The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 20, 2008


Lazy days ahead . . . summer reading suggestions from the Mosquito

With soaring gas prices and astronomical air fares, Carlisle families might be spending more time at home this summer, just chillin’ with a glass of iced tea and an absorbing book, and occasional day trips to the beach. To help readers make the most of the lazy, hazy times ahead, Mosquito staff members, prodigious readers all, share their favorite reads.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

As I was searching the shelves of the Concord Book Store recently, looking for a really good read, several of the staff directed me with great enthusiasm to this new novel with a story set on a farm in Wisconsin, a state where my grandparents had a farm. It’s the story of Edgar, a mute boy, growing up in a family that breeds dogs. The relationship of Edgar to his family and his experience of wandering in the wilderness with his dogs is beautifully told in this 500+ page book.

The Drunkard’s Walk, How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

This is a book written for the lay person that explains how chance plays such a significant role in our lives. Because people don’t understand probability, they make bad decisions − in the classroom, in the courtroom and even in the doctor’s office. The author gives many practical examples of how to correctly analyze situations in which random events play a role. Reading this book is a good way to learn to see through the misleading statistical arguments that always accompany political polls, particularly relevant this year.

Kay Fairweather, Biodiversity Corner writer, recommends:

Wild Ducks Flying Backward by Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins has been called a “stray dog in the banquet halls of culture.” In my view, he’s a good dog. He brings a smile to my face and he certainly has an unusual and often unexpected view of all topics he takes on. If you have a love of language and particularly if you are a fan of his novels (among them Another Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) you will enjoy this collection of travel articles, tributes, poems and musings.

The Flight of the Iguana (A Sidelong View of Science and Nature) by David Quammen

This book is a collection of 29 articles first published in the 1980s in the column “Natural Acts” in Outside magazine. The articles provide portraits of various creatures and habitats around the world and illustrate some of the awesome intricacies of nature. People who would enjoy this book are nature lovers and also anyone with more than a passing interest in human attitudes toward nature.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner

This is an excellent working field guide covering 700 species of caterpillars. So far I haven’t found a caterpillar that is not in the book. It is a great addition to the library of anyone, child or adult, who is interested in identifying caterpillars whether to distinguish friend from foe or just to delight in the diversity. The 1,200 color photos also make it an interesting coffee-table book for random summer browsing.

Cynthia Sorn, reporter, recommends:

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (2001 Newbery Medal winner)

A funny, and touching tale of a year in the life of a 15-year-old during the 1937 depression, living with her straight-talking (and straight-shooting) grandmother on the farm. It makes you wish for your own quirky grandparent, but perhaps not quite that wild! For the young adult reader.

Beyond the Sky and the Earth, a Journey into Bhutan

by Jamie Zeppa

This is a wonderful and engaging story of a young woman who decides to delay graduate school in 1988 to take on a teaching job in Bhutan, at that time one of the least-known countries on earth. She gets inside the lives of the mountain people, and through her first-hand experience we gain respect and affection for the people she ultimately brings permanently into her life.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

It may be strange to recommend as a summer read a book about the plague that swept Europe in the mid-1600s, but the focus of this historical fact-based fiction is the survival of people despite their devastating experience. Brooks also wrote March.

Priscilla Stevens, assistant editor, recommends:

The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo

Jeff Talarigo, who also wrote The Pearl Diver, recently spoke at the Gleason Library and recounted to a rapt audience his adventures in search of locations and mood for his novels about displaced people. To write The Ginseng Hunter, he backpacked into China and spent time along the border of that country and North Korea, studying the landscape, wildlife and people. The novel, told from the point of view of a solitary hunter of the ginseng root, concerns refugees from North Korea fleeing the rule of Kim Jong Il and escaping into China. The story is harsh, but told with a delicate and seamless grace; the prose is liquid and atmospheric, detailed and subtle. The book is short, and so beautifully written that it needs no more than 180 pages or so to tell the tale and leave unforgettable images behind to savor. (Three other staffers also recommended this book.)

