Tag Archives: poetry

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 a very happy Free For All birthday wish to one of my favorite poets, Siegfried Sassoon.

Sassoon was born in 1886 to a wealthy Jewish family who had made their fortune as traders within the British Empire.  He enlisted in the British Army in advance of European War, and was serving with the Sussex Yeomanry when Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.  For three years, Sassoon threw himself into soldiering.  He earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his willingness to accept and carry out acts that seemed near-suicidal.  Not only did Sassoon enjoy the excitement, but it also prevented any of the men under his command, or around him, from taking on such a task themselves.  According to his friend Robert Graves, “He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupant…instead of signalling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.”  On July 27, 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded”.

But Sassoon’s unswerving loyalty to the men with whom he served almost brought him into an infamous confrontation with military authorities.  Following the death of a dear friend in battle, Sassoon published a letter (an image of which appears at left) he had already sent to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration, which read, in part “I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, stating that he refused to fight.  Thanks to the intervention of several friends (including Graves) and the unwillingness of the war office to condemn a decorated soldiers as a traitor, Sassoon was declared to be suffering shell-shock, and was sent to Criaglockhart, a mental hospital for officers run by Dr. William Rivers.  In the interest of brevity, let us say that the friendship that emerged from Rivers’ treatment of Sassoon changed both their lives.  While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon also met and worked with Wilfred Owen, who is perhaps the most celebrated of the so-called “War Poets”.

Sassoon survived the war, and his poems and memoirs of his service remain among the most well-known and cited to come out of the postwar period.  He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1951  continued writing until his death from stomach cancer one week before his 81st birthday.

Sassoon’s poems appear consistently in anthologies of First World War literature–you can hear a recording of him reading one here.  But those poems represent only a very small percentage of his incredible output, so today, I wanted to share with you one of his lesser-known war poems, written in 1919 while he was waiting to embark for Egypt:

Memory

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

And now…on to the books!

Letters to his Neighbor: Marcel Proust wrote some of the most profound philosophical works of the 20th century.  He also wrote a number of letters to his noisy neighbor, Dr. Williams, who plagued his existence with his noise, which Proust could hear in detail thanks to the cork walls that divided their rooms.   Things only got worse when Williams married and had children.  Recently discovered among Proust’s correspondence, these ever-polite letters, written mainly to Mrs. Williams, which were often accompanied by flowers, compliments, books, even pheasants are frequently hilarious, especially when Proust couches his fury in a gracious tone.  But they are also genuinely engaging–for Proust found an odd affinity with Mrs. Williams, and while we are lacking her responses, making this correspondence incomplete, there is still an enormous amount to enjoy here.  Additionally, Lydia Davis’ translation is delightful, making Proust’s life accessible to those of us who are not devotees, and penning a wonderful afterward that helps put these letters into context of his life and his writings.  The Village Voice loved this little volume, noting that it is “brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis, is inadvertently hilarious in hyper-genteel poise; we see Proust at his most desperate, charming to the extreme, an effect no doubt amplified by Davis’s elegant prose.”

The Ways of WolfeJames Carlos Blake’s Wolfe series brings readers right into the dusty, dangerous, morally dubious, and ruthlessly compelling world of the Wolfe clan, whose roots run deep on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, and whose prevailing interests straddle both sides of the law.  Twenty years ago, college student Axel Prince Wolfe―heir apparent to his Texas family’s esteemed law firm and its “shade trade” criminal enterprises―teamed up with his best friend, Billy, and a Mexican stranger in a high-end robbery that went wrong, and where Axel was left along to shoulder the blame and the fall-out among his family.  Now, Axel has exhausted thoughts of revenge.  His own goal is to survive his remaining sentence and find the daughter who continues to ignore him.  When the chance comes to escape in the company of Cacho, a young Mexican inmate with ties to a major cartel, Axel takes it, provoking a massive manhunt along the Rio Grande, and sending Axel on an unintended journey of discovery and reckoning many, many years overdue.  This award-winning series has been hailed by critics across the country for its brutal, fast-paced noir style and his insightful character development that elevate these books into something unique.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this series installment a starred review, saying “Blood loyalty, forgiveness, and the consequences of violence all figure in Blake’s outstanding fourth Border Noir featuring the Wolfes . . . Tough, muscular prose complements Blake’s powerful storytelling.”

Black Rock White CityThe winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award (Australia’s most prestigious literary award), A.S. Patric’s debut novel is one of those stories that brilliantly shifts focus, telling a huge, epic tale of dispossession and displacement among a whole people, and yet, a beautifully wrought tale of one family’s struggles in an unfamiliar suburbia.  Jovan and Suzana have fled war-torn Sarajevo, having lost their children, their standing as public intellectuals, and their connection to each other. Now working as cleaners in a suburb of Melbourne, they struggle to rebuild their lives under the painful hardships of immigrant life.  During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s janitorial work at a hospital is disrupted by mysterious acts of vandalism. But as the attacks become more violent and racially charged, he feels increasingly targeted, and taunted to interpret their meaning. Under tremendous pressure the couple struggle to keep their marriage together, but fear that they may never find peace from the ravages of war.   Dark and devastating at times, this book is also the story of those who continually chose to carry on, and find ways to endure, making it also a story of resilience–and one that is wholly unforgettable.  The Miles Franklin Literary Award Citation reads:  “A fresh and powerful exploration of the immigrant experience and Australian life, Black Rock White City explores the damages of war, the constraints of choice, the possibility of redemptive love and social isolation amid suburbia.”

Eastman Was Here: Alex Gilvarry’s book is a war story set during the Vietnam War, but unlike so many war stories, this one isn’t about a combatant.  Instead, it’s about Alan Eastman, a public intellectual, critic, philanderer, whose wife has taken their children and left, and who is facing an ever-deepening existential crisis.  So when he receives a call from an old professional rival offering him the chance to go to Vietnam to write the definitive account of the end of America’s longest war, Eastman leaps on the opportunity, seeing it as his chance to earn back his wife’s love and his flagging career in one fell swoop.   But instead of the return to form as a pioneering war correspondent that he had hoped for, he finds himself in Saigon, grappling with the same problems he thought he’d left back in New York.  Gilvarry writes with enormous compassion and insight, but he is also always ready to see the humor, both the dark and the absurdly funny, in his characters and his stories, defying the conventional trappings whatever genre into which he writes, and instead presenting a character who is both repellent and fascinating, and providing a story as heartbreaking as it is funny.  The Boston Globe agrees, saying in its review “Gilvarry has given us a portrait of toxic masculinity—one that feels as if it both belongs to a certain time and is still familiar. His Eastman is a riveting, loathsome presence who demands to be loved and remembered.”

Reincarnation Blues: As soon as I read Kirkus Reviewblurb for this book, I was hooked–and plenty of readers and critics alike have been coming up with wonderful praise for Michael Poore’s second novel of life…death…and whatever comes after.  Because in this world, we get a few more tries to get it right.  10,000 more tries, to be exact.  But Milo has been having some trouble, and is now left with only 5 chances left  to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.  More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living—as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.  Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity.  Kirkus Reviews is not alone in making the comparison it did when it described this book as “Tales of gods and men akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman as penned by a kindred spirit of Douglas Adams”, and the more comparisons are made to those two greats, the more eager I am to dive into Poore’s work!

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And many very happy Free-For-All birthday wishes to poet, prose writer, diplomat, and translator, Czesław Miłosz!

Courtesy of Culture.pl

Miłosz was born on this day in 1911 in Szetejnie, then part of the Russian Empire, now Lithuania.  A polymath from a young age, Miłosz became fluent in Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, English, and French.  His first volume of poetry was published in 1934, the same year he received his law degree from Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.  He spent most of the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Poland,and while he didn’t joint the resistance or take part in the Warsaw Uprising, he did join the Organizacja Socjalistyczno-Niepodległościowa “Wolność” (“The ‘Freedom’ Socialist Pro-Independence Organisation”), and was responsible for helping Jews escape Poland.  Though the exact number is unknown, we know that he personally saved the Tross and Wołkomińska families, actions which earned him the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem, Israel in 1989.  In later life, he also became a supporter to gay and lesbian rights, especially in Poland.

After the war, he served as cultural attaché of the newly formed Communist People’s Republic of Poland (you can see his passport on the left, courtesy of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) , though he defected in 1951 and lived under political asylum in Paris until moving to the United States in 1960.  Because his works were banned by the Communist Party as a result of his defection, his work was almost never read in his home country.  It was only when Miłosz received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980 that many Poles discovered his work.  After the Iron Curtain fell, he was able to return to Poland, at first to visit, later to live part-time in Kraków, where he passed away in 2004.

You can check out Miłosz‘s poetry via PoetryHunter.com, or come into the Library and check out some of his printed works.

And speaking of books you can check out, here are some of the new books that paraded onto our shelves this week, and are eager to be a part of your Independence Day festivities!

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria: In 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights in the movement that became known as the Arab Spring. The government’s ferocious response, and the defiance of the demonstrators, spiraled into brutal civil war that has escalated to become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.  However, in the midst of all the headlines, arguments, and racist dogma that has been unleashed by the war in Syria, the voices of individual Syrians has gone largely overlooked.  This book, based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, tells their stories.  Some are pages long, some read like a verse of poetry.  Together, though, they provide an unforgettable testament to human strength and endurance, as much as it is a counter-narrative to the prevailing tale of brutality, hatred, and disregard for that self-same humanity.  Larry Siems, author of The Torture Report, wrote a powerful review of this book, saying, in part, “To read these pages, to meet these men and women, is to cross a bridge ourselves, and to tremble: at the fragility of social order…but also at the love, anger, terror, trauma, compassion, endurance, awe, and determination a single human voice can convey.”

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: For the record, I am physically exhausted by books that define women by their relationship to men.  However, this book puts a feminist spin on some of the best of 19th-century’s weird and science fiction, so it definitely deserves another look.  Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a significant financial reward for information leading to his capture, but Mary’s search leads her instead to Hyde’s daughter, Diana.  With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, befriending more women created through experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.  When their quest brings them face to face with the power-crazed scientists who created them, the question becomes, who is the real monster of this story?  Theodora Goss’ debut novel is full of bravery, action, sisterhood, and a whip-smart intelligence that re-imagines all these classic 19th-century narratives of ‘progress’ that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “A tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight.”

Grief Cottage: On the surface, Gail Godwin’s newest book is a ghost story.  But it’s also a very human story about loss, grief, guilt, and the power of art that transcends typical conceptions of genre.  After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she’d moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life, and inspired her to paint as a way of capturing their mutual desolation.  The islanders call the place “Grief Cottage,” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since.  Marcus himself begins paying visits to the cottage, eventually meeting the young ghost who haunts it, and learning about the truth behind its possession of Grief Cottage.  Booklist gave this haunting tale a starred review, noting “Godwin’s riveting and wise story of the slow coalescence of trust and love between a stoic artist and a grieving boy . . . subtly and insightfully explores different forms of haunting and vulnerability, strength and survival”.

The Black Elfstone: The Fall of Shannara: Terry Brooks is arguably one of the best-known fantasy authors at work today, and with good reason.  His Shannara series has spanned 41 works (broken up into various sub-series), and this newest work launches the first in the series’ four-part epic conclusion.  Across the Four Lands, peace has reigned for generations. But now, in the far north, an unknown enemy is massing. More troubling than the carnage is the strange and wondrous power wielded by the attackers—a breed of magic unfamiliar even to the Druid order. Fearing the worst, the High Druid dispatches a diplomatic party under the protection of the order’s sworn guardian, Dar Leah, to confront the mysterious, encroaching force and discover its purpose.  Meanwhile, onetime High Druid Drisker Arc and his protege are beginning quests of their own, quests that will eventually drawn them together with Dar Leah in a tale that will have monumental consequences for the Four Lands.  Though new readers may have a little bit of difficulty getting into this series, overall, Brooks’ works aren’t impossible to pick up mid-series, and his skills in the fantasy genre shouldn’t be missed.  Patrick Rothfuss (one of my favorite fantasy authors) wrote a blurb for this book, saying “I can’t even begin to count how many of Terry Brooks’s books I’ve read (and reread) over the years. From Shannara to Landover, his work was a huge part of my childhood.”

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions: Our planet has witnessed five mass-extinction events in its history, and scientists today are seeing some pretty strong correlations between those events and our current climate changes.  In this terrifying, fascinating, and wide-ranging book, journalist Peter Brennan delves deep into earth’s past to discuss the five previous life-changing (literally) events, while presenting the stories from the scientists on the front lines of climate change research today, whose modern technology can reveal even more to us about the catastrophes of the past, how life on Earth manages to endure, and what all these stories can mean for us and our own future.  This is far more than “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it”.  Indeed, according to Library Journal, “If readers have time for only one book on the subject, this wonderfully written, well-balanced, and intricately researched (though not too dense) selection is the one to choose.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy birthday to Vietnamese poet, Tản Đà!

Nguyễn Khắc Hiếu (who used the pen name Tản Đà), was born on this day in 1889 in what is now Khe Thuong, close to Hanoi.  His father was Mandarin, Chinese, and, as a result, Tản Đà learned to speak and read Chinese, which provided him the opportunity to read a wealth of Western literature in translation (which weren’t available in Vietnamese).  His mother was a well-known singer, and it is from her that Tản Đà learned a love of the theater, and also of poetry.  Tản Đà would go on to write a number of plays, poems, and essays, and also translated a number of Chinese works into Vietnamese in order to share his love of literature with others.  His poetry, especially, is recognized today as “transitional”–that is, he blended traditional forms of poetry, images, and tropes, with Western forms of poetry, particularly from France (who controlled the area we now know as Vietnam).

Today, in honor of Tản Đà’s birthday, we wanted to share one of his poems with you (in translation).  We hope you enjoy!

The Hanoi Botanical Gardens, Courtesy of Vietnamtourism

A Stroll at the Flower Nursery

(The Hanoi Botanical Gardens)

Its distance from Hanoi’s streets is near, not far,
Could there be anything more delightful than the flower nursery?
Having a chance I stroll to cheer myself up,
Go up there at noon for some fresh air, sit and hum a tune.
Sitting, I sadly remember the stories of old:
The capitol Thang Long built long, long ago.
Were there castles, monuments, and palaces here,
Or just a few trees, patches of grass, and some flowers?
But it’s certain that since the Westerners came,
We’ve gotten an iron cage to enclose and tend the animals:
Strange beasts, beautiful birds, and shade trees,
Wide, splendid roads, and pleasant views.
During the three months of summer, many people stroll through,
Especially on cool afternoons, there are crowds of all stripes.
Monsieur, Madame, Japanese, and Chinese,
Magistrates, secretaries, old scholars, servants and nursemaids.
Cars, horses, people all come by,
Standing here, going there, talking a little with a laugh.
Butterflies take to wing, the color of fluttering shirts,
The fragrance of magnolia spreads like a perfume.
The afternoon’s late, the funlovers all have left,
At the tree’s root, sighing, I sit alone.
Of the Ly, Tran, and Le kings, all is lost,
But the sight of deer leisurely taking their stroll.

And now…on to the books!

The Fact of a Body: It took Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich years to write this “true crime memoir”, and years longer to find a publisher, but, to judge by all the popular and critical acclaim that she has received for her work, the wait was well worth it.  The child of two lawyers, a younger Marzano-Lesnevich took a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder.  She believed herself to be staunchly against the death penalty–the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes.  As soon as she hears his voice, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.  finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.  But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.  A story about hope and forgiveness, and whether a single narrative can ever actually access “truth”, this is a tale as complicated as human interactions, strikingly honest, and unlike anything you’ve read before.  Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling it “Haunting…impeccably researched…Her writing is remarkably evocative and taut with suspense, with a level of nuance that sets this effort apart from other true crime accounts.”

New Boy: Shakespeare re-tellings are all the rage, and no one is enjoying themselves more than Hogarth Books, who are publishing a whole series of re-tellings, including this work by beloved author Tracy Chevalier that re-imagines Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello in a school yard in 1970’s Washington, DC.  In Chevalier’s world, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day in another new school.  He knows he’s fortunate to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.  Though Chevalier’s work initially seems like it’s on a smaller scale than Shakespeare’s epic, this work still carries the weight of international politics, decades of racial tension, and the true horror of bullying, making this story about so much more than childhood mistakes and inherited prejudices.  Booklist agrees, saying that in Chevalier’s hands, “the playground is as rife with poisonous intrigue as any monarch’s court… Chevalier’s brilliantly concentrated and galvanizing improvisation thoroughly exposes the malignancy and tragedy of racism, sexism, jealousy, and fear.”

How to be Human: To understand this book, you should probably know that London is full of foxes, and they are really quite friendly (I lived in terror of the one in my backyard for months before realizing it wasn’t going to savage me).  Anyways, that fact becomes very important in Guardian columnist Paula Cocozza’s debut work, where Mary lives in a London suburb beset by urban foxes. On leave from work, unsettled by the proximity of her ex, and struggling with her hostile neighbors, Mary has become increasingly captivated by a magnificent fox who is always in her garden. First she sees him wink at her, then he brings her presents, and finally she invites him into her house. As the boundaries between the domestic and the wild blur, and the neighbors set out to exterminate the fox, it is unclear if Mary will save the fox, or the fox save Mary.  Partially a picture of a mental breakdown, partially a social commentary, and wholly fascinating, this is another book that will have you questioning reality and truth and identity, but in wholly unique ways.  The Times Literary Supplement loved this book, calling in, in its review, “Enchanting… For all its suggestiveness and sensuality, Cocozza’s narrative is artfully restrained . . . In this startling debut, Cocozza seems to be saying that, no matter how lonely the city becomes, through an open window a mass of life is listening back.”

Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently: Beau Lotto is the world-renowned neuroscientist, who studies the biological, psychological, and computational methods of human perception–that is, what the brain takes in, what is does with that information, and how it processes it into a form of understanding in the context of the world in which it lives.  In his infectiously fun and infuriating first book, Lotto tackles all the problems our brains have with perception, and proves, with a whole bunch of optical illusions, illustrations, and examples, that we aren’t seeing the world “as it is” at all–we are seeing what our beautiful, amazing, not-quite-unbiased brains are telling us to see.  But realizing the mechanisms that our brain uses to process information, and to understand why it makes the errors it does, is to come to love your brain even more, especially in a book like this one, that takes such delight in its subject matter.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book too, calling it a “sprightly look into the nature of things…Lotto’s provocative investigation into the mysterious workings of the mind will make readers just that much smarter.”

Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women: When her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street, Susan Burton had no access to grief counseling or other forms of professional help.  As a result, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack.  As a resident of South Los Angeles, a black community heavily targeted by the “War on Drugs”, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for over fifteen years, and was never offered the chance of rehabilitation until she found it on her own.  Once she got clean, Susan dedicated her life to supporting women facing similar struggles.  Her organization, A New Way of Life, operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children—setting them on the track to education and employment rather than returns to prison.  In this book, Ms. Burton not only shares her own story with journalist Cari Lynn, but also lays out her ideas and policies for helping formerly incarcerated people live a life of dignity and fulfillment.  Susan Burton has been praised by artists, CEOs, and activists alike, and this book makes it easy to see why.  Publisher’s Weekly  stated in its review that “Susan Burton is a national treasure . . . her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

“Come Friends”, by Kamand Kojouri

If you come into the Library–and we certainly hope that you will–you will see this poem as part of our card catalog display.  A Library is a safe house for stories–not only those in the books or the films or the recordings.  They are for your stories, as well.  And we treasure your stories as much as every other we hold.  In that spirit, we invite you in to share your story, and to encounter the stories of other people–those whose experiences are similar to yours, and those whose life is nothing at all like yours.  

“Come Friends”, by Kamand Kojouri

Come, friends.
Come with your grief.
Come with your loss.
Carry all the pieces of your heart
and come sit with us.
Bring your disappointments
and your failures.
Bring your betrayals
and your masks.
We welcome you no matter
where you come from
and what you bring.
Come and join us
at the intersection of
acceptance and forgiveness
where you will find our
house of love.
Bring your empty cups
and we will have a feast.

Five Book Friday!

And a happy winter to all of you, dear readers!  In honor of this past week’s Solstice, and in looking forward to the holidays coming up this weekend and next week, it seemed like a good moment to share a bit of good cheer and high hopes for the future, before we get to the books, which always bring good cheer!  So here is a bit of verse, from us to you:

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

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3810822History of WolvesEmily Fridlund’s debut novel has been getting attention for a while, and her first chapter won the McGinnis-Ritchie award, giving it a seal of excellence from quite early on in its creation.  Set in the woods of northern Minnesota, the book follows fourteen-year-old Linda, whose family lives on a nearly-abandoned commune, isolating them from the world around them.  Linda suffers most, especially when the arrest of one of the teachers at her school cuts off the few connections she has forged, until a young family moves in across the lake, Linda begins to babysit for their young son Paul, and soon finds a sense of belonging.  But with belonging comes access to secrets that Linda never imagined, and over the course of a few days, she will make choices that will have lifelong consequences.  This is not an clear-cut read, but Fridlund is so skilled at crafting the damaged, lonely Linda, that readers will find themselves falling into the complexities of this story.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, giving this book a starred review and praising is as “An atmospheric, near-gothic coming-of-age novel turns on the dance between predator and prey . . . Fridlund is an assured writer . . . The novel has a tinge of fairy tale, wavering on the blur between good and evil, thought and action. But the sharp consequences for its characters make it singe and sing—a literary tour de force.”

3795960Difficult Women: From Roxane Gay, author of the sensational Bad Feminist (among other sensational and thought-provoking works), comes a collection of fictional stories about women from all walks of life, whose tales form a mosaic of works that describe the reality of America in the present day, from a pair of sisters, abducted as children and inseparable throughout life, learning to cope with the elder sister’s marriage, to a Black engineer moving to Michigan for work and trying to leave her past behind, from a college student who works as a stripper to pay her tuition to a girls’ fight club in a wealthy Florida suburb, each of these stories is a wry, funny, and deeply emotional example of Gay’s talent for prose, as well as her piercingly insightful views on race, gender, class, and identity.  These stories will definitely challenge, but they will also help you grow, and that is some of the best work that fiction can do.  Kirkus Review agrees, saying, “Unified in theme―the struggles of women claiming independence for themselves―but wide-ranging in conception and form . . . Gay is an admirable risk-taker in her exploration of women’s lives and new ways to tell their stories.”

3827020Instructions Within: Ashraf Faydah’s book of poetry was first published in Beirut in 2008, and was subsequently banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia, and Faydah himself is currently in prison in Saudi Arabia for apostasy (the renunciation of religious beliefs), and for allegedly promoting atheism through his poetry.  All of this makes the US publication of his book that much more important, but Faydah’s poetry speaks for itself, taking its inspiration from historical texts, ancient artistic traditions, and modern pop culture to make powerful observations about the world around us, its horror as well as its beauty, and what we are willing to do about what we see happening in that world.  Art has always been a fierce and relenting voice against tyranny and injustice, and Fayadh’s work proves an strong reminder of that truth.  A note–this book is bound on the right, like Arabic texts, so be prepared not only to see the world through another’s eyes, but to read through another culture’s lens, as well.

3826857The Gentleman From Japan: Fans of John Le Carre’s novels should definitely check out Inspector O, the protagonist of James Church’s intriguing series.  In this sixth installment of the series, O is assigned to investigate a Spanish company that is allegedly producing parts for a nuclear weapon, disguised within a dumpling maker.  When it is discovered that this “dumpling maker” is ultimately destined for North Korea, O enters a world of government corruption and family ties that will bring him face to face with a Chinese gangster he’s worked for years to destroy.  A hard-boiled mystery full of gritty settings, murder, secrets, and lies, Churches’ books, which benefit enormously from his years in intelligence, are always densely-plotted, twisting, and engrossing, but critics everywhere are agreeing that this may be his best Inspector O novel yet, with elaborate deceptions, dastardly foes, and international intrigue aplenty.  The Chicago Tribune agrees, cheering “The deeper you get into The Gentleman From Japan, the more educated you become about the dark complexities of international relations, and the more indebted you are to Church for creating a series that stands out as winningly as this one.”

3839737Mad Genius TipsI don’t know about you, but there has never been a holiday season where some part of the food preparation has gone chillingly, disastrously wrong.  A critical pan is missing…the proper ingredients weren’t purchased…I nearly cut the top of my finger off….ok, to be fair, Justin Chapple’s book can’t really save you from yourself, but it can offer you a whole ton of tips, tricks, and last-minute saves that will make you look like a suave culinary expert.  Each chapter deals with a different household cooking tool, like resealable baggies to knives, from plastic lids to cooling racks, and leaves it to Food & Wine‘s Mad Genius to tell you all the nifty things you can do and make with each item.  Packed with weird, wonderful tips, and a whole bunch of fascinating recipes, this is a book that will definitely make your holidays a little easier (and more fun!), but is sure to help any time of year, too!  Publisher’s Weekly is definitely a fan of Chapple, saying “Chapple, a senior editor at Food & Wine, brings his Web video series into print with a collection of 90 creative uses for everyday kitchen items, and 100 recipes in which to employ this hackery…. Some of his suggestions are handy indeed: he gets a lot of mileage out of a baking rack, for example, using it as a chopper for both boiled eggs and avocados.”

Until next week, beloved paons–happy reading!

For the Love of Poetry

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We here at the Free For All are committed to helping all our readers overcome their metrophobia, and live a life full of poetry.  We want to make poetry more than an arduous few weeks in high school where you learned how to dissect a verse into its component meters and feet and rhymes, and, instead, help us all better appreciate the sheer beauty and power of poetry without fear of getting it ‘right’.

To that end, there are several programs coming up on the Library’s Super-Terrific Calendar of Events for poetry lovers and recovering metrophobes alike that we wanted to bring to your attention:

First is the 82 Main Poetry Series, a partnership between The Peabody Institute Library and Mass Poetry that will bring a series of monthly poetry readings in the library’s historic Sutton Room.  Our first reading will take place on September 19th at 7pm, and will feature Boston’s current poet laureate, Danielle Legros Georges, who will offer a reading followed by a Q&A session.

Danielle-Legros-Georges-credit-priscilla-harmel-201x300Danielle Legros Georges was born in Haiti and raised in the United States. She received a BA from Emerson College in Boston and an MA in English and creative writing from New York University. She is the author of two poetry collections—The Dear Remote Nearness of You (Barrow Street Press, 2016) and Maroon (Curbstone Books, 2001). She has received grants and fellowships from the Barbara Deming Fund, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Black Metropolis Research Consortium. In 2014 Legros Georges was chosen as Boston’s second poet laureate. She is a professor at Lesley University and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Professor Georges’ visit will kick off a series of three further poetry readings and discussions, each of which are described in our calendar (or click here).  You can sign up for these events by calling the Library, or online, by clicking here.

3144950In October, we are thrilled to be welcoming back Professor Theo Theoharis to the Library for another of his wonderful literary discussions.  This time, his program, which begins on October 19th, at 7:30pm, is also based on poetry, specifically The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove. The book is remarkable for being the first book of it’s kind to be compiled by an African-American woman poet. Together with the classic work by American white men–Frost, Williams, etc.–, the sessions will also focus on poems by black women–Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, Audre Lord– and men–Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown–to show the range of experiences and voices that make up recent American poetry. The aim is to celebrate what Walt Whitman called ‘the various carols’ to be heard in American life.

For those of you who have had the pleasure of hearing Professor Theoharis’ talks at the Library before, you know that this is going to be a series to remember.  Those who need further convincing are welcome to call the Library for more information, but be prepared for my rhapsodical praise of these incredible programs.  You can sign up by calling the Library, or by clicking here.  Beginning Monday September 19th, books will be available at the Main Library on a first-come first-served basis. Meetings will be held on October 19th, October 26th, November 1st and November 9th at 7:30 p.m.

Poetry has, for too long, been treated like an inaccessible and/or ‘boring’ mode of expression, but the truth of the matter is that it is all around us–in the commercials we hum inadvertently to the songs in our earbuds to the films we see to the graffiti on walls to the words on our pages, and its high time we celebrated the loveliness and the humanity of this form of expression.  Come join us at the Library and learn just how fundamental, how inspiring, and how moving poetry can be–and how easy it is to love–at the Library this fall!

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The Guardian: http://bit.ly/2c8fSf2

The 82 Main Poetry Series is generously funded by the Friends of the Peabody Institute Libraries.