The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
Charlie and Eli Sisters lead the dangerous, lonely life of hired killers in the 1850s Old West. Their horrified mother insists they should not bother coming home until they find a new line of work.
Charlie, the older, tougher brother, encountered bloodshed at a young age when he shot and killed his violent father to save his mother. He does not hesitate to use his gun when people get in his way. Eli, the younger, more sensitive brother, is growing weary of being a gunslinger and longs for love.
Eli’s unhappiness grows when the brothers are ordered by their boss, known as “The Commadore’’, to find and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm. Their travels take them from Oregon to the gold-struck town of San Francisco, and then on to Warm’s claim in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Finding Herman Kermit Warm will change the Sisters Brothers’ lives forever.
Author Patrick Dewitt’s novel provides the reader memorable characters and comic observations. He offers a fresh spin on the classic western, and somehow manages to create empathy for the two hit men. The book was nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for fiction. Check our catalog
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbauch
The poet Gertrude Stein wrote that "a rose is a rose is a rose.'' But in Victorian England, a rose, depending on its color, conveyed hidden messages. A red rose meant love, while a yellow rose had several meanings, including infidelity. This symbolic language comes to life in a heart-wrenching story that examines whether love and happiness are possible after years of isolation and despair.
Victoria Jones is a troubled young woman who spent most of her childhood in a series of foster homes. She doesn’t know how to love and hates to be touched. Her last chance to belong to a family comes at the age of 8, when a woman named Elizabeth takes her into her home. Elizabeth slowly gets Victoria to trust her, and teaches the young girl the hidden meaning of flowers. But when a fire breaks out, Victoria is taken away and deemed unadoptable. As she spends the next few years in group homes, her volatility and mistrust guarantee her loneliness.
Victoria becomes emancipated from the foster-care system on her 18th birthday. With no money, no home, no family and no high school diploma, Victoria relies on the one thing she knows: flowers. She ends up sleeping in a park, where she creates a flower garden. She makes a beautiful arrangement for a florist, who hires her to help in the shop. Victoria soon is sought out by clients for her talents at arranging just the right flowers, based on their meanings.
While Victoria finds peace in her work, she is haunted by a past in which she was incapable of receiving and giving love. When a young flower farmer reaches out to her, she must decide if she can risk the pain of rejection yet again. The author, who draws upon her own experience as a foster mother, has created a wonderful, compelling story that I couldn’t put down. Check our catalog.
Entertaining Yoga Reads
Yoga has become increasingly popular in the U.S. over the last decade. One estimate I found on the Web said that one in ten Americans now practices yoga, and a whopping $6 billion was spent on yoga products in the last year alone! So it stands to reason that yoga books would proliferate. Having practiced yoga for about four years now, I pick up a yoga book from time to time, either fiction or non-fiction. Some have been life-changing; others merely entertaining. Whether or not you’re a student of yoga, here are some books that will take you into the philosophy of yoga while engaging you with drama and humor.
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer
Dederer’s book is part memoir, part reflection on yoga. Her writing is direct and often laugh-out-loud funny, with prescient observations not only of the Seattle culture she lives in, but of the teachers and other yoga students she comes across. Her description of the hippie Seattle world of her childhood is fascinating, perhaps because it is so foreign to my Midwestern upbringing. Her mother, swept up in women’s liberation, separated from her father and moved in with a younger man, but never actually divorced Claire’s father. The lasting impact of her mother’s decisions haunts Claire throughout her life, and is one of the primary issues she attempts to deal with through her yoga practice.
The discussion of yoga was what made this book great. Dederer writes about yoga in a way that is humorous and detached enough for anyone to enjoy. I cheered for her when she triumphed over hanumanasana (otherwise known as the splits, a pose I’ve not even gotten close to achieving yet). Mostly, I was inspired by the real impact yoga has on her life. Here’s a quote I loved: “What yoga seemed to be teaching me was this: Who cares? Who cares about goodness? Who even cares how it looks? There’s only this: a woman in a heap on the floor. No one ever said reality was going to be dignified.” Words to live by.
Tales from the Yoga Studio by Rain Mitchell
This heart-warming chick-lit tale revolves around a Los Angeles yoga studio owner and four of her students as they struggle to make sense of their professional and personal lives. Besides offering a window into the L.A. yoga culture, it demonstrates how a yoga studio can be a supportive community unto itself. Lee, the main character, offers spiritual wisdom that benefits her yoga students but that also can be helpful and revealing for the reader. Mitchell does a good job explaining yoga positions and names, so the book is accessible to everyone. Overall, this book is an entertaining introduction to yoga and a fun read.
