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Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, beloved patrons!  And very hearty congratulations to Jokha Alharthi, author of Celestial Bodies who was awarded the 2019 Man Booker International Prize this week!  The ceremony posted this video on Twitter to share the event with all of us:

Alharthi is not only the first Arab woman to win the Man Booker International Prize, but she is also the first female Omani novelist to have her book translated into English.  Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

Arabic author Jokha Alharthi (L) and translator Marilyn Booth after winning the Man Booker International Prize for Celestial Bodies in London on May 21, 2019
Via The BBC

Alharthi shares the award of £50,000 ($63,000) with her translator,  American academic Marilyn Booth.  In a statement quoted by the BBC, Alharthi said “I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture…Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book – freedom and love.”

We are delighted for both Jokha Alharthi and Marilyn Booth!

And now, on to some of the wonderful books that have graced our own shelves this week:

Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America: Descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin grew up in a culture of white supremacy. But while Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters chose vastly different lives. Seeking their fortunes in the North, Grace and Katharine reinvented themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation’s attention to issues of region, race, and labor.  Utilizing decades of archival research and interviews with the family, National Humanities Award–winning historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.  Kirkus Reviews gave this work a starred review, applauding how these “Sharply etched biographical portraits focus a compelling history.”

The Scent of Murder: Fan-favorite author Kylie Logan launches a new mystery series that moves away from her previous cozy mysteries into a more hard-boiled procedural that is sure to earn her a wealth of new fans.  The way Jazz Ramsey figures it, life is pretty good. She’s thirty-five years old and owns her own home in one of Cleveland’s most diverse, artsy, and interesting neighborhoods. She has a job she likes as an administrative assistant at an all-girls school, and a volunteer interest she’s passionate about―Jazz is a cadaver dog handler. Jazz is working with Luther, a cadaver dog in training. Luther is still learning cadaver work, so Jazz is putting him through his paces at an abandoned building that will soon be turned into pricey condos. When Luther signals a find, Jazz is stunned to see the body of a young woman who is dressed in black and wearing the kind of make-up and jewelry that Jazz used to see on the Goth kids back in high school. She’s even more shocked when she realizes that beneath the tattoos and the piercings and all that pale make up is a familiar face. The lead detective on the case is an old lover, and the murdered woman is an old student. Jazz finds herself sucked into the case, obsessed with learning the truth. An intense, engaging mystery, with a phenomenal sense of place, this is a series to watch!  Booklist agrees, noting that “The city itself is a character, transforming from its usual stereotype of a flyover city to a setting of intrigue. Dog lovers will enjoy the relationship between Jazz and her pets, and they’ll learn something about cadaver dogs as Jazz brings a killer to justice.”

Springtime in a Broken Mirror: The late Mario Benedetti’s work has been celebrated as among the best of his generation, drawing comparisons with other Latin American writers as Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes.  This book, which is finally available in an English translation, deals with Santiago, a political prisoner in Uruguay, who was jailed after a brutal military coup that saw many of his comrades flee elsewhere. Santiago, feeling trapped, can do nothing but write letters to his family and try to stay sane. Far away, his nine-year-old daughter Beatrice wonders at the marvels of 1970s Buenos Aires, but her grandpa and mother—Santiago’s beautiful, careworn wife, Graciela—struggle to adjust to a life in exile.  This is a powerful book that sheds light on the ways in which world events shape and influence the lives and relationships of individuals, told in tender, heartfelt, and wrenchingly honest prose. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it a “rich, heartbreaking novel. . . . Benedetti’s tender yet unflinching portrait of a family in the crushing straits of history is a welcome addition to the small (and hopefully growing) catalogue of his work that has been translated into English.”

The Confessions of Frannie LangtonSara Collins debut novel is drawing comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which is reason enough for us to look forward to reading it, but the description of this book grabbed our attention all on its own.  All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey. The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore. But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship. Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself. Collins confronts the darkest parts of history and our humanity in this book with heart and integrity, and her work has earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who called it “a bold and vibrant jolt to both the gothic and historical fiction genres. . . . Most of all, she has created in her title character a complex, melancholy, and trenchantly observant protagonist. . . . [a] gripping, groundbreaking debut.”

The Organs of Sense: Adam Ehrlich Sachs’ fiction debut is a delightfully absurd, joyfully imaginative romp through a re-imagined historical moment that will hold appeal for fans across a number of genres.  Set in 1666, the story begins when an astronomer makes a prediction shared by no one else in the world: at the stroke of noon on June 30 of that year, a solar eclipse will cast all of Europe into total darkness for four seconds. This astronomer is rumored to be using the longest telescope ever built, but he is also known to be blind; both his eyes having been plucked out some time before under mysterious circumstances. Is he mad? Or does he, despite this impairment, have an insight denied the other scholars of his day These questions intrigue the young Gottfried Leibniz―not yet the world-renowned polymath who would go on to discover calculus, but a nineteen-year-old whose faith in reason is shaky at best. Leibniz sets off to investigate the astronomer’s claim, and over the three hours remaining before the eclipse occurs―or fails to occur―the astronomer tells the scholar the haunting and hilarious story behind his strange prediction: a tale that ends up encompassing kings and princes, family squabbles, obsessive pursuits, insanity, philosophy, art, loss, and the horrors of war. This is a surprisingly deep little novel that hides its wisdom inside a tale rife with humor.  Library Journal adored it, giving it a starred review and celebrating how it is “filled with delightful tales of palace intrigue, sibling rivalry, and extensive forays into empirical thought and logic. Deep philosophy is applied to nearly everything that pops up, including the eating of soup. Yet despite these heavy themes, Sachs applies a liberal does of clever humor throughout; nearly everyone is a charlatan in what might be the most lighthearted work about the history of science ever published.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

The Wellcome Book Prize Short List!

As in past years, beloved patrons, we are celebrating awards that bring us diverse reading materials, authors, and funds that celebrate the written word.  Today, we are delighted to bring you the shortlist for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, which was announced this morning in London.

The Wellcome Institute was originally funded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (pictured at right), a fascinating entrepreneur, born in Wisconsin in 1853, whose first business was peddling invisible ink (it was lemon juice).  He later went into pharmaceuticals, where he revolutionized medicine by developing medicine in tablet form, though he called them ‘Tabloids’.  Upon his death, Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health, and even left specifics in his will as to the building in which the collections were to be housed.  Today, the Wellcome Trust, which funds all this gloriousness, is now one of the world’s largest private biomedical charities.

Yay for Science! (From the Wellcome Collection)

I cannot recommend exploring the Wellcome Collection online to you enough.  Because of their dedication to education and engagement, a surprisingly vast amount of their exhibits have online components, and a good deal of their archives and library are digitized, making it possible to access their treasure trove of educational riches from the comfort of your living room (or local Library!).  Their exhibits range from the emotional and contemporary, such as videos and talks on military medicine, to the sublimely bizarre, like this gallery on curatives and quack medicine.  Throughout their work is a very firm dedication not only to education, but to sparking a love of learning in their visitors, and that work pays huge dividends.

And, as part of their outreach efforts, and in the hope of encouraging more quality and creative writing in the sciences, the Wellcome Trust also funds one of the largest book prizes around, providing 30,000 GBP (right now, about $37,500) to it chosen author.  As described on the Wellcome Book Prize site, all the books that are nominated have “a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.”  While this dedication to science is wonderful, the Wellcome Prize also recognizes art, standing by its core principles by recognizing that such books “can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.”  Thus, their list includes both non-fiction and fiction, in order to celebrate those works that “add new meaning to what it means to be human.”

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The Wellcome Book Award, via FMcM

The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize will be announced at an evening ceremony on Wednesday 1 May at the Wellcome Collection headquarters in London, and it will be our pleasure to bring you the headlines as soon as they are printed!  Until then, let’s take a look at the Wellcome Book Prize Shortlist Honorees:

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? It’s the year 2000, and she lives in a city full of potential, wealth, and glamor.  She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. So what could be so terribly wrong?  Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.

Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas McBee: In this groundbreaking new book, the author, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence. Through his experience boxing—learning to get hit, and to hit back; wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym; confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body—McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional masculinity. A wide-ranging exploration of gender in society, and its effects on the smallest details of our lives, McBee’s tale is ultimately a story of hope, tracing a new way forward, a new kind of masculinity, inside the ring and outside of it.

Murmur by Will Eaves: Please note, this title will be released April 9, 2019. In this intense, hallucinatory story, Will Eaves, a celebrated poet,  brings us into the brilliant mind of Alec Pryor, a character inspired by Alan Turing. Turing, father of artificial intelligence and pioneer of radical new techniques to break the Nazi Enigma cipher during World War II, was later persecuted by the British state for “gross indecency with another male” and forced to undergo chemical castration.  This novel unfolds in the weeks leading up to Turning/Pryor’s suicide, and offers a glimpse into not only the life of one remarkable human being, but into the very nature of consciousness, as well as an unflinching look at the systems of prejudice and privilege that seek to limit human expression in all its forms.

Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar: For centuries, the human heart seemed beyond our understanding: an inscrutable shuddering mass that was somehow the driver of emotion and the seat of the soul. But as cardiologist and author Sandeep Jauhar shows,  it was only recently that we demolished age-old taboos and devised the transformative procedures that have changed the way we live. Deftly alternating between key historical episodes and his own work, Jauhar tells the colorful and little-known story of the doctors who risked their careers and the patients who risked their lives to know and heal our most vital organ. He introduces us to Daniel Hale Williams, the African American doctor who performed the world’s first open heart surgery in Gilded Age Chicago. We meet C. Walton Lillehei, who connected a patient’s circulatory system to a healthy donor’s, paving the way for the heart-lung machine. And we encounter Wilson Greatbatch, who saved millions by inventing the pacemaker―by accident. Jauhar deftly braids these tales of discovery, hubris, and sorrow with moving accounts of his family’s history of heart ailments and the patients he’s treated over many years. He also confronts the limits of medical technology, arguing that future progress will depend more on how we choose to live than on the devices we invent.

The Trauma Cleaner : One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein: Homicides and suicides, fires and floods, hoarders and addicts. When properties are damaged or neglected, it falls to Sandra Pankhurst, founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning (STC) Services Pty. Ltd. to sift through the ashes or sweep up the mess of a person’s life or death. Her clients include law enforcement, real estate agents, executors of deceased estates, and charitable organizations representing victimized, mentally ill, elderly, and physically disabled people. In houses and buildings that have fallen into disrepair, Sandra airs out residents’ smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes.  The remnants and mementoes of these people’s lives resonate with Sandra. Before she began professionally cleaning up their traumas, she experienced her own. First, as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home. Then as a husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, and trophy wife. In each role she played, all Sandra wanted to do was belong. Sarah Krasnostein brings Sandra’s life of light in all its complexity, and, in so doing, forces us to reckon with the experiences that set us apart, and those we all share in common.

Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning: Please note, this title will be released on October 1, 2019. Arnold Thomas Fanning had his first experience of depression during adolescence, following the death of his mother. Some 10 years later, an up-and-coming playwright, he was overcome by mania and delusions. Thus began a terrible period in which he was often suicidal, increasingly disconnected from family and friends, sometimes in trouble with the law, and homeless in London. Drawing on his own memories, the recollections of people who knew him when he was at his worst, and medical and police records, he has produced a beautifully written, devastatingly intense account of madness—and recovery, to the point where he has not had any serious illness for over a decade and has become an acclaimed playwright. Fanning conveys the consciousness of a person living with mania, psychosis and severe depression with a startling precision and intimacy, providing insight that has the potential to change our thinking about these conditions, both medically and socially.

The Man Booker International Prize Longlist is here!

‘Tis the season for sensational book awards, beloved patrons, and yesterday, the longlist for the Man Booker International Prize, which celebrates the best novels written in a language other than English, and the translations that makes them accessible to us as English readers. The £50,000 prize is split between the winning author and translator.  This years’ list is a celebration of independent publishers, women’s voices, and diverse forms of story-telling, and we can’t wait to add these books to our reading lists!

Via https://themanbookerprize.com/international/news/2019-longlist-announced-man-booker-international-prize

Bettany Hughes, chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize judging panel, said:

This was a year when writers plundered the archive, personal and political. That drive is represented in our longlist, but so too are surreal Chinese train journeys, absurdist approaches to war and suicide, and the traumas of spirit and flesh. We’re thrilled to share 13 books which enrich our idea of what fiction can do.

The shortlist for this award will be announced April 9th and the winner will be announced May 21st.   This will, incidentally, also be the last year that the prize is known under this title.  Next year, the prize will be known as the International Booker Prize, as the sponsorship from the Man Group comes to an end and the prize’s new sponsor, Crankstart, begins.  We’ll be bringing you all the highlights and announcements, as ever.

Home

Just so you know, where these books are available, links have been provided to the NOBLE catalog.  Otherwise, information on when the title may be available is provided.  You can always check with your friendly public service staff for further information.  And now, without further ado, here is the 2019 Man Booker International Prize Longlist!

Author (Original Language –Country/territory), translator, title 

  • Jokha Alharthi (Arabic / Omani),  Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies This title is currently unavailable
  • Can Xue (Chinese / Chinese), Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love In The New Millennium 
  • Annie Ernaux (French / French), Alison L. Strayer, The Years 
  • Hwang Sok-yong (Korean / Korean), Sora Kim-Russell, At Dusk This title will be released on July 16, 2019
  • Mazen Maarouf (Arabic / Icelandic and Palestinian), Jonathan Wright, Jokes For The Gunmen 
  • Hubert Mingarelli (French / French), Sam Taylor, Four Soldiers Available via ComCat–please check with a public service staff member for details
  • Marion Poschmann (German / German), Jen Calleja, The Pine Islands This title is currently unavailable–please check back later for updates.
  • Samanta Schweblin (Spanish / Argentine and Italian), Megan McDowell, Mouthful Of Birds 
  • Sara Stridsberg (Swedish / Swedish), Deborah Bragan-Turner, The Faculty Of Dreams This title is currently unavailable–please check back later for updates.
  • Olga Tokarczuk (Polish / Polish), Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead Available via ComCat–please check with a public service staff member for details
  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Spanish / Colombian), Anne McLean, The Shape Of The Ruins 
  • Tommy Wieringa (Dutch / Dutch), Sam Garrett, The Death Of Murat Idrissi  This title is currently unavailable–please check back later for updates.
  • Alia Trabucco Zeran (Spanish / Chilean), Sophie Hughes, The Remainder This title will be released on August 6, 2019
An enormous Free-For-All congratulations to all the nominated authors and translators!

The Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist is here!

And we could not be more excited!

Via https://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/reading-room/news/announcing-the-womens-prize-for-fiction-2019-longlist

Just as a reminder, The Women’s Prize for Fiction is the UK’s most prestigious annual book award that specifically celebrates fiction by women.  It was founded in 1996 to ” celebrate originality, accessibility & excellence in writing by women and to connect world-class writers with readers everywhere.”

Over the years, the Prize has had several sponsors, the most recent of which was Bailey’s.  From 2018, however, the prize has moved to a collaborative sponsorship model, which means that it is now just “The Women’s Prize for Fiction,” and we must admit, we like that name!

This year is a banner one because, for the first time in the Prize’s 27-year history, a non-binary transgender author has made the shortlist.  Thirty-one-year-old Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi is nominated for their first novel, Freshwaterwhich is being hailed on both sides of the Atlantic.  Emezi, who does not identify as male or female and lives in Brooklyn, and is in good company among seven debut authors on the longlist.

“It is a historic moment,” Professor Kate Williams, chair of judges, told the Guardian. “We’re very careful not to Google the authors while judging, so we did not know. But the book found great favour among us, it is wonderful. They are an incredibly talented author and we’re keen to celebrate them.”  We are, also delighted to confirm that Emezi is very happy with their inclusion on the Women’s Prize Longlist.

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via The Evening Standard https://static.standard.co.uk/s3fs-public/thumbnails/image/2019/03/04/10/womens-prize-for-fiction-1.jpg?w968

The shortlist of books for the Women’s Prize will be announced on April 29, and the winners will be announced on June 5.  We’ll be eagerly waiting to bring you more details about this fabulous prize as they are announced, but for now, here is the list of nominated titles.  Where available, links are provided so you can request the book and get reading.  When possible, we’ve also included the US publication date for titles not yet released here.

The 2019 longlist is:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton  (This title is not yet available in the US)
My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces Melissa Broder
Milkman Anna Burns
Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People Diana Evans
Swan Song Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (This title is not yet available in the US)
An American Marriage Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li
Bottled Goods Sophie van Llewyn (Check with a member of the public service staff to access this title)
Lost Children Archive Valeria Luiselli
Praise Song for the Butterflies Bernice L. McFadden
Circe Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall Sarah Moss
Normal People Sally Rooney

 

A hearty Free-For-All congratulations to all the nominated authors!

Remembering Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

Via the Associated Press, https://www.npr.org/2019/01/15/685154620/a-deadly-tsunami-of-molasses-in-bostons-north-end

On Jan. 15, 1919, a tank of molasses stored in Boston’s North End, ruptured, sending a cascading wave of the thick, sugary syrup down the streets. This “Great Molasses Flood” killed 21 people, numerous animals, and injured 150.

The tank was built to be a holding vessel for molasses until it could be transported to a nearby distillery, where it was converted into industrial alcohol for World War I munitions.  Because the war was over, it was expected that the molasses would be shipped on to a distillery to produce rum.  As historian of the event Stephen Puleo explained in an interview with WBUR, the residents of the area–one of Boston’s busiest economic districts–knew the tank was structurally unsound before it ruptured:

There were signs that the tank was faltering, but the people of the North End had gotten used to its instability.

