May 9, 2013
As we approach the halfway point of 2013, it’s a good time to remind people of our “100 Book Club” – celebrating the Library’s 100th anniversary by reading 100 books. Book logs are available at the library and Tempest Book Shop. You can count books you’ve read for other projects (DCF, school, work), audio books, and even very short books. Everyone who reads 100 books will get a prize from Tempest, a big party at the library plus, of course, a huge sense of accomplishment. One grand prize winner chosen randomly from all participants will win an eReader. If anyone can’t remember what they’ve read in the last five months, we can help by at least showing you what you’ve checked out from the library.
Two upcoming library events are a presentation by Fariborz Mokhtari, author of In the Lion’s Shadow, on May 20th at 6:30, and a classical chamber music concert benefitting the library on May 22nd at 7. The subtitle of Mr. Mokhtari’s book is The Iranian Schindler and His Homeland in the Second World War. It tells the story of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat in France during World War II. Using history from thousands of years past, Sardari saved the lives of thousands of Iranian Jews by asserting that they were racially different than European Jews. This is a fascinating piece of history unknown to many. Fariborz Mokhtari is a renowned scholar, writer and professor. His book has been featured on the BBC, at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center, on the website of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and many other venues, and we are fortunate to have this local opportunity to hear the author talk about his work. His book is at the library, Tempest Book Shop, and he will bring copies of it to sell at the event.
The Burlington Ensemble is a professional chamber music group with a commitment to contributing proceeds from their concerts to non-profits. This spring they have chosen libraries as their beneficiaries, and we are one of the lucky libraries. The concert will be at the Valley Players Theater. Tickets are $20 and will be available at the door or at www.burlingtonensemble.com. It promises to be an enjoyable evening of string music, with music by Telemann, Bartok and Prokofiev.
We have some terrific new non-fiction right now. Both Temple Grandin and Michael Pollan have new books. Grandin’s book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum is co-written with science writer Richard Panek. It effectively combines science with her own story, making it accessible to non-scientists, and, as her previous work also did so well, this book promotes understanding by offering information about something which affects a huge number of people but is often misunderstood.
In Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan once again writes about food, with a focus this time on cooking. He chronicles his education about many different kinds of cooking- grilling, baking, fermenting – and also analyzes the social and cultural aspects of cooking. His premise that cooking is a way for individuals to counteract the industrialization of food and positively impact the environment is inspiring.
And a favorite of mine is The Girls of Atomic City: the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan. Just as I had no idea who Abdol-Hossein Sardari was until recently, I didn’t realize that Oak Ridge, Tennessee was created from scratch to support uranium enriching plants working on the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This book is the story of the young women that worked in various capacities at Oak Ridge. Persuaded to take jobs that would help the war effort but knowing nothing about where they were going or what they were going to do, these women (men, too, but this book focuses mostly on women) came from a variety of backgrounds, races, and regions. They lived together, but knew very little about what work their peers did, and, in fact, knew little about their own work beyond what they needed to complete each task. This is the best kind of history reading – lots of information conveyed with a great sense of narrative and filled with interesting personalities.
April 18, 2013
Early 2013 has brought us many books by Vermont authors. Very locally, Jim Tabor's new novel, Frozen Solid, set at the South Pole and featuring The Deep Zone protagonist Hallie Leland, has gotten great reviews and is already popular at the library. Publication of a new book by this bestselling author is a good time to remember that you can place holds on books online, or call the library and we'll be glad to do it for you.
Staying very local, on Thursday, April 18th at 7, Rob Williams will speak at the library about the recently published book he co-edited, Most Likely to Secede: What the Vermont Independence Movement Can Teach Us about Reclaiming Community and Creating a Human-Scale Vision for the 21st Century. This is a collection of essays previously published in the news journal Vermont Commons, spanning from 2005 to 2011. Topics include energy use, food, information, economics and governance, considered from the perspective that smaller is more effective than huge. One author writes that "life in America is going to become profoundly and intensely local." Many of the essays give examples of ways that is already happening to some degree and with some success- CSAs and Front Porch Forum are both recognized as positive organizational models. On the other hand, mainstream media is critiqued for its monolithic delivery of information and its capacity to persuade or even brainwash people consuming it. Some of the book's language can be off-putting: for example, the challenge to "temper the excesses of the global capitalist empire" made me feel a bit like I was 19 and listening to caffeine-fueled classmates enrolled in their first lefty college political science class, but the passion is admirable, and there is no doubt that this book is filled with thought provoking and sometimes inspiring ideas. It will be great to get the big picture when Rob and possibly other writers from the collection share their thoughts with us on the 18th.
Continuing in the vein of inspiring and passionate, My Name is Jody Williams: a Vermont Girl's Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize is Williams' own telling of her remarkable life. This book has so many of my favorite things: a fierce woman fighting for causes larger than herself, good storytelling, humor and adventure. It's a completely readable and personal account of both her impact on the world stage, and also the ways in which her life, although extraordinary, is still reconcilable experiences we all have.
On the children and young adult new book shelves we also have a good representation of Vermont authors, including two of my favorites, Tanya Lee Stone and Beth Kanell. Stone has a new picture book about Elizabeth Blackwell, entitled Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? It is the story of Blackwell's perseverance in the face of gender discrimination and other obstacles, but it's kept accessible and far from preachy by Stone's language and Marjorie Priceman's zany illustrations. Stone's other new book is Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickels: America's First Black Paratroopers. Filled with information and photographs, this is narrative nonfiction at its best, and although intended for a youth audience, there is plenty of material to keep adults interested.
Beth Kanell's newest book is Cold Midnight. Based on the real unsolved murder in 1921 of St. Johnsbury's one Chinese person, Sam Wah, this is naturally full of mystery. It also has likable characters, and a good sense of local-ish history. Also new to our collection is an older book by Kanell, Darkness Under the Water, which is the coming of age story of a half Abenaki Indian half French Canadian girl living in Vermont in the 1920s. I haven't read it yet but it looks intriguing and has long been popular at other libraries.
March 21, 2013
interested in the publishing world, personalities of famous authors or, more
specifically, people who read A Wrinkle in Time multiple times and eagerly
looked for other books by Madeleine L'Engle each time they went to a library or
bookstore when she was still alive, will love to sink into the world of
Listening for Madeleine, by Leonard S. Marcus. This is a series of interviews
and discussions about L'Engle, contributed by her family members, several people
who edited her work or worked in publishing houses for whom she was a celebrity
author, other well-known authors, and more. Reading this material offers a
chance to separate myth from fact, learn about the real lives of people she
based characters on, and to gain insight on what parts of her public persona
were real, and which she constructed, and why there were these differences. It
is also a glimpse a rich cultural and literary world of last century. This is a
bit of a niche book, but if this is your niche, it's really a great read.
Continuing with children's literature icons, Maurice Sendak's last book is out, and it is a very intense and beautiful book, filled with pictures, but not a children's book. My Brother's Book was written in memory of Sendak's brother Jack, who died in 1995. It is about loss and grief and love, written in verse that requires more than one reading to make an impact, but the wash of strong feeling comes through strongly, especially through in the almost desperate and wild artwork.
On a lighter note, we have a program at the end of March that is an occasion for dipping into some juicy mysteries. Sisters in Crime is an international organization that promotes mystery writing and writers, and its local chapters sponsor programs. At 2p.m. on March 23rd, we are hosting Vermont writers Nancy Means Wright and Beth Kanell presenting “Historic Women as Sleuths.” Both authors write historical mysteries that feature resourceful women unlocking clues and figuring out things others can’t. Their books will be available for purchase and signing, and the library will have several books by both of them at the library. Call 496-4205 with questions.
We also have the latest by the prolific James Patterson and Robert Crais, plus a couple new books from less well-known authors that look to be good contributions to the suspense genre: The Burning Air, by Erin Kelly, Three Graves Full, by Jamie Mason, and Bear is Broken, by Lachlan Smith. And for the non-fiction minded, the new biography of Calvin Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes, Sonia Sotomayor's autobiography, My Beloved World, and Al Gore's latest, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.
February 7, 2013
It’s the time of year when I put loads of time and energy into helping the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer Project create a list of recommended feminist books for children and youth. Knowing that other readers may not share my passion for feminism or, oddly enough, may not read young adult books when they are in fact no longer young adults, I’ve picked a few from the list that I think will appeal to adults, regardless of their thoughts on feminism. There is some great historical fiction on the list this year, magic realism, a spy story, and more than one adventure/survival story. There is also an Amish vampire book, The Hallowed Ones, by Laura Bickle, which is strange, but surprisingly readable. The full list and more about the project is at http://ameliabloomer. wordpress.com.
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is not only on the Amelia Bloomer List, but it also is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, has been nominated for an Edgar Award (distinguished mystery writing), and is a Printz honor book, which is the American Library Association award for excellence in young adult literature. It is the story of two women in World War II, one a spy, one a pilot. Their friendship and loyalty to each other and to the Allied cause are entwined in an intricate plot that is unveiled slowly and mysteriously, through the character Verity’s “confession” to the Nazis who are holding her prisoner. You will be drawn in, surprised, moved, and won’t be able to put this down as you get near the end and all the pieces start to come together. A terrific mystery, spy novel, World War II novel and yes, also an homage to women in history who did unconventional jobs and showed great bravery and strength. We have audio and print versions of this book at the library.
Eight Girls Taking Pictures, by Whitney Otto, spans the twentieth century and geographically covers the United States, Europe and South America. The “eight girls” are all photographers, with some connections to real people, although this is definitely a work of fiction. As they pursue artistic expression and careers, they also reveal their personal passions and their struggles to cope with constraints of their circumstances, whether caused by war, bigotry, or repressive families. And because of the book’s large scope, the reader also gets a feel for important events of the time periods covered, such as two world wars, and the glamorous locations where the women live and work, including Berlin, New York, London and more. Descriptions of evolving photographic techniques are woven into the plot, supported by photographs at the start of each section of the book. The eight sections don’t meld together in the satisfying way the plot twists in Code Name Verity do, but there are enough connections to make this feel like a novel, not eight novellas.
To relax a bit and enjoy something lighter after a diet of social justice and fierce protagonists for most of January, this week I’ve been enjoying The Red Book, by Deborah Kogan. It’s a fictional look at Harvard alumni, whose travails serve as an entertaining reminder that a good, expensive education, lucrative jobs or partners with trust funds aren’t guarantees for happiness.
On Wednesday, March 6th at 6:30 pm, veterinarian Dr. Steven Metz, who recently spoke on WDEV, will speak at the library about his work as a vet and his new book, Exotic Tails. We have the book at the library, for those who want to read it ahead of time, and he will also bring copies to sell. He’s full of colorful anecdotes, and has the spirit of a storyteller, so this is sure to be educational and lots of fun. We also will have the second discussion on Peter Johnston's book, Opening Minds, Wednesday, February 20th, at 6:30. It's OK to come to this if you missed the first one, and we still have some copies of the book, so please join us if you're interested in exploring the power of language in working with children, either as an educator or a parent or grandparent.
December 20, 2012
the time of year to be happy about winter, and it's always the time of year to
be happy about dogs, so here are some related books new to the library
collection. First, dogs: Has there ever been any publication with better
cartoons than The New Yorker? And of course it is also filled with great short
fiction, poetry and essays by some of the world's most insightful and sometimes
entertaining authors. So a compilation of years and years worth of New Yorker
pieces related to dogs can only be wonderful. The
Big New Yorker Book of Dogs starts with an adorable cover (James Thurber),
followed by a foreward by Malcolm Gladwell. Then comes over 400 pages of work by
John Cheever, Roald Dahl, Susan Orlean (of Rin Tin Tin fame), E.B. White, John Updike, and more. As you can
tell by the authors featured, the book spans generations of writers who chose to
express something about dogs, dogs' relationship with humans, dogs as metaphors
for humans, good dogs, bad dogs and in-between. (The book is actually divided
into sections with the titles Good Dog, Bad Dog, Top Dog, and Underdog.) This
book works for browsing the cartoons or exploring more deeply to experience the
range of content and enjoy the high quality of the writing.
into the winter theme, Twelve Kinds of Ice,
written by Ellen Bryan Obed and illustrated by Barbara McClintock, is a
celebration for all ages of not just ice in its many forms, but winter, family
and nature. McClintock's inviting illustrations add to the atmosphere as the
book follows a family from the beginning of winter through spring, with
different kinds of ice at each stage of the season, from that first thin sliver
to black ice, to great skating ice. Anyone who loves to skate or can't resist
pushing their boot through a not completely frozen puddle will want to cuddle up
with this book and a cup of hot chocolate.
combining dogs and winter, An Echo Through
the Snow, by Andrea Thalasinos, is a mix of history, dog sledding and
self-discovery. One story is of Rosalie, a struggling young woman who heals and
evolves through rescuing and bonding with a Siberian husky, eventually becoming
immersed in the world of competitive dog sledding. This contemporary story
coexists with the book's parallel story, which tells of the treatment suffered
by the Chukchi people in Siberian at the hands of Stalin. This is a fascinating,
obscure part of history, and its juxtaposition to Rosalie's story seems a bit
stilted, but it's still interesting to read about.
something more gritty, a new detective novel at the library is The
Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty. Set in Belfast in 1981, it features
detective Sean Duffy, the rare Catholic detective in a mostly unionist force. In
an environment exhausted by crimes and "The Troubles," people are
suspicious of each other and detectives are overwhelmed by their workload.
Duffy's exploration of the murder of two gay men leads to questions about a
possible serial killer, the IRA, and corruption. This is the first of a trilogy
about a fascinating time and place, featuring a complex main character who makes
the reader want to learn more about him and his world.
Other high interest new books are Janet Evanovich, Notorious Nineteen, Nelson DeMille, The Panther, and Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth. Remember, if the book you want is checked out, you can place a hold on it from home if you have a username and password. Call or stop by the library if you need your login information or need help.
December 6, 2012
At this time of year the media is full of "Best Books of 2012" lists and gift book ideas. Whether you want a chance to look at these books before buying them as gifts or you get inspired about what to read yourself by browsing the lists, remember that the library has many of these books in our collection. We also know which of these are popular locally, which can often be a better recommendation than a more global resource. Some examples of nationally and locally endorsed titles that are on our shelves:
by Edward St. Aubyn, is the last of his Patrick Melrose novels. (We also have
some of the previous ones.) In addition to glowing written reviews, I think
almost everyone who has returned this to the library has raved about it and
asked for more books by this author.
