Friday, August 30, 2013

Library News: Brookfield, IL

In Miami the major talks about closing 22 branch libraries, saying the age of the library is coming to an end, but here in Brookfield, IL steps are being taken towards building a bigger, better library that will meet the needs of 21st century patrons.

Why haven't I written a library visit post on my local library? Because every time I'm there with my camera the place is crawling with people. It makes taking non-intrusive pictures impossible. Brookfield is a small, but very busy library.

The library purchased the abandoned church across the street and demolished it this summer. The property was cleared, leveled, and seeded. The empty corner lot is being turned into a temporary park that will play a major role in the library's 100th anniversary celebration next year.

Here are some pictures:

The church is on the left, the library on the right.
July: The church with stained glass removed and demolition fencing up.
August: The church is gone and the grass is growing.
A view of the field looking toward the library.
Current facts and figures from the library website: "Circulation in 2012 was just over 300,000 items, an average of 16.1 items per capita. Circulation has increased by 103% since 2005 even though the population of Brookfield has remained relatively static. Over 157,000 people visited the Library in 2012, a 55% increase from 2005 when the Library had 95,852 visitors.  On an average day, 462 people visit the Library" (source).

If you'd like to see conceptual sketches of the proposed library, here's the link: Scroll down and look under resources.

Some library history: In 1912 Brookfield received a Carnegie grant of $10,000 to build a library. In 1986 that library building was demolished and a new building constructed on the same site. One of my cousins who grew up in Brookfield remembers the old Carnegie library as a dark, dank place. The current library was remodeled in 1999 and again in 2010.

What's going on at your local library?

If you're a blogger, why not consider writing a post about your library? If you do, please put your link in the comments section below--I'd love to see it!

Monday, August 26, 2013

End of August? Already?

How can it possibly be the last week of August? This is one fast year!

Throughout all of the decluttering, donating, and painting involved in getting our house ready for sale, I've been reading as usual, but not blogging as much. I'm woefully behind on reviews and instead of letting good books go unremarked upon, I thought I write a 'recently read' post. Here goes. Links go to Goodreads.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
I process withdrawls at the library where I work and when a copy of Rosemary's Baby landed on my cart I couldn't resist reading it. (Don't worry, we still carry it.) Its a book that's long been floating around in the back of my mind as one I'd like to read. I saw the movie as a kid and thought it was pretty freakin' weird--a bunch of old people in a coven who conjure the devil to impregnate a young woman. It had been a long time since I saw the movie and I had no idea about the book's reputation, so I was thrilled when I ended up LOVING THIS BOOK. It was published in 1967, but written and set in 1966. I was born in 1966 and have a friend who was born on--no lie--6/6/66. His mother called him her little diablo baby. So you know a lot of writers who were interested in horror stories saw the possibilities of all those 6s. There is so much that is good about this book. It's a solid horror story that can also be easily read as a feminist critique of society, commentary on relationships, and more. After finishing the book I watched the movie and it also holds up very well (its currently streaming on Netflix).

Son of Rosemary by Ira Levin
This 1997 sequel to Rosemary's Baby, set in 1999, is awful. I got to page 44 before I start skimming pages, and then skimming big chunks of pages. Rosemary has been in a comma for 27 years and suddenly wakes up when the last member of the coven dies. During her comma her son has become a worldwide charismatic leader who preaches hope. Everyone loves him. Most people wear 'I heart Andy' buttons. Rosemary loves her grown up baby but is suspicious. Lots of stuff goes down with devil daddy and then--I shit you not and here comes a big spoiler bomb so look away if you have plans on reading this novel--at the end of the novel Rosemary wakes up in bed with her husband from the first book saying what an awful dream she just had. It's like the Left Behind Series meets Dallas.

Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
I first heard of Knox while reading Chernow's biography of Washington.
Knox was a bookseller who
became one of the most important generals in the Revolutionary War. He was in charge of artillery and behind the founding of West Point. I didn't finish this book mainly because I was tired of reading about the war (it was my third revolutionary war book this year) and mainly had wanted to learn about Knox's time as a bookseller. Including his store, there were eight bookstores in pre-revolutionary Boston. Unfortunately, his shop was ransacked during the war.
Some highlights:
--Knox was a apprenticed to a bookseller before opening his own store. He excelled as a bookseller for a variety of reasons, one being that he innovated using blurbs from a literary magazine (Critical Review) to advertise books.
--Knox was was forbidden from leaving Boston because the British wanted to keep an eye on him. Paul Revere was not yet under suspicion and when he visited Knox's bookshop and loyalists or British soldiers were pretend to argue, hurling insults at each other. Eventually British spies revealed themselves to Revere to get more information on Knox, thus giving themselves away to the rebels.
--Knox had extensive knowledge of military books and supplied congress and the army with books or at least lists of books from Harvard and Europe on how to conduct war. Other than watching British soldiers drill and talking with other military men, reading books is how he learned to wage war (from drill to strategy to casting cannons), becoming one of the foremost military strategists that the rebels had.
--Knox used cutting edge artillery techniques. Rather than have the artillery come in behind the fighting troops as was common at the time, Knox proved to Washington using the big guns prior to battlefield engagement with the enemy was the way to go in order to soften them up.
--Knox very early on petitioned congress to establish a military academy to teach the art of war and to maintain a standing army. He was woefully familiar with the performance of the militias and wrote: "The militia get sick, or think themselves so, and run home; and wherever they go they spread panic."

The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyle
This is a book that's been on my list for a few years and I'm glad to have read it. Half-way through I became annoyed by what I thought was the extreme and unrealistic naivete of the camp commandant's son, but then I considered the spirit of the story and let myself fall into it. I highly recommend the book and believe it would be a graceful introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers.

This House is Haunted by John Boyle
This novel was a disappointment. It's not out in the States until October 8th, just in time for Halloween,
but if you're an avid horror/ghost story reader this one may not please. However, if you don't read very much horror or ghost stories this one might be a decent Halloween read. It's a retelling of James's The Turn of the Screw which has been over-done. Even the writing wasn't particularly good, particularly in consistency of voice and context. There's a scene when the protagonist, a young usual quiet woman, asks what jury would possibly convict her for smashing the head of an unresponsive clerk with a paper weight. Considering the story is set in 1867, I replied, "all of them!"

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Last year's entry in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, The Beautiful Mystery, end with a painful cliffhanger regarding Gamache's relationship with his right-hand man and Beauvoir's addiction. How the Light Gets In is another satisfying read, filled with Penny's beautiful writing about pain, grace, and forgiveness that has earned her a world wide following of loyal readers. If you live in the Chicago area Penny will be at Anderson's Books in Naperville on 8/28.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
I listened to the audio version. The first part about personal habits--how they form, how to form them, how the habit loop works--was very interesting. The second part about advertisement and business was so-so. By the end, however,  I was becoming growing tired with what seemed like superficial speculation regarding personal responsibility and neurological conditions, habits, and addictions. Perhaps this is one I should have read rather than listened to.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
I read this novel for Savidge Reads's Greene For Gran, a tribute to his grandmother who recently passed away. Initially I planned on reading The Quiet American but the first paragraph didn't grab me and Simon struggled through it, so I returned it to the library unread and looked for another Greene instead. Standing in front of his novels on the library shelf, I sighed as one of my old book snobberies reared its ugly head, the one about not wanting to read a book that everyone else loves/praises/buys. In the end my curiosity won over my ego and I checked out The End of the Affair.  Once more I'm reminded that there's usually good reason why so many people love a book...because its a great read. Duh, right? This novel is gorgeously written and the characters are incredibly vivid. Maurice Bendrix, the narrator, is a complete ass but I couldn't help liking him, feeling his pains and joys and relating to him and other characters even when I didn't want to. The novel is about an affair Maurice had with a woman and the fall out for him, her, her husband, and a few other characters. It's also a passionate rant about love, hate, and god. Even minor characters like the arrogant, detached priest, Father Crompton are vivid, "His nose ran down his face like a buttress." Great, great novel.

Phew, okay, now I feel caught up. Have you read any of the above books? I'd love to hear your take on them if you have.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Classics Club Spin #3

A Classics Club spin is where participants choose 20 books from their classics list, a moderator picks a number between 1-20, and then participants have a deadline in which to read the randomly chosen book.

It's a nice way to get a little push and some extra reading support. This is the third spin and the second in which I'm participating. Last time I got This Side of Paradise which I did not enjoy. C'est la vie. This time the goddess Fortuna will be kinder to me, yes?

Because I'm in the midst of selling my house and moving and don't know when everything will happen (but hope its soon!), I'm not selecting any big, chunky classics this time or the ones that I'm slightly dreading, so no Count of Monte Cristo or War and Peace. I don't have any re-reads on my main list, so there are none below.

I also chose only women writers this time around. It wasn't intentional at first, but then it was!

Need a push to start:
Lady Fortune in a Boccaccio manuscript
1. Rebecca, Du Maurier
2. Regeneration, Parker
3. Curious Wine, Forrest
4. A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry--THE CHOSEN ONE!
5. Wuthering Heights, Bronte
6. Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf

Feel neutral about:
7. So Big, Ferber
8. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith
10. To the Lighthouse, Woolf
11. Stone Angel, Laurence
12. The Price of Salt, Highsmith

Really excited to read:
13. We Have Always Lived in a Castle, Jackson
14. And Then There Were None, Christie
15. Sense and Sensibility, Austen
16. Pride and Prejudice, Austen
17. Ship of Fools, Porter
18. Wise Blood, O'Connor
19. Suite Francaise, Nemirovsky
20. Diary of a Young Girl, Frank

If you haven't heard of the Classics Club check it out here.
Are you participating in this spin? If so please include your link in the comments--I'd love to see what you've selected.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

I read this novel after Simon and Gavin of The Readers podcast announced it as their July book club pick. It sounded like something I wouldn't pick up on my own, but I was in the mood to step outside my comfort zone.

From the publisher:

Set on an isolated island off the Scottish coast, in a community run by women who are in awe of a mysterious structure called the Thrashing House, the novel is narrated by two teenage girls in very different circumstances. Mary is doing her best to protect her younger brother, Barney, as the island’s sons are mysteriously disappearing. Morgan is scheming to escape the prison her parents have made of their home. The two girls unite, each on a desperate mission in which secrets will be revealed and lives changed forever.

Although I'm usually put off by dialects, it didn't take long to get into the rhythm of Mary's and I was quickly drawn into the story, curious about the lives of both Mary and Morgan, the two main characters, whose stories are told in alternating chapters. Mary grew up on the isolated island that is visited regularly by the tall men who arrive in boats to trade products from the mainland for the embroideries that the island women make and the fish that the men catch. Morgan's family came to the island in an attempt to calm the mother's neurosis. Mary's younger brother disappears and Morgan yearns to escape the fortress that her parents have created to keep others out and their family in.

Snake Ropes is one of the most original stories I've read in a long time. The setting and sensory details are superb--I could feel the cold, hear the seashore, imagine character's voices. The plot and characters are unique, yet familiar in some ways due to the underpinning of mythology and fairytale woven throughout the story and its feminist critique.

Magical realism enhances this tale and doesn't seem gimmicky at all (as it often does to me). The community is matriarchal, but that doesn't mean its a paradise for Mary and Morgan. Both young women suffer due to parents' emotional problems, tradition, or the schemes of elders, but there's hope that together they'll find peace and healing, and create a safe home together.

If I ever come across a copy of Snakes Ropes I'll buy it for my home library. This is one of those books that going back to it and randomly reading a paragraph will take you right back into the story. And I think a re-reading would be marvelous as there's so much in this story that you don't pick up the first time around because you just don't know what's going on (in a good, suspenseful way). Unfortunately, Snake Ropes doesn't appear to be a novel that's readily available in the U.S. at this time, not even through public libraries. The copy I read needed to be inter-library loaned from The University of Chicago.

You can listen to The Readers interview with author Jess Richards HERE.

Snake Ropes
Jess Richards
Sceptre, December 2012
Source: library
4/5 stars
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