Jane Pyper - City Librarian, Toronto Public Library
Jane Pyper is the City Librarian for the Toronto Public Library and an avid reader!
Non-fiction, but reads like a novel that you can't stop reading. It follows the lives of six people who live in a slum right beside the ever expanding Mumbai airport, trying to make their way forward and up against big and sometimes unpredictable obstacles. The detail and on the ground descriptions give you a better understanding than statistics can about the complexity of modern India and its unfolding "economic miracle". No wonder the author is a MacArthur Genius.
It's a simple story, simply told - a young Irish woman comes to New York to make a new life in the 1950s. It's beautifully written and I was completely engaged by Eilis' story and what happens to her as she considers the pull of her new home over her old one.
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How could a librarian not love this book? First, it is about a book, the incredibly precious Haggadah born in 1480 and transported through Tarragona, Venice, Vienna and finally Sarajevo. Secondly, the main characters are a rare book conservator and a librarian (like I said, what's not to love?). It is a thrilling historical mystery but it is also about the importance of books and preserving our heritage and our culture in the face of persecution and war.
If you thought you knew everything about Toronto and its history, then read this book and learn something new. It tells the story of Lucie and Thornton Blackburn, escaped slaves who came to Canada and made their life in Toronto. Founders of the city's first taxi service, committed abolitionists, they lived in a house by the foot of the Don River and their story was lost until an archaeological dig uncovered their house and Frost researched their story.
This tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, but it also tells the story of her cells, which were taken without her knowledge, and went on to be used repeatedly in medical research and sold to labs over and over again. It is a fascinating exploration of the issue of ethics in medicine, race relations and scientific research - as Henrietta's daughter says, "If our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can't afford to see no doctors?" Skloot spent so much time on this book and with Lacks' family, that you have a real sense of Henrietta and her family. Soon to be a movie - read the book first!
Brown tells the story of his severely disabled son, Walker, born with a very rare condition. Brown tells us what it is like to live with Walker and the impossibility of ever knowing Walker, while sharing with us his research into his son's condition and the work of people like Jean Vanier, who has dedicated his life to working with people with intellectual disabilities. I found this book immensely moving. It gets to the heart of what it is to be human and what it means to live with and for others.
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We all waited anxiously for the next book from Bezmozgis after Natasha and other Stories and this novel is that book. A family of Jews leaves the Soviet Union in the 1970s and en route to their new lives, ends up in an in-between place on the outskirts of Rome. This is a funny and unsentimental account of the process of becoming, not yet there, enmeshed in family, yearning for escape.
I know nothing about the sea and very little about the Napoleonic wars but these sea-faring novels are so entertaining, I relish every gale wind, every creak of the mast and every naval skirmish. I've parcelled them out - one book a summer - to make them last. Start with Master and Commander - skip the movie, read the book(s).