apple spice tea, apple cider donuts and a cozy chat about books. That’s right book lovers, last Tuesday was the fall inspired Literatea at the West. For the latest book news and books highlighted by library staff, check out the October Newsletter.
Here’s what the Literatea attendees having been reading recently:
Since one of our topics this month was teen literature that adults can love too, Code Talkerby Joseph Bruhac got an enthusiastic recommendation.
The discussion of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, which was recommended in September by Dale at the West Branch, continued. The general agreement seems to be that this one is an enjoyable read, but not quite as good as McLain’s The Paris Wife.
Since the West Branch afternoon book group read The Wives of Los Alamos by Tara Shea Nesbit for October, that title came up for discussion. Some of our Literatea ladies very much enjoyed the way it was written (using the first person, plural “we” throughout the book) and others gave it a big thumbs down. Is there anything more intriguing than a book people can’t agree upon?
We also talked about the other title being read and discussed by a West Branch book club this month was When Books Went to Warby Molly Guptill Manning, which is a fascinating look at the role that ideas, censorship and most importantly books played in World War II. It’s a title that would be of interest to anyone who loves books or history (and really, who does that leave out?).
Speaking of titles that will appeal to the history buffs among us, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough also gets and enthusiastic thumbs up for its readability and the intriguing story of these famous, yet not well understood Americans.
Well that’s all for the October Literatea, dear readers. Literatea will be on a bit of a break for the next few months. To hold you over until we return, you can take a look at the newsletters for past Literatea events and, of course, keep reading Free For All!
This is only the second year the award is open to all English-writing authors, and, as a result, James is the first Jamaican writer to win the £50,000 award. He is also the first author ever whose prize-winning book was published by an independent publisher (Oneworld).
In describing the book, which was inspired by the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the 1970’s, and the long-reaching consequences of that event, Man Booker Prize chairman Michael Wood called James’ work “startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times ad places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.
“It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.”
The judges were unanimous in their decision, Wood continued: “We started, as we have done for the whole year, talking about all the books,” said Wood. “As we talked certain books sounded further away than other books. At a certain point it dawned on us this was the book.”
Diedre Mills, Jamaican Deputy High Commissioner has also released a statement about James’ success: “We are very proud but not too surprised. Jamaicans excel at whatever they do.”
This BBC article has video of the prize announcement, in which the selected book is carried onto the stage swathed in a white cloth and dramatically revealed, James’ joyful reaction, and his acceptance speech.
*For those who have already read the book, and/or for those who prefer some ambiance to your reading, James has also released a playlist to accompany his book, which you can find here, complete with audio recordings.
Which got me thinking about bookish pets, and pets in books…Though our library doesn’t have any pets (that aren’t imaginary), there are a few Library Animals around the world whose stories are truly epic, and serve to highlight what a great place libraries are for the two-legged and four-legged visitors alike!
Check out, for example, Library Cat, the sort-of-official-stray cat of The University of Edinburgh Central Library. According to this article from the Scotsman, “Jordan” was originally adopted by a local friary in the hopes that he would catch mice. “Jordan” had much loftier ambitions, however, and a love of heated libraries and turquoise chairs. When he began appearing regularly in the nearby library, and tolerating the affection of staff and patrons, he was given a library card, a new nickname, and allowed free reign of the building. His fame grew to such an extent that when Library Cat decided to spend a few nights with his Friar Friends, rumors of his demise caused such turmoil that a national newspaper investigated, and offered conclusive evidence that Library Cat was alive, well, and very grumpy after being woken from his nap.
In Russia, Kuzya the Cat made international news when he was actually hired as a member of staff in Novorossiysk, a city on the Black Sea. Kuzya was a stray who showed up at the library in October of 2012. The staff welcomed him inside, as all good library staff do, and Kuzya quickly decided that the library was a lovely place to stay. However, because he was a stray, Kuzya lacked the appropriate documentation required by Russian law (which mostly involved a rabies vaccine and micro-chip). The staff quickly got that sorted, and even acquired a cat passport for Kuzya (which is a thing in Russia, apparently), but he was so cute, so public-spirited, and so talented at bringing people into the library, that he was soon promoted to “Assistant Librarian”.
Kuzya can still be found in the Novorossiysk Library, wearing a bowtie, because that is what gentlemen do, and, according to sources, plays “Pushkin the Cat Scientist” in plays for children, in addition to his vigorous routine of napping in the stacks, napping in the newspaper racks, and napping in the comfy chairs before snacktime.
So, in honor of the library pets* around the world, across the universe, and in other realms entirely, here are some nominees for Best Literary Pet. Any suggestions for our Library Pet are entirely welcome.
