Archive for the “Books” Category

..for Thursday, August 27.

John-miltonBooks by John Milton are burned in London by the common hangman for his attacks on King Charles II. Related reading at Somerville Public Library: Royal Survivor: A Life of Charles II by Stephen Coote. Or if you’re in the mood for reading a really long poem, try Paradise Lost. I’ve always thought the list of fallen angels at the end of Book 1 would be a great source for cat names: Belial, Moloch, Leviathan….

The first Tarzan book, Tarzan of the Apes, was published by Grosset and Dunlap on this day in 1912. This story of a human baby raised by apes led to 25 sequels, innumerable comic books, two radio programs, at least one Saturday morning cartoon, many bad movies, and a parodic reference in Bloom County (Bill the Cat played the title role in the film Orangestoke: Legend of Bill, Lord of the Monkeys). Related reading at SPL: Tarzan at the Movies: A Pictorial History of More Than Fifty Years of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Legendary Hero by Gabe Essoe, or the Bloom County collection Night of the Mary Kay Commandos.

Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil and many other novels, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on this day in 1929. Related reading at SPL: Rosemary’s Baby. Or request the movie adaptation from another library in the network. It’s a masterpiece of direction and acting, and is widely considered one of the best horror films ever amde.


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open_culture_blogOne of my favorite websites for the fascinating, the stimulating and the unexpected is OpenCulture. It has links to 1,100 free online courses and more than 1,000 MOOCs.You could (for example) take a course on the Federal Reserve and its role in economic crisis, learn digital photography, learn to code, or study the history of pre-Safavid Iran.

The site also has a collection of 700 free movies that’s a film lover’s delight: it includes Bottle Rocket*, Alexander Nevsky, and the Sir Patrick Stewart/David Tenant Hamlet.

The site also features a small but well-chosen library of  downloadable audiobooks and ebooks. But my favorite part of OpenCulture at the moment is the archival recordings and films. I love history and accents fascinate me: so it’s a double treat to hear the voices of long-dead writers for the first time. In the recordings of Borges lecturing at Harvard, his accent slides back and forth between Argentine Spanish and the British English he learned from his Staffordshire-born grandmother.  When F. Scott Fitzgerald reads from Othello, or Syliva Plath from Ariel, you can hear traces of that lost American accent we know from Katherine Hepburn movies and recordings of FDR speeches. Flannery O’Connor’s distinctive old-time Georgia drawl and sensitivity to language add power to her reading of one of her most disturbing stories, “A Good  Man is Hard to Find.”

And if you’re in the mood for book recommendations, you’ll be interested to learn that OpenCulture has book lists by (among others)  Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ernest Hemingway, Patti Smith and  Art Garfunkel.

And there’s so much more on OpenCulture: art reproductions, music, writing advice. Go and explore.

The Internet: it’s not just cat videos anymore.




*Wes Anderson’s first film.


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On this day in 1861 the last installment of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations was published in the weekly magazine All the Year Round. This novel of an orphan boy, of friendship and of obsessive love  is a departure from Dickens’ previous works: it’s darker, with many of the characters shown in a much more sinister, questioning light than in his earlier novels. Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin called it “delicate and frightening, funny, sorrowful, mysterious.”

1916: Sir Roger Casement (right) was hanged for treason in the Tower of London. Casement had been a member of the British Casementcolonial service and one of the first human rights investigators of modern times.  He won international praise for exposing the exploitation of workers in the Congo and Peru. He was also a secret advocate of Irish independence. During World War I he traveled to Germany to purchase weapons for Irish nationalists to use in an armed revolt against the United Kingdom. He was eventually exposed and arrested. Casement is the subject of a widely acclaimed novel by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt. For a masterful nonfiction account of Casement and his peers, read Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 by Roy Foster.

pjamesHappy Birthday to  P.D. James (1920-2014), the grande dame of twentieth-century mystery writers.  I cannot say enough good things about her novels featuring police commander Adam Dalgliesh: they have fascinating plots, compelling characters, and are infused with a dark psychological realism. Among my favorites are Devices and Desires and Death in Holy Orders.

On this day in 1846 a group of 87 settlers headed for California made the fateful decision to take a new route across the Sierra Nevada. Dubbed the “Donner Party” by historians, they spent the winter trapped by heavy snowfalls. 39 members of the party died. Many of them were eaten by the survivors. If you want to know more about this grisly episode of American history and the realities of white settlement of the West, I suggest The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride. For a more general history of Western settlement up to 1848, I suggest Bernard DeVoto’s Across the Wide Missouri.


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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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