Winter: There's no better time for cracking the spine on a good book. And who better to ask for reading recommendations than librarians?
Seven Days decided to tap into that reservoir of bibliographic wisdom. We asked five Vermont librarians to choose their five favorite reads of '05, and tell us why. We weren't very specific about the sorts of titles we wanted -- the pros were free to choose poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction. And, as you'll notice, not all their picks were books published in 2005. No matter. As any librarian will tell you, a good book is like a good bottle of wine: Its complexity is revealed after being open for a while.
Lisa von Kann
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This debut novel from an Afghan author develops compelling characters against a backdrop of a country's political turmoil. It offers a completely new perspective -- beautifully conceived and expressed.
The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell. Written in Swedish and published two year ago in English, this volume took all of us at the Athenaeum by storm. We couldn't put it down -- or any of the others in the Inspector Kurt Wallendar series. Set in Sweden and starring Wallendar with his coffee-and-cigarette habit and brooding view of life, these mysteries are as good as they come.
Letters to Jane by Hayden Carruth. Carruth wrote this series of letters to Jane Kenyon, poet wife of Donald Hall, during the last year of her life, as she was slowly dying from leukemia. It's mostly about the simple things, written by a master of understatement.
While We Still Got Feet by David Budbill. The newest work by Vermont poet Budbill is full of small poems by a seasoned writer -- charming and truly beautiful.
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. The author of the brilliant The Power of Now continues his process of uncovering our essential nature.
Charlotte Maison Kastner
Stowe Free Library
Saturday by Ian McEwan. One day in the life of a London neurosurgeon. This brilliantly conceived novel dramatically portrays life in the post-9/11 world.
No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh. This touching memoir by a Vermont author chronicles the last days of a famous writer who has lost the power of speech. A remarkable testimony to a daughter's love and the powerful mystery of nonverbal communication.
Acqua Alta by Donna Leon. Sinister, chilling, and yet charming for its Venetian setting, this addition to the Commissario Guido Brunetti series draws the reader into the murky underworld of a city famous for its art and cultural history.
Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage by Laura Waterman. A chronicle of a seemingly idyllic 30-year marriage to a fascinating man with a vision of preserving the wilderness and leading a deliberate life. Blunt self-examination and soul-searching by a Vermont author written after her spouse ends his life on a mountaintop.
French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano. This continental anti-diet book is appealing for its emphasis on simplicity, quality, chocolate and champagne! Vive la France!
Bailey-Howe Library, University of Vermont, Burlington
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon. The slender tale pairs a retired detective who bears a startling resemblance to a post-prime Sherlock Holmes and a young WWII-era Jewish refugee whose missing parrot may or may not have memorized Nazi codes. Michael Chabon can construct a sentence that completely and suddenly disarms you. For this reason alone, it's worth reading anything he writes.
My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru by Tim Guest. This memoir is about coming of age with the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and the author's sometimes heart-wrenching attempts to find a mother who is busy trying to find herself. It actually inspired me to read a whole slew of works about Bhagwan and his inner circle -- who, in their attempts to create a model community in Oregon, eventually reverted to bio-terrorism, wire tapping and attempted murder. Good stuff!
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS. Lewis. Although this book was originally published in 1950, the December release of the film adaptation means thousands of readers are encountering it for the first time. And while it's been fashionable in recent years to level charges of repressive Christian influence at Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, this is the book that has most tangibly brought magic to life for me. The moment Lucy steps through the back of that dusty wardrobe into the land of Narnia changed my reading life forever, and I guarantee it will change yours.
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. A young woman working at a demoralizing temp job and living in a small apartment in Long Island City, Julie Powell decides to spend a year cooking every recipe in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Along the way, she starts a blog, garners a devoted cult following, gains national recognition and, well, lands a huge book deal. She's funny and inspiring, and tells us in surprisingly poignant language why Julia Child still resonates so deeply with so many of us.
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. (Translated by Lydia Davis) Almost every summer for the last decade I have packed my three-volume translation of Remembrance of Things Past for "vacation reading." I usually make it through 15 to 20 sleep-drenched pages before I throw in the towel and devour the latest Harry Potter. But recently, I've been reading Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, MacArthur Fellow Lydia Davis' brilliant collection of short stories (poems, fragments, essays . . .), so I'm now dipping with intrigue into her newish translation of the first volume of Proust's masterpiece. New Year's resolution!
Technical Services Librarian
Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, Williston
1776 by David McCullough. The esteemed historian -- of John Adams and Johnston Flood fame -- takes on the American Revolution, offering a broader view of George Washington's struggles at that time in history. King George's, too.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. A strong debut novel combines beautiful descriptions of the European countryside, in-depth character development and interesting historical accounts with a mix of Dracu- lean horror.
Locked Rooms by Laurie King. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is at the epicenter of this Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes mystery.
Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini. The seventh entry in the Elder Creek Quilter Series sheds fresh light on the Under -ground Railroad and life at the time of the Civil War.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer. The author of Everything Is Illuminated connects 9/11 and the World War II bombing of Dresden through the eyes of a child.
Ilsley Public Library, Middlebury
Walking to Vermont: From Times Square into the Green Mountains -- A Homeward Adventure by Christopher S. Wren. Most folks drive up; Wren decides to walk from his Manhattan office to his retirement home. This is more than just about what he sees and experiences on his hike. It's also a reflection on his years as a foreign correspondent. I bet this won't be his last adventure.
The Cartography of Peace by Jean Connor. This is the first book by octogenarian poet Jean Connor, now living in Shel- burne. With stunning simplicity and incisiveness, Connor crystallizes all she sees in words that will make these poems special for you.
The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I'm continually struck by how reasonable Friedman's points are in his New York Times columns. If you are at all curious about the state of the world, including such big issues as the developing information society and globalization, you'll enjoy Friedman's latest book.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. We have nine copies and yet I haven't seen it on the shelf in over a year! Hasn't everyone in town read this one by now? Just wait -- when the movie is released, it will be even more popular.
Eldest by Christopher Paolini. Eragon helps the Varden in their struggle against the Empire. This is Book Two in the Inheritance series by an amazing teenage writer from Montana.