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Fight Club 2

posted by: December 1, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fight Club 2You always wanted a sequel, and here it is. Dark, weird, confusing and fascinating are all words to describe this head-bending follow up. What Chuck Palahniuk began in Fight Club, he brings full circle in Fight Club 2, and he does so with panache.

 

The book starts several years into the future. The Narrator is now married to Marla, and they have a child. But things are not as joyful as they seem. There are worms in the apple, and things start to fall apart quickly. Palahniuk’s prose is seductive and grand; he posits ideas and immediately pivots to shred them. How powerful is an idea; can it survive the thinker? Can it pass from one generation to the next? These are the sorts of questions that Fight Club 2 demands we answer, all while it assails us with an ideology of violent revolution that’s intended to free our souls from this corporate purgatory we inhabit. Certainly, this book makes clear above anything else that Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy is as juvenile as it is empty.

 

In the end, the questions will linger longer than the answers, and the reader may be left wondering if anything was really answered at all. But for diehard Palahniuk and Fight Club fans, this is a must read regardless. All you can do is strap in and enjoy one more wild ride. If you enjoyed this and you haven’t read the original, you absolutely should pick it up and give it a read.

 

If you’re a graphic novel fan, you should also consider Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, another tale of violent revolution. For something a little less violent, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor tells the story of a young man whose story goes from mundane to mystical and poses a lot of similar questions about our lives and what they mean. Fans of the original book should consider Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which similarly examines the sort of corporate prisons we build and what they do to us, or Charles Heller’s Catch-22, which take a little more roundabout route to examining man’s inhumanity to man and the effects of that violence on the soul.


 
 

Between the Covers with Gary Vikan

posted by: November 30, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sacred and StolenCrooked dealers. Forgeries. Thefts. Looted antiquities. Readers will find it all in Gary Vikan’s highly readable and entertaining new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director. The distinguished medieval scholar and former director of the Walters Art Museum recently answered questions for Between the Covers in advance of his book talk at the Hereford Branch on December 4 at 2 p.m.

 

Between the Covers: Your new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director, provides an insightful, often humorous look behind the scenes of the art world. What prompted you to share these stories with the public?

 

Gary Vikan: Over the years I became increasingly interested, as I gave tours of the Walters, in telling the stories behind the works of art — stories that are distinct from their art-historical narrative. Most works have a story, many are very interesting — and some straight-out scandalous.

 

BTC: Shady dealings, sketchy characters, stolen art — you cover it all. Did you worry you were saying too much?

 

GV: Not at all. Maybe not enough. My lectures on the book can go into that other territory.

 

BTC: Museums have to connect with people. How has the art experience for the public changed since you got into the business?

 

GV: I initially thought my job was to educate my audience. Now I think my job is to listen to my audience, and to meet them where they are. Ideally, I can create for them a setting in which works of art of the past can do their magic.

 

BTC: From 1994 to 2013, you were the director of the Walters Art Museum. What accomplishments are you most proud?

 

GV: We went free in 2006. That is what museums should be: FREE.

 

BTC: Of all the exhibitions you’ve curated during your career, do you have a favorite?

 

GV: Yes, Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece in 1988. It was the first major icon show in the U.S., and it was the first time I was able to empower the works fully in my installation.. People kissed the Plexiglas of the cases containing the icons.

 

BTC: You speak about the “Wild West” days of collecting when not a lot of questions were asked about the provenance of pieces. Where are we today with the trail of looted antiquities and threat to the world’s cultural heritage?

 

GV: We’re in what I call the “Post-Loot” age. I can tell that by what is NOT coming out of Syria and Iraq. Like our tobacco culture, our loot culture has changed profoundly over the last 30 years.

 

BTC: What do you see as the next challenges for museums?

 

GV: Being meaningful for audiences, and playing a meaningful role in addressing social justice and social ills. To be a player in healing.

 

BTC: You have a knack for telling an engaging story. Are there any plans to write a fictional whodunit set in the art world?

 

GV: Nope, because my reality is stranger than fiction. My next book is titled: The Shroud: Case Closed. And guess what, I prove the Shroud of Turin is a FAKE!


 
 

American Cake

posted by: November 29, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for American CakeI have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.

 

The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were  “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were  made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.

 

American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.

 


 
 

Furthermore

posted by: November 28, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for FurthermoreFall down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world of nonsense, beauty and adventure in Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, a modern-day tribute to the classic Alice in Wonderland.

 

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, about to turn 12 years old, has little to do aside from munching on tulips, watching the sun pour rainlight over her homeland of Ferenwood and practicing for the Surrender — an event where all Ferenwood children in their 12th year demonstrate their magical talents for the town elders and are subsequently assigned a special, secret task. Those things, and, of course, her missing father is on her mind. The last time anyone saw him, he was journeying outside of Ferenwood with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ruler in his pocket. Now two years later, his anguished family has all but given up on his return.

