Archive for the “Books” Category

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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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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According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans surveyed consider themselves lifelong learners.  Many of them are “professional learners:”  they take courses or attend trainings to enhance their job skills and career prospects. However, the vast majority are “personal learners:” they learn skills or subjects that personally interest them.

And while the Internet can be an indispensable tool for learning, a majority of personal learners say a physical space (such as a library or adult education center) was important in their self-education.

Whether you want to learn at home or here in the library, don’t hesitate to ask us to help you find books or other resources related to your interests.  Do you want to learn a language? Many of our patrons love our Mango Languages  database. Other patrons prefer books. A few years ago a guy came into the library and used SPL’s Japanese workbooks to teach himself Kanji.  We’ve got books on blacksmithing, gardening, game programming, digital photography and weaving (to name a few topics).

So come to the library and find something new to learn.

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It’s St. Patrick’s Day. For some that might mean drinking some Guinness or listening to Irish folk music, but for enthusiastic readers it’s an occasion to add some books by Irish writers to their reading list. I am steering clear of the usual suspects (e.g., Ulysses) to point out some books that might be under the radar of many readers.

banvilleJohn Banville is a prolific writer of both beautiful, challenging literary fiction and of mysteries (the latter under the name Benjamin Black). He’s also consider a potential Nobel laureate by his admirers. You can’t go wrong trying any of his books. My personal recommendation is his Revolutions Trilogy: the first two volumes, Dr. Copernicus and Kepler, are historical novels about the aforenamed Renaissance scientists. The third volume, The Newton Letter, is the haunting story of a twentieth century historian who moves to the country to finish a biography of Newton and becomes drawn into the life of the mysterious family from whom he’s renting his cottage.

Shade, a novel by acclaimed filmmaker Neil Jordan, is about four shade childhood friends of different social classes who, as they grow up, approach the threshold of a world designed to separate them. The story of their connected yet estranged lives is one of war, heartbreak, insanity and murder. It’s a finely wrought tale of stunning bleakness.

 

feliciaWilliam Trevor is another Irish writer who’s considered a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. He is one of the best contemporary short story writers and three of his novels have won the Whitbread Prize.  One of those novels, Felicia’s Journey, is the story of a naive, friendless Irish girl wandering the English Midlands, looking for the man who got her pregnant and then disappeared. Soon the hapless Felicia attracts the interest of two very different people. Miss Calligary walks the streets with her Bible looking for souls to save. Mr. Hilditch is a  middle-aged caterer who has never said or thought anything original in his life. As these two seemingly harmless people square off for custody (as it were) of Felicia we begin to realize that something is very, very wrong….

Happy reading.

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