The Truman Readers Award honors a book that is selected by Missouri junior high students. Even though this award is administered by the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL), it is the responsibility of Missouri teens to choose the actual winner. These titles will be voted upon by students in March 2016; the recipient of the award will be announced in late April 2016 at the annual MASL Spring Conference. As summer kicks into high gear, consider bringing along one of these titles to enjoy poolside.
“Rapunzel Untangled” by Cindy C. Bennett
For one thing, Rapunzel has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is 15 feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction. But, then she meets a boy named Fane, who changes all she has ever known, and she decides to risk everything familiar to find out who she really is.
“Tandem” by Anna Jarzab
Sasha lives a quiet life with her grandfather in Chicago, but dreams of adventure. When her long-time crush, Grant, asks her to prom, she is thrilled. That is, until is turns out he is abducting her to a parallel universe to impersonate a princess.
“A Matter of Days” by Amber Kizer
On Day 56 of the pandemic called BluStar, Nadia’s mother dies, leaving her responsible for her younger brother, Rabbit. They secretly received antivirus vaccines from their uncle, but most people weren’t as lucky. Their deceased father taught them to adapt and survive whatever comes their way. That’s their plan as they trek from Seattle to their grandfather’s survivalist compound in West Virginia.
“Pivot Point” by Kasie West
Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or, so she thought.
“The Testing” by Joelle Charbonneau
The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But, to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.
“Mila 2.0” by Debra Driza
Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.
“Rogue” by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends?
“Marie Antoinette: Serial Killer” by Katie Alender
Colette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots. But, a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. As she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette.
“SYLO” by D.J. MacHale
SYLO, a secret branch of the U.S. Navy, informs Pemberwick residents that the island has been hit by a lethal virus and must be quarantined. Tucker Pierce believes there’s more to SYLO’s story, and only he holds the clues that can solve this deadly mystery.
“Inhuman” by Kat Falls
America has been ravaged by a war that has left the eastern half of the country riddled with mutation. Many of the people there exhibit varying degrees of animal traits. Crossing from west to east is supposed to be forbidden, but sometimes it’s necessary. Sixteen-year-old Lane’s father goes there to retrieve lost artifacts—he is a Fetch. It’s a dangerous life, but rewarding—until he’s caught and Lane agrees to complete this father’s job.
“Prisoner B-3087” by Alan Gratz
Based on the life of Jack Gruener, this book relates his story of survival from the Nazi occupation of Krakow, when he was eleven, through a succession of concentration camps, to the final liberation of Dachau.
“The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die” by April Henry
She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know where she is, or why. All she knows when she comes to in a ransacked cabin is that there are two men arguing over whether or not to kill her. And, that she must run.
Originally published at 2016 Truman Award Nominees.
Let the summer reading begin! Some readers turn to lighter fare in June, wanting books with breezy plots they can finish in a long afternoon, fast-paced thrillers that make miles of travel fly by or fantasy novels into which they can escape. Others use hard-earned vacation time (I’m waving at you, teachers!) to dive into hefty works of literary fiction or narrative nonfiction. Whatever reading mood summer inspires, we’ve got a hot-off-the-presses recommendation for you from LibraryReads. Here are the top 10 titles publishing in June that librarians across the country love and recommend.
“Eight Hundred Grapes” by Laura Dave
“Take your time and savor the family dynamics. Enjoy the romantic twists in this tale of a career-minded young woman circling back to her roots at a California winery. The appeal is broader than that of a romance since it delves into the complexities of various relationships — parent to parent, parents and children, even winery and owner. This is an excellent summer read!”
– Joan Hipp, Florham Park Public Library, Florham Park, NJ
“The Truth According to Us” by Annie Barrows
“It is 1938 in a rural West Virginia town and a young woman arrives to write the town’s history. Layla doesn’t really know what to expect from the town, and the town doesn’t know what to make of her. This is the heart of the South, the soul of small towns, where everyone looks out for you and knows your history. A sweet story tailor-made for fans of Billie Letts, Fannie Flagg, Pat Conroy and Harper Lee.”
– Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX
“The Book of Speculation” by Erica Swyler
“A roller coaster of a read! This is the story of a librarian from a splintered family with a tragic past who is gifted a mysterious book that leads him to dive deep into his family’s history, all while his present life seems to be falling to pieces around him. If you loved Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus’ or Kostova’s ‘The Historian,’ this is a book for you.”
– Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA
“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George
“Quirky and delightful, Nina George’s book focuses on Jean Perdu, owner of the Literary Apothecary, a floating bookshop. When a new tenant in his apartment building sets in motion events that force Jean to re-evaluate his past, he finds himself floating off down the rivers of France in search of lost love, new love and friends he didn’t know he needed.”
– Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
And here’s the rest of June’s best with links to the library’s catalog so you can place your holds on these forthcoming books.
- “The Invasion of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen
- “In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume
- “The Rumor” by Elin Hilderbrand
- “The Precipice” by Paul Doiron
- “My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman
- “Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship” by Robert Kurson
As a regular reader of the thriller genre, I was excited to finally give Karin Slaughter a try. I was familiar with her name — her novels are often bestsellers that fly off the shelves. I was immediately drawn to her strong writing. Slaughter’s style is dark and gritty. She’s not afraid to expose the dark side of her characters (even those that you’re rooting for)! Although many crime novels are set in more urban areas, Slaughter takes readers into small, Southern towns, where horrific crimes are bubbling just under the surface. And when they explode into visibility, it becomes clear that even idyllic small towns are not safe from the darker side of human nature.
Her most recent series (starting with the twist-filled thriller, “Triptych“) features Will Trent, a special agent for the Georgia Bureau of investigation. I learned that some of the characters who show up in the Will Trent stories were first featured in her “Grant County” series. I’m a bit of a stickler for reading things in order (gotta avoid spoilers!), so I set out to read the earlier series first.
The “Grant County” series features Dr. Sara Linton, town pediatrician and coroner, as well as her ex-husband (and chief-of-police) Jeffrey Tolliver. Sara and Jeffrey’s troubled relationship plays out over six books as they work together to solve several horrific crimes. The series also includes troubled officer Lena Adams. Lena is Jeffrey’s protogé, and the vicious murder of her twin sister Sybil opens this series in “Blindsighted.” In the next two novels — “Kisscut” and “A Faint, Cold Fear” — the trio find themselves drawn into cases involving a family’s dark secrets and a series of suicides at the local college. A personal favorite of mine from the series is “Indelible,” which features an incredibly tense hostage situation. This book also provides a glimpse into the early days of Sara and Jeffrey’s relationship, as well as their involvement in the possible cover-up of a crime. In “Faithless,” Sara and Jeffrey look into a murder that may be connected to a local religious cult, while Lena struggles to maintain a grip on both her personal and professional lives. And, in “Beyond Reach,” the series’ final book, Sara and Jeffrey journey to Lena’s hometown after she is accused of murder, leading to repercussions none of them could have imagined.
Slaughter knows how to write a taut thriller, but she truly excels in developing complex characters and exploring their even more complex relationships. I found myself pulled into not only the story of how Sarah, Jeffrey and Lena solved the crimes, but also the drama in their ever-evolving relationships. The “Grant County” series is truly an engaging saga, with each novel building on the events of the previous one. And lucky for us readers, Slaughter gets better with each book.
The post Suspense in a Small Town: Karin Slaughter’s Grant County Series appeared first on DBRL Next.
It can be great fun to read about villains, whether it’s because they command an army of monkeys (Wicked Witch), or they’re a great cook (Hannibal Lector) or they make you feel better about your own ethical shortcomings (Martha Stewart). But when you often read about such indisputably inhuman monsters, it’s good to be reminded that not everybody that does bad things is evil, and sometimes they are elephants. “The Tusk That Did The Damage” reminds us of this. In this sad and lovely and sometimes scary little novel, the elephant known as “The Gravedigger” witnessed the murder of his mother and the removal of her tail, and, after an often horrific existence marked by cruelty, isolation and a stint in the entertainment industry, begins murdering people and covering their corpses with leaves. Hence his catchy nickname.
“The Tusk That Did The Damage” rotates among three perspectives: the aforementioned homicidal elephant, a young woman working on a documentary about a veterinarian running a rescue center for elephants and the younger brother of a young elephant poacher. While each narrative is worthy of my esteemed recommendation, getting inside the head of a mad elephant is the highlight for me, and I’d gladly read any excised material should the publisher wish to reward me for the sales boost I’m currently providing.
Tania James has given us a novel that raises a lot of questions, like: Why is the world set up so that the poverty stricken often have little choice but to step outside the law if they want their children to have cool stuff like plentiful food and maybe a toy? Why are humans so quick to kill things because pretty stuff is attached to their victims? And why can’t mosquitoes carry around little sacks of ivory so we don’t have people murdering intelligent creatures so they can make really pretty pianos? (You would be like, “Ouch, it hurts to slap a sack of ivory,” but then you’d be like, “It’s cool though cause I’ll just run this conveniently packaged ivory down to my local ivorysmith and he’ll turn it into a fancy trinket and give me some folding cash and maybe I’ll buy a little ivory glove from him so it doesn’t hurt to kill mosquitoes.”) Maybe you’ll get to thinking about the poacher’s brother’s insight that his community is “neither poor enough nor princely enough to appear on Western screens.” I’m grateful to see it on Western pages.
The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list of recommended reading sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Sixteen young adult book clubs from libraries across the country are responsible for narrowing down a list of nominees for teens to vote on nationwide. Below is this year’s full list of Top Ten nominations. Don’t forget that the library offers print, eBook and audiobook editions of many of the these titles!
“Let’s Get Lost” by Adi Alsaid
As Leila struggles to come to terms with her new life, she grasps for the only thing she knows is real, the northern lights. On her cross-country trip to see them, she meets four people that not only change her, but change because of her. She helps them in ways they didn’t know they needed, and they help her more than she realizes.
“Don’t Look Back” by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Samantha’s mind is a blank slate after she disappeared with her best frienemy, Cassie. However, when Cassie’s dead body turns up, Samantha’s memories are the only clue to what happened that night. Unfortunately, Sam not having any memories may be the only thing keeping her alive.
“Midnight Thief” by Livia Blackburne
Kyra is a thief. A talented one at that. When the leader of the mysterious Assassin’s Guild offers her a job, she isn’t sure. Tristam of Brancel is a Palace knight. When his best friend is murdered by the Demon Riders, a clan of fierce warriors who ride on bloodthirsty wildcats, he vows to take them down. Each time, he is thwarted by a talented thief, one who can easily slip past the Palaces defenses. When they are thrown together on a raid, they realize that their best-if only chance at survival is to join together. Loyalties are tested and a surprising secret is learned about Kyra’s past-one that threatens to reshape their lives.
“Mortal Gods” by Kendare Blake
For the first time ever, Cassandra and Athena have a mutual goal: to kill the remaining gods and goddesses that have taken refuge on Mount Olympus. If they could just figure out how to work together, they might be able to accomplish it.
“The Bane Chronicles” by Cassandra Clare
Magnus Bane, the mysterious High Warlock of New York, has been alive for a long time and has a mysterious past unknown to most of his companions. In this thrilling novel, secrets and stories are revealed, of lovers, of adventures, and of friendships.
“The Inventor’s Secret” by Andrea Cremer
In a steampunk world, after the British Empire won the Revolutionary War, a young Patriot named Charlotte finds a boy in the woods, running from British war machines. When he claims he cannot remember anything, she and the other rebels with her decide to find his true origin by going to the heart of the Empire: New York.
“Love Letters to the Dead” by Ava Dellaira
After the death of her older sister, Laurel tries to cope with her feelings of guilt and anger with what starts out as an English assignment: write a letter to a dead person. As Laurel adjusts to high school and makes new friends, she continues writing letters to her idols. They become more detailed and thoughtful as she tries to grieve over her sister and works up the courage to finally be able to talk about the secret of her death.
“Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince” by Bree Despain
Haden, the disgraced son of Ren Hades, King of the Underworld, has been chosen to go to the surface and bring back Daphne Vince, his boon. Daphne’s alcoholic rock star father is giving her the chance she has dreamed of to further her music career, but in California, further away from home than she’s ever been. Their fates are entwined, and they’re about to meet for the first time.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han
Lara Jean has a teal hatbox under her bed filled with all her precious things, old feelings, and memories that should be buried forever. In that box, there are letters Lara has written to all the boys she has ever loved with no intention of ever sending them. One day, the hat box goes missing, marking the beginning of a series of confrontations she never thought she’d have to face.
“Unhinged” by A.G. Howard
Finally back in the “real world” all Alyssa has left is to ignore her darker side and enjoy the normality of high school and her life with Jeb. But does Wonderland leave her alone? Can the Red Queen let Alyssa get away with what she has done? Everything would be easier if Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest.
“The Young Elites” by Marie Lu
Adelina Amounteru is a survivor of the plague, a Malfetto, a freak to the rest of society. The treatment of abuse over the years has caused a darkness to brew inside her. She believes there is hope for her yet as there is a group of other Malfettos, called the Young Elites. The Young Elites have not only survived the plague, but have developed unexplainable abilities. Is refuge with these people what Adelina always wanted, or are they just going to end up using her like everyone else?
“Heir of Fire” by Sarah J. Maas
Celaena, the King’s Champion, has faced many challenges throughout her life, but none compare to what she must now face. As the King of Adarlan seeks to destroy all that she cares about, Celaena must learn to control her powers while deciding who should fight back: Celaena the assassin or Aelin the Fae princess.
“Since You’ve Been Gone” by Morgan Matson
Emily and Sloane are the bestest friends having an amazing summer, until one day Sloane disappears. Sloane leaves behind a to-do list of 13 tasks Emily would normally never try without Sloane by her side. With the help of Frank Porter, and a few other friends, will Emily finish the list?
“The Shadow Throne” by Jennifer A. Nielsen
War is on the horizon in Carthya, and Jaron needs to protect his country. However, the ruler of Avenia has also captured Jaron’s best friend and love, Imogen. Jaron needs to save both his friend and his country, but everything that possibly could go wrong, does go wrong.
“My Life with the Walter Boys” by Ali Novak
As the perfect girl who had everything scheduled, always looked nice and studied hard, Jackie couldn’t predict her parents’ accident. She also didn’t see her future consisting of moving from New York to Colorado and living with twelve boys. How can she cope with her parents’ death, a dramatic change in lifestyle while still being the perfect girl she was?
“The Kiss of Deception” by Mary E. Pearson
As Lia tries to run from her bounty hunters, she begins uncovering one of her kingdoms deceptive secrets, hidden by the years passed. Meanwhile, she begins falling in love with two men who are not who they seem to be…
“The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski
Kestrel is a noble of the vast empire Valoria. She only has two choices for her future: to become a military officer or get married. What she really wants is to be a musician. Her choice for her future becomes more complicated when she buys a slave named Arin who is in on a plot to free his people from enslavement.
“Fire & Flood” by Victoria Scott
Tella Holloway thought her life was bad. When she gets an invitation to save her brother Cody’s life, she learns what bad really is. Tella fights for not only Cody, but herself, her Pandora, and her growing love of a contender. It’s a fight for life, but will Tella die trying?
“I Become Shadow” by Joe Shine
Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen, chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: an unstoppable guardian of a future leader/world changer. After four years of training, she is assigned to protect Gareth Young, one of these future beings, an easy assignment, until a team of trained and armed professionals attempt to abduct him in broad daylight. With nowhere else to turn, Ren breaks F.A.T.E. rules and tracks down the only person she can trust; a fellow Shadow named Junie Miller, and decides that her kidnappers may be able to see the future, but they are unprepared for the killing machines they’ve created.
“Grasshopper Jungle” by Andrew Smith
Grasshopper Jungle is a coming of age story revolving around three teenagers, told in layers, exploring the pitfalls and wisdom of history, complex issues of friendship and sexual confusion, and, of course, the story of how six-foot-tall man-eating praying mantises from Iowa, brought on the end of the world.
“The Geography of You and Me” by Jennifer E. Smith
Lucy and Owen get stuck in an elevator in a New York City blackout. When they finally get out of the elevator, they spend the night looking at the stars. Soon after the blackout, Lucy moves away to Scotland while Owen heads out west. With that night in-grained into their minds, they try to stay in touch with each other while trying to figure out what that night truly meant for both of them.
“Boys Like You” by Juliana Stone
Monroe and Nathan are alike in so many ways. Their “one mistake” has hurt both of them and the ones they love. Can Monroe accept herself and help Nathan to do the same?
“We Should Hang Out Sometime” by Josh Sundquist
Josh is a boy who’s good with math, but not with girls. He has the best pickup line- We should hang out sometime- but he never really gets a relationship out of it. Now, after many girlfriendless years, he tries to figure out why.
“Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Robin Talley
As if being one of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School wasn’t enough, Sarah Dunbar has to worry about keeping her secret. Linda Hairston, is the daughter of one of Davisburg’s most vocal opponents to integration in schools. She too has a secret. When these two very different girls are forced to work together on a school project, both are forced to confront the harsh truths about race, power and love.
Originally published at 2015 Teens’ Top Ten Nominees.
Sara Gruen’s latest bestseller is “At the Water’s Edge.” After humiliating themselves and their families in the states, three spoiled, rich Americans — Maddie, her husband Hank and his best friend Ellis — arrive in Loch Ness during the middle of World War II in search of the famed monster. While Hank and Ellis spend their days drinking and hunting Nessy, Maddie is left alone to get a job, do chores and bond with the town folk who teach her the culture of the area. As the days turn into weeks, Maddie is transformed from “brat” into an independent young woman able to look at the truth about herself, her marriage and her family. If you find yourself waiting to read about Maddie, you might enjoy one of these other stories about personal change.
“I Still Dream About You” by Fannie Flagg
From the outside, it looks like Maggie has it all. As a 60-something former Miss Alabama, beautiful, charming and a real estate agent at a local firm, Maggie thinks her life is a failure. This sure wasn’t the life she dreamed about as a child. Struggling with disappointment and ready to commit suicide, Maggie postpones her “date with doom” when she lets a friend talk her into going out for a one-night-only entertainment event. As she tries to reschedule her “date,” business and life further interrupt her plans. Maggie lands the listing of a historical mansion (beating out Babs, a rival realtor), finds a kilted skeleton in the attic, campaigns for the first black mayor and is involved in an auto accident, leading her to surprising discoveries and lessons in friendship.
“Skeletons at the Feast” by Chris Bohjalian
This novel is based on a true life diary of a desperate escape from Germany during the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich. As the Russian army advances, the Nazis increase their violence on women and children to try to maintain the illusion of control. Anna, a Prussian aristocrat, her lover Callum, a Scottish POW, and Uri, a secret-filled escapee from an Auschwitz-bound train all journey across the iced-over Vistula River as the Reich falls. Tension is high between the lovers and this stranger as they flee from the war-ravaged cities.
“Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver
Dellarobia is an unsophisticated, chain smoking, restless young mother, stuck on a sheep farm in rural Tennessee. She got married at 17 instead of going to college, and now she feels unhappy and stuck, about to begin an affair with a telephone lineman to bring her back to life. On her way to said fling, she is waylaid by a magnificent sight, a “lake of fire” created by millions of monarch butterflies in the pasture owned by her in-laws. This amazing phenomenon is a disruption of the butterflies’ normal migratory route. As scientists, media and tourists converge on this impoverished area of the country, Dellarobia is awakened to the realities of her poverty-stricken life. She is given the opportunity to work alongside the scientists, expanding her horizons. Now, she is faced with the choice of keeping the status quo or perhaps finding personal fulfillment.
The post What to Read While You Wait for At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen appeared first on DBRL Next.
Local author and professor Steven Watts be giving a talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday about his book “Self-Help Messiah.” The book documents the life and times of Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and the dynamic era in which he rose to fame. Here is an interview with the author for a sneak preview of the event.
DBRL: What inspired you to write this book?
SW: Over the last 20 years or so I have been writing biographies of major figures in the shaping of modern American culture, a group that included Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Hugh Hefner. In particular, I have been interested in exploring how a mainstream modern creed of consumerism, personality and self-fulfillment replaced an older Victorian standard of producerism, character and self-control. After completing the Hefner book, I was looking for a new subject when Dale Carnegie rose to the surface. I had taught about him for many years in a couple of my classes at MU, focusing on his popular advice literature in the twentieth century, and his ideas always had formulated vigorous debate, as some students loved him and others hated him. When I looked at the literature, I was surprised to see that no one had written a full-scale biography of this crucial figure in modern American life. So he seemed like a natural choice for my next project.
DBRL: As a library employee, I see “How to Win Friends and Influence People” circulate regularly, which surprises me considering that the book was written almost 80 years ago. Why do you think the book has stayed relevant for so long?
SW: “How to Win Friends,” some historians have suggested, is one of the three or four best-selling non-fiction books in the entire sweep of American history and probably stands in the top dozen or so for books of all kinds. The figures I have seen support that contention. Its enormous popularity is no accident. Carnegie, with his anecdotal style and perky personality, supplied Americans with a compelling and easily digestible handbook on how to succeed in modern society. (What Horatio Alger was to the nineteenth century, Carnegie was to the twentieth.) His advice is brilliantly tailored to meet the demands and expectations of a modern bureaucratic society and a consumer culture, particularly for white-collar workers. Since that basic structure still stands in place in the United States, and indeed seems to be spreading inexorably around the world with globalization, the advice is still relevant. People respond to it viscerally, I think, and sense immediately that its principles can be applied effectively to their daily lives.
DBRL: How pivotal do you think Carnegie was? Do you think he was in the right place at the right time, and that someone else would have filled this cultural role had he not? Was this shift already on the verge of happening? Or do you think our culture would have looked much different today had he not published this book?
SW: This “what if” kind of question is always difficult for a historian to answer because we will never know what might have happened. We can only speculate, and my speculation is this. Famous people, I always tell my students, are usually individuals who stand in the right place at the right time with the right idea. It is partly a matter of context and circumstance and partly a matter of individual perception and talent. Carnegie is just such a figure. American culture was in the midst of large-scale change in the early twentieth century, so, yes, that process would probably have gone on and ended up in roughly the same place without Carnegie. At the same time, however, his efforts played an important role in formulating and systematizing vague notions of personality development, consumer striving and success that were floating around in the cultural atmosphere. He took what was nascent and made it concrete. So Carnegie does strike me as a pivotal figure whose unique talents help define and push forward a broad process of cultural change that has shaped our modern world. While it would have gone on without him, of course, I believe that he played a very important role in giving it the particular caste it has taken on.
DBRL: In her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking,” Susan Cain pinpoints Dale Carnegie as one of the most influential people in America’s shift from a culture that values a person’s character to one that places more value on an individual’s personality. Do you agree with that assessment?
SW: I agree completely. In fact, this shift from “character,” with its stress on internalized moral qualities, to “personality,” with its stress on the projection of attractive images to others, is one of the main arguments in my book. It describes not only the broader shift in American culture that is first glimpsed in the 1890s before building much steam in subsequent decades, but also Carnegie himself, whose paeans to the power of personality are key to his success advice.
DBRL: Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
SW: I do a lot of reading in non-fiction, as you might imagine, particularly in American history but also in ancient Roman history, which has been a kind of intellectual hobby of mine for many years now. In the former area, I would recommend Robert Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House,” an interesting exploration of the key figures who surrounded JFK in the creation of the New Frontier in the early 1960s. In the latter area, I have just finished “The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination,” by Barry Strauss, which presents a colorful and insightful account of the murder of Julius Caesar and its role in the decline of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Don’t miss Steven Watt’s book talk at the Columbia Public Library from 7 – 8:15 p.m on Thursday, May 14. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” So advised Dale Carnegie, the father of self-help in the United States. His book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” was first published in 1936 and still occasionally generates a waiting list here at the library. This is no small feat in an age when the Next Big Thing crops up approximately every 12 hours.
Carnegie’s life story is as American as it gets. He was a Missouri farm boy turned cultural phenomenon, arriving at that status via a series of sales jobs, stints teaching public speaking in night school, the launch of a leadership training franchise and eventually his best-selling book. He played a major role in the shaping of U.S. society as we know it today, some say for the better and some say for the worse. The truth is probably a mix of the two. Warren Buffet claims to have gained a lot from Carnegie’s teachings, but so does Charles Manson. It may be a case of appropriate versus inappropriate use of tools.
That’s what Carnegie aimed to provide – tools for social interaction. His initial target audience consisted of professionals who struggled with people skills. “How to Win Friends…”contains an agreeable mix of aphorism and anecdote. Along with bits of his own wisdom, the author includes quotes aplenty from other sources: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Buddha, Henry Ford and more.
The book is so entrenched in our cultural consciousness, it continues to inspire spin-offs for readers of all ages. Some contemporary variations are: “How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” and a children’s book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence Creatures.”
If learning from the master is not enough and you also want to learn about the master, you’re in luck. Steve Watts has written a biography about Carnegie, “Self-Help Messiah,” and will be giving a talk on May 14 at the Columbia Public Library. The event will take place in the Friends Room from 7:00-8:15 p.m.
The post Classics for Everyone: How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared first on DBRL Next.
For this edition of Ask the Author, I am excited to introduce the library’s very own Svetlana Grobman! If you’re a regular DBRL Next reader, you may have already heard about some of her travel adventures or teared up while reading her post about how libraries can change lives.
Grobman has just published her first full-length book, “The Education of a Traitor,” a memoir describing her experience as a Jewish child coming of age in Russia during the height of the Cold War. The book has been described as “An intimate look at a young woman’s struggle to find her own truth in a repressive society.”
DBRL: In “The Education of a Traitor” you tell of your fear and painful sense of isolation as a child. How much of this fear and pain do you think arose from the prejudice you felt growing up Jewish in an anti-Semitic country, and how much from a family life that might be considered dysfunctional by present-day American standards?
SG: The sense of isolation came from both sources, but it was the society that did most of the damage. As for my family, growing up I never thought about it as dysfunctional. Even now I believe that we were a very average family for that time and place. On the bright side, feeling lonely made me a voracious reader.
DBRL: So much of this memoir is vividly told, with compelling details of touch and smell and taste. Considering how many years have passed and how distant you are now, geographically, from your childhood in Russia, why do you think these sensory memories stayed with you?
SG: I think that children feel more acutely than adults, taste wise especially. That’s why children like bland food, and as we age, we need more and more spices. Also, nothing smells as good as it did when you were a child. For example, I planted a lilac tree in my American yard, but it just is not as fragrant as the lilacs from my childhood – or that’s how I feel.
Another thing about children is that the sense of fairness is ingrained in their psyche. As adults, we no longer expect things to be always fair. We have seen so much unfairness in our lives that we no longer react to it as strongly as we used to. This is not the case with the children. To them, things that are “unfair” really traumatize them. On top of that, children have no power to change things. This by itself is enough to feed your worst memories.
Also, there is this about memory. As we age, things no longer come to us in chronological order. What we remember the most are the things that shocked or pleased us the most. The rest fades into the background.
DBRL: Your book relates the many ways schoolchildren and the public were indoctrinated to believe in Soviet superiority in all matters. When did you first begin to suspect this wasn’t true?
SG: There’s one story in my book called “The Young Pioneer.” That story is one of the examples of brainwashing school children into believing that nothing is more important than their country and its morals – not even their families. That story stuck in my mind because that was the first time I, then 9 years old, realized this cannot be true, at least not to me. My family was more important to me than my country, although, at that time, I believed that the reason for that was my personal weakness.
Later, I began paying attention to the messages of our mass media, which were strikingly different from my everyday experiences. For example, our agriculture was “the best” in the world, but we had to import wheat and other products from abroad. Our textile industry was doing great, but the only clothes I saw in the stores were dowdy, etc. It happened slowly, but by the time I turned 13, I had no doubt that everything that the Soviet regime told us was a lie.
DBRL: Can you comment on your choice of title for your memoir?
SG: I’ve been called a traitor several times in my life. The first time, it was my school principal. He called me a traitor because I wanted to transfer to another school. Later on, when I finally decided to leave Russia, many people called me that: people at work, neighbors and especially Soviet officials. In this country, a person can decide to live anywhere she wants, but in Russia in those days, it was considered to be a treacherous act. So, this is the origin of my book title.
DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would like to recommend to our readers?
SG: I am a non-fiction reader by far. Just recently, I ‘discovered’ Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night,” which, apparently, impressed even Hemingway. When I read fiction, I mostly go for historical fiction, like “The Greater Journey” by David McCullough, “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin, etc. However, I just recently read “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, and I’d definitely recommend it.
Don’t miss Svetlana’s author talk on Thursday, May 7th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library. There will be copies of her book available at the event for purchase and signing. You can also buy a physical copy or an ebook on Amazon. If you can’t make it to her talk on May 7th, be sure to visit her website to find out about her other events.
The post Ask the Author: An Interview With Svetlana Grobman appeared first on DBRL Next.
SYNC, a service of AudioFile Magazine, offers free young adult and classic audiobook downloads during the summer months. Through this program, you can download two free audiobook titles each week from May 7 through August 13.
This summer’s lineup includes “Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers and “Rose Under Fire” by Elizabeth Wein. The classics available for download include works by Daphne Du Maurier, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Louisa May Alcott and many more!
These audiobooks download directly to your tablet or smartphone using the Overdrive app. View a list of devices compatible with this service. To get started, simply sign up to get notifications of when the free audiobook downloads are available at www.audiobooksync.com. The best part is that these audiobooks are yours to keep forever and ever once you’ve downloaded them!
Originally published at Free Audiobook Downloads From SYNC.
April 30, the final day of National Poetry Month, is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Unlike most novels, a poem fits neatly in a wallet or pocket and can be easily shared with a coworker, friend, family member, grocery clerk, barista or anyone else you encounter during your day. A few well-chosen words can shine like crystal or feel like sharp truth. Verse can lift you up and make you see your world with new eyes. Poems can make you laugh or weep. They can make you feel less alone.
Observe Poem in Your Pocket Day by choosing your favorite lines and carrying them with you to read and share. Or post them on your Facebook page. Tweet them 140 characters at a time (don’t forget the hashtag #pocketpoem). How you celebrate is up to you.
What? You DON’T HAVE a favorite poem? Well, your friendly neighborhood library can help you out with that.
You can go old school and romantic with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” You can celebrate nature with Mary Oliver. “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is./ I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,/ how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,/ which is what I have been doing all day.” Visit the surreal with Mark Strand. “There is no happiness like mine./ I have been eating poetry.”
Want more? Check out any of these poetry collections from DBRL:
- “Face” by Sherman Alexie
- “The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems” by Billy Collins
- “Valentines” by Ted Koozer
- “Dog Songs” by Mary Oliver
- “Jelly Roll: A Blues” by Kevin Young
- “180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day“
April showers bring May flowers and a whole crop of titles you are going to want to add to your holds list. New books from Jane Smiley, Naomi Novik, Kate Atkinson and the late Kent Haruf hit the shelves next month, and there is something here for every type of fiction reader. Whether you want a grown-up fairy tale or historical fiction, sci-fi or a thriller, this month’s list delivers. Here are the top 10 books publishing next month that librarians across the country love.
“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik
“A young girl is unexpectedly uprooted from her family and becomes involved in a centuries-old battle with The Wood, a malevolent entity that destroys anyone it touches. Fast-paced, with magic, mystery and romance, Novik’s stand-alone novel is a fairy tale for adults.” – Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO
“A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas
“The human world is in peril. Feyre, a semi-literate girl, hunts for her family’s survival. After she kills an enormous wolf, a fierce fey shows up at her doorstep seeking retribution. Feyre is led to beautiful eternal springs, but the journey is not without danger. Maas masterfully pulls the reader into this new dark fantasy series which feels like a mix of fairy tales, from Beauty and the Beast to Tam Lin.” – Jessica C. Williams, Westlake Porter Public Library, Westlake, OH
“A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson
“In ‘A God in Ruins,’ we become reacquainted with Teddy Todd, the beloved little brother of Ursula from Atkinson’s last book. As with ‘Life After Life,’ this novel skims back and forth in time, and we see the last half of the 20th century through Ted’s eyes and the eyes of his loved ones. At times funny and at others heartbreaking, Atkinson revels in the beauty and horror of life in all its messiness.” – Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT
And here is the rest of the list with links to our catalog so you can place holds on these books hitting our shelves in May.
