Five Book Friday!

We are here to provide resources to those who need them.  Here is the contact information for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization

  • Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
  • When you call 800.656.HOPE (4673), you’ll be routed to a local RAINN affiliate organization based on the first six digits of your phone number. Cell phone callers have the option to enter the ZIP code of their current location to more accurately locate the nearest sexual assault service provider.

And now, on to the books:

Time’s Converts:  Deborah Harkness, author of the beloved All Souls Trilogy brings another time-hopping paranormal love story that is sure to delight her legions of fans.  On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.  Fast-forward to contemporary Paris, where Phoebe Taylor–the young employee at Sotheby’s with whom Marcus has fallen in love–is about to embark on her own journey to immortality. Though the modernized version of the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable than they were in the eighteenth century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both–forever.  A historian herself, Harkness imbues her books with a memorable view of the past and its intersections with the present in a way that Booklist hailed in its review, saying “Effortlessly sweeping across time and continents . . . Harkness replaces the captivating Matthew and Diana dynamic with a passionate new love story.”

CoDex 1962Icelandic author and Oscar-nominated songwriter Sjón has earned a global reputation for his utterly unique stories, and now his most famous trilogy of books (outside the English-speaking world) is available in an English translation.  Josef Löwe, the narrator of this tale, was born at precisely the same moment as Sjón himself.  Josef’s story, however, stretches back decades in the form of Leo Löwe―a Jewish fugitive during World War II who has an affair with a maid in a German inn; together, they form a baby from a piece of clay.  In the second story, Löwe arrives in Iceland with the clay-baby inside a hatbox, only to be embroiled in a murder mystery―but by the end of the volume, his clay son has come to life. And in the final volume, set in present-day Reykjavík, Josef’s story becomes science fiction as he crosses paths with the outlandish CEO of a biotech company (based closely on reality) who brings the story of genetics and genesis full circle.  This is a story that is part folklore, part traditional epic, part sci-fi, part mystery, and all together a unique story that Sjón’s fans and new comers alike will savor.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, noting “In this beguiling, surpassingly eccentric triptych, Icelandic novelist Sjón takes on, in turn, romance (classic, not Gothic), mystery, and science fiction to examine how people parse themselves into little camps and try to make their way through this harsh world . . . Sjón’s work is unlike anything else in contemporary fiction. Strange―but stunning.”

Your Duck is My DuckDeborah Eisenberg is a gifted short-story writer, and that talent shines through in this new collection. In Eisenberg’s world(s), the forces of money, sex, and power cannot be escaped, and the force of history, whether confronted or denied, cannot be evaded.  These forces wind through a varied and engrossing set of tales: a tormented woman whose face determines her destiny; a group of film actors shocked to read a book about their past; a privileged young man who unexpectedly falls into a love affair with a human rights worker caught up in an all-consuming quest that he doesn’t understand.  The result is a collection that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it …”superlative and entertaining…Eisenberg is funny, grim, biting, and wise, but always with a light touch and always in the service of worlds that extend far beyond the page. A virtuoso at rendering the flickering gestures by which people simultaneously hide and reveal themselves, Eisenberg is an undisputed master of the short story.”

We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time:  Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.  Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone.. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business. Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, this book movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future. This book earned another starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who cheered “…The author’s passion to help people is palpable . . . His actions should be the basis for future work by FEMA and other humanitarian agencies . . . A passionate and courageous story that should be required reading for anyone involved in disaster response.”

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our DemocracyIn this timely and insightful work, Carol Anderson considers the ramifications and results of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby County v. Holder, also known as the Shelby Ruling, eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.  Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures, as well as the efforts of grassroots organizations and individuals to ensure the basic rights of democratic citizenship.  Anderson’s book was named a Pick of the Month by Library Journal, who wrote in their review, “In White Rage, a New York Times best seller that won the National Book Critics Circle Award,Emory professor Anderson chronicled efforts since 1865 to block the advancement of African Americans. Here she concentrates on efforts to curtail the African American vote since the 2013 Shelby ruling gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Anderson considers both consequences–e.g., photo ID requirements, poll closures–and means of redress.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading.

The Dear Banned Author Letter Writing Campaign

Writing to your favorite authors is a great idea, no matter the time of year or the occasion.  Authors, like all of us, like to hear that their work has had a positive impact on the world and on readers, specifically.  This can be especially difficult if an author’s book has been challenged or banned.  Such a process inherently changes the nature of the author’s relationship with readers (sometimes for the better, but not always), and with the general public, as well.  So this week, the American Library Association has set out to provide support for the authors of banned books, and connect them with readers who have loved and who have needed their words.

Dear Banned Author is a letter-writing campaign hosted by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. During Banned Books Week (September 23-29), readers are encouraged to write to their favorite banned or challenged authors, sharing what their stories meant to them. The goal of the campaign is to not only raise awareness of books that are threatened with censorship and support authors, but also encourage thoughtful discussions about the power of words and how essential it is to have access to a variety of viewpoints in libraries. Authors also have shared fan letters as support when there’s a public challenge to their books.

Here’s a note from the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom to you, our fearless readers, about the Dear Banned Author campaign:

Dear readers,

Your words have the power to sway decisions, to defend access to books, to stop censorship. Your words can combat the silencing of stories. Thank you for reading banned books and defending the freedom to read. This page has printable postcards and tips on how to write a letter. What book has impacted your life? Choose an author from the Banned & Challenged Author Addresses & Twitter Handles list and start writing! The list also includes links to authors’ Twitter handles, if you also want to share your story online. Please feel free to use the hashtag #DearBannedAuthor, so we can share these stories widely.

Keep writing, rebel readers,

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

So, this Banned Book Week, why not take a moment and share some good wishes with your favorite author of a banned book?  The Dear Banned Author webpage includes lots of tools to help you out, including printable postcards, a list of banned and challenged authors (and their Twitter handles), letter writing tips, and more.

You can also share you letters on social media using the hashtag #DearBannedAuthor and #BannedBooksWeek.

“The tragic and the obscene exclude each other. ” A Letter for Banned Books Week

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was first published in France in 1955, and has remained arguably among the most controversial books of (at least) the late 20th century.  It has been banned in France and Britain, and repeatedly challenged in the US.

On the surface, the novel is a confession by Humbert Humbert, a man imprisoned for murder–the confession, however, is not for the murder, but rather in regards to his love for, seduction of, and involvement with, an under-age female named Dolores Haze (nicknamed ‘Lolita’).  It is the confession of a rapist, of a child molester, and it is so well-written and beautiful that it challenges almost all traditional notions of right and wrong.  It is also the story of the child who is the victim of this crime, and what happens to her as a result of Humbert’s crimes, which is an aspect of this book that goes understudied.  Granted, it’s a pretty subtle aspect of the book that Nabokov himself discussed rarely–but it’s a critically important aspect that he did recognize.  You can see that in this letter, which we quote in part below, as well as in the text itself, especially in the final scene between Dolores and Humbert, which Nabokov urges us all to read.

Nabokov’s 1956 letter is to his friend and fellow scholar Morris Bishop, and notes the growing furor over Lolita.  It also makes note of Nabokov’s view of the books difficult subject matter.  As he notes, the novel is about exploitation and manipulation, about power and corruption and pain.  Although it features descriptions of sexual acts (without actually referring to ‘sex’, or the use of any language that might in any way be construed as lewd), it is not a ‘racy’ book.  It is a tragedy, in the most profound sense of the word.

The whole letter is taken from the wonderful people over at Letters of Note, and you can read it here.  Just to note, Nabokov taught literature in a number of universities in the United States, including Smith College, Mount Holyoke, and Cornell.  His Lectures on Literature and Lectures on Russian Literature are absolutely fascinating, and give a beautiful glimpse into the way his mind worked, and what kind of a reader (and writer) he was.

I have just learned that Gallimard wants to publish LOLITA. This will give her a respectable address. The book is having some success in London and Paris. Please, cher ami, do read it to the end!

Frankly, I am not much concerned with the “irate Paterfamilias”. That stuffy philistine would be just as upset if he learned that at Cornell I analyse “ULYSSES” before a class of 250 students of both sexes. I know that LOLITA is my best book so far. I calmly lean on my conviction that it is a serious work of art, and that no court could prove it to be “lewd and libertine”. All categories grade, of course, into one another: a comedy of manners written by a fine poet may have its “lewd” side; but “LOLITA” is a tragedy. “Pornography” is not an image plucked out of context; pornography is an attitude and an intention. The tragic and the obscene exclude each other.

Here’s yet another reason why we support Banned Books Week, and the reading of books that challenge us all.  Lolita is a remarkable, a difficult, and a deeply affecting work of fiction, with themes that resonate today–perhaps even more so than when it was first published.  It deserves to be read and discusses, hated and loved, and, most of all, available to any and all who want to read it.  That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we do what we do.

 

Happy Banned Books Week, beloved patrons!

Banned Books Week 2018!

Every year, the American Library Association observes Banned Books Week, a week of advocacy and education that united the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.  By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Books Week began in the 1980’s following the 1982 Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.  That same year at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California, a display of banned books were showcased at the entrance to the convention center.  Enormous padlocked metal cages held in some  500 challenged books, and a large sign overhead proclaimed the books to be dangerous.  Since then, the ALA and ABA have set aside one week in September to recognize the books that are frequently challenged or banned, in the hopes of raising awareness about the power of words, stories, representation, and discussion that can often seem challenging, subversive, and scary.

We here at the Library are big fans of Banned Books Week, and constant supporters of your right to read whatever you so desire.  As such, you can look forward to enjoying some themed blog posts this week, starting with the ALA’s list of most challenged books of 2017, and the reasons for these challenges.  The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2017. Of the 416 books challenged or banned in 2017, these titles were the most challenged:

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runnerby Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George, by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex educationand is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug useprofanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.

As we reiterate around this time every year, 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!

In addition to checking out some of the sensational books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week, beloved patrons, we also wanted to bring you some information about hurricane relief efforts.  Our neighbors and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and the mid-Atlantic region in general are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, and they need our help.  While the extent of the damage–and, hence, the extent of the need–is not yet fully known, there are several ways in which you can provide immediate help.

Via Raleigh Dream Center

First and foremost, the American Red Cross has set up a website devoted specifically to donations for hurricane relief.  You can also make donations over the phone by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting “FLORENCE” to 90999. When calling or donating online, make sure to designate your donation to Florence relief efforts.

In addition, the Red Cross is also asking for blood donations, which can be made locally.  Check the Red Cross website to find the closest donation location to you.

The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina has been active in dozens of communities in North and South Carolina for more than 35 years, and is working hard to provide food, water, hygiene items, and cleaning supplies to the thousands affected by the hurricane.  While we can’t really send them food, there is a virtual food drive that remains ongoing, in which you can participate.  Additionally, monetary donations are appreciated.

In South Carolina, the One SC Fund works to support the state by funding nonprofits with grants during state-declared emergencies. For Tropical Depression Florence relief, the One SC Fund is accepting donations online. The Fund states these donations will support other nonprofits “that are, and will be, responding to the needs of individuals affected by Hurricane Florence.”

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is currently accepting contributions for Hurricane Florence damage. Contributions will help with immediate unmet needs of Hurricane Florence victims. Contributions can be made online by secure link, or you can text “Florence” to 20222.  Alternatively, checks can be mailed to:

North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund
20312 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

As always, if you are not able to donate at this time, please do not worry.  There will always be ways to help, and any contributions you can make at any time will be appreciated.  And thank you in advance for your good will and kindness!

And now…on to the books!

Arthur Ashe: A Life:Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, by the age of eleven, Arthur Ashe was one of the state’s most talented black tennis players. Jim Crow restrictions barred Ashe from competing with whites. Still, in 1960 he won the National Junior Indoor singles title, which led to a tennis scholarship at UCLA. He became the first African American to play for the US Davis Cup team in 1963, and two years later he won the NCAA singles championship. In 1968, he won both the US Amateur title and the first US Open title, rising to a number one national ranking. Turning professional in 1969, he soon became one of the world’s most successful tennis stars, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. After retiring in 1980, he served four years as the US Davis Cup captain and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.  In this fascinating biography, Raymond Arsenault chronicles Ashe’s rise to stardom on the court, as well as his off-court career as a writing, historian of tennis, and human rights activist in the United States, as well as an advocate for the destruction of Apartheid policies in South Africa.  Additionally, Arsenault takes us through Ashe’s heart condition, which led to multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, one of which left him HIV-positive. In 1988, after completing a three-volume history of African-American athletes, he was diagnosed with AIDS, a condition he revealed only four years later. After devoting the last ten months of his life to AIDS activism, he died in February 1993 at the age of forty-nine, leaving an inspiring legacy of dignity, integrity, and active citizenship.  This is an important, overdue, and highly enjoyable biography that is being praised by readers, critics, and tennis players, as well!  The New York Times Review of Books gave it a resoundingly positive review, saying “For those who have long admired Ashe, this close look at his life offers even more evidence that he was more than a great player, he was an extraordinary person. . . . among the best books about tennis I’ve ever read — it’s a deep, detailed, thoughtful chronicle of one of the country’s best and most important players.”

The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots & the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War: Neal Bascombe’s popular histories of the First World War are well-researched, thoughtful, and deeply engaging stories that make history feel real and vital.  This book is no exception, delving into the world of POW camps during the First World War.  For Allied soldiers, one of the worst camps was Holzminden, a land-locked prison that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone prisoners. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave.  Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland.  Bascombe’s work is based on letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts of this sensational escape that is earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews who called it “Fast-paced account of a forgotten episode of World War I history . . . Stirring . . . Bascomb’s portraits of the principals are affecting . . . Expertly narrated, with just the right level of detail and drama.”

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War: Those of you looking for some more sensational war stories will love this latest from Ben Macintyre, whose work on espionage history has resulted in some highly entertaining real-life spy stories.  This book tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, who took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London.  However, Gordievsky was also a double agent, and from 1973, was secretly working for Britain’s MI6.  For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid.  Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.  Culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, this is a history book that fans of many genres will savor.  The Guardian wrote a glowing review of the book, noting “Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.”

Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize yesterday, Esi Edugyan’s novel tells the story of George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation.  Although initially terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant, Wash is surprised to learn the eccentric Christopher Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist.  Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything, escaping along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self.  This is a novel about freedom and friendship that is as thought-provoking as it is wonderfully imaginative.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred (and boxed!) review, raving that “Edugyan’s magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era’s science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan’s novel is both searing and beautiful.”

Ordinary People: Diana Evans is known for confronting difficult topics in her books with indefatigable humanity, and this novel is no exception, capturing the struggles of two married couples.  In a crooked house in South London, Melissa feels increasingly that she’s defined solely by motherhood, while Michael mourns the former thrill of their romance. In the suburbs, Stephanie’s aspirations for bliss on the commuter belt, coupled with her white middle-class upbringing, compound Damian’s itch for a bigger life catalyzed by the death of his activist father. Longtime friends from the years when passion seemed permanent, the couples have stayed in touch, gathering for births and anniversaries, bonding over discussions of politics, race, and art. But as bonds fray, the lines once clearly marked by wedding bands aren’t so simply defined.  Evans is the kind of writing who can make everyday details feel extraordinary, and that talent makes this story about the fragile bonds that bind us together so moving.  Library Journal had a world of good things to say about this class, noting “This new novel from Evans…tells the story of a group of young, mostly black Londoners searching for equanimity in their personal and professional lives, with the music of John Legend, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse providing the soundtrack as they navigate the rocky roads from dating to mating and parenting…. With astute observations on marriage and parenthood… and an accompanying playlist to boot, this novel is anything but ordinary. It’s a sparkling gem.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Man Booker Shortlist is Here!

And we could not be more excited!

This year’s shortlist recognizes three writers from the UK, two from the US, and one from Canada.  There are four women and two men nominated.  Moreover, Daisy Johnson, at 27-years-old, is officially the youngest novelist nominated for the award.

At a press conference this morning, the 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, remarked that each of these novels is “a miracle of stylistic invention.”   He continued: 

In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time. From Ireland to California, in Barbados and the Arctic, they inhabit worlds that not everyone will have been to, but which we can all be enriched by getting to know. Each one explores the anatomy of pain — among the incarcerated and on a slave plantation, in a society fractured by sectarian violence, and even in the natural world. But there are also in each of them moments of hope. These books speak very much to our moment, but we believe that they will endure.

The winner on the Man Booker Prize will be announced on 16 October at a dinner in London’s Guildhall.  Until then, we hope you enjoy perusing this shortlist!  Sadly, three of the titles are not yet available to us in the US, but we’ll be bringing you updates when they do!

The Man Booker Prize 2018 Shortlist

Esi Edugyan Washington Black (Canada)

Rachel Kushner The Mars Room (USA)

Richard Powers The Overstory (USA)

Daisy Johnson Everything Under (UK) This title will be released in the US in January 2019

Robin Robertson The Long Take  (UK)  Not yet released in the US

Anna Burns Milkman (UK) Not yet released in the US

Stories That Save You (Part 2)

As we’ve mentioned here before, beloved patrons, we all have stories that save us.  Those books that come into our lives precisely when we need them or stay around for years and years like an old friend.  Today, I wanted to talk with you about another one of those books in my life.  It’s a book I turn to every year around this time, for reasons that might very well become clear as we chat…

It’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

King’s second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot was first published in 1975.  According to his introduction to the 2014 audiobook recording, King was teaching Dracula to a high school class, and was inspired to consider what might happen if the titular count were to return again.  Though he might not survive in, say New York City, King’s wife Tabitha mused what might happen if he appeared in a more rural setting.  Like Maine.  And that was that.  The book was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1976, and the Locus Award for the All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987, and King has stated several times that it is among his favorite of his works.  In 1987 he told Phil Konstantin in The Highway Patrolman magazine: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!”

Very broadly speaking, the novel follows a 32-year-old writer named Benjamin Mears, who returns to Jerusalem’s Lot township in southern Maine (where he lived for four years as a child), following the death of his wife, Miranda.  Ben is intending to write a novel inspired by, and based on, an old, decaying, creepy house in ‘Salem’s Lot known to locals as The Marsten House.  It is a house in which Ben had a traumatically frightening experience as a child that he hopes to heal fully through his writing.  Ben is not, however, the only newcomer to ‘Salem’s Lot.  Another person has rented The Marsten House. And their intentions are far from neighborly, to say the least.

I first encountered ‘Salem’s Lot while I was living in the UK and working on my Master’s Degree.  I had written a seminar paper on Dracula  (another book that I love just a bit too much), and was devouring all the subsequent vampire novels I could get my hands on.  My dad, who I think I’ve mentioned before, is an enormous Stephen King fan (I thought he was a family friend because we had so many of his books around his house), and reminded me that King himself had written a book inspired by Dracula, so I made it my present to myself.  The day I handed in my Masters’ Thesis (September 10, if I remember correctly), I bought a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot.

I loved it from the moment I started reading. Being far away from home, I adored the sections that talk about fall in New England, about the feeling of the cold seeping into the air, into your bones, into your consciousness.  I loved being reminded of the way telephone lines used to buzz gently in the days before digital.  I loved the discussions of darkness, and about what darkness did to the people who lived with it.

I also really liked that King used his study of a small town to talk about the ways in which secrets moved and circulated, and about the impact of evil.  Not just the big evils (although Big Evils abound in this book), but the petty kinds of evil: laziness, greed, selfishness, chauvinism.  If this book reinforces a real-world message, it is that those kind of small evils permit more small evils, and those build and build into something truly fearful.  Larry Crockett, for example, is a shady, lazy, sexist real estate agent who rents out the Marsten House (see an imagined image on the left), even though he knows in his gut that the man renting it is seriously bad news.  But he is also earning a very fat commission on the transaction, so he looks the other way–and allows the vampires to enter ‘Salem’s Lot.  We learn, eventually, about how the town turned away from the things that scared or disturbed them about the Marsten House…and how that permitted the evil inside it to fester.  I appreciated the ways that King discussed the grief and pain that these evils caused, from the loss of a child to the anguish of marital rape (and I also give him a world a credit for calling it ‘marital rape’ in 1975).

Oh, right, and I also loved the vampires.  That should go without saying.  But if you can’t tell, while this book scared me, I loved it too much to be scared of it.  Instead, I read it every year as fall begins.  And every year, I find something else to love.  Right after reading it the first time, I traveled to Belfast for a research trip.  Belfast wasn’t the best of areas to be around that time, as the trauma of the Troubles was still very real.  While I was there, I listened to the audiobook of ‘Salem’s Lot, and appreciated anew how well King plays on our very human fears of being alone and isolated.  It was a sensational that was as real in Belfast at the turn of the century as it was in the ghost town of Momson, Vermont, which “dried up and blew away” in 1923 (according to the novel).

You can read more about Vermont Ghost Towns here: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/vermont/ghost-town-vt/

Years later, I was working in Copley Square, and had to go to work two days after the Boston Marathon Bombing.  As I, and my fellow workers, emerged from the Green Line to a mob of reporters, camera operators, and police, a found myself recalling a scene where Susan Norton goes to pay a call on the Marsten House–and realizes what real fear is.  Not the jump-scare fear of movies, but the deep-down, paralyzing fear that can warp a person into something very ugly.   But Susan, like others in the book, reject that fear, and confront the darkness in the world with determination and hope.  “The act of moving forward at all became heroism,” King wrote.  That line remains one of my favorite in the book.

These past few years in reading ‘Salem’s Lot, I am struck by the discussion of faith in the book.  Not necessarily religious faith–though that it discussed in the book–but something perhaps more fundamental.  A trust in an inherent structure and a goodness in the world that goes beyond hierarchies and symbols.  Several times in the course of the story, at times of greatest emotional peril, characters in the book refer to their love for each other, and it is that love that saves them.  I find myself reaching for that kind of faith in my readings this time around, and it makes the world outside the book just a little less scary.

…What are the books that save you, dear readers?  Feel free to share them with us here, or come in and find some new ones today!