Tag Archives: Hopeful Things

Looking for the Helpers…

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

(Fred Rogers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   6 September 2004)

The season that is currently upon us, beloved patrons, is one in which we are encouraged to put the needs of others before ourselves, to share what we have without thought of return–essentially, to be humane, as well as human, during a period of the year that is particularly difficult for us as a species.  We give gifts to those we love to show some tangible manifestation of our bond–a display of warmth during the deepening cold.  We hang lights to drive away the darkness of the encroaching winter.  We sing song to remember that we are not alone.  Regardless of your belief system, this is a time of year during which we are encouraged to look beyond ourselves and consider and perhaps even celebrate the ways in which we are bound up in each other.

Related image
Via Cleanfax

 

This year, a great many of our long-distance neighbors in California are facing the process of remembering, recovering, rebuilding after devastating wildfires destroyed their homes, their possession, and killed those they loved.  Indeed, we are breathing in the effects of those fires even here on the other side of the continent.  In the spirit of the season, and in keeping with our policy of providing you information on how to help others most effectively, we wanted to bring you some information about institutions and organizations that could use your kindness and consideration now more than ever.

As reported by the American Library Association, the Paradise California Library is still intact.  Additionally, the remaining five branches in the Butte county system are still operational and have become information centers, offering computers, Wi-Fi, and printers to help displaced residents contact insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies.  Butte County Library Director Melanie Lightbody recognized just how critical libraries are to communities in crisis, explaining that “We are more than just a library but a symbol of hope to the community and a community center, which we will be once again.”  If you are in a position to give, Sara Jones, director of the Marin County (Calif.) Free Library, and the California Library Association has established a fundraiser for the fire-ravaged library system. has set up a fundraiser on Facebook to ensure the library system “will have sufficient financial resources to create and maintain a dynamic modern library system,” to replace the books that were destroyed in patrons’ homes, and to continue to assist in rebuilding efforts.

Image result for paradise california public library
The Paradise California Library, via Butte County CA

While we are too far away for donations of food, clothing, or other items to be helpful at this moment, money is a resource that can literally change lives.  To that end, here are some institutions that are doing good on the ground in California that could use your help:

Helping People:

  • A longstanding local institution, the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund has offered aid to those affected by wildfires for the past 15 years. Grants have gone to rebuilding homes, providing financial and mental health assistance and helping those affected to get medical treatment.

 

  • The North Valley Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization in Chico that  is raising money to support organizations and institutions providing shelter for evacuees of the Camp Fire. Such locations include churches, fairgrounds and community centers, and all could use support in order to provide the most and best help to those who need it.

 

  • Likewise, the California Fire Foundation is on the ground distributing financial assistance to people who have lost everything in the fires. Through its emergency assistance program, firefighters distribute pre-paid gift cards to help those who need to purchase necessities like food, medicine and clothing.

 

  • The Red Cross is providing both shelter and emotional support for evacuees. You can visit RedCross.org, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make an automatic $10 donation.

 

  • Additionally, The United Way of Northern California has set up a relief fund for victims. Go to the designated website to donate, or text “BUTTEFIRE” to 91999. The fund will provide emergency cash to victims and aid the United Way in its response to the fire. Businesses and organizations that want to contribute to the fund can call Jacob Peterson at (530) 241-7521 or (916) 218-5424; or email jpeterson@norcalunitedway.org.

 

  • Another organization called Baby2Baby is working to get high-need items to children affected by the ongoing Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires in California. Help them supply diapers, wipes, blankets, and other basic baby essentials to families in need by purchasing from their registry.

 

Image result for charities to help california wildfire victims
Via Curbed SF

Helping Animals:

  • The Veterinary Catastrophic Need Fund pays some of the cost of veterinary medical treatments for animals injured in the Camp Fire at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. Injured and burned cats, horses, pigs, goats and other animals are receiving care. Call (530) 752-7024 or go to their website to contribute.

 

  • Additionally, at the request of Butte County, the Humane Society of the United States has set up a longer-term, temporary shelter in Richvale, California, to house and care for owned animals, whose families have been displaced by the wildfires. To donate to the Emergency Animal Rescue Fund, visit their website or call 866-720-2676.  You can also purchase items like food and toys through their Amazon wish list, which will be delivered right to the shelters in need.

 

  • For more information, visit Red Rover’s website to find out how you can help our four-legged friends during this time.
Image result for charities to help california wildfire victims pets
https://redrover.org/news/cafires/

As always, if this is not a time that is good for you to give, have no fear.  Although reports are stating that the fires are now completely contained, disasters on the scale with which those in California are being forced to deal will take years to overcome.  Your help and support are always encouraged, in whatever form you can provide it.

Thank you for your thoughts, your goodwill, and your assistance.  You make our community what it is, and there is plenty enough love among us to share with those who need it–this time of the year, and always!

Five Book Friday

And our hearty and heartfelt congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.

https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/nobel-peace-prize-2018-intl-dle/index.html

From the Nobel Peace Prize Committee:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict…Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.

The physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the Panzi Hospital was established in Bukavu in 1999, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of patients who have fallen victim to such assaults. Most of the abuses have been committed in the context of a long-lasting civil war that has cost the lives of more than six million Congolese.

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is firmly embedded in the criteria spelled out in Alfred Nobel’s will. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims. They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1027234/nobel-peace-prize-winners-2018-Denis-Mukwege-Nadia-Murad

You can read more about both of these remarkable human beings on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s website.  There is little we can add here, except for our thanks to Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad for all they have done, all they will continue to do, and for the inspiration they provide to others.

Waiting for EdenElliot Ackerman is a veteran himself, and his experiences add real depth and emotion to his novel, a National Book Award Finalist, about a veteran coping with the overwhelming challenge of returning home. Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind, covered in burns and existing on life support. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home–and who narrates the novel while awaiting his journey to whatever afterlife awaits. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden’s re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage–and about his life before he went to war–come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was?  Who is there to tell him who he truly is?  This is a profound and moving novel that centers on a small-scale story, while making big, important claims about the world around the characters–and around the readers, as well.  As the Washington Post wrote in their review, this is: “A classic triangle story of love and friendship, a ghost story, a captivity narrative, and a study of human endurance . . . all of it easily read in one sitting . . . Ackerman’s novel quietly suggests that America itself is a ghost story, and we are all in the act of waiting for Eden.” 

The Shakespeare Requirement: If anyone else out there thought that Julie Schumacher’s first novel, Dear Committee Members, was one of the most darkly funny, cathartic novels in recent memory, then get ready for another novel about the ins, outs, ups, and downs of reality in academia, told with Schumacker’s unflinching eye for quirky detail.  Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get an antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.  Schumacher writes acidic satire, with zero tolerance for hypocrisy, and an absolutely delightful sense of humor that has to be read to be believed.  Kirkus Reviews gave this sensational book a starred review, noting, “”Schumacher abandons the epistolary style of her previous novel for a straight narrative but retains all of its acid satire in a sequel that is far more substantive and just as funny… A witty but kindhearted academic satire that oscillates between genuine compassion and scathing mockery with admirable dexterity.”

Kill the Queen: The first novel in Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards epic fantasy series is a sure-fire treat for Game of Thrones fans looking for a new series to savor.  In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten. But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre. Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move. But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.  Booklist hailed the arrival of this series’ opener, noting “Estep starts an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, fierce women, and revenge.”

Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future: Mary Robinson was the first female president of the Republic of Ireland, and is now the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and as such, this slim work is powerful indeed.  Since 2003, Robinson has been traveling the world to raise awareness of, and investigate the realities of climate change. Mary Robinson’s mission would lead her all over the world, from Malawi to Mongolia, and to a heartening revelation: that an irrepressible driving force in the battle for climate justice could be found at the grassroots level, mainly among women, many of them mothers and grandmothers like herself. From Sharon Hanshaw, the Mississippi matriarch whose campaign began in her East Biloxi hair salon and culminated in her speaking at the United Nations, to Constance Okollet, a small farmer who transformed the fortunes of her ailing community in rural Uganda, Robinson met with ordinary people whose resilience and ingenuity had already unlocked extraordinary change.  Library Journal gave this remarkable book a starred review, explaining that  “Robinson puts a human face on this politically charged issue, adding to the climate change conversation. Highly recommended.”

The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II: Mary Jo McConahay fills an important gap in our understanding of the Second World War with this view of Latin America, and how all the combatant nations of the world attempted to gain influence and power in the area.  The fight was often dirty: residents were captured to exchange for U.S. prisoners of war and rival spy networks shadowed each other across the continent.  Though the Allies triumphed, at the war’s inception it looked like the Axis would win. A flow of raw materials in the Southern Hemisphere, at a high cost in lives, was key to ensuring Allied victory, as were military bases supporting the North African campaign, the Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Sicily, and fending off attacks on the Panama Canal. Allies secured loyalty through espionage and diplomacy―including help from Hollywood and Mickey Mouse―while Jews and innocents among ethnic groups ―Japanese, Germans―paid an unconscionable price. Mexican pilots flew in the Philippines and twenty-five thousand Brazilians breached the Gothic Line in Italy.  This is an eye-opening account that is a must-read for history buffs, espionage aficionados, and thriller fans alike! Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, as well, praising the fact that “McConahay gives an account thick with detail and unexpected twists regarding America’s efforts to control the resources of Latin America. Fast-paced and informative, this is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand World War II and some of the forces that led to it.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons: Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

In addition to checking out some of the sensational books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week, beloved patrons, we also wanted to bring you some information about hurricane relief efforts.  Our neighbors and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and the mid-Atlantic region in general are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, and they need our help.  While the extent of the damage–and, hence, the extent of the need–is not yet fully known, there are several ways in which you can provide immediate help.

Via Raleigh Dream Center

First and foremost, the American Red Cross has set up a website devoted specifically to donations for hurricane relief.  You can also make donations over the phone by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting “FLORENCE” to 90999. When calling or donating online, make sure to designate your donation to Florence relief efforts.

In addition, the Red Cross is also asking for blood donations, which can be made locally.  Check the Red Cross website to find the closest donation location to you.

The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina has been active in dozens of communities in North and South Carolina for more than 35 years, and is working hard to provide food, water, hygiene items, and cleaning supplies to the thousands affected by the hurricane.  While we can’t really send them food, there is a virtual food drive that remains ongoing, in which you can participate.  Additionally, monetary donations are appreciated.

In South Carolina, the One SC Fund works to support the state by funding nonprofits with grants during state-declared emergencies. For Tropical Depression Florence relief, the One SC Fund is accepting donations online. The Fund states these donations will support other nonprofits “that are, and will be, responding to the needs of individuals affected by Hurricane Florence.”

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is currently accepting contributions for Hurricane Florence damage. Contributions will help with immediate unmet needs of Hurricane Florence victims. Contributions can be made online by secure link, or you can text “Florence” to 20222.  Alternatively, checks can be mailed to:

North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund
20312 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

As always, if you are not able to donate at this time, please do not worry.  There will always be ways to help, and any contributions you can make at any time will be appreciated.  And thank you in advance for your good will and kindness!

And now…on to the books!

Arthur Ashe: A Life:Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, by the age of eleven, Arthur Ashe was one of the state’s most talented black tennis players. Jim Crow restrictions barred Ashe from competing with whites. Still, in 1960 he won the National Junior Indoor singles title, which led to a tennis scholarship at UCLA. He became the first African American to play for the US Davis Cup team in 1963, and two years later he won the NCAA singles championship. In 1968, he won both the US Amateur title and the first US Open title, rising to a number one national ranking. Turning professional in 1969, he soon became one of the world’s most successful tennis stars, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. After retiring in 1980, he served four years as the US Davis Cup captain and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.  In this fascinating biography, Raymond Arsenault chronicles Ashe’s rise to stardom on the court, as well as his off-court career as a writing, historian of tennis, and human rights activist in the United States, as well as an advocate for the destruction of Apartheid policies in South Africa.  Additionally, Arsenault takes us through Ashe’s heart condition, which led to multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, one of which left him HIV-positive. In 1988, after completing a three-volume history of African-American athletes, he was diagnosed with AIDS, a condition he revealed only four years later. After devoting the last ten months of his life to AIDS activism, he died in February 1993 at the age of forty-nine, leaving an inspiring legacy of dignity, integrity, and active citizenship.  This is an important, overdue, and highly enjoyable biography that is being praised by readers, critics, and tennis players, as well!  The New York Times Review of Books gave it a resoundingly positive review, saying “For those who have long admired Ashe, this close look at his life offers even more evidence that he was more than a great player, he was an extraordinary person. . . . among the best books about tennis I’ve ever read — it’s a deep, detailed, thoughtful chronicle of one of the country’s best and most important players.”

The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots & the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War: Neal Bascombe’s popular histories of the First World War are well-researched, thoughtful, and deeply engaging stories that make history feel real and vital.  This book is no exception, delving into the world of POW camps during the First World War.  For Allied soldiers, one of the worst camps was Holzminden, a land-locked prison that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone prisoners. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave.  Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland.  Bascombe’s work is based on letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts of this sensational escape that is earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews who called it “Fast-paced account of a forgotten episode of World War I history . . . Stirring . . . Bascomb’s portraits of the principals are affecting . . . Expertly narrated, with just the right level of detail and drama.”

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War: Those of you looking for some more sensational war stories will love this latest from Ben Macintyre, whose work on espionage history has resulted in some highly entertaining real-life spy stories.  This book tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, who took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London.  However, Gordievsky was also a double agent, and from 1973, was secretly working for Britain’s MI6.  For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid.  Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.  Culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, this is a history book that fans of many genres will savor.  The Guardian wrote a glowing review of the book, noting “Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.”

Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize yesterday, Esi Edugyan’s novel tells the story of George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation.  Although initially terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant, Wash is surprised to learn the eccentric Christopher Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist.  Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything, escaping along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self.  This is a novel about freedom and friendship that is as thought-provoking as it is wonderfully imaginative.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred (and boxed!) review, raving that “Edugyan’s magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era’s science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan’s novel is both searing and beautiful.”

Ordinary People: Diana Evans is known for confronting difficult topics in her books with indefatigable humanity, and this novel is no exception, capturing the struggles of two married couples.  In a crooked house in South London, Melissa feels increasingly that she’s defined solely by motherhood, while Michael mourns the former thrill of their romance. In the suburbs, Stephanie’s aspirations for bliss on the commuter belt, coupled with her white middle-class upbringing, compound Damian’s itch for a bigger life catalyzed by the death of his activist father. Longtime friends from the years when passion seemed permanent, the couples have stayed in touch, gathering for births and anniversaries, bonding over discussions of politics, race, and art. But as bonds fray, the lines once clearly marked by wedding bands aren’t so simply defined.  Evans is the kind of writing who can make everyday details feel extraordinary, and that talent makes this story about the fragile bonds that bind us together so moving.  Library Journal had a world of good things to say about this class, noting “This new novel from Evans…tells the story of a group of young, mostly black Londoners searching for equanimity in their personal and professional lives, with the music of John Legend, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse providing the soundtrack as they navigate the rocky roads from dating to mating and parenting…. With astute observations on marriage and parenthood… and an accompanying playlist to boot, this novel is anything but ordinary. It’s a sparkling gem.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

“But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you…”

We’ve made it a bit of a Valentine’s Day tradition here at the Free For All to share with you some literary love letter (or love letters from the literary) as our contribution to your Valentine’s Day celebrations.  This year, we bring you a brief correspondence from the long relationship between novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

The beautiful relationship between Virginia and Vita began in December 1922, when Vita was invited to a dinner party at Virginia’s house, and continued to grow and develop over the course of nearly twenty years.  It would appear that there was an immediate affinity between the two women that would develop in the coming weeks and years into a force that would change them both for the better.

Vita and Virginia, via Letters of Note: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2013/06/a-squeal-of-pain.html

Despite the class and age differences between the two women (when they met, Vita was 30 and Virginia nearly 40), they had far more in  common that it might at first appear: both women suffered from sheltered upbringings and emotionally distant parents, and both embodied identities that went beyond traditional heterosexuality, though the language was not readily available to help them identify at the time.  Both women were married to men, but both experienced emotional and sexual relationships outside of their marriages.  As Vita’s son wrote years later of the two women and their marriages:

Their marriages were alike in the freedom they allowed each other, in the invincibility of their love, in its intellectual, spiritual and non-physical base, in the eagerness of all four of them to savour life, challenge convention, work hard, play dangerously with the emotions — and in their solicitude for each other.

They were also both devoted writers; it was, perhaps, a test of their friendship that they didn’t see eye-to-eye in terms of literary matters, but still supported each others’ literary endeavors whole-heartedly.  Vita chose to publish her books with Hogarth Press, the publishing company that Virginia and her husband founded, and the revenues from those books allowed Virginia the financial freedom to publish her more experimental works, such as The Waves.

Via Brakinpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/07/28/virginia-woolf-vita-sackville-west/

Vita was also instrumental in helping Virginia come to terms with herself and her past.  As their friendship developed, Virginia confided in Vita that she had been abused by her step-brother as a child, and Vita became instrumental in helping her work to heal those wounds and accept herself.  Moreover, Virginia’s father had diagnosed her as ‘nervous’ as a child, and stated that writing would only result in a breakdown.  Virginia grew up obsessed with physical fitness, believing it was the only key to remaining healthy.  Vita was the first person to encourage her writing and her self-esteem, urging her to see that her writing came from strengths, rather than being a source of weakness.  The results were truly moving.  While they were traveling in Paris, Virginia purchased a mirror, saying she felt she could look in a mirror for the first time in her life.

Years later, Virginia would present Vita with her novel Orlando, a brilliant, satirical, and stunningly beautiful story about the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history.  The character of Orlando was based on Vita, and embodied not only her queer identity, but also her passion for life, her social skills, and the wicked sense of humor that both women shared.

According to some sources, the two ended their friendship over their views over the political decisions that led to the outbreak of the Second World War–Virginia was a staunch pacifist, while Vita supported German rearmament.  The love between them, however, endured.  After Virginia Woolf’s death by suicide in 1941, Vita’s friendship remained constant.  She wrote heartfelt condolence letters to Virginia’s husband and sister, commemorating Virginia’s individuality and spirit in a way that only someone who loved her profoundly could do:

The loveliest mind and spirit I ever knew, immortal both to the world and us who loved her. … This is not a hard letter to write as you will know something of what I feel and words are unnecessary. For you I feel a really overwhelming sorrow, and for myself a loss which can never diminish.

Here, we present a letter from Vita to Virginia, along with Virginia’s response, written while Vita was traveling in Italy.  This set of letters is beautiful, not only because it conveys their depth of their feelings for each other (and the pain that being separated caused them)–there are also some wonderful observations on the power of true love to cut through our façades and to see through our masks.  Their plain, honest admission of missing each other is in itself moving, but it’s also fascinating to see both women admit to not being able to pretend around each other.   That kind of inherent honesty is pretty rare in relationships, and it’s that beautiful honest that we celebrate today.

 

Those looking for more information on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West should check out the recently-released book of their correspondence, as well as: Bloomsbury Women: Distinct Figures in Life and Art, and A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, & Virginia Woolf.  For more biographical and primary source references, check out:Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold NicholsonThe Letters of Virginia Woolf, and Virginia Woolf: A Portrait.


From Sackville-West to Woolf

Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …

Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.

V.

*

From Woolf to Sackville-West

52 Tavistock Square
Tuesday, January 26

Your letter from Trieste came this morning—But why do you think I don’t feel, or that I make phrases? ‘Lovely phrases’ you say which rob things of reality. Just the opposite. Always, always, always I try to say what I feel. Will you then believe that after you went last Tuesday—exactly a week ago—out I went into the slums of Bloomsbury, to find a barrel organ. But it did not make me cheerful … And ever since, nothing important has happened—Somehow its dull and damp. I have been dull; I have missed you. I do miss you. I shall miss you. And if you don’t believe it, you’re a longeared owl and ass. Lovely phrases? …

But of course (to return to your letter) I always knew about your standoffishness. Only I said to myself, I insist upon kindness. With this aim in view, I came to Long Barn. Open the top button of your jersey and you will see, nestling inside, a lively squirrel with the most inquisitive habits, but a dear creature all the same—


Note: Long Barn was the name of the country home that Vita Sackville-West and her husband owned in Kent.

Congrats to the Houston Astros!

It’s been a tough few months for Houston, and just as we at the Free For All have been eager to help in the recovery efforts, we also share in their joy as the Houston Astros win the 2017 World Series.

via houstonlibrary.org

And because we’ve been up too long watching the game (and every game in these series, for that matter!), we will simply refer you to this article, which documents the Library Battles that have ensued between the Houston Public Library system and the Los Angeles Public Library system.  Here’s a brief sample of a magic, via the Los Angeles Public Library and Houston Public Library Instgram feeds:

 

We launched our blog with some book-spine poetry, but we are seriously going to have to step up our game if we are ever going to compete at this level!

Five Book Friday, and more Hurricane Help

To those of you lovers of Pumpkin Spice, Maple, and Caramel Apple, we here at the Free For All wish you a very happy Second Day of Autumn!

We had some technical and time problems yesterday that prevented us from posting, but this Special Saturday Selection comes with lots of love, apologies, and literary gems.

Via NBC News, Mexican Firefighters and Rescuers working to save earthquake survivors

This week saw yet another hurricane devastate our friends in Puerto Rico, while an earthquake has brought widespread suffering  to our friends in Mexico.  Once again, we bring you ways to help.

The island of Puerto Rico is without power, and it is making it very difficult for friends and family to check in on loved one.  There are some numbers that you can call, however:

  • If you want to check on a loved one, call Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration at 1-202-778-0710.
  • For those who know someone who needs help on the island, call 787-777-0940. This is a radio station that is receiving emergency calls.
  • Another number you can call is the hurricane hotline at 1-877-976-2400. A tourism company set up the hotline for hotels, guests and industry partners.
  • Another option is to use American Red Cross’s website to search for people who have already registered themselves as safe. Click here to search for your loved one.

Callers are asked to be patient and keep calling if the line is busy. Also, do not hang up if you are on hold.

Here is a list of the following organizations that are doing good in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Dominica, and could use your help:

MEXICO:

PUERTO RICO and DOMINICA:

As we noted before, the rebuilding and recovery efforts in these places is going to take a very long time, so if you are unable to donate now, please don’t worry.  We will be offering more information as it becomes available of any and all ways that you can help.

And now, because we all need a little bit of cheer, especially during tough weeks like these, here are some of the books that have graced our shelves this week, and would love to join you on your fall escapades….

The Book of Disquiet:  This gloriously quirky, eye-catching book is a compendium of the thoughts, ideas, ruminations, and insights by Portuguese modernist master Fernando Pessoa.  Recognized as one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Pessoa (1888-1935) wrote poetry under various heteronyms (fictional character/identities) to whom he attributed biographies different from his own, making each piece of this magical puzzle of a book a new and intriguing adventure.  Full of fresh metaphors and unique perceptions, this is a book you can read cover-to-cover, or dip into at random.  Either way, it’s a beautiful, mind-expanding journey that will have a lot of appeal for fans of existential writers like J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pyncheon. NPR agrees, saying “Pessoa’s work…is one of life’s great miracles. Pessoa invented numerous alter egos. Arguably, the four greatest poets in the Portuguese language were all Pessoa using different names.”

To Die in SpringRalf Rothmann is a little book, but it packs quite the emotional wallop, dealing, as it does, with the darkest days of the Second World Wars, and the shadow that history casts across the generations.  Distant, silent, often drunk, Walter Urban is a difficult man to have as a father. But his son is curious about Walter’s experiences during World War II, and so makes him a present of a blank notebook in which to write down his memories. But when Walter dies, leaving only the barest skeleton of a story behind, his son resolves to fill in the gaps himself, rightly or wrongly, with what he can piece together of his father’s early life.  This, then, is the story of Walter and his dangerously outspoken friend Friedrich Caroli, who are tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945: the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war, enduring horrors that will lead both men to do what they previously imagined unthinkable.  This book is being hailed already as a modern masterpiece, with Kirkus Reviews declaring “Rothmann’s writing is spare and vivid, nearly cinematic. It is also crucial: German accounts of WWII have been relatively rare and slow in coming, especially when it comes to descriptions of their country’s own suffering. Rothmann is unflinching in his accounts of both German atrocities and misery . . . A spectacular novel . . . Searing, haunting, incandescent”

Going Dark: The Lost Platoon: From bestselling author Monica McCarty comes a new contemporary romance full of suspense, international intrigue, and some fascinating settings that kicks off what promises to be a sensational new series.  Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she’d intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven’t exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he’s the kind of man she can depend on. Because he’s gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her.  Fans will know that McCarty always delivers a unique story with refreshingly inventive characters…and new readers have a perfect place to get started with this story!  RT Book Reviews loves this book, noting “A master storyteller…McCarty breathes life into her memorable characters as they face dangerous adventures. The fresh plots, infused with romance and passion, are also brimming with history and drama.”

Lightning MenFans of Thomas Mullen’s stupendous Darktown will be happy to know that the next adventure of Officer Denny Rakestraw and “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, who walk the dangerous streets of 1950’s Atlanta.  When Rake’s brother-in-law launches a scheme to rally the Ku Klux Klan to “save” their neighborhood, his efforts spiral out of control, forcing Rake to choose between loyalty to family or the law.  Across town, Boggs and Smith try to shut down the supply of white lightning and drugs into their territory, finding themselves up against more powerful foes than they’d expected. Battling corrupt cops and ex-cons, Nazi brown shirts and rogue Klansmen, the officers are drawn closer to the fires that threaten to consume the city once again.  Mullen’s work has drawn comparisons to crime-fiction greats like Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosely, and his characters are the kind of people who live with you even after the cover has closed.  Booklist gave this book a starred review, cheering “Mullen effectively uses the police procedural format to shine a light on the daily indignities and violence blacks suffered in the pre–civil rights South, while delivering a plot that never lets up on suspense.”

The Devil’s Wedding Ring: If you like the super-dark, mysterious North, and the mysteries that come out of is, then you are going to want to check out award-winning crime novelist Vidar Sundstøl’s latest book.  On Midsummer Eve in 1985, a young folklore researcher disappears from the small Norwegian village of Eidsborg.  Exactly thirty years later, student Cecilie Wiborg, who was also researching the pagan rituals associated with the 13th-century Eidsborg stave church, goes missing.  And then Knut Abrahamsen, a former local police officer, is found drowned with his pockets filled with stones.  Hearing of the death of his former colleague and friend, private investigator Max Fjellanger feels compelled to leave his long-time home in Florida and return to his native Norway to attend Knut’s funeral. Even though they haven’t spoken in more than three decades, Max is not convinced that Knut killed himself.  There are details about the circumstances of his death that just don’t add up…and there seems to be a link to the case of the missing researcher, which the two of them had worked together—until threats from a corrupt sheriff put an end to the investigation and to Max’s career on the police force.  But this is a case full of occult darkness and mystery that may very well be more than Fjellanger bargained for…Taut, thoughtful, and seriously creepy, this is a fast-paced adventure that earned a stared review from Publisher’s Weekly, who praised the way “Ancient myth and contemporary detection collide in this highly impressive thriller.”

