Tag Archives: classics

A Different Jane

Today is the 200th birthday  of Charlotte Brontë. Her groundbreaking novel Jane Eyre is a book that I often go back to when I need a little comforting; I am not sure charlotte_bronte_square_sticker_3_x_3what it is about Brontë’s title character, but Jane has been a part of my life for so long that re-reading it feels like visiting an old friend. I have a tattered copy under my bed that I still reach for at times.

Honestly, it is a bit embarrassing; it feels a little stereotypical for a female librarian to be obsessed with what some would argue is a dated classic. But the truth is that Jane Eyre was groundbreaking in its day for featuring a heroic female lead who took charge of her own fate. It caused quite a stir, and Charlotte even addressed some of her critics in the forward of the second printing. It also helps my pride that my favorite literary classic is beloved by many others and has inspired a number of spin-offs.

bookcoverOne of the most recent spin offs out there is Jane Steele: A Confession by Lyndsay Faye. This re-telling gives us a female lead aptly named  Jane Steele, who happens to be a contemporary fan of Brontë’s novel. This new Jane is inspired by the biographical similarities she shares with Jane Eyre (the character) to pen her own autobiographical confession.

You see, Jane Steele faced similar circumstances to Jane Eyre early in her life, but unlike the mousy future-governess sitting in the window seat behind the curtains, Jane Steele faces her enemies head on and becomes a heroic serial killer. Her first murder, that of her older cousin, is truly an accident perpetrated in self defense, but Jane believes that her actions have uncovered her true nature. When she is sent to boarding school her ability to lie and steal keep her safe for a time but can’t save her from the evil intentions of the headmaster. And so it goes for Jane Steele, time and time again she is presented with ill-intentioned people and dire situations common to women of her period, but this Jane is a fighter and meets these challenges head-on.

Despite a climbing body count, Jane Steele isn’t completely at peace with her actions and does believe her immortal soul to be damned, and when she finds herself in the company of people who truly care for her she begins to fear that the truth will destroy her chance at happiness. I began this book excited at the idea of a Jane with an edge, a Jane who stands up for herself. So many times I have wondered what a Jane Eyre unhampered by the conventions of her day would have accomplished, and Jane Steele gives readers a glimpse  of what could have been.

bookcover

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but that is pretty rad cover art.

Initially, I wasn’t in love with Lyndsay Faye’s writing style; it was a little heavy in my opinion, and I felt like we were taking a great deal of time and descriptive language to get on with it. I found myself skipping several of her more wordy passages, but by the time Jane makes her way to boarding school the pace picked up and I found myself rooting for this new, homicidal Jane just as fervently as I had my old beloved one.

Faye’s new take on the novel also introduced a more globally rich history of Jane Eyre’s world. When Jane Steele arrives at Highgate House, her own personal version of Thornfield Hall, she becomes tangled in the past of Mr. Charles Thornfield.  This sardonic, yet gentle, man grew up in India and doesn’t take much stock in the rules of society that seem to dictate the lives of Englishmen. He has surrounded himself with servants from his home country who seem more than dedicated to him and his young charge Sahjara and hires Jane because of the inconsistencies she presents rather than inspite of them.

Of course, all is not as it seems in this household and when an agent of the East India Trading Company makes an unexpected visit he is met with weaponry from almost every member of the immediate household. Jane feels at home for the first time in a long time among this band of warrior misfits and sets out to solve the mystery plaguing her new friends. The story follows the general path set out by Brontë but takes unexpected turns, keeping Jane on her feet. This was an enjoyable take on Jane Eyre, just different enough to feel new, but retaining many of the familiar emotions of the original. If you are a fan of crime drama, dark humor or just an ardent fan of the original Jane, then try this new take. I think you’ll like it.

Reserve a copy of Jane Steele now.

-Natalie

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My Favorite Mediocre Book

It seems to be the season for unpopular opinions here in the Eleventh Stack. We are denying the touchstones of our generation, swearing off the big hits, and gearing up to not go see the 50 Shades movie. With that in mind, I figured it was time to share my favorite not-very-good book.

Freckles,* a 1904 classic by Gene Stratton-Porter, tells the story of a plucky, one-handed Irish orphan making a life and a family for himself in the woods of Indiana (the Limberlost) at the turn of the last century. If you think that sounds like a plot worthy of Horatio Alger, you’re pretty much right. As in Alger’s 100-plus novels, our brave hero is a proponent of honest work and clean living, which eventually cause a fortune to fall into his lap. The author achieved commercial success (her novels eventually made her a millionaire), but railed against the literary critics who rejected her popular fiction.

While Horatio Alger dignified his work above pulp fiction with highbrow literary allusions, Stratton-Porter glorifies hers with nature. The woods where Freckles lives and works were right outside her family home, and she was a committed naturalist who went on to publish several nonfiction books on the local species. While the environment is relevant to the story—Freckles works as a guard for a lumber company, protecting part of their territory from poachers—the descriptions of the wetlands seem to interest the author more than her own characters do.

The flow of the story gets interrupted for pages at a time to describe scenes “[that] would have driven a botanist wild with envy.” And yet, as the New York Review of Books points out, “she performs the brilliant feat of fudging that permits the reader to feel ennobled by the natural world while rooting for its extirpation.” The wilderness Freckles loves is actively being destroyed by his allies and mentors, and he is helping them do it.

The writing is, at its best moments, so wildly overblown that it can be hard to take seriously. The dialogue drips with sentimentality and questionable dialects. Freckles falls in love with a girl known for the entirety of the book (and its sequel) as the Swamp Angel. “Me heart’s all me Swamp Angel’s,” he says, “and me love is all hers, and I have her and the swamp so confused in me mind I never can be separating them. When I look at her, I see blue sky, the sun rifting through the leaves and pink and red flowers; and when I look at the Limberlost I see a pink face with blue eyes, gold hair, and red lips.”

The plot hangs on ideas of genetic inheritance that are beyond ridiculous—namely, that the orphan Freckles’s biological family can be identified not only by similar looks but also similar character attributes such as pluck, honesty, capacity for loving, and (even stranger) vocal training. As is said of his gentility, “No one at the [orphans’] Home taught you. Hundreds of men couldn’t be taught, even in a school of etiquette; so it must be instinctive with you. If it is, why, that means that it is born in you, and a direct inheritance from a race of men that have been gentlemen for ages, and couldn’t be anything else.” This also comes with a few uncomfortable moments of ethnic stereotyping, where his traits are as much attributed to his Irishness (he grew up in Chicago) as anything personal or familial.

And yet, I love this book. It may help that I was introduced to it by my mother, who was introduced to it by her mother, when I was much younger and less sarcastic than I am now. It certainly helps that I’m sentimental and respond well to outpourings of emotion. I identify well with the Angel’s proclamation, “I never have had to dream of love. I never have known anything else, in all my life, but to love every one and to have every one love me.” Particularly during the dark of winter, it’s nice to have something overflowing with spring life. And as excessive as the language is, the characters are charming, and the morality is uncomplicated. Spoiler alert—the bad guys are defeated and the good guys are rewarded and get to live happily ever after in a place that’s really pretty. And some days, that’s as much as I need.

-Bonnie T. *There’s only one copy in the library system, but the full text is available for free online through Project Gutenberg.

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2015 Reading Resolutions: Onward and Upward!

With another year of books under our belts, it’s time to look ahead. To bring the blogging year to a close, some Eleventh Stackers have chosen to share their reading resolutions for 2015. There’s nowhere to go, but up, and our team has aimed high — check it out!

Jess

Every time someone asks for a mystery recommendation, I cringe. Despite my love for serialized crime shows (Criminal Minds, Veronica Mars, Murder She Wrote…), I just have a hard time with the genre in book form. 2015 is the year I step up my game and have some titles in my back pocket for the next time I’m put on the spot. I have Anthony Hororwitz’s Moriarty on my list (I read The House of Silk last year for our Tuesday book club, and liked his take on Sherlock). And a regular patron suggested the Ian Rutledge series, by Charles Todd. Readers, if you have any must-reads, maybe some non-historicals that are maybe a bit John Grisham-y, please send ’em my way.

suzy

Unfinished business.

Unfinished business.

I’m going to finish some books in 2015. This year, for whatever reason, I’d get almost to the end of a book and stop reading it. It didn’t matter whether I liked the book or not: I just stopped. I don’t know if this is a sign of mental illness or a newly shortened attention span. Here is a sampling of the books I started, thoroughly enjoyed, and never finished. Feel free to tell me the endings.

Ross

In 2010 I started Stephen King’s It. “Started” being the key word here.  That book is thick, yo.  Maybe 2015 will be the year I finish it.  Or maybe I’ll focus on the classics that I missed out on for one reason or the other, like Animal Farm or Moby-Dick.  Maybe I’ll go back to the books of my childhood, like the Narnia books. Or, since I just started re-watching Gilmore Girls, maybe I’ll focus on a Rory Gilmore reading list.

Irene

I’ve never had much use for audio-books, but I recently discovered how much I like listening to them on long runs. So my reading resolution for 2015 is actually more of a listening resolution: to delve into the library’s collection of super-portable Playaways. I just started listening to Runner.

Scott

I plan to read some more Anne Sexton. I am also slowly re-reading all of the Song Of Ice And Fire novels using the eCLP format.

Leigh Anne

I like to play along with formal reading challenges, to make sure that I regularly step out of my favorite genres and formats to try a little bit of everything. Luckily the magical internet is filled with such opportunities, most of which I find via A Novel Challenge, a terrific blog that collects news and info about different reading games. Of course, I always load up on way too many challenges, and rarely finish any of them…but I sure do have a great time trying!

Here are some challenges I’ll be signing up for in 2015:

The Bookish 2015 TBR Reading Challenge. I have two bookcases at home filled with books I own that I haven’t read yet (I blame the Library, both for being so excellent and for fueling my book-buying habit). It’s getting a little bit out of hand, so I’ve decided to dive into those TBR shelves and decide whether to keep or regift what I’ve got.

It's not bragging if it's true.

It’s not bragging if it’s true.

Janet Ursel’s We Read Diverse Books Challenge. It’s no secret that the publishing  industry is still predominantly white, which means there are a lot of stories out there untold or overlooked. This bothers me both professionally and personally, so I’m on a constant mission to make sure my own reading and reviewing is as inclusive as possible. This challenge was inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign of 2014.

The 2015 Ebook Reading Challenge. Ebooks are an important part of the reading landscape these days, and I really should be looking at more of them (Overdrive READ is my friend right now, until I finally decide which tablet I want). Ebooks are also sometimes challenging for me because of my vision impairments, but I’m hoping Consumer Reports , a little web sleuthing, and input from other users (maybe you?) will help me pick out the tablet with the best accessibility features. Thanks in advance!

The 2015 Graphic Novels & Manga Challenge. This one’s kind of a cheat, as I adore comics of all kinds. The problem is, I rarely make time to read them, mostly out of guilt because they’re so much fun and there are many other Terribly Serious Things I should be reading dontcha know. However, this means I missed a lot of good stuff in 2014, so I’ve decided to ditch the guilt and spend 2015 savoring the fine art of comics. Woohoo!

Four challenges is do-able, right?  I’ll report back regularly in upcoming blog posts.

Melissa F.

Browsing the historical fiction section

Browsing the historical fiction section

I’ve become a little too comfortable insofar as my reading habits go. On one hand, I don’t see any problem with this, since reading is something I do for fun and entertainment. Still, there’s something to be said for expanding one’s knowledge and horizons.

In 2015, I’m planning to do more of my reading from the World Fiction and Historical Fiction sections on the First Floor of CLP-Main. I’m not setting an actual numerical goal for this resolution, just challenging myself to read more from these areas (which I admittedly tend to overlook while perusing the new fiction, nonfiction, and short stories).  Your suggestions are most welcome.

And there you have it! Do you have any reading recommendations or advice for the Eleventh Stackers? Do you set yourself reading goals or just let the books fall where they may? Share the wisdom, leave a comment!

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What’s New in Austenland 2014

Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

Emma (1815)

Greetings! It’s time once again for my annual update–this is the fourth!–about the new publications in scholarship and biography on my favorite author, Jane Austen. Despite studying her for over twenty years, the sheer volume of new books and articles that are published on her works and life continues to astound (and delight) me. Here are some of the newest acquisitions at the library:

list

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

A treasure trove of every list you can possibly imagine (and more!) about Jane Austen, her life, and her works: of suitors, first lines, places she lived and traveled, literary references in her novels, books she owned, characters in her novels, hearts she broke, and balls and dances she attended to name but a few. This is a handy little guide for scholars and students as well as a great introduction to the esteemed authoress.

northanger

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, edited by David Shapard

English professor Shapard has a clear and concise way of making Jane Austen’s works approachable and enjoyable for both students new to Austen as well as for scholars and fans; this is his fifth publication of Austen’s novels. There are period maps of England and Bath, fashion plates, vocabulary and context of the time period, remarks on questionable content pertaining to grammar or sentence structure from the original edition, and much more.  One of its best features–yes, the librarian is speaking–is the exhaustive list of works referenced on every topic imaginable: from the history of the post office, the study of the picturesque, to the architecture of abbeys in England.

england

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Many critics have lambasted Austen over the years for excluding mention of historical events of her time in her works choosing instead to describe minutely the daily lives of everyday people in a country village. This book describes life daily life during Austen’s lifetime, from the dangers of childbirth and illness to the necessities of hygiene and the practicalities (or not) of fashion.

matters

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity by Janine Barchas

Did you know that the generally accepted scholarship on Jane Austen has been that she didn’t base her stories and/or characters on real events or people she knew? But all writers are influenced in some way and Barchas’ intriguing thesis explores this in detailed and fascinating depth. The names of Wentworth (Persuasion), Woodhouse (Emma), Vernon (Lady Susan), Allen, and Tilney (Northanger Abbey) were all well-known surnames of great and landed families in eighteenth century England, suggesting that Austen did indeed borrow from celebrity and events from her day. For the devoted Jane Austen fan and scholar, this book is a treat of fun discoveries.

na

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson

Like the title below, this book is a big and beautiful gift book edition of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known novels, a spoof of the gothic novel, made popular by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolfo. The works cited list at the end of the book highlights further information and readings.

sense

Sense and Sensiblity: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks

This is the fourth gorgeous coffee-table edition of Jane Austen’s six novels to be published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University. The perfect gift for the Jane Austen fan in your life, there are beautiful illustrations and images of fashions, furniture, paintings, and maps from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century relating to the novels. And for a student, the enlightening introduction as well as the copious annotations about vocabulary and language, word use and definitions in the context of their time, commentary on scholarly opinions of critical analysis, and references to different editions make this a veritable cornucopia of helpful information.

Until next year!

-Maria A., who finally wore out her old Modern Library copy of the Complete Novels and recently purchased the lovely Everyman’s Library editions to replace it.

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Happy Birthday, Mansfield Park

mansfield

Two hundred years ago this month, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen was published.

I’m sure it was hard to top Pride and Prejudice. But if there must be a least favorite Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park leads many readers’ lists, usually right next to the humorous gothic spoof, Northanger Abbey.

336px-MansfieldParkTitlePage

I suspect it’s because readers simply dislike the terribly shy, plain, and quiet heroine, Fanny Price, and the rather dull and proper hero, Edmund Bertram. But if you think of Mansfield Park as a novel of manners in the context of its time in history, instead of a romance–unlike Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, or the poignant second chance love story, Persuasion— you’ll discover both its richness and its brilliance.

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

At its heart, it’s really about a dysfunctional family. The Bertrams of Mansfield Park are a wealthy family who take in a poor relation Fanny Price when she is ten years old, to give her worn-out and fecund mother a break. Appearances are everything and they congratulate themselves on their benevolence, forgetting that Fanny has been completely uprooted from her immediate family in Portsmouth.

“There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry.” 

With a family like this, you might be as terrified as Fanny is:

  • Aunt Bertram, a bit dim and languorous, and who is more concerned with her dog, Pug, than in anyone or anything else; Fanny serves as her companion and errand girl.
  • Maria, Julia, and Tom, Fanny’s self-interested and privileged cousins who look down on her or worse, ignore her.
  • Uncle Bertram, with his larger-than-life austere manner, who scares her to death.
  • The downright nasty Aunt Norris, who never lets her forget her very low place in the household and how eternally grateful she should feel.
  • Edmund, the only cousin to show her great kindness and consideration. However, he also pursues their new neighbor, the beautiful and saucy Mary Crawford, and talks about her incessantly to the lovesick Fanny.

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When the elegant and sophisticated Henry and Mary Crawford arrive from London to visit their sister, Mrs. Grant, the vicar’s long-suffering wife, the two families become intimately acquainted. Henry is a dashing and unapologetic rake who lives for his own pleasure and flirts shamelessly with both Julia and the engaged Maria, creating great rivalry and tension between the sisters. Mary is gorgeous, worldly-wise, and attracts Edmund with her boldly direct behavior, much to Fanny’s disappointment. But when Henry sets his restless sights on Fanny merely to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart,” the novel kicks into high gear intrigue and drama.

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”

Many might be surprised to discover all the unsavory and titillating drama that is going on in this novel including:

  • Jealousy
  • Infatuation
  • Lust
  • Adultery
  • Slavery
  • Drunkeness
  • Gambling

All behind an elegant narrative as only Jane Austen could create.

~Maria A.

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Stacking ‘Em Up: Our Favorite Reads From 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a library blog in possession of a good staff must be in want of a best books post. Library workers are frequently their own best customers, passing titles back and forth with reckless abandon, buttonholing colleagues in stairwells to insist they check out the book that kept us up late swooning (or shivering). Nothing brings us more joy, however, than turning those efforts outward and sharing our favorites with you.

The Eleventh Stack team consumed a mountain of reading this year (probably taller than Richard, and he’s pretty tall). Here are some of the ones we enjoyed most.

Maria:

turncoatThe Turncoat by Donna Thorland

Though labeled historical fiction, this book has a passionate and sizzling romance at its heart, so I would call it historical romance as well. The first book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, I loved this dangerous romance set amid the intrigues of Revolutionary War Philadelphia. Quaker country-girl-turned-rebel-spy Kate Grey falls for British officer Peter Tremayne despite their opposing allegiances. I especially enjoyed its life meets fiction aspect as George Washington, John Andre, General Howe, and Peggy Shippen all make appearances here. I look forward to reading more in the series from this debut author. Thorland, who is also a filmmaker, made a fascinating book trailer; I think it would make a great movie.

detroit

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

My poor hometown. Native metro-Detroiter and award-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff writes a raw and thoroughly readable portrait of the Motor City’s state of emergency, from its abandoned neighborhoods, horrible city services, double-digit unemployment rates, and rampant crime to the die-hard residents who refuse to give up. A moving and frightening account of the decline of a great American city.

Melissa F.

I spent most of 2013 hanging out with some questionable, unreliable, but incredibly memorable characters from the Gilded Age.  You don’t get much more eyebrow-raising than Odalie from The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell’s debut that has been described as “part Hitchcock, part Patricia Highsmith, and part Gatsby.” It’s a phenomenal, can’t-put-down read that I’ve been recommending all year long.  Also of note is The Virgin Cure , Ami McKay’s historical fiction story of a twelve year old orphan in 1870s New York that is based on the true story of one of her relatives.  

The OrchardistAnd then there was benevolent Talmadge from The Orchardist. I adored Amanda Coplin’s luminous debut novel with its grand, overlapping themes of morality and religion, of being one with the earth and the eternal struggle of good versus evil. It’s been compared to The Grapes of Wrath (this one is way better). Like Steinbeck, Amanda Coplin joins the list of authors who have given us a true American classic.

(Other highly recommended books in case the Gilded Age isn’t your thing: Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation, both by George Saunders; Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan; Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb, When It Happens to You, by Molly Ringwald (yes, THAT Molly Ringwald!), Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Dog Years by Mark Doty (listen to the audio version); Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon, and Songdogs, by Colum McCann.)

What can I say? In the words of Sinatra, it was a very good year.

JessBurial Rites, Hannah Kent

If you’ve had good experiences with Alice Hoffman and Geraldine Brooks (Kent even gives a shout out to Brooks as a mentor in her acknowledgements), then this is for you.

In rural Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir has been tried and accused of murder – and now must await execution in her home district. No prison means she’s forced upon a family who obviously wants nothing to do with her. Over the next months, Agnes is put to work on the farm. She slowly begins to open up about her messy past to a young priest, chosen for a long ago kindness, and to the wife of the household, who begins to see a Agnes as woman who has been worn down by a harsh life. Based on true story of one of the last two executions in Iceland, Kent deftly blends some amazing research with strong prose to weave a story about woman who was truly a victim of her circumstances.

SuzyTraveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. Suzy really enjoyed this book a lot, but is not here to tell us about it because she is off riding her bike someplace not currently buried under several feet of snow. We are extremely jealous of very happy for Suzy, and hope she comes home soon to tell us more about the book.

Leigh Anne

Much to my surprise, the two books I’ve enjoyed most this year were both set during World War II. I’ve never been much of a war buff, but that’s a testament to how the power of good fiction can make you more interested in history. In this case, the novels were Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

Life After Life –the tale of an Englishwoman who keeps reincarnating as herself and trying to kill lifeafterlifeHitler–has cropped up on a number of best/notable lists this year, including the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and I’ve already reviewed it earlier this year, so let me just say this: what an ending. When I read the last few sentences, and the light bulb over my head finally went on, I was amazed at how cleverly Atkinson had made her point: no matter how hard we strive as individuals, we can never act out of context. We always need other people to help us achieve our objectives, even if we are strong and clever.

verityCode Name Verity takes us behind enemy lines as Verity the spy and Maddie the pilot tell their stories in alternating sections. The crux of this novel–which I also reviewed earlier this year–is truth: who’s telling it, who’s hiding it, and how flexible it can be depending on how high the stakes are. For Maddie and Verity, the stakes are very high, indeed, and I loved that the book, while intended for a teen audience, didn’t shy away from the horrors of war…or deliver a tidy happy ending. If you want a great portrait of what it must have been like to be a teenager during WWII, pick up this novel….but be prepared to have All Of The Feelings. If you adore Wein as much as I do after you’re done, you’ll want to move on to her 2013 release, Rose Under Fire, in which pilot Rose Justice is captured and sent to the concentration camp Ravensbruck.

It was really hard to pick my favorites from what turned out to be an amazing run of excellent reading this year. Some other books I devoured include Letters From Skye (historical romance), Longbourn (historical fiction), and The Son (epic southwestern family saga). And now I must stop, before I blog your ear off…

bookcover Joelle 

I do love fantasy books! My favorites for this year were The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Both of these books have already achieved positive critical acclaim, but I will add mine:

The Golem is created by a mysterious and mischievous Rabbi as a bride for a young man who is set to travel to New York from Poland. The Jinni had been trapped for centuries in a lamp which also made its way to New York City. They both try to fit in to society with their separate supernatural talents, but recognize each other as different right away. It is interesting to see these magical beings from two different cultures coming together. The author creates characters with unusual and distinctive personalities.

ocean Neil Gaiman is the master of creating fantasy worlds that do not follow any specific cultural tradition, yet are somehow universal. A man journeys back to his old home town, and is drawn to a place only half remembered. The reader is transported to the mind of a seven year old, a time in a person’s life when one is very vulnerable, and when one can accept magic as a matter of fact.
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Holly
Nestled behind the International Poetry Room on CLP-Main’s second floor, you’ll find one of my favorite places in the Library.  The Oversize Book Room is home to volume upon volume of giant, gorgeous books. These are books that are graphic-heavy, photo-heavy, and often really heavy in weight, and therefore they do not fit on our regular book shelves/make great impromptu weapons.  Fashion, art, landscape photography, crafts and home repair are some of the subjects that you can find here.   One day while helping a patron find another book in this section, I stumbled upon the splendid  Jack London, Photographer. This is my favorite book of 2013 because it exemplifies what I love most about the Library and the serendipity that lives here.  I had no idea that Jack London was a photographer, and a talented one at that!  This gem contains somewhat disparate, at least in terms of location, photo collections.  They are a fascinating  look at early 20th century history through the eyes of a classic author.  Chapters have titles like ” The People of the Abyss,”  which is a stark look at impoverished Londoners in 1902. Battlefields are a subject as well, such as  those of  the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution of 1914.  I loved this book because it was a rejuvenating break from my usual reading of text-heavy new fiction and new nonfiction.

Don

For me this was an unusual year, and my reading reflected all the strangeness. I found myself reading old (Kim by Rudyard Kipling), new (A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki), rereads (The Final Solution by Michael Chabon and The Fall by Albert Camus), pastiche (The Mandela of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu), Buddhist fiction (Buddha Da by Anne Donovan), science fiction (Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian MacDonald), and the truly, wonderfully bizarre (Duplex by Kathryn Davis).

Part of the unusual nature of all this is the fact that, thematically, there is a great deal these books have in common. There are all kinds of connections between them, come to think of it. And really, there is not a book listed above that you can go wrong with, but, since we are picking favorites, here we go…

My favorite book of the year turns out to be a tie between the first two listed: A Tale for the Time Being, and that hoary old chestnut, Kim. Both of these books surprised, in different ways. I was frankly stunned by how good Kim (and Rudyard Kipling) is. I’d always thought of Kipling as just another dead old white guy, with a penchant for British colonialism and simplistic stories, who might easily be ignored for, oh, 50-plus years or so. And was, by me.

It really is delightful to wake up every day and realize how very, very wrong you can be.

timebeing

Ozeki’s book is difficult to describe, so I’ll let the author speak for herself (from her website):

A Tale for the Time Being is a powerful story about the ways in which reading and writing connect two people who will never meet. Spanning the planet from Tokyo’s Electric Town to Desolation Sound, British Columbia, and connected by the great Pacific gyres, A Tale for the Time Being tells the story of a diary, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, and the profound effect it has on the woman who discovers it.

Kim is part quest–for self and for meaning–, part old-fashioned adventure via the time-honored motif of the journey, and, consistently, a fine, penetrating story on what it means to be human.

Yes indeed, how very good it is to wake up each and every day.

Melissa M.

5In5Of course my favorite book this year was a cookbook, specifically Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. I’ve watched this man on television so many times now that as I was reading the recipes I could hear them, inside my head, being read to me in his voice. Now, Michael does cheat the five ingredients rule a little because he uses items from his pantry that are not part of that total number. The first section of the book, after the introduction, is a list of what items should be in your pantry at all times. These include things like extra virgin olive oil, a variety of vinegars, pasta, canned beans, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and other spices. You probably already have most of those in your kitchen cupboards, so no worries there. The recipes are not complicated; most have only 3-4 steps. This is food you could cook on a weeknight and would want to eat. Plus, who wouldn’t love a cookbook with a chapter called “On a Stick”? Foods on a stick rule!

There you have it! Your turn. What were your favorite reads of 2013, whether new finds or old favorites?

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Six-Word Memoirs Are For All

What’s Your Six-Word Memoir?

The Six-Word Memoir is an internet meme that is ancient (born 2008) by meme standards, yet it still maintains popularity due to the endless possibilities.  The memoirs get much love on Tumblr, including lots of photos of Honest Tea caps.   According to Smith Magazine, which started the online project and published a book or two, “a SixWord Memoir® is the story of your life—some part of it or all of it—told in exactly six words.”Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.” is credited as being the very first.

On the First Floor at Main, following in the Teen tradition,  we asked patrons to share their Six-Word Memoirs.  As always, we were not disappointed.  My favorites include “the pub quiz ended in bloodshed” and “never gotta mustard, always gotta ketchup.”

Because I am a super-nerd (Hey, I’m a librarian!), I also think it’s fun to create Six-Word Memoirs for literary characters.  Here are some, and the only rhyme or reason for their choosing is that they are from my favorite classics.  Please feel free to create your own memoirs – for yourself or anyone else – in the comments of this post!

Anonymous, Beowulf: Grendel’s gonna die!  His mama too!

Cather’s My Ántonia, Ántonia: Hey Jim, you totally missed out.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Underground Man:  I’m inventing existentialism. I feel weird.

Flaubert’s  Madame Bovary, Emma Rouault: Country life is boring.  Hi, handsome!

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Narrator: I don’t care about your feelings.

Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Jude:  It is hard to be me.

Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles, Tess: You think Angel’s a bit much?

Roché’s Jules Et Jim, Kate:  French, German, tall, short.   Can’t decide.

Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Romeo: She died.  I will.  Wait, what? AND Juliet: Just until he’s back. Wait, what?

Thoreau’s Walden, Henry: Shhh! Sometimes Mom brings me cookies.

Happy memoiring!

Holly

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