About Stephen Brooks

Stephen is a reference librarian at Durham Tech. He has blogged previously at acqweb.org and for American Libraries magazine online. He enjoys reading 20th and 21st century literature, biographies and books about sports.

What We’re Reading: Wrecked

Title: Wrecked: An IQ Novel

Author: Joe Ide

Genre: mystery, street lit

Why did you choose to read this book?

cover of Wrecked: An IQ Novel, by Joe Ide

This is the third book in the IQ series, which features protagonist Isaiah Quintabe (“IQ”), a small-time, self-styled private investigator from East Long Beach, California. I enjoyed the first two books—IQ and Righteous—so I picked up the third.

There are several traits of the main character I appreciate. IQ, motivated by the memory of his older brother Marcus, who was murdered, pursues justice rather than greed, often accepting token gifts, like a handmade Christmas sweater (in Southern California!), in lieu of money from his clients. He is also a critical thinker and careful planner. He is skilled in reading people and memorizing small details about people and his surroundings. These traits define IQ and drive the plots of the series’ books.

In Wrecked IQ becomes embroiled in a mystery and becomes attracted to his client Grace, who hires him to find her mother, whom she has not seen in 10 years. The plot and its many subplots cover IQ’s business relationship with his mismatched partner Dodson; a complicated backstory that slowly reveals itself, and encompasses family secrets; WSSI, a paramilitary U.S. government contractor, whose employees have histories of torture and cover-ups at Abu Ghraib; and a love story.

What did you like about it?

Isaiah Quintabe is one of my favorite fictional characters. Wrecked presents bigger challenges for IQ to navigate than the previous books in the series. (Spoiler alert!) The opening pages reveal tough-talking ex-military thugs brutally torturing a victim (It’s IQ!), hoping to beat information out of him. The thugs work for the CEO of the international security firm, WSSI, which provides the advantages of cash, trained killers,and security clearances. WSSI and IQ are in pursuit of the same person. Who will prevail?

Joe Ide has a knack for revealing characters through dialogue. One example is Junior, a drug dealer, speaks as if he “swallowed a dictionary sideways,” misusing big and obscure words to comic effect. Dodson’s wife Deronda, the several brutes—Jimenez, Hawkins, and Owens—from WSSI, and many others populate Wrecked with distinctive voices.

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

The first detective stories I enjoyed were Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown books. Using evidence at hand to solve mysteries fed my appreciation both for books and for applying critical thinking skills. As a child, I fantasized that I, too could be a successful detective. Maybe that helped drive me to a career as a librarian: I help people use information to solve their own problems and answer their own questions.

Was there anything noteworthy about the book?

There is a rumor that Ide is in contract with Alcon Television Groupto develop a television series around IQ.

With what feeling did the book leave you?

Frankly, I have enjoyed each book in the series less than the one that came before it. Ide’s trick of revealing how a problem was solved—after the action that depended on having solved the problem—wears thin. Rather than a feeling of suspense-then-relief, I experience bewilderment followed by a magician showing me exactly how easy it is to make a building disappear. I also found the love story between Isaiah and Grace to be little more than a plot device.

I hope the next book in the series, Hi Five, is better. I’m not ready to give up on Joe Ide yet, and definitely not ready to give up on IQ.

To whom would you recommend this book?

Fans of gritty mystery writing will probably enjoy this book.

With what would you pair this book?

Let me recommend an old film noir flick, The Third Man, released in 1949, which features protagonist Holly Martins bumbling through an investigation into the circumstances around an old friend’s death. Based on a novella by Graham Greene, it is a whodunit with a surprising twist and the story resolves through successively-increasing climaxes.

Observe how the film’s suspense is maintained while information is revealed to Martins and the viewer at the same time. Contrast that with how Wrecked keeps secret information about IQ’s investigative tactics until after the story plays out.

What We’re Reading: Hillbilly Elegy

Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Author: J.D. Vance

cover of book Hillbilly Elegy

Genre: memoir

Why did you choose to read this book?

I am a member of a two-person book club and the other member suggested this book.

What did you like about it?

It was a quick read. J.D. Vance details his upbringing in the Rust Belt as the descendant of Appalachian migrants to Ohio. He details the culture and communities of Scots-Irish people in West Virginia and Middletown, Ohio.

Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: The Nix

Title: The Nix

Author: Nathan Hill

Genre: literary fiction

Read Great Things (2019) categories: A book about or that features college or higher education

Why did you choose to read this book?

book cover: The Nix

I believe it is important to support independent bookstores. Last summer, when I was traveling to western Kentucky, my family and I stayed in Crossville, Tennessee, and found The Book Cellar. After browsing their shelves for the better part of an hour, I selected The Nix. They had a hardcover edition in great condition for around $3. The review excerpts on the dust jacket include one by an author I like (John Irving) and another citing two other authors I like: “as good as the best of Michael Chabon or Jonathan Frantzen.”

Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: Leaving the Sea: Stories

book cover: Leaving the Sea

Title: Leaving the Sea: Stories

Author: Ben Marcus

Genre: short stories / experimental fiction

Read Great Things Challenge 2018 category: a book you chose for the cover; a book with a supernatural creature, occurrence, or event (maybe)

Why did you choose to read this book?

I was drawn in by the cover art at first. The reviews on the back of the dust jacket also made the stories sound interesting to me. One of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon, has a blurb on the back of the book praising Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet (which I haven’t read).

This “themed” collection is of short stories that feature young-to-middle-aged men in crisis. Otherwise, the stories are not related. A divorcé struggles to keep his job and resolve joint custody issues with his ex-wife; a struggling professor teaches a creative writing class aboard a cruise ship; a young man with a mysterious illness seeks treatment in Germany and examines his relationships with his girlfriend, father and a stranger he meets in a hostel; a man worries about his family during a routine evacuation drill in his community; et cetera.

Many of the stories take place in alternate realities: a world in which one can choose to be a baby for one’s whole life, for example.

What did you like about it?

I did not like reading this book. I was motivated to finish it solely to write a thoughtful review.

I found a lot of the book to be interesting, but in many of the stories I felt like Marcus was playing with language for the sole purpose of doing so. Ranging into pure experimental fiction, this book was often either beyond my understanding or it felt like I was being manipulated into feeling stupid for not understanding what is going on, only because the author omitted details I felt would have improved my access to the book.

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

Another collection of experimental fiction is David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion. The freedom with which Marcus uses language and imagery reminds me a little bit of e.e. cummings’s poetry as well.

What feeling did the book leave you with?

In spite of my frustrations with the most experimental stories, this book is memorable and left me wishing I could write fiction with such imagination and confidence in bending language to my will.

Who would you recommend the book to?

Fans and writers of experimental fiction will appreciate this book. Someone who needs a creative spark and doesn’t mind reading some dystopian fiction might find use in this book.

What would you pair this book with?

Even though I don’t keep one myself, a reading or writing journal would be a valuable companion.

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Did you know that, since 1995, September 19 has been International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Wikipedia gives a brief history of this weird occasion, which originated between two friends playing a game of Racquetball.
So, I know you’re asking, “How do I learn to talk like a Pirate?” Good news! You’ve come to the right place. Your Durham Tech library has just the tool for you: Mango Languages. Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: She’s Come Undone

Title: She’s Come Undone

Author: Wally Lamb

Genre: fiction

Why did you choose to read this book?

She’s Come Undone has been on my to-read list and I saw it on the library’s display of books for Mental Health Awareness Month (May).

What did you like about it?

I thought it was well-written and a compelling portrait of a fictional character, Dolores Price. The novel is told from her perspective and follows her through her 30s. Continue Reading →

Textbook Costs Got You Down? You’re Not Alone. Help Is on the Way.

anatomy and science textbooks on a desk

New desk in use” by brewbooks is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

NC LIVE recently announced that it is wading into the Open Educational Resources waters with a new initiative, Open Education North Carolina. NC LIVE’s initiative “aims to reduce the cost of higher education for North Carolina students by providing free, open e-textbooks for 30 of the most frequently-taught courses across North Carolina’s colleges and universities.” Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: Righteous

Title: Righteousbook cover: Righteous by Joe Ide

Author: Joe Ide

Genre: mystery

Why did you choose to read this book?

I enjoyed reading the first book in this series, IQ.

What did you like about it?

Like IQ, this is a fast-paced detective story featuring Isaiah Quintabe (“IQ”), a self-made private investigator in Los Angeles. IQ uses a combination of reasoning, cunning, surveillance and lock-picking skills and Krav Maga in his pursuit of justice. Several characters return from Ide’s debut novel in this sequel. Continue Reading →