Tag Archives: History!

Five Book Friday!

And just a reminder, beloved patrons, we’ll be closed tomorrow in observance of Veteran’s Day.

As we’ve discussed, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform on November 11, first as Armistice Day, and then, since 1954 as Veterans Day.  The day itself commemorates the Armistice which ended hostilities on the Western Front of the First World War.

In honor of this day, here is a poem by American journalist and poet Carl Sandburg.  Though he did not serve in the First World War, Sandburg was nevertheless deeply affected by the violence, and anger, and the lasting trauma of the war on veterans and civilians alike.

A.E.F.

There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you’re doing good work.
(From Smoke and Steel, 1922)

We will be open on Sunday, so be sure to drop by and check out some of the new books that have scurried onto our shelves this week!  Here are just a sample:

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf: We are huge fans of Book Buddies here at the Library, as well as devotees of the authors listed in this book’s subtitle, so this was something of a natural choice for us.  We so often talk about the friendship and collaboration between male authors, but the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Co-authors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, highlighting centuries of literary friendship, collaborations, and inspirations between women, from  the friendship between Jane Austen and one of her family servants, playwright Anne Sharp, to the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; to Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, whose complex relationship has gone understudied for generations.  Using letters and diaries, some never before published, this book emphasizes the need–and the incredible results–of female friendships, in a book that Publisher’s Weekly called an ” evocative and well-researched ode to female solidarity…The authors…astutely explain that the friendships they depict became lost to cultural memory due to prevailing stereotypes of female authors as “solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” It is a delight to learn about them here, as related by two talented authors.”

Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror: Just in time for the centennial of the Russian Revolution comes Victor Sebestyen’s fascinating new biography (and the first in English in over two decades) of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party. Brought up in comfort and with a passion for hunting and fishing, chess, and the English classics, Lenin was radicalized after the execution of his brother in 1887. Sebestyen traces the story from Lenin’s early years to his long exile in Europe and return to Petrograd in 1917 to lead the first Communist revolution in history.  With Lenin’s personal papers and those of other leading political figures now available, Sebestyen gives is new details that bring to life the dramatic and gripping story of how Lenin seized power in a coup and ran his revolutionary state. The product of a violent, tyrannical, and corrupt Russia, he chillingly authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater ideal.  Sebestyen also emphasizes Lenin’s relationships with women, bringing his sister, his mother, his wife, and him mistress into the historical picture in a way never before attempted.  The result is a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus, who called it, “An illuminating new biography of the cold, calculating ruler on whom the subsequent Soviet state modeled itself . . . Sebestyen ably captures the man, “the kind of demagogue familiar to us in Western democracies.” A compelling, clear-eyed portrait of a dictator whose politics have unfortunate relevance for today.”

The End We Start From: From a language-and-use perspective, Megan Hunter’s debut work of fiction inhabits a magical land somewhere between poetry and prose.  In terms of plot, this is an apocalyptic novel of hope.  It is a hauntingly beautiful look at the ugliness of a drowned world.  It is utterly bizarre, and it’s a marvel.  As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds. This book has earned glowing reviews, and both it and Hunter have secured spots on a number of best of lists, with The Guardian noting, “If motherhood now has its own literary subgenre, the same is true of climate-change catastrophe…Hunter sees both subjects afresh, through a sharp eye for detail that is both undeceived and faintly amused, and through the extreme spareness of her narration: the story proceeds in snatches, like a series of stepping stones across the blank expanse of an unknown future.”

To My Trans SistersDedicated to trans women everywhere, Charlie Craggs’ anthology represents an inspirational collection of letters written by successful trans women shares the lessons they learnt on their journeys to womanhood, celebrating their achievements and empowering the next generation to become who they truly are. Written by politicians, scientists, models, athletes, authors, actors, and activists from around the world, these letters capture the diversity of the trans experience and offer advice from make-up and dating through to fighting dysphoria and transphobia. By turns honest and heartfelt, funny and furious or beautiful and brave, these letters send a clear message of hope to their sisters, and also offer a world of insight to all readers on the nature of identity, the power of empathy, and the need to recognize all our fellow humans as people worthy of respect and love.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, pronouncing it “A triumph in topics of gender and women’s studies, this anthology is unlike anything available today and is a must-have for those seeking to understand the trans community on a myriad of levels.”

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains: Anyone who enjoys themselves a richly nuances baddie is going to delight in this new collection from Otto Penzler, that brings together the iconic traitors, thieves, con men, sociopaths, and killers who have crept through the mystery canon over the past 150 years, captivating and horrifying readers in equal measure. The 72 handpicked stories in this collection introduce us to the most depraved of psyches, from iconic antiheroes like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin and Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu to contemporary delinquents like Lawrence Block’s Ehrengraf and Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder.  With stories from Bram Stoker, R.L. Stevenson, Earl Stanley Gardener, as well as  less well-remembered writers like May Edginton, and George Randolph Chester, this is a delightful romp through some of the darker personas in fiction that is a blast for mystery readers and fans of character studies.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, noting that “The fruits of Penzler’s decades of diligent study of the genre pay off handsomely in this fat volume.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And welcome to our first 5BF of November, beloved patrons!

via The Library of Congress

And speaking of November, don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour this Sunday, as it’s the end of Daylight Savings Time.  Though we all give Benjamin Franklin credit for coming up with the idea of Daylight Savings Time, there is a debate as to whether he meant the idea as a lighthearted jest more than a practical suggestion.  It was, in fact, Germany, under the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II during the First World War, which was the first country to adopt daylight saving time – or “fast time” as it was then called – as a means to minimize artificial lighting and save fuel for the war effort. The act was quickly followed in both Great Britain and France, where it was also credited with getting in an extra hour for cultivation of war gardens.  As this article in the Great Falls Tribune points out, the movement had something of a rocky start in the US:

The cause for turning the clocks back an hour in the United States was taken up by Pittsburgh industrialist Robert Garland. Garland successfully lobbied for the “Standard Time Act,” establishing that U.S. clocks be set back one hour between March 31 and Oct. 27.

The act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 19, 1918, but was repealed just seven months later. The war had ended, and nobody seemed to like the idea, especially American dairy farmers who worked tirelessly to overturn the Standard Time Act, even overcoming a veto by Wilson.

Undaunted, Garland continued to advocate for daylight saving time. For the next 20 years, he argued before any group that would invite him that a permanent daylight saving time would improve industrial efficiency and add an additional hour so Americans could enjoy more outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and baseball. He even enlisted the support of the motion-picture industry, arguing that daylight saving would increase attendance at the theaters.

Garland’s efforts were largely unsuccessful, although several large U.S. cities including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and New York did adopt the time switch. It wasn’t until World War II that the practice once again became universal.

So why not come into the Library and find a new book with which to enjoy your extra hour of weekend?  Or, you know, sleep. That’s fine, too.  But here are some books to tempt you otherwise….

 

An Enchantment of RavensFans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who loved the weird fairy settings and the talented, resourceful women who populated it, need to read Margaret Rogerson’s book.  Isobel is a portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, who crave human Craft with a terrible thirst. Isobel’s paintings are highly prized, but when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.  Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. But when the are waylaid in their journey, Isobel and Rook are forced to depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts.  If this gorgeous cover isn’t enough to intrigue you, then come for the powerful, transformative love story, complex characters, and the simply sumptuous descriptions that make this book completely transporting.  RT Book Reviews named this book a Top Pick, noting “Though Rogerson fills her tale with unique and complex characters, and her storytelling is beautiful, it is the powerful bond between her mortal heroine and her constantly surprising, supportive and fascinating hero that makes this story such a phenomenal read.”

Beasts Made of Night: Another phenomenal fantasy book, this one from the African tradition, from debut author Tochi Onyebuchi, who drew on his own Nigerian heritage to write this powerful and utterly engrossing book.  In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts—lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt. Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.  When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves—and his own life.  The lessons of self-acceptance, forgiveness, the keen understanding of what really separates the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and an utterly bewitching world all combine to make this a book that fantasy and sci-fi readers of all ages won’t want to miss!  Kirkus Reviews agrees–they gave this book a starred review, noting “”Epic” is an overused term to describe how magnificent someone or something is. Author Onyebuchi’s novel creates his in the good old-fashioned way: the slow, loving construction of the mundane and the miraculous, building a world that is both completely new and instantly recognizable.”

The River of ConsciousnessThe world lost a great deal when Oliver Sacks passed away, but his medical and literary legacy has touched countless lives.  Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep understanding and love of not literature and medicine, though, but botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology. The River of Consciousness is one of two books he was working on up to his death, a series of ten essays consciously written with his own mortality in sight, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human. Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl, wrote a stunning blurb for this book that says it all: “Oliver Sacks knew how much his readers would miss him, and he outlined these ten essays before he left us. Indeed, blessed are we who mourn. His was a voice that could untangle even the most formidable knots of medical mystery—the bewildering maladies of the brain—and roll them out into smooth ribbons of human story. I read these essays in one night, spellbound as he described petals, cameras, bombs—and, of course, neurons—so enraptured with details that only later did I realize how he had also explained the weightiness of time, memory, and learning itself. The River of Consciousness is the precious voice of Oliver Sacks come back to us, to do what all great seers do: lead us to places that we could never have found on our own.”

Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill:  It was in Brooklyn, New York, in 1883 that William F. Cody—known across the land as Buffalo Bill—conceived of his Wild West show, an “equestrian extravaganza” featuring cowboys and Indians. The idea took off. For four months in 1885 the Lakota chief Sitting Bull appeared in the show.  This book, from award-winning author Deanne Stillman, tells the story of these two iconic figures through their brief but important collaboration.  Unearthing little told details about the two men and their tumultuous times, this book casts light not a broad swath of 19th century American history, but also on the cultural and personal importance of Wild West Shows for Native Americans and white performers alike.  During this time, the Native American rights movement began to flourish, but with their way of life in tatters, the Lakota and others availed themselves of the chance to perform in the Wild West. Cody paid his performers well, and he treated the Native Americans no differently from white performers. When Cody died in 1917, a large contingent of Native Americans attended his public funeral. This book enriches our knowledge of these two men, and the world they inhabited, in well-researched detail, and with beautiful storytelling.  In it’s review, Booklist called this work “Thoroughly researched…Stillman’s account of this period in American history is elucidating as well as entertaining.”

