Information, Answers & Reviews

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Huck FinnIn 1885 the year of its US publication, a number of public libraries banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from their stacks. According to the American Library Association, it was the fifth most-frequently-challenged book in the United States in the 1990s. Despite strong arguments that the book supports positive racial themes, Huck Finn has been controversial from the beginning.  Last year NewSouth Books published a sanitized edition, effectively keeping this book in the news and on the minds of both those who have loved and hated this classic American book.  When was the last time you visited Huck Finn? Interested in learning more and sharing your ideas?

Join us next week for a panel discussion of this story that continues to both attract and repel members of our community. Does Huckleberry Finn belong in the literary canon and in our schools? What does it reveal about race relations, art and the power of language?
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New Poetry to Discover

ISBN: 
9780062101860

Because it's National Poetry Month, I've been checking out new collections for a few weeks. Here are a couple more titles that I particularly enjoyed.

The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990-2010

Forget the sappy title--James Tate's poems are accessible yet deep, eccentric, and sometimes bizarre. His gifts include a fluid poetic style and the ability to continuously surprise.  Here's how "It Happens like This" begins:

"I was outside St. Cecilia's Rectory / smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me...." The poem's speaker admires the goat, wonders if there's a leash law for them, and then when he walks away the goat follows him.  "People / smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat," / I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking / my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat," / one of them said, "I wonder when my turn is..." Whether you're a goat-lover or not, you will enjoy the odd realism here, the tongue-in-cheek humor.

In fact humor is another one of Tate's paramount qualities. Check out some of his other poetic titles in The Eternal Ones of the Dream: "Uneasy about the Sounds of Some Night-Wandering Animal,"  "Doink," "The Flying Petunias," Read more »

Quote Poet Unquote

ISBN: 
9781556592706

I'm both a poetry and quotation aficionado, so what could be better than a twofer? Dennis O'Driscoll's wonderful gathering of quotations about poetry Quote Poet Unquote: Contemporary Quotations on Poets and Poetry is the kind of book you read through to inspire you, make you laugh, or help you figure out what modern poetry is and does. Appropriately, Copper Canyon Press (the publisher) chose for their pressmark the Chinese character for poetry. It's constructed of two parts that mean word and temple.

O'Driscoll begins his introduction with Boswell's question to Samuel Johnson (the famous dictionary maker), "What is poetry?" Johnson's witty reply was, "Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not."

The book itself is arranged in sections each beginning with a phrase. Examples include: "What is it anyway," "Making a Start," "Inspired Moves," "Call Yourself a Poet," "Best Words," "The Audience," "On the Contrary," and "In Memory." This is just a sampling. O'Driscoll has devised a lot more categories.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes (although there are so many good ones it's hard to winnow them down to a short list.) Read more »

The Man Within My Head

ISBN: 
9780307267610

The spirit of Graham Greene whispers through these pages. Pico Iyer is my favorite contemporary travel writer. The Man Within My Head differs from most of his books because he delves more into his own past than usual in this volume, detailing many connections he sees between his own life and that of Greene: they lived near each other in Oxford but never met, and each suffered a major house fire. They also traveled to many of the same places including Viet Nam.

Especially involving are the sections about Pico's childhood. He lived first in Britain, his father having come to England from India as a Rhodes Scholar. He was an only child and some of his earliest memories are stacking magazines with articles by his father. The little Pico loved to arrange them and stare at his Dad's pictures. When he was in grade school both of his famous parents were invited to California to be part of a think tank promoting ways to end violence. Pico tried to be an American student, to wait in the hills for the school bus with his plastic lunchbox, but he soon realized that education in the states did not challenge him. He asked his parents to send him back to England to attend boarding school. Read more »

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

SwamplandiaThe Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week with the announcement that there will not be a fiction winner for 2012.  This isn't the first time that there was no prize, but the announcement still comes as sort of a shock.  Three finalists had already been announced, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace. 

While Sig Gissler, an administrator for the Pulitzer Prize awards says "it is not a statement about fiction in general -- just a statement about the process", Ann Patchett disagrees.  Patchett who is an author, reader and book store owner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the lack of award.  She argues that there were actually many deserving books this year and the excitement created for both readers and sellers of books is something that is desirable and necessary.  Read more »

My Life as a Turkey

ISBN: 
9781608835690

What would you do if someone left a puppy or a kitten on your doorstep? I imagine most people would adopt it, put it up for adoption or take to the nearest humane society for safe shelter. Now consider what you would do if someone left a bowl full of (fertilized) wild turkey eggs on your doorstep. This happened to a Florida man named Joe Hutto.

This is the unexpected but fascinating documentary story about Joe Hutto's experience of raising sixteen turkeys from birth to adulthood. Joe allows himself to be imprinted upon and thus become the full-time mother of all sixteen turkeys. As is the case with all nature documentaries, some of them survive and some of them don't. Some of them are friendlier than others and they all have very different personalities. The ending will leave you a little shocked and sad but don't let that frighten you.

This is a one hour PBS nature-film presentation. This film is rated PG. The library has one copy on DVD.

A Partial History of Lost Causes

ISBN: 
9781400069774

There aren't many good novels about chess. A Partial History of Lost Causes is a fabulously good one.  In Jennifer Dubois's debut novel, two chess players from different countries alternate telling their stories until their paths cross in Russia in 2006. 

The first, Aleksandr Bezetov, a child prodigy, moves to St. Petersburg to attend an elite chess school while he is still a teenager. Exceedingly naïve and innocent, he's assigned to a boarding house where prostitutes and a crazy assortment of other Russians live. 

On his first day, while attending a celebration honoring Stalin's memory, he meets two young dissidents who invite him to their gathering spot, Café Saigon. Soon Aleksandr is drawn into a world of samizdat and far-left causes. Read more »

In Time

Image"I don't have time. I don't have time to worry about how it happened. It is what it is. We're genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. The trouble is, we live only one more year, unless we can get more time. Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever. And the rest of us? I just want to wake up with more time on my hands than hours in the day" -- Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) In Time

These are the opening lines to the film In Time where time literally is money. At age 25 you stop aging, but you only have one year left to live. You can work for more time, trade time, steal time and fight for time, no matter what you spend time. Read more »

Tinkers by Paul Harding

TinkersWhen Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize, I put it on my to-read list where it lingered for two years.  I had a hard time summoning enthusiasm after reading the description every time I went looking for a book.  A few months ago, I deleted it off my to-read list acknowledging that I would probably never read it.  
Last week I thought I would give it another shot and now I wonder why I waited so long. Paul Harding's first novel sucked me in right from the hallucinatory beginning and I didn't want it to end.  The banalities are such: George is dying and reflective on his life, family and career.  The narrative alternates to a time when George is very young and focuses on his father, a man who ends up being unfairly defined by his grand mal seizures.  In between these paragraphs, there are excerpts from the fictional book called The Reasonable Horologist and other shorter paragraphs that seem nonsensical at first, but end up working at the end.  Time and memories are the main theme and this book has a rural New England setting. Read more »

Split by Avasthi

SplitSome of the best fiction books take a situation of which you have very little first-hand knowledge and through sympathetic characters and solid storytelling create some sort of understanding of what living that life would be like.  Swati Avasthi's first Young Adult novel about domestic violence and abuse, Split, is a great example. Avasthi is able to allow the reader to care about the main character and his struggles with both the violence of his father and the legacy he is hoping to avoid.

Teenage Jace leaves his parents' house with almost nothing after a particularly brutal fight with his father.  He sets off from Chicago with his camera and the New Mexico address of his older brother who disappeared several years earlier.  Jace's brother Christian is less than thrilled to see him with a bruised face despite having come from and escaped the same back ground.  Their transition is rocky and a lesser book would have trivialized this time. Instead their difficulties felt genuine.

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