And then I found this recording of Neil Gaiman reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And I realized I could never, ever, top that. So here, for your listening pleasure, and as a salvation to your Monday (and Tuesday. It’s grading period, sorry!), is Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol, with unending gratitude to the New York Public Library for making this happen, and offering it to the Internets.
PS: Anyone else wondering if the good Mr. Gaiman borrowed his top hat from our Blog’s mascot, Theophilus?
While there are many parts of the Internet that can be rabbit-holes designed to suck your free time away from you without you even noticing, there are many other parts of the Internet that I can’t imagine living without. Fun, interesting blogs like this one, and others that we’ve mentioned here where anyone can find cool, bookish topics are a continual source of joy. Pinterest straddles the line for me between time-suck and “what did I ever do without you?” But part of the wonderful randomness of the Internet involves coming across stories like this one, in which this year on World Book Day (which takes place every April) volunteers took to the public transit system of Sao Paolo, Brazil and gave out, not just free books, but free books that each came pre-loaded with 10 subway rides on an RFID card embedded on the cover. Commuters could not only bring their books along with them on their commute, but they could actually use those books to enter the subway system. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the covers were inspired by subway maps. I’m just going to let the awesomeness of this idea wash over you for a bit because it took me a while to fully grasp its genius.
We’ve talked a bit on the blog before about books allowing free transit passage in Romania, but we haven’t talked about that particular quality of books that can make a commute fly by and possibly make us miss our stop. There’s something about a public transit commute that welcomes the opportunity for reading. There’s no need to focus on driving, the train/bus often has other readers so there’s a sense of camaraderie and (maybe this is just me) the repetitive motion instills a sense of meditative calm which can easily induce a good state of mind for absorbing words on the page. To be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve commuted by public transit, so I may be romanticizing it a bit. I do, however, have several friends who regularly commute via MBTA and I polled them for some ideas. In addition to some very cool title choices which will be revealed below, one of them kindly let me in on one of her secrets, and I’m willing to bet it’s one many of us surreptitiously share:
“I’m going to reveal my dark secret…reading over peoples’ shoulders (unbeknownst to them) is my favorite train, subway, and bus material. Whether it’s the white-haired grandmother surreptitiously reading Fifty Shades of Grey on her kindle, the college student devouring the latest in George R.R. Martin’s saga or the businesswoman lost in the Wall Street Journal, I love glancing over their shoulder to catch a sentence here or a phase there. We sit, the miles falling behind us as the pages flip by, engrossed in a particularly compelling character like Maya in “I know why the caged bird sings” or a thrilling Grisham storyline, united through a long commute and a love of books. You just can’t get that experience in a car.”
Since we’re having a bit of True Confessions: Books Edition here, I’ve always had a similar approach when I commuted on the train. I loved to take a look at what everyone else was reading and not necessarily read over their shoulder, but make a mental note of the cover or title to check out later. Clearly, the daily commute is not only a way to catch up on your reading or improve a country’s literacy rates, it’s a great way to gather reading suggestions as well! In that spirit, here are some books that may just make your commute go by a little faster:
This recommendation comes from the aforementioned, self-admitted “over-shoulder reader,” lest you think she only reads the bits and snatches she catches from other people. According to her, this light, funny, epistolary novel made for a great commuting read. It was engaging and went by quickly.
This was recommended by our wonderful regular blogger Arabella who is also a transit commuter. This is a book consisting of 4 separate novellas that are easily digestible in a trip or two. According to her: “there is a very nice sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to read a whole story in one commuting session” and she would recommend any type of short story collection for commuting. Apparently George Saunders’ books make good choices as well because “his stories are like little baby novels in terms of depth, if not length.”
Another recommendation from Arabella who also enjoys romance novellas on a commute “because they are like little bite-sized pieces of escape.” Most of Dare’s novellas are available through the library in ebook format, but we’ve got this full-length novel in paperback available here at the South. And really, when you’re crowded like a sardine or waiting in the cold/snow/rain/etc., who couldn’t use a bite-sized piece of escape?
I know I just mentioned this book just a couple of weeks ago, but it’s great commuting book. None of the letters in this book are more than a few pages long, which makes it ideal for reading in bits and snatches if you’re trying to fit some reading in before the next stop. The overall arc of the book, however, is engrossing so you can read longer to get a great sense of the evolution of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the friendship between Child and deVoto.
Lest we forget those who commute by car, audiobooks are great for a car commute. As a matter of fact, many of our wonderful South Peabody patrons are fellow commuters who, like me, prefer to spend their driving time productively. Audiobooks allow you to safely “read” while you’re driving which I think is the best possible kind of multitasking. This book is brief but beautiful with the added bonus that it’s narrated by the author in all of his wonderful Britishness and delightful characterizations. Gaiman is not a man who is afraid to “do the voices” of his characters which makes any audiobook he narrates an engaging read, but this one is particularly well-suited for shorter commutes as the narrative is easily picked up again from short snatches. Plus, Gaiman’s prose is so immersive, it’s nothing to dive right back in where you left off.
Many thanks again to my wonderful friends who always manage to indulge me when I put out a call for suggestions. Till next week, dear readers, I hope your commutes are uneventful in the best of ways, but your reading during that time is exciting !
“There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep—then they appear.”
― Tove Jansson, Moominland Midwinter
Happy Friday, beloved patrons! It is the end of the school semester for some, and a ridiculously lovely winter weekend for many, so we shall err on the side of brevity today. Some of us, who see cold and snow as nature’s invitation to stay home and read in our pajamas are deeply offended by this weather, but we shall, no doubt, have our snow days soon enough. In any event, I wish you a safe and pleasant weekend, and good reading, whether you’re cozy inside, or in defiant short sleeves outside! Here are some of the new books that have made their way to our shelves for your browsing pleasure:
Conquerors : How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire: Roger Crowley has made his career telling big, sweeping histories of seafaring empires, and post-Crusades encounters of East-meeting-West. This newest release focuses on the small country of Portugal that, for a time, ruled the largest empire on earth. Using eyewitness accounts and personal papers, Crowley describes some of the gutsy, clever navigators who brought Portuguese ships farther than any other, and brought back spices and tales of far-flung adventures. This is no triumphant tale–at least not entirely. Crowley also deals with the brutality of these adventurers towards the natives they encountered, and the destruction they wrought on the hunt for mythical treasures.
Perchance to Dream : Selected Stories: Charles Beaumont may have made his name writing scripts for The Twilight Zone, but his imagination was simply too big, and his storytelling instinct too strong to stay bound by one form of writing. These stories are a giant mish-mash of genres, from straight science fiction to horror, to noir-ish tales of suspense and weird pulp magazine thrillers. Robots and aliens creep across the page beside lions and even the Devil himself, offering what may be the most comprehensive “escape read” to hit the shelves this season (and the cover is like a fever-dream in and of itself!). NPR raved about this collection, saying “Twist endings get a bad rap in our oh-so-sophisticated millennium, but in Perchance to Dream, they’re in the hands of a master…Throughout the book, Beaumont challenges perception, norms, and our smug reliance on appearances, using supernatural and science-fictional elements to drive home his points — sometimes gently, sometimes jarringly…[Beaumont’s] imagination, as Perchance to Dream amply shows, was more than most writer’s enjoy in the longest of lifetimes.”
City on Fire: Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut is making waves amongst reviewers, publishers, and readers alike. Set in 1976, this story swirls around a shooting that took place in Central Park, and the tangential connection that a group of people may or may not have to the crime. Though the mystery itself is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, the events that occur during the blackout of July 13, 1977, sets this story apart, bringing it into the realm of the unforgettable. The list of rapturous reviews for this book is considerable, but I’ll leave it to the New York Times to have the last word here: “[In] Hallberg’s XXL tool kit as a storyteller: a love of language and the handsprings he can make it perform; a bone-deep knowledge of his characters’ inner lives that’s as unerring as that of the young Salinger; an instinctive gift for spinning suspense. He also possesses a journalistic eye for those telling details that can trigger memories of the reader’s own like small Proustian grenades . . . A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.”
Brown-Eyed Girl: Lisa Kleypas finished off her Travis series with the story of wedding planner Avery Crosslin and the wealthy Joe Travis, whom she mistakenly assumes to be the photographer for her latest project. Joe is happy to play along, so long as it means spending some more time with Avery, but she is not about to let her guard down, especially when she realizes who he is–and what loving him could mean for her. Kleypas’ historical romances are the stuff of legends, but her contemporary romances are also highly recommended, with Booklist giving this installment a starred review, and saying, “When it comes to delivering a pair of perfectly matched protagonists whose heart-melting romance is fueled by an abundance of smoldering sexual chemistry, Kleypas is a class by herself, and the conclusion to her Travis Brothers quartet deserves an A+.”
The River Cottage Booze Handbook: John Wright makes the often-intimidating process of home-brewing seem easy in this easy, well-written instructional book. These tips on home-brewing your own ciders, beers, wines, liqueurs and spirits may help you with your winter projects, and the hangover-cure recipes included in each chapter may very well prove useful afterwards….
It’s time again, Beloved Patrons, for another round of staff favorites for this year! This week’s selection comes from one of our children’s room staff, and my favorite Saturday afternoon circulation desk friend:
Snow in August: Pete Hamill’s tale is a moving story of friendship, crossing cultures, and loving baseball, between a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic altar boy in 1940s Brooklyn. The rabbi, a Czech who fled the Nazis on the eve of World War II, teaches the boy Judaism while the boy, who is Irish, teaches the rabbi English and baseball. When anti-Semitic hoods attack the rabbi, the boy goes to his defense. The New York Times Book Review called this one “Magic….This page-turner of a fable has universal appeal.”
The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini’s modern-day masterpiece is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present. The story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, it is set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption, and it is also about the power of fathers over sons-their love, their sacrifices, their lies
A Thousand Splendid Suns: Another winner from the great Khaled Hosseini, this one about two women, Mariam and Laila, who are born a generation apart but are brought together by war and fate. They witness the destruction of their home and family in war-torn Kabul, losses incurred over the course of thirty years that test the limits of their strength and courage. Together they endure the dangers surrounding them and discover the power of both love and sacrifice, as they become allies in their marriage to the violently mysogynistic Rasheed.
The Glass Castle: Jeannette Walls book has been featured here before–and with good reason. Her writing is wonderfully powerful, and this memoir, though heartbreaking, also the life-affirming about surviving a willfully impoverished, eccentric and severely misguided family. The child of an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother, Walls described her family’s nomadic upbringing, during which she and her siblings fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities in a story that is hard to forget.
Heaven is for Real: When four year old Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren’t expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the following months, a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy’s trip to heaven and back. This true story, retold by his father but using Colton’s uniquely simple words, in a tale that was also made into a feature film.
I love a fair amount of the things that make up the holiday season…I love candy canes. I love strings of lights wrapped around tree branches (though, frankly, the blinking ones make me a little uncomfortable, but if that’s your thing, go for it!). I love how many different holiday are happening all at once, and hearing about everyone’s wonderful, bizarre, utterly unique traditions (my dad reads us A Child’s Christmas In Wales every Christmas Eve. I love when you find a flicker of common sympathy with a total stranger while you’re waiting for your latte, or when someone holds the door for you, and suddenly the world isn’t such a horrible place anymore. I have been known to start dancing to the holiday music while waiting in line–and I love the people who dance with me.
But most of all, of all the things, I LOVE HOLIDAY CARDS.
Like, the ones in the mail. The ones with stamps. That people use a pen or a pencil to write out. Ones with glitter and snowmen on the front, or the weird, bookish ones, or the ones with pictures of people’s families standing in front of a picturesque sunset mountainscape. I don’t care. I love cards. I tape them up around the kitchen doorway and they are the last part of the holidays that I take down again.
This is not a plug to get holiday cards, don’t worry. But it is a passionate plea for the letter, for the written expression of human feeling. For the tangible expression of human interaction that can be read years and years later…and thereby, make us immortal.
And then, today, the internet bestowed upon me a recording of the near-perfet Tom Hiddleston reading a letter from naturalist and zoologist Gerald Durrell, author of My Family and Other Animals, to fellow naturalist and zoologist Lee McGeorge, before their wedding in 1979. Brought to you courtesy of the people who brought you Letters of Note:
And now since nothing I will write here can top that, I thought I’d offer you a few recommendations of works that feature letters. Maybe they’ll inspire you to send some of your own? Or maybe to cherish those than find their way into your mailbox…even if Tom Hiddleston isn’t there to read them to you…..
Letters of Note: We’ve quoted from this site a few times in the past, and with good reason. The letters featured show the beautifully human side of some of the great names in history, from responses to fans and letters to editors to notes to their children and missives to librarians. This book is the first collection of letters to be published in tangible form, and makes for some sensational reading. I think my favorite is “Things to worry about”, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie, but I hope you’ll soon find your own!
Eugene Onegin: True story–the first time I read this book, I missed my stop on the bus and was only alerted to said fact when the bus driver got up and asked me to leave so he could go eat dinner. Pushkin’s masterpiece is a stunningly beautiful, surprisingly funny, insightful and remarkably accessible story about human beings and love, and the mistakes that we make on the spur of the moment. The foundation of the work are two love letters, one from the young and naive Tatiana to Onegin, and one from him to her, but the circumstances surrounding the writing of both couldn’t be more different. For more information, you’ll have to read this yourself.
The Documents in the Case: Though Dorothy L. Sayers is best known for her mysteries featuring the marvelous Lord Peter Wimsey, she also wrote this cunning little epistolary novel with Robert Eustace (the pen name of Dr Eustace Barton, who wrote medical-mysteries). This mystery is a fascinating blend of art and science, about tiny little slips of the pen, and grand theories of life all contained in the letters between Mrs. Harrison, the young, lovely, and somewhat silly young women, and Lathom, the artist with whom she carries on an affair…but as many of the letters contradict each other, it’s up to the read to decide which of these characters to trust…
The Color Purple: Alice Walker’s award winning novel of two Black sisters is not an easy read, mostly because Walker doesn’t shy away for a moment from the realities of being Black, being a woman, and being poor in the South. But her insight and empathy are so overwhelming that it makes this book a thing of beauty. This tale of two sisters is told almost exclusively through letters between two sisters, one of whom is a missionary in Africa, and one of whom is the young bride of a man who cannot love her. This book is a constant reminder of the power of words, and the strength of those words to define our lives.
It’s that time, once again, patrons, when our library’s genre devotees share with you their favorite romance selections for the month. Especially with the days grow shorter and the skies bleaker, romances feel more and more like the perfect antidote to these increasingly stressful days. So here are some of our favorites to brighten your days, and make your heart sing!
This book crossed my path wholly by happenstance, but swiftly became one of those books that makes you want to tap the shoulder of random strangers and tell them they look grumpy and should read this book. Katie Lynch has a real gift for creating atmosphere and capturing the utter inanities and oddities that make families real and whole, and tells this story with genuine empathy and insight that makes it as touching as it is quirky and fun.
Jane Morrow has taken an extended leave from college and is helping out at her uncle’s fortune cookie factory, writing out words of inspiration and hope for all the people who walk by her window–but she can’t seem to dream up any insight for her own dead-end life. She’s surrounded by family, and supported by the close-knit community in her Chinatown home, but nevertheless, she knows something big is missing.
