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Book Reviews
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2009  
  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
  The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison
  A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
  A Collection of Essays by George Orwell
  Summer Book list referred to us by NPR's librarian Nancy Pearl
  A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson by David S. Reynolds
  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Keith's book of the month is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Enzo is a warm and gentle philosopher of the human (and canine) condition. It's a book with a canine sense of humor, and the story is told from the perspective of the dog Enzo. Enzo learned from a TV program that Mongolians believe when worthy dogs die, their souls return in human incarnations. Enzo believes this will happen to him, so he studies his human family intensely in order to be ready. This is one of those rare tales that one can't stop reading but will miss when it comes to an end.

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The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

Keith's book of the month is The Sorrow of War, a short novel by Bao Ninh published in the early '90s that remains one of the most outstanding pieces of writing from a north Vietnamese perspective on the war in Vietnam. A classic in its writing style, the essence of the novel is about the act of writing as much as it's about the war. Ninh has created a masterpiece that should be considered amongst the greatest war novels. Epic in every way, the novel tells the story of a teenager who enters the Vietnam War, which claimed 58,000 U.S. combats' lives and 6 million Vietnamese. It is this devastation that Ninh writes about so fluidly. The Sorrow of War is without a doubt a timeless story.

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The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison

Alex's book of the month is The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison. Harrison is an amazing wordsmith, and his stories are very engaging, in a hedonistic, manly kind of way. The Beast God Forgot to Invent is a compilation of three novellas, each about different men at interesting points in their lives. In the title story the narrator, a fifty-something antique book collector and real estate agent, feels chagrined living in the north Michigan wilderness where he lives a paradoxical life of ruggedness tempered by his dependence on consumerism, creature comforts, and gadgetry. Who is charged with the task of describing the last days of his brain-damaged, womanizing friend, Joe, to the coroner. The novella's comedy and deep, soulful pain comes from the sexually-frustrated, over intellectual narrator idealizing Joe into something akin to a hyper sexualized Pan. It's an enjoyable read, interspersed with profound truth.

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A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain

Keith & Sue's book of the month is A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain, a thrillingly alive, somewhat out of control, mad, swirling bacchanalia of a book. Bourdain's around-the-world party (with stops in Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, and Japan, among other places) of eating, drinking and surely participating in lots of activities that didn't make it into the book, is rapturously gluttonous, unrepentantly hedonistic. No one writes about food like this: food as love, as passion, as life.

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A Collection of Essays by George Orwell

First published in 1936, this book comprises 8 of the highest voltage pages of English prose you'll ever read. In Shooting an Elephant, Orwell illumines the shoddy recesses of his own character, illustrates the morally corrupting nature of imperialism, and indicts you, the reader, in the creature's death, a process so vividly reported it's likely to show up in your nightmares ever after. In The Art of Donald McGill with vaguely obscene illustrated postcards beloved of the working classes, uses the lens of the popular culture to examine the battle lines and the rules of engagement in the war of the sexes, circa 1941. In Politics and the English Language, prose working-out of Orwell's perceptions about the slippery relationship of word and thought that becomes a key premise of 1984. In Looking Back on the Spanish War is as clear-eyed a veteran's memoir of the nature of war as you're likely to find. In this best-selling compilation of essays, written in the clear-eyed, uncompromising language for which he is famous.

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Summer Book list referred to us by NPR's librarian Nancy Pearl

We decided to do a list of summer books, so we called our friends at NPR and they referred us to Librarian Nancy Pearl Picks Summer's Best Books: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart; The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre; The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles; The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway; Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington; What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn; A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark; and The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.

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A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Michele's book of the month is A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. Wizenberg's style of writing is so comforting and welcoming, like sitting at a kitchen table with an old friend you haven't talked to in years, and catching up with each other's lives. Wizenberg's favorite recipes are interspersed with personal reflection. Memories of her father begin with his cherished formula for potato salad and an attempt to recreate his French toast, but also include a variation on scrambled eggs that spurred a comforting moment as he was dying of cancer. Instead of going back to graduate school after his death, she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new patisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen. It's a memoir with a practical purpose and a cookbook with a life beyond the kitchen.

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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Keith's book of the month is The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I will quote Randy: "We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." This is an amazing book by one of the most positive people I have ever encountered. At Carnegie-Mellon some professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy? When Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie-Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave-"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"-wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). In this book, Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration, and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form.

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Sue's book of the month is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. This novel is like a 20th century American Midwestern Hamlet with dogs. That kind of lead might leave you cold. But be assured: you don't have to love dogs or dote on Shakespeare to adore this fine novel. Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life on his family's farm in remote northern Wisconsin where they raise and train an extraordinary breed of dog. But when tragedy strikes, Edgar is forced to flee into the vast neighboring wilderness, accompanied by only three yearling pups. Struggling for survival, Edgar comes of age in the wild, and must face the choice of leaving forever or revealing the terrible truth behind what has happened. A riveting family saga as well as a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is destined to become a modern classic, and you will certainly have a rewarding reading experience.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Sue's book of the month is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Things have never been easy for Oscar, who is maybe the last true romantic left on the planet. A sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd, a fierce lover of women, though his major problem lies in them loving him back, and he is a writer of Science Fiction who dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien. Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large and the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wonderful and moving book about not fitting in, and finally having something to live for.

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Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson by David S. Reynolds

Bill's book of the month is Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson by David S. Reynolds. Reynolds provides a broad survey of the United States of America between 1815 and 1848, commonly referred to as the Age of Jackson. After reaffirming its independence from England in the War of 1812, the United States emerged as a world power brimming with a cast of first-generation American politicians, soldiers, scientists, writers, and artists. Jackson helped found the modern Democratic Party while the Whigs grew weaker due to divisions over the slavery issue. The Republicans emerged in the 1850s as a party of abolition and free soil. This book offers a fine addition to the literature on pre-Civil War American history.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Michele's pick of the month is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Once you start this book, there's no turning back. A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue, with strong, memorable characters, dark humor, and inventive plot twists. It's about the disappearance 40 years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian industrialist uncle, Henrik Vanger, who wants to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he dies. It's about Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, who watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. It's about the multipierced and tattooed Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable genius superhacker. The odd couple dynamic duo gradually uncovers a festering morass of familial corruption and one other item. You really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

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