Tag Archives: book review

Life, on the Line: Book Review

Cover via Amazon

Life on the Line: a chef’s story of chasing greatness, facing death,
and redefining the way we eat
By Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

You do not have to be a fan of upscale dining to love this book by Chicago chef and founder of Alinea, Grant Achatz, about his rise to the top of his profession and his battle with cancer. Anyone who is interested in achieving excellence will find inspiration in the story of Achatz’ education as a chef and his ambition to open his own restaurant and push the boundaries of what is possible with both food preparation and the dining experience. I could not put this book down, and the Chicago connection made it even more engrossing. This was my top book of 2011!

Written by Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

#BookThatChangedYourWorld: Julie Keating

Image via Amazon.com

The art of happiness : a handbook for living / the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
294.3444 B916a

I read this book when I was going through a difficult time in my life, and suffering from severe anxiety. I found this book to be very helpful. You may think that this book would be very dense and difficult to read, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is written in a very accessible style as a series of conversations. The Dalai Lama believes that you can train your mind to exist in a happier state. He believes that “you can overcome your negative mental states  through the application of the “antidote”, or the corresponding positive mental state.” It was very instructive to me at the time that it was possible to have power over my negative emotions.  He touches on dealing with issues stemming from anger, anxiety, suffering, grief, and self esteem. You do not have to be a Buddhist to appreciate this book. Issues are discussed in a very practical, common sense manner with helpful ideas for everyone to consider.

One of the passages in the book that stood out to me was about grief:

“For those people who do not believe in rebirth, then I think there are still some simple ways to help deal with the loss. First, they could reflect that if they worried too much, allowing themselves to be too overwhelmed by the sense of loss and sorrow, and if they carried on with that feeling of being overwhelmed, not only would it be very destructive and harming to themselves, ruining their health, but also it would not have any benefit to the person who has passed away.

“For example, in my own case, I have lost my most respected tutor, my mother, and also one of my brothers. When they passed away, of course, I felt very, very sad. Then I constantly kept thinking that it’s no use to worry too much, and if I really loved these people, then I must try to fulfill their wishes with a calm mind. So I try my best to do that. So I think if you’ve lost someone who is very dear to you, that’s the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person.

“Initially, of course, feelings of grief and anxiety are a natural human response to a loss. But if you allow these feelings of loss and worry to persist, there’s a danger; if these feelings are left unchecked, they can lead to a kind of self-absorption. A situation where the focus becomes your own self. And when that happens you become overwhelmed by the sense of loss, and you get a feeling that it’s only you who is going through this. Depression sets in. But in reality, there are others who will be going through the same kind of experience. So, if you find yourself worrying too much, it may help to think of the other people who have similar or even worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you no longer feel isolated, as if you have been singlepointedly picked out. That can offer you some kind of condolence.”

      —The Dalai Lama (1935-), in The Art of Happiness (pub. 1998) 

I know that being a student is very stressful, and anxiety plagues many of us. For those interested, I would recommend two other books here in the ECC library to help deal with the stresses of modern life:

Wherever you go, there you are : mindfulness meditation in
everyday life / Jon Kabat-Zinn 155.9042 K11w

 The relaxation response / by Herbert Benson 616.132 B474R

–Submitted by Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

African American History Month and Science Fiction

Quick: can you name an African-American science fiction author?  Author Octavia E. Butler has re-emerged after being overlooked.  Chicago Tribune writer John Warner notes that her prominence took a back seat “likely because she was a woman and African-American.” 

Butler described a future that is coming true today.  In Parable of the Sower, from 1993, her dystopian setting is characterized by “climate change, economic inequality, and unchecked corporate power” (Warner 10).  These predictions so inspired an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that students are now designing “survival packs” for an exhibition honoring Butler’s creation of a character who keeps going, no matter what (Rockett 8).

The next book in the series, Parable of the Talents(owned by ECC), takes the character Lauren into her adult life and that of her daughter, to face a government that persecutes religious and ethnic minorities in the name of “making America great again.”  Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Prefer your dystopias less realistic?  Check out ECC’s copy of Butler’s Wild Seed:  Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Or how about vampires?  In Fledgling(on display at ECC), Shori states, “When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.” Shori, the only dark-skinned member of a vampiric race, appears to be a black, ten-year-old human girl, but in fact she’s a 50-something Ina woman. (Cox, 10 Octavia Butler Quotes).

The title that is being taught in high schools is Butler’s Kindred, from 1976.  In this time-shifting narrative, a modern woman is wrenched back in time to save the slave-owner who will father her own great-grandmother.

References: Cox, Carolyn. “10 Octavia Butler Quotes to Live By.” The Portalist, 22 Jun 2017, https://theportalist.com/octavia-butler-quotes-to-live-by.

Rockett, Darcel. “A showcase of ‘visionary muscles’: Octavia Butler book inspires exhibit from SAIC students.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Dec 2018. Life + Style, pp. 8-9.

Warner, John. “Worried about climate change?: 2 Octavia Butler books written in the 1990s seem prescient today.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Oct 2018. Life + Style, p. 10.

*All covers courtesy of Amazon.com

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

100 iconic love stories from around the world

For your reading list pleasure on Valentine’s Day, we bring you 100 love stories from around the world (courtesy of Kimberly Mays). This list will show you titles from each country with a brief synopsis. Find your love today!

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

When you write your first novel, you do not expect it to be short-listed for the National Book Award!  Erika L. Sánchez, a daughter of Mexican immigrants from Cicero, Illinois, at first had her novel rejected because agents found her teenage heroine too angry and sarcastic.


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Call Number: Fic S209i           Publication Date: 2017

When the sister who delighted their parents by her faithful embrace of Mexican culture dies in a tragic accident, Julia, who longs to go to college and move into a home of her own, discovers from mutual friends that her sister may not have been as perfect as believed. National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2017. Tomás Rivera Book Award Winner for Older Readers/Young Adult, 2018

Sherman Alexie* won the National Book Award for his first novel, sort of like hitting a home run during your first at-bat.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Call Number: Fic A384a


Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Readers have laughed and cried through this well-written book that mirrors the author’s life. Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.

*(Sidenote: Alexie has been accused of the sexual harassment of several women and there are ongoing questions. See this NPR article from March 2018). 

Neal Shusterman had a long history in YA Literature prior to winning his award – you may remember the popular Unwind series, in which teens are turned in for their parts!


Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman; Brendan Shusterman (Illustrator)
Call Number: Children’s Collection Fic S5626c

Based partly on the true experiences of the author’s son, who is also the book’s illustrator. For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Reference Librarian

#BookThatChangedYourWorld : Barb Evans

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
FIC A355Litt

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

I picked Little Women because it is a lifelong favorite that I have reread at many points in my life. The original edition I read had photos from the 1933 movie starring Katharine Hepburn. I still have that book.The sisters in the book helped change my outlook on how to be in the world.They were striving to be their best and yet to have humility.

I was just turning eleven when I first read Little Women. I found it on a book shelf at home during the summer and read it on our front porch.

The first time I read the book I was struck by the tragedy of Beth’s untimely death at age 19. This quote in the chapter Beth’s Secret was one of the saddest things I had ever read:

“I only mean to say that I have a feeling that it never was intended I should livelong. I’m not like the rest of you. I never made any plans about what I’d do when I grew up. I never thought of being married, as you all did. I couldn’t seem to imagine myself anything but stupid little Beth, trotting about at home,of no use anywhere but there.”

My runner-up title was Jane Eyre.

Barbara Evans

–Submitted by Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York-Book review


Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
By Deborah Blum
614.13 B658p

Interested in true crime? Have you watched all the Forensic Files episodes on Netflix? This book is the story of how forensics began in the early decades of the 20th century, and what cases were pivotal in developing some of the techniques used to pinpoint the guilty.

Although substantive work had been done in chemistry in the 1800s, most physicians didn’t know how to isolate those compounds as processed by the human body. Furthermore, coroners or medical examiners were often appointed positions, with little expectation that they would possess specific knowledge needed for this type of detective work. Enter Charles Norris, who, along with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, was able to set up a methodical system that became the basis for modern forensics.

Each of the eleven chapters cover a different poison, and the time period varies from the years 1915-the mid-30s. You will recognize some of the poisons, such as cyanide or arsenic, but others such as wood alcohol or thallium may be unfamiliar. Each poison is illustrated by a case involving that poison. Some cases involve the poor and unknown, and some were media sensations. All throughout the retelling, the author tells a spellbinding tale of how Norris and his team dedicated themselves to finding justice for the victims (the chapter on radium is particularly heart-wrenching.)

Part history, part science, this work will both horrify and fascinate you and is a worthwhile read for those interested in crime, forensics, and justice.

–Reviewed by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian