Archive for the “Books” Category
Today we honor the memory of one of the greatest Americans ever, a man whose courage, wisdom, and determination changed this country forever. In the twelve years between his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Martin Luther King did more to advance racial justice than had been accomplished in the previous century since emancipation.
The finest work I know on King’s life and work is Taylor Branch’s three-volume America in the King Years. I particularly enjoyed the first volume, Parting the Waters, which is an absorbing account of King’s career up to the March on Washington as well as a fascinating examination of African-American society in the Jim Crow era.
If you’re not up to tackling Parting (it’s over a thousand pages), I highly recommend Harvard Sitkoff’s The Struggle for Black Equality. It’s fewer than 300 pages and compulsively readable. The chapter on the Montgomery Bus Boycott alone makes the book worth a trip to the library.
If you would rather watch than read, try Eyes on the Prize. This 1987 documentary on the Civil Rights Movement won a Peabody and 2 Emmys.
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Technology has changed the way we consume entertainment. If you like cats, every minute Youtube uploads 72 hours worth of video (I am guessing 50% of which is cats doing funny things). Video was supposed to kill the radio star in 1981, but in 2013 modern technology has not bumped radio off yet; to to contrary, we have satellite radio. It would be hard to picture 20 years ago, pulling out your cell phone instead of a camera to take a picture, but that is where we are today. Books have also gotten a digital overhaul. In the past few years, eBooks have flooded the market. Manufacturers have produced a record number of Kindles, Nooks and iPads. How it will affect books in the future is playing out now in courtrooms and living rooms.
There is a lawsuit from the Justice Department about the the format eBooks are being sold and price fixing. What it breaks down to is: when you buy a book, how much do you really own it? And do the big publishers have a monopoly where they can set any price for their product?
Obviously there is more to the lawsuit than these questions, but it gets you thinking. It is easy to wrap up a book and give it as a gift. But when the giftee has an eReader, do you give them gift card to their online store with a book title in mind? Somehow that seems less personal. Many of the books I own have an inscription on the inside cover from a family member, or close friend– that’s not so easy with an eReader. And how many books have you lent out to a friend or bought for a birthday (hoping to borrow it in the future). The DRM format prevents sharing of eBooks. The music industry has scared the publishing industry into thinking anything that is digital will be stolen or pirated. If you own a Kindle and iPad and want to read your book on both devices- have fun buying it twice.
Classics, like Les Miserables, Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer, haven entered into the public domain, are available for free. This is a great way to find books and authors you’ve heard of your entire life, but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Somerville Public Library has its own collection of eBooks. We encourage you to check them out! What you can’t find in eBook format, try audio books. Now that many people have phones with mp3 capabilities, it is easier to carry an audio book rather than 7 CDs (as long as you have the digital space).
As much as we all love technology, there are certain feelings you get from having a book in your hands. The musty tang of an old book or the fresh ink and paper smell of a new book is a secret love of mine (even though I’m breathing in the decaying glue binding). Or how about the feeling of being 90% done with a book, and having your left hand full of the pages you have read? I know I’m not the only one who, at a party, looks over the host’s bookshelf to find out a little more about their reading proclivities. I’m looking forward to see how eBooks will change the Publishing industry. In the meantime- try not to go Fahrenheit 451 on your print books just yet (unless it’s the yellow pages).
Somerville Library Board of Trustees
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A few months ago I wrote a post about the joys of reading collections of letters. My introduction was clumsily worded, so I was delighted to find a statement by Eudora Welty on the value of letters. She says it far better than I ever could: “All letters, old and new, are the still-existing parts of a life…clamorous with the moment’s happiness or pain.” That sense of being part of someone else’s life is doubled in the collections I discuss below: each one is a window into a relationship. In these days of email and cheap long distance, it’s easy to forget that letters were the primary means of staying in touch for parted couples and faraway friends. These letter collections take you into the lives of a loving couple in a world turning upside down, a brilliant writer’s kind advice to a young man, and the collaboration that changed America’s culinary landscape forever.
The marriage of John and Abigail Adams was a rarity for its time in being a true partnership. Not only was Abigail never afraid to speak her mind to her husband, John usually took her opinions seriously. That mutual respect and affection is evident on almost every page of My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. At a time when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were political enemies, Abigail had the independence and forthrightness to tell her husband, “tho frequently mistaken in Men and Measures, I do not think him an insincere or a corruptable Man. My Friendship for him has never been shaken.” The regard John had for his independent wife is evident in comments such as “You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine.” In addition to discussion of the issues and personalities of the day, their letters reflect the day-to-day concerns of eighteenth-century Americans, such as worries about smallpox and complaints about poor quality beer. And these letters have an especial poignancy given how many others were lost to the uncertainties of eighteenth-century mail delivery during a time of war. Abigail wrote to her husband in 1778, “So many vessels are taken, that there is Little chance of a Letter reaching your Hands. That I meet with so few returns is a circumstance that lies heavy at my Heart.”
At the beginning of the last century Franz Kappus, a teenage military cadet with literary ambitions, wrote to the poet Rainer Marie Rilke for advice on pursuing an artist’s life. Rilke’s replies, published as Letters to a Young Poet , contain some of the most beautiful advice and meditations on life ever written. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could craft responses to letters that included such jewels as “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love,” or “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” Unfortunately for the curious, Letters to a Young Poet does not include Kappus’ replies: he wrote in his self-deprecating introduction to the 1929 edition, “where a great and unique man speaks, small men must keep silent.”
In 1951 the curmudgeonly journalist Bernard DeVoto wrote an article for Harper’s bemoaning the poor quality of American kitchen knives: “they look wonderful but they won’t cut anything.” Julia Child, who was living in Paris at the time, read the article. Having a kitchen stocked with the best in French cutlery, she sent DeVoto one of her knives. DeVoto’s wife Avis, who handled most of her husband’s mail, wrote Julia a letter of thanks. The ensuing correspondence was published in 2010 under the title As Always, Julia: Letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto: Food, Friendship and the Making of a Masterpiece. The two traded pans and herbs via post and wrote each other about cooking, politics, sex, their families and…a cookbook Julia was writing, which under Avis’ guidance would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As Always charts the give-and-take and occasional setbacks as Avis edited the expatriate’s recipes for the American public: “Page 5 — cleaning eggs…what do you mean? …we never have eggs that dirty.” In addition to insights on the creation of the book that changed how Americans cook and eat, As Always provides glimpses into the lives and minds of two delightful women. Avis followed politics with gusto, even if her predictions were sometimes off the mark (as when she predicted Adlai Stevenson would be “bigger than Roosevelt”). And Julia’s enthusiasm for food was simply one side of a voracious personality: she writes about learning Norwegian, “I don’t care how many mistakes I make as long as I can talk and talk and talk.”
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Well, it’s that time of year again! I have just started my yearly tradition of preparing my reading list for the new year. Goal for 2013: 30 books (ambitious as I only made it to 25 this year!) with a focus on the “Classics”. Here’s how it works: Every Christmas, I review the books that I read over the past few years (conveniently cataloged and self-reviewed on Goodreads
of course) and, in a vain attempt to break out of my favorite “popular fiction” and “crime novel” molds, I pick a new genre on which to focus. For example, this past year, I tried a little (light) fantasy out. This was a tough one for me as I am still traumatized by my childhood reading of A Wrinkle in Time
(sorry Madeleine L’Engle fans!). This past year I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the Hunger Games Trilogy
(Suzanne Collins), The Magicians
(Lev Grossman), and The Monstrumologist
(Rick Yancey). This year the Classics are up. Always a favorite with me, it has been far too long (in my estimation) since I have picked up a Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, or a Bronte. First up on the list, is The Count of Monte Cristo
(Alexandre Dumas) – which I have just checked out from the LIBRARY! So many books to get to…and time’s a-wastin’!
Kate Lane Van Sleet
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Here’s a sampling of new picture books available at the East Branch. Children’s librarian Meghan loves them and thinks that you will too!
Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee (who wouldn’t love a story of 2 canine companions that matter-of-factly states and illustrates, “They pee on the same tree.” !?)
The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood
Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse
It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle
Mr. Pine’s Purple House by Leonard Kessler
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The Director’s Author Series continues with two events this week.
On Wednesday, November 7:00th at 7:00 p.m., join us at the Central Library as we welcome author and investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan who will discuss her latest mystery thriller, The Other Woman.
A former US Senate staffer and political campaign aide, Hank Phillippi Ryan is the investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, and has won twenty-seven Emmys and ten Edward R. Murrow awards. A bestselling author of four mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Book Description: Jane Ryland was a rising star in television news…until she refused to reveal a source and lost everything. Now a disgraced newspaper reporter, Jane isn’t content to work on her assigned puff pieces, and finds herself tracking down a candidate’s secret mistress just days before a pivotal Senate election.
Detective Jake Brogan is investigating a possible serial killer. Twice, bodies of unidentified women have been found by a bridge, and Jake is plagued by a media swarm beginning to buzz about a “bridge killer” hunting the young women of Boston. As the body count rises and election looms closer, it becomes clear to Jane and Jake that their cases are connected…and that they may be facing a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to silence a scandal.
Dirty politics, dirty tricks, and a barrage of final twists, The Other Woman is the first in an explosive new series by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Seduction, betrayal, and murder – it’ll take a lot more than votes to win this election.
Then on Thursday, November 8th at 7:00 p.m., the West Branch will host an evening with Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe mysteries. Clea has also written three nonfiction books and her essays and short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies as well as The New York Times, The Boston Phoenix, and such magazines as American Prospect, Ms., and Salon.com. She lives in a 100-year-old house in Somerville with her husband, Jon S. Garelick (also a writer), and their cat, Musetta.
Book Description: Clea’s latest mystery is Cats Can’t Shoot. When Pru Marlowe gets the report of a cat shooting, she’s horrified. Animal cruelty is the one thing this tough-girl behaviorist won’t abide. When she gets to the scene, though, and finds a man dead – and his white Persian only slightly singed, she knows something else is afoot. Could the pampered pet have set off the rare dueling pistol? Or is the Persian being set up as a cat’s paw in a deadly game? That’s what Pru and her tabby sidekick Wallis must find out in Cats Can’t Shoot.
We hope that you’ll be able to join us for one or both of these Meet, Mingle, Read events!
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A friend read the earlier post about therapeutic reading and wrote to me that The Divine Comedy had helped him through a very difficult time (he thinks it was either Mark Musa’s translation or John Ciardi’s).* He has also found comfort in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Terrible Sonnets” (an example here) and the poetry of George Herbert. He added that in a crisis he often turns to books he knows will make him laugh, such as the works of David Sedaris (he specifically mentioned Me Talk Pretty One Day) and Nick Hornby (and like yours truly, he’s partial to A Long Way Down).
Another friend told me that when he’s depressed he reads books about other people with problems, but problems very different from his. His suggestions for bibliotherapy include Endless Love, Sophie’s Choice, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. He added that when he’s down he also enjoys nonfiction books about journeys: Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
He said, “A book about a journey is especially soothing to a depressed person. It takes you to a different place geographically, it taps into our human need for and enjoyment of one of the oldest archetypal narratives–the quest/journey–and its story of movement and progress toward a desired destination is, I think, quite medicinal for a depressed person.”
*When searching for The Divine Comedy in our catalog, you will have more options if you search for the individual volumes (e.g., Inferno, Paradiso.)
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Come to the East Branch Library on Thursday, October 18th at 7:00 p.m. and meet one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Halloween, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne. Lesley will share her knowledge of Halloween in a talk and slide show. She will also be signing copies of her new book, Halloween Nation.
On a mission to define the modern Halloween, Lesley delves into the world of enthusiasts, fanatics, and subcultures including Goth, metal, and zombie. In a series of investigative interviews, people from all walks of life reveal their devotion to this fall celebration as Bannatyne crafts a portrait of a wildly popular and surprisingly meaningful twenty-first-century Halloween.
A leading authority on Halloween, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne contributed the Halloween article found in World Book Encyclopedia and is Halloween advisor to the Vampire Empire. She has shared her knowledge of the holiday on television specials for Nickelodeon and the History Channel. Bannatyne is also the author of A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations; A Halloween Reader: Poems, Stories, and Plays from Halloween Past; Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History; and Witches’ Night Before Halloween, all available from Pelican. She is a Somerville resident.
“After reading this book, I’ve added about thirty things to this year’s ‘Halloween to-do list’! Halloween Nation is the perfect source for hundreds of different ways to celebrate our favorite holiday!”
-Richard Christy, writer/producer, The Howard Stern Show, SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio
“A sophisticated yet playful celebration of all things macabre, morbid, and marvelous . . . Bannatyne makes a great case for celebrating Halloween everyday, all year long. . . . It’s an energetic, thorough, and breathless salute to everyone’s favorite horror holiday.”
-Chris Alexander, editor in chief, Fangoria magazine
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Recently someone wrote to the editors of The Paris Review for reading recommendations. The person in question was suffering from severe depression. As a result he had already lost his job and relationship. He wrote that he was in therapy, but wondered if the editors could recommend books that would help him recover.
Sadie Stein responded with a thoughtful and lengthy list of reading suggestions. She began with books by people who have suffered from depression, on the grounds that whatever you’re grappling with, it’s good to know you’re not alone. She also suggested escapism in the form of rediscovering favorite childhood books and (since the writer admitted to trouble concentrating) collections of short works such as stories and essays.
Stein also recommended “life-affirming reads,” books that lift us up with “inspirational sentiments and sheer beauty of language:”
War and Peace, Huckleberry Finn, The Dead, Middlemarch, Disgrace, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, A Sentimental Education, The Brothers Karamazov—all these are books that reaffirm, for me, something essentially optimistic. Others—Children of Gebelawi, In Search of Lost Time, One Hundred Years of Solitude, most any Faulkner, The Magic Mountain, Things Fall Apart, The Tale of Genji, Moby-Dick, The Orchard, Pedro Páramo—will simply awe you. If those all seem too daunting, what about poetry? One woman I know says Wordsworth is what got her through the toughest time of her life.
The question of which books can cheer you up has been on my mind lately, as we approach the season of cold and rainy days when many of us don’t want to do anything but stay in bed and read. I’m not familiar with many of Stein’s recommendations, and thus can’t comment on them. But I will say this: as a Faulkner reader since college days,* I cannot imagine recommending Faulkner, no matter how beautiful his language, to someone who is depressed.
If I had to compose a similar list, I would start with books that just make me laugh. P.G. Wodehouse is (to me) possibly the funniest writer in English. I’ve recommended him on this blog before. His comic send-ups of upper-class English life in the last century will render almost anyone helpless with laughter. My favorites: Leave it to Psmith, The Code of the Woosters (which contains the classic Wodehouse line, “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled”) and Joy in the Morning. Other writers whose books I find hysterically funny: Carl Hiassen, Janet Evanovich (the Stephanie Plum series), James Thurber, Calvin Trillin, Matt Taibbi, and Roy Blount, Jr.
For “inspirational sentiments” I suggest Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, a novel about suicide that turns into a how-to-manual on getting on with your life.
Many of my favorite authors write books infused with affection or compassion for their characters, no matter how flawed they may be. Specific titles: A. S. Byatt’s Possession, Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, Amy Bloom’s short story collection Come to Me, Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, and Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore.
Anyone who finds great consolation in beautiful language can’t go wrong with Possession (again), any collection of W.H. Auden’s poetry, the poetry of Rilke (Stephen Mitchell’s translations), Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Great Gatsby, and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
Anyone who likes nonfiction of a philosophical bent might consider trying Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or anything by the current Dalai Lama. Another possibility is Walden, a reflection on society and life that I love in part because Thoreau can be completely right and absolutely nuts at the same time. Furthermore Walden has one of the most optimistic final sentences in American literature: “The sun is a morning star.”
Like any book list, this one is incomplete. I’m sure many of you have other suggestions. But for now, turn off the computer and start reading.
*I’ve been described by friends as a “Faulknerite,” a “Faulkner nut” and (my favorite) an “American lit. pusher.”
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Posted by: Kevin in Books
…I’m talking, of course, about literary awards. Earlier this week the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the National Book Award. The fiction finalists include MacArthur Fellow Juno Diaz’s short story collection This is How You Lose Her, Native American writer Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House, and Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King. Among the nonfiction finalists are Washington Post writer Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956, the much-talked-about Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, and Passage of Power, the latest volume of Robert Caro’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Lyndon Johnson.
Meanwhile the Swedish Academy awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature to Chinese novelist Mo Yan, whom The Washington Post calls “the wild man of Chinese fiction.” And next Tuesday the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced. The shortlist is here.
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