Thursday, October 14, 2010

ReadingGroup.Com celebrates its Tenth Anniversary

ReadingGroup.Com is ten years old and they celebrated by having folks pick our their Top Ten Favorite Discussion Books. Votes were accepted from May through July 2010 and more than 12,000 people participated.

Listed below are those Top Ten Titles. Click on the link to ReadingGroup.Com and explore further. You can find a discussion guide for each of the books mentioned, and you can check out titles selected as the most popular in various categories, such as Memoirs/Biographies, Books Featuring Animals and even Selections You Might Not Expect.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Red Tent by Anitia Diamant.

Have fun reading. Meg

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Tuesday Book Club discusses A Man for All Seasons

On Tuesday, September 14, the Tuesday Book Club talked about Robert Bolt’s classic play, A Man for All Seasons, which dramatizes the imprisonment and execution of Sir Thomas More. Most group members liked the play very much, touting its witty dialogue and Bolt’s excellent writing, both of which evoke the tumultuous years leading up to the English Reformation. While one member found the play made for pretty dry reading, we all agreed that the issues and themes swirling amidst Bolt’s stormy dialogue were compelling.

What is a conscience, and what does it mean to hold one’s own convictions above all else, and what if that includes king and country? In the play, Thomas More does what he thinks is right, and Bolt’s staging leads us to agree with More. Whatever we think about Henry’s divorce and the break with the Roman Catholic Church, the group agreed that the play holds up More as a paragon of intelligence, morality, and self-fortitude. More’s “self” is so strong he can’t give in and take an oath declaring Henry the head of the church. “You might as well advise a man to change the color of his eyes,” More says of the prospect of giving in to the King’s demands.

All told, we had another fine discussion of history and classic works of literature. Everyone is excited to read next month’s companion book, Wolf Hall. This 2009 novel by Hilary Mantel takes Thomas Cromwell, one of the out and out villains in Bolt’s play, as its main character and ostensible hero. Join us October 19 for what promises to be a fascinating discussion of Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel.

The Tuesday Book Group discusses contemporary books alongside the classic works that inspired them. We meet the second Tuesday of the month (October is an exception) at 1:00PM in the Stride Room.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Their Own Words....from the BBC

Have you ever heard of the BBC's series In Their Own Words: British Novelists - Interviews with Remarkable Modern Writers?

I just spent a totally enjoyable 27 minutes listening to a fascinating interview with J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien talks about how he came to write The Hobbit (on the back of a student's exam paper), and what he had in mind when he began to write The Lord of the Rings. Also present are students and fans of the trilogy - talking about what is special or unique and what Tolkien's books meant to them. Of course, there is the obligatory derogatory comment, deriding Tolkien's fiction as the worst kind of escapism. (Tell me - what' wrong with escaping, every so often?)

It was incredible to actually see Tolkien in person, as he sat in his own den or wandered about Oxford. The last view on the interview is a gradual panning out, from Professor Tolkien standing on a turret at the college, to the whole of Oxford - quite a spectacular view.

Other authors that you can listen to include Virginia Wolfe, Iris Murdoch, John LeCarre, Aldous Huxley, P. G. Wodehouse, Daphne DuMaurier and lots more. Video clips run from 8 minutes to 30 minutes. The Tolkien interview was first broadcast in 1968. (Tolkien died in 1973.) Meg

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

You all know the story. Henry VIII, king of England in the early 1500s, is desperate for a male heir and not adverse to swapping one wife for another it that is what it takes. Henry wants to annul his 20-year marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope, many of Henry's advisors and Catholic Europe do not take kindly to this proposal.

Much has been written about the characters in this real life drama - Henry, the volatile and determined monarch, Catherine the faithful and steadfast Queen, Anne the young and hopeful lady-in-waiting, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas Moore, who opposed Henry outright and lost his head because of his opposition.

In Wolf Hall, however, Hilary Mantel chooses to focus on Thomas Cromwell - the wily and consummate politician. Cromwell is a man lowly born, but with guile and daring, manages to become Henry's confidante - suceeds in giving Henry all that he wants - with momentous consequences.

This historical novel is full of detail and deep in nuance and societal foibles. But perservere. The writing is superb and the story complex and satisfying. Meg

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Join a Book Discussion Group this year

The Newport Public Library offers two book discussion groups that meet regularly at the library.

The Tuesday Afternoon Book Discussion Group meets (usually) on the 1st Tuesday of every month at 1:00pm. Luke Owens is the discussion leader and the group discusses a variety of books, both classic and contemporary. Their first meeting is scheduled for September 14th when they will be discussing A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt. A list of the rest of the titles chosen for the year is available here.

The Thursday Evening Book Discussion Group wiil begin on Thursday September 23rd at 7:00pm. Pat LaRose is the discussion leader and this group also looks at a variety of works, both ficition and non-fiction. They begin the year with a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize winning classic by Harper Lee. At the first meeting, the group will have the opportunity to weigh in on the rest of the titles chosen for the year. Some possible titles are listed here.

Both these groups offer lively discussion and good reading. Consider them when you are making your plans for the fall. Meg

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thursday Evening Book Group in Review - A Year's Worth of Books

The Thursday Evening Book Group met at the Blue Plate Diner for their annual July get-together. We discussed the book The Road Home by Rose Tremain and reviewed our reading for the past year. We were in agreement that this year's list was a good one, with variety and depth to the selections. When asked for favorites from the list, some had trouble deciding.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay was a top choice for several members. Others enjoyed The Girls by Lori Lansens, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and one person chose The Road Home. No one chose any of the non-fiction selections as a favorite, but among them the stand-outs were The Widow Clicquot (about the lady who made champagne) by Tilar Mazzeo and American Made (about the WPA) by Nick Taylor.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our social evening, and as a added surprise we were joined by a former member who had moved away and was back for the summer. A great evening and a great year of book reading and discussion.

If this sounds enticing to you, perhaps you'd like to join us next year. We meet on Thursdays at 7 p.m., once a month, usually the third Thursday. We will meet again on September 23rd to discuss To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, in honor of the 50th anniversary of publication. At that meeting, we will review the list of possible selections for the next season, October through July.

Contact Pat LaRose (847-8720, Ext 103) for more information about the Thursday Evening Book Group. Contact Luke Owens (847-8720, Ext. 208) if you are interested in the Tuesday Afternoon group. PL

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Zoo Book for July

Did you know that July 1st (1874) is the anniversary of the opening of America's first zoo? On that date, the Philadephia Zoological Society opened the Philadelphia Zoo for the first time. The price of admission was $.25 for adults and $.10 for children. There were over 800 animals present.

In honor of this anniversary, why not read a wonderful book about a zoo and a little know World War II drama. The book is entitled The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman.

When the Germans invaded Poland (in 1939) the city of Warsaw was decimated - along with the city's zoo. With most of the animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began sheltering Jews (escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto), as well as Polish resisters (and some surviving animals from the zoo), in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Based on Antonina's own memoirs and newspaper interviews, as well as Ackerman's own research in Poland, the result is an exciting and unforgettable portrait of courage and grace under fire.

Ackerman said, in an interview, "I felt that her [Antonina's] story needed to be told, because it's a tale of heroic compassion, something 'ordinary' people rise to in every era, though we hear little about it." Meg

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reading challenge – read five Pulitzer Prize winning novels this summer!

Sometimes I find it hard to find a “good book” to read. I am a mystery fan and used to love delving into the puzzles and nuances of good detective fiction – trying to figure out whodunit – and often why and when and how. But sometimes even a “good mystery” does not satisfy. So I have been turning to prize winning fiction and non-fiction as a source for titles. This month I was looking at Pulitzer Prize winning fiction – and there are some intriguing titles there that both you and I might want to try.

This year’s winner, Tinkers, by Paul Harding is about an old New England man who is dying. The book travels through his memories of mending and “tinkering” with the clocks that were his occupation. It is a fictional (and thus often profound) look at life and death, suffering and joy and the daily lives that people live.

Last year’s winner, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout, is also about a New England family – this time in Maine. Stout has crafted a series of short stories – all taking place in and around the small town where Olive and her husband live – that are connected by common characters and outlook. This is a fine book that I, for one, could not put down, once I got into story number two.

The Pulitzer Prize web site lists all winners and many runners-up – so you have quite a few titles and kinds of works to choose from. If you choose to click on “Back to Categories list” – you can browse through ALL the categories for which a Pulitzer is awarded – Biography, Drama, History, etc., to say nothing of all the award winning newspaper stories and photography that are also the domain of the Pulitzer Prize.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Web Sites for Mystery Lovers

The May 1st issue of Booklist, a library journal devoted to book reviews and recommendations, featured mysteries and included some really good recommendations for online sites for mystery readers. I thought I would share some of these with you.

The Malice Domestic site is dedicated to mysteries that are traditional and “cozy,” as the site’s subtitle “If traditional mysteries are your cup of tea…” alludes to. Malice Domestic provides all kinds of information about their annual convention (next one – April-May, 2011), but also lists all the Agatha Awards given out (since 1988) and is a fun site to just explore.

Sisters in Crime is an organization and a web site dedicated to the promotion and support of women who write mysteries. A really neat feature of Sisters in Crime is their extensive list of Mystery Bookstores and Sisters in Crime (often abbreviated SinC) author web sites. (Check under Resources in the left-hand menu.)

The Mystery Writers of America give out the annual Edgar Awards (and have done since 1946!) and their site contains information about their organization as well as a complete archive of all the winners and nominees for the Edgars.

For a site that tries to pull all of this together - listing award winners and nominees, new books, old titles and much more (over 37,000 titles) try Stop You’re Killing Me. This is a wonderful site for mystery lovers. A very unique Stop You’re Killing Me feature are the indexes. They have an historical index (find mysteries that take place in the Colonial era), a job index (find mysteries that involve an interior decorator), a location index (find mysteries that take place in New Mexico) and more.

The world of mysteries and mystery writers is huge and growing bigger by the day. Perhaps these sites (and your friendly, neighborhood librarian) can help you discover your next mystery to read and enjoy. Meg

Monday, May 17, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Did you read Life of Pi by Yann Martel? There was a while there when it seemed every book group was reading and discussing this very unusual book about a young boy, stranded on a raft on the ocean with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. And no, this is not an allegory for Noah’s Ark, although religion (Christian, Jewish and Hindu) does figure into it.

Well, Martel has written another book, Beatrice and Virgil, and as one reviewer said “it is shocking and moving and will…launch a thousand questions.” Much as Life of Pi is and was!

It seems Martel likes to spin tales about unusual people and unusual animals - Beatrice and Virgil are a donkey and a howler monkey, and they undertake a journey together. But this is actually a novel about the Holocaust, and once again, Martel has used “an animal story to make profound points about humanity.”

There is a very good write up about Beatrice and Virgil in BookPage (May 2010). BookPage is a monthly newsletter about books and reading that is available at the library free of charge. You can also link to BookPage online. Meg

Friday, April 23, 2010

8th Annual Reading Across Rhode Island Program

On Saturday May 1st over 700 people from all over Rhode Island will gather at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet to discuss the Reading Across Rhode Island 2010 selection, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and to hear Annie Barrows, one of the co-authors speak.

This is RARI’s 8th year and the participation and excitement about this program seems to grow each time. In order to make next year’s program as successful and community-wide as possible, we need your help.

Now is the time to suggest a title for consideration as the 2011 Reading Across Rhode Island selection. The guidelines for selection are not extensive.

The Reading Across Rhode Island selection should be:

  • A good story, with a universal theme

  • Appealing to both women and men

  • Appropriate for a range of readers, from age 14 to senior citizens

  • Accessible in both language and content, and available in different formats (paperback, audiobook, etc.)

  • Author: alive and affordable

Over time, the titles selected should reflect diversity in content, culture and genre.

Suggesting a title for 2011 is easy. Just send an email, with the title and author (and publisher and year of publication, if you know them) to Thanks for your help.

Monday, April 12, 2010

National Poetry Month AND National Library Week

April is National Poetry Month and the week of April 12th through April 17th is National Library Week. What better way to celebrate both than with some poems about libraries! In fact, I have found two very good, very interesting poems about libraries.

Library by Valerie Worth is from the book All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.

No need even
to take out
a book: only
go inside
and savor
the heady
dry breath of
ink and paper,
or stand and
listen to the
silent twitter
of a billion
tiny busy
black words.

The second poem is entitled My First Memory (of Librarians) by author and sometime poet Nikki Giovanni. Giovanni conjures up an image of a long-ago library, with an actual card catalog and green bankers’ lights. The welcoming smile on a librarians’ face is something we hope you see at our library often!

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky wood floor
A line of green shades – bankers’ lights down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
too short
for me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big.

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall.

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books – another world – just waiting
At my fingertips.

Come in to the library this week and help us celebrate National Library Week and National Poetry Month by picking up a book of poetry. Meg

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

National Poetry Month - Robert Frost

One of America’s most popular poets, Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, but moved to New England when he was a boy, and many of his poems have a distinct New England flavor.

Some of his most popular and recognized poems are Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken, but one of my favorites is a very simple, very short poem entitled Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Recommended books of poetry by Mr. Frost include: The Robert Frost Reader: Poetry and Prose and Early Poems.

For an introduction to the poet try these two excellent children’s books: A Swinger of Birches: Robert Frost for Young People and Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Meg

Thursday, April 1, 2010

National Poetry Month - A Beginning

What is National Poetry Month?

National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. “ Their goal is to increase everyone’s interest in the art of poetry, living poets and America’s rich cultural heritage of poems, poetry books and journals.

To start your celebration of National Poetry Month here are two really good, really accessible books of poetry that are highly recommended.

* American’s Favorite Poems, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz

The “favorite poem project” was started by Robert Pinksy when he was America’s Poet Laureate, and was dedicated to exploring and encouraging the importance of poetry in American lives. Americans (over 18,000 of them) from all over the country submitted their favorite poem and explained how this poem had touched them.

This book includes quite a number of those poems with an explanation of the poem’s significance to the person submitting it. There is also a wonderful web site that contains videos of people reading their selections.

* Poem a Day, edited by Laurie Sheck.

This lovely paperback contains a very wide range of poems, long and short, simple and complex, to get you started reading “a poem a day.” Sheck also includes short comments and stories about the poets and their work.

During the month of April, we will be sharing favorite poems and favorite books of poems and about poetry. Check back often. If YOU have a favorite poem, please share it with us. Meg

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Cleaning - Get a Book Ahead

Did you know that March 28 through April 3rd is National Cleaning Week?

It's just to remind you that it is time for that spring cleaning we all hope to do. I know that sometimes Martha Stewart can be a bit overwhelming (where does she get the time to do all that stuff?), but she does have two books on cleaning and caring for your home that are excellent.

Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook (2006) is a comprehensive manual on how and when to care for various items in your home, with a room by room guide with weekly, monthly and seasonal checklists. There are also tips for cleaning and even help for folks who are moving.

Good Things for Organizing by Martha Stewart (2001) is the second book I would like to recommend. Divided up by rooms (Kitchen, Bedroom, Storage Rooms, Workrooms, etc.) this book suggests, with both text and pictures, many ways to help organize your stuff. She also includes tips for re-using household articles in new and different ways, along with “how-to” directions for simple building projects.

The library has many other books on house cleaning or de-cluttering. Come check them out. Meg

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Novels with a hint of green...

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you’re looking to get in the mood, try the following -

Lacemakers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
“You can always start again. All it takes is a new thread.” Kate Robinson flees from her struggling fashion career and other heartbreaks, back to her ancestral Irish homeland , seeking peace and equilibrium. Her mother’s sewing maxim about starting again becomes far more meaningful as she learns the craft of lace-making from a local group of women and finds new friends and inspiration.

Swan Maiden by Jules Watson
This is the retelling of one of the most enduring of Irish legends, the tale of Deirdre – the Irish Helen of Troy. Don’t let the science fiction label put you off. This is a romantic and tragic tale of “enchantment and eternal passions.”

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
The plot is unique: Fegan, who has been a IRA killer in Northern Ireland, is out of a job, so-to-speak, once peace is realized. Unfortunately for Fegan, he is now haunted by the ghosts of his innocent victims – and the only way out is for him to avenge their deaths and kill the men who had given the kill orders. Booklist says “Neville’s debut novel is tragic, violent, exciting, plausible and compelling….and hard to put down.” Meg

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A gloriously green display of gardening books of all sorts greets you as you walk into the library. Come see books and other materials on vegetable gardening, composting, flower gardening and more.

Novices should try Organic Gardening for Dummies or Easy Container Gardens. Experts might want to look at Old Fashioned and David Austin Roses. There are even gardening murder mysteries, including Summer Garden Murder or Death of a Political Plant , both by Ann Ripley.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Written in the Bones - Reading About Forensic Science

You could say that Patricia Cornwall started it all, with Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Then Kiernan O’Shaughnessy, a former medical examiner, tried her hand at detecting.

Today, television series (NCIS, Bones, etc.) and books (The Bone Garden by Tess Gerristsen, 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs, etc.) about forensics and scientific criminal invesitgation are everywhere.

But have you checked out the non-fiction? A brand new book, written by Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, Deborah Blum, is The Poisoner’s Handbook. Subtitled “Murder and the birth of forensic medicine in Jazz Age New York,” The Poisoner’s Handbook introduces us to Charles Norris, who later became New York City’s chief medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, head toxicoligist and how they solved one of New York City’s infamous Jazz Age murders.

James Patterson, writer of numerous fictional detective stories, tries his hand at forensic anthropology with his book, The Murder of King Tut (2009). Patterson and his co-writer Martin Dugard, have sifted through stacks of evidence – X-rays, files, forensic clues – to re-tell the story of King Tut’s brief life and death.

The Gardner Heist: A True Story of the World’s Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser is an account of art detective Harold Smith’s near obsession with this major Boston art theft and what was done (or perhaps wasn’t done) to solve this crime and return some major works of art to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Meg

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Honor of President's Day - Abraham Lincoln

Last year was the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (1809-2009). Much was published about this extraordinary man who was our 16th president and presided over one of the most tumultuous periods of American history – the Civil War.

In honor of the Lincoln bicentennial and the President’s Day holiday, I highly recommend two books about Lincoln: one published a while ago (1992) and one published just recently (2008).

Lincoln at Gettysburg: the Words That Remade America by Garry Wills. This is not only a wonderful look at one of the most famous speeches Lincoln made, but also a close look at some unanticipated consequences of the Civil War, most especially the development of cemeteries and in particular the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. Garry Wills has writen many excellent histories (his latest one – Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State), but Lincoln at Gettysburg is a highly readable account that teaches the reader much about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the power of the word.

Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds is a newer addition to the Lincoln canon, and turns the spotlight on a fairly little known aspect of Lincoln’s presidency. Lincoln, who admitted he knew little about ships, came to be the commander in chief of one of the largest national armadas in US history. Symonds traces Lincoln’s slow beginnings and then steady growth as a wartime president. If you are interested in ships, the Civil War and the history of our Navy, then this is the book for you. Meg

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dick Francis - 1920-2010

Well this seems to be a bad year for mystery writers. First Robert Parker (one of my favorites) and now Dick Francis. This is truly sad.

Let me introduce you to Dick Francis, if by chance , you do not know him. Richard Stanley Francis, aka Dick Francis, was born in Wales in 1920 and was, by trade, a “champion jockey for the British royal family.” In 1957 he was forced to retire from racing due to a serious fall. It was then that he turned to his second career – that of writing detective fiction. But he did not leave horse racing behind. Unlike Robert Parker, Francis did not have a series hero (like Spenser) that kept reappearing, but he had a series theme and a character type that appeared in all of his books. The theme was – guess what – horses and horse racing. But you DO NOT have to like horses or racing to enjoy his books. In fact, a reviewer from the New York Times was quoted as saying, "Not to read Dick Francis because you don't like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don't like God."

And truth be told, our hero was not always a jockey. In the Frame is about an artist who paints horses; Whip Hand is about an ex-jockey turned detective; Proof is about a wine merchant who caters many affairs for folks involved in horse racing.

Lately Dick Francis has been co-writing books with his son, Felix Francis. Please see blog post of August 3, 2009 entitled Dick and Felix – the Odd Couple? for more details and book recommendations.

[Read an obituary for Dick Francis from the Washington Post. View a list of all of Dick Francis' books.] Meg

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February is Black History Month

Dr. Carter Woodson, son of former slaves and a pioneer in the study of African American history is often given the credit for establishing a time dedicated to the study of Black Americans and their role in the history and development of the United States.

In honor of Black History Month the library has set up an exhibit that contains some of the outstanding materials we offer about the history and contributions of Black Americans. The following titles are part of the display and highly recommended.

Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, by Gayle F. Wald is the first biography ever of a performer who influenced singers from Elvis Presley to Eric Clapton and Etta James. Tharpe sang it all: gospel, blues, jazz, folk, and rock and roll.

Freedom in My Heart: Voices from the United States National Slavery Museum is an extraordinary look at many “never-before-seen artifacts, images and documents that trace the history of slavery in North America.” [From the fly-leaf.] As Chapter One says, “The story begins in Africa,” and this book goes on from there, with pictures, documents, essays and interviews tracing a history and culture that is dynamic and enduring, despite slavery and its brutalities.

If you are trying to look into your roots – because your planning a family reunion or you are just plain interested – try Finding A Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity. Written by Dee Parmer Woodtor this book is a good starting place for constructing a family tree or just finding out what factors you need to look into when searching for your kin.

"No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you."
Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is a black writer of incredible talent. Hurston’s most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is about Janie Crawford, a young, Black woman in the 1930’s, determined to be her own person. In addition to reading her fiction, I highly recommend Zora’s Roots, a PBS DVD based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston. I also recommend you come in and check out the display, which will be up all through the month of February. Meg

Friday, January 29, 2010

J. D. Salinger - 1919 -2010

J. D. Salinger began his writing career with short stories, contributing mainly to The New Yorker Magazine. Two of his most famous short stories that appeared in that magazine were A Perfect Day for Banafish (1948), the story of a suicidal war veteran, and For Esme With Love and Squalor (1950).

But it was with the publication of A Catcher in the Rye (1951)that Salinger received major critical and popular attention. A Catcher in the Rye has been said to be reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a setting of modern angst and rebellion. Holden Caulfield, our “hero,” is an adolescent boarding school student attempting to run away from what he considers a phony adult world. For many who read this book, it became the quintessential story of teenage confusion and unrest. From the very first sentence we know we are in a world of loneliness and brutal honesty.

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Franny and Zooey, two longer short stories about the Glass Family, was published in 1955.

After a relatively small literary output, Salinger retired to New Hampshire where he lived in virtual seclusion, never being photographed or interviewed for over 50 years. Salinger died of natural causes, at the age of 91. Meg

[For more details read Salinger’s New York Times’ obituary and also some more extensive New York Times and Wikipedia articles. The story of a fascinating impromptu encounter with J. D. Salinger by a fan is related on NPR. ]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robert B. Parker - 1932 - 2010

Robert B. Parker was one of my favorites. His detective series about Spenser (with an "s") was a true classic of the genre and he went on to write two other series, one starring Sunny Randall (another Boston P.I.) and one starring Jesse Stone (a police chief in a small Massachusetts town). Parker even wrote westerns!

But the star of his writing pantheon was Spenser. The first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript (1973) was written when he was still teaching at a university in Boston, and is about Spenser's efforts to retrieve a manuscript that was stolen from a unversity library. He went on to write 37 more titles in the Spenser series. My favorites, and ones that I highly recommend, are: Mortal Stakes (about the Boston Red Sox), Looking for Rachel Wallace (about a Lesbian author that Spenser is hired to protect) and A Catskill Eagle (Susan is in trouble and Spenser and Hawk spring to the rescue).

Parker did not always craft the most enduring of plots, but a visit with Spenser, Hawk and Susan was like a visit with old and dear friends - always enjoyable and remarkably entertaining.

Parker died of a heart attack, sitting at his writing desk working on his next novel - literally with his "writing boots on." He gave me hours of pleasant and thoughtful entertainment. He will be sorely missed. Meg

[For more details, read Parker's obituaruies in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. For a really interesting blog post AND an incredibly comprehensive list of tributes and information about Mr. Parker see Sarah Weinman's blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Book Group Kicks off the Big Read

The Tuesday Book Group unofficially kicked off the Big Read this week when we discussed Newport’s Big Read title, The Great Gatsby. Thanks to the increased exposure, we had several newcomers and were happy to hear new voices. We had wide-ranging questions and comments about the book. Most of us praised the Fitzgerald’s writing style and structure while remaining rather critical of the characters. One person described the novel as “seductive,” while another commented, “there is not a character in this book I would want to have over for a drink.”

We found many reasons to call the novel a masterpiece: its themes are timeless, its symbolism rich, its plot compelling (at least in the second half), and its characters, if unlikeable, are true to life. We talked a lot about social classes and groups, the cultural disconnect that still exists between the USA’s East Coast and Midwest, and the changes Fitzgerald was observing in ‘20s America.

We debated Gatsby as a tragic hero: is he a great person with a tragic flaw? Is he sympathetic at all? Are any of the characters sympathetic, for that matter? Was Daisy even worth all the fuss? Like most readers of the novel, we also talked a bit about T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes, the symbolism of the valley of ashes and the meaning of that green light.

Join us next month (1pm February 9th in the Stride Room) when we pair The Great Gatsby with Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Bind. Instead of rewriting the story of Fitzgerald’s classic, Bohjalian does something quite different: he sets his own story in the same fictional universe as The Great Gatsby. The heroine of The Double Bind, for example, spent her childhood swimming at a country club in West Egg that was once Gatsby’s mansion!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Modern Mystery Masters - Sara Paretsky

Author: Sara Paretsky

Detective: V. I. (Victoria Iphigenia) Warshawski
Locale: primarily Chicago

First book: Indemnity Only (1982)
Latest book: Hardball (2009)

Other writings: Windy City Blues (short stories), Bleeding Kansas and Ghost Country (single novels) and Writing in an Age of Silence (non-fiction).

Sometimes it is hard to like V. I. Warshawski. She can be stubborn, self-righteous, swift to anger, with a knack of alienating even her closest friends. And for a time I stopped reading Paretsky’s books because all I wanted to do was give V. I. a swift kick.

But her latest effort, Hardball (2009), is really, really good and I can heartily recommend it. The case starts out as a missing persons investigation - V. I. is hired to find the missing son and nephew of two elderly sisters currently living out their days in an Assisted Living/Nursing Home.

The case gets quickly more and more complicated, however, and we are eventually drawn into the history of the Chicago race riots of the 1960s. Murder, police brutality, false confessions and civil rights violations (both then AND now) take center stage and Vic’s investigation comes a bit too close to home for anyone's comfort.

About the author: Sara Paretsky was born in Iowa and raised in Kansas, so naturally Paretsky’s detective fiction takes place in Chicago (primary the South Side) and stars V. I. Warshawski, a sharp-tongued, uncomfortably honest and incredibly stubborn private investigator whose family ties and work ethic complicate an already complicated career.

Paretsky is a member of Sisters in Crime and is devoted to improving the image of women in detective fiction as well as in real life. In a recent interview Paretsky admitted that ,”I’ve not been able to change the world. I’ve not been able to liberate myself, let alone 3 billion other women. Add that to the state of publishing and the fact that books may not actually exist in another five years, and I just want to lie down and pull leaves over my head.” [Interview in Mystery Scene, Holiday 2009] Meg


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