Curl-up Books for a cold winter’s night

January 14th, 2014 by cwood

We thought that 2013 was a winter for the records, but it turned out to be merely a dress rehearsal for 2014.  It’s only mid-January, but already we have been colder longer and in more places than we could have imagined.  Even in our new home in the Deep South we have felt Old Man Winter’s frosty breath and have learned that cold is cold wherever it is, and we have donned our warm apparel to ward off the  unexpected chill.  We know that our friends in other parts of the country are truly suffering the effects of the “big freeze” and our hearts go out to those whose heating bills are so high that their food budgets are in jeopardy.  It’s a tough decision to have to choose between being warm and hungry or shivering and sated. 

One anecdote for the long, dark winter evenings is to put on fuzzy pajamas, wrap up in a warm blanket and curl up with a good book.  Your local library is ready to help make that happen.  All you need do is decide what would best serve your purpose.  Keep in mind that the “beach books” that kept you entertained last summer may not be what you want when the thermometer registers single digits.  Just as you tend to choose heartier foods in cooler weather, perhaps you should be looking for more substantial reading material.  I have found that winter is the time to return to the classics.  A few of my own personal favorites are suggested below. 

Shortly after our move to Alabama, I found my way to the local library and before long had joined two book discussion groups, one meeting in the afternoon and one evening “heavy hitters” group.  The first choice for the latter was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, her only novel as it turned out because she was killed before writing a second one.  I had seen the film version more than once and was certain I had read the book.  I was familiar with the plot and the major characters so I must have read it.  Since I had disposed of most of my library before leaving New Jersey. I knew I did not own a copy and therefore purchased one in case I wanted to mark passages. 

As soon as I started reading Mitchell’s magnum opus, I knew that I had not read this book before.  I became caught up immediately and realized why this book is as widely read as it is.  The film version is remarkably true to the text, but it is not exactly the same experience.  Just as seeing photos of your best friend is not the same as seeing that friend, reading the author’s words is a more intimate encounter.  I began to understand the “real” Scarlett and found myself more sympathetic to her than to the self-absorbed young lady I had seen on the screen.  I empathized with Melanie and respected her integrity more than I had with the vapid character in the movie. 

 Not too long after the book discussion, the film was shown on one of those channels with the dozens of commercials.  When my husband alerted me that it was on, I told him that I wasn’t interested because it’s too long and with commercials would be on nearly all night. However, I decided to tune in for a minute and got hooked.  Not only did I watch it all until after midnight but then watched the beginning that I had missed.  It was after 2 am when I finally turned off the TV and rolled over to go to sleep.  Needless to say, I was tired all the next day. 

 My suggestion for your winter reading is to read or reread Gone With the Wind, and if you make it through that, take a spin through The Great Gatsby.  You’ll find yourself immersed in the history of another era but more importantly, you’ll realize what makes these works classics.  They deal with human nature so realistically that even if the characters are not people you recognize as friends you would like to know, they portray people with characteristics that are universal.  The classics stand the test of time because although situations may change, people change very little.  Shakespeare knew that, Dickens knew it, and so did all the others whose works endure. 

 BTW, a book I heartily recommend for a wondrous read is another by a woman writer who also stopped at one.  This remarkable story is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, who devoted a good part of her life to promoting the career of a fellow Southern author, Truman Capote.  In this novel resides one of the most unforgettable characters in literature, lawyer Atticus Finch, a man of absolute integrity and impeccable moral stature.  The narrator is Finch’s daughter, a young lady known as “Scout.”  I promise you that if you spend some time with this family, you’ll come away with a sense that there is some hope for our species. 

 Stay warm, and stay focused.  There’s lots of excellent reading material out there.  It’s sitting on a shelf waiting to be selected.  Make a date, and don’t be afraid to venture into new territory or to revisit the old favorites.  If you find that you don’t like your date, put it aside and try another.  That “wallflower” you overlooked may prove to be the “love of your life.”    

Many thanks to Ann Dow, long time West Deptford Free Public Library friend and patron, for warming up our West Deptford Reader Reviews blog. Happy New Year!

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

May 27th, 2013 by cwood

Friday afternoon, I hoped to write a review about Kevin Powers’ book, The Yellow Birds.  Luckily, or unluckily, the West Deptford Free Public Library’s copy of the book was checked out, leading me to recall hearing the author was speaking in the tri-state area.  Let’s not discuss my guilt for not getting over to the Free Library of Philadelphia for Kevin Powers’ May 16, 2013 Author Event.  It is really neither here nor there as a podcast of the event is available online. The Free Library of Philadelphia has done a wonderful service archiving recent Author Events.

The Yellow Birds

I became immersed in the author’s story a few months ago while reading the book and again on Friday, May 24, 2013, as I listened to the veteran’s podcast.  Reading The Yellow Birds offered me a glimpse into a cathartic journey resolving personal conflict without naming the steps.  I was particularly impacted by the passage chronicling an active soldier’s reaction to a medic’s demise on the battlefield.

Listening to Kevin’s voice urged me toward continued faith in peaceful resolution.

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I thank the author for protecting us.   

 

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

April 4th, 2013 by cwood

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka depicts the communal cultural experience of a group of young brides brought to San Francisco shores more than a century ago.  The book possesses a poetic tone as the author uses a third person plural narrative to convey the cultural roots of the Japanese women. The women depicted by the author at first appear very different from today’s wives, yet much of the book mirrors “everywoman” experiences drawing readers closer to the pleasure, plight and burden of U.S. marriage migration.

Buddha_In_The_Attic

As a young married, I peered out the bedroom window.  She donned her straw hat and began to mow the lawn. Back and forth at a fever pace she mowed.  I watched and vowed never to mow and to date I haven’t.

Unfortunately, this was the only WDFPL National Women’s History book review submitted during March 2013.  Oh well, maybe next year. 

 

 

End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

December 13th, 2012 by cheryl r

This book an uplifting true story about a two-person book club. Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, have most of their club meetings in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center while waiting for her cancer treatment. Mary Anne Schwalbe was an active woman: loving wife and mother, member of the Women’s Commission/International Rescue Committe, former Director of Admissions for Harvard/Radcliffe, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, friend and mentor to many people around the world. She shares her love of the printed word with all three of her children, but she creates a special bond with the author during the hundreds of hours they spend in hospitals. “Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.” The reader will meet many interesting people and an eclectic collection of titles, including some childhood favorites. Although the outcome of this story is apparent from the start the story is not depressing. There is a lot of living packed into this book. I wish I had known this admirable woman and her family. The only negative is that I now have dozens of titles to add to my ‘to-read’ list, and unlike Mary Anne, I’m a slow reader. A complete list of all of the titles mentioned throughout the book is included at the end.

Just my type: A book about fonts by Simon Garfield

November 18th, 2012 by cheryl r

Letters - words – fonts are everywhere you look in the modern world. Unless you live in isolation you probably see dozens of fonts each day. This title is an interesting look at fonts/typefaces – not just their history but also the way they affect the reader. “Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago, when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Garfield unravels our age-old obesession with the way our words look.” The author is passionate about the topic of type and describes many of the fonts with human characteristics. This title includes numerous illustrations of typefaces and ads. It even mentions ” The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, which is used as a display phrase for fonts, and the very popular YouTube video that it inspired. Although I was familiar with two terms applied to type – serif and sans serif- I never spent much time thinking about typefaces before readin this book. Now I’m much more aware of the look of the printed word. I had an immediate negative impression of the font used for the 2012 London Olympics, and I regularly check to see if the book I’m reading includes information about the typeface. Just My Type is an entertaining and enlightening read that should appeal to a wide audience.

The Hedgehog, a movie in DVD

August 7th, 2012 by cwood

By Ann Dow

The French have an expression that says chacun a son gout, which is translated “everyone to his or her taste.”  That is why we have varied car  models, unlimited  paint colors and many ice cream flavors.  Not only do we not always like the same things as others, but often we don’t even like what we ourselves used to like.  Books and movies as well as authors and film stars have fans who follow their favorites and often make the difference between a rare gem and a remainder.  Highly touted films make their way into the Multiplex only to disappear at the end of the first week.  The most beloved authors sometimes find their work among the literary discards on the shelves at the local dollar store.

I recently watched a film that I highly recommend to anyone who speaks French or just likes to hear it spoken and doesn’t mind reading subtitles; who loves Mozart and Russian literature; who appreciates irony; and who has the patience to watch a story slowly unfold with little action but a great deal of nuance.  The ideal viewer will be so familiar with Tolstoy that he/she will recognize that naming  a cat Leo is  a mark of tribute to that remarkable author .

The interesting feature is that the three disparate protagonists in this story are a 15-year-old reclusive girl extremely bright for her age, a 57-year-old apartment concierge with little formal education but unlimited curiosity for self-learning, and a middle-aged, educated Japanese man who moves into the upscale apartment in Paris and recognizes the potential of his oddly matched neighbors.  He becomes the catalyst to change the lives of the other two.  He is like a careful gardener who brings to flower the rare seeds that had been ignored because no one recognized their value.

To the truly thoughtful moviegoer who enjoys the rare fare at the art movie house, I highly recommend this film for your pleasurable viewing.  To others, you may want to try it, but if it moves too slowly for your taste, you need not be concerned.  I don’t like caviar even though I know it’s a rare delicacy.  I have no idea what a truffle tastes like and am unlikely to find out; if that makes me a peasant, so be it.  I like what I like, and I think that Frenchman got it right:  we do have to be true to ourselves  and spend our time on what makes us happy.  In case you do decide to have a look, our library has a DVD copy. By the way, I suggest that before you watch the film, you read the book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog —also available at the WDFPL.   Let me know what you think.

American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan

May 25th, 2012 by cheryl r

This title is an examination of the way we eat and what it would take to eat well. The author works undercover as a laborer in the field of Central Valley, California, as a stock clerk in a Detroit area Walmart, and as an expediter in a Brooklyn Applebee’s. As she works for two months in each job she lives as her co-workers do on meager wages and with little access to affordable and healthy food. During her time in these jobs she comes ‘to think of the intrticate linkages from farm to plate not as a food system, but as a foodscape, a lush, living, breathing world through which our meals travel. Farmers and chefs are the most visible of its inhabitants, but farmworkers and produce managers and stock clerks and prep cooks live there, too – and they are no less important to our meals. At the human end of the food chain, eating is not just an agricultural act, but a profoundly social one as well.” p.234 I found this to be an eye-opening investigation of the American food system. It’s an informative look at the workers who have a hand in putting food on our plates. The narrative is entertaining to read but the author also includes numerous footnotes, almost 40 pages of endnotes, and a 23 page bibliography so the book is scholarly as well. If the topic of food and eating well is appealing you might also like Plenty: one man, one woman, and a raucous year of eating locally by Alisa Smith/J.B. Mackinnon and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a year of food life by Barbara Kingsolver.

Blind Date with a Book in Review

May 11th, 2012 by cwood

As promised, here is a little follow up dish on the blind dates:

“Our date did not go well.  We spoke different languages that made it difficult to understand one another.  I would not recommend this date unless you like sci-fi.”- The City & the City – China Mieville 204.4487

“What a fantastic little book.  I really picked a winner!  If you live in New Jersey this is a must read about people, places, signs and wonder.  Everybody knows somebody or something from our state.  Good writing, too!”
- Fresh Jersey: stories from an altered state – Mike Kelly 115.7277

“If you ever had the desire for adventurous hiking for the entire summer with two young children, this book is a must read.” – Scraping Heaven – Cindy Ross 917.8

“In the spirit of a blind date – I went for fun, rippling muscles and romance! While not my normal genre by a long shot this was quite a fun romp.  While you know the ending, the trip there has some unexpected turns, seduction and fun.  My husband appreciates the way I address him (mimicking the book) but thankfully has refused to go shirtless in a leather vest.”- The Devil Wears Plaid – Teresa Medeiros  F MED

“This book was a little young for me, I would recommend it to a teenager.”- What Boys Really Want by Pete Hautman    YA HAU

“Easy reading, interesting plot.  Love the main characters especially the Superintendent (Jury).  This mystery had some twists and turns, lots of reference to famous movies and interesting characters both human and non-human.  I got lucky in my pick as I love mysteries!!!!” - Black Cat – Martha Grimes F GRI

“Excellent discussion of religion and animals.  My date was a great storyteller.  I couldn’t put the book down.  A definite page turner.  I would go on another date anytime.  I must read.” - The Life of Pi: a novel -Yann Martel F MAR

“Extremely interesting story.  What a life Bob has had!  Trooper, undercover agent, mob follower, NBA referee.  He has done it all.  We had a lovely time and I would try another blind date.”- Covert: my years infiltrating the mob – Bob Delaney 364.1

“Being a Twilight fan, I was a little disappointed by The Host.  While the plot was intriguing, the meat of the book doesn’t come until close to the end.”
- The Host: a novel – Stephanie Meyer F MEY

“I found the experience to be so much fun.  I loved choosing from all the beautiful wrapping and reading the little insight that when with it.  The book was very unique as it told how one painting affected so many lives throughout time.  I so recommend the book to someone who enjoys many different stories tied together with a common theme.”
- Girl in Hyacinth Blue – Vreeland, Susan F VRE

 Thank you to everyone who dared to try a blind date during April 2012 @ your library!

 

Blind date details @ your library

May 10th, 2012 by cwood

Blind Date with a Book turned out to be more fun that we expected.  Enclosed in each wrapped book was an optional half-sheet book review form which read as follows:

Briefly tell us how your date went and if you would recommend the book to others.

Here are a few of the responses we received:

The date started out well in the beginning, but fizzled out after a bit, (like most of my dates).  It was a good read to begin with but didn’t keep my interest and I never got to the end.

A nice date.  It was a little slow in the beginning.  Not really my kind of date.

I may not recommend this book to others because it it too old and it smells a bit.  I cannot read recently, sorry.

This book was a quick read.  It kept you guessing the entire time.  Even though it’s a teen novel, adults will find it enjoyable as well, especially if you like to try to figure out the ending before you get to it!

Tomorrow, we’ll add a few more with titles…

 

 

 

Boardwalk Empire and Northside by Nelson Johnson

December 29th, 2011 by cwood

A Reader’s Review by Ann Dow

I am reading Boardwalk Empire, and the  book is a far cry from the HBO series.  It is a fascinating study of how Atlantic City came about.  Of course, this is of interest to me because I grew up there, but it should interest anyone who wants to know more about how places got to be what they are, especially resorts because most of them started out as tracts of sand until someone with foresight developed them and made them into what they are.  This would apply to Long Island, Florida, Newport, Bar Harbor and nearly any seaside enclave you might name.  Even the fact that some of those developers were shady characters is part of the common equation, and that’s what makes this book worth reading.  It’s not a soap opera like the TV show, but it does hold my attention and may indeed hold yours.

I also finished and enjoyed The Northside by the same author, Nelson Johnson (no relation to the legendary Nucky Johnson of Atlantic City fame) aka Nucky Thompson in the HBO series.  This one is about the African-American residents of the section of Atlantic City known as the Northside.  These people, many descendants of slaves, were the ones who comprised the main workforce of the industry that put AC on the tourist map.  They worked tirelessly for little reward and were treated little better than their ancestors, but they built their own society in their allotted part of town.  Many of them became professional people, and their children became doctors, lawyers, school teachers, and in several cases, celebrities.

The common denominator of these two books is that with the right raw materials, something good can be made from very little.  It takes determination and effort, but eventually the raw clay becomes a solid object that rises out of its surroundings and in time becomes the model for future sculptors to emulate.  In the case of Boardwalk Empire, this clay can deteriorate over time and unnurtured, can return to dust.  This happens when too much emphasis is placed on the place and not enough on the people who inhabit it.  Atlantic City is a classic example of such decline.  The Northside, which produced solid citizens, is still there even though many of those citizens have moved to other places which were not available to their forebears.  They continue to thrive and to make a difference and to influence their children to strive to do likewise.