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 “Weirdo Fiction with a Shot of Southern Gothic Influence”

By Danielle Schapaugh

Not often will you find a witty, southern gothic, heartfelt, fiercely-loving, mystery story featuring Hindu mythology, but that’s just what Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel “The Opposite of Everyone” has to offer.

Jackson is one of my favorite writers, always surprising readers with plot twists and engaging us with the kind of irreverent humor it takes to overcome hardship.  Her characters are authentic and original, and if you like to get wrapped up in a good story, she is a perfect author for you to explore.

“The Opposite of Everyone,” published in 2016, is the story of Paula Vauss, a smart and smart-mouthed divorce attorney who transformed herself after getting her gypsy-spirited mother arrested and imprisoned. Paula was only ten at the time and she was left to finish growing up in foster care with a new identity shaped by regret.  Her emotional armor expresses itself as sarcasm and outlandish behavior, but never does she seem crass or uncaring.  She’s someone you’ll want to meet. Paula’s mother has many secrets, but her love for her daughter and her unique approach to life and storytelling leave a deep imprint.

Then one day, her mother’s most treasured secret arrives on Paula’s doorstep and she is forced to crack open her armor to search for clues to her past and discover her mother’s whereabouts. This touching story has sharp edges, strong bonds, and a big heart. Paula is actually one of the minor characters from one of Jackson’s earlier novels “Someone Else’s Love Story,” which brings me to my next recommendation.

“Someone Else’s Love Story” is focused on Shandi Pierce and William Ashe.  Shandi is a young woman trying to raise a three-year-old genius, finish college, and keep her complicated life from jumping the rails—when she falls for William, an older man she meets at a gas station hold-up. As funny and “meet cute” as that sounds, this touching story is full of heartbreak, loss, and forgiveness, as well as humor.

None of Jackson’s characters is a flat stereotype, and that might be what I like most about her work. William Ashe, the hot, older-guy-hero Shandi falls for in “Someone Else’s Love Story,” is not just a good looking guy. William is a genetic scientist with Asperger’s. With the help of his best friend from high school (Paula Vauss from “The Opposite of Everyone”) he has learned to adjust. The chapters told from his perspective are full of the mental calculations he performs in order to read social situations, and they are never boring.

Jackson cares about her characters, and never does them the disservice of making even the minor players one-dimensional. In fact, she has another pair of novels that swap characters, and I think you will be interested to read them. Just between us, you should start with these if you are new to Jackson’s work.

The book that made me fall in love with Joshilyn Jackson’s writing is actually her very first novel, “Gods in Alabama.” This is a whopper of a story full of southern charm, grit, and sincerity.

godsThe tale begins with pressure. Arlene Fleet vowed never to return to Alabama, in fact, she made a deal with God about it. If He kept that dead body hidden, she would never again set foot in her hometown, never again see her family, and never again do the things that landed her in the predicament in the first place. Arlene goes about living a good life in Chicago, but unfortunately, neither party is able to hold up their end of the bargain.

Arlene’s family begs her to return. Her long-time boyfriend demands to meet her family.  Then Miss Rose Mae Lolly, who happens to be the former girlfriend of the dead body, shows up at Arlene’s doorstep looking for her lost love.

When you’ve finished “Gods in Alabama,” it’s time to pick up “Backseat Saints” and learn about the life of Miss Rose Mae Lolly. Rose is a hero in her own right, and Jackson will also show you another side of the dead quarterback. She proves, once again, that humans are more complicated and fascinating than we like to assume.

I can’t say enough about Joshilyn Jackson and I want to sum up my esteem for her saying, she’s just a great storyteller and I think you should start exploring her books immediately. Look for her books on the first floor of the Manhattan Public Library in the fiction section or find them at your local bookstore.

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The Growth of an American Icon:  Georgia O’Keefe in Fiction

By Marcia Allen, Manhattan Public Library

I’ve always been fond of fictional books like Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s affair with and influence on Frank Lloyd Wright.  Equally appealing to me was Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, which vividly conveyed the early marriage and the fractured relationship between Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.  What is it about such books?  Probably the intertwining of fact and fiction in telling the lives of famous artists.

And now I’ve discovered another jewel of a book.  Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp is a masterful retelling of the love affair between O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, the famed American photographer who promoted O’Keeffe’s art and eventually married her.  I would highly recommend this new title to readers who are also drawn to similar tales for a variety of convincing reasons.

First, the author does an incredible job of developing O’Keeffe’s style.  Those familiar with her stark New Mexico landscapes and striking flower paintings will note the development of her talent throughout the story.   Her initial efforts promised talent, but her gradual creation of a totally new modern art form didn’t come until later.  Stieglitz recognized her potential early on, and encouraged her work, showing and selling it in his gallery.  The novel conveys this through vivid descriptions of settings that compelled the painter, as well as her frustration with pieces of art that she felt were unsuccessful. Vivid colors and open spaces are key throughout the book.

O’Keefe’s character is equally well rendered.  Always a very independent woman, she fought for her own style.  Extended stays in New Mexico gave her the opportunity to experiment with color and light, and she began collecting bones and rocks that inspired her.  A gradual realization that that landscape was essential to her work led to her many lengthening trips to the area and also to the most famous landscape paintings of her career.  Author Tripp’s descriptions of journeys to the Southwest and her lovely references to O’Keeffe’s favorite sites help us better see her creativity in progress.

More important to the book is O’Keefe’s relationship with Stieglitz.  Following a brief correspondence with him, the painter traveled to New York to show him her work.  The two formed an instant bond, and soon they became lovers, despite his marriage and the wide age gap between them.  A very messy divorce allowed the two to marry later.   As their relationship strengthened, Stieglitz arranged displays of her work and encouraged her to explore different mediums.  He also took the famous photographs of O’Keefe, both clothed and nude, that are still considered classics.  Because of Tripp’s careful research and her talent with the writing, we readers witness the intimacy and complexity in the relationship of two very talented and strong-willed individuals.O'Keeffe photographic portrait by Halsman

Tripp’s account of O’Keeffe’s mental breakdown is heartrending.  This collapse took place in the 1930s when a series of events became unbearable.   A contract to paint a mural in Radio City Music Hall fell through when the construction failed to meet deadlines. Stieglitz’s ongoing love affairs became blatant, and O’Keefe could no longer accept his assurances that she was the love of his life.  She found, too, that his insistence on dominating the direction of her career stifled her independence.  The passages in the book that convey this turmoil are fraught with helplessness and despair.  O’Keeffe experienced a grief that became a physical one, because of the death of her long relationship with Stieglitz.  There’s a sad healing realization toward the end that she had to be alone to fulfill her talent.

Like all books that are so well written and so revealing, this one has sparked my curiosity about the life of O’Keeffe.  I plan to re-read Roxana Robinson’s memorable Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life in the near future.  Author Tripp cites it as one of her research sources for this lovely fictional rendition.  You just might wish to do the same.

 

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 Discover Your Passion

by Brian Ingalsbe, Youth Services Library Assistant

Spring break officially begins tomorrow, and most – if not all – of our children are ready for a FULL WEEK of relaxation. What will they do with that week? If they’re like me, they’ll spend the first few days splurging on all of their favorite activities and pastimes. But what then? Take them to Manhattan Public Library to discover their next great passion. How? Well, I have just the answer for you!

Have fun

During the week of spring break the Youth Services department is having several fantastic programs that both you and your child can enjoy. You can find information about any of these events in three ways: 1) visit our website at mhklibrary.org and click on the events tab, 2) grab a March monthly calendar at any of our service desks, or 3) ask any of our staff!

Take a book trip

If you think that you need to physically move to go on a journey, then you have never read a good book. Stories of all kinds can transport you to vast worlds – both imaginary and real. Half of the fun of reading is escaping your humdrum routine for something a bit more exhilarating. As a lover of fantasy fiction, I understand this as well as anyone. If this is the kind of read you love, here are a few great books for you.

Savvy by Ingrid Law – For generations, the Beaumont family has inherited a magical secret. Each family member is endowed with “Savvy”, a special ability on their thirteenth birthday. On the eve of Mibs’s birthday, her father is in a terrible accident. Determined to prove her magic can save him, she hitches a ride on an ordinary bus, which is headed in the wrong direction.

School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani – Agatha and Sophie live in a world outside of the magical forest. Agatha is always glum and gloomy; Sophie is cheery and happy as can be. When these two unlikely friends are abducted to the School for Good and Evil they learn that appearances are not always what they seem.

If you don’t fancy fiction, nonfiction is another viable option. It is always fun to choose a geographic location and immerse yourself in a culture and way of life. Here are some great nonfiction series that accomplish this.

Scholastic’s Enchantment of the World – This series focuses on different countries around the world. This series is great because it addresses many of the different factors that makes each country unique – including its people, land features, religious practices, and even national pastimes! This series is broken up with numerous pictures, which makes it much less intimidating for children.

America the Beautiful This series – also published by Scholastic – focuses on the diversity of the each of our 50 states. Each book addresses the state’s basic information – such as history, government, and economy. I love this series because it utilizes fun fact trackers including graphs, FAQ’s, wow factors, and travel guides. You and your child will love learning about a new state with this fun and engaging series!

Learn a new skill

When you’ve had your fill of travel, you can come back to MPL and grab some amazing books to explore your next great hobby or pastime – or just satisfy your thirst to learn something new. When I think about exploring a new hobby, there are several activities and books that pop into my head!

Learn to Draw – This series is great for children who crave creativity. Each book in the series explores different ways to draw various subjects – including animals, transportation, and even your favorite Disney characters! These books not only teach you how to draw well, they also include mini quizzes and fun facts on every page. How cool is that?

Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbooks – This series of cookbooks features authentic and easy-to-replicate recipes from all over the world. Cooking is something fun that you can do with any of your loved ones, and what better way than to explore a new cuisine together?

No matter what their passions may be, MPL has something for your children! Our staff is always ready to help you find your next great read, explore the online world, or answer any question you may have. You can contact the Youth Services Department staff at kidstaff@mhklibrary.org or (785)776-4741 ext. 400.

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YA for Adults

by Rachael Schmidtlein, Young Adult Librarian

Because I’m a twenty something, when people find out that I read YA, I sometimes receive a lot of ridicule. Many times I receive questions along the lines of, “Aren’t you a bit old for that?” or comments like, “Oh, so you don’t read REAL books”. When I respond by explaining that I actually make a living by finding new ways to get YA lit into people’s hands, the reaction is usually humorous befuddlement coupled with a subtly offensive question about what I “actually do”.

So, why do I love YA lit as an adult? Because YA lit is bursting with hope, humor, and optimism. After I read a YA book, my faith in humanity is temporarily restored. Yes, there is sometimes hokey romance. Yes, the characters can be over the top. Yes, sometimes the premise of the book is so unrealistic that it’s laughable. But you know what? Sometimes that is not a bad thing!

If you love YA or haven’t had the chance to take the plunge yet, these reads may be just what you need.

Fantasy

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Ten years after the royal family was murdered and the kingdom cursed, Finnikin and his guardian go on an incredible journey to find the heir to the throne. This high fantasy is an epic journey of hope. But don’t let the YA nature of this book fool you: Finnikin of the Rock does not sugarcoat the characters treacherous journey. The plot is intricate and filled with magic.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Since Katsa was eight, she’s been a thug for her uncle, the king. She has very little expectation that her life will ever change much, until she meets someone else who is graced with combat skills similar to hers. Graceling is about Katsa learning to redefine herself and learning to trust other people. If you are a fan of Tamora Pierce, then you should definitely read this book.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Every November the water horses rise from the sea, and the Scorpio Races begin. Riders compete to keep control of their water horses and make it to the finish line. This year, Puck is determined to be the first girl to enter and win the competition. The Scorpio Races may be a fantasy with universal themes of loyalty and strength strewn artfully though the book.

Contemporary

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is about a beautiful girl, a damaged boy, four friends who call themselves the Liars, and a secret. I really can’t tell you much about this book without giving away the whole thing, but if you must know something then know this: it’s a mystery and it’s amazing. E. Lockhart totally nailed it with this book.

On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor dreams of a boy in a tree, of death and of Jellicoe Road. The story takes place at a school where the territory wars take place. A mixture of reality and dream world, Jellicoe Road can be a challenge, but the sarcastic and powerful nature of the character’s voice will guide the reader through. It also takes place in Australia, which is awesome.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Over the course of a year, Eleanor and Park ride the bus together. They know that first love almost never works, but their lives makes them desperate to try. Eleanor and Park is about being brave and trusting yourself. If you like Gayle Foreman or Stephen Shobsky, then you need to real this Rainbow Rowell book.

Historical

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is the story of, Maddie and Queenie, who go on a secret mission behind enemy lines in occupied France in WWII. This book started out as a story of women who could fly planes in WWII and turned into a story about friendship and the importance of people and relationships.  The first half of the book can be confusing, but it’s worth it in the end.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi and Alexandrine are girls who live two centuries apart, but they’re also the same. Andi is angry and tired until she stumbles upon Alexandrine’s diary and her life comes into perspective.  This is the perfect read for someone who loves it when the past mixes with the present.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl living in 1941. Her life is torn apart when she is ripped from her family and sent to a work camp in Siberia. Her journey is long, about 6,500 miles, but with the help of her art, she might just be able to regain the life that was stolen from her. Between the Shades of Gray is beautiful, bleak and gritty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

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Escape Holiday Stress with an Adventurous Book

by Danielle Schapaugh

Because this time of year is extra stressful (plus the weather is getting bleaker and the days ever shorter), it’s the perfect time to escape into a can’t-put-it-down fantastic story.  The books below will whisk you away to other worlds and great adventures, some are gritty and others uplifting, and each one is worth a try.

Pierce Brown’s debut novel, “Red Rising,” will grab you from the first page and take you on a daring, action-packed journey into the future and across planets.  The best part is, it’s also full of heart.  The story begins deep in the mines of Mars with Darrow, the youngest drill specialist or “helldiver” in recent memory.  After a torturous betrayal, his need for vengeance drives him to become a revolutionary with the hope of changing the entire caste system of his society.  Driven to seek social justice by his indestructible love of family, he transforms himself and becomes more than he ever thought he could be.  Like Rocky Balboa, he possesses an inhuman ability to endure, and you will love Darrow soon after the first line, “I would have lived in peace but my enemies brought me war.”

Book two in the Red Rising series, “Golden Son,” does not suffer from the typical sophomore book slump.  I was grateful to be able to pick it up immediately after finishing the first book and am now anxiously awaiting the third installment, “Morning Star,” which is due to be released on January 12.  I recommend Brown’s books to everyone I meet, including my dental hygienist, mail carrier, and all of my coworkers.  Universal Pictures purchased the screen rights for seven figures, so it looks like a new blockbuster is in the works.

Next, for an adventurous tale that is both gritty and poetic, try “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doer.  This is the story of two young people on opposing sides of WWII in occupied France.  Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a young blind woman left alone in a house that is crumbling around her.  As the bombs drop, you follow her journey while she hides, drinks the dusty water from a bathtub, and discovers a last can of food that is miraculously filled with peaches.  Your heart may forget to beat as you turn the pages.

Marie-Laure’s counterpart, Werner Pfennig, is a German orphan who loves fixing things.  When an officer discovers Werner’s uncanny ability to repair radios, he finds himself recruited by the Nazis and plugged into the war machine.  You will long for the war to end but for the book to continue forever.

Finally, in “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” you will find yourself becoming strangely fascinated with the study of moss.  The journey in this book is largely internal, but oh, what an immense and powerful journey it is.  Plain-faced Alma Whittaker moves from infancy to old age and discovers truths about herself which only time can reveal.  The visceral details of 19th century life, the struggles between identity and expectations, and the passion with which Alma approaches her scientific study of mosses will have you immersed in another world and begging for more.

Accepting someone’s book suggestion requires a certain amount of trust.  You wouldn’t trust the opinion of someone you don’t know, but I would like you to think of your local librarians as your “book fortune tellers.”  Librarians are trained to identify the “appeal factors” of a book in order to recommend the right book for the right person.  So, if ever you find yourself in need of a reliable suggestion, a librarian will help assess your preferences and give you a list of books you are sure to love. The next time you’re here, ask a librarian about getting a personalized reading list.  You can also call the library at (785) 477-2735, or email us at refstaff@mhklibrary.org.

 

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Promising Books from New Authors

by Marcia Allen, Collection Development Librarian

We all know that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the book to read this summer.  We’ve seen the reviews, both good and bad, that make the title very tempting, and the high number of requests at the library attests to the demand for this newly published tale about Maycomb, Alabama. We’ve also seen the latest by perennial favorite authors such as Daniel Silva, Mary Higgins Clark, and Stephen King.   The newest spy thrillers, puzzling mysteries, and shocking tales of horror are readily available from those old favorites. But there are also lots of promising new stories from authors who may not be so familiar to readers looking for something different.  A sampling of fiction titles just received at the library reveals the following potential hits:

 

  • The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. This one’s a nice selection for those who are fans of the Nevada Barr series.  Special Agent Ted Systead, who works for the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, is one of few trained to investigate crimes committed in parks in the western half of the U.S.  He has a particular interest in homicides, like the one that has just brought him to Glacier National Park.  His trouble is that he witnessed the mauling and death of his own father during a grizzly attack some years ago.  This recent murder would also seem to have the same savagery of that long ago grizzly attack, but the victim is found tied to a tree.  Ted will have to deal with his own nightmarish memories, as well as the reticence of the locals.  Author Carbo has a clear talent for realistic descriptions of the Glacier setting, so this mystery’s rich with atmosphere.

 

  • Buell: Journey to the White Clouds by Wallace J. Swenson.  In the Idaho territory of 1873, young gunman Buell Mace has become something of an outcast and heads off to the gold fields to offer protection to those whose claims are threatened.  Buell is hired by Emma Traen to protect her gold interests, but there are lots of others willing to seize her claims in desperate ways.  Buell has new friends on which to rely, but they, too, are in danger, and he will learn what loss is.  This is a violent western, depicting a young man’s struggle in an untamed country.

 

  • The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario.  Here’s a thriller from a debut author.  The book  opens with the doomed flight of a mother and her small son.  Their brutal follower  manages to kill the mother to regain the boy, but in the confusion and mist of the mountain shrine where the runaways are cornered, the youngster disappears.  The        boy’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea was a famed pianist, but recent losses of loved ones have sidetracked her career.  The discovery of a photo of the missing boy leads her on a journey that will reveal lost artifacts as well as another chance for a fulfilling life.  Romance, intrigue, and new discoveries make this an unforgettable read.

 

  • The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka.  Eric Argus is a quantum physicist with a serious problem:   He was at the top of his game as a university research physicist, but the work dragged him through a serious breakdown.  Now he’s been given another opportunity to do research with an old friend.  In the course of his experiments, he discovers impossible truths:  until an observer notes results, the result remains only probability.  Hence, we have terms like “retrocausality” that are of major concern.  This is a thoughtful work of science fiction, one that questions the nature of the real and the role of human understanding in the universe.

 

  • One final title worth mentioning is Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.  This lovely piece of fiction has made various bestseller lists,  and it has to be among the most heartwarming books of the summer.   It concerns one Monsieur Perdu, the proprietor of a floating bookstore, who helps customers select purchases based not on wants but on what he feels  those readers need in their lives.  A remarkable book.

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The Best New Books!

By Marcia Allen, Collection Development

There’s always a bounty of wonderful new adult books at the library in the spring.  With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to narrow your picks to just a special few.  Here’s a very limited sampling of what has recently arrived:

  • “Inside the O’Briens” by Lisa Genova. Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, became an instant celebrity when she released “Still Alice,” a heartbreaking novel aboutAlzheimer’s disease.  This time, she focuses on the effects of Huntington’s disease, often called  the “cruelest disease known to man.”  Joe O’Brien, a veteran Boston police officer, earns his family’s concern when he begins stumbling and when he exhibits wild mood swings.  Once diagnosed, he learns that there is a 50% chance that his four grown children may also develop symptoms.  This novel is a realistic look at a fatal disease with horrendous effects.

 

  • “Reykjavik Nights” by Arnaldur Indridason is the latest from one of Iceland’s most recognized mystery writers. A number of well-written mysteries about Inspector Erlendur have featured the patient detective unraveling tales of murder, but this book differs in time period.  This story, the puzzling account of two perhaps unrelated murders, features a much younger Erlendur when he was a police officer.  Already displaying the dogged curiosity and interest in missing persons that Indridason’s many readers enjoy, our determined officer wants to know why a misplaced earring, a missing woman, and the drowning of an old alcoholic are connected.
  • “The Siege Winter” by Ariana Franklin is a nice piece of historical fiction. Franklin, the author of the bestselling “Art of Death” mystery series, wrote this new tale to convey the horror and uncertainty of the year 1141, when King Stephen and Empress Matilda fought each other for the throne of England.  It is now the year 1180, and the dying Abbot of Perton has arranged for a scribe to record the events that took place some forty years earlier.  Important players in the story from the past include Gwil, an archer bent on revenge, and Penda, a brutalized child who becomes a very talented archer.

 

  • “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies of the Old West” by David Fisher serves as a companion piece to the Fox News series for the Bill O’Reilly docudrama. This is a must-have for those readers who can’t get enough about the real West.  Colorful characters like David Crockett and Doc Holliday have dedicated chapters, while O’Reilly and Fisher expose the myths and answer mysterious questions about the now-famous westerners.  We learn, for example, more about Crockett’s self-promotion, as well as the probable cause of his unwitnessed death at the Alamo.

 

  • “Into the Nest” by Laura Erickson and Marie Read is absolutely outstanding. If you like birds, this book will entrance you for hours.  Subtitled “Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds,” this is an encyclopedia of photographs and descriptions of all our favorites.  The passages on the Ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, describe the dive displays the male uses to court the female.  It also displays a typical nest, often located 40 feet above the ground atop a branch.  And these swift little birds, we learn, migrate an amazing 500 miles when autumn nears.
  • “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough needs no introduction. This is the long-awaited next title from the author of such magnificent books as “Mornings on Horseback” (National Book Award title) and “John Adams” (Pulitzer Prize winner).  Lauded by “The New York Times Book Review,” “Publishers Weekly,” and “The Economist,” this book is destined, like so many other McCullough titles, to become an instant bestseller.

 

Still puzzled by what to read next?  Come browse the new book shelves in the adult collection to find your next winner.  You’re bound to find something that grabs your attention.

 

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A Fable for Our Times: The Buried Giant

by Marcia Allen,  Collection Development

I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, and I was stunned by the superb quality of the writing and the subtle levels of meaning within the story. I am sure that I will return to this book again and again, because I know I missed some of the nuances the author has so carefully woven throughout the story. This seemingly simple little tale has much that is hidden.

The story concerns Axl and Beatrice, an older Briton couple living in a rough village long after the fall of Rome, who have decided to attempt a walking journey to visit their son. The two are lovingly devoted to each other, and Axl always addresses his wife as “Princess.” But something is amiss: Despite their eagerness to visit their son, they have little memory of the boy and are not quite sure where he actually lives. Like everyone else in their village, their memories have been clouded by the presence of an obliterating mist.

Nevertheless, off they go on their quest during which they will have all kinds of adventures. Among other events, they will encounter ogres and mysterious boatmen. They will meet treacherous monks and hostile Saxons. They will encounter odd-behaving children and a slumbering dragon. As they travel, it becomes clear to the reader that the one constant in their lives is their love for each other.

Buried GiantLike the travelers of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, they are joined by others seeking their own quests. They meet Wistan, a well-trained Saxon knight, who seeks something that will change the course of British history. They meet Edwin, a young boy accompanying Wistan, who bears an unusual wound. And they meet Gawain, a knight once dedicated to the service of King Arthur, whose quest brings him into brutal conflict with that of Wistan.

So, what is this delightful book telling us about humanity? It says much about the nature of memory. While we readers are appalled that the main characters have forgotten their son and don’t recall much about their own lives, we soon realize that their failing is not their fault. As Axl grasps at shadowy recollections of his past experiences, we come to understand that there was a deliberate plan for mass forgetfulness, one that robs the soul of individual memory but also averts some of the evil in the world. If memory returns, so, too, will forgotten grudges and hurt feelings that have long been buried.

The book also has much to say about death and the way the dying are conveyed from life. Both Axl and Beatrice are frail older people, and this journey they have undertaken will bring terrible stress to them. Troubled by both rough terrain and terrifying creatures, they will struggle valiantly to complete their quest, discovering as they go that their beliefs about their lives are far from fact. The final passages of the book are a poignant reminder of the uncertainty of life and a testament to the ability of letting go.

To whom will this book appeal? To anyone who treasures tales of the distant past. To those who love a bit of fantasy in their stories. To folks who appreciate symbolic meaning in everyday events of ordinary people. To anyone who loves a story of exquisitely worded language. This book will appeal on many different levels, and readers lucky enough to sample it will surely feel that they have been enthralled by a master storyteller.

 

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Happy Birthday, Charlie D.

by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Charles Dickens, English authorYesterday marked the 203rd birthday of Charles Dickens. Born in Portsmouth, England on February 7, 1812, Dickens is considered by many to be one of the greatest authors in the English language. In addition to writing some of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century, Dickens also penned countless short stories, nonfiction pieces, and plays. Dickens also attracted large crowds to his public readings of memorable scenes from his works.

During his life, Dickens enjoyed unprecedented popularity. His novels were published first in monthly or weekly installments, and later printed in volumes. Some of his novels sold several hundred thousand copies in book form during his lifetime (Dickens died in 1870).  His novels and short stories continue to be widely popular today. “A Tale of Two Cities,” for example, has sold over 200 million copies to date.

Dickens’ father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. He was constantly in debt and ultimately landed himself in debtor’s prison. To help support his family, by supporting himself, Dickens was put to work in a boot blacking factory at age 12. Though he only experienced the evils of child labor for a few months, the experience colored Dickens’ attitudes for the rest of his life. This led him to champion children and the poor, and to castigate the injustices of the education and justice systems, and the wealthy.

The library owns copies of many of Dickens’ works. Some may be familiar to you, such as “Oliver Twist,” the story of a workhouse orphan and his adventures with a gang of juvenile pickpockets. “A Tale of Two Cities,” is another familtaleiar title, set against the French Revolution and the cities of London and Paris. The novel boasts one of the most famous opening lines in literature with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” “David Copperfield,” is one of Dickens’ most well-known novels. This thinly veiled autobiographical novel follows the fortunes of its hero as he grapples with a hateful stepfather and an unscrupulous clerk (the infamous and unforgettable Uriah Heep) as he tries to make his way in the world.

Dickens wrote a total of 15 novels. His last, the unfinished “Mystery of Edwin Drood,” is the story of title’s namesake, his fiancée Rosa Bud, and the hot-tempered Neville Landless. Landless, also in love with Rosa Budd, is no friend of Edwin Drood who disappears under mysterious circumstances. Since Dickens had written and published only six of the twelve installments of the novel at the time of his death, the world will never know what happened to Edwin Drood.

Memorable characters abound in all Dickens’ work. We easily recognize Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations;” Little Nell in “The Old Curiosity Shop;” and of course Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol.”

Dickens has been a popular subject of biographers since his friend, John Forster, completed the first biography in 1874. More recently, Peter Ackroyd wrote a comprehensive biography entitled “Dickens,” and Claire Tomalin wrote “Charles Dickens: A Life.” Dickens was a biographer of the city of London and wrote of it as no one has since. If you are interested in daily life in Dickens’ time, read “The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London,” by Judith Flanders. Or, try “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist – The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England,” by Daniel Poole.

Hundredcharless of film and television adaptations have been made of Dickens’ works, including nearly fifty of “A Christmas Carol.” All the novels and many of the shorter works of Charles Dickens are available as free eBooks from websites including Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks.net. The collection of titles in Project Gutenberg is also searchable through the library’s Sunflower eLibrary.

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The Good Books Club + TALK Winter Program

by Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager

emmaWith the holiday season behind us and 2015 ahead, Manhattan Public Library is happy to resume monthly readers’ events for adults and will again host our annual winter series of TALK book discussion programs. The TALK series, “Talk About Literature in Kansas,” is a service of the Kansas Humanities Council and is sponsored at MPL again this year by the Manhattan Library Association. Avid readers will meet on the last Thursday of each month from January through April at 7:00 p.m. in the Library’s Groesbeck Room and will explore a different book each month, guided by knowledgeable and insightful discussion leaders from the KHC. Please join us for any one, all four, or as many of the discussions as your schedule will allow.

This year’s ambitious theme is British Literary Classics of the 19th Century, and our selections are “Emma” by Jane Austen, “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy, “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, and “The Mill on the Floss” by George Eliot. These authors represent the great age of British novelists and our four novels are among the best of the era. They were written as the Industrial Revolution began to transform England forever and usher in the upheaval, uncertainty, and excitement of the modern age. Copies of the featured books are available for checkout at the Library’s Information Desk and available in free down-loadable e-book format from Project Gutenberg. And for reluctant readers, or those of you in a time crunch, the good news is that all four of our selections are also available from the library in DVD format!

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First up, on Thursday, January 29, is “Emma,” Jane Austen’s beloved comedy of manners. Lovely, privileged, and headstrong Emma Woodhouse is the doyenne of her small county society. She takes a keen interest in the affairs of her neighbors and enlivens her quiet, uneventful life with efforts at match-making. The characters in Emma’s circle are drawn with good-natured humor, the plot entertains, and the dialogue sparkles. In the end, Emma finds out the hard way that people don’t fall in love according to plan, but the outcome is happier than even she could have planned.

In “Far from the Madding Crowd,” February’s book selection, beautiful, willful, and independent Bathsheba Everdene attracts the passionate attentions of three very different suitors in a 19th century English village. Like her biblical namesake, the choices she unwittingly makes cause catastrophe for the men who love her and particular heartbreak for Gabriel Oak, a man of stalwart courage and integrity.  Set against a backdrop of the lush English countryside and the rhythms of rural life, this is an absorbing, beautifully descriptive, character-driven masterpiece.

greatFor March 26th, we’ll read Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” the story of orphaned Pip, his desperate early years, his struggles to overcome his past, and his dreams of becoming a gentleman.  Drawing on Dickens’ frequent themes of Victorian wealth and poverty, love and rejection, weakness or strength of character, and the eventual triumph of good over evil, the novel weaves multiple storylines into a tight plot, imagines scenes rich in comedy and pathos, and introduces a succession of unforgettable characters.

We’ll finish up on Thursday, April 30, with “The Mill on the Floss” by George Eliot.  The most autobiographical of all Eliot’s novels, this is a tale of English rural life, rival families, and sibling relationships.  As a child, Maggie Tulliver is independent and intellectually curious, but her thirst for knowledge and desire for meaningful relationships is eclipsed by family financial calamity and thwarted by her conventional rural community.  As she grows to womanhood, tensions with her family and community increase, and the novel explores the conflicts of love and loyalty and between desire and responsibility.

millPlease join us to discuss the first book in this winter series, Jane Austen’s “Emma,” on Thursday, January 29th, at 7:00 p.m. in the library’s Groesbeck Room.

 

 

 

 

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