Check It Out

Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, March 5, 2000

Library Books Won't Tax Your Literary Budget

It feels like Spring will be here early this year. A crop of new books is starting to arrive at the library and it is hard for me to keep up with so many reading possibilities. Many people like to buy new books, but as we get towards April and tax time remember that your public library gives you wonderful returns on your local tax dollars with new books, as well as videos and sound recordings. Most libraries have a good selection of tax assistance guides, and also carry federal and state tax forms and booklets. Tax counseling sessions for the elderly are being offered at all the branch libraries in Evansville. Today's column features both fiction and non-fiction; all titles are available through your public library.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton, 2000).

With the precision and focus of an Old Master's painting, Chevalier paints a vivid portrait of 17th-century Delft, in a fictional account of the girl who posed for one of Vermeer's most famous paintings. Sixteen year old Griet must go from a comfortable life as the daughter of a craftsman to work as a maid in the Vermeer household after he father is blinded in an accident. She becomes the object of jealousy and fascination as she is drawn in to the painter's world and must make a difficult decision. Lovers of historical fiction and art history will be captivated by this slender but memorable story.

All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2000).

A strange but highly plausible world of incredible wealth and poverty is shown through the eyes of several unique characters in this stylish science fiction thriller from a master of the genre. Gibson has created a society where "media" is the number one career, Lucky Dragon convenience stories have new technology that enable objects to be faxed, and the Oakland Bay bridge has ceased to carry traffic and is now an alternative community. The mix of danger, technology and even a little romance will appeal to many readers, not just sci-fi buffs.

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss (Random House, 2000).

Benjamin Weaver is an outsider in eighteenth-century London: a Jew among Christians; a ruffian among aristocrats; a retired pugilist who, in the pay of aristocrats, travels through the criminal underworld in pursuit of debtors and thieves. This book, whose author is a doctoral student of English at Columbia University, is being hailed as "the historical thriller of the year". I found the language a bit too formal for my taste, but if you enjoyed Iain Pear's "An Instance of the Fingerpost" you might want to join the hold list for this one.

The Metcalfe Family Album by Sallyann J. Murphey (Chronicle, 2000).

I was at first fooled by this work of fiction which looks like a family album. The memories of the Metcalfe women start with the writings of Marianne who moved to Corydon, Indiana in 1835 with her husband Joshua Metcalfe and continue through five more generations. Historic mementos, recipes, menus, theater programs, postcards and photographs make this story come to life and seem very real. If you are a scrapbooker you won't want to miss this imaginative example of the craft and you will also want to check out my next suggestion.

A Year of Scrapbooking by Debbie Janasak and Anna Swinney (Time-Life, 1999).

After you look at the Metcalfe Family Album you might be inspired to put together your own family history. Scrapbooking is a fairly recent craft craze that has become very popular. Readers are saying that this is one of the best books on the subject. The layouts are elegant, and the book is a visual treat.

Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen (Random House, 2000).

"I was born in southern China in 1962, in the tiny town of Yellow Stone. They called it the Year of Great Starvation", thus begins a young man's story of growing up during Mao's Cultural Revolution . The book reminded me of "Angela's Ashes", but where Frank McCourt's family was drunken, abusive and poverty stricken, Chen's family were respectable former landowners vilified by the local communist leaders after the revolution. . His father was frequently sent off to work in labor camps and Chen managed to survive by joining a gang of thugs who offered him a measure of protection. There are no notes of self-pity or victimization here, just a lively account of overcoming adversity. Chen's grit, determination, zest for life and sharp eye for character add to the charm of this memoir.

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.