APRIL Reading

 

April 1865: The Month That Saved America

by  Jay Winik

 

One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee’s harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln’s assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war’s denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history and filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.

 

April Morning

by Howard Fast

 

When you read this novel about April 19, 1775, you will see the British redcoats marching in a solid column through your town. Your hands will be sweating and you will shake a little as you grip your musket because never have you shot with the aim of killing a man. But you will shoot, and shoot again and again while your shoulder aches from your musket’s kick and the tight, disciplined red column bleeds and wavers and breaks and you begin to shout at the top of your lungs because you are there, at the birth of freedom—you’re a veteran of the Battle of Lexington, and you’ve helped whip the King’s best soldiers.

 

April’s Rain  

by David Johnson

 

Eight years after losing her closest friend, Tucker struggles to keep her rebellious, self-destructive granddaughter under control. When April accidentally kills her boyfriend while defending herself from his attack, Judge Jack helps Tucker ferry her granddaughter away to Spirit Lake, a remote treatment facility in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. There, April creates a false identity, painting herself as a young socialite, and blocks Tucker’s attempts at communication.

Tucker’s grandson March, missing for eight years, is discovered half-dead, having lost both his sight and his memories. As he recovers, March’s blindness persists but fragments of his life reemerge. When he finds himself at Spirit Lake, he runs headlong into his past.

Will Tucker be able to reunite her family after their paths have splintered?

 

Broken April

by Ismail Kadare

 

 

Two destinies intersect in this novel — that of Gjorg, a young mountaineer who has just killed a man in order to avenge the death of his older brother, and who expects to be killed himself in keeping with the code of the highlands; and that of a young couple who have come to study the age-old customs, including the blood feud.

 

April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici

by Lauro Martines

 

One of the world’s leading historians of Renaissance Italy brings to life here the vibrant–and violent–society of fifteenth-century Florence. His disturbing narrative opens up an entire culture, revealing the dark side of Renaissance man and politician Lorenzo de’ Medici.
On a Sunday in April 1478, assassins attacked Lorenzo and his brother as they attended Mass in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo scrambled to safety as Giuliano bled to death on the cathedral floor. April Blood moves outward in time and space from that murderous event, unfolding a story of tangled passions, ambition, treachery, and revenge. The conspiracy was led by one of the city’s most noble clans, the Pazzi, financiers who feared and resented the Medici’s swaggering new role as political bosses–but the web of intrigue spread through all of Italy. Bankers, mercenaries, the Duke of Urbino, the King of Naples, and Pope Sixtus IV entered secretly into the plot. Florence was plunged into a peninsular war, and Lorenzo was soon fighting for his own and his family’s survival.
The failed assassination doomed the Pazzi. Medici revenge was swift and brutal–plotters were hanged or beheaded, innocents were hacked to pieces, and bodies were put out to dangle from the windows of the government palace. All remaining members of the larger Pazzi clan were forced to change their surname, and every public sign or symbol of the family was expunged or destroyed.
April Blood offers us a fresh portrait of Renaissance Florence, where dazzling artistic achievements went side by side with violence, craft, and bare-knuckle politics. At the center of the canvas is the figure of Lorenzo the Magnificent–poet, statesman, connoisseur, patron of the arts, and ruthless “boss of bosses.” This extraordinarily vivid account of a turning point in the Italian Renaissance is bound to become a lasting work of history.

 

April Witch

by Majgull Axelsson

 

“No excuses will do anymore. Time to put my sisters in motion.”
Desiree lies in a hospital bed thinking, dreaming. One of the children born severely disabled in 1950s Sweden and then routinely institutionalized for life– and one of a very few to survive nearly to the century’s end– she cannot walk or talk, but she has other capabilities. Desire e is an April witch, clairvoyant and omniscient, leaving her own body and traveling into the world denied her.
The working-class woman who gave Desire e up at birth took in three foster daughters several years later, and even as adults they know nothing of the existence of their fourth ” sister.” Christina, abused by her psychotic birth mother and burdened by a sense of inferiority, is now a physician; Margareta, the onetime foundling, an astrophysicist who can never manage to complete her dissertation, is as restless and sensual as she was in her youth; and Birgitta, in her day the fastest, sexiest teen queen in town, is now a derelict alcoholic and substance abuser.
In spite of her physical disabilities, Desire e possesses tremendous intelligence, and she observes the world around her with great acumen. She has developed a very special relationship with her primary care physician, Dr. Hubertsson, who realizes that she could and should know something about her own background. Unbeknownst to him, she goes on to make supernatural use of this information.
Sensing that her own time is drawing to a close, Desire e also feels that one of the others has lived the life that should have been hers. One day, each of the three women– Christina, Margareta, Birgitta– receives a mysterious letter that inspires her to examine her past and her present, setting into motion a complex fugue of memory, regret, and confrontation that builds to a shattering climax.
April Witch created a furor upon its original publication in Sweden, where it was an immense bestseller. Addressing themes of mother-daughter relationships, competition between women, and the failures of Sweden’s postwar welfare state, it is foremost a thrillingly written and fascinating story.

 

2016 Maine Literary Awards Winners

2016 Maine Literary Awards Winners

In 2016, nearly one hundred and forty books were entered across the award’s categories; compare that to the 2011 awards when seventy books total were submitted. In addition, more than one hundred manuscripts were submitted into the award’s Short Works Competition, and nearly sixty Maine students submitted work in the same categories in the award’s Youth Competition.

Book Award for Fiction
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols

Book Award for Crime Fiction
An Unbeaten Man by Brendan Rielly

 

Book Award for Speculative Fiction
The Realm of Misplaced Hearts by Rick Hobbs

Book Award for Nonfiction
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti

Book Award for Memoir
How to Cook a Moose by Kate Christensen

 

 

 

Book Award for Poetry
Little Arias by Kristen Case

Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish

 

 

Book Award for Children’s
The Lemonade Hurricane by Licia Morelli (Illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris)

Book Award for Anthology (Editors)
A Gateless Garden by Liza Bakewell

 

John N. Cole Award for Maine-themed Nonfiction
Ghost Buck by Dean Bennett

 

 

 

Excellence in Publishing
Historical Atlas of Maine

by Stephen J. Hornsby & Richard W. Judd

(University of Maine Press)

 

 

 

BOOKS: President Obama’s Secret Survival Strategy

 

President Obama in the Oval Office in 2012. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

President Obama in the Oval Office in 2012. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

On January 16, 2017 there appeared in the New York Times two articles giving us insight as to how important books and reading have been to the 44th President of the United States.  Here’s a link to the article and the text of the interview transcript when Michiko Kakutani interviewed him in person.  President recently gave one of his daughter’s a Kindle pre-loaded with books he felt were of great importance for her to read.

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

https://nyti.ms/2jP8PuI

President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

https://nyti.ms/2iCrYmb

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him

Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times, interviewed President Obama about literature on Friday at the White House. Here are excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited and condensed.

These books that you gave to your daughter Malia on the Kindle, what were they? Some of your favorites?

I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so “The Naked and the Dead” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think she hadn’t read yet.

Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing, for example. Or “The Woman Warrior,” by Maxine [Hong Kingston].

Part of what was interesting was me pulling back books that I thought were really powerful, but that might not surface when she goes to college.

Have you had a chance to discuss them with her?

I’ve had the chance to discuss some. And she’s interested in being a filmmaker, so storytelling is of great interest to her. She had just read “A Moveable Feast.” I hadn’t included that, and she was just captivated by the idea that Hemingway described his goal of writing one true thing every day.

What made you want to become a writer?

I loved reading when I was a kid, partly because I was traveling so much, and there were times where I’d be displaced, I’d be the outsider. When I first moved to Indonesia, I’m this big, dark-skinned kid that kind of stood out. And then when I moved back from Indonesia to Hawaii, I had the manners and habits probably of an Indonesian kid.

And so the idea of having these worlds that were portable, that were yours, that you could enter into, was appealing to me. And then I became a teenager and wasn’t reading that much other than what was assigned in school, and playing basketball and chasing girls, and imbibing things that weren’t very healthy.

I think all of us did.

Yeah. And then I think rediscovered writing and reading and thinking in my first or second year of college and used that as a way to rebuild myself, a process I write about in “Dreams From My Father.”

That period in New York, where you were intensely reading.

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

And so even though by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in public policy, or I had these vague notions of organizing, the idea of continuing to write and tell stories as part of that was valuable to me. And so I would come home from work, and I would write in my journal or write a story or two.

The great thing was that it was useful in my organizing work. Because when I got there, the guy who had hired me said that the thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories. And he told me that if you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.

But my interest in public service and politics then merged with the idea of storytelling.

What were your short stories like?

It’s interesting, when I read them, a lot of them had to do with older people.

I think part of the reason was because I was working in communities with people who were significantly older than me. We were going into churches, and probably the average age of these folks was 55, 60. A lot of them had scratched and clawed their way into the middle class, but just barely. They were seeing the communities in which they had invested their hopes and dreams and raised their kids starting to decay — steel mills had closed, and there had been a lot of racial turnover in these communities. And so there was also this sense of loss and disappointment.

And so a bunch of the short stories I wrote had to do with that sense, that atmosphere. One story is about an old black pastor who seems to be about to lose his church, his lease is running out and he’s got this loyal woman deacon who is trying to buck him up. Another is about an elderly couple — a white couple in L.A., — and he’s like in advertising, wrote jingles. And he’s just retired and has gotten cranky. And his wife is trying to convince him that his life is not over.

So when I think back on what’s interesting to me, there is not a lot of Jack Kerouac, open-road, young kid on the make discovering stuff. It’s more melancholy and reflective.

Was writing partly a way to figure out your identity?

Yes, I think so. For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.

People now remark on this notion of me being very cool, or composed. And what is true is that I generally have a pretty good sense of place and who I am, and what’s important to me. And I trace a lot of that back to that process of writing.

Has that continued to be so in the presidency?

Not as much as I would have liked. I just didn’t have time.

But you keep some form of a journal?

I’ve kept some, but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for. The main writing that I’ve done during the presidency has been my speeches, the ones at least that were important to me.

How has the speechwriting and being at the center of history and dealing with crises affected you as a writer?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to see when I start writing the next book. Some of the craft of writing a good speech is identical to any other good writing: Is that word necessary? Is it the right word? Is there a rhythm to it that feels good? How does it sound aloud?

I actually think that one of the useful things about speechwriting is reminding yourself that the original words are spoken, and that there is a sound, a feel to words that, even if you’re reading silently, transmits itself.

So in that sense, I think there will be some consistency.

But this is part of why it was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency, because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals. And so working that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction.

Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.

Are there examples of specific novels or writers?

Well, the last novel I read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” And the reminder of the ways in which the pain of slavery transmits itself across generations, not just in overt ways, but how it changes minds and hearts.

It’s what you said in your farewell address about Atticus Finch, where you said people are so isolated in their little bubbles. Fiction can leap —

It bridges them. I struck up a friendship with [the novelist] Marilynne Robinson, who has become a good friend. And we’ve become sort of pen pals. I started reading her in Iowa, where “Gilead” and some of her best novels are set. And I loved her writing in part because I saw those people every day. And the interior life she was describing that connected them — the people I was shaking hands with and making speeches to — it connected them with my grandparents, who were from Kansas and ended up journeying all the way to Hawaii, but whose foundation had been set in a very similar setting.

And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.

And then there’s been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else.

What are some of those books?

It’s interesting, the stuff I read just to escape ends up being a mix of things — some science fiction. For a while, there was a three-volume science-fiction novel, the “Three-Body Problem” series —

Oh, Liu Cixin, who won the Hugo Award.

— which was just wildly imaginative, really interesting. It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping —

It’s really about the fate of the universe.

Exactly. The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade. [Laughter]

There were books that would blend, I think, really good writing with thriller genres. I mean, I thought “Gone Girl” was a well-constructed, well-written book.

I loved that structure.

Yeah, and it was really well executed. And a similar structure, that I thought was a really powerful novel: “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff.

I like those structures where you actually see different points of view.

Which I have to do for this job, too. [Laughter]

Have there been certain books that have been touchstones for you in these eight years?

I would say Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone. Like most teenagers in high school, when we were assigned, I don’t know, “The Tempest” or something, I thought, ‘My God, this is boring.’ And I took this wonderful Shakespeare class in college where I just started to read the tragedies and dig into them. And that, I think, is foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.

Is that sort of comforting?

It gives me a sense of perspective. I think Toni Morrison’s writings — particularly “Song of Solomon” is a book I think of when I imagine people going through hardship. That it’s not just pain, but there’s joy and glory and mystery.

I think that there are writers who I don’t necessarily agree with in terms of their politics, but whose writings are sort of a baseline for how to think about certain things — V. S. Naipaul, for example. His “A Bend in the River,” which starts with the line, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” And I always think about that line, and I think about his novels when I’m thinking about the hardness of the world sometimes, particularly in foreign policy, and I resist and fight against sometimes that very cynical, more realistic view of the world. And yet, there are times where it feels as if that may be true.

So in that sense, I’m using writing like that as a foil or something to debate against.

I’ve read that Lincoln loved Shakespeare his whole life, but when he was dealing with the Civil War, reading the history plays helped give him solace and perspective.

Lincoln’s own writings do that. He is a very fine writer.

I’d put the Second Inaugural up against any piece of American writing — as good as anything. One of the great treats of being president is, in the Lincoln Bedroom, there’s a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by him, one of five copies he did for charity. And there have been times in the evening when I’d just walk over, because it’s right next to my office, my home office, and I just read it.

And perspective is exactly what is wanted. At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president, I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.

Is there some poem or any writing or author that you would turn to, say, after the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., or during the financial crisis?

I think that during those periods, Lincoln’s writings, King’s writings, Gandhi’s writings, Mandela’s writings — I found those particularly helpful, because what you wanted was a sense of solidarity. During very difficult moments, this job can be very isolating. So sometimes you have to hop across history to find folks who have been similarly feeling isolated. Churchill’s a good writer. And I loved reading Teddy Roosevelt’s writing. He’s this big, outsize character.

Have you read a lot of presidential biographies?

The biographies have been useful, because I do think that there’s a tendency, understandable, to think that whatever’s going on right now is uniquely disastrous or amazing or difficult. And it just serves you well to think about Roosevelt trying to navigate World War II or Lincoln trying to figure out whether he’s going to fire [George B.] McClellan when Rebel troops are 20, 30, 40 miles away.

I watched some of the civil-rights-movement documentary mini-series “Eyes on the Prize” after the election.

It was useful.

You do see how far we’ve come, and in the space of my lifetime.

And that’s why seeing my daughters now picking up books that I read 30 years ago or 40 years ago is gratifying, because I want them to have perspective — not for purposes of complacency, but rather to give them confidence that people with a sense of determination and courage and pluck can reshape things. It’s empowering for them.

What books would you recommend at this moment in time, that captures this sense of turmoil?

I should probably ask you or some people who have had time to catch up on reading. I’ll confess that since the election, I’ve been busier than I expected. So one of the things I’m really looking forward to is to dig into a whole bunch of literature.

But one of the things I’m confident about is that, out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read. [Laughter] They’re ahead of me right now. And so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.

When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.

There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.

And part of what we’re all having to deal with right now is just a lot of information overload and a lack of time to process things. So we make quick judgments and assign stereotypes to things, block certain things out, because our brain is just trying to get through the day.

We’re bombarded with information. Technology is moving so rapidly.

Look, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species.

I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people. And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements — we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time.

What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that.

I know you like Junot Díaz’s and Jhumpa Lahiri’s books, and they speak to immigration or the American Dream.

I think Lahiri’s books, I think Díaz’s books, do speak to a very particular contemporary immigration experience. But also this combination of — that I think is universal — longing for this better place, but also feeling displaced and looking backwards at the same time. I think in that sense, their novels are directly connected to a lot of American literature.

Some of the great books by Jewish authors like Philip Roth or Saul Bellow, they are steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up — what you’re willing to give up and what you’re not willing to give up. So that particular aspect of American fiction I think is still of great relevance today.

 

Library Staff Reading: Ending 2016 and Starting 2017

Library Staff: What We are Reading…Books to end 2016 and to start 2017

Susan Plimpton

bestman2016-Best Man by Richard Peck

2017-Unbound by Ann E. Bergunbound

 

 

 

 

 

 

Candy Emlen

aftercrash2016-After the Crash by Michael Bussi

2016-Before the Fall by Noah Hawleybeforethefall

 

 

 

 

 

thenest2017-The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny

2017-The Girls by Emma Clinethegirls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janet Clifford

rosieproject2016-The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

2016-If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greeneififorgetyou

 

 

 

 

 

 

sixthextinction2017-The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth

2017- Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs by Frederick B. Hillshipsswindlers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Anne Mead

euphoria2016-Euphoria by Lily King

2017-A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towlesagentlemaninmoscow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Pickup-McMullin

index2016-The Mighty Currawongs by Brian Doyle

2017-The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitzinquisitorstale

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesta Kowalski

nightschool2016- Night School by Lee Child

2016- Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christiegutenbersapprentice

 

 

 

 

 

 

nutshell2017-Nutshell by Ian McEwan

2017-News of the World by Paulette Jilesnewsoftheworld

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda Crafts

somewriter2016- Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinemmylifeontheroad

 

 

 

 

 

browngirldreaming2017- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

On Bowie by Rob Sheffieldonbowie

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Barendse

middlemarch2017-Middlemarch by George Eliot

An Homage to Public Libraries

In this age of digital “everything” (or so it seems) libraries remain a public treasure.  Here’s a review from the New York Times Book Review last week about a work of fiction set in one of the oldest public libraries in the world.

Book Review | FICTION

Library As Muse

By EDMUND WHITE

http://nyti.ms/2gUW1Sa

Chetham’s Library in England, one of the world’s oldest public libraries.img_4617

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

PUBLIC LIBRARY
And Other Stories
By Ali Smith
220 pp. Anchor Books. Paper, $16.

This collection of stories by one of England’s best novelists is both playful and serious in the manner of Laurence Sterne, the 18th-century author of “Tristram Shandy,” one of the most original novelists of all time, who influenced European literature in a way comparable only to that of the later James Joyce. Sterne was the master of the marginal, the random, the inconsequential. In our own day, David Foster Wallace, Geoff Dyer and Ali Smith have become the paladins of this goofy manner. Like Dyer, who wrote an essay ostensibly about D.H. Lawrence, “Out of Sheer Rage,” and then turned it into a report on his own health, Smith seems obsessed with Lawrence as well.

In a story called “The Human Claim,” she juxtaposes an investigation into what happened to Lawrence’s ashes with a dispute she had with Barclaycard over unwarranted charges. The two themes don’t seem related — but that may be the point. Just as Dyer travels to Oaxaca to research Lawrence but ends up distracted by his own health problems, in the same way Smith’s speculations about who might have charged a Lufthansa flight on her credit card crowd out her questions about whether Lawrence’s widow’s new husband, tasked with cremating Lawrence’s corpse and bringing it back to New Mexico, may have dumped the cremains and substituted unrelated ashes in their place. Maybe that was the connection. “I began to wonder . . . who the person was, the person who’d pretended, somewhere else in the world, to be me. What did he or she look like?” If Lawrence’s ashes could be replaced with someone else’s and no one suspected the substitution for decades, maybe that could be related to contemporary identity theft.

This book, as the title suggests, is a homage to public libraries at a time when budget cuts in the United Kingdom (or the disunited Kingdom, now that Scotland and Ireland seem to be on the brink of seceding) and new ways of communicating are closing these free, life-changing institutions. Seeded throughout the text are brief testimonials by established writers, often from a humble and not especially literate background, for whom an early access to books made all the difference. Referring to the earlier British edition of the book, Smith notes that “by the time this book is published there will be one thousand fewer libraries in the U.K. than there were at the time I began writing the first of the stories.” Libraries are lauded because they too offer the randomness, the “serendipity” that characterizes Smith’s style. A woman starts out reading up on chemistry but keeps drifting back to the philosophy shelves — and soon has changed her major. Books in general are called “the best possible medium of the transmission of ideas, feelings and knowledge.” One letter writer even has a political take, that libraries are essential to a democracy so voters can be educated, “and that there is therefore an ideological war on them via cuts and closures.”

If the testimonials are part of a campaign to save libraries, the stories are more fanciful. Smith begins one with a gesture — a young poet throwing a Walter Scott novel on the floor only to notice when she picks it up that the binding is lined with sheet music. All of which allows the story to exfoliate into a host of subjects — the poet’s unhappy mother (she can hear her “shifting about upstairs like a piece of misery”), the poet’s witchiness, her prizes and eventually her confinement in a mental hospital. It ends: “Think of the Waverly collection on the shelves, the full 25 novels, their spines sliced back and open and the music inside them visible.” In Smith’s prose, the music inside is certainly visible.

Take this paragraph from the same story, when the poet is wondering if her badness is contagious: “Would it ruin the feel of the mouth of the hill pony on the palm of her hand when she went the hike by herself and gave it the apple she had for her lunch, the bluntness of the mouth, the breath of it, the whiskers round the mouth she could feel, the warm wet and the slaver on her hand that she wiped on her skirt and got into the trouble about?”

In the way of all successful art, Smith’s book triggered little chains of association that resonated with the other books I was reading at the time — the heart-stopping phrases in Rebecca West’s “The Fountain Overflows,” the wonderful tribute to the power of fiction to reconcile us to bright particulars in Martha Nussbaum’s “Love’s Knowledge,” that great homage to serendipity in Xavier de Maistre’s 18th-century “Voyage Around My Room.” As distinct and idiosyncratic as “Public Library” is, these intersections reveal how its themes are also timeless and universal.

In one of the first stories, the narrator is arguing with her father (who’s been dead for five years) about the past. He has seemingly perfect recall, remembers which prize she won for what, how she studied German years ago and how some German girls from Augsburg came over as exchange students; they had just learned about the Holocaust from a documentary and were speechless. The narrator, adrift in trivia, remembers that during World War I a man recorded all the various English and Irish dialects spoken by the soldiers (many of these dialects having since vanished). This idea of how people spoke in the past emphasizes how ephemeral both people and language can be. She thinks of her grandfather, who died before her birth: “I’ll never know what his voice sounded like.” She has a vision of a sort of huge golem that haunted her as a girl: “He speaks with all the gone voices.”

Books, libraries, writers, words — these are all Smith’s subjects. She tells us of the astonishingly common English words that were invented by John Milton. She tells us the original meaning of familiar words (“cheer” once meant “face”). She seldom fashions a good story in the usual sense; instead she gives us nosegays of associations, but these flowers have burrs. They stick in the imagination.

Unhappy romances (between women) are frequently the so-called back story. One woman wants to tell the other about her dream, but her partner doesn’t want to hear it. She accuses the narrator of playing stupid. There’s a lot about Dusty Springfield showing up in the unconscious.

These stories may be shattered or partial or half-buried, but the grateful reader does recognize that, unlike the more severely erased plots in some of Smith’s previous work, they contain the visible outlines of real and intriguing stories.

Edmund White’s most recent book is a novel, “Our Young Man.”

 

 

Inspiring books for the upcoming holiday season

Inspiring Books to help bolster a feeling of wonder when in comes to the power of humanity and to help prepare our outlook for the coming holiday season.

The following list is from the Buzzfeed.com “31 Books that will restore you faith in humanity.”   Buzzfeed.com

Wonder by R.J. Palaciowonder

One incredibly moving aspect of this book is its message on kindness. Through the eyes of August Pullman, we see what it’s like to be on the receiving end of dirty looks, terrified stares, and ugly words. Because it’s told from multiple points of view, we also get the chance to tap into the mind of a bully, a friend, and a loved one during these events. The ending of this book and the way the characters dealt with these situations is what restored my faith in humanity. We can ALWAYS choose kindness.

malala I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

 

You must, must, must, must , MUST read this book! Malala’s story is as unbelievable as it is inspirational: She survived a point-blank gunshot to the head, continued in her fight for girls’ right to education around the world, and, at the age of 17, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is an unstoppable force for good and this book allows us all to learn from her incredible wisdom.

 Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kiddermountains

Whenever a friend is a little lost, or trying to figure out what to do with their life, I send them Mountains Beyond Mountains, the incredible story of Dr. Paul Farmer. His ambition? Attempting to cure the entire world of disease, one patient at a time, starting in the poorest towns in one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti. Here’s proof that we can all dream a little bigger — there’s no challenge too great.

heartbreakingA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

The moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother.”

When I read this, I had no idea what I was getting into — it was so much more than it seemed from the start (make sure you read everything, even the ISBN/Library page small print) and frequently left me in tears.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backmanove

This book is infuriatingly heartwarming andcharming and loveable! It’s about a total grump named Ove who is an old, mean, loner. He has nothing to live for besides policing his neighbors and arguing with strangers until he meets a young family that needs his help. He takes it upon himself to help this young family and becomes the most sweet and loyal friend to them and others who need him. Such a gem of a book!

This week’s recommended books from the New York Times

The New York Times New Books Recommended This Week (Nov 10, 2016)

nyt-book-review

Sometimes looking at ALL the books on the NY Times bestseller lists is overwhelming and just a bit too time consuming for the start of your week.  In each Book Review there is a recommendation list you can use to simplify your search for some new books to put on your “TO READ” list.

attention-merchants

THE ATTENTION MERCHANTS: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, by Tim Wu. (Knopf, $28.95.) The history of the slow, steady annexation of our attention — whether by television commercials or war propaganda or tweets — is the subject of this expertly synthesized survey by Tim Wu, the star professor at Columbia Law School who coined the term “net neutrality.” The critic Jennifer Senior especially loved the book’s ending, which is “written so rousingly that it just may make you reconsider your priorities.” Delete your accounts.

ROGUE HEROES: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit rogue-heroesThat Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War, by Ben Macintyre. (Crown, $28.) Nobody tells a true-life spy story with as much excitement and style as Ben Macintyre. Dig into his latest, an entertaining history of the S.A.S. from its North African desert origins, to watch the good guys outwit the Nazis.

CITY OF DREAMS: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York, by Tyler Anbinder. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35.) “Immigrants, we get the job done” is one of the many lines from the musical “Hamilton” that so many of us have had stuck in our heads this past year. (It’s from the song “Yorktown [The World Turned Upside Down],” for those who don’t know.) Anbinder’s history tells the much broader story, offering a richly textured guide to the past of the nation’s chief immigrant city.

the-man-who-knewTHE MAN WHO KNEW: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, by Sebastian Mallaby. (Penguin Press, $40.) This thoughtful and provocative biography says Greenspan knew the dangers of financial success. Why then, Sebastian Mallaby asks, didn’t he put on the brakes? A thorough account of the former Fed chairman’s rise depicts him as political to a fault.

THE WORD DETECTIVE: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English the-word-detectiveDictionary, by John Simpson. (Basic Books, $27.99.) From a former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, a charmingly frank account of a 35-year career dedicated to lexicography.

american-philosophyAMERICAN PHILOSOPHY: A Love Story, by John Kaag. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) In this book, John Kaag, a philosophy professor, discovers a hidden library that changes his life. What follows is a spirited lover’s quarrel with the individualism in our national thought.

THE MOTHERS, by Brit Bennett. (Riverhead, $26.) the-mothersBrit Bennett marks herself as a young writer to watch in her much-buzzed-about (and already best-selling) debut. In this complex, ferociously moving novel, three young people come of age in a black community in Southern California.

the-mortificationsTHE MORTIFICATIONS, by Derek Palacio. (Tim Duggan, $27.) This sweeping debut novel, full of literary allusions, follows a Cuban family’s journey to America and back.

RICH AND PRETTY, by Rumaan Alam. rich-and-pretty(Ecco/HarperCollins, $25.99.) Two friends — one getting married, the other the maid of honor: It’s a familiar premise, but in this astute debut novel, the characters and situation feel fresh and three-dimensional.

 

Interested in Feminism?

There is a lot of information (and misinformation) swirling around about what feminism is and isn’t, where did it come from and what does it call for. What is “First Wave” feminism vs “third wave” feminism, and who are some feminist authors writing academically and in fiction form?

I’ve selected a few titles from this very comprehensive BookRiot list of “100 Must-Read Feminist Books” which I hope helps you explore a little deeper where this important movement comes from, where it is going, and what it means to different women, and authors. This is a subjective list, there are many other titles, fiction and nonfiction, and many other schools of feminism out there. Go forth and explore!

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Books becoming Films in 2017

Read them before the film versions are released! Below are a few books being made into movies, to be released in 2017. Read the entire list here and here.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

“Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement. In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.” ~GoodReads

 

   The Long Home                                 Splinter Cell                                                A Wrinkle in Time
                                    

 

The Bell Jar

“Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.  Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”~GoodReads

 

   Lost in the Jungle                        All the Bright Places                               The Lost City of Z
            

Ready Player One

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.“~ GoodReads

 

        Live By Night                                        Wonder                                         The Death Cure