Archive for the “Books” Category

heywoodBoston University professor Linda Heyw0od gave a great talk last night on Prince Among Slaves, one of the titles in our Muslim Journeys bookshelf. Prince is the story of Abdul Rahman, a Fulbe prince captured and sold into slavery in Mississippi and his quest for freedom. The book is also a fascinating portrait of antebellum Natchez, the heart of the “Cotton Kingdom.” Dr. Heywood is a  dynamic speaker who  did a fabulous job placing the events and people of the book in their historical context, including the history of slavery in Boston.

The audience was very engaged and had a lot of questions. Dr. Heywood even took email addresses from audience members so she could follow up on the questions that deserved more thorough answers than she was able to give on the spot.

And FYI, we have multiple copies of the book available for checkout, as well as copies of a documentary on Rhaman’s life.

Thanks to Dr. Heywood, the ALA and the NEH, and everyone who attended.


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Join us at the Central Library Thursday July 17 at 7 pm when Boston University Professor Linda Heywood will give a talk on the groundbreaking heywoodhistorical work Prince Among Slaves, the story of an African Muslim prince’s enslavement in antebellum America and his quest for his freedom and that of his family. Even if you haven’t read the book, you should come. It should be a fascinating evening.

Abdul Rahman was 26 when he was abducted in the present-day Republic of Guinea and sent on a slave ship to the Americas. Like many enslaved Africans, he ended up in Natchez, Mississippi, the heart of  “the Cotton Kingdom.” After years of enslavement under the name “Prince,” during which he became the overseer of his master’s plantation, something utterly unexpected happened: a white man stopped him on the streets of Natchez, shouted his African name, and embraced him: John princeCox, an Irish doctor whose life Abdul Rahman had saved years ago in Africa, happened to be in Natchez and recognized him.  Cox immediately began a years-long campaign to win Rahman’s freedom that gained national attention. In the course of this campaign journalists and intellectuals visited and questioned Rahman, and what they learned upended white American assumptions about Africans: a literate prince, well-versed in Arabic literature, who was also a paragon of honesty and self-discipline, conflicted with the white prejudices that justified slavery.

We’re lucky to have Linda Heywood as our guide to this fascinating subject. A noted historian of New World slavery, Dr. Heywood has served as a consultant for museum exhibits at the Smithsonian and Jamestown, has appeared in the PBS series African American Lives, and was a consultant for the PBS series Africans in Latin America.

This program is made possible by a Muslim Journeys grant awarded to the Library by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.  We are grateful for their generosity.



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Some sources of Book Reviews

Some sources of Book Reviews

2014 is half over and there are more great books out there than ever! How do you choose what books to read? There are so many review sites out there and they all have different recommendations with different criteria of what is the “best”. Here are some of the sites I use to help me decide – because there is nothing worse than being on a road trip with a bad book (unless you have squabbling kids which takes the cake:)

  1. The Old Standby – NY Times Book Review: Here you will find the weekly tally of books that have sold the best throughout the country. What I like about this site is, one, it has been around forever and two, bestsellers are broken down into categories which include hardcover, paperback, eBook and children’s books. The thing I don’t like about this site is that it only goes by what’s been sold that week.
  2. – Here you can find what’s hot, what’s been sold, what’s coming. You can find books by subject, Kindle Top Sellers, Best eBooks of 2014 so far, Kindle Selects, summer reading for kids, Editor’s picks, and so much more. Does this amount to what you want to read? Maybe not, but it’s a great source of information on what’s out there and popular.
  3. Want to read a classic? The best place for this is Project Gutenberg. Here you can download classic non-copyrighted books for free! Or you can view lists of the Top 100 Ebooks by Title, Author, or timeframe (what’s the top 100 from last week or within the last 30 days). This is my first stop when I want to catch up on a book which I know I should have read but haven’t gotten around to.
  4. Goodreads is a totally reader driven review site (although it was recently bought out by Amazon, but that’s a different post). If you want to know what other readers are reading, this is the place. I especially like the Top 200 of 2014 – which is curiously different from most other review sites on this list:) I also like finding like-minded readers and following their recommendations. Here you can join the conversation, make your own lists and find hidden gems.

