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The Year Without A Summer?

On this warm day, we bring you a post that ran last year, dealing with the treacherous nature of summer weather and how bad it could really be.  We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane!

…It seems this year, dear patrons, summer is holding out on us.  Today’s temperature is hovering near records lows, and it’s a bit…well…murky.

Now, that’s not to say that a brilliant, seasonal summer is not on the horizon.  I’ve already got one sunburn this year, so it’s not like we’ve never seen the sun.  It’s not like we’re in a year without a summer…

…although that did happen….

The year of 1816 is known as “The Year Without A Summer“.  This was largely due to global climactic abnormalities both caused and exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in what is today Indonesia.  The eruption remains one of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history, and the only VEI-7 event witnessed (that means it’s super-colossal big).  The ash from that explosion was trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, and spread around the globe, causing massive temperature drops (since sunlight could not penetrate the ash cover).  Since the Earth was already experiencing what is now know as the “Little Ice Age”, this means that temperatures that were already lower than average plummeted, causing continental-wide harvest failures, and what Historian John D. Post  has called the “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world”.

From the New England Historical Society

We’re talking freezing temperatures here, snow in June (actually, on June 6th, according to historic records).  In the Berkshires, there was frost in August.  There were also wild temperature swings–areas of Pennsylvania recorded temperatures in the nineties in August, only to be below freezing three days later.  The result was widespread famine in Europe, especially in Ireland, north England, and Germany.

There were also a few not-so-horrific results of this summer.  Because of the pollution in their air reflecting the light, sunsets were said to be particularly spectacular during the three years that the effects of the Tambora were felt globally.  You can see these in the paintings by artist J.M.W. Turner, as seen below:

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J.M.W. Turner via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the velocipede, which was an early version of what we now know as the bicycle.

And because there was so much rain that summer, Percy Shelley and his wife Mary were forced to stay in doors during their holidays in Lake Geneva, which they spent with Lord Byron and Dr. Polidori.  That was the trip during which Mary Shelley first told the story that would become Frankenstein.

The comparative size of the Tambora eruption

Now, I’m not saying that you or I are going to use these chilly damp days (which are nothing compared to the Year Without A Summer, if we’re all being serious here for a second*) to invent a machine that will revolutionize human transport, or create a work of art that will redefine humanity.  But you might want to come into the Library and check out one of these books that focus on The Year Without A Summer.  You never know the effects it might have!

Tambora : the eruption that changed the worldThere are a number of books that look at Tambora and its effects, but Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s book looks at the eruption itself, and the global catastrophes it caused, but also brings the story forward,  utilizing modern climate science  to talk about manmade climate change in our own time.  Another quality selection is William Klingaman’s The year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed historywhich emphasizes the social, cultural, and political changes wrought by the effects of the Tambora eruption.

The poet and the vampyre : the curse of Byron and the birth of literature’s greatest monstersThough Frankenstein is probably the most well-known work to emerge from that infamous trip to Lake Geneva, it should not be forgotten that Byron’s physician-friend, John Polidori, also wrote what we generally assume to be the first vampire tale, called “The Vampyre”.  It was mostly a send-up of Byron, which whom Polidori was very, very miffed, but still.  Without Polidori, we;d never have Dracula.  In this weirdly wonderful book, Andrew McConnell Stott looks at the love affairs, literary rivalries, and the supernatural influences that combined and collided to bring Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Polidori to Geneva, and the effects of their meeting on world literature to this very day.

To Charm a Naughty CountessJust to lighten the mood a bit…Theresa Romain’s novel is set during the summer of 1816, and features Michael, Duke of Wyverne, who is desperately trying to save his estate from financial ruin after another abysmal harvest.  The simplest course of action is to marry, but for someone as anxious and socially awkward as Michael, the prospect seems deem, until the widowed Countess of Stratton decides to take him under her wing.  This is an all around delightful romance, featuring a decidedly un-alpha hero and a heroine who defies all conventions, and comes highly recommended, regardless of its time-setting.

*And just for the record, this event is a meteorological/climatological phenomenon that has nothing to do with global warming.  Indeed, the process of global warming would begin in earnest about a decade after this summer with the escalation of the Industrial Revolution.  Just so we don’t get confused here.

Five Book Friday!

And a helpful note, beloved patrons…

As part of our grand moving and renovation scheme here at the Library (the Library Lindy Hop? the Bibliotheque Ballet?), we will need to close down parts of the Library next week in order to perform some much needed dance steps:

As a result, at the Main Library (at 82 Main Street in Peabody, pictured below), the Main Reading Room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 18 and Tuesday, June 19 . The Library will be open and visitors are asked to use the Courtyard entrance or the Children’s Room entrance.  Public Computers and Public Services will be available in the Teen Room.

The West and South Branches will be unaffected by this closure, and patrons are welcome to visit those lovely sites at any time.

We thank you in advance for your patience with our dance moves, and we hope that we will be able to bring you a better library when it is all complete!  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can call us at (978) 531-0100.

And just because we’re moving things around doesn’t mean we aren’t constantly welcoming new books onto our shelves.  Here are just a few that have hopped into our melee this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Invitation to a Bonfire: Adrienne Celt’s newest work of historical fiction is a fascinating, sensual chess match inspired by the relationship between Vladimir Nabokov and his wife, Vera.  In the 1920s, Zoya Andropova, a young refugee from the Soviet Union, finds herself in the alien landscape of an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home, and her sense of purpose, Zoya struggles to belong, a task made more difficult by the malice of her peers and her new country’s paranoia about Russian spies. When she meets the visiting writer and fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov–whose books Zoya has privately obsessed over for years–her luck seems to have taken a turn for the better. But she soon discovers that Leo is not the solution to her loneliness: he’s committed to his art and bound by the sinister orchestrations of his brilliant wife, Vera.  This is a complex, treacherous web of interwoven relationships, identities, and loyalties that is a delicious blend of mystery, suspense and human intrigue that is earning stellar reviews, including this one from Nylon, who declared, “On a sentence-by-sentence level, Adrienne Celt’s seductive, searing novel . . . is one of the most brilliant books I’ve read in some time . . . her words have a rhythm and cadence …which further draws the reader in close, all the better to totally lose yourself in…the complicated ethics of fidelity, and what horrible and beautiful things we give ourselves permission to do, all for the sake of the sublime.”

The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir:  Yrsa Daley-Ward’s memoir is a fascinating study of a human life, as well as a beautiful showcase for her lyrical talents.  Here, in a combination of prose and verse that is both captivating and haunting, we learn about Yrsa and all the things that happened—“even the terrible things. And God, there were terrible things.” From her childhood in the northwest of England with her beautiful, careworn mother Marcia; the man formerly known as Dad (half fun, half frightening); and her little brother Roo, who sees things written in the stars, to the pain, power, and revelations of growing up.  This is a story whose form is as important as its message, and which earned a starred review from Kirkus, who called it “A powerful, unconventionally structured memoir recounting harrowing coming-of-age ordeals . . . Daley-Ward resists classification in this profound mix of poetry and prose. . . . [She] has quite a ferociously moving story to tell.”

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret SignsAt what temperature do bees stay home? Why do southerly winds in winter often bring storms? How can birdsong or flower scents help you tell the time?  Peter Wohllenben’s newest work not only answers these questions, but helps readers to learn to detect and decipher nature’s own secrets for themselves.   This book is the product of Wohllenben’s twenty years spent working for the forestry commission in Germany.  He now runs an environmentally friendly woodland, and his passion for forests, and his joy for the wonders they contain comes across in every sentence of this lovely work.  Kirkus savored this book, as well, calling it, “A guidebook on how everything we need to know about the weather can be learned by paying close attention to our natural surroundings in general and our gardens in particular…You’ll never look at your garden the same way again.”

Convenience Store Woman: A charming comedy of manners, a slyly cynical look at human interactions and relationships, and an award-winning novel, Sayaka Murata’s captivating English-language debut is a delightful one-sitting read.  Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends.  When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis―but will it be for the better?  This is a book of many layers, all of which are wise, insightful, and unexpectedly enjoyable.  Booklist agrees, having given this book a starred review and noting, “Murata, herself a part-time ‘convenience store woman,’ makes a dazzling English-language debut in a crisp translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori rich in scathingly entertaining observations on identity, perspective, and the suffocating hypocrisy of ‘normal’ society.”

Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist: When Edward M. Hallowell was eleven, a voice that came from no identifiable source told him he should become a psychiatrist. At the time, Edward (Ned) took it in stride, despite not quite knowing what “psychiatrist” meant. With a psychotic father, alcoholic mother, abusive stepfather, and two so-called learning disabilities of his own, Ned was accustomed to unpredictable behavior from those around him, and to a mind he felt he couldn’t always control.  Now, decades later, Hallowell is a leading expert on attention disorders and the author of twenty books.  In his memoir, he tells the often strange story of a childhood marked by alcoholism, mental illness, and politeness, and explores the wild wish that he could have saved his own family of drunk, crazy, and well-intentioned eccentrics, and himself.  Though not always an easy read, Hallowell’s compassion, insight, and genuine love for his work makes this a fulfilling book for anyone interested in psychology, for lovers of memoir in general.  Library Journal concurs, noting in its review that “Hallowell’s many followers will seek out this account. Those unfamiliar with his work will find much to appreciate and absorb in his clear-eyed retelling of a life path that easily could have gone a different way.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Some advice on your summer reading…

Today, we bring you some advice we first featured here in 2016.  A number of patrons come in with questions about how to care for their books during their summer sojourns, so we thought we’d bring this post back to help you get the best out of your summer and your summer reading picks!Summer-Reading-Guide-HERO

It’s getting to be that time of year again, dear readers, when we all begin looking around for books to take with us on our summer getaways, our beach days, or our ‘staycation’ days.  And, once again, your friendly neighborhood library staff are here to help you find that perfect book to take with you on your adventures, be they far-flung expeditions, or cozy retreats.

But traveling with books can be a little stressful.  Sand and sun and dirt and bug spray can all be dangerous for wee little innocent books.  We want to prolong their lives as long as possible, so that they can be enjoyed by a wide array of patrons, right?  So here is a quick tip that can help you and your books have a low-stress and fun summer…

One very general recommendation that we would like to make is that library books are very much like sandwiches: it’s much harder to enjoy them if they are sandy, or dunked in water (or carried off by a seagull, but that’s another story for another day).  So take care of your books the same way you would your lunch, as both are usually imperative to enjoying your vacation thoroughly.

It’s not a bad idea to put your books in a plastic bag (as long as both bag and book are 100% dry) in order to protect it from the elements.  You can also keep it safe in your cooler (again, ensuring that it remains dry), to protect it from sun, spray, and seagull damage.  Sand and dirt make sandwiches a little…gritty.  And they don’t make books too happy, either, so do your best to keep your books and your food above the ground at all times.  Treating your book like your sandwich ensures that all our books have a long and healthy life, and get to go on lots of adventures with lots of patrons, so everyone wins!

We wish you the best in your summer excursions, beloved patrons–and happy reading!

Resolve to Read 2018: Read a book written by someone who’s from my state

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

…And, like many of you, we’ve fallen a bit behind on our resolutions, dear readers!  But everyday is a chance to try again all over again, so let’s get back on track, shall we?  This week, we’re looking at the Scholastic 100 New Year’s Reading Resolutions.  We love this list because it can be used by readers from any age to find new, exciting, and challenging books (and reading scenarios) to expand your literary horizons in 2018.

Today’s Challenge: Scholastic 100 New Year’s Reading Resolutions
Category: Read a Book Written by Someone Who’s From My State

Since the Peabody Library–and George Peabody himself, was from Massachusetts, we’re going to stick with this state as our category, but readers from other states, please check with your local library (or, heck, check with us!) to find some books from authors nearer to you.

Massachusetts has a rich literary legacy, beloved patrons, from Phillis Wheatley, who was the first published African-American female poet to London Bridgez, a spoken word poet, writer, and playwright who was a short list finalist for the 2016 Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Playwrights.  From Anne Bradstreet, who was the first writer in England’s North American colonies to be published, to my own beloved Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson..

In short, this is a category that can take you in any number of directions, and offers the potential for exploring a wealth of new books, types of story, and forms of story-telling.  We offer just a few suggestions below for some books to help fulfill this part of your reading resolution–come speak to a member of our staff to find even more!

(Presented in alphabetical order)

Holly Black: Although born in New Jersey, we are pleased as punch that she now lives in Massachusetts, and we can add her to this list.  Black’s imagination and story-telling skills are powerful, indeed, and she has put them to use in novels, graphic novels, and short stories over the course of her impressive career.  Black is perhaps most well-known for The Spiderwick Chronicles, the series she worked on in collaboration with her long-time friend, Caldecott award winning artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, which begins with the title The Field Guide.  However, she is also a wonderful teller of fantasy and modern fairy tales.  One of her most recent is The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and features Tana, who lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey.  For those who enjoy reading about the fair folk, check out The Darkest Part of the Forest, which is set in a world where fairies and mortal live side-by-side.  Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different, kinder, from the other faeries. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake…until he does.

Dennis Lehane: Dorchester native Dennis Lehane’s work has put a new kind of Boston on the literary map.  Instead of the stuffy, upper-case, subdued landscape of Henry James, Lehane’s characters tend to be poor; they tend to live in the working-class areas of the city that residents know well, but the outside world may have never visited.  They deal in emotional extremes that make Lehane’s works compelling, gripping, scary, and stunningly moving.  He’s also a gifted screen-writer who has produced shows for The Wireand has written the script for The Drop and the adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes.  Readers looking to get started in Lehane’s sometimes-seedy, but incredibly well-drawn and insightful world should immediately check out his Kensie and Gennaro series, featuring private detectives Patrick Kensie and Angie Gennaro.  This series starts with A Drink Before the Warand winds through Boston’s streets, its suburbs, its drug and alcohol problems, its organized crime, and the wonderful, flawed, colorful people who make up its inhabitants.  It’s also an incredible tale of a partnership that is unforgettable in its poignancy and honesty.  Also, if your in the mood to have your pants scared off of you, check out Shutter Island, set in a mythical institution on an island off Boston Harbor. It’s so much better than the movie (even though the movie’s pretty great).

Kelly Link: A nominee for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, Kelly Link is a formidable talent whose short stories are disquieting, disruptive, beautifully imagined and wonderfully written treasures.  Stories from her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, were awarded the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards–and the cover is a weird take on a Nancy Drew cover, which is just plain wonderful.  There are elements of Shirley Jackson in Link’s slow-burning, captivating narration, while her story ideas have a lot to offer fans of Angela Carter’s work.  Despite the weird and the magical in her tales, Link is also a master of human emotion, grounding these tales in honest, empathetic relationships–and making the inevitable twists and turns in the stories that much more surprising and shocking.  Whether it’s “Origin Story”, from the book Get in Trouble, which deals with a woman and her erstwhile lover (who just happens to be a superhero), or “Stone Animals”, from Magic for Beginners, in which a house is haunted by a unique horde of rabbits that camp out nightly on the front lawn, it’s a pretty fair bet that you haven’t read anything like Kelly Link’s work before, but you’ll be very grateful you did.

Paul Tremblay: Paul Tremblay is a fan of libraries, which we can deduce by his appearances at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival at the Haverhill Library.  He is not a fan of pickles, because he says so.  But regardless of his choice of sides and snacks, Tremblay is one heck of a good writer.  Like Stephen King, Tremblay can take the most innocuous things–a painted staircase, a blog, a notebook, a bag of fertilizer–and make those things the pulse-points of a genuinely unsettling, unforgettable story.  His short stories are delightfully twisty, compact gems, and his novels are some of this Library’s favorites.  Favorite among those favorites is A Head Full of Ghosts, which deals with the story of a teenage girl’s alleged possession, exorcism, and the reality tv show made about the events (which is set in Beverly, making is extra-awesome).  Told in flashbacks, blog posts and interviews, this is a story full of dread, lies, and carries a killer twist.  Mystery fans should also check out Tremblay’s PI series, which features Mark Genevich, a detective in South Boston who suffers from narcolepsy, which starts with the novel The Little Sleep.  His newest book, The Cabin at the End of the World, is due out in a few short weeks!

Peabody Library Summer Staff Selections! (Part 1)

Every year, we at the Free For All ask the Peabody Library staff about the books, films, and music recordings that they would like to recommend to you for your summer reading/viewing/listening pleasure, and every year, we are delighted with the variety, the diversity, and the genuinely excellent recommendations that we receive.  We will be offering suggestions over the course of the summer, beloved patrons, in the hopes of helping you find a new favorite story to savor over the coming summer months.  Feel free to share your favorites with us, as well!

From the Reference Desk:

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson: On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History   g. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins—some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them—and escaped into the darkness.  Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins?
From our staff: This is a fascinating book about the lengths people will go to for their passions and obsessions.  It’s also a book about privilege and power, and how much damage people with both can inflict.  It’s also a really fun look into what I would describe as a very quirky hobby (19th century salmon fly-tying).  If you have a chance to listen to Macleod Andrews’ narration, the audiobook is sensational!

From the Circulation Desk: 

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness: Kabi Nagata’s emotional auto-biography is an honest and heartfelt look at one young woman’s exploration of her sexuality, mental well-being, and growing up in our modern age. Told using expressive artwork that invokes both laughter and tears, this moving and highly entertaining single volume depicts not only the artist’s burgeoning sexuality, but many other personal aspects of her life.  Nagata created the work when a lack of jobs in manga led to her writing down her own life story–and we are very, very glad she did.
From our staff: Regardless of how you may find the title, this book is not titillating. If anything, it painfully and sharply documents the author’s experiences with severe anxiety and depression.

From the Upstairs Offices:

Behind Her Eyes: Sarah Pinborough’s latest novel features Louise, a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.  And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.
From our staff:  This is a book with an ending that you’ll never see coming…in fact, you might have to read the book twice to see the trick that Pinborough is pulling off here!

Phantom ThreadSet in the glamour of the 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of the British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by the scariest curse of all…love. And so begins a Gothic Romance of twists, turns and power struggles that is both wonderfully, subversively humorous, as well as sensual and compelling!


Happy Summer, Beloved Patrons–and Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a wealth of congratulations to Kamila Shamsie, who was awarded this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, Home Fire!

Shamsie’s novelreworks Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to tell the story of a British Muslim family’s connection to Islamic State was hailed by the judges of the prize as “the story of our times”.   According to the 2018 Chair of Judges Sarah Sands, said: “This was a dazzling shortlist, it had depth and richness and variety. We were forcibly struck by the quality of the prose. Each book had its champions. We loved the originality of mermaids and courtesans, we were awed by the lyrical truth of an American road trip which serves as a commentary of the history of race in America, we discussed into the night the fine and dignified treatment of a woman’s domestic abuse, we laughed over a student’s rite of passage and we experienced the truth of losing a parent and loving a child. In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”

It’s a good day for books, beloved patrons, so let’s keep celebrating by taking a look at some of the other super-terrific stories that have swung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway: I don’t know about you, but Ruth Ware’s psychological thrillers are some of the highlights of my summer reading, so it’s with great pleasure that we introduce her newest novel, about a tarot card reader named Hal.  When Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but a tarot reader needs to be talented at reading people and adapting to their needs, so Hal decides to take matters into her own hands.  But at the funeral of the deceased, it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.  This book especially has earned Ware a number of comparisons to Agatha Christie, but there is also something delightfully modern about her unsettling plots and crafty, surprising heroines.  It’s also been earned starred reviews left, right, and center, including one from Booklist, who cheered, “The labyrinth Ware has devised here is much more winding than expected, with reveals even on the final pages… a clever heroine and an atmospheric setting, accented by wisps of meaning that drift from the tarot cards.”

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York: With the release of some 19th-century and early 20th-century medical records, it’s becoming possible to tell new, more compassionate, and insightful histories of madness, medicine, and the people who were caught up in medical and state institutions.  In this book, Stacy Holt uses narratives from the inhabitants of Roosevelt Island–once known as Blackwell’s Island, a stretch of land in New York’s East River that was the site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals.  This was a site of terrible overcrowding; prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane; punishment was harsh and unfair; and treatment was nonexistent.  Yet despite the aching human tragedies and horror that Holt describes, there are also stories of hope, including the work of Reverend William Glenney French, who devoted his life to ministering to Blackwell’s residents, battling the bureaucratic mazes of the Department of Correction and a corrupt City Hall, and testifying at trials, all while wondering in his diary about man’s inhumanity to man.  This isn’t an easy read by any means, but it’s a significant one that asks a lot of pressing questions about today’s mental health treatments, as well as illuminating the past.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, describing this book as “a vivid and at times horrifying portrait of Blackwell’s Island…Horn has created a bleak but worthwhile depiction of institutional failure, with relevance for persistent debates over the treatment of the mentally ill and incarcerated.”

The Art of the Wasted DayAn ideal read for the summer, Patricia Hampl’s book is a delightfully different kind of travel story, describing her journeys to the homes of those who made repose a goal, even an art form.  She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of “retirement” in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne–the hero of this book–who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.  In the midst of this study, Hampl also recalls her own personal relationship with leisure, from her childhood days lazing under a neighbor’s beechnut tree to the joys discovered in quietly falling in love, which led to the greatest adventure of her life.  A thoughtful, emotional study about the joys found in thinking, in wandering, and in exploring, this is a book for all of you armchair explorers who are looking for a new kind of escape.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a glowing review of this book, calling it,  “A wise and beautiful ode to the imagination – from a child’s daydreams, to the unexpected revelations encountered in solitary travel, meditation, and reading, to the flights of creativity taken by writers, artists, and philosophers.”

The Order of Time: Carlo Rovelli’s study, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, made scary science into something accessible, beautiful, and downright enjoyable, and now he is back to study time.  We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears.  Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, Rovelli suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.  It’s a concept that makes sense when you consider that it was humans who made time and clocks and such things, but this journey ties those inventions into a much deeper, richer understanding of the world that will have you rethinking all the basic tenants of time that you thought you knew.  Scientific American loved this book, noting in its review how “Rovelli, a physicist and one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, uses literary, poetical and historical devices to unravel the properties of time, what it means to exist without time and, at the end, how time began.”

Social CreatureHere’s another thriller to keep your summer sizzling–in fact, Tara Isabella Burton is already drawing comparisons to Gillian Flynn and Tara French, so fans of those compulsively-readable authors should be quick to add this to their summer reading list.  Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship.  They go through both bottles of champagne, and as they drink, Lavinia tells Louise about all the places they will go together, when they finish their stories, when they are both great writers-to Paris and to Rome and to Trieste…but Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon.  A modern twist on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, this book takes a razor-sharp look at our social conventions, all while telling a story that is addictive, dark, and scintillating in the ways of all good summer thrillers.  Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, praising “Burton’s exceptional character work…every individual is both victim and villain, imbuing their interactions with oceans of emotional subtext and creating conflict that propels the book toward its shocking yet inevitable conclusion…At once a thrilling and provocative crime novel, a devastating exploration of female insecurity, and a scathing indictment of society’s obsession with social media.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

A Spineless Study, Part 1

Today, we are thrilled beyond measure to welcome Ashur, one of our wonderfully talented staff members, to the Free for All, to share with us the first in a series of posts devoted to all the wonder and joy to be discovered in the study of our spineless fellow creatures.  We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to learn more soon!

97% of all animal* species on Earth are invertebrates, meaning that they lack a spine. Despite these overwhelming numbers, when we think of animals, we typically think of vertebrates. Within this classification, we often think particularly those known as “charismatic megafauna” (which are overwhelmingly mammals): big cats, whales, bears, elephants; the poster children of popular endangered species conservation efforts that show up on postal stamps. Animals that you can expect to see at the zoo and that you go to the zoo specifically to see.

While the term “invertebrate” covers a huge number of species both extant and extinct (ammonites! The Burgess Shale!), today I want to give special attention to marine invertebrates. Don’t worry, the others will have their time in the sun sooner or later – consider this a series of posts.

I’ll start off by saying that I can’t do this vast family justice, here’s a broad and wholly incomplete list of some of the more well-represented marine invertebrates:

Look into the 200 mirrored blue eyes of the scallop!
© David Moynahan
    • Bivalves: clams, scallops, oysters and others, many who are tragically delicious.
    • Sea Snails (both with and without shells)
Clione limacina, a sea butterfly, which is a subgroup of pelagic sea snails
Photo © Jeffrey Gallant 2018; Aquatic Biodiversity Monitoring Network
  • Sea Urchins: Sand dollars are a type of very flat sea urchin. If you meet a living sand dollar in the wild, please gently return it to the water.
  • Sea Stars: Still known popularly as starfish, the term “sea star” is preferred because they’re not fish.
A cushion sea star (Culcita novaeguineae) invites you to relax. © @fishx6 2005
  • Jellies
  • Corals: Not a plant, but colonies of reef-building polyps
  • Sea cucumbers: Are they as tasty as the vegetable cucumber? I personally don’t know, but the recipes are out there if you’re interested in trying it (or are already a devotee) but they swim better than the average cuke. Here’s one in action:

The charismatic marine invertebrates are largely represented by the octopus, (though certain other cephalopods also attract public attention at times), which has enjoyed wide representation in recent and current non-fiction releases, as well as in the news.

So what books do we have for the reader interested in invertebrates?

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli BerwaldWhile cephalopods are the most popular marine invertebrates, jellies may be a close second for their grace, beauty, bioluminescence and untouchability. In popular-science-writing-meets- memoir text, Juli Berwald guides readers through the current science of jellyfish. Elegant in design, the contents are structured like a jelly’s life cycle.

Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, by Susan Middleton : While Middleton’s book shares a title with Juli Berwald’s, they’re quite different; this Spineless is a striking gallery of 250+ underwater images (sprinkled with short essays and asides) taken of all manner of marine invertebrates. A good place to learn appreciation of the breadth of this group if you haven’t been appreciating them appropriately yet.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy MontgomeryIn her widely-lauded book, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism, the kind where you stick your hand in the water. From (our) New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food.

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf: Remember what I said about cephalopods being marine invertebrate superstars? An epic half billion years of evolution brought one extraordinary group of animals from mud-grubbing snails to monstrous monarchs of the sea—and, eventually, to the calamari on your dinner plate. This book actually covers one of my favorite topics: extinct invertebrates! If this is your jam, run, don’t walk. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Clams: The Mysteries and Magic of our Favorite Shellfish, by Anthony D. Fredericks How often do you think about the lives of clams, or other shellfish for that matter? Possibly often, depending on whether you have an invasive shellfish species affecting your local ecosystem. This book was designed to fill that knowledge gap and perhaps develop within you a greater appreciation of the clam. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of our Favorite Crustacean, by Trevor Corson: So many secret lives! If you like your invertebrates to have more than one foot, why not peer into the life of the lobster, crustacean symbol of coastal New England (sorry cod, you have a spine)? 

 If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!  a theme from In praise of old Haiku, with many more poems and fine elaboration, by Robin D. Gill: While this list is largely comprised of educational non-fiction, I would be remiss if I did not alert you to this splendid volume of over 900 translated haiku, all about sea cucumbers. I generally do most of my reading from books taken from the library; this is one I plan to own.  If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the exciting science and lives of marine invertebrates. More to come in the future!

*=the term “animal” includes insects