Tag Archives: Staff Favorites

The Best of 2018 from the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library!

We are enormously lucky to be part of NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange).  As many of you know, the NOBLE network allows you, our beloved patrons, to borrow books from the other libraries around us–including academic libraries at North Shore Community College and Salem State University–and utilize the programs and resources at our fellow NOBLE libraries.  It’s a fantastic system that we all value enormously.

So this year, we thought it might be fun to invite the other NOBLE libraries and staff members to join us in our end-of-the-year celebrations! This week, we bring you the Lucius Beebe Library of Wakefield’s list of the Best Books of 2018!

vIA http://www.wakefieldlibrary.org/about/about-the-library/#Building-Photos

The town of Wakefield was known as South Reading until 1868. During the early part of the 19th century, there was a library in South Reading known as the Social Library.  That Library was a subscription library (meaning that people had to pay to take out materials), and held mostly divinity books.  It turns out that, even in the 19th century, divinity books were not the most scintillating of reads, and the Social Library closed due to lack of support.   However, you can’t keep a good library down, and the town’s first public library was established in 1856, with a $300 budget to buy books.  Within three years, that initial $300 investment had grown into a library with some 1,678 volumes.  Lucius Beebe was the first chairman of the Board of Library Trustees.

In 1868, when Wakefield became…well, Wakefield, the Library  Cyrus Wakefield, after whom the town was named, donated a house to be used by the city, with one half dedicated as the new library space.  Lucius Beebe (pictured below, left, via the Beebe Library website) donated $500 to the purchase of new books and, as a result, the town renamed the library as the “Beebe Public Library.”

With such phenomenal support, the Beebe Library soon needed to expand, and in 1916, the townspeople purchased a lot at the corner of Main and Avon Streets for $16,000.  Junius Beebe, son of Lucius Beebe, donated $60,000 toward the construction of a new library building, to be built in memory of his parents, Lucius and Sylenda (to put that into perspective, the annual yearly income in the area at this time was right around $800).  The US entrance into the First World War delayed the construction of the building, but in 1922, the cornerstone for the new library was laid, and the building was dedicated on April 15, 1923.  The architect for the 1922 building was Ralph Adams Cram, who also designed Princeton University.  The Beebe library has continued to grow, and was expanded most recently in 1995.

The Circulation Desk, via http://www.wakefieldlibrary.org/about/about-the-library/#Building-Photos

Today, the Library is a vital part of the Wakefield community, with a number of programs and reading groups–including a reading group that will be meeting at local restaurants!  It was also was the first library in Massachusetts to sponsor a townwide reading program, “Wakefield Reads”.   Check out the Lucius Beebe Library’s website to see all the phenomenal resources they offer, from job hunting to homebound delivery to college resources.  They are also a wonderfully welcoming, friendly Library community.  I can tell you from experience, as a reader who has lingered for way longer than anticipated in the chairs in their beautiful New Fiction section!   So feel free to stop by, enjoy their beautiful space, and check out all this sensational library has to offer!

We are also pleased to highlight the Lucius Beebe Library Staff’s Favorites of 2018!   Don’t forget to check out the super page on their website for the full list!


Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg: Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation. Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story–his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox. Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious–and most wanted–thieves in history. An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, this utterly engrossing and emotional novel blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.


Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan: Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.   Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.   Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, this is an audiobook that pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation to create a wholly original novel that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.


The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm: An American woman wakes up alone in a tent in the Norwegian mountains. Outside a storm rages and the fog is dense. Her phone is dead. She has no map, no compass, and no food. How she ended up there, and the tragic details of her life, emerge over the course of this novel. We discover that Jane is a novelist with a bad case of writer’s block―she had come to Norway to seek out distant relatives and family history, but when her trip went awry, she tethered herself to a zoologist she met by chance on the plane, joining him on a trek to see the musk oxen of the Dovrefjell mountain range.  At once elegant and gripping, this storyline moves seamlessly between Jane’s life in America and the extraordinary landscape of the Norwegian mountains. As we gradually unpack the emotional debris of her past―troubled Midwestern parents, a loving courtship in New York, and a cruel, sudden tragedy that rearranged everything―we begin to understand what led her to this lonely landscape.


The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell: When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But pregnant and widowed just weeks after their wedding, with her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her late husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.  This British ghost story was the talk of the town before it crossed the pond, and is now giving American readers the shivers–as well as a deeply well-thought-out and beautifully told tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.


Wine Bites: Simple Morsels That Pair Perfectly with Wine by Barbara Scott-Goodman: This delightful and inspiring cookbook for those who entertain casually and frequently. More than 60 recipes for simple, tasty snacks include suggestions for an accessible wine to pair with each, while vivid color photographs demonstrate how easy these delectable dishes are to prepare. Step-by-step instructions for putting together a first-class cheese plate, creating a generous antipasti platter, or transforming pantry staples into hors d’oeuvres make this an indispensable resource for great party-givings.  We always encourage patrons to try out new recipes, and feel free to let us help you taste test!

Celebrating the Best of 2018 (Part 3)!

It’s been a good year to be a reader, beloved patrons.  And a good year for music and movies, and all the other beautiful things that libraries provide!  And here, we are celebrating the year in books, music, and movies with as many people as possible!  In addition to having a Peabody Library Staff “Best of 2018” List, we will also be featuring some selections from our friends at other NOBLE libraries, as well!

And we’re eager for your input, too!  The NOBLE  Collection Management Working Group is assembling nominations for a “NOBLE Book Awards”, and NOBLE staff have been asked for their input.  So please let us know what books you’ve loved this year, and we’ll be sure to pass them on to the NOBLE Book Awards committee, but also to feature them here on the blog so that other readers can benefit from your recommendations!  Nominations will be accepted until December 16, so get yours to us today!  You can tell us in person, or via email (click the word “email” for our address).

And so, without further ado, let’s get to our first round of “Best of 2018” selections, courtesy of our marvelous staff!   In our request for nominations, we stipulated that books, movies, or albums could be from any year, but they had to have been enjoyed in 2018.  So you’ll see plenty of oldies-but-goodies on this list to savor, along with some new titles!


From the Teen Room: 

 I’ll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara: For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.  Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was. This book, edited with fascinating afterwards and appendices after McNamara’s death, offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

From our Staff: The author passed away before she could finish the book, but her family and friends lovingly compiled, completed and published the book this February. On a related, exciting note, the Golden State Killer was identified and arrested in April this year. Myself and other fans of her work only wish that Ms. McNamara had lived to see this man brought to justice. But her book was stellar and I’d recommend it to any true crime fans!


From the Children’s Room:

Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby: Smart, edgy, hilarious, and unflinchingly honest, Samantha Irby explodes onto the printed page in her uproarious first collection of essays.   In these works, Irby laughs her way through tragicomic mishaps, neuroses, and taboos as she struggles through adulthood: chin hairs, depression, bad sex, failed relationships, masturbation, taco feasts, inflammatory bowel disease and more. Updated with her favorite Instagramable, couch-friendly recipes, this much-beloved romp is treat for anyone in dire need of Irby’s infamous, scathing wit and poignant candor.

From our staff: Re-released this year after the popularity of her last essay collection, this is every bit as funny, irreverent and brutally honest as her other work. Irby is blunt but her bluntness often translates into hilarity as she’s doesn’t shy away from the messier parts of life.


From the Public Service Desk:

The Shining by Stephen King: An oldie, but a goodie, this is one of King’s novels that just seems to get better with time.  Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.  It seems that Danny is the only person able to see what the hotel is doing to Jack–and perhaps the only person who can stop it.

From our staff: I had read this book years ago, but it was only this time around that I really appreciate how King used Jack Torrance’s story to address the agony of addiction, the lure, allure, and threat of toxic masculinity, and the long-lasting legacy of abuse.  This is a haunted house novel, obviously, but it’s also a book about the damage we as humans do to each other, and the effects that has, making this a powerful and heart-wrenching human study, as well.

 

Until next week, beloved patrons!

Celebrating the Best of 2018 (Part 2)!

It’s been a good year to be a reader, beloved patrons.  And a good year for music and movies, and all the other beautiful things that libraries provide!  And here, we are celebrating the year in books, music, and movies with as many people as possible!  In addition to having a Peabody Library Staff “Best of 2018” List, we will also be featuring some selections from our friends at other NOBLE libraries, as well!

And we’re eager for your input, too!  The NOBLE  Collection Management Working Group is assembling nominations for a “NOBLE Book Awards”, and NOBLE staff have been asked for their input.  So please let us know what books you’ve loved this year, and we’ll be sure to pass them on to the NOBLE Book Awards committee, but also to feature them here on the blog so that other readers can benefit from your recommendations!  Nominations will be accepted until December 16, so get yours to us today!  You can tell us in person, or via email (click the word “email” for our address).

And so, without further ado, let’s get to our first round of “Best of 2018” selections, courtesy of our marvelous staff!   In our request for nominations, we stipulated that books, movies, or albums could be from any year, but they had to have been enjoyed in 2018.  So you’ll see plenty of oldies-but-goodies on this list to savor, along with some new titles!


From the Teen Room: 

Light Filters In by Caroline KaufmanCaroline Kaufman is also known on Instagram as @poeticpoison, where her startling, stunning poetry gained a large fan following, as well as attention from mainstream publishers.  In this collection of her work, Kaufman does what she does best: reflects our own experiences back at us and makes us feel less alone, one exquisite and insightful piece at a time. She writes about giving up too much of yourself to someone else, not fitting in, endlessly Googling “how to be happy,” and ultimately figuring out who you are.  Insightful, honest, funny, and deeply moving, these are poems for verseaholics and newcomers alike!


From the Children’s Room

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab: Schwab is a gifted fantasy author with a boundless imagination, and while this new series may be marketed towards younger readers, it’s one for her fans of all ages.  Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead . . . and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.  So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger.  When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift,” she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself.
From our Staff: Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world and the charm of the city and the people is so clearly evident here. The fact that Schwab is a brilliant writer doesn’t hurt either. Aside from the wonderful sense of place present in the book, it’s a fun, creepy ghost story that isn’t too intense, but still manages to give the chills. This is a kids’ book easily enjoyed by adults as well.


From the Public Service Desk: 

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland: If you, like us, love the act and the art of storytelling, then this is the book for you.  While Rowland’s world-building is superb, the real power of this story lies in its analysis of creation and narrative, making it a deep, funny, bewitching journey.  Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant, a storyteller, finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.  Or, at least, that’s how he would tell the story. In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his hapless apprentice to help him.

 

Until next week, dear readers–enjoy!

The Beverly Library’s Best of 2018!

We are enormously lucky to be part of NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange).  As many of you know, the NOBLE network allows you, our beloved patrons, to borrow books from the other libraries around us–including academic libraries at North Shore Community College and Salem State University–and utilize the programs and resources at our fellow NOBLE libraries.  It’s a fantastic system that we all value enormously.

So this year, we thought it might be fun to invite the other NOBLE libraries and staff members to join us in our end-of-the-year celebrations!  This week, we bring you Beverly Library’s list of the Best Books of 2017.

The Beverly Library, via noblenet.org

The Beverly Library (located at 32 Essex Street in Beverly) was established in 1855, three years after the Massachusetts Legislature became the first in the nation to authorize cities and towns to expend tax funds to support free public libraries.  The institution was originally known as the Social Library, a private subscription library which traced its founding to a collection of books seized by Beverly privateers from a British merchantman during the Revolutionary War (I think that might be one of the coolest starts a library has ever had).  Elizabeth P. Sohier, a trustee of the Beverly Public Library, led the fight to establish the first state library agency in the country, and served as the State Library Commission’s first secretary.  The Essex Street site was opened in 1913, and was  designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who was also the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York City and the United States Supreme Court.  The building was subsequently enlarged in 1993.

In addition to its stunning Essex Street location, the Beverly Library also has a branch in Beverly Farms (located at 24 Vine Street, Beverly) and a Bookmobile!  On average, the Beverly Library loans over 280,000 items annually to almost 27,000 regular borrowers. The Main Library collection consists of over 125,000 books and the Beverly Farms Branch of 22,000 books.  They also have regular programs, displays, and book clubs–you can learn more about them by checking out their Events Calendar.

So why not drop by one of these days and take part in Beverly’s sensational events and their terrific selection of books and media!  If you’re looking for a place to begin, here’s a few selections from Beverly’s super-terrific Best of 2018 List (you can click on the title or this link to see the full list)!


The Poet X:  Elizabeth Acevedo award-winning novel-in-verse is on a lot of people’s Best Of lists this year, in good company with our friends in Beverly.  Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. In order to protect herself and her growing body and stretching mind, she uses her fists and her fierceness to face down the world.  But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.  Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Where the Crawdads SingDelia Owens’ work is another brilliant book about a fascinating woman who has gone overlooked and misunderstood by the world around her.  For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.  An exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World: Oh, and speaking of remarkable women! French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu has provided us with a series of gorgeously-illustrated biographies of women who changed their world, and who can inspire us to change the world around us.  From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison, and from pioneering gynecologist Agnodice (who practiced in Athens around 350 BCE) to Christine Jorgensen, one of the first people from the United States to receive gender reassignment surgery, from Liberian social worker Leymah Gbowee to Syrian activist Naziq al-Abid, this book represents women from a broad range of experiences, nationalities, ages, and experiences, along with fascinating details of their unforgettable lives.

 

Thanks for sharing your super list, Beverly!  Happy New Year to each of your delightful staff members!

Celebrating the Best of 2018

It’s been a good year to be a reader, beloved patrons.  And a good year for music and movies, and all the other beautiful things that libraries provide!  And here, we are celebrating the year in books, music, and movies with as many people as possible!  In addition to having a Peabody Library Staff “Best of 2018” List, we will also be featuring some selections from our friends at other NOBLE libraries, as well!

And we’re eager for your input, too!  The NOBLE  Collection Management Working Group is assembling nominations for a “NOBLE Book Awards”, and NOBLE staff have been asked for their input.  So please let us know what books you’ve loved this year, and we’ll be sure to pass them on to the NOBLE Book Awards committee, but also to feature them here on the blog so that other readers can benefit from your recommendations!  Nominations will be accepted until December 16, so get yours to us today!  You can tell us in person, or via email (click the word “email” for our address).

And so, without further ado, let’s get to our first round of “Best of 2018” selections, courtesy of our marvelous staff!   In our request for nominations, we stipulated that books, movies, or albums could be from any year, but they had to have been enjoyed in 2018.  So you’ll see plenty of oldies-but-goodies on this list to savor, along with some new titles!


From the South Branch:

The Address by Fiona Davis: Readers looking for a book with a pitch-perfect sense of place will love this selection, which is set in The Dakota–perhaps one of the most recognizable and storied building in New York City.  After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.  In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  A building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.


From the Teen Room: 

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee is the second installment in the Montague Siblings Series picks up a year after the adventure from Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,starring our favorite moody sister Felicity! Felicity wants nothing but to be a doctor, but when the subject of her gender is brought into question she embarks on a journey through the German countryside to find Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician, to take her on as a research assistant.  This is another adventure story full of action, intrigue, and some truly fearless characters determined to live the life they want.  Any fans of Lee’s first book will find this book a sheer delight!


From the Public Service Desk:

The Hunger by Alma Katsu: An unsettling and deeply psychologically insightful fictionalization of the Donner Part’s disastrous journey west, this is a book for horror a history fans alike!   Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy…or the feelings that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it’s a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.   As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

 

Stay tuned for more recommendations soon!

Stories That Save You (Part 2)

As we’ve mentioned here before, beloved patrons, we all have stories that save us.  Those books that come into our lives precisely when we need them or stay around for years and years like an old friend.  Today, I wanted to talk with you about another one of those books in my life.  It’s a book I turn to every year around this time, for reasons that might very well become clear as we chat…

It’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

King’s second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot was first published in 1975.  According to his introduction to the 2014 audiobook recording, King was teaching Dracula to a high school class, and was inspired to consider what might happen if the titular count were to return again.  Though he might not survive in, say New York City, King’s wife Tabitha mused what might happen if he appeared in a more rural setting.  Like Maine.  And that was that.  The book was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1976, and the Locus Award for the All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987, and King has stated several times that it is among his favorite of his works.  In 1987 he told Phil Konstantin in The Highway Patrolman magazine: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!”

Very broadly speaking, the novel follows a 32-year-old writer named Benjamin Mears, who returns to Jerusalem’s Lot township in southern Maine (where he lived for four years as a child), following the death of his wife, Miranda.  Ben is intending to write a novel inspired by, and based on, an old, decaying, creepy house in ‘Salem’s Lot known to locals as The Marsten House.  It is a house in which Ben had a traumatically frightening experience as a child that he hopes to heal fully through his writing.  Ben is not, however, the only newcomer to ‘Salem’s Lot.  Another person has rented The Marsten House. And their intentions are far from neighborly, to say the least.

I first encountered ‘Salem’s Lot while I was living in the UK and working on my Master’s Degree.  I had written a seminar paper on Dracula  (another book that I love just a bit too much), and was devouring all the subsequent vampire novels I could get my hands on.  My dad, who I think I’ve mentioned before, is an enormous Stephen King fan (I thought he was a family friend because we had so many of his books around his house), and reminded me that King himself had written a book inspired by Dracula, so I made it my present to myself.  The day I handed in my Masters’ Thesis (September 10, if I remember correctly), I bought a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot.

I loved it from the moment I started reading. Being far away from home, I adored the sections that talk about fall in New England, about the feeling of the cold seeping into the air, into your bones, into your consciousness.  I loved being reminded of the way telephone lines used to buzz gently in the days before digital.  I loved the discussions of darkness, and about what darkness did to the people who lived with it.

I also really liked that King used his study of a small town to talk about the ways in which secrets moved and circulated, and about the impact of evil.  Not just the big evils (although Big Evils abound in this book), but the petty kinds of evil: laziness, greed, selfishness, chauvinism.  If this book reinforces a real-world message, it is that those kind of small evils permit more small evils, and those build and build into something truly fearful.  Larry Crockett, for example, is a shady, lazy, sexist real estate agent who rents out the Marsten House (see an imagined image on the left), even though he knows in his gut that the man renting it is seriously bad news.  But he is also earning a very fat commission on the transaction, so he looks the other way–and allows the vampires to enter ‘Salem’s Lot.  We learn, eventually, about how the town turned away from the things that scared or disturbed them about the Marsten House…and how that permitted the evil inside it to fester.  I appreciated the ways that King discussed the grief and pain that these evils caused, from the loss of a child to the anguish of marital rape (and I also give him a world a credit for calling it ‘marital rape’ in 1975).

Oh, right, and I also loved the vampires.  That should go without saying.  But if you can’t tell, while this book scared me, I loved it too much to be scared of it.  Instead, I read it every year as fall begins.  And every year, I find something else to love.  Right after reading it the first time, I traveled to Belfast for a research trip.  Belfast wasn’t the best of areas to be around that time, as the trauma of the Troubles was still very real.  While I was there, I listened to the audiobook of ‘Salem’s Lot, and appreciated anew how well King plays on our very human fears of being alone and isolated.  It was a sensational that was as real in Belfast at the turn of the century as it was in the ghost town of Momson, Vermont, which “dried up and blew away” in 1923 (according to the novel).

You can read more about Vermont Ghost Towns here: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/vermont/ghost-town-vt/

Years later, I was working in Copley Square, and had to go to work two days after the Boston Marathon Bombing.  As I, and my fellow workers, emerged from the Green Line to a mob of reporters, camera operators, and police, a found myself recalling a scene where Susan Norton goes to pay a call on the Marsten House–and realizes what real fear is.  Not the jump-scare fear of movies, but the deep-down, paralyzing fear that can warp a person into something very ugly.   But Susan, like others in the book, reject that fear, and confront the darkness in the world with determination and hope.  “The act of moving forward at all became heroism,” King wrote.  That line remains one of my favorite in the book.

These past few years in reading ‘Salem’s Lot, I am struck by the discussion of faith in the book.  Not necessarily religious faith–though that it discussed in the book–but something perhaps more fundamental.  A trust in an inherent structure and a goodness in the world that goes beyond hierarchies and symbols.  Several times in the course of the story, at times of greatest emotional peril, characters in the book refer to their love for each other, and it is that love that saves them.  I find myself reaching for that kind of faith in my readings this time around, and it makes the world outside the book just a little less scary.

…What are the books that save you, dear readers?  Feel free to share them with us here, or come in and find some new ones today!

Peabody Library Summer Staff Selections! (Part 8)

Every year, we at the Free For All ask the Peabody Library staff about the books, films, and music recordings that they would like to recommend to you for your summer reading/viewing/listening pleasure, and every year, we are delighted with the variety, the diversity, and the genuinely excellent recommendations that we receive.  We will be offering suggestions over the course of the summer, beloved patrons, in the hopes of helping you find a new favorite story to savor over the coming summer months.  Feel free to share your favorites with us, as well!  As our public services desk model has changed, you’ll note the headings on our recommendations has changed, as well.  Please feel free to speak with any Library staff member about finding a book to brighten your summer.

From the Public Service Desk:

The Cabinet of Curiosities: If you’re looking for a series with legs, then look no further than this series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, featuring the utterly unique FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  In this series installment, a construction project in Manhattan unearths a mass grave beneath a crumbling building.  As the quest to discover more about these bodies heats up, Pendergast steps in, ready to bend whatever rules necessary in order to get access to the site.  Before anyone can learn why, murders begin to take place across New York that mirror those of the bodies in the cellar–exactly.  Signs begin to point to a 19th-century scientist who was determined to find the elixir of life by any means necessary.  Did he succeed?  What is his final goal?  And what does all this have to do with Pendergast?  Although this is the third book in this series, this is the first book that truly focused on Pendergast himself, and is therefore accepted as the real launch to this series, which is still going strong.
From our staff: I read this series every summer (which is getting to be quite a feat!).  I love the first two books in this series, but for chilling revelations and intriguing characters, you cannot miss this book (and you can definitely enjoy it even if you’ve never read anything else by Preston and Child).  I hope someone reads this so I have someone to talk to about it soon!

Signs for Lost Children: Sarah Moss’ fascinatingly unique historical fiction deals with real-life cultural and social ills of its time, but also shows the hope that two intrepid people can create, even in the darkest and most unlikely places.  Ally Moberly, a recently qualified doctor, never expected to marry until she met Tom Cavendish. Only weeks into their marriage, Tom sets out for Japan, leaving Ally as she begins work at the Truro Asylum in Cornwall. Horrified by the brutal attitudes of male doctors and nurses toward their female patients, Ally plunges into the institutional politics of women’s mental health at a time when madness is only just being imagined as treatable. She has to contend with a longstanding tradition of permanently institutionalizing women who are deemed difficult, all the while fighting to to be taken seriously as a rare woman in a profession dominated by men. Tom, an architect, has been employed to oversee the building of Japanese lighthouses. He also has a commission from a wealthy collector to bring back embroideries and woodwork. As he travels Japan in search of these enchanting objects, he begins to question the value of the life he left in England. As Ally becomes increasingly absorbed in the moral importance of her work, and Tom pursues his intellectual interests on the other side of the world, they will return to each other as different people.

 

From the Upstairs Offices:

A Man Called Ove: There is little doubt that Fredrik Backman’s beloved novel is at the top of a lot of people’s “top picks” list, so we’d be very remiss if we left it off of ours!  Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time.  Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.  A Swedish blogger-turned-author, Fredrik Backman’s beautifully human, humane, and heart-warming tale is a perfect choice for anyone looking for an honest-to-goodness smile in their summer.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Another modern-day classic, Rebecca Skloot’s revelation about the truth behind some of the most profound tools in modern science’s arsenal has been hailed as a landmark achievement, and a critically important work for understanding the history of race, gender, and privilege in American society.  Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer, from whom doctor’s took a sample of cancerous tissue without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then.  These cells ultimately provided one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive–even thrive–in the lab. These cells gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio, as well as cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.  This book took over a decade for Skloot to research and write, and her hard work pays off in spades.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s a vitally important one.

 

Happy Summer Reading, Beloved Patrons!