See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy, by Frances Mayes (2019)

Nonfiction
Adult

See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy, by Frances Mayes (2019)

The woman who introduced readers to Italy with Under the Tuscan Sun more than two decades ago returns with another love letter to Italy, focusing as usual on the smaller towns. This is a travel guide, but a highly personalized one. Mayes, who also published the fictional Women in Sunlight last year, describes the smaller towns where she and her family have eaten, cycled, played and shopped. It’s presented from north to south, rather than as a chronological memoir, giving travellers a chance to delve into an area such as Piedmont, Umbria or Sardinia, among others. In my digital advance reading copy, a table of contents listed all the regions and towns, but there was no map, though I understand one is included in the print edition.

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Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel’s Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)

Biography
Adult

Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel's Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)

I first learned of Nobel Peace Prize winner, scholar, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel when a professor assigned his memoir Night, a book I still have on my shelf, for a European history class. (We also watched Rome: Open City – awesome class.) Wiesel passed away in 2016, to our collective loss. The world needs more people like him, activists who coach world leaders toward peace rather than war, toward acceptance and love instead of fear and hate. Witness offers an understanding of this wise teacher through the eyes of Ariel Burger, his former teaching assistant. The focus is of the religious, spiritual, and philosophical discussions from his classes, learned mostly by students but occasionally by the teacher. Perhaps the best description of this book is in Wiesel’s own words to a class: “Whatever you learn, remember: the learning must make you more not less human.”

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In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time, by Anna Porter (2018)

Biography
Adult

Anna Szigethy landed in Canada in 1968, carrying a battered suitcase, a bachelor’s degree, and a lot of dreams. With a working knowledge of French, Russian, and German as well as English and her native Hungarian, she took a job with McClelland & Stewart, starting a career that has spanned decades and connected her with Canada’s literati from Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat to Dennis Lee and Margaret Laurence. The book is a memoir of her time in Toronto publishing; the first half covers 1968 to 1980 when she was with M&S, followed by the formation of Key Porter Books. Within the narrative, details of her personal history emerge: escaping Hungary with her mother during the 1956 revolution, university studies in New Zealand, falling in love in with a Toronto lawyer and raising two daughters.

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Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race, by Tim Fernholz (2018)

Nonfiction
Adult
Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race, by Tim FernholzFor most of my life, NASA has been the leader in space exploration – sending my beloved Voyager craft into the solar system in 1977, then developing the space shuttle program, with its high-profile disasters in 1986 and 2003, and of course the amazing Mars exploration program that continues today. (Sorry boomers, I don’t remember the moon landings.) Early in this millennium, however, I started to hear interesting news about privately funded space travel, starting with the X Prize and the Antari Prize competitions. Not long afterward, NASA retired its shuttle program but had nothing to put in its place, relying instead on Russia’s Soyuz capsules to deliver astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. Read More »

Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly (2017)

Biography
15-Adult
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott KellyScott Kelly has spent more time on the International Space Station than any other American astronaut – 340 continuous days. That record is likely to stand for a while, since his honesty and candour in describing the experience could give other candidates second thought! Kelly returned from the ISS in March 2016, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail “Misha” Kornienko, there for the same length of time. Along with other astronauts on shorter missions, Kelly and Kornienko face mind-blowing challenges as they maintain the ISS and conduct numerous science experiments, including on their own bodies. It’s all part of the global effort to sustain human life off our planet, with the goal of perhaps, one day, sending astronauts on a mission to Mars. Read More »

My Life with Bob, by Pamela Paul (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
My Life with Bob, by Pamela PaulThe title is a pun, it’s a book about reading books, and my spouse is nicknamed Bob. How could I resist??! And what a great premise. Our reading choices say so much about us. Imagine how well a stranger would understand you if she could only browse through all the books you’d read. Well, Paul has essentially opened herself up to us in just this way. Currently the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Paul is also the author of three other works of nonfiction, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony; Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families ; and Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children. By those titles alone I think she’d make a fascinating dinner guest. But wait, there’s more! Read More »

Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio (2017)

Nonfiction
6-12
Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary GolioMy undergraduate degree is in history. That’s big, so my focus was on the modernist “movement” which swept across Europe and then North America, roughly 1880-1939, impacting everything from politics to literature and art. Protest songs were key to our studies of American civil rights history, of course, and one of the pieces of music we used was Strange Fruit, recorded by the incredible jazz singer Billie Holliday. I didn’t know the song, and so it was a shock to me to learn that the strange “fruit” are in fact the dead bodies of lynching victims. It is a powerful song, a lament and a call to action in its time. It became known as Billie’s signature song, and this picture book for older children introduces readers to the song and its origins, in a way that is age appropriate. Read More »