“There were often comments made by people around the vicinity that this tank would shudder and groan every time it was full, and it leaked from day one,” Puleo said. “It was very customary for children of the North End to go and collect molasses with pails.”

So on the day of the flood, despite leaks and groans, no one anticipated that the tank was about to burst, unleashing a wave of 2.3 million gallons of molasses that would move 35 miles an hour down Commercial Street.

While we don’t have any hard and fast answers as to why the tank failed, a number of theories and facts have come to light.  One of the first rumors to be circulated was that an anarchist’s bomb had broke the tank open, but no proof has ever been found to verify that rumor–which, admittedly, was largely fear-based and shows the effects of the First World War on people’s consciousness at the time.

As History.com reports, the tank itself

More recent investigations suggest several fundamental problems with the structure of the tank. Designed to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquid, it measured 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. But its steel walls, which ranged from 0.67 inches at the bottom to 0.31 inches at the top, were too thin to support the weight of a full tank of molasses, found a 2014 analysis by Ronald Mayville, a senior structural engineer in the Massachusetts consulting firm of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger.

Temperature also had an effect on the tank.  A new shipment of molasses had arrived days before, and that liquid was warmer than the air outside.  The weight of the molasses as it hardened further strained the walls of the tank.  Apparently, when the company received complaints that the tank was leaking, it painted the tank brown to disguise the leaks rather than repair them.  As it roiled down the street, the hot molasses congealed, trapping people, cars, trolleys, and everything else in its path.

The force of the wave was enough to buckle and destroy the elevated railway that ran through the North End at the time:

Via Wikipedia Wikicommons

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Boston recently used ground-penetrating radar to determine the location of the giant molasses tank that caused the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  Today, colored flags marked the site of the tank as city officials and history buffs gathered at Langone Park in the North End to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Looking to learn more about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919?  Check out these books!

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919: Probably the best known (at least ’round these parts) book about the Great Molasses Flood, reporter Stephen Puleo brings readers into the world of Boston at the time, and makes the smallest details of the date come to live.  But, as he also points out, the molasses flood was more than an isolated event. Its story overlays America’s story during a tumultuous decade in our history. Tracing the era from the tank’s construction in 1915 through the multiyear lawsuit that followed the tragedy, Dark Tide uses the drama of the flood to examine the sweeping changes brought about by World War I, Prohibition, the Anarchist movement, the Red Scare, immigration, and the role of big business in society.  Puleo is a friend of the Peabody Library, so we love to promote his super-terrific text.

The Great Molasses Flood : Boston, 1919: Written for a younger audience, Deborah Kops’ book places the Molasses Flood in its historical context with fascinating results.  She discusses the influenza epidemic that embroiled the city, as well as the recently ended First World War.  As she notes, January 1919 was a hopeful time. Schools had reopened. So had the soda fountains, where kids went to buy Cokes. On New Year’s Eve tens of thousands of cheering, singing Bostonians gathered to ring in the new year. They jammed the city’s cafés and hotels and overflowed into the streets. Everyone seemed thrilled that life in this old port city was returning to normal.  But the molasses flood would change the mood and focus of the city, and have repercussions that would linger for decades to come.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay’s book isn’t really about the molasses flood, which should be fairly evident from the book’s description, but it does incorporate it into the plot.  Marjorie Barrett, the focus of the book, is a story teller, who understands the power of narrative to shape our ways of thinking.  One of the first ways that we learn this is in her rendition of the molasses flood–a horribly visceral telling that names one of the real-life victims of the disaster, and portends the terrible events of the book that will unfold.  If you want to talk about the power of history to terrify even today, then don’t miss this pitch-perfect novel!

From Our Archives

Today, we are honored to bring you this post, which originally appeared here in 2015, but is sure to help you get in the literary holiday spirit!

We had elaborate plans for a post today….And then I found this recording of Neil Gaiman reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And I realized I could never, ever, top that.  So here, for your listening pleasure, and as a salvation to your Monday (and Tuesday.  It’s grading period, sorry!), is Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol, with unending gratitude to the New York Public Library for making this happen, and offering it to the Internets.

PS: Anyone else wondering if the good Mr. Gaiman borrowed his top hat from our Blog’s mascot, Theophilus?

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.

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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.

 

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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.
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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!