Best-of-the-Year Meeting, Pt. 1
Posted by: Neil Hollands
I’ll share two posts this week about the books that the librarians at Williamsburg Regional Library selected for a staff book group themed around the best books of 2012. Then I’ll be back early next week with the first installment of my annual All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC), my annual spreadsheet that tabulates the votes from dozens of best-books lists and awards in one handy table.
Coverage today begins with three young adult novels and three biographies selected by WRL staffers. Jan is in our Adult Services division, but like many of us, she has a taste for Young Adult books as well. Her selection was Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a historical thriller about a Scottish girl caught by the Germans in France as a spy during WWII. Employing a somewhat unreliable narrator in conditions of torture, Wein creates a twisty tale with lots of surprises. This is dark subject matter with a somewhat melancholy ending, so Jan recommends that sensitive readers think twice, but she encourages readers who like tough young heroines to grab this one up quick.
Susan from our Youth division had Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. This fantasy series starter is difficult to summarize, but involves a girl and four unusual boys from a local private school. If you’ve seen Dead Poets Society, add a supernatural element and you’ll get the basic idea. I loved Stiefvater’s last book The Scorpio Races, so this book, from an up-and-coming star, goes on my to-read list as well.
Cela, recently retired from our Technical Services division brought two books. The first was Terry Pratchett’s Dodger, a slightly darker than usual tale from the master of British humor that draws its characters from the world of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, or at least creates their Pratchettesque analogues. The writer himself (Dickens, not Pratchett) is a significant character, so if you’re a fan, by all means get Pratchett’s take.
Cela’s other choice was the latest in Robert Caro’s series The Years of Lyndon Johnson. The Passage of Power is the fourth entry in this exemplary series that has won every award in the book. This volume covers the best and worst of Johnson, following his volatile battle with JFK for the 1960 Democratic nomination through Johnson’s own assumption of the Presidency after Kennedy’s assassination, and through his Great Society triumphs and Vietnam disasters. At 712 pages, and as the fourth in a series, this isn’t typical book group fare, but if you’re interested in LBJ, in the times in which he lived, or just enjoy detailed biographies of complex characters, you can’t do much better than Caro.
Gail read the latest by Timothy Egan, perhaps best known for his chronicle of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time. His new book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. Curtis was a mountaineer and photographer who combined his two passions in a life-spanning project to photograph the different Native American tribes. The photographs ran to 20 volumes, and Curtis, better at adventuring than managing his affairs, died penniless soon after completion of the last volume. But in an eventful life he rose from ne’er-do-well roots to rub shoulders with George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and most of the leading Native American figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I’ll finish this post with a choice from our group leader Cheryl, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. General Alex Dumas was the son of a black Haitian slave who rose from slavery through the ranks of the French aristocracy to become a leading general at the height of the French Revolution. His adventures would become important fodder for his son, the author Alexandre Dumas. Cheryl recommends the book to those who like light history or who have read Dumas’ fiction.
I’ll be back later this week with six other choice from this excellent meeting.