Watergate, by Thomas Mallon, is a fictionalized version of
the events surrounding the Watergate scandal. One review compared it to The TV
show The West Wing, and it really is
that accessible, full of fascinating personalities and plot twists, some famous,
others not so much. Again, good reports back from a diverse cohort of local
a favorite of mine, completely unusual and appealing to feminist, historical,
anthropological and arguably spiritual and even seasonal sensibilities,The
Testament of Mary, by the amazing Colm Toibin, is impossible to put down.
It's short yet intense, and merits devoting time to sitting down and reading all
at once, should you be so lucky to have time to do that. The Mary characterized
in this book (the mother of Jesus) is much more complex, brooding and ultimately
more powerful than iconic images of her with blond hair and a maternal yet
long-suffering facial expression. This woman recognizes the stark reality and
complexity of her life, and refuses to be manipulated into another persona by
her son's followers.
the non-fiction realm, The Patriarch,
David Nasaw's biography of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, is filled with interesting
details about the patriarch of this famous, never boring family. Meticulously
researched (Nasaw is the only biographer who had full access to J.P. Kennedy's
papers in the Kennedy Presidential Library)and very readable, this is the story
of a financier, an ambassador, a movie maker, and very human family man. And, of
course, it's always fun to look at pictures of the Kennedys.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life
and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan, was recommended by a library
volunteer (the volunteers are consistently good resources for books
suggestions). Curtis' photographs are instantly recognizable and learning about
the person behind them and the settings he traveled to brings to life the time
period and people he documented. Also suggested and highly recommended by a
volunteer, On a
Farther Shore: the Life and Legacy of
Rachel Carson, by William Souder.
library events: holiday party December 22nd. And in January we will host our
first Parents' Reading Group, facilitated by Children's Librarian, Lisa Italiano.
The discussion will be about Peter Johnston's book, Opening
Minds: Using Language to Change Lives. Six print copies of the book are
available for participants, and the book is also on the library Kindles, which
can be checked out. The first discussion will be January 23rd at 6:30 pm at the
library. Call for more information.
November 21, 2012
we enter into the holiday season, things are about to get very festive at the
Joslin Library. To begin with, there are cookies at the library during December.
There are some very good cooks who volunteer at the library, so you don’t want
to miss these treats. This year we also have a newly donated Keurig coffee maker
to enhance your book reading and cookie munching pleasure. Look for some kid
activities during the school break, too – more information on that when we
the real fun has to do with our 2013 100th anniversary. There will be
activities related to this all year. The part you might already want to be
thinking about is the challenge to read 100 books during 2013. There will be
special prizes for those who finish in time for our big celebration August 10th,
2013, so plan your reading accordingly. Listening to books works, too, either
through books on CD, downloadable audio books (stop by the library if you need
help using this service either on your computer or mobile device), or, no matter
your age, persuading another person to read aloud to you. Remember that you can
count DCF books, books for the winter Vermont Humanities Council Reading and
Discussion or other library programs, books for work, etc. (The books for the
VHC program will be available at the Joslin and Warren libraries the first week
looking a bit ahead, VPR commentator and author Bill Schubart will discuss his
book Panhead at the library January 10th
at 7 pm. His book is available at the library, and is described by one reviewer
this way: “Schubart has taken his native Vermont and transformed it into a
meditation on the human condition.” Schubart has used the book as a point of
departure for discussions at libraries and bookstores throughout the state about
Vermont culture. These have been very well received, and our turn is January 10th.
of the themes of Panhead, such as the
complexities of small town or rural life and the changing perspective about that
gained after a person ventures out into the broader world, are also expressed in
Richard Russo’s new memoir, Elsewhere.
There is much familiar in this from his fiction, too: the struggling blue collar
town, and colorful personalities whose relationships are complicated by the
limitations of the options available to them. Russo’s mother is a large
personality who dominates this book as well as, seemingly, at times, his life.
From the outside it looks awfully messy and a tad co-dependent, but there is
something very sweet about his dedication, too. And as with a lot of memoirs by
writers who portray their families as wildly dysfunctional, one ends up
wondering how in the world Russo was able to turn his upbringing into great art
and critical acclaim.
real treat on the new books shelf is Mary Oliver’s A
Thousand Mornings. Oliver writing about nature in every season always makes
me want to go enjoy the outdoors, and her writing about animals is exquisite.
This woman loves dogs possibly even more than I do, and expresses it
the other end of the reading spectrum, the new Diary
of a Wimpy Kid book is here: this installment is The Third Wheel, and finds Greg in middle school looking for a date.
As funny as ever.
4th at 10 AM is the next Tech Tuesday. Come into the library for help
using our website, to learn to get the most out of our catalog, and/or to learn
how to download audio or eBooks or access our other electronic resources.
November 8, 2012
Erdrich is such a satisfying author to read on so many levels, and her newest
novel, The Round House, is one of her
most gripping. Narrated by 13 year old Joe, son of a Native American tribal
judge father, and tribal clerk mother, this is the story of what happens to Joe,
his family, and their community after his mother is brutally attacked. Erdrich
intertwines a page-turner crime story with tribal law, boys coming of age, and
complex relationships experienced in families and among friends. Joe
narrates the story as a wise, thoughtful adult, so there is some comfort in the
fact he seems to have reached adulthood emotionally intact, but there is also a
looming sense of awful things that have happened and are about to happen that
pushes the story forward. The characters are well- drawn and often lovable: his
father is like a Native American Atticus Finch, his best friend Cappy full of
magnetic young adolescent energy and confidence and as loyal and compassionate a
friend as anyone could hope for. The minor characters are eccentric and
enjoyable, too, with some of the older ones providing comic relief in an
otherwise very intense book. Having a son almost Joe's age made this especially
powerful for me, since I couldn't help wondering as I read what it would be like
for my son if something awful happened to me- would he want to seek revenge, but
even more, would he have the support system Joe has, which is so positively
portrayed in spite of the dark plot elements. This is a book not to be missed by
mystery lovers, people who love family stories, people interested in Native
Americans, law, and, for anyone who has enjoyed Erdrich's writing in her
previous books, you might love this one even more.
also have a new children's book by Louise Erdrich, Chickadee. This is the fourth book in her Birchbark House series,
but because it focuses on new characters, is fine read as a stand alone.
Historical fiction with lots of details about life in the upper Midwest and the
Objiwe culture, this also has adventure and humor that will engage young
readers. And on the subject of children's books, check out new additions to our
biography shelf: subjects are Teddy Roosevelt, Marcel Marceau, Toussaint
L'Ouverture, Louisa May Alcott and more. Many of these have enough information
to engage adults who want to learn about a person without committing to an
adult- length bio.
new feature in our catalog is the listing of over 40,000 eBooks available
through Project Gutenberg. These are titles in the public domain, so include
many older books and classics, but the offerings are quite diverse and also
include newer books whose copyright has expired. Checkouts for these books never
expire, don't count toward the 3 book check out limit, and can be downloaded or
read online. This is a good source to check if we don't have something you're
looking for- quicker and cheaper than Inter Library Loan.
in periodicals, we have begun getting Wired,
which reports on the intersection of technology, culture, economics and
politics. It's quite easy to read with contemporary kind of hipster graphics
which seem at first like they might be distracting, but they're easy to get used
to or ignore if you're so inclined.
a reminder the Friends of the Joslin Library is in the midst of their annual
fundraising. This group makes possible so much of the really fun, cool stuff we
do at the library- a variety of programs, guest authors, yummy food at programs
and other times like December when they're feeling especially generous and
nurturing, professional development for me so I get new ideas, and more. So
please consider contributing if you can to help keep our library a vibrant,
joyful place! Your donations are much appreciated and will be put to good use.
October 4, 2012
fall seems to be overflowing with new books by respected and famous authors. New
on our shelves in the past few weeks are books by J.K. Rowling, Junot Diaz,
Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie, among others. A favorite of mine so far is
Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue. From the very beginning of this book
there is a strong sense of the depth of the characters and such a feeling of
place in the way he describes Berkeley. This is a book with interesting people,
music, conflict that's easy to relate to, and language that is expressive and
beautiful to read.
Marton's memoir, Paris: a Love Story, also offers good writing and a
fascinating glimpse into famous world figures and, of course, Paris. Marton
writes about her fairly exotic life, with tales about her famous husbands
interspersed with cameos by Clintons and Kennedys and the like. Reading this is
a bit of a guilty pleasure, a kind of highbrow People Magazine experience, good
for rainy weekends.
movie Cloud Atlas comes out later this month, and for those wanting to
read the book first (by David Mitchell), we have it. We also have new books by
the ever popular and prolific James Patterson, Lee Child, Stuart Woods, Clive
Cussler, plus Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice, by Michael Brandman.
are excited to add a new children's magazine to the collection for the first
time in many years. Muse features great art work, and engaging articles
about science and other non-fiction. According to the website, "Muse
can be serious, silly, or subversive, but it is never
dull." The October issue we just got, about zombies, definitely
fulfills that description, and we hope kids will enjoy it.
programs at the library are Pizza and Game Night Friday, October 12th, from 5
until 7. This is for all ages, and we're open to any board games. We'll have
several, but bring your own if you have a favorite. I personally am hoping a
ruthlessly competitive Scrabble player shows up, but people with a more gentle
approach to games are also welcome.
October 24th at 7 pm we will host a program by Moretown based photographers,
Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson (Ember Photography). They will present a slideshow
about their bicycle-powered skiing exploration of Norway’s Arctic Alps. This promises to be an educational
and entertaining evening, with stunningly beautiful photographs.
And a reminder that the first Tuesday of each month is Tech Tuesday, from 10 until 12. This is a time to bring in questions about downloading books, using our catalog, or other tech related questions. The library isn't open for regular activities during that time, so it's a good time for focused attention on questions that come up. No need to sign up in advance, but if you know you're coming with a specific question, let me know ahead of time and I'll try to be sure to be prepared!
September 20, 2012
This year is the 30th
anniversary of Banned Books Week. Sponsored by booksellers, publishers,
libraries and other organizations committed to championing freedom to read and
access to information, Banned Books Week provides an annual opportunity to
celebrate these values, draw attention to censorship, and revisit some of the
controversial books that have been challenged over the years. Highlighting some
of the surprising titles included on lists of challenged books (classics,
picture books, the dictionary) reveals how pernicious and sometimes absurd
censorship can be.
Saturday, September 29th at
2 pm the Joslin Library is hosting a Banned Books Coffee Klatsch. The idea is
for people to come together to share short excerpts from a challenged or banned
book that especially affects them. A list of banned books could easily contain
childhood favorites, required reading from high school or college, or any number
of books by renowned and popular authors -
Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Judy Blume. Think of a fantasy book that uses
magical or supernatural imagery to portray the struggle between good and evil,
and chances are someone has worried this book will corrupt or confuse children
and should be banned.
We want to stir up passions about why
we can love a certain book, but someone someplace and at some time could think
that same book should be removed from library shelves or kept out of classrooms;
to discuss the fear behind limiting access to unorthodox ideas, because
censorship doesn’t embrace meeting a new or disturbing idea thoughtfully.
Banning a book means preventing people from reading the ideas at all, rather
than celebrating the fact that written words have the power to change the
reader’s world view. Basically, attempting to ban a book suggests that readers
aren’t capable of making their own decisions and processing information on
their own because they are too young? not intelligent enough? lacking some sort
of moral compass?
For the Coffee Klatsch we will provide
copies of challenged books we have in our collection. People can also bring in
their own books to share. There are many resources for lists of frequently
challenged books, some of which include, even more intriguingly, the reasons
given for the challenge. A good place to start is the American Library
Association website (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek).
Huffington Post also features the topic periodically, with pictures of book
covers and commentary.
All ages are welcome at the Coffee
Klatsch- this affects people of all ages, and books for readers at every stage.
We’ll serve some good, strong coffee to stimulate the intellectual juices, and
something more gentle for kids, too.
September 6, 2012
As fall approaches there
are many new books to read, and several upcoming library programs. It always
seems a little mean when great new children’s books come out right when school
is starting and kids have less time for discretionary reading, but this has
happened again this year. Rebecca Stead, author of the fabulous 2010 Newbery
Medal winner, When You Reach Me, has a new book out: Liar
& Spy. This is the story of several likable, eccentric children with
wonderfully strange names. Mystery and coming of age elements effectively mix as
Georges copes with changes in his family and friendships and learns more about
the people around him. It is the endearing quirkiness of the characters that
makes this such a good read, as well as the accuracy with which Stead portrays
the worries, language and insights of middle school students.
Kizzy Ann Stamps, by Jeri Watts, is a thoughtful and unusual look
at the first days of school integration in Virginia. This is material that’s
been written about in countless novels, but this one is unique because of its
voice, letters between Kizzy Ann and her White teacher plus Kizzy Ann’s
journal entries, and because of the concurrent story of Kizzy Ann’s border
collie. The way Kizzy Ann and her teacher reveal their temperaments and
attitudes as they slowly get to know each other is warm and enjoyable to
experience. The border collie story is appealing because it’s a girl and her
dog story, not boy and his dog, but it’s also historically interesting. Border
collies were still unusual in the U.S. fifty years ago, and although she knows
from the start that her dog is smart and loyal, it’s not until she finds a
Scottish expatriate to help her train Shag that Kizzy Ann discovers how special
the dog really is.
New in one of my most
favored categories, Young Adult books complex enough to appeal to adults,
Deborah Heiligman, author of the wonderful biography of the Darwins, Charles
and Emma, has written Intentions, an intense novel in which
15 year old Rachel begins to deal with the adults in her life failing her in
various ways. Early in the book she becomes disillusioned with her long-admired
rabbi, who is the very person she once would have turned to for help dealing
with her parents fighting and her grandmother’s dementia, to say nothing of
more basic teen worries, like shifting friendships and first romantic and sexual
relationships. Rachel makes some fairly large mistakes, but there is always
reflection on the consequences of her behavior, and on kavanah, or acting with
intention, an important spiritual tenet of her upbringing. Her move beyond
self-absorbed behavior to brave conversations and actions that take into
consideration the needs of others makes for a gratifying read.
New on the adult
non-fiction shelf is The New York Times Book of Wine: More than 30 Years
of Vintage Writing, edited by Howard Goldberg. 592 pages long and featuring
29 authors, this is a compilation of 125 articles about wines from many
different regions, what food goes with them, and lots of fun writing to augment
the facts. Writing about wine seems to draw good writers who love words and
narrative possibly as much as their liquid subject matter, making it fun to read
about these wines even if you never actually end up drinking them.
A short but engaging
new novel is We Sinners, by Hanna Pylvainen. This is the story of
the Rovaniemis, a huge family who are members of an extremely strict sect of
the Lutheran church. Each chapter is told by a different family
member, revealing the challenges of this world for characters at different
stages of life: the martyrdom of the mom, the rage inside the father, and
the children coping with living in the contemporary world saddled with this
background and the choices it requires. Part of what's intriguing about
their life is that in many moments they seem pretty normal, but then there is
reference to the many things they can't do, like see movies or go trick or
treating, to say nothing of drinking alcohol or dancing. The religious language
and church scenes are emotional and disturbing, since it is in these that the
cult aspect of their world and the power it has over them is portrayed most
strongly. This is a good story and a fascinating look into an obscure world.
We will be holding a book sale at the Block Party on Bridge Street September 8th, with all proceeds donated to the Mad River Long Term Recovery. At the Block Party we will also have crafts and read-alouds highlighting the themes of sustainability and resilience. On Tuesday September 18th at 6:30, experienced Long Trail hikers Leigh Hunt and Jonathan Wahl will present a program on the history of the Long Trail and the challenges and rewards of hiking the entire thing. Featuring stories of their own experiences on the Trail and gorgeous photographs, this should appeal to avid hikers, armchair hikers, lovers of mountains and forests, and especially to anyone planning to trek the entire Trail. Open to all ages.
August 9, 2012
For the next two weeks we will once again be hosting a StoryWalk installation on the lawn next to the library. The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library. The pages of a picture book are displayed one page at a time over an outdoor space, allowing simultaneous enjoyment of taking a walk and reading. This year’s book is The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. This is the story of Vashti, a girl who is convinced she can’t draw, but whose teacher guides her to develop creativity and compassion. This book is like a parable, showing the hazardous way self-criticism can negate artistic expression, and how one inspiring person can change another person’s reality. The drawings are wonderfully expressive, Vashti’s frustration practically leaping off the page at the beginning of the book, changing to optimism and engagement as she becomes more and more prolific artistically. So stop by and take a short walk and get inspired by Vashti and Peter Reynolds. Please sign our StoryWalk journal also posted outside to let us know you were here and what you thought about the experience.
Food lovers should be happy with a couple books on the New Books shelf: Yes, Chef: a Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson, and Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz. Both of these are great reads and quite inspiring, although in very different ways. Even if Marcus Samuelsson wasn’t a wildly successful chef, with accolades and awards from the James Beard Foundation, the Obamas and food reviewers all over the world, his life story would be fascinating. After being born into poverty in Ethiopia, getting tuberculosis and losing his mother to illness, he was adopted and brought up by a middle class White, Swedish family. He excelled at soccer but not enough to go pro as he would have liked to, and he learned to cook from his Swedish grandmother. In other words, his life has all the makings of a good novel, but this really happened. If they’re well written, books about high-end cooking offer such an entry into another world. The training, the competition, the lifestyle are crazy, as Anthony Bourdain has famously shared, and Samulesson’s life is, if anything, even more complicated, as he is one of the few Black people to be successful in the world of fancy food. His take on his own experiences, including his challenges to the cooking world and the taste buds of his fans through the use of different ethnic flavors, is captivating.
And what’s not to love about more information about Julia Child? Dearie does entertaining justice to this joyful, influential and delightful personality. It’s always fun to learn about what larger than life people were like before they realized they were larger than life, and this book covers Child’s entire life. This book makes the reader hungry: for food, travel, adventure, love (her husband and marriage are pretty awesome to read about) and life. How great that both she and Samuelsson break stereotypes and live on their own terms, while also cooking delicious food.
As part of the Festival of the Arts, the Joslin, Warren and Moretown Libraries are presenting Vermont Poet Laureate, Sydney Lea. He will read his poetry and talk about his writing Sunday, August 19th, at 1:30, at the Waitsfield United Church of Christ. We have two books of his poems at the library, for anyone who wants to read some of his work in advance. His poems are accessible yet intense, and he’s a personable, dynamic speaker, so this should be a very rewarding presentation.
July 26, 2012
Chris Cleave, author of Incendiary and the wildly popular and intense Little Bee, has a new book just in time for the London Olympics. Gold is an inside look at the lives of three Olympic cyclists and their coach, himself a former Olympian still nursing disappointment from an almost won race in 1968. The book starts with Zoe waiting for her race in the Athens Olympics. Also up for gold is Jack, husband of Kate, Zoe’s longtime rival. Instead of racing, Kate is at home caring for infant Sophie. All of them are struggling with the consequences of Sophie’s birth and how that has influenced their state of mind at the start of these games: guilt, compromised focus, a sense of disconnection. Having watched my former orchestra on TV playing at Carnegie Hall when my son was 2 weeks old, I can attest that Cleave completely nails Kate’s inner dialogue as she experiences envy while simultaneously feeling certain that nothing is more important than taking care of her baby.
The race scenes are unexpectedly exciting. Cleave gets right inside the racers as they push their bodies in ways most people never will, and although each race is short, the suspense builds up each time. Gold is not void of melodrama and stereotypes. Kate is the good girl, filled with humanity even though she’s competitive, Zoe is the wicked competitor who will do anything to win, Jack the handsome, athletic Scot drawn to both of them, and daughter Sophie is heroically protective of her parents as she tries to hide how miserable her leukemia makes her feel. But it’s a good story and a fun glimpse into the world of elite athletes. What I liked best was being able to enjoy Cleave’s use of language and brilliant descriptions of settings and the moods of the main characters. Little Bee is also full of evocative writing, but the plot is so disturbing that it’s not only hard to read in large doses, but it’s also so gripping that it’s hard to slow down and really luxuriate in the writing. A lighter book like Gold won’t change lives and stick with readers for years like Little Bee, but it does allow for that very enjoyable experience of really appreciating the author’s word choices and analogies.
8 is an audio performance of Dustin Lance Black’s play about the aftermath of California’s Proposition 8, which denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. The cast includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Martin Sheen in the leading roles, with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, George Takei and other renowned actors in smaller roles. The play recreates the legal battle over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, using court manuscripts and interviews with plaintiffs. Directed by Rob Reiner, this is truly a one of a kind offering on our audio book shelf.
Other new audio offerings are two DCF books: The Running Dream and Small as an Elephant. Great for road trips or when the print books are checked out, especially for those high achievers striving to finish the DCF list before school starts! Related to summer fun, we now have two passes to the Echo Center – Waitsfield Elementary has generously let us borrow theirs until school starts. The pass reduces admission cost to $4 for 2 adults and 3 youth. We also now have two passes to the Walking Trails and Children’s Farmyard at Shelburne Farms.
And one more reminder to come see author Erin Moulton, July 28th at 2 at the Joslin Library, and musician and storyteller Rik Palieri July 30th at 7:30 at the Moretown Recreation Field.
July 12, 2012
Finishing Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl gave me that conflicting feeling of happiness because such a beautiful book was written and sadness because it was coming to an end. I began to read very slowly toward the end because I wanted to savor what I knew was going to happen. Not because it was tritely predictable, but because since the book is about life and death, there is a natural and inevitable ending. This is the story of four generations - a twelve year old, her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. Tansey, the great- grandmother has been dead for years, but that doesn’t prevent her from speaking, interacting with the others and expressing great love and compassion. So in a sense this is a ghost story or a story about the afterlife, but in the most gentle of ways. Tansey died when her daughter, Emer, was only three, and to Tansey’s thinking, no decent mother could leave such a young child completely behind. So she stayed around just enough to make sure her daughter was OK- never showing herself to Emer, but staying watchful. Tansey reveals herself to Mary, the twelve year old, when Emer is an old woman. Tansey knows Emer will die soon and wants to help her make the transition and to assure her that all will be “grand.” (The plentiful use of “grand” and “lovely” and other Irish stylistic touches make the book especially charming.)
This book conveys such a loving perspective on family and death, including a non-specific but comforting idea of life after death. It seems to be generally considered a children’s book, probably because of the twelve year old, but I didn’t really experience it that way. While I often enjoy children’s books, as I read them I am usually quite aware that I’m an adult enjoying a book written for children. But this one completely grabbed me because of my experiences as a parent and an adult daughter whose mother is no longer alive. Part of the book’s strength is that any of the generations represented by the women (at least the living ones, since presumably dead great-grandmothers won’t be reading it) will be able to see elements of themselves in the emotions the characters experience.
An intriguing new non-fiction book is Ethical Chic: the Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, by Fran Hawthorne. Hawthorne looks at six companies, all of which enjoy reputations of being both hip and ethical. She looks in depth at how these reputations came about and, more importantly, whether or not they are justified. How much of the hip cachet is based on real facts? Or even if a consumer knows the facts, if they’re committed to both environmental and workers’ rights, should they patronize a company that has a relatively small carbon footprint but resists unions? What if a consequence of creating environmentally responsible products is prices so high only a small percentage of people can afford to buy the product? Hawthorne begins by looking at different organizations dedicated to answering questions like this. Part of the complication is that there are so many sources for information about these issues that discerning which are reliable and whose standards are convincing is time consuming and confusing. She also interviewed many industry players to get their perspective on their own companies or, in some cases, their former companies, since another influential factor is changes in workplace culture or even company mission that sometimes occur when a small company sells to a huge corporation. The six companies are Tom’s of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe’s and American Apparel. At the end of each chapter there is a verdict on whether or not the company deserves “its reputation as an exemplar of ethical chic,” and a short explanation of the verdict. These sometimes include ways the company is trying to improve or changes that are in progress, which can qualify the verdict. All in all, much good material for thought, especially if you have a particular interest in any of the companies.
June 28, 2012
always a treat to get a new book from a favorite author, and this spring brought
one by Toni Morrison. More readable than any of her books since Beloved
in 1987, Home makes it easy to both sink into Morrison’s beautiful use
of language, but, even more importantly, into the story and to feel compassion
for the characters. Frank Money returns from the Korean War filled with anger
and what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder, to a society reeling
from racism and economic challenges. His description of the small town in
Georgia he returns being “worse than any battlefield” expresses how very
grim his reality is. So, too, do examples of racism woven into the story, which
are not only appalling, but bring the time period vividly alive. Frank’s
mental state remains ambiguous throughout the book – he seems to heal some
from returning “home” to help his sister, but the interspersed passages in
his voice don’t always seem to line up with the narrator’s version of
things, so it’s hard to know exactly whose perspective is more accurate. This
is a short book, easy to read in some ways, but full of emotional intensity, as
well. It stays with you after you think you’ve put it down, which I usually
take as a sign of a good book.
finally had a chance to read Jonathan Franzen Freedom, and was so very
pleasantly surprised. I didn’t read it when it first came out partly because
it was never on the shelf, but also because the hype about it wasn’t always
positive, and then people whose taste I often agree with started saying they
didn’t like it. But a recent trip required a long book so I chose this, and
ended up loving it. Franzen does a great job of getting inside the heads of
college students, an ex-jock suburban mom, a well-meaning but somewhat clueless
middle aged man, even an aging rock star. You won’t always sympathize with
these characters, but you’ll be able to understand why act as they do, even
when what they do is hurtful to another character who has grabbed your loyalty.
And even though the novel takes place just a decade ago, the time right after
9/11 already seems so long ago culturally that the way he brings it to life so
realistically makes it seem like a well done period piece. It is full of details
that are odd but perfect, too – things no one else could possibly have thought
of (example: one character’s attraction to a man whose looks are compared to
Muammar Qaddafi…as if this is a good thing).
in the Children’s Room is Erin Moulton’s Tracing Stars. Erin grew up
in Moretown, and will be coming to do a program at the Joslin Library July 28th.
I haven’t read this yet, but her earlier book, Flutter (which we also
have) was excellent, and the new one is getting great reviews. A great addition
to the Young Adult collection is Deadly, by Julie Chibbaro. This is
historical fiction about New York City at the beginning of the twentieth
century. The heroine of this book, Prudence, curious, intelligent and
eager to learn about medical and scientific advances of the time, has an
opportunity to assist in tracking down the woman who comes to be known as
Typhoid Mary. Study of bacteria and how disease is spread is new and fraught
with misunderstanding, especially from people outside the scientific world. One
of the most suspenseful parts of the story is Mary Mallon’s resistance to the
scientists who want to observe her and do tests on her. From her perspective not
only are the tests absurd, but they also feel like yet another instance of
discrimination based on her Irish immigrant status. Readable and
May 31, 2012
New things to enjoy at the
Joslin Library include three new magazines, Kindles available to check out, a
pass to the Vermont State Parks and as usual, an assortment of new books.
Despite the title, The Economist is not exclusively about economics. In
fact, its (rather intimidating) mission is "to take part in a severe
contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid
ignorance obstructing our progress." It can always be counted on for
erudite analysis of politics and world events, and also has great coverage of
things that appeal to the humanities minded: great book reviews and one of the
best obituaries for baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau published, among other
things. Thanks to the Friends of the Joslin Library for the generous
contribution of this addition to our periodicals collection.
Scientific American describes its content as the "latest news and features on science issues that matter including earth, environment, and space." This was a patron recommendation which I enthusiastically embraced partly because, once again, this is interesting subject matter written in a way that is challenging but doesn't leave behind readers whose focus isn't particularly scientific. The graphics are enticing, too, and have evolved impressively since my brother subscribed to this magazine in the 70s. Both of these magazines have been published since the mid-nineteenth century, and it's fun to bring these intellectual traditions to our patrons.
The third new magazine is completely different, and probably for a different readership as well (but not necessarily). Created in 1989, Teen Ink is a compilation of fiction, book reviews, opinion pieces, poetry and art exclusively by writers and artists aged 13-19. It is the monthly print magazine of The Young Authors Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing reading and writing opportunities for teens. As we work to increase our collection and programming for this age group, it seemed only right to provide writing by people this age. Much of the creative writing is unusual and thought provoking, and reading books reviews written by real live teens is an invaluable tool in selecting books.
We have two Kindle eReaders available for check out. They are pre-loaded with some DCF books, some classics and one of them has a good selection of mysteries and thrillers. Patrons can add content when they have the Kindle checked out, either from Amazon or from the Green Mountain Library Consortium (free!). Suggestions of books to add are welcome, too.
Sy Montgomery's new biography of Temple Grandin, Temple Grandin How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World is a great introduction to this fascinating person. It chronicles her childhood when one parent wanted her institutionalized yet the other championed her, finding schools and environments that allowed Grandin to develop intellectually and socially. A unique and ultimately hugely influential aspect of Grandin's perspective on the world is her affinity for the way animals perceive the sensory world. She has described her own experience as being similar to theirs: very sensitive to details and changes, easily over-stimulated because of living experientially and in the moment, rather than projecting expectations into a situation. This perspective lead her to create drastically different ways of treating animals raised for food, and her work has influenced corporations as big as McDonalds to change the way meat they use is raised and slaughtered. Reading this bio, which includes drawings of several of her inventions as well as many photographs, is a good stepping stone to Grandin's own writing. One we have in the collection is Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Others are available through Inter Library Loan.
Recommendations based on patrons bubbling with enthusiasm when they return these books are Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, Second Person Singular, by Sayed Kashua, and Following Atticus, by Tom Ryan. And yes, we do have a copy of 50 Shades of Grey for anyone so inclined.
May 17, 2012
May 17, 2012
Perfect for spring reading is the
outrageous and wildly hilarious Let’s Pretend This Didn’t Happen, by
Jennie Lawson. You’ll find yourself wondering if these can possibly be true
stories from this woman’s life, yet by all accounts they really are, if
perhaps a bit embellished. An early scene is so strange, featuring a real
squirrel her father has misguidedly turned into a puppet to entertain the young
Jennie and her sister that I felt as if I’d fallen into some sort of
experimental Kafka-esque fiction, but it was a real scene from her childhood in
Texas. There are other unusual encounters with animals, both alive and products
of her father’s taxidermy business. Her truly awful sense of direction becomes
entertaining text while also, like some of her other riffs on her own
personality quirks and challenges, conveying a sense of vulnerability caused by
her not really having typical skills to navigate what might be considered the
Lawson, nicknamed “The Bloggess,” says in her blog that “if you know me in real life you might not want to be here.” Yet one of the nicest things about this book is that although it’s full of mockery, the warmth of many of her personal relationships comes through. She remains close to her eccentric family, and a prominent character in the book is her husband, portrayed as her complete opposite. Their disagreements about just about everything can be heated to say the least (and peppered with the most colorful language!), but there is also a sense that they are partners and friends. Read this prepared to want to keep reading way longer than you have time for and to laugh so hard you might choke, and if it’s not enough Jennie Lawson for you, read her blog: http://thebloggess.com/.
There are two books on the new fiction shelf dealing with 1960s and 70s commune life. Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (author of the wonderful 2008 The Monsters of Templeton), and Various Pets Dead and Alive, by Monica Lewycka, born in Germany to Ukranian parents and brought up in Britain. Very different in style and location, with one set in upstate New York and one in England, what these have in common are the effects communal life have on the offspring of parents who choose this life for themselves and, by default, their children. The next generation trying to determine a way to live in more traditional settings and how to make effective adult choices makes for good storytelling.
John Irving’s new book, In One
Person, also explores the experiences of an outsider, in this case Billy, a
bi-sexual who grows up having crushes on “the wrong people.” I haven’t
read it yet, but it promises to be full of rich, complex characters and to
convey empathy and humanity in ways similar to his other powerful novels.
And any time Julia Alvarez writes something new, it’s a must-read for me. Her newest book is very different than any of her other books, but equally moving. It is the story of the friendship she developed with Piti, a young Haitian she met when he came as a young man to work on her farm in the Dominican Republic. In an effort to cheer him up one night, she rather glibly promises to attend his wedding someday. When her phone in Vermont rings several years later, she can’t break her promise and heads off to Haiti for the wedding. She returns again after the horrific earthquake hit Haiti, this time to help Piti find his family. There are wonderful, personal photographs in the book that along with her intimate writing style bring the people in the story to life. I always love how Alvarez makes the Dominican Republic or Vermont so interesting and attractive and vibrant, like someplace I’d really want to visit. Now she has done this for Haiti, too.
April 19, 2012
I almost didn’t start
reading Birds of Paradise, by Megan Mayhew Bergman, because it’s a book
of short stories, and short stories often leave me disappointed, ending just
when I was getting really involved. But this book had me hooked from the first
page and I didn’t mind so much leaping from one plot and set of characters to
another each time a new story began. That was mostly because there was always a
character or situation I could relate to, so it didn’t feel so much like
starting from emotional scratch at the start of each story.
Bergman writes about the really good stuff - being a parent and a daughter, dogs, being outdoors. Her characters are opinionated and outspoken. She writes sad and funny, often right next to each other. There’s a mom who aspires to move her son from the South to Connecticut, where he “has a better chance of escaping childhood obesity, God, and conservative political leanings,” and a character with “a compulsive need to exhibit porcelain Christmas villages year-around.” The names of the many animals that fill the pages are priceless, but the quirkiest, most creative use of names has to be the rashes named after the Jackson Five - itchy skin named Tito, for example. But there is plenty of depth, too: sadness about aging or deceased parents, insecurity about relationships and always respectful and evocative writing about nature.
It is still National Poetry Month for a couple more weeks and we have a new poetry collection by Wendell Berry. His poems are a perfect complement to Bergman’s stories. He, too, writes so beautifully about nature, and they both convey the South convincingly, although with very different perspectives. This book, New Collected Poems, is a compilation of hundreds of poems from previously published collections, giving many choices of gentle language to sink into.
Alexander McCall Smith has a new No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book, and he also has written a children’s book, The Great Cake Mystery, about Precious Ramotswe as a girl, already honing her sleuthing skills. Other new fiction titles include Calico Joe, by John Grisham, and new books by Lisa Scottoline and Joseph Wambaugh and the wonderful Anne Tyler. Highly recommended by both a library volunteer and a patron is At Last, by British writer Edward St. Aubyn.
In the non-fiction realm, Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, has written a book with Lanier Scott Isom about her struggle for equal pay and civil treatment at Goodyear Tire. Goodyear’s systemic unfair and unethical approach to Ledbetter’s work assignments, promotions and evaluations is appalling, as is the harassment she dealt with from many of her co-workers. She consistently maintained her professionalism and literally never gave up her fight for fair treatment and pay. When she discovered from an anonymous tip that men with the same job were making thousands more than she was, she brought a case against Goodyear, a case which eventually went to the Supreme Court and inspired Obama’s first official piece of legislation. This is page-turner non-fiction, wrath-inducing at times, eye-opening and very inspiring.
Also recommended is Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, by A. J. Jacobs. Jacobs, author of the highly entertaining The Year of Living Biblically, doesn’t do things halfway. When he decides to make a project of transforming his middle-aged body into the epitome of health (and chronicle it, fortunately), he doesn’t just improve his diet and exercise more. He researches and samples multiple exercise regimes, extreme diets and engages in some truly bizarre experiments to try to obtain perfect health. He’s hilarious about his experiences - sarcastic, self-mocking, and quite informative, too.
April 5, 2012
April is National Poetry Month, and we have some new poetry books at the library and a poet coming to present a program. On Saturday April 14th at 2 pm, William Graham will read from his work and speak about writing poetry. Graham lives in Stowe, and his most recent book is A Good Place to Wake Up: Vermont Poems, which he describes as “an homage to and celebration of Vermont’s natural beauty and hard-working, friendly people.” He has published several books for adults and children, and his program will be accessible to all ages.
Peggy Penn’s My Painted Warriors is filled with often bittersweet poems about love and family. Many of the poems are about aging and even death, but she also gets right inside of the heart of adolescent girls and their longing for connection, whether it’s to a father returning from war in 1945 or a boy their own age. The “warriors” are her son and grandsons and the sections about them express the joyful, visceral feeling that comes with being close to energetic, passionate young boys.
Hidden, by Helen Frost, is on the new DCF list, and is a strange story told in verse of two girls who meet at two different points in their lives. Their first contact results from the horrible circumstance of the father of one of the girls kidnapping the other girl (although by mistake). The girls meet again when they’re a little older, creating conflicting emotions and a chance for them both to move on from the past in ways they might not have been able to otherwise. The verses are in alternating points of view, which helps the reader understand the process each girl goes through as she realizes the identity of the other and tries to decide what to do with this information.
Anne Lamott is back with a sort of sequel to her truly wonderful 1993 book, Operating Instructions, which was about the first year of her son Sam’s life. Her newest book, Some Assembly Required, is written with Sam, and is about the first year of his son’s life, who was born when Sam was just nineteen. I am so in love with Anne Lamott’s early writing that it’s a must to read every word I can find by her, but she seems to have gotten more and more self-absorbed over the years. Kind of like Woody Allen, she can make obsessive worry either hilarious or annoying. Her son seems to have inherited her introspection and anxiety, although it’s really hard to tell where his voice ends and hers begins, since many of his sections are transcribed phone interviews with him that sound an awful lot like her.
I feel for the mother of the baby, since to say Anne has a few control issues about raising the baby is a huge understatement. She really lost me when she whined about where the baby was going to be baptized, partly since her rhapsodies about her church community have always been hard for me to relate to, but also because she just sounded so immature and self-centered. The book is worth reading for the occasional laugh out loud moments, though (the blind gynecologist part made me actually spew the coffee I was drinking while reading) and the moments when her wise perspective about staying balanced in the face of hectic daily life shines through poetically. Also, as she does in all of her fiction and non-fiction, she paints such a beautiful picture of extended family. This is inspiring, even while it makes me a little envious of her lifestyle. She seems to enjoy ample opportunities to refuel with a walk in the woods with a friend and the dogs or an afternoon lying around snacking and watching movies, while also tending to her multi-generational friendships with people she has known for years. Somewhere in there she finds time to write a bunch of books, and if we're lucky, the next one will be worthy of reading and re-reading, like her early books.
March 22, 2012
On Monday, April 2nd at
6:30, author Tovar Cerulli will come to the library to discuss his new book, The
Mindful Carnivore: a Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance. This book tells the
story of the author’s evolving relationship with what he eats and how he
procures it. It also analyzes larger questions of food ethics and historic and
cultural elements of both hunting and vegetarianism. This book has had waiting
lists for the print and electronic copies since it was published in February so
I haven’t read it yet, but the question asked in the promotional materials,
“can hunters and vegetarians be motivated by similar values and instincts?”
is very intriguing, possibly especially for those of us more drawn to the
mindful than the carnivore aspect of these issues.
A related book on the new shelf is Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, by Georgia Pelligrini. This is another story of the author’s unlikely path to hunting, this time from New York City foodie to woman with gun. She hunts a wide variety of game and includes recipes for what to do with the meat. The book is also filled with colorful human interest stories about the curious companions she meets. If the mindful part of Cerulli’s book caught my attention, definitely the “girl” part of this was the hook, and although I couldn’t help feel a bit squeamish about some of the meat details, the depiction of the cultural and gender juxtapositions she experienced made it worth it.
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson, was a must-read at first simply because of the funny but thought provoking title. The book quickly leaps into intense emotional territory, as Winterson shares some truly messed up stories from growing up with her adoptive parents. It really is hard to put down this mix of personal memoir, history, feminism, and thoughts on of the challenges of adoption. Winterson is very funny even when she’s writing about dark topics. Of all the descriptions of her adoptive mother, whom she calls Mrs. Winterson, the one that made me feel like I really “got” Mrs. W. was the part about her favorite hymn, titled “God Has Blotted Them Out.” The intention of the song is to celebrate sins being blotted out, but Jeanette is certain her mother really loves it because she’s imagining blotting out anyone who has ever annoyed her. Humor aside, what’s most powerful about this book is Winterson’s optimism in spite of her upbringing and the challenges she faces. Her love of books and her description of her own writing as literally life-saving is inspiring.
In addition to sustainable carnivorous diets and difficult childhoods, popular fiction writers are well represented on the new shelf right now, too. We have new books by James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, Vince Flynn, Kristin Hannah and Elmore Leonard, to name a few. In the picture book area, Kate Hosford has a new book, Big Birthday. Annabelle, of Big Bouffant fame is back, celebrating her birthday this time, is a unique, colorfully illustrated, original way. The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine, is a terrific new middle grades book, the story of the friendship of two girls and their experiences during the integration of the Little Rock schools in 1958.
Story time has been joyful and energetic since Lisa started. It’s now at 10 on Mondays and is different each time, but may include music, oil pastels, or a cat turning the pages of the books.
March 8, 2012
Entering, by Eileen Pollack, is the story of Richard and Louise Shapiro and the
cultural, geographical and socio-economic conflicts they experience when they
move with their daughter from California to rural Michigan in the 1990s. That
they are some of the only Jewish people in the area challenges the locals'
ability to accept them, and the Michigan militia-joining, gun-owning
libertarians are also filled with negative stereotypes about Californians.
Richard finds surprisingly satisfying work as a therapist at the local prison,
while Louise gets a lesson in the values of many in the community when she
begins to work at the local school. Throughout there is the fear that they have
ruined their daughter's life by moving and that the responsible thing to do
would be to whisk her back to California. The plot is a bit melodramatic at
times - infidelity, guns and alcohol in uncomfortable proximity, and a fire
started by a truly bizarre occurrence. But the characters are interesting
people, if a bit stock (the liberal Unitarian minister from the Northeast who
comes from old money but feels conflicted about it, for example).
There is definitely motivation to know how things will turn out with
Richard and Louise' s family and there are a lot of accurate descriptions of the
Midwest in the 1990s.
There is definitely motivation to know how things will turn out with
Richard and Louise' s family and there are a lot of accurate descriptions of the
Midwest in the 1990s.
read published just in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the
Titanic is The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott. Tess Collins is a talented seamstress
frustrated because she is wasting her talents working as a maid. When she
persuades Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to take her on as a maid for the Titanic
voyage, her real hope is that this connection will help her gain entry into Lady
Duff Gordon's world of high fashion and design. The heart of the story takes
place after the sinking of the boat. Tess, plus an intrepid reporter from The
New York Times and
Senator William Smith, leading the Senate investigation into the Titanic, are
all eager to know what really happened.
There is much
speculation about why the boat holding Lady Duff Gordon had only twelve people
on it, and Tess is forced to realize that the woman she hoped would be her
mentor may have a very dark side. There's a romantic triangle, some depictions
of feisty suffragists, workplace intrigue and enough suspense to hold attention.
A guilty pleasure page turner.
Make sure to check out our new Young Adult shelves in the corner of the main room of the library. Not only are the more mature children's books separated from the early chapter books now so that hopefully the right people will find them, but we also have expanded our YA collection considerably. There are a lot of books adults would enjoy on these shelves, too. Powerful "crossover" books include Hush, by Eishes Chayil and Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. Hush is based on real events in the orthodox Chassidic community of New York's Borough Park. It is a disturbing, compelling story of horrific events and a community so in denial that the author originally published the book using a pseudonym for fear of reactions from the community she grew up in. Between Shades of Gray is World War II fiction with an unusual focus, the treatment of Lithuanians by the Nazis. For something lighter, both Libby Bray's Beauty Queens and Laura Goode's Sister Mischief are delightfully satirical, filled with social commentary expressed in a readable, irreverent way. And there is even a Young Adult bio of Steve Jobs for those who want to know something about him but don't want to commit to the 656 pages of the Isaacson bio.
February 23, 2012
The hiring of our new Children's Librarian, Lisa Italiano, is the perfect time to hear ideas from patrons about what they would like to see in the children's collection or programming or, if you’re not a patron, thoughts about what we could offer that would bring you into the library. So please share these ideas with us in person, by email, on Facebook or look for a library survey at Town Meeting and in the library.
With all the talk of new things going on in the library, I also wanted to remind people of a slightly antiquated but still useful resource - books on tape. For anyone (like me) whose car could be considered of the vintage variety (i.e. still sports a cassette player), these are very handy for long trips and we still have a pretty good selection at the library. I recently became completely engrossed in Our Lady of the Forest, by David Guterson. Set in the 1990s, this is the story of a troubled, possibly mentally unstable, drug-addled, sincere (or all of the above) girl who experiences visions of the Virgin Mary in a Washington forest. The story unfolds slowly, and in a subtle way becomes suspenseful as we wonder what impact Ann's revelations will have on herself and others. Tension between loggers and environmentalists underlies the plight of several of the characters, sympathetically drawn no matter their class or politics. There is the ambivalent priest whose job is to craft the church’s response to Ann's claims, the throngs of people who arrive to meet the visionary, the savvy locals who seize the opportunity to take advantage of them, Ann herself, and one especially tragic character, Tom Cross, a former logger with a disabled son, struggling to find his way in a world that has changed drastically. The character I loved best was Ann's companion (we're never quite sure if she could be called a friend) Caroline- caustic, outspoken, conniving but with a good heart, too. Blair Brown reads the audio book and does a terrific job delineating the personalities without drawing away from the plot. We have the print version of this, too.
A good pick on the new shelf right now is The Lost Saints of Tennessee, by Amy Franklin-Willis. This delves into the particular sadness of the rural South. Both Pat Conroy and Dorothy Allison are mentioned on the cover, and like their books, this book gets us right inside the minds and hearts of some very complex people coping with consequences from their actions and decisions. It is primarily the story of Zeke and his twin brother, who was disabled by a childhood fever. Love for his brother fuels Zeke's life even when he is at his darkest moments. Zeke feels his mother betrayed his brother and is unable to forgive her for this. But halfway through the book the narrator switches to Lillian, the mother, and her emotions and actions become a little more understandable, and her humanity and love of her family come through strongly. I always feel so moved when an author creates a character who initially seems so non-sympatico but then the realism of their behavior makes them understandable if not necessarily likeable. This is what Franklin-Willis does with both Zeke and Lillian.
Finally, a reminder about upcoming programs at the library: On March 13th at 9:30 AM Paul Gambill, conductor of the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, will preview their upcoming concerts. He will bring musical and video examples of the pieces on the program, including footage of some of the songs being created with professional songwriters and elementary school students. The music he will discuss is Mozart Overture to Don Giovanni, John Rutter Mass of the Children, Samuel Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and the songs co-written by the students. Program attendees will be entered in a drawing for two free tickets to one of the upcoming concerts.
On March 14th we will co-host the last of this year’s Vermont Humanities Council Reading and Discussion programs. This one is at the Warren Public Library at 9:30 AM and will be a discussion of Inventing the Feeble Mind, by James W. Trent, an analysis of society's perception and treatment of those deemed "mentally retarded" over the last 150 years. Books are available at the Joslin or Warren libraries and it is not necessary to have attended the previous discussions to attend this one.
February 9, 2012
I returned last week from
the the American Library Association conference inspired, filled with new
ideas and with preview copies of books coming out later this year that will
hopefully fit well into our collection. One of the highlights of the Midwinter
conference is the youth media awards ceremony, when the winners of the Newbery,
Caldecott and other awards are announced. Full of ritual and production values
and dramatic gasps from the audience when something unexpected happens, it’s a
kind of mini-Oscars for the bookish, and is awfully fun to see in person. I’m
happy to say our collection already has many of the lauded books, and others
will make good future additions.
The Newbery Award went to Jack Gantos, Dead End in Norvelt. The Caldecott went to a book about a dog (always a charming topic for a picture book), A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka. Both of these are in our collection and have been circulating well. Many of the books selected for the feminist book list I was working on at the conference were also honored in other categories. A favorite of these is Me...Jane, by Patrick McDonnell, a Caldecott honor book, and one of our StoryWalk books last summer, when the pages were posted in the yard outside the library. It’s a delightful telling of the story of Jane Goodall’s life expressed in whimsical drawings. The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O’Connell, was an honor book for the Sibert Informational Book Award. The information about elephants and the amazing photos draw the reader in and the feminists among us can’t help but be thrilled by the portrayal of women scientists rocking the research world and wielding tools in Africa!
My trip back allowed me to take advantage of the Library’s downloadable eBooks holdings. Knowing I’d have a long plane ride, I put a couple books on hold, and one became available just when I needed it. I know people get frustrated over the amounts of holds on eBooks, but planning around the average hold time of 12 days makes it more palatable. A good work-around is to put multiple eBooks on hold so you have options and a rolling list of books that become available at different times. Some of the colleagues I worked with at the conference who come from much bigger libraries do not have this service at their libraries yet, so I was especially appreciative of this convenience and access.
We’re in the process of interviewing for a new children’s librarian. We are suspending story time during this transition time, but plan to come back with a newly energized story time once the new person is here. Stay tuned.
A reminder of our ongoing Vermont Humanities Council Reading and Discussion Series which we co-host with the Warren Public Library: There are still two more books and discussions, Women of the Asylum and Inventing the Feeble Mind, discussed on February 22 at the Joslin Library, and March 14th at the Warren Library respectively. Books are available at both libraries. The discussion leaders are very knowledgeable about the topics, and their thoughts as well as the insights shared by the attendees never disappoints, so please join us.
January 19, 2012
The Call, by Yannick Murphy, is the unusual, sometimes annoying but
ultimately satisfying story of one year in the life of a veterinarian in rural
New England. The title stems from the structure of the book. Each of the seasons
of the year are divided into multiple short sections that each use a call for
vet services (or the lack of calls) as a starting point for the narrator’s
observations about events in his life. The pattern, for more than 200 pages, is
call, action, result, what my wife said, thoughts on drive home, etc. I found
this to be fairly disruptive to an otherwise engaging story full of realistic,
conflicting emotions and quirky and endearing characters, more than one of whom
keep large typically barn animals inside their homes like a dog.
Early in the story the narrator’s son is injured in a hunting accident, so much of the story and characterization has to do with how this affects the family: everyone’s grief, the father’s quest for vengeance, the boy’s medical state, the sisters reacting to his absence at home. There’s some mystery, a great sense of place (although the specifics of the location are never revealed) and terrific characterization of each family member. Even the house has a personality. I eventually got used to the format and it did make it fast to read, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking that it was a cop out on the author’s part to not write a more traditional narrative. The story and people make it well worth the read but it feels a little like Murphy is sharing her notes or sketches before she actually turned them into a book.
Keeping with the rural, northern theme, we have recently gotten three books by the state poet laureate, Sydney Lea. We are sponsoring a visit from him later this year and partly in preparation for that, we now have: Young of the Year, To the Bone and Pursuit of a Wound. Outdoorsy and hearty, Lea’s poems and his persona defy a lot of stereotypes about poets and poetry. He’s a hunter and a conservationist, has published in poetry anthologies and Sports Illustrated. His clear, descriptive and evocative language can turn ordinary details into powerful moments. An example of this is “Leonora’s Kitchen,” in which everyday items take on great poignancy when we realize Leonora has left them there seemingly for just a few minutes, planning to return to a quiet, uneventful evening, but this is not at all how it turns out. His poem “Horn,” about the emotional impact and expression of a relative of the instrument I’ve played most of my life perfectly captures the melancholy character of this darkest of wind instruments. It will be a great treat to hear him read his poetry live this summer.
A reminder to people with eReaders, your library card number gives you access to a large collection of eBooks, for no fee. Call the library for your number and instructions, and don’t be discouraged by the number of steps it entails. They each take just a few seconds, and accessing books this way instead of buying them will save you money and support your local library.
January 5, 2012
January is the month where
thanks to the Friends of the Joslin Library I have the chance to go to the
American Library Association Midwinter meeting. A lot of what I’ll be doing at
the meeting is meeting with a group of 9 other librarians from all over the
country to create this year’s Amelia Bloomer List of Recommended Feminist
Books for ages 0-18. It’s a very intense experience of many hours spent in one
room passionately discussing whether the 134 nominated books have the literary
merit and are sufficiently feminist to be included on the list. This year
there are two books by Vermont authors on the nomination list, Beth Kanell’s The
Secret Room and Erin Moultons’s Flutter.
I’ve spent the last few weeks engrossed in the nominated books, since to be able to fully participate, we need to have read each of the 134 books. A favorite nomination that also continues to be very popular at the library is Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants. It’s no surprise that she’s hilarious and more than once I had to stop laughing long enough to read parts aloud to my family. Dissecting whether she’s a champion for women in general or an extremely ambitious, hard working woman who created a spot for herself individually (or both) is sure to be hotly debated, and is something she discusses in the book, mixing humor with pointed observations about the experience of being female in the comedy world.
A very serious contrast to this and one that like Bossypants definitely has appeal for adults is the remarkable, informative and often disturbing Flesh and Bood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, by Albert Marrin. A National Book Award finalist, this is not just the story of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but also a history of immigration to New York City and labor relations. Powerful photographs complement the writing. The Tina Fey book made me read things aloud, and this one we had to pry out of the hands of a holiday guest because he became so captivated by it he abandoned his social responsibilities!
Two favorites for younger readers are Small Acts of Amazing Courage, by Gloria Whelan, and Addie on the Inside, by James Howe. Both of these authors are prolific and acclaimed, and these are great additions to their output. Whelan’s character Rosalind is a smart, independent British teenager living in India at the end of World War I. Seeing imperialism, class conflict, a rally where Ghandi speaks and Rosy’s first ever trip to England, which she has been brought up to think of as home even though she has lived in India her whole life, is truly a treat. Addie is another girl who makes up her own mind about things and her navigation through seventh grade, her first boyfriend and being a touch eccentric in conformist-heavy middle school are not new themes, but they’re well handled in this book. I knew I had to read this when the New York Times called Addie “a soul sister for future Elena Kagans,” and I wasn’t disappointed.
In case anyone is worried, there are also plenty of new books at the library that have nothing to do with this project or with young women trying to forge their identities. A few that are flying off the shelves are Tom Clancy Locked On, Michael Connelly The Drop and Patricia Cornwell’s latest, Red Mist. P.D. James’ new book Death Comes to Pemberley is here, as are the winners of the 2011 Man Booker Prize and the 2011 National Book Award, respectively Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. Enjoy!
December 22, 2011
several biographies on the new materials shelf right now, with topics ranging
from movie stars to world leaders, delivered in ways as diverse as confessional
memoir and graphic novel format.
The title of Judy Collins’ memoir, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes My Life in Music, is a play on the famous Stephen Stills song written about her, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, and the cover features her picture with, yes, very blue eyes. Early in the book she describes the first time he played the song for her. The spontaneous, surprising intimacy of that moment sets the tone for the rest of the book, in which she writes honestly about her struggles with alcohol, her relationships and, of course, her music. The pages are filled with stories of other musical icons of the 60s, too: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, but not in an egregious way. She entwines anecdotes (which given the times are pretty colorful) with descriptions of musical partnerships and the artistic evolution of the individual musicians and also the folk music scene in general. This is a great companion to another recent autobiography that brings to life a different musical scene in the same era, Patti Smith’s Just Kids.
Diane Keaton has also recently written a book, Then Again: a Memoir. This, too, has plenty of stories about other famous people, including her famous partners, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. She writes about her professional life, her Oscar nominations and win, her start on Broadway with Hair in 1968. But much of the material is more personal. She battled bulimia, grew up trying to please her father, isn’t as confident as one might expect such a successful woman to be. These things aren’t that different than what might be written by or about a lot of actresses. What is unique and most interesting is when Keaton writes about her mother. Her mother kept journals of both words and photographic collages through much of her life, including up until the end when she had Alzheimer’s so severely she was reduced to writing just one word at a time and eventually no words at all, just numbers. The journals at first intimidated Keaton, as they were such a powerful look into her mother’s life. But they gave her a chance to compare her life with her mother’s, to analyze “what’s lost in success contrasted with what’s gained in accepting an ordinary life.” Figuring that out is one of the reasons ordinary people are attracted to biographies of hugely successful and famous people, but it’s not that often the author acknowledges and participates in the process.
In complete contrast to confessional memoirs by artistic women is Mark Ribowsky’s Howard Cosell: the Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports. Cosell was flamboyant enough that even a non-sports fan who hardly watches TV like me is curious about him. This highly researched book tells Cosell’s life story and also the story of sports broadcasting, which, partly because of technological changes but also because of over-sized personalities like Cosell’s, found a new identity during his time.
Representing over-sized personalities on the world stage is Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews. Based on interviews with people who knew Kennedy in different capacities, research of Kennedy’s school years, and influenced by Matthew’s lifelong admiration for Kennedy, this book practically overflows with details about Kennedy’s upbringing, his entry into politics and the ways that his views evolved. Good photographs for the enjoyment of Kennedy-philes, too.
Lastly, and most unusual, is Gandhi: a Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine. At 192 pages of mostly pictures (manga is the Japanese word for comics and books in this style often feature long and complex stories told using pictures), it is by no means an in-depth look at Gandhi’s life. But the pictures are very expressive, and many important aspects of Gandhi’s life and beliefs come through in a way that is accessible to many ages.
Dec. 8, 2011
The festive holiday
decorations make it an especially fun time to come to the library. And inside is
even more celebratory: last week we installed new computers at all the pubic
computer stations. We’ve also added another computer so we can accommodate the
needs of more patrons at one time. These are fast, easy to use, state of the art
machines that will make checking email, internet surfing, researching, writing
and all sorts of other things fun and efficient.
We also now have a Kindle available for use in the library. We have a Kindle subscription to the daily New York Times, so this will always be available. It’s exciting to be able to offer this great newspaper to patrons without taking up any of our precious, limited space. Patrons can also load library books or other material on it if they choose to by using their own Amazon account.
As in previous years, this winter we will co-sponsor a Vermont Humanities Council Reading and Discussion series with the Warren Pubic Library. The name of the series is “Outsiders: Those Who Fell Outside the Cultural Norm.” It features four books about marginalized populations in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including American Indians, disabled people and people considered genetically inferior by some at the time. Copies of all the books are available at the Joslin and Warren libraries. The first book, for the discussion January 18th, is Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, by David Wallace Adams. The topics are thought provoking and challenging and all of the books look intriguing. As always there will be a Humanities Council scholar to guide the discussions and add insight and context to the topics.
On a lighter note and just in time for holiday entertaining, is Natalie MacLean’s Unquenchable: a Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines. MacLean is an award winning writer and sommelier. She has written for prestigious food and wine magazines, plus has an enormously popular free newsletter about wine. The book is full of suggestions about wine, such as “Field Notes from a Wine Cheapskate” at the end of each chapter, but it’s also an entertaining travelogue, since she describes travelling to eight wine producing regions. And not surprisingly, the people she encounters are wonderfully colorful. There are many hilarious moments in the book, which reduce the stuffiness and pretension that sometimes surrounds wine. This is a good read that makes wine accessible, financially and otherwise.
And also on quite a light note and filled with plenty of hilarity, is Tim Dorsey’s When Elves Attack: a Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State. The nuttiest criminal is Serge Storms, a murderer with a unique set of ethics that dictate on whom he unleashes his psychopathic tendencies. But even psychopaths can feel holiday spirit, so Serge gets himself a place to live and, in his own demented way, begins to embrace the holiday season. Serge’s interaction with more typical traditions, such as going to the mall, provide a deliciously irreverent antidote to excessive holiday cheer.
November 23, 2011
a great time to be immersed in books: the “best of 2011” lists are starting
to come out which is a great way to learn about books that might have gone
unnoticed, the National Book Awards were just announced, and a lot of
interesting and popular authors have recently come out with new books.
Carson Morton’s Stealing Mona Lisa has earned a spot on Kirkus Review’s “Best Fiction of 2011” as well as Library Journal’s “Best Mysteries of 2011.” It should get recognition for best cover, too. The art, the golden color and the art deco font evoke such a feeling of early twentieth century Europe that you can’t look at it without wanting to delve into that world. The story is a suspenseful combination of real people and events with Morton’s fiction interspersed.
The National Book Award for nonfiction went to The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Goldblatt. It’s in our collection but usually checked out- remember you can place a book on hold by logging into your account, calling or emailing, and we’ll let you know when it’s your turn. Other new nonfiction in the collection include new books by Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, and The New, New Rules, by Bill Maher. This will make you laugh so hard you’ll cry, but will also make you think. Maher spares no one he deems stupid or unenlightened and it’s very enjoyable to read him taking down a variety of people and ideas. The prolific James Patterson and John Grisham have new books as well.
A terrific piece of new fiction to lose yourself in is The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar. It is the story of a family in Southern California, told from the perspective of their Mexican live-in maid. She struggles to make sense of their priorities while also trying to understand how she came to be a maid in California at all, after studying art in Mexico City as a young woman. Tobar conveys the concurrent realities of all of the characters: the man trying to hold the family finances together and be a good parent, the mom looking for identity and fulfillment through overspending and complex enriching activities with her kids. He especially captures what it is like to live with young boys, their attraction to electronic toys juxtaposed with their need for quiet affection and consistency. And when the maid Araceli thinks back on her life in Mexico City as she is inspired to when when she strokes the Mexican tile in the American kitchen where she now works, the way she remembers the city’s “unevenness, its asymmetry and its improvised spaces” both critically and with affection portray the contradictions of that sprawling city perfectly. Circumstances require Araceli to get to know the boys, Los Angeles and the legal system more intimately than she ever hoped to, and it’s both entertaining and educational to join her on those endeavors.
In the children’s room we have Inheritance, the last installment of the hugely popular Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini, in print and audio versions. This is the conclusion of the story that started with Eragon, and although they each seem like impossibly long books for kids, the storytelling is great and kids don’t seem to be daunted by the hundreds of pages.
November 10, 2011
November 19th at 2 pm children and young adult author Erin Dionne will present a
program at the Library. Her most recent book, Notes
from an Accidental Band Geek,
has been chosen for the IndieBound Next Winter List, a national list of
recommendations from independent booksellers. Her earlier books include The
Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet
Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies.
is the story of a girl finding her own path and dealing with family issues, one
being the fact her parents are Shakespearean scholars who named her Hamlet,
another being her genius little sister. Models
tells the story of how Celeste responds to her aunt entering her in a beauty
pageant for not-so-skinny girls. All three books show middle school friendships,
the search for identity and family expectations in an honest, entertaining and
insightful way. And all three are in our collection. It will be a treat to hear
how these quirky characters came to be.
A favorite new addition to the adult fiction shelf is Boundaries, by Elizabeth Nunez. Much of the story has to do with Anna’s experience as a Caribbean immigrant. She experiences constant reminders that she’s not as assimilated to her New York life as she thought she was. Her parents are far away geographically and culturally, her work at a publishing house is threatened by accusations that she doesn’t understand the American audience. Nunez makes these experiences personal and accessible, but what makes the book even more engaging are Anna’s more universal experiences: struggles with ambitious, ruthless colleagues, aging parents and navigating a new romantic relationship after a divorce. It’s a quick, easy read with unexpected and long-lasting impact.
We have the new Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs in print and audio is ordered and on the way. It hasn’t stayed on the shelf for more than a few minutes since we got it so I haven’t read it but reports are that it’s a good read about this fascinating man’s personal and professional life. Also new in audio is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which has been very popular in print. The CD version is perfect for learning some history on a long road trip.
Our Civil War discussion series continues to flourish ( two more sessions November 16th and 30th at 7 pm). We have a new addition to the collection based on a recommendation by a participant: Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, by Harry Stout. Yale professor Stout analyzes the moral implications of a war in which both sides claimed to have God on their side. Critique of speeches, sermons and letters from the time show the climate of righteousness on both sides, with clear implications relevant to more contemporary conflicts in which motives are masked by religious passion and claims of moral superiority.
October 27, 2011
Reading Charles Shields’ well-researched biography of Harper Lee, Mockingbird, adds greatly to the already rich and rewarding experience of immersing oneself in To Kill a Mockingbird, as many of us in the area have been doing this month. Lee did not participate in the writing of this biography and in fact resisted Shields’ efforts to learn more about her and even to fact check, but the author nonetheless managed to interview hundreds of people who knew Lee. He also delved into Truman Capote’s archives and studied the interviews Lee gave in the early 1960s before she stopped granting interviews. The result is a readable book full of facts and anecdotes that gives the reader a strong sense of what Lee’s life was like. There is a temptation when reading this to begin thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird as possibly more autobiographical than it really is, and to see Scout as a fictionalized version of Lee. This is easier to avoid in the sections about her adult life, which end up being as fascinating as the parts about her childhood that seem more directly related to the influential story that has impacted so many people over the last fifty years. You can find Mockingbird on the new biography shelf at the library.
When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, is a futuristic take on The Scarlet Letter, powerful because it is not that hard to imagine our society reaching the extremes portrayed in the book. Rigid laws inspired in part by the political power of Evangelical Christians require coloring the skin of accused criminals so the accused are immediately recognizable and their transgression visually and publicly represented. The main character, Hannah Payne, is turned red for having an abortion after a passionate relationship with a public figure. Hannah courageously navigates the horrific system, refusing to name the father, forging friendships with other ostracized women, and learning to think independently of the conformist, narrow-minded culture surrounding her. She is a complex, and fierce feminist protagonist who somewhat inadvertently becomes a rebellious leader in this captivating and thought provoking page-turner.
Upcoming programs at the Library are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installments of our Civil War Discussions. The first one was very interesting and educational and the next ones promise to be even better as we cover topics more specifically and hear from multiple participants. These are Wednesday evenings at 7, November 2nd, 16th and 30th.
For people of any age who love to wear costumes, get spooky, eat candy, hear stories about bats, spiders and such, we’re having a Halloween party Saturday, October 29th at 2 pm.
And on Saturday, November 19th at 2,
author Erin Dionne will present a program on her newest young adult book, Notes
from and Accidental Band Geek. Anyone who ever played in band, had friends
in band, or watched their kids go through a band program will be able to relate
to this story of a high school girl who finds her “tribe” by playing in the
band. Plans are coming together for some appropriately themed live music to
enhance the festivities, and in a related note, people planning to attend the
program can purchase copies of the book ahead of time at a reduced rate at
Tempest Book Shop (especially if they promise to check that Rick’s been
October 13, 2011
a title with a collection of talks given by Rudolf Steiner, the guru of Waldorf
education, Rebecca Coleman’s novel, The Kingdom of Childhood, shows
both the idealism of Waldorf schools and the pressure to adhere to its strict
standards. in this context, the main character, Judy McFarland spirals from
midlife, middle classed angst to madness in a story that is hard to put down.
Judy has been a teacher for years at the Waldorf school her own kids attended.
For the most part she is a true believer in the Waldorf approach to education
and culture, particularly for young children, in part because it echoes powerful
memories she has of her own childhood in Germany. These memories are
interspersed with the contemporary story and provide an almost ominous
background that help prepare the way for Judy’s increased instability.
Judy’s family life is starting to come undone: her distant husband has been struggling to finish an advanced degree for what seems like ages, ignoring Judy and reacting more and more erratically to the pressure because of what turns out to be drug addiction. Her oldest daughter has gone to college and rejected her progressive upbringing, questioning what she learned in her Waldorf days and coming out on what her Vietnam War-protesting parents think is decidedly the wrong side of political issues. Her son Scott is derisive of the sheltered Waldorf world and seems to just want to be a “normal” teenager, and not a particularly likable one. Into this mix comes Scott’s friend Zack, new to town, lonely, attractive and assigned to work with Judy on a school project. Sexual obsession on both their parts develops pretty quickly and the complications of their relationship fill the rest of the book. The point of view switches from Zack to Judy and as more details from Judy’s past get gradually revealed, it begins to appear that Zack will be okay, but Judy’s slide into irreversible darkness comes off as believable and almost inevitable.
New on the non-fiction shelf is a book and CD collection, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations of Life with John F. Kennedy. These are recordings and transcripts of conversations Jackie Kennedy had with historian Arthur Schlesinger in 1964. After they were made the recordings were kept private until their release this fall in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration. Introduced and annotated by Michael Beschloss, these promise to show new insight into Kennedy’s outlook on the world and world leaders of his time at the same time they offer a glimpse into him as a person from this fascinating, sophisticated and intelligent First Lady.
A reminder that the first of our Civil War discussions will take place Wednesday, October 19th, at 7 pm. In this first meeting we will determine topics of most interest to participants so we can focus our guided study to learn more about this dynamic period of American history. There are many resources already in the Library collection to support Civil War research and exploration, and local Civil War enthusiast Alice Evans will augment our collection with some of her own materials collected over years of study.
September 29, 2011
There’s a lot going on in the library
world this fall. October is busy with the Vermont Humanities Council Vermont
Reads programs we are doing in collaboration with the other Valley libraries,
the Mad River Valley Senior Citizens, Inc., the Waitsfield United Church of
Christ, the Warren United Church, and the Big Picture Theatre's Tuesday Night
Movie Club. The book is To Kill a Mockingbird, one of those rare books
that merits rereading multiple times. It will be a pleasure to hear it analysed
and discussed and to know people all over the state are experiencing this
powerful story. Another rare thing is a movie of a book that is as compelling as
the book, and seeing Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is always a treat. The first
event, a community potluck and introduction to the book, takes place October 6th
at 6 pm in the Warren Town Hall. Information about all of the events is
available from the libraries. We also have multiple copies of the book, so
please come get one.
Also in October we will begin a four part series of discussions in honor of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Local Civil War scholar Alice Evans will lend her expertise as well as many of her resources to this guided study of each year of the war. Each participant will have access to a wealth of materials related to a specific aspect of the Civil War, and then share information they have learned with the rest of the group. This will give each person the benefit of research about a wide range of topics, such as specific battles, soldiers from Waitsfield, the role of photography, POW treatment, life in the camps, and more. The sessions will be on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm., and the first one will be October 19th.
There are two new technology related treats: it is now possible to download library eBooks onto a Kindle.This means you can read books on your Kindle for free!! There is a link on our website that will show you what’s available. Library patrons now also have access to Universal Class, which provides over 500 free online courses about almost everything you can think of.
Archer Mayor’s new book is here, as are new books by Clive Cussler, James Patterson and Louise Penny. Former Vermont Reads author Julie Otsuka (When the Emperor Was Divine) has a beautiful new book, Buddha in the Attic. It is the story of Japanese brides brought over from Japan to the United States to become wives to men they had never met. Otsuka brings poetry to the harshness of their lives and their disappointments. From short but expressive sentences, we learn about how Americans treated these women, the husbands who are nothing like what the women had anticipated on the boat ride from Japan, the work they do inside wealthy homes or on farms. A strong sense of individual women comes through at the same time a feeling of what happened collectively to Japanese women of that era fills the book with melancholy.
Highlights in the children’s room include a new collection from Shel Silverstein, a new book by Maurice Sendak, and the gorgeous Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick, in which the stories of two characters pursuing paths that ultimately intersect are told partly in words and partly in drawings.
September 15, 2011
The post-Irene clean- up in the Mad River Valley reminds me (once again) what a wonderful community this is. As a librarian the way I experience this most often is through one of the very most delightful parts of my job, interacting with the patrons and hearing about what they’re reading and what they’d like to see on our shelves. It seems like a good time to highlight some of those books in celebration of the intelligent, compassionate and eclectic people that live in the area.
I spent the last week alternately relating to and being infuriated by a book a couple years old but recently donated to the Library by a regular patron, To Hell with All That, Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, by Caitlin Flanagan. This is a sweeping analysis of women, particularly mothers, from Flanagan’s generation and her mother’s, touching on many more topics than housewifery with insight and humor. She writes of working mothers and stay- at-home mothers in an unusually balanced way, and she makes thoughtful comparisons between the lives of contemporary, well-educated women with plenty of money and the more matter-of-fact approach to their responsibilities favored by previous generations. The occasional infuriated feeling stemmed from her tendency to frame her analysis around the feelings of “All Women,” as well as a kind of snarkiness about other women. (Then again it could be that I just don’t have an Inner Housewife.) At any rate, I love reading books like this even when the content rankles, and I am so grateful it was brought to my attention and that we now have it in our collection.
Due to the difficulty I had finding a catalog record for this, I can almost guarantee we are the only Vermont library with a copy in our collection of Axton Landing, by Tony Holtzman. This was a patron request and given that it’s historical fiction that’s practically local (it’s the first of a trilogy about loggers in the Adirondacks), it seems as if it will have a wide audience once people know about it. I haven’t read it but reading reviews of it and paging through it suggest it’s the best kind of historical fiction, combining story and interesting characters with a sense of the historical and cultural context, which in this case is the pre-Civil War climate of the mid-19th century, loggers, unions and women’s rights. Again, a book a lot of people will have access to now because of the unique taste of one of our patrons, and with two more installments to anticipate if this one satisfies.
shortly after it was published, a patron requested There Are Things I Want
You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me, by his longtime partner, Eva
Gabrielsson. With a cover design imitating Larsson’s wildly popular books,
this is the story of their lives together, which began when they were just
eighteen. Gabrielsson writes of their political passion and activism and how it
affected his characters and plots. She also writes of the legal battles over his
legacy, felt painfully by her since they were not legally married, and so she
has no inheritance rights. This is sad, bitter writing offering a look into the
conjunction of his writing and his personal life from the person who knew him
best. Amidst the grief and legal strife is a veritable love story to coffee that
is sort of redeeming in a strange way and definitely evocative of the prodigious
coffee-swilling of Larsson’s fictional characters.
August 18, 2011
For a parent of a son who loves technology and uses it glibly and enthusiastically, This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman, is a cautionary tale. It is also a well-told sad, realistic story filled with humanity and flawed but likeable characters. The Bergamots are a family of four, recently moved to New York City after years of what sounds like a rather idyllic life in Ithaca. Their new lives are not unlike the lives of plenty of other characters in contemporary fictional families: dad with an all-consuming, lucrative job, frustrated mom who drinks probably a bit too much and wonders why she spends so much time driving the kids to their activities even though she has a PhD, smart, good-looking kids who attend a fancy school and have active social lives with sophisticated peers that secretly intimidate them.
Things get dark in a frightening, contemporary way when Jake, the fifteen year old son, receives an explicit video from an eighth grade girl. Filled with mixed emotions, chief of which is confusion, he forwards it to a friend. It happens quickly, without him really thinking about the consequences, and the result is awful. As a reader I already didn’t completely trust the friend and also already liked Jake. Jake seems like basically a good guy who is overwhelmed by his new life, his new body (at one point he’s appalled by his hairy body, reminding us he’s not that far from childhood) who has no point of reference for how to handle this situation. Of course the video goes viral, and the aftermath affects Jake’s whole family. Similar plots have shown up in novels and real life, but what makes this impossible to put down is that each character elicits empathy: Jake, his parents, the poor girl who made the video in the first place, even Jake’s little sister. I ended up feeling protective of all of them and very invested in how their lives would turn out.
On the new non- fiction shelf, a highlight is Charles C. Mann’s new book, 1493. This is the sequel to his earlier book, 1491, which described the Americas before Columbus arrived. 1493 discusses the ecological and agricultural impact of the arrival of the Europeans, and how this influenced the direction of history. The book is full of information and analysis, but also, like 1491, accessible and engaging.
Maybe a little related, is Weeds, a new book by Richard Mabey. It’s sort of a biography of weeds, their history, how they’re viewed in different cultures. He manages to give these often-maligned plants unique personalities, even making the annoying ones purposeful and intriguing. Next time I’m combing burdock from my dog’s fur I’ll be sure to remember that it is responsible for the invention of Velcro.
On a lighter note, Vermont author/illustrator Harry Bliss has a delightful new picture book out, Bailey. Bailey is an adorable dog who goes to school, experiencing many of the same pleasures and struggles as young humans do. He has some unique challenges, too, such as a tendency to eat his homework and become quite distracted by squirrels and trash in the cafeteria. Good back-to-school inspiration and filled with tail-wagging moments. According to Amazon, this book is for ages 4-8, but that really places inappropriate and maybe even a little cruel limitations on people older than eight.
August 4, 2011
the library we’re getting more and more excited about Waitsfield resident Rob
Williams coming to the library August 8th at 2 pm to share facts, pictures and
anecdotes about his experiences as a yak farmer. Yaks are intriguing animals on
many levels. There is obviously the practical appeal which makes it possible for
us to host someone who raises yaks for food and fiber, but yaks also have an
undeniable place in our imaginations. Books featuring heroic yaks, books with
heroic children working with yaks, and anthropomorphized yaks all figure into
children’s books we have at the library. Then there is the fact that the part
of the world most famous for yaks, the Himalayas and Tibet, is gorgeous and
fascinating, making for good story telling and stunning photography and
illustrations. And they wouldn’t enjoy their prominent place in children’s
books if it weren’t for two more facts about yaks: they look really, really
cool and yak is a fun word which lends itself especially well to inventive and
whimsical rhyming. Some titles to enjoy before next Monday’s program: Go
Track a Yak, by Tony Johnston, The Lucky Yak, by Annetta
Lawson, Pemba Sherpa, by Olga Cossi, and Kami and the Yaks, by
Andrea Stryer. These happen to be children’s books, but the program promises
to appeal to all ages.
The new books shelf is brimming with summer reads for a variety of reading tastes. The preternaturally prolific but ever entertaining James Patterson has a new book, Now You See Her. (Patterson also contributed to kids’ literature this summer with Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life, on the new shelf in the children’s room.) Eric Van Lustbader adds to the thriller genre with Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion as does John Hart, with Iron House. For the more gently-inclined, Anne Rivers Siddons’ new book, Burnt Mountain, is an engaging story with very human characters who are easy to relate to. Jennifer Weiner delves into the powerful emotional implications of modern fertility technology in her newest novel which is partly inspired by an article Weiner read about real people dealing with gestational surrogacy.
For anyone in need of something completely different from the political craziness of Washington D.C. the past few weeks, Bernie Sanders donated a published copy of his famous filibuster speech to libraries all over the state. Other craziness in the news is the stranger-than-fiction story of “Clark Rockefeller,” really Christian Gerhartsreiter.The story of his many false identities and the trickery and deceit he managed to pull off amongst otherwise savvy circles is told in Mark Seal’s The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter. To say this reads like a very suspenseful novel is an understatement. As one reviewer wrote, “Forget fiction. Pop this jaw-dropper in your beach bag.”
July 21, 2011
I recently returned from the annual
conference of the American Library Association in New Orleans. It was a
whirlwind educational and fun trip made possible by the generous Friends of the
The highlight was participating as a
host for the Amelia Bloomer Breakfast. This event is held every two years and
celebrates the Amelia Bloomer List of Recommended Feminist Books for ages 0-18.
After spending months looking for and reading and reviewing possible titles,
this breakfast is the time our committee shares our list and celebrates with
other librarians. We hosted three authors and one illustrator whose work is on
our list and it was inspiring and illuminating to hear how they turned their
research and ideas into good literature for youth. Their books, Pemba Sherpa,
Summer Birds, The Firefly Letters and She Sang Promise, are
at the library.
On a sillier note, Scholastic threw a
great party for Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. He was there signing
copies of his new book and spoke in a surprisingly serious way about his
childhood and how he came to write his hilarious irreverent books that are such
hits with young boys (and a bunch of librarians). His newest book, Super
Diaper Baby 2, is also in our collection, as are many of his others.
Another very rewarding event was the
celebration of the Pura Belpre Award, the ALA award for Latino literature for
youth. The award turned fifteen this year, and the presentation of this year’s
awards was given in the style of a quinceanera party, the party some Latina
girls have when they turn fifteen. Once again the award -winning authors spoke
eloquently about their writing craft, their backgrounds and how excited they are
to have their cultures recognized through this award. There were complimentary
copies of the award books, and these will add some diversity to our collection,
with some especially good picture books to augment the options for storytime.
All in all, a great experience. And
now it’s good to be back home at the library buzzing with summer activity. The
summer reading program has begun and the first session, on origami, was a big
hit. The following weeks promise to be entertaining and educational, too. The
programs are each Thursday in July at 3.
On August 8th we may become
the first library ever to host a program about yaks! Rob Williams from the
Vermont Yak Company will present a program about these eclectic animals: slides,
photos, stories about yaks and working with them. Yaks are famously pack
animals, but are also useful for their hide, their hair and allegedly are quite
tasty to eat. Come learn more August 8th at 2 pm at the library.
For a good summer fiction read, try J.
Courtney Sullivan’s new novel, Maine. You’ll love some characters, be
infuriated by others, feel like they’re based on someone you know, get caught
up in what’s going to happen to all of them, and be sorry when the book is
New on the non-fiction shelf is Deborah Valenze’s Milk: a Local and Global History. This examines the story of how and why milk came to be a staple in many cultures. A mix of history, nutrition and anthropology, this book is an accessible and fascinating look at a topic with local relevance. There are some great photos, too, my favorite being the female band playing in the dairy barn at the University of Wisconsin.
remember when it seemed as all of my friends were passing around copies of
Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River so I was very excited when Hegi’s
newest book, Children and Fire, came out this spring. Set once again in
1930s Germany and with some characters from Stones from the River in
cameo roles, Children and Fire isn’t the powerful and thought provoking
journey into ethics and complex personalities the earlier book is, but it does
offer insight into a fascinating period in German history.
Thekla, the main character, is a fourth grade teacher in 1934, and she is deeply committed to teaching and her students. She struggles to find a path for herself and them, however, after coming into her teaching position in a questionable way and facing the changes in German society as Hitler becomes more powerful. Accepting the teaching position is only one of many compromises Thekla makes, compromises that seem small and justifiable to her as she is making them, but which clearly weaken her and affect her relationships with others. In spite of this, Thekla is often a likable and sympathetic protagonist, and the biggest strength of the book is the way Hegi shows how it was possible for a well-meaning person like Thekla to gradually succumb to the pressures of the time almost without even realizing it. The personalities of several of the students come through strongly, adding to the sadness of the book, since so many of them are headed toward awful futures. The story of Thekla’s parents years earlier is mixed in with the events of 1934. This offers an interesting backstory that impacts the more modern story in a somewhat predictable but formative way. Ultimately, the characters and time period are fascinating enough that although this probably isn’t a book that will still provoke strong reactions years later like Hegi’s earlier book, it’s still very much worth reading.
On a lighter, more summery note, Sonya Sones’ Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a quick, unusual book that’s actually not as light as it seems like it will be at first. It is written in verse - not structured verse, but more like stream of consciousness thoughts expressed in short sentences and spread out on the page. This makes it delightfully easy to grasp huge chunks of words and ideas at one time, leaving the reader flitting through the pages laughing, crying, nodding in recognition. The main character and narrator, Holly, is a writer unable to meet the deadline for her next book, a mother whose daughter is about to leave for college, a wife with doubts about her marriage, and the daughter of an ailing, aging mother. She’s a bit obsessive and paranoid but the scenarios and expression of her feelings jump around so much that the mood changes before her neuroses can have a chance to get annoying. Her feelings about her family, her career and her body come off as honest and realistic. There are some poignant moments about her daughter leaving and her worries about her mother, but the best part is the way Sones throws in just the right amount of Anne Lamott-like self-deprecating humor. Periodically throughout the book Holly’s daughter, Sam, discerns that the emotional climate calls for brownies and the recipe for Sam’s brownies is included at the end of the book. It’s a pretty entertaining read itself, for a recipe, and the brownies are quite delicious.
The Waitsfield Elementary School Library has once again generously lent us all of their DCF books for the summer, so we have the full complement of books from the current list, and multiple copies of several titles. And for other reading for kids (of all ages), we have the Me...Jane StoryWalk installation in the library lawn for another week, followed by I Took My Frog to the Library in the same location for the following two weeks. Please come take a pretty walk and enjoy some good stories and pictures!
May 26, 2011
Being a librarian plus a parent who reads aloud to my kids for hours at a time (often books my mother read aloud to me so clearly this is genetic), it was a given that I had to read Alice Ozma’s book, The Reading Promise. It was probably also a given that parts of it would make me cry and that I would be interested personally and professionally in what books she wrote about. But I’m happy to say that even with those expectations, I love this book even more than I thought I would.
The Reading Promise is the story of Alice and her father and the books they read together from the time she was a young child until her first day at college, literally every single night for almost nine years. If she was away from home, he read aloud over the phone; before going to prom, she carefully perched in her prom regalia while he read to her before she left with her date since she wouldn’t be back until after midnight.
Any two people who embarked on a journey like this would have to have a strong and unusual relationship, and the book is as much about their relationship as it is about their reading project. Ozma writes tenderly about her father without being sentimental, portraying him as a real person. She also writes honestly about how eccentric this pursuit was and how there were times it made her uncomfortable, like when he showed up at a late night play practice, book in hand, anxious to get the reading in before the midnight deadline. Jim is a single dad to a girl who seems just about as quirky as he is, but she needs girl-specific parental guidance sometimes just like any girl would. An especially entertaining scene is one in which he has carefully censored a book with mature themes and language to the point where there are so few words left for him to read aloud that she knows he’s up to something. She gently pokes of fun of him at times, but it is always clear she not only loves him but also has enormous respect for him.
Because they continued reading together for so long, the span of books they read is large and diverse, from classic children’s books like Beezus and Ramona to Shakespeare, with a wide variety of realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, old and contemporary books mixed in. She includes a partial list of what they read at the end of the book, and also starts each chapter with a quotation from a book that gives perspective on the events or life lessons in that chapter. This is very cleverly done and serves well to integrate the books into the personal story.
The end of the “streak,” as they call the project, looms as college for Alice approaches. As with the rest of the emotions in this book, she writes about the bittersweet feelings without overstating, allowing the reader to feel a miniature version of what they must have felt during the transition. The end of the book describes their lives after “the streak,” still making use of the pertinent quotations at the start of each chapter, assuring us that Alice and her father continue to rely on books for guidance, wisdom and enjoyment.
We’re gearing up at the library for a summer we hope will be filled with people coming in to satisfy their warm (?) weather reading needs. We will do the summer reading program for kids each Thursday afternoon in July. And we will start off the summer with a visit from author Kate Hosford, who grew up in Waitsfield and has written the delightful Big Bouffant. Big Bouffant tells of Annabelle, a whimsical and likeable young girl full of unique ideas. An afternoon with her creator promises to be entertaining and may even result in new hairstyles all around! Kate’s program will be at the Joslin Library Wednesday, June 22nd, at 3 PM.
May 9, 2011
Every spring a new Master List of nominees for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont’s Children’s Book Award) comes out, giving kids lots of new ideas about what to read and libraries new ideas of what books must be on the shelves as summer approaches. There are thirty books on the list and as usual the books are of high quality and diverse enough to offer choices for various ages, reading styles and genders. And it includes one that I found so captivating that I actually found myself tiptoeing into my son’s room to sneak it off his bedside table so I could read ahead while he slept.
Half Brother, by Kenneth Oppel, is the story of Ben, a thirteen year old who has just moved to Victoria from Toronto, and his family. Ben’s family consists of his scientist parents and a new addition, a baby chimpanzee who his parents have decided to raise like a human child, teaching him sign language, clothing him, feeding him at the dinner table. This is a lot for Ben to deal with at the same time he’s also adjusting to a new town and school, his first crush, his father’s expectations and sometimes clinical approach to family life, and just in general being thirteen. Maybe a bit predictably but still told in a convincing way, Ben warms to Zan, his “brother,” and eventually develops a rapport with him that many of the more detached researchers around him don’t share. Different perspectives on the treatment of animals in research settings are presented in balanced ways as Ben’s experiences and opinions widen. Difficult decisions must be made as the chimpanzee grows and Ben’s father deals with pressures from the scientific world and more specifically the university funding the project .Some of the choices made are a little farfetched, but the occasional plot missteps are more than made up for by the realistic and compassionate character development. Ben’s relationships with his parents, his friends, and Zan feel so authentic and his feelings are so understandable that it’s easy to relate to him and to want him to succeed. And in the midst of so many Young Adult books with vampires, wizards, dystopias and life and death battles, it’s so refreshing to read a coming of age story about a real human boy who matures because he’s confronted with emotions about the real living beings in his daily life.
Continuing with inspiration gleaned from family members’ nightstands, another new addition to the library collection is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. This one was on my husband’s side of the bed, a side typically stacked with books filled with business- speak, stories of innovators and entrepreneurs, the occasional computer magazine and, frankly, not a stack that has ever inspired me to sneakily raid after he’s gone to sleep. But when I read that subtitle one night after a long week of Koha transition at the circulation desk, I realized this might be just the book for our collection right now. The authors of this book studied people making changes, their emotional vs. intellectual reactions to changes and why sometimes change is embraced and successful yet other times approached with fear and negativity. This is not the page-turner Half Brother is, but it does have lots of inspiring anecdotes as well as practical advice about how to approach change in a positive, effective way. Understanding the psychology behind people’s reactions to change is a huge part of coping with the big changes we’ve made in the library recently so I’m especially happy to see that this book is currently checked out!
April 28, 2011
though it’s snowing a bit outside as I write this, technically it’s spring,
and what better time to focus on Ron Krupp’s ideas and books? On Wednesday,
May 4th, the Joslin and Warren Libraries will host a program featuring
Krupp discussing his book, Lifting the Yoke: Local Solutions to America’s
Farm and Food Crisis. The book discusses the pitfalls of the globalization
of food production in terms of the environment, society and our own bodies.
Individual decisions about what food to consume and how to obtain it impact a
wide range of areas, from the plight of small farmers to America’s challenge
with obesity. Hearing these issues discussed by someone who has been involved
with them since long before they became popular promises to be educational and
engaging, especially since Krupp will be joined by American Flatbread’s George
Schenk and Robin McDermott of Mad River Localvore Project to make it even more
locally relevant. The program is at 6:30 at the Warren Public Library.
Coincidentally, a new book at the library features the themes of organic and subsistence farming. This Life is in Your Hands, by Melissa Coleman, manages to be both sad and optimistic. It also reads sometimes like a memoir, sometimes like a novel, although it is the story of Coleman’s actual experiences. Her parents moved to a remote area of Maine in 1968, a place with challenging farmland potential, but one that became famous in some circles because it was the home of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life. Eliot and Sue Coleman, like many others of their generation, found this back-to the-land “bible” at their local health food store and were inspired by it to live more simply, grow their own food and live outside of consumerist culture.
The optimism of the book comes from the optimism of this couple, especially Eliot, as they make impressive progress toward living with very little outside help. Eliot Coleman zealously experiments with organic gardening until he finds things that work better, learning about the way the land works as he tries new (or old but abandoned) techniques. The zealous part is a challenge for his growing family, however, which is where part of the sadness comes in. He comes across as a fairly obsessive workaholic - a visionary to be sure, but a difficult personality, almost crazed in his commitment to improving their farm and living independently. Sue’s mental health varies with the seasons, her hormones and her marital insecurities as the area begins to attract new people, often younger women, some of whom consider clothing an impediment to the natural life. And overshadowing the whole book is a family tragedy the reader knows from the very start is looming over their heads.
Part of what blurs fact and fiction in this book is the way Coleman gets inside the minds of her parents and their friends. She quotes her mother’s journal sometimes, but other times she describes things they thought and felt that she can’t possibly have known or understood as a young child, and even if she did, it’s doubtful she could remember them with such detail years later. It’s also hard to imagine contemporary discussions with her parents revealing that degree of introspection and honesty. I found this a little distracting, wondering what she was projecting or making up and what Eliot and Sue and their contemporaries really experienced. At the same time, their feelings and interactions are some of the most readable parts of the book. These are definitely intriguing people who made me care about them and want to know what would happen with them. The book also works as a snapshot of a colorful and often inspiring period in American culture, the subjectivity of the author ultimately becoming part of its strength.
April 14, 2011
Wingshooters, by Nina Revoyr, is almost painful to read. Filled with sad events and themes -abandonment, bigotry, abuse – and a sense of dread throughout the book that things are only going to get worse, it is also so well written and such a good story, that you can’t help feeling sad approaching the end because then it will be over.
It is the story of Michelle, or Mike, as her grandfather calls her, a young girl abandoned by her Japanese mother and American father and sent to live with her paternal grandparents in rural Wisconsin. It is the 1970s, a time of racial and cultural upheaval and war protests in American cities, but most people in Deerhorn, Wisconsin maintain the same attitudes and lifestyles they have had for generations. Accepting a mixed race child is impossible for many of them and Mike suffers from the racism of teachers, other kids and even the town priest. In a moving and original characterization twist, Mike’s macho, narrow- minded grandfather goes way beyond stereotypes to love and create a bond with her that comes close to making up for her loneliness and sense of abandonment. They play ball, hunt, bond over their love of dogs and he teaches her important lessons about standing up for herself against bullies, even while he himself still struggles to accept people who are different than he is.
Michele’s “otherness” fades into the background when the town’s attitudes are challenged even more by the arrival of a Black couple, the Garretts. And not only do they move to town, but they work as a teacher and a nurse, bringing them in contact with people, especially children, in a way that threatens most of the town leaders beyond what they can handle. Harassment, outrage and eventually tragedy ensue, all seen through the eyes of Mike who must analyze her own feelings toward the Garretts at the same time she strives to understand the complexities of her beloved grandfather. Truly a beautiful book that I already want to go back and reread.
Part of the continuing effort to increase the Young Adult offerings at the Joslin Library, another new book is Threads and Flames, by Esther Friesner. Friesner’s main character, Raisa, moves by herself from her Polish shtetl to New York City hoping to find work and her sister, who emigrated a few years earlier. The story of how she meets new people, learns English and new skills is well told and an intriguing look at immigrant life in the early twentieth century. When she begins work at the Triangle Shirt Factory thinking she’s lucky, a sense of foreboding begins to permeate the book, especially when there are references to working conditions that contributed to the horrific fire the reader knows is going to happen. Raisa’s optimistic and resourceful personality shines through in spite of this, making her story a personal and engaging way to remember that event one hundred years later.
March 31, 2011
Wednesday evening, April 6th at 7 pm, the Joslin Memorial Library will host
Vermont author Joe Sherman and photographer Martina Tesarova. Sherman is the
author of several books about many aspects of Vermont, including Fast Lane on
a Dirt Road and The House at Shelburne Farms. His work has also
appeared in Vermont Life and Vermont Magazine.
This program will focus on his most recent book, Young Vermonters: Not an Endangered Species, published in 2010. The book explores and challenges the often- stated idea that it is impossible for young adults to live and thrive in Vermont. Comprised of a series of interviews with 20 Vermonters between the ages of 21 and 38, the book touches on economics and job opportunities, diversity, social life, religion and more, told in the interviewees own words as they answer Sherman’s questions. The book features hugely varied backgrounds and professions: tattoo artist, lawyer, construction worker, writer, waitress, educator, ski tech. Different regions of Vermont are featured as well, including Waitsfield (Grace Potter), Burlington, Cabot, Swanton, Brattleboro and Barre.
What makes this book really fascinating is the way it captures the unique perspective of each of these people. They come alive as individuals and this makes the reader care about their opinions and why they’ve made the decisions they have about where and how to live. Their personalities and choices defy stereotypes, including the ones about people from their generation choosing to leave Vermont and not come back once they reach adulthood.
We are especially fortunate that the author is able to bring not only the photographer for the book with him, but at least one and probably more than one of the people interviewed. It will be exciting to connect real people with the stories in the book, ask questions and to see what they are like in person.
Keeping with the Vermont theme, our “New” shelf features Twin, a memoir by composer, writer and Bennington College professor, Allen Shawn. Shawn’s twin sister, Mary, suffered from autism in a time when awareness and education about autism was a fraction of what it is today. She was institutionalized when she and Allen were just eight years old. Twin describes the effects this had on the rest of this colorful and complex family in a non- sentimental and personal way.
We also have a ski- themed murder mystery, Fade to White, by another Vermont author, Wendy Clinch. This is a fun, quick read, not extremely suspenseful as mysteries go, but with a nice dose of romance and familiar snowy setting- sort of a “Murder She Wrote”- style entertaining read for late winter.
March 3, 2011
Dogs and snow: two of the most wonderful things nature gives us, the topic of many great books, and also the topic of an upcoming program at the Joslin Memorial Library. In a moment of scheduling synchronicity, Saturday, March 5th is the opening of the Iditarod. Also on March 5th at 2 pm local dog sledder, educator and library patron Gail Breslauer will be at the library presenting a program about dog sledding. She will talk about the sport, show slides and participants will even get a chance to meet the dogs. All ages are welcome.
In honor of this upcoming program I have been enjoying some of the many fiction and nonfiction books in our collection that feature this intriguing sport. The first author to consider is Gary Paulsen, who writes wonderful biographical material and adventure stories for a wide range of ages. Winterdance is a great read about Paulsen participating in the Iditarod. It’s at times entertaining, inspiring and harrowing - the perfect mix of emotions that makes a memoir really worth reading. Puppies, Dogs and Blue Northers is more of a love letter to his dogs, although there is plenty of action in it as well. The chapter on puppies captures exactly how delightful it is to be around puppies, with added interest because these dogs will become workers and part of the pack that teaches them from an early age. The quantity of puppies and his somewhat deranged idea that they should come inside his house make for some very colorful scenes. Dogsong, a Newbery Honor Book that is practically a classic for boy readers who say they don’t like to read, is a story of a boy finding himself through adventure, physical hardship and, of course, his relationship with dogs.
Any of Jean Craighead George’s books about Julie, an Eskimo girl who lives among wolves, are a treat for readers of any age or gender if they enjoy good characterization, animals and a good story. And one of last year’s DCF books, Diamond Willow, by Helen Frost, is beautifully written in diamond shaped verse that tells the story of a modern girl coming to terms with her heritage and her inner resources as she faces the challenges of a solo dog sled experience.
Picture books are a perfect match for this topic because the dogs and the world they live in are so gorgeous. There are several books about Balto, the famous dog/wolf who brought medicine to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria epidemic. Iditarod Dream, by Ted Wood is about the Junior Iditarod and is filled with amazing photos and fun facts.
And this list would not be complete without Call of the Wild. It’s hardly possible to read this classic too many times, and for the extra curious, we even have a new biography of Jack London, Wolf, by James Haley.
One of the exciting things about having Gail present a program is the chance to hear firsthand about this topic so beloved by authors and movie makers. Her knowledge and experience are sure to bring a welcome perspective. And did I mention the dogs will be here?