Mog the Cat: Judith Kerr based a good deal of her series about the forgetful and often perplexed Mog the cat on her own family, including the names of the children in Mog’s house, and Mog’s south London neighborhood. It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with the portly, adorable Mog (who was brought to life through Kerr’s illustrations), and her adventures are the kind of funny, slightly absurd tales that parents will enjoy right alongside their kids.
Tock the Dog: Aside from being one of the most wonderfully original, imaginative, unforgettable books you will ever read, The Phantom Tollbooth also features Tock, the watchdog–whose body is part watch–who guides the hapless Milo through his adventures. Tock is also a guard dog who protects against, you guessed it, wasted time. Though vigilant in his duties, Tock is also a stalwart friend to Milo, staying by his side, flying him out of the Mountains of Ignorance (because, of course, time flies…), and offering some of my favorite advice in all of literature to Milo when he winds up in the Doldrums: “Since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.”
Gruffalo: Julia Donaldson wrote The Gruffalo as an adaptation of a Chinese folktale involving a fox and a tiger. However, when she couldn’t think of a rhyme for ‘tiger’, she created an animal whose name would rhyme with “know”…and hence, the Gruffalo, a hybrid animal who lurks in the forest, was born. Her beloved tale offers a wonderful lesson in courage and bravado, and has been adapted into a film and now has a sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child, which continues to play on the idea of myth and reality.
Hedwig: I think it goes without saying that Harry Potter’s snowy owl, Hedwig, would make this list. As heroic as her illustrious owner, and as brave as any human in the world of the Harry Potter series, Hedwig has a personality all her own: she disdains the immaturity of other owls, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and will even go so far as to peck Harry’s friends to remind them to write to him regularly.
*A note: we were unable to find any Library Dogs, per se, but very much encourage you to take a look at the Library Dogs website, dedicated to service dogs and the wonderful work they do with children in libraries across the country.
This is a pretty common statement we hear at the library and it always presents a delightful challenge to the library staff. Delightful because it gives us the opportunity to open up a conversation about books; challenge because the reasons why a patron might be stumped on what to read next are as astronomically varied as our wonderful patrons. Sometimes it’s because they’re waiting on the next book by their favorite author and are looking to read something similar; sometimes it’s because they’ve tired of a genre and they’re looking for something completely new; sometimes it’s because they need to recommend a book that will appeal to everyone in their book discussion group. I could go on, but I think you get the idea…
These conversations can be lengthy or brief but when done well, the patron will walk away with a smile and a new book to enjoy. These can be some of our most rewarding conversations as very often, the person working at the desk will also come away from it with a smile and book recommendation or two. Many times these conversations will hone in on what you’re in the “mood” to read. Are you in the mood for something fast-paced? A light, relaxing read? Something you can really sink your teeth into on these increasingly chilly autumn nights? These types of mood indicators can often help us pick out a book for you that maybe you hadn’t considered, but are still likely to enjoy.
But, what if you’re at home browsing the catalog for something to put on hold? Or the library is closed (we don’t like to, but it does happen occasionally)? Or maybe you just can’t quite articulate what you’re looking for enough to have a conversation with someone at the desk yet. Well, we at the library love helping people, and sometimes that means helping people help themselves. So this week, instead of recommending specific books I’d like to introduce you to a great (free!) tool the library offers, which can put together some book recommendations. You can access this tool anywhere you have an Internet connection, and it can help you along during those times you’re stuck on what to read next.
This will take you to our databases page. At the top there will be a dropdown menu where you select: “Readers/Literature Resources” and click “Go.”
There are all sorts of cool tools on this page you’ll end up on, but the one pertinent one for this post is NoveList Plus.
The NoveList Plus page is pretty fascinating all on its own because you can find authors or titles similar to ones you just read, browse through articles about books, and more. But if you’re looking for a book to fit your mood, you’ll want to click “Browse By” then “Appeal.”
Once you’ve navigated your way to what NoveList calls the “Appeal Mixer” you can really have some fun!
For example, I was still a bit caught up on comfort reads from last week and found that many of the books I talked about have well-developed characters, a richly plotted storyline and a leisurely pace. So I plugged that combination of characteristics into the three drop-down menu options, clicked “Find Titles” and it even picked one of my comfort reads!
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is right there, along with at least a dozen other books that have similar characteristics (clicking the blue arrows will get you to more selections). There are dozens of combinations you can pick, including books with bold illustrations, books with a creepy tone (just in time for All Hallows Read), books in which authors exhibit an accessible writing style and so much more. You can even pick only one or two options and see what pops up. Maybe you have a child that can’t decide what to read? You can click on the tab for the appropriate age group and create an appeal mix for something he or she is in the mood for. If you scroll down from the mixer, there are some suggestions for mood to get you started like “Leisurely paced and Atmospheric” or “Menacing and Suspenseful” and maybe this is all you need to find a new book that will suit your mood.
So if you’re just not sure what to read next, try exploring this tool and discover something you might not otherwise have picked. Of course, you’re always welcome to come to the library where we will love to talk books with you and do our best to recommend something that will appeal to you, whatever your mood!
We interrupt this blog for some pretty significant news: yesterday,Belarusian journalist and writer Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for literature. Ms. Alexievich is the fourteenth woman to receive the award since it was first handed out in 1901.
The Nobel Prizes, as you might have heard, were established by Alfred Nobel, Swiss entrepreneur, chemist, and the inventor of dynamite. When Alfred’s brother died in 1888, the papers mistakenly published Alfred’s obituary, calling him “the merchant of death” and remarking “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday”. Not surprisingly, Alfred was a little troubled to learn that the world might remember him so negatively, and realized his opportunity to change his story. Upon his actual death in 1895, he established a trust (comprising about 94% of his total estate) that would bestow awards in five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.
The list of Nobel Prize-winners in literature show that Svetlana Alexievich is in quite illustrious company–you can see the full list, with the awarding committee’s commentaries here. However, she is also fairly unique among the other authors mentioned, largely because she is one of only a handful of non-fiction authors to receive the award. What she has done in her work, however, is truly remarkable. Rather than trying to explain events or understand people , Alexievich instead allows her subjects to speak for themselves–subjects who have often endured some of the most horrific moments in recent history.
“I’ve been searching for a genre that would be most adequate to my vision of the world to convey how my ear hears and my eyes see life,” she wrote on her website. “I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.”
Her books have taken years to research and write, primarily because she spend so much time talking with people and collecting the minute details of their lives and the intricacies of their memories to weave into her narratives, from female soldiers in the Soviet Union during the Second World War to young men involved in the Soviet Afghan War of the 1970’s and 1980’s. These memories create a story that very often ran against the official Soviet history, which made Alexievich a target, particularly after her book Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From a Forgotten War, was published in 1992. As one of her American editors explained to the New York Times, “She was vilified all over the place for this book, and she didn’t back down for a second.”
For her book Voices From Chernobyl, Alexievich interviewed over 500 people over a period of ten years, from local residents to members of the clean-up crew, to employees of the nuclear plant. Because of the amount of time spent near the plant itself, Alexievich developed a lifelong immune deficiency due to the still-high levels of radiation in the air and soil. Her work, however, was praised world-wide; a member of the Swiss Academy toldThe Guardian, “She’s conducted thousands and thousands of interviews with children, with women and with men, and in this way she’s offering us a history of human beings about whom we didn’t know that much … and at the same time she’s offering us a history of emotions, a history of the soul.”
So today, we would like to add our congratulations to the many that Svetlana Alexievich so richly deserves, and give you the chance to check out her harrowing, unforgettable, and vitally necessary work today:
Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War: The title of this book came from the zinc coffins in which the bodies of Soviet soldiers were shipped home. According to one reviewer: “With very few and very partial exceptions, the evidence is of veterans of the war who are deeply scarred, irredeemably cynical, full of tension and of hatreds that can’t be assuaged. These people, officers, enlisted men, medical personnel, civilian employees (mainly women), even political instructors, all speak of a struggle which changed them utterly, and always for the worst…All that the Afgantsi [veterans of this specific war] have is their comradeship with each other; many of them find it almost intolerable to speak to anyone other than their own kind.”
Voices From Chernobyl: Alexievitch’s mother was killed and her sister was blinded as a result of the meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in April, 1986. She begins this seminal piece of writing on the place and its people:
I want to bear witness . . .
It happened ten years ago, and it happens to me again every day.
We lived in the town of Pripyat. In that town.
I’m not a writer. I won’t be able to describe it. My mind is not enough to understand it. And neither is my university degree. There you are: a normal person. A little person. You’re just like everyone else — you go to work, you return from work. You get an average salary. Once a year you go on vacation. You’re a normal person! And then one day you’re turned into a Chernobyl person, an animal that everyone’s interested in, and that no one knows anything about…
…That’s how it was in the beginning. We didn’t just lose a town, we lost our whole lives.
As we mentioned on Monday, the books here at the Library are quietly assembling for All-Hallows Read, a celebration of all things literary, eerie, chilling, and delightful. Our staff is getting involved, too, selecting some of their favorite spooky reads for your All Hallows Read list. From the classics to new releases and back again, here are some of our favorite tales…but be sure to stop by any of our displays and pick out a few seasonal tales that tickle your fancy!
If you are looking for a good place to start reading the kind of scary stories that All Hallows Read celebrates, Then be sure to check out:
Bone Gap is the story of a boy named Finn who has a particularly difficult time recognizing faces, his brother Sean, and Sean’s girlfriend Roza, a beautiful and peculiar girl who disappears just as mysteriously as she appeared. Finn is the only one who sees her leave, and while the rest of the town of Bone Gap believes she left town in the same way the boys’ mother did years prior, Finn knows that she was kidnapped – but he can’t find a way to describe the kidnapper, nor does anyone in town believe him anyway. Told from alternating points of view, parts of the book read as a strange fairy tale, others as magic realism with just a smidgen of romance. Not scary in the horror sense, Bone Gap is a story of perception that leaves you questioning reality.
The House With A Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs
When Neil Gaiman makes a recommendation, we here all listen. But the truth of the matter is that Bellairs is a sensational author for teens and former teens alike. This particular book features Lewis, who has always wanted to live in an old house full of hidden passageways and secret corridors and when he is taken in by his Uncle Jonathan after the death of his parents, it seems that the world has finally given Lewis his dream come true. But then Jonathan finds out that his uncle is a wizard…and that the house that they call home was built by a wizard. A wizard who plotted the end of the world by hiding a clock in the house’s creaky walls. A clock that has suddenly begun ticking louder and louder….This is a wonderfully fun, delightfully creepy gothic adventure, and is an ideal place to start reading all of Bellairs stellar novels!
Jackson’s classic tale is considered one of the best ghost stories of the 20th century, mostly because it doesn’t show much of anything at all, but relies on the reader’s own fears to make it chilling. Eager to investigate the paranormal activity in the house, Dr. John Montague and Luke Sanderson, heir to the mysterious Hill House, invite a group of people who all have associations with the paranormal. Only two show up: the flamboyant Theodora, and the shy, bitter Eleanor, around whom this story revolves. What happens during their stay is never quite clear…but because neither the characters nor the readers are entirely sure who–or what–is causing all the inexplicable happenings at Hill House, the entire book is an unsettling, nightmarish tale that is guaranteed to stay with you long after the final pages have fluttered past.
This book established the horror genre, and it stands the test of time. The quintessential vampire novel (about which we’ve already waxed rhapsodical), Stoker’s masterpiece is told through the letters, diaries, and transcripts of the four main protagonists, giving us up-close insight into their private terrors and secret fears, but also keeps readers from understanding the full scope of Dracula’s horror too soon. The result is a rich, and a genuinely unsettling story that deserves all the attention it’s got over the years.
I think we’ve already had several discussions about this book, but we should have lots more. Because this is definitely one of the good Mr. King’s most undersung masterpieces. It was also inspired by both Dracula and The Haunting of Hill House, so there are added pleasures to be found for those who dare to read these books together. Ostensibly, ‘Salem’s Lot is the story of a small Maine town that is visited by a vampire. But it is so much more than that…it’s a love story to New England; its people, its practices, and, especially, its weather. This book is a perfect fall read all around…but you might want to keep the lights on while you finish it….
It was a dark and stormy weekend. I was sitting at the circulation desk listening to the books whisper secret tales of goblins, ghosts, and other things that slinky around in the shadows…
Oh…did you not know that books can whisper? If you’re friendly to them, and sit very quietly, sometimes you can catch them telling each other stories on the shelves…
But that it beside the point. As I was sitting and listening, I heard new voice…a low, croaking voice that sent chills running up and down my spine.
“It’s October, you know.” The voice growled. “You know what that means…”
“Do I?” I asked, slowly turning, dreading to see what was behind me.
“Of course,” whispered another voice–this one high and shrill, like an icy wind. “It’s time for All Hallows Read.”
And behind me, I saw whole shelves of books creeping across the library, slinking down the stairs, and fluttering up onto our display tables…books of ghouls and vampires, of voices from beyond and inexplicable events; books full of dreams and nightmares to give giggles and shivers.
The books had decided it was time for the All Hallows Read. And they are waiting for you…
So what is All Hallow’s Read, you ask? Well, I can give no better an explanation than the Grand and Glorious Neil Gaiman, who created this most literary of all celebrations with this blog post. You can also see a marvelous video explanation below:
(and check out #AllHallowsRead for even more information, details, and recommendations!)
Essentially, however, it involves handing out scary books for Halloween. But the books here have decided that the Peabody Library will be participating in All Hallows Read from now until Halloween, so you can come in any time this month and check out our displays of creepy, crazy, vivid, and visceral stories to keep you up late into the witching hours (because the books are just too excited to keep this to a single day, apparently). We also, as Mr. Gaiman said, are more than happy to provide recommendations, as well.
So, Happy All Hallow’s Read, beloved patrons! The books are terribly eager to make your acquaintance….
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass