For the Love of Reading

The Perfect Family Until--

When this compelling novel starts, Mary Beth Lathem’s biggest problem is taking sass from her truculent teenaged daughter, Ruby. The narrative starts at the beginning of Mary Beth’s busy day as she goes through the house waking up her three children, the eldest daughter and two twins, Alex and Max. Mary Beth owns a landscape business but soon you can tell that her family is the center of her life and passions. 

Alex is a soccer jock, immensely talented and popular while Max, his fraternal twin, is a computer nerd with social anxiety problems.  Glen, Mary Beth’s husband, is an extremely practical and thoroughly unromantic eye doctor--solid as hardwood--though Mary Beth is not necessarily aware of that.

Pick up a Book of Poetry

If you’re new to poetry and find it difficult, you may want to try the work of Gerald Stern. At eighty-eight, he’s one of the grand masters of poetry still composing poems. He’s won lots of awards but writes in understandable language about everyday things: travel, frogs, New York, cafeteria (spelled with a k as are all of the c words in this poem), his childhood, flowers, and love.  What I like about his latest collection In Beauty Bright and all of his work is that he celebrates living in an almost ecstatic way--most of his poems could be songs. Check out these lines: “Like fools we waited to hear the tomatoes;  we knew / what greenness means to the vine.” or “Take a dog to the vet’s, he knows what you’re doing, / a cat becomes a muscle, she leaps from your arms.”

You can tell from his work that he’s the kind of quirky writer that does weird things on occasion to discover his latest poem; for instance, “Day of Grief” begins: “I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window / where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies…” Another insect poem starts this way, “I lost my rage while helping a beetle recover / and stood there with precision, balancing / grass with stone.”

And see how immediate and tactile this poem simply titled “Love” is, “I loved your sweet neck but I loved your shoulder blades more / and wondered whether I should kiss your cheek first / or your hair.”

Voodoo, Blues, and Wandering after the Great Flood

This first novel by an Asian-American has already created a lot of buzz.  First, it has an intriguing topic: Mississippi after the great flood of 1927. Secondly: the main characters are compelling--they are very poor African-Americans under the yoke of the white inhabitants. Finally, it shows exquisite writing.  William Ferris said, “Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.”

Southern Cross the Dog starts with a group of black children playing “Little Sally Water” in the rain—the rain that caused the great flood. Soon the story focuses on the character of Robert, the second born child of Etta and Ellis. Before long, you discover that his family has just suffered an immense tragedy. White vigilantes had hung the oldest son Billy for loving a white girl.

Bill Cheng captures the chaos and hardship after the flood. Dead bodies floated past.  Men with boats offered rides but also stole the food and valuable keepsakes of the displaced families. Robert’s family began this journey together, but ended up in a refugee camp. Because Etta has lost her mind over Billy’s death, she needs constant care. Ellis makes a difficult decision: to send young Robert off with someone to work in another town. Ellis thinks this is the only way all three of them will survive but he mistakenly does not tell his son why he is sending him away.

Rosie Nominations and Historical YA Fiction

Between Shades of GrayQuick! Name one thing you know about the Crimean War! Nothing? Florence Nightingale maybe?

Brief history lesson: The Crimean War was fought between Russia and an alliance of France and England over the declining Ottoman Empire in what is now part of the Ukraine.  This war pre-dates World War I, and is often considered as the first modern war. It is also famous for Florence Nightingale who drastically improved nursing practices while caring for wounded British soldiers.

Sounds exciting, right?  Ok, maybe not the most promising backdrop for a YA book, but In the Shadow of the Lamp has enough to keep you turning pages. Molly has been framed for theft and fired from her job as a parlor maid at a fancy London home. She decides to sneak her way onto a ship headed east when she hears that Miss Nightingale is looking for nurses. Even though she doesn’t have any training, Molly is headstrong and is willing to work hard. She is found out by Miss Nightingale, but her hard work and natural inclinations at nursing and caring for people proves her worthy. In fact, Molly's abilities are even a bit magical. The magical elements aren't played up too much and Molly is a likeable character as she struggles with defining her future, both professionally and personally. Whether during the Crimean War or now, trying to figure your way in the world is a timeless endeavor.

Books Plus June

WildJoin us on Sunday at Books Plus to discuss Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed at 2:00 p.m.

This memoir/adventure book recalls Cheryl's odyssey on the longest and most difficult of North America's long-distance hiking trails. With no experience and little planning, she encounters immense heat, rattlers, bears, cliffs, and raging snowstorms. But her journey is internal as well as external. Shortly before leaving her mother died and her marriage broke apart. This book describes what she learned about hiking, nature, and particularly herself during this journey.

More information about upcoming Books Plus discussions below.

Parenthood, Birth, and Other Transformations

In A Guide to Being Born, Ausubel’s narrative voice is strong and unique.  She takes chances in her fiction yet unlike some modern authors, she still includes distinct narrative threads. You can tell she is an independent-minded author just from the layout of her collection--four sections titled: Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love. Notice the order of her subjects, the reverse of what you might expect.

I fell in love with the first story “Safe Passage.” It begins this way, “The Grandmothers—dozens of them—find themselves at sea.” This boat full of older women find themselves adrift with hundreds of crates; they open them to see if any of the items will allow them to save themselves. The story is funny, whimsical, and fantastical all at once. Plus, it conceals a deeper level that you won’t discover right away. The grandmothers find shipping containers full of yellow roses, and they fill their arms with them despite the fact that the thorns leave blood tracks on their hands.

Another fantasy-rich story is “Chest of Drawers.” Toward the end of the wife’s pregnancy, her husband suddenly grows live drawers on his chest, a problem that necessitates many medical appointments and tests. Yet, the compartments come in handy for carrying things such as his wife’s lipstick and a bunch of tiny diversity dolls.

Photographing Loss

Some books break your heart with their beauty; others break your heart with their sadness. Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction does the latter. In these days immediately following the highly destructive Oklahoma tornadoes of 2013, ripped homes, buildings, and schools are on our minds. This beautifully-produced book showcases many striking photographs of the Tohoku region of Japan where the massive tsunami struck two years ago.

The photos are large, some even opening into more than a two page spread. But the main thing that struck me about them is how seldom they include any people. I noticed only one person in the whole collection, a solitary utility repairman high in a crane over demolished houses and smashed cars. Animals are mostly missing also, except for one murder of crows crisscrossing the wires of one empty city, and a strange cat with radioactive-mutated whiskers near Fukushima.

Afoot and Lighthearted

It's spring, the weather is warming fast, and when you can't go hiking, what could be better than reading about the world's best walks? In Walking Distance you'll find trails you may never be lucky enough to traverse yourself, but you can still image and enjoy the photographs. The locations are gorgeous: Peru, New Zealand, Australia, the Alps, Alaska, and Sweden among others. The book also shares many inspiring quotes such as this one from Thoreau, "It is a great art to saunter." Walt Whitman wrote in a poem, "Afoot and lighthearted / I take to the open road," which I used above for the blog title.

Also included is a history of walking where the authors describe how the Romantic writers adopted walking and hiking enthusiastically as Europe turned increasingly polluted and gritty due to the Industrial Revolution. Did you know that it's estimated that Wordsworth walked over 180,000 miles in his lifetime? Dickens, too, spent no less than four hours on most days walking - this is how he filled his novels with such interesting characters and authentic details.

Maker Days Summer Program Series

Maker Days 2013 headerMakers are all about the do-it-yourself culture, often with the creative addition of technology. Come learn, discover, and create at your library with maker experts from around our community. We have Maker Days programs for all ages. Registration is open now, but hurry, as many of these programs have limited space!

Garbage! Water! Or Why I Love Non-fiction

GarbologyI read a lot of narrative non-fiction - historical, microhistory, natural sciences, travel, and environmental. I read these to be better informed, but also for pleasure so my ultimate test for a narrative non-fiction book is whether it would have made a better magazine article. I hate finishing something that I think was interesting, but could have been boiled down into a 20 page magazine article with the same impact. I've recently read two non-fiction books passed the magazine article test and then some. 

The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mysteries & Madness Shaping the New Era of Water by Charles Fishman isn't about how to make changes in your lifestyle with regards to water conservation. It isn't a how-to book for urban or rural planners. It is a book that will challenge what you think you know about water from the big picture including where it comes from and what do we really mean by "clean". This book will also identify our emotional connection with water and will put those assumptions to the test. Near the end of the book, an economist presents a model for future water use that makes sense for both dry places like Las Vegas and Australia should also be considered for wetter places like Atlanta and even Bloomington. There are pages and pages of research, calculations and notes at the end, but the book was captivating, accessible and provides much food for thought.


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