Wednesdays @ West: The Monthly Literatea Rundown

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literateaSince yesterday was the first Tuesday of September, dear readers, it is time once again to turn our attention to the books recommended by the voracious readers who attend the West Branch’s monthly Literatea event.

inthetimeofthebutterfliesSeptember is, of course, the Peabody Library’s Big Read, focusing on Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies.  We have an exciting line up of literary and cultural events planned to celebrate Ms. Alvarez’s novel, so if you haven’t yet checked out the September calendar of events, make that your first stop of the day.

savingtheworldIn honor of In the Time of the Butterflies, the tea for the month was a hibiscus blend.  Hibiscus tea is popular in the Dominican Republic, the setting for our Big Read novel.  Also in honor the Latin American roots of our community read selection, we highlighted some wonderful literature with Latin American ties, including The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat and Saving the World by Julia Alvarez.   For the complete list of books recommended by West Branch staff at this month’s Literatea, check out our September Newsletter.

As for what our Literatea ladies have been reading and enjoying since we heard from them last, here it is…


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The books of Geraldine Brooks, especially Year of Wonders: a novel of the plague.  There is also much anticipation for her forthcoming, The Secret Chord
(due out October 6th).

remarkablecreaturesRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  This is a suggestion that I enthusiastically second!

Nguernseyear universal love continues for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows continues.

allthelightwecannotseeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

loseyourassHow to Lose Your Ass and Regain Your Life by Kristie Alley

englishgirlThe English Girl and The English Spy by Daniel Silva

importanceofbeingsevenThe works of the prolific Alexander McCall Smith, who is admired for his humor and his books ability to create a sense of calm in readers.

makemeMake Me by Lee Child.  The latest Jack Reacher novel.

typhoidmaryA few suggestions also came up from the world of YA fiction: Terrible Typhoid Mary: a true story of the deadliest cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, This Side of Home by Renee Wilson

couargeinthelittlesuitcaseCourage in the Little Suitcase by Andrea Angell Herzig

orphanmasterssonThe Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

missdreamsvilleMiss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

euphoriaEuphoria by Lily King

In Memorium: Oliver Sacks

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In Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternack wrote that your soul “is the memory of yourself that you leave behind in others”–essentially, that your obligations in this world are to those around you, and to those who will come after you.

If this is true, I can think of few greater souls than Dr. Oliver Sacks, who passed away on August 30, at the age of 82.  Dr. Sacks will be remembered for many reasons; he was a brilliant neuroscientist who made ground-breaking discoveries, not only into the structure, but also the functioning of the human brain; he was a daring practitioner, who was willing to try new and inventive treatment methods if they would prove most beneficial to his patients’ well-being.  Above all, though, he was a teacher, who gave the world a collection of case-studies that not only taught us about the obscurities of the human brain, but also about the wonders of it.

2710517Sacks is perhaps best known for his bestselling book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, a book that details some of Sacks’ most interesting (and bizarre) cases of loss, whether it is patients who cannot remember words (aphasia), familiar faces, or who suffer from ‘phantom limbs’ (which happens when the mind still ‘feels’ a part of the body that has been amputated, creating an itch that literally cannot be scratched, or a pain that cannot be soothed).  Though this explanation makes these essays sound grotesque or somehow invasive, in truth, they are some of the most beautifully written and compassionate medical texts you will ever read.  Sacks truly came to know his patients, to understand their lives and how their conditions affected them, and described them with humanity and dignity.  He also, clearly, delighted in all the inner workings of the brain and the mind, and made that wonder tangible in his writing.  Even in describing the brain when it was broken, his writing makes you respect the wonder and complexity of the human brain.

2670280His other books not only expanded his study of brain disorders, but explored how the brain responses to music, and why music is such a fundamental part of the human existence, and considered how the brain adapts to various conditions, such as autism and deafness.  In each of these works, Sacks’ empathy and humanity shines through, and each of these stories is far more about what it means to be human than what it means to be different.

When he was diagnosed with inoperable metastasized melanoma, Sacks again turned his condition into a chance to reach out and make the inexplicable somehow easier.  He wrote a series of opinion pieces for The New York Times, not just to announce that he had cancer, but to consider the process of living, as well as the process of dying.

In his final article, Sacks explained his own career in his characteristic simplicity: “I found meaningful work in New York, in a chronic care hospital in the Bronx…I was fascinated by my patients there, cared for them deeply, and felt something of a mission to tell their stories — stories of situations virtually unknown, almost unimaginable, to the general public and, indeed, to many of my colleagues. I had discovered my vocation, and this I pursued doggedly, single-mindedly…Almost unconsciously, I became a storyteller at a time when medical narrative was almost extinct.”

Oliver Sacks was a consummate scientist, and a consummate teacher; when faced with his own death, he didn’t retreat into himself, or hide from the inevitable–he allowed us to share in the process, teaching us what it was like to die so that it wouldn’t seem as scary, in much the same way he wrote about the brain.  Rather than leaving us with regret or anger, he left us marveling at life, how precious, how remarkable, and how beautiful it was, and offering us a chance to consciously appreciate it, and ourselves for what we can do with it: “When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

If that isn’t an ideal memory to leave behind, I don’t know what is.

To learn more about Oliver Sacks and his remarkable work, check out the following:

2029034Awakenings: One of Sack’s first jobs was in that chronic care hospital, where he cared for and observed patients who had been in a coma-like state for some fifty years.  When medical advances offered methods to wake these people up, Sacks chronicled their adaptations (or lack thereof) to the world around them, and his relationships with these patients.

2929901The Mind’s EyeIn this incredibly moving book, Sacks looks at patients who have learned to adapt and thrive despite what would normally be considered cataclysmic losses–the inability to recognize faces, lack of three-dimensional perception, or the loss of reading ability.  While the reasons and diagnoses of these conditions are fascinating, what comes through most in these essays is the incredible endurance of the human mind and soul, and Sacks’ wonder at the strength of the people he treats.  Even as we learn about the ways the brain can go wrong, this is an inspirational book that gives hope in so many unexpected ways.

3633704On the Move:  Though this book was written before Sacks received his terminal diagnosis, it was published after his opinion piece to The New York Times, so it feels like much more of a retrospective than may have been intended.  Nevertheless, Sacks is at his thoughtful, humorous, and gregarious best in this work, sharing his stories and memories, his fears and loves, and, as always, reveling in the human experience.  It is a book worthy of its author, and a life well-lived.

Saturdays @ the South: On Reading Fairy Tales

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Whenever someone discusses Fairy Tales, this is the quote that always jumps to my mind.  Last weekend, I read an interesting post on Book Riot that got me thinking about it again. In the post, Morgan Jerkins talked about sanitizing fairy tales and how vehicles like Disney and publishers often “clean up” a story to make it more palatable to young children. For example, there’s nothing in the Disney movies about how Cinderella’s stepsisters mutilated their feet to try and fit into the slipper or how the little mermaid was asked to murder her paramour in order to keep her legs when her original bargain with the sea witch didn’t pan out. When Jerkins talks about omissions like these, she mentions that the original stories weren’t designed to entertain children, but simultaneously seems to look down up on the Disney-fied versions that most kids are exposed to.

As someone who grew up with access to both the Disney versions of fairy tales and a collection of the less-sanitized versions I have to say that the childhood me vastly preferred the Disney versions. The original fairy tales were, no pun intended, quite grim, but while I think I was profoundly altered for having read them (as is any reader who reads something powerful or memorable), I don’t remember them horrifying me. I wasn’t terrified of cannibalism after the witch tried to cook Hansel and Gretel for dinner and I still loved wolves even after the huntsman cut one open to rescue Little Red Riding Hood and her grandma. I particularly remember reading Andersen’s The Little Mermaid well before the movie first came out. The imagery of the mermaid being turned into seafoam when her deals with the witch went awry was a powerful one that has stuck with me even into adulthood, but not one that overshadowed my enjoyment of watching Ariel and Sebastian sing underwater.

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If you can get this image out of your mind, you’re a better one than I am…

Knowing fairy tales in any form can greatly enrich not only a reading experience, but the imaginative experience as well. Referring to Scheherazade may conjure up any or all of the stories from the 1001 Arabian Nights or it can refer to themes of magic and female heroism under pressure. Mentioning Cinderella may or may not make someone think of talking (and singing) mice, but it will most likely make them think of themes family discord. Snow White may or may not have a poisoned apple or glass coffin, but the themes of jealousy and innocence remain. As long as these tales remain embedded in our culture, the ideas that they bring forth in the mere mention of these stories can bring out new levels of understanding in any text. We owe it not only to our children, but to ourselves to perpetuate these stories in some form or other, if only to know what some other writers are talking about.

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When I hear people talking about fairy tales, it’s often an either/or situation. One argument vilifies the sanitized versions for being too rosy or creating unrealistic expectations, particularly in young girls and believes that the original fairy tales will be lost,  to our culture’s detriment. The opposite argument feels the original stories are too violent or disturbing for young readers and children should be exposed to more uplifting tales. Each argument has its merits and detractions. As a librarian, what I’m most concerned with is allowing people to express themselves in whatever way they choose. If someone interprets a story in a particular way, we should recognize and respect that as an artistic choice.

Here are some books (including a few personal favorites) that not only refer to fairy tales, but are the authors’ artistic expressions and explorations of them, developing surprising stories for some favorite characters and defying expectations of what these stories can be.

3488974While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

In this hauntingly beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty puts a much more realistic spin on the tale. In a medieval town plagued by smallpox, a young maid learns the trials and tribulations of life at large while she is fascinated by the courtesans she serves and their seemingly charmed lives inside the grand palace walls. After hearing her great-granddaughter recounting the tale of a young princess in a tower being awakened by a handsome prince, the aging maid’s memories of her young life return, and she tells the real story behind the legend, one that sheds light on what it truly takes to achieve “happily ever after.”

3569291The Witch and other Tales Re-told by Jean Thompson

This collection of stories has been on my to-read list for a while, precisely because it seeks to illuminate alternate versions of commonly told, recognizable fairy tales. Focusing on the original tales’ abilities to capture our deeper, more primal fears, Thompson explores modern tales that “capture the magic and horror in everyday life” (goodreads.com)

3437613Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This is the first in Meyer’s popular Lunar Chronicles series. It may not be for everyone, but this book is certainly a fascinating re-imagining on a traditional fairy tale. Cinder is a cyborg with a mysterious past and a stepmother who blames Cinder for her stepsister’s illness, but she may also be the only one who can save the humans and androids from a deadly plague that’s ravaging the earth. If you can’t get enough of the Lunar Chronicles, Meyer is obliging with more in the series continuing with Scarlett, then Cress and ending it with Winter, which will be out in November.

3617831The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

This new title from Forsyth tells of a young woman, Dortchen Wild, in love. The person she’s in love with just happens to be Wilhelm Grimm. Amidst the tyranny of Napoleon Buonaparte who is trying to take over Europe, including the small German town in which she and Grimm live, Dortchen will tell Grimm wild tales that he’ll ultimately collect and will fuel his and his brother’s book of collected tales. This isn’t Forsyth’s first take on fairy tales, either. If you enjoy this book, you may also want to take a look at her take on Rapunzel in Bitter Greens.

15858Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one book by Gregory Maguire here, as he’s made a delightful career out of re-telling well-known tales, as he did in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. In this novel Maguire weaves historical details and actual locations into fairy tales, while retaining some of the magic that the original tales possess. Set in the rolling hills of Tuscany during the height of the de Medici reign, a young Bianca de Nevada must seek refuge, and possibly salvation in the forests, away from her once-happy home. The lush, poetic prose in this book only makes me even more eager to see what his take will be on Wonderland in After Alice, which is due out this October.

Till next week, dear readers, I leave you in the capable hands of Albert Einstein:

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Five Book Friday!

Could someone please explain to me how it is the last week in August already?  I think we all agree to make the most of our last official days of summer…which, naturally, means reading as many fun, witty, delicious, and engrossing books that we possibly can.  Preferably in a place filled with sunshine.  Wherever this weekend finds you, beloved patrons, I hope it is a good one, and that you come back with plenty of good stories to share!

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Here are five books that appeared on our shelves this week for your reading pleasure:

 

3654399Luck Be  LadyMeredith Duran is one of best historical romance writers out there today, and while her books tend to fly just under the radar, they are always a sure-fire hit, featuring unconventional characters in refreshingly original situations.  At heart of each of them though, is a romance that will knock your socks off.  In this fourth installment of her Rules for the Reckless series, Catherine Everleigh is determined to win back the auction house that was to be her birthright, and nothing will stand in her way.  But when Nicholas O’Shea, and infamous crime lord, offers her a marriage of convenience to help them both obtain their goals, she finds that her once-broken heart may be the one factor she never considered in her plans.

3634615The Book Of SpeculationThis book has been garnering attention and positive reviews even in pre-publication, which is usually a good sign, but when you hear that the main character of Erika Swyler’s debut is a librarian, I know you are all going to run to check out this book.  When Simon Watson receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian book dealer, inscribed with the name of his grandmother, he uncovers a family curse that may have already cost him more than he knows.  While I can appreciate that not everyone get excited about books about people researching historic things, to me, this book sounds like a slice of happiness.  My favorite review thus far as come from the Star Telegram, which said “A good book is magical. A piece of our heart stays tucked inside its lines when we return the book to its place on our shelf. Good novels about good books can be even more special, doubling the fun with two tomes to love. And when the book within the book is actually magical, as it is – or may be – in Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation, well, let the wild read start.”

3629482Last Bus To Wisdom: This is another novel that has been making waves lately, blending the best parts of a coming-of-age tale with a classic American road trip in a way that the San Francisco Chronicle called “a rambunctious adventure packed with color, vitality and characters worth rooting for”.  Set in 1951, the story follows young Donal Cameron, who has been raised by his aunt in the Montana Rockies.  But when she needs an operation, Donal finds himself shipped to his aunt’s sister, a mean-spirited woman who has no time or room for Donal.  So he and his great-uncle, Herman the German embark on a cross-country adventure in a bus, meeting a whole host of unexpected and unforgettable characters along their way.  Their Sadly, author Ivan Doig, chronicler of Montana, passed away in April, but this book seems a fitting legacy of a man whose writing was a love letter to the place he called home.

3645849Voracious : A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great BooksEvery once in a while a book comes up that makes you stop, shake your fist towards the indifferent sky and cry out “why didn’t I think of that?!”.  This is one of those books.  Cara Nicoletti grew up reading in her grandfather’s butcher shop, watching how food and stories both fed people’s souls and kept them going.  Thus, her book is a tribute to both food and books, with recipes and essays that celebrate food in books (like Jane Austen’s perfect poached eggs) and the readers who make food delicious.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this a starred review, saying it is “As inviting as a bowl of homemade chocolate pudding. . . . Nicoletti turns both reading and cooking into eagerly anticipated visceral experiences.”

3641281True Yankees : The South Seas And The Discovery Of American IdentityDane A. Morrison’s newest book is a complex and fascinating study that traces the lives and exploits of five American seamen in the years just after the American Revolution, mostly in the South Seas and Pacific.  Morrison (who teaches at Salem State University) looks at these men (and women!) not just as intrepid explorers, but considers how they conducted business in foreign cultures, how they understand the world, their place in it, and came home from these far-flung islands with a new concept of what it meant to be American.  This is an overlooked portion of American history, and a place that few consider when looking at the early years of the American experience, but plenty of reviewers have been praising Professor Morrison’s narrative voice and research acumen, making this book sound like a winner for fans of history and travel alike.

 

Happy Friday, and happy reading!

Footnotes in books…A bibliographic If/Then…

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As an historian, I love good, detailed footnotes; the kind that not only tell you where an author came across a piece of information, but offers anecdotes, qualifies the point in some way, or generally just feels like you have been privy to some kind of secret insider information–like the author has taken you aside for a little chat in the middle of the book.   Such footnotes often provide space in the text for the author to bring in pieces of fun information that just didn’t fit into the main body of the piece, but are just too good to pass up.  There have been books where the best bits were found in the footnotes, rather than the primary text.

But what about footnotes in fiction?

There are any number of authors who look to enhance the world of their (fiction) story with footnotes, such as Douglas Adam’s incomparable  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which offers brilliant little asides and incidental information as a way to familiarize the reader with the vast incomprehensibility of the world he is describing, and also to get the reader as familiar as possible with the main characters.  Additionally Susanna Clarke uses footnotes in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as a place to familiarize readers with fairy folklore, the history of English magic, and the various texts that her characters study.  This feels like genius when you’re reading the text, for if Clarke had tried to jam these facts and tales into her already beautifully detailed story, it would jam-up the narrative flow irrevocably.  Instead, readers have the chance to pause, seek out another tale in the footnotes, and return to the text at their own pace, their knowledge and familiarity with the scholarship of Strange and Norrell immeasurably enhanced (I am told that the e-version of the book makes this process even simpler still by allowing readers to toggle between the text and the footnotes at their leisure).

But there are other books that take the notion of the footnote further still, not only using them to enhance the fictional world of the text, but to create a new kind of reality altogether.  They use our acceptance of the footnote against us, disguising fiction in the guise of provable fact.  Personally, I adore these kind of texts, and revel in the the games that they play; I know they aren’t for everyone–among other things, having to switch from text to footnote can be physically taxing on the eyes, not to mention distracting from a good story.  But, if done properly, these kinds of footnotes can make the world of a good book that much more unforgettable, and make the reading experience that much more exciting.  So if, like me, you think footnotes in fiction are a great idea, then be sure to check out…

3553458The Supernatural Enhancements: We’ve discussed this book previously, but it deserves to be talked about a good deal more.  By turns thoroughly creepy, marvelously engrossing, disarmingly sweet, and genuinely surprising, this is a book that builds on a number of tropes (haunted houses, secret cabals, hidden histories), but feels nothing except utterly original.  When A. inherits a house from a relative he didn’t know existed, he and his odd companion find a mystery waiting for them hidden in cyphers, codes, and ancient rituals.  Edgar Cantero uses the footnotes as a way to explore the different cyphers at work in his text, offering actual, useful information while at the same time enhancing the eerie atmosphere of the story by layering it with other mysteries and secrets.

2928695House of Leaves: I think Mark Danielowski may have re-invented the book when he composed this mind-bending novel.  Ostensibly, it is the record of a family who bought a house that turned out to be bigger on the inside than on the outside…and kept on growing.  But there is nothing at all straightforward about this story.  It is a text-within-a-text-within-a-text, and the various stories compete for space across the page and, particularly, in the footnotes, where the reader often hears from film critics (Regarding a documentary about the house that may or may not have ever been screened), the blind hermit who collected the stories about the house, and the increasingly mad rantings of the young man who collected the hermit’s ramblings.  The whole thing is deeply unsettling, especially as the text begins to change color and wend its way across the page–upside down, sideways, tripping and falling into the margins….but also spectacularly engrossing.  I can’t remember a book that made me so aware of the act of reading the same way that this one did.

3630870The Ghost Network: This is a bizarre little text, but one that is so startlingly unique that it’s worth a read.  Author Catie Disabato poses as the editor of a “found manuscript” documenting the search for doomed pop-superstar Molly Metropolis.  According to the premise of this book, all that Disabato knows is that her mentor has vanished while searching for Molly, leaving only these notes.  Thus, the footnotes in the text not only cite books, both real and imaginary, that the characters used to learn about the obscure cult that Molly Metropolis joined (a real-life group, though Disabato uses their history as a springboard for her own story), but they also discuss her own ‘history’ with the characters and the interactions she had with them during her own quest.    This is a book that plays around with fact and fiction in a way that is partly genius and partly bizarre, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air for those looking for a change of pace.

2260048Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: Because along with informative footnotes, there are also citations to the works of ancient magicians, as well as texts by the characters themselves.  And even though people tell me this is a work of fiction, seeing John Segundus’ or Jonathan Strange’s name as the author of a text allows me to believe a little longer that they are, in fact, real in a world outside my head.

Postcard from London: On hometowns and homes

I might be a long way from home for a bit longer, but, as that odd, old song goes, “there’s always something there to remind me…” of home (and good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day, beloved readers).  It’s more than just the occasional glimpses of Red Sox hats, or that one guy on the Tube today wearing a Free Brady shirt, which gave me a hearty chuckle.  It’s being in a place that not only knows how to pronounce your hometown, but why the name of your hometown is so impressive.

ImageGenIf you’ve told someone from outside the metro-Boston area where you live, their first reaction is usually bafflement; apparently, the vast majority of the country would call our city Peeeee-BODY, as opposed to running all the consonants together like you’re chocking on overheated alphabet soup, as we tend to do.  But here in London, George Peabody’s adoptive home, his name is pronounced correctly with ease…and it is spoken with pride.

As many of you might know, George Peabody was born in what is now Peabody, but visited London beginning in 1827  in order to raise capital for American engineering and infrastructure projects, finally organizing “George Peabody & Co.” and settling in London permanently a decade later.  But it’s what he did after this that is truly important.  Having seen the devastation, anger and resentment churned up by the Civil War, and particularly the plight of the lower classes in the South firsthand, Peabody decided to go out and change the world.

In April 1862, Peabody founded the Peabody Donation Fund, which established quality, affordable housing for the “artisans and labouring poor” of London, and the first of these buildings opened in Spitalfields in 1864.  These houses were–and, frankly, still are–remarkable, because they were built on the premise that the lower classes deserved to live in a safe, clean, and modern environment, and that, in so doing, they would be more able to contribute to society in whatever way they chose to do.  These houses were among the first to have electricity, elevators, and indoor plumbing in the city.  They were run like a community, with classes being offered to residents about money-management, personal finances, and home care for first-time home owners.  They were warm, centrally located, and within the financial reach of a number of people who would otherwise be forced to live in the slums made notorious by Dickens, or in tales of Jack the Ripper.

From http://www.peabody.org.uk/
From http://www.peabody.org.uk/

And do you know what?  Those houses still exist today.  You can read about them here, on the Peabody Housing Authority website.  From that one building in Spitalfiends, Peabody’s vision has now become 31 housing estates, offering shelter, employment opportunities, and a sense of belonging to some 70,000 people.  And before you start thinking if this whole sense of niceness is overblown, I am here to tell you that it isn’t.  As I was walking back from the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell (an area of London very close to the financial heart of the City), I came upon the Peabody Estates of Clerkenwell, which were built in place of a slum in 1884.

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As you can see, these buildings are still lovely, and still really quite affordable, all things considered.  And, unlike a number of estates, they have windows, and walls thick enough to hold in heat and keep out street- and neighbor-noises.  Also, for those who think this all looks a little familiar, these buildings were used in the film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, because, according to director Terry Gilliam, they offered the most quintessentially “perfect London atmosphere”.  You can read a bit more about these buildings here.IMG_0541

Many of you may have seen photos of George Peabody’s statue in London (see below, too!).  It stand near the Royal Exchange, and was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1869.  George himself was too ill to attend, and when he died, some four months later, Queen Victoria permitted him temporary burial at Westminster Cathedral until arrangements could be made to send him to his final rest at home (for those who appreciate trivia, news of his funerals in London and Massachusetts were among the first news shared along the Transatlantic Telegraph Cables).

The statue is not only meant to commemorate Peabody’s impressive business acumen, which was considerable, but because he was, truly, the first modern philanthropist in history.  The Carnegies and the Gettys and the Gates of this world may receive more public credit, but, in this lifetime, George Peabody gave over $8 million (by his contemporary financial standards) in order to benefit people he would never meet.  People like him, who wanted more out of life–who wanted to learn and to create, and the chance to grow up and share what they learned with the world.  The fact that his memory is still so revered, on both sides of the Atlantic speaks to how successful he was in that endeavor.  And has made me pretty proud to tell people where I’m from, I can tell you that.

The man himself, sitting in the rain.
The man himself, sitting in the rain.

PS: For those of us who study the First World War, there’s a whole section on the Peabody Housing Authority’s website about Peabody and World War One.  I know I’m not the only one who finds this fascinating.

Staff Recommendations (Again)!

Near my flat in Stoke Newington is this adorable crunchy-granola, tree-hugging, insanely-delicious, surprisingly affordable all-natural food store (the actual name of the store is shorter, but my name is more descriptive…).  Anyways, one of the perks of working there, apparently, is free snacks for employees, and because the employees (and, happily, the customers) are all very nice people, that means that those employees tend to share their snacks.  Today, for example, while picking out tea and bread, I got to have some of Joel’s Korean-spiced rice puffs, and some of Caroline’s chocolate truffles.  Both of them told me that these products were some of their favorites, and though I never would have tried them without their recommendations, it turns out they were both pretty delicious.

Which got me to thinking…that’s kind of what happens at the Library sometimes (this is a torturous analogy, I know…bear with me here…).  We, obviously, get to read the books on the shelves, and sometimes we have the chance to share our particular favorites with our patrons, and they with us.  And we are both better for it, in the end.  So here are a few more savory staff selections for your delectation.  We hope they expand your reading palate a bit this week….

From the Children’s Room:

3562382Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This book is a haunting, beautiful, and chilling depiction of all those fears from childhood that you keep telling yourself that you’ve already overcome…monsters in the forest, voices in the shadows…all filtered through the imagination of award-winning cartoonist Emily Carroll.  The Irish Times raved “Carroll has a mainline to the reader’s psychic pressure points, the kind of fears and phobias that go all the way back to the cave. She also has the confidence to let her images do the work when it best serves the story … It’s a beautiful artefact, confidently written and lavishly designed. Just don’t bring it to bed.”

From the Circulation Desk: 

3521491I just finished reading The Bellweather Rhapsody, which was an unexpected joy of a book.  Part thriller, part mystery, part star-crossed romance, this story is told from the point of view of a number of different characters all stuck in an antiquated, dilapidated hotel for a statewide student orchestra conference–and trapped by an enormous snowstorm.  Fifteen years ago, a terrible crime cast a shadow over the Bellweather, and now it seems that same darkness has returned…but who is responsible?  And why now?  Kate Racculia keeps the tone light, but she has a magical way with words that will capture your heart and your imagination within a matter of paragraphs.

From the Director’s Desk:

I love a story that is witty and humane.  By that I mean that you get a great dose of humor, but the characters are portrayed as human, with funny weaknesses and character flaws that we recognize as universal.  Two examples of this are: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole  (heartbreaking and outrageously funny) and Empire Falls by Richard Russo.

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BONUS RECOMMENDATIONS FROM STEPHEN KING:

Book Riot recently posted some selections from Stephen King’s Twitter feed that I thought would be fun to share here, as well….Maybe one day we’ll get him to write a guest post for us….Dream big, right?

The Tweedy Man beside me on the bus was reading this today, so you don’t just have to take Mr. King’s word that Sarah Lotz’s Day Four is good reading.  But I would.

It’s a New England love-fest with this recommendation of Dennis Lehane’s World Gone Bythe third book in his Coughlin series.

Don Winslow’s two Art Keller novels: The Power of the Dog and The Cartel

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass