Tag Archives: Author Days

Five Book Friday!

And very happy Free for All birthday wishes to Anna Marguerite McCann, art historian, and the first American woman to work in underground archaeology!

Via Wikipedia

McCann was born on May 11, 1933, in Mamaroneck, New York.  In 1954, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history with a minor in Classical Greek.  She was awarded a Fulbright  Scholarship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for a year, before beginning her studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.  She began diving with Jacques Cousteau early in the 1960’s off the coast of Marseille, France, where they explored ancient Roman shipwrecks.  Underwater projects like this were new at the time, and, like so many other fields, largely populated by, and controlled by, men.  Nevertheless, McCann’s acumen, insight, and enthusiasm helped her carve out a career for herself, but also made her an excellent teacher.  She lectured in colleges across the country, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even contributed to a children’s book in order to inspire a new generation of archaeologists and divers!  Her book, which was an expansion of her Master’s Thesis, entitled The Portraits of Septimius Severus, A.D. 193–211, is still considered the best and most authoritative text in the field.  McCann married her childhood friend Robert Dorsett in 1973.  She passed away on February 12, 2017.   Today, we celebrate her curiosity, adventurous spirit, and lifelong devotion to education and learning!

And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at some of the new books that have sauntered onto our shelves this week!

The Lost Pilots: The Spectacular Rise and Scandalous Fall of Aviation’s Golden CoupleIn June 1927, an Australian woman named Jessie Miller fled a loveless marriage and journeyed to London, where she fell in love with the city’s energy and the decadence of the interwar elites.  There, she met William Lancaster, who had served with the Royal Air Force during the First World War, and was determined to make his name as famous as Charles Lindbergh, who had just crossed the Atlantic.   Lancaster wanted to fly three times as far – from London to Melbourne – and in Jessie Miller he knew he had found the perfect co-pilot.  By the time they landed in Melbourne, the daring aviators were a global sensation – and, despite still being married to other people, deeply in love. Keeping their affair a secret, they toured the world in style until the 1929 stock market crash bankrupted them both.  To make ends meet Jessie agreed to write a memoir, and selected a man named Haden Clarke as her ghostwriter.  As Corey Mead shows in this fast-paced, detailed book, Clarke’s arrival changed everything for Miller and Lancaster, leading to a crime that was as infamous as they were renown.  This story takes us around the world–and through the skies–all the way to 1962, with the wreckage of a plane in the Sahara Desert, in a wonderfully engaging work of narrative non-fiction that Kirkus Reviews calls “A brisk, entertaining history of daring and passion.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life: A collection of essays, addresses, and writings from beloved writer Richard Russo is a treat not only for his fans, but for bibliophiles in general.  From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, this collection shows Russo in all his thoughtful, emotional, and humorous glory.  These essays are personal, as well as literary, exploring his journey with a friend undergoing gender reassignment surgery, as well as how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, allowing us to appreciate a respected author in a new light–and perhaps helping readers find a new storyteller to follow!  Booklist agrees, noting in its review: “For aspiring writers, Russo’s musings on the art and craft of the novel are a trove of knowledge and guidance. For adoring readers, they are a window into the imagination and inspiration for Russo’s beloved novels, screenplays, and short stories. . . . Few authors seem as approachable in print and, one suspects, in person as acclaimed novelist Russo.”

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers: Those of you who loved Alex Grecian’s historical mysteries will know he is a writer with a terrific sense of place and a keen observer of emotion–and both these talents come to the forefront in his newest contemporary thriller.  Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who sneaked into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950’s and has at last been identified.  But Goodman has some influential friends who are more than willing to stick their necks out to protect him–and the work that he has continued to this very day.   Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her district–until she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.   This is an unsettling, unrelenting book that has drawn comparisons to both John Grisham and Stephen King.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “A breathtaking thriller with plenty of action and some very clever twists . . . the grimly satisfying conclusion makes it worth it for both characters and readers. Fans of David Baldacci and John Grisham will enjoy the unpredictability and unrelenting suspense.”

Asymmetry: Lisa Halliday’s debut novel has left readers and critics alike spellbound and fascinated with her ability to weave storylines together into a single narrative that is prescient, engaged, and timeless.  Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, the book explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice.  From the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazerduring the early years of the Iraq Wa to the first-person narrative of Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow, these seemingly disparate stories  interact and overlap in ways that are hard to see coming and impossible to forget.  There are heaps of praises coming in for Halliday’s novel, including from The New York Times Review of Books, which called it  “Masterly…As you uncover the points of congruence, so too do you uncover Halliday’s beautiful argument about the pleasure and obligations of fiction…It feels as if the issues she has raised — both explicitly and with the book’s canny structure — have sown seeds that fiction will harvest for years to come.”

That Kind of MotherRumaan Alam won a number of devoted fans with his first novel Rich and Pretty, and this newest book features the same gentle humor, compassion, and wit that earned such accolades.  This story focuses on Rebecca Stone, a white woman who has just given birth to her first child.  Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help, a Black woman named Priscilla Johnson, and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.  In their time together, Priscilla teaches Rebecca not only about being a mother, but about navigating a world rich in privilege, prejudice.  When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.  Filled with timely observations and rich with sympathy, this is a novel that is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  Vogue gave it a glowing review, noting how Alam “expertly and intrepidly blends topics of the zeitgeist, including race, privilege, and motherhood, without sacrificing elegant prose and signature wit.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And many very happy Free For All birthday wishes to writer, philosopher, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft!

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Wollstonecraft was born on this day in 1759.  Though her writing career was a comparatively short one (it is assumed she died of sepsis following the birth of her second child, Mary, at the age of 38), her career was an illustrious one.  She wrote novels, philosophical and political treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book.  But, by far, her most famous work was A Vindication on the Rights of Women.  In this seminal publication, Wollstonecraft essentially argued that men and women were born as, and meant to be equals, but that society, by refusing to educate women’s brains and care for their bodies properly, were forcing women into a subservient role, and ensuring that they would never be anything more than a pretty face.

vindication-of-rights-of-women-mary-wollstonecraft

Mary herself survived an upbringing in an abusive household, striking out on her own at the age of nineteen after her father squandered her inheritance on speculative deals and alcohol.  Though a successful and respected teacher, Wollstonecraft nevertheless took the enormous social and financial risk of leaving her teaching position to become a writer–a highly exception choice for women at the time.  She eventually moved to France and, in 1792,  penned A Vindication on the Rights of Women, which served as a follow-up to her 1790 pamphlet A Vindication on the Rights of Man. In this seminal work, she argued that “females…are made women…when they are mere children”, meaning that girls were taught from a very young age that their only worth lay in physically attracting a man.  The result was that women were forced to remain like children for the rest of their lives.  It was not their natural inclination to be so, but the way in which they were brought up:

False notions of beauty and delicacy stop the growth of their limbs and produce a sickly soreness…and thus weakened …how can they attain the vigour necessary to enable them to throw off their factitious character?—where find strength to recur to reason and rise superiour to a system of oppression, that blasts the fair promises of spring? This cruel association of ideas, which every thing conspires to twist into all their habits of thinking, or, to speak with more precision, of feeling, receives new force when they begin to act a little for themselves; for they then perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. Besides, the books professedly written for their instruction, which make the first impression on their minds, all inculcate the same opinions. Educated then in worse than Egyptian bondage, it is unreasonable, as well as cruel, to upbraid them with faults that can scarcely be avoided…when nothing could be more natural, considering the education they receive, and that their ‘highest praise is to obey, unargued’—the will of man.

This is not to say that Wollstonecraft’s work was and remains utterly unassailable–A Vindication on the Rights of Women is full of class and gender assumptions, many the result of religion, that date the work considerably.  But her argument for the absolute equality of human beings remains a remarkable and moving statement that, largely, is still relevant today.

In you are interested in Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy, check out the Mary On The Green campaign, which is working to promote Wollstonecraft’s legacy, and to erect a statue in commemoration of her life in London.

More locally, our Library has a wealth of new books that you can check out this weekend–here are a few of the titles that have sauntered on to our shelves this week:

Our Little SecretThe summer thriller season is upon us, and Roz Nay’s debut is an early smash hit.  Angela Petitjean is the focus os a police investigation, focused on the disappearance of the wife of Angela’s high school sweetheart, HP. She has vanished.  The detective in charge of the case is convinced that Angela has the answers that will solve the case.  But Angela has a different story to tell. It began more than a decade ago when she and HP met in high school in Cove, Vermont. She was an awkward, shy teenager. He was a popular athlete. They became friends, fell in love, and dated senior year. Everything changed when Angela went to college. When time and distance separated them, and when Saskia entered the picture.  That was eight years ago. HP foolishly married a drama queen and Angela moved on with her life. Whatever marital rift caused Saskia to leave her husband has nothing to do with Angela. Nothing at all. Detective Novak needs to stop asking questions and listen to what Angela is telling him. And once he understands everything, he’ll have the truth he so desperately wants…This is a psychological thriller that will appeal to fans of Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book, calling it a “mesmerizing debut…Nay expertly spins an insidious, clever web, perfectly capturing the soaring heights and crushing lows of first love and how the loss of that love can make even the sanest people a little crazy. Carve out some time for this riveting, one-sitting read.”

The Only StoryJulian Barnes manages to cross genres with apparent ease, moving from success to success–now, this contemporary love story already is being hailed on several ‘best of’ lists.  One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.  Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed Susan from a sterile marriage, and how–gradually, relentlessly–everything fell apart, and he found himself struggling to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart. Publisher’s Weekly wrote a heartfelt review of this book, noting “[This] deeply touching novel is a study of heartbreak. . . . By revisiting the flow and ebb of one man’s passion, Barnes eloquently illuminates the connection between an old man and his younger self.”

Gateway to the Moon: Mary Morris’ latest novel is a fascinating historical investigation and a contemporary study of how the scars of the past can persistently effect the present.  In 1492, the Jewish and Muslim populations of Spain were expelled, and Columbus set sail for America. Luis de Torres, a Spanish Jew, accompanies Columbus as his interpreter. His journey is only the beginning of a long migration, across many generations. Over the centuries, de Torres’ descendants travel from Spain and Portugal to Mexico, finally settling in the hills of New Mexico. Five hundred years later, it is in these same hills that Miguel Torres, a young amateur astronomer, finds himself trying to understand the mystery that surrounds him and the town he grew up in.  Entrada de la Luna is a place that holds a profound secret–one that its residents cannot even imagine. It is also a place that ambitious children, such as Miguel, try to leave. Poor health, broken marriages, and poverty are the norm. Luck is unusual. When Miguel sees a flyer for a babysitting job, he jumps at the opportunity, and begins work for a Jewish family new to the area.  Interwoven throughout the present-day narrative are the powerful stories of the ancestors of Entrada’s residents, highlighting the torture, pursuit, and resistance of the Jewish people.  This is another compelling work that earned a starred review from Booklist, who described it as “[An] enthralling saga . . . The story glides effortlessly between viewpoints and vibrant settings ranging from Lisbon to Tangiers, the Caribbean, and Mexico City. With prose as clear as the star-strewn night sky, Morris’ novel explores people’s hidden connections.”

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster: Sarah Krasnostein’s profile of Sandra Pankhurst is a multi-layered and complex study.  Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife.   But Pankhurst found her calling as a trauma cleaner, going to the places where no one else would go, and providing her patients the care and dignity she was so often denied.  But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.  This is a compelling, humane biography, and a powerful study about the compassionate work of a trauma cleaner.  Sarah Krasnostein followed Pankhurst into some of the most horrible of living conditions and watched her bring order and care to both the living and the dead.  Her compassion is extraordinary, and this book, though harrowing, is also a moving reminder about the power of an individual in a world of pain.  Booklist gave this engrossing study a starred review, noting “Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Parkhurst has found meaning and peace, and [author] Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.”

Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book: Anyone with knitterly aspirations, from the novice to the seasoned professional, will find things to learn in this massive and marvelous book.  The good people at Vogue Knitting have updated, revised, and expanded their seminal guide to include a new library of stitches, details on hat, shawl, sock, and sweater construction, more than 1,600 photos and hand-drawn step-by-step illustrations.  With so many knitting guides, how-to’s, and illustrated help books out there, it’s hard to call any book ‘comprehensive’, but this one comes darned close.  With easy-to-read directions, helpful footnotes and cross-references, and oodles of updates, it’s not difficult to see why Library Journal gave this book a starred review and called it “An essential addition to the knitter’s bookshelf.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday to Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan.

Varoujan was born Daniel Tchboukkiarian in what is now Sivas, Turkey, on April 20, 1884.  He was educated in Turkey, and later in Venice.  In 1905, he enrolled at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he studied literature, sociology and economics.  He returned home in 1909 and worked as a teacher, and married Araksi Varoujan in 1912.

In 1914, Varoujan and several friends established the Mehean, a literary magazine and social group dedicated to Armenian literature and language.  At the time, Armenia was not a country, but a group of people bound together by a common culture, language, and religion, most of whom lived together within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire.  There was also a sizable population of Armenians in the Russian Empire (see the map below this paragraph for a visual).   As a group, Armenians became a target of political and personal violence when the Young Turks came to power in 1907.  The Ottoman Empire (to put it very simply) had been a site of religious and cultural tolerance for most of its history, however, the Young Turks imagined an empire led by those who identified as Turkish, who spoke Turkish, and who practiced the Muslim religion.  As outsiders in this vision, Armenians found themselves in danger of persecution.

Via Wikipedia, By YerevanciOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

With the outbreak of the First World War, and especially with the Ottoman entrance into the war in 1915, Armenians came under even more intense persecution.  As Christians who lived in both the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire (two empires on different sides of the conflict), Armenians were demonized as enemies of the Ottoman state.  On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government authorized the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, religious and community leaders.  This event is recognized as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.  Varoujan was among those arrested and later deported.  While on route, eyewitness testimony states that Varoujan and four other Armenian men were robbed, stripped, and tortured by Turkish police officers until they died.  Though his work was confiscated during the genocide, his unfinished work, The Song of the Bread ( in Armenian: Հացին երգը) was rescued by allegedly bribing Turkish officials.  Today, we bring you one of Varoujan’s poems as a tribute to the man, and in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which is commemorated this coming week:

ANDASTAN *

At the Eastern part of the earth
Let there be peace…
Let sweat, not blood, flow
In the broad vein of the furrow,
And at the toll of each hamlet’s bell
Let there rise hymns of exaltation.

At the Western part of the earth
Let there be fecundity …
Let each star sparkle with dew,
And each husk be cast in gold
And as the sheep graze on the hills
Let bud and blossom bloom.

At the Northern part of the earth
Let there be abundance …
In the golden sea of the wheat field
Let the scythe swim incessantly
And as gates of granaries open wide
Jubilation let there be.

At the Southern part of the earth
Let all things bear fruit…
Let the honey thrive in the beehive
And may the wine run over the cups
And when brides bake the blessed bread
Let the sound of song rise and spread.

Daniel Varoujan 1914

Translated by Tatul Sonentz (via armenian-poetry.blogspot.com)

*Name of the ritual of the Ceremonial Blessing of the 4 corners of the earth — a Sacrement of the Armenian Apostolic Church

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives: Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen called on 17 fellow refugee writers from across the globe to shed light on their experiences.  This book brings together stories of writers from Mexico, Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Ukraine, Hungary, Chile, Ethiopia, to name just a few.  Together, they are a formidable intellectual force: MacArthur Genius grant recipients, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, filmmakers, speakers, lawyers, professors, and New Yorker contributors—and they are all refugees, many as children arriving in London and Toronto, Oklahoma and Minnesota, South Africa and Germany.  These essays reveal moments of uncertainty, resilience in the face of trauma, and a reimagining of identity, forming a compelling look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge.  The Economist wrote a glowing review of this book, noting, in part, that “…[Viet Thanh Nguyen] gives ordinary Westerners a heart-wrenching insight into the uprooted lives led in their midst…the collection succeeds in demonstrating that this dispersed community in some ways resembles other nations. It has its founding myths, but its citizens all have their own tragedies, victories and pain—and each has a story to tell.”

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and RecoveryIn January 2015, Barbara Lipska—a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness—was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down, and she began exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers. But just as her doctors figured out what was happening, the immunotherapy they had prescribed began to work, and repair the damage that had been done to Lipska’s brain and mind.  Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to her version of normal–with one difference: she remembered her brush with madness clearly and nearly completely.  In this book, Lipska describes her extraordinary ordeal, explaining how mental illness, brain injury, and age can change our behavior, personality, cognition, and memory. She also shares what it is like to experience these changes firsthand, while contemplating what parts of us remain, even when so much else is gone.  This is a remarkable book that looks at illness from the view of both a physician and a patient, told by a scientist and writer of impressive talent.  Science Magazine hailed this book, writing that “Lipska’s evolution as scientist, patient, and person explores the physiological basis of mental illness, while uplifting the importance of personal identity…. Lipska’s prose soars when narrating her experiences… her story is evidence that rich personal narratives offer value to an empirical pursuit of neuroscientific investigation.”

Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of CalamityJames Conaway has spent decades covering the Napa region, and in this eye-opening work, he compares the origins of this utopia of wine, started by family vintners and dedicated farmers, and the present-day reality, marked by multinational corporations and their allies who have stealthily subsumed the old family landmarks and abandoned the once glorious conviction that agriculture is the highest and best use of the land.  Inherent in that conviction is the sanctity of the place, threatened now by a relentless drive for profits at the expense of land, water, and even life.  A story about power, money, land, and, most of all, wine, Conaway’s book is an engaging, honest, sometimes unsettling account of an industry and a place undergoing fundamental change–and the people who are caught in the middle.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, declaring, “This is a stunning and sad look at how an idyllic community became a victim of its own success…fascinating and well-researched.”

Lawn Boy: Jonathan Evison manages to balance a moving, small-scale coming-of-age story with a large-scale discussion of class and success that is successful in everything it does.  For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how?  Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.  This is a book that has been added to a number of “Best Of” lists for its frank look at the persistence and pernicious nature of the ‘American Dream’, and also earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered, “Evison convincingly evokes the small disasters and humiliations that beset America’s working poor. Mike’s gradual growth into self-awareness is punctuated by moments of human kindness and grace that transpire in and among broken-down trucks, trailer parks, and strip malls. Focusing on the workers who will only ever be welcome in gated communities as hired help, Evison’s quiet novel beautifully considers the deterioration of the American Dream.”

CirceWe readers have been spoiled by a resurgence and re-imaging of ancient classics of late, and Madeline Miller continues this trend in fine fashion with the tale of Circe, a supporting character in The Odyssey, but the heroine of this fascinating and insightful tale.  The daughter of the all-powerful Titans, Circe is an outsider–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft.  Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology.  But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.  Fans of Greek mythology, epic adventures, and deeply emotional tales will delight in this tale that has been receiving glowing reviews from around the country.  One such review came from The Washington Post, which reads in part, “”One of the most amazing qualities of this novel [is]: We know how everything here turns out – we’ve known it for thousands of years – and yet in Miller’s lush reimagining, the story feels harrowing and unexpected. The feminist light she shines on these events never distorts their original shape; it only illuminates details we hadn’t noticed before.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons: Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday to  Czech poet, author, and painter Josef Čapek!

Via Weimarart.blogspot.com

Čapek was born on this day in Hronov, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1887.  We was originally trained as a painter,  and his works were representative of the Cubist school, with lots of geometric shapes and lack of depth perception (you can see an example of his work below this paragraph).  He also wrote plays and essays, especially on the subject of art, and the worth of art produced by those who were considered “unartistic,” especially children and natives in imperial countries (whose work was considered “primitive”).  In addition, he collaborated with his brother Karel on a number of plays and short stories.  One of those plays, which we’ll discuss in just a moment, brought the word “robot” into modern parlance.  Because of Čapek criticism of national socialism and Hitler specifically, he was arrested following the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  He wrote He wrote Poems from a Concentration Camp there before his death, which was assumed to be in 1945.  Though his wife and friends searched after the war, his remains were never recovered.

Piják by Josef Čapek, (1913)

It was the Čapek brothers’ 1920 play R.U.R. which popularized the international word “robot”.  For years, it was assumed that Karel Čapek had developed the word, he wrote a short letter in reference to an article in the Oxford English Dictionary etymology in which he named Josef as the word’s actual inventor.  In a a later article published in 1933, Karel also explained that his idea was to call the creatures laboři (after the Latin word for labor). It was Josef, he said, who suggested roboti (robots in English), from the Czech word robota, which means, literally, “serf labor”, or “hard work”.

So today, let’s celebrate the courage, convictions, and creativity of Josef Čapek–and what better way that enjoying the remarkable books available to you at the Library (we don’t have robots, but we have books!).  Here are some of the great ones that shuffled onto our shelves this week:

Picasso and the Painting that Shocked the World: Since we’re celebrating a Cubist artist today, Miles J. Unger’s book on the origins of Picasso’s  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon seemed like an ideal selection today.  Picasso arrived in Paris in 1900, living and working in a squalid tenement known as the Bateau Lavoir, in the heart of picturesque Montmartre.  Slowly, painstakingly, he built his reputation, and amassed a wealth of avant-garde comrades and friends whose collective artistic influence is being felt to this day.  In 1906 Picasso began his early masterpiece known as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Inspired by the groundbreaking painting of Paul Cézanne, as well as African and tribal sculpture, Picasso’s work was seen as a defining image of modernity.  The painting proved so shocking that even his friends assumed he’d gone mad. Only his colleague George Braque understood what Picasso was trying to do. Over the next few years they teamed up to create Cubism, the most revolutionary and influential movement in twentieth-century art.  Unger’s book looks at the individuals, the interactions, and the influences that helped Picasso create this seminal work in a well-research and wonderfully readable book that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “Riveting. . . . This engrossing book chronicles with precision and enthusiasm a painting with lasting impact in today’s art world.”

Broad BandThe Untold Story of the Women Who Made the InternetOh hey, and speaking of technology, how about Claire L. Evan’s book that re-frames the history of modern computer technology as female;  from Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program in the Victorian Age, to the cyberpunk Web designers of the 1990s, female visionaries have always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation. In fact, Evans points out, women turn up at the very beginning of every important wave in technology. They may have been hidden in plain sight, their inventions and contributions touching our lives in ways we don’t even realize, but they have always been part of the story.   Seek inspiration from Grace Hopper, the tenacious mathematician who democratized computing by leading the charge for machine-independent programming languages after World War II. Meet Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, the one-woman Google who kept the earliest version of the Internet online, and Stacy Horn, who ran one of the first-ever social networks on a shoestring out of her New York City apartment in the 1980s.   Join the ranks of the pioneers who defied social convention to become database poets, information-wranglers, hypertext dreamers, and glass ceiling-shattering dot com-era entrepreneurs. This inspiring history shines a light on some of the bright minds that have as yet gone unrecognized in the history of computer sciences that The Wall Street Journal called  “a celebration of the women whose minds gave birth to the motherboard and its brethren…. an engaging series of biographical essays on lesser known mathematicians, innovators and cyberpunks.”

The Coincidence Makers: Israeli author Yoav Blum’s debut novel is now available in English, and is an idea blend of genres for anyone looking for something completely novel.  What if the drink you just spilled, the train you just missed, or the lottery ticket you just found was not just a random occurrence? What if it’s all part of a bigger plan? What if there’s no such thing as a chance encounter? What if there are people we don’t know determining our destiny? And what if they are even planning the fate of the world?  Enter the Coincidence Makers―Guy, Emily, and Eric―three seemingly ordinary people who work for a secret organization devoted to creating and carrying out coincidences. What the rest of the world sees as random occurrences, are, in fact, carefully orchestrated events designed to spark significant changes in the lives of their targets―scientists on the brink of breakthroughs, struggling artists starved for inspiration, future soulmates?  When an assignment of the highest level is slipped under Guy’s door one night, he knows it will be the most difficult and dangerous coincidence he’s ever had to fulfill. But not even a coincidence maker can see how this assignment is about to change all their lives and teach them the true nature of fate, free will, and the real meaning of love.  This quirky and heartfelt story earned a starred review from Booklist, who said in its review, “Artfully blending elements of thriller, romance, and fantasy in a beautiful prose, Blum’s novel is a flight of imagination that will echo in readers’ minds long after the last pages have been turned.”

Promise: Rooted in historical events, Minrose Gwin’s journey through the heart of the Depression-era South is evocative, insightful, and probing, offering fans of any time period plenty to savor.  A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a tornado struck the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people.  This figure does not include the town’s Black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.  When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family.  Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him. During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them.  Library Journal wrote a beautiful review of this book, which it called an “atmospheric whirlwind of a book. A memorable, dreamlike narrative…that vividly conveys what it was like to survive the fourth most deadly tornado in U.S. history; it also brings to light the vast disparity in the care and treatment of white vs. black residents.”

The Affliction: Beth Gutcheon’s second novel featuring Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin has all the dark humor and dastardly deeds that have made this duo a fan favorite.  Since retiring as head of a famous New York City private school, Maggie Detweiler has been keeping busy.  Most recently, she’s served as the chair of a team to evaluate the faltering Rye Manor School for girls, and determining what future (if any) the school might have.  With so much on the line for so many, tensions on campus are at an excruciating pitch, and no one  seems more keen for all to go well than Florence Meagher, a star teacher who is loved and respected in spite of her affliction—that she can never stop talking.  Florence is one of those dedicated teachers for whom the school is her life, and yet the next morning, when Maggie arrives to observe her teaching, Florence is missing. Florence’s husband, Ray, an auxiliary policeman in the village, seems more annoyed than alarmed at her disappearance. But Florence’s sister is distraught. There have been tensions in the marriage, and at their last visit, Florence had warned, “If anything happens to me, don’t assume it’s an accident.” Two days later, Florence’s body is found in the campus swimming pool.  When she is asked to stay and coach the new head of the Rye Manor School, Maggie determines to get to the bottom of what happened to Florence.  She’s joined by her friend Hope, who has been desperate for a reason to ditch her local bookclub, anyways.  There are plenty of secrets buried in this idyllic small town, and Hope and Maggie certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to get to the bottom of all the nefarious work that’s afoot, including Florence’s silencing.  Booklist loved this follow-up mystery, noting, “Humor and suspense in equal measure make for a delightful read in this second outing…for the well-heeled duo of Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

“Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together…” A Birthday Post for William Allingham

Today, the Free for All is celebrating the birthday of Irish poet and diarist William Allingham!

William Allingham

Allingham was born on 19 March 1824 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal.  His father was a bank manager, and though he made his career in Irish, and later, English customs-houses, he published several books of poetry over the course of his lifetime, as well.  After retiring from customs service in April 1870, Allingham  became sub-editor of well well-known Fraser’s Magazine.  On 22 August 1874 he married the illustrator, Helen Paterson, a well-known illustrator who was twenty-four years his junior.  Though Helen gave up her job as an illustrator upon her marriage, she became a well-respected watercolor painter under her married name–you can see an example of her work below this paragraph.  The couple settled in London to be near their friend Thomas Carlyle.  Though they relocated to Surrey after Carlyle’s death in 1881, they returned to London in 1888 due to William’s declining health.  He died on November 18, 1889.

