Archive for the “Books” Category

Have you ever noticed the 600 section in the main Somerville library on the second floor? The one where all the eating healthy and fitness books are? Well, I’m on a mission to read all of those books. Will I fail or succeed, who knows? Starting in the 613.2 section, I’m going to read the ones that interest me the most, and write mini reviews along the way. So here it is.
Laurie Bell in her book, Loose the Lies, Loose the Weight, is incredibly m51hDagJaQ-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_motivating and will help you to believe that you can lose the weight, she goes over any myths about weight loss including, not being able to lose weight as you age. She gives you some incredibly good eating tips, and even a workout routine to help you build muscle and tone up!
Vani Hari, in her book The Food Babe Way covers emphasizes eating organic, non-GMO’s, no additives types of food. She recommends researching food before eating (because most food products lie to you) and buying to stay fit. “The Food Babe way” essentially tells you do things like:
1. Drink water with Lemon Everyday
2. Drink a green drink everyday (something with kale)
3. Stop drinking fluids with meals
FoodBabeWayBESTSELLER4. Eat fewer diaries (Only Use as Condiments
5. Stop Drinking Soda
6. Pay attention to alcohol consumption by only drinking organic wine & beer
7. Pass on Fast Food
8. Give up Sugar
9. Eat meat more responsibly
10. Eat Super foods!
11. Choose best possible grains and carbs.
12. Balance Fats
13. Avoid GMO Foods
14. Also Eat organic
15. Fast for 12 hours overnight -No late night eating!

Hari discusses how items like sugar cause cognitive decline, depression & irritability, as well as weight gain and diabetes. Did you know that? Because I didn’t.

In Yogalosphy, Mandy Ingber uses yoga every day to promote self-growth, and healing for you. The moves tend to lean a little more towards Pilates, yogathan any specific type of yoga, but it’s good if you would like to start feeling a little bit healthier each day. Ingber adds every day activities, like journal, drawing,  listen to music and cardio exercise in addition to the yoga as a form of self-healing. A personalized diet plan to follow for the 28 days, one you get to pick!
All in all Yogalopsophy, the 28 day make-up is a good way to start if you’re looking for a healthy new year’s resolution but you’ve gotta keep doing it even after the 28 days if you want real results.

If your interested in more health and wellness books, check out the 15 Best Wellness books of 2015 on


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highlandersRecently I walked past a re-shelving cart and noticed a paperback romance called Some Like It Scot, with cover art depicting a heterosexual couple  under-dressed for Scottish weather. According to the catalog record, the novel is part of a series called Scandalous Highlanders. Then scanning the shelves where we keep paperback romances at SPL, I realized that tartan-themed passion seems to be a really popular genre (I know next to nothing about romance novels, so this is all new to me): The Devil Wears Plaid, To Kiss a Kilted Warrior, Highland Rogue, and The Highland Dragon’s Lady (among other titles) are all available as guilty pleasures at SPL. And over at GoodReads someone compiled a list of “Best Highland/Scotland Romance Novels” consisting of 449 titles. As my co-worker Ellen and I were talking bemusedly about the existence of Scottish/Highland love stories, she asked, “Why is this A Thing? Why Scottish romances? Why not Czech romances? Or Norwegian romances?”

I didn’t have an answer. And it’s a fair question, especially if when willieyou hear the willie163602-76630-groundskeeper-willieword “Scotland,” the first thing you think is “Groundskeeper Willie.”  I started thinking about it, mentally rummaging through what I remember from reading British history.

Before the mid-eighteenth century, Scottish Highlanders were considered dangerous and uncivilized by most of the English-speaking world, including the inhabitants of Scottish towns and cities. But in the 1740s the British government enacted a series of laws that forced Highlanders to surrender their swords and outlawed traditional Highland culture, including the clan system of government and mutual obligation.  Then much of the Highlands were depopulated when lords evicted tenant farmers to use their land for raising sheep.

Once a people or a society formerly considered dangerous and living in a remote place is no longer a threat, they’re easy to romanticize.  In a blog post entitled “Hot for a Scot,”  Harlequin books editor Carly Silver wrote that the archaic image of Highland culture–a warrior culture in an untamed land–make Highland Scottish men “seem more foreign, and simultaneously, more desirable…the loner bad boys of the British Isles.”

robroyContemporary romance writers were by no means the first to tap into the appeal of the Scots in general and Highlanders in particular.  That distinction probably belongs to the inventor of the historical novel, Walter Scott (1771-1832), who  tapped into Scottish history and legend for the plots of his novels such as Rob Roy, The Bride of Lammermoor, and Waverly. He was one of the best-selling authors of his day, and composers and filmmakers  adapted his work for the next century.

The romantic of appeal of the Scottish past has also shaped folk music and even amateur athletics. So if you’re someone who reads Scottish romances and is a little embarrassed by it, take heart: we’re all entitled to guilty pleasures.

And you’re part of a long tradition.

And for the record, there are Norwegian romances. Sort of.





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If you’re lucky you’ll have some time off next week.  Many Americans aren’t that fortunate. What do you plan to do with your time?  I will be reading Jenny Lawson’s new(ish) memoir Furiously Happy and returning to some old favorites: Carl Hiassen’s Tourist Season and Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers.

If you’re looking for book suggestions, the staff of Jezebel have compiled a list of their favorite reads this year. And Slate’s critics have compiled a list of the year’s overlooked books. If you want to see what’s been popular with Minuteman readers, go what see books are most requested by patrons. And if you want to refresh your memory on this year’s literary award winners, go here.

Happy reading…


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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a novel describing the hardships of women during war. This charming book set in France during World War II, focuses on two sisters, set apart early in life by a dead mother and distant father, tells the story of each woman.

Vianne, the eldest sister, additionally a mother and concerned for her young child’s survival, deals with the loss of her husband, who was drafted into the war. She fights to feed her daughter and battles cruel Nazinightingale soldiers who have invaded her Village of Carriveau as well as her house. Two different soldiers occupy her home during the German occupation, one of whom teases her with real food and coffee, something she has none of and rapes her. Vianne hopes that her husband will return to her and hopes her daughter will once again have a normal life of attending school and eating regular meals.

As Nazi soldiers take over the village, they begin to eat and store the entire town’s food for themselves. The people of France are rationed whatever is left over (which you can imagine isn’t much). Hannah’s use of words to describe the starvation is so descriptive; your mouth will start to water with hunger.

Isabelle, the youngest sister is free-spirited and rebellious. She becomes involved with the French resistance. She doesn’t believe for a word what Vichy France (the French government) tells her and its people. She eventually helps over a 100 men (foreign soldiers endangered of being deported to concentration camps) cross the mountains of France into Spain; this dubs her “Nightingale.” No Nazi soldier would believe that a girl could possibly walk soldiers for miles, uphill, in disastrous weather conditions to the safety of an independent country. Isabelle risks her life and her safety of also being deported to a concentration camp, all to help fight for her country.

This page turning book is remarkable and very endearing as two sisters who battle very different struggles find each other during war. This book can remind us how lucky we are that we don’t live in third world countries. The Nightingale is a great read, especially considering the recent events of the Massacre in Paris killing 128 people. Kristin Hannah has written numerous novels and other titles can be found here.


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A few years ago Esquire posted an online list entitled “80 Books Every Man Should Read,”  that keeps popping up relentlessly on social media. The list consists almost entirely of books by male writers. The list attracted the notice of writer and Harper’s contributing editor Rebecca Solnit who wrote a brief commentary about it called “80 Books No Woman Should Read.” She had a few sharp comments to make about some of the authors whose works are on the list. Of Hemingway she wrote, “if you get the model for your art from Gertrude Stein you shouldn’t be a homophobic antisemitic misognynist.”

Let’s face it: book lists are usually incomplete, or silly, or just simply wrong-headed, but for people who love books they’re fun to talk about. In honor of the upcoming holidays and the long agonizing hours many of us will spending with relatives, Buzzfeed published a list called, “39 of the Absolute Worst Families in Books.” It’s worth perusing. After reading a few novels with infanticide, fratricide, and incest, maybe your Fox-News watching cousin won’t seem so bad.

The New York Times has just published its annual Notable Books of the Year list.  It’s long, but well worth your time.  In a more eccentric  vein, here’s a book list posted on the blog MessyNessyChic and an end-of-year list from Weird Fiction Review. Below is my idiosyncratic book list. It has no theme. It’s just a random selection of books I think are great or that I really enjoyed.

First of all, speaking of dysfunctional families, I recently read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the very first time. An old New England family consisting of two sisters,  the reclusive adult Constance and the semi-wild teenage Merrycat, and their sickly Uncle Julian live in isolation from the rest of their village, following a life of idiosyncratic routine in their crumbling mansion. Early in the book it becomes clear there is something wrong, very wrong with the Blackwood family. Some pages in the book were so painful I had to stop reading and skip ahead. I won’t say anything more.

duncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I’ve read the novel at least 8 times. A strange, brilliant picaresque novel about a mentally ill slacker’s misadventures in the French Quarter. And I don’t care how good the stage adaptation at the Huntington is. The novel is better.

Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Because Thanksgiving was this week. And because even if you think you knew a lot about Native Americans and their first contacts with Europeans, this book will surprise you again and again.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. Because Ian Fleming is over-rated. This is hands down the best spy novel ever.

Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. Saunders is a brilliant short story writer. Warning: do not read this collection if you are depressed or easily horrified. Saunders takes you into awful worlds that are terrifyingly believable.

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison. This wide-ranging empathy beautifully written collection  exams  suffering and the ways we react to it. Jamison explores topics ranging from her own drinking problem to a Mexican border city ravaged by violence. She writes about the lives of inmates at a low-security prison, the pain and injuries of runners at the Barkley Marathon in Tennessee, and the medical and emotional limbo of women who have a disease that may not exist.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Since I’ve just mentioned essays, I’m throwing in this 1968 collection. It’s a showcase of the essayist’s art.

portraitPortrait of a Lady by Henry James. This 1881 novel tells of the story of 21-year-old Isabel Archer, taken by a wealthy relative from her isolated youth in Albany and introduced into European society, an abrupt change in her life with ultimately devastating consequences. Portrait remains one of the most brilliantly written stories of an encounter  between New World innocence and Old World experience. And it’s a masterpiece of psychological portraiture and narrative elision. As a reader you start to grasp unspoken secrets, the reality of the lives lived behind decorous silence. Forget everything you might have heard about James being “unreadable”–this is a beautiful, heartbreaking book.

The Diary of A Young Girl  by Ann Frank. Because it’s the diary of Ann Frank.

Collected Essays by James Baldwin.  Baldwin was one of the twentieth-century’s most astute commentators on race in America. He was also a brilliant writer. The racial issues he explores in searing prose are just as relevant today as they were in the waning years of Jim Crow.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. A brilliant re-creation of Tudor England as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry’ VIII’s ministers. In deftly written flashbacks, Mantel creates a compelling, sensitive portrait of a commoner who has risen to the pinnacle of society, and makes the complicated political intrigues of the Tudor into a compulsively readable story.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is the story of Jefferson, lessona black man unjustly sentenced to death in the pre-Civil Rights South, and Grant Wiggins, a local school teacher who’s been asked by Jefferson’s family to visit and counsel him so that he will die with dignity.  Lesson is a beautiful, brutal book about the potential of seemingly trapped lives.


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For the week of Oct. 26 – Nov. 1, 2015.

thomas dylanOct. 27: Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath are both born on this date in 1914 and 1932, respectively. While both are considered among the greatest 20th century poets who wrote in English, their work is extremely different. Thomas wrote elegaic poetry influenced by the Victorian poets Hardy and Hopkins, with imagery drawn from the Bible, Welsh folklore and the works of Freud.  The much-younger Plath plathshocked  readers with the angry tone and brutal imagery she used to express  alienation and describe the darker sides of motherhood. Curiously, the best known poems of both are addressed to their fathers.  The contrast is stark. Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” addressed to his dying father, concludes, “And you, my father, there on the sad height,/Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray./Do not go gentle into that good night./Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” addressed to her deceased father, ends, “There’s a stake in your fat black heart/And the villagers never liked you./They are dancing and stamping on you./   They always knew it was you./Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”

boswellOct. 29: James Boswell is born in Edinburgh in 1740. An alcoholic lawyer who is believed to have contracted venereal disease at least 17 times, he would be virtually unknown had he not been friends with the English writer Samuel Johnson and written a biography of Johnson that has been called the greatest biography ever written. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson was a breakthrough in the practice of biography for incorporation of dialogue and unprecedented inclusion of personal details. Boswell provides a full (and therefore often unflattering) portrait of his subject.

Oct. 31 Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes issherlock published as a book in 1892. The individual stories in the collection had previously been published in The Strand Magazine. Like all the Holmes stories, those in Adventures are narrated by Dr. Watson. In the first story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes affectionately refers to Watson as “my Boswell.”


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Wondering what to do on the upcoming weekend? The Friends of the Library  Book Sale starts at noon on Friday at the Central Library. It continues through Sunday.

If you’ve got kids to entertain you could take them to the East Branch at 3 pm Friday for festive snacks and craft-making with their ever-so-much-fun children’s librarian Meghan Forsell.

The Boston Calendar has a list of events occurring this Saturday, many Halloween- themed, others not.

And if you just feel like curling up with a good book, here’s a list of recommended horror novels.


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Marvin_the_Martian_by_raelynn36Does your kid want to make a Martian? Silly question–what kid wouldn’t? Be at the East Branch tomorrow with your children at 3:30 and Children’s Librarian Meghan Forsell will open her Ali Baba’s cave of craft supplies and help your kids make mini-Martians out of her wondrous trove of creative goods.




Then follow it up with dinner and a movie at the Central Library! marsattacksChildren’s Librarian Cathy Piantigini hosts a potluck dinner and an outdoor screening of the 2005 version of The War of the Worlds. This box-office smash hit about a Martian invasion of Earth stars Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, and features eye-popping special effects by Steven Spielberg.

The fun starts at 6:00 pm!


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Football fans are passionate. It happens at a young age. We get caught up in the emotional draw of a winning team. We support our favorite players and their teams – no matter what, and encourage them when they’ve fallen, whether literally on the field or off.

Football takes its toll, all the way from the professional sport, to colleges, high schools and even younger players. Injuries and concussions happen more than we want to admit. The lure and excitement sometimes makes us forget how brutal the game can be.

Thursday night at 7pm at the Central Library, Steve Almond will share his own experiences – his love of the game and the challenges he faced accepting the physical trauma the game promotes.

Steve Almond is a local author; he’s published several books, many of which can be found on our shelves, including his latest Against Football.  He’s also a regular correspondent on NPR and co-hosts the Dear Sugar radio program with Cheryl Strayed. His writing has been called thoughtful and provocative. We are excited to have him at the Somerville Public Library.

Thank you to the Friends of the Library for funding this free event.



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Oliver SacksOne of the greatest minds of our time left us yesterday. Oliver Sacks, award-winning neurologist and author, died of cancer. He was 82. He had been a practicing clinician as well as a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Columbia University. As a doctor he helped patients with mysterious intractable conditions. As a professor he taught innumerable physicians. But it was as a writer that he reached the most people. He was a longstanding contributor to The New Yorker and the author of over a dozen books in which he explained the mysteries of the brain and perception with clarity and compassion, introducing the general public to conditions such as Tourette’s and Asperger’s.  I read his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat when I was around 22. The  title refers to a patient of Sacks’s who could no longer recognize people’s faces or even many common objects. And he really did mistake his wife for a hat.

The book upended my sense of reality. It’s one thing to know generally that our perceptions and our world can be altered forever by injury or disease. It’s quite another to get to know the individual experiences of people whose eyes, ears or even brains fail them on such a fundamental level.

Many people disapproved of Sacks’ writing on the grounds that he was exploiting the ill and disabled. Disability rights activist Tom Shakespeare called Sacks “the man who mistook his patients for a literary career.” But to me his writing reflects a genuine concern for his subjects.

I envy those who haven’t yet read any of his works. You have a great intellectual and emotional journey ahead of you. In his book Seeing Voices, Sacks writes about the lives of the deaf. In An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, he profiles Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science who is also an autist, and one of the few people with autism who can articulate what it is like to live with that condition.

Sacks’ books are wonderful not just because he was a great writer and a kind doctor, but also because he was infused with a curiosity and passion for knowledge that was seemingly limitless. In Oaxaca Journal he writes about taking part in an American Fern Society expedition to a region of Southern Mexico that’s home to over 700 species of fern. Like everyone else in the group, he has a consuming interest in ferns, but he’s also fascinated by the ruins of pre-Hispanic Mexico, the sounds of village marketplaces, and the food, about which he writes, “‘Of the many new foods I have eaten in the past days, the grasshoppers have pleased me especially — crunchy, nutty, tasty and nutritious; they are usually fried and spiced.”

Sacks was also a weightlifter who at one time held the California state record for a full squat (600 pounds) and an avid diver and motorcyclist who rode with the Hell’s Angels to the Grand Canyon. He was such a versatile man. He reminds me of one of those Victorian polymaths who fascinated me as a teenager. I can imagine him traveling with Darwin on The Beagle, or helping Sir Richard Burton translate The Arabian Nights.

Here is his New York Times obituary. And  here is a nice tribute to him by journalist Xeni Jardin.

The world is a poorer place without him. But as long we have his books, we can still connect with his mind and heart.


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