As most of you have probably heard, there’s a blizzard on the way to Maine tonight. CRIPPLING, you guys. It’s going to be CRIPPLING: http://haggett.bangordailynews.com/2017/02/12/home/crippling-blizzard-on-the-way-for-coastal-and-interior-maine-2/
Tomorrow is looking like a wash. A whitewash. We’ve called a closure already here at the library, because…seriously, CRIPPLING BLIZZARD, guys. In between shoveling out our driveway from the snowdrifts and baking brownies and praying that the power stays on, I’ve got lots of great books on the go for tomorrow’s snowstorm!
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes–a history of hot air ballooning! There’s something incredibly inspiring about the early aeronauts and their quest to take to the air. Balloonists were showmen, scientists, adventurers, and everything in between.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart–fun, rollicking historical fiction with a fascinating lead and some cracking good dialogue. It’s about a woman named Constance Kopp, who was one of the first deputy sheriffs in America.
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stewart–this is a witty and very entertaining novel about a barber in a small French village. When he starts losing clients due to baldness, he decides that he’ll become the village matchmaker instead. It’s clever and cozy but not twee.
Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon–I need at least one thriller on standby. An alcoholic journalist tries to redeem her life and career by taking on an unsolved case.
Not a bad set of companions for the day. Apart from Snow Shovel, of course, who I’ll be seeing a lot of. I hope you’re all holed up somewhere snug and safe tomorrow!
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been asked to run a lot of stats about the top-circulating books of the year. Running all the reports about kids’ items got me wondering: what did the grown-ups read at the Camden Public Library this year?
I put together the list based solely on the number of checkouts a title had in the past year. As is traditional this time of year, we’ll count down from 10 to 1, 1 being the number one most-circulated book of 2015.
And here’s our countdown!
Thank goodness for the stalwart Simply Books! crew. Gentlefolk and scholars all.
I was sick on Saturday. While I chugged Dayquil and herbal tea and watched Spaced on YouTube, four of our regulars got together and had a great meeting. So I’ll say again: thank goodness for this wonderful group! I can’t tell you how nice it is that they don’t even need a facilitator around.
Many many thanks to the member who served as scribe this month, and then sent me the list! I appreciate it immensely!
Here’s the list of books the Simply Books! members talked about this month:
Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, May 23rd at 2pm at the library. It will be our last official meeting of the season! Hard to believe summer break is already upon us. As ever, we’ll reconvene in September.
See you in May!
Soooo I forgot to mention this at the meeting (and in my email to group members, whoops) but March is the Simply Books! Group birthday month!
Happy Four Years, Simply Books! Hard to believe it’s been that long. It’s an honor to spend Saturday afternoons with you all!
Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 25th, at 2pm. Hope to see you there!
I am going to make this challenge happen, no matter how much I have to bounce around the list. This time I will not fail!
For those who might not have heard, I’m attempting to participate in a reading challenge this year. It’s called 26 Books to Read in 2015, hosted by Bringing Up Burns. Here’s my first title for the challenge!
#17: A book that will make you smarter: The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris.
Well, I’m now smarter about the Norman Conquest. So that counts!
Morris is an engaging writer, one who is clearly super-passionate about his subject. His tone is that of a fun history teacher, telling you all about the context and set-up of the Norman Conquest, as well as the immediate aftermath. He begins with the reign of Edward the Confessor, and goes into the relationship between England and Normandy at the time. Again and again Morris stresses how little we actually know for sure, and takes care to explain the genesis and biases of what sources we have. But he presents a cohesive and coherent story, managing not to take sides and to portray everyone involved as human and of their time period. The immediacy, particularly when talking about the Battle of Hastings, is wonderfully done.
A great read for those who, like me, have only the barest knowledge of 1066 and all that and want to know more. It’s compelling and well-told, so if you’re not usually a non-fiction reader (again, like me), you’ll keep on reading.
Foiled! Foiled by snow! Snow! Who knew that happened in Maine in the wintertime?!
The good news is that we weren’t entirely foiled. We had a small but hardy band of people who live close by last Saturday. Here are the books we talked about this month, as the storm raged outside:
If I survive yet another drive home tonight in the snowy blustery darkness, I’ll be facilitating our next meeting on Saturday, February 28th at 2pm in the Jean Picker Room. If I don’t, it’s up to current members of Simply Books! to choose a successor. And avenge me, of course.
Be safe, everyone!
Hi All! Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I couldn’t think of a way to tie in a Simply Books! update with Horror Month. We’re not all that scary.
So here we are with another great list of books to share. It’s as varied as ever, and we had some great conversations about this month’s reads. I always like to share these books in our members’ words whenever I can (read: whenever I take good enough notes), so I’ve done that here.
As you can probably tell by the title of this post, I am not “braining so good” today, as we say on the Internet.
But I have been reading some books lately. So I’ll do my best to coherently tell you about them.
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
This is one of those novels where a plot description just isn’t enough to explain what the book really is. The story is about Ladydi, a young girl who lives in a tiny community in Gurrero, Mexio, on a mountain just outside of Alcapulco. It is a poor area completely dominated by drug lords. There are no men on the mountain, as they have gone to the U.S. to find work. Only women remain, and the young girls are in constant danger of being stolen (kidnapped and then trafficked by the drug lords). Ladydi comes of age and tries to make the best life she can for herself in this environment.
Just given that description, it sounds dire and depressing. For sure, there’s a deep sadness here, but it comes across as just a reality of life. There’s also a lyrical, almost poetic note to Clement’s prose. Somehow the brutality of Ladydi’s world and experiences is both lessened and magnified by the style. And, of course, Ladydi is tough and matter-of-fact, and never melodramatic. She’s a wonderful protagonist to follow. The depiction of Mexico and the people who still love it no matter what it has become is also moving and provides a wonderful sense of place. If you like this, try Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees or Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman.
Talking of Lisa O’Donnell, her new book Closed Doors is every bit as affecting and ultimately hopeful as The Death of Bees. In Closed Doors, a boy named Michael Murray is trying to piece together exactly what befell his mother one night. All the information he has comes from the overheard and confusing (and often contradictory) statements from the adults around him. O’Donnell excels at creating a close-knit island community that any small-towner will recognize–for the bad and for the good. She also gives great believable voice to Michael, a boy who never seems to be anything but just that–a boy who lives in a tough situation and can’t make sense of it to himself. Family dynamics and dealing with trauma are painted quite realistically as well, from darkly funny to hopeful to sad. It’s a moving piece of realistic fiction. If you liked Emma Donoghue’s Room, you might give this one a try.
The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid
Book clubs are fantastic when it comes to getting you out of your usual reading comfort zone. The wonderful nonfiction book group I joined is no exception. Our latest read was The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, a wonderfully readable and accessible survey of the political and intellectual history of the once-great city of Alexandria. Personally, my classical history is sorely lacking, so I learned a LOT just by reading this slim volume. If you’re a better-versed student of the period (331 BC to AD 646, roughly), you still might enjoy the focus on the intellectual and scientific–all the work of the great Library of Alexandria, much of which is now lost. In the introduction, the authors give part of the point of their work as:
We will not only return to the lost wonders of Alexandria, we will also try to enter the ‘mind’ of the city, to discover why it produced such an extraordinary flowering of creativity, knowledge, and understanding. And we will discover that at the core of this dazzling whirlpool of ideas lies the thing you are reading now: the written word.
Never has a city and culture so devoted to the idea of learning for learning’s sake existed before or since Alexandria. This book is also a love letter to a lost library, to lost ideas. Only about one percent of the books once held in the library at Alexandria survive today. This is really wonderful read on several levels, including the bibliography and notes!
That’s all my brainbox can handle for now, kids, if I want to get any cataloging done today. My current reading consists of The Count of Monte Cristo (another book group pick), Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, and, on a whim, The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh. Mostly, I’m hovering like a vulture waiting for Sarah Waters’ new novel, The Paying Guests, to be ready to circulate. I will most definitely be writing a blog post about that one.
Simply Books! turned three years old in March! We’ve had just about the same core crew since the beginning. Along the way we’ve picked up new members who each bring something unique to our table. The Simply Books! crew, to a one, is friendly, intelligent, hilarious, warm, and, of course, well-read!
It really is an honor to facilitate this group. It occurs to me that our members are always thanking me and saying how great the group is. Which warms my heart, don’t get me wrong! But they really should be thanking themselves. It’s every member together that makes a book group fantastic. Along with that certain “It” factor. Whatever “It” is, Simply Books! has it in spades.
So thank you to every single member of Simply Books! I look forward to the fourth Saturday of the month like you wouldn’t believe. Talking books with all of you is one of the highlights of my professional life. Here’s to another three years!
All-righty then, on to the good stuff! This month I’ve decided to keep intact the list that I send by email to group members. Most of these descriptions are in their own words. It gives you a nice idea of what we cover at a meeting.
Here’s the list for March 2014:
Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost
A collection of essays about the loss of cherished pets. Wonderful tone, poignant but joyous. A book for small doses, given the subject. But still, as you read, you’ll weep, laugh, and rejoice.
In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
A novel about a white Civil War veteran and his wife, an escaped slave, set in Vermont. It’s a story that spans three generations and revolves around a family secret. Very character-centered and character-driven, with lyrical and engrossing writing. Every character feels real.
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
This is the third in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and is absolutely delightful! Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, England, who turns her expertise about bones into a turn for solving crimes. Funny, with thin mystery plots that are secondary to the fantastic style and flawed (but always entertaining!) realism of the characters. (this is a series you can join anywhere, but the first is “The Crossing Places” if you wanted to start there)
Outsmarting Cats: How to Persuade the Felines in Your Life to Do What You Want by Wendy Christensen
This is a very informative and pretty much all-encompassing book about how to “train” the seemingly untrainable housecat. A good read for cat owners, or anyone who would just like to know more about how a cat ticks. A bit repetitive, but overall a good read. The takeaway is: “Your cat does what it does because it works for it.”
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
A re-read (in the original German), and worth it! Quite beautiful, with many wonderful moments. It’s the story of a spiritual journey, with Buddhist sensibilities. A simple tale, but lyrically told.
Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan
The authorized biography of Redford (and yes, there are pictures!). The writing is pedestrian, but Redford’s life was quite amazing. His energy, environmental interests, film work, and athleticism all really come through. The one down side is that, as it’s an authorized biography, you don’t know what they’re leaving out.
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
by Kelly McGonigal
This book was the culmination of McGonigal’s research as well as of her extremely popular 10-week class at Stanford. It’s not wordy or fluffy, but rather very focused with a scientific and modern perspective on the nature of will-power. It includes discussions of the myths of will-power, as well as about mindfulness. Check out McGonigal’s TED talks for more.
A Formal Feeling by Zibby O’Neil
A beautifully rendered story of coming to terms with grief. Anne is a 16 year old girl who has recently lost her mother. Her father has already remarried, and Anne is home from boarding school for the holidays. The story revolves around Anne’s grieving process, and finally allowing herself to grieve. It’s a sophisticated young adult story with writing to match, tactile and evocative and filled with symbolism and imagery.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
A novel about dysfunctional families, secrets, and coming of age, this story spans about twenty-five years and the stories of five different characters. At the center of them all is a dangerous teenage sociopath and a crime he has committed, and through the points of view of the other characters his background and upbringing are brought to light. Very evocative of upper-class New England in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
This novel centers on Nora, a schoolteacher in her thirties who considers herself a forgotten and overlooked “woman upstairs.” She makes a connection with a student and his family, an obsessive connection which has disastrous
consequences. Nora is a compelling narrator, one you identify with…until she crosses that line into insanity with a line or a thought.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The classic novel of crime and its aftermath, as well as into the mind of a killer who seems perfectly normal. The reader mentioned especially how the reader is drawn into the minutiae of the protagonist’s life, of how creepily everyday the narrative is, when all the while he is plotting a gruesome murder.
I realized only after I’d sent the email that I’d totally forgotten to include the book I shared! Ooops. It was Hild by Nicola Griffith, and if you click this link you can read my blog post. I said pretty much all the same things.
If this post makes you curious about what Simply Books! is like in person, please come join us in a couple weeks! Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 26th at 2pm, in the Jean Picker Room.
“What do introverts have to say to extroverts? What can we teach them?”
“To SHUT UP!”
The above pretty much sums up the February meeting of the Simply Books! group. It was hilarious. OH, and we talked about some great books, as well. We talked about the power of music and how it influences and enhances the human experience, we discussed an original take on literary criticism (Passionate Minds, below, which the reader, in a description I love, called “yummy and fun”), and then we all commiserated about the joys and challenges of being an introvert in an extrovert’s world.
And those were just the longest subsets of our book chat! There was a lot more that we chatted about, laughed about, and shared, and it was as great a meeting as ever.
Below please find the books that we all read for February:
Just a reminder, we now meet on the FOURTH Saturday of each month. So our next Simply Books! meeting will be March 22nd at 2pm, in the Jean Picker Room.
Hope to see you there!