Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 7, 2023

Spring into March with new book recommendations.

First up, we've got one, two, three staff recs for the latest work of scientific investigation by Milwaukeean (and two-time Pulitzer finalist) Dan Egan - The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance. First, from our proprietor Daniel Goldin: "It’s almost like a child’s riddle: What’s one thing you can have too much of and not enough of at the same time? The traditional sources of phosphorus are disappearing, and the element, a key fertilizer ingredient that is vital to keeping the world fed, is being overused in agriculture. Today’s prime villains are corporate mega-farms that are exempt from the Clean Air Act, leading to runoff that is poisoning our waterways. As in The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Egan’s historical research, expert reporting, and storytelling skills combine to lay out a problem that must be addressed before it’s too late."

Next, from Tim McCarthy: "Dan Egan is a great storyteller, and this is the full story of phosphorus, an essential ingredient to all life on Earth. From the opening page when a Florida man almost dies of the effects of too much phosphorus, to the contrasting crisis over the depletion of this limited natural resource, Egan describes the broken natural cycle of what many people know simply as fertilizer. Personally, I’m deeply committed to the topic, having spent years teaching children about the environment, and yet I confess that I was not expecting Egan to captivate me with phosphorus. He did. The plain-spoken and dramatic way he conveys information is what works the magic. Well, that and amazing tales of alchemy, battlefield scavenging, the human population explosion, soap bubbles, algae blooms, and so much more. Ok, so here’s my second confession in a row. I haven’t read Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. That mistake will soon be corrected!"

And finally, Kay Wosewick adds: "Egan makes phosphorus a fascinating and easily digestible subject. Run-off from fertilizers is a problem many of us near Lake Michigan know about, but the green stuff often seen blooming today is not algae. It’s photosynthesizing bacteria (cyanobacteria), which is highly toxic to man and animals alike. These outbreaks are now common in places as different as the Gulf of Mexico, Florida water canals, and natural pools of water where elephants drink. Once phosphorus enters non-sewage waterways such as these, it is pretty much unrecoverable. Add to that a fixed, rapidly dwindling supply of phosphorus, and a new environmental crisis is making news. Egan does offer several avenues of hope in this fast-paced, true thriller."

Please note that our launch-day event featuring Egan at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is currently at capacity and there is no wait list. However, keep an eye on our upcoming events page and our weekly email newsletter for an announcement about a future Egan event!

Our next two recommendations also come from Daniel. First up, it's Pineapple Street, the new novel from power-editor-turned-debut-novelist Jenny Jackson. Daniel says: "Ever since Edith Wharton, great novelists have been writing about the vagaries of life among the moneyed classes of New York. But it’s always Manhattan. Surely there’s a novel about old Brooklyn money? Indeed, there is, and what a delicious tale Pineapple Street is! The three Stockton siblings have more money than most of us can imagine, but that doesn’t mean they make better decisions than the rest of us. Darley? She invoked the generation skipping trust when she wouldn’t have her husband sign the prenup. Georgina? She finally meets Mr. Right, only he might be Mr. Wrong. And Cord? He might have committed the worst sin of all, marrying a middle-class woman who is mistaken for the caterer. It is she, Sasha, who guides us into the world of money, the Tom Townsend of the group, for those who obsess over the film Metropolitan. But by the end of the story, our sympathies have extended quite a bit further, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments along the way. Someone compared Jackson’s first novel to The Nest (or rather, everyone has) and I have to say, it’s about the best comparison I can come up with, too. And I loved The Nest, so connect the dots."

Sounds great, no? Even greater - the March installment of Readings from Oconomowaukee features Jenny Jackson in convo with Daniel and Books & Company proprietor Lisa Baudoin, and they'll be joined on the virtual event call by Milwaukee author Lauren Fox, one of Jackson's editees. Now that's a jam packed event! It's Wednesday, March 22, at 2 pm central. Click here, find out more, and register now.

Daniel also recommends In Memoriam, the new novel by Alice Winn. Of this, he says: "Despite the age requirement of 19 to be a British army solider, there is much pressure at In Memoriam’s boarding school to enlist earlier, what with the rah-rah nature of the student newspaper and the shaming words of the white feather girls. So enlist they do -  and war’s horrors await. In addition to focusing on the quasi-closeted nature of the special friendship at the center of the novel, Winn touches on the race and class tensions of the time, as well as the growing awareness that the British empire may not withstand the confrontation, whether they win or lose. It’s hard to believe that a novel could be so brutal and so romantic at the same time, but that’s the case for Alice Winn’s passionate debut."

Kay also has another rec for us this week, Birnam Wood, the latest from Booker Prize finalist Eleanor Catton. Kay says: "This complex, masterfully paced thriller is set in New Zealand, where a group of young adults secretly grow food on other people’s land. An American billionaire's arrival wreaks wide-ranging havoc on land and lives alike. Tension builds from the first chapter thanks to rich inner monologues of key characters."

And now, it's back to Tim, for his take on Palace of Books, the latest from author/illustrator Patricia Polacco. Tim says: "Patricia Polacco is an iconic picture book author and illustrator. Her stories and distinctive art work rise to the level of beloved children's Americana. Palace of Books is her own story, that of a young girl who moves to the city, away from the family farm where her grandfather taught her to love and protect birds. She's fortunate to have a new teacher who understands her problems with reading and values her drawings and connection to nature. She's even luckier to discover a grand public library, where a welcoming librarian shows her a rare copy of John James Audubon's prints. When her class rallies around her, the school creates something lasting and very special. In the process, Polacco sets out on the road to becoming an artist and amateur ornithologist. It's a loving and beautifully detailed personal story that touched my heart."

In paperback releases this week, we've got a legacy rec to share from former Boswellian Julio Garcia for Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana. Of this book, Julio says: "What are the Arlee Warriors playing for? In 2018, a small basketball team of Indigenous high school students from the Flathead Reservation powered their way to the Montana State Championship, which they won despite being out-manned and out-muscled. Despite the success of this team, Abe Streep goes and tries to answer the question that looms for the team: What's next? Through following members of the team, Streep gives an in-depth and personal account on what this championship means for the community of Arlee, what the next step for the players are, and tries to answer the question: What are the Arlee Warriors playing for? This is a book of heartbreak, joy, and a new perspective on the coming-of-age tale."

We'll see you next week with more great books. Until then, read on!