Other yoga titles on my reading list:
Fear and Yoga in New Jersey by Debra Galant
Enlightenment for Idiots by Ann Cushman
Lucky Everyday by Bapsy Jain
-- Andrea LarsonAdd a comment
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie’’ Warren Bump is only 32 inches tall, but she lives an enormous life, thanks to her feisty and determined personality. Her true story brilliantly unfolds with author Melanie Benjamin’s extensive research and compelling writing in “The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb’’.
Born in 1841, Vinnie decides she isn’t content to live a sedentary life on her family’s Massachusetts farm. When she has the opportunity to join a traveling riverboat show, she leaves behind her protective family, and learns the painful lesson that she is expected to be part of the freak exhibit. She proves she is more than an oddity, and strives to present herself as a refined little lady with a lovely singing voice.
When the Civil War breaks out and the riverboat is overtaken by southern confederates, Vinnie flees to her family home. She soon grows restless, and finds she misses the stage life. She eventually writes to P.T. Barnum, whose American Museum in New York City is a sensation.
Barnum takes Vinnie under his wing, and introduces her to another little person, Charles Stratton, whose stage name is General Tom Thumb. The pair eventually marries and become a worldwide sensation, thanks to Barnum’s showmanship. But their notoriety ends up causing great heartache, when her even smaller sister, Minnie, is exposed to the public spotlight.
The author incorporates excerpts from newspaper articles between each chapter, which provides an interesting backdrop to Vinnie’s experiences and sheds light on America’s Gilded Age of rapid expansion after the Civil War. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this tiny but mighty heroine.
Nate's Podcast Picks
What is a podcast? A podcast is an episodic program delivered via the Internet. Podcast episodes can be audio files, video files, documents, or any combination of the three. The publisher or broadcaster podcasts the program by posting the episodes to the web. The consumer subscribes to the podcast using a client application, such as iTunes, which regularly downloads new episodes. Click here for more information.
If it weren’t for my weekly podcasts I’d be drowning in an endless sea of new music, books, and movies. These days it seems impossible to keep up, there’s just too much good stuff out there. Of course, word of mouth is still my favorite mode of finding new things, but I also find that a good podcast can provide the perfect access point for me to finally get into a music group or actually go see that new film opening up this weekend. I can almost guarantee I never would have listened to Van Morrison’s "Astral Weeks" if it hadn’t been for Jim & Greg’s album dissection on Sound Opinions. I never would have seen the latest Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” if it wasn’t for Matty Robinson’s rave review on Filmspotting.
Beyond film and music, a good podcast can take a half hour or less to introduce you to fascinating topics you never thought you’d take an interest in. Through Terry Gross’s recent interview with Adam Hochschild, author of “To End All Wars”, I learned all about life in the trenches during World War I. Through the Stuff You Should Know podcast I recently learned how traffic works, something that I’ve always been curious about while sitting in it, but never wanted to study in depth. My podcasts keep me in the loop and spark my curiosity. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.
The following is a list of podcasts I subscribe to and enjoy on a regular basis. If they sound interesting, you can subscribe to them through the iTunes store. Bonus- they are all free!
1. All Songs Considered- Host Bob Boilen brings you an eclectic mix of fresh music by emerging and breakout bands and musical icons.
2. Big Ideas- Big Ideas offers lectures on a variety of thought-provoking topics which range across politics, culture, economics, art history, science....By nature of its lecture format, pacing and inquisitive approach, it is the antithesis of the sound-bite television norm.
3. Filmspotting- A weekly film show from Chicago featuring reviews, interviews, top 5 lists, and more with Adam Kemenaar and Matty Robinson.
4. Fresh Air- This Peabody award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio’s most popular programs. Hosted by Terry Gross, the show features intimate conversations with today’s biggest luminaries.
5. Intelligence Squared Podcast- Brings Oxford-style debating to America- one motion, one moderator, three panelists for the motion and three against.
6. Judge John Hodgman- Famous Minor Television Personality John Hodgman (the “PC” guy in those Mac commercials) solves pressing issues emailed to him.
7. New York Times Book Review- The world’s top authors and critics join Sunday Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus in lively conversations about books, art, and ideas.
8. Sound Opinions- Described as the world’s only rock and roll talk show. Hosted by Jim DeRogatis of Vocolo.org and Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune. Each week Jim and Greg bring you the latest music news and reviews. Plus tune in to hear exclusive interviews and performances.
9. Stuff You Should Know- How does self-experimentation work? What about the World Trade Center Memorial? Whether its a microexpression or a human cannonball, its all Stuff You Should Know. Learn more with Josh and Chuck in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com
10. This American Life- First-person stories and short fiction pieces that are touching, funny, and surprising. Hosted by Ira Glass.