One Long NightA Global History of Concentration Camps: Concentration camps have been a part of human society for over a century, but this book is one of the first to draw connections between the various sites of those camps, their evolution, efficacy, and enduring legacy.  In this harrowing work based on archival records and interviews during travel to four continents, Andrea Pitzer reveals for the first time the chronological and geopolitical history of concentration camps. Beginning with 1890s Cuba, she pinpoints concentration camps around the world and across decades. From the Philippines and Southern Africa in the early twentieth century to the Soviet Gulag and detention camps in China and North Korea during the Cold War, camp systems have been used as tools for civilian relocation and political repression. Often justified as a measure to protect a nation, or even the interned groups themselves, camps have instead served as brutal and dehumanizing sites that have claimed the lives of millions.  This is a harrowing book about the worst aspects of human nature, but it is also a startling human book that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who explained, “Drawing on memoirs, histories, and archival sources, [Pitzer] offers a chilling, well-documented history of the camps’ development…. A potent, powerful history of cruelty and dehumanization.”

 

Until next Friday, beloved patrons–happy reading!

On Libraries and Hurricane Relief Updates

None of us need a reminder that this year’s hurricane season has been historic and, for many of our friends in Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands, life-changing.  And with even more hurricanes moving closer to Puerto Rico and the other Leeward Islands, it doesn’t look like life is going to be getting easier for many of those good people anytime soon.

But even as we in Massachusetts prepare for what is now Tropical Storm Jose, and send all our good wishes to our friends in the CLAMS Library Network, it’s really important that we don’t forget the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are undertaking.  Because they will be taking years.

Downed trees outside the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Coconut Grove Branch after the storm
Photo courtesy of Miami Dade Public Library System

So, having said that, here are some updates from the wonderful people at the Texas Library Association and the Florida Library Associations, with some additions ways you can help!

Our first update comes from the American Library Association’s  #LibrariesRespond page, that not only advocates for disaster preparedness, but also offers a number of resources for helping Florida’s and Texas’ Libraries:

Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Library Association is working with the State Library of Florida to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries across the state.  We have already begun receiving requests to help.  Anyone wishing to assist Florida libraries with their recovery efforts is urged to donate to the Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.  Donations can be open to assisting any library affected by the storm, or can be directed to assist a specific library in need.  We will update our website frequently as we learn details about specific libraries and their needs.

There is also the inspiring “Rebuilding Florida Library” page on the Florida Library Association page, that is being consistently updated with needs and offers of help from libraries across the country.  Donations are being accepted through any of the links posted here.

Secondly, American Libraries Magazine has posted an update on the rebuilding efforts in Texas.  This article features some of the horrible circumstances that Houston’s Libraries faced, but also their incredible resiliency and determination to reopen as quickly as possible:

Nineteen of the 26 branches of the Harris County Public Library reopened on September 1 for emergency relief purposes only—for residents to fill out FEMA forms, use computers or internet, charge cellphones, or make use of a quiet, air-conditioned spot. Four branches are closed until further notice: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek, and Kingwood. The library opened a pop-up library at the NRG Stadium to give evacuees some diversion with books for all ages, storytimes for kids, a 3D printer for informal edutainment, and a bank of laptops with internet access.

Texas Libraries begin cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey

For those looking to help, the Texas Library Association (TLA) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to assist damaged libraries across the Gulf Coast region. TLA has a disaster relief fund that is actively seeking contributions. Hundreds of individuals and companies have donated to the fund, and offers of books, furniture, volunteer assistance, computers, and preservation services are coming in regularly to TLA. The two organizations have also set up the Texas Library Recovery Connection, an online sharing system to bring together assisting organizations with libraries needing help.

The thing that consistently surprises me about these sites is the Google Spreadsheets.  On these documents, libraries post their needs, from computers to bookcases, from books to supplies.  And other people/groups/institutions can (and do) respond.  For all the complications and trouble that the Internet has brought into our lives, there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way that it can also bring people together and accomplish lasting good.  So feel free to check out these sites, contribute in whatever way you can, and appreciate the good that our species is capable of doing.