 

That is until Oliver, a not-so-friendly friend from Alice’s past, suddenly reappears with a proposition for her: If Alice will help him with his task, a dangerous mission that will lead them deep within the realm of Furthermore, he will tell her where her father is.

 

Desperate to be reunited with her father, Alice follows Oliver into Furthermore, a dangerous land full of rules, riddles and remarkable residents. The only question is: Will they survive it?

 

Tahereh Mafi, author of the teen romance trilogy Shatter Me, has once again delivered a unique reading experience. An interactive narrator, her beautiful, poetic writing makes for a touching, funny and truly satisfying read.


 
 

A Gentleman in Moscow

posted by: November 23, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for A Gentleman in MoscowFans of Amor Towles first novel, Rules of Civility, have patiently waited for another work, and A Gentleman in Moscow is worth the long wait. Yet again, this gifted writer breathes life into a lavish era long since passed. He introduces a cast of characters that are sure to charm readers, none more so than Count Alexander Rostov.

 

The story opens shortly after the Russian Revolution. The Count is being tried for writing a popular counter-revolutionary poem, but thanks to some high-ranking friends in the party, his life is spared. Instead, he is declared a “Former Person” — given a life sentence of house arrest. This is interesting, since the Count resides at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, one of the city’s most elegant hotels, just steps away from the Kremlin. Though he must give up his stately suite and take up residence in a tiny room on the top floor, he is not a man defined by rooms.

 

From inside his beloved hotel, he observes the upheaval that sweeps through Russia in the years after the revolution. Over the next three decades, the country he loves disappears and is replaced by something unrecognizable.

 

Despite these changes in society, he never loses sight of who he is. His bygone code of ethics is in large part what makes him so delightful as a character. While this may sound stuffy, Towles infuses the characters, including the Metropol itself, with too much effervescent charm to ever be considered tedious.

 

A rich cast of intriguing characters pass through the hotel, some of them becoming part of the Count’s life in the most unexpected ways. Despite his imprisonment, his life is no less full than it may have been if he were a gentleman of leisure living freely abroad. In fact, his imprisonment may arguably take him on a more emotionally rewarding journey.

 

Towles somehow keeps life inside the hotel from ever becoming monotonous for readers. This could be in large part because of the humor provided by the stories narrator, balanced perfectly with moments of insight that will leave readers mulling the words over long after they finish the book. Towles also weaves in history, literature, ballet, architecture, and not least of all the importance of food and wine pairing without ever seeming pedantic.

 

This work will appeal to fans of Russian classics as well as readers who enjoy the sly wit and charm of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton.


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Victoria

posted by: November 22, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Victoria the QueenIn Julia Baird’s biography, Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, she does not shy away from telling both the good and the bad, but being that I am a fan of the queen, I shall not speak ill of her. At the time of her death, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch. She reigned for just over 63 years — this time has become known to us as the Victorian Era.

 

When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, but her father, the Duke of Kent, stated: “Look at her well, for she will be Queen of England.” Victoria became queen at the age of 18, at a time when most women had no power, and first British monarch to live in Buckingham Palace.

 

Queen Victoria was popular at the beginning of her reign but went in and out of favor with her people during her time on the throne. She overcame numerous attempts on her life and was key in constructing the British Empire. With her nine children and 42 great grandchildren, Queen Victoria has been dubbed “the grandmother of Europe.” Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down as it is filled with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster — drama, intrigue and scandal. This book is a great pairing with Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria.


 
 

Romeo and/or Juliet

posted by: November 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Romeo and/or JulietSay “Shakespearean tragedy” and everyone who has attended a high school English class can tell you how the play will end — with blood everywhere and a high body count. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could take control of a character’s destiny and alter his or her fate? What if you could be Romeo and/or Juliet in a way that didn’t end in the lovers' suicides?

 

Enter from stage right: Ryan North, with his retooling of Romeo and Juliet in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. That’s right, Choose Your Own Adventure, with all the multiple endings (over 100 in all, some still ending in death — this is a Choose Your Own Adventure model after all) that implies. Readers initially can play as Juliet or Romeo, choosing to follow the original story to its bitter end. Or they can pick a different path to see where that could lead — marrying other people, leading a life of piracy, owning a body building gym, operating giant robots, even crashing the plots of other Shakespeare plays.

 

There are plenty of Easter eggs for Shakespeare fans; North populates the book with references and character cameos from Shakespeare’s other works. If you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, though, don’t worry: You don’t have to understand the references to appreciate North’s wacky sense of humor. He’s also enlisted a whole battalion of illustrators to better visualize the end you choose, also to great comedic effect. This isn’t North’s first time around doing this, either; his first Kickstarter novel To Be or Not to Be, or Hamlet as told as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, was the second-most funded publishing project on Kickstarter as of 2013.

 

If you’re looking for a good laugh or want to play with a play, Romeo and/or Juliet is an excellent choice, spinning a familiar tale of woe into something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the book may also enjoy Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant! or Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.


 
 

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