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone:  On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of northeast Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than eighteen thousand people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned. It was Japan’s greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It set off a national crisis and the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. And even after the immediate emergency had abated, the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious ways. Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. There he encountered stories of ghosts and hauntings, and met a priest who exorcised the spirits of the dead. And he found himself drawn back again and again to one specific village that had suffered a loss too heartbreaking to forget.  This is a fascinating, heartbreaking, wrenching, and wonderfully insightful book that offers a stunning portrait of a tragedy that often feels completely indescribable.  As The Chicago Tribune recognized, this book is “Remarkably written and reported . . . a spellbinding book that is well worth contemplating in an era marked by climate change and natural disaster.”

 

Breaking News…some 400 years in the making…

Oh, these are amazing times in which we live, beloved patrons!

First off, last year, we had the discovery of the HMS Terror, one of the ships in the doomed Franklin Expedition.  Sire John Franklin and his crew had been determined to discover the Northwest Passage (the sea route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific), but the ship foundered in heavy weather and was abandoned, along with the HMS Erebus.  All 129 men on the Franklin expedition died, but, though 11 search parties were sent to find any trace of the party or their ships, nothing was heard of the Franklin Expedition…except for a number of stories from local Inuit and Inuk tribes, which went largely overlooked for years and years.   But last year, after finally paying appropriate attention to the Inuit tales, both ships were discovered, giving us a wealth of new insight into the last days of the expedition (and proving, once again, that we should listen to others).

And just this past week, we learn that the Voynich Manuscript–a book that has literally defied all attempts at decoding or translation for the past 400 years may very well have been decoded.  

The Voynich Manuscript has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century, but was named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912.  There are a number of pages visibly missing from the book, but the 240 pages that remain are covered in a previously unidentified script that runs left to right across the page.  There are some words and phrases scattered throughout the book in Latin, but, because hand-written manuscripts are notoriously challenging to read, even figuring out some of these words have proven difficult.  There are also a bunch of hand-drawn illustrations that seem as random and confusing as the text, though that is largely, I think, because they appear out of context).  Code-breakers who worked during the First and Second World Wars tried parsing the manuscript without success.  Expert cryptanalysts since have tried to read the manuscript–without success.  In 1962, cryptanalyst Elizebeth Friedman described any attempts to read the book as “doomed to utter frustration”.  There have been a number of guesses made about what the book was supposed to convey, with most people pretty convinced that it was meant to be pharmacopoeia (a book with recipes for medicines) or a medical guide of some sort.  But no one was sure.  Until, perhaps, now.

According to history researcher and television writer Nicholas Gibbs, who declared in The Times Literary Supplement last week that he had solved the riddles of the Voynich Manuscript, the book is a treatise on women’s health.  Using both textual analysis and a study of the illustrations (specifically, the well-known image of a group of women bathing), Gibbs eventually realized what he was looking at.  To quote from the TLS piece:

All the detail and objects depicted in such manuscripts are salient points picked out from a story. Abstract and perhaps unrecognized at first, they can suddenly surprise as a narrative comes into focus. Artists who illustrate instruction manuals – for that is what the Voynich manuscript is – are naturally economical and only provide detail where necessary. In the Voynich manuscript, the same object – an oversized doughnut with a hole and a carbuncle attached to its side – is proffered by several of the unclothed women. Its significance only became apparent when, as I was casually leafing through a medical-related book…I came across the doughnut object depicted as a lodestone (natural magnet).  […]

By now, it was more or less clear what the Voynich manuscript is: a reference book of selected remedies lifted from the standard treatises of the medieval period, an instruction manual for the health and wellbeing of the more well to do women in society, which was quite possibly tailored to a single individual. The script had hitherto proved resistant to interpretation and presented several hurdles….I recognized at least two of the characters in the Voynich manuscript text as Latin ligatures, Eius and Etiam. Ligatures were developed as scriptorial short-cuts. They are composed of selected letters of a word, which together represent the whole word, not unlike like a monogram. An ampersand is just such an example….It became obvious that each character in the Voynich manuscript represented an abbreviated word and not a letter.

The bathing ladies from the Voynich Manuscript

Seriously, all, this is a really remarkable article, and, if it is true (and I have no reason to doubt at this point in time that it is not true), an incredible, momentous moment in the history of books, of codes, and of human enterprise.

If you’re interesting in learning more about the Voynich Manuscript, or the Franklin Expedition, or some other unsolved (for now!) mysteries, have a look at these titles:

The Friar and the CipherLawrence and Nancy Goldstone are well-known book collectors, and have written several books together about the history of the book–and the history of the Voynich Manuscript, in particular.  This book claims that that Roger Bacon, a thirteenth-century astronomer, wrote the Manuscript, and while that part may now be up for debate, their history of the text, and of its life after being purchased by Voynich is a fascinating, well-researched, and surprisingly exciting account that will really drive home how remarkable the Voynich Manuscript truly is, to literary types, as well as code-breakers and historians.