…That is, until she sets eyes on Sutton St. James, who hides out most days in the noodle shop across the street from Jane’s apartment. Sutton is torn between her professional dreams of conducting stem cell research and her personal ties to her father–a former surgeon general who is dead-set against stem cell work of any kind. Confused and feeling increasingly lost, Sutton finds a home-away-from-home in the noodle shop. And when Jane and her incredibly precocious cousin come charging into her life, Sutton and Jane both begin to realize just what they have both needed–but will Sutton’s powerful connections threaten the family that Jane and Sutton dream of making together?
Though this is definitely a love story, there are lots of different kinds of love here–the romantic kind, the familial kind, the kind that holds you down and the kind that can set you free. Jane’s journey with Sutton is definitely not like any I’ve read before, but that is a marvelous thing. It’s past time that we had stories that feature such diverse characters and identities, but Katie Lynch’s work definitely goes a long way to making up for lost time.
When painfully shy Madeline Gracechurch invents a conveniently absent Scottish beau in order to avoid the cutthroat marriage market of London society, she never expects that years later the man of her imaginings will turn up on the doorstep of her newly inherited castle. The latest in Tessa Dare’s Castles Ever After series brings together a hero with a life overshadowed by abandonment, and a heroine so trapped in a web of self-protective lies that she will go to almost any length to avoid the revelation of the truth. But will she marry Captain Logan MacKenzie, a complete stranger, just to keep up appearances? And if she does will she find love?
With When a Scot Ties the Knot, Tessa Dare delivers a romance that is just as sweet as it is passionate. It’s easy to care about the story’s vulnerable main characters, and the ways in which they strengthen each other are equal parts charming, funny and heart-warming. This is a romance novel, so it’s almost a given to expect a happy ending, but the real treat of Tessa Dare’s latest is that it’s a feel-good story all-around. From cover to cover, When a Scot Ties the Knot is a delight to read, so grab a cup of tea, park yourself in your most comfortable chair, and don’t plan to get up until the last page is turned. I’ll just say, “You’re welcome” now because you’ll want to thank me for this enthusiastic recommendation later.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love to cook and bake and those who have been to my house can tell you how much smaller it looks when it’s packed to the rafters with Christmas decorations. For me, the holidays are an exciting and fun, albeit busy, time. (Please keep reading; I promise you’ll find reasons not to hate me in this post.) I know this isn’t the case for everyone. For some, the holidays are a stressful experience with pressure to present your “best self” to family, friends, acquaintances and, sometimes even total strangers. Holiday entertaining can be a big part of that. Whether you’re trying to find the perfect dish to bring to someone’s house, you’re putting something together for people coming to you, or making sure the house is appropriately festive, it can be stressful prepping for a holiday celebration.
Over the years, I’ve amassed a few tricks that have helped me cope with the extra demands the holidays add, so in the spirit of giving synonymous with the holidays and with the spirit of sharing resources, synonymous with libraries, I thought I’d share a few tips with you here. DISCLAIMER: I am not Martha Stewart, Ina Garten or any other household maven with unlimited space and resources; therefore, these tips haven’t been tested and re-tested by teams of staff. They’re what’s worked for me in the past and hopefully will be able to help you in the future, but they’re not set in stone. Take them or adapt them to your individual needs as you see fit.
You may be saying “it’s a little late for that now,” but it’s still fairly early in the holiday season and people (both shoppers and sales clerks) haven’t yet reached their tolerance limit for holiday cheer. This is also a great time to pull together recipes that you’ll be needing for your celebrations and make shopping lists to minimize the last-minute runs for eggs or pumpkin.
Cookie Dough Refrigerates and Freezes Beautifully!
If, like it does for me, the holidays mean trays and trays of cookies, know that you don’t have to spend an entire day making batch after batch. I’ve yet to meet a cookie dough that doesn’t freeze exceptionally well. Start small and make one or two batches of dough at a time. If the dough calls for refrigeration (you know the instructions: refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight), who says you have to stop at overnight? If your dough needs chilling, make it and leave it (well covered) in the fridge for a few days. Or, put it in the freezer for weeks and your dough will be ready when you’re ready to bake, not the other way around.
Take Stock of What’s Important to You
Aside from wrapping paper, I don’t fancify the gifts I give. My cat thinks ribbons and other “present garnish” are delicious, so I decided it’s not worth the time and effort to make gifts extra-pretty only to have to shoo my kitty away from the tree for nearly a month. I channel that time into baking, instead. A long time ago, my mom changed Christmas dinner to a make-ahead and bake-on-the-day lasagna, instead of a big, fancy meal. She realized that what was important was time to open gifts and focus on the desserts (see above re: lots and lots of cookies) without being rushed or pulled away to make the food. When it comes to easing holiday stress, decide what will make the best memories for your holiday and focus on that. As long as you keep your focus on the important stuff, the smaller stresses of the holiday tend to seem like less of a big deal.
For more hints on holiday entertaining by people who are definitely more qualified than I am, givethese selections a try:
Let’s not kid ourselves here. Whatever you may think of Martha Stewart, she’s had the market cornered on holiday entertaining for some time now. This book is comprehensive but well organized with recipes organized by course, plus a menu guide, an extensive array of full-color photos to give you an idea of how the food should look and a source guide for where to find some of the somewhat more obscure items (though I think more of the items are readily available since this book was first published).
This book is arranged seasonally throughout the year and as such only has a small section on the holidays, but those small sections are worth exploring. Taking more of a “whole life” approach, rather than focusing on individual tasks, Adarme offers tips that are unusual in the “I never would have thought of that; what a cool idea!” kind of way, helping to make your holiday contributions stand out and be a little more personal. Her focus on simplicity and wholesomeness is bound to ease just a little bit of stress.
This book has a cuteness factor to the power of 10, so if you’re more into mainstream or monochromatic simplicity, you may want to give this one a pass. If you’re like me, though and love new ideas that are both creative and adorable, you’re guaranteed to find something you like in here. Cox covers holidays from Halloween through to New Years, including an impressive array of Hanukkah treats, and all of them are adorable, professional looking treats from pre-made ingredients. Her tips, tricks and organization techniques will make you the hit of the party in no-time. So if you’re not a from-scratch person, this book is a must-try.
If you’re more of a cocktail party person, this book is a great guide to setting up a minimalist bar that can make hundreds of cocktails with tested recipes and good, old-fashioned standards like the martini, sidecar and gimlet. The book offers both budget and high-end bottle options so you can stock up and save or make splurges where you choose. If you are lacking space or inclination, they also have chapters devoted to creating your own 1-bottle, 3-bottle and 4-bottle bar so you can test the waters a bit. With the inclusion of hundreds of drink recipes, you’d think this would be a massive brick of a book, but it’s actually compact and well-designed, so you can easily scan a recipe while holding your cocktail shaker.
If you prefer more of a wine-and-appetizers, low-key affair, Scott-Goodman’s book is perfect for creating just that type of party. She offers tips on stocking your pantry so that you’re ready for any type of impromptu gathering (or one that was pushed upon you last-minute; we’ve all been there…) She then proceeds to take the reader on a tour of snacks, dips and small dishes (think tapas but with less fuss) pretty much all designed to be eaten with your hands and pair perfectly with a glass (or more) of wine. What makes this book stand out for me is that she doesn’t recommend a specific bottle of with each dish, just one or two types of wine, which means you don’t have to be a sommelier or even a wine-enthusiast to pull of a delicious party. If you have a few bottles on-hand you can tailor your menu to the types of wine you already enjoy and put the focus where it belongs – on having fun!
I hope these tips and resources will make the holiday season a little happier for all of you. Till next Saturday, dear readers, I’m off to make some cookie dough…
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass