Archive for April, 2009

Closing out National Poetry Month 2009

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

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I first read Taylor’s poem online.  She is working on something new to post to NovelIdeas next month.
 
Here are a few of Taylor’s words on writing.

” Though my ideas are rather new my favorite writers are classic like Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare. I like to use the elegant and classy wording of these greats on more modern ideas in my speeches and writings. You see my passion and what I plan to do for work is write and speak on tolerance and equality.”

My World

Weeping willows cover banks of a river warm and free.
I sit down on a river rock as the moon glares down at me.
There is one thing that I believe and will always see;
Everyone makes their own world, and this one is made for me.

Taylor Lyn Carmen

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Check out a few more poems @ poetry links library!

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

There are some books that need to be read twice in order to achieve some understanding of the characters. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is such a book. My first impression was one of dislike for many of the characters: Oscar’s mother was an unsympathetic woman, even making allowances for her illness. His sister was selfish and self-absorbed. Oscar himself was such so disconnected from the real world that it was hard to empathize with his pain. The narrator, with his unending stream of offensive language, was an annoying presence. The minor characters were mostly people one tries hard to avoid if possible.

It was only as I began to read the background stories of the individuals that I developed empathy with and sympathy for their actions. As I read, I became aware of how often we judge others without knowing where they came from and what they have undergone to get where they are. The person we know existed before we knew her, and her past has helped to shape her present. It occurred to me that a sincere attempt to understand others is the first step in getting along with others.

This book is about immigrants who come to this country to make a fresh start, but they do not leave behind the cultures that make their worlds. The second generation may try to break all ties to the past, and this attempt often leads to conflict within families as parents cling to the old and children fail to understand this attraction to tradition. Their actions seem disrespectful, but they are trying to keep pace with their peers in a new milieu.

Throughout this novel, there is the shadow of a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations and follows them wherever they go. It made me think of families we know who have been identified with enough bad fortune to counter the good fortune which has made them known to us. The Kennedy family comes readily to mind.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not an easy book to read, and I don’t recommend it for a quick read on the beach. It is not overly long, but it is weighty nevertheless. If you decide to take the journey through its pages, do so with an open mind and give the characters a chance to reveal themselves slowly. There’s a reason this won the Pulitzer Prize.

Ann Dow

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

My education concerning little-known events of WWII continues as a result of reading Tatiana de Rosnay’s enlightening and fascinating book about a “notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis.” I was aware of the Vichy Regime in France led by Marhsal Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944, when the allies landed in Normandy. What I had not known was the extent of involvement of ordinary citizens who chose to ignore the crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated around them. Of course, there were good people who did not agree with the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, but often even they did nothing for fear of retaliation against themselves or their families., “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke was not referring to World War II, but his quotation is never out of date.

It is ironic that I, who think of myself as fairly well versed in recent history, should get so much of my missing education not as a result of reading scholarly tomes but rather fiction. For the second time in a single week I have acquired knowledge of a facet of the BIG WAR, the war that defined my early childhood, from a novel that delves into just one event of that conflict. This time it is the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, a Nazi attempt to gather together as many Parisian Jews as possible into a single place on a single day so that later they could be dispersed to various prison camps and extermination centers. This process would be nearly impossible to accomplish without the complicity of the French people, some of whom cooperated wholeheartedly and some who simply refused to see what was taking place around them.

The early chapters of the book alternate between events unfolding in 1942, the year of the roundup and a time when sixty years later when an American writer living in Paris is given an assiginment that leads her back to a past she knows nothing about. Her investigation into that past takes her to places long buried in her husband’s family history. He wants to leave the past buried, but she is determined to uncover the secrets at any cost. Her determination to discover the past changes her future in unimagined ways, and the reader is swept up in the journey from the ghosts of the past to the unknowns of the future.

The author reminds readers at the outset that her novel is just that–a novel and not a historical work. But for me, the book called for further investigation, and I learned that indeed there was a “Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup,” and I wanted to read more about it. i invite you to read the novel and then, if your interest is piqued, as was mine, to read further. This book is a “must read,” if not for its historical associations, then for its own merits as a first-rate novel.

Ann Dow

Celebrate National Library Week with One Book NJ!

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Have you read The Brief  Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz?
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Thanks to Kate Vasilik, 2009 Chair, One Book New Jersey, for sharing this great interactive opportunity for National Library Week fun.
 
Log onto www.bccls.org/OBNJ this Thursday, April 16, 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.  Chat with award-winning author, Junot Diaz, about the 2009 OBNJ adult selection, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
 
Participation in this online chat is completely free and there are no registration or special log-in requirements.  The chat is open to all readers!  If you choose to participate, let us know how you make out. 
Your feedback makes things happen @ your library.

The thrill of reading letters.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Thanks for sharing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Ann. 

I stumbled upon this video that may also encourage folks to pick up the title.  If not, perhaps the video clip shares knowledge of the time depicted in the work. 

The backstory on the authors is interesting.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

When I first heard the title, I immediately dismissed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as too silly for consideration as a book I’d want to read. I forgot that old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or its title) either for that matter. Only when I realized that more and more people were talking favorably about the book did I decide to give it a try. It was a wise decision!

It took only a few pages of reading for me to recognize that I was not going to discover new recipes, but I was going to discover some historical facts about WWII that had previously eluded me. Through a series of exchanges of letters between a London author and the inhabitants of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands that lie in the British Channel separating England and the coast of Normandy, the reader becomes aware of the role this island and its neighbors played in the war. The Islands are not part of the British Common-wealth but are British dependencies, and their residents suffered as much as citizens of London and other parts of the Empire. Not only did they become the only part of England to be occupied by the Germans, but they for five long years they were totally cut off from news of the rest of the world because all means of communication were severed. Food, which had been plentiful in this agricultural community, was confiscated for use of the German Army, and the residents nearly starved.

The exchange of letters takes place in 1946, a year after the war’s end, and things are beginning to return to something approximating normal, but they will never be the same. These letters provide catharsis for the members of the GL&PPPS and enlightenment for the lady author who responds. The reader shares the joy that evolves on both sides of the chain as each party tells of personal experiences and each changes as a result of the friendships that develop across the channel.

Prior to reading the book, I had a vague idea of the hardships endured by the Channel Islanders, but my knowledge was extremely limited. It took me just a day to finish the book, and it was indeed a day well spent, both for the delight and the enlightenment. Treat yourself to a few hours of pure charm.

Ann Dow

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Seen it?

Read it?

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If yes, let us know …

If no, read a few thoughts from the author here , then consider checking the book out @ your library.