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Laura's Picks

Book Cover for Blue Pills:  A Positive Love Story Peeters, Frederick
Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story

Graphic Nonfiction
This is a beautiful memoir about Fred, Cati, and L’il Wolf. And HIV. Living with HIV, medicating one’s HIV, raising an HIV-positive little boy, sexually evolving with HIV, and forgiving HIV. Peeters’ style consistently and intimately depicts everyday life for his unique family with honesty and intelligence. Cati’s big, sweet eyes and L’il Wolf’s huge, toothy smiles are just the beginnings of how the reader comes to know this lovely woman and her small child. Peeters’ dialogues with his family, friends, a doctor, and also a wooly mammoth provide insight into what it is to live and love with this disease.
Recommended by Laura, April 2008

 
Book Cover for Tales from the Farm Lemire, Jeff
Essex County Vol. 1: Tales from the Farm

Graphic Novels
The first in a trilogy based upon Lemire’s hometown in Ontario, Tales from the Farm is a Ralph Steadman-esque visual portrait of Lester, our cape-donning, hockey-loving, 10-year-old superhero. Lemire depicts Lester’s seasons with deep frames of the faces that populate his life. There’s Uncle Ken, a farmer who’s doing his best to provide a tough-love kind of guardianship after the death of his sister, and an ex-hockey player with a mysterious history, Jim LeBeuf, who forms a real friendship, full of bad language and imaginative adventures, with the kid. Big snowflakes, punchy inkblots, silent blackbirds, along with excerpts from Lester’s own comic book, consistently give the reader an intimate invitation to see the world through a young superhero’s mask.
Recommended by Laura, February 2008

 
Book Cover for Tortilla Curtain Boyle, T.C.
Tortilla Curtain

Fiction
Items that I recently checked out from the library include the Border Film Project: Photos by Migrants & Minutemen on the U.S.-Mexico Border as well as the 2006 documentary Crossing Arizona which depicts the border crisis from the perspectives of both humanitarians and members of the Minuteman Project. Lucky for me, I also discovered T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, a novel that integrates today’s conflicting sentiments toward illegal immigration with a fictional story of two struggling couples living near the Mexican border in Arizona. The lives of these two couples--one American, materialistic, suburban and affluent and the other Mexican, illegal, homeless and starving—continually crash into each other and all four people battle internally and externally with hate, nationalism and racism. Each character, at whatever cost, strives to maintain, create, or destroy his own or another’s existence and each character does it all in the name of the American Dream.
Recommended by
Laura, February 2008

 
Book Cover for Angelhead Bottoms, Greg
Angelhead

Teen Nonfiction
This is the memoir of a man whose brother is an acute paranoid schizophrenic and whose family was unaware of his disease for two decades. Bottoms' account of his brother's life, from every perspective possible--mother, father, brother, self, neighbors, friends--is heart-wrenching. So many people suffer from this disease and yet most are never diagnosed or properly treated, and Bottoms effectively communicates the pain and struggle that this can inflict on every member of a family. This book is highly recommended for those who have experienced this disease through a loved one, or for those who are just compassionate and want to better understand the effects that schizophrenia has on its sufferers and on all of us as a community.
Recommended by Laura, October 2007

 
Book Cover for No One Belongs Here More Than You July, Miranda
No One Belongs Here More Than You

Short Stories
Miranda July is the coolest woman on my planet. Having loved her 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know, I couldn't wait for this collection of short stories. Read this book if you want to remember how to love every itty, bitty moment of your life and how to enjoy every interaction you have with other human beings. One of the narrative characters holds swim lessons in her apartment for a group of old folks who go especially wild doing belly-flops off her chest of drawers onto the bed. Another story answers the question why humans are the only animals that kiss. The book is very pretty too--bright pink or bright yellow--and would look good with most summer outfits.
Recommended by Laura, August 2007

 
Book Cover for On Chesil Beach McEwan, Ian
On Chesil Beach

Fiction
I love small books. This particular small and wonderful book portrays Florence and Edward, a young couple who are freshly wed and who, in a seaside hotel, attempt unsuccessfully to consummate their marriage. Despite the book's slight stature, it is no lofty read. Their love for each other will be subjected to pride, distrust, impatience, abandonment and-worst of all-apathy. On Chesil Beach during their wedding night, their lives will be changed forever. Each word is important, each word is anchored, and each word is remarkably placed among every other remarkably-placed word. McEwan depicts the intricacies of human communication-or lack of communication-with precision, grace, and heartbreaking honesty.
Recommended by Laura, July 2007

