Archive for the “Books” Category


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There’s still plenty of summer left regardless of all the Back to School merchandise and the (GASP!) snow blowers that appear to be creeping into the patio section of your local Target. Summer is my favorite time of year to relax with some great reading material. Here are a few recent selections of mine for you to consider.

The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman

Detective Jonathan Stride has his hands full with the mystery surrounding a supposed murder/suicide when a decade later he finds the lone survivor of the case, Cat Mateo in his home, dripping wet from what she describes to him as a narrow escape into the icy water of Lake Superior from an unknown pursuer. The fact that her clothes are bloodstained and her story questionable appears to be lost on the guilt ridden detective whose partner Maggie Bei must now work both sides of the case to satisfy her own doubts about the homeless teen, the lost decade, and Stride’s safety from the knife wielding, deeply damaged girl.

A fast pace and a steady introduction of characters may provide Stride (and the reader) with the key to helping Cat with her immediate threat and finally solving the case that he just couldn’t let go of involving the murder of her mother 10 years earlier.

There are additional novels if you enjoy the main character Detective Jonathan Stride, so check them out!

Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden by Todd Porter and Diane Cu

I have a large backyard perennial garden, but during the long cold winter of 2015 my husband and I decided to dedicate a section of our yard to growing vegetables in raised beds – I could probably do a whole BiblioBites on the books we gobbled up to prepare our raised beds for the season, but that’s for another day! Suffice to say that good preparation makes for great results and so we are enjoying our home grown produce immensely! As every gardener knows once the initial crop is harvested and the thrill of “our first (fill in the veggie)” wears off, there’s still a lot of summer left and the produce keeps rolling in and so a cookbook like Bountiful is perfect for solid, easy to prepare dishes with accents on what’s ripe and ready. Let me start by telling you that authors Todd and Diane are multi-talented. They are the authors of the White on Rice Blog and are also food photographers. The recipes are easy to follow and you will have most of the produce/spices/seasonings and herbs either on hand, in your garden, CSA share or at your local farmers market. The multi-cultural culinary influence that this couple brings to food preparation has made book a “must purchase” for my personal collection.  Warning: the photographs of the food are so amazing you may find yourself turning the pages with a fork.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book is the current Somerville Reads (our community reading program) selection.

True Confessions (Part 1) – ok, so truth be told, when I found out that the section committee chose a Sci-Fi story I groaned while reading the email announcing the book choice. My natural tendency for reading material very seldom (wait, since this is TRUE confessions ) NEVER leans toward Sci-Fi. So with a few planned days off, I decided to grab a copy and give it a try.

True Confessions (Part 2) – Who was it that said “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” and actually it’s not the cover in this case it’s the genre! This is SCIENCE-fiction. And well what do you know – I loved it!

Author Andy Weir’s original self-published story became an online phenomenon that led to print publication and a movie deal (soon to be released). The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars after a sequence of events during a huge dust storm forces the evacuation of the rest of the crew who presume he is dead, the victim of a satellite dish which becomes untethered during 150 mile an hour winds, which knocks him backwards down a hill and impales him with its antenna. This is a man vs nature vs impossible odds adventure that will captivate the reader while educating the lay person in “how to live vicariously through Mark Watney and survive on Mars.”

Weir is a brilliant scientist who just happens to have written a novel about space and in my opinion that makes all the difference. He has created a very human character whose survival instincts are pushed to the limit, and beyond his education and training. You will find yourself rooting for Mark, and as the story develops wondering how it will come to its conclusion. The last 20 pages are literally edge-of-your-seat. A perfect beach read!

The Martian circulation is gaining speed as the Somerville Reads Program begins its preliminary event planning so get on the waiting list, grab a copy, and enjoy this Sci-Fi selection even if it’s your first!

Other selections to consider:
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


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..for today, July 1.

1863: The Battle of Gettysburg begins, three bloody days that ended Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North, which Lee had hoped would force the North to sue for peace. Union General George Meade’s army of 90,000 took on Lee’s invading force of 75,000 resulting in three days of grueling fighting that resulted in roughly 51,00o casualties and forced Lee to return to Virginia. The battle has inspired a number of award-winning books, including the eminently readable Gettysburg: The Last Invasion and  Twilight at Little Round Top. For a fictional treatment of Gettysburg, try Michael Shaara’s critically acclaimed novel The Killer Angels.


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scIt’s been a big week at the Supreme Court: the Affordable Care Act upheld, gay  marriage bans struck down, and a blow struck against housing discrimination.

The Supreme Court’s rulings have had a profound impact on American society: their decision in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) ultimately ended legal school segregation; New York v. Sullivan (1964) established certain protections for the press.

The profundity of the Court’s influence is ironic given that when it Imacon Color Scannerwas established it was considered very much a junior branch of government. Some presidents felt free to ignore it all together. When the Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes were sovereign nations (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832), Andrew Jackson supposedly said, “Justice Marshall has made his ruling, now let him enforce it,” and proceeded to force the entire Cherokee tribe out of its territory in the Southeastern US.

The Court didn’t even get a building of its own until 1935. Before that it met in a room in the House of Representatives.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Supreme Court (seriously, it’s more interesting than you might imagine) check out Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. It’s a fascinating look at the personal and ideological conflicts between Obama and the Court during his first term.  Another book, The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction is a sad but gripping book about the aftermath of the Civil War, our government’s betrayal of African-Americans, and the reprehensible role played by the Court in that betrayal. And finally I recommend mcone of my favorite works of intellectual history: The Metaphysical Club.  The book is only partially about the Supreme Court. The book’s title refers to a group of men who met regularly in Cambridge, Mass.  for a few months in 1872 to talk about ideas. Among them were William James, brother of Henry and father of modern psychology and Oliver Wendell Holmes, a lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice. Holmes had a fascinating, original mind. One of the narrative threads in this book begins with the impact of Holmes’ Civil War service on his later judicial philosophy and ends forty years later with his dissent in U.S. v. Abrams–an opinion that laid the foundation for contemporary understanding of freedom of speech.

And if all that sounds like too much work for you, below is a 2009 sound clip from the NPR comedy/news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me in which Supreme Court Reporter Dahlia Lithwick plays “Not My Job.”



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The_Martian_2014Our next book for Somerville Reads, our annual community one town/one book series of events, is the critically acclaimed best-seller The Martian, the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and his struggle for survival. The Wall Street Journal called it “The best pure sci-fi novel in years.” Kirkus Reviews praised it for being “sharp, funny and thrilling.”  A film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott (the genius behind one of the best sci-fi films of all time) will be in theaters in November.

Copies of the book are at SPL now. Come get one!


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twainOn this day in 1883 Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was published. For readers who know Twain primarily as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Life  is a bit of a surprise, but it’s actually a quite typical book for Twain: part memoir, part travelogue, part rumination. The core of the work is Twain’s account of his pre-Civil War training to become a steamboat pilot; but it’s also a work of  regional history and a love letter to a phenomenon of nature: the Mississippi River. In one passage, he recalls seeing the river at sunset early in his steamboat career:

A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal…

And like all of Twain’s works, Life has some moments of comedy, although they probably won’t seem that funny to adults today. But mostly this book is a reflection on a vanished world, when the Mississippi was a highway for trade and travel for the middle of a continent, and the pilots who navigated ships safely up and down it were esteemed as masters of a valuable and complicated craft. Twain wrote Life on the Mississippi at a time when all that was gone, when the railroads had become the most important means of shipping and mode of travel in America and cities such as Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans were completely different from what they were in his youth.

It’s worth a read, and yet far from his best. For the record, it was one of my favorite books when I was fourteen. I keep meaning to go back to it, but so many books, so little time.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mark Twain and this period in his life, you might want to pick up one of any number of the fine biographies of Twain, such as Ron Powers’ Mark Twain: A Life.


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booksaleCome to the Central Library next weekend and stock up on books! Ones you can keep forever! There will be thousands of books covering dozens of subjects in at least four languages.

Our book sales happen thanks to the hard work of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library. Proceeds from SPL’s book sales pay for our museum passes and programs.




Book sale schedule:

Thursday, May 14      5:00-8:00 pm preview (For Friends who joined at the $50 level or higher)

Friday, May 15             12:00-4:00 pm

Saturday, May 16        10:00 am-4:00 pm

Sunday, May 17            1:30-3:30 pm


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lincolnYesterday was the 150th anniversary of the murder of Abraham Lincoln. He was shot in the head in Ford’s Theater, where he was watching the play Our American Cousin. A century and a half and three presidential assassinations later, it’s impossible for us to comprehend what a national trauma it was.  It was the first time an American president had been murdered.

Ford’s Theater has put together an online exhibit on national reactions to the assassination. It’s a fantastic example of how the Internet can be used to teach history. I’ve been a history geek my entire life. I wish the Web (and sites like this) had been around when I was a kid. Among the most instructive aspects of the exhibit are the indications that many people welcomed Lincoln’s death–and not just in the former Confederacy.  The site has an interactive map where you can see reactions to the assassination in different parts of the country. In San Francisco some people were apparently quite happy about it: Major General MacDowell ordered that anyone celebrating Lincoln’s death be arrested. To characterize the war as “North against South” is clearly an oversimplification.

The site has an additional collection of written reactions to Lincoln’s assassination, including Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain, My Captain!” and diary entries by Emilie Davis a free African-American  Philadelphian who wrote in her diary, “everything assumes a solemn aspect the streets look mournful the people more so.”

freedomThe anniversary is related to two popular subject areas at SPL: the Civil War and true crime. The Battle Cry of Freedom is a compulsively readable one-volume history of the Civil War.   I’ve also enjoyed another book by the same author: For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War.

For those fascinated by presidential assassinations, I cannot recommend highly enough the book Destiny of the Republic, an account of the shooting of President Garfield and the attempts to save him. It’s a gripping read: not only does the author vividly recount the life of an almost completely forgotten president, she also tells a fascinating story of nineteenth-century medicine. Alexander Graham Bell was summoned to Washington and asked to invent a device that could find the location of the bullet in Garfield’s body (no pressure). But the effort to create an X-ray machine was the only part of the president’s treatment that resembled modern medicine. In fact Garfield probably would have survived if he had been kept away from his doctors, who poked and prodded in his wound with unwashed hands and unsterilized instruments.


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…for April 9, 2015

Grant150 years ago today Robert E Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, bringing an end to four years of war that caused 600,000 deaths.  The generosity and forbearance of the victors in the American Civil War has no historical precedent: there were no executions; Confederate soldiers were allowed to keep their property; Confederate prisoners were released as soon as they swore an oath to never again fight against the U. S. government. When Union soldiers began to fire and cheer in celebration, Grant ordered them to stop: “The Rebels are now our countrymen again, and the best sight of rejoicing after victory will be to refrain from all celebrations.”

The war inspired a vast body of written work, including novels, cold Mountain Book Coverhistory, memoirs and poetry. My favorite novel set during the Civil War is Cold Mountain by James Frazier, the story of Inman, a Confederate soldier making his way back home to North Carolina and to Ada, the woman he loves. While Inman does his best to stay alive in a war-ravaged land where all order has broken down, the once-wealthy Ada has to re-learn how to live, how to grow her own vegetables, raise livestock and make her own clothes. This winner of the 1997 National Book Award is one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read in that I could actually believe the characters were from the nineteenth century, that I was experiencing a world I knew about, but that was at the same time profoundly alien.

One of my favorite works of Civil War history is Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America. Winik’s focus on so short a time period enables him to give his readers a sense of what it was like to live, work and fight in 1865. We follow Lincoln’s secretary John Hay as he walks to the telegraph office in the evening to wait for the latest reports from the front. We sit in on the deliberations of the Confederate government as they realize time is running out. And agonizingly, we walk with John Wilkes Booth into Ford’s Theater up to the President’s box where he commits one of the greatest crimes of all time. But this book is more than an epic retelling of events in the lives of famous men. Winik never lets you forget what the war was really about, and the greatest good that came out of it. He recounts the ex-slave Houston Holloway’s memory of becoming free in 1865: “I felt like a bird out of a cage. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

goreFor an overview of the cultural and political world of America in the 1850s and 60s, you probably can’t do better than Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore: Literature of the American Civil War. Wilson discusses, analyzes and dissects the writing of the period: travel accounts by Northerners in the South, diaries of Confederate ladies, memoirs by Union generals. He also reflects on the work of post-war writers who were shaped by the conflict, such as Kate Chopin and Ambrose Bierce.

If you’re interested in learning about the Civil War but none of these titles sound appealing, come to the library and ask me or one of my co-workers for help finding something. That’s why we’re here.


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Portrai163 years ago today Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in two volumes by the Boston firm John P. Jewett. The book had initially appeared in serial form in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era. 10,000 copies of the two-volume set were sold in two weeks and 300,000 in the first year. Jewett himself said, “Three power presses are working twenty-four hours per day, in printing it,…and still it has been impossible…to supply the demand.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the first American novel to sell a million copies, and is considered the most influential book of the nineteenth century for its role in turning public opinion against slavery. Related reading at SPL: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz and Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter.

On this day in 1841  Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue poeMorgue,” which is considered the first modern detective story, appeared in Graham’s Magazine. Certain aspects of the story became long-lasting conventions of detective fiction, including the brilliant detective with the less-than-brilliant sidekick who serves as narrator, the police who aren’t quite up to the job, and the clues that are hidden in plain sight which only the detective notices and understands.  Arthur Conan Doyle called Poe’s work “a model for all time” and based Sherlock Holmes in part upon Poe’s fictional detective, C. Augustin Dupin. Related reading and viewing at SPL: the Library of American collection Crime Novels: American Noir of the 30s and 40s, the nonfiction work Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries and the Revolution in Forensic Science, and the incomparable BBC television series Sherlock.




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