A Surrey Cottage by Helen Allingham, via Fine Art America

Allingham’s work may not have been as profound as some of his contemporaries, but his lyrical verses were deeply rooted in Irish folklore and tradition, and as such, served as powerful inspiration to poets like W.B. Yeats and John Hewitt.  Perhaps his most well-known, and oft-quoted poem is “The Fairies”.  Anyone who has seen the 1973 film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will no doubt remember the genuinely odd exchange between Charlie and the ‘tinker’, who recites this poem.  It’s also provided inspiration for works as diverse as Hell Boy and Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.  We provide it here as a way to keep your St. Patrick’s Day cheer flowing, and in honor of Allingham’s 194th birthday!

The Fairies
by William Allingham

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music
On cold starry nights
To sup with the Queen
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn-trees
For pleasure here and there.
If any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday Wish to Japanese novelist and poet Natsume Sōseki!

Natsume was born in 1867 in Babashita, in the Edo region of Japan.  His birth was not planned, and, as the sixth child in the family, his arrival placed financial and social strains on his parents.  As a result, Natsume was adopted in 1868 by a childless couple who raised him until the age of nine, when the couple divorced.

Natsume dreamed of becoming a writer from an early age, but his family strongly disapproved of his choice, and he went to University with the intention of becoming an architect.  His writing dreams did not die, however, and Natsume not only developed his prose writing while at university, but also received tutoring in the art of composing haiku. From this point on, he began signing his poems with the name Sōseki, which is a Chinese idiom meaning “stubborn”. In 1890, he entered the English Literature department, quickly mastered the English language, and began working as a teacher.

In 1900, the Japanese government sent him to study in Great Britain as “Japan’s first Japanese English literary scholar”.  Natsume had a terrible time in London, and spent most days inside reading.  By the time he returned to Japan, it was with a renewed confidence in his English-language abilities, and even more insight to begin writing.  Sōseki’s literary career began in 1903, when he began to contribute haiku and other verses to literary magazine.  However, it was the public success of his satirical novel I Am a Cat in 1905 that won him wide public admiration, and he became a full-time writer soon after.  Sōseki is generally considered to be one of the most influential modern Japanese writers, writing one novel a year before his death from a stomach ulcer in 1916.  From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1000 yen note.  Below are two of his haiku, traditional Japanese verses that consist of three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables:

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

Now gathering,
Now scattering,
Fireflies over the river.

And now, on to the books!

Red ClocksFans of Margaret Atwood, and the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale or Alias Grace should definitely have Leni Zumas’ hugely anticipated and celebrated book on their radar.  Set in a future United States where abortion is totally illegal, this book focuses on five women in a small Oregon fishing town, who are all grappling with the new laws alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.  Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling herbalist, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.  This book has been getting rave reviews from critics and readers alike, and making a number of “Best Of” lists already.  The Chicago Tribune described the book as “indespensible”, and wrote in its review,  “Wry and urgent, defiant and stylish, Zumas’ braided tale follows the intertwined fates of four women whose lives this law irrevocably alters….Lit up with verbal pyrotechnics and built with an admirably balanced structure, Red Clocks is undeniably gorgeously written.”

The Weight of WordsThe artistry of  Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Filmmaker and Musician Dave McKean has permeated popular culture for more than thirty years. His images, at once bizarre, beautiful, and instantly recognizable, have graced an impressive array of books, CDs, graphic novels, and films. In this collection, ten contemporary storytellers, including Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, and Caitlin R. Kiernan, as well as McKean himself, have created a series of varied, compelling narratives, each inspired by one of McKean’s extraordinary paintings. The result is a unique collaborative effort in which words and pictures enhance and illuminate each other on page after page.  This is one of those fascinating anthologies that really does offer something for everyone. Its complementary merger of words and images adds up to something special that will engage readers and artists alike.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this wonderful collection a starred review, noting that “even the least satisfying parts of this astonishing book are entirely readable, and the text plays beautifully against McKean’s gorgeously reproduced illustrations.”

The Girls in the PictureIn this sweeping and insightful historical novel, Melanie Benjamin has given us moving story of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.  It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist.  But Los Angeles is swiftly becoming the home of the “flickers,” moving pictures that bring stories to life.  In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.  As these two friends navigate their way through an industry already prejudiced against them because of their gender, yet eager to cash in on their talent and glamour, both Mary and Frances will discover the cost–and rewards–of fame.  With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, this is a book that will appeal to classic movie buffs as much as it will fans of historic fiction and women’s history.  NPR provided a glowing review of this book, saying “One of the pleasures of The Girls in the Picture its no-males-necessary alliance of two determined females—#TimesUp before its time. . . . Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it…”

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America: Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings.  In this groundbreaking history, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of early American and women’s history, recounts the remarkable journey of these three women—and how their struggle to define themselves reflects both the possibilities and the limitations that resulted from the American Revolution.  Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha and Maria received a fine convent school education while they lived with their father during his diplomatic posting in Paris.  Harriet Hemings followed a different path. She escaped slavery—apparently with the assistance of Jefferson himself. Leaving Monticello behind, she boarded a coach and set off for a decidedly uncertain future.  For this groundbreaking triple biography, Kerrison has uncovered never-before-published documents written by the Jefferson sisters when they were in their teens, as well as letters written by members of the Jefferson and Hemings families.  The eventful lives of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters provide a unique vantage point from which to examine the complicated patrimony of the American Revolution itself.  The richly interwoven story of these three strong women and their fight to shape their own destinies sheds new light on the ongoing movement toward human rights in America—and on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial “Founding Fathers”.  The USA Today wrote a beautiful review of this book, saying, in part, ” The most poignant literature gives a voice to the voiceless.  And. . . Catherine Kerrison tells us the stories of three of Thomas Jefferson’s children, who, due to their gender or race, lived lives whose most intimate details are lost to time. . . . A highlight of Kerrison’s work is that while noting the gender constraints that hemmed in white women, she does not sugarcoat their privileged status, nor deny their racism. . . . A historical narrative that allows us to reflect on the thoughts, fears and motivations of three women…[and] offers a fascinating glimpse of where we have been as a nation. It is a vivid reminder of both the ties that bind, and the artificial boundaries that painfully divide us.”

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America: On August 11, 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man broke into her apartment near Seattle, Washington, and raped her. Within days police and even those closest to Marie became suspicious of her story. The police swiftly pivoted and began investigating Marie. Confronted with inconsistencies in her story and the doubts of others, Marie broke down and said her story was a lie—a bid for attention. Police charged Marie with false reporting, and she was branded a liar.  More than two years later, Colorado detective Stacy Galbraith was assigned to investigate a case of sexual assault. Describing the crime to her husband that night, Galbraith learned that the case bore an eerie resemblance to a rape that had taken place months earlier in a nearby town. She joined forces with the detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, and the two soon discovered they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who photographed his victims, threatening to release the images online, and whose calculated steps to erase all physical evidence suggested he might be a soldier or a cop. Through meticulous police work the detectives would eventually connect the rapist to other attacks in Colorado—and beyond.  This book, by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, is the story of that case and the hunt for justice, that confronts the disturbing truth of how sexual assault is investigated today—and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims.  Though unsettling, certainly upsetting, and by no means an easy read, this book is timely, informative, and deeply necessary for the way it shines a light not only on the prosecution of rape, but also how we as the general public consider these cases today.  Kirkus Reviews agreed, calling it “Chilling…The authors display meticulous investigative reporting skills… A riveting and disturbing true-crime story that reflects the enduring atrocity of rape in America.” 

Until next week, beloved patrons….Happy reading!

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929 – 2018

“We’re each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?”

Today, we remember the life and work of Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 88.

As The New York Times reports, she was born Ursula Kroeber in Berkeley, California on Oct. 21, 1929, the youngest of four children and the only daughter of two anthropologists, Alfred L. Kroeber and Theodora Quinn Kroeber.   She grew up fascinated by mythology from around the world, and science fiction.  She turned away from science fiction, however, when she realized how many of the stories were about men as soldiers, adventurers, and plunderers.

She graduated first from Radcliffe College in 1951, and then from Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in romance literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  She traveled to Paris in a Fulbright fellowship, and there she met the man who would become her husband, another Fulbright scholar, Charles Le Guin, who survives her.  The two settled in Portland, Oregon, and Ursula remained at home to raise their children.  She wrote five unpublished novels before turning to genre fiction.  Science fiction, the genre she adored as a child.  But now, Le Guin began to reinvent the genre, using her works to question western conceptions of gender, race, and power.

A devoted feminist, Ursula K. Le Guin, along with writers like Octavia Butler, burst open the science fiction genre, showing its true power to help us reimagine and reshape our own world.  She will be missed.  But, lucky for us, her words, her humor, and her insight lives on—on our shelves, and in our hearts.