Favorite Quotes

"In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you."

— Mortimer Adler

Reader's Link

Browsing all staff pick reviews written by 'curious'

Matter matters

Stuff Matters: exploring the marvelous materials that shape our man-made world

Title: Stuff Matters: exploring the marvelous materials that shape our man-made world
By: Mark Miodownik

Materialism’s redeemed in this polished tour de stuff. For Miodownik, remembrance of things past isn’t evoked by food or scent, but by the steel of a mugger’s knife. Why did the steel blade cut the way it did? What is steel, anyway? Why doesn’t a stainless steel spoon retain the ... [Read more]




Title: Wave
By: Sonali Deraniyagala

Estragon: I can't go on like this. Vladimir: That's what you think. --Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book. I wasn't sure whether I'd review it. I didn't trust myself to "judge" it. I was right to read it. It deals with a ... [Read more]

non-fiction, biography


Green thoughts: a writer in the garden

Title: Green thoughts: a writer in the garden
By: Eleanor Perényi

"Read this." "I'm not a gardener." "Read it anyway." "Read this." "I’m a California gardener, and she lived in Connecticut." "Read it anyway." "Read this." "Why?” “Because it's delightful!" Witty, elegant, earthy; pragmatic, romantic, fantastic: Perényi runs the gamut. Keep this by your bedside for a nightly nip, or gulp ... [Read more]


Finely woven

Silk Road: a new history

Title: Silk Road: a new history
By: Valerie Hansen

History compiled from back-of-the envelope scribbles? Hansen snares one's attention immediately by noting that much of what we surmise about the Silk Road has been pieced together from writing on recycled scraps of paper. She organizes what might have been confusingly episodic material around six key sites, creating a coherent ... [Read more]


Icy hot

We Sinners

Title: We Sinners
By: Hanna Pylväinen

This is a first novel with a precise and biting viewpoint. Or, rather, viewpoints; the perspective shifts repeatedly from one member to another of a large Finnish-American family riven by the religion meant to bind them. Pylvainen’s prose is spare, but there’s lava beneath the surface, always threatening. Will her ... [Read more]


Dude, where's my data?

Tubes: a journey to the center of the Internet

Title: Tubes: a journey to the center of the Internet
By: Andrew Blum

2012 was a good year for offbeat travelogues. (See the review of Andrew Blackwell’s "Visit Sunny Chernobyl" elsewhere in our staff picks.) Tubes is a delightful surprise. Blum begins by tripping over a router cable at home, and ends up, after international gallivanting, with an enlightened perspective on domestic digital ... [Read more]


Watch where he steps

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: and other adventures in the world's most polluted places

Title: Visit Sunny Chernobyl: and other adventures in the world's most polluted places
By: Andrew Blackwell

"Visit Sunny Chernobyl" sounds like an invitation you'd happily refuse. Amazingly, Blackwell manages to make this travelogue of the gruesome darkly entertaining. He neither trivializes horror nor wallows in it. He makes it bearable to consider these sites, and, in so doing, discourages despair. It's a fine fury that drives ... [Read more]



The Tiger's Wife

Title: The Tiger's Wife
By: Téa Obreht

It's an odd moment, when you realize that you might be in the presence of greatness. The shiver that goes down your spine is unmistakable. You don't know whether the writer or composer or choreographer has hit a once-in-a-lifetime bulls-eye, or whether this is just the first of many astonishments. ... [Read more]


Light in the tunnel

London Under

Title: London Under
By: Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd's "votive offering to the gods who lie beneath London" is also an artifice -- or should that be an edifice? -- of eccentric pedagogy. Like the ever-so-slightly unsettling vicars of period British mysteries whose obsessively detailed leaflets are strewn about churchyards where murder lurks, Ackroyd's no man to ... [Read more]


A font of fonts

Just My Type

Title: Just My Type
By: Simon Garfield

Delectable. For those who relish font variety but cringe at typographic promiscuity, here's a tonic. Garfield has a gift for pedagogy without pedantry; his book conveys a great deal of information without bogging down. The book's design supports his text admirably. The illustrations are crisp, and detailed discussions of a ... [Read more]



A Bittersweet Season

Title: A Bittersweet Season
By: Jane Gross

My father, in his 90s, lives on the opposite coast. I worry about his health, his safety, his security -- and my own. Over the past few years, searching for advice, I’ve tossed out countless newspaper and magazine articles and returned piles of library books half-read. I hesitated before checking ... [Read more]



The anthropology of turquoise: reflections on desert, sea, stone, and sky

Title: The anthropology of turquoise: reflections on desert, sea, stone, and sky
By: Ellen Meloy

Warning: when you discover that Ellen Meloy died suddenly in 2004, you may feel bereft. "I was just getting to know her; how could she disappear?" The consolation is her books. Call them naturalist's memoirs or personalized landscapes or eco-history or (as she did) anthropology, they add up to a ... [Read more]

non-fiction, biography, travel

Soul food

Soul Mountain

Title: Soul Mountain
By: Xingjian Gao

Whether or not the Nobel Committee was looking for an excuse to honor a Chinese writer, they did this one right. Soul Mountain has the intense clarity of mountain light, so sharp it hurts -- and exhilarates. It is also, unexpectedly perhaps, extremely funny, and at times raunchy. It exercises ... [Read more]



Summit Fever

Title: Summit Fever
By: Andrew Greig

Most mountaineering writers are mountaineers first. Poet and novelist Andrew Greig did it the opposite way: he joined an attempt on the “unclimbable” Mustagh Tower as expedition scribe, and emerged a mountaineer. His account of that expedition is an idiosyncratic classic. Greig may have driven his companions crazy with his ... [Read more]

non-fiction, biography, travel
1 Comment

Let the forces be with you

What it feels like to be a building

Title: What it feels like to be a building
By: Forrest Wilson

What does it feel like to be a load-bearing wall? A pitched roof? A door? Forrest Wilson's figures hunch (I am compacted; I am strong), stretch (be careful what you dump on top of that skinny guy), twist (ouch! torque hurts), and cluster (it takes a village to keep a ... [Read more]

1 Comment

Natural genius

Planting the natural garden

Title: Planting the natural garden
By: Piet Oudolf

Piet Oudolf is the genius behind extraordinary gardens at Chicago’s Millenium Park & New York’s Battery and just-opened (2009) High Line parks. His characteristic swathes of grasses and indigenous perennials are a perfect fit for “natural” landscape designs, including so-called green roofs. This is the rare gardening/landscape design book that ... [Read more]


Revenge technology

Why things bite back: technology and the revenge of unintended consequences

Title: Why things bite back: technology and the revenge of unintended consequences
By: Edward Tenner

If the words “we’re upgrading our phone system” make you go “uh-oh,” you’re ready for this book. Tenner is no technophobe. But his scientific bent leads him to wonder whether the claims made for various time- and labor-saving gizmos are accurate. Do devices free us, or complicate our lives? Do ... [Read more]


Saluki hippies

...In the highlands since time immemorial

Title: ...In the highlands since time immemorial
By: Joanna Ostrow

The drawback to reading and loving Joanna Ostrow’s lovely, quirky first novel is the letdown when you discover that this is all you’ll get. No, Ostrow didn’t die young or suffer a public meltdown; following the considerable success of ...In the highlands she talked about working on a second book, ... [Read more]


The funniest travelogue ever?

Into the heart of Borneo

Title: Into the heart of Borneo
By: Redmond O'Hanlon

Possibly the funniest travel memoir ever written, as well as an unexpected gold mine of accurate scientific information. When O'Hanlon invited his Borneo travel companion, the poet James Fenton, on a succeeding journey, the answer was an earbreaking NO! Would most readers want to accompany O'Hanlon? Probably not. But a ... [Read more]

non-fiction, biography, travel

Worth unearthing

A unit of water, a unit of time: Joel White's last boat

Title: A unit of water, a unit of time: Joel White's last boat
By: Douglas Whynott

You’re not likely to stumble upon this gem unless you’re given to browsing technical tomes on boat construction. But oh, how lucky you’d be! This engrossing portrait of a cranky, brilliant craftsman racing against terminal illness is also a family saga: master wooden boat builder Joel White was the son ... [Read more]


Book Kits

To help your book discussion group, we've gathered a collection of popular paperback titles and sorted them into kits which can be sent to you upon request.

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