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Marjorie Hart published this book in 2007, at the age of 83. It is a charming memoir of the summer of 1945, after her junior year in college, when she and her friend Marty spent the summer in New York working as pages in the world-famous jewelry store. The two girls from Iowa learned to navigate the city while dating midshipmen, scrimping to pay rent, spotting celebrities, and experiencing wartime events like the tickertape parade for General Dwight Eisenhower, a B-25 crashing into the Empire State Building and the overwhelming Times Square celebration on V-J day. Written in a light and effervescent style, this is a delightful and moving portrait of the era, the city, and a captivating woman.

The Breaker by Minette Walters

I’ve just recently been introduced to the mysteries of Minette Walters, and I think she brings a great deal to the genre. Shunning the “lone detective,” Walters spins the story out from the eyes of more than one police officer and inspector, creates fully rendered characters, and generally enriches the “country house” mystery by presenting the country houses as crumbling, their down-at-heel owners trying to maintain appearances, and making practical use of rocky seacoasts, dark London side streets, and interesting ancillary characters, human and otherwise. This is a crackling good read that really revitalizes the tired old conventions of mystery writing.

Nutan Chandra, reporter, recommends:

The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell

English teacher Erin Gruwell encouraged five of her students at Wilson High School in California to use the medium of writing to express their struggles with situations that they have no control over, like their families, poverty, race and religion. The students learn from these challenges and draw positive conclusions on negative influences, by learning to deal with them. They learned powerful life lessons and unshackled their past, troubled life with a genuine love and optimism for future. For young adult and adult readers.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A classical American drama that is published as a more complete version that includes new scenes and previously cut passages. The play was produced in 1959 and speaks to ideological challenges that black families faced – their desire to feel accepted and to be treated just like other people.

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris

A light-hearted read about a once-promising documentary filmmaker who is forced to give up her high-fashion and fast-paced life when she loses her job. She buys her summer rental bungalow and adapts to the suburban life. While working on a garden as a landscape designer (her new profession), she discovers the mummified body of an infant. She takes the reader on a delightful journey by making new friends and solves this murder mystery.

Susan Mills, advertising manager, recommends:

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin

This is a moving memoir that describes the life of the author’s father and the collapse of Zimbabwe. It provided much needed background to understand the current situation in the African nation and piqued my interest to follow the ongoing turmoil. The author’s family history was told with great compassion and wonderfully interwoven with the nation’s decline. The book would be a great read for any adult reader interested in current events and their impact on individuals.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Not a light summer read, but this book provides a great deal of information for some very interesting summer conversation! The author essentially describes what we are eating and how little that food resembles its natural form. You will not be able to eat another meal or grocery shop in quite the same way ever again!

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

A light-hearted bit of historical fiction, the story traces the concept, plans and painting of the Renoir masterpiece that gives the book its title. The author provides enough detail about life in and around Paris in the 1880s along with details about the 13 subjects’ lives to create an entertaining look at the art community of the time. The reader will feel the anxiety along with the sense of accomplishment Renoir himself must have experienced during the summer in which he created the painting.

Laura Foley, proofreader, recommends:

Gilgamesh by Joan London

This novel, set in 1937, follows the journey of 17-year-old Edith Clark from her home in rural Australia to Soviet Armenia, where she and her young son, Jim, are forced to remain when the war breaks out. Despite the constant threat of capture and death, the characters in this part of the book are amazing. London’s descriptions of characters, places and events seem almost animated. When Edith and Jim finally escape from Armenia, you can almost feel the blowing sand and oppressive heat as they travel surreptitiously through the deserts of Arab countries.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski is a veterinary student on the verge of finishing his last year at Cornell when a terrible family tragedy prevents both his graduation and his plans to join his father’s veterinary practice. With no one and nothing to turn to, Jacob walks aimlessly along a railroad track and then impulsively hops a train (his despair blinding him to the fact that he has hopped a circus train).

