The value of a good cup of coffee

It’s no secret to those around me that I take coffee seriously. I’ve considered buying only clothes that are dark brown or black because they hide the inevitable spills better. I have no feweTheWeirdnessr than 5 different methods for making coffee at home. When my family is trying to apologize and/or butter me up for something, I don’t get flower deliveries, I get coffee deliveries. And, yet… I don’t think that even the best cup of coffee in the world would convince me to make a deal with the devil.

This is precisely the situation that greets 30-year-old slacker Billy Ridgeway one morning as he wakes up, hungover and late for work. The devil (this isn’t metaphorical, it’s the actual Judeo-Christian manifestation of Satan) offers Billy, a wannabe author, an amazing cup of coffee and a place on best-seller lists. The tradeoff is that Billy has to rescue the devil’s Maneki Neko, the beckoning/lucky cat statue. The twist is that the devil needs it back to save the world.

The Weirdness has truth in advertising — or at least title. This urban fantasy tale stretches beyond the bounds of what we’ve covered before in Unwin(e)d. Bushnell’s debut presents moral dilemmas, rationalizations, the fate of the world, and plenty of weirdness.

We’ll be discussing The Weirdness at 5:30 on Thursday, November 6 over chocolate, wine, and (what else?) coffee at Winan’s in Beavercreek.

If you’re not able to join us at Winan’s, join us for a brown bag lunch discussion in room 342 Dunbar Library on Tuesday, November 18 at noon.

If you have any questions or want more information about the book or Unwin(e)d, send me a note at mandy.shannon@wright.edu. I hope to see you at Unwin(e)d!

 

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Everything I Never Told You

“Lydia is dead.” There’s something very powerful about a book that starts with a three-word sentence informing the reader that the central character is, in fact, deceased. When the members of the Lee family wake up to find 16-year-old Lydia missing, we already know what they do not: the question is not whether she’s okay but, instead, how and why sEverything I never told youhe died. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng’s debut novel, moves from central premise that Lydia is dead forward through the police investigation and back through the family’s history to examine the different dynamics that affect each family member.

The Lee family story is one of outsiders and a desire to fit in. It is a story of race and gender in 1970s Ohio. It is a story of how the weight of expectations and desire to please family members have lasting consequence.

We’ll be discussing Everything I Never Told You at 5:30 on Thursday, September 4 at Winan’s in Beavercreek.

If you’re not able to join us at Winan’s, join us for a brown bag lunch discussion in room 342 Dunbar Library on Tuesday, September 16 at noon.

If you have any questions or want more information about the book or Unwin(e)d, send me a note at mandy.shannon@wright.edu. I hope to see you at Unwin(e)d!

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And the winners are…

Every year, summer seems to race past just a little faster than the year before. Already, in the middle of July, meeting are being scheduled for October and it seems everyone is starting to feel like there’s just not quite enough time to finish everything that was planned for the summer before the start of fall semester. If you’re feeling like you need to start getting for fall but you’re not quite ready to let go of the idea of summer, I’ve got a way that you can relax, enjoy a good book, and still tell be getting ready for a fall event: check out the first Unwin(e)d selection for 2014-2015!

I’ve already shared many of the books that weren’t chosen for this year’s Friends of the Libraries book discussion hosted at Winan’s. Now, it’s time to announce the books that we will be reading. (I have to admit, I already know and I’m still a little excited about seeing them written out here!)

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
September 4, 2014 – 5:30 at Winan’s Beavercreek
September 16, 2014 – Noon in Room 342 Dunbar Library

Everything I never told youWe’re going to start the year with Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet…” From these opening words, Ng begins to unravel the ways in which the members of the Lee family are obscured from each other even as they try to solve the mystery of what caused their teenaged daughter’s death. Family dynamics, cultural expectations, and the weight of lost dreams come to the surface as Lydia’s family try to understand how they got to this point.

WeirdnessThe Weirdness, Jeremy Bushnell
November 6, 2014 – 5:30 at Winan’s Beavercreek
November 18, 2014 – Noon in Room 342 Dunbar Library
When he wakes up hung over and late for work (again), slacker Billy Ridgeway finds a well-dressed stranger in his apartment. The stranger hands him a cup of the best coffee he’s ever tasted, introduces himself as the actual Devil, and suggests a deal: a best-selling novel in exchange for finding and saving the Lucky Cat figurine that’s the only thing preventing the end of the world. This literary urban fantasy tale offers a comic perspective on good, evil, and the value of a really good cup of coffee

Long DivisionLong Division,Kiese Laymon
January 8, 2015 – 5:30 at Winan’s Beavercreek
January 20, 2015 – Noon in Room 342 Dunbar Library

An African-American teenaged boy in Mississippi is given a book in which the main character appears to be a 1985 version of himself who can travel through time to the present day to steal a laptop and cell phone and back to 1964 to help protect another time traveler from the Klan. This complex narrative is a interwoven tale of racism, history, and the mysterious forces of identity.

Be safe I love youBe Safe I Love You, Cara Hoffman 
March 5, 2015 –5:30 at Winan’s Beavercreek
March 17, 2015 - Noon in Room 342 Dunbar Library

A classically trained singer returns home from a tour of duty in Iraq to find that her family’s and friends’ lives have continued without her. In fact, things have improved for her family since she’s been gone. It’s clear, though, that all is not well with Lauren in her return to civilian life.  The New York Times Book Review opined that Hoffman “writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain” in this novel about the internal struggles that continue long after the war is over for the soldier.

I hope to see you at one of the Unwin(e)d book discussions this year. If you have any questions about the group or the books, let me know. You can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu. Happy reading!

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The runners-up

When last we left Unwin(e)d, we were wrapping up a year of great books, discussion, and some chocolate and wine. Thanks to the generous support of the Friends of the Libraries, Unwin(e)d will be back in the 2014-2015 academic year with four more books to discuss. As we did last year, we’ll be focusing on debut literary fiction. The goal is to find new authors with fresh voices, with each of the four books bringing its own unique perspective. Part of the process in picking out the books that we’ll read for the year is, of course, weeding out the books that we won’t be reading, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months reading through  lots of new, sometimes not-yet-published books to find the best ones to discuss. I know…not exactly a horrible burden, right?

One of our regular Unwin(e)d attendees has asked me about the books that didn’t make the cut. Some of them were really, really good but were too similar to one of the other titles that we’ll be reading (notably, dead children/children dealing with death/unsolved death seems to be a big theme in literary debuts right now. I thought too much of that might be a bit…much). Others didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had for them and/or just didn’t have enough to really merit a long discussion. Sometimes, they just didn’t keep my attention and, while they might be fascinating books to others, I couldn’t see myself trying to convince other people to spend time reading and talking about a book I couldn’t even finish. So, what books are we not going to read? Here are a few that I strongly considered, followed by a brief list of some of the others I read. (Note that I’ve hidden the reasons why I didn’t choose them. They’re not spoilers, but this gives you the option in case you want to read them before hearing what I thought of them.)

F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Janeway - This German novel isn’t by a debut author. In fact, Daniel Kehlmann has won several awards for his previous work. I still considered this, though, because he’s not well known in the US. F is the story of three brothers and the lasting effects of their father’s abandonment of them after an encounter with a hypnotist. As adults, the three brothers are, respectively, a priest who believes more in his Rubik’s Cube than in God, a businessman with a fear of ghosts and being caught in his Ponzi scheme, and an artist who turns to forgery to hide his crisis of confidence. I’ve been told that my preference for darkly comic family dramas is apparent in some of my book choices, and this certainly fits that category. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] Ultimately, I had to narrow down to four and this just didn’t fit in. I definitely recommend this book, though. It’s due to be published in August, so watch for it! [/spoiler]

Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey - Over the course of twelve 30-second electroshock therapy sessions, we are introduced to the world of Greyson Todd, a movie executive who has bipolar disorder. The story jumps between three different times, from Greyson’s childhood to his first bipolar experiences, to his time as a husband and father in Hollywood. Garey has a great narrative voice and I’ll be interested to follow her in the future. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] This was another one that I really considered. There’s a lot of room for discussion here – female author writing from a male perspective. Trying to understand the experiences of someone with bipolar disorder. Different times, locations, and family relationships. When it got down to it, though, there just wasn’t enough to make me want to keep coming back to it to explore it more. [/spoiler]

The First True Lie by Marina Mander - This is one of the many books about children dealing with death to come across my desk while selecting books. In this English-language debut by Italian author Mander, 10-year-old Luca discovers his chronically depressed single mother dead in their apartment. Fear of having to live in an orphanage keeps him from reporting her death. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] It’s possible that I was just overwhelmed with stories that revolved entirely around death at the time I read this. I already knew that I wanted to pick another book that has to do with the death of a child, so this felt like it would’ve been overdoing it. I do like Mander’s writing, though, and will be interested to follow up on her work in the future. [/spoiler]

I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy was another death-of-a-family-member book that I really considered. A successful lawyer is found murdered in his family’s rental beach home. Suspicion lays with his wife…and his second wife…and his third wife. Their motive? They were all married to him at the same time. An intriguing literary thriller. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] Again, another dead family member book. Also, I thought the ending was a little predictable and that’s not as much fun.[/spoiler]

The Bear by Claire Cameron - Told from the perspective of a five-year-old girl whose parents are eaten by a bear while the family camps on a remote Canadian island. The girl is responsible for getting herself and her younger brother to safety. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] Yes, another dead family member book. It got a little overwhelming. I’ve shared with some of you my thoughts about books written from a child’s perspective. This was one of the less successful attempts, in my opinion. Cameron was great at eliciting an emotional response, but once that passed, it was far too difficult to suspend disbelief.[/spoiler]

The Apartment by Greg Baxter

Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger

Assembler of Parts by Raoul Weitzman - Truly, this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend it. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? [spoiler] I recommended this book at the last Unwin(e)d meeting of 2013-2014 and I didn’t want to choose a book I’d already recommended. Also, at some parts, this is so staggeringly, beautifully sad that I wasn’t sure I could in good conscience recommend it to people without a major caveat that it is rather heartbreaking. Still, if you can handle being very emotional from reading a book, give it a try.[/spoiler]

 The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Love Me Back by Merritt Tearce -Fair warning: This is not a PG rated book. By any stretch.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter

Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy

Does this leave you wondering what books we will be reading? Tune in next week for the (much shorter) list of what we’ll books we’ll discuss as we Unwin(e)d in 2014-2015.

Happy reading!

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“The art of family life is not to take it personally.”

Author Mary Kay Zuravleff spent a lot of time thinking about British psychotherapist Adam Phillips’ statement that, “The art of family life is not to take it personally.” This seemed like a great idea, she thought, but how do you actually follow through? She also spent a lot of time thinking about the mathematical theorem of existence and uniqueness (apparently, for us non-mathematical types out here, this is basically the idea that, given certain conditions, there is one and only one solution to certain types of equations…did I get that about right?). When Zuravleff read a story in the New Yorker about a surgeon who was struck by lightning and became obsessed with piano music, the three ideas formed into her third novel, Man Alive! a book about a pediatric psychiatrist struck by lightning while on a family vacation.

We’ll be discussing Man Alive! at the fourth Unwin(e)d meeting on Thursday, March 13 at 5:30. This book covers everything from beach vacations to changing dynamics in a marriage when one partner suddenly and drastically changes, from the way children find their own paths as they grow up to the relatives merits of beef vs. pork barbeque. Zuravleff narrates from the points of view of each of the family members to understand how Owen’s recovery affects everyone in the family. We should have plenty to talk about.

Join us at Unwin(e)d March 13 at 5:30.  We’ll be meeting at Winan’s in Beavercreek. This is the last Unwin(e)d of the 2013-2014 academic year, so don’t miss it. We’ll also be taking book suggestions for future Unwin(e)d meetings, so if there’s a recent piece of literary fiction you’ve been wanting to discuss, bring the title so it’ll be considered for the future.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there on March 13th at 5:30!

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What pairs well with barbecue?

man aliveThe thought of some time on a warm, sunny beach is really appealing right now. In the midst of winter, I love thinking about going outside and getting toasty warm. With this in mind, I really enjoyed picking up Mary Kay Zuravleff’s book Man Alive! recently and reading the opening scenes: a happy family wrapping up a summer beach vacation. The sun, the family camaraderie, and the warmth of summer were an appealing start to a book. Of course, there is a limit to how warm one would want to get. Getting struck by lightning, for example, goes way too far on the “getting warm” spectrum. This is, however, how Dr. Owen Lerner’s summer vacation concludes. Putting a coin in a parking meter, the quarter attracts an errant lightning bolt throwing Owen into the air, throwing his family’s life into chaos, and putting Owen permanently in the mood for barbecue.

The fateful lightning strike occurs quite early on in the book. There is no suspense about whether it will happen. Rather, this is the story of how one person’s changed role, abilities, and interests can disrupt an entire family and change the way the individuals in that family see themselves. This is a story about each member of the family. Zuravleff shifts focus between Owen, his wife, his twin college-aged sons, and his daughter in high school. They are all, each in his or her own way, dealing with their own demons and Owen’s accident serves to highlight some of the challenges they face.

Join us at Unwin(e)d March 13 at 5:30 to discuss this book that Library Journal says, “captures both the humor and pain of family life and the fluid nature of its alliances.” We’ll be meeting at Winan’s in Beavercreek. You can decide for yourself whether coffee, chocolate, or wine pairs best with a conversation about barbecue and family.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there on March 13th at 5:30

 

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We Need New Names

Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.

So wrote Azar Nafisi in Reading Lolita in Tehran : A Memoir in BooksThis statement often comes back to me when I read about situations that are based on reality but with which I am unfamiliar. It certainly came to mind when I read NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names. Through this story that was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize, Bulawayo has offered an epiphany of truth about life in Zimbabwe, and of the immigrant experience in the United States.

new namesWe Need New Names is the story of Darling, a young girl who lives in a shantytown in Zimbabwe and spends her days stealing guavas with a group of friends. They dream of escaping and living in wealth. Darling sees a path to this dream through the prospect of living with her aunt and uncle in “Destroyedmichigan.”

Initially, I was a little skeptical about this book. I often turn away from books written from a child’s perspective in an adult novel, especially those that are focusing on situations that can be emotionally difficult. Too often I think the child’s voice comes across as overly  precious and precocious; sometimes it seems as though the author is using the child’s voice to distance him/herself from difficult subject matter (“yes, I’m writing about something difficult…but with cute words and misunderstandings, so don’t find the subject too off-putting!”). Bulawayo, though, uses Darling’s 10-year-old innocence and naivete to highlight and add to the intensity of life in both Zimbabwe and the US.

Beyond the story itself, I found that this book sparked my interest in learning more of the  political, social, and cultural conditions of life in Zimbabwe that framed Darling’s life and the story. Or, as Azar Nafisi might have put it, Bulawayo’s depiction of the truth of the situation inspired me to dig up some research on the reality of it.

There’s a lot to talk about in this book, and I look forward to doing just that at our next meeting of Unwined on January 9 at Winan’s in Beavercreek.  If you have any questions, you can reach me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775.3149. I hope to see you there in the New Year!

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Unwin(e)d with a book about family, food, and Evel Knievel

It’s hard to believe it’s almost November already.  The month of Thanksgiving holds a few constants for me and many others: namely, food and family. So, really, what better way is there to prepare for Thanksgiving than getting together to discuss a book about family and food?  And, of course, Evel Knievel. Because no Thanksgiving is complete without Evel Knievel, right?

Evel Knievel Days, the sophomore novel from Pauls Toutonghi follows 20-year-old Khosi Saqr the summer he discovers his father. Khosi is an obsessive-compulsive, semi-agoraphobic, half-Egyptian, half Irish-American museum guide living in Butte, Montana, hevel knievelome of Evel Knievel.  When gambling debts and loan sharks caught up with him, Khosi’s father fled Montana for Egypt, leaving Khosi’s mother a three-year-old son, and his family’s recipes.

Family is key in Khosi’s life. He disagrees with Tolstoy’s contention that unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way. “See: I think Tolstoy was wrong. Unhappy families are all alike. They’re all alike in this moment-in this pause before something happens, in the pause before someone reacts. And that pause: It can last seconds or minutes or days or months or years.” For Khosi, the pause has been life-long. He imagines that someday he will see the family tree in Egypt and perhaps have the chance to utter the word, “daddy,” but his lifelong estrangement from his father makes this unlikely.  He knew his mother’s parents, but they never accepted Khosi and his Egyptian heritage, even while he sat at their dining room table. Khosi’s closest relationship in his family, aside from his mother is the ghost of his great-great-grandfather, copper magnate William Andrews Clark who tags along to Egypt when Khosi decides it’s time to meet his father. So, in short, it’s a book about family, food, Evel Knievel, overcoming personal challenges, copper in its many forms, a copper baron’s legacy (and his ghost), and traveling to Egypt.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of Evel Knievel Days yet, you’ve still got plenty of time! There are print copies and eReaders with the book pre-loaded available at Dunbar Library. You can purchase a copy for 20% at the WSU Bookstore.

We had a great discussion at September’s meeting when we talked about The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, and I’m looking forward to the discussion of Evel Knievel Days.

Come discuss this title with us at Unwin(e)d on Thursday, November 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees. If you have any questions about the group, feel free to get in touch with me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu.  I hope to see you on the 14th!

 

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A hidden gem of a book

A few years ago at a dinner party one of the other guests remarked in passing that there just aren’t any new books of any merit being published.  Publishing now, he suggested, is limited to the books that you see in airport gift shops and next to the greeting cards in the grocery store.  Well, dear readers, that poor gentleman had no idea that his simple, off-handed remark was tantamount to handing me a soapbox, complete with stepladder to climb on, and a megaphone.  You see, there’s plenty of good fiction being published. If anything, I think it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the good books that are published.  The problem is that many of these new books, especially if they’re written by a debut author, simply don’t get the press or word-of-mouth that they might really deserve.  It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited that the Friends of the Libraries have started this new book discussion group — it’s a great chance for us to start talking about some of these great new books. I decided that we’d start with The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, a book that had caught my attention from the introductory page’s suggestion that, “”If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience.”

So, imunchangeable spotsagine the pleasant surprise I had a few weeks ago when author Meg Wolitzer  named The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards as a hidden gem, one of the five books of summer that deserved more attention. I was drawn to this book because of its interesting use of the unreliable narrator, a technique that I sometimes find off-putting but in this case, as Wolitzer says, “makes for a playfully weird narrative experience.”

I’m eager to your thoughts about Jansma’s use of the unreliable narrator.  Has he, as Emily Dickinson suggested, told all the truth, but told it slant? What’s real and what’s fiction? Come discuss this title with us at the first Unwin(e)d on Thursday, September 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees.

If you have any questions about the group, feel free to get in touch with me at mandy.shannon@wright.edu.  I hope to see you on the 12th!

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And so it begins…

What do books, coffee, chocolate, wine, and good conversation have in common? If your first thought was, “Clearly, it’s that they’re all awesome.” then pay attention because have I got something for you!  The University Libraries are excited to announce that, thanks to a grant from the Friends of the Libraries, we will be hosting a book discussion every other month of the 2013-2014 academic year at Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees.

Think of it as a happy hour that involves talking about some of the most interesting books around with some of the most interesting people around.  I’ve got you wondering now, haven’t I?  What exactly are these “most interesting books” and who are these “most interesting people?”  Fair questions.  The books we’ll be reading will be relatively new…generally published within the past year or so. They’ll generally be literary fiction and they’ll generally be under-the-radar. We’re trying to bring you books that aren’t the titles everyone’s already talking about but that we think are interesting and will generate a lot of good discussion.  As for the interesting people, that’s where you come in.  Join us and share your thoughts on that month’s book.  Whether you love it or hate it, we want to hear what you have to say.

As we get closer to the first discussion, I’ll occasionally add information about the book we’re reading, author interviews, and other things I think you might find interesting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way, so feel free to comment. In the meantime, happy reading!

The specifics

Who: Wright State Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of the Libraries

What: Unwin(e)d, a Friends’ book discussion group

unchangeable spotsWhich: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma – we’ve got print copies and copies on eReaders here at the Library. If our copies are out, try OhioLink or SearchOhio for copies. The bookstore also will be ordering copies if you’d like to buy a copy.

When: Thursday, September 12 5:30 p.m.

Where: Beavercreek location of Winans (3510 Pentagon Blvd — in front of Hilton, across from Soin Medical Center).  

Why: Did we mention books, coffee, chocolate, wine, and good conversation?

If you have any questions, contact Mandy Shannon at mandy.shannon@wright.edu or at 775-3149.   We hope to see you there!

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