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Check It Out

Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, January 9, 2000

Good Books Overlooked In Rush To 2000

At this time of year librarians are barraged with lists of the past year's best or most notable books. I'm always happy to note that many of the distinguished titles were already recommended in this column, however there is never enough room to review every good book so today I want to make up for a few omissions from the past few months. Of course I haven't had time to read all of these titles but they have been highly recommended by colleagues, friends and critics. All are available through your public library. I also want to note the arrival of librarian David Locker to this column. He will be bringing another point of view to readers by writing one column a month.

Ahab's Wife: Or the Star Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund (William Morrow, 1999).

Melville devoted only 10 sentences to Ahab's wife in his classic Moby Dick. From this scant evidence Louisville author and professor, Sena Jeter Naslund creates not only an amazing woman but a rich tale set in New England, Kentucky and on the high seas and peopled with a cast of characters who are memorable. I particularly want to recommend this book to all serious book groups. There is a lot of material here for a really enjoyable evening's discussion. At almost 700 pages it took me several weekends and many evenings to complete, now I want to re-read it with pen in hand to make notes and be prepared for a good discussion. This book is also available as an abridged audio book.

A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle (Viking, 1999).

The first volume of a proposed trilogy set in 1916 during the Irish Rebellion, this work has been hailed by critics as Doyle's best yet. The author of such works as The Commitments and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Doyle weaves a picaresque story of a young man whose desperately poor circumstances force him to become an IRA assassin. Adding real historical figures (his depiction of famed rebel Michael Collins is masterful) and events into Henry's adventurous life, Doyle creates an engaging tale of Ireland's fight for freedom from British rule. Audio book fans will find an abridged version available.

Eddie's Bastard by William Kowalski (HarperCollins, 1999).

The tale of Billy Mann, the youngest in a long line of small town heroes who lives with his drunken grandfather and learns about life by reading diaries and letters left behind by his soldier forbearers. Here is a coming-of-age story that is humorous, historical, and heartbreaking.. First time novelist Kowalski's writing craft is impressive. Also available as an audio book.

Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth (Doubleday, 1999).

An obsessed writer tries to reenact the military exploits of his hero, Lord Nelson, but an incident of horrifying brutality which occurred during Nelson's military career causes him to personify Nelson's dark side. Booker Prize-winning writer Unsworth has created an unusual story that is highly recommended by a good friend whose judgment I trust implicitly. I have given it to my husband to read for a second opinion.

The Unburied by Charles Palliser (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999).

Invited to spend the Christmas holidays with an old friend in the cathedral of Thurchester, an unworldly academic continues his search into a haunting, two-hundred-year-old mystery with ties to both a medieval manuscript and to terrifying events in the present. Like Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" , this novel is set in a scholarly community and features a lost manuscript. Lovers of mysteries and suspense will find this hard to put down.

The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (MacMurray and Beck, 1999).

If you are looking for a slender book that reads quickly, but is not lightweight, here is the one to try. Through a series of short stories the author traces the ownership of a forgotten Vermeer painting back through the centuries to the subject herself, Vermeer's daughter Magdalena. The New York Times Book reviewer Katy Emck described it as " Intelligent, searching and unusual, … filled with luminous moments; like the painting it describes so well, it has a way of lingering in the reader's mind."

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.