Archive for the “Books” Category
Posted by: Kevin in Books
There’s a paradox to diaries. They’re the most private of books, the record of the thoughts and desires the author can’t or won’t speak aloud, writing never shown to anyone else. And yet surely every writer has a desire to be read? It’s telling that Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), the author of the granddaddy of tell-all diaries, had the pages bound and listed in the catalog of his library. He wrote the diary in a type of shorthand, but left a key in his library as well.
The best diaries offer the same pleasures as excellent realist fiction: seeing another human being’s oddest quirks and most troubling flaws, sharing in their private joys and their deepest fears. Other diaries offer inimitable records of times long gone and places that have since changed beyond recognition. The Minuteman Library Network’s collection includes diaries by fascinating people, some famous, some not–revealing what flawed, compelling, inspiring creatures humans can be.
First, the aformentioned Pepys. Pepys was a civil servant in the Admiralty, a Member of Parliament, and a breathtakingly blunt man. For example, he complains in one diary entry that his arm is sore from beating a servant. In another, he recounts an incident at the theater very revealing of daily life in Restoration London and of Pepys himself: “A lady spit backward upon me by a mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all .”
His diary is a catalog of his foibles, philanderings, feelings and arguably one of the most enjoyable books of all time. Some of the entries are just good fun snark, as in his eleven-word review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream “the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life,” others, such as his eyewitness account of the coronation of Charles II, are windows into history. And still others reveal what a weird guy he could be. When the embalmed body of Queen Catherine of Valois (1401-1437) was on display in Westminster Abbey, Pepys went to see it, and unlike other tourists, he didn’t just look. He bent down and kissed the corpse on the mouth, noting in his diary, “this my birthday and I did kiss a Queen.”
Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977) was the single mother of three children living in one of the favelas (shantytowns) of Sao Paulo. She supported herself and her children by rummaging through garbage for things she could sell. They lived in a tin and cardboard shack. They had no plumbing. One water spigot was the only source of clean water for over 500 people.
However, Carolina had one stroke of good luck: when she was a little girl a wealthy landowner offered to pay the school fees of all the girls in her neighborhood if they wanted to go. She went long enough to learn to read and write. Literacy gave her a way to vent her frustrations, a way to purge some of her misery. She often found notebooks and pencils in the garbage, and began writing about her life. Her diary, Child of the Dark, records how hard she has to struggle to get even the most basic necessities (“I got up at five to get water….I went past the canning factory and found a few tomatoes. When the manager saw me he began to swear at me. But the poor must pretend that they can’t hear.”)
But it’s in less prosaic passages that the reader begins to truly feel her misery:
“I dreamt I was an angel. I put stars in my hands and played with them. They danced around me and made a luminous path. When I work I thought: I’m so poor. I can’t afford to go to a play so God sends me these dreams for my aching soul.”
When Child of the Dark first appeared in English the reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune called it, “A haunting chronicle.” The reviewer for the New York Times described it as, “Both an ugly book and a touchingly beautiful book…a strangely observant account of sheer misery.”
More diaries to come. Stay tuned…
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The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 still haunts our collective imagination, and rightly so. It was the moment when the entire nation was forced to confront the violence endemic to American life, when people sitting in their own homes watched murder happen. Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 was one of the popular books of 2011. Twenty-five years after nomination for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s Libra still provokes reflection.
References both serious and comic to the murder abound in popular culture. One of the most talked-about episodes of Mad Men tried to recapture the horrified bewilderment of Nov. 22 and its aftermath. The assassination crops up everywhere, from lyrics by They Might Be Giants (“I remember the book depository where they crowned the king of Cuba”) to The Seinfeld episode “The Boyfriend,” to The X-Files’ “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man.”
There are myriad retellings, explorations and evocations of that day. I recommend the books Six Seconds in Dallas, Case Closed, Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy and the American Experience documentary Oswald’s Ghost.
People are still trying to make sense of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. One way they do that is to believe in conspiracy theories: It was the CIA, or Castro, or LBJ. Author Fred Kaplan explains why all of those theories are nonsense.
Two years ago, Errol Morris presented the solution to one of the most persistent mysteries surrounding the grassy knoll, who was umbrella man?
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum will hold a tribute to JFK this afternoon. Details are here.
If you’re more interested in Kennedy’s life and career than in how it ended, take advantage of the library’s pass to the museum and visit in the near future.
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Last night’s Muslim Journeys event was great. Harvard Divinity School professor Leila Ahmed participated in a discussion of her book, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. We had a good turnout, and everyone who participated in the discussion had interesting questions and shared well-informed opinions. The conversation ranged from the history of this highly symbolic garment to the differences in religious practice and culture in various Islamic nations.
A young woman wearing a hijab attended, and she shared what it means to her and the experiences (and family reactions) of friends her age who decided to take up the practice.
