National Book Award Winner Announced!

We’ve talked about about the National Book Awards here at the Free For All, and today, we are overjoyed to bring you the winners, (almost) live from the Cipriani in Manhattan….

(drum roll, please?)…..


Congratulations to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Robin Coste Lewis, and Neal Shusterman!!


3650622Ta-Nehisi Coates has been having quite a banner year, strining together accolades and praise for his memoir Between the World and Meincluding receiving a MacArthur ‘genius’ in September, which is awarded for “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work”.  His book is dedicated to his friend, Prince Jones, who was killed by a police officer in 2000, and whose death sits at the heart of this work of being black in America, and carrying the weight of history on one’s shoulders every single day.

3653216Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smileswhich won the award for fiction, is another success from a writer who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son in 2012.  As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, ““How do you follow a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel? For [Adam] Johnson, the answer is a story collection, and the tales are hefty and memorable. . . . Often funny, even when they’re wrenchingly sad, the stories provide one of the truest satisfactions of reading: the opportunity to sink into worlds we otherwise would know little or nothing about.”  Interestingly, his book was actually not among the favorites to win the prize (that distinction apparently went to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies).

Robin Coste Lewis took the award for poetry for her debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus, which, sadly, NOBLE doesn’t have (yet!), but which deals with the perception of the black female figure in art, and in the world.  In one poem, titled “Venus of Compton”, Lewis presents the title of works depicting black women through forty thousand years of human history in a manner that The New Yorker called “magical…All those women made into serviceable, mute paddles and spoons, missing their limbs and heads, are, by the miracle of verbal art, restored.”  Just as memorable: Lewis dedicated the poem to “the legacy of black librarianship, and black librarians, worldwide” for opening up the world to her, once upon a time.

3622224 (1)Last, but by no mean least, we have Neal Shusterman, whose novel Challenger Deep won the American Book Award for ‘young people’s literature’.  His work focuses on a teen who is dealing with the onset of schizophrenia, and trying desperately to balance the worlds inside and outside his head.   Booklist gave it a starred review, saying it is “Haunting, unforgettable, and life-affirming all at once”.  What makes this particular book remarkable, though, is what a personal piece it is–Shusterman based his hero, Caleb, on his son, Brendan, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 16.  Brendan illustrated this book, as well, making this book a beautiful and truly meaningful piece of collaboration.

Congratulations to all these marvelous National Book Award winners, and thank you for sharing your brilliance with us!

“…And heal the anguish of a suffering world…”

We live in interesting times, Beloved Patrons…but there are times when that can actually be a good thing.  In an effort to keep our spirits up and hearts engaged, I thought I’d tell you about one of those Good Things here…the discovery and release of an unknown poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Nice collar, Percy.

Our story begins with Peter Finnerty, an Irish journalist, was tried and found guilty of seditious libel.  Finnerty was a member of the United Irishmen, a group dedicated to liberating Ireland from British rule, and one of its members, a man named William Orr, was executed for treason after attempting to recruit a British soldier to the United Irishmen.  It’s very clear that the British government wanted to make an example of Orr, and journalist Peter Finnerty was not about to let anyone forget that.  As a result, he was treated with the same heavy hand as his comrade, and was sentenced to a two-year prison sentence, and a session in the pillory.

When the seventeen-year-old Shelley began his studies at Oxford, was incensed to learn of Finnerty’s treatment–indeed, it seems he was infuriated that William Orr had been executed, as well, which is pretty surprising, especially given Shelley’s affluent, British upbringing.  But in Finnerty’s case, there was something Shelley could do to help.  Prisons in Britain at this time charged their inmates for room and board, and for anything else they could legitimize.  The result was often that a prison stay of any duration could bankrupt a prisoner, in addition to ruining his health.  Thus, Shelley decided to help Finnerty with the costs of his incarceration by writing a poem.

Shelley-009His work, titled “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, was published by a printer on Oxford High Street in 1811.  The poem itself is a 172-rhymed tirade not only against the hypocrisy of governments and bureaucrats, but against British imperialism, and the cruelty of dominance, as well; he mentions how “The fainting Indian, on his native plains; / Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains”, which, for the time, is a remarkably bold commentary on British actions in India, and displays an incredibly human response to the plight of natives, who the British government continued to see as less-than-human.  Shelley was not advocating violence to replace violence, though–he expressly mourns the “Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die / In mangled heaps on War’s red altar lie”.  His argument is for rational thought and humanity, which he realized at the time was even more dangerous to tyranny than violence.

Ultimately, though, Shelley’s poem is one of hope and encouragement, urging that without freedom for all, no one can claim to be free.  He ends his poem with the verse:

Oppressive law no more shall power retain,

Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again

And heal the anguish of a suffering world;

Then, then shall things, which now confusedly hurled,

Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,

And error’s night be turned to virtuous day.

Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint_cropThe poem was not attributed to Shelley until some fifty years after his death, and, by then, it was assumed that no copies of the 20-page pamphlet existed.  In 2006, however, a copy was discovered amidst a private collection, and quickly bought by the Bodleian Library at Oxford.  Since then, only a handful of scholars have been allowed to see it–until Michael Rosen, who also championed the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, advocated for its release to the general public.  In a statement to The Guardian, Rosen explained: “This is someone who from a young age… in spite of his position in the class system, chose to champion the poor, the exploited, the oppressed and the victimised…he sees that the poor afflicted by ‘indigence’ and ‘persecution’ are ‘deprived of the power to exert those mental capabilities which alone can distinguish them from the brutes’.”

And last week, the world got to meet “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” by Percy Bysshe Shelley for the first time.  Not only is the pamphlet on display at the Bodleian, but they have digitized it, as well, so you can read it for yourself, wherever you might be!  The link is here, complete with flippable-pages and transcribed text.

Be sure to have a look at this newly-discovered treasure, and here’s hoping it brings a little light to your day.


Shelley's memorial at Oxford
Shelley’s memorial at Oxford

For those looking for more of the story…Shelley was expelled from Oxford in April of 1811 after publishing another pamphlet, this one titled “The Necessity of Atheism”.  He eloped with a sixteen-year-old poet named Harriet Westbrook, and in 1813, eloped again with Mary Godwin, who was the daughter of early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and anarchist poet (Harriet committed suicide in 1816).  Shelley would go on to write a wealth of powerful poems, while Mary wrote Frankenstein, after she and Percy whiled away a rainy vacation with Lord Byron and his doctor, John Polidori.  Shelley grew increasingly revolutionary as the years went on, and following his death from drowning on july 8, 1822, onboard his boat, named the Don Juan in honor of Byron, rumors floated around that he was murdered for political reasons–though a freak storm and Shelley’s poor skills as a navigator may have played a larger role.  He is buried in Rome, and has a place in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey in London.

Card Catalog Display: Take a Hike!

Did you know that November 17 is National Take a Hike Day? And considering how mild the weather has been thus far in November, you should totally take advantage of this day. In fact, the month of November and entire season of autumn in general is a great time for hiking (or walking, biking, or running), especially in beautiful New England. The weather is cool, the remaining foliage is beautiful, and it’s a great way to get some outdoor exercise before the winter’s snowfalls deter us from leaving our houses.

Take a hike

Whether you’ve climbed to the top of Mount Everest, or you’ve never been hiking a day in your life, there are so many ways and places for you to get out there. If you’re a beginner, take a stroll down the 4.3 mile Danvers Rail Trail, which runs through Danvers, Peabody, Wenham, and Topsfield. You can find a trailhead for these paths in Peabody at Lt. Ross Park (formerly Cy Tenney) on Johnson St., just off of Lowell St. Similarly, you could hit the 4.1 mile Marblehead Bike Path that starts in Salem and ends in Marblehead. Both of these trails pass by some small ponds, which makes for a relaxing setting. My favorite aspect of these kinds of trails is that if you’re just trying to take it easy, you can stick to the main paths. But if you want hills and more difficult terrain, venture off the beaten path onto some less-trodden trails!

A pond along the Marblehead Bike Path. This pond is often filled with ducks, which are especially fun to watch when the ducklings hatch!
A pond along the Marblehead Bike Path.

If these bike paths aren’t enough to satisfy you more intrepid hikers, a more tumultuous local place to try is Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, right off Route 1. A library patron recommended these trails to me when I was trying to get into trail running, and now I pass it on to other hikers and runners. It is a beautiful 640 acre forest with some great rocky, hilly trails for those seeking to test their endurance. Though the reservation’s lakes tend to draw crowds in the summer, it is far less populated in autumn, making for the perfect mindful hike or jog. You might also be interested in the Lynn Woods, a popular destination for distance runners. Lynn Woods is a huge park, at 2,200 acres, and there are various terrains throughout the trails.

We have quite a few hikers on staff who were able to recommend some great local places. Kelley says her favorite local walking spot is the Ipswich River Wildlife Sancturary, a great spot with 12 miles of trails in Topsfield run by Mass Audubon that’s also great for snowshoeing in the winter. She also recommended Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, a Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation park that used to be an estate. This park boasts “great wooded walking (some on carriage roads), views of the Merrimack River, and a pretty cool rose garden when it’s in season.” A similar spot, also a former estate, is Appleton Farms located in Hamilton and Ipswich and managed by the Trustees of Reservations.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

For those who crave ocean views, check out Crane Beach in Ipswich, also managed by the Trustees of Reservations, which hosts some interesting trails in the dunes and has been home for the past couple winters to some beautiful snowy owls. You may also like Parker Wildlife Research Preserve on Plum Island, which also hosts some dunes and boardwalks.

Other staff recommendations include Bradley Palmer State Park, Malden Pond, Blue Hills, and Willowdale State Forest.

If these aren’t enough for you, or if you want to venture out of the North Shore area, we have a myriad of Massachusetts and New England hiking guide books available for checkout on our card catalog display.

Still don’t want to take a hike yourself? Read about someone else who does! Learn about Grandma Gatewood, a 65 year old woman who walked solo for 800 miles through the Appalachian Trail, or read Walking to Vermont, the story of a retired foreign correspondent who ventured through the Northeast on foot. You could also pick up Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the memoir or a grieving twenty-two year old woman who hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone.

A letter from E.B. White….

This letter comes to us via the sensational Letters of Note


E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as a number of brilliant, beautiful essays and letters, once received a letter from a reader asking for White’s opinion on what he saw as the bleak future of the human race.  This is White’s reply, which means as much today as it did back in 1973:

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.


(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)


You can find more of his letters in this collection.

Saturdays @ the South: From Blog to Book

imagesThis may come as a surprise to our beloved readers, but the Peabody Library’s blog is not the only blog out there with interesting content. Long before I started having an absolute blast writing the Saturdays at the South section and peppering all of you with my quirky recommendations, I was (and still am) a longtime blog reader. There are some truly talented people out there churning out fantastic content. We’ve mentioned Book Riot a few times here on the website along with Quirk Books which also puts out fascinating book content, but there’s so much more out there than just amazing book blogs. (OK, I hyperventilated a bit writing that last sentence, but it’s true, nonetheless.)

The internet is a fascinating place to learn and pick up new skills, if you know where to look. Pretty much anyone can start writing a blog, but it takes commitment, significant effort and a level of expertise (both in the blogger’s topic of choice and in Web Things like “search engine optimization” and social media) in order to make a high-quality and successful blog. Bloggers have tested the waters for years, writing about their particular areas of expertise and have found fans, community, in some cases a steady paycheck, and an increasing amount of book deals for those who have that elusive combination of faithful followers and quality content.

3653717An early success story was Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman. She’s parlayed her blogging success to a highly rated food network show and several book deals, the newest of which has already spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I’m not a huge Drummond fan, but the clear organization and the visual appeal of her books is undeniable, as is her popularity. You can find her newest book: Dinnertime and some of her previous publications here at the South.

3617330Food52 has had a busy year this year. Begun by bloggers Amanda and Merrill, they initially set out to create a community of people who love food and love cooking by providing a space to share recipes, tips and tricks. What they created was a beautiful website that is as combination of resources, recipes and, as of 2013 an online store. These bloggers have created an empire based on their principles of good, homemade food. As a home cook, I’ve found this website to be invaluable and made many recipes from their repertoire, with very successful results. Plus the pictures on the blog are stunning, so I’m never at a loss for inspiration there. Naturally, I was thrilled when I saw that they published a book, Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that will Change the Way You Cook and what a book it is! The stunning photo arrays with clear instructions and tastes for every palate. It’s not always easy to channel the same image and energy from a blog onto the page, but this book has done so wonderfully.

3577260Not all bloggers start writing on web pages. Michelle Phan is a self-taught makeup artist who started vlogging (video blogging) during the early days of YouTube by posting makeup tutorials. Before long, she had millions of views on her tutorial and became the most subscribed-to woman on YouTube. Currently, her channel has more than 8 million subscribers and over 1 billion total views and she has managed to carve out a style niche for herself on her own website. This is the type of Cinderella story publishers love and Phan’s first book: Make Up: Your Guide to Beauty, Style and Success Online and Off  was published last fall. It’s a very twenty-first century book with advice on digital dos and don’ts,  job-hunting tips and, of course, style tips. While I would have expected a video blogger’s book to be considerably more image heavy, the book is accessibly well-written and anyone who’s followed Phan’s career will likely find these tips both enjoyable and helpful to read.

3635074Tom Cox made a name for himself (or perhaps more specifically, for his cats) by microblogging on Twitter and became successful writing about his sad cat (@mysadcat), his smug cat (@mysmugcat) and his angry cat (@myswearycat). The result of his unique blend of morose humor, silliness and cats (which we all know the Internet loves) ended up offering material for several books, plus his own website which, naturally features more information about his cats and general wildlife info about his native England. Here at the South, we have The Good, The Bad and the Furry ready for your perusal and laughter.

3640389The Kitchn is a division of Apartment Therapy, and uses the term “online magazine” instead of blog. While it was started by two people, the website is now run by an editorial staff that churns out about 20 articles daily on their website. The content involved recipes, how-to instructional videos and articles, plus tips on keeping a kitchen well-stocked and organized, no matter the size. I started following The Kitchn shortly after I found Food52 and haven’t been disappointed. The resulting cookbook, The Kitchn: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking  that came out this year has won a James Beard Award and is as beautiful and helpful as their website.

3678923Bonus: Food52 Baking: 60 Sensational Treats You Can Pull Off in a Snap

This month, Food52 came out with a baking cookbook that I pretty much have fallen in love with. They had me at scones, but they kept me with just about every other recipe that kept me turning the pages like a it was a suspense thriller. Not only are the pictures completely mouthwatering, but the book is filled with helpful tips (I FINALLY have a good cake-flour substitute) plus encouraging notes about making recipes your own. This book is the epitome of unintimidating, with a manageable number of simple recipes, but a good enough variety to have something for every palate. When I brought the book home, I had to fight the urge to curl up in bed with it that night so I could come as close as humanly possible to literally having sweet dreams. The book stayed safely tucked with my other library books that night (i.e. NOT in my bed), but I can guarantee that my oven will be earning it’s keep during the loan duration.

Till next week, dear readers, I encourage you to venture out into the World Wide Web and discover a new blog (or several) on a topic you enjoy, comforted by the knowledge that your readership here at this blog, is enormously appreciated.


Five Book Friday!


Today in The Library began when we couldn’t turn the computers on.  Circulation and Reference Staff alike looked at each other in bewilderment, and began wringing hands and chanting ancient chants in the hopes of dispelling the curse of Friday the 13th.


Then we realized that the main power switch had been flipped off.  So we flipped it on and got back to work.

Which got me to wondering…why is it that we fear Friday the 13th so much?  Fans of The DaVinci Code it’s the day that the Knights Templar were put to death by Philip IV of France, but it doesn’t look like anyone figured that out until the 20th century…others say it’s because Jesus was crucified on a Friday the 13th, but since they were using a different calendar at the time, I’m not quite sure how that idea works…some say it’s an old Italian belief, and another theory holds that a 1907 novel called Friday the Thirteenth by a gentleman named Thomas Lawson reinforced the idea for a new generation (the story is about a banker who takes advantage of the superstitious day to start a panic).

Ultimately, this seems to be One Of Those Things that we believe without good reason, but that our belief, ultimately, makes self-fulfilling…see the last book on today’s list for more of this sort of thing.  Better yet, come in and check out all of these books today.  It’s a fact that visiting the Library on a Friday the 13th dispels all bad luck.  At least it is now….




3638721Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Any time Stephen King gets a new book, I will always put it at the top of my list.  This collection of short stories is a bit of a mix of vintage and new stories, with “Ur” at the top of my list.  Back in the day when Kindles were The New Thing that everyone was poking with a bit of trepidation, Stephen King wrote a story “for Kindle only” story (which was really quite novel at the time) about a man who received a pink Kindle, with some pretty interesting extra features….this story has been “extensively re-written”, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what precisely that means…

3653108War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation: Alexander Hamilton is enjoying quite the renaissance, especially with the release of the new hip-hop musical Hamilton (if you haven’t heard it, go listen right now.  We’ll wait.). John Sedgewick is the many-times-great grandson of Theodore Sedgewick, who was speaker of the house in 1804, and the recipient of Hamilton’s one of Hamilton’s final letters.  While this gives Sedgewick a personal stake in things, which is good, it also makes him a smidgen biased against Burr, which might not make for the most accurate of histories, but it makes for some very, very good reading (while you’re listening to Hamilton!)

3654040Quicksand: Steve Toltz’s first book, A Fraction of the Whole, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and that same mad-cap humor and profound insight is on display in this new release, which features a failed cop and failing writer, Liam, who is basing his newest work on his best friend, Aldo’s spectacular failures in reclaiming his lost love.  Peter Carey, a two-time Man Booker Winner whose word is love and law, says of this book: “The energy, the hairpin turns, the narrative crashes, the stomach churning ascents and trashed taboos: what a joy to surrender oneself to a writer of such prodigious talent.”  And that’s good enough for me.

3644611Numero ZeroI have to be honest, having grown up with The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulumwhen I first heard that this book was a political thriller, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  However, it would appear that Eco brings the same intellectual depth and creativity to this genre that he brings to any other.  Set in 1992, this story features an editor at a gossip rag who uncovers a plot generations in the making, that sheds new light on a lifetime of political scandals–and puts everyone who knows the truth in very grave danger.  Booklist calls it a “brainy, funny, neatly lacerating thriller…. Eco’s caustically clever, darkly hilarious, dagger-quick tale of lies, crimes, and collusions condemns the shameless corruption and greed undermining journalism and governments everywhere. A satisfyingly scathing indictment brightened by resolute love.”

3686815Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpower: A patron referred to Matt Kaplan’s newest book as “a armchair guide to the supernatural”, which seems like a wonderfully appropriate description.  A respected science journalist, who last wrote on monsters, Kaplan explores the rituals, myths, fables and legends that have made their way into our lexicon of beliefs, and what powers they can–and do–hold over us.  Library Journal raves, “Absorbing and intellectually stimulating, this book is a joy to read and is highly recommended.”



Homer has a question for you...
Homer has a question for you…

Question: What are you doing right now?

Answer: Checking this blog in order to get the link to the Almeida’s day-long reading of The Odyssey!







Good!  Then here it is:

Also, for people who do The Twitter Thing, you can follow along with Odysseus and his water-logged crew: @almeidaodyssey,  and #Odyssey

Fair winds, and fair sailing, beloved patrons!  We’ll check in again once the journey is over and share our impressions!



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