 
Book Cover for The Roaches Have No King Weiss, Daniel Evan
The Roaches Have No King

Fiction
"I had reinherited the earth." Our protagonist, Numbers, named himself after a chapter in the book that sheltered and nourished him for two of his molts--he is a Bible baby and he is a cockroach. From innumerable perches, positions and perspectives, this one cunning Blattella germanica roach manipulates and manages the unknowing, bumbling, self-absorbed Homo sapiens who live in and around his apartment and who conceitedly think they "have their bug problem under control." Numbers' survey of the inferiority of the human species is not only truthful but extremely graphic and laugh-out-loud funny. When Ira commits mass slaughter on the colony, revenge is sweet and deserved. You will never doubt the power of pheromones and you may never again touch a canister of poison.
Recommended by Laura, June 2007

 
Book Cover for My French Whore Wilder, Gene
My French Whore

Fiction
You’ve seen his talent as a comic actor and as the original Willy Wonka. Now Gene Wilder stars as a debut novelist with My French Whore, a love story composed with simplicity and honesty. Peachy is a young man who leaves his life in Milwaukee to join the Army during WWI and keeps a notebook in which he journals all that follows. Shortly after his arrival in Germany, he successfully deceives his captors into believing that he is a German spy. He is catapulted into a world of enemy military relationships and luxuries and must depend upon his wit and luck and upon the love of a French courtesan for survival. A short read and a small book, this title is perfect for a train ride or a rainy night.
Recommended by Laura, May 2007

 
Book Cover for Chicken with Plums Satrapi, Marjane
Chicken with Plums

Graphic Novels
A child asks ‘Do you have opium?’, a man escapes to the bosom of Sophia Loren, an obese great-granddaughter gives birth to a child she didn’t know she was carrying, an angel of death has a grand sense of humor, and a mother’s corpse emanates a mysterious dense fog. These are the tragic and blunt elements in the portrait of Satrapi’s great-uncle, a famous Iranian tar player who took his own life when he could no longer create music. Because of Satrapi’s clever and earnest style, readers journey frame-to-frame, moment-to-moment through his story with anticipation and without judgment.
Recommended by Laura, April 2007

 
Book Cover for The Time Traveler’s Wife Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler’s Wife

Fiction
Reading is a form of time traveling. In times of stress, opening a book can instantaneously transport the reader to another place and another time, allowing her to straight away abandon her worries. For Henry, a dark-haired punk librarian, time traveling is involuntary, inconvenient and undignified. Materializing in the past, present, and future “in his altogether,” Henry manages his Chrono-Displacement Disorder the best he can. A gritty and suprising tale, Niffenegger layers this narrative with smart, immaculate storytelling and easily coaxes the reader through the expanse of time.
Recommended by Laura, April 2007

 
Book Cover for I Feel Bad About My Neck Ephron, Nora
I Feel Bad About My Neck

Nonfiction
“Wear a bikini for the entire year you are 26,” commands Nora Ephron to younger women readers in this collection of essays detailing her grappling with Getting Older. Ephron reminisces with simultaneously hilarious and melancholic delivery and monologues about various revelations that exhaust, inspire and overwhelm her. A particular example is that she comes to accept the hatred that her purse and its contents solicit in her for being such a flawless reflection of her life and of her personality. The most delightful essay, titled, “On Rapture,” speaks resonantly to the experience of reading. Ephron recounts the bliss she experiences throughout her life as a reader--from her afternoons filled with juvenile literature and the bombardment of desire to be all of those heroines, to having just finished the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and not wanting to reappear from the depths of 1940s New York City. It is an essay whose narrative could quite possibly have been written by any insatiable reader. This is a tiny but feisty book, a short read with long indulgent laughs. It is to be read by those who love women and to be read by women of any age, regardless of how she may feel about her neck.
Recommended by Laura, March 2007

 
Book Cover for Water for Elephants Gruen, Sara
Water for Elephants

Fiction
If you'd like to go dancing at a speakeasy, if you'd like to jump a moving train and find yourself immersed in the world of a traveling extravaganza, or if you'd like to meet and fall in love with a Polish-speaking elephant, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is a tender and colorful under-the-big-top tale for you. Sprinkled with historic photographs and with characters born out of true circus stories, this page-turning novel alternates between the narrations of Jacob Jankowski as a young man and as an old man. One topples face first into love and the grisly and glamorous circus world and the other struggles to maintain his dignity and his memory in an assisted living home. Both stories have unpredictable, uplifting resolutions and might leave you wishing that you could run away and join the circus too.
Recommended by Laura, February 2007