Tag Archives: Summer Reading

Now that summer is definitely, apparently (?) upon us, it’s time once again for the Free-For-All to share with you some of our lovely staff’s selections for summer reading!

We are a staff of diverse reading/listening/viewing habits, which makes these posts so much fun.  There is such a wide range of books and media that our staff enjoy that there is bound to be something in here to help make your summer that much more entertaining!  And so, without further ado, here is our second round of Staff Selections:

From the West Branch:

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

“An engaging story with a dual narrative of mother and daughter. I appreciated the themes of the struggles of bi-cultural life experience, the mother-daughter relationship development, the symbolism, and the historical fiction aspect. A warning regarding the historical aspects of the book – the abuse the mother shares in her narrative that takes place in the very painfully patriarchal early/mid 1900s China may be triggering for victims of abuse”

From the Upstairs Offices:

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

One of the most profound and moving works of Native American literature, a novel that is itself a ceremony of healing. Tayo, a World War II veteran of mixed ancestry, returns to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, deeply scarred by his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese and by the rejection he encounters from his people.  Only by immersing himself in the his people’s past can he begin to regain the peace that was taken from him. Masterfully written, filled with the somber majesty of Pueblo myth, Ceremony is a work of enduring power.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina so damn happy?  In a unique mix of travel, psychology, science and humor, Eric Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions…I would love to see an update of this book now that social media has become so saturated in our lives.

From the Reference Desk:

Furiously happy : a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best….Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence….This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are – the beautiful and the flawed – and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways.


Summer Staff Selections!

Now that summer is definitely, apparently (?) upon us, it’s time once again for the Free-For-All to share with you some of our lovely staff’s selections for summer reading!

We are a staff of diverse reading/listening/viewing habits, which makes these posts so much fun.  There is such a wide range of books and media that our staff enjoy that there is bound to be something in here to help make your summer that much more entertaining!  And so, without further ado, here is our first round of Staff Selections:

From the West Branch: 

Nancy Clue and the Not-So-Nice Nurse  by Mabel Maney
“A cute, tame lesbian parody of Nancy Drew and Cherry Aimes (RN). and part of a two-book series. The utter paucity of men through most of the book, the diction, the lesbian innuendos, the cluelessness of the main character Cherry, the positive portrayal of a trans woman, and the decent mystery plot make this light novel a delightful and cute read. This is the first in a series, but does just fine as a stand-alone as well.” (Note: Use the Commonwealth Catalog to access this title, or call the Library!)

From the Adult Services Department:

The Hour of Land : A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams
“For years, America’s national parks have provided public breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why close to 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now, to honor the centennial of the National Park Service, Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, what they mean to us, and what we mean to them. Through twelve carefully chosen parks, from Yellowstone in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas, Tempest Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making.”

From the Information Desk:

Swiss Army Man, starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe
Hank is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. One day everything changes when a corpse names Manny washes up onshore. The two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams…supremely weird but awesome!”

Table 19, starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Amanda Crew, Wyatt Russell
“Ex-maid of honor Eloise, having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to hold her head up high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the ‘random’ table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers.  In a way, reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, and in a way a beautifully modern romance, this is nothing like you expect, and everything you needed in a movie.”


The Year Without A Summer?

So it’s June.  June 6th, to be precise.

And I am still wearing socks.

Even worse, I am wearing a sweater.

Because it seems that this year, dear patrons, summer is holding out on us.  Today’s temperature is hovering near records lows, and it’s a bit…well…murky.

Now, that’s not to say that a brilliant, seasonal summer is not on the horizon.  I’ve already got one sunburn this year, so it’s not like we’ve never seen the sun.  It’s not like we’re in a year without a summer…

…although that did happen….

The year of 1816 is known as “The Year Without A Summer“.  This was largely due to global climactic abnormalities both caused and exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in what is today Indonesia.  The eruption remains one of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history, and the only VEI-7 event witnessed (that means it’s super-colossal big).  The ash from that explosion was trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, and spread around the globe, causing massive temperature drops (since sunlight could not penetrate the ash cover).  Since the Earth was already experiencing what is now know as the “Little Ice Age”, this means that temperatures that were already lower than average plummeted, causing continental-wide harvest failures, and what Historian John D. Post  has called the “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world”.

From the New England Historical Society

We’re talking freezing temperatures here, snow in June (actually, on June 6th, according to historic records).  In the Berkshires, there was frost in August.  There were also wild temperature swings–areas of Pennsylvania recorded temperatures in the nineties in August, only to be below freezing three days later.  The result was widespread famine in Europe, especially in Ireland, north England, and Germany.

There were also a few not-so-horrific results of this summer.  Because of the pollution in their air reflecting the light, sunsets were said to be particularly spectacular during the three years that the effects of the Tambora were felt globally.  You can see these in the paintings by artist J.M.W. Turner, as seen below:

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J.M.W. Turner via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the velocipede, which was an early version of what we now know as the bicycle.

And because there was so much rain that summer, Percy Shelley and his wife Mary were forced to stay in doors during their holidays in Lake Geneva, which they spent with Lord Byron and Dr. Polidori.  That was the trip during which Mary Shelley first told the story that would become Frankenstein.

The comparative size of the Tambora eruption

Now, I’m not saying that you or I are going to use these chilly damp days (which are nothing compared to the Year Without A Summer, if we’re all being serious here for a second*) to invent a machine that will revolutionize human transport, or create a work of art that will redefine humanity.  But you might want to come into the Library and check out one of these books that focus on The Year Without A Summer.  You never know the effects it might have!

Tambora : the eruption that changed the worldThere are a number of books that look at Tambora and its effects, but Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s book looks at the eruption itself, and the global catastrophes it caused, but also brings the story forward,  utilizing modern climate science  to talk about manmade climate change in our own time.  Another quality selection is William Klingaman’s The year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed historywhich emphasizes the social, cultural, and political changes wrought by the effects of the Tambora eruption.

The poet and the vampyre : the curse of Byron and the birth of literature’s greatest monstersThough Frankenstein is probably the most well-known work to emerge from that infamous trip to Lake Geneva, it should not be forgotten that Byron’s physician-friend, John Polidori, also wrote what we generally assume to be the first vampire tale, called “The Vampyre”.  It was mostly a send-up of Byron, which whom Polidori was very, very miffed, but still.  Without Polidori, we;d never have Dracula.  In this weirdly wonderful book, Andrew McConnell Stott looks at the love affairs, literary rivalries, and the supernatural influences that combined and collided to bring Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Polidori to Geneva, and the effects of their meeting on world literature to this very day.

To Charm a Naughty CountessJust to lighten the mood a bit…Theresa Romain’s novel is set during the summer of 1816, and features Michael, Duke of Wyverne, who is desperately trying to save his estate from financial ruin after another abysmal harvest.  The simplest course of action is to marry, but for someone as anxious and socially awkward as Michael, the prospect seems deem, until the widowed Countess of Stratton decides to take him under her wing.  This is an all around delightful romance, featuring a decidedly un-alpha hero and a heroine who defies all conventions, and comes highly recommended, regardless of its time-setting.

*And just for the record, this event is a meteorological/climatological phenomenon that has nothing to do with global warming.  Indeed, the process of global warming would begin in earnest about a decade after this summer with the escalation of the Industrial Revolution.  Just so we don’t get confused here.

Summer Reading: Staff Picks!


Summer may be winding down, dear readers, but, judging by the forecast, at any rate, there is still plenty of time to get out with, or hide away with, a good book or film…or come into the Library to find one to take with you on your end-of-August adventures.

We here at the Library are never tired of talking about books (I mean, goodness knows I’m not!), so here is another installment of some of our picks for summer, in the hopes that they inspire you to try a new literary or cinematic adventure soon!


From the Circulation Desk:

3770617Sing StreetThere are very, very few things in the world that make flying any easier, but I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch this film on a recently flight, and was utterly enthralled with it.  Set in Dublin in the 1980’s, the plot centers around 14-year-old Conor, who is trying–and generally failing–to adapt to his parents’ failing marriage, his family’s increasing financial troubles, and his new ‘inner city’ parochial school, which is a haven for bullies of both the adult and child variety.  But when he sees a girl sitting on the steps across the way from the school yard, nothing else matters.  He convinces her that he is in a band, and that she should star in their next music video–and then is faced with the daunting prospect of actually forming a band and writing a song.  Though funny and quirky in the way of some of the best independent films, this is also a really touching story.  I loved that Raphina, Conor’s lady-love, wasn’t merely a coatrack on which he hung his dreams, but her own person, with faults and dreams and drive.  I loved the relationship between Conor and his older brother–the fact that the film is dedicated “to brothers everywhere” will give you an idea of where the real heart of this picture lies.  And the music, costumes, and references were a pitch-perfect homage to the overkill and relentless energy of the 1980’s.

3237668Falling Glass:  I have such a soft spot in my heart for Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy novels, so I decided to try out one of his stand-alone novels in order to tide myself over.  This book follows Killian, a Pavee (also known as a Traveller or, more derogatorily, a ‘gypsy’), and ex-enforcer for the IRA, who is trying, very hard, to make a go at an honest living for himself–until he gets a call from Richard Coulter, a phenomenally wealthy man with a phenomenally private problem–his ex-wife Rachel has ignored their custody agreement and disappeared with Coulter’s young daughter.  All signs point to Rachel being an emotionally unstable drug-addict, but it isn’t long after taking the case that Killian begins to realize that there is far more to this search than he first assumed.  This book is fully of McKinty’s trademark understated emotion and subtle insight, along with some wonderful descriptions of those people whose lives are lived outside the normal spotlights of fiction.  There is also a scene set in Hampton Beach that is guaranteed to make local readers chuckle for any number of reasons.  PS: Killian is colleagues (friends?) with Michael Forsythe, another formidible McKinty creation, and this book ties in well with the world of those novels, though it won’t spoil much for those who haven’t got there yet.

From the Reference Desk:

3082489The Return of the Native: The Library’s Classics Book Group selected this book as one of our reads earlier this year, and became a novel that inspired a very healthy amount of discussion, debate, and opinion.  This novel, which remains among Thomas Hardy’s most well-known, is both a tribute to the people of Cornwall–as evidenced by his very heavy use of local dialects, slang–and to its traditions.  The book opens with the arrival of Diggory Venn, a reddleman (someone who sells the dye with which shepherds mark their sheep), a man whose presence sets in progress a series of tragedies, farces, and cunning deceits, which are all told in a wonderfully human way.  Though Hardy was writing during the Victorian period, you don’t get the same preachy moralizing here that you do with so many other writers of the time.  His characters are selfish and mean-spirited and downright cruel at times–but they also have the ability to grow and to change, for better and for worse.  And it’s the way in which they all interact and influence each other’s lives that makes this book so compelling–and, sometimes, so challenging.

From The Offices Upstairs:

3249554Fire of the Raging Dragon: Political thriller master Don Brown’s 2012 novel not only features “ripped from the headlines” kind of drama, but also explores family ties and issues of loyalty in this pulse-pounding adventure on the high, and very, very treacherous, seas.  In the world of Brown’s Pacific Rim series, the Chinese government is attempting to control the contested waters around the Spratly Islands, leading to an escalation in America’s involvement in a naval war in the South China Sea. But when fictional U.S. President Douglas Surber realizes his daughter is stationed aboard a submarine tender in the same area, he must choose between his professional duty, his national loyalty, and his familial devotion in a choice that will have worldwide implications.  Brown’s books read like the best kind of summer blockbuster, with plenty of high-stakes tension and epic scope that will make a summer day fly by.


Until next time, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Saturdays @ the South: GOOOAAALLL!

For those who are familiar with their Friendly South Branch Librarian, you won’t be surprised at all that this post has nothing to do with soccer, hockey, the Olympics or anything pertaining to sports. For those of you who were hoping for a sports-related post, you have my apologies, but you’ll have to look elsewhere.


Instead, I’d like to talk a bit about the amazing kids we have here at the South Branch. While I’m fairly biased, we have some truly awesome kids who participated in this year’s “Galaxy of Reading” summer reading program. We had over 20 kids read over 1,000 minutes this summer (with one particularly exceptional child reading over 6,000 minutes!) and, I’m extremely proud to say that the kids collectively reached the South Branch’s minutes goal of 100,000 minutes with a week still to spare before school starts (hence the post title).  IMG_1281

Lest you think this Librarian is a slave driver, this goal was based on last year’s summer reading numbers which came so close to 100,000 minutes, that I couldn’t help but see if, with a little encouragement, the kids could cap that mark on their own. Mission accomplished! And I am so proud of these kids that I felt a simple Facebook post just wasn’t enough to celebrate their achievement.

Kids' couldn't get enough of "Tidepools Alive" when the New England Aquarium came to visit the South Branch.
Kids’ couldn’t get enough of “Tidepools Alive” when the New England Aquarium came to visit the South Branch.

For those of you who are thinking back when summer reading wasn’t a Big Thing (it wasn’t when I was a kid), allow me to fill you in on how things have changed. All of the Peabody Library’s locations put together exciting (free!) programs designed to engage and inspire kids to take advantage of their library privileges beyond school work and assigned reading. Plus, the Topsfield Fair is incredibly generous in offering free prize packs (including an admission ticket to kids who don’t already get in for free) and Chipotle offers free kids meal coupons to kids who reach the library’s set goal. This year, to be consistent with the schools, we requested that each child read 500 minutes over the summer.

Our "Read to Lydia" program was very popular among dog lovers.
Our “Read to Lydia” program was very popular among dog lovers.

These summer reading programs and incentives aren’t just a way to help kids from falling into the “summer slide” but are ways to enrich a child’s experience with the library, showing them how reading can be fun and not just something that’s assigned, that the library is a place to come to enjoy themselves, beat the heat and connect with their friends and community. There are a LOT more benefits to the library than just checking in and out books, and I hope that we’re instilling this into the young’ns so that they can grow to continue to take advantage of all of the amazing programs, project and information the library has to offer throughout their lives. Summer reading doesn’t just get kids reading. Hopefully, if it’s done right, it creates lifelong library users, and that’s always something to celebrate.

Summer Reading: Thinking Outside the Covers

I think we’ve made the analogy here at some point before, but books are a lot like food.  Some formats, genres, styles, etc., are like candy, that you can just keep consuming with nary a thought.  Some are like really expensive, decadent cakes that you bring out for special occasions, and some are like bananas, that, frankly, make you gag just thinking about them (I’m using a personal example here.  If bananas are your thing, then more power to you.  You can have All My Bananas, too).


Furthermore, the way that we ingest stories is as varied and as particular as the way we ingest food.  Some people gobble, some people nibble…you get the idea.  The point I am trying to make here (other than the fact that I wish it were lunchtime) is that there is no right way or wrong way to get your daily dose of reading.

downloadIn the case of younger readers (and anyone who has Summer Reading to accomplish).  Time was when ‘Summer Reading’ was akin to force-feeding, especially for those students who weren’t visual learners, or who read more slowly, or in a way that wasn’t strictly standard.  And that experience turned a lot of people off of reading for a very long time, which is truly heartbreaking.  Thankfully, now, summer reading lists tend to be much more flexible in terms of students’ choices, as well as much more inclusive of popular titles and more modern themes (incidentally, if you want to see some of these lists, for you or a student near you, you can see them here).  And, even better, is that, as we learn more and more about the wonders of the human brain, we are beginning to appreciate more that not everyone absorbs books in the same way.

AudiobooksFor example, despite the fact that we live in a world that is increasingly based on visual learning in the form of computers, tablets, and screens, there are still any number of people who are auditory learners, meaning that they remember better after hearing directions or a story or a lecture than they do after reading or watching one.  Often, auditory learners have a tough time with summer reading because it is supposed to be an individual, and highly visual exercise that often feels at once very challenging and very boring.  For these readers, audiobooks have been a saving grace.  Not only to they present books in a way that auditory learners can absorb much better, they offer any number of benefits for all.  For example, audiobooks can help readers access stories about their reading level, or in an unfamiliar vernacular–for example, books like Wuthering Heights or Return of the Native that are denser, and tend to feature very rural language and slang that isn’t always easy to comprehend if not spoken out loud.  Additionally, I often find that audiobooks allow me to see the humor or subtext in stories that aren’t always readily obvious from the text.

Fortunately, the Library not only has plenty of audiobooks on our shelves, we also have access to digital audiobooks via Overdrive (which you can download) and Hoopla (which allows you to stream content).  You can chose to read along with the audiobooks, or listen exclusively.  Additionally, a number of e-books offer audio narration along with the text (which Amazon has named WhisperSync) so that you can listen and read at the same time.

graphic-novels-melbourne-482x298For Peabody middle school readers, praise the Heavens, the only requirement for the summer is to read a book.  Any book, whatever book makes you happy.  And this opens up a whole world of potential for readers.  For those who aren’t huge fans of traditional books, the Library has a sizable collection of Graphic Novels.  These books are just as valid, just as emotionally and intellectually engaging as straightforward novels, and feature a range of plots, genres, and reading levels.  It’s also worth noting that, as graphic novels become an increasingly popular genre, we are seeing the rise of picture books for adults, that feature beautiful, vivid, and imaginative illustrations for those of us who might not be graphic novel readers.  These books are a great way to start a conversation about visuals in books, and to help readers of different mediums find some common ground.

Finally, reading never has to be a solitary pursuit.  Check out our great Teen and Children Events calendars to see some of the great programs we have lined up to help you meet your reading goals, whatever those might be.


Summer Reading: Staff Picks!

Summer-Reading-Guide-HEROWe are in the Dog Days of Summer, my friends….but do we know what that actually means?

According to The Farmer’s Almanac, which is one of the most remarkably founts of helpful, random, and utterly bizarre trivia, the “dog days of summer” are not just those days when we’re all too hot and weary and sluggish to get going–nor is it that it is so hot that dogs go crazy, which was a rumor I had never heard until now.  The phrase actually describes the period of time when the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth.  Sirius, which is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, is also known as the Dog Star.  As The Farmer’s Almanac explains:

In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the Sun. On July 23rd, specifically, it is in conjunction with the Sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it actually gave off heat and added to the Sun’s warmth, accounting for the long stretch of sultry weather. They referred to this time as diēs caniculārēs, or “dog days.”

Thus, the term “Dog Days of Summer” came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the Sun — July 3 to Aug. 11.

Those same ancient Romans believed that it was the combination of Sirius and the Sun which made this particular period of time so scorchingly hot–the truth is that the Earth is tilted in such a way that the Northern Hemisphere receives more direct rays from the Sun.

Regardless, however, it’s hot.  And do you know some excellent ways to deal with said heat?  First of all, drink lots and lots of water, and wear sunscreen.  Second, come on into the Library, absorb some of our fantastic and aggressive AC, and pick out some new books!  Seriously, it’s like a Book Refrigerator in here….
And here, to get you started, here are some selections from our staff!


From Upstairs at the Main:

3094460The Dark Fields: Alan Glynn’s 2011 debut is a heady combination of techno-thriller, science fiction adventure, and cautionary tale about a wonder drug that makes the human brain function at perfect capacity.  One dose allows a person to access not only all the information they have ever learned, but the tools to put that information to use, making the user not only intelligent and cunning, but attractive and charming.  Eddie Spinola is just such a user, and the drug is known as MDT-48.  But the more addicted Eddie gets (and his stash continues to dwindle), the more he is hampered by side effects; blackouts, violent episodes, and crippling outbreaks.  If he has any hope of surviving, he’s going to have to find more MDT-48…but the journey into the drug’s dark past will turn up far more revelations than Eddie is prepared to find.  If this plot sounds familiar, it was made into the blockbuster film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper, as well as a TV show.

3640210Mine Till Midnight: We’re on something of a Lisa Kleypas kick this week–and with good reason.  As one of the living legends of the historical romance, Kleypas’ books remain some of the most well-known and best loved books in the genre.  In this book, the first in her stellar Hathaways series, Amelia Hathaway has risked a visit to a notorious gentleman’s gaming club in order to entreat the club’s owner, Cam Rohan, to help locate her wastrel brother, Leo.  Cam, who is Romani, has no time or patience for English society, or for the milksops who frequent his gaming hell–but one look at Amelia, and Cam knows that he has found his match.  The connection between these two protagonists is electric, and their chemistry is utterly delicious.  But what makes this book such a success is that the emotional bond that forms between Cam and Amelia is stronger than anything else, and their love is real and tangible throughout this story.  Better yet, if you enjoy this book, then be sure to check out all the tales of the Hathaways (particularly Leo’s book, Married by Morning!)

From the Circulation Desk:

3650393In A Dark, Dark, Wood: Ruth Ware’s debut novel has been getting plenty of attention–and with good reason.  This tale is taut, creepy, and weirdly haunting, even for those who figure out what is going on before the protagonist.  When reclusive crime-writer Leonora (known by some as Lee and by others as Nora) is invited to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend bachelorette party, her initial reaction is to refuse–not only because she hardly knows anyone on the guest list, but also because the bachelorette in question is a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to since she was a teenager.  Forty-eight hours later, Leonora is in the hospital, alone.  She knows something horrible has happened, but she can’t remember all the details–or what her own involvement in the horror might be.  Though the final revelations of this book might not be difficult for some to discern, what I found particularly wonderful about this book was the tone that Ware sets.  I stayed up until 3am to finish this book, because I couldn’t bear not to know what was going on.  When I finally did finish, I was so hyped up that an unexpected noise coming from the air conditioner had me leaping out of bed and running into the wall.  I wish I was kidding.

Check back soon for more summer reading picks from your friendly Library staff!