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Good Read – Bossypants by Tina Fey

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Bossypants
by Tina Fey

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Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Jenni Todd says:

If you like to laugh, then please, read Bossypants! It’s Tina Fey’s “kind-of” memoir published last year. While I loved the show biz highlights about Second City, SNL, and 30 Rock (and cutie Alec Baldwin), I really connected (and laughed hysterically) with her reflections on being a young woman, a wife, and a mother. Near the end of the book there is a chapter titled, “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” that had me rolling in the floor unable to breath. It’s three pages of comedy gold for men and women, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers.

Book’s now in paperback. Here’s last year’s interview with Terry Gross.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

January 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Good Read: Killing Lincoln

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Killing Lincoln
by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

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The anchor of The O’Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased. In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies’ man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country’s most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history’s most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller.

Kate Lochte says:

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law hesitated in recommending Killing Lincoln to me because Bill O’Reilly co-wrote it. They thought that since I work at an NPR station and enjoy listening to it that I wouldn’t read anything by Mr. O’Reilly of Fox News.

But I am on a Civil War reading jag – about to dive into Volume 2 of Shelby Foote’s Trilogy. I heard Steve Innskeep’s interview with O’Reilly and quite frankly, wish I could do another one and ask him all the questions I have now about how one goes about co-writing like this.

Last December descendants of John Wilkes Booth agreed to exhume his remains for DNA sampling to see if it matches vertebrae taken from Booth’s body and saved in a medical museum in Washington, not on public view. In the Afterword of Killing Lincoln, this is among the tantalizing questions asked: Why has there been no subsequent reveal of the test results?

Why did nothing happen to the Presidential guard assigned to watch the box at the Ford Theatre who left his post and was drinking in the tavern next door when Booth shot Abraham Lincoln?

Whatever happened to 18 pages of John Wilkes Booth’s writings after the assassination that were seized after Booth’s death and given over to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for safe-keeping? Stanton never could not explain the missing pages. Why did Secretary Stanton hire a discredited private eye to engage the search for Booth after the assassination?

You can hear Bill O’Reilly’s voice in the narrative style – calling attention to GOOD and EVIL, exhortative, excited, and precise. There’ve been some complaints about the fact-checking of the book and it’s not foot-noted, thank goodness! The Afterward gives a fine list of books and sources which the authors consulted. Killing Lincoln is a quick read and scenes like the surrender at Appomatox come alive visually. I really enjoyed it.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

November 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Good Read: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

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Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie

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Peter Pan is the popular character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. A mischievous boy who can fly and magically refuses to grow up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Indians, fairies, pirates, and (from time to time) meeting ordinary children from the world outside. The most popular story, the most often reflected in movies, is “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”/”Peter and Wendy”– Peter brings Wendy and her brothers to Never Land, where he has a climactic showdown with his nemesis, Captain Hook.

Kala Dunn says:

I started reading Peter Pan because I heard it was going to be a topic of discussion on the Diane Rehm Show.  I finished reading Peter Pan because I fell in love with the delicate and finely-woven world J.M. Barrie creates.  Often adult readers overlook the value of books classified as “children’s literature,” though in actuality Peter Pan is not a children’s book.  It’s a book about the nature of humankind, about a confrontation with mortality, about putting away our darker thoughts and finding illumination through our personal light.  The storyline is fantastic—flying children, vindictive alligators, and smart-mouthed fairies—but the meaning is true.  Witty and fun, bittersweet and beautiful, Peter Pan offers us a chance to explore a fairyland in which we will ultimately discover ourselves.

This “good read” was inspired by a recent conversation on The Diane Rehm Show.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

October 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Good Read: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

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A Sand County Almanac
by Aldo Leopold

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Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac has enthralled generations of nature lovers and conservationists and is indeed revered by everyone seriously interested in protecting the natural world. Hailed for prose that is “full of beauty and vigor and bite” (The New York Times), it is perhaps the finest example of nature writing since Thoreau’s Walden. The heart of the book remains Leopold’s carefully rendered observations of nature. Here we follow Leopold throughout the year, from January to December, as he walks about the rural Wisconsin landscape, watching a woodcock dance skyward in golden afternoon light, or spying a rough-legged hawk dropping like a feathered bomb on its prey. And perhaps most important are Leopold’s trenchant comments throughout the book on our abuse of the land and on what we must do to preserve this invaluable treasure.

Lauren Taylor says:

Here you are, this collection is a way to reconnect with nature through the eyes of a conservationist/ minimalist. Leopold speaks to the natural rhythms of the land, and shows the reader patterns humming about us, widely unnoticed. It’s like taking the most wonderful expedition without leaving your favorite reading nook. :)

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Written by Matt Markgraf

October 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Good Read: Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein

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Every Thing On It
by Shel Silverstein

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Shel Silverstein, beloved author of the acclaimed and bestselling poetry collections Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up, will have a brand-new book of poetry published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September 2011. This is only the second original book to be published since Silverstein’s passing in 1999. With more than one hundred and thirty never-before-seen poems and drawings completed by the cherished American artist and selected by his family from his archives, this collection will follow in the tradition and format of his acclaimed poetry classics.


Matt Markgraf says:

I grew up surrounded by video games. So why read a book when I can interact with a story on the screen? An exception can be made, says my 6-year-old self, for Shel Silverstein. I distinctly remember huddling in a group with other kids over a copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends, or A Light In The Attic, or Falling Up. We loved the dark humor, the daring whimsy and the off-beat illustrations. When I saw NPR’s feature on a new collection of poems, of unpublished work his family had gathered, I literally danced on the WKMS balcony (after pre-ordering the book).

As with other posthumous collections of unpublished things, there’s always the risk of quality. The question forms in my mind: “Why are these unpublished? Because they weren’t good or because the chance simply hadn’t come about?” To be perfectly honest, this collection soars and dives. The poems that seem unpolished are quite obvious, yet the poems that soar are absolutely fantatsic – like finding a diamond ring in a chocolate cake. If you’re willing to forgive a little and enjoy this surprising gift from Silverstein’s family, it will feel like a great bit of closure to a great body of work. Some of my favorite poems are the title poem, “Every Things On It” about a kid who regrets asking for a hotdog with everything, “A Giant Mistake” which posits a very profound ethical question, “The Clock Man” about placing a value on mortality, and the very last poem, of which all I’ll say is quite moving.

As a writer, growing up with Shel Silverstein on my bookshelf has been as much a joy as an asset. He teaches a timeless lesson of thinking for yourself, questioning everything, not taking life too seriously, finding joy in the mundane and delight in the wild.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

September 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Good Read – Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson

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The discovery of a treasure map sets young Jim Hawkins in search of buried gold, along with a crew of buccaneers recruited by the one-legged Long John Silver. As they near their destination, and the lure of Captain Flint’s treasure grows ever stronger, Jim’s courage and wits are tested to the full. Robert Louis Stevenson reinvented the adventure genre with Treasure Island, a boys’ story that appeals as much to adults as to children, and whose moral ambiguities turned the Victorian universe on its head. This edition celebrates the ultimate book of pirates and high adventure, and also examines how its tale of greed, murder, treachery, and evil has acquired its classic status.


Matt Markgraf says:

In honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on a great, timeless classic: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Many classics can be somewhat of a chore: a feeling like one “should” or “ought” to read rather than for enjoyment. Not the case here. The book is a breeze. It has a rich, brooding atmosphere comparable to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, particularly in describing Jim Hawkins’ fearful distance from the pirates and relief when overcoming obstacles. What’s working here is Stevenson’s ability to scale back, carefully revise and penchant for atmospheric flair.

This masterful narration brings to life the foreign, fantasy-like setting of Treasure Island and aboard the Hispaniola. He makes you feel like you’re there: “The glow of the sun from above, is a thousandfold reflection from the waves, the sea-water that fell and dried upon me, caking my very lips with salt, combined to make my throat burn and my brain ache.” G.K. Chesterton famously wrote that Stevenson “seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins (pick-up sticks).” Read the first page of Treasure Island, you’ll agree.

The best part of all is, of course, the pirates. Inspired by both facts and folklore, Stevenson’s pirates are shanty-yodeling, rum-soaked scoundrels with peg-legs, parrots and an affinity for saying “Arrr!” The characters, Black Dog, Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Ben Gunn and last but not least Long John Silver, are as memorable as their 21st century descendents in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Not a line of their dialogue goes by without that gravelly, swaggering tenor, especially when they break out into a “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” song. You know you want to sing it… Go ahead.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

September 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Good Read – Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

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Bright’s Passage
by Josh Ritter

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Henry Bright is newly returned to West Virginia from the battlefields of the First World War. Grief struck by the death of his young wife and unsure of how to care for the infant son she left behind, Bright is soon confronted by the destruction of the only home he’s ever known. His only hope for safety is the angel who has followed him to Appalachia from the trenches of France and who now promises to protect him and his son. Together, Bright and his newborn, along with a cantankerous goat and the angel guiding them, make their way through a landscape ravaged by forest fire toward an uncertain salvation, haunted by the abiding nightmare of his experiences in the war and shadowed by his dead wife’s father, the Colonel, and his two brutal sons.


Rose Krzton-Presson says:

Josh Ritter’s debut novel Bright’s Passage is not a disappointment for fans of his music. His prose echoes the intricacy of his song lyrics and Ritter seems to have mastered delicately juxtaposing everything in this book. Henry Bright is able to face his murderous family members, but is terrified at the thought of raising his newborn son alone. The story is able to whip back to a misty Appalachian morning after an explosive scene in muddy trenches of France during WWI. Set in West Virginia, Bright’s Passage is steeped in Ritter’s true Americana style with a sense of upstanding nobility given to the local culture. The book also brings religion and morality into question. With a guardian angel (or a hallucination of a talking horse brought upon by PTSD, depending on the reader’s interpretation) that doesn’t always keep Bright out of harm’s way, Ritter presents a very interesting religious situation, with no particular slant. The freshman novelist has room to improve. Bright’s Passage has some some loose ends and fuzzy plot points. But if Ritter’s last decade of musical growth is any sign of his writing improvements to come, he is sure to join Twain and Poe as one of the great American artists.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

August 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Good Read – The Sisters Brothers

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The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt

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With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.


Matt Markgraf says:

I read this on the spurs from this year’s great western flicks: True Grit and Cowboys vs. Aliens. The Sisters Brothers is a sharp-tongued, gallows humor bloodbath that goes down smooth and strong like fine brandy. It’s Quentin Tarantino absurdism, following around Charles and Eli Sisters, two hired gunslingers on a mission to hunt down Herman Kermit Warm. I was often shocked by the brothers’ punishing sense of justice and judgment, yet I found myself nodding along, ensnared by the not so fair-handed reasoning of Eli Sisters. The Wild West was a free-for-all and the Sisters had an oddly charming way of collecting their entitlements. The emotion and action in this story is finely, finely tuned. You will hate the brothers, love them and most of all be absolutely riveted by the story’s poignancy.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

August 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

Good Read – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

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A Game of Thrones
by George R.R. Martin

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Here is the first volume in George R. R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R. R. Martin’s stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

 

Tracy Ross says:

In 2005 Time magazine famously called George R.R. Martin “the American Tolkien” based on his A Song of Ice and Fire series.  After one reads A Game of Thrones, it’s clear that Martin deserves at least that much praise.  Tolkien’s chief talent as a writer was his ability to build worlds.  Martin shares Tolkien’s talent for creating an expansive world that his readers can and will get lost in.  However, whereas Tolkien’s characters were quite clearly good or evil, Martin’s occupy the rather large grey area that exists between the two extremes.  As you read this book, you’ll be transported to the world of Westeros, where the seasons last years rather than months, and powerful families wrestle for control of a great iron throne made from the melted swords of the conquered enemies of a long-dead king.  Martin does not treat his characters well.  There’s plenty of incest, rape, betrayal and murder to be found in Westeros, but also a surprising amount of honor, courage and duty.  In short, the characters in A Game of Thrones talk and act like real human beings.  Characters commit horrible acts out of self-interest and self-preservation rather than to fulfill some grand evil plot.  Finally, don’t assume that your favorite characters will be around at the end of this series.  Martin has consistently shown the willingness to kill any character at any time if it advances the greater story.  And what a story it is; once you start reading A Game of Thrones, your biggest challenge will be putting it down long enough to work and sleep.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

August 3, 2011 at 11:45 am

Good Read – Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi

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In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.

Matt Markgraf says:

I’ve always been in love with the idea of Steampunk, but finding a decent novel in this superb sub-genre is hard. The turn-off for me is in the self-awareness of the author in the constructing of the nuanced world, where the gimmick takes over plot and character development. Paolo Bacigalupi, while hard to pronounce, is certainly a name to remember as an example of “doing it right.” I discovered Paolo with the tremendous adventure in The Windup Girl, and was drawn to his award-winning YA novel Ship Breaker.

The only thing YA about Ship Breaker is its young characters. Aside from that it’s a gritty, grimey, post-apocalyptic and almost perceptibly political adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. What struck me was the fast-paced and chlautrophobic narrative. The novel begins with Nailer, the main character, climbing through the tight ventilation ducts of old ships, tearing out copper wiring and other metal with any kind of worth. Paolo doesn’t waste any time with flowery steampunk descriptions, but dives right into the dirty depths whether the reader is ready or not.

The second half of the book is where the politics regarding the catastrophic results of harvesting fossil fuels and the insurmountable division of class warfare come into the forefront. When Nailer discoveres a wrecked “swank” ship full of “riches” (things we may take for granted), and later when they struggle to get by in a very different New Orleans were memorable moments.

The character development is top notch, interactions are carefully written and the world will leave grit in your teeth. Ship Breaker is a quick read, and a substantial one.

Check out our Good Reads page for more recommended books.

Written by Matt Markgraf

July 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

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