Nick Schenkel


Nick Schenkel is the director of the West Lafayette Public Library, and reviews books from all walks of literature.

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How Rome Fell

Jun 1, 2012

What happened to the greatest empire the Western world has ever known? Historian Adrian Goldsworthy takes up his pen after his marvelously written biography of  Caesar and takes up the epic history of the last centuries of the Roman Empire, telling the story with a novel’s ebb and flow, enough characters to make the eyes and the mind dance, and a few hints here and there about what Rome’s decline may – or may not – portend for our modern world.

Bess, a young professional, is swept into a stranger’s twisted story of love and threat – set in a London gripped by the uncertainty of World War I.  It’s the type of novel that in “olden days” would have been written by Victoria Holt or Phyllis Whitney – but today’s story British manor house intrigue takes up topics Holt and Whitney disdained – Bitter Truth is written with a modern reader in mind.

The America portrayed here by this Depression Era WPA writer’s project is truly a “younger land” – the foodways of America before the US highways of the postwar WW II ear, before the colonization of our highways and even our byways by the national chains and before superstores and microwave cooking changed the way Americans shop and eat. These are until-now-unpublished essays, recipes and even poems of an America still enraptured by its immigrant food traditions – from the coast of New England through the vast rolling plains of the Midwest…from north to south, east to west.

Stratton-Porter had talents and intelligence that brought her one of the largest reading audiences of the 20th century.  And she was, through and through, a Hoosier legend that we celebrate even today: photographer of nature, writer, conservationist, Gene Stratton Porter.

To most of us, luxury is something we consume, something we can have  and enjoy for as long as the funding holds out.  Here we meet a DIFFERENT kind of luxury, a luxury of time, a luxury of thought, a luxury of a deep seated well being, luxuries developed by men and women who are crafting everyday lives of meaning in the midst of the hurly burly of the post industrial world.

April is National Poetry Month and The Pushcart Prize: The Best of the Small Presses is a great way to keep abreast of contemporary poetry (and short stories and essays).  The poetry we find in this year’s 36th edition is direct, clear and beautifully stated; any one of these gems is more than capable of taking us on the wild ride we anticipate from poetry well versed.  This year’s collection brings us poets who are familiar and poets whose work may be new to us –Stephen Dobyns, Kathleen Flennigen, Richard Cecil, Kathleen Graber and Steve Meyers – to name a few!

“In Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education author Michael Pollan regales us with his characteristic self deprecating humor and gentle insight.  Second Nature is not your regular gardening book. There aren't a lot of "how to" instructions here for planting, nurturing and harvesting. Rather, Pollan engages us in a philosophical exploration of what he calls the "garden of the mind and the garden in real life.”

Remember that plain-looking home that many of us grew-up in “back in the day”?  That old ranch house that you and I couldn’t wait to move away from is now seen as a “mid century modern” home – and it’s a hot commodity for young, discerning families looking for something ultra-American, something our authors have labeled Atomic Ranch.  Those  ranch houses of the last century have many of the “must have” contemporary house buyers look for: open concept rooms, ceiling to floor windows, outdoor patios framed with walls of glass that bring the outdoors in and the indoors out….Who’d have

A collection of funny, charming, relatable tales of life’s small errors of judgment and happy surprises that can get us to laugh and cry.  Sara Jane Coffman shares more than one sly wink as she relates these tales based on everyday life; clearly she has chosen to see the mirth in life - and as a result, so do we!

Milk Eggs Vodka

Mar 23, 2012

Milk, Eggs, Vodka is a hoot of a book to read and an interesting commentary on contemporary American life. The book is what its subtitle states– a compilation of  “…grocery lists lost and found”, reproduced in full, real-life color, with running commentary from the bemused author.  Certainly this is a book to enjoy in small doses or in large swallows.  And maybe it will even motivate us to start our own collection of marginalia to share with others someday too?!