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Exploring Modern Folklore

By Danielle Schapaugh, Public Relations Coordinator

Eva LunaWatching the Olympics always makes me curious about other cultures. What are their values? What bedtime stories do they tell? For answers, I turn to literature, because I find storytelling more interesting than nonfiction, and because I think it’s possible to learn a lot about other cultures by exploring their folklore.

To begin, I selected a book from one of the masters of modern folklore (often referred to as magical realism), Isabel Allende, who is an award-winning author from Peru.

Allende’s books are steeped in magic and passion. Her most recent work, Island beneath the Sea is a visceral and shocking tale of endurance and triumph. Not only does this book explore other cultures, but it also takes a look at history.

Island beneath the Sea tells the story of Tété, a slave in Saint Dominique, who has been raised with the ways of the voodoo loa (deities). The story chronicles Tété’s life as a beloved child, a concubine, a slave, a servant, a revolutionary, and a voodoo priestess. Throughout her life, the loa guide, frustrate, play tricks, and provide Tété with the power to overcome.

“I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy.” – Tété

If you like this book, and I think you will, then I suggest exploring other titles by Allende, such as The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna, both set in the recent past and full of cultural identity.

Laura Esquivel is another fantastic author from Latin America. Like Water for Chocolate is probably her most famous work and would make an excellent choice for a book club! There are so many recipes, themes, and striking characters that you will want to discuss with friends.

At its core, Like Water for Chocolate is a story of unrequited love and family dynamics. It is full of longing and sorrow, magic, and triumph. Tita is the youngest daughter of a respected Mexican family. She will never be allowed to marry or have her own life. Instead, it is her duty to devote herself to the care of her aging mother. Sounds a bit like Cinderella, doesn’t she? The themes are similar and both tales include magic, but Like Water for Chocolate is not a Disney version of the story.

Tita begins her lifetime of work in the kitchen where she learns to express all of her emotions through food. Since she pours herself into her recipes, the food she makes is imbued with the magic of her feelings and has the power to affect those who eat it. Imagine what happens to the wedding cake when her sister marries the man Tita loves! This beautiful tale of Mexican folklore has also been made into a movie which is available at the library.

I also read Esquivel’s The Law of Love, which is set in the future. The book includes a CD of music to be played at certain points in the text. You will enjoy every “interlude for dancing!” As you read, you’ll learn about the relationships and achievements valued in Esquivel’s culture.

Finally, a book that really surprised me was Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, a fascinating author from Indonesia. The “rich and astonishing strangeness” of this story makes it very difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget. Visions of fireflies who rob the site of a man with a guilty conscience, a tornado of a mother who makes the house shake and drives out a cheating husband, and bees who drown out rational thinking will stay with you long after you finish this story.

It was interesting to me how the lines between “good” and “evil” characters are blurred in Of Bees and Mist. I’m used to clear distinctions in moralistic tales. Characters suffer because of bad decisions and bad influences, but at times it is difficult to figure out who the “bad guy” is. Every character is complicated, and I found myself slightly frustrated because this style is out of step with my native culture. It was a pretty cool discovery!

Of Bees and Mist has received mixed reviews, and the plot certainly doesn’t take a direct path to the finish line. Before you dive in, I suggest reading a few pages from the middle to see if you enjoy the tone and style. I certainly hope you decide to give it a try.

Literature and folklore provide powerful lenses for seeing into cultures around the world. I encourage you to explore new cultures by traveling as many places as you can and by finding new ideas in books.

If you need any more recommendations, please visit us at the Manhattan Public Library.

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Why Adults Should Read Children’s Literature

By Gigi Holman, Adult Services Librarian

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreI have recently come across a few opinion pieces about how adults shouldn’t read children’s literature. They say it is too easy, that we should leave it for the kids, or one columnist even went as far as to say that “…children’s literature doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature that is written for grown-ups.” While there might be some truth to this observation, I am here to make the case that there is fantastic children’s literature, and adults should be reading it, too. Now, I am not saying that you should cross every adult book off of your reading list; I am arguing that you can have a healthy balance in your reading by sprinkling a few children’s books every once in a while. So without further ado, here is my list of reasons why you should read children’s literature with some excellent book and author suggestions.

1. Children’s literature provides a fantastic escape from reality. Most children’s authors can weave enticing stories with elements that are silly, funny, playful, historical, and magical. They can take us to a place where we can forget about all of the heavy issues that adulthood brings. For an experience such as this, give Roald Dahl a try. Even he has said that “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men”.

2. Great stories come in small packages. Picture books can reach a wide audience. The stories, though short, have many layers and can be packed full of meaning. My most recent favorite is this year’s Newbery Award winner, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. This charmingly written story is about a boy and his grandma who, during a bus ride, learn to enjoy the people and sounds around them. Throughout the ride, the boy asks his grandma a series of questions, and each time she replies with an answer that points out the beauty in the everyday world. The ending is sweet and meaningful and reminds us about the joy of giving back to our community.
I also highly recommend The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, whose film version was awarded the best animated short film in the 84th Academy Awards. This imaginative story is a reminder that everyone’s life story matters.

3. Some stories become sweeter over time. Can you recall your favorite book from your childhood? Remember reading Charlotte’s Web, Make Way for Duckling, or the Goosebumps series? Try re-reading them. Sometimes the story can take on a whole new meaning as an adult.

4. The illustrations. There are some beautifully illustrated children’s books. You can get lost in the details of the art in some books. Exploring the Caldecott Award list, which offers awards for excellence in children’s book illustrations, can lead you to a wide variety of techniques in art. A few illustrators that I suggest you explore are Beth Krommes, who is a scratchboard artist; David Wiesner, whose illustrations reveal something new each time you read one of his stories; and Denise Fleming, who uses a technique called pulp painting to create her vibrant and colorful illustrations

5. Children’s literature can fit your schedule. Everyone is in a time crunch. Reading can sometimes be a chore instead of an enjoyable experience, but children’s books tend to be shorter. You have time to read a 200 page novel, right?

6. They help you connect with your kids. If you have young readers in your life, read books along with them. Reading books together can give you topics to share and talk about. And, kids who see adults reading are more likely to become readers themselves. There are so many benefits to reading with your kids.

Everyone can benefit from remembering what things look like from the perspective of a child, and reading children’s books helps us not forget that we were once silly, goofy, and playful too. In the end, no matter what you choose to read, come by the Manhattan Public Library and get lost in a good book.

Posted in: For Adults, Mercury Column, News, Parents, Young Adult Dept

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

The SandlotIt’s the end of July, the all-start game is a thing of the past, and more hot summer lies ahead. In a 162 game season, there’s a lot of baseball left to play. And that’s only the regular season. From opening day in April through the first cooling days of October, baseball is America’s pastime. There’s nothing like being at the ballpark on a green and glorious day, watching your favorite team, munching on a hotdog, and cheering with the crowd. But if you can’t make it to the ballpark, you can always watch one of these great baseball-inspired movies.

Baseball-almanac.com lists “Major League” (1989) as number 10 on its list of the top 10 baseball movies. The film deals with the exploits of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians. Rachel Phelps, the new owner of the Indians, wants to move the team to Miami, but the move hinges on poor ticket sales in Cleveland. To help drag the team down, Phelps hires the most incompetent players available, including a near-blind pitcher and an injury-prone catcher. But fate has other plans.

Number 9 on the best list is “The Sandlot” (1993). Scotty Smalls, the shy new kid on the block wants to join the pickup baseball team that plays every day in the neighborhood sandlot. Only problem is, he doesn’t know how to catch a baseball. He learns to play, but soon sets in motion adventures that bring the gang face to face with The Beast. You have to watch the movie to see what happens next.

“A League of Their Own” (1992) follows at number 8. This comedy portrays a fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league, founded by chewing gum magnate, Philip Wrigley, was active 1943-1954, and kept baseball in the public eye when so many male players were off to war.

Movie number 7 is “The Natural” (1984) starring Robert Redford, and based on the novel by Bernard Malamud. Sixteen years after a mysterious woman lead to the premature end of his budding baseball career, a once-promising pitcher comes back to baseball armed with his childhood bat “Wonderboy.”

Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Jodi Foster follow in “The Bad News Bears” (1976) at number 6. Called the best pure baseball comedy, this movie will remind you what Little League was really like.

“The Pride of the Yankees” (1942) is at number 5. This movie chronicles the life of Lou Gehrig, the legendary first-baseman who succumbed to a fatal neurodegenerative disease at the peak of his career. You won’t have a dry eye as you watch Gary Cooper, as Gehrig, give his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech.

“Eight Men Out” (1988) is number 4 on the list. This is a dramatization of the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. One of the characters that figures in the story is none other than Shoeless Joe Jackson, who later returns to Iowa in another of the best baseball movies of all time.

Number 3 is “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973). This film tells the story of the friendship between a star pitcher, wise to the world, and a mentally challenged catcher played by Robert de Niro, as they cope with the catcher’s terminal illness through a baseball season.

One of my personal favorites, “Field of Dreams” (1989) is ranked at number 2. This movie is an adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe.” Farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice, and believes that if he builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson from the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox will return. But that’s just the beginning.

And the number 1 best baseball movie as ranked by Baseball-almanac.com is “Bull Durham” (1988). This list calls “Bull Durham” the most authentic portrayal of baseball. This romantic comedy deals with a very minor minor-league team, an aging baseball groupie, a cocky foolish new pitcher, and the older, weary catcher brought in to wise the rookie up.

So head out to the ballpark before the season ends. Or, head over to the library, checkout one of these great films on DVD or Blu-ray, get your popcorn ready, and enjoy.

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A Mystery Series for Your Summer Reading List

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

The Cold DishSeveral years ago, I randomly picked up The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson and I was never able to look back. Ever since, I’ve waited anxiously for each installment in this brilliant mystery series. Johnson weaves the tales of Walt Longmire, an overweight, middle-aged, widower sheriff with a degree in literature, who takes better care of the county than he does of himself. Along with gripping plots, the Longmire series offers up unforgettable characters, journeys into the mind and spirit, and descriptions of Wyoming that make you feel the sun on your face and the biting wind at your back.

You’ve probably heard of Longmire from the series that was on A&E and then Netflix. I have enjoyed seeing my favorite characters come to life and was thrilled to see recently that season 5 is coming in September, but I must say that the books are an entirely different achievement. The TV show floats along the surface of the thought processes and mysticism that an author can convey so well in a book.

Walt is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, a fictional county at the base of the Bighorn Mountains bordering the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Walt spends many hours on the road and the trail throughout the series, covering the large area of the county or venturing further for an investigation, so we become intimately familiar with the varying landscape in all types of weather. Wyoming becomes a character in the series as he explores mountains and canyons and rides across the plains or travels long stretches of highway without another human in sight.

The plots of the novels are gripping, but the true reason that I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible is Johnson’s ability to make characters come alive. Walt is a good man, but has faults and weaknesses that make life challenging, not to mention the underlying grief that constantly accompanies him. His practical common sense is balanced by his love of literature and respect for the traditions of the local Native Americans. He is kept above the surface by his lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear. Henry owns a bar, has bad taste in women, and a steadfast strength. The interactions of the two friends provide subtle, dry humor throughout the books, balancing the difficulties of the issues they face. The deputies in the sheriff’s department consist of Vic Moretti, a smart-mouthed woman who can’t let go of her East Coast sensibilities; Saizarbitoria, a family man; Ferg who is dependable but would rather be fishing; and Turk, an unpleasant but competent officer. Ruby, the dispatcher, keeps everything running smoothly with her smoker’s rasp and superior nagging abilities. To relax, Walt plays chess with the former sheriff, Lucian Connally, who is regularly threatened with removal from his nursing home for various alcohol and weaponry infractions. Walt’s daughter Cady, a lawyer back east, makes regular appearances in an attempt to remind Walt that he is more than a sheriff. Each of them brings humor and heart to the series, while they all deal with demons from the past.

In The Cold Dish, which starts the series off, Longmire is called in to investigate the death of Cody Pritchard. Walt was familiar with the young man who, along with 3 friends, had been given a suspended sentence for the rape of a developmentally disabled Cheyenne girl. The other boys involved in the case are concerned that someone is seeking vengeance. Walt works to overcome his disgust with the murder victim in a situation where the meaning of justice is unclear. Called “a thoughtful page-turner, wry and sober in good measure,” by BookList, The Cold Dish doesn’t fit easily into any genre but would appeal to a wide range of readers.

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The Defense: A Top-Notch Summer Thriller

Marcia Allen
Technical Services Manager

The Defense by Steve CavanaghReady for a suspense title that will keep you reading its 300 pages at lightning speed? If so, Steve Cavanagh’s The Defense might be your favorite thriller this summer. This book, Mr. Cavanagh’s debut in this country, was nominated for the British Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Thriller of the Year. Mr. Cavanagh, a respected attorney who lives in Ireland, wrote the novel at night while his family was sleeping. To his surprise, the finished novel was a huge success and has since been published in the UK, Japan, Italy Portugal, France, Germany, and now the U.S. In fact, he plans to publish a series of novels about his character, Eddie Flynn. You’ll wait just as impatiently as I am for the next installment to reach this country. Let’s take a look at why the critics love this book.

First of all, there’s main character Eddie. Eddie’s a young attorney who left his practice because he successfully defended a sadistic stalker who, once freed, kidnapped and tortured his original intended victim. While Eddie did manage to save the life of the girl, he realized that this horrific crime would never have happened if he hadn’t defended the perpetrator quite so skillfully. So, now he has severed ties with his former partner and tried to turn his life around. That seems to be working until the opening page of this story. Eddie is kidnapped by brutal Russian mob figures who intend to force the lawyer to fulfill the contract that his old partner couldn’t finish. And, they have Eddie’s young daughter for collateral.

What do these ruthless characters have in mind? The head of the mob has been identified as the force behind a vicious hit, so for him to evade conviction, Eddie must somehow silence the witness before he can testify. Eddie becomes the major player in a plot designed to place a bomb in the courtroom near the star witness. Eddie is horrified by the plan, but his daughter’s life hinges on the success of the plot, so he has little choice.
Seems like a helpless situation doesn’t it? But that is not the case. Before becoming a lawyer, Eddie was a highly talented con artist. Taught by a father who had a unique set of skills, a younger Eddie had made a lucrative career from faking automobile accidents. Too, he still has links to old buddies who were also once a part of other con games, so Eddie is a man with some very useful friendships. 

Secondly, there are incredible twists in the plot. Nothing is quite what it seems, whether that be the plan to ignite a courtroom explosion or the possible involvement of the FBI. And the original hit is shrouded in mystery. The hitman’s guilt seems obvious, but his willingness to get caught is suspect. There’s also the matter of a picture on the wall that seems to have been altered. And one of the enforcers working with the head of the mob is clearly an angry man with other motives. In addition, there is the matter of multiple detonators for the bomb. Could there also be decoys for the bomb itself? 

Eddie’s frantic machinations to outwit the Russians lead to stolen wallets and cell phones, as well as the acquisition of some very unusual equipment. If that’s not enough, there are also ventures onto lofty building ledges and private conversations with other underworld factions. There are supporting characters known as “The Lizard,” “Cousin Albie,” and “Tony G,” and there is an abundance of flashbacks that explain Eddie’s colorful past and surprising capabilities.

To be honest, some of the scenes in this book are truly far-fetched. It’s difficult to imagine the troubled Eddie working his way down the statue of the Lady of Justice poised on the edifice of the courthouse. And it’s equally puzzling to imagine him rocketing through New York on the back of a racing motorcycle. But suspending belief for the duration of this action-charged novel is well worth it. Exciting courtroom tactics, breakneck chases, and lots of double-dealing make this one a sure hit!

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Food, Travel, and Introspection

Relish by Lucy KnisleyBy Crystal Hicks, Adult Services Librarian

Memoir graphic novels form a backbone of alternative comics, from Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Ellen Forney’s Marbles. The comics format is uniquely suited to detailing the inner thoughts of artists through the synthesis of words and images, making this a format well worth digging into. Among the many comics memoirists, thirty-one-year-old Lucy Knisley is one of my favorites. Knisley’s art style is simple and easily digestible, and her worries and anxieties resonate with new adults figuring out where they want to go in life and how best to get there.

Knisley’s memoirs begin with a trip to Paris as a twenty-three-year-old, lovingly detailed in French Milk. Knisley and her mother rent a flat for six weeks and take their time exploring Paris, visiting friends, and, for Knisley’s part, recording her thoughts in comics form. Knisley adds to the resulting travelogue with photos and later thoughts, but largely French Milk reads as a diary of her time in a foreign city. As always, food takes a front seat in this book, with not only descriptions that will make mouths water, but also Knisley declaring her love for delicious French milk.

Knisley develops her talent for food writing further in Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, which is her love letter to food of all sorts. Growing up surrounded by chefs and bakers, Knisley has a deep appreciation for food and eagerly wants to share it. Relish is divided into chapters focusing on different foods, from pesto to huevos rancheros, and in each she explores the memories that connect her to food, as well as describing each food delectably. Best of all, she has recipes throughout the book. Trust me, try them—they’ve yielded the best chocolate chip cookies of my life!

In An Age of License, Knisley returns to the travelogue format and to Europe, on a travel-expenses-paid trip for a book tour. Despite the success of her professional life, Knisley’s personal life is in shambles, and she uses the trip to puzzle out her thoughts and try new experiences in hopes of moving on. Alongside the self-reflection, Knisley reminds readers of the pleasures of good food and foreign travel, even if traveling alone. An Age of License is a book for anyone who has wished they could shed their skin and become someone new, even if just for a few hours.

Displacement is a companion book to An Age of License, which document Knisley’s time on a cruise for the elderly with her grandparents. Where An Age of License lingers on the freedoms of being an untethered twenty-something, Displacement ponders the aging process and how the elderly fit into our society. As her grandparents’ sole caregiver on the cruise, Knisley grapples with their mortality and struggles to find a sense of who her grandparents are, despite the ravages of old age. By turns sobering and heartwarming, this book looks thoughtfully at how people age, and it will strike a chord with many younger adults.

If you, like me, have strong memories of pulling your hair out while wedding planning, you will relate to Knisley’s newest book, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride. Unexpectedly engaged and planning a wedding in under a year, Knisley details her exploits in creating the perfect-but-still-personal wedding. From picking a dress to fighting over the reception and DIY-ing everything, Knisley covers it all from the perspective of a bride blindsided by years of tradition and the bridal industry. Rest assured, this book is not all wedding doldrums—Knisley sprinkles in funny asides and bizarre trivia, like the real reason brides carry flowers down the aisle (to ward away trolls!), which make Something New a joy to read. Readers will root for Knisley and her fiancé and breathe a sigh of relief when everything works out in the end. After all, the most important part of a wedding is celebrating a new marriage, which Knisley reminds the reader (and herself) of throughout the book. Something New provides an informative look into the wedding-planning process, with a nice dose of levity to balance out the inherent chaos of weddings.

No matter which of Knisley’s books you pick up, you’ll find food to drool over and thoughtful observations on becoming an adult. If you’re interested in more memoir graphic novels, fill out a personalized reading list at www.mhklibrary.org or in person, or ask a librarian for a recommendation. Manhattan Public Library has a great selection to choose from!

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Books Reviewed by Our Summer Readers

by Rachael Schmidtlein, Teen and Tween Services Coordinator

Every summer a *magical* thing happens. Like the Monarchs that migrate to Mexico, crowds converge on the library in June and July to craft, to play video games, and to read. It’s a wonderful time of year that makes our librarian hearts expand with pride. However, summer is also a very busy time when our staff is giving out summer reading prizes, planning around 20 events a week and restocking the shelves as fast as humanly possible.

We love reviewing and recommending books, we really do, but during June and July we sometimes have to put that duty on the back burner. Luckily, we have a really great community that helps us out with that!

When anyone turns in their summer reading minutes, they have the opportunity to review a book they read during that time frame. Incredibly, when we were reviewing the most recent submissions, we realized that over six hundred and fifty books have been reviewed this summer.

Without further ado, I give you five books reviewed by YOU, our incredible Manhattanites.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman (Young Adult Fiction)

“New Twist on Sleeping Beauty”

This masterfully written reimagining of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White is another work of art from the whimsical mind of Neil Gaiman. In this retelling, Snow White is a queen on a journey to rescue Sleeping Beauty and Sleeping Beauty isn’t quite in need of rescuing. Told in his typical creepy and dark fashion, Gaiman gives these tired stories a reboot.

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline (Adult Fiction)

“Real page-turner. Couldn’t put it down!”

Christine and Marcus find themselves facing the difficult reality of being unable to conceive a child. After an incredibly difficult road, they decide to use a donor. Now happily pregnant, they are ready to move on with their family. That is until Christine sees a man on TV being arrested for a series of brutal murders. The man also happens to undeniably remember her donor. Scottoline take the reader through an emotional and fast-paced journey that poses the question: what decisions would you make if the biological father of your unborn child was a killer?

 

Stolen by Lucy Christopher (Young Adult Fiction)

“This book is very gripping and at times heart-wrenching. At first you see Ty as a monster and Emma as a victim but, will that change? Will Emma learn to love Ty or will she escape and turn Ty in? There is no way to know…”

Sixteen year old Gemma has been kidnapped and taken to the Australian outback. However, her captor Ty is nothing like you would expect. Written as a letter, this story explores the complicated and unsettling nature of love and reliance. The desolate but beautiful Australian outback acts as a silent character, and readers are constantly torn between reality and unreliable characters.

 

Gumption by Nick Offerman (Adult Non-Fiction)

“Nick Offerman makes me feel like there are butterflies in my stomach. #mancrush #mancandymondayeveryday”

A combination of serious history and light humor, Nick Offerman tells of those throughout history who inspired him. This books meanders through the topics of religion, politics, woodworking, agriculture, philosophy, fashion and meat in a seriously funny way.

 

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro (Young Adult Fiction)

“If you are any sort of a Sherlockian (that is, any fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his characters), you will love this new take on the amazing duo, Sherlock and Watson. This novel is told from the point of view of a teenage descendant of the original Dr. James Watson. He meets his counterpart, Charlotte Holmes at a Connecticut boarding school called Sherringford. This is the first book in a trilogy about the two and the cases they solve.

I love this book and I love that the author references the original cases Doyle wrote about. I also love the title’s play on words.”

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The Gorgeous Agony of Becoming a Better Person

By Danielle Schapaugh

I know a novelist who can take your heart places it never wanted to go, while still making you happy you took the journey.

The first book I read by Lori Lansens, simply called “The Girls,” is the story of conjoined twins, told alternately by each sister. As shocking and uncomfortable as the tale gets at times, detailing the struggles, heartaches, and yearnings of the two longest surviving craniopagus twins, Lansens never forgets to circle back to the joy of living. You’ll be hooked from the start. The book begins with a poem written by Rose, one of the sisters:

“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to the beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, buy oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.”

After being charmed and heartbroken by “The Girls,” I decided to keep exploring. Next, I picked up “The Wife’s Tale” by Lori Lansens.

The Wife’s Tale” features a minor character from “The Girls,” their neighbor, Mary Gooch. Mary is the depressed and morbidly obese wife of a gregarious high school football star. She is at the lowest point of her life when she is forced to confront her fears and begin an agonizing journey of self-discovery. This book is filled with so much awkwardness that it makes the entire tale feel like a big, cathartic release.

For example, at one point Mary steps on a shard of glass after locking herself out of the house, naked, in a thunderstorm and her body will not allow her to reach her foot to remove the glass or staunch the bleeding. You will breathe a giant sigh of relief when everything turns out ok. This story will remind you to be thankful for the little things that go right in your life, and thankful that the tale ends happily.

Lori has two more books, although I recommend taking a break rather than reading them back-to-back. As enjoyable as it is dive into these heartbreaking stories and discover new things about your inner world, devouring them back-to-back could be a little rough on your psyche. You might want to pause and read a little Jude Devereaux (romance) or maybe a book from the Agency series by Y.S. Lee (Y.A. mystery) before continuing.

When you’re ready, it’s time to read “Rush Home Road.” Images from this book will stay with you for the rest of your life. I still think about Mum Addy teaching Sharla how to clean out the bathtub or Sharla climbing up to steal cookies from the top shelf. This is actually Lansen’s first novel and tells the story of two women who become family. Sharla is a five-year-old who is abandoned at Addy’s trailer-park doorstep. Addy is a seventy year old woman who shut herself off from her past. Together, they provide the love and support each has needed in order to heal.

Lansens’ latest novel, “A Mountain Story” also carries the theme of personal discovery and healing, but this time with a heavy dose of adventure and suspense. A series of missteps strands a group of hikers together in the wilderness. They band together to survive, and as the story turns more desperate they form an inextricable bond.

Lansens’ writing transforms the scale of daily living and brings the small details into focus. You will not be able to tear your eyes away from the text and you’ll begin experiencing your days in more vivid detail. You can really taste that morning coffee, feel the humidity cling to your skin, pay attention to the way your feet slide in the bathtub. Lansens’ books have a wonderful, transformative power to make you stop and appreciate things. For that fact alone, I would recommend them.  However, her books also give insight and empathy that help make the reader a better person. You should add them to your list immediately.

 

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Valiant Ambition: Nathaniel Philbrick Brings History Alive

by Marcia Allen, Collection Development

Though it was published some fifteen years ago, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea has remained a terrific account of 19th century whaling adventures, complete with day-to-day details of the hardship, cannibalism and the mayhem caused by a violent sperm whale.  In fact, Philbrick’s account of the true tale that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick netted the National Book Award that year for the quality of its dramatic recreation of that period in history.  That was but one bestselling historical account that Philbrick produced.  In 2007, he released yet another stirring tale, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.  Steeped in violence and treacherous relationships, this one presents an account of early colonization that is much more realistic than what some histories would have us believe.  This book, too, earned widespread attention for readers around the world, was a finalist for the Pulitzer, and made the New York Times Book Review top ten of the year.

If you consider Philbrick one of your favorite nonfiction authors as I do, you’ll love his latest account that just came out this May.  Valiant Ambition traces the events of the Revolutionary War with the author’s usual candor and painstaking research, and what a story it is. Here’s what you might like about the book:

First of all, Benedict Arnold is one of the key players.  Long considered a traitor and unscrupulous human being, Arnold was initially one of the better generals under Washington’s command.  He was a courageous fighter and a seasoned combat veteran who strongly believed in the American cause.  He was the victim of political maneuverings that he could not stomach, and he came to resent being passed over for the promotions which he deserved.  Thus, Philbrick’s Arnold is a flawed but skilled commander who could not accept the deceit of those in power.

Obviously, George Washington is the leading figure in the book, but the image of the dignified and courageous leader that history has often portrayed him is absent, at least in the early part of the book.  At first an unseasoned commander, Washington made horrendous mistakes in leadership that could have easily cost the American forces the war.  In fact, he once intercepted a letter, not intended for his eyes, in which one American leader was highly critical of his botched combat tactics.

There is the also the added drama of accounts of the many witnesses that brings the battles to life.  Included, for example, is John Greenwood’s account of the siege of Trenton during which he saw the horse pulling the Americans’ only artillery struck by a six-pound cannonball.   Greenwood also tells of the panic when the Americans realized their soaked weapons would not fire, so they were forced to mount a bayonet charge against the trained Hessians they feared so much.

In addition, there is this intriguing playing out of strategy throughout the book.  We learn, for example, that British General Howe didn’t really want to engage the American forces in battle in the early days of the war.  Because of the inexperience, the high death rates, and the heavy losses of cannons and cannonballs, the American cause was viewed as a failure from the beginning.  Howe felt that all he had to do was wait for the inevitable.  We discover that Washington learned to focus on maneuverings that were the least expected.  One prime example was his re-taking of Princeton.  That operation succeeded because he led his troops at night to the rear of the British forces, only to attack on slippery, frozen fields at the break of day.

What makes this book as much a resounding success as the other Philbrick books is its attention to the way events and personalities really were.  Philbrick is a master of research, (see the 28 pages of his bibliography), and this vivid tale gives us the personality flaws, the glaring mistakes, and the horrors of that long ago war.  Magnificent reading!

Posted in: For Adults, Mercury Column, News

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