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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, May 20, 2007

From Nuns to Beauty, New Titles Offer Quirky Reads

One of the best things about being a librarian is seeing the new books first. Sometimes they're anticipated, like the latest offering from a best-selling author. Other times they're sleepers, something unexpectedly interesting or beautiful. Either way, the librarian decides what goes on the new-books shelf.

If you're in a hurry and need something to read, start there. It's where you'll find timely topics, quirky subjects, new authors and plenty of other books selected by folks who have seen it all when it comes to good reading. Here's a sampling from the new books at Central Library:

Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers, by Amy Stewart (Algonquin, 2007).

The long-stemmed anniversary roses, the supermarket mixed bouquet, the bride's bouquet you caught. Ever wonder where they came from? Author Stewart takes us behind the scenes of the cut-flower business. It's fascinating, and not always pretty. Roses come in for some particularly bad press. That gorgeous bloom was quite likely grown in a huge greenhouse in Ecuador, tended by a work force that includes small children. And it was likely dipped from end to end in liquid fungicide before being shipped. On a happier note, imagine the sights and smells at the Dutch flower auction in Aalsmeer, which employs 10,000 people and handles about 20 percent of the world's cut flowers. This is an intriguing look at a little-known industry.

Roadfood Sandwiches, by Jane and Michael Stern (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

This is the latest offering from the Sterns, who travel the country in search of America's classic cuisine. Recipes are fairly simple, with short ingredient lists and basic cooking techniques. Each is accompanied by a short description of the restaurant that features it. These make you want to hop in the car and see the places for yourself. How about the Moosey Breakfast Samich, from Waldorf A' Story in Story, Wyo.? Or, if you had a shorter trip in mind, a Hoosier Reuben from Shapiro's Deli in Indianapolis. Some are fancy, such as the Crab Bruschetta from Bread and Ink Cafe in Portland, Ore. Others are basic, like Elvis' favorite grilled peanut butter and banana, which is sold all over Memphis, Tenn. The Sterns always pair great recipes with good reading - an unbeatable combination.

Forever and Ever, Amen: Becoming a Nun in the Sixties, by Sister Karol Jackowski (Riverhead Books, 2007).

When Karol Jackowski graduated from high school in East Chicago, entering a convent was the last thing her friends and family expected of her. It was 1964 and a turbulent time for the country and for the Catholic Church. Sister Karol and her 49 classmates put on the traditional floor-length black habit when they joined the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Eight years later, the seven remaining sisters who took their final vows wore nylons and business suits.

In between were the years of change wrought by the Second Vatican Council. The author tells the story of her personal journey with irreverent wit, answering our questions about life behind those mysterious doors. It's not hard to visualize Sister Karol driving the "nunmobile," a tanklike Checker cab used for transporting sisters around the city, radio blaring.

Join her as she brings a puppy into the convent, or shares a shot of whiskey with lively but bedridden Sister Concil. Her personal conviction and deep faith shine through the humor to make this an enjoyable and inspiring read.

Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez (Random House, 2007).

A Michigan hairdresser and mother of two, the author joined a humanitarian aid group shortly after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and headed to Afghanistan in the company of teachers and medical personnel. It didn't take long to discover that everyone in Kabul, natives and Westerners alike, needed haircuts as much as hospitals.

Rodriguez helped establish a beauty school and eventually opened her own salon, training hairdressers while giving the women much-needed confidence and independence.

She describes a surprising culture, where the burqa worn in public hides a fondness for heavy dramatic makeup and "big hair." In a land where men are traditionally held superior to women, she uncovers the strength and resilience that carry them through their difficult lives.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.