Rather than venture out to the movies this week, I thought instead we could take a ‘staycation’, as they are called, and flip on the TV instead to watch what is promising to be a stellar mini-series event: Poldark on Masterpiece Theater.

In my family, historic dramas such as this are measured on the ‘Hornblower Scale’, developed one stultifyingly hot week in the summer when everyone was too sweaty and tired to argue with me when I said we should all go sit in the cool basement and watch the Horatio Hornblower mini-series (which, naturally, I took out from the library).  My parents, who, up until then, supported my love of costume dramas, but didn’t necessarily enjoy them, were shocked to realize how much this series not only caught their interest, but kept it through every battle, every duel, and every cry of “black, bloody mutiny!”.  To this day, all period pieces are measured against Hornblower, and it is because Poldark rated so high on that scale that I bore you now with this tale.

After watching the first episode last Sunday, my father declared that this new adaptation, starring Irishman Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson (who appeared in the stellar series Death Comes to Pemberley), is “like Hornblower…with horses”.  Essentially, though this series takes place on land, and thus features neither warships nor fears of mutiny, the characters are exceptionally compelling, the drama is relatively fast-paced and engaging, and the end of each episode leaves you hungry for a little more.

TV-Programme-Poldark-Ross-played-by-Robin-Ellis-and-Demelza-Played-By-the-devine-Angharad-ReesLongtime fans of British drama may remember the first Poldark adaptation, which first aired on the BBC in the in 1975, starred Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross Poldark and Demelza (compare their photos at left to the modern adaptation above…the tradition is similar, but there is no doubt in my mind that that hair has more 1970’s than 1780 in it).  The series was wildly successful, making stars out of its lead actors, and earning some 14 million viewers a week; some pastors were even rumored to have canceled Sunday services so as not to clash with the airing of the episode, in those dark days before DVRs and the internet.  Considering the success of the original series, it’s understandable why it took so long to remake Poldark, but, thus far, the results seem quite promising.

2881327Both the 1970’s and the 2015 miniseries take their inspiration from Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, which begin with the return of Ross Poldark to his native Cornwall in 1783.  Ross was a soldier in the British Army during the American Revolution, and considered dead by many at home–including his beloved Elizabeth, whom he had expected to marry upon his return.  Instead, Ross finds his estate in utter disrepair, his fortunes depleted, and Elizabeth engaged to Ross’ wealthy cousin.  Furious, but undaunted, he focuses on restoring his name and his fortunes alone, and though he marries and has children, a part of his heart always belongs to Elizabeth.  Their tortured love affair is at the heart of many books in this series.

1157522Like C.S. Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower series (which is told out of chronological order, so start with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower), Winston Graham lived during the Second World War, writing at a time when the present seemed horribly dark, frightening, and alien.  Both authors attempted in their books to re-create a lost world and a time when human beings were…human; flawed and passionate and courageous in a way that they both missed terribly.  Forester had attended the Royal Naval College, and thus his hero was sent to sea.  Graham lived in Cornwall for some thirty years, and thus, Ross Poldark and his family inhabit that same area, and make it their own.  Both series stand the test of time, grabbing readers attention and forcing their heroes and heroines to confront tests, trials, heartbreak, and danger, without providing easy answers, and letting them make mistakes in a way that isn’t common in contemporary literature.

Though Forester stopped publishing books about Hornblower in 1967 (with The Last Encounter), Graham continued publishing stories about the Poldarks up until 2002, finishing the twelve-book series with Bella Poldark, a tale of Ross and Demelza’s headstrong younger daughter, set in 1820.  Along the way, he tackled some of the most noteworthy events in European history, including the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the epic Battle of Waterloo, which has a tragic effect on the Poldark family.  Each novel is stirring, and makes for fantastic summer reading, so come by and take Ross Poldark (and Horatio Hornblower) with you on your next getaway–I promise they will make your journey that much more memorable!

Saturdays @ the South: Children’s Books Revisited

dont-pigeon-hole-meAs I am an adult (in theory, anyway), I hadn’t read children’s books in quite some time. But having worked here at the South Branch for over a year now, I’ve found myself reacquainted with the art of the kids’ book. Talking to kids about what they like, reading the new books as they come in, finding new options for story times are part of what makes my job so amazing. In terms of the kids’ books, quite frankly, I’ve been enchanted and in a much different way then when I was reading those books as a kid. There is an enormous amount of talent out there from new authors who not only “get” kids, but can appeal to adults, too. Many modern children’s book authors seem to be able to give the adult, who will often be reading to the child, a quick “wink, wink” in a joke, or break the fourth wall or do something that little kids won’t always notice, simply because they don’t have the life experience to do so yet. This is what made shows like the Looney Tunes cartoons or The Muppet Show so successful. Adults and kids could enjoy them, and still do. (If you’ve ever searched Netflix to see if Bugs Bunny or Garfield cartoons are available, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) Kids’ books can have that same appeal.

The sheer variety of different types of kids’ books out there is staggering and this is a good thing! (Well, maybe not for those of us who have to pare down the list of truly great books to fit within our budget, but for readers it’s a good thing.) I’m a staunch proponent of letting kids read whatever they want. As long as they’re spending time enjoying reading, that’s what’s most important. The variety of kids’ books allows kids the opportunity to express themselves as readers and increases the likelihood that something will be there for them to connect with. Authors seem to be recognizing this more and more and are engaging kids in creative, genuinely fun ways.

But why on earth, on a blog that’s largely going be be read by adults, would I be touting the appeal of children’s books? Don’t I have any sense of who this audience is? What I think is that the people who come to this blog are open-minded readers, regardless of age. Having rediscovered the art of the picture book and the joyful simplicity of a kids’ story, I’ve come to realize that kids’ books should not be limited only to children (or only to those adults who have children) and here are a few reasons why:

1) Kids books are fun to read! Not only are children’s books broaching an incredible variety of topics, but they are designed to engage a reader. It doesn’t matter if your 5, 50 or 105; a good story is a good story. At least once a year, the Classics book group revisits a children’s classic (Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are among the titles we’ve discussed) and we always find these discussions to be lively and meaningful. Not only that, but we often find interpretations we couldn’t possibly have picked up on as kids, but are there nonetheless. It brings these books to a whole new level. Had we just left them in our childhood memories, we would never have discovered the pleasure and new themes that revisiting a kids’ book can bring.

2) Kids’ books are easy to read! Let’s face it, we all have those times when we want to read something about as challenging as a catalog. Children’s books are a great way to shift gears from an intense read or just to take a break from adulthood for a bit. (There’s a good reason why Classics schedules the children’s read for December, during the peak of holiday madness.) Silly stories are often the best for this type of a break and if there’s one thing that kids’ books know how to do well, it’s make someone laugh. The best ones will make you laugh while making you just a little uncomfortable for laughing at such a thing. Plus there’s no pressure to write a book report when you’ve finished.

3) Kids books are art! Children’s literature is not written or illustrated by kids (usually). Children’s literature is created by adults: adults who have sophisticated views of the world and who are talented enough to crystallize complexity into something simple and meaningful. Illustrators are artists, many of whom have higher education to achieve such skills. If your starting to second-guess me on this one, please feel free to check out The Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Western MA. Named after picture book creator and legend Eric Carle, this museum celebrates picture books not only as literature that can engage children (and adults- lest we forget the point of this post) but as honest-to-goodness art that deserves to be put in such a location and admired both in and out of it’s picture book context. Need more proof? Celebrated picture book creator Mo Willems (and all-round, utter genius, at least in my humble opinion) has had exhibits of his work at the R. Michelson Galleries (also in Western MA) and is currently on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. As a matter of fact, not all of his art on display is even related to picture books, further supporting my statement that illustrators are artists in their own right. If you still don’t believe me, check out Don’t Pigeonhole Me: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook, a brilliant book of Willems’ art designed for adults and definitely not suitable for children, but has all of the qualities that make his children’s books so amazing.

If I’ve convinced you to try a children’s title or two, here are a few places you can start; and if I haven’t convinced you, here are a few books that I think adults can easily enjoy:


Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

3246428Pearls before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis wrote a book (actually a series of books) and just like his comic strip, they are hilarious. Timmy Failure (yes, that’s his last name) is just trying to make his private detective business be the most successful ever, but things like school, his mom and his friends seem to keep getting in the way. His best friend is a polar bear named Total (yup, Total Failure). Is he an imaginary friend? Does Timmy really tame and befriend a polar bear? These are things that kids may not pick up on, but adults probably will. Regardless of the polar bear’s status, he’s my favorite character in the book. It got me laughing out loud and as far as I’m concerned, that makes it a good read at any age.


I Totally Funniest by James Patterson

3583107Love him or hate him for his adult fiction, James Patterson actually writes some pretty decent kids’ fiction. It’s funny, it’s charming, it covers problems kids may actually have to deal with in there lives, but there’s a certain level of an adult perspective here that is appealing. There’s also a certain level of fantasy that keeps the problems from hitting too close to home. It’s a well-crafted book and worth giving a a try.


That Is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems

3320283This is a lesser known work of Willems’s but like all of his books, it’s written with a rare combination of glee, sophistication, silliness and surprise. Where else can you find a silent film style picture book with fairy tale-like critters and a punchline that will leave even the most jaded adult cracking up. Whatever the book might tell you, Mo Willems is ALWAYS a good idea.


I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klaussen

3132745This book and its similar but not-quite-a-sequel This Is Not My Hat are amazingly sophisticated works. Funny, poignant and with great artwork, these books will also leave adults doing a bit of a double take wondering: “That didn’t really just happen in a kids book, did it?” Do I have you intrigued? Good! Go read it.


One of the best things about libraries is that you can read whatever you want in a judgment-free zone. So go forth this weekend and experiment. Read a chapter book, laugh at wacky picture book antics and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. You’ll be glad you did.

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, Beloved Patrons!  As most of you are planning long weekends or holidays by the seashore, or, like me, are contemplating what to read on an upcoming plane ride, this week’s Five Book Friday features some fiction to keep you entertained as you soak up the sun…or keep you from fidgeting until you get there, wherever ‘there’ might be!

3634625Royal Wedding: A Princess Diaries Novel: Princess Mia is all grown up in this first ‘adult’ installment of Meg Cabot’s best-selling Princess Diaries series.  Set five years after Mia’s college graduation, this book not only deals with the plans of Mia’s wedding with Michael, but the royal scandals that threaten far more than their big day.  Reviewers and fans alike seem genuinely pleased with this addition to the series, and the way that Mia not only fulfills her royal obligations, but also finds a way to fulfill her own dreams, as well. Kirkus gave this book a starred review, saying “Fans who grew up with Mia will relish this opportunity to spend more time in her world. This funny, heartwarming story is royally perfect from start to finish.”

3605806The Long Utopia: Following the heartbreaking death of master storyteller Terry Pratchett, it is probably safe to speculate that this Long Earth book, as ever co-written with the great Stephen Baxter,  may very well be the last.  Set in the 2040-2050’s, this fourth  sci-fi series installment sees characters attempting to adapt to life on Datum Earth grapple with the changes fate has thrown in their path, until an alien population emerges, determined to conquer the Long Earth.  A review from the Guardian say “if the pace of plotting is gentle, the restless inventiveness more than compensates”, which sounds like the perfect book for those looking to do a little escaping this weekend.

3621509Death and Mr. Pickwick: The premise of this novel is a bit difficult to grasp, but the result, according to sundry reviewers and readers, is stellar.  Essentially, author Stephen Jarvis not only re-creates the origins of Dickens’ classic Pickwick Papers, looking not only at Dickens himself, but his characters and publishers, as well, but he also looks at the world that Pickwick created.  Told in a series of vignettes, scenes, and stories, this hefty book is packed with historic research, fantastic details, and is rich with imagination and dedication.  For fans of Dickens and Anglophiles of all stripes, this certainly seems like a book not to be missed.

3605807Love May Fail: Fans of Matthew Quick’s beloved Silver Linings Playbook are sure to find lots to love in this book–it seems to embody a similar spirt, with that same quirky, moving, plot line, told with a light and deft touch.  In this tale, Portia Kane’s existence is turned upside down when she leaves her cheating husband and ritzy Florida life and returns to her roots in South Jersey, and redeems herself by working to save her former English teacher.  This is a tale that might well be close to Quick’s heart–a former teacher himself, Booklist notes that he “…nails the symbiotic student-teacher relationship, with all of its attendant baggage, squarely on the head in this engaging slice-of-life dramedy with definite big-screen potential.”

2140799Light in August: Corrected Text:  Though clearly not a new book, we have had to order a number of new copies of this book to fill the supply for our Discussion Series beginning on June 29 at 7:30pm!  Faulkner’s 1932 classic is certainly one of the most unique works of American fiction, and Professor Theoharis is one of the most insightful, engaging, and welcoming speakers you will ever hope to meet.  His discussion series is sure to change your perception of the text, not to mention life, the universe, and everything else in the process.  The result is a series not to be missed, so make sure to register for this event, and check out your copy of this text as soon as possible!

Safe and happy travels!  Seriously, remember the sunscreen!

Seriously, where is that map?…Another wanderer’s If/Then….


It is really, truly one of the highlights of my day when a patron comes in and shares that they are enjoying our little endeavor here with this blog.  It makes my week, if not my whole month, when they share their own suggestions in response to some of our posts.  And it seems that last week’s If/Then post inspired some of our beloved patrons to share their own picks for books about exploration…generally exploration gone wrong…and adventuring.

It was also pointed out that most of our selections last week dealt primary with tropical, or at least, extraordinarily hot, climates.  Thankfully, we have some remedies for this, as well, for those of you who prefer the air conditioning to the sultry summer sun, or the alien expanses of the Arctic tundra to the otherworldly environs of the jungle.  I don’t know about most of you, but I find the descriptions of these frozen terrains far more unsettling…the emptiness of these landscapes, and what that silence can do to people is often more terrifying than the constant energy of the tropics–but it is out of such material that some of the best adventures are made!

So, without further ado, here are your picks, beloved patrons, for another round of books to settle your wanderlust….

If you liked last week’s post regarding books about exploration (and disaster), Then check out…

3458717Annihilation: The first book in a genuinely unique trilogy, Jeff Van Der Meer’s book is a very strange, but fascinating blend of sci-fi, speculative fiction, and horror that wraps the reader up and holds them captive.  Set in the mysterious land known as Area X, a land beyond civilization, full of disease and unknown peril, this is the story of the twelfth expeditionary party–comprised exclusively of women–sent to map the terrain and collect specimens.  However, as each member of the party documents the world around them, and the changes going on in the group itself, it grows harder and harder to tell whether the contamination lies in Area X, or in the people who have travelled there.  If you enjoy this book, be sure to check out Authority and Acceptance, to find out what happens in the rest of this bizarre adventure!

2323750River of Doubt: Candice Millard is a remarkably gifted story-teller, and this account of Theodore Roosevelt’s trip down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon following his defeat in the 1912 election is a harrowing, inspiring, and utterly gripping tale that has been hailed by library staff and patrons alike.  Though there are aspects of Roosevelt’s biography and his attitudes towards contemporary issues that make him something of a problematic subject, but there is no doubt that what he accomplished on this journey, both personally and publicly is admirable and remarkable.  Not only did he change the map of the Amazon forever, Roosevelt was forced to confront his own mortality during this journey–a moment that Millard is able to capture with subtlety and power, setting this story apart from many other works of popular history.  For those who enjoy audiobooks, the recording of this book also comes very high recommended!

2643713At the Mountains of Madness: This was a selection from the Main Library’s Classics Book Group several years ago that I simply adored.  H.P. Lovecraft has always been a favorite of mine, but this book was something different from his usual fare.  Lovecraft suffered from night terrors, and used the visions he saw as the basis for his stories.  As a result, the monster and other horrors he describes are usually intense and vividly described.  The terror in this book, however, lies in his manipulation of the reader’s imagination.  The story is told through the eyes of Dr. William Dyer, the head of a doomed expedition to Antarctica, describing the odd buildings, strange writings, and inexplicable horrors that he and his partner witnessed–and it is that very inexplicability that makes this story so chilling.  In forcing the reader the render their own nightmares, this book can be anything you want it to be–or anything you dread that it might me.

1592720Into Thin Air: This is another recommendation from one of our patrons…In 1996, journalist Jon Krakauer was sent to cover an expedition to the top of Mount Everest, an experience he had always dreamed of accomplishing.  The reality of the trip, however, was truly dreadful.  Krakauer was present during the ‘Mount Everest Disaster’, when eight climbers were killed and several other stranded in the overwhelming storms that raged across the slopes.   Oxygen deprivation at the time, and grief following the event colored Krakauer’s initial piece, leading to a number of tragically false errors.  This book is his attempt to set the record straight in terms of what happened on Everest during that trek, as well as an explanation of the inhuman conditions of Everest, and the super-human effort it takes to climb it.  This is a book that will leave you gasping, exhausted, and exhilarated; even for those with a knowledge or memory of the events described will find plenty here to learn, and plenty of moments over which to marvel.

3105391Into the Silence : the Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest: For those of you who can’t get enough of Everest, here is another tale of heroism and disaster to read in the safety of your own armchair.  On June 6, 1924, Colonel George Mallory, Britain’s premier mountain climber, and his comrade, Sandy Irvine, disappeared somewhere near the top of Mount Everest (it is for Mallory that the final approach to Everest’s summit is named).  This is the story not only of this expedition, but of the world that Mallory left behind to climb the mountain–a world that had recently been ravaged by the First World War, and was desperate for hope and for heroism.  Mallory’s courage and resiliency, both in the war and on Everest, captured the imagination of Great Britain, making his disappearance that much more significant.  This is a book for history buffs and adventurers alike, providing a story that is both touchingly sympathetic and intellectually fascinating.

Keep those recommendations coming, and keep exploring, beloved patrons!

Wednesdays @ the West: Go tiny & go home

Note: The  Think Big, Go Small: The Tale of a Massachusetts Tiny House program at the West Branch has been rescheduled for Thursday, August 6th at 7pm.

Whether you currently live in a 800 square foot apartment, a 1,400 square foot townhouse or a 2,600 square foot house, would you ever consider downsizing to a home of 84, 116, 210 or even 360 square feet?  A growing number of people are doing just that and in the process becoming part of what’s known as the tiny house movement.

Who exactly would want to live in a tiny house (and the definition of tiny varies, but is usually considered under 400 or 500 sq feet)?  This infographic from 2013 provides one of the first and only snapshots of the people who currently make up the tiny house community.  But their numbers are growing.  And they are attracting attention.  There are now two television shows dedicated to houses of the tiny variety:  the FYI network has Tiny House Nation and HGTV has debuted Tiny House Hunters.


Chris Page’s tiny house

Since the Peabody Institute Library is on a quest to make sure that you, our beloved community, are kept well informed about all matters important, interesting and fun, the West Branch is hosting its own tiny house event.  Chris Page of Andover will be at the West on Thursday, July 16th at 7 pm for Think Big, Go Small: The Tale of a Massachusetts Tiny House.  The owner of a 210 square foot home, Chris will talk about his process of researching, building and living in a tiny house.  Chris will discuss building costs, systems, and lessons learned over the course of the project.  A question and answer period will follow.  If you’d like to join us for this event, you can sign up at the West Branch events calendar.

How did tiny houses first cross our radar?  Well, your friendly West Branch Librarian (i.e. me) is, unabashedly, a huge tiny house geek.  While the tiny house movement has really been gaining steam over the past few years, I was first intrigued ten years ago when I came across a company selling tiny houses.  These particular homes were called wee houses and looked very much like a shipping container converted into a house (and there is a type of tiny house now that is exactly that).  Then Jay Shafer started Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, which despite their diminutive size, actually look like real houses.  And the Tiny House Blog was launched and fed my obsession even more.  Today, tiny house enthusiasts, and there are more than you might think, can lose entire days to websites like Tiny House Swoon or Tiny House Listings.  Not that I’ve ever done that.

Motivations for going tiny vary depending on the individual’s or family’s situation.  Often cited reasons include the desire to not have a mortgage payment, the freedom to move your house at will and/or concern about your environmental impact.  Noble goals, all of them, but jumping into tiny house living isn’t easy.  One of the major stumbling blocks for potential tiny housers is the issue of where to park their domiciles.  Most tiny houses are on wheels and are legally considered RVs.  In fact part of Chris Page’s tiny living story is his search for a community that will legally allow him to live in his 200 square foot home.  Perhaps now that he’s gotten some ink in the Boston Globe about his search, he will find his dream location.  The newly formed American Tiny House Association, which advocates to change local zoning laws, is also hoping to help tiny house dwellers like Chris.

And in fact, Chris Page isn’t the only tiny houser with local ties.  The Greater Boston Tiny House Enthusiasts Meetup Group has 624 members.  And one teacher from St. John’s Prep is actually living the tiny dream.  His story was also shared this year in the Globe.

Anyway, if you are as intrigued by small space living as I am, you will, of course, wish to dive into the available media.  You could start with  the “classics” of tiny houses: Tiny, tiny houses by Lester Walker (published back in 1987) or Tiny Homes: simple shelters by Lloyd Kahn.

Then you may wish to move on to the stories of people who have taken the plunge and gone tiny themselves.  For this, you should start with:

bigtinyThe Big Tiny a memoir by Dee Williams




tinythemovieAnd then you’ll want to move on to the documentary about tiny house living: Tiny: a story about living small


One you’re ready to join the fun personally, and start dreaming and living tiny, check out:

tinyhousefloorplansTiny House Floor Plans by Michael Janzen




tinyhouselivingTiny House Living: ideas for building and living well in less than 400 square feet by Ryan Mitchell



tinyhomesonthemoveTiny Homes on the Move: wheels and water by Lloyd Kahn



If nothing else, you’ll be well informed when tiny houses start appearing in a neighborhood near you.

“Just get us through this inning”…

The year 1917 was a difficult one worldwide.  The First World War was draining the finances, manpower, and morale all the major European nations; the United States was dealing with an economic slump; the Russian Empire was crumbling under the weight of poor leadership and the rising tide of young revolutionaries.  But on June 23, 1917 (exactly 98 years ago today), something remarkable happened that captured the attention of baseball fans across the United States, and has remained part of baseball lore to this day.

The Boston Globe headline featuring Shore's achievement, June 23, 1917
The Boston Globe headline featuring Shore’s achievement, June 23, 1917

On that day, Babe Ruth took the mound to pitch the first game of a doubleheader between the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Senators. Umpire Brick Owens called Ruth’s first four pitches balls and awarded first base to the batter, Ray Morgan, setting off Ruth’s notoriously short temper.  When Owens ejected both Ruth and his catcher, Pinch Thomas from the game. Ruth replied by slugging the umpire, for which he would later be fined $100 and suspended for ten games.  With no notice, the Red Sox were forced to bring in Ernie Shore, a 24-year-old pitcher who had posted a 1.64 ERA in the 1915 World Series, to fill in for Ruth.  With no time to warm up or throw any practice pitches, manager Jack Barry advised Shore, “just get us through this inning.”

Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore, 1917
Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore, 1917

During Shore’s opening pitch, Ray Morgan (who remained on first base during this whole brouhaha), tried to steal second.  The new Red sox catcher, Sam Agnew, threw him out, registering the first out of the game.

But Ernie Shore didn’t need any help after that.  He retired the next 26 Senators who took the mound without allowing a single baserunner.  The game was originally listed as a perfect game (one of the most difficult achievements in baseball), but because Babe Ruth technically threw the first pitch of the game, it was recorded as a shared ‘no-hitter’ between Ruth and Shore.  It was the first combined no-hitter in baseball history, and among the first among standing American League Teams still in existence today.

Shore missed the 1918 season because he enlisted in the military once the United States entered the First World War, and he was sold to the New York Yankees by then-manager Harry Frazee in 1919, a year before the infamous trade of Babe Ruth.  Though he ended his career as a Yankee, it’s his performance with the Red Sox that secured him a place in the record books.  With the announcement of the retirement of Pedro Martinez’s number on July 28, today seemed like a fitting time to celebrate the pitchers who have made the Red Sox great.  And, frankly….it’s nice to have a good story to tell about the Red Sox these days, right?

If you’re looking to add some more baseball to your summer (with endings that won’t make you want to hit things and cry), here are some selections from our catalog:

3138684Fenway 1912 : the birth of a ballpark, a championship season, and Fenway’s remarkable first year: Glenn Stout’s book turns the focus away from the storied Red Sox to their equally-famous field, telling the story about the construction and creation of Fenway Park, beginning with the frigid day on which locals poured the cement foundation to the first World Series game, when grass was still being coaxed out of the recalcitrant Boston soil.  This is a book for baseball fan everywhere, but locals are sure to find a world of fun facts, stories, and personalities in these pages to savor–and it is sure to make any visit to Fenway this summer that much more entertaining!

2750514The Given Day: Dennis Lehane, plain and simple, is one of my favorite authors alive today, and this novel proved that he is as talented at writing epic historic fiction as he is at high-tension thrillers and mysteries.  A subtle, thought-provoking tale set just after the First World War, Lehane spins a tale of two families, one black and one white, who are caught up in the tides of history, including the Great Flu Epidemic and the Boston Police Strike of 1919.  Intertwined in this stories are real-life historic figures, not the least of which is Babe Ruth himself, a character who is both tragic and gripping in a way only Lehane can convey.

2025796The Catcher Was a Spy : The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg: This is quite the quirky book, but its a terrific piece of history for baseball fans, students of espionage and history alike.  In this book, Nicholas Dawidoff uncovers the story of Moe Berg, not only had a 15-year career in baseball, catching for the Chicago White Sox and the now defunct New York Robins, but who  was also a spy for OSS during the Second World War.  Dawidoff emphasizes Berg’s incredible intellect: the man spoke upwards of 18 languages and read at least 10 newspapers a day, making him an ideal spy, ferreting out German nuclear secrets and corralling European scientists once the war was over.  For those looking for a different kind of baseball history, this is definitely one to check out.

2275642Faithful : two diehard Boston Red Sox fans chronicle the historic 2004 season: Those who think the era of correspondence is dead needs to read this book.  Largely made up of emails between writers Stewart O’Nan and my beloved Stephen King, this is a book that allows readers to revel in the highs and lows, the heartache and the beauty of the unforgettable 2004 season.  King and O’Nan manage to capture all the angst, anger, hope, and elation of fans everywhere in this book, but the charm in this book is in its unedited, unpolished structure.  King and O’Nan become everyman-fans in this book, giving us all a voice.  For an added treat, check out the audiobook, read by King and O’Nan with impressive verve and passion.

2373673Field of Dreams: I can’t talk about baseball without citing this film.  Rather than explain why, here is the monologue you will remember (the quote below has been edited for space.  Do yourself a favor, and watch the full performance here.)

People will come, Ray…And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.


A word about the Library…


I know that Sundays are when we usually talk about books and movies, but today, I think it’s important to take a moment and reflect on the power of libraries in our communities, especially in difficult times.  libraries are always terrific resources; always sources of fun and learning.  But they are so much more, besides.  Time and time again, we see libraries and librarians bringing communities together in the midst of tragedy and adversity, and today is the day to celebrate the good they do in the hardest of times.

Tragically, this week, Cynthia Hurd, manager of St. Andrews Regional Library branch of the Charleston County Public Library, was killed at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Hurd worked at the St. Andrews Library for 31 years, and, according to an article from Library Journal, was also the longest serving part-time librarian at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library.  Reflections on her and her work have been pouring in, noting how she encouraged children to read, to work on homework assignments, and college applications and, how later, those patrons returned to the library with children of their own.  In a quote from the Charleston Post and CourierKim Odom, manager of the nearby John Dart branch library, (and a patron of Hurd’s library as a child) said:

“She really opened up to me what library service meant,” Odom said. “(It’s) not just a building where you come for storytime but a place where you really can get help … whether it is helping someone with a resume or helping them use a computer a little bit better.”

In Dr. ZhivagoBoris Pasternak wrote, “You in others–this is your soul. This is what you are…your life in others.”  In reading about Hurd’s dedication to her job, and to her patrons, about the lives she touched and changed for the better, it is clear the memory she left behind is one that will long be remembered, even as we learn that the St. Andrews library is to be renamed in Hurd’s honor.

Another reminder of the power of libraries came several weeks ago, when the Ferguson Public Library was named the Library of the Year by Library Journal.  Even during the most turbulent days in that town, the Ferguson Library remained the one agency in town to keep its doors open and support all its citizens.  Teachers held classes there when schools were closed, and the library hosted educational programming for some 200 children in a nearby church during the day; the U.S. Small Business Administration set up a temporary disaster loan outreach center there for business owners; but most importantly, the library remained a space where people could talk, could share, and could begin to rebuild.  With the donations that came pouring into the library during this time, Library Director Scott Bonner, established a collection of books on community development and problem solving.  He also placed a call to Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library during the unrest there in April, supporting the library’s decision to remain open even when other schools and other business were closed to the public.

A sign at the entrance of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.
A sign at the entrance of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

In recognition of his work, Bonner was awarded the second annual Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, an award established by the American Library Association, and Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler.  Along with a cash prize, the recipient of this award is also given “an odd, symbolic object”.  As Handler has yet to accept his award, we’re not sure what he’ll be getting, but if last year’s award is any indication, it will be deeply meaningful, as well as unique.

The first recipient of the Lemony Snicket Award was Laurence Copel, the founder of the Lower 9th Ward Street Library in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Copel first saw the Lower 9th Ward, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, in 2009.  After noting how little progress was being made on rebuilding the area, and the lack of support for the people living there, she left her job at the New York Public Library and moved to New Orleans with a suitcase full of children’s books in June, 2010.  She accepted donations and peddled her bike around local neighborhoods, handing out books and reading to children all summer long.  Through her outreach work and fundraising (including a Book Parade that features kids dressed as their favorite literary characters), Copel has recently opened a brick-and-mortar library, and debuted a bookmobile that doesn’t require peddles.  In recognition of her work, Copel’s “odd” object from Mr. Snicket was a platter, illustrated by Mo Willems, beloved author of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and so very much more, showing her on her book bike.


I don’t know if there are words to adequately express the heartbreak that we have faced in the news recently, or how we are to move on appropriately.  What I can do is reiterate the words of the very wise Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

These librarians are the helpers.  Their libraries have provided a haven for good, even in the scariest of time.  And while we know very well how lucky we are everyday, we, too, want to be the helpers.  Today, we can do that by saluting these brave, intrepid, and honorable librarians and the work that they do.

To learn more about the Library of the Year Award, click here.

To learn more about the Lemony Snicket Award, click here.

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