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November 2016 Staff Picks

disappearance-in-damascusBrenda’s Pick: Disappearance in Damascus by Deborah Campbell

I had heard an interview with Deborah Campbell on CBC radio and watched for her book, Disappearance in Damascus. Her story begins just after Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and she is working as an underground journalist in Damascus, Syria. She meets a “fixer” named Ahlam and the lives of these two women intertwine. Deborah’s descriptions of the conflict there and her insight into the causes of the war brought some clarity for me about the situation in the Middle East. Sometimes a first-hand account makes more sense than reading bare facts or listening to political rhetoric and this book took me on a journey with the author. The second part of the story is through the eyes of Ahlam, the one who disappeared. The book puts a very human face on this area and shows people living and struggling to keep a semblance of some kind of normal while everything around them is crumbling. I found the telling of it honest and eye-opening.

nost_poster_hiresBrenda’s Pick: Nostalgia for the light by Patricio Guzmán (dir.)

Nostalgia for the light is an elegant award-winning documentary from 2010, but it has a timeless, almost poetic quality. In Spanish with English subtitles, the filmmaker, Patricio Guzman combines astronomy and geology along with a poignant search for bones in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the driest place on the planet. The atmosphere here is so thin that astronomers come from all over the world to observe the sky, stars and planets with huge telescopes. At the same time there are anthropologists studying mummified remains from previous civilizations…and in other places in this desert are women searching and sifting sand for any evidence of bodies of their loved ones who were dumped here by by the Chilean army under Pinochet in the 1970’s. The differences and yet the similarities of these searches are woven together in this film in a unique and beautiful way. I have viewed this film several times and each time have found it deeply moving.

wallander_s4Deb’s Pick: Wallander, Season 4  Starring Kenneth Branagh

The last segment of this popular detective series, The Troubled Man, is so far and above anything that has been put forth in this genre, that it left me thinking about it for weeks. Season 4’s conclusion engages the viewer and the suspense is  visceral. I clicked off the screen knowing that, over and above his Shakespearian training, Kenneth Branaugh is a master. His aging Wallander has the scope of King Lear, a once-top-of-his-game man clutching his acuities. We feel helpless watching.

peggy-gugDeb’s Pick: Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern By Francine Prose

This is a fascinating and candid portrait of a powerhouse woman who brought modern art out of the closet pre-WWII. She singlehandedly shaped the contemporary art world in an era when original work was being destroyed and well-known artists were being imprisoned for the content of their expressions. Peggy Guggenheim was not a likable person. She often sacrificed fairness and kindness for personal gratification. She was warped by her wealth and by those who took advantage of it. In spite of this, and because of this, her collections thrived. Peggy Guggenheim’s interest in modern art outshone the superficial, inconceivable details of her well-heeled exhibitionist (!) life.

lost-and-foundDot’s Pick: The Lost and the Found By Cat Clarke

A twisty psychological thriller about a girl whose older sister is found thirteen years after she was abducted from their front yard. But is she really who she claims to be?

A clever plot, well-developed characters and also some interesting commentary about how kidnappings are publicized and the way in which victims of crime and their families are treated by the tabloid media.

The Lost and the Found explores the heights of tensions and the depths of personal tragedy. A compelling read.

lindsey-stirling-brave-enough-album-coverJoanne’s Pick Brave Enough by Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling is an awesome violinist and composer.  This album features a wide variety of music styles  from classical to pop, Celtic rock and even rap.  You may have heard some of her songs that have been features in movies such as Lord of the Rings and Pete’s Dragon or TV productions such as Game of Thrones and Broadway.  Shes very talented and so are the vocal artist in this album.

Chef Damon Baehrel in his auxillary kitchen. Baehrel uses plants, herbs, barks, and mosses sourced from his property to create his signature dishes.Megan’s Pick “The Most Exclusive Restaurant in America” The New Yorker August 29, 2016 by Nick Paumgarten 


It’s not every day you find a food story that has a bit of mystery and intrigue, but this profile by Nick Paumgarten about the most exclusive restaurant in America (and maybe even the world) delivers both. Damon Baehrel, the chef and owner of the restaurant named after him, is the focus of this profile, which begins by exploring the awe-inspiring food served, and grown at the restaurant. But as the story unfolds Paumgarten begins to peel back the layers. Is Baehrel really the untrained chef maestro that he portrays himself to be? Is his restaurant really fully booked until 2025? This well crafted article will keep you guessing.

ongoingnessSonia’s Pick: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Ongoingness is a memoir about motherhood, time, and language. For 25 years of her life, Manguso, a poet and essayist, systematically and obsessively recorded nearly every detail of her life in diaries, as a “defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.”  In this memoir, she revisits the contents of those diaries without quoting from them directly or, thankfully, holding tight to the details that had seemed so precious to her at the time she recorded them. The resulting text alternates between washes and distillations, in the end becoming a formal meditation in which the thousands of pages of the diaries are seemingly everywhere and nowhere in this slender book of 144 pages. The way she describes her changing relationship to time, perpetuated by the birth of her son, is poignant and understated. In fact, the whole book is both of the these things – the opposite of what we imagine the original diaries to be. In her own words: “The goal being a form no one notices, the creation of what seems like pure feeling, not of what seems like a vehicle for a feeling. Language as pure experience, pure memory. I too wanted to achieve that impossible effect.”