There are so many others but I’ll leave you with a couple more of my favorites: LibraryThing (also an online reader site) and FantasticFiction (which is not a review site but an invaluable resource to me). Once you decide what you want to read, remember that you can find these books at your local library. Happy Reading!


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A six-year-old is attacked by a tiger daily when he gets home from school.  He tries to get out of homework by faking amnesia.  At night he battles the bathtub suds monster as his tyrannical parents force him to adopt their bourgeois hygiene standards. He has marvelous adventures as he transforms himself into a pteranodon, Spaceman Spiff, or a bloodthirsty deity demanding human sacrifice, all the while accompanied by his combative tiger companion, who…strangely….looks like a child’s stuffed animal to everyone else.


I’m talking, of course, about Calvin, the sandy-haired psychotic who lives in an unnamed middle-American suburb with Hobbes, a tiger who’s occasionally a  lone voice of reason in Calvin’s world but more often his partner in silliness. For ten years (1985-1995) readers all over the world opened their daily papers to laugh at Calvin’s imaginative antics, and the reactions of not only his long-suffering parents, but also the completely sane Susie, Calvin’s classmate and sometimes friend. Being a fairly normal girl, Susie is taken aback at times by Calvin’s behavior, like when she’s playing  doctor with him and he demands that she submit to a lobotomy.


wattersonAll of us who loved Calvin and Hobbes owe those hours of joy to artist Bill Watterson, who turns 56 today.  Watterson is an appealing and unusual character. Unlike many other cartoonists, he turned down offers to merchandize the strip’s characters.  And he never had any interest in animations of Calvin and Hobbes.He just wanted to create a good comic strip, nothing more.

So that’s what he did for ten years. Then he stopped with a brief announcement that he felt he had gone as far as he could artistically with the medium. Then he disappeared (Time once included him in list of America’s ten most reclusive celebrities). He was out of the public eye until last month, when The Washington Post revealed that Watterson contributed for a very brief period to the strip Pearls before Swine.

But back to Calvin and Hobbes.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the strip is just a version of Dennis the Menace that’s actually clever and funny. Watterson took the tropes of the mischievous boy and the imaginary friend and gave them a metaphysical depth.  The catalyst for much of the strip’s action is a character who exists *only* to  Calvin. With  flights of comic genius and superlative artwork, Watterson is constantly teasing us with one of the most profound and unsettling of questions, “What’s real?”



Along with the brilliant humor and philosophical games, Watterson recreated all the delights and terrors of being so young. Calvin’s the age when we’re in the midst of discovering what a vibrant, beautiful place the world can be. But it’s also the age we start to learn about death and loss. When we learn about the sadness out there that can and will tinge every joy we’ll ever know.


Calvin and Hobbes was a ten-year-long crazed  love letter to childhood.

And fortunately it’s still out there for us. All three branches have Calvin and Hobbes collections on the shelves (the Central Library has them in Spanish and French as well as English). And some kind soul in Canada is posting a new Calvin and Hobbes strip every day on tumblr.



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Yes, it’s a sequel post. After my coworker wrote his piece about good books to read at the beach last week, I began thinking about what I believe to be a good beach read.

Being a non-beach-goer, my first thought was that the better a beach book it is, the more sand it has in its book jacket (how I usually ID good beach reads when reshelving books – hah!), but quickly focused on the following attributes: totally engrossing and very difficult to put down and something fairly light (although there are some who like a heavier read on vacation). However, my picks are pretty quick, easy reads.

So without further ado, here are some of my beach read picks:

Tales of the City and its sequels – Beginning in groovy 1970s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s nine TotC books TalesoftheCity-US_1st_editionfollow a group of friends, both gay and straight, as they have many jaw-dropping, soap opera-type adventures. Chapters are very short, because the first book was initially serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle. The first three books have been made into miniseries; I have only seen the first two and really enjoyed them. So you’ll have something to watch when you get back from vacation.

Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (first book, Dead Until Dark) – Some of you may know that these books have been made into the HBO series True Blood, focusing on the telepathic waitress from Louisiana and her supernatural beaux. Even if you’re a fan of the TV series, let me assure you that the book series has very little in common with HBO’s interpretation, so read away and don’t worry about spoilers. The 13 books in this series is perfect for fans of supernatural romance/mystery. It gets a little ridiculous near the end of the series, but it’s mostly a delicious, bloody confection to sink your fangs into.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton – This is also my pick for the book that always makes me LOL. When reading this book in ballfourpublic places, I have to smother my giggles at the exploits of Jim and his fellow baseball players, trying to hang on to their spots on the big league roster. In addition to being hilarious, there are also parts of the book that are quite inspirational as well. Whenever I am afraid to take a chance, I remember Jim’s words: “Don’t be afraid to climb those golden stairs.” I’ve read and reread this book many times since I first read it in high school (thanks, Dad), and it never gets stale. Even if you’re not a sports fan, pick up this book, get some laughs and feel as if you can take on the world – or at least make your mark on your little corner of it.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – I am not a fan of westerns by any means, but this epic had me hooked immediately. In 1876, two old friends, ex-Texas Rangers, decide to pull up stakes and drive their cattle to Montana to start the first cattle ranch in the area. On the way, they meet up with old loves and must navigate hostile Native Americans and other dangers. The many characters are portrayed incredibly realistically, and McMurtry keeps the action coming. This is also the first book in a four-book series, so there’s more to devour once you’re done with this one.


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Now that summer is here many of you are ready to head to the beach and let some warmth enter your bones. Or maybe just relax in a hammock on a weekend afternoon. In either case, you’ll need some good books, books you can lose yourself in, books that are…fun.

If you’re hoping to see any titles that are the flavor of the month you can stop reading right now.  I have far too many interests to keep up with the latest fiction; in any case, my recommendations aren’t all fiction.

orangeOrange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman (2o10). A funny, infuriating and ultimately redemptive story of how a young woman’s stupid mistake came back to temporarily derail her life. It’s also a story about how kindness and support can come from the most unlikely people in the most unexpected places.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen (2013), the most recent of the author’s crime comedies.  Meet Andrew Yancy, a cop in the Florida Keys with anger-management issues and a severed human arm in his freezer. Other than sabotaging the construction of a nearby house that will spoil his view of the beach, he doesn’t have a lot going on in his life. Then he starts dating a kinky coroner, discovers his ex is a sex offender and uncovers a case of medicare fraud.  Then a voodoo priestess’ ill-behaved capuchin monkey goes on a rampage. Then things get weird.

Any of Janet Evanovich’s novels about Stephanie Plum, a laid-off lingerie buyer who blackmails a cousin into hiring her as a bounty hunter. If you can, start with One for the Money (2006).

The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre (1977) is the sequel to Tinker, schoolboyTailor, Soldier, Spy, the 1974 novel usually considered the best spy novel ever written. And Honourable is every bit as good. The British secret service (a.k.a. “The Circus”) is in ruins after one of its top men has been unmasked as a Soviet spy who has compromised all its operations. Now, with almost all its agents and other staff dead or fired, newly-appointed director George Smiley ingeniously figures out how to get the Circus back into the Cold War. His unlikely weapon of choice is the Honourable Gerald Westerby, a sports journalist….

The Best of Wodehouse (2007). Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was one of the funniest writers ever, and this collection of two novels and 14 stories is all the evidence you’ll need. If you’ve never visited the world of Blandings Castle and its demented denizens or spent time with the delightfully dimwitted Bertie Wooster and his resourceful manservant Jeeves, you’re in for a treat.

Opus5The Bloom County Library (2009-) (yes, comics count) Open these volumes and enter a world of hilarity. Meet Opus the Penguin, the Falkland Islands refugee who worked as legal secretary for sleazeball lawyer Steve Dallas; ran for vice president on the Meadow Party ticket; and played tuba in the metal band Deathtongue.* Then there’s Bill the Cat, the movie star with repeat substance abuse problems (he’s the first known being to figure out how to free-base cat food); and child genius Oliver Wendell Jones, whose hacking caused the space shuttle to crash onto his neighbor’s beet garden and who used cells from Bill’s tongue for an early foray into cloning.

*I actually have Deathtongue’s only known LP.


More to come….


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Additional material by Sujei

Now that the United States has won a game at the World Cup,* you may be asking yourself, what more can I learn about soccer (or football, futebol, foutbòl, fútbol, etc., if you’d prefer)? Or maybe you’re one of our community’s many, lifelong Brazil fans and want to see what happens next as your team advances to the next round**? (We’ve noticed that the level of yellow around our streets has increased.)

All I see here is a Captain Picard-style facepalm.
All I see here is a Captain Picard-style facepalm.

Well, we’re here for you.

When the 2014 FIFA World Cup started a few days ago, 32 teams began playing all over Brazil, vying for the coveted title. By July 13, we’ll have a new world champion. If you’re looking for a way to watch matches on TV without cable, you’ll have to rely on the ol’ bunny ears or turn on Univision (which has the Spanish-language versions of games until the quarterfinals). Univision is also streaming matches online. (It helps if you know Spanish, but that won’t affect your enjoyment of the matches, IMO.) There are plenty of apps and several news sites to help keep up with the action.

If you’re more of a news/political junkie and less into sportsball, you can learn about the outrage against the alleged public misuse of funds that Brazilians are protesting and other controversies. For celebrity hounds, here are picks of some of the best commercials of the World Cup. Trivia geeks can turn to the interwebs for their own World Cup games.

For those of us who enjoy a good, old-fashioned narrative, we have many biographies – for both children and adults – on futebol players. Here are some other ideas:

- The World Cup : the complete history by Terry Crouch with James Corbett

- The soccer diaries : an American’s thirty-year pursuit of the international game by Michael J. Agovino

- Futebol nation : the story of Brazil through soccer by David Goldblatt

- El futbol : a sol y sombra by Eduardo Galeano (In English here.)

- Golazo! : the beautiful game from the Aztecs to the World Cup : the complete history of how soccer shaped Latin America by Andreas Campomar

- Who invented the bicycle kick? by Paul Simpson & Uli Hesse

And some for the kiddos:

- Happy like soccer by Maribeth Boelts

- Crazy about soccer! by by Loris Lesynski

- Out of nowhere by Maria Padian

Outcasts united : the story of a refugee soccer team that changed a town by Warren St. John

- Soccer star by Mina Javaherbin (Published by Somerville’s own Candlewick Press!)

*US beat Ghana 2-1 yesterday.

**Brazil played to an 0-0 draw with Mexico today.



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Are you an avid reader and a movie buff? Do you watch film adaptions of books you’ve read and make mental notes about plot changes and casting choices? Perhaps you should join the library’s Books into Movies discussion group.

It meets the third Monday of every month at the Central Library, 7:30 to 8:30. On June 16 the group will discuss Jim Thompson’s The Grifters and the film  of the same name starring John Cusack and Anjelic Huston, as well as the Robert Redford/Paul Newman film The Sting, based on David Maurer’s The Big Con. You’re welcome to come regardless of whether you’ve recently read the books or seen the movies.

Next month the group meets July 22 to discuss The Bridge over the River Kwai (book by Pierre Boulle; movie directed by David Lean).


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Books for Somerville Reads 2014 have arrived and are now available at all SPL locations!

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. The book that has been selected for 2014 is Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. A companion children’s book has also been selected: The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 by Deborah Kops. Both of these authors will be visiting the Library in September. Details about the author visits and other Somerville Reads events will be coming soon.

In the meantime, stop by one of the SPL Libraries, pick up your book, and start reading!  And to get in the spirit, why not try a molasses recipe or two?  We will be printing out some recipes for you to try in the coming weeks – they’ll be available near the display of Somerville Reads books.  Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans, anyone?


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It is with great sadness that the world learned today of the passing of poet, memoirist, and American icon Maya Angelou.

Among Angelou’s works are seven autobiographies, including the seminal I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, collections of poetry (And Still I Rise, I Shall Not Be Moved, Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, and many more), and personal essays, such as Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.

Maya Angelou was a highly acclaimed artist, civil rights activist, and humanitarian.  Among the many awards she received were  the Mother Teresa Award, the NAACP Image Award, induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Book Foundation Literarian Award, and the Norman Mailer Prize (Lifetime Achievement.)

Angelou moved countless people with the compelling power of her words, her images, and even her voice.  Many of us remember her powerful reading of her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993.  If you haven’t experienced this performance, or would like to relive it, you can find a video of it here (courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library.)


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