Five (Banned) Book Friday!

Now, don’t get us wrong, beloved patrons–we have any number of sensational new books that are quite eager to join you this crisp autumn weekend for any adventures (or blanket-fort hiding) in which you care to indulge.  But this week, in honor of Banned Book Week, we thought it might be fun to introduce you to some of the challenged and outright banned books that have found a home on our shelves, and which also richly deserve a read.  Come on in, celebrate your right to read, and try one today!

The Bell Jar: There is a serious lack of respect paid to Sylvia Plath and her writings, and so many descriptions of this book emphasis the “crack up Esther Greenwood”, and revel in the “the dark and harrowing corners” of her psyche that they tend to miss how achingly well this book portrays the struggles of an intelligent woman with big dreams of independence and a fulfilling career who is relentlessly pushed towards marriage and a traditional role as housewife.  Her breakdown is not only the result of her own inner demons, but also the way the world around her continues to repress her, and Plath makes these feelings of frustration, repression, and insecurity utterly tangible, and gives us access to her own brilliant and troubled mind.  This is a book that challenges society and our understanding of mental illness, the role of women in society, and the way their individuality was (and is) challenged.  It has been on banned book lists several times due to Esther’s described suicidal tendencies and attempted suicide scene. Some have claimed to find it inappropriate as it may entice readers to do the same.  According to the University of Virginia’s Censored Exhibit online, “in the late 1970s, The Bell Jar was suppressed for not only its profanity and sexuality but for its overt rejection of the woman’s role as wife and mother.”

Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel, published in 1952, won the National Book Award for fiction–before becoming a frequently challenged and banned book.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  By turns funny, frightening, visceral and brutally honest, this book cautions readers not to judge a person’s humanness of the value only of what can be seen (namely, skin color).  As his narrator realizes, this process leads people to  “see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”  This book was most recently banned in 2013 by the Randolph County Board of Education in central North Carolina after a parent a parent called the novel “too much for teenagers.” The decision was 5-2, with one board member claiming, “I didn’t find any literary value.”  The ban was lifted several weeks later after a massive public outcry (and after Vintage Books handed out free copies to anyone in the area who wanted one).

Twelfth Night: Yup, Shakespeare is among the list of rebels, revolutionaries, and deviants whose books have been banned.  Named for the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the Christmas season, this classic play examines themes of love and power as Countess Olivia captures the attention of the Duke (or Count) Orsino.  She is also courted by two other would-be suitors, the pretentious steward, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.  Onto this scene arrive the twins Viola and Sebastian; caught in a shipwreck, each thinks the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a male page and enters Orsino’s service. Orsino sends her as his envoy to Olivia—only to have Olivia fall in love with the messenger. The play complicates, then wonderfully untangles, these relationships with all of Shakespeare’s wit and extraordinary talent for characterization.  However, it was banned in Merrimack, New Hampshire in 1996, after a policy, titled the “Prohibition of Alternative Lifestyle Instruction,” banned any and all discussion of homosexuality or ‘cross-dressing’ in the classroom.  The board members who supported the act were voted out in the subsequent board election.

A Time to Kill: John Grisham’s now well-known legal thriller has been challenged multiple times because of the rape and murder of a young Black girl that is depicted as a crucial part of the plot.
Set in the tiny town, mostly white town of Clanton, Mississippi, this is the story of Jake Brigance, a young lawyer who comes to the defense of a black Vietnam war hero who kills the white druggies who raped his child.   For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound–but for Brigance and his client, this is a very personal matter of life and death.  Released in 1989, and based on actual events, the book was only given a modest publication run, but grew in popularity after it became a feature film.  Immediately after the release of the movie adaptation, it was repeatedly challenged or banned in Texas public schools over an 18-month period for themes of racism and sexually-graphic material.  It was also challenged in 2006, but later retained, in the advanced English classes of Fargo, North Dakota North High School with complaints about the graphic rape and murder scenes making it a book “that children get bad ideas from.”

