Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Library Visit: Riverside Public Library (IL)

The first public library in my life was the Cicero Public Library, my hometown library. A second public library played an important part in my childhood, and that is the Riverside Public Library. It was the public building closest to the hill where we went sledding (meaning it had a restroom).

But since then it has been one of my favorite libraries in the Chicagoland area. Until recently I lived in the next town over (Brookfield) and often did my reading and writing in this library for the inspiration its beauty provides. The pictures below were taken on two recent visits.

Riverside Public Library
1 Burling Road
Riverside, IL 60546

If you live in the Chicago area and have not visited this library, it is well worth the drive. If you visit in winter bring your sled and if you visit in warmer months pack a picnic. There are also some good restaurants within walking distance. 
The Village of Riverside was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1870s and much of the area has a park-like atmosphere. Pictured above are stairs leading down into the park where we used to sled. In the distance, behind the trees, are the library and other municipal buildings. The village has been a National Historic Landmark since 1970. Read more here.
A view of the library from water's edge. The library is the lighter building on the left.
The same view with leaves on the trees.
Path along the river's edge heading towards the library. It looks rather Hobbit-ish, doesn't it?
The library as seen from the end of the path pictured above. The long expanse of windows is the quiet reading room.
West side of the library.
South side of library. Just inside this timbered (Tudor?) bay window is a window seat and cozy reading area.
Window detail.
East side of the library. See the gargoyle at the peak?
Another view of the east side of library.
Guards at the window.
My favorite creature.
The front of the library faces north.
Looking from the library towards town. The train station is across the street.
The front facade detail. Above reads: "There is no past so long as books shall live, Bulwer Lytton."
Oak front doors.
Erected 1930.
The foyer.
Padded reading bench on south wall in bay window.
Warm ceiling and beams.
Pilgrim, stained glass detail. Happy Thanksgiving!
Native American, stained glass detail.
View of the river. See those orange panels?
A poem by Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu.
My favorite place to sit. Several individual study tables are along the south wall.
Drama, stained glass detail.
Single candle, stained glass detail.
Fiction, stained glass detail.
Throughway between main hall and stacks. Stairs to the left lead down to the children's section. Along the right side are new fiction and nonfiction arrivals.
Adorable/scary sculpture by Jim Eichhorst.
Stairs leading down to the children's section. Laptops for patron use line the railings.
In the children's section.
The perfect library chair?
The quite reading room done in a Prairie/Frank Lloyd Wright style.
A cozy place to study on a fall day.
The main hall looking west from the front entrance.
Fireplace at the west end of the main hall.
The main hall looking east, toward the circulation desk.
Main hall detail.
Man writing, stained glass detail on front door.

Gargoyle watches over all who enter as well as those who linger.

Obviously the Riverside Public Library is beautiful and I could post dozens more photos, but will leave you with this image below, of a turkey in the window.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Home Alone Reading Patricia Cornwell

Last night I started reading Patricia Cornwell's latest release, Dust. I was home alone. I'm in the midst of moving and between houses, currently staying at my mom's for a few weeks. I distinctly remember the last time I read a Patricia Cornwell novel at my mom's house.

It was the late 1990s and I had just recently discovered Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series and was reading her backlist. I lived in Charlotte, NC back then and was visiting my mom for the holidays. 

On one particular evening I'd been out Christmas shopping and returned to an empty house. My mom lives in a far western suburb of Chicago where there's some breathing space between houses, but they're close enough that people can hear you scream.

I popped a frozen pizza in the oven and then stood at the living room window watching the snow fall. It was coming down fast, the first big snow of the season.

And it's dark out there, the way a heavy snow or rain diminishes ambient lighting. There's also a big field and woods to one side of my mom's house, but by the lone street light on her block I can tell there are already a few inches on the ground.

The oven timer goes off.

After eating some pizza I go down stairs to read in the family room. There I sit with a belly full of pizza, happily reading a creepy Patricia Cornwell novel while the gusts of wind grow stronger. I hear the occasional noise outside.

Wait, was that inside? My mom's cat gives me no comfort. He turns his head and stares in the direction of each sound.

But, no, the wind just knocked something over in the yard. I read a few more pages. Hmm, that sounds like something—or someone—brushed against the side of the house. It's probably just a branch.

And then the lights go out and I am in complete darkness.

I don't miss a beat. I fling myself over the back of the couch cop style and am up the stairs and out the front door in three seconds flat.

If you're a woman home alone reading a Patricia Cornwell novel, you know better than to just sit there in the dark while the serial killer moves in. Ain't nobody gonna come rescue you, sweet cheeks.

So while I'm not a sitting duck on the couch, I find myself standing in the middle of the street out front of my mother's house in a snow storm wearing only sneakers, jeans, and a sweatshirt.

What to do?

I notice the lights are on in the house across the street. That's not a good sign, but maybe I should go there for help. Then I turn and realize the houses to the left and right of my mom's place are pitch
black, too.

Okay, it must be a power outage.

But is it really? Should I go back inside? Alone? Could someone have slipped through the front door behind me as I made my mad dash to the street?

As I'm thinking these thoughts snow starts to melt on my scalp and I notice I'm getting cold. But then I see head lights coming from the direction of the field. A car rounds the bend and I'm relieved to see it's my mom.

I wave, she smiles but shakes her head, wondering what her youngest is doing outside with snow accumulation on her head and shoulders. She pulls into the driveway and asks what I'm doing.

Oh nothing, I say, just checking out the snow.

Do you have a scary book reading memory? 
Share it in the comment section below!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

Readers seem to love or hate Pat Conroy. I'm a definite lover of his writing. I first read him in the early 1980s as a high schooler in Cicero, IL after joining the Marines on the delayed entry program. The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline introduced me to the military and the South, and they would later help me understand my own growing love/hate relationship with both.

Conroy is perhaps most widely known for The Prince of Tides, but when I hear the name Pat Conroy what flashes before my eyes are scenes from The Great Santini, an autobiographical novel about a young boy who survives an abusive, alcoholic father. When a friend of mine was in graduate school for social work, she borrowed the movie version of The Great Santini from me to show it as an example of a dysfunctional family system. It's one of the few movie adaptations that I think are as good as the book.

Over the years I'd heard that Conroy's abusive, ego-maniacal father had changed for the better as a result of reading his son's portrayal of him in The Great Santini. I was pretty psyched when I heard he was writing a book about that transformation. The book tore the family apart, but the movie version actually helped bring the family back together.

One of the reasons Conroy wrote The Great Santini is that he thought he was telling "a story that had never been told in the history of American literature," the story of the children of warriors. Isn't that the truth? Can you think of a novel that deals with being the child of a warrior?

In The Death of Santini Conroy focuses not only on his father, but on his mother, some extended family, and his siblings, particularly his sister, Carol Ann, who is now a poet who living in New York City and from whom he's estranged. He's also estranged from one of his daughters, but doesn't say what caused that split. There's pain in the book, but there's also understanding and humor. Forgiveness is a tricky, personal thing, however, and after reading everything Conroy has written I can see why some family members would want to keep their distance from the heart of this clan.

I like reading Conroy's memoirs because I want to see how a writer lives his life, how he negotiates between HIS life, his family's expectations and memory, and the reality of putting it down on paper. It was through writing The Great Santini that Conroy developed the credo of his writing life:
Every time I found myself censoring the writer in me, I would write it anyway. Finally, it became a credo for my entire writing life--if I feared putting something on paper, it was a voice screaming from the interior for me to start writing it down, to leave out nothing.
Conroy is unapologetic about writing autobiographically based fiction and thumbs his nose at those who put down such writing as being not very imaginative.

He also rips on Random House and one of its famous editors: during the writing of The Prince of Tides Conroy's editor, Jonathan Galassi, took a job at Random House and wanted Conroy to follow him. Conroy did not have a good first impression and writes just enough about the encounter to tantalize, but offers no explicit details.
When I visited the new office of Jonathan at Random House, it soon became apparent that the editors and publishers at that august publishing house had no interest in my writing career and almost none in Jonathan's either. We were insulted in ever office to which he took me. I never felt like more of a Southern hick, toothless and feckless with holes in my shoes, than I did for those two shameful hours wandering the halls of that gutless company. Jason Epstein has no idea how close I was to breaking his bigmouthed jaw when he mortified a crestfallen Jonathan in front of me and refused to raise his eyes to meet mine, nor his hand to shake mine in friendship. He was a braying, overbearing man, not a lonesome dove among his discourteous colleagues.
This was a rare stray away from focusing on his family. This memoir is full of raw and heartbreaking details of family life, from his mother's dirt poor childhood in Depression era Alabama to his father's Irish Catholic family on Chicago's south side. There's lots of mean and and lots of crazy, but, as Conroy asks, how far do you have to scratch before you hit crazy in your family? Mom? Dad? Aunt? Grandpa? Sister?

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
Pat Conroy
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, October 29, 2013
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-53090-3
Source: gift from family member. Thanks, Laura!

Here are Conroy's books in chronological order:
  • The Boo 1970 (my review here)
  • The Water Is Wide 1972
  • The Great Santini 1976
  • The Lords of Discipline 1980
  • The Prince of Tides 1986
  • Beach Music 1995
  • The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life 1999
  • My Losing Season 2002
  • South of Broad 2009
  • My Reading Life 2010 (my reviews here: book and audio)
  • The Death of Santini 2013
 What's your favorite Pat Conroy book?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Finds (Nov 15)

showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list…
whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS! Click on the logo to add your link


Yesterday two new to me books came into my life thanks to Emma from Words and Peace. When I arrived at Emma's she had a stack of books for me to check out. I showed restraint (I think) and chose two.

The first is Blindness by Jose Saramago.
A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that's bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.
Saramago is a Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.

The second is The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.
Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.

In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city's inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls—a symbol of the artworks' eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe's bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a "memory palace," a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
This will be the second historical fiction novel that I've read set during the siege of Leningrad. The first was City of Thieves by David Benioff, which I highly recommend.

 Emma also had this cute little needle-point bookmark set aside for me that she found in a book:
Thank you for the goodies, Emma!

Have you read either of these novels? What did you think?
What's new on your reading pile this week?
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