Saturdays @ the South: Hearing Voices

“All fiction is a form of madness” – novelist Edward Docx

This week The Guardian posted an article that pretty much confirms what I’ve known my reading whole life: experiences in fiction can carry over into a person’s real life. Reading is a multi-sensory experience. Anyone who loves books can tell you that. We see the words on the page and those words conjure up images in our heads. We feel the texture of the pages as we move them (or we notice the cool sensation of our e-reader. We’re equal opportunity here!). But we also hear the voices of the characters in our heads and sometimes, those voices carry over into our non-reading lives.

Lest you think that fiction causing us to hear voices is abnormal, according to the report, it’s a natural part of reading. At least 19% of the readers who were surveyed noted that the characters “had started to narrate my world” and others imagined how characters would react to what was going on in their lives. More than half of the respondents said that they heard the characters voices while they were reading. This is a phenomenon that is distinct to the reading experience. Readers actively create worlds in their minds and they are able to relate to characters in the stories unlike any other media.

Novelist Edward Docx mentions in the article that we get a glimpse inside the characters’ minds. We know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling at any give time and we know it precisely. Film and other creative media may be able to convey approximately what someone is thinking or feeling through visual cues, but when we read fiction, we are inside the character’s heads. We know what they’re thinking and feeling because the author tells us so.

When you get to know someone so intimately by gaining insight into someone’s thought process as it’s happening,  it’s not particularly surprising that we are able to carry on that experience into other parts of our lives (what psychologist Charles Fernyhough calls in the article “experiential crossing”). As someone who has paused to think WWEBD (what would Elizabeth Bennet do?) on more than one occasion in her life, this article came as no surprise, but it’s still nice to have those feelings validated. When I become attached to characters; they become a meaningful part of my life, and this is a normal part of the reading experience. For anyone who has ever cried when a character died, leaped for joy at a happy ending, experienced a book hangover because the characters are so engrossing or thrown a book across the room because you weren’t happy at an outcome, you’re not alone. This is all part of the glorious, unique experience of reading and it’s something that is unique to fiction.

As purveyors of fiction (among many other things) the library is happy to help you hear voices in your head anytime. Here are a few options that have particular engrossing characters with whom you may just feel like you’re hanging out with long after the covers are closed:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Hey, we haven’t obsessed about this book in a while! In all seriousness, Clarke gets into her characters’ psyches like few other authors can. This book gave both Arabella and me massive book hangovers (and our blog pseudonyms) because the characters were so engrossing. If you’ve been reluctant to pick this book up because of its size, you may want to consider it because of the experience. These characters’ voices will be with you for some time.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I never would have expected a book that, in some respects is about moss to be so engrossing. The story follows Alma Whittaker, who is a wonderfully self-possessed woman in 19th Century as she becomes a botanist, falls in love and questions everything she has ever thought to be true in her life. This is a massive reduction of the story that spans continents and generations, but we get a very intense picture of Alma’s internal life throughout this book. Gilbert leaves little question as to what Alma is thinking which gives the reader a solid sense of the character’s voice.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Johnson delves into the minds of privileged teenagers and the people who teach them in this book about where the line is drawn between bullying and harassment. A new teacher begins to get involved in her students lives, thinking that she understands them, their motives and their inner lives, but the picture we get in the intervening chapters where Johnson actually shows us their internal lives is a much different view. You may not want to spend time with these characters personally, but the personalities painted will still stick with you.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Talk about a book that sticks with you. I was pondering this book, the character’s motives and what I thought I knew about them long after I had returned this book. A man named Smith looks back at events he witnessed as a child, some forty years prior. Hurley delves deeply into this characters psyche and his motivations, only to turn everything on its head in the last chapter. If you’re looking for something that makes you feel like you know someone, but then have to question everything you thought you knew about them this book will serve that purpose, for sure.

Dating Tips for the Unemployed by Iris Smyles

This is an odd book. It’s not quite a book of short stories, but it’s not plot-heavy, either. The closest way I can describe it is as a series of vignettes, funny, honest, sometimes irreverent or explicit, but always in a distinctive voice. While I may have struggled with linking the vignettes together while reading this book, I never had any trouble hearing the narrator’s voice. The 24 episodes in this book will take you through the character’s odyssey of trying to find her own place in the world.

I hope today’s post has perhaps called to mind other instances when you were carried away by a character’s voice or was so engrossed in a story that it stayed with you long after you were done. Till next week, dear readers, feel free to give into the voices in your head!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday to Sadegh Hedayat, Iranian author, poet, and intellectual, who was born this day in 1903.

Hedayat was raised in an aristocratic family with many ties to the French imperial government and, as a result, was sent to Europe to receive a “western” education at a fairly early age.  Initially, he planned to become an engineer, but after falling in love with the architecture of Paris, Hedayat decided to become an architect…and later a dentist….in the end, he returned to Iran without a degree, and held a number of jobs while devoting his life to studying Iranian history, prose, folktales, and myths.

He produced a considerable body of work, including short stories, poems, travel pieces, and literary criticism, all of which attempted to move Iranian literature into the ‘modern’ world.  At the same time, he began heavily criticizing what he perceived to be the two major causes of Iran’s decimation: the monarchy and the clergy, and through his stories he tried to impute the deafness and blindness of the nation to the abuses of these two major powers.  His most well-known work, The Blind Owl, is a startling piece of modernism that confronts human beings’ inherent lack of ‘civilization’, while also confronting head-on the anguish of living under repression.  The book was originally published with a stamp that read  “Not for sale or publication in Iran.”, but was serialized there after the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941.  Sadegh Hedayat committed suicide in Paris in 1951, leaving behind a body of work that is still striking today for its insights and its impact, and a legacy of being the first modernist in Iranian literature.

And speaking of literature….here are some of the books that trudged through this week’s snow to make it onto our shelves this week!

 

Universal HarvesterIf the holographic cover on this creepy little tome doesn’t catch your eye, then I certainly hope the blurb will.  John Darnielle takes the current literary love of nostalgia and turns it into something dark, disquieting, and subtly spellbinding.  The story is set in the late 1990’s in the tiny town of Nevada, Iowa, where very little ever happens, and where Jeremy works at the local Video Hut.  But his quiet routine is disrupted when a local school teacher returns a movie with an odd complaint–that there’s something on the tape that shouldn’t be there.  When several more such complaints come in, Jeremy risks taking one of the videos home…and discovers that there is, indeed, something recorded in the middle of the film.  Each interruption is dark, disturbing, sometimes violent, features no faces, but shows enough landmarks for him to tell that they were filmed right outside of town.  And trying to track down just what is behind these strange scenes will lead Jeremy and his friends deep into their own landscapes, and on a journey that stretches into both the past and the future, with consequences that no one ever imagined.  This  novel is getting a heap of praise from a number of outlets, including Booklist, who gave it a starred review and hailed, “Darnielle’s masterfully disturbing follow-up to the National Book Award-nominated Wolf in White Van reads like several Twilight Zone scripts cut together by a poet . . . All the while, [Darnielle’s] grasp of the Iowan composure-above-all mindset instills the book with agonizing heartbreak.”

AutumnFrom celebrated author Ali Smith comes the first in a proposed  “seasonal quartet”—four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons, after all, are)–that will consider what it means to live in a specific time and place, as well as what it means to live at all.  At the heart of this story is the relationship between Daniel, a 100-year-old man, and his neighbor Elizabeth, born in 1984.  We see these two together at different stages of Elizabeth’s life, from her childhood to the present day, and, through them, get a look at the world that is forming around them, and shaping their everyday existence.  Smith dived headfirst into the anguish, turmoil, and anger that is fueling our world today, and uses her characters as a lens through which to mourn, to contemplate, and, perhaps, to offer a little bit of hope for an honest human connection in the midst of….all of this.  It’s not an easy book to explain, but it’s an enormously significant one, and a gutsy move from an author who has never been afraid to push the proverbial envelope.  This book, which is being hailed as the first ‘post-Brexit’ novel to engage with the Brexit debate, is making waves on both sides of the pond, with The Guardian calling it a beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams, and transient realities; the ‘endless sad fragility’ of mortal lives.”

Dust Bowl GirlsAt the height of the Great Depression, with dust storms ravaging the mid-west, and financial hardship touching–or ruining–over a third of the US population, Sam Babb, the charismatic basketball coach of tiny Oklahoma Presbyterian College, began dreaming.  He traveled from farm to farm across hundreds of miles, offering young women a free college education if they would play for his newly-formed basketball team, the Cardinals.  While these women were remarkable simply for taking the risk of leaving their home and pursuing a dream that would daunt many, they also accomplished something remarkable as a deeply-devoted team: they won every game they played.  In this beautifully-told and thoroughly-researched history, Sam Babb’s granddaughter, Lydia Ellen Reeder tells about the Cardinals, their rise to athletic dominance, and their showdown with the reigning champions of basketball (a team led by none other than Babe Didrikson).  Though a story, ultimately, of triumph, she also discusses the intense scrutiny, suspicion, and condemnation to which these women were subjected, and the prevailing myths and lies that they also defeated in the course of their remarkable athletic careers. Library Journal gave this book a big nod, noting that it is “Equal parts social history and sports legend come to life . . . Of special interest for students of women’s studies and a strong contender for a film adaptation. With high appeal to sports fans and historians, this hidden gem of a story deserves a place in all public library collections.”

Civil WarsA History in Ideas: “Civil War” is a concept that, I would argue, most of us think we understand.  But in this fascinating little tome, historian David Armitage walks his audience through the many, many forms that civil wars can take, and just what the consequences are for labeling a conflict as such–for example, the potential for any other powers engaging, profiting from, or controlling the outcome of one.  From the American Revolution to the current-day way in Iraq, and journeying via philosophy, economics, biography, and history, Armitage’s book considers wars on the ground, as well as the theory of war itself, arguing that, no matter how many times we try to end wars, violence seems to be an inherent part of the nation-state system, and our best defense is to understand how and why specific forms of violence occur.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, and called this work “Learned…Indispensable…a model of its kind: concise, winningly written, clearly laid out, trenchantly argued…His conclusion is sobering: human societies may never be without this kind of conflict, and we’re better off trying to understand it than ignoring its problematic nature. It’s hard to imagine a more timely work for today.”

The Evening Road: Another historical fiction piece set in a small town, and another that is receiving critical acclaim from a number of outlets.  At its heart is Ottie Lee Henshaw and Calla Destry, two determined women whose lives have been shaped by prejudice and violence, who meet by chance one dark day in the 1920’s.  Ottie Lee, her husband, and her lecherous boss are traveling to a planned lynching, and pick up Calla, who has been waiting for a meeting that never happened.  Though infused with violence, bigotry, and sheer human horror, the real power of this novel comes from the tiny moments of intimacy–shared, appreciated, or otherwise–that define these relationships, and the depth of character with which Laird Hunt infuses each of his characters.  This is a challenging read, not only because of its structure, but because of the realities it forces readers to face, but for those very same reasons, it’s an important one, and most definitely one that will linger for long after it’s been finished.  Kirkus Reviews agrees, saying in their starred review “Hunt finds history or the big events useful framing devices, but he is more interested in how words can do justice to single players and life’s fraught moments. Hunt brings to mind Flannery O’Connor’s grotesques and Barry Hannah’s bracingly inventive prose and cranks. He is strange, challenging, and a joy to read.”

Wednesdays @ West: Cooking up some hygge

If the weather of the last week hasn’t gotten you thinking about hygge, then nothing will!  Did you spend any time during the last snowstorms, cozied up on your couch with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, a good book and your loved ones?  Did you binge watch your favorite TV shows?  Did you go out and play in the snow?  If so, congratulate yourself for your hyggelige efforts.

There’s another thing I bet many of our dear readers did to weather the storms: cook.  And if hygge points exist (they don’t), then cooking and baking would earn you lots of bonus points.  Personally, I made some rather tasty chocolate chip, oatmeal bars that were gobbled up rather quickly.

Skibberlabskovs

Hyggelige foods, you see, tend to not be exactly diet friendly.   They are most likely what we would refer to as “comfort food.”  Also very hyggelige is slow food.  Fast food would probably not qualify.  Turning once more to The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, we will see that he has considerately included some recipes for a few Danish favorites guaranteed to help you get your hygge on.  If you want your hygge cooking to be as authentically Danish as possible, his recipes sound like a yummy place to start.  Skibberlabskovs or skipper stew, braised pork cheeks in dark beer with potato-celeriac mash, boller (Danish meatballs in curry), Glogg (mulled wine) and Snobrod (twist bread) can give you a feel for the type of dishes Danes whip up on cold, snowy days.

If you’re looking for even more comfort food (personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much comfort food) or you’d like to stick with some good ole’ American cuisine, the cookbook section at the library is a bottomless well of inspiration.  Here are a few to check out.

Mario Batali big American cookbook : 250 favorite recipes from across the USA.  With words like state fairs, rotary clubs, cobbler, and BBQ in the book description, it’s pretty easy to tell that this one could quickly become a go-to cookbook for comfort food.

Purely pumpkin : more than 100 wholesome recipes to share, savor, and warm your kitchen by Allison Day.  Call it my New England bias, but to me anything pumpkin screams “comfort food.”  Allison Day’s cookbook can fulfill all your cravings for pumpkin with beverages, soups, stews, side dishes, entrees and desserts.

How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman.  Bread and desserts are pretty much the ultimate in hygge cooking in my opinion.  And even though I’m not Danish, you may be happy to hear that Meik Wiking agrees with me: “confectionery, cake and pastries are hyggelige.”  Which means that Mark Bittman, who compiles cookbooks so large that it would take to a lifetime to try out every recipe, is pretty much the King of Hygge.

Cook it In Cast Iron.  According to Cook’s Country magazine, 85% of us own a cast iron skillet.  Who knew?   That means many, many of us could right now be whipping up their recipes for cornbread, roasts, apple pie, cinnamon swirl bread.  The only question is why aren’t we?

Of course, your hyggelig culinary attempts will need to be paired with equally delicious and comforting beverages.  For these needs, I would suggest the following books:

Tea: history, terroirs, varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, François Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais and Hugo Américi.  This book is a tea lover’s dream.  I purchased it for the West Branch’s collection and I also have a copy at home.  Everything you ever needed or wanted to know about the different types of tea, where they are grown, their history, varieties and health benefits.

The World’s Best Drinks: where to find them and how to make them by Victoria Moore.  If you’d like a bit of global flair with your comforting drinks, this is the book for you.  Containing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, the recipes in this Lonely Planet guide will have you whipping up Chilean Terremoto, Italian Negroni, Canadian Caesars, Turkish Aryran, Indian Mango lassi and old fashioned American egg creams.

With a number of weeks left in the winter (I’m wise enough not to speculate how many), you may want to plan ahead so you’re not caught off guard without the perfect hyggelige recipes to get you through another Nor’easter.  A quick trip to the cookbook section at the PIL should be perfect to get you cooking, baking and concocting.

Yours, With Love

And a very Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers!  Whether you are the type of person who buys heart-shaped confetti and cuts out little silhouettes of cupids, or…not, I thought today would be an ideal one to share with you a little something I learned this weekend.

Did you know that February is InCoWriMo?

InCoWriMo stands for International Correspondence Writing Month, a month-long celebration of “vintage social media”, or letter-writing.  The goal, as stated on the InCoWriMo website, is to “Hand-write and mail/deliver one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February.”  The goal of the project is to celebrate the beauty of hand-writing letters, and the wonderfully personal bonds that are built through the process of letter-writing.

Now, I only found out about InCoWriMo a few days ago when a friend of mine, who is a participant, told me about in (in a letter, as a matter of fact).  And I love it.  As a dedicated letter-writer myself, I find that sitting down and crafting a letter to someone is something that benefits us both.  In a communication-heavy world, we tend to say things quickly, more eager to get the information to another person.  But letter-writing gives you the time to think about how you want to say something, and why it is important to say something.  Also, I really like thinking about the person to whom I am writing–it makes me feel a lot closer to them than shooting off a text.

Unfortunately, I only learned about this great project halfway through the shortest month of the year, but that is no reason not to get started anyway.  And today, I would encourage you to send a letter to someone you love, as well.  The strict rules of InCoWriMo state that letters have to be hand-written, but I know that’s not easy for everyone.  So if you’d like to type, or dictate, or even sketch, we won’t tell.  And if you are looking for someone to whom to send a letter, InCoWriMo has also collected a list, which includes pen manufacturers, CEO’s, J.K. Rowling, and Michael Phelps, who are all eager to receive a letter from you.  So why not give it a try.  Today, of all days, is a good one to tell someone you think they’re worthy of a letter.  So is tomorrow, as a matter of fact.  As Heloise, a scholar, Abbess, and stellar letter-writer of the Middle Ages wrote to her love, Peter Abelard, “…what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it…We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us.”

And if you need some ideas, here are a few letters from history.   It’s become a little Free For All tradition to share famous love letters on this day, but this time around, I tried to stick to the informal, or the unconventional, to show that “love letters” can take any kind of form you might like or need:

Here is a cartoon written by E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye to his wife, Myrtle, while he was traveling for business, entitled “Gee!!  I wish Myrt was here”:

This short, but perfectly-worded note from Mark Twain to his wife, Olivia Louise Langdon:

Letter via Blogs.Courant.com & Mark Twain House

The text of the letter: Livy Darling, I am grateful–grate-fuller than ever before–that you were born, & that your love is mine & our two lives woven & melded together!  –SLC (Samuel Longhorn Clemens)

And, finally, this birthday note from Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday, in 1994 (which was voted the greatest love letter of all time in a 2005 poll):

https://www.indy100.com/article/the-10-greatest-love-letters-of-all-time–x1sKxgmB3g

 

June 23 1994

Odense, Denmark.

Happy Birthday Princess,

We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

Happy Birthday Princess.

John

Making Magic: The View from Here

*This post is part of Free for All’s “Making Magic” series, which will focus on Kelley’s exploration of the opportunities in the library’s Creativity Lab as well as musings about art, creativity and imagination.

During a recent fly tying class at the library, I was reminded of the power of looking at things in new ways. In this case, the instructor was talking about making your own flies for fly fishing, and how to spot inexpensive materials that make good representations of insects to attract fish.  For instance, do you think you could make a simple feather and some chenille look like a fly? Fly tying is an art that involves fine detail and a good eye for an accurate representation. Until this library program, I never really thought about fishing as creative. Well, to be fair, being a vegan I generally don’t think about fishing at all, but nevertheless, I received an important reminder from this class.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Dead Poets Society, you know it’s impossible to forget the scene where Professor Keating asks his students to stand on their desks in order to look at the world in a new way. (If you haven’t seen the movie Dead Poets Society, I beg of you, stop reading this post and go watch it now!) Whether you’re a creative looking for inspiration, or someone who would like to renew your joy for the day to day, taking a moment to see the world, and the people and things within it, with fresh eyes can enrich enrich your life immeasurably. So this week, I’m asking you, not necessarily to stand on your desk, but to step outside of your routine and really look around. Then, in the wise words of Neil Gaiman, use your experience to “write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

 

Saturdays @ the South: Take Me to the Tropics

I’m not a particular fan of the snow, largely because I don’t enjoy being cold and wet and snow provides both of those sensations simultaneously. After 11 inches of snow in one day, my window has almost as much snow stuck to the outside screen:

My cat is not happy that she can’t keep up her window-vigil with her usual diligence.

Because of this, I’m pretty much planning to re-erect my blanket fort from hermitage month and seriously considering making winter hermitage season. In the meantime, I’m looking for books that take me away, bonus if they can make me laugh. So here are books designed to do just that:

Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore

Tucker Case is a  “cool guy,” who discovers he’s a lot more hapless and clueless than he realized when he crashes his employer’s plane into a tiny island in Micronesia. Because it’s Christopher Moore, hilarity and intrigue ensue. Also, because it’s Christopher Moore, there’s a talking fruit bat named Roberto.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is a master of deadpan comedy and this classic, oddball book possibly his most well-known work after Slaughterhouse-Five. Dr. Felix Hoenikker has left the world a deadly legacy in the form of ice-nine which could bring about global destruction. One of Hoenikker’s children try to keep their family legacy under wraps by following a trail down to the Caribbean where they encounter a dictator and a religion called Bokonon. This book is for those who like a thought-provoking Armageddon with their tropical humor.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

For a little non-fiction in the mist, Troost follows his then-girlfriend (now his wife) to a tiny island in the South Pacific called Tarawa, where they encounter incompetent government officials, a self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (who has never written a poem in his life), and an endless loop of La Macarena playing everywhere. If you’re looking for something that will take you away, make you laugh out loud and make you thankful for indoor plumbing, coffee and regular news feeds, this book will do just that.

I hope I’ve offered you a few options for one of the best reasons for reading: escape. Till next week, dear readers, stay warm and safe!

Five Book Friday!

Due to some weather-related difficulties, we weren’t able to post yesterday’s stunningly glorious post, dear readers, and for that, our apologies.  But have no fear, we are safe, the Library is open, and, though we are all a bit stuff from shoveling, we are ready to go with today’s selection of new books!

The Freedom Broker: Readers looking for a fast-paced, action-packed adventure have a new author to add to their list…K.J. Howe’s debut novel introduces us to Thea Paris, an elite agent with Quantum Security International, a black-ops corporation that deals with highly sensitive rescue missions .  Abducted herself as a child, Thea thought she knew all about kidnapping–until her oil-tycoon father is kidnapped right before her eyes, right before the biggest deal of his career.  Now, thrown into the most important mission of her life, Thea is baffled by the lack of evidence before her.  There is no ransom note, no demands…only obscure and foreboding texts written in Latin sent from burner phones.  Enlisting the help of everyone at Quantum, Thea goes after the case with everything she has–but will it be enough to keep her family from devastation?  Howe defies conventions by providing readers with a smart, highly capable female lead in this series, and doesn’t skimp on tension or twists.  RT Book Reviews agrees, noting “Howe gives readers a handily twisted plotline, rife with tension and intrigue, that is sure to keep the pages turning. Overall, this is a strong start to a series that will appeal to fans of Stephanie Pintoff’s Eve Rossi and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.”

The Impossible Fortress80’s nostalgia has been a strong current through a lot of recent fiction, and Jason Rekulak is gleefully swimming through it in this love letter to the early age of video games, processed foods, and neon.  For three young friends, self-declared nerds and video-game enthusiasts everyone, Playboy magazine represents all that they do not have–namely, women.  So they devise a plan to steal it, thwarting police, a locked building, guard dogs (really, it’s a Shih Tzu), and alarm systems.  But when each attempt ends in utter failure, they decide to swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. Can Billy go through with the plan, or betray his best friends for the girl of his dreams?  A charming, big-hearted look at first loves that positively drips with vintage nostalgia, Rekulak still delivers a story that, as Booklist notes in its starred review ” the end the plot manages to magically subvert the time period while also paying homage to it. An unexpected retro delight.”

From Bacteria to Bach and Back : The Evolution of MindsWe all know that human beings (and a lot of other animals) have brains…but how did we develop minds?  Minds that could create, explain, rationalize, reason, and invent?  In this slightly ponderous, but significant book, Daniel C. Dennett goes beyond DNA and neurons to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection.   Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.  The result is a study of science, culture, evolution and human nature that will provide readers with as many thought-provoking questions as it answers about our place on the proverbial food-chain, and what we can really do with the eight-or-so pounds of matter in our skulls.  As Publisher’s Weekly notes, Dennet’s work is dense, but is also “Illuminating and insightful. . . . [Dennett] makes a convincing case, based on a rapidly growing body of experimental evidence, that a materialist theory of mind is within reach. . . . His ideas demand serious consideration.”

Amberlough:  Alternative histories!  Spies!  Intrigue!  If any of these words gets your heart fluttering, then be sure to check out this stylistically superb debut adventure from Lara Elena Donnelly.  Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, especially from Aristide Makricosta. They suit each other: Aristide turns a blind eye to Cyril’s clandestine affairs, and Cyril keeps his lover’s moonlighting job as a smuggler under wraps.  But when Cyril’s newest case ends in disaster, both he and Aristide find themselves on the run, facing mounting government backlash of a professional and personal variety.  Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, a top dancer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans―if she can be trusted.  Donnelly has crafted a sensational 1920’s setting for her characters that is as heartbreaking as it is dazzling.  As her leading men deal with the rise of Fascism and the threat that poses not only to their livelihoods but their lives, the real essence of the times becomes clear–not only the freedom and joviality, but the inevitable loss that lends this book its urgency and emotion.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, giving this book a starred review and noting ““Donnelly blends romance and tragedy, evoking gilded-age glamour and the thrill of a spy adventure, in this impressive debut. As heartbreaking as it is satisfying.”

Four Weddings and a Sixpence: Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes an anthology from some of Avon Book’s most beloved authors.  Employing the old rhyme “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Lucky Sixpence in Her Shoe”, each author spins a tale four friends from Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls who find an old sixpence in their bedchamber and decide that it will be the lucky coin for each of their weddings.  In these historical romances of loves lost and found, challenged and regained, fans of each author will find plenty of delights in a single-serving size, while those looking for some new names to read would do well to check this book out for future reference.  Booklist agrees, giving this book as a whole a starred review and cheering “Each love story in this superbly crafted anthology is expertly imbued with the distinctive literary DNA of its creator, and the end result is a wonderfully witty, sweep-you- off-your-feet romantic experience for long-time fans as well as readers new to these marvelously gifted writers.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass