Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

There are any number of Happy Birthday celebrations going on today for National Book Award honoree, National Medal of Arts winner, and general all-around good neighbor, Stephen King!

via Buzzfeed

As the Bangor Daily News notes in their sensational article about Stephen King’s impact on his local community, “Many people have some sort of a Stephen King story.”  And, because you only turn seventy once (most of the time), I thought I’d share mine.

While I was a resident of the U.K., my parents and I met up in Florida for a spring break getaway, and part of that trip included a trip to a Red Sox Spring Training Game.  It was a gorgeous day, with plenty of sun, surprisingly low humidity, and a breeze that carried the smell of growing flowers, hot dogs, and an incoming tide.  And, if memory serves me well, the Red Sox were winning.

May 26, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; American author Stephen King takes in the game between the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So, in between innings, my dad and I went to get some lemonade (they have the fresh-squeezed stuff there, dear readers.  It’s worth the air fare), and as we passed one of the many food vending places, my father nudged my shoulder: “That’s Stephen King!”  He whispered, with the fervor that is most commonly heard from kids at the mall who see Santa.  My dad is the reason that I became a Stephen King fan.  There were so many Stephen King books around our house when I was growing up that I thought he was a family friend.  I saw the first episode of the 1990 version of IT when it aired. Don’t worry…I was too young to be actually afraid of clowns…I was afraid of storm drains, and was therefore convinced that this poor person had fallen into one on his way to the circus.  I had started reading his books, like many people around New England, when I was too young, but I loved them nevertheless.

And now, here was The Man Himself.  In a Red Sox hat.  Putting mustard on his hotdog.

Now, I am not a good talker.  I get nervous leaving voice messages.  I clam up making small talk with people I have known for years.  But this time, I was convinced I was going to Say Something To Stephen King.  To thank him for the years of reading joy he had given both me and my dad.  To thank him for loving libraries.  For writing about libraries, both real and fictional.  For helping me to be a better writer. 

But by the time we were in speaking distance, I didn’t have any actual words that were ready to come out.  And because my feet were moving faster than my brain–I bumped into Stephen King.  So, instead of pouring out years of gratitude and profuse praise, I instead ended up apologizing for walking smack into a stranger–and assuring him I was ok when he apologized to me.

Dear Stephen King: I know you probably don’t remember that interaction, but I want to apologize for getting mustard on you all those years ago.  And to thank you, however belatedly it might be, for all the stories.  For starting so many discussions between me and my dad.  For the years and years and years of writing, of helping, and of generally being a very cool human being.  The passages about New England in ‘Salem’s Lot are some of my favorite words ever put together on paper.

Here’s to many more.

On Libraries and Hurricane Relief Updates

None of us need a reminder that this year’s hurricane season has been historic and, for many of our friends in Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands, life-changing.  And with even more hurricanes moving closer to Puerto Rico and the other Leeward Islands, it doesn’t look like life is going to be getting easier for many of those good people anytime soon.

But even as we in Massachusetts prepare for what is now Tropical Storm Jose, and send all our good wishes to our friends in the CLAMS Library Network, it’s really important that we don’t forget the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are undertaking.  Because they will be taking years.

Downed trees outside the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Coconut Grove Branch after the storm
Photo courtesy of Miami Dade Public Library System

So, having said that, here are some updates from the wonderful people at the Texas Library Association and the Florida Library Associations, with some additions ways you can help!

Our first update comes from the American Library Association’s  #LibrariesRespond page, that not only advocates for disaster preparedness, but also offers a number of resources for helping Florida’s and Texas’ Libraries:

Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Library Association is working with the State Library of Florida to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries across the state.  We have already begun receiving requests to help.  Anyone wishing to assist Florida libraries with their recovery efforts is urged to donate to the Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.  Donations can be open to assisting any library affected by the storm, or can be directed to assist a specific library in need.  We will update our website frequently as we learn details about specific libraries and their needs.

There is also the inspiring “Rebuilding Florida Library” page on the Florida Library Association page, that is being consistently updated with needs and offers of help from libraries across the country.  Donations are being accepted through any of the links posted here.

Secondly, American Libraries Magazine has posted an update on the rebuilding efforts in Texas.  This article features some of the horrible circumstances that Houston’s Libraries faced, but also their incredible resiliency and determination to reopen as quickly as possible:

Nineteen of the 26 branches of the Harris County Public Library reopened on September 1 for emergency relief purposes only—for residents to fill out FEMA forms, use computers or internet, charge cellphones, or make use of a quiet, air-conditioned spot. Four branches are closed until further notice: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek, and Kingwood. The library opened a pop-up library at the NRG Stadium to give evacuees some diversion with books for all ages, storytimes for kids, a 3D printer for informal edutainment, and a bank of laptops with internet access.

Texas Libraries begin cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey

For those looking to help, the Texas Library Association (TLA) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to assist damaged libraries across the Gulf Coast region. TLA has a disaster relief fund that is actively seeking contributions. Hundreds of individuals and companies have donated to the fund, and offers of books, furniture, volunteer assistance, computers, and preservation services are coming in regularly to TLA. The two organizations have also set up the Texas Library Recovery Connection, an online sharing system to bring together assisting organizations with libraries needing help.

The thing that consistently surprises me about these sites is the Google Spreadsheets.  On these documents, libraries post their needs, from computers to bookcases, from books to supplies.  And other people/groups/institutions can (and do) respond.  For all the complications and trouble that the Internet has brought into our lives, there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way that it can also bring people together and accomplish lasting good.  So feel free to check out these sites, contribute in whatever way you can, and appreciate the good that our species is capable of doing.

The National Book Award Longlists!

On Friday, the National Book Foundation, in partnership with The New Yorker, announced the Longlist for Fiction for the 2017 National Book Awards, rounding out the Longlists for the four categories celebrated by the Award, among the highest literary awards given in the United States.

The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.  Though it’s had it’s ups and downs, trying to find cultural relevancy and “fit in” to American culture, the National Book Award today has emerged as an important way to recognize some of the great work going on in American literature–and a great way for us readers to discover new books!  So here are the longlists for each of the four categories that the National Book Award celebrates.  Come into the Library soon to learn about each of these titles!

The short list will come out on Oct. 4, and the winners will be announced in a ceremony on Nov. 15.  And we’ll be here for both announcements!

Fiction
Elliot Ackerman, Dark at the Crossing
Daniel Alarcón, The King Is Always Above the People: Stories
Charmaine Craig, Miss Burma
Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach
Lisa Ko, The Leavers
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, A Kind of Freedom
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
Carol Zoref, Barren Island (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)

Nonfiction
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
James Forman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Will be released on Oct. 7, 2017)
David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
Naomi Klein, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Kevin Young, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News

Poetry
Frank Bidart, Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016
Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via WorldCat!)
Marie Howe, Magdalene: Poems (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Laura Kasischke, Where Now: New and Selected Poems (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS
Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Sherod Santos, Square Inch Hours (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via WorldCat!)
Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Mai Der Vang, Afterland

Young People’s Literature
Elana K. Arnold, What Girls Are Made Of (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Robin Benway, Far from the Tree
Samantha Mabry, All the Wind in the World
Mitali Perkins, You Bring the Distant Near
Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down
Erika L. Sánchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Check with your friendly Reference Librarians to order this book via ComCat!)
Laurel Snyder, Orphan Island
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Rita Williams-Garcia, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Ibi Zoboi, American Street

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday to Jamaican-American poet and author Claude McKay!

McKay was born in Jamaica in 1889, and educated by his older brother, who had a considerable collection of English literature and scientific texts.  In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica, recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University.

During the 1920’s, McKay became a devoted Communist, and was invited to Russia by Lenin to aid in the rebuilding of the country after the Revolution.  From Russia, McKay went to France, returning to the US, and Harlem, in 1934. Losing faith in Communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism.  McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. His remarkable range of work run the gamut from sonnets to modernist novels, making McKay a true original in the history of American and African American literature.  Today, we share one of his poems with you in honor of his special day.

The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.

And now, on to the books!

Sing, Unburied, SingNational Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, has returned to grace us with a book that echoes Toni Morrison, William Faulkner and Homer in this tribute to Southern literature.  Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.  This is a timeless story, and yet one that is startlingly immediate, dealing with identity, race, loss, and the opioid epidemic, in remarkable ways.  Buzzfeed wrote a glorious review of this book, which reads, in part, “The heart of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is story — the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we’ll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song …. Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it.”

 

The Cooking Gene : a journey through African-American culinary history in the Old SouthMichael W. Twitty is a highly respected culinary historian, and in this wonderful book, he tackles the incredible divisive issue of race in a new, intriguing, and beautifully insightful way–through food!  Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race.  Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.  From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty not only tells his family’s story, but suggests that there is a hope for healing in Southern food, and embracing the discomforts of the past.  Positive reviews have been pouring in for this book, including a starred review from Kirkus, who said “Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way… An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.”

Are You Sleeping?: Were you a loyal listener of Serial?  Did you adore the twists and turns that podcast presented?  If so, then Kathleen Barber’s new psychological thriller is for you.  Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s best friend, betrayed her. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, and is desperate to make a life with her partner Caleb.  But when investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.  This is a novel that will keep you guessing, re-thinking, and doubting everything you think you knew about each of these characters and their motivations.  Publisher’s Weekly loved this book, giving it a starred review and calling it an “inventive debut…The intense plot and character studies are enhanced by the emotional look at the dynamics of a family forever scarred by violence.”

A Legacy of Spies: There are plenty of us who are mourning the Cold War, if only for the dearth of high-tension, intellectual spy novels.  But weep no more, dear readers, for John Le Carré has returned to his immortal Smiley, bringing us his first novel from the Circus in a quarter century.  Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, including George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications.  By interweaving past and present, Le Carré reminds fans just why they fell in love with his work–and presents a whole new generation of readers with the deliciously gray world of espionage.  This book is making headlines all over the place, and The Atlantic raved “Le Carré is such a gifted storyteller that he interlaces the cards in his deck so they fit not simply with this book, but with the earlier ones as well.”

The Clockwork Dynasty Another thriller that blends the past and present, but Daniel H. Wilson’s tale is one where automatons are hidden amongst humanity, biding their time…In the present, June Stefanov, a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology, uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll.  With her career and her life at stake, June will ally with a remarkable traveler on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past.  Meanwhile, in 1725, in the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly mechanical beings;  a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.  This is a story that will have fans of steampunk and gothic, as well as techno-fans, and readers in need of a great female lead, singing with delight.  Kirkus loved this book too, noting “It may wear its influences on its sleeve but it’s also a welcome treat for steampunk and fantasy fans. A thrilling mix of influences, much like Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants and HBO’s Westworld, that creates a captivating scenario begging for many sequels.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons….happy reading!

 

Reading though our Fears: North Korea

To say that we’ve been hearing a lot about North Korea lately would be the grossest of understatements.  Every day, it seems, our existence is further imperiled by North Korea.

From youtube.com

But the more these stories come out, the more North Korea sounds like a boogeyman, or a classic movie monster, lumbering around and menacing all and sundry.  The more we hear about North Korea, or see its leading examining a bomb, or see a parade of missiles, the easier and easier it is to forget that North Korea isn’t a cinematic villain, but a place.  A place where people live.  People who are made of the same basic matter that we are.  People who love their families, who enjoy sunny days, who get hungry, and people who worry about what tomorrow might bring.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is the official title of the country is question, is an extraordinarily secretive and secluded country into which very few people manage to enter or exit safely.  As a result, it’s difficult for us, outside of the Korean peninsula, to understand what life is really like there.  It’s difficult, at times, to remember that this is a nation of human beings like us.

And that is why reading is so critically important–today, perhaps more than ever.  Books help us learn the truth behind the screaming headlines, or the reality behind the rhetoric.  But more importantly, reading–and reading fiction, especially–helps us be more empathetic people.  It’s harder to see someone as inhuman, or subhuman, or unhuman, when you have had a chance to see the world through their eyes.

Needless to say, there isn’t a great deal of first-hand information coming out of North Korea, in either fiction or non-fiction.  But that makes the sources and stories that we do have that much more important, and that much more vital to helping us understand what life is like on this other side of this violent divide.  So here are a few titles that are available at the library now that can shed some light on life in North Korea, and, hopefully, provide you with some insight into life there:

The AccusationThis book is one of the most dangerous out there right now.  Written in secret between 1989 and 1995 and smuggled out of the country in 2013, these short works offer powerful insights into a world within the high and restrictive borders of North Korea.  The Guardian published a fascinating piece on the origin of the stories and their author, who was–or perhaps is–employed by the nation’s official writer’s association.  It took years, and a coalition of brave people, to get these stories out of North Korea, but the results absolutely justify that work.  In each of these seven tales, industrious North Koreans, “innocent people whose lives consisted of doing as they were told”, accidentally into the clutches of the state’s real, and deadly power. Some are jailed, some escape, die, or go mad, but the real culmination of each story occurs in that instant of revelation, when they understand that, despite everything they have always been told, the state is malign.  The Chinese human rights worker, Do Hee-yun, who spearheaded the efforts to rescue this manuscript, has said she hasn’t heard from the person known as Bandi for months.  What the ramifications of sending his manuscript into the world instead of trying to leave, we cannot know.  But it makes these stories that must more precious, and that much more necessary.

Without You There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite: Suki Kim is a Korean-American teacher who worked as a visiting English instructor at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in 2011.  This memoir describes not only her experiences with her students, whose education in technology is severely hampered by the limitations the government imposes on the internet and computer programming.  It also talks about her experiences adjusting–or not adjusting–to life under a military dictatorship.  The patriotic songs, the parades, the constant enforcement of party loyalty–all of it is chilling to read.  But there are glimpses of hope in these pages, even in an act we might take for granted, like logging onto the Internet; watching a Harry Potter film; the thought-provoking questions from her students.  And these human interactions are what make this memoir such a memorable and such a human one.

Under the Same Sky: from starvation in North Korea to salvation in America: As a child, Joseph Kim survived North Korea’s Great Famine (which lasted, approximately from 1994 to 1998), which sent most of his family searching for food and aid along the Chinese border.  Joseph was left alone to starve, until he made the decision to cross the border, as well.  He was fortunate enough to be taken in, given shelter, and eventually, through the help of a number of humanitarians, he was brought to the US, without knowing a word of English, or having any connections on which he could rely.  This book is Joseph’s harrowing experiences of growing up during some of the darkest days in North Korea’s modern history (a period about which we still know tragically little), and his very challenging immigrant experience.  But is also a story of hope, survival, faith and endurance, told with insight, brutal honesty, and impressive narrative form.  Publisher’s Weekly’s glowing review noted, “Told with poise and dignity, Kim’s story…provides vivid documentation of a remarkable life. It also offers an important account of atrocities committed within North Korea that have been hidden from the West—and indeed, most of the rest of the world. A courageous and inspiring memoir.”

The 2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist!

In the wee hours of the morning, we learned the titles that made the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, one of our favorite fiction awards here at the Library.

As a lot of news outlets have noted, there are a number of surprises in this list.  The first is that many of the really big names who were a part of the longlist, including Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy, and Zadie Smith, did not make the shortlist.  The second is that two debut authors, Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley, who are also the youngest nominees.  For many, the final surprise is that half the list are American authors.

The bidding has begun, with bookmakers giving George Saunders’  Lincoln at the Bardo the best odds to win, and there is no doubt that speculation, debates, and a lot of reading, will be going on between now and when the final announcement is made on October 17th.  But, as noted on the Man Booker website:

If there is anyone who will find the next month more relaxing than previous ones, it is the judges themselves. Not that their work is done but rather that they can take a bit more time over things. They have read each of the shortlisted books a minimum of twice already and now they will have to read them for a third time and ask themselves not which book is a contender to win but which book deserves to win. For all concerned the next four weeks will seem simultaneously a very long and a very short time. Hopefully, for a few days at least, they can all take a couple of moments to reflect – and maybe even congratulate themselves – on what they have achieved so far.

So here, without further ado, is the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.  Come in and check out these titles, and make your own educated guesses about who will win, today!

The 2017 shortlist:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (Not yet released in the US)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)

Hurricane Irma Relief

Two weeks ago, we offered a number of ways that you could help the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas–and you, the people of Massachusetts, and our own beloved patrons, responded.

As the Boston Globe reported, Boston City Hall was buzzing with people walking in off the streets with donations that ranged from 200 t-shirts, to boxes of diapers and formula, to change from piggy banks.  Here in Peabody, the donation portal for Hurricane Harvey relief is still active via the City Hall Website (the first option on this page will take you to the donation portal).

Now, there is more need from our friends in Florida and the US Virgin Islands.  These are early days as yet, and the total damage from Hurricane Irma, which is still winding its way up the eastern seaboard, has yet to be fully assessed.  Nevertheless, there are people and organizations already doing good in the communities hardest hit by this storm, and they need your assistance.

Here are a list of charities, programs, and organizations that are active in the Florida and US Virgin Islands communities that are currently accepting donations.  If you are in a position to help financially, you can click on any of the links to see the charities.  Please avoid sending clothes, toys, or perishable items at this time, as there are few places to receive or store it.  The New York Times has produced a helpful article on how to help, and how to avoid scams.

If this is not a time you are able to help, please don’t worry.  Rebuilding in a process that takes years and years, and there will be any number of ways to help in the future.  We will be sure to keep you updated about them as news and opportunities become available.

Thank you in advance for your generosity, your kindness, and any good wishes or kind thoughts you are able to share.

We are all made of stars.  It’s time to shine.