Author Birthdays: Franklin, Asimov, Michaels

January 2nd marks the birthday of authors John Hope Franklin, Isaac Asimov, and Leonard Michaels.

John Hope Franklin was an American historian who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His best known work is From Slavery to Freedom, which is often regarded as the definitive history of African-Americans, outlines African origins, slavery, and the fight for freedom.

Franklin's other works include Runaway Slaves: Rebels On The Plantation, a book about the resistance and escape of African-American slaves, and an autobiography which Library Journal described as "worth knowing and understanding because at its heart it is a particularly American story about the challenges of being black in this country, about personal triumphs, and about his feeling of urgency regarding the promises America has yet to realize."

Isaac Asimov is best known as a Russian-American science-fiction writer. Among his books, he is probably most widely recognized for his series, especially the Foundation series, which actually includes dozens of stories, one of them being the basis for the film I, Robot.

Asimov's many, many--and I mean many--other works include the two award-winners The Gods Themselves and The Bicentennial Man. There is also Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which first came out in 1977, named for Asimov because of his huge standing in the science-fiction genre.

Leonard Michaels was an American writer of short stories, novels, and essays, who graduated with his Master's and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. One of his novels, Sylvia, is based upon his first wife, who committed suicide.

Michaels also wrote some autobiographical fiction collected in the book Shuffle. Publishers Weekly discusses it as "Created in fragments of journal entries, short stories and memoir-like confessions, a matrix of past and present formations is slowly brought into focus; thus, a life."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #233

It's that time of year again and time for small gems.

Most appropriate to ring in the new year is François Lelord's Hector and the Search for Happiness, a charming parable about modern life.

Young psychiatist Hector travels the world over while keeping a list of observations about the people he meets, hoping to find the secret to happiness. At once entertaining and empowering, it combines the winsome appeal of The Little Prince with the inspiring philosophy of The Alchemist.

A former postdoc at UCLA, Francois Lelord is a psychiatrist who has worked in Paris, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. Hector and the Search for Happiness is his first novel, and the first in a series that includes Hector and the Search for Love and Hector and the Meaning of Time.

Brief and yet powerful, the 2008 winner of the Zerilli-Marimò Prize for Italian Fiction, Milena Agus' debut novel (her first to be translated into English) From the Land of the Moon* * chronicles the life and fortunes of a Sardinian woman as she struggles mightily to find happiness in the traditional island village she calls home.

"Agus' beautifully written tale allows room for a lovely ambiguity. The vivid descriptions of the Sardinian landscape are a fitting complement to the heroine's conflicted heart". A lush, haunting portrait of an artist born before her time.

* * = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Miller, Toomer, Sedaris

December 26th marks the birthday of authors Henry Miller, Jean Toomer, and David Sedaris.

Henry Miller was an American writer whose book Tropic of Cancer was tried as "obscene" in the U.S. Supreme Court; the book was found to be a work of literature, and was then published.

Almost all of Miller's works are at least semi-autobiographical. Among such "fictional" novels are the three books of the series The Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus. The first discusses his divorce and remarriage, the second describes his second marriage and struggle to find himself, and the third focuses on his problems with his second wife and her lover.

Jean Toomer was an American writer and figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and grandson of the first African-American governor of a U.S. state. His novel Cane, a short story cycle, describes the origins of African-Americans in the United States; the most well-known of the stories within the novel is called "Harvest Song".

While he is most well known for Cane, Toomer also wrote many essays on race relations, as well as literary criticisms of other authors--many of these are collected in one volume.

David Sedaris is an American writer and humorist, and brother to actress and fellow author Amy Sedaris, with whom he has written plays under the name "The Talent Family".

Sedaris mostly writes short, autobiographical stories, almost always funny. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which discusses very important and serious subjects like menu options and mistaken identity. His latest, however, called Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, is animal-related, and looks to be pretty hilarious itself.

Ann Arbor District Library Staff Picks

staff picks imagestaff picks image

Ann Arbor District Library staff are avid media consumers with wide ranging tastes and interests. Now we've made it easy to find what they are currently recommending.

Located downtown on the first floor to the right as you enter the library, near the NEW fiction and non-fiction shelves is the Staff Picks shelf. There you will find staff recommendations for fiction, mysteries, non-fiction, music and films. Enjoy!

If you would like to peruse current Staff Picks from the comfort of your home computer or mobile device, follow this link: Staff Picks.

Author Birthdays: Fry, Bester, Moorcock

December 18th marks the birthday of authors Christopher Fry, Alfred Bester, and Michael Moorcock.

Christopher Fry was an English playwright, best known for the romantic comedy "The Lady's Not for Burning", which resembles Shakespeare's comedies, but contains a sense of post-WWII sentiments. It is considered the "spring" play out of his seasonal series, which also includes autumn "Venus Observed", winter "The Dark is Light Enough", and summer "A Yard of Sun".

Fry also wrote the plays "The Boy with a Cart" (a celebration of Saint Cuthman of Steyning) and "A Phoenix Too Frequent" (a comedy based on Petronius's tale of the Ephesian widow).

Alfred Bester was an American science fiction writer and winner of the FIRST Hugo Award for his book The Demolished Man, set in a futuristic world filled with telepathy; it is often called a precursor to the cyberpunk subgenre.

Bester's other works include the novels Psycho Shop, written in conjunction with fellow sci-fi writer Roger Zelazny, and The Stars My Destination, an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. He also wrote quite a few short stories, collected in titles like Virtual Unrealities.

Michael Moorcock is an English science fiction and fantasy and literary writer, and winner of about 15 awards. Among those, I will mention the Nebula Award for Behold the Man and the World Fantasy Award for Gloriana.

Many of Moorcock's series and standalone novels are in a similar world/universe grouping known as The Eternal Champion. Among these are works like The Jewel in the Skull of the Hawkmoon series and Elric: The Stealer of Souls, which is a collection of (some of the) stories with the character Elric.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #232

Now for a change of pace...

Liar, Liar* * introduces P.I. Cat DeLuca and her Pants on Fire Detective Agency, known around the Windy City for its stellar reputation in catching cheaters, guaranteeing her clients evidence that would bring large divorce settlements.

Life takes a strange turn when a rogue reporter for the Chicago Tribune masquerades as a client with a liar-liar husband - one Chance Savino, a steamy guy with a pocketful of smuggled diamonds. When the FBI insists that Savino is killed in the same explosion that sends Cat to the hospital, Cat isn’t buying it. And when she finds her client dead on the floor with a knife in her chest and Savino rummaging through the apartment, she not only has to convince her family and the FBI she is not crazy, she has to get herself off the murderer's "Must Kill" list.

Debut author K.J. Larsen is in truth, Julianne, Kristen and Kari Larsen, three sisters who are hard at work on the next Cat adventure.

Liar has been picked as one of Library Journal Best Books 2010 Genre Fiction. Hey, Stephanie Plum, you have been warned. Cat is moving in.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #231

If you enjoyed historical mysteries by Louis Bayard (Black Tower), and Ariana Franklin (The Mistress of the Art of Death) then I am confident you will find The Rhetoric of Death* * * by Judith Rock just your cup of tea.

This "amazing"* debut is set in 17th century Paris where young Charles du Luc, a former soldier has been sent by The Bishop of Marseilles to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand. On his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, suspicion falls on him as a newcomer, and finding the actual killer becomes both a personal mission and a source of deadly danger.

Against the backdrop of a Paris swollen with intrigue and religious strife, first-novelist Rock (a dancer, choreographer, seminarian, and former auxiliary NYPD police office) brings first-hand knowledge of dance, choreography, acting, police investigation, and teaching to a new series rich with historical details and well-drawn characters.

Reader might also like S.J. Parris' Heresy which dramatizes religious strife in an earlier era.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die

The title of this book says it all, really. In this darkly humorous collection of short stories, a machine can take a blood sample and produce a slip of paper that will tell you in one to a few words how you will meet your demise. And all for $19.95! Your result, however, can be most vague. Results such as DROWNING, CANCER, OLD AGE may not be as clear-cut as they seem. For example, your death prediction may be “BURIED ALIVE”. But what if being buried alive does not necessarily mean buried alive in dirt? What if you were buried alive in a building that collapsed? Knowing the “prediction” usually only results in more questions. I really love the quote on the cover of the book by author Cory Doctorow. “Existentialism was never so fun. Makes me wish I could die, too!”

If the premise alone of Machine of Death does not entice you, following are just some of the titles of the stories in this collection:
ALMOND
PIANO
HIV INFECTION FROM MACHINE OF DEATH NEEDLE
IMPROPERLY PREPARED BLOWFISH
COCAINE AND PAINKILLERS

Author Birthdays: Solzhenitsyn, Paley, Harrison

December 11th marks the birthday of authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Grace Paley, and Jim Harrison.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian and writer of fiction, as well as a Nobel laureate. His most extensive work of history is called The Gulag Archipelago; it discusses Soviet forced labor in the early 20th century, including the author's own experiences in a work camp.

Solzhenitsyn's fictional works are interesting and extensive. The First Circle is a tale written after the author's experiences at Gulag, as well as his diagnosis of cancer, and exile. Booklist called it a "many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale". Along those same lines, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a book about hope and life during Communist tyranny and its Siberian work camps.

Grace Paley was an American short story writer and poet. Among her works of prose are collections like The Little Disturbances Of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.

Paley's poetry has been described as having a "strong pulsating rhythm". Here at AADL we have a few collections, including Fidelity, Leaning Forward, and her New And Collected Poems. The Collected Stories has many of what are considered her "classic" stories in one volume.

Jim Harrison is an American author, born in Grayling, Michigan. His most well-known work might be Legends of the Fall, which is actually made up of three stories and was later put to film. His latest publications, from last year, are called The Farmer's Daughter, another collection of three novellas, and a collection of poetry entitled In Search of Small Gods.

Harrison also wrote a memoir. The book outlines his life, including childhood tragedy, his alcoholism and cocaine habit, love of nature, and, the hopefully more upbeat discussion of his associations with famous men like Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Buffett.

Author Birthdays: Rilke, Butler, Woolrich

December 4th marks the birthday of authors Rainer Maria Rilke, Samuel Butler, and Cornell Woolrich.

Rainer Maria Rilke was an Austrian poet who wrote in both verse and lyrical styles. His best known work is called Duino Elegies (German Duineser Elegien), which he wrote in the early 20th century. Other works include the Book of Hours (German Stundenbuch), which was inspired by the spirituality of Russia, and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, written in Paris and centered around themes of existentialism.

Rilke often used figures of Greek mythology in his poetry. One, Sonnets to Orpheus, has a public domain translation which you can read online. You may also be interested in checking out a biography on him.

Samuel Butler was a Victorian writer. His most famous pieces are probably the satire Erewhon and the novel The Way of All Flesh.

If you are interested in reading any of Butler's works, many are available for free download on Project Gutenberg. He wrote many essays as well as fiction, and they discuss anything from Darwin and evolution to the possible homosexuality of Shakespeare.

Cornell Woolrich was an American writer who also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopley. He wrote many, many mysteries, including Fright, the story of a man who strangled his mistress after his wedding day, and Manhattan Love Song, which is widely considered one of the beginning works of noir.

Woolrich also wrote short stories, some of which have been made into movies. Rear Window is probably the most well known. For a more complete listing of the 20+ films based on his works, visit Wikipedia.

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