witchesPeople have been voting for the next Somerville Reads book. So far Stacy Schiff’s The Witches is in the lead. If you haven’t voted already, come to the Central Library and do so.

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We’re getting ready for Somerville Reads 2016 – our next One City, One Book program, which will take place in the early Fall – and we need your input! Which of these books would you most like to read and discuss as a community? You can read about each book below (the reviews have been edited for length) then vote for your pick at the bottom of this post.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowel
What do you get when a woman who’s obsessed with death and U.S. history goes on vacation? This wacky, weirdly enthralling exploration of the first three presidential assassinations. Vowell (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), a contributor to NPR’s This American Life and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in The Incredibles, takes readers on a pilgrimage of sorts to the sites and monuments that pay homage to Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, visiting everything from grave sites and simple plaques (like the one in Buffalo that marks the place where McKinley was shot) to places like the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln’s skull are on display. An expert tour guide, Vowell brings into sharp focus not only the figures involved in the assassinations, but the social and political circumstances that led to each-and she does so in the witty, sometimes irreverent manner that her fans have come to expect. (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. (Booklist, starred review)

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: a Memoir by Roz Chast
New Yorker cartoonist Chast (Theories of Everything) had vaguely thought that “the end” came in three stages: feeling unwell, growing weaker over a month or so in bed, and dying one night. But when her parents passed 90, she learned that “the middle [stage] was a lot more painful, humiliating, long-lasting, complicated, and hideously expensive” than she imagined. Chast’s scratchy art turns out perfectly suited to capturing the surreal realities of the death process. In quirky color cartoons, handwritten text, photos, and her mother’s poems, she documents the unpleasant yet sometimes hilarious cycle of human doom. (Library Journal)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
A resplendent novel from the author of The Sky Is Everywhere. Fraternal twins and burgeoning artists Jude and Noah are inseparable until puberty hits and they find themselves competing for boys, a spot at an exclusive art school, and their parents’ affections. Told in alternating perspectives and time lines, with Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16, this novel explores how it’s the people closest to us who have the power to both rend us utterly and knit us together. (School Library Journal)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie mystery series, Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers. (Booklist, starred review)

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay Colony executed 14 women, 5 men, and 2 dogs for witchcraft. The ensuing terror cut a wide swath through the colony, affecting residents of all ages and educational backgrounds. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schiff (Véra; Cleopatra) chronicles the surrounding events, painting a vivid portrait of a homogeneous, close-knit network of communities rapidly devolving into irrational paranoia. Proving, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction, she mines existing records, extrapolates all the major characters, and pieces together the unfolding story in suitably dramatic fashion as neighbors, friends, and family members turn on one another. (Booklist, starred review).

Click here to vote for your choice!

Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss the same book.

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…is available for public review  at the Central Library, 79 Highland Ave. Ask at the reference desk for help finding it.

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NBC nightly news correspondent Richard Engel has written an intriguing book about living two decades in the Middle East. From witnessing bomb explosions, kidnappings,  bribery’s, meeting Saddam Husseinand and at one point was the only living American reporter in Baghdad during the Iraq War, Engel has shared a great and fascinating experience with us that all American should read.

The book begins with a brief history of the Middle East, how it’s come to be, so many cultures, religions and types of people all in the one place. Engel also brings up the fact that most Americans know nothing about this culture. In school, we learned about it as, Mesopotamia, “the cradle of civilization,” but today we just think the Middle East, a place, most Americans don’t even want to hear about.

As a freelance journalist he moved to Cairo  in the early 90’s and saw the revolution in 2013, he also spent time in Israel, and watched bombings explode across the street, then moved onto Baghdad where he became the only American journalist in Iraq during the war. At that point he became a NBC news correspondent. Engel discusses how ISIS came to be in power today and what he foresees will happen to the Middle East in the next ten years.

