A postcard from London…

If there is any library as near and dear to me as Peabody’s, it is my other library…the Stoke Newington branch of the Hackney Library, right down the street from where I lived once-upon-a-time.  So today, I thought I’d give you a glimpse inside this library as my first official Postcard From London….


Stoke Newington, home of Daniel DeFoe, is a lovely area in the London Borough of Hackney (where the term ‘Hackney Cab’ originated) that once-upon-a-time was its own borough, but got shoved into Hackney during a re-organization in the 1970’s…but Stoke Newington has never, ever, ever gotten over it.  Thus, they are a unique group unto themselves, who delight in their own quirkiness.  It’s a haven of vintage shops, bakeries, and utterly unique little cafes.  like Peabody, it is a place with a wide range of economic and individual diversity, and the library is a place that revels in that diversity and offers people a place to talk, share, and learn (much like Peabody, too, right?)  For example, in the lobby of the library, there is a display created by the local community crafter’s guild…it’s a 100% knitted, to-scale model of Stoke Newington Common…complete with knitted busses, knitted trains, and knitted trees.  Take a look:

Tiny Little Knitted Bus!
Tiny Little Knitted Bus!

The library itself was build in 1933 as a memorial to the men of Stoke Newington who died in the First World War.  Inside, there is a space for community events and announcements,  and in the main room is a section with public-use computers, a children’s room, and a career center, which holds English as a Second Language classes, as well as business and technology classes.  If you’re really super-interested, you can take a look at their programs here.

The main room of the Library
The main room of the Library

Like our libraries, the Stoke Newington Library is also hosting several different summer programs for the community.  My personal favorite is the Summer Reading Challenge, which is geared towards kids, but adults are also widely encouraged.  The rules are simple: pledge to read 6 books.  Then read them.  You can read anything you like, but patrons are encouraged to challenge themselves with genres or stories they haven’t read previously.  There are little prizes as you read, from tote bags to mugs, and at the end of the summer, there is a party in Stoke Newington Town Hall (right next door to the library) for all the devoted readers.  While I was checking out my books (yes, I still have my library card!), an eight-year-old girl was pledging to read eight books, because that’s how old she was, and both she and the librarian were thrilled to pieces to sign her up.

Finally, as you exit the library, you will see a little plaque next to the door, that commemorates a rather famous local.  Check it out:IMG_0494

That’s right!  Edgar Allan Poe moved to Stoke Newington when he was taken in by the Allan family at the age of twelve.  He lived there for three years, long enough to have some memories of the place, and certainly long enough for the place to remember him.  I adore the fact that he is referred to here as an “American Romancer”.  I think the intention was to say that he was a writer in the Romantic tradition, but this title is so much better, don’t you think?

I hope you enjoyed this little trip around Stoke Newington’s Library.  More quirky postcards to follow soon!

Saturdays @ the South: Literary Cats

I can has library card?

I was delighted to see that “man’s best friend” has been featured on the Main’s card catalog display and earlier this week on the blog. As a lover of animals of all types, I’m always cheered when others appreciate the power of the companion animal and as someone who has had the privilege to own both dogs and cats, I feel a cat post is necessary to balance things out. So this week will get “bookended” with the other type of best friend, although perhaps, instead of man’s best friend, cats should be called “book’s best friend”.

While we all know that cats have invaded the Internet in memes, pictures and videos, they’ve long been a symbol of wildness, domesticity and a host of other contradictory attributes. While I Can Has Cheezburger caused many cat memes to go viral, they weren’t the original LolCats. As it turns out, we’ve been obsessed with cat pictures since photography was streamlined. Authors Aurthur Arluke and Lauren Rolfe researched and published a book of 50 years of cat photos… starting in 1890! These photos were used to further the suffragette cause, to add dimension to family portraits and sometimes, it seems, just to make cats look silly.


For some reason, cats also seem to go well with books. Perhaps it’s their more quiet temperaments. Dogs, while great, are frequently energetic. Cats, by their own biological needs, sleep most of their days, often in cozy spots or basking in the sun and occasionally in unlikely poses. I think readers can identify with this as we settle into a reading position in a cozy spot, sometimes in the sun, and sometimes in unlikely poses.

Sleep on, Papa Hemingway. You're in good company.
Sleep on, Papa Hemingway. You’re in good company.

No one seemed to understand this confluence of books and cats like Ernest Hemingway, who, after keeping so many cats at his home in Key West that mated and perpetrated a genetic polydactyl trait down through generations, earned the distinction of having cats with that extra “finger” on their paw called Hemingway cats. And then we come full circle back to the internet, which has also recognized the compatibility of books and cats in the Tumblr, The Literary Cat.

To celebrate the feline-literary combination, here are some books will make you purr…

3635074The Good, the Bad, and the Furry by Tom Cox

Written by blogger and Instagrammer Tom Cox whose popular Why My Cat is Sad posts have taken on a life of their own, this book is filled with cat pictures, funny anecdotes and Cox’s attempts to psychoanalyze random cats he sees, this book is likely to keep you laughing and pondering the existential crises of cats all at the same time.

2641179Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

This heartwarming tale could have ended badly when a small kitten was stuffed in the book return slot at the Spencer Public Library on the coldest night of the year. But librarian Vicki Myron found this sick little kitten, nursed him back to health and he graced the stacks and charmed the staff and patrons of the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa for nineteen years.

3146631The Big Cat Nap by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Brown has been giving her cat co-author credit throughout all of her Mrs. Murphy mysteries and these cozies have delighted fans for two decades. This book marks the 20th anniversary of the sleuthing cat. In this adventure, Harry Harristeen and her feline helpers investigates a series of car accidents that are attributed to driver error, but Harry thinks there’s something suspicious.

3326042A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen

In another touching tale of a an abandoned cat who not only touches the lives of people around him, but this time saved on himself, Bob is found in Bowen’s apartment building. Bowen, who was living in dire circumstances, nursed the cat back to health and sent him on his way, thinking he wasn’t able to support a pet. Bob had other plans and worked his way back into Bowen’s life as Bowen describes in this charming memoir and it’s follow-up: The World According to Bob: the Further Adventures of One Man and His Streetwise Cat.

3593485Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

This is another bout of cozy fun as part of her “Cat in the Stacks” mystery series which regales the reader with “tails” of librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel. In this mystery, as Charlie goes through a donation of Civil War-era diaries for the archives only to be mired in history and politics as the the interest in the diaries grows.. and turns deadly.

Till next week, dear readers, hug a pet (be it yours or someone else’s), snuggle up next to them with a good book and even consider reading to them. If there’s something thing that goes together better than cats (or dogs) and books, it’s bonding through books.

Five Book Friday!

I admit it…I’m cheating with this week’s Five Book Friday, because the library recently acquired a dvd that has been getting riotous acclaim from a number of different reviewers in plenty of different countries.  Horror aficionados will find a lot to like here, but this film is as much a cultural statement as it is a vampire flick…

Otherwise, here are some selections from the wealth of new books lining our shelves.  We hope you find something to tickle your literary fancy!  Happy Friday, and have a smashing weekend!

3622606A Girls Walks Home Alone at NightOfficially the first Vampire Western to come out of Iran, Ana Lila Amirpour’s film is a sensationally atmospheric, beautifully shot and crazy genre mash-up that will change the way you think about horror.  In the ghost town of Bad-City, lonely souls wander every streets.  But what few realize is that a vampire also stalks the streets, looking for those most worthy of her vengeance….For those who enjoy Iranian cinema, this film is a treat, and if this is your first introduction, you found a darn good place to start!  Be sure to check out the trailer here.

3650964Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope: In 1820, the Spanish slave ship Antelope was spotted floating off the coast of Florida.  Since the US had ceased taking slaves from foreign traders, the 300 Africans on board were considered illegal cargo, however the profit that stood to be made was considerable enough that the issue over their humanity was brought before the Supreme Court–where these souls cargo, or free men and women?  Jonathan M Bryant traces the eight year battle that took place over this issue, and emphasizes with heartbreaking clarity just how central slavery was to the United States culture and economy in this fascinating (and often wrenching) new book.

2425591Piano Lessons Can Be Murder:  Perhaps the best thing about this fall’s upcoming Goosebumps Movie is that a whole new generation of readers can be exposed to R.L. Stine’s wonderfully creepy, relentlessly tense, and somewhat ridiculous Goosebumps series–and those of us who read them when they were first being released have a chance to relive each story anew!  In this installment, Jerry is intrigued by the dusty old piano that he finds in the attic, and delighted by his parents’ offer to pay for lessons…But his teacher, dr. Shreek seems….odd.  Then he starts hearing stories about other students who went to lessons–and never returned.  Cue the creepy music, the flickering lights, and get ready for a blast from the past that, for once, is totally worth every minute!

3617784Out of Orange: A Memoir: Hundreds of thousands of people have binge-watched Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black, based on Piper Kerman’s book.  Now, Catherine Cleary Wolters, the real-life Alex Vause tells her own story that not only fills in the details of Kerman’s story, and offers some answers for fans, but also provides some genuinely fascinating insight into Wolters’ life in the drug trade and within the prison system.  This is a must-read for series’ fans, but also for those looking for a far-from-conventional view on the justice system.

2941777In the Time of Butterflies: Have you heard of The Big Read?  Simply put, this is a program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences–and the Library is one of those organizations!  For our Big Read, we’ll be reading Julia Alvarez’s timeless tale of life in the Dominican Republic under Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s rule.  The story is told through the eyes of four sisters, all beautifully real, flawed, honest, and utterly empathetic, and all members of Las Mariposas, the leading group working against Trujillo.  This is the story of the sisters’ imprisonment in torture, but it is also a story about their loves, their dreams, and their memories, left behind in their surviving sister Dedé.  Don’t miss this spectacular story, or all the great programs organized around it.  Check out the schedule in the link above…or right here!


Summer Concert Series: Molly Pinto Madigan

Get ready for the upcoming performances in the library’s Summer Concert Series! Concerts are at 7 p.m. every Thursday night in July and August at East End Veterans Memorial Park. Every week, Free for All will offer an article about, or interview with, the band of the week. The following is an interview with Molly Pinto Madigan.

What made you decide to become a musician?
I’ve always envied people with a strong sense of purpose — the Mozarts of the world, who have been writing symphonies since they were in diapers, who never doubted the path they were destined to walk (granted, one could argue that, in Mozart’s case at least, purpose doesn’t always equal happiness).  I know musicians who have always known that music was it for them.  And I envy that.  I’ve always been the kind of person who has many interests.  When I was younger, I was fully prepared to juggle a plethora of careers — paleontologist, rock star, farm vet, professional baseball player, actor/director, the next Great American Author, and the owner of my own zoo.  And all at the same time, of course.  I had a sense of purpose, but not focus.  Somewhere along the way, music happened to me.  It seeped into my bones, until I realized that making music had always been a constant in my life, and I wanted to pursue it seriously.  I still have many interests — this month I’m into ballroom dance, preparing for my inevitable stint on Dancing With the Stars, and I’m currently writing my fourth novel — and that’s the great thing about eking out a career in music: it allows me some flexibility.  And as long as I’m being creative, I feel fulfilled.

How would you describe your sound?
That’s hard.  Indie folk, maybe?  Acoustic, Celtic-flavored modern folk with a dash of Americana and a dollop of poetry and a splash of rock.

What is your songwriting process like?
For the past year and a half, I’ve been sticking to the schedule of writing at least one new song each month, which keeps me productive.  So, the end of each month is a frenzy of panicked songwriting that typically results in a song.  I tend to write the music first, the lyrics last, although right now I’m finishing up a concept album that switched the process up a little bit.  Usually it goes like this, though: chords, melody, lyrics.  The lyrics take the longest to develop, and many trees lose their lives in the struggle (because I’m old school and write on paper).

Which artists have been your biggest musical influences, and what is it that draws you to their music?
That’s tough.  Growing up, my favorite band was The Beatles.  Actually, it still is.  My mom listened to a lot of vaguely folky stuff like Cat Stevens, The Cranberries, Simon and Garfunkel, Queen (modern folk?), etc.  I liked what she liked.  I still do.  In my teens, I went through a phase where I mostly listened to traditional folk — Child ballads, and Celtic laments, and Appalachian mountain songs.  Now, I listen to a bit of everything and am lucky to live in a hotspot for modern folk, and some of my best friends are also the songwriters and musicians I idolize most.  (Check out the rest of this concert series, and you’ll see some of them!)

Please tell us about any albums you have available or in production.
My first album, “Outshine the Dusk,” came out in 2013.  I released my newest one, “Wildwood Bride,” a couple of months ago at this library!  Both are available on iTunes and Amazon and CD Baby and Bandcamp.  You can check out my website (www.mollypintomadigan.com) for more info.

What should people expect when they come to your concert on Thursday night? 
I perform solo — just me and guitar.  I will probably make some bad jokes and play a song about a serial-killing mermaid.  Fun times.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’ve been coming to this library since I was 15 months old (according to my mom), and I feel like I’ve grown up here.  I’m so grateful to be a part of this community.

More about the Summer Concert Series:
Concerts will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday evenings in July and August at East End Veterans’ Memorial Park. Bring a blanket or folding chair, and maybe even a picnic dinner, and enjoy live acoustic music from a new performer each week. East End Veterans’ Memorial Park is located at 45 Walnut Street. The concert schedule is as follows:

July 9th: Damn Tall Buildings
July 16th: Hoot and Holler
July 23rd: Colleen White and Sean Smith
July 30th: Semi-Aquatic Rodent
August 6th: Molly Pinto Madigan
August 13th: Eva Walsh
August 20th: Ian Fitzgerald
August 27th: The Whiskey Boys

Please note: In the event of rain, Summer Concerts will be held in the Sutton Room at the Peabody Institute Library and food will not be allowed.

For more information, please call 978-531-0100 ext. 10, or visit the library’s website at www.peabodylibrary.org.


“…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” A Londoner’s If/Then…

I report to you today, Beloved Patrons, from London, a city with perhaps more literary connections than any other in the world–or, at the very least, the English speaking world.  I think it might be an interesting challenge to attempt to walk down a street in this great city, and not find some literary reference.  Watson provided a map of the city for readers to follow in his reports of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures; the opening of Dickens’ Bleak House perfectly captures not only the chaos of the bustling street, but the dismally wet autumnal weather around Lincoln’s Field Inn; Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is set so consciously in Westminster that her heroine and setting seem inseparable; even James Bond walked these stories streets, perhaps along with his less ostentatious colleague, Smiley, from John Le Carre’s immortal spy novels.  This is a city made up of words and tales, of shadows and mysteries that beg to be unravelled.

What I find truly interesting is how many different Londons there are in literature.  Some authors, like Zadie Smith or Monica Ali, focus on the real and the tangible, pulling their stories from the world directly outside their windows.  Historical mysteries delight in the fog-shrouded streets and dark alleys of the Victorian city, not in the least because of the legend of Jack the Ripper–which seems to have survived, despite the intercession of modern science.  Personally, my favorite versions of London are the fantastic ones seen by Neil Gaiman or Susannah Clarke, where magic and reality blend and mix.  If there is anywhere I could believe in separate world below ground, or magicians who could alter reality, it would be in London.

So for the next few weeks, I’ll try to post some blog-ish postcards from this storied city–beginning as soon as the jet-lag fully wears off.  For now, however, take a look at some stories set in this storied city, and get your imagination spinning….

2974777The Skin Map: The first scenes of Stephen Lawhead’s incredibly imaginative time-travel/epic fantasy mashup series known as the Bright Empires begins in contemporary London, and the utter banality of his protagonist’s existence provides the perfect foil to the adventures that he is soon to begin.  As he rushes to catch a train, Kit Livingston finds himself dragged into an adventure that not only changes his life, but may very well change history.  Because Britain’s ‘ley lines’ are not merely fictional…they exist beneath the streets and in the shadows, and offer those with knowledge of thier power to travel at will.  Kit’s great-grad-father nearly died to keep the knowledge of the ley lines a secret–will Kit be able to measure up to his expectations.

2634187The Blood Detective: Dan Waddell published the official guidebook to accompany the hit series Who Do You Are, so it makes sense that the hero of his two-book series is a genealogist, hired by Scotland Yard to help piece together a grisly murder investigation from the National Archives in Kew.  As the killer continues taunting the police with cryptic messages, Nigel Barnes realizes that this crime has ties to a Victorian serial killer whose legacy is still very much alive.  Barnes continues his work Blood Atonementwhich provides some great character development for him and his team, including a look into his adorably quirky London flat, furnished with the most unlikely of antique curios.

2699304A Madness of Angels: Kate Griffin’s paranormal adventure begins where most cop procedurals end–with the bad guy being brought down.  But in this case, Griffin’s hero, Matthew Swift, returns to London–and to his body–two years after his death.  This is a terrific, and often challenging book, not in the least because Griffen uses the their-person plural for her narrator’s vision (her most commonly used pronoun is ‘we’, not ‘I’) that emphasizes her hero’s bizarre predicament inside his own skin.  Though a little jarring at first, this style is wonderfully appropriate to this tale, and adds another level of weirdly bizarre to this tale of London and the shadows that cling to it.

Wednesdays @ West: Literatea, August Edition


This morning was the August meeting of Literatea.  The tea of the month was iced white tea with strawberries.  For a list of this month’s highlighted books, check out the August Newsletter.

Need even more suggestions?  Here’s what the lovely bibliophiles of Literatea have been reading and talking about:

invisiblecityInvisible City by Julia Dahl



languageflowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh



inventionofwingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd




shoemakersThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani




queenofthebigtimeThe Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani




flowersofthefieldFlowers of the Field by Sarah Harrison




pillarsoftheearthPillars of the Earth by Ken Follett




worldwithoutendWorld Without End by Ken Follett




bostongirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant




haroldfryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

iampilgrimI am Pilgrim: a thriller by Terry Hayes




alliloveandknoAll I Love and Know by Judith Frank




mygrandfatherwouldhaveshotmeMy Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege




girlsofatomiccityThe Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan




silverstarThe Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Card Catalog Display: For the Love of Dogs

Dog lovers, rejoice: this month’s card catalog display is all about man’s best friend. Anyone who’s owned a dog knows that the bond is like no other. Dogs become our most loyal and trustworthy friends, our confidantes, our family. Owning a dog can bring so much comfort and joy to a person, and truly complete a family. You give them a happy home, and in return they’ll give you endless love. A dog will not complain or talk back, and they will listen without judgment or interruption. And they’re always happy to see you – whether you’ve been gone for ten minutes or two weeks.

The Dog Days of Summer

Dogs have this incredible ability to help humans both emotionally and physically. There are stories from September 11 of guide dogs leading their blind owners down tens of flights of stairs in the World Trade Center as the buildings collapsed. I’ve seen families with children who suffer from seizures who own service dogs that alert both the child and parents of seizures before they occur. Comfort dogs visit hospitals and rehabilitation centers to provide hope and support to patients – in fact, Massachusetts’ first comfort dog, Lydia, visited the West Branch this past winter. There are also search and rescue dogs who are able to find missing people or victims of natural disasters in ways humans cannot, and there are police and military dogs who help protect us.

After a bad day at work, coming home to a dog is the best. They shower you with love, always seem to know how you’re feeling, and have this innate desire to make you happy. Even after they eat your new shoes or poop on the expensive carpet, they pull out those puppy-dog-eyes and look so guilty and remorseful that it’s hard to stay upset long. The love of a dog is undying and pure in a way humans can only try to emulate. Personally knowing a dog’s love, it’s not surprising that so much literature exists on dogs.

These are just a few of my favorite rescue tales, but there are also mysteries about dogs, such as those by Shannon Conant or David Rosenfelt, and various memoirs by dog owners such as the touching tale of Oogy, or the popular book-to-movie Marley and Me.


The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach by Stephen McGarva

Adrenaline junkie moved with his wife to Puerto Rico in search of adventure and a break from their every-day life at home. While relaxing at a beach called Playa Lucia, McGarva finds an emaciated, bloody dog who he initially believes is dead, until the dog starts wagging his tail. In his mission to rescue this pup, he learns that the beautiful Playa Lucia, also known as “Dead Dog Beach” to the locals, is a popular place to dump unwanted dogs, or satos. McGarva begins a two year journey in which he would come to save hundreds of dogs, all while putting his marriage, sanity, and life at risk. Inspirational yet heartbreaking and occasionally morbid, this memoir is ideal for any animal lover.

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant

The world was shocked in 2007 to learn that football player Michael Vick was the leader of a dog fighting ring. As Vick’s trial progressed, people questioned what would come of these pitbulls. Many thought the animals should be euthanized, as their brutal upbringing showed they were past rehabilitation – even PETA thought these animals would never be capable of love! Yet the ASPCA and public support saved these dogs, and they went on to live happy, love-filled lives, many in families and one even as therapy dog. This book exposes the horrors of dog fighting, chronicles the lives of these loveable pitbulls, and offers beautiful insights into the power of love and redemption.


Going Home: Finding Peace when Pets Die by Jon Katz

The hardest part of having any pet as a family member is saying goodbye. It’s so unfair that our companions’ lives are so much shorter than our own. I recently lost my chocolate lab, Chewie, who’d been with me since adolescence, and I found it comforting to hear others’ experiences regarding their pets and loss. Katz encourages readers to accept their grief and celebrate the lives of our pets. You’ll find yourself realizing that you gave your dog the best life you could have, that you made the right decisions in the end, and that though your dog isn’t with you any longer, you’ve experienced love and companionship in one of its most innate and beautiful forms. I miss Chewie every day, but I’m so grateful that I got to spend 12 amazing years with such a loving and devoted dog, and proud that his life was one most humans only dream of. If you are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, Katz, a renowned writer on dogs, provides comfort and hope through the stories he shares.


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