Archive for the ‘What are you reading?’ Category

Staff picks for summer reading

May 16, 2011

One of the best parts about summer is getting to read things you choose to read, rather than things that are assigned.  (Not that assigned readings are all bad, but choice is nice too!)  If you’re looking for ideas, here are some of our favorites:

Cover of 90 Minutes in Heaven90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
Recommended by Denise Sneller

This is a moving story about a pastor who dies instantly in a car crash and goes to heaven. He is greeted by a welcoming committee of friends and loved ones who have already died and gone to heaven. The sights he sees, things he hears, and the experience of being in heaven is more wonderful than anything he has ever experienced.  It is an amazing account of the “outer gates” of heaven.

At the same time that the author is experiencing the glory of heaven, a man on earth is praying by his broken body, and at that moment, Don Piper is brought back to earth. For months, as he lies in a hospital bed wracked with pain, he wonders why God has not allowed him to stay in heaven, and why he must go through the agony of months in the hospital and a total of 34 surgeries. But he does return to be with his family, and God uses him to bless others.

This is a life-changing story and anyone who has doubts that God still speaks to people and performs modern-day miracles will emerge with a stronger faith. It’s also helpful for those who live in suffering, with daily chronic pain, or for those who wonder if there is hope for an afterlife. Don Piper’s story will encourage readers that life must continue beyond tragedy, and that the kingdom of heaven is real and is waiting for all believers.

Cover of The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Recommended by Greta Grond

The Glass Castle is a memoir about growing up in extreme poverty. The author’s father is often absent and an alcoholic, and her mother is incapable of meeting her children’s needs.  The four children, smart and resourceful, are left to take care of themselves, each other, and their parents.  The writing is clean and honest, and the author candidly discusses personal experiences that were humiliating and shameful.  Upon finishing, I found myself wondering about many of the book’s themes:  how we exercise the will to survive, how devastating addiction is, and how love grows even in the most dysfunctional of families.

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Recommended by Anne Mead

This debut novel recalls the German occupation of the Channel Islands and those living in London immediately after WWII. The book, told in the form of letters between the people on Guernsey Island and Juliet Ashton, a journalist in London, was very enjoyable. Their correspondence revealed stories of hardship, starvation and isolation under Nazi occupation as well as the formation of the literary society and the joys they had in sharing literature. For me, the greatest delight comes from the “quirky, loveable characters”, I wished I’d known them myself. I highly recommend this novel.

Cover of The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Recommended by Heather Sas

In the historical fiction book The Help, Kathryn Stockett offers readers a glimpse of life in Mississippi during the early 1960s.  With believable characters, Stockett writes about human relationships amidst the Civil Rights Movement.  I loved how the story was written from the perspectives of three different women and enjoyed seeing the world through their eyes.  The beautifully descriptive writing drew me in and made me feel like I was right there.

Cover of The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Recommended by Tim Schlak

Considered by many critics to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a satirical tour de force that lambastes Stalinist Russia, its suffocating bureaucratization, and fervent atheism. Where the Soviet state and its guardians cannot permit God, they are forced to recognize Satan, who in the Russian tradition plays a decidedly different role from his Western counterparts as a force of evil that ultimately brings about good. Combining Stalin, Satan, Jesus, Pontius Pilate, a poet and his lover, demonic minions, various literati, bureaucrats and a big black cat, Bulgakov’s masterpiece weaves three threads—a love story between a poet (The Master) and his soul mate (Margarita), the misadventures of Satan’s retinue on a visit to Leningrad, and Christ’s crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate—to form a seamless work of fiction, fantasy, satire, philosophy, history, and theology that is as deeply religious as it is entertaining and easy to read. An absolute must read!

Cover of The Story of Edgar SawtelleThe Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Recommended by Sherri Langton

A gripping plot, fascinating characters, rich and beautiful language.  All of these come together to tell the intriguing story of Edgar Sawtelle, a boy who was born mute.  The family, coping with intense grief and caustic envy, is torn as Edgar is forced to flee his own home.  Can he ever return?  Can he ever be safe again?

Cover of What the Dog SawWhat the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by Anita Vogel

This book is an entertaining compilation of Gladwell’s nineteen brilliantly researched and provocative essays previously published in The New YorkerWhat the Dog Saw is filled with a variety of back stories about quirky subjects such as the secret of Heinz’s unbeatable ketchup and the history of women’s hair dye advertisements. Gladwell is a gifted writer with the ability to capture fascinating personalities while inviting the reader to think and think again. This is a perfect book for busy people-you can read one of his delightful essays in 15 minutes. Other books by Gladwell in our library collection are: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Cover of ZeitounZeitoun by Dave Eggers
Recommended by Kalie VanderZyden

Dave Eggers interprets the events that occur to Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family during and after Hurricane Katrina. The Zeitouns are a well-known and trusted family from New Orleans. As the threat of Hurricane Katrina looms, Zeitoun stays in New Orleans to protect their company and the rest of his family finds safety in another city. While helping his community during the aftermath, of the storm, he is arrested because they believe his devout Muslim Faith and Middle Eastern heritage to be a threat.  His faith, heart, and integrity are inspiring..  This book opens the readers eyes to little known events that occurred after Katrina and changes the way we view others.

Summer Reading Suggestions

May 26, 2009

Here is a list of books we thought you might enjoy this summer. If you have any recommendations of your own, leave us a comment.  Happy reading!


 The Lucky One  by Nicholas Sparks

luckyoneIs there really such thing as a lucky charm? The hero of Nicholas Sparks’s new novel believes he’s found one in the form of a photograph of a smiling woman he’s never met, but who he comes to believe holds the key to his destiny. The chain of events that leads to him possessing the photograph and finding the woman pictured in it is the stuff of love stories.


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid : A Memoir 

by Bill Bryson

thunderboltkidBill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century–1951–in the middle of the United States–Des Moines, Iowa–in the middle of the largest generation in American history–the baby boomers. As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero . . . more


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel  by David Wroblewski

edgarsawtelleA tale reminiscent of “Hamlet” that also celebrates the alliance between humans and dogs follows speech-disabled Wisconsin youth Edgar, who bonds with three yearling canines and struggles to prove that his sinister uncle is responsible for his father’s death.



Digging to America  by Anne Tyler

diggingtoamericaTwo families awaiting the arrival of their adopted infant daughters from Korea meet at the airport. The families lives become interwined after the Donaldsons, a young American couple invite the Yazdan’s, Maryam, her son and his Iranian American wife to an arrival party, which becomes an annual event . . . more



 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  

by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

potatopeelpieAs London is emerging from the shadow of World War II, writer Juliet Ashton discovers her next subject in a book club on Guernsey–a club born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi after its members are discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island.



The Rope Walk  by Carrie Brown

ropewalkThe Rope Walk brings us the dazzling story of a pivotal summer in the life of Alice, a redheaded tomboy and motherless girl who is beloved and protected by her five older brothers and her widower father, a professor of Shakespeare. On Memorial Day, at her tenth birthday party in the garden of her Vermont village home, Alice meets two people unlike any she’s known before. Theo is a mixed-race New York City kid visiting his white grandparents for the summer. Kenneth is a cosmopolitan artist with AIDS who has come home to convalesce with his middle-aged sister . . . more


The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness  by Karen Armstrong

spiralstaircaseKaren Armstrong begins this spellbinding story of her spiritual journey with her departure in 1969 from the Roman Catholic convent she had entered seven years before—hoping, but ultimately failing, to find God. She knew almost nothing of the changed world to which she was returning, and she was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures . . . more



 The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

watsonsbirminghamThe ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.



  Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow  by Dedra Johnson

sandrineletterDespite being a straight-A student and voracious reader, nine-year-old Sandrine Miller is treated like a servant by her mother, who forces Sandrine to clean house, do chores and take care of her younger stepsister, Yolanda. On top of the despair of her life, Sandrine must confront the harshness of life in mid-1970s New Orleans, where older men prey on young girls and she is ostracized because she is a light-skinned black girl . . . more


 The Secret  by Rhonda Byrne


Fragments of a Great Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation that will be life-transforming for all who experience it.

In this book, you’ll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your life — money, health, relationships, happiness, and in every interaction you have in the world. You’ll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that’s within you, and this revelation . . . more


Reconciliation : Islam, Democracy, and the West  

by Benazir Bhutto.Akhund


Writing a few months prior to her assassination, Bhutto explores the complicated history between the Middle East and the West. She traces the roots of international terrorism across the world, including American support for Pakistani general Zia-ul-Haq, who destroyed political parties, eliminated an independent judiciary, marginalized NGOs, suspended the protection of human rights, and aligned Pakistani intelligence agencies with the most radical elements of the Afghan mujahideen. She speaks out not just to the West . . . more


 Charlie the Caterpillar  by Dom DeLuise


A caterpillar is rejected by various groups of animals, until he achieves his beautiful wings and is able to befriend a similarly unhappy caterpillar.




Have a great summer!

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

February 25, 2009

Ahhh. This novel was a great read.  In fact, I’m sad I’m finished with it. 

The Story of Edgar SawtelleThe title is straightforward; the book is indeed the story of Edgar Sawtelle. Edgar is born completely mute; he can hear yet he cannot speak. (In fact, he cannot even cough. He is unable to vocalize anything.) The Sawtelle family breeds and trains dogs, a special breed they engineered. Like Edgar, the dogs read different hand signs, and their ability to understand their trainers and owners is unsurpassed. Edgar’s relationship with his dogs, particularly his beloved Almondine, is touching; he knows his dogs and, more remarkably, they know his heart and mind.

There’s so much more to this story than Edgar and his dogs, though. There’s a family drama based on Hamlet (a father, mother, a nefarious uncle), a beautiful setting on a small Wisconsin farm and a large red barn that’s almost a character in itself.

This is one of those novels that still has me contemplating the story days after I finished it. If anyone else has read it, I’d love to know what you thought.

New Books at Ramaker

February 11, 2009

Ramaker has added a number of  books to our Browsing Collection. These books, located near the entrance of the library, include current best-sellers and other contemporary titles. Recent additions include:

  • My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen
    An Orthodox Jew spends a year visiting various Christian churches and events, trying to better connect with Judaism.
  • The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig
    A native Montanan, Doig writes about 11 starters from a Montana college football team who enter WWII together. One is assigned to be a press correspondent and writes stories on his teammates.
  • The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
    In this romance best-seller, a man sets off to find a woman whose picture he carries and feels brings him good luck.
  • The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown
    The Iowa Reads selection for 2009. The story is about a man who transformed the public library into the place to be after he returns home, dying of AIDS.  Two children visit him in the afternoon, reading aloud the journals of Lewis & Clark.


If you’ve read any of these, we’d love to know what you thought; just leave a comment here.

Book Review: Little Heathens

November 18, 2008

“My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old.”

That’s how Little Heathens begins. While this sentence sets up what could be a book of despair and sadness, I found the text to be quite the opposite. The author certainly experienced difficult times – it’s about her time during the Great Depression, so there was obviously little money, compounded by the fact that there was no father in the picture – yet I found the overall tone to be one of fond remembrance, even a little rowdy at times.


The book is about Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s life during the 1930s in a small town in Iowa. The author was in her 80s when she wrote the novel, but her memories are crisp and detailed.

While it’s a narrative, the book is interspersed with recipes — including one for head cheese, which I found stomach-wrenching – and remedies for common ailments. I thought the best parts, though, were just the author’s remembrances about her daily life. I liked reading about what games they played, what pranks they pulled, what meals they ate (head cheese excepted), what books they read, what animals they tended.

If you are interested in the personal and local side of history, Little Heathens is a thorough memoir of the Depression era in Iowa.

Kathleen Norris Writes Again

September 25, 2008

Last year, writer and poet Kathleen Norris visited our campus for the Day of Common Learning. During one of her speeches, she mentioned the book she was working on at the time. Her theme was acedia, a term few people know. The word means, literally, an absence of caring. It’s also known as sloth, malaise, ennui, apathy, “the blues,” being in a funk. Norris says she first started having episodes during her teen years, and since then she has periodically experienced the feeling or condition.

I happened to catch an interview with Norris on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday about her new book, titled A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life: Acedia and Me.  She explores the condition of acedia, tracing it back in monastic life to the 6th century, and how it affects her – and others – still today. 

If you’re interested, you can listen to the interview online at Minnesota Public Radio.

Summer Reading Recommendations

May 9, 2008

Not surprisingly, most of us who work in the library also like to read. And summer is a great time for reading — no assignments, more free time, even more light.  Here is a list of books we thought you might enjoy this summer. If you have any recommendations of your own, leave us a comment!

From Dan Daily:

  • The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk by Jennifer Niven
    The Ice Master tells the tragic story of the 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition. Now, the entire Canadian Arctic Expedition was not marked by tragedy, but the Northern Party of the expedition, which was abroad the vessel Karluk suffered much, lost much, and, perhaps, unnecessarily. Jennifer Niven gives us a gripping account of the decisions, mistakes, heroic efforts, and will to survive that characterized the expedition. While most of the Western world plunged into the Great War, the expedition team, under the absentee-direction of the renown explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson (Stef), launched into the western Canadian Arctic. Not all would come back; some blamed Stef. Niven, whose own story is perhaps not typical of those who write polar history, gives us a fascinating, carefully researched addition to the history of polar exploration. Among the dozen or so books of polar history that sit on my bookshelves, The Ice Master is the best-told tale.

From Anne Mead:

  • The Appeal 2008 by John Grisham

From Sherri Langton:

From Anita Vogel:

From Greta Grond

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
    In this novel, an elderly man recalls his days on a circus train. After dropping out of veterinary school during the Depression, the narrator travels with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, caring for the exotic animals. With robust characters — hey, it’s the circus – and a setting so alive and unique, this book is one you will not soon forget.

If you’re interested in delving into one topic this summer, Anita suggests a collection of Karen Armstrong’s writings about comparative religion. These books are all in Ramaker’s collection:

Have a great summer!

Eat Pray Love: Book Review

May 6, 2008

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert


Elizabeth is a New York journalist with amazing charisma! However she is a worrier and has bouts with depression. This book is about her journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia seeking emotional and spiritual healing. I found her honesty refreshing and her oddball sensibility amusing.