Lori, a regional librarian describes her latest read, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: "Nao, A Japanese teenager navigates the rough road of life by writing to a future reader in her diary. Meanwhile ( but also later) Ruth, a writer in Canada with angst of her own is reading the diary she found washed up on the shore. Time, self and relationships play a big part but great characters keep me reading. A healthy dose of Zen philosophy and a bit of Proust also keep it interesting!"
Jane, Belmont Library's youth librarian, is reading Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. She says, "The biography of Ben Franklin's obscure and poor younger sister makes you think about how awful it used to be to be a woman. The dichotomy of their lives is amazing despite knowing that she could have been just as smart as he was."
You may know her from the feminist manifesto The Second Sex. Or perhaps you're familiar with her circle of intellectuals (Albert Camus, Nelson Algren, Arthur Koestler) or her lover Jean Paul Sartre. But The Mandarins is much more than an autobiographical novel and a story of intellectual society and struggle after the occupation in Paris. You don’t need to know Simone de Beauvoir was a great philosopher. You don’t need to know about the relationship between her and Sartre, or the affairs. You don’t need to know about existentialist philosophy or postwar Europe. If you do, it may make the reading more meaningful. If you don’t, it will not take away from the story one bit. This is a story about friendship, loyalty, war and the consequences, the roles of women, marriage, death, breakdowns, and the breakdowns and death of marriage. It is about making hard decisions and rebuilding from the ruins. It is a love story.
It is a lengthy novel. This would usually have me muttering “still?” while madly flipping pages to see how far till the next chapter. (Don’t do this, by the way. The chapters are horrendously long.) My copy was an enormous first American edition hardback over 600 pages, and after dragging it around with me for weeks, it began to weigh what felt like that many pounds. But the heft was worth it, for I was transported during bus commutes and on those few cherished evenings reclining on the chaise longue. I haven’t had that experience with a novel in a long time. At first, the switch of narrators was jolting, but I think it contributed to keeping me interested and engaged in the long run. I found I actually cared about Anne, Paula, Henri, Robert, and the others. I was fascinated by their world and the choices they were making.
There are many elements that could bring you to this novel and keep you there…the setting, the era, the voyeuristic autobiographical aspect, the intellectual society, politics, ideology, love, or merely the writing. Whatever reason you decide to pick up The Mandarins, you will find it is not so easy to put down again. The characters will stay with you for a long while.
The short answer is, Yes, people still try to ban books!
Here's a recent example right here in Oregon. In January 2014 some parents in Sweet Home challenged the use in an 8th grade Language Arts class of the critically acclaimed young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. According to an article in the Albany Democrat Herald, two parents asked for the book to be removed from the 8th grade curriculum.
The result? Again reported by the Democrat Herald, on February 13, 2014, after 3 hours of public testimony the Sweet Home School District reconsideration committee "voted Wednesday to retain the young adult novel, but [the superintendent] will be responsible for determining the appropriate grade level for its use..."
What's the fuss about?
"This work of young adult fiction tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to improve his future, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, [the book], which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings...chronicles the adolescence of one Native American teen as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live." --Amazon.com
Even though the book received the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, it's also been the center of controversy for profanity, racism, discussion of sex, abuse and alcoholism. But as one of the teachers said, "...it's use...prompts the most intense discussions about racism, bullying, tolerance and the daily choices students make in handling relationships."
I think that's worth keeping. What do you think?
And remember, if you need more help be sure to Ask the Librarian!
In March, we're looking forward to spring and all things sweet and bittersweet. Here are a few titles to welcome the season.
The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is a collection of short stories haunted both literally and figuratively with ghosts. Publisher's Weekly says, "The stories shimmer with life. The heat and tumult of Vietnam's cities are palpable, and the awed wonderment of humans confronted with supernatural occurrences is artfully conveyed."
Precious Thing by Colette McBeth is getting rave reviews and is being compared to Gone Girl. Two childhood friends have grown apart and over time their roles in the friendship have been reversed. Then one disappears.
We don't really need to tell you why we are looking forward to Homemade Doughnuts: Techniques And Recipes For Making Sublime Doughnuts In Your Home Kitchen by Kamal Grant, do we?
Do you have a bunch of uncompleted projects lurking around your house like little pockets of guilt? Here comes Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects From 50 Successful Artists by Danielle Krysa. Maybe something will get done!
In the irreverant Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith - The main character, Austin narrates the end of the world "when a twist of fate sparks the birth of mutant, people-eating praying mantises. Austin not only records the hilarious and bizarre tale of giant, copulating bugs but his own sexual confusion and his fear about hurting the people he loves." (School Library Journal)
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd promises to be a fun story about a girl who lands in a quirky little town that just might be magical.
In Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, saturated colors and gorgeous artwork serve to illustrate the life of this artist and civil rights pioneer.
Football is my fave, but the start of spring training hearkens the eventual arrival of flowers, leaves on the trees, and blue (well, here in Portland, occasionally blue) skies. One of my most loved summer activities is taking in an MLB game or several, even though this east coast girl now has to travel outside of Portland to do so. Why do I love a baseball game? The pace is relaxed, the people watching is spectacular, and hopefully the play is on par. I mean, what could be better? Summer in all its glory captured in one evening.
Recreating this baseball mindset can be tough during the dark days of winter, but it is oh-so-rewarding when I can conjure up a June double header in December. How do I do it? You can find me hosting a tailgate party right after the new year, no matter if it's raining (or in this year's case, snowing!) on the grill and grill master. My reading selections also tend to skew towards all things baseball. I dig out my Pittsburgh Pirates jersey, and the Pittsburgh Steelers jersey is sent to the basement until fall. Pour myself a cold one, settle in for a few night's baseball reading, a few hours viewing of Ken Burn's Baseball, and I am ready for opening day! Say hi if you see me in Seattle this summer, I'll be the girl in the black and gold among the sea of blue Mariners fans.
As a child, my uncle Mike would pay me 25 cents to say ‘hello’. Once I said, ‘Hello Uncle Mike’ and got a fifty cent piece. I was an extraordinarily shy child, raised by an extraordinarily shy mother. It was a good partnership and suited me well, until I had my own child.
My unabashedly sociable son liked to sit in other parent’s laps at library storytime. He chats up intoxicated passengers on airplanes and is absolutely confident that whomever sits near us at the neighborhood sushi house is dying to see his Lego minifigure collection. All of this sends me into a state of near panic. I’ve often felt that I ought to start a support group for shy and introverted parents of extroverted children. This was on my mind when I came across Polly Morland’s book The Society of Timid Souls: Or, How to Be Brave.
Polly Morland is a documentary filmmaker and this book reads exactly like the most captivating of documentaries. From meetings of anxiety-ridden concert musicians struggling to overcome stage fright in the 1940s, to interviews with modern military heroes and high line walkers, Moreland explores the many different forms that bravery can take and how we define it as a society. What struck me most however, was the idea that some forms of bravery may be practiced and learned. I'm unlikely at this stage in my life to undergo training to fight a bull and let’s just forget about joining Toastmasters. Parenting however is one training I can't opt out of. My uninhibited son is guaranteed to test my faltering social skills for the rest of my life. In doing so, he might just be training me to move one small step further from timid to brave.
It is a truism in the audiobook world that authors do not make the best narrators. Audiobooks have come a long way since Dylan Thomas sing-songed some of his poems in what is considered to be the first audiobook, produced in 1952 by Caedmon Records.
Audiobooks in the 21st century are more performance than reading, and performance requires different skills than reading aloud. Hence the hesitation about having authors read their own works. At the same time, no one is more familiar with a book than its author, and familiarity can bring out aspects of a story that a professional narrator might overlook. Some authors are memorably bad (unnamed here, click through for a book you should NOT listen to!), but some are surprisingly good, even excellent. Here are a few authors I’d be glad to listen to again:
Neil Gaiman. Absolutely the best author/narrator, his quiet English accent and subtle characterizations make for an entertaining visit to a haunted graveyard (The Graveyard Book) to an alternate London (Neverwhere), or perhaps down at the end of the lane (I’m still waiting for this one!).
Khalid Hosseini. The author reads his debut novel, The Kite Runner, with a sensitivity and emotion that makes it clear that this is a very personal story.
Barbara Kingsolver. With exception of her early books, Kingsolver has read all her work since. Prodigal Summer (2000). Her gentle Southern-tinged voice, along with her clear identification with her female heroines, brings out the humor and pathos of their stories.
Susan Orlean. This writer narrates her most recent book, Rin Tin Tin, in a conversational fashion that makes the listener feel like she’s enjoying a chat with a friend who wants to impart some very interesting information.
Simon Winchester. This prolific master of narrative nonfiction is an excellent reader of his own work, as he delivers a hint of British reserve and irony, fused
with absolute authority and command of his subjects. I enjoyed Krakatoa.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three author/narrators of books for young adults that are well worth listening to:
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a revelation into the mind of his alter-ego, Arnold Spirit, Junior.
Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is a hilarious romp.
Philip Pullman expertly guides the full-cast performances of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Don’t miss them!
It’s easy to find most of the audiobooks read by the author at MCL. At the Advanced Search page, type “read by the author” (use quotes) and click Search.
Our guest blogger is Rod, who says this about himself: "Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by history and technology. Instead of reading juvenile literature, I read my father’s military history and aviation books. Somehow, those interests morphed into science fiction as a teen. I guess I liked the technology that didn’t exist yet . . . Today, I read a lot of history because I teach it part-time and not as much fiction as I would like."
I was a teenager in the 1980s and had a morbid fascination with nuclear war. Honestly, I was certain that my short life would end with a brief, brilliant flash followed by radioactive oblivion. That was my realistic understanding of what would likely happen, but I also enjoyed reading the many novels and watching the many films that came out during the Cold War depicting what life would be like in the aftermath of World War III. While many were flimsy background for some sort of monster tale, there were also those that made a serious effort to imagine what the world would look like if the Cold War turned hot. If you have similarly “fond” memories, maybe you’ll find something on this list worth checking out.
On the Beach by Neville Shute This is both a great novel and film. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have destroyed each other in a nuclear holocaust. The Northern Hemisphere is a radioactive wasteland and the fallout is slowly moving south. Those living in Australia are faced with the certainty of death. This includes the crew of the USS Scorpion, an American submarine. As the Scorpion prepares to voyage north to investigate an unexpected radio signal, the men and women who have survived contemplate how to spend their final days.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Sleepy Fort Repose, Florida is untouched by the bombs but suffers nonetheless. Cut off from the rest of the U.S., the town falls back on the resources it can find gather from the countryside and scrounge from the mechanized world they can no longer support. It is an ultimately hopeful take on the subject.
A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This one starts many years after a nuclear war brought an end to modern civilization. A group of Catholic monks in the American desert seek to preserve as much of the world’s knowledge as possible. The story follows the same monastic order over the centuries as a new technological civilization reemerges only to be faced, in the end, with the same threat of nuclear annihilation.
Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick
Most people blame Bruno Bluthgeld, a physicist, for destroying the world, so he goes into hiding and seeks psychiatric help for his overwhelming feelings of guilt. This is complicated, however, as he believes he has magical powers. He is just one of the many survivors who have, or may have, telekinetic abilities. It isn’t always clear what is real and what the characters imagine to be real. Regardless, it does not stop them from engaging in the same selfish behavior they practiced before the world exploded. Like so many Phillip K. Dick novels, this one has a strong surrealist slant with elements of the absurd.
This is a powerful, understated film about a family trying to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear war. Carol Wetherly lives in a typical suburban city. When the war occurs, her husband is away and she doesn’t know if he is alive or dead. She tries to keep her family together as her neighbors slowly succumb to radiation and despair. This is a grim movie that, similar to On the Beach, makes no effort to sugar coat the likely fate of those who did not perish directly in the war. Despite that, it is still very compelling.
The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson
A small fishing village has grown up along the California coast in what was Orange County. The older residents remember the world before the war, but their stories are just that, stories,to the succeeding generations. The residents try to be self-sufficient but must scavenge from the ruins at times. While there are those who would like to recreate a technological society, powerful forces work to prevent a resurgent America.
Beyond Armageddon edited by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and Martin H. Greenberg
This is a collection of 21 short stories that imagine a variety of different post-nuclear war futures. There is a mix of well-known and obscure tales collected here. Perhaps best known is Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" which was made into a movie starring a very young Don Johnson in 1975. Like most compilations, the quality isn’t uniform but I found all of them to be worth the time.
The Postman by David Brin
This is a great novel and, well, judge the movie for yourself. Gordon Krantz is something of an idealist in a world ten years after a limited nuclear exchange. While making his way to the Pacific Northwest as a modern minstrel, he stumbles upon an abandoned postal vehicle with the unlucky postman inside. To stay warm he takes the deceased occupant’s jacket and, suddenly, those he meets see him as a symbol of hope, a fact he cultivates for his own benefit. This becomes problematic when he finds another group in Corvallis, Oregon with their own secrets. Ultimately, they must all work together to resist an invasion from the south led by a seemingly unstoppable army.
The Last Ship by William Brinkley
USS Nathan James, an American guided missile destroyer on patrol when World War III erupts, finds itself alone at sea after the spasm of nuclear annihilation has eliminated any safe port. After encountering a Soviet nuclear submarine, the two agree to cooperate in their efforts to survive. Maintaining morale and the chain of command become serious problems as the American crew seeks a refuge in the vast Pacific Ocean. Will they succeed? Will the crew destroy themselves? Will the Soviets prove to be reliable allies?