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Season's Readings 2016

This is our annual collection of Library Season's Readings staff book recommendations.

My Own Words

By Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams

Reviewer: Kristine E. Kasbohm, Director, ALB Library

Best Seller      KF373.G565 G56 2016 

Justice Ginsburg’s introduction credits Vladimir Nabokov, her literature professor at Cornell University, with teaching her that “words could paint pictures”. It is her writing style that makes this sampling of her work eminently readable. The book is not meant to be biographical though Hartnett and Williams do use biographical information to provide context.  The collection ranges from an editorial Ginsburg wrote for her 8th grade school newspaper to her “Highlights of the US Supreme Court’s 2015-16 Term.” Ginsburg’s discussion of her friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia is especially compelling. The book as a whole provides a fascinating look into both the personal and professional life of a dynamic and pioneering woman.    

Looking for Alaska.

By John Green      

Reviewer: Jessie Blum, Instruction and Reference Librarian

Curric Center             PZ7.G8233 Lo 2005


“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

I reread John Green’s Looking for Alaska this fall after it was named the “Most Frequently Challenged Book” by the American Library Association for the previous year.  I was struck by the beauty of his words and the utter heartbreak of the story where time is measured in before and after.  The maturity of Green’s characters and themes are unparalleled in YA fiction.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind           

By Yuval Noah Harari

Reviewer Joel Cohen,  part-time Reference Librarian, and former ALB Library Director

Best Sellers CB113.H4 H3713 2015

Author Yuval Noah Harari offers a unique perspective of the history of humans and our human species, Homo sapien. The book uses chemistry, physics, and biology to describe our evolution. Harari denotes several megatrends in our species, all stemming from what he calls the Cognitive Revolution: the tendencies toward empire, religion, and science. He questions the nature of our “progress” –even whether we are better off than our hunter-gatherer forbears. Harari speculates about the destruction of other human species (e.g. Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis), to say nothing of the proven destruction of non-human species, by us, the Sapiens. This is not a particularly uplifting book, but with its unique perspective of human history, well worth the read.

The Poznan Project : The Poznan region marriage indexing project for 1800-1899

Reviewer: Lisa Sullivan, Collection Services / Instruction Librarian - Head of Curriculum Center

This is one of my go-to websites when I am working on my Polish side of the family’s genealogy. This is a free searchable database of the 19th century marriage records from the province of Poznan (originally part of Prussia, but now in Poland). This is only an index, but it contains very valuable information for genealogical researchers. The records usually contain most of the following information:  the groom’s name, the bride’s name, their ages, if they are widowed, their parents’ names, the year of the marriage, the location of the marriage and the type (Catholic, Lutheran or civil). This database has provided me with invaluable hints and has allowed me to research much further than I had thought was possible.

Mss. 42 Collection of Nancy Powell                

Reviewer Kathleen De Laney, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian

Special Collections


Will Cannon lived at 421 Ashland Avenue, Buffalo, NY when Jupiter would have been the evening star until July 10, 1895, then the morning star for the rest of the year. That’s when he co-opted a little diary from a relative to use its blank pages to fill with penciled cursive writings. He wrote about his school life on Washington St. at Canisius.

His Standard Diary of 1895 measures 2-1/2”x3-1/2”. His early days at Canisius occupied a litany of classes—“Arithmatic [sic] Catechism … Grammer [sic].” Spring was filled with social walks along Delaware and Delevan, trips with “the boys of the 2nd Division to a baseball meeting in the afternoon.” He writes of St. Michael’s Church, and playing at “the Villa where they had a game of ball with a score of 11-12.” He procrastinates, recounts the near drowning of a classmate, and itemizes expenses for a cap, prayer book, and candy noting he’s “Dead Broke.”

Not a great book, yet it reminds me that this Jesuit, Catholic College inspired a student 121 years ago. Will Cannon lives on through his words in a forgotten diary donated to a college in a City he might still partially recognize.  Today’s diaries can do that for tomorrow’s students.

Last September, Nancy Powell of North Wales, PA., generously transcribed and donated Will’s diary to the college Archives and Special Collections.  Ms. Powell, a former museum curator, found it among the papers of her late paternal grandmother. Any connection to the writer of the diary and her family has been lost.

Visit the Rev. J. Clayton Murray Archives and Special Collections, BL-204, where many more donated gems like Will’s diary share a permanent home. They have stories to tell.,204,203,200_.jpg

Parrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds

By Catherine A. Toft  and Timothy F. Wright

Reviewer: Rosalie Serba, Collection Services Coordinator

While downloading eBooks that were purchased for the library, I came across one that immediately caught my eye. Probably because for 18 years I have shared my home with the species on the cover and am eager to learn as much as I can about them.

Parrots of the Wild explores recent scientific discoveries and evolutionary roots of parrots and how their ancestry was determined. Catherine A. Toft and Tim Wright explain the evolutionary history of parrots and how this history affects perceptual and cognitive abilities, diet, foraging patterns, mating and social behaviors. The authors also discuss conservation status and the various ways different populations are adapting to a world that is rapidly changing. The information you take away after reading this book is valuable to anyone who shares their life with a parrot (or four), and wants to meet the needs of their feathered family in captivity.

The Light Between Oceans

By M.L. Stedman         

Reviewer: Patricia Coward, Assessment Coordinator

Book Shelves            PR9619.4.S735 L54 2012

This novel, first published in 2012 (and now in paperback), was turned into a film this past year, starring Michael Fassbinder and Alicia Vikander. The film came out with mixed reviews, mostly praising it for its cinematography, and that is one of the reasons I would recommend this book. The story line is less satisfactory than the poetic descriptions of the shores and islands off the southwest coast of Australia. In her first novel, Stedman captures the post-World War I era as modernity begins to permeate the farther reaches of the Australian coast. The plot centers around two main characters, Tom Sherbourne, the WWI veteran haunted by his war experiences, and Isabel Graysmark, the free-spirited woman he marries and takes to a remote lighthouse that sits at the nexus of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But the main characters in this story are not the humans; they are the lighthouse, the island on which is sits, and the seascape that surrounds them. The seas have moods and seasons that set the backdrop for the somewhat melodramatic but not entirely maudlin story of the lighthouse keepers’ dilemma when they find an infant and her dead father washed up on shore after a storm. The couple choose, against their better judgment, to raise the child as their own. Their secret is revealed to the family of the birth mother, and from there, the human drama overtakes the natural drama of the seas.

Stedman’s knowledge and understanding of the lighthouses that dot seascapes around the world are what makes this a “good read.” She brings the reader into the intimate daily rhythm of “keeping” a lighthouse—polishing the lenses, oiling the bearings that turn the light to cast its beam across the seas. She is able to show both the loneliness and routine, much sought after by the war-scarred Sherbourne, of keeping the lighthouse as well as the domesticity brought by his new bride as she adjusts to her husband’s need for solitude.

All the Light We Cannot See : A Novel

By Anthony Doerr

Reviewer: Patricia Coward, Assessment Coordinator

PS3604.O34 A77 2014   Book Shelves

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, All the Light We Cannot See captures the imagination and takes the reader to France, first Paris, and then to the Normandy coast just before World War II. The plot centers on two characters, Marie, the blind daughter of a locksmith who works for the Museum of Natural History in Paris and Werner, a young boy growing up in an orphanage in Germany with his sister. The novel is structured in very brief chapters that capture moments in the lives of the two main characters, jumping from one to the other and back again as the plot follows their maturation from young children discovering their worlds (Marie learning to navigate the streets of Paris using a detailed miniature model constructed by her father and Werner, listening to radio broadcasts he pulls in from across Europe on a small crystal radio he constructs) to their young adulthood when they are caught in the chaos of war.

The plot of this novel verges on “magical realism,” in the form of a legendary jewel, the “Sea of Flames,” which legend says is cursed. The jewel is so valuable that the Natural History Museum where Marie’s father worked, created three copies, and distributed the four objects to four different employees as the Nazis moved toward Paris. None of the employees knew the authenticity of their gems, so each treated them as if they were the real one. The novel follows Marie and her father as they escape Paris, find refuge in Normandy, and she is confronted by the Nazi gemologist who is searching for the legendary jewel.

What is compelling about this novel is how it weaves the lives of the two characters into parallel existences until they intersect at the conclusion of the war. Initially seen as the “red herring,” the “Sea of Flames” becomes a central feature of the novel, but the reader is not aware, until the end, of how central it really is. The New York Times praised the novel with this:  “Tackling questions of survival, endurance and moral obligations during wartime, the book is as precise and artful and ingenious as the puzzle boxes the heroine’s locksmith father builds for her” (“The 10 Best Books of 2014,” Dec. 4, 2014).

Ty Cobb : A Terrible Beauty      

By Charles Leerhsen

Reviewer: Matt Kochan, Public Access Coordinator

Book Shelves           GV865.C6 L44 2015

Daniel Okrent (former Time editor) once described Ty Cobb as "an embarrassment to the game" of baseball.  He had a reputation as an extremely dirty ballplayer, along with being a psychopath.  Most of Cobb's reputation had been tarnished by an unauthorized biographer and other writings which amplified those myths. Cobb was a tough player, but accounts of teammates and opponents alike indicated that he wasn't any dirtier than any other player of his very tough era. Many players fought in that time period. Cobb racist, as most accounts report? No more than anyone else in his time, and, in fact, he was highly supportive when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Ty Cobb was far from perfect, but he was also far from being a beast, as he is so often portrayed.  This may be the most important book regarding baseball history.

All the Birds in the Sky

By Charlie Jane Anders

Reviewer: Lee Ann Kostempski, Circulation

All the Birds in the Sky, a debut novel from Charlie Jane Anders, has been included on several Best Books of 2016 lists, and for good reason! It's a near-future fantasy and science fiction story about a witch named Patricia and a 'mad scientist' named Laurence. After befriending each other in their youth only to go their separate ways, they find their paths intersecting again in adulthood -- for better or worse. Both are working on projects to save the human race, but despite their shared goal their solutions to the problem clash, which might spell disaster not just for Patricia and Laurence's relationship, but for the whole world. Many reviews praise this book for being unlike any other stories out there. It's a great blend of fantasy and science fiction, with themes of climate change, human nature, and the ways in which science and magic are more alike than you might think.

Words and Pictures             

Reviewer : Christine Jaworski, Reference Librarian

Words and Pictures        PN1995.9.M27 Words DVD         

I took out a movie from our library titled Words and Pictures.  It was really insightful in taking a look at what is a more effective communication medium…words or visuals.  The conclusion was that both have a place – Happy Ending!  What methods of communication resonate most with your brain? 

A Hundred Thousand Worlds

By Bob Proehl

Reviewer: Jeff Proehl, Library Technology Specialist

Best Sellers PS3616.R643 H86 2016

It may be a bit of a biased choice, but my favorite book this year is my brother's first published novel, A Hundred Thousand Worlds. The book follows a mother and son and an entertaining cast of characters as they travel across the country appearing at comic conventions. The book is full of stories being told and created as we learn more about the characters and the ultimate reason for traveling to California.