The evening was everything we hoped it would be. Thank you, everyone who attended.
Especially Dr. Ahmed.
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In 2005 a group of authors and publishers sued Google for scanning and posting online segments of books to which they (the authors and publishers, not Google) held the rights. Today U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin ruled that Google’s actions do not violate U.S. copyright law, since Google puts the complete text of a book online only if it has the copyright holder’s permission. From the ruling:
“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits….It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.”
As you can imagine, the folks at Google are happy. The Authors Guild, not so much. They plan to appeal. Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen ponders the implications of the ruling here.
Frankly I consider Google Books free advertising for authors and publishers. The section of a book Google makes available for preview is invariably *just* enough to get me interested. Then I get the nice little note, “some pages are omitted from this book preview,” “some pages” meaning, “the rest of the book.”
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Join us at the Central Library Nov. 14 at 6:30 when Harvard Divinity School Professor Leila Ahmed will take part in a discussion of her award-winning book, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America, her exploration of the reasons that Muslim women are voluntarily adopting a garment traditionally seen as a tool of repression. The book discussion is the latest in our series of ALA/NEH-sponsored events, “Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys.” Somerville Public Library has multiple copies of A Quiet Revolution available for checkout.
Dr. Ahmed is the author of the 1999 memoir A Border Passage, an account of her upbringing in Cairo and life as an expatriate in the West, as well as the groundbreaking study, Women and Gender in Islam.
Below is a clip of Dr. Ahmed discussing a Foreign Policy article on misogyny in the Arab world, “Why Do They Hate Us?” with the author, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, on The Melissa Harris Perry Show, April 28, 2012.
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In honor of Halloween, some denizens of the Interwebs are indulging their list-making mania by compiling lists of scary books or movies. Below is a brief list of my own: six works–three books, three movies that were created with one purpose in mind: to scare the bejesus out of us.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This 1959 novel is the haunted house story. Hill House is a long-abandoned country residence with an unsettling reputation. An investigator of psychic phenomena, Dr. Montague, plans to live there for the summer, observe and take notes. He takes three companions with him: Luke, the nephew of Hill House’s owner; Eleanor, a woman who had experienced poltergeist activity as a child; and Theodora, who is believed to have a capacity for extrasensory perception. As the companions settle in and Dr. Montague investigates, tensions among the characters arise and a deepening isolation envelopes them, responding to the malevolent force at work in Hill House, for “whatever walked there, walked alone.” When The Haunting of Hill House first appeared, a reviewer for The New York Times wrote, “Jackson can summon up stark terror, make your blood chill and your scalp prickle.”
And now for the premier vampire story: Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897). In 1893, a young English solicitor named Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to provide legal assistance to one Count Dracula, who intends to buy property in London. Harker begins to notice odd things about the Count and his castle: no mirrors; he never seems to be around during the day. And as he walks around the castle, he notices all the outside doors are locked. He’s a prisoner.
Meanwhile, a ship runs ashore on the coast of England. The crew are all missing and presumed dead. The captain’s corpse is tied to the mast. The cargo is boxes of dirt from Transylvania….These two events lay the groundwork for a terrifying story.*
Carrie by Stephen King (1974). Do I really need to summarize this one for you? King’s first published novel is the story of Carrie White, a teenage girl with an abusive mother. And school is no refuge from home: Carrie’s been an outcast since first grade. But as this poor girl hits puberty, something more than the normal changes occur. And when her classmates subject her to brutal humiliation on prom night, they learn that Carrie has the power to wreak an even more brutal revenge…
Alien directed by Ridley Scott (1979). This heart-stopping horror story of outer space not only launched Sigourney Weaver’s acting career, but also features a stellar cast playing the secondary characters: Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton. If you’re unfamiliar with Alien, let’s just say it’s the ultimate bad-things-happen-when-you-pick-up-hitchhikers story. Warning: Don’t watch this if you’re prone to heart trouble.
The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980). Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who gets a job as the off-season caretaker for a mountain resort. He takes with him his son and wife (Shelley Duvall). When they get snowed in by a storm, Jacks comes down with a really unfortunate case of cabin fever and gets to know some of the hotel’s permanent “residents” with potentially lethal consequences for his wife and son.
Rosemary’s Baby directed by Roman Polanski (1968). What can I say about a movie this famous except that it’s considered the best horror movie ever made? This thoroughly chilling film is a masterpiece of acting and direction, with an unrelenting atmosphere of menace. Mia Farrow was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role as Rosemary Woodhouse, and Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Minnie Castevet (the last sort of neighbor anyone wants). The film was ranked #9 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most notable horror films.
*If you want to read something else by Stoker after Dracula, I’ve heard Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879) is quite the page-turner.
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Posted by: Kevin in Authors, Books
The new biography of Jim Henson just arrived at the library and it’s quite popular. And Winnie the Pooh was published 87 years ago this week (Oct. 14, 1926). You’re probably wondering what the two have to do with each other. Not much, except for the convergence of the creations of Henson and Milne in one of my favorite Muppet Show segments:
Hat tip to Matthew Falk of the University of Baltimore for introducing me to this clip.
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BiblioBites is an occasional series of mini book reviews – here’s the latest edition!
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
This is a moving and detailed account of a soldier’s experiences in Iraq worthy of comparison to All Quiet On the Western Front. This book is finding its way into Book Clubs and Community Reads (ex: MSU and the Town of East Lansing) with good reason. Given the gradual emerging awareness of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) readers will come to understand that the casualties of war are not always the dead and the families of soldiers are soldiers in their own personal war as a result. Accounts are graphic and horrific, readers will be drawn to the characters as many can sadly relate to knowing someone who went to war and came back forever changed.
Swimming at Night – Lucy Clarke
This is a “sister” story.
Following the death of their mother, two sisters move in together and try to make a “go” of life as a new family. But its not very long before they realize that they are such completely different people that it’s unlikely to work – Katie has always been the sensible one, Mia the free spirit, and so when Mia takes off on a moment’s notice with a friend for a sudden trip around the world, Katie breaks ties and stops communicating with her. Months later Mia is reported as an apparent suicide in Bali and Katie is forced to make a decision – accept what has happened, or refuse to believe that Mia could be capable of suicide in a country that was not even on her original planned itinerary – it’s a mystery with plot twists that thicken! Featuring exotic locales and a “can’t-put-it-down” pace, the reader will try to solve the mystery along with Katie who has nothing more that her sister’s backpack and travelogue to guide her.
The Art Forger by B.A Shapiro
Somerville Reads is over and you still haven’t read The Art Forger? What are you waiting for? Shapiro weaves an interesting tale set in Boston and Europe over the course of three centuries and gives us a cross section of plausible plots involving art and artists, and how museum and personal collections are developed, repaired, copied? (gasp!) and sold. Readers will relate to the struggles of Claire Roth, the main character whose artistic talent has been burdened by bad personal choices, and who is now faced with a moral dilemma that threatens her rise to fame. Those of us who were fortunate to have seen the Gardner collection in its entirety prior to the heist of the century, those born after the theft but drawn into the mystery, art lovers, history buffs, and anyone with an opinion about what really happened and who was allegedly involved will love this book!
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To most of us the word “Cambridge” means Whole Foods and Harvard, or funky shops on Mass. Ave. But to author Sam Baltrusis, Cambridge means a lonely British soldier from the Revolution, forever wandering the pews of Christ Church looking for his brothers-in-arms, or Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard professor brutally murdered in 1849, whose restless spirit still lingers at the site of his death.
Join us this Thursday 7 p.m. at the Central Library when Baltrusis reads from his book The Ghosts of Cambridge, sharing these and other stories, immersing us in the dark side of local history.
The chills continue on Wed. Oct, 16 when Renee Mallett reads from her book Haunted Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts. Mallett will share eerie stories like that of the grief-stricken widow whose ghost wanders the halls of Endicott College and explain why BU students think they sometimes see the spirit of Eugene O’Neil.
The scary gets wicked local Sunday, Oct. 20, at Milk Row Cemetery with The Ghosts of Somerville: Up Close and Intimate. You’ll go grave by grave and learn why the occupants don’t always stay put.
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On Thursday, September 26th at 7:00 p.m, you’re invited to the Central Library to meet Sara Farizan, author of If You Could Be Mine.
Pulling back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture, If You Could Be Mine is the stunning debut novel by Iranian American writer Sara Farizan about hope and love in the face of danger.
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. But being gay is a crime punishable by death in Iran, so they carry on with furtive kisses and whispered promises;until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Sahar begins to lose hope for a future with Nasrin, until she finds what may be the perfect solution – in Iran homosexuality may be illegal, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin, but she must decide if saving her love is worth sacrificing her true self.
With echoes of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Luna, If You Could Be Mine is a finely crafted, sophisticated story about finding the courage to discover and accept your own identity against overwhelming opposition and an uncertain future.
“Accomplished and compassionate . . . A groundbreaking, powerful depiction of gay and transsexual life in Iran . . . An intimate look at life in modern-day Iran and its surprising Westernization, even though much of this culture is clandestine.” – Booklist, starred review
“A provocative coming-of-age story” – Publishers Weekly
“Refreshingly and believably diverse . . . A moving and elegant story.” – Kirkus Reviews
This free program is co-sponsored by the Somerville Public Library, the Somerville Council on Aging‘s LGBT Advisory Group, and the LGBT Liaison to the City of Somerville of the Office of Somerville Commissions.
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