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Cover art for The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music

The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music

Written by Steve Lopez

Steve Lopez, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, stops to listen to an apparently homeless person playing a violin on the street. He thinks the music sounds pretty good and taking a closer look realizes that there are only two strings on the violin. Lopez strikes up a conversation and learns that this violinist went to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music and was classmates with Yo-Yo Ma. Always on the look-out for material for his newspaper column, he does a little investigating and learns that indeed Nathaniel Ayers did attend Juilliard thirty years earlier. And so begins a two-year relationship with schizophrenic Nathaniel. Lopez’s writing is as good as fiction. He takes the reader through the maze of how to help a mentally ill person living on the street. We meet Nathaniel’s family, music teachers, social workers, psychiatric professionals, members of the LA Symphony who reach out to Nathaniel in such a wonderful, heartfelt way. Music is at the heart of Nathaniel and through the music he is able to slowly begin a modest re-entry into more conventional everyday living. Lopez gives great insight into the terribly difficult problem of being homeless and mentally ill in America. This is a great book!

Recommended by Nila
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Self-Portrait: Trina Schart Hyman

Written by Trina Schart Hyman
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

If you've been a picture book reader, either as a child or to children, over the last forty years, odds are pretty good you've read a book that was illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. In this delightful illustrated biography, Hyman tells the story of her life and work as a prolific children's book author and illustrator.

The Juneau Public Library also has Self-Portrait: Margot Zemach and Self-Portrait: Erik Blegvad. Since I was not familiar with these illustrators, I wanted to gather as much of their work as possible. I had a lot of fun finding books in the catalog and placing holds; it’s great to have access to so many items through our library partners throughout Alaska. This was a good way to pass some of our long winter nights.

Recommended by Nila
Cover art for William Shakespeare's Hamlet

William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Written by William Shakespeare
Audio Book

Even if you've already read it or seen it, and even if you've already read it or seen it (or both) multiple times, I still recommend that you listen to this audio version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Performed by an excellent cast of British stage actors, with original music and enough sound effects to give a sense of the action, this is more than an audiobook; it's a play that you hear rather than see. Hamlet is full of classic monologues and dialogues that echo throughout English literature, from "To be or not to be," to "Neither a borrower nor a lender be".

Prefer something less tragic? The Arkangel recordings of all of 38 of Shakespeare's plays include all the great comedies too, and the library has them all. Just search for 'Arkangel Shakespeare' in the catalog, or look for 822.33 in the audiobook section of any Juneau Public Library location.

Recommended by Catherine
Cover art for All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Written by Anthony Doerr

All the Light You Cannot See is a beautifully written novel; a story that you live in. It takes place in France and Germany from 1934 to 1945 and follows the lives of the two main characters, blind Marie-Laure, who lives in Paris with her father, who works at the Museum of Natural History as the master of its thousands of locks, and the German orphan, Werner, who joins Hitler’s Youth elite as the only way out of a life destined to work in the mines. There is a mystery element revolving around a valuable and dangerous jewel which makes this book a page turner.

Doerr recreates the most intimate details of his character’s lives. The story weaves elements of blindness, radio communications, birds, anatomy of mollusks, light, and the training of Hitler’s elite youth in, out, and around the characters. I particularly liked the interaction between Marie-Laure, her father, great uncle and his household. Even though Werner’s life is sad and difficult, it’s inspiring to see how he rises above his surroundings with his active, curious mind that questions everything.

From the chapter Light: “The moonlight shines and billows; the broken clouds scud above the trees. Leaves fly everywhere. But the moonlight stays unmoved by the wind, passing through clouds, through air, in what seems to Werner like impossibly slow imperturbable rays. They hang across the buckling grass. Why doesn’t the wind move the light?” Doerr paints with words in short chapters that allow the reader space to ponder, at times, the most exquisite writing. From the chapter Saint-Malo, “On the rue de la Crosse, the Hotel of Bees becomes almost weightless for a moment, lifted in a spiral of flame, before it begins to rain the pieces back to the earth.”

The story jumps back and forth across time, which can be confusing. All the chapters about Marie-Laure and her family are wonderful, however there are moments when the Nazis chapters are tiresome. I wanted to spend more time with each character, so I would read three or four of the chapters from Marie-Laure’s point of view and then go back and read the chapters about what was happening in Werner’s life during the same time period. I found this more satisfying, giving me a chance to really live alongside the character for longer periods of time. Beware, at times the situations the characters are in are disturbing. This was a great book to take on some very long plane flights.

Recommended by Nila
Cover art for A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story

Written by Linda Sue Park

This beautiful chapter book has a complex narrative structure that alternates between the present-day story of Nya, who must walk eight hours each day to fetch fresh water for her family, and Salva, whose village was destroyed by conflict in the mid-1980s. This moving story about difficult topics is gently told; it doesn't wallow in the grimness but also doesn't shy away. If you like this book, try any of Linda Sue Park's other titles; she is an excellent author.

Recommended by Amelia
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Five Complete Novels

Written by Ursula K. Le Guin

This book compiles five of Ursula K. LeGuin’s best science fiction novellas: Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Word for World is Forest. Between the five of them, they’ve won 2 Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and a James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and form the majority of her Hainish Cycle. Together they span thousands of year across the galaxy where intelligent species were designed and settled on various planets to evolve independently, including the humans of Earth, only to be forgotten and cut off after the Hainish civilization collapsed. While each story can be fit into the overarching galactic history, they also stand alone, taking place on separate planets among different peoples, and run a gamut of topics from epic fantasy, to political satire, to studies of gender roles and cultural sensitivity, all wrapped up in LeGuin’s concise, elegant writing style. If you enjoy the stories in this book, also look for The Dispossessed, which takes place before them, and The Telling, which takes place after, to round out the Hainish Cycle.

Recommended by Jenna
Cover art for Bach's Goldberg Variations

Bach's Goldberg Variations

Written by Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

Ten-year-old orphan Johann Gottlieb Goldberg has talent, but lacks the resources for further training. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach convinces wealthy Count Keyserlingk to take the young boy in, and Bach agrees to give Goldberg music lessons. When the count suffers from a bout of insomnia, he relies on Goldberg playing the harpsichord to pass the time. Over time, the count demands greater variety and complexity in the music Goldberg plays, and the result is the Bach composition known as the Goldberg Variations.

This delightful picture book tells the story of how a piece of music came to be, and includes a CD so you can listen to the Goldberg Variations.

Recommended by Nila
Cover art for Annihilation


Written by Jeff Vandermeer

The first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy, "Annihilation" relates the experience of the biologist from a four-member expedition to Area X. The other members are a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor. All the members of the expedition are female and this is the twelfth expedition sent to explore Area X. The others all met different fates. The members of the second expedition all committed suicide, the members of the third turned on and killed each other. None have been successful.

Area X is beautiful, wild, and dangerous, with elements of the supernatural. The danger is intertwined with the vibrant, overgrown life of the area. Each member reacts differently and as time goes on (the action takes place with days of reaching their destination) dependence and suspicion take over.

The action is told through the eyes and the diary of the biologist. We find that she is following her husband who was a member of the eleventh expedition. The members of that expedition returned but as hollow shells of themselves and they all died within months of returning from an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. None remembered how they returned across the border of Area X.

This story is atmospheric, detailed and engaging. More a novella than a full novel, this book moves quickly and gives the reader a lot to consider.

Recommended by Suzi
Cover art for By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review

Written by Pamela Paul
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

I'm a sucker for books about books and I like to read about reading. If you do too, check out By the Book, which is a compilation of reading profiles of well-known readers (most of them also well-known authors) which originally appeared in The New York Times Book Review.

In reply to the question "Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?" P.J. O'Rourke says:

"A good book does all four. Three out of four isn't bad. Two is acceptable, except for books that make you cry and teach you something, which are to be avoided at all costs."

You can dip in to this fascinating, thoughtful and sometimes funny book and just read a few profiles, cherry-pick your favorite authors, or you can read it from cover to cover. You may be inspired, as I was, to re-read old favorites, or try new authors or titles recommended by the likes of Hilary Mantel, Neil Degrasse Tyson, John Grisham, or even Sting, and many, many others.

Recommended by Catherine
Cover art for The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Lifestyle

The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Lifestyle

Written by Jennifer McGruther

The Nourished Kitchen advocates a return to eating and cooking that is based on the way we used to eat; that is, before the advent of heavily processed, ready-to-eat convenience foods. The great recipes in this cookbook includes a wide range of ingredients, including meat, animal fat and grains, and advocates a balanced approach to nutrition, emphasizing local or home-grown healthy food sources.

Check out this cookbook and get back to eating the way your great-grandparents did.

Recommended by Mark

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