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Are you thinking about purchasing an iipadprogrey_1Pad? Do you like to sit and scroll through your Facebook feed, check e-mail or just plain surf the internet? Well, now you can check out an iPad air from your local library! Somerville has 3 iPad’s to circulate along with a WiFi Hotspot (if you don’t have WiFi at home). You can take one out or sit and use it in the library! If your interested, grab your library card and just go to the Reference, Teen or Children’s desk to pick one up! If you have questions, just ask a librarian!

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revereSomerville’s annual Patriots’ Day celebration will be held at Foss Park on Monday, April 18 10-11:30 am. There will be a Colonial Fair with games, music by the Somerville High School band, period refreshments, and colonial reenactors. If you play your cards right, you might even get to meet Paul Revere’s horse (she has a very busy social schedule; she can’t make time for everyone).

If you are interested in reenactments of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the National Park Service has a complete schedule of events here.

However, April 18 is also the day of the Boston Marathon, which will affect traffic and MBTA service. So getting around the greater Boston area is going to be quite difficult. You can learn about road and station closures here and here.

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One of SPL’s most valuable resources for Somerville history is the Somerville Journal, the city’s oldest newspaper. We have the complete run of the paper in hard copy and microfilm from the 1870s to the present. Reading old issues is fascinating. Not only do they give a sense of how important newspapers were for news and entertainment before competition from radio, television and the Internet, they also reveal the issues that were on people’s minds that seldom make it into the history books.  While looking for an obituary today I happened upon a Journal opinion piece from February 26, 1914, that set the minds of Somervillians at ease regarding the vital question: may a gentleman eat raw onions? The title of the editorial is “The Onion Vindicated.”

I won’t keep you in suspense, dear reader. Gentlemen (and ladies) may eat onions. They are good for you. Onions kill diploccocci pneumoniae, what we would now call streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria that can cause ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia. The Journal advises its readers that, “As for the members of the family who object to onions–well, a man must not give up his hope of escape from the lurking diploccoccus merely because his sisters, his cousins or his aunts abhor the penetrant perfume of raw onions.”

You read it here first.

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Did you know that you can check out an e-book for free from your library and download it to your Ipad or kindle fire? A whopping 40% of people don’t know they can check out an eBook from their library! So instead of spending all that money on Amazon.com, you can get all the books for free, by signing into Ov0erdrive using your library card. Overdrive has audio books & eBooks! This is just another way libraries are moving along with the times and providing you more ways to access information (all for free)!

Hoopla is also available to you with your library card, you can stream movies on your computer, listen to music, and download audio books, eBooks and watch TV! If you don’t know how or aren’t sure how to do any of this, just ask a librarian! hoopla_banner741

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…for April 8, 2016.

WPA-Work-Pays-America-PosterOn this day 81 years ago Congress passed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the law that created the Works Progress Administration, an unprecedented effort by the federal government to provide employment during an economic crisis. At its peak the WPA employed over 8 million people on public projects ranging from building roads and making parks to creating public works of art and interviewing former slaves about life before Emancipation.

If you would like to know more about the WPA and the President who oversaw this and other efforts to save millions of Americans from poverty and despair, try reading the book American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, or one of the library’s many biographies of FDR, such as Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Another fitting tribute to the WPA would be to read the novels of some of the writers the organization employed, such as Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison.

Incidentally, one of the ways the WPA employed writers was by sending them all over the country to document the varying foods and culinary traditions of different parts of the country. You can read about their discoveries in Mark Kurlansky’s The Food of a Younger Land.

If you’re interested in the art work created by WPA employees, do a Google image search for “WPA art.” You’ll be astounded.

I leave you with a short clip from a contemporary government film about the WPA:

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Whats_appI’m sure you’ve all been following the news about the conflict between the FBI and Apple, and how the FBI managed to break into the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone without Apple’s help. Interestingly, the tool the FBI used appears to work only on iPhone 5cs or earlier models.

In any case, the company WhatsApp changed the game entirely this week when it finished end-to-end encryption for its messaging app. You can read more about that and why it matters here.

And there’s good news for PC users: you don’t have to let Windows 10 take over your computer. It can be stopped: you can find out how here and here.

Happy messaging. And computing.

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