Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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Out of My Later Years, by Albert Einstein

out-of-my-later-years-einsteinThe contents of this book are a compilation of Albert Einstein’s articles, addresses, assorted papers, and letters published posthumously and edited by the Einstein estate. These accessible essays provide a glimpse into the inner workings of Einstein’s famous mind. Topics covered include: the self, moral decay, morals and emotions, and the goal of human existence.

A portrait of trials, tribulations, and understanding, Out of My Later Years conveys the insight of the modern world’s most celebrated intellectual on a range of societal topics, many of which remain relevant today.

Before or after you watch National Geographic’s Genius, this collection will help further illustrate that this man knew much, not just about the physics of the universe, but also about the inner workings of the universe’s most minor denizens.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Out of My Later Years.

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Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies

fifth business deptford trilogy davies

It’s Canada Day, and we’re celebrating with our neighbors to the north by recommending this distinctly Canadian masterpiece.

Robertson Davies is one of Canada’s best writers, and any book of his you read will be amazing. Fifth Business is the about how a child’s carelessness leads to the ruin of multiple lives and begins a middle-aged obsession.

It opens with the event—Dunstan Ramsay is a young boy in a Canadian town. His best friend and sparring partner in childhood, Percy Staunton, throws a snowball it him while quarreling. Dunstan ducks, and the snowball hits Mary Dempster, the pregnant wife of the local minister. The shock causes her to give birth to a premature child and unhinges her mind.

The book follows Dunstan’s life from there. As a young boy, Dunstan experiences both fascination and pity for the wife, as well as guilt about the premature child and immerses himself in his study of the saints.

Later, Dunstan fights in World War I and spends an extensive time as an invalid. He begins to believe that Mary may be a fool-saint. He returns home to find that Percy has prospered in the war, and the two become friends.

The guilt Dunstan feels is exacerbated by Percy’s successes, and comes to a horrible climax where all the events from the past swirl around like angry ghosts.

Robertson Davies is a writer of amazing depth and lyrical language. His layered storytelling invokes Jungian archetypes and synchronicity, in addition to religious and societal themes. This is not an easy read, but a very rewarding one.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fifth Business.

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Adultery, by Paulo Coelho

adultery coelhoPaulo Coelho is a revelation. There are writers whose works I enjoy, there are writers whose works I admire, and then there are, occasionally, gloriously, writers that leave me speechless.

Paulo Coelho is best known for The Alchemist, which has sold more than 83 million copies, is one of the best-selling books in history and has been translated into 67 different languages. It’s also been published as an excellent graphic novel. I picked up Adultery to read for the most simple of serendipitous reasons – it was on the shelf when I walked past, and I’ve always wanted to read something of Coelho’s.

Linda, our protagonist, is living the perfect life. She has a handsome, talented husband, two children, and a fulfilling career of her own as a journalist. They live in a beautiful home in Switzerland and take vacations in countries and hotels most of us only dream about. Things are going very well for her and her future. She has it all, and, somehow, is unhappy.

After an interview with an author who insists that the way to live life, instead of seeking happiness is to live passionately, she starts to notice how few, if any, risks she takes in life. In this vulnerable moment, she meets a successful man from her youthful past, and commits an adulterous indiscretion.

Instantly she (and you, the fortunate reader) is catapulted into a life of courting risk, assessing risk, and throwing caution to the wind. She risks her marriage, her lover’s marriage, and her own happiness through increasingly dangerous acts that both conceal and enflame her and her lover’s lives. There were points where I, as a reader, thought Linda had lost her mind. The delicate yet powerful dance she leads us on is incredible, at times thrilling, at times horrifying, but always, fundamentally, human.

Adultery is an example of what happens to an idea when it is taken in hand by a masterful author and expanded into a story which is intoxicating, nuanced, well-envisioned, and searingly well-written. His use of language (though in translation) is as clean and deep as a volcanic lake. Books like this are why we read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Adultery.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

24hourbookstore-sloanSimply, this is a book about books. It’s also a book about technology, immortality, and the future of books in a digital world, all wrapped up in an engaging mystery story with a strong cast of characters.

Clay Johnson, like many Millennials fresh out of college at the height of the Great Recession, is having trouble finding work. He’d had a short stint as a web designer and Twitter marketer for a fancy bagel shop, but that went from startup to belly up in less than a year, leaving Clay with little experience to help him land another job. As he gets increasingly desperate, he stumbles across an odd bookstore with a help-wanted sign. Very soon Clay finds himself employed as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and the adventure of his life begins. This is no ordinary bookstore. It sells books, sure, but, as Clay discovers, it’s also selling a chance for true immortality.

There’s so much to talk about in this book that I find it hard to summarize, but Farhad Manjoo’s review of this book in Slate definitely helps:

In an era of ubiquitous digitizing, in which books and music and pictures can all be turned into instantly transferrable streams of ones and zeroes—a fate that may soon await our bodies and brains, too—is human society close to achieving something like immortality? And, if so, is digital immortality anything like real, physical immortality—and should we be happy with it?

From typefaces to computer programming to book binding to Google, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore takes the reader on a thrill ride through a fictional world of bookish intrigue complete with a rag-tag team of tech-savvy young people to root for and a sinister cult of old-fashioned sticks-in-the-mud to despise. But, far from being a rallying cry to digitize everything, this book advocates for a technological balance. Precious information is lost in translation when we digitize, and there is much more to our physical world than can be rendered in ones and zeros.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

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If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

if i stay formanMia Hall has a pretty good life. She’s just aced her Julliard audition, her boyfriend is essentially a rock star, and her family is so cool it hurts. Senior year is almost over and the only thing Mia is worried about is whether or not her relationship could withstand a long distance move. That is until, while out with her family for a drive, their car suddenly spins out of control and the subsequent crash instantly kills her mother and father. Mia finds herself far away from the vehicle staring down at the wreckage that is her family. She’s horrified and wondering how it’s possible she could be standing, walking at all while her father’s brains are smeared across the road.  While looking for her little brother she comes across her own body. It’s twisted at weird angles and there’s blood everywhere. How is this even possible? Is she dead? While the nurses and doctors try their hardest to keep her alive and her friends and family weep over her comatose body, Mia relives the years leading up to these moments. Does she want to keep living when her life has been so utterly devastated? Mia now must face the ultimate choice: should she stay?

If I Stay was an interesting take on the out-of-body experience trope: not religious in nature but not quite supernatural either. This book is a perfect quick read for teens and adults and if you liked it there is a sequel!

Check the PPLC Catalog for If I Stay.



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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

frankenstein shelleyI don’t normally give into hype when I see a movie trailer (looking at you, The Force Awakens), but when I saw the trailer for Victor Frankenstein starring Daniel Radcliffe, my interest was piqued. The trailer also conjured fond memories of me reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by flashlight and shivering at the description of the monster.

Although scifi master Brian Aldiss has unequivocally stated that Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel, it’s a bit hard to convince modern audiences of that fact.  Frankenstein is much more overtly gothic and romantic than scifi, but upon closer inspection, the scifi elements are definitely there. I’m interested to see how this newest movie version lives up to the scifi element, especially since it’s being billed as scifi horror.

No matter how many movie versions are made, the original novel is highly recommended. It’s not very long and an easy, suspenseful read. Pick this up for a school project or summer reading and your teacher will be very impressed. And for all of you for whom school is but a memory, Frankenstein is a great book to have in your reading repertoire.

As a work in the United States public domain, Frankenstein is available as a free ebook from Project Gutenberg.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Frankenstein.

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Gattaca (1997)

GattacaHow much of our destiny is written into our biology at birth? Can humans really become more than simply the sum of their parts? What does perfection mean in the context of designer human beings? These are just a tiny few of the questions raised by Gattaca, a work of science fiction mastery that challenges audiences and doesn’t always offer warm, fuzzy answers.

In the near future, Gattaca employee Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) dreams of travelling to the stars, but his reality is something very different. In this future, all humans are rigorously evaluated by the suitability of their genetic makeup, and genetically engineered designer humans quickly dominate the public sphere. With his inferior genes, Vincent is seemingly destined to live out his life as a second-class citizen, a permanent member of the new underclass. However, things change when he encounters Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a perfect genetic specimen who has lost the use of his legs after a car accident. Vincent is able to live out his dream by assuming Jerome’s genetic identity, but things go awry when his mission director is found murdered only days before his interplanetary flight. With law enforcement close to discovering his secret, Vincent must work quickly to preserve his dream.

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