The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel (and the big winner at this year’s Emmy Awards, thanks to the Hulu adaptation) has also been the subject of a number of challenges.  In the Republic of Gilead, women are not allowed to have jobs or money, their reproductive health is under the state’s control and they are absolutely forbidden from reading and writing. The protagonist—stripped of her previous name and given the temporary name Offred (as she currently belongs to a Commander named Fred)—is among a minority of women who remain fertile. As a handmaid, she is assigned to various Commanders and their wives to try to conceive a child for them. If she fails at too many such assignments or breaks the rules, she could be sent to “the Colonies” to clean up nuclear waste or she could be killed. The novel has faced steady challenges, mostly in high schools, since it was published for a number of reasons–according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, a number of those reasons are: “Profanity; lurid passages about sex; statements defamatory to minorities, god, women and the disabled; violence; hopelessness; age-inappropriate; graphic sex; vulgar; offensive to Christians; violently graphic and morally corrupt.”


Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

Banned Books Week & #WeNeedDiverseBooks

In 2014, Librarian Emily Knox set out to understand why people challenge, and attempt to ban, books, as part of her research for the book that would become Book Banning in 21st-century America.  She sat down with people who challenged books, and got them to discuss what drove them to make a case for banning a book in a public library.  Some of her finding, broadly speaking, were not that surprising.  As she noted in an interview with a blog called The Censorship Files: 

Censorship tends to track with whatever is causing concern in a particular society. For example, in 21st -century America, books on diversity are often targeted for challenges….Censoring allows people to both work out these anxieties and also work to protect the morals and values that they believe are important in their own communities.

But what does the fact that “books on diversity are often targeted for challenge” mean?  According to an article published by Knox in School Library Journal:

One of my research questions focuses on the stated reasons for challenging diverse books and the relationship of these reasons to the diversity of the characters. I decided to start with the ALA’s annual top 10 challenged book lists from 2001–2015.  Twenty-nine diverse books appear a total of sixty-three times on these lists.

I found that many of the reasons given for the challenges centered on topics that were essential to the diverse characters in the titles…I also found the three most frequently stated reasons for challenging diverse books: for containing offensive language (36 instances), being sexually explicit (35 instances), and being unsuited for age group (36 instances). As I wrote in my own book …these familiar reasons seem to be related to the nature of truth and realism in fiction and to what extent fiction, especially fiction for youth, should mirror the human experience. These challenges ask us to consider the place of naturalistic fiction in the juvenile and teen sections of the public library or in the school curriculum.

Our country and our world is a big place, with lots of different people, an infinite range of beliefs, an incredible number of languages, and an enormous range of traditions, family structures, clothing choices, practices, and behaviors.  And thanks to the internet, to a wide range of media sources, and enhanced mobility for many, we are brought into contact more and more often with people who don’t look familiar, or don’t sound familiar, or who may act in a way that is unfamiliar or initially strange.  And our lizard brain, the part that has been part of our make-up throughout our evolution as a species, has us on the look-out for differences, in order to help us make sense of the world.  So difference can sometimes feel uncomfortable.  And often times, as Emily Knox explains, these are the reasons that books are challenged–the differences in them, the acknowledgement that other people’s lives are different from your own, makes people uncomfortable.

But this is where communication is so incredibly vital.  We cannot make difference go away, no matter how much we might try.  We cannot wish away the things that make us uncomfortable, or feel strange and different.  The only cure?  Listening and learning.  Reading is a form of listening, of taking in someone else’s words and world views, and feelings, and perhaps empathizing with what they have to say.  Reading helps us to acknowledge other people’s humanity in a unique, complex, and wonderful way.  It also helps us to expand our understanding, so that the things that once seemed strange and different are now…not quite so strange anymore.  Our lizard brain may react in funny ways, but it can evolve, just like the rest of us.

Another very important issue in terms of book banning is that many challenges involve children’s or young adult books, largely because parents are uncomfortable exposing their children to aspects of the world that may harm their ‘innocence’, or somehow incite unwanted behaviors.  Again, these emotions stem from inherent, protective instincts that are part of our makeup.  But there is almost no way to prevent people–young or old–from accessing the world and all the beauty and ugliness it contains.  Instead, we also recommend communication.  Talk with younger people (and older people.  And people your own age) about the books they are reading, about what they liked about them, about how those books made them feel.  Let them ask you questions about what words mean, about an odd grammatical choice in the text, about a character’s motivations or decisions.  Read books with other people.  I promise you, you’ll be surprised and impressed by the results.

We need diverse books because everyone deserves to recognize themselves, or a part of themselves in a story.  But we also need diverse books because it helps us grow to read about someone who is nothing like us.  We become better humans by understanding the stories that make up the people in this world of ours, not by shutting them out.  And we need to prepare our young people to inherit this world by helping them realize its diversity and its wonder, and to find themselves in their own place in it.  And that is why we celebrate diverse books, and also seek to reclaim those books that people want us not to read.  Because the answer is never silence.

Banned Books Week: A Letter From Pat Conroy

Every year during Banned Books Week, we try to feature a letter from an author responding to the challenge to, or attempt to ban their books.  This year’s letter come from American novelist, memoirist, and lover of words and letter, Pat Conroy.

Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1945, the eldest of 7 children.  His father was a Marine Corp fighter pilot who suffered from alcoholism, and was both physically and emotionally abusive to Conroy, his siblings, and his mother.  The family moved a great deal as a result of the armed forced, and thus, Conroy had few outlets or friends until college.  Basketball was a saving grace, allowing him an outlet for the emotions and stress of his home life.  So was English, as you’ll soon see.

Conroy was a graduate of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina and his experiences there provided the basis for two of his best-known works,  the novel The Lords of Discipline and the memoir My Losing Season.  Though he taught in South Carolina after his graduation, he was fired after his first year for his unconventional teaching practices, including his refusal to use corporal punishment on students, and for his alleged lack of respect for the school’s administration. He later wrote The Water Is Wide based on his experiences as a teacher, and the book was awarded a humanitarian award from the National Education Association.

Conroy wasn’t afraid to shy away from tough discussions and conversation.  His novel The Great Santini dealt with a marine fighter pilot who was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to his family.  The book caused a good deal of estrangement between Conroy and his family, with his mother’s family picketing outside his book signings and attempting to prevent people from attending.  His father would also, apparently, sign copies of the book with the inscription “I hope you enjoy my son’s latest work of fiction”, with ‘fiction’ underlined multiple times.  Conroy also supported bringing awareness to the hidden life of ‘military brats’,  from their secrets strengths, to the enormous difficulties of displacement, isolation, and trauma.

His two most well-known works, arguably, are Prince of Tidesabout Tom Wingo, an unemployed South Carolina teacher who goes to New York City to help his sister, Savannah, a poet who has attempted suicide, to come to terms with their past, and Beach Music, a novel about an American ex-patriate living in Rome who returns to South Carolina upon news of his mother’s terminal illness, and attempts to face his own darkness, including the loss of his wife to suicide, and the friendships that were torn apart by the Vietnam War.  Both novels–and many of Conroy’s other works–were made into successful and memorable films.  But their content also made some people uncomfortable.

Some of those people worked for the Kanawha County school board in West Virginia.  When parents complained about their children reading the books for their high school Honors English class, taught by Steve Shamblin (who had taught the books several years in a row) due to the depiction of suicide, violence, and sex, the Kanawha County school board banned The Prince of Tides and Beach Music in 2007.  Students in the school banned together, led by a young woman named Makenzie Hatfield, and vowed to take the school board to court to prevent the ban from being implemented, or spreading.  As Hatfield noted to the press, “This is a college class… We chose to take this class. The school didn’t tell us to. We chose.”  During Banned Books Week in October of 2007, students from Nitro High School teamed up with students from George Washington High School, both schools in the Kanawha County School District, to form a student coalition against censorship, and approximately 50-60 students wore T-shirts with their own protest slogans, and held their books at a board meeting, while demonstrating a silent protest. Some 20 students also signed up to speak about their First Amendment rights, and rights as readers.

Hatfield also sent an email to Conroy, who responded with the letter below, which we quote in part:

October 24, 2007

To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys. […]

In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.

About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.

I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against—you’ve riled a Hatfield.


Pat Conroy

You can read the full letter over at Letters of Note.

As Conroy notes, life is hard.  People do terrible, seemingly unspeakable things to each other, and to themselves.  But books give us the power to speak of these things in a way that builds empathy, provides invaluable insight, and helps many of us feel that we are not alone in coping with such issues.  They may spark uncomfortable discussions or thoughts, they may lead us to feel negative emotions–but all of those feelings are part of growing, of having our worldview expanded, and widening our ability to connect with other human beings whose live is unlike our own.  That is an incredible power for such a small object as a book.  And Banned Books Week calls on us to celebrate that power, not to hide it.

Pat Conroy died in March 2016…but we still send along our thanks to him for his courage, for his words, and for his defense of everyone’s right to read.

It’s Banned Books Week!

It’s a big week in bookland, dear readers.  Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to a surge in challenges to books across the country.  Since them, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)  tracks reports of book challenges and bans and compiles the annual Top Ten Challenged Books List  in order to bring awareness to this issue.  Their report this year was chilling.  There was an alarming 17% increase in book censorship complaints in 2016.  Since most challenges do not get reported by libraries to the OIF, the actual number is probably much higher. Another fact to add to this disturbing trend: typically, only 10% of the titles reported to OIF are normally removed from the institutions receiving the challenges.  In 2016, half of the most frequently challenged books were actually banned last year.  You can have a look at this video, produced by the American Library Association, about the 10 most challenged books of 2016.  Many of them are titles that have been challenged previously, but a few are new.

The Banned Books Week Coalition (BBWC) is a national alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read, and this year, they are is responding to these challenges and increased censorship with “Our Right To Read,” a celebration of the diverse range of ideas found in books, and our right as citizens to make our own intellectual choices.

BBWC Chair Charles Brownstein says, “Our free society depends on the right to access, evaluate, and voice a wide range of ideas. Book bans chill that right, and increase division in the communities where they occur. This Banned Books Week, we’re asking people of all political persuasions to come together and celebrate Our Right to Read.”

We’ve said it here before, but at our Library, you–and everyone else who visits us–have the right to read whatever you like.  We are honored to help you access the stories, information, and resources that you need, without judgement.  And we are also huge fans of Banned Book Week.  So stay tuned this week for more celebrations of our right to read!

Five Book Friday, and more Hurricane Help

To those of you lovers of Pumpkin Spice, Maple, and Caramel Apple, we here at the Free For All wish you a very happy Second Day of Autumn!

We had some technical and time problems yesterday that prevented us from posting, but this Special Saturday Selection comes with lots of love, apologies, and literary gems.

Via NBC News, Mexican Firefighters and Rescuers working to save earthquake survivors

This week saw yet another hurricane devastate our friends in Puerto Rico, while an earthquake has brought widespread suffering  to our friends in Mexico.  Once again, we bring you ways to help.

The island of Puerto Rico is without power, and it is making it very difficult for friends and family to check in on loved one.  There are some numbers that you can call, however:

  • If you want to check on a loved one, call Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration at 1-202-778-0710.
  • For those who know someone who needs help on the island, call 787-777-0940. This is a radio station that is receiving emergency calls.
  • Another number you can call is the hurricane hotline at 1-877-976-2400. A tourism company set up the hotline for hotels, guests and industry partners.
  • Another option is to use American Red Cross’s website to search for people who have already registered themselves as safe. Click here to search for your loved one.

Callers are asked to be patient and keep calling if the line is busy. Also, do not hang up if you are on hold.

Here is a list of the following organizations that are doing good in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Dominica, and could use your help:



As we noted before, the rebuilding and recovery efforts in these places is going to take a very long time, so if you are unable to donate now, please don’t worry.  We will be offering more information as it becomes available of any and all ways that you can help.

And now, because we all need a little bit of cheer, especially during tough weeks like these, here are some of the books that have graced our shelves this week, and would love to join you on your fall escapades….

The Book of Disquiet:  This gloriously quirky, eye-catching book is a compendium of the thoughts, ideas, ruminations, and insights by Portuguese modernist master Fernando Pessoa.  Recognized as one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Pessoa (1888-1935) wrote poetry under various heteronyms (fictional character/identities) to whom he attributed biographies different from his own, making each piece of this magical puzzle of a book a new and intriguing adventure.  Full of fresh metaphors and unique perceptions, this is a book you can read cover-to-cover, or dip into at random.  Either way, it’s a beautiful, mind-expanding journey that will have a lot of appeal for fans of existential writers like J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pyncheon. NPR agrees, saying “Pessoa’s work…is one of life’s great miracles. Pessoa invented numerous alter egos. Arguably, the four greatest poets in the Portuguese language were all Pessoa using different names.”

To Die in SpringRalf Rothmann is a little book, but it packs quite the emotional wallop, dealing, as it does, with the darkest days of the Second World Wars, and the shadow that history casts across the generations.  Distant, silent, often drunk, Walter Urban is a difficult man to have as a father. But his son is curious about Walter’s experiences during World War II, and so makes him a present of a blank notebook in which to write down his memories. But when Walter dies, leaving only the barest skeleton of a story behind, his son resolves to fill in the gaps himself, rightly or wrongly, with what he can piece together of his father’s early life.  This, then, is the story of Walter and his dangerously outspoken friend Friedrich Caroli, who are tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945: the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war, enduring horrors that will lead both men to do what they previously imagined unthinkable.  This book is being hailed already as a modern masterpiece, with Kirkus Reviews declaring “Rothmann’s writing is spare and vivid, nearly cinematic. It is also crucial: German accounts of WWII have been relatively rare and slow in coming, especially when it comes to descriptions of their country’s own suffering. Rothmann is unflinching in his accounts of both German atrocities and misery . . . A spectacular novel . . . Searing, haunting, incandescent”

Going Dark: The Lost Platoon: From bestselling author Monica McCarty comes a new contemporary romance full of suspense, international intrigue, and some fascinating settings that kicks off what promises to be a sensational new series.  Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she’d intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven’t exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he’s the kind of man she can depend on. Because he’s gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her.  Fans will know that McCarty always delivers a unique story with refreshingly inventive characters…and new readers have a perfect place to get started with this story!  RT Book Reviews loves this book, noting “A master storyteller…McCarty breathes life into her memorable characters as they face dangerous adventures. The fresh plots, infused with romance and passion, are also brimming with history and drama.”

Lightning MenFans of Thomas Mullen’s stupendous Darktown will be happy to know that the next adventure of Officer Denny Rakestraw and “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, who walk the dangerous streets of 1950’s Atlanta.  When Rake’s brother-in-law launches a scheme to rally the Ku Klux Klan to “save” their neighborhood, his efforts spiral out of control, forcing Rake to choose between loyalty to family or the law.  Across town, Boggs and Smith try to shut down the supply of white lightning and drugs into their territory, finding themselves up against more powerful foes than they’d expected. Battling corrupt cops and ex-cons, Nazi brown shirts and rogue Klansmen, the officers are drawn closer to the fires that threaten to consume the city once again.  Mullen’s work has drawn comparisons to crime-fiction greats like Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosely, and his characters are the kind of people who live with you even after the cover has closed.  Booklist gave this book a starred review, cheering “Mullen effectively uses the police procedural format to shine a light on the daily indignities and violence blacks suffered in the pre–civil rights South, while delivering a plot that never lets up on suspense.”

The Devil’s Wedding Ring: If you like the super-dark, mysterious North, and the mysteries that come out of is, then you are going to want to check out award-winning crime novelist Vidar Sundstøl’s latest book.  On Midsummer Eve in 1985, a young folklore researcher disappears from the small Norwegian village of Eidsborg.  Exactly thirty years later, student Cecilie Wiborg, who was also researching the pagan rituals associated with the 13th-century Eidsborg stave church, goes missing.  And then Knut Abrahamsen, a former local police officer, is found drowned with his pockets filled with stones.  Hearing of the death of his former colleague and friend, private investigator Max Fjellanger feels compelled to leave his long-time home in Florida and return to his native Norway to attend Knut’s funeral. Even though they haven’t spoken in more than three decades, Max is not convinced that Knut killed himself.  There are details about the circumstances of his death that just don’t add up…and there seems to be a link to the case of the missing researcher, which the two of them had worked together—until threats from a corrupt sheriff put an end to the investigation and to Max’s career on the police force.  But this is a case full of occult darkness and mystery that may very well be more than Fjellanger bargained for…Taut, thoughtful, and seriously creepy, this is a fast-paced adventure that earned a stared review from Publisher’s Weekly, who praised the way “Ancient myth and contemporary detection collide in this highly impressive thriller.”

One Long NightA Global History of Concentration Camps: Concentration camps have been a part of human society for over a century, but this book is one of the first to draw connections between the various sites of those camps, their evolution, efficacy, and enduring legacy.  In this harrowing work based on archival records and interviews during travel to four continents, Andrea Pitzer reveals for the first time the chronological and geopolitical history of concentration camps. Beginning with 1890s Cuba, she pinpoints concentration camps around the world and across decades. From the Philippines and Southern Africa in the early twentieth century to the Soviet Gulag and detention camps in China and North Korea during the Cold War, camp systems have been used as tools for civilian relocation and political repression. Often justified as a measure to protect a nation, or even the interned groups themselves, camps have instead served as brutal and dehumanizing sites that have claimed the lives of millions.  This is a harrowing book about the worst aspects of human nature, but it is also a startling human book that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who explained, “Drawing on memoirs, histories, and archival sources, [Pitzer] offers a chilling, well-documented history of the camps’ development…. A potent, powerful history of cruelty and dehumanization.”


Until next Friday, beloved patrons–happy reading!

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.