Ice Ghosts : The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition: journalist Paul Watson, was on the icebreaker that led the expedition that discovered the HMS Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror in 2016.  This book is not only a gripping travel narrative of the hunt to find the HMS Terror, but it’s also a great history of the Franklin Expedition, as well as the Inuit stories that helped locate the ships.  This blend of technological innovation and oral history make this a book for history buffs, techno-wizards, and treasure-seekers alike, and is an excellent choice for any armchair explorers looking for a new polar expedition.

Lost City of Z: Even if you saw the motion picture based on this story, you should read the book by David Grann, which not only tells the story of Sir Percy Fawcett’s fascination with the Amazon and its secrets, but also of Grann’s own adventures into “the green Hell”.   In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization, never to return.  Though Grann claims to have ‘solved’ the story of Fawcett’s final expedition, the real power of this book lies in the enduring mystery of the Fawcett’s legacy.

Codebreaker : the history of codes and ciphers, from the ancient pharaohs to quantum cryptographyStephen Pincock’s book is not only a history of how humans have made and broken codes, but also focuses on those that haven’t yet been broken…including the Voynich Manuscript.  From the Beale Code to the mysteries of Easter Island, this book is ponderous at times in the amount of information it contains, but is all the more fun, ultimately, because of it, as it helps not only in cracking codes, but in helping readers appreciate the effort and intellect that goes into creating and cracking them!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy 19th Amendment Day!  On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted, making it illegal to deny any citizen the right to vote on the basis of sex.  Though it was the culmination of the first wave of feminism in the United States, it was by no means the end of the fight for voting rights–for example, the 19th Amendment did not extend to the US territory of Puerto Rico, and women who could read and write were only allowed to vote in 1929 (the franchise would be extended to all women in Puerto Rico in 1935).  The 19th Amendment also only applied to the Federal government, and many states and citizens took it upon themselves to prevent many from casting their votes.

New York Suffrage Parade, courtesy of The National Archives

Nevertheless, the adoption of the 19th Amendment remains a watershed moment in American history, and the culmination of a grass-roots movement that brought women across the country–indeed, across the world–together to fight for their rights as citizen.

You can learn much more about this history here at the Library.  Or, you could come check out some of these titles that have sprung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to share this (potentially dreary) weekend with you!

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature:  Willa Cather wrote that the world “broke in two” in 1922 “or thereabouts”–and, speaking in literary terms, she was rather spot-on.  That year, James Joyce published Ulysses, a book that was already having profound effects on the way people thought of the novel.  T.S. Eliot also published The Waste Land, a poem that deals intimately with brokenness.  These works, and the others discussed in Bill Goldstein’s new work, would give structure and definition to the emerging modernist movement.  Though it had begun in the years before the First World War, and developed in the trenches and hospitals by those seeking for a way to describe the indescribable, as Goldstein shows, modernism got its definition and its shape in 1922, thanks to the works, the personal experiences, and the hardships of Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence, all over the span of one seminal year.  But while this book is certainly about literature, it’s also about the lives of these remarkable writers.  As NPR explains, “In letting these four writers speak in their own words―their own witty, gossipy, often waspish words―Goldstein…sacrifices historical sweep and gravitas for something much more grounded and intimate. In his hands, these literary lions prove surprisingly―and bracingly―catty.”

The Amber Shadows: Lucy Ribchester’s second book is an historic, psychological thriller that has critics and readers alike raving.  We open in 1942 at Bletchley Park, where Honey Deschamps sits at her type-x machine, tediously transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army, doing her part to assist the British war effort.  Leningrad is under siege, and some of the world’s most important art work, from paintings to the fabled Amber Room, is in threat of being destroyed.  As reports begin filtering into Bletchley Park about the stolen loot, Honey receives a mysterious package, hand-delivered from a man that she has never seen before who claims that he works at the Park as well. The package is postmarked from Russia, and inside is a small piece of amber. It is just the first of several such packages, and when she examines them together she realizes that someone, relying on her abilities to unravel codes, is trying to tell her something.  Is Honey being tested?  Is someone at Bletchley Park trying to use her?  Or has she unwittingly become a part of something much, much bigger?  Ribchester is a marvel at weaving a suspenseful plot that keeps both the characters and readers on the most perilous of edges, and for all that her book is a send-up of the wartime spy novel, it’s also a beautiful addition to the genre, and earned a ‘Pick of the Month’ rating from Library Journal, calling it “a fascinating historical mystery that explores issues of secrecy, trust, and families but never impedes the element of almost Hitchcockian suspense. A sure-bet for fans of the PBS series The Bletchley Circle, Susan Elia MacNeal’s “Maggie Hope” series, and Rhys Bowen’s In Farleigh Field.”

When the English Fall: Yes, this book is about life after a solar storm initiates the collapse of modern civilization, but the apocalyptic novel has been getting more and more elevated and thought-provoking recently, and this book is far less a science fiction work than it is a study of humanity itself.  When the solar storm began, the Amish community in which Jacob lives was able to endure unaffected.  But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) in the cities become increasingly desperate, they begin to invade nearby farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the gentle communities.  This book is Jacob’s diary, written as he tries to protect his family from the encroaching, and increasingly violent, strangers, as he wrestles with how to remain peaceful in a world that has grown so alien, and what survival in such times really means.  Critics have been lining up to praise this work, and it’s already been celebrated as one of the best books of 2017, with Kirkus giving it a starred review and praising it as “A standout among post-apocalyptic novels, as simply and perfectly crafted as an Amish quilt or table. Lyrical and weirdly believable.”

North Haven: Sarah Moriarty’s debut novel is set both close to home (on an island off the coast of Maine), but also deals with emotions, loyalties, and heartache that we all know well–what makes this book remarkable, however, is how she spins her tale.  It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s the Willoughbys’ first summer without their parents, in their crumbling house.  When a substantial offer is made on the estate, the two brothers and two sisters are forced to confront issues they had hoped to keep hidden, the secrets that lay scattered throughout their childhood, and the legacy of the parents they only now realize they may never have known at all.  Rich with scenic and personal details, this is a book that will envelope you from the first scene, and linger in your mind even after you’ve left.  Library Journal loved this book, saying in its review,  “A gifted author of singular talent, Moriarty has captured the unbearable rifts of a family under emotional stress. A magnificent debut.”

Goodbye, Vitamin: Another debut dealing with grief, yet Rachel Khong’s work is unique, utterly original–and surprisingly funny despite (and perhaps because of) it’s heavy subject matter.  Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.   Told through Ruth’s diary entries, this book is both an oddball comedy and a poignant picture of families at their best and worst, that has earned rave reviews in publications across the board, from The Wall Street Journal to Entertainment WeeklyBuzzFeed was also among its biggest fans, calling it “one of those rare books that is both devastating and light-hearted, heartfelt and joyful, making it a perfect and unique summer read. Don’t miss it.”

 

As always, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Friday to you, dear readers!

As you’ll see from today’s Google Doodle, today is the 44th ‘birthday’ of Hip-Hop, a subculture and art movement developed by African-Americans and Puerto Ricans from the South Bronx in New York City.

Learn more at https://www.google.com/doodles/44th-anniversary-of-the-birth-of-hip-hop

On August 11, 1973 DJ Kool Herc was the DJ at his sister’s back-to-school party. He extended the beat of a record by using two record players, isolating the percussion “breaks” by using a mixer to switch between the two records. Herc’s experiments with making music with record players became what we now know as breaking or “scratching“.  His house parties soon gained wider popularity, moving to outdoor venues where more and more guests could hear his unique brand of music–and begin to create their own, establishing culture around hip-hop that not only provided a lot of young people an outlet for their energy and expression, but also gave a number of minority artists a voice to speak on social issues.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating and highly diverse art form, come check out some hip-hop recordings from the Library–or some books on its history and influence!

And speaking of books…here are just a few of the many new titles that sashayed up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to be part of your summer adventures!

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old: Any fans of A Man Called Ove should seek this book out immediately.  It’s another book that celebrates longevity, irresistibel humor, and the insight of the…vintage members of our community.  Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he has to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is…elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?  So sets out to write a shocking tell-all book about life in his Amsterdam nursing home, including his comrades in the the anarchic Old-But-Not-Dead Club. And when Eefje, Hendrik’s longtime, far-off love, moves in, he sets out to win her once and for all, with heartbreaking and hilarious consequences.  Though there may be some cultural differences between our world and Hendrik’s, as Publisher’s Weekly points out in its review, some things are universal.  As they put it: “Hendrik’s diary gives a dignity and respect to the elderly often overlooked in popular culture, providing readers a look into the importance of friendship and the realities of the senior care system in modern society.”

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek: Howard Markel is a medical historian, and since the Kellogg’s started out as homeopathic ‘health reformers’, he is in the perfect position to shed new light on these complex, dynamic…and surprisingly eccentric brothers.  The Kelloggs were of Puritan stock, but turned their back on their considerably large and wealthy) family in order to follow one Ellen Harmon White, a self-proclaimed prophetess, and James White, whose new Seventh-day Adventist theology was based on Christian principles and sound body, mind, and hygiene rules.  The Whites groomed the young John Kellogg for medical school, and together, he and his brother set out to cure the American malady of indigestion, experimenting with wheat, corn, malt, and eventually developing an easy-to-digest product known as “corn flakes” for their patients and consumers.  John Kellogg also opened world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium medical center, spa, and grand hotel attracted thousands actively pursuing health and well-being.   This book is a fast-paced, well-researched, and highly entertaining trip through a cast of 19th century celebrities, industrialists, policy-makers, and the men who treated their guts.  Kirkus called it “Delightful . . . Markel refreshingly resists the temptation—not resisted by films and novels—to deliver caricatures . . . A superb warts-and-all account of two men whose lives help illuminate the rise of health promotion and the modern food industry.”

Drinks With Dead Poets: Glyn Maxwell is a both an acclaimed poet and a teacher, and this novel allows him to bring all his formidable talents to bear in a fascinating and joyful literary fantasy.  Poet Glyn Maxwell wakes up in a mysterious village one autumn day. He has no idea how he got there―is he dead? In a coma? Dreaming?―but he has a strange feeling there’s a class to teach. And isn’t that the poet Keats wandering down the lane? Why not ask him to give a reading, do a Q and A, hit the pub with the students afterwards?  Soon the whole of the autumn term stretches ahead, with Byron, Yeats and Emily Dickinson, the Brontës, the Brownings, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, and many more all on their way to give readings in the humble village hall.  Though poetry and Brit-lit lovers are sure to devour this novel, there is plenty in here for those who haven’t discovered–or enjoyed–these authors previously.  It’s a big, beautiful, exuberant book about life, literature, love, and the wonder of teaching that earned a starred review from Booklist, who said “This novel packs so much truth and so many conspicuously educational moments―along with character studies of 12 major nineteenth-century poets and writers―that it defies classification. An intoxicating blend of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism.”

Drunks: An American History: Though the title of Christopher M. Finan’s work sounds flippant, his subject matter–the cultural history of alcoholism and sobriety in the United States–is really quite a serious, and a seriously overlooked, one.  From Native Americans whose interactions with European settlers led to a new and problematic relationship with alcohol to John Adams, who renounced his son Charles for his inebriation, to Carry Nation, who destroyed bars with a hatchet out of fury for what alcohol had done to her family, to Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who helped each other stay sober and created Alcoholics Anonymous together, this book reframes the American experience as one constantly searching for liberation from vices of its own making.  Well-researched and well-told, this is a book that sheds light on a number of unsing heroes and nearly-forgotten struggles that deserve to be told.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, calling it “An appropriately harrowing account of booze and its discontents…A worthy treatment of recovery movements in American history, unsung heroes and all.”

Dead on Arrival: If you can stomach any more doomsday-type narratives, Matt Richtel’s newest release is turning a number of heads, and drawing comparisons with Michael Crichton and Stephen King to boot.  The story focuses on Flight 194, which lands in a desolate Colorado airport–and finds that everyone who wasn’t on board appears to be dead.  While they were in the air, a lethal new kind of virus surfaced, threatening mankind’s survival, and now Dr. Lyle Martin, a passenger on Flight 194, and once one of the most sought-after virologists on the planet—is at the center of the investigation.  This is a techno-thriller that not only dazzles with fancy-schmancy locales and high-end gadgets, but also takes into account our own dependence on digital wizardry…and turns it against us in some pretty interesting ways.  It’s earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who enthused, “Richtel grabs his audience by the throat from the start of this intelligent nail-biter.”

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy one to you all!

Via Google.com

If you check out today’s Google Doodle, you’ll see today is the 100th anniversary of the Silent Parade, organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The Silent Parade was organized in protest of violence, including lynching, arson, and outages, against African Americans across the country, but it was the East St. Louis Race Riot, also called the East St. Louis Massacre, that brought the matter to a head. This horrific event drove close to six thousand blacks from their own burning homes and left several hundred dead.

The event itself was held in total silence, with nearly ten thousand Black women, men, and children marching down 5th Avenue and 57th Street to Madison Square Garden.  They carried signs and banners declaring the reasons for the march, and Black Boy Scouts handed out flyers to those watching that described the NAACP’s struggle against segregation, lynching, and discrimination, as well as other forms of racist oppression.

The event was a watershed moment in the long history of the Civil Rights Movement, and is deservedly celebrated today–and should be remembered much more often.  You can read more about the march and its legacy here.

And if that reading has got you wanting more words, then how about coming down to the Library and meeting these fine books–and others!–that have cavorted onto the shelves this week!

The Woman From Prague: Fans of Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series will be delighted with the return of Ash, a sort of human wrecking-ball and amateur private investigator–and new readers will find just enough exposition here to be able to follow along.  Amateur private investigator Ash McKenna’s time is about to expire―on his visa, that is.  When we open, Ash is laying low in Prague, realizing his visa is about to expire and deciding on his next move–until a man named Roman appears, claiming to work for the U.S. government, and possessing intimate knowledge of Ash’s many sins.  Roman offers to protect him…in exchange for a favor: a bank employee named Samantha Sobolik is set to receive a package containing covert information in a handoff on the Charles Bridge. Ash must intercept the package, and deliver the contents to Roman–or else. But when Ash gets to the bridge, he discovers that the hand-off is actually a hit, and nothing about this plot is what he believed.  This story feel a bit like an early Die Hard movie, and the espionage elements are handled expertly, making this a superb series installment, and a novel that Publisher’s Weekly called “One of the best books of the summer…great pace, a fascinating relationship between the central characters, and superb atmosphere.”

Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge: As much a part of the New York skyline as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge is instantly and internationally recognizable. Yet as iconic as it is, its builder, Washington Roebling, is too often forgotten. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 dramatic years to complete and here the personal story which lies behind that construction is told for the first time.  Though it was his father that came up with the idea for the bridge, upon his death, Washington–a Civil War veteran who had constructed bridges to transport wounded soldiers–found himself in charge of the project.  Erica Wagner’s meticulously research biography not only helps us understand Washington Roebling, and the remarkable personal and professional accomplishments he achieved by breaking free of his tyrannical father’s legacy, as well as his incredible wife, Emma, who also gets her due in this work.  The Guardian appreciated this addition to the scholarship of Roebling, of New York, and of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, calling this work “Compelling and elegant . . . the story not just of two engineers, father and son, but also of a son who survived treatment that, as he wrote in a private memoir at the end of the 19th century, could have led to his death . . . [a] powerful book.”

Gather the Daughters: A bizarre, haunting, and beautiful described dystopian novel, Jennie Melamed’s debut is drawing comparisons to Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood–high praise indeed.  Years ago, just before the country was incinerated, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. Their society runs on ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict.   Only chosen male descendants of those original settlers are allowed to cross to the wastelands and scavenge among the smoldering ruins.  Women serve as wives-in-training, forced to undergo a maturation ceremony and breed until they are no longer useful–at which point they take the “final drought” and die.  This is the world in which they live and die–until one young girl witnesses a shocking event too troubling to keep to herself.  When she tells her friends, each on the verge of maturity, what has happened, they launch a secretive crusade to discover the truth about their island, unraveling the secrets that have kept them all prisoner for so long.  For all the darkness in this story, there is a surprising lightness to Melamed’s writing, and a wildly defiant hopefulness throughout the text that elevates this story into something really remarkable.  RT Book Reviews agrees, noting that “Melamud creates characters so familiar that their story grows ever more believable, and their desperate fight for freedom that much more harrowing.  Though elements of this plot will be difficult for some readers, they are handled with grace and sensitivity throughout.”

The Women Who Flew For Hitler: Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous, and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany. With the war, both became pioneering test pilots and were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different and neither woman had a good word to say for the other.  In this prize-winning biographic study, Clare Mulley uncovers these women’s lives, their remarkable aeronautic feats, and the experience of life within the Third Reich for those deemed elite enough to serve.  Mulley navigates this story beautifully, bringing Reitsch and Von Stauffenberg–and their lifelong feud–to life with care, compassion, and remarkable insight, creating a work that earned a starred review from Booklist, who raved “Mulley comes through in a major way with this deep dive into the lives of WW2-era German aviatrixes…Absolutely gripping, Mulley’s double portrait is a reminder that there are many more stories to tell from this oft-examined time.”

Moving Kings: Funny, frightening, moving, and timely, Joshua Cohen’s newest novel is being called a “Jewish Sopranos” for the modern era–a description that certainly got my attention.  He follows the life of two twenty-one-year-olds, Yoav and Uri, veterans of the last Gaza War, who have just completed their compulsory military service in the Israel Defense Forces.  Sent for a year of rest and recuperation, the two make their way to New York City and begin working for Yoav’s distant cousin David King—a Republican, and Jew, and the recently divorced proprietor of King’s Moving Inc., a heavyweight in the tri-state area’s moving and storage industries. As Yoav and Uri now must struggle to become reacquainted with civilian life, but it’s not easy to move beyond their traumatic pasts when their days are spent kicking down doors as eviction-movers–indeed, their jobs are oddly similar to their past employment…a job that quickly turns violent when they encounter one homeowner seeking revenge.  This book is generating some terrific reviews, including one from The Los Angeles Times, which called it, “Brilliant. . . . feels master-planned to slowly unsettle your convictions, as the best novels do. . . . Cohen has a brain-on-fire intellect and a Balzac-grade enthusiasm for understanding varieties of experience.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to Hans Fallada!

Via Melville House Press

You might not have heard of Hans Fallada.  That’s ok.  His work fell into general obscurity over the second half of the twentieth century.  However, the grand and glorious people at the Melville House Press (whose blog is very nearly almost as terrific as ours), have gone a long way to bringing him back into the literary fold, so to speak, and to put his work in front of the eyeballs of a new generation.

Fallada (whose given name was Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen) was born on this day in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany. Though he always seems to have had trouble fitting in with his peers, his real struggles began in 1909, when he was run-over by a horse cart, and kicked in the face by the horse, and 1910, when he contracted typhus.  The pain and isolation of these events marked Fallada for life,–as the drug addiction he developed from the pain killers he was given.  His battle with depression was a life-long one, as well, meaning he spent a good deal of time between the wars in asylums and prison as a result of his drug addictions, even as he grew in prominence as an author.

Fallada was very much a writer of the moment, and his books dealt with contemporary scenarios and politics.  As a result, it wasn’t long before some of his most popular works were banned from German libraries, and Fallada himself was declared an “undesirable author”.  Fearing for his well-being, Fallada’s British publisher, George Putnam, send his personal yacht to Berlin to pick up Fallada and his wife.  Though their bags were packed, Fallada declared at the very last minute that he couldn’t leave (he had confided to a friend years before “I could never write in another language, nor live in any other place than Germany.”)  He wrote children’s books and other non-political pieces in order to remain under the radar, until he was called upon by Goebbels to write a specifically anti-Semitic novel that would be backed by the Nazi party.

As the result of an altercation with his (now ex-) wife, Fallada was incarcerated in an insane asylum in 1944.  In order to protect himself, Fallada told officials he had an assignment to fulfill for Goebbels’s office, which protected him from the inhuman treatment to which asylum patients were typically subjected. But rather than writing the anti-Jewish novel, Fallada used his ration of paper to write a novel called The Drinker (Der Trinker), a deeply critical autobiographical account of life under the Nazis, and a short diary In meinem fremden Land (A Stranger in My Own Country).  He wrote in a dense, overlapping hand that obscured most of his words, allowing the manuscript, and Fallada himself, to be saved until he was released in December 1944 as the Nazi government began to crumble.

Fallada died in February 1947, aged 53, from a weakened heart due to years of addiction to morphine, alcohol and other drugs, leaving behind the recently completed novel Every Man Dies Alone, an anti-fascist novel based on the true story of a German couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who were executed for producing and distributing anti-Nazi material in Berlin during the war.  Though many German writers who had escaped Nazi German disparaged him (and his work) because he chose to remain, we thankfully now have the chance to meet Fallada anew, and to realize just how brave a survivor he was, and to encounter his words anew–when we may need them more than ever.

Via http://www.fallada.de

And speaking of books, let’s take a look at some of the other books that traipsed onto our shelves this week…

Vexed with Devils: In a week that saw the dedication of the Salem Witch Trials memorial, it seems fitting to showcase Erika Gasser’s new book, which focuses on the cultural history of witchcraft, witchcraft-possession phenomena and the role of men and patriarchal power.  As she discusses in this fascinating work, witchcraft trials had as much to do with who had power in the community, to impose judgement or to subvert order, as they did with religious belief.  Essentially, witchcraft was used as a form of social policing.  She argues that the gendered dynamics and power-plays inherent in stories of possession and witchcraft show how men asserted their power in society and over each other (and the women around them). While all men were not capable of accessing power in the same ways, many of the people involved—those who acted as if they were possessed, men accused of being witches, and men who wrote possession propaganda—invoked manhood as they struggled to advocate for themselves during these perilous times.  This is a wonderfully researched and insightful book, and, as Publisher’s Weekly noted,  “Anyone seeking a fresh perspective on, and deeper understanding of, such possession accounts will not be disappointed.”

Like a Fading Shadow: Using recently declassified FBI files, Antonio Muñoz Molina has reconstructed a fiction look into James Earl Ray’s final steps through the Lisbon, where he hid for two months following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Molina has also wrapped his own story up in this tale of self-identity and deception, alternating between Ray in 1968 at the center of an international manhunt; a thirty-year-old Muñoz Molina in 1987 struggling to find his literary voice; and the author in the present, reflecting on his life and the form of the novel as an instrument for imagining the world through another person’s eyes.   The result is a deep, complex, and enlightening work that Kirkus Reviews noted, “delicately oscillates between an author’s quest for truth and a criminal’s search for safety . . . A tragically poetic study of the calamity that set back the civil rights movement.”

At the Table of Wolves: Kay Kenyon is a science fiction writer beloved by reviewers and readers alike, and the opening of her new series–described as a mix of espionage and X-Men is sure to win her even more followers. In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War.  The British haven’t managed to outpace Germany in weaponizing these new powers, until the ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall is established.  Kim Tavistock, whose power allowers her to draw out truths that people most wish to hide, is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.  As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England.  Though no one believes her story, Kim is determined to expose the plan and save England–even if she has to do it single-handedly.  With deft characterization and quick pacing, Kenyon has created a book that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it  “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.”

Less: Picture it: You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re Arthur Less, you accept every single one of those invitations, and embark on a marvelous, unexpectedly touching, madcap journey around the world, through surprise encounters and unanticipated birthdays and into love.  This sharp satire on Americans abroad is also a lovely look into our shared humanity, and a book that encouraged The Washington Post to declare, “Greer is an exceptionally lovely writer, capable of mingling humor with sharp poignancy…. [His] narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”

The Epiphany Machine: “Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too”–that’s the slogan for an odd, junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. A number of city dwellers buy into the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents, and even though they move away, Victor can’t ignore the stigma of those tattoos–or their accuracy.  So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine, he’s only too happy to oblige.  But when he meets the machine’s surprisingly charming (if slightly off-putting) operator, Adam Lyons, Venter finds himself falling for the machine, as well…until Venter gets close enough to recognize the undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes.  A pattern that’s gone unreported.  A pattern that proves the machine may be right, after all.  This big, imaginative, tragicomedy of a book earned another starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered that “This is a wildly charming, morally serious bildungsroman with the rare potential to change the way readers think.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!