The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau has honored National Library Week every year since 2002 by gathering suggestions of “Favorite books” from state legislators and legislative employees. If you’re curious what the suggestions are, or just looking for possible good reads, you can see the annual lists online at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/lrb/pubs/tapthepower.htm. The lists have fiction, nonfiction, and biography/autobiography sections. Alas, identities of the suggesters are not revealed. But the suggesters’ brief reviews are available.
The 2010 list
- * (starred) books are available at UWW’s Andersen Library; search the HALCat online catalog for locations and call numbers.
- UWW students and staff may request non-* titles from other UW libraries using the free Universal Borrowing service; requested items arrive at UWW’s Circulation Desk in 2-4 weekdays.)
All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well / by Tod Wodicka, Pantheon Books, 2007. This was a touching book about a dysfunctional family, focusing on the father. What I loved about it was that the characters were all eccentric, yet believable, and despite the fact that they were all flawed and not very likable, I found myself caring about them.
* The Corrections / Jonathan Franzen, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. This book was more famous for its author (Jonathan Franzen) biting the hand that fed the book industry (Oprah Winfrey) than for the book itself. It moves in and out of the lives of two retired parents and their three supposedly grown children as they draw nearer to “one last Christmas” before the parents sell the old house that no one liked that much in the first place. The tone maneuvers successfully through satirical, heartbreaking, and surprising without striking a false note. It’s an engaging read – probably not beach material, more appropriate for a long weekend winter getaway after your family drove you nuts at the holidays.
* The Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, 2008. This is an amazingly creative tale about a future where children are forced to make hard and dangerous choices in order to help feed their families. It was extremely addictive and I read it in one sitting. I am eagerly awaiting the final installment in the trilogy that comes out this August, entitled Mockingjays. (Young adult book)
* I Capture the Castle / Dodie Smith, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999, 1948. This book, originally published in 1948, reminded me of a Jane Austen novel. The novel takes place in the 1920s, and follows the lives and fortunes of a poor family in England. It was a fun read, and I highly recommend it for a summer vacation.
* Pillars of the Earth / Ken Follette, Morrow, 1989. Pillars is a historical fiction novel. The story is about the building of a cathedral in the fictional Kingsbridge, England; however, many of the characters have roles involving real events of the 12th century. We follow characters through two generations of struggle and anarchy. The story is extremely compelling; you can’t put it down.
Sarah’s Key / Tatiana de Rosnay, St. Martin’s Press, 2007. Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back in a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On the 60th anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France. While investigating, she stumbles onto a trail of secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from the Vel’ d’Hiv, to the camps, and beyond.
Year of Wonders / Geraldine Brooks, Penguin, 2001. This is a fictional work based on a true story about an outbreak of the plague in an English village in 1666. The story is told through the eyes of the minister’s servant who aids the minister and his wife as they tend to the sick and comfort the dying. The voices of the characters and the vivid descriptions of the townspeople’s living conditions and their attempts to make sense of what is happening in the face of fear and superstition made me feel like I was there in a way that I rarely experience when reading a novel.
The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd / Mary Rose O’Reilley, Milkweed Editions, 2000. Whether she’s talking about grief over dying lambs, the plague of Monkey Mind, flipping sheep, or a barnyard fashion crisis, O’Reilley keeps her metaphors down to earth and her epiphanies humble. The structure is especially inviting: a collection of brief essays of about three to five pages each. But this collection also reads like a journey with a beginning and an end.
Where Men Win Glory – The Odyssey of Pat Tillman / Jon Krakauer, Doubleday, 2009. In May 2002, Pat Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the U.S. Army. Two years later, he was killed by friendly fire on a desolate hillside in Afghanistan. Krakauer chronicles Tillman’s riveting, tragic odyssey in engrossing detail. Infused with the power and authenticity readers have come to expect from Krakauer’s storytelling, Where Men Win Glory exposes shattering truths about men and war.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction / David Sheff, Houghton Mifflin, 2008. A wrenching account of a father’s fight to save his son from methamphetamine and other drug addictions.
The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food / Garrett Oliver, Harper Collins, 2003. In The Brewmaster’s Table, Oliver explains how to identify the characteristics of different beer styles and how to select beers and foods based on pairing principles including complement, contrast, and cut. For readers who want to skip ahead and miss out on Oliver’s accounts of the history and people of beer and the richness of the food combinations, the book includes a quick reference table for pairings of different foods with different styles of beer.
Confessions of a Public Speaker / Scott Berkun, O’Reilly, 2010. Berkun’s advice is specific to people who travel far and wide to speak, but much of it is great advice for any speaker. My favorite piece of advice is to always practice your speech, even if it’s in front of a mirror. It’s a fast and engaging read, and I would recommend it to anyone trying to improve their public speaking.
Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health Care in Twentieth Century America / Colin Gordon, Princeton University Press, 2004. University of Wisconsin history Ph.D. Colin Gordon seeks to address why the U.S. has not, unlike most democratic nations, developed a national universal health care system, but has instead pursued private, employment-based insurance. It is well written and provides some insight on how the U.S. has ended up with such an expensive private employer-based insurance model and provides the historical background for understanding why it was so difficult for Congress to pass health care legislation.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World / Eric Weiner, Twelve, 2008. Weiner travels the world in search of the happiest countries, and along the way considers the meaning of happiness and what makes people happy. It was a fun way to get to know more about a number of very different countries, from Switzerland to Bhutan to Iceland.
Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: the True Story of a Great American Road Trip / Matthew Algeo, Chicago Review Press, 2009. An entertaining read about the 2,500-mile post-presidential road trip taken by President and Mrs. Truman, who innocently believed they could make such a trip virtually incognito. At the time, ex-presidents had no Secret Service protection so the Trumans backed out of their driveway and headed east to New York with no escort. Harry did the driving; Bess made sure he didn’t go over the speed limit. An engaging historical telling of the Truman’s 1953 trip in which the author retraces the route, attempting to stay in the same hotels and eat at the same diners. I enjoyed this book very much.
Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam / Bob Greene, Putnam, 1989. An appropriate book to read with the upcoming “LZ Lambeau: Welcoming Home Wisconsin’s Vietnam Veterans” (May 21-23, 2010). A compilation of reader responses to this syndicated columnist’s curiosity about how soldiers were treated upon their return to the United States. As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, I found this book to be an eye-opening experience.
* Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations – One School at a Time / Greg Mortenson and David Relin, Viking, 2005. The astonishing story of a young man’s humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban’s backyard. Greg Mortenson, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built 55 schools – especially for girls – that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth.
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