Some time ago I wrote about the mysteries of Louise Penny, and now I have to share my excitement—I am going to meet her tomorrow! My husband and I are traveling to a bookstore in North Carolina to hear her speak and then to get a copy of her newest book, How the Light Gets In, autographed.
I haven’t been to many book signings. I managed to catch Jan Karon in Lynchburg about a dozen years ago or more. I heard Wendell Berry speak at Duke and was struck dumb while he signed my book. I’m going to try not to be a blathering idiot tomorrow. A friend of mine said he would say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Armande Gamache.” I’ll bet she’s heard that one before, but I can see why people would say it.
Here at the library, we are happy to start back with our fall programming this month, and especially with our youth services schedule. During August, our youth service specialists recover from the intensity of our summer reading program. They also take the opportunity during this break in our schedule to get training. Some traveled to the state library in Richmond, and everyone heard a speaker on the Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library program.
We are also excited to be sponsoring a nutrition class at our History Research Center on September 26. Chef Laura Pole will be with us to talk about eating for a lifetime, focusing on good health. Chathamooca is catering a lunch cooked with Chef Laura’s recipes, and this is a free event—so there IS a free lunch! To register, call us at 432-3271. We have forty seats available for this event.
To know more about what’s going on, check out our calendars on this website or follow us on Facebook.
Next time—what it’s like to be in the presence of greatness.
It’s been pretty busy in our library system for the last couple of months. First of all, we opened our newest branch, the Pittsylvania History Research Center and Library, which is located in the recently renovated Chatham Train Depot. We are open from 10 am until 2 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and we’d love to have you come by and take a look. We have lots of interesting material on local history and genealogy, computers that you can use to do research, databases, microfilm, historical displays, and a working model train depicting Chatham in the 1940s.
Dr. Betty Whitehead Meeting Room
At the end of May, we renamed the meeting room in the Chatham library the Dr. Betty Whitehead Meeting Room. Dr. Whitehead was chief fundraiser for the Chatham building and accomplished much for the community. As part of this occasion, her son Cam and daughter Katie presented the library with a beautiful painting which currently hangs just outside the meeting room door.
We also installed a new electronic sign at Brosville, which we hope will draw more attention to what we call the hidden jewel of our system. The Brosville/Cascade Library is significantly below road level on US 58 between Danville and Martinsville, so has always been somewhat difficult to find. We hope this sign will rectify that, as well as draw attention to the fantastic programs we have going on there.
Speaking of programs, it’s time for our Summer Reading Program, which is taking place at every branch but the History Center. We have room for you, ages 0 to 109! Check out everything we have to offer this summer by going to our website at www.pcplib.org and clicking on library calendars.
Finally, I’ve been doing some reading. I’ll talk more about the other books later, but I do want to highlight one you should not miss. It’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. If you want a “gentle read” that also makes you think, this one fits that bill. Harold Fry comes to believe that by walking from the southernmost part of England to the northernmost part of Scotland, he can keep a friend of his alive. Of course, it’s all about the journey. We’ve got a couple of copies of this gem of a book available, so you should be able to get it right away.
I read an extraordinary book recently that I think many people overlooked when it was first released. The author’s previous novels were science fiction, so some may have expected this one to be in that genre as well. However, A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, which was released in 2005, is a fictional treatment of the bravery and generosity of spirit of the Italians in North Italy near the end of World War II. It seems, as one reviewer noted, almost as if half of the population hid the other half—the Jews—from the Nazis. The author insists that her narrative actually underplays this hospitality, based on her research and her interviews of those who survived. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed book.
The characters are richly drawn, particularly Renzo Leoni, who operates in the book under several aliases and is mistaken by the Nazis as one of their own. Claudette Blum and her father are Jews who also figure prominently in the narrative, and it is in fact Claudette’s life after the war that provides the final scenes of the book.
As in any book about World War II and the Nazis, there are plot lines that will break your heart, but the richness of the writing and, yes, the thread of grace, make this wonderful book well worth your time.
The last time I wrote, I promised some fiction for my next post, and I have to say, I have discovered a wonderful mystery writer. A couple of my colleagues here at the library recommended Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series to me. I’m hooked.
The books are set in England, and the one I am currently reading takes place after World War I in the early 1930s. This book , The Mapping of Love and Death, is not the first in the series, so I will definitely go back and start at the beginning of the series after I am finished. From what I understand, the back story is that Maisie served as a nurse during the war, and then opened her own detective agency, taking over from her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche.
In the volume I am reading, Maisie is working to unravel the mystery surrounding a death that took place quite a few years before. There’s no blood and gore component to this one so far, so those that prefer their mysteries “cozy” will be fine with this one.
I think what grabbed me, in addition to the recommendations of friends who know me, is that the covers are all these wonderful art deco style drawings of Maisie. I am captivated by posters in that style and from that era, so the books caught my eye. I know, I know—don’t judge a book by its cover. But there it is, and I stand by it.
Before February gets away, let me tell you about a couple books I have read since my last posting.
The first is My Mother, Your Mother by Dennis McCullough. It’s simply the best thing I have read about caring for a family member who is in the later stages of life. McCullough is an advocate of what he calls “Slow Medicine,” an approach that focuses on the older person’s everyday needs and approaches possible medical interventions with caution and thoughtfulness. A geriatrician, McCullough has a lovely writing style that is calming and radiates caring for both the older person and the caregiver. He has a great way of putting the challenges of caregiving into a broader context of helping the older person have a good quality end of life.
The second is Thinner This Year by Chris Crowley and Jennifer Sachek. She’s a nutritionist and exercise physiologist from Tufts University; Crowley co-authored the earlier books in the Younger Next Year series that I have written about before. He is a retired lawyer whose overarching message is that we all need to exercise six days a week for the rest of our lives. This volume uses the same style as the earlier books, alternating between the medical science and Crowley’s personal story. This is not just one more diet book; in fact, it’s not a diet book at all. Crowley is seventy-seven and bikes up mountains, so that gives his words some weight. Inspirational stuff and worth looking at if you are embarking on the late middle age journey and want to stay active until the end.
Next month, some fiction–I promise!
It’s been a long time. I have been out on medical leave, but the positive thing about that is I had some extra time to read. I have a few books to recommend.
First, the new Margaret Maron book is a gem. Buzzard’s Table is the latest outing in the Deborah Knott series and it is well worth your time if you are a fan of Maron, as I am. Nearly all the Knott books are set in North Carolina in places we all know, and the latest continues the trend of weaving a character from her earlier series, Sigrid Harald, into the Knott plotlines. This one seems so obvious from the get-go, but you quickly learn you are not as smart as you think you are. Maron keeps you guessing throughout, and I have to say that I had a stronger feeling of disquiet and foreboding while reading this book than with most of hers. She’s a master; don’t miss it.
Speaking of masters, I started reading the Robert Caro four-volume series on Lyndon Johnson. Meticulously researched, sparklingly written—what’s not to like. I will say that these might work better on an e-reader because they are heavy—and I mean physically heavy! I read the first of the four, The Path to Power, written in 1982, which deals with Johnson’s boyhood up into his first term as a member of the House of Representatives. I have started the second, Means of Ascent, and will read them all. [A fifth volume is planned. Caro is in his seventies; he says it will take three or four years to write.] It’s fascinating to see the political arguments we have in our nation today are some of the same that were being debated in the 1930s. This is a series for the ages.
Finally, I read a book that stretched my tastes a bit. It’s Doors Open by Ian Rankin. This is a crime novel set in Scotland that my daughter gave to me to read during my recuperation. It captivated me from the earliest chapters; Rankin knows how to tell a story.
So there it is—three strong recommendations for these long winter nights.
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. New York and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
Paul Tough has written many times before, movingly and effectively, about the lives of children in marginal situations. In this, his latest book, he explores the newest research about what qualities children need to develop in order to have a successful life. Using a story-driven style, Tough shows that childhood stress, which has a profound impact on a child’s later success, can be overcome when caring adults intervene.
One of the most interesting things about this work is Tough’s challenge to our cultural thesis that success follows those who score highest on standardized tests. Studies that follow children through years and decades of their lives show clearly that it is not this indicator that matters the most. Instead, skills that are connected to character—skills such as curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, grit, self-control, perseverance—these are the true predictors of success throughout life.
Even more exciting is the research that shows that these traits are not something that must be learned as a child. The book traces the lives of several young adults who have faced incredible challenges at home and yet, with the help of a mentor, develop those non-cognitive skills connected to what Tough calls “performance character,” turn their lives around.
This is a profoundly optimistic book precisely because it proves that character is malleable and positive changes can happen when transformative help is provided. Children can learn the non-cognitive skills that allow them to face and conquer difficulties, to strive for a goal, to achieve a better life. Tough’s conclusion is also a challenge because it makes clear that all of us can help influence the development of character skills in children. He shines a light on places where this reversal of a negative outcome has been achieved, and says he has a “feeling of admiration and hope when I watch young people making the difficult and often painful choice to follow a better path, to turn away from what might have seemed like their inevitable destiny. . . . [But] it’s not enough to just applaud their efforts and hope that someday, more young people follow their lead. They did not get onto that ladder alone. They are there only because someone helped them take the first step.”
Fall has finally arrived after our long and very hot summer. Our libraries are humming with activity right now, and I wanted to share some highlights of what will be happening this month.
This week—October 1-6—is Banned Books Week. Hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 challenges or bans in 2011. In addition, ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent of challenges are never reported. Staff members at our libraries have been involved in creating displays to highlight your freedom to read.
And yes, that’s Winnie the Pooh behind those bars.
In the middle of the month, we will be observing Teen Read Week. TRW is a time to celebrate reading for fun and encourage teens to take advantage of reading in all its forms —books and magazines, e-books, audiobooks and more — and become regular library users. We will have two different contests going on that week for teens, and the prize will be a gift card.
We have lots of preschool early literacy classes for children and their parents or caregivers, as well as movies, a chess club, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, scrapbooking, blood pressure checks, a Christmas light-making workshop, a Three Sisters gardening workshop, book discussions, Wii game nights, crafts for kids and the young-at-heart—and all this is just in the month of October! If you want to know more about these opportunities to get together with your neighbors and friends to learn something new at the library, check out our calendars. There is one for each branch, and you can find them here, on our website: http://www.pcplib.org/programs. Or keep up with us on Facebook!
Mystery readers love books in series. For proof of this statement, talk to a person who is obsessed with reading mysteries, and I contend you will quickly find that their love of the genre is often character-driven. By this, I mean that the main character—the detective in many cases—is the reason they read the books, and that character reappears throughout the books.
I am hooked on three writers of mysteries. When I say hooked, that’s just what I mean—I love their work so much that it sends me into withdrawal to have a book end and know that I probably have to wait a year before the next one comes out. These three writers who captivate me so are Margaret Maron, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Louise Penny.
Margaret Maron is a North Carolinian who has written two series. The first features Sigrid Harald, and those books are set in New York. After a few Harald mysteries, Maron moved to the character of Judge Deborah Knott, a lawyer, daughter of a prominent moonshiner, and district court judge. In Maron’s most recent outing, Sigrid Harald meets Deborah Knott while Knott is in New York with her husband. [This cute full-circle thing can be observed in the late, great Robert B. Parker’s work when the inimitable Spenser meets Jesse Stone, and again when Jesse Stone dates Sunny Randall]. Maron’s work grabs me in part because the settings are often familiar and favorite places in North Carolina—the Seagrove pottery area, the High Point Furniture market, the mountains above Asheville. But beyond that, the character of Deborah Knott is so well-drawn, so multidimensional, that I am pulled into the narratives quickly. Maron is a gifted writer who is deserving of wider recognition.
Julia Spencer-Fleming crossed my reading radar several years ago. Her main character is a female Episcopalian priest whose closest friend in town is the married chief of police. My daughter says that the early books have lots of UST—unresolved sexual tension. Spencer-Fleming had one less-than-satisfactory [to me] book where she tidied that relationship up, and then hit a home run with her most recent One Was a Soldier. The main character, the Rev. Clare Fergusson, is like Deborah Knott—full of conflicts and interests that keep the plots moving quickly. My only complain about Ms. Spencer-Fleming is that she writes too slowly—the next book won’t be out until summer of 2013.
My newest fictional friend is Armand Gamache, the Chief Inspector from Quebec created by Canadian author Louise Penny. I have to say that I did not at first think these books were wonderful. In fact, I asked my daughter if they were, perhaps, translated from the French because I thought some of the writing was awkward. Initially, they were nearly all set in the same little town of Three Pines, and it seemed that it had an unlikely amount of crime for such a tiny place. However, I was finally convinced by The Cruelest Month and specifically Chief Inspector Gamache, who seems almost saintly. That made the brand new The Beautiful Mystery, just released in August, 2012, one of my most anticipated reads of recent months. It did not disappoint. For one thing, Penny moved the setting to a monastery deep in Quebec, giving those dear inhabitants of Three Pines a rest from murders and betrayal. The battle Gamache has on his hands with real evil is clearly written. The stakes for him have not been higher and the conclusion leaves the reader breathlessly waiting for the next in this special series.
So, if you like strongly written, multidimensional characters and plots and settings that support them, I recommend you pick up one of these authors soon—at your local library, of course!
I have gotten hooked on genealogy.
I haven’t been doing my own charts or finding out what limb of the tree that third cousin who went around the corner to buy a cantaloupe and never came back fell from–nothing as useful as that, mind you.
No heavy lifting involved. It’s just that I have started watching Who Do You Think You Are? On television and I can’t stop.
I blame it on my brother. fittingly enough, since he’s part of the family tree. He’s the one that told me about the show. We now own seasons one and two at the library.
Here’s the basic outline of this show: each episode focuses on a well-known celebrity and their search for their ancestors. In most cases, the search takes them to different countries. Sometimes they discover they come from royalty; in other cases, their ancestors were brought here against their will as slaves. In all cases, however, the story is interesting and it also highlights the way people use online resources such as Ancestry. com [which we have available in all our libraries--shameless plug!] to find information.
The other show I have become intrigued by is Finding Your Roots by Henry Louis Gates. This is a PBS production and, just as Who Do You Think You Are? It focuses mostly on well-known. It’s hosted by Henry Louis Gates, a professor at Harvard. It’s a little less commercial in its approach, and is also fascinating.
The library has many resources regarding local history and genealogy, so once you’ve seen what can be learned, we’ll be here to help you find out who you are.