Archive for the “Books” Category

…for June 24:

henryviiiHenry VIII was crowned King of England on this day in 1509. It was the beginning of a turbulent reign, and nearly all of the turbulence was caused by his difficulties in fathering a son: he was only the second monarch of  the Tudor dynasty, a family whose claim to the crown was shaky at best. To prevent a return to civil war it was essential Henry have at least one male heir. In his quest for sons, he married six times, beheaded two of his wives, and took England out of the Catholic Church.

His dramatic life (and those of his wives) have inspired many novels, biographies, plays and television programs. Among them I recommend the award-winning Wolf Hall, one of the best historical novels ever, narrated from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, a soldier and merchant from a working-class background who becomes an important figure at Henry VIII’s court.

If you’re in the mood to read a biography, I suggest Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and His bookcoverCourt. Alison Weir is one of the most popular and readable historians  of the past twenty years, and her portrait of this “larger than life” king who during his lifetime who went “from Renaissance prince to mean old king”  gives “ample evidence of her talent” (Booklist).

If you’re in the mood to watch rather than read, you have two great options. The play A Man for All Seasons (1966) recounts Henry’s campaign to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his abandonment of the Catholic Church from the perspective of his disapproving minister, Sir Thomas More. Paul Scofield’s portrayal of More, a man whose firm, quiet integrity costs him his life, won him that year’s Oscar for Best Actor, and the film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

And if you haven’t yet seen the award-winning BBC series The Tudors, you’re in for a treat. There are many historical inaccuracies, but it’s very enjoyable.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives a riveting performance as Henry VIII. And if that’s not enough for you, there’s Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon, and  Henry Cavill in a neck ruffle.

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Children who don’t read during the summer vacation don’t do well on reading comprehension tests when school resumes. The cumulative effect can be devastating: summer non-readers can end up two years behind their peers by sixth grade. By contrast, children who read four or more books over the summer fare much better academically in the fall than their peers who read only one book or no books.  The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is challenging people of all ages to read four or more books this summer.

So what’s your four? Here are mine, chosen from my unread shelf:

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Promote this campaign on social media with the hashtag #WhatsYourFour

And tell us: what are your four?

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Ladies, are you looking to read a trashy novel that’s going to get you into the summer mood? Do you want to travel to Nantucket but don’t have the time? Try reading about it instead. The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrumorand is set on the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachuset ts. The book is set around two housewives Grace Pancik and Madeline King. Grace, with two teenage daughters, may just start a steamy love affair with her landscaper. Madeline, a famous writer, struggles to find something to write about, but may just end up betraying her elinnewbest friend, using her secret as a story line for her book.

But these aren’t the only two rumors floating around on the island, Grace’s husband, Eddie, gets himself into money trouble and illegal activity. Teenage drama unfolds into this story as well. So, if your looking for a summery scandalous escape, this is it! Elin Hilderbrand is a New York Times Bestselling Author, has written 20 books, including titles such as Summerland and Nantucket. If you already a fan of Hilderbrand, click here.

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logo2The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher dedicated to producing  durable high-quality editions of the best of American writing. And it’s not just fiction: their nonfiction volumes include the World War II reporting of A.J. Liebling, the movie reviews of James Agee, and the four-volume collection of diaries and letters, The Civil War Told by Those Who Lived It. If you want to get exposure to a range of American writing but are daunted by the size and number of LOA books, sign up for “Story of the Week,” their free e-newsletter that sends an excerpt from an LOA volume to your inbox every week. I’ve been a subscriber for years. Last week LOA sent me  “The Kiss,” a short story by Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932). Chesnutt was the first African-American writer acknowledged by the white literary establishment.  “The Kiss” is about a woman who has an affair with her husband’s nephew. It’s a rather melodramatic period piece, but the treatment of adultery is interesting considering the time period: the woman achieves redemption, while the man is the one punished–he’s killed by a train.

Other memorable Stories of the Week that I’ve received via email: “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read); “Remember the Ladies,”Abigail and John Adams’ correspondence on women’s rights, and Frederick Douglass’ “Letter to His Old Master,” an extraordinary window on the personal devastation created by slavery.

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Don’t miss out on the Friends of the Library book sale this weekend! You’ll find great books at rock-bottom prices! Proceeds of the book sale help fund library programming and museum passes. The book sale begins at noon on Friday and continues to closing time on Sunday.

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…for May 12, 2016.

farley-mowatCanadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat (1921- 2014) was born on this day in Bellville, Ontario. He wrote more than 40 books, the most famous being Never Cry Wolf (1963), supposedly an account of his experiences observing wolves in the wilderness of subarctic Canada. Mowat was often accused of not actually having spent as much time with wolves as he recounts in the book.  Mowat’s usual response was that his critics were confusing facts with truth. The book was an immediate bestseller upon publication and is credited with making  wolf conservation popular  with the Canadian public.

Related reading at SPL: Farley: The Life of Farley Mowat by James King, and Wild Harmonies: A Life of Music and Wolves by Hélène Grimaud.

Today is also the birthday of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel rossettiRossetti (1828-1882). Rossetti, together with William Holman Hunt and  John Everett Millais, founded the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, a literary and artistic movement heavily influenced by Romanticism that sought inspiration in medieval culture, which they believed to have an artistic integrity the modern world lacked.  Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery hosts the world’s largest online collection of Pre-Raphaelite images here.

Related reading at SPL: Essential Pre-Raphealites, which explains the movement’s guiding principles with reproductions of paintings by various members.

Related reading in the Minuteman Library Network: The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti. Christina was Dante’s sister and is generally considered a much better writer than her brother.

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mercuryMercury is moving between Earth and the Sun today, a relatively rare event known as a solar transit. It began around 7 am today and will continue until 2:42 pm Eastern Time.

Whatever you do, don’t look directly at the Sun to try watch it. In any case, there’s not much to see: just a small black dot (Mercury) on the face of the Sun. If you don’t have a solar filter for your camera or binoculars there are plenty of live streams on the Internet, such as the one here.

NASA has provided some explanations as to why solar transits matter and what scientists learn from them at their website.

One of the most important solar transits in modern history was the 1761 transit of Venus. Astronomers realized that by observing the transit from specific points around the globe, they could gather data that would enable them to calculate the Earth’s distance from the Sun. European scientists embarked on dangerous and uncomfortable voyages around the world, from England to Newfoundland and South Africa, from France to India, from Austria to Madagascar, just to watch one planet for six hours, take notes, and do some mathematical calculations.

If astronomy or the history of science interests you, check out Andrea Wulf’s history of the dangerous, adventurous voyages of these astronomers, Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens.

 

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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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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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