Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to one of my favorite poets, Siegfried Sassoon.

Sassoon was born in 1886 to a wealthy Jewish family who had made their fortune as traders within the British Empire.  He enlisted in the British Army in advance of European War, and was serving with the Sussex Yeomanry when Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.  For three years, Sassoon threw himself into soldiering.  He earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his willingness to accept and carry out acts that seemed near-suicidal.  Not only did Sassoon enjoy the excitement, but it also prevented any of the men under his command, or around him, from taking on such a task themselves.  According to his friend Robert Graves, “He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupant…instead of signalling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.”  On July 27, 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded”.

But Sassoon’s unswerving loyalty to the men with whom he served almost brought him into an infamous confrontation with military authorities.  Following the death of a dear friend in battle, Sassoon published a letter (an image of which appears at left) he had already sent to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration, which read, in part “I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, stating that he refused to fight.  Thanks to the intervention of several friends (including Graves) and the unwillingness of the war office to condemn a decorated soldiers as a traitor, Sassoon was declared to be suffering shell-shock, and was sent to Criaglockhart, a mental hospital for officers run by Dr. William Rivers.  In the interest of brevity, let us say that the friendship that emerged from Rivers’ treatment of Sassoon changed both their lives.  While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon also met and worked with Wilfred Owen, who is perhaps the most celebrated of the so-called “War Poets”.

Sassoon survived the war, and his poems and memoirs of his service remain among the most well-known and cited to come out of the postwar period.  He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1951  continued writing until his death from stomach cancer one week before his 81st birthday.

Sassoon’s poems appear consistently in anthologies of First World War literature–you can hear a recording of him reading one here.  But those poems represent only a very small percentage of his incredible output, so today, I wanted to share with you one of his lesser-known war poems, written in 1919 while he was waiting to embark for Egypt:

Memory

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

And now…on to the books!

Letters to his Neighbor: Marcel Proust wrote some of the most profound philosophical works of the 20th century.  He also wrote a number of letters to his noisy neighbor, Dr. Williams, who plagued his existence with his noise, which Proust could hear in detail thanks to the cork walls that divided their rooms.   Things only got worse when Williams married and had children.  Recently discovered among Proust’s correspondence, these ever-polite letters, written mainly to Mrs. Williams, which were often accompanied by flowers, compliments, books, even pheasants are frequently hilarious, especially when Proust couches his fury in a gracious tone.  But they are also genuinely engaging–for Proust found an odd affinity with Mrs. Williams, and while we are lacking her responses, making this correspondence incomplete, there is still an enormous amount to enjoy here.  Additionally, Lydia Davis’ translation is delightful, making Proust’s life accessible to those of us who are not devotees, and penning a wonderful afterward that helps put these letters into context of his life and his writings.  The Village Voice loved this little volume, noting that it is “brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis, is inadvertently hilarious in hyper-genteel poise; we see Proust at his most desperate, charming to the extreme, an effect no doubt amplified by Davis’s elegant prose.”

The Ways of WolfeJames Carlos Blake’s Wolfe series brings readers right into the dusty, dangerous, morally dubious, and ruthlessly compelling world of the Wolfe clan, whose roots run deep on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, and whose prevailing interests straddle both sides of the law.  Twenty years ago, college student Axel Prince Wolfe―heir apparent to his Texas family’s esteemed law firm and its “shade trade” criminal enterprises―teamed up with his best friend, Billy, and a Mexican stranger in a high-end robbery that went wrong, and where Axel was left along to shoulder the blame and the fall-out among his family.  Now, Axel has exhausted thoughts of revenge.  His own goal is to survive his remaining sentence and find the daughter who continues to ignore him.  When the chance comes to escape in the company of Cacho, a young Mexican inmate with ties to a major cartel, Axel takes it, provoking a massive manhunt along the Rio Grande, and sending Axel on an unintended journey of discovery and reckoning many, many years overdue.  This award-winning series has been hailed by critics across the country for its brutal, fast-paced noir style and his insightful character development that elevate these books into something unique.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this series installment a starred review, saying “Blood loyalty, forgiveness, and the consequences of violence all figure in Blake’s outstanding fourth Border Noir featuring the Wolfes . . . Tough, muscular prose complements Blake’s powerful storytelling.”

Black Rock White CityThe winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award (Australia’s most prestigious literary award), A.S. Patric’s debut novel is one of those stories that brilliantly shifts focus, telling a huge, epic tale of dispossession and displacement among a whole people, and yet, a beautifully wrought tale of one family’s struggles in an unfamiliar suburbia.  Jovan and Suzana have fled war-torn Sarajevo, having lost their children, their standing as public intellectuals, and their connection to each other. Now working as cleaners in a suburb of Melbourne, they struggle to rebuild their lives under the painful hardships of immigrant life.  During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s janitorial work at a hospital is disrupted by mysterious acts of vandalism. But as the attacks become more violent and racially charged, he feels increasingly targeted, and taunted to interpret their meaning. Under tremendous pressure the couple struggle to keep their marriage together, but fear that they may never find peace from the ravages of war.   Dark and devastating at times, this book is also the story of those who continually chose to carry on, and find ways to endure, making it also a story of resilience–and one that is wholly unforgettable.  The Miles Franklin Literary Award Citation reads:  “A fresh and powerful exploration of the immigrant experience and Australian life, Black Rock White City explores the damages of war, the constraints of choice, the possibility of redemptive love and social isolation amid suburbia.”

Eastman Was Here: Alex Gilvarry’s book is a war story set during the Vietnam War, but unlike so many war stories, this one isn’t about a combatant.  Instead, it’s about Alan Eastman, a public intellectual, critic, philanderer, whose wife has taken their children and left, and who is facing an ever-deepening existential crisis.  So when he receives a call from an old professional rival offering him the chance to go to Vietnam to write the definitive account of the end of America’s longest war, Eastman leaps on the opportunity, seeing it as his chance to earn back his wife’s love and his flagging career in one fell swoop.   But instead of the return to form as a pioneering war correspondent that he had hoped for, he finds himself in Saigon, grappling with the same problems he thought he’d left back in New York.  Gilvarry writes with enormous compassion and insight, but he is also always ready to see the humor, both the dark and the absurdly funny, in his characters and his stories, defying the conventional trappings whatever genre into which he writes, and instead presenting a character who is both repellent and fascinating, and providing a story as heartbreaking as it is funny.  The Boston Globe agrees, saying in its review “Gilvarry has given us a portrait of toxic masculinity—one that feels as if it both belongs to a certain time and is still familiar. His Eastman is a riveting, loathsome presence who demands to be loved and remembered.”

Reincarnation Blues: As soon as I read Kirkus Reviewblurb for this book, I was hooked–and plenty of readers and critics alike have been coming up with wonderful praise for Michael Poore’s second novel of life…death…and whatever comes after.  Because in this world, we get a few more tries to get it right.  10,000 more tries, to be exact.  But Milo has been having some trouble, and is now left with only 5 chances left  to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.  More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living—as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.  Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity.  Kirkus Reviews is not alone in making the comparison it did when it described this book as “Tales of gods and men akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman as penned by a kindred spirit of Douglas Adams”, and the more comparisons are made to those two greats, the more eager I am to dive into Poore’s work!

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Back to School!

For all of you who are beginning a new academic year…or have already started!…we at the Library wish you a fulfilling, successful, and brain-expanding school year!  We’ll be here for all your study-related needs, from reference and citation help to computers, from study guides to study breaks.  In fact, how about you take a look at our super-terrific events calendar and find some new (FREE) opportunities to learn new skills, expand your creativity, and discover new fun!

Here are some of the programs being held at the Main Library and our Branches over the coming weeks that still have room just for you!


How to Work Your Network – North Shore Career Center Workshop, September 21
1:30 – 3:00pm, Second Floor Tech Lad (Main Library)

Provided by the expert staff from the North Shore Career Center, these career workshops are offered to assist job seekers whether they’re beginning the hunt, well along the path, or contemplating a career change. This is part of a series offered at the Library that has included classes on Occupational Skills, Resume Writing, and Interviewing practices.  Workshops occur on specific Thursdays, beginning July 13th; all classes begin promptly at 1:30 pm and go until 3:00pm.

Participants can sign up for  workshops with the North Shore Career Center by calling (978) 825-7200.

North Sea Gas Concert, September 25
7:00 – 8:00pm, Sutton Room (Main Library)

North Sea Gas is one of Scotland’s most popular folk bands with great vocals and tremendous three part harmonies. Guitars, mandolin, fiddle, bouzouki, harmonica, whistles, bodhrans, banjo and good humour are all part of the entertainment. They have received Gold and Silver Disc awards from the Scottish Music Industry Association and regularly have sold out shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  They have released 19 albums with ‘Fire in the Glen’ being the most recent and are constantly adding new material to their shows. Their prior album, ‘The Fire and the Passion of Scotland’ won the 2013 Album of the Year award from Celtic Radio in the U.S. as well as first place in the ‘Jigs and Reels’ category for the set of tunes on the album.   This concert is part of our Fall Concert Series, and is generously sponsored by the McCarthy Family Foundation and the Peabody Institute Library Foundation.


Crime Lab Case Files with Paul Zambella, October 5
6:30 – 8:30pm
South Branch Library

Calling all true crime enthusiasts! The South Branch is pleased to welcome Paul Zambella who will be here to discuss some of the most infamous cases he worked on as a forensic scientist for the -Massachusetts State Police. He will focus on how forensic evidence was instrumental in assisting prosecutors in securing convictions for such gruesome cases as a brother and sister murdered at the hands of two teenage boys, the fatal stabbing of a young girl by her boyfriend, the torture and murder of a young man kept prisoner in his home and the revenge killing of a man who was asleep in his motel room.  Paul Zambella was a Forensic Scientist for the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory for 36 years.  Hehas taught courses on forensic science at Northeastern and Salem State Universities and Hesser College in addition to several lectures throughout the state.

These true crime tales are not for the faint of heart; this program is recommended for high-school age students through adults.  This  program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. To reserve your free spot, please register online, in person or by calling 978-531-3380.

This presentation will be given by Victor Mastone, Director and Chier Archaeologist of the Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources of Massachusetts.

When the public thinks about underwater archaeology, they generally picture intact shipwrecks, pirate treasures and mystery. I have never dealt with the first, unfortunately had to deal with the second, but constantly court the third. As archaeologists and resource stewards we are all familiar with mystery. We nearly always face that when we first approach a shipwreck site. ‘What ship is this? I don’t know. I need to investigate.’ At various points, we turn outward to colleagues and the public to find answers. The process of addressing this question becomes a form of collaboration and means to engage the public.   The Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources depends on the active involvement of and collaboration with the public to identify, evaluate, and protect these non-renewable resources. This presentation describes the state’s diversity of archaeological resources and various ways the public is engaged in their study.

 

The Romance Garden!

And after a downright autumnal week, dear readers, it seems that summer has decided to come back for a visit–so it’s a perfect day to return to our Romance Garden, where our genre experts bring you some of their favorite reads from the past month!

Lady Reading in the Garden (1894). Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen

 

Bridget: Lord of Lies by Amy Sandas

This is the third installment in Amy Sandas’ Fallen Ladies series, but that will have no effect at all on your ability to enjoy this–though, if you’re anything like me, it will definitely make you want to track down the others in the series to read them, too!

Portia Chadwick had once resigned herself to a life of quiet (and boring) decorum–until the day her sister is abducted by a moneylender.  Desperate, Portia tracks down Nightshade, a man who knows England’s darkest shadows, to help her find him.  Dell Turner grew up in the bleakest of circumstances, and he’s never shaken the dirt of the gutter off his shoes–or the chip off his shoulder.  He’s perfectly willing to help the young lady who comes begging for help finding his sister, but he never anticipates that she’ll want to be involved in the case…or that he’ll be so eager to keep her by his side.  But when their partnership is dissolved, what hope will Dell have that Portia will want any more to do with him?

I’m really tired of the “delicate miss decides to have an adventure” story, but Portia’s honesty, and her genuine interest in learning made her feel like a different kind of heroine.  I also really appreciated the fact that she and Dell could be upfront and honest with each other during their partnership–and learned how to transfer that honesty into their real life relationship, too.  Though some of the situations here were a little outlandish, the heart of this story is a really fantastic, visceral, pulse-pounding and heart-warming romance that made me an instant fan of this series.

Kelley: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare


Tessa Dare’s newest series, “Girl Meets Duke,” is off to a great start with the story of the Duke of Ashbury (Ash), a scarred war veteran, and Emma Gladstone, a seamstress trying to make her way in the world after being cast out by her vicar father. After a firm rejection from his fiance, Ash believes that he is too hideous to be loved or desired by any woman, but he knows that he needs to have an heir to ensure that his tenants and employees are cared for when he is gone. Enter Emma Gladstone.

When Emma shows up demanding to be paid for the wedding dress she made for the duke’s former fiance, Ash offers her two choices: he can pay her what she is owed for the dress or he can make her a duchess. While it’s not the most flattering of proposals, due to financial reasons and the opportunity to help a friend, Emma accepts under the condition that the duke join her for dinner- with conversation- every evening.

The book is full of Tessa Dare’s signature charming touches like comical pet names and Shakespearean insults. Add a well-meaning butler, a meddlesome maid, an incorrigible teenage boy, and an ornery cat, and you have a romance that has as many funny moments as romantic ones. And all of those moments lead our main characters closer to each other, closer to healing, and closer to love.

Until next month, dear readers, remember…every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow!

Five Book Friday!

And the beginning of what we all hope is a very happy Labor Holiday Weekend for you all, dear readers!  Just a reminder, we’ll be closed this Saturday and Monday (September 2 and 4) in observation of the holiday, but that still leaves plenty of time to come in and grab a few books to take along on your long-weekend excursions!  Here are a few that have ambled onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Glass Houses: Fans of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache novels will be delighted to hear that his fourth adventure–one that will force the Canadian police inspector to do quite a bit of soul searching.  When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead.  Gamache suspects the creature has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing, hoping his discretion is the right decision.  But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, Gamache struggles with actions he set in motion that bitter November, even as an accused prisoner is brought to trial. As the court case wears on through the sultry summer, Gamache will find his own conscious under intense examination, as well.  This series is a favorite among a number of our patrons (all of whom, clearly, have excellent taste), and they will thus be pleased to know that critics are hailing this book as a triumph of an already sensational series.  Library Journal, for example, gave this book a starred review, noting “The award-winning Penny does not rest on her laurels with this challenging and timely book. Though touched by the evils of the outside world, Three Pines remains a singular place away from time.”

My Absolute DarlingI have to say, whenever I see a Stephen King blurb on the front of a book, I sit up and take notice.  Whenever I heard that the King blurb in question came unsolicited because he just loved the book that much, I consider it a must read.  This is just such a book.  In this stunning debut Gabriel Tallent tells of Turtle Alveston, fourteen trained survivor who roams the woods along the northern California coast. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school and to her life with her father–until Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her.  This book has been making some very serious waves, not only for the writing style, but for Tallent’s ability to create a heroine who is unlike any you’ve ever met before.  As Stephen King put it, “The word ‘masterpiece’ has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one.”

Rogue heroes : the history of the SAS, Britain’s secret special forces unit that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war: Britain’s Special Air Service—or SAS—was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II’s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel’s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS’s remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.  This fantastic story of real-life espionage finds an excellent narrator in Ben McIntyre, who has already brought some of the spy world’s best stories to light.  The Boston Globe agrees, calling this work “a thrilling saga, breathtakingly told, full of daring and heroes…One of the many virtues of this volume… is the surprising small asides tucked into these pages, tiny truths that give the book depth along with derring-do.”

Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and RedemptionIn the summer of 1988, Willie J. Grimes, a gentle spirit with no record of violence, was shocked and devastated to be convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. A quarter-century later, Grimes’ was an innocent man, thanks to an investigation spearheaded by his relentless champion, Christine Mumma, a cofounder of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission. The  commission, founded in 2006, remains a model organization unlike any other in the country, and one now responsible for a growing number of exonerations.  In this well-researched and equally well-told story, Benjamin Rachlin presents Grimes’ story, the botched evidence and testimony that led to his incarceration, and the quest for the truth that set him free.  Though Rachlin focuses on the details of the case with a precise legal eye, there is also a lot of big-picture commentary on the American criminal justice system that kept and held Grimes unfairly for so long.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this debut work a starred review, praising it as “An absorbing true-crime saga . . . Rachlin’s debut combines a gripping legal drama with a penetrating exposé of the shoddy investigative and trial standards nationwide . . . His narrative offers a moving evocation of faith under duress.”

The Golden House: Salman Rushdie’s newest book is already being hailed as a modern American epic, and drawing comparison’s to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby–a comparison not easily made.  Set during the inauguration of Barack Obama, the story follows Nero Golden, a strangely named, and untraceable enigmatic billionaire who takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens,” a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family.  Golden has brought along his three adult sons, all of whom exhibit elaborate phobias, harbor explosive secrets, and spark with talent.  Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, an ambitious young filmmaker. Researching a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household, diving deep into their mystique, their quarrels, and their reality, even as reality outside begins to shift treacherously.  Critics all agree that Rushdie remains one of the foremost authors of our times, bringing magnificent insight and and an irrepressible love to every story and ever character he creates.  Booklist gave this newest release a starred review, cheering that it is “A ravishingly well-told, deeply knowledgeable, magnificently insightful, and righteously outraged epic which pos­es timeless questions about the human condition.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

On our Childhood Libraries…

Recently a college friend of mine sent around this article, written by a fellow alumnae, author J. Courtney Sullivan.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/24/books/childrens-library-collection.html?mcubz=3

The article focused on Sullivan’s quest to rebuild her childhood book collection as an adult, and the memories that each of those books held for her now.  Some were of reading with her dad:

When I received the “Stickybear” books by Richard Hefter and saw the familiar endpapers covered in strawberries, I recalled how my dad would read the strawberries as part of the text. Example: “The end. Strawberry strawberry strawberry strawberry strawberry.”

While others helped her realize how differently younger readers absorb and learn to love literature:

Childhood is where a love of reading is forged through the tactile. The stories themselves matter, of course. Sometimes I think about Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona,” with her tubes of toothpaste, her bites of apple. Nothing I’ve read since, no single image, stands out as these do. But in adulthood, it’s always the text I admire. In childhood, the book as object matters most.

It’s a lovely article, and the quest itself upon which Sullivan embarks may be familiar to many of you–she notes that a number of book sellers with whom she dealt were curious about all the early-to-mid 1980’s picture books that were suddenly enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

And, of course, it got me thinking about the books that defined my own childhood.   I realized, pretty quickly, that most of the books that defined my growing-up years were ones that I shared with others–usually, they were books read to my by my Father, or my teachers, or books that I learned to read myself (see below).  I always had trouble as a kid with the thin line between fiction and reality (I still do, let’s be honest here), and it was (is) a source of constant frustration for me that I was the only person who knew the members of the Baby-Sitters’ Club, or who had wandered around Gormenghast castle with Steerpike, or bought fancy shoes with Polly from An Old Fashioned Girl (let it not be said that I didn’t have eclectic tastes as a young-in’!).  So in picking books that were important to me, I realized that I was also picking moments in my childhood that were significant, or people, or places.

In that sense, nothing has changed for me.  Some of my favorite literary memories are from reading specific books in specific places (I first read ‘Salem’s Lot in the Belfast Botanical Gardens, and Oscar and Lucinda in Harvard Square one blustery autumn week).  And the specific people with whom I shared them.  So here are some of the first titles that leapt to my mind upon reading Sullivan’s article:

But No ElephantsFor some reason, I was obsessed with this book as a little kid, and made my parents read the adventures of Grandma Tildy and her willingness to take any animal–except for pachyderms–so often that by the time I was about two, I had the whole book memorized, including when to turn the pages.  It then became my parents’ favorite parlor trick to set me up on the couch when company was over and tell them I could already read.  I rediscovered this book when I was a bit older, and still found plenty to appreciate here–especially the brave little(ish) elephant who proves his worth to his new family when Grandma Tildy finally relents enough to take him in.

Ramona the Pest: My second grade teacher was so good at reading stories out loud that we would do any math exercise, any spelling test voluntarily in order to make time for reading at the end of the day.  We made it through most of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books by the end of the year, but this one I remember most vividly because, in it, Ramona learns how to tell time.  Or learns that she doesn’t know how to tell time.  And it wasn’t until that scene that I realized that I didn’t know how to properly tell time either!  Digital clocks were just becoming a think (I’m old, I know, it’s fine), and so I had been able to avoid analog time-telling up to this point.  It’s a rare day when I put on my watch that I don’t think fleetingly of Ramona heading off to school, and of my teacher who brought her stories to life for us.  (Note: this was absolutely not the cover of the book we had.  Our class book was printed in the 1960’s, so I think it was avocado green or something….)

There’s  A Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom: I’ve told about my love of Louis Sachar’s wild imagination a few times before.  But this book was the first “realistic” one that I read.  Or, specifically, that my Father read to me.  We had a nighttime reading ritual of a chapter a night, and I loved this book…right up until the last chapter.  Essentially, the main character, a boy who everyone considers ‘unmanageable’, has quite the imagination, and creates beautiful, elaborate stories with his figurine collection.  He finds the courage and tools to begin socializing with his peers after working with his school’s counselor.  And he sends her a gift in the end.  And because my imagination was as good, if not more tenacious than his, I cared way more about his figurines than his actual friends.  And I lost it.  Ugly crying everywhere.  Luckily, I have a Father who gets it, and he and I set about re-writing the ending to the book, so that, in our world, at least, it ended properly.  And it’s a trick I’ve used to endure books with “bad” endings ever since (and here, “bad” is defined absolutely, positively subjectively).

How about you?  What books, moments, places, and people make up your early literary history?

Look for the Helpers

“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. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers

Those of us who live in and work in and around Downtown Peabody know what floods look like.  Being partially below sea level (and with an average elevation of 17 feet) will do that.

But that flooding is nothing compared to what our friends in Texas are enduring right now as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s not getting better.  So for those of you who listen to Mr. Rogers (quoted above), and would like to know how to be an effective Helper, we have some resources for you.

First of all, because we are a Library that cares about Libraries, the Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries and archives across the Houston and gulf coast region.  They have issued a joint statement saying, essentially, that it’s too early yet to know what libraries and archives affected by Hurricane Harvey, but that TLA has its Disaster Relief Fund available and TSLAC is considering how it can make resources available as well. As damage is assessed, they will provide more information on the availability of these resources.  

At this point, people are asked not to send material donations, such as books.  Right now, there is no way to know what is needed, and no where at all to store donations.  Anyone wishing to help financially are encouraged to donate online to the TLA Disaster Relief Fund.

For those looking for other ways to help, please check out this enormously useful article from Texas Monthly that lists all the charities, organizations, and institutions working on the ground in affected areas to help people and animals.  You can access this article here.

If you work or live in the Boston Area, Mayor Marty Walsh has announced a drive called “Help for Houston”.   The collection effort starts today, Tuesday, August 29, and lasts through Thursday, August 31. The Mayor is asking residents to contribute items to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas.  They are collection food, infant formula, blankets, and a number of other items at collection centers in and around the City.  Check out the City’s website for full details and collection sites.

If you are not in a position to donate at this moment, please know that help will be needed in Texas for a long time to come, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated on ways you can help in the coming days and weeks.

International Dublin Literary Award Winner!

We’re a bit behind on this update, dear readers, but we nevertheless are delight to announce that José Eduardo Agualusa is the winner of the 2017 International Dublin Literary award for his novel A General Theory of Oblivion.

From http://www.dublinliteraryaward.ie/

As we discussed back in May, the International Dublin Literary Award is funded entirely by the City of Dublin, Ireland, and is awarded each year for a novel written in English or translated into English.  It’s among the richest literary prizes in the world–and it also one of our favorites, because all the books are nominated by Libraries from around the world!  The diversity of reading habits, culture, and geography makes this award a genuinely unpredictable, eclectic, and rewarding one, and so it was with great excitement that we received the news about Mr. Agualusa’s win for A General Theory of Oblivion, along with Daniel Hahn, who translated the work into English.

Agualusa’s novel recounts the story of an Ludo, a Portuguese woman living in Angola, who locks herself into her apartment during the Angolan War of Independence, just before independence from Portugal.  She attempts to cut herself off from the external world, growing vegetables in her apartment and luring in pigeons.  Her only knowledge of the outside world comes from the snippets of conversation she overhears from her neighbors and the radio.  Three decades pass this way, until until she meets a young boy who informs her of the radical changes which have occurred in the country in the intervening years.

Critics praised Agualusa for his subject matter, with The Scotsman stating that he was responsible for opening up “the world of Portuguese-speaking Africa to the English-speaking community.” He attracted further critical praise for the manner in which he condensed a cryptic and complicated conflict into something that everyday readers can digest, understand, and feel.  His work has also drawn comparisons to Emma Donoghue’s Room because it so deftly creates an entire world in a tiny, confined space.

You can read Agualusa’s acceptance speech here, via the Dublin Literary Award website, but I would like to point out a specific excerpt from the speech here, because it warmed the cockles of my Library-loving heart:

I was glad to learn that a book of mine was chosen for this prize for many reasons, but particularly because of the selection process – because the books are chosen by public libraries – and because the whole award process is run by Dublin City Public Libraries. I became a writer in public libraries. Not only because if I hadn’t had access to books in some of these libraries, as a child, I never would have started writing, but because to a great extent my first book was actually written in a public library.

If literature develops our empathy muscles, makes us better people, then you might think of public libraries as weapons of massive construction: powerful tools for personal development and the development of societies.

According to The GuardianAgualusa plans to use his winnings to build a library in his adopted home on the Island of Mozambique.  From the article:

“What we really need is a public library, because people don’t have access to books, so if I can do something to help that, it will be great,” Agualusa says. “We have already found a place and I can put my own personal library in there and open it to the people of the island. It’s been a dream for a long time.”

José Eduardo Agualusa, from The Guardian

From Libraries, back to Libraries–so congratulations, and Thank You to José Eduardo Agualusa!

If you’d like to read A General Theory of Oblivion, come in or call, and talk to a member of your friendly Reference Staff, who can order you a copy through the Commonwealth Catalog!

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