Soon Jacob is mucking out animal stalls and working as a sort of bouncer for sleazy side show acts. However, when the sights and sounds of the big top are slowly revealed to him, he is spellbound. Gruen’s description of this depression-era circus is so real you can smell the manure. The characters are fantastic and her choice of making now-93-year-old Jacob the narrator is perfect. (Another staffer also recommended this book.)

Ginny Lamere, reporter, recommends:

The Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

This book is part of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, although you don’t need to read them in order. The story takes you into the life of the engaging and sassy detective Precious Ramotswe of Botswana, whose cases involve wayward wives, unscrupulous maids and a lost son. The reader will get a real taste of life on the African plains. The entertaining and humorous tale is beautifully written.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

This is a non-fiction story of a female freelance pilot who flies from small village to small village in Nairobi, Africa in the 1930s, helping to bring supplies to out-of-the-way places. I found it fascinating. She is a rare breed, a single woman flying into the depths of East Africa, encountering numerous challenges. Her writing has a poetic style that draws you in.

Betty McCullough, typesetter, recommends:

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ali writes matter of factly about her life as a Muslim woman with an inquiring mind and determination to match. She tells of her journey from a life of poverty in Somalia to life as a member of Parliament in Holland and then on to a think tank in Washington D.C. as an advocate for immigrant Muslim women. She is so casual about her many accomplishments that one has to stop and remind oneself of how extraordinary they are.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

When Greg Mortenson’s life is saved by a sherpa in Pakistan, he vows to repay the debt by building a school for the village. Thus begins a consuming passion for building secular schools for children (mostly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the support of their tribal leaders.This is a hopeful book about what can be accomplished without government aid. (Another staffer also recommended this book.)

Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

Chief Inspector Thomas Lynley sets out on an extended hike thru Cornwall as he tries to recover from the death of his wife. Naturally he finds a body and takes his first steps back into the world of New Scotland Yard. If you are a fan of Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Havers from past books, you will be glad to have them back this summer. The books are so much richer than the PBS series.

Darlene D’Amour, reporter, recommends:

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

This is about Billy Beane, general manager for the Oakland As baseball team. Even if you have never heard of him, which I had not, this story of how he shrewdly found and hired baseball talent on the cheap is riveting. In a sport that traditionally uses talent scouts, Beane turns to new statistical analysis, focusing on a player’s on-base average as the key indicator of how valuable he is to a team. A great writer can make any story captivating and Michael Lewis is on a par with Massachusetts writer, Tracy Kidder, in his skill at nonfiction. This was a library CD book our family listened to on car trips, though some language may be too strong for younger children.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I liked this story for its place, a dairy farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin, in summer, but mostly for its main character, D.J. Schwenk, a teenage tomboy growing up in a family of football greats.

While milking cows and running the farm for her father who has a hip injury, a family friend asks her to use her football know-how to train Brian who plays for a rival high school football team. D.J.’s voice feels authentic – we’ve all known someone like her with her wisecracking, no-nonsense wit. With a family tradition of not discussing things, she learns from Brian that other families do communicate with each other. With a surprising plot twist or two and a sequel, The Off Season, this is good reading for high school teenagers or anyone who remembers what it feels like to be one.

Verna Gilbert, typesetter, recommends:

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

This provocative novel looks at the American family and the institution of marriage. The main characters are a young married woman and an older estranged wife who live in a two-family house in a New England college town. Much of the novel explores the viewpoints of the two women, each struggling with the idea of wifehood.

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Picoult’s latest novel grapples with religion and capital punishment in telling the story of a mother’s tragic loss and one man’s last chance at salvation. June Nealon’s husband and older daughter have been slain in their home and then Nealon’s other daughter needs a heart transplant. Who should volunteer his heart but the convicted murderer! This story of redemption, justice and love is a real spellbinder.

Anne Marie Brako, reporter, recommends:

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

Journalist Shields portrays the reclusive writer with enough fascinating detail to make reading this book feel more like a novel than historical fact. Anyone else who regards To Kill a Mockingbird as a great novel and regrets that its still-living author has not penned another, will enjoy this book.∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito