Tag Archives: News!

How did we miss this?!


In the flurry of excitement over the release of Go Set a Watchman, we managed to neglect another enormous release of a previous unknown manuscript…Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get.  And perhaps because this release opened with considerably less controversy than Harper Lee’s newest, we can delight in this book with undiluted, childlike joy.


Theodor Seuss Geisel was apparently quite a multi-tasker, and a notorious perfectionist, who would tinker endlessly at a project before passing it along to his people at Random House.  As a result, when he passed away on September 24, 1991, there were a number of boxes in his studio set aside, including an envelope labeled “Noble Failures”, which were filled with illustrations that never found their way into his stories. I loved reading about this revelation, by the way.  Isn’t it better to keep those bits and pieces of life in a special place where they can be respected and remember, rather than consign them to a trash bin?  You never know when they will be just the piece you need, after all….

It is precisely because Dr. Seuss kept all these ideas within easy reach that we are able to read What Pet Should I Get?  It turns out that a number of boxes had been moved around when the Geisel family’s house in La Jolla, California, was being renovated, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey (now 93, and still running the Seuss estate), and long-time assistant Claudia found a number of projects in an un-explored box.  Included in that box was a series of illustrations with rhyming captions–enough to make a full book about a brother and sister who feel overwhelmed upon their visit to a pet shop.  1327724The archivists at Random House eventually realized that this book was written sometime between 1950 and 1960, around the same time that Dr. Seuss was working on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  But because Geisel had such a meticulous process when it came to constructing a book, Audrey and Claudia turned to the only person still working at Random House who had known Dr. Seuss…Cathy Goldsmith.  You can read more about the incredibly painstaking process that led to the creation of the book in this terrific article from The New York Times, including how Goldsmith and her crew of miracle workers figured out the final text from reading Seuss’ rhymes out loud to see which words fit best, and how they resolved the issue of the books’ ambiguous ending.

Random House announced that some 200,000 copies of the book sold within a week of its release…perhaps not the 1.1 million copies that Watchman sold, but for a children’s book, this is still quite remarkable.  But the best part is the joy with which this book has been welcomed into Dr. Seuss’ canon, which includes 46 other classics like Green Eggs and Ham and The Loraxor my favorite, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (check it out, it’s awesome!). 2321575 Unlike Watchman, the very public respect, love, and delight that everyone involved exhibited while putting this book together makes it so much easier to read a book that Dr. Seuss may never have chosen to show the world.  There’s always a sticky moral conundrum over whether to publish a work that an author never intended to see the light of day, but Audrey Geisel and Cathy Goldsmith both put their whole hearts into making this book a worthy tribute to its creator, and ensuring that it would meet even his exacting standards.

Just as comforting is the realization that between the pages of this book, readers will find exactly what they were expecting: inspiring illustrations, bright, vivid colors, and rollicking rhymes that will have you inadvertently speaking in verse for hours afterward.  Dr. Seuss may have written books for children, but he never pandered, and he never spoke down to them.  In treating them like little adults, he helped generations of children develop their imaginations and their vocabularies–generations who will be able to enjoy this new book with their children, as well.  So come in an check out what is probably the last ‘new’ Dr. Seuss book to hit our shelves–and find a few more, perhaps, to treasure, as well!

Five Reasons to be Super-Excited About the Man Booker Prize


On Wednesday, the Long List of the Man Booker Prize was announced, marking the start of three months of speculation, drama, and bookish excitement.  Though originally an award for British authors, this award is now given for the best book written in English, regardless of the nation of the author or publisher (though it is still judged and awarded in England).  The short list will be announced in September, and the final winner will be announced in October.  For those of you yet to become acquainted with this prize, here are five reasons to be excited about the Man Booker Prize:


1) It’s a book award!  And book awards always mean that a list of fabulous books is to follow.  The Man Booker Prize may tout that it is “the leading prize for high quality literary fiction written in English”, which, since 1969, has awarded prizes to the likes of Hilary Mantel, Salman Rushdie, and Eleanor Catton, but the truth of the matter is that the Man Booker Prize likes books for the same reason that we do: because these books are incredible, moving, surprising, thought-provoking, insightful, and fundamentally different.

2) It’s a big, dramatic deal.  In September, this list gets whittled down, and the short-listed authors received a £2,500 cash award and a specially-bound copy of their work.  The final winner gets a further £50,000.  And sales of their book are all-but-guaranteed to rise dramatically.  This is a huge social achievement for all the long-listed authors, and a huge boost for their work.

3) It’s a big deal outside of the book world, too.  Once upon a time, I lived near a book-makers shop in London, and throughout the summer and early fall, they took bets on horses…and on books.  The odds changed regularly, and as the short list was announced, there were people outside who were as excited about the books as any other competition out there.  If you don’t believe me, here is the site to track odds against current authors.

4) This year is particularly awesome; out of the thirteen titles listed, seven were written by women.  As we discussed a while back, considering that literary awards tend to overwhelming favor men, this is a pretty nifty fact–and a very hopeful trend.  Additionally, there are seven countries represented, as well (this is the second year that the award has been open to English books published outside Britain and its Commonwealth).  With stories from India, Ireland, Morocco, and the US, among others, and wide range of perspectives offered, this award really represents a huge range of experience and are sure to make the competition that much more interesting.

5) The NOBLE network has copies of (nearly) every book on this long-list for your reading pleasure (some have yet to be released in the US).  Check them out below!

Tom McCarthy: Satin Island

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Marilynne Robinson: Lila

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings

Chigozie Obioma: The Fishermen

Anne Enright: The Green Road

Andrew O’Hagan: The Illuminations

Laila Lalami: The Moor’s Account

Sunjeev Sahota: The Year of the Runaways (Publication Date: March 1, 2016)

Anuradha Roy: Sleeping on Jupiter (Awaiting US publication)

Bill Clegg: Did You Ever Have a Family (Awaiting US publication)

Anna Smaill: The Chimes (Awaiting US publication)

Isn’t It Romantic?

If you haven’t heard, there are a number of devoted fans of the Romance genre here at the library.   And for those of you looking for a good romance novel to get acquainted with the genre, or a new book to enjoy, or just want to see what happens when NPR asks readers for their favorite romance novels, here is a list of 100 crowd-sourced “Swoon-Worthy Romances”.

Personally, I was genuinely surprised to see how many historical romances were on the list.  On the one hand, I adore historic romances, for a number of reasons, so I was quite excited.  On another hand, having worked in publishing for several years and being told, over and over and over again that “historic romances are dead” and that no one wants to read them anymore, this was a marvelous vindication.  On a mysterious third hand, there are a world of contemporary romances that are super-sensational, so I was surprised they didn’t get recognized.  However, there is always time for more lists, I suppose…In fact, perhaps we at the library can start our own?…..Hmmmm….

In any case, for those interested in how this list was put together, and by whom, you can check out this article here, written by NPR’s panelists, explaining why some books didn’t make the list, including a very interesting explanation of why Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books, which were the first to be considered ‘modern romances’ were left out, which really shows how far the genre has come in a relatively short amount of time.

And for those looking for some titles at the library, here are a few from NPR’s list in our collection:

NOTE: The Library's cover is an updated one, but this one is too gorgeous not to post ;)
NOTE: The Library’s cover is an updated one, but this one is too gorgeous not to post 😉

Lord of Scoundrels: Loretta Chase’s classic is probably the best example of the historic romance genre, and one of the most surprising, fun romance novels you will read, featuring a headstrong, determined young woman who agrees to marry an ugly, selfish, arrogant Lord in order to save her brother from his mounting debts.  The banter between these protagonists is gloriously clever, but their love story is one that will change both them, and readers, in the end.


2698785The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie: This is a book that challenges any number of assumptions that tend to be made about the romance genre; the heroine is a widow who was very happy with her husband, and carries very fond memories of him; the hero would today most likely be considered autistic, but that makes him no less heroic, and no less worthy of love.  In fact, it makes him even better.  Watching these two come together is an intense and emotional journey that won’t soon be forgotten.  Best of all, Jennifer Ashely has penned a whole series around the Mackenzie family, and each book is definitely worth a read.

3157912A Lady Awakened: Cecelia Grant’s book is a revelation–and a bit of a revolution, in terms of the genre.  Desperate to keep her tenants nad estate safe from the clutches of her misogynist brother-in-law, widow Martha Russell buys the services of a local gentleman in order to get pregnant (a pregnant widow could not be cast off her property, because she might be carrying the heir to the estate).  Theophilus Mirkwood (best name ever!) isn’t scarred or damaged, he isn’t arrogant or alpha-male-ish at all.  He’s sweet, easy-going, and generally well-adjusted.  Martha’s chilly reserve and general cynicism over love give him a reason to keep coming back–and their ensuing relationship is simply unforgettable.

3245453The Chocolate Kiss: This book should come with a warning label.  Have a ready supply of snacks nearby whilst reading, or suffer the consequences.  This story of two rival chocolatiers, one of whom becomes a cat-burglar…or, more to the point, as cat-chocolate-maker, is all kinds of steamy and spicy and delightful, but the descriptions of the Paris setting, and the sensual descriptions of the chocolate will lingers long, long after the final pages have turned.

The best part of this list is that there is also a category for classics, like Jane Eyre (yay!), North and South (loud cheers!) and The Far Pavilions, all of which very rightly deserve spots on this list as well.

So there you are, beloved patrons.  We hope there is something on this list for you, but feel free to let us know your favorites, as well!  Happy reading!

In other news…Pluto!


Outside of the Book World, it turns out that some other things happened this week aside from the publication of a certain book….We got to meet Pluto for the first time!  The sight of the dwarf planet itself is second in my books only to all the happy scientists who have seen their hard work, intelligence, hopes, and dreams pay off, more than nine years of waiting (and Bill Nye was there, too!).

We’ve talked here before about the wonder and danger of exploration, and wandering off the map, and it seems like there are few greater adventures than outer space.  And learning that the New Horizons spacecraft travelled 3 billion miles to get to Pluto, and has plans to travel even father still is simply mind-boggling.  This piano-sized spacecraft has managed to make it to the edge of the solar system, the edge of our knowledge, around meteor belts, comets, space rocks, possibly Dr. Who, on its way past the farther point in the universe we know (which, up to yesterday, was Neptune, which we saw for the first time in 1989), and given us all a reason to dream of what is might show us next.

Perhaps the greatest part of the story is that onboard New Horizons are the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930, at the age of 24.  It’s fascinating to think of how short our relationship with Pluto has been, overall, but it looks like that relationship is about to get pretty interesting….

So for all of you who, like, me, think the pictures coming back from New Horizon are just the coolest things ever, here is a list of space exploration/adventure themed materials to check out during your next library visit….

If you like Pluto, Then be sure to check out…

3459381The Martian:  A best-seller upon its release, Andy Weir’s book as received a new wave of attention thanks to the upcoming release of the film adaptation starring Matt Damon (you can see the trailer here).  This is the story of Mark Watney, the first man to walk on Mars–and the man who has been abandoned on Mars after a dust storm separated him from his team.  But Watney isn’t content to sit and wait for the inevitable–he is going to live now for the chance to go home.  This is a great book because, despite the sheer existential terror of being the only human being on an entire planet, the tension inherent our hero’s quest, and the depth of detail that Weir built into this story, neither he not his hero Watney ever lose their sense of humor over the course of this epic human endurance story.  Nor does it lose its respect for duct tape.  What more could you want in a book?

2913524Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void: Author Mary Roach writes some of the most unexpected popular science around today.  Her topics range from the science of taste and eating to the search for ghosts and the afterlife, but each book so intensely engaging, quirky, and enlightening, making them perfectly light, educating reading.  This book tackles those questions about space travel that we’ve all wondered, but never actually asked: how do astronauts go to the bathroom in reduced gravity?  Can they take a shower?  But beyond these answers, Roach also writes about the considerable physical and psychological difficulties that astronauts face, and how looking into the unknown makes us all confront our own humanity differently.  A must read for anyone who ever dreamed of the stars.

2299772The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Books like The Martian are considered ‘hard science fiction’, in that they deal with actual details about space travel, planetary science, etc.,  Douglas Adams’ classic is not quite the same thing, dealing as it does with the bulldozing of earth to create an intergalactic freeway, and the erstwhile human, Arthur Dent, who gets picked up seconds before the end.  This is one of my favorite books in the world, for so many reasons.  It’s funny, ridiculous (the send-up of human and alien bureaucracy alone are enough to heal your soul a little), wonderfully imaginative, and deeply insightful, featuring, as it does, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, do not miss Stephen Fry’s recording of this book.  And remember: Don’t Panic.

3343686Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery: Margaret Weitekamp’s terrific book for younger readers explores the history of Pluto from its discovery by Tombaugh in 1930, up to its re-classification as a dwarf planet, and also considers how planets are named and studied.  The text is informative and fun (not an easy combination to achieve), and the artwork by Diane Kidd is simply delightful.  With all this talk about Pluto recently, this is the perfect introduction to the solar system, but older readers are sure to find plenty of fun facts in these pages, as well!

A Few More Thoughts on Watchman…

First and foremost, I cannot even begin to tell you how exciting it is to hear people talking about books in public.  People on the radio have been discussing Harper Lee.  Two trainers at the gym this morning were talking about Atticus Finch.  It is suddenly socially acceptable not only to strike up a conversation about books we read as children, but to admit, publicly, that they moved us and changed us.  And, as a dedicated bibliophile whose life has been turned upside down on a regular basis by literature, I could not think of a better outcome of Harper Lee’s newest (or oldest) novel.


It’s very clear that the controversies surrounding this novel have not, and most likely will not, go away.  From the very day that the publication of Go Set A Watchman was announced, there have been a number of reports stating that Lee herself is the victim of manipulation and swindling, an some who still hold that the manuscript itself is an outright fraud.

Interestingly, when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, there were a great many people who believed that Lee’s friend Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood, authored the book.   In the earliest editions of Mockingbird, a quote from Capote was used on the dust jacket: “Someone rare has written this very fine first novel: a writer with the liveliest sense of life, and the warmest, most authentic sense of humor. A touching book; and so funny, so likeable.”  A great many people took this to be a subtle message from Capote admitting authorship, which he did very little at the time to refute.  It was only when a 1959 letter from Capote surfaced at auction, discussing how his friend Harper Lee was working on a new novel that the debate was finally laid to rest, only for similar accusations to arise with Watchman.

And I wonder…have we grown so used to celebrity that we inherently doubt those who do not seek the spotlight–that we can no longer trust what we cannot explicitly see?  Is it because Lee is a woman that her repeated assertions to her own authorship and decisions are doubted?  Or could it be that the characters from Mockingbird, from Boo Radley to Jem, from Scout to Atticus, are so real, and so meaningful, that we cannot conceive of the fact that they are the fictions?

1436905221269I think, ultimately, that this might be why this debate is such an emotional one: Atticus and Scout (probably most of all the characters) are too real, and have become too much a part of us, for us to accept that someone else has power over them.  There have been a number of articles posted in the past few days about the number of people who went to law school because of Atticus Finch.  Or the number of people who named their children Atticus as a way to commemorate his importance in their lives.  Or tattooed images and quotes from the book onto their own flesh so that they would become a part of the reader in a physical, as well as an emotional way.  And there are many who feel uncomfortable, at least, and betrayed, at worst, by the release of a book that threatens their understanding of the man they know as Atticus Finch.

But that is the beautiful thing about fiction.  Authors create the characters, naturally, just as they create the world those characters inhabit.  But then, like any good parents, they give them away to the world–and they become part of us.  They mean different things to different readers, and influence us in ways the author never imagined.  The Atticus who means so much to so many is not the Atticus that Harper Lee created, but the Atticus that so many readers needed him to be.  They created him out of the material Lee provided, but he is as much theirs, yours, and mine, as he is hers.  And nothing that appears in the pages of Watchman will take your Atticus out of your heart or your soul.  Watchman may be Harper Lee’s Atticus–possibly.  I’m still not sure.  And I’m not convinced anyone will ever know for sure what the truth surrounding Watchman and its publication really is.  But if he (or any other character, for that matter) gave you the strength to be you…that is a gift that cannot be taken away.


Go Set A Watchman: The Obligatory Post

Since several news outlets have referred to it as such, it’s safe to say that the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is one of the most unexpected, curious, and pivotal releases in modern publishing history.  And today is the day, beloved patrons, that history is made.


The world at large was stunned in February when it was first announced that Lee had penned a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, a work that has been hailed as America’s “national novel”, which tells the story of Scout, a wonderfully intelligent and empathetic six-year-old, and her brother Jem, in the “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father, Atticus Finch.  When Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, Scout becomes witness to both the best and the worst extremes of human behavior; from the noble defense and relentless compassion of Atticus to the murderous and vengeful reactions of her closest neighbors.  Though it deals with some genuinely difficult themes and dark subject matter, this book is noteworthy for its sympathy and humanity, as well as for the way it deals with courage in the face of ignorance, fear, and prejudice.   Lee’s narrative style, which Time magazine called “tactile brilliance”, brings the world of Maycomb to life through the eyes of a precocious child who is clearly marked forever by the events of Tom Robinson’s trial.

Gregory Peck and Harper Lee, 1962
Gregory Peck and Harper Lee, 1962

The book was an immediate sensation, and although it met with sharp criticism from many Southern reviewers.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, and in 1962, was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in a role that would forever define his career (Lee thought Peck so embodied her father, who was the model for Atticus, that she gave him her father’s pocket watch).  By 1964, however, Lee was so overwhelmed and exhausted by the attention both she and her book received that she refused all press requests.  Since then, the book has gone on to be a classic, as famous for its subject matter as for the reclusive nature of its shy author.

Hence the genuine shock–and intense doubt– that resulted from the announcement that Harper Lee had penned a second book about Atticus, Scout, and Maycomb.  Many claimed that Lee, who is currently 89 years old, and suffers from failing hearing and vision.  was a victim of elderly abuse, and was being coerced into publishing the book.  News coverage was so intense that the Alabama Securities Commission investigated the situation, eventually concluding that Harper Lee was fully cognizant of the publication of her long-hidden novel, and eager for its release.  Shortly thereafter, Lee released a statement through her publisher, Harper Collins, stating, “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman.  It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort…My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout. … I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years”.

But reactions to Go Set A Watchman will very likely be mixed, as expectations collide with reality, and inevitable comparisons are drawn between this book and Lee’s immortal Mockingbird.  Last Sunday, London’s Guardian and The Wall Street Journal released the first chapter of the book to an eager public (you can read it here), and the results can only be described as collective bewilderment, particularly by those who expected the tone and feel of Watchman to emulate Mockingbird.  Instead, we find an adult Jean Louise (Scout’s real name, apparently), a resident of New York, who is returning home to visit her father, who is crippled by rheumatoid arthritis.  Her brother Jem is dead, and Jean Louise is nearly engaged to her lifelong friend Henry Clinton.  The story is told in the third-person, creating a completely different relationship between the reader and the world of the story.  But the real shock comes from the changes in Atticus.  From what we have been told, gone is the compassionate moral compass of Mockingbird, and in his place is…a very different man indeed.

The original notecard from Harper Lee's agent, noting the progression of Watchman and Mockingbird.
The original notecard from Harper Lee’s agent, noting the progression of Watchman and Mockingbird.

Perhaps because Watchman has been so heavily touted as a ‘sequel’ to Mockingbird that many are finding the premise, and the events of the book, so difficult to digest.  Perhaps it may be helpful to remember (assuming that everything that has come out of Harper Collins’ press department is true) that Watchman actually came first.  When she read the manuscript for Watchman in 1957, Lee’s editor told her to write Mockingbird instead, thinking that the views of a time long past might appeal to readers more than a commentary on contemporary events, and that a child’s view might soften the view of an ongoing debate over civil rights.  The country was convulsed by issues such as the desegregation of school, the rise of the NAACP, and the visceral, often violent indignation of those who feared their own power slipping away, and Mockingbird spoke to those issues without confronting them directly.  What we see in Watchman is a world where the Civil Rights Movement was proving as divisive as it was powerful, and exhausting even the most well-intentioned as wave after wave of protests and marches were met with water cannons, billy clubs, and hatred, a world where generation gaps became gulfs of misunderstanding, hostility, and indignation.

Thinking about Scout/Jean Louise and her world in this light, and considering Mockingbird as a kind of prequel to Watchman, instead of the other way around, makes these two books into a heart-rending, but timely commentary on the cost of idealism, the complicated relationships we have with our own pasts, and the realities of race relations in the United States.  The timing of this publication could not be more timely, or more poignant, and the ongoing debate over the lowering of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina only serves to remind us of how far we have come…and, like Jean Louise herself, how far we have yet to go.


You Can Borrow that at the Library?

golf discs
Photo Credit: Disc Golf Association

You may not realize it, but public libraries often have what we refer to as “special” collections. Although best known for books, public libraries have been known to offer items as varied as vegetable seeds, cake pans, microscopes, musical instruments, and sewing machines!

Here in Peabody, we just added a new special collection and wanted our Free for All readers to be the first to know about it. For those of you looking to try out a new sport this summer, thanks to the generous players at Discs over Amesbury, the library has Disc Golf Kits available for you to borrow. Each kit includes three discs: a putter, mid-range and driver. Also included in the kits are directions to Peabody’s Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course, a map of the course itself, and a list of the basic rules of the game. You can borrow the kits for one week at a time.

disc pole hole
Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_golf

So what is disc golf you ask? In the beginning, many of our librarians were asking the exact same thing. A combination of golf and Frisbee, in disc golf players use golf discs (similar to Frisbees) and try to get them into a disc pole hole. Pictured here, disc pole holes are baskets mounted on poles and surrounded by chains. Like golf, you want a low score as the goal is to get the disc into the basket with the fewest throws.

Relatively new to the city, the Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course is located at 100 Summit Street. The course is open free to the public, but you do need to bring your own discs. That’s where the library comes in! To borrow discs, just visit any of the three Peabody Libraries, and you can check out a Disc Golf Kit with your library card. If you don’t already have a library card, you can register for one for free, and we’ll have you on your way to Scouting Woods in no time. We hope you enjoy our new special collection!

Want to learn more about disc golf? Check out these helpful resources:

Scouting Woods DGC

Amesbury Pines Disc Golf

Disc Golf United Course Locator

DG Course Review

Disc Golf Association (DGA)

Professional Disc Golf Association