes Bill Hicks so fascinating and amusing to watch. If you like George Carlin, Richard Prior, Lenny Bruce or Bill Maher, try Bill Hicks and see what you think.
What’s better on a snowy January afternoon than curling up by the woodstove with a good book, a mug of hot tea at your elbow, a cat on your lap or a dog at your feet? Try some of these “chilling” titles that will make you appreciate our relatively mild Colorado winters:
Arctic Dreamsby Barry Lopez. Lopez won the National Book Award in 1986 for this classic work.
Four Against the Arcticby David Roberts. The amazing story of a four shipwrecked Russian sailors who survived for six years on a barren Arctic island in the mid-1800’s.
Though Lippman is most famous for her Tess Monaghan mysteries, I’d Know You Anywhere is a stand-alone title. The story is about a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager, freed and moves on with her life. Eliza is contacted over 20 years later by her kidnapper who is on death row. The story shifts back and forth from the past around the time of her kidnapping and the present. Eliza is gripped by her fear of Walter Bowman and the urge to protect her own children. However she is also tempted by the need to forgive her tormentor. Lippman has written a psychological, manipulative tale in the style of Jodi Picoult and more recent Lisa Scottoline novels.
Even if you’re not fluent in Russian, anyone interested in the country’s intriguing and tumultuous past or uncertain future will find these books worth a look.
Travels in Siberiaby Ian Frazier Siberia, which takes up fully 1/6 of Earth’s land surface, is a source of perpetual fascination with people around the world. Get up close and personal with the people, land, and history of this region in Frazier’s excellent travelogue. A recent release, (2010), this title gives one of the most readable and up to date accounts of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Molotov’s Magic Lantern by Rachel Polonsky British journalist Rachel Polonsky discovers a library of books and a “magic lantern” in an abandoned apartment that once belonged to Vyacheslav Molotov, one time henchman for Stalin. Her findings lead her to investigate the lives of the books’ authors, including such characters as Chekov, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin. A must read for those interested in the literature of the country and the role that it played in shaping its history.
Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in a post-Soviet Landscape by Susan Richards Nearly twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, where do the people of Russia stand? What are their hope and dreams for themselves and their country? Lost and Found in Russia tells the compelling stories of a handful of citizens making their way in a country still trying to find a new identity.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie Russia’s most famous empress’ life story, Catherine the Great details with accuracy and style the life of, arguably, one of the most influential women in world history. A highly readable and masterfully told story that is dramatic and sometimes unbelievable.
Growing up in Denver, one of my fondest memories is of our family’s annual trek to the National Western Stock Show in January. I can still recall the distinctive aroma – a mixture of hay, manure and saddle leather along with hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. The Stock Show brings together cowboys, ranchers, farmers and city folk in a unique yearly celebration of our Western heritage. Even if you don’t go, here are some books to get you in a western mood.
Finding a new TV show to follow can be exhilarating and what’s even better is discovering that the library owns all of the previous seasons on DVD and they can be borrowed and devoured at your own pace!
You’ll be glad you have all of the discs in hand when you start watching Damages Set in the high stakes world of corporate law in New York City, the show stars Glenn Close and Rose Byrne as the city’s most driven and successful litigator and her protégé. At Patty Hewes’ law firm winning isn’t just the goal, it’s the only option.
Michel de Nostradame here. That’s Nostradamus for short. Boy, what an incredible year 2012 was! I can’t believe Alcorn State University won the NCAA basketball championship. No one could have seen that one coming (except yours truly). And don’t even get me started on the election. Hello, President Rick Santorum!
You don’t know it yet, but 2012 is going to absolutely gob-smack you in a lot of ways, and none more so than the number of excellent books that come out this year. Who would have thought that James Patterson could publish ten new novels in twelve months? It’s like the guy has a team of people who just write books under his name or something!
But you don’t have to be moi to predict some of the big authors from previous years will be just as big in the future. No, it takes a real seer—such as myself–to give you the lowdown on the future must-reads. So heed my advice now and you won’t end up being number 350 in line for a library book with only 10 copies. I, the big N, the Man Who Reads Tomorrow, the Seer without Peer, proudly present my can’t-miss, must-get, sure-thing forthcoming book list of 2012. You’ll thank me for this (I’ve already seen you do it). Some of these are so far out there the library doesn’t even have a catalog record for it yet, so be sure to check back.
Some Assembly Required – Fascinating examination of a mother dealing with the reality of her first son having his first son.
The Forever Fix – Narrative science at his best with this look at gene therapy and childhood illnesses.
The Red House – Ever had a terrible family reunion full of estrangement and guilt? The family in this novel is still worse than yours.
Talulla Rising– This is the sequel to Glen Duncan’s 2011 world-weary novel, The Last Werewolf. Literate, hipper-than-thou horror at its best.
Waiting for Sunrise– Suspenseful historical thriller set in early 20th century Vienna featuring a young actor and lots of Freudian weirdness.
I’m signing off for now. Before I go, you should know that the winning lotto numbers are 5, 28, 41, 3, 62, 01, and 7. And if you hit it big, think about making a charitable donation to the Jefferson County Public Library system. Even I can’t tell if it’ll be around next year.
This novel tells the story of a beautiful developmentally disabled woman (Lynnie) and a deaf mute African American man (Homan), residents of a dismal warehouse institution for the enfeebled. They escape one night and make it to the home of a retired school teacher. We discover Lynnie has just given birth. The institution comes after them, recapturing Lynnie while Homan escapes. Just before Lynnie is taken back into the “School,” she asks the teacher to hide her baby. The story continues in 5 voices: the Lynnie, Homan, the teacher, the baby, and the social worker who helps them all. It could be a depressing story were it not for the intellectual and character growth of all the personalities.
Are you an artist whose creative life is in need of a little excitement and rejuvenation? January is International Creativity Month, a perfect excuse to carve out time for yourself and focus on your creative abilities. The following books can help you release your full creative potential and inspire you to continue on your own creative path.
The artist's way: a spiritual path to higher creativity by Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way is an international bestseller filled with helpful creative exercises, inspirational quotes, and plenty of advice on how to nurture your creativity. Although Cameron is an author this book is not limited to writers, it can help any creative artists – painters, dancers, actors, and musicians alike.
Art as a way of life edited and illustrated by Roderick MacIver Art as a Way of Life is a beautiful book filled with watercolor paintings and quotes about creativity. Although the book is geared toward painters, the quotes and art can serve as inspiration for any artist.
The creative habit: learn it and use it for life: a practical guideby Twyla Tharp, with Mark Reiter The Creative Habit is written by a well-known choreographer, although it is not just for dancers. The book includes some of Ms. Tharp’s own struggles to create as well as several exercises and discussion about the nature of creativity itself.