Founded in 1851, the NYT has won 122 Pulitzers in its existence–more than any other newspaper. As of September 2016, it had the largest combined print-and-digital circulation of any daily newspaper in the United States, and is ranked 18th in the world by circulation.
Since 1896, it’s also been running a supplement, now knows as the New York Times Book Review that covers new fiction and non-fiction books. Each week the NYTBR receives 750 to 1000 books from authors and publishers in the mail, of which 20 to 30 are chosen for review, and the supplement is the most influential and widely read book review publication in the country. So when The New York Times puts out it’s list of the 10 best books of the year, it’s worth paying attention.
Here are some highlights from their piece, which you can read here. Starting in December (which is apparently coming in a few short hours….), we’ll be featuring some of these fine titles, along with other books from “Best Of” lists, along with our own picks for our favorite reads of 2017, on our displays. So come on in and check out some of the literary highlights of the past year!
What can explain the incredible diversity of beauty in nature? Richard O. Prum, an award-winning ornithologist, discusses Charles Darwin’s second and long-neglected theory–aesthetic mate choice–and what it means for our understanding of evolution. In addition, Prum connects those same evolutionary dynamics to the origins and diversity of human sexuality, offering riveting new thinking about the evolution of human beauty and the role of mate choice, thereby transforming our ancestors from typical infanticidal primates into socially intelligent, pair-bonding caregivers. Prum’s book is an exhilarating tour de force that begins in the trees and ends by fundamentally challenging how we understand human evolution and ourselves. According to The New York Times: “If a science book can be subversive and feminist and change the way we look at our own bodies — but also be mostly about birds — this is it…It’s a passionate plea that begins with birds and ends with humans and will help you finally understand, among other things, how in the world we have an animal like the peacock.”
This remarkable novel follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity. The New York Times had this to say: “Exploring central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging, the book announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.” Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen.”
Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. According to The New York Times: “[The family’s] story feels mythic, both encompassing the ghosts of the past and touching on all the racial and social dynamics of the South as they course through this one fractured family. Ward’s greatest feat here is achieving a level of empathy that is all too often impossible to muster in real life, but that is genuine and inevitable in the hands of a writer of such lyric imagination.”
Father Greg Lockwood is unlike any Catholic priest you have ever met, a man who lounges in boxer shorts, loves action movies, and whose constant jamming on the guitar reverberates “like a whole band dying in a plane crash in 1972.” His daughter is an irreverent poet who long ago left the Church’s country. When an unexpected crisis leads her and her husband to move back into her parents’ rectory, their two worlds collide. In this crazy, profane, and wonderfully wise memoir,, Lockwood interweaves emblematic moments from her childhood and adolescence, from an ill-fated family hunting trip and an abortion clinic sit-in where her father was arrested to her involvement in a cultl-ike Catholic youth group, with scenes that chronicle the eight-month adventure she and her husband had in her parents’ household after a decade of living on their own. As The New York Times observes, Lockwood “brings to bear her gifts as a poet, mixing the sacred and profane in a voice that’s wonderfully grounded and authentic. This book proves Lockwood to be a formidably gifted writer who can do pretty much anything she pleases.”
Like many of you, dear readers, I read a lot of books. Moreover, I spend a lot of time reading things about books…indeed, some of the links on the left-hand side of this page will bring you to our favorite places on the internet for reading about books.
Some of these readings make me very happy, like the Children’s Book Council’s “Reading Without Walls” Initiative, which encourages younger readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats. Here is the poster that the CBC produced for the challenge:
How cool is this?! Helping readers to realize just how many options are available to them, how many voices, how many format, and how many genres, is a terrific way to foster a lifelong love of reading. Moreover, studies have shown that reading, particularly reading fiction, helps build up empathy. And Heavens knows that this world needs as many empathetic people as it can get.
I also really appreciate that this challenge also focuses on different formats of books. I’ve written about my own struggles reading graphic novels, which I attribute, in large part to the fact that I didn’t realize they even existed until I was a lot older. And as much as I hate to admit it, it is more difficult for an older brain to adapt to new stuff. So getting readers’ minds and eyes (and ears!) adapted to as many formats as possible as early as possible ensures that they can enjoy All The Books as they continue to grow.
But the real importance of this project wasn’t driven home for me until I saw this article on BookRiot, entitled “A deep dive into Goodreads Top 100 Mysteries and Thrillers“, and discussed the diversity of the authors listed. As you will see in the graph below, which we borrowed with respect from BookRiot, the Mysteries and Thrillers market is dominated by white men:
Now, I have a number of issues with Goodreads (much of which I blame on you, Amazon), which we can talk about in-depth later, but the gist of it is that their numbers, and especially their ratings, are seldom based on actual living-in-reality fact-based statistics. If anyone followed the vicious, misogynistic movement to make the new Ghostbuster’s movie the lowest-rated on IMBD, you’ll know to what I am alluding here. Indeed, Goodreads admitted this was a popularity contest, stating “every one of these books has at least a 4.0 rating from the Goodreads community.” In order for a book to make it onto Goodreads’ radar like that, it has to be read by a lotof people (admittedly, who had to then have enjoyed their reading experiences–which is terrific. Yay reading books you enjoy!)
But what we are actually seeing here is a reflection, not of the best books, but of market trends. No one was asked “what is the best mystery book you ever read”. Instead, the aggregate ratings of a website that is A) Owned by Amazon* B) Reliant on user input. If you don’t have internet access or a Goodreads account, you can’t play this game. More than likely, you are only going to list books read in the last decade or so. I know that two of my favorite mysteries as a younger reader was The Westing Gameand The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, but I never listed them on Goodreads because I didn’t get a Goodreads account until I was in my late 20’s, and if I tried to list all the books I had read to date at that time I’d have starved to death before I finished.
So what we have is a market that isn’t designed for people who are reading without walls. And that’s where you come in.
Because while this survey can show us very broad changes over time–for example, that there are more authors of color on the list now than there were in 2000 (see the graph below)–it can’t show us how individual reading trends have changed. If everyone and their mother and their father and their Aunt Rose are reading James Patterson, then the fact that Aunt Rose also went out and discovered Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season means nothing to Goodreads. But I can guarantee you that it will mean something to Aunt Rose. And I bet that being exposed to different cultures, different voices, different ways of telling stories, will mean something to you, too.
So come on into the Library and check out our “Reading Without Walls” Display for grown-up readers, and try something new. I’ll be giving it a whirl, too, beloved patrons, so we can compare notes as we explore all the stories this big world (and even bigger universe!) has to offer!
*For the Record: There are aspects of Amazon that I think are terrific–namely, that they have opened the book world to millions of readers who live in book deserts, and opened an e-book market that has made reading (and writing) easier for millions more. Amazon Smile also lets you donate to NOBLE, which is great. However, it has also, and continues to do a lot of harm to authors, to independent bookstores, and to readers. So while I respect the good the corporation has done, I’ll always be a wee bit skeptical of it.
If you come into the Library–and we certainly hope that you will–you will see this poem as part of our card catalog display. A Library is a safe house for stories–not only those in the books or the films or the recordings. They are for your stories, as well. And we treasure your stories as much as every other we hold. In that spirit, we invite you in to share your story, and to encounter the stories of other people–those whose experiences are similar to yours, and those whose life is nothing at all like yours.
Come with your grief.
Come with your loss.
Carry all the pieces of your heart
and come sit with us.
Bring your disappointments
and your failures.
Bring your betrayals
and your masks.
We welcome you no matter
where you come from
and what you bring.
Come and join us
at the intersection of
acceptance and forgiveness
where you will find our
house of love.
Bring your empty cups
and we will have a feast.
We are deep into Hermitage Month here at the Library…Lady Pole came up with the idea of turning what I had always known as Hermitage Week into Hermitage Month, and I, for once applaud her genius. There is nothing more restorative and restful, after the stress of the holiday season, and little more comforting during the dark days of winter than a good old fashioned grown-up blanket fort. As we noted here last year, “Without expectations or anticipation, there was finally time to settle down, appreciate and recover from all the business and social activities that the holidays brought with them, and, of course, read all the books.“. And that was the inspiration for Hermitage Week/Month (celebrate as you see fit, dear readers)–a time just for you to wind down, to recover (especially if, like me, you have been struck down with Whatever Is Going Around), and to indulge in a good book…or several…or discover some new books that might just become old favorites. Or even to binge-watch some new shows via Hoopla, or on DVD…or knit that shawl you’ve been itching to get on your needles…or pet the cat and daydream… The possibilities, truly are endless.
And, in case you need help stocking your blanket fort, here are some of the sensational books that have ambled up onto our shelves this week. For even more book fort recommendations, stop by the Main Library and check out our Card Catalog Display of books guaranteed to be bigger (and better) than any snowstorm!
The Cold Eye: I am so excited that this book has arrived! The first book in Laura Anne Gilman’s Devil’s West series was one of my favorite reads of last year, and this follow-up is just as weird, creative, and wonderful an adventure. At the heart of it all is Isobel, a young women pledged to serve as the Devil’s Left Hand across the territories of the American West. Along with her mentor, Gabriel (an enigmatic, earnest, and fascinating character in his own right), she is traveling through Flood in order to meet those under her jurisdiction, and being to discover just what her title requires of her. But when Isobel comes face-to-face with a natural disaster…and a very unnatural power that is killing livestock and draining the area of its magic, she and Gabriel will both realize the limits of their powers, and the terrible force that is threatening to unravel the entire Territory. This is a series in which to wholly lose yourself–you feel the heat of the sun and the dust of the road on your skin while reading, and while this land is full of otherworldly powers and wildly outlandish creatures, it is also a world that is totally accessible, full of characters who are real, honest, and empathetic, making this series one that I cannot wait to read, and read again. Publisher’s Weekly agrees, saying of this book, “Gilman crafts a fascinating vision of a magic-infested continent, set in an unsettled and unpredictable time. As she expands upon the imminent conflict among the various factions inhabiting North America and delves into the supernatural structure of the setting, she lays the groundwork for her increasingly capable heroine to come into her own.”
Books for Living: I mean, seriously–if there was ever books designed for Hermitage Month, this would be chief among them. Journalist and Will Schwalbe’s newest book talks about why we read, why we read what we read, and how those books can help us with issues in today’s highly connected and all-too-fast-paced world. Each chapter deals with a different book, from Stuart Little to The Odyssey, to The Girl on the Train, and talks about what each book helped him to learn or accomplish (everything from napping to trusting). Though playful in its choice of literature, this book is an earnest, and often heartfelt exploration of books, their meaning, and their place in our lives and souls. It’s always a really powerful experience to see how another reader sees the world because of literature, and this book is no exception to that rule. Booklist agreed, saying in its starred review, “Each chapter about a beloved book—Stuart Little, David Copperfield, Song of Solomon, Bird by Bird—is a finely crafted, generously candid, and affecting personal essay… In this warmly engaging, enlightening, and stirring memoir-in-books and literary celebration, Schwalbe reminds us that reading ‘isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control, and domination; it’s one of the world’s greatest joys.’”
Quicksand: In January 2014, Henning Mankell, author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries, received a diagnosis of lung cancer (he passed away in October 2015). This book is a response to that diagnosis…but not, perhaps in the way you’d think. Instead of dwelling on loss, or fear, or anger, Mankell instead takes the time to explore his life in a series in intimate sketches and vivid vignettes, from the chill of a winter morning in his small Swedish home town, to living hand-to-mouth in Paris as a struggling young writer, to his love of art, to his dreams about poisoned gas and the First World War. There are elements of this book that are jarring for being so very personal, but also incredibly inspiring, because Mankell isn’t, by and large, discussing a life that the rest of us will never live. He talks about what it means to experience the world as an ordinary human being, but in a way that shows just what an incredible opportunity that is for all of us. As the Financial Times noted in their review, “Quicksand defines life not by its ending but by the creative and humanitarian content that filled—and fulfilled—Mankell’s life. . . . The essays sharpen with resounding poignancy.”
The Death of Kings: If you’ve ever read Charles Todd’s First World War mysteries, or enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s historical fiction, you need to be reading Rennie Airth’s John Madden series. Set in Britain during the Interwar period, these books are phenomenal in their historic detail, with characters that come out of the book and live alongside you while your reading. In this fifth series installment, a stunning actress is found murdered on the estate of Sir Jack Jessup, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Though the case is quickly brought to a close, in 1949, the appearance of a piece of jewelry related to the case appears, throwing the previous conviction into question. Though happily retired, John Madden is persuaded to take on the case anew, only to find that nothing about the case is quite what it seemed. If it’s not already clear, I hold a bit of a torch for Madden, who is a genuinely honorable man with plenty of human foibles to keep him grounded. This installment expands the world of the series considerably, taking Madden onto the streets of postwar London–which is a fascinating contrast to his earlier adventures after the First World War. The New York Times Review of Books loved this novel, noting “It’s the tactics and the terrain, the morale and the characters that make the difference between an average thriller and one as good as this.”
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise: It isn’t often that we get a novel set in North Korea that isn’t a spy caper or political thriller–but J.M. Lee’s book, part mystery, part love story, part history, and totally fascinating–is one of the rare exceptions. When an unidentified body is discovered in New York City, with numbers and symbols are written in blood near the corpse, the police investigation focuses immediately on Gilmo, a North Korean national who interprets the world through numbers, formulas, and mathematical theories. Angela, a CIA operative, is assigned to gain his trust and access his unique thought-process. Gilmo once had a quiet life in Pyongyang, but when it was discovered that his father was Christian, he and Gilmo were immediately incarcerated. There, he met Yeong-ae, the girl who became his only friend, and the girl for whom Gilmo would risk everything, escaping the camp and braving the world of East Asia’s criminal underworld, eventually bringing him to the strange new world in which he finds himself today. Scattered through with math problems and numerical riddles, this is a book that is both wildly imaginative in its outlook, and deeply insightful about its unique characters. Library Journal loved this book, giving it a starred review and praising, “Channeling timeless quests from The Odyssey on, while highly reminiscent of the contemporary cult classic Vikas Swarup’s Q&A (the literary inspiration for celluloid sensation “Slumdog Millionaire”), Lee’s latest should guarantee exponential growth among savvy Western audiences searching for a universal story with global connections. In a phrase, read this.”
“You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
(Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird)
Just about two weeks ago, Ellen Oh, the President of We Need Diverse Books, wrote a letter about how much better the world and its leaders could be if they read books that opened their minds to people who didn’t look like them, didn’t act like them, and didn’t live they same life that they did. And she is absolutely right. Which is why we need to expose our children to as many stories as we possibly can, so that they can learn from an early age to appreciate the world in all its incredible diversity and uniqueness and surprising beauty.
But the same thing goes for grown-ups, too. There is no age limit to learning, no cut-off date to having new experiences, and nothing stopping you from taking a walk in another person’s shoes, no matter what your age.
The problem, in fact, isn’t with our ability to learn–science has shown that adults’ capacity to learn is different from children, but not less. And, when it comes to interpersonal skills, adults bring more life experience and prior knowledge to bear on a situation, making grown-ups inherently better to learn inter-personal skills and emotional-development skills better than children.
The problem is largely that we live in a world that, for all its interconnectedness, is inherently isolating. We stare at screens more than faces, we are constantly asked for comments and thoughts on topics without being given the aid of considered facts, we have been taught that shouting is the only form of communication that gets heard. But all of those habits and practices are learned. Not inherent. Science has shown that empathy is actually an inherent trait in the human mind–our brains have all these mirror neurons that observe and reflect the world around us. As Psychology Today explains, “These mirror neurons reflect back actions that we observe in others causing us to mimic that action in our own brains. When we observe someone in pain or when we are with someone happy, we experience that to a certain extent. These mirror neurons are the primary physiological basis of empathy.”
It is critically important to give children as many different kinds of stories that we can to teach them to be more adaptable and accepting–and to show them that their story, in whatever form it takes, is valid and worthy of attention. But that is no less true for adults. We all need to know what it is like to walk around in the skin of another person, and we all need to know that our story, our identity and our place in the world, is important. And reading can be an excellent tool to accomplish those goals, no matter what your age.
The Card Catalog display in the Main Library has a wide selection of diverse books for you to check out (see some suggestions below!). You can also check out our newest Pinterest board that features a wealth of diverse books for children and adults alike. And if you would like even more resources, including teaching support and reading lists, check out weneeddiversebooks.org for more information. And don’t stop there. Reach out to others. Listen more. Make someone laugh. I promise you, it will make things better.
Americanah: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for Half a Yellow Sun, about life in Biafra during the 1960s, and while this book begins in Africa, specifically, in Nigeria, it follows its two protagonists, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they flee their war-torn country for new lives in the West. Ifemelu lands in America, where, despite her intelligence and academic success, she is forced to realize what it really means to be Black in a new country, while Obinze finds himself trapped in the life of an undocumented immigrant in London. Fifteen years after splitting up, Ifemelu and Obinze return to Nigeria, and to each other, to find how much they have changed, and what, if anything, remains the same about them, and their homeland. This book was widely considered one of the best releases of 2014, and a modern classic, with the New York Times Review of Books calling it “Witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic . . . a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us. . . . A steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience. ”
The Magician’s Assistant: Ann Patchett is a master at blending the beauty of everyday with a touch of magic, ensuring that each story she tells is captivating and unique. After working as his assistant for more than 20 years, Sabine marries her beloved boss, Parcifal, knowing that he’s gay and has just lost his lover. What she doesn’t find out until after his death from AIDS is that Parcifal was actually Guy Fettera from Alliance, Neb., and the family that he told Sabine had died year before are actually alive and well. When his family contacts her, she introduces them to the Los Angeles Parsifal that she knew, and then visits Nebraska to discover the truth about the man she loved and thought she knew, gaining insight into herself as well, in a book that Kirkus called “Masterful in evoking everything from the good life in L.A. to the bleaker one on the Great Plains, and even to dreams of the dead: a saga of redemption tenderly and terrifically told”
When the Moon Hung Low: Nadia Hashimi’s novel takes us into a world to which we constantly refer, but barely know–Afghanistan during the rise of the Taliban. Mahmoud’s passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she’s ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war. When Mahmoud finds himself surrounded by fundamentalist groups, Fereiba decides to risk everything and escape, arriving in Iran under the cover of night. But when her teenaged son disappears, even Fereiba’s formidable strength begins to waver, forcing her into decisions she never dreamt she would have to make. Nadia Hashimi’s family is originally from Afghanistan, and depictions of an immigrant’s struggles are as heartrending as they are beautiful, leading O, the Oprah Magazine to call this book “A must-read saga about borders, barriers, and the resolve of one courageous mother fighting to cross over.”
Come on into the Library to check out these, and many more diverse books–and let’s start changing the world, one page at a time!
The time has come again, beloved patrons, for All Hallows Read, a monthly indulgence in all things spectacularly spooky, deliciously dark, and gloriously ghoulish!
All Hallows Read was started by the Great and Good Neil Gaiman in 2010 with this blog post, which called for a new Halloween tradition, and stated, in part:
I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.
I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…
Now we at the Free For All never do things by half, waiting around until the week of Halloween really isn’t an option for us. So instead, we are taking the whole month to showcase the scary (and scary-ish) books on our shelves, in the hopes that you will find your own beloved book among them, or a new favorite to savor. Check out our display at the Main Library, and revel in some suggestions below. And feel free to check out the Twitter handle: #AllHallowsRead to see what scary reads people around the world are enjoying, too!
For those looking for a place to start, here are some Free For All Favorites for All Hallows Read:
A Head Full of Ghosts: This book, man. Oh, this book. First off, it’s set in Beverly, and Paul Tremblay is a Massachusetts native, so there is a good deal of (accurate) local flair. Second, it features a whole bunch of unreliable narrators: beginning with Merry, who is relating the story of her older sisters alleged possession, the reality television series that invaded her family’s lives in order to film their trauma, and the blogger who analyzes the reality show in stand-alone chapters. Third, its will keep you guessing and wondering and questioning from the very first scene, doubting what is true, what is really happening, and just how much you as a reader are willing to believe in the power of evil, which makes for a genuinely engaging, and unnerving read. Fourth, it has one of the biggest, best twists in the history of literary twists. So much so that I made my dad read this book so that I could discuss it with someone. He agrees with me. As does Stephen King, who said that this book “Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
Slade House: I am going to put it out there–I have never been so scared by a book, and so annoyed at its author at the same time as I was when reading David Mitchell’s first official foray into the gothic horror genre. The book itself is made up of intertwined short stories, each taking place on the same day in different years, and each set at the titular Slade House, which only appears to those looking for it. Even as my rational brain was telling me that Slade House was a trap, that no good could come to those hunting for it, or searching through it, or trying to escape from it, I was genuinely scared while reading of the way that Slade House toyed with its victims, turned their realities inside-out and upside-down, and destroyed them. Those looking for a truly dread-full read should look no further than this odd little yellow volume (and those who have read Mitchell’s The Bone Clockswill find an added treat in the ending).
The Overnight: Ramsey Campbell is one of the masters of horror fiction, and has contributed an enormous amount to the genre as a whole. Though not one of his most famous works, this tale, set in a chain bookstore run by an American on British soil, was too appropriate to pass over. Woody, the manger of Texts (the bookstore in question) wants nothing more than to make his store into a calm, orderly, peaceful place for customers to browse and buy. But every day when he and his staff enter the store, the books are tossed on the floor, broken, bent…and mysteriously damp. The store’s computers literally have a mind of their own, ringing up stocking and purchasing errors at random. And the employees, too, are falling apart–bickering, accusing, and one has even lost the ability to read at all. Desperate for answers, Woody demands his staff remain overnight in the store to perform a final stock count…and together, they discover the hell that really lurks on the shelves….This book is told from the point of view of each of the employees in turn, which may make it a tricky read for some, but it also helps create an atmosphere of tension and suspense throughout that works very, very well.
‘Salem’s Lot:I am pretty sure there is some kind of limit about how many times I can recommend a book. But since I have read this book every year since 2009, and still love it (and still find it scary), I’m going to recommend it again. Set in the township of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, Stephen King’s book is at once a tale of the undead horror that unravels the town from the inside out, but it is also a love story to autumn in New England that is just as easy to relate to now as it was when the book was published in 1975. I’m in the middle of my eighth reading of this book, and still finding new treasures in it–and still creeped out about that scene in the graveyard.
Until next week, dear readers…Happy All Hallows Read!
Did you know that November 17 is National Take a Hike Day? And considering how mild the weather has been thus far in November, you should totally take advantage of this day. In fact, the month of November and entire season of autumn in general is a great time for hiking (or walking, biking, or running), especially in beautiful New England. The weather is cool, the remaining foliage is beautiful, and it’s a great way to get some outdoor exercise before the winter’s snowfalls deter us from leaving our houses.
Whether you’ve climbed to the top of Mount Everest, or you’ve never been hiking a day in your life, there are so many ways and places for you to get out there. If you’re a beginner, take a stroll down the 4.3 mile Danvers Rail Trail, which runs through Danvers, Peabody, Wenham, and Topsfield. You can find a trailhead for these paths in Peabody at Lt. Ross Park (formerly Cy Tenney) on Johnson St., just off of Lowell St. Similarly, you could hit the 4.1 mile Marblehead Bike Path that starts in Salem and ends in Marblehead. Both of these trails pass by some small ponds, which makes for a relaxing setting. My favorite aspect of these kinds of trails is that if you’re just trying to take it easy, you can stick to the main paths. But if you want hills and more difficult terrain, venture off the beaten path onto some less-trodden trails!
If these bike paths aren’t enough to satisfy you more intrepid hikers, a more tumultuous local place to try is Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, right off Route 1. A library patron recommended these trails to me when I was trying to get into trail running, and now I pass it on to other hikers and runners. It is a beautiful 640 acre forest with some great rocky, hilly trails for those seeking to test their endurance. Though the reservation’s lakes tend to draw crowds in the summer, it is far less populated in autumn, making for the perfect mindful hike or jog. You might also be interested in the Lynn Woods, a popular destination for distance runners. Lynn Woods is a huge park, at 2,200 acres, and there are various terrains throughout the trails.
We have quite a few hikers on staff who were able to recommend some great local places. Kelley says her favorite local walking spot is the Ipswich River Wildlife Sancturary, a great spot with 12 miles of trails in Topsfield run by Mass Audubon that’s also great for snowshoeing in the winter. She also recommended Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, a Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation park that used to be an estate. This park boasts “great wooded walking (some on carriage roads), views of the Merrimack River, and a pretty cool rose garden when it’s in season.” A similar spot, also a former estate, is Appleton Farms located in Hamilton and Ipswich and managed by the Trustees of Reservations.
For those who crave ocean views, check out Crane Beach in Ipswich, also managed by the Trustees of Reservations, which hosts some interesting trails in the dunes and has been home for the past couple winters to some beautiful snowy owls. You may also like Parker Wildlife Research Preserve on Plum Island, which also hosts some dunes and boardwalks.
Other staff recommendations include Bradley Palmer State Park, Malden Pond, Blue Hills, and Willowdale State Forest.
If these aren’t enough for you, or if you want to venture out of the North Shore area, we have a myriad of Massachusetts and New England hiking guide books available for checkout on our card catalog display.
Still don’t want to take a hike yourself? Read about someone else who does! Learn about Grandma Gatewood, a 65 year old woman who walked solo for 800 miles through the Appalachian Trail, or read Walking to Vermont, the story of a retired foreign correspondent who ventured through the Northeast on foot. You could also pick up Wildby Cheryl Strayed, the memoir or a grieving twenty-two year old woman who hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass