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“…tell the old story for our modern times…”

Hey, Homer

The Odyssey is a work is one of the oldest works in the history of literature, and has inspired countless other works of art.  It has been sung, performed, discussed, and read by millions and millions of people across the generations, across approximately three millennia.  It has been in print in English since about 1615.

But The Odyssey has never been translated by a woman.

Until now.

Emily Wilson, by Ralph Rosen, via Bustle

Oxford graduate and UPenn professor Emily Wilson (pictured above via Bustle) is the first woman to translate this ancient text into English, and the results are truly astounding.   Not only does she bring a different perspective to the piece, but she highlights people, situations, and themes that no other translator has sought to do.  And that emphasis can change the way we think about a work that has been with us, literally, for ages.

Homer has a story for you…

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, a veteran of the Trojan Wars, who, in attempting to return home to his wife and son, offends the god Poseidon, and ends up being cast adrift.  He and his crew wander to remote islands and caves, have liaisons with gods and fight sea creatures, and, eventually, find their way home to Ithaca.  It is an adventure story.  A story about overcoming odds, and beating the forces of fate.

At the same time, Odysseus’ wife Penelope is forced to fend of a legion of suitors for her hand, tolerating their advances and abuses, and putting up with her whining, generally unhelpful and sulky son, hopeful that her husband will return home.  This story is one of silence, of undoing, and of endurance.  And though many previous translators and scholars have attempted to frame Penelope’s portion of the story has heroic in its own way, the truth of the matter is that this is not a feminist text.  And usually, translators overlook this in order to get back to the doing, the adventuring.  Emily Wilson doesn’t.

Instead, she takes a new, closer look at Penelope, and the world of Odysseus’ home, bringing and understanding to these sections that is normally not present.  She doesn’t try to transform Penelope into a hero/ine.  Instead, she examines her life and her actions through the medium of words.  As she explained in an essay at The Guardian“Female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men.” She called translating Homer as a woman an experience of “intimate alienation.”

This kind of focus–the kind that allows us to see Penelope’s life in greater detail–also takes in other people who have been marginalized, not only in literature, but in real life, as well.  Wilson calls the slaves who live and work in Odysseus’ house, “slaves”.  Not ‘maidservants’, which implies they have a choice in the matter, or ‘whores’, as some male translators have done previously (emphasizing that they ‘sold themselves’ to men, rather than that, once again, they have no control over their own situation or bodies).  Instead, as she explained in an interview with The New York Times: 

Young female slaves in a palace would have had little agency to resist the demands of powerful men. Where Fagles wrote “whores” and “the likes of them” — and Lattimore “the creatures” — the original Greek, Wilson explained, is just a feminine definite article meaning “female ones.” To call them “whores” and “creatures” reflects, for Wilson, “a misogynistic agenda”: their translators’ interpretation of how these females would be defined.

Wilson has also attempted, throughout her fascinating and powerful translation, to keep the language active, exciting, and vibrant.   As Vox described in an article about her work:

In its matter-of-fact language, [Wilson’s translation is] worlds different from Fagles’s “Sing to me of the man, Muse,” or Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 version, “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story / of that man skilled in all ways of contending.” Wilson chose to use plain, relatively contemporary language in part to “invite readers to respond more actively with the text,” she writes in a translator’s note. “Impressive displays of rhetoric and linguistic force are a good way to seem important and invite a particular kind of admiration, but they tend to silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement.”

And, according to all reviews, she succeeds in stellar fashion.  Her understanding of ancient Greek, in the power of language, and in the nuanced meanings of words, syntax, and phrasing, make this work more than just a “first” in literature.  It makes it a really significant event in the history of translations.

We’ve talked here about the significance of translators to literature, the difficulty of the work of translation, and power that the translator has over the piece on which they work.  Emily Wilson realizes all of these elements of her work, and she has been more than responsible in her duties.  We are so eager to delve further into her work, and so very excited for this new era of The Odyssey!


The Washington Post’s 10 Best Books of 2017!

The Washington Post has an important place in American history, not only as a newspaper of record for the country’s national politics, but also because of the role it has played in shaping those politics.  In the early 1970s, in the best-known episode in the newspaper’s history, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the American press’ investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal.  These reports were highly influential to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.  The newspaper has also won a total of 47 Pulitzer Prizes in its 140 year history, including  six separate Pulitzers awarded in 2008, the second-highest number ever awarded to a single newspaper in one year.

The Washington Post also cares about books.  A lot.  Their book review sections are robust, informed, and insightful.  They also feature “Chapter One” an online page that allows readers to access the first chapters of selected new books (all of which are also reviewed in The Washington Post).

So when The Washington Post puts out their list of the “10 Best Books of 2017“, it’s worth paying some attention.  This list is a fantastic mix of non-fiction and fiction, of contemporary politics and historical fiction, of current events and fantastical worlds.  So we wanted to bring some selections of that list to you, in the hopes that it may help you choose some books for your end-of-the-year reading…or your beginning-of-the-new-year reading.  And stay tuned for our own “Best of” lists, coming to the Free For All soon!

To see all the selections from The Washington Postcheck out their Books Reviews page!

I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street:  On July 17, 2014, a forty-three-year-old black man named Eric Garner died on a Staten Island sidewalk after a police officer put him in what has been described as an illegal chokehold during an arrest for selling bootleg cigarettes. The final moments of Garner’s life were captured on video and seen by millions. His agonized last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the nascent Black Lives Matter protest movement. A grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officer who wrestled Garner to the pavement.  Matt Taibbi’s deeply reported retelling of these events liberates Eric Garner from the abstractions of newspaper accounts and lets us see the man in full—with all his flaws and contradictions intact.  His insight extends to the other people in this story, highlighting not only the story of an individual, isolated incident, but placing it within the context of the American judicial system and culture in a way that is deeply enlightening and emotionally wrenching.  According to The Washington Post: This gut-wrenching account of the death and life of Eric Garner is a deep dive into every aspect of the case, including its legal impact, which is minimal, and its cultural and political ones, which have been profound.

Saints for All OccasionsNora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children, while Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont.  But when an unexpected death brings these sisters together for the first time in years, forcing them to reckon with the choices they made so long ago.  J. Courtney Sullivan manages something remarkable in this book–condensing a lifetime of memories into the space of a few days, and creating a book that is at once a familiar story of family and a wholly unique study of two deeply complex women.  The Washington Post has this to say: In a style that never commits a flutter of extravagance, Sullivan draws us into the lives of the Raffertys and, in the rare miracle of fiction, makes us care about them as if they were our own family. 

The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed RussiaWe celebrated the arrival of Masha Gessen’s book, and now it’s being hailed by The WaPo, and plenty of other national outlets.  In this stunning and chilling work, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy in what was once the Soviet Union. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own—as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.  Gessen then charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of a regime that looks far too much like the old Soviet order, within the context of a frightening new world.  The Washington Post adored this book, noting. This is a sweeping intellectual history of Russia over the past four decades, told through a Tolstoyan gallery of characters. It makes a convincing if depressing case that Homo Sovieticus, the unique species created a century ago with the Bolshevik Revolution, did not die out along with the Soviet Union. What makes the book so worthwhile are its keen observations about Russia from the point of view of those experiencing its heavy-handed state. 

LessHere’s another book we featured when it first made it way onto our shelves (clearly, we have excellent taste, dear readers).  Who says you can’t run away from your problems?   In Andrew Sean Greer’s world, Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail, announcing that his boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. He knows he can’t accept, as it would be far too awkward, but he can’t say no and risk looking bitter.  So instead, he decides to accept all of the other invitations on his desk, and sets off on what will be the adventure of a lifetime.  A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a thought-provoking tale about growing up and growing old, and, ultimately, a love story, this is a all-around winner of a book that The Washington Post loved, saying: Too often, our standards of literary greatness exclude comic novels — which is usually fine because there are so few great comic novels. But you should make more room for Less…Greer is brilliantly funny about the awkwardness that awaits a traveling writer of less repute….This is the comedy of disappointment distilled to a sweet elixir. 

Check the rest of The Washington Post’s Best Books of 2017 here!

Five Book Friday!

The holiday season is approaching with remorseless resolve, dear readers.  If this is a time that makes your heart flutter, then we wish you heaping helpings of good cheer!  If you’d rather hide in a blanket fort until it’s all over, that’s perfectly alright, too.  We wish you warmth and good books, no matter the time or circumstances.

Your obligatory cornucopia picture, hooray!

But do please remember that the Library (the Main Library and Branches) will be observing our Thanksgiving Hours in the coming week:

Wednesday, November 22:    Close at 5 pm

Thursday, November 23:        Closed

Friday, November 24:             Closed

The main library and branches resume regular hours on Saturday, November 25.

So if you’re planning on stocking up on books, cds, or dvds for the long Thanksgiving Break, then make sure to check our hours and hurry in!  Here are just a few of the new books that shuffled their way onto our shelves this week and are eager to share your Thanksgiving plans with you!

ArtemisFans of Weir’s are no doubt already eagerly anticipating for this sci-fi-noir-thriller, but for those of you still on the fence, consider there–a number of outlets are claiming that this book is even better than Weir’s bestselling The Martian.  Set on on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, Weir tells the tale of Jazz, a criminal.  Well, maybe.  Life on Artemis is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay, and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.  This novel is getting starred reviews all over the place, with Booklist declaring it “An exciting, whip-smart, funny thrill-ride…one of the best science fiction novels of the year.”

Promise Me, Dad: When Vice-President joe Biden’s son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, he demanded one thing from his father: “Promise me, Dad,” Beau had told his father. “Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” Joe Biden gave him his word.  This book is the chronicle of the year that followed, which would be the most momentous and challenging in Joe Biden’s extraordinary life and career. Vice President Biden traveled more than a hundred thousand miles that year, across the world, dealing with crises in Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq.  For twelve months, while Beau fought for and then lost his life, the vice president balanced the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and his responsibilities to his family, all while directly in the public spotlight. This is a book written not just by the vice president, but by a father, grandfather, friend, and husband, and tells a story of how family and friendships sustain us and how hope, purpose, and action can guide us through the pain of personal loss into the light of a new future.  This is not an easy read, or a trite bit of preachiness.  Biden’s heart-wrenching honesty about the loss of his son is deeply memorable, and his struggle to carry on is both aching and inspiration.  As The New York Times observed, “The book is a backstage drama, honest, raw and rich in detail. People who have lost someone will genuinely take comfort from what he has to say…These flashes of vulnerability are part of what makes Promise Me, Dad memorable; so, too, are the small, tender interactions between Biden and his dying son.”

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World: In 2015, Noah Strycker set himself a lofty goal: to become the first person to see half the world’s birds in one year. For 365 days, with a backpack, binoculars, and a series of one-way tickets, he traveled across forty-one countries and all seven continents, eventually spotting 6,042 species—by far the biggest birding year on record.  This is no travelogue or glorified checklist. Noah ventures deep into a world of blood-sucking leeches, chronic sleep deprivation, airline snafus, breakdowns, mudslides, floods, war zones, ecologic devastation, conservation triumphs, common and iconic species, and scores of passionate bird lovers around the globe. By pursuing the freest creatures on the planet, Noah gains a unique perspective on the world they share with us—and offers a hopeful message that even as many birds face an uncertain future, more people than ever are working to protect them.  A book for bird-lovers, wanderlust readers, and armchair adventurers alike, this is a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus, who raved, “Strycker’s description of a year ‘expanded to its maximum potential’ will inspire readers to explore the world, ‘from the tiniest detail to the biggest panorama.’ . . . Colorful but unassuming—and unexpected—lessons for living life fully, presented from a birder’s-eye view.”

Mrs. OsmondAre you a fan of Henry James?  What about his novel The Portrait of a Lady?  Well, if you loved it, or you think James’ bizarre and hostile misogyny pokes through one too many times, John Banville has arrived to give us the further adventures of the Isabel Archer, the young a vibrant American who traveled to Europe to find herself, became an heiress, and became inescapably entangled in the machinations of a coterie of scheming women and dastardly men.  Banville follows James’s story line to the point when Isabel returns to Italy…but then takes over the story for himself,  and makes it his own with the narrative inventiveness, the lyrical precision and surprising humor.  It turns out that Isabel arrives in Italy along with someone else…who is it?  And why?  You’ll have to read to find out!  Banville has some pretty big, well-known shoes to fill in this tale, but, as Kirkus noted, in a starred review for this book, it is “A sequel that honors James and his singular heroine while showing Banville to be both an uncanny mimic and, as always, a captivating writer.

Vacationland : true stories from painful beachesDoes the winter weather get you down?  Do you need a chuckle?  Were you a fan of John Hodgman’s delightfully unique humor on The Daily Show?  If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then Hodgman’s first non-fiction work…the travel memoirs of a Massachusetts native, are absolutely the pick for you.  In his book, Hodgman recounts his real life wanderings, and through them you learn of the horror of freshwater clams, the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, and which animals to keep as pets and which to kill with traps and poison. There is also some advice on how to react when the people of coastal Maine try to sacrifice you to their strange god.  Though wildly, Hodgmaniacally funny as usual, this is also an unexpectedly poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are.  If Neil Gaiman writing a blurb for this book isn’t enough reason to go take a look….I just don’t know what to say.  Here’s what Gaiman said, though: “This book is genuinely it-will-make-you-laugh funny, it is a wistful and sad examination of the impulse that causes us to move to out of the way places and of what John Hodgman found when he went there, and it is always wiser than it seems. If you do not read it, you will be missing out on something special.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2017

It’s getting to be that time of year, beloved patrons, when reviewing outlets, newspapers, websites, and, yes, Libraries, release their definitive  “Best of 2017” Lists.  This week, it is was Kirkus Reviews’ selections for the best fiction of the yearKirkus Reviews does not skimp when it comes to their best of lists, and they space out the release of their “best of” books–first, because there are So Many Good Books out there, and second, I’m sure, to give us all a chance to put them on hold at the library, or go pick them up.  Here is the schedule of the day the rest of their “Best Of” lists will be released:

Fiction: November 11
Picture Books: November 20
Middle Grade: November 27
Teen: December 4
Nonfiction: December 11
Indie: December 18

Kirkus Reviews breaks down their fiction lists into genres, providing not only the more conventional categories (mystery, sci-fi, etc.), but also a few that are delightfully unexpected (fiction with a twist of magic, Best Fictional Families of 2017…).  As a result, there is certainly something here for any fiction lover, and for those looking to branch out and find something completely new to read over the holiday season and into the New Year!

So here, without further ado, are some of the highlights Kirkus Reviews best fiction books of 2017, with links to the Library Catalog to help you get those books as quickly as possible!  You can find the full selection of titles and reviews at Kirkus Reviews website.

Best Mystery & Thriller:

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz
THE SMACK by Richard Lange
SAY NOTHING by Brad Parks
EXPOSED by Lisa Scottoline
THE FIFTH ELEMENT by Jorgen Brekke ; translated by Steven T. Murray
KEEP HER SAFE by Sophie Hannah
THE LATE SHOW by Michael Connelly
A CAST OF VULTURES by Judith Flanders
DEFECTORS by Joseph Kanon
HOUSE OF SPIES by Daniel Silva
FIERCE KINGDOM by Gin Phillips
LIES SHE TOLD by Cate Holahan

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy:
BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer
THE STONE SKY by N.K. Jemisin
THE STONE IN THE SKULL by Elizabeth Bear
THE REMNANT by Charlie Fletcher
RECLUCE TALES by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
THE STARS ARE LEGION by Kameron Hurley
AUTONOMOUS by Annalee Newitz
NOUMENON by Marina J. Lostetter
WALKAWAY by Cory Doctorow
Best Romance Novel:

BREATH OF FIRE by Amanda Bouchet
ROGUE MAGIC by Kit Brisby
HATE TO WANT YOU by Alisha Rai

Best Debut Novel:

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent
TEMPORARY PEOPLE by Deepak Unnikrishnan
LIVE FROM CAIRO by Ian Bassingthwaighte
MARLENA by Julie Buntin
WHAT WE LOSE by Zinzi Clemmons
RABBIT CAKE by Annie Hartnett
GOLDEN HILL by Francis Spufford

Best Fiction with a Twist of Magic:

LITTLE SISTER by Barbara Gowdy
THE POWER by Naomi Alderman
MRS. CALIBAN by Rachel Ingalls
THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle
AFTER THE FLARE by Deji Bryce Olukotun
EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid

Happy Birthday, William Steig!

Growing up,  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was one of my favorite books, so it is with enormous pleasure that we at the Free For All celebrate it’s author, William Steig, who was born this day in 1907.

Via ThingLink

Steig was the child of two Polish-Jewish immigrants from Austria; his father Joseph was a house painter, and his mother Laura was a seamstress.  Growing up, he loved art and literature, and his mother, especially, encouraged his own artistic endeavors.  He was also a talented athlete, and was a member of the collegiate All-American water polo team.  He graduated high school at 15, and though he attended three colleges: two years at City College of New York, three years at the National Academy of Design and five days at the Yale School of Fine Arts, but never graduated from any of them.  His siblings were also artistically talented: is brother Irwin was a journalist and painter, his brother Henry was a writer, painted, and saxophonist, and his brother Arthur was a writer and poet, who, according to Steig, read The Nation in the cradle, was telepathic and “drew as well as Picasso or Matisse”.

Because they were confirmed Socialists, Steig explained,  “My parents didn’t want their sons to become laborers, because we’d be exploited by businessmen, and they didn’t want us to become businessmen, because then we’d exploit the laborers.  Since we couldn’t afford to study professions, we were encouraged to be artists.”  Steig became the breadwinner of his family when his father lost his job in the Great Depression.  By selling his drawings, he remembered, “I earned $4,500 the first year, and it was more than our family, then four of us, needed.”

Steig published his first New Yorker cartoon in 1930.  It was the first of some 1,600 that he would publish in the magazine.  His humor was visual far more than it was linguistic–in other words, you could learn what you needed about the cartoon and the joke it told by looking at it far more than you could by reading the caption.  This style liberated a number of cartoonists who came after him to try to convey more with art than with words.

According to The New York TimesSteig was also credited with changing the nature of the greeting card industry. His symbolic drawings were licensed to appear on cocktail napkins, glasses and cards. “Greeting cards used to be all sweetness and love,” he explained in an interview with The Hartford Courant. “I started doing the complete reverse — almost a hate card — and it caught on.”  You can see an example of his card to above, taken from Fine Art America, and decide for yourself.

Steig was also a gifted children’s book writer and illustrator, publishing 25 in the course of his lifetime.  He especially liked using animals as the characters in the stories because he “could get crazier with animals and have them do stranger things.”  Not only did Steig’s books embrace the slightly kooky logic, language, and morals of childhood, but his drawings were also simple, accessible, and, like so many of his drawings for grown-ups, packed with emotion.

So if you’re looking for a bit of an escape today, why not check out a few of William Steig’s books, listed below.  I guarantee you that you already know of at least one of them!

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble: A terrific, funny, and tense story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the power of parents to see you for who you really are.  Even if it’s a rock.  This book actually got Steig in a bit of hot water–in the course of the book, the police are summoned to help find our hero, Sylvester.  Steig made the policemen pigs, a choice that got the book banned in places because the International Conference of Police Associations thought Mr. Steig was calling policemen pigs.  Steig adamantly argued his intention was never negative.  The book won the National Book Award and the Caldecott Medal.

Doctor De Soto: Doctor De Soto, a mouse dentist, copes with the toothaches of various animals.  He and his wife, who serves as his assistant, work together to treat patients with as little pain as possible. Dr. De Soto uses different chairs, depending on the size of the animal, with Mrs. De Soto guiding her husband with a system of pulleys for treating extra-large animals. They refuse to treat any animal who likes to eat mice…until one day a fox comes to them in great pain.  This is a story that really highlights Steig’s love of language–to this day, it’s still fun to read the Fox’s dialog while he’s in Dr. De Soto’s chair with his mouth propped open (“Frank Oo Berry Mush!”).  This book was in my dentist’s office when I was a kid, and, as a result, I learned that dentists were nice, and would help you out, even if you said silly things to them.  And didn’t try to eat them.

Shrek!: Raise your hand if you knew that William Steig was the creator of everyone’s favorite green ogre.  The name “Shrek” is the romanization of the Yiddish word that equates to the German Schreck and meaning “fear” or “fright”.  It’s a common exclamation in Yiddish culture, and thus a natural choice for Steig to name his ogre who leaves his home and travels the world to find his princess.  Steven Spielberg acquired the rights for the book in 1991, and released the film Shrek in 2001.  Steig passed away shortly before the release of Shrek 2, and the film is dedicated to him.


Aftermath, by Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon was born on September 8, 1886.  He enlisted in the British Army a week before the outbreak of the First World War.  He  served throughout the war on the Western Front, and was treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland under Doctor William H.R. Rivers in 1917.  He relinquished his commission on health grounds on 12 March 1919.  He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1951.  He died from stomach cancer one week before his 81st birthday, on September 1, 1967.




Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same—and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

    Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

    Do you remember that hour of din before the attack—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads—those ashen-gray
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the slain of the war that you’ll never forget!

March 1919.

Five Book Friday!

And just a reminder, beloved patrons, we’ll be closed tomorrow in observance of Veteran’s Day.

As we’ve discussed, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform on November 11, first as Armistice Day, and then, since 1954 as Veterans Day.  The day itself commemorates the Armistice which ended hostilities on the Western Front of the First World War.

In honor of this day, here is a poem by American journalist and poet Carl Sandburg.  Though he did not serve in the First World War, Sandburg was nevertheless deeply affected by the violence, and anger, and the lasting trauma of the war on veterans and civilians alike.


There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you’re doing good work.
(From Smoke and Steel, 1922)

We will be open on Sunday, so be sure to drop by and check out some of the new books that have scurried onto our shelves this week!  Here are just a sample:

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf: We are huge fans of Book Buddies here at the Library, as well as devotees of the authors listed in this book’s subtitle, so this was something of a natural choice for us.  We so often talk about the friendship and collaboration between male authors, but the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Co-authors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, highlighting centuries of literary friendship, collaborations, and inspirations between women, from  the friendship between Jane Austen and one of her family servants, playwright Anne Sharp, to the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; to Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, whose complex relationship has gone understudied for generations.  Using letters and diaries, some never before published, this book emphasizes the need–and the incredible results–of female friendships, in a book that Publisher’s Weekly called an ” evocative and well-researched ode to female solidarity…The authors…astutely explain that the friendships they depict became lost to cultural memory due to prevailing stereotypes of female authors as “solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” It is a delight to learn about them here, as related by two talented authors.”

Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror: Just in time for the centennial of the Russian Revolution comes Victor Sebestyen’s fascinating new biography (and the first in English in over two decades) of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party. Brought up in comfort and with a passion for hunting and fishing, chess, and the English classics, Lenin was radicalized after the execution of his brother in 1887. Sebestyen traces the story from Lenin’s early years to his long exile in Europe and return to Petrograd in 1917 to lead the first Communist revolution in history.  With Lenin’s personal papers and those of other leading political figures now available, Sebestyen gives is new details that bring to life the dramatic and gripping story of how Lenin seized power in a coup and ran his revolutionary state. The product of a violent, tyrannical, and corrupt Russia, he chillingly authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater ideal.  Sebestyen also emphasizes Lenin’s relationships with women, bringing his sister, his mother, his wife, and him mistress into the historical picture in a way never before attempted.  The result is a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus, who called it, “An illuminating new biography of the cold, calculating ruler on whom the subsequent Soviet state modeled itself . . . Sebestyen ably captures the man, “the kind of demagogue familiar to us in Western democracies.” A compelling, clear-eyed portrait of a dictator whose politics have unfortunate relevance for today.”

The End We Start From: From a language-and-use perspective, Megan Hunter’s debut work of fiction inhabits a magical land somewhere between poetry and prose.  In terms of plot, this is an apocalyptic novel of hope.  It is a hauntingly beautiful look at the ugliness of a drowned world.  It is utterly bizarre, and it’s a marvel.  As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds. This book has earned glowing reviews, and both it and Hunter have secured spots on a number of best of lists, with The Guardian noting, “If motherhood now has its own literary subgenre, the same is true of climate-change catastrophe…Hunter sees both subjects afresh, through a sharp eye for detail that is both undeceived and faintly amused, and through the extreme spareness of her narration: the story proceeds in snatches, like a series of stepping stones across the blank expanse of an unknown future.”

To My Trans SistersDedicated to trans women everywhere, Charlie Craggs’ anthology represents an inspirational collection of letters written by successful trans women shares the lessons they learnt on their journeys to womanhood, celebrating their achievements and empowering the next generation to become who they truly are. Written by politicians, scientists, models, athletes, authors, actors, and activists from around the world, these letters capture the diversity of the trans experience and offer advice from make-up and dating through to fighting dysphoria and transphobia. By turns honest and heartfelt, funny and furious or beautiful and brave, these letters send a clear message of hope to their sisters, and also offer a world of insight to all readers on the nature of identity, the power of empathy, and the need to recognize all our fellow humans as people worthy of respect and love.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, pronouncing it “A triumph in topics of gender and women’s studies, this anthology is unlike anything available today and is a must-have for those seeking to understand the trans community on a myriad of levels.”

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains: Anyone who enjoys themselves a richly nuances baddie is going to delight in this new collection from Otto Penzler, that brings together the iconic traitors, thieves, con men, sociopaths, and killers who have crept through the mystery canon over the past 150 years, captivating and horrifying readers in equal measure. The 72 handpicked stories in this collection introduce us to the most depraved of psyches, from iconic antiheroes like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin and Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu to contemporary delinquents like Lawrence Block’s Ehrengraf and Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder.  With stories from Bram Stoker, R.L. Stevenson, Earl Stanley Gardener, as well as  less well-remembered writers like May Edginton, and George Randolph Chester, this is a delightful romp through some of the darker personas in fiction that is a blast for mystery readers and fans of character studies.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, noting that “The fruits of Penzler’s decades of diligent study of the genre pay off handsomely in this fat volume.”


Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!