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The Buddha in the Attic

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 1:07pm

The front cover features an open suitcase with a red umbrella in it.

Julie Otsuka's second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, begins like this:

"Come, Japanese!

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The Empathy Exams

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:30pm

Leslie Jamison gets a job as a medical actor. She plays complex characters, women who are shy or embarrassed, or women who distrust doctors. Leslie assesses the medical students who interact with her. Do they wash their hands before the exam? Do the students ask important questions? Do they have empathy for their patients? The first essay of Leslie Jamison's book, The Empathy Exams, offers a view into a hidden world. How are doctors trained to empathize with patients? What does empathy mean to doctors? What does empathy mean to patients?

In her other essays, Jamison explores the idea of pain. How do people deal with chronic pain? Do people believe one another about their pain? How do doctors respond to pain? What kind of pain is "most important" or most recognized by society?

Jamison writes with tenderness and empathy about people in distress. The Empathy Exams is a beautiful portrait of agony in America that will keep you awake at night pondering the philosophy of

pain.

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Margaret Atwood on the small screen

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 4:52pm

Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel, Alias Grace, discloses the inner musings of a true-to-life Irish immigrant, Grace Marks, who was accused with and locked up in a Canadian penitentiary for killing her employer and his housekeeper. Grace’s story is given to us mostly through the interviews she has with Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychiatrist who has arrived at the penitentiary to determine Grace’s guilt or innocence. From Margaret Atwood’s able hands, we receive intricately drawn out details of the drudgery of a servant’s day, peppered with profound and beautiful observations about nature, God, men, and women. Born to serve, first her father, than various other households, Grace continues to serve through her crime. Her accusers, her co-conspirators, her defender, her jury, and the journalists who tell her story are all male. The action in Grace’s story belongs to the men who want to convey it. In order to own her narrative, Grace must rely on creating misconceptions, fugues, hallucinations, and evasions.

There are two threads running through this story at all times. The actual answers Grace gives to Simon’s many questions are interwoven with the answers she richly imagines providing. For his own part, Simon envisions a Grace different from the one who sits before him. “Grace’s will is of the negative female variety - she can deny and reject much more easily than she can affirm or accept. Somewhere within herself - he’s seen it, if only for a moment, that conscious, even cunning look in the corner of her eye - she knows she’s concealing something from him. As she stitches away at her sewing, outwardly calm as a marble Madonna, she is all the while exerting her passive stubborn strength against him. A prison does not only lock its inmates inside, it keeps all others out. Her strongest prison is of her own construction.”

Simon is excited by the possibility of Grace being a murderess. Though he is there to support her innocence, he can’t remove his own fantasies from Grace’s tale and therefore is unable to ascertain whether Grace is guilty of the crimes she has been charged with or not. “Murderess, murderess, he whispers to himself. It has an allure, a scent almost. Hot house gardenias. Lurid, but almost furtive. He imagines himself breathing it as he draws Grace toward him…”
Alias Grace has recently been made into a mini-series on Netflix. Showrunner Sarah Polley’s outstanding adaptation sticks closely to Atwood’s story (Atwood was a producer and has a small role in it). If you have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it. What you won’t get from either Polley or Atwood are definitive answers as to the question of Grace’s guilt, but both work to convey the timeless struggle faced by women of how to have a voice.

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Smoke Alarms Save Lives!

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 3:55pm

The American Red Cross Michigan Region is conducting free smoke alarm installations & inspections. If you have alarms that are over 10 years old, don't work, or need an alarm on every floor of your home, contact the Red Cross for a 20 minute home visit! The Red Cross can provide up to 3 new smoke alarms at no cost. Washtenaw, Lenawee & Monroe residents call (734) 971-5300 ext. 229. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb & St. Clair residents call (313) 576-4112. You can also sign up on line right here.

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New from Celeste Ng: Little Fires Everywhere

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 3:32pm

By now you've probably heard that Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You, has published her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere. Like Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere is focused on family intricacies. However, while her first book centered upon one family, Ng's latest work explores how two families become intertwined. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio (an idyllic community that got its start as an envisioned utopia by its creator) in the 1990s, the book masterfully weaves together several storylines full of moral ambiguities.

Single mother Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights in the summer, looking for a place to rent. Although most spaces are out of their price range, local landlady and prominent Shaker Heights resident Elena Richardson takes a liking to them and rents them the upper half of a duplex that she owns. Pearl quickly befriends the Richardson children, who are all about her age, and Mia, an artist, begins working as a housekeeper for the Richardsons to help make rent money. Readers know from the very beginning that this close relationship between landlords and tenants is a ticking time bomb; the book opens with the Richardsons' house in flames and Mia and Pearl leaving town in the dead of night. Still, we can't help but cheer for all of the characters in the book who--although all flawed in their own ways--are mostly kind-hearted. As the book goes on, Mrs. Richardson begins to dig into Mia and Pearl's past and all of the characters become involved in a local scandal--some intentionally and others by accident.

Little Fires Everywhere, like Everything I Never Told You, showcases Ng's ability to create amazingly nuanced characters that tell a story that is thought-provoking in part because of its shocking believability. I did feel that this story wasn't quite as gut-wrenching as her first, mostly because the number of players in Little Fires Everywhere makes it so that readers cannot really get to know and understand any single one. Without a doubt, however, if you liked Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere is a must-read. And, if you're unfamiliar with Celeste Ng, now is the time to play catch up! I am already eagerly anticipating her third work.

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A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 1:39pm

The end of pregnancy is a strange time. You wait for the biggest change that can happen to a person other than death and yet, for most, you don’t know when the change will happen. When will the baby be born? When will a woman become a mother? When I was pregnant with my son, I read the title essay of A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother by Anna Prushinskaya probably 15 times. It became almost a talisman to me, a promise that he would eventually be born, that I would be able to cross over to motherhood.

In A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, Prushinskaya writes beautifully about her experience balancing between places, between states: between pregnancy and motherhood, and between her Soviet homeland and her current home of Ann Arbor. Her essays range from parenthood to identifying local woody plants, and they are all gorgeous- sparse and lyrical.

I spoke with Prushinskaya about her experience writing the book, how motherhood has changed her as a writer, and the birth of her second son. Find our conversation on Pulp!

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The Making of Jane Austen

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 9:05am

At the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817, no one but close family and friends knew that she was a published author. Fast forward to 1995: a wet-shirted Colin Firth, starring in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries, seemingly launches Austen into pop culture superstardom and initiates an Austen craze that has continued ever since.

We are now used to Jane Austen cosplay conventions, spin-off novels, and countless Austen-themed tchotchkes. But it’s worth asking the question: How did Austen go from complete anonymity to a cultural institution?

The answer to that question, Devoney Looser argues, starts long before Colin Firth. And, she continues, it often has less to do with Jane Austen herself than with how Austen has been interpreted—and invented—by readers, illustrators, playwrights, screenwriters, actors, activists, and teachers.

In her new book, The Making of Jane Austen, Looser sets out uncover the little-known parts of Austen’s legacy in British and American culture. She focuses on five areas: how Austen has been illustrated, adapted for the stage, adapted for the screen, politicized, and taught in schools.

Looser turns away from literary histories of Austen and instead focuses on equally important but long-neglected appearances of Austen in popular culture. What makes her book so enjoyable is that she strolls down the byways of history, tracking down obscure figures like the young women (yes, women) who played Mr. Darcy in early stage adaptations of Pride and Prejudice or the author of the first Jane Austen dissertation, who was supposedly channeled by a spirit medium after his untimely death. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks!)

If The Making of Jane Austen piques your interest, be sure to mark your calendar for Anne-Charlotte Mecklenburg’s talk, “Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen” at Westgate Branch from 7-8:30pm on Wednesday, December 13th. And stay tuned for info about all our upcoming Jane Austen events this winter in partnership with the University of Michigan—Austen Trivia! Embroidery! English Country Dancing! Everything to satisfy the Austenian heart.

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Blog Post

Out in the Open

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:14pm

Jesús Carrasco's debut novel Out in the Open, offers a fresh take on primal survival.

Carrasco's novel opens with an unnamed boy hiding in a hole. If the boy is found, the hole could become his grave. We follow the boy as he runs from malignant forces. At first, the reader is not sure who the boy is running from, or why.

The boy travels through a desolate and unforgiving expanse; he struggles to find food and water. Eventually the boy meets a goat herder who helps him. The characters develop a relationship, and a ray of hope sprouts from Carrasco's somber story. The connection between the goat herder and the boy is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the novel. However, it is memorizing to follow the characters on their daily struggle to survive; it certainly makes our lives seem effortless in comparison.

Jesús Carrasco is from Spain. Out in the Open was originally written in Spanish. Margaret Jull Costa translated the text into English. Carrasco's novel has now been published in more than twenty countries and has received many accolades. Out in the Open won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2016, as well as an English PEN award.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #660

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 2:51pm

Reviewers are calling The Last Mrs. Parrish * * * by Liv Constantine (pen name of sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine) a "devilishly ingenious debut thriller." (Publishers Weekly)

Amber Patterson deserves more, definitely more than her impoverished upbringing, her dead-end jobs and the constant worry about money. She set her sights on Daphne and Jackson Parrish, a wealthy “golden couple” from Connecticut who is living the privileged life she wants.

Meticulously clever and ruthlessly manipulative, Amber moves to Bishops Harbor, and plots to insinuate herself into Daphne's life, and through her, to Jackson, the handsome, powerful real estate mogul. Before long, Amber is traveling to Europe with the Parrish family; and when she finds out Daphne’s failure to give Jackson a male heir is the main source of tension in the marriage, she knows what she needs to do to become the next Mrs. Parrish, that is as long as the skeleton in her closet does not lay waste to all that scheming.

Halfway through, the narrative is picked up by Daphne, and the readers will get a surprisingly different take on the story. Well, let's just say some women get everything and some women get everything they deserve.

"With a plot equally as twisty, spellbinding, and addictive as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train, this is sure to be a hit with suspense fans."(Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #659

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 9:23pm

Seven Days of Us * * by Francesca Hornak, is a sharply observed and ultimately satisfying holiday story.

For the first time in years the entire Birch family will be spending Christmas together under one roof, no thanks to elder daughter, 32-year old Olivia, a disaster-relief physician who just spent 6 weeks in Liberia fighting an Ebola-like Haag epidemic. The family decides to ride out the one-week quarantine at Weyfield Hall, their dilapidated country estate.

Thrown together with little to occupy themselves, and cut off from the outside world (even their Wi-Fi is spotty at best), all their disagreements, resentments, and secrets, both old and new, come bubbling up.

Father Andrew, a restaurant critic secretly hates food, and longs for the glory days as a globe-trotting war correspondent. Mother Emma is trying to shield her family from the cancer diagnosis so they could enjoy their time together. Olivia's secret relationship with a fellow doctor could potentially be dire for the whole household. Younger, and unabashedly frivolous, Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding while secretly having second thoughts about her fiance George. None of them are prepared for the charming stranger who turns up at the door - Andrew's son from a one-night stand while on assignment in the Middle East.

"Hornak writes with a sense of irony and an eye on today's social issues... Fans of contemporary English stories such as those by Jane Green or Jenny Colgan will enjoy this novel about the shaky recovery of family bonds." (Library Journal)

* * = 2 starred reviews