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Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen author photoCarl Hiaasen joined the Miami Herald in 1976, where he still works.  In 1979, he turned to investigative journalism concentrating on property development, exposing schemes to destroy Florida’s natural beauty for the sake of profit.  His fiction mirrors his concerns as a journalist and Floridian.  His novels have been classified as environmental thrillers, although they can just as well be read as mainstream reflections of contemporary life.  The London Observer called him “America’s finest satirical novelist,” while Janet Maslin of the New York Times has compared him to Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and S.J. Perelman.  Mr. Hiaasen’s latest book is Nature Girl.


Saturday book coverBefore September 11th, most people probably didn’t spend much time thinking about terrorism and war.  After that tragic day it’s often the first thing people think of upon hearing news of a catastrophe.  In England it’s much the same.  For when Englishman Henry Perowne sees a plane ablaze in the early morning sky, his initial reaction is to assume it’s the work of terrorists.  It would certainly make sense because that Saturday was set to be the day of the huge London protest against the war in Iraq.  But Henry soon learns that logical conclusions aren’t always correct.  Though he spent his life raising a happy family and cultivating a successful practice as a neurosurgeon, Henry has in some ways been shielded from the raw complexities of life. Saturday, by Ian McEwan, is a glimpse into one full day in the life of a man who has a unique appreciation for the fragile beauty of every moment, but whose solid footing is shaken when a series of incidents abruptly alter his own life.

Control Room

Control Room DVD coverThe 2004 film Control Room from Magnolia Pictures is a documentary about the Arabic television network Al Jazeera and other news organizations which covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Al Jazeera’s reports were a source of controversy as American military and political leaders accused the network of showing propaganda from anti-Americans forces.  This documentary explores the not always dissimilar views of journalists working for Al Jazeera and U.S. networks such as CNN and NBC.  Through candid interviews with journalists and military personnel, Control Room offers a wholly unique view of how journalists from across the world operate on many of the same principles and try to report the news as accurately as possible, even in spite of governmental and societal pressures.  To whom would you recommend this film?  What about it surprised you?

Teacher Man

Teacher Man book coverFrank McCourt is well loved by many for his lyrical prose and captivating storytelling.  In Teacher Man, the third installment of his autobiographical series, he gives readers an honest view of the difficulties facing teachers in America.  He knows of this first-hand after teaching in New York City for some 30 years.  No punches are pulled in McCourt’s critique of the bureaucracy in the higher echelons of the school system, a bureaucracy which often impedes teaching and learning in the classroom.  At times praised by administrators for his unique teaching style and at other times severely chastised, he refused to give up even when it seemed he wasn’t getting through to anyone.  Though he considered himself a “fraud” through many of his years teaching, readers will see that he persevered where many would not, even after a being fired a few times.  This honest portrayal of teaching in the classroom is balanced with anecdotes of McCourt’s life outside the classroom.  Though dealing with an unglamorous subject, McCourt’s trademark wit and wisdom imbue the book with energy and humor.  Which of Frank McCourt’s books has been your favorite?

Patrick O’Brian – Featured Author of the Month

Patrick O'Brian author photoPatrick O’Brian was born on December 12, 1914 as Richard Patrick Russ.  He was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels.  Set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, these stories center on the friendship of Captain Jack Aubrey and an Irish–Catalan physician, naturalist and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language.  Richard Snow of The New York Times referred to O’Brian’s works as “the best historical novels ever written.”  Patrick O’Brian died in January, 2000 at the age of 85.  What do you like most about this author?  Which of his books are your favorite?

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone book coverJoyce from the Fiction/AV Department gives this account of A Long Way Gone

As a boy of twelve, Ishmael Beah was growing up in a small village in Sierra Leone. War, in his mind, was something that happened in neighboring Liberia, or what he heard about on the BBC news. When Ishmael was in a neighboring town visiting friends, war came to his village. Rebels attacked, people ran, but there was no escape for any of them. This event changed his life forever.   In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael recounts the events of the next years of his life: of finding a haven in an army base, to being trained as a child soldier to fight against those who killed his family, and of the atrocities he saw and participated in. This unforgettable testimony gives us a glimpse into the lives of refugees, soldiers on both sides of a conflict, and the children who have lost their childhoods and their innocence. It is a story eloquently told, that needs to be read.  What are your thoughts on A Long Way Gone?  What other books or movies did you find similar to this book?

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende author photoIsabel Allende was a native of Chile who was forced into exile following the assassination of her uncle, President Salvador Allende.   While in Chile, she briefly had a job translating romance novels from English to Spanish.  She was fired, however, for making unauthorized changes to the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent, as well as for changing the Cinderella endings to let the heroines find more independence.

Allende begins writing all her books on January 8th (after lighting candles and meditating) because that is the date in 1981 when she started writing House of the Spirits as a letter to her dying grandfather.  Her works chronicle the human condition in all its joy and beauty, pain and sorrow.

Her latest book is Ines of My Soul.  Have you read it?  What do you think of her writing style?  What is your favorite book by Isabel Allende?

In Good Company

In Good Company DVD coverThe movie In Good Company appears at first to be an ordinary comedy, but there is a lot of depth and subtlety in this 2004 picture from Universal Studios.  The plot revolves around middle-aged ad executive Dan Foreman, played by Dennis Quaid, who fears he might be laid off from his job when his company is bought out by a larger firm.  Instead he gets demoted and finds out that his new boss, played by Topher Grace, is a 27-year-old upshot who has a lot of theoretical knowledge but lacks practical knowledge.  As insulting as his new predicament is, Foreman knows he needs to swallow his pride and play along in order to keep his job and support his family.  Adding another layer of insult is that Foreman’s new boss seems to have developed a relationship with his 18-year-old daughter played by Scarlett JohanssonIn Good Company is a thoughtful insight into the sometimes skewed priorities of America’s corporate culture.  Did you find this movie accurate in it’s view of corporate America?  Can you identify with any of the charachters?  Does the film have a message or moral?

My Life in France

My Life in France book coverJulia Child was America’s French chef until her death in 2004.  At the end of her life she was working on a book that detailed her years in France and her foray into the culinary profession but, she died before it was completed.  Fortunately her grandson, Alex Prud’Homme, was able to complete her memoir and the result is the amusing and lighthearted, My Life in France.  In this book, Julia describes herself as a loud Californian who met her more sophisticated husband, Paul, while working in the OSS during World War II.  In 1949 Julia and Paul moved to France and she decided to take cooking classes.  Julia’s natural cooking talent was quickly evident, and it wasn’t long before she started her own school and eventually published the culinary tome Mastering the Art of French CookingMy Life in France is a rich, charming tale that shows the beauty of Paris in the 1950’s and the making of America’s first celebrity chef.  What were you surprised to learn about Julia’s life?  What did you like about this book?  Has Julia influenced your cooking?

The Namesake

The Namesake book coverThe Namesake is by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, chronicles the life of an immigrant family in America.  The Gangulis start their young married life in Boston.  Away from their friends and relatives, they make a family of their own while they struggle to hold on to the traditions of their native homeland, India.  Their son is torn between two worlds, the United States where he is born and raised, and India where his parents attempt to keep ties.  As he grows up he feels confused and even bitter toward his parents, his name and his ethnic heritage.  In a sense, this book details the process by which all of us struggle through adolescence in an attempt to find the person we really are, or really wish to be.  Many can relate to this story of an immigrant family searching for the balance between assimilating into a new society while remaining a part of the place that was left behind.  What insights have you gained from this story that apply to your immigrant ancestors?  If you are an immigrant or a child of immigrants, can you relate to the charachters in this book?