- “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi
- “The Knockoff” by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
- “Early Warning” by Jane Smiley
- “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson
- “The Ghost Fields” by Elly Griffiths
- “Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf
- “Little Black Lies” by Sharon Bolton
A little while back three people recommended the same book to me over the span of about a month. These folks thought I’d enjoy the latest book by Jean Kwok, author of the previous bestseller “Girl in Translation.” In fact, I had picked up “Mambo in Chinatown” earlier and put it down as ‘not my type’ and so, after the first recommendation, I just said thanks, without comment. After the second recommendation, I had to share a laugh and explain what was going on, but after the third recommendation, which came via e-mail from a casual acquaintance, I decided I was supposed to read this book, my ‘type’ or not! The novel proved to be an entertaining look at ballroom dance, as well as the conflicts inherent in growing up the child of recent American immigrants.
Ever since I took up ballroom dance as a pastime, I have been on the lookout for good books about dance. I recently found one that fit the bill for me. “Astonish Me” by Maggie Shipstead brings to life the story of Joan, an American woman who, in 1977, falls in love with a Soviet ballet dancer, Arslan Rusakov—who is a clearly a fictional version of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Told in time jumps and multiple points of view, this is a story of unrequited love played out in the highly political, passionate world of professional ballet. Written with complexity of character and an intriguing plot and an ending twist that may or may not come as a surprise, the book is highly readable for dancers and non-dancers alike.
The world of ballet apparently offers a lot of fictional fodder. “Dancer” by Colum McCann is a colossal literary work that brings to life the extravagant world of Rudolf Nureyev, the Russian peasant whose genius propelled him to become an international ballet legend. Inspired by biographical facts, the story is told through a wide variety of voices, including Nureyev and his contemporaries, from the celebrated to the unknown. Beginning with Nureyev’s youth in Stalin-era Soviet Union and ending with his days of wild abandon in eighties’ New York, “Dancer” encapsulates the legendary artist in a way that captures his true essence, as well as his dazzling façade.
It turns out that our predictions for the 2015 Gateway and Truman award winners were pretty close. John Green is the recipient of this year’s Gateway Readers Award for his book, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Sixteen-year-old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient, has accepted her terminal diagnosis until a chance meeting with a boy at cancer support group forces her to reexamine her perspective on love, loss and life. The library has this title available in print, eBook and audiobook. In fact, we even carry the feature film with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. But, be warned, you will have to supply your own tissues.
Congratulations also goes to S.A. Bodeen who is this year’s Truman Readers Award recipient for her book, “The Raft.” Robbie’s last-minute flight to the Midway Atoll proves to be a nightmare when the plane goes down in shark-infested waters. Fighting for her life, the co-pilot Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. This is another amazing survival story written by one of the best suspense writers in YA lit, but that’s just my humble opinion.
Originally published at 2015 Gateway & Truman Award Winners Announced.
Extra! Extra! Given the size of space, the abundance of ocean and the for-now fictional technology that allows us to shrink humans and put them in a shrunken blood-submarine and send them into a full-size human for reasons of medicine or espionage, there are practically infinite settings for a novel. A great book could be set anywhere: a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a circus, even a pre-apocalyptic wasteland. But a newspaper may be the ultimate setting for a funny and sad novel. The pathos is built in: a building full of people passionate about their work but whose jobs are endangered because their industry is dying, what with the Internet and the world’s growing distaste for paper cuts and things that can’t take pictures of their food. (Proof: while this blog is a runaway success, the copies I write in magic marker on old newspapers and leave scattered about the local reading emporiums along with a note to mail me fifty cents and make a tally mark on a piece of paper and also mail that to me so I can count my readers, have reached, apparently, zero people.)
The international newspaper in “The Imperfectionists” is reaching more readers than my “Gentleman Recommends” circular, but, given its expenses, it is in much greater danger of closing up shop than I am of running out of old newspapers or magic markers (though those things do only have so much ink; please mail me fifty cents). Each chapter gives voice to a new character, and the book is spliced with interludes from the paper’s early days. This framework gives us a story as old as time: rich old man starts a newspaper in order to give a job to and reestablish contact with an old flame. A young journalist has his taste for the work destroyed by a manipulative industry veteran who commandeers his hotel room, laptop and opportunity to cozy up to a lady he fancies. An elderly reader’s home is mostly occupied by newspapers because she reads every word of each issue and is a slow reader and therefore decades behind in the news. There’s a man that inherits a newspaper he knows little about, preferring to spend his time conversing with his tiny dog and feeding it the sort of extravagant meals that had this gentleman scrambling to his mailbox to check for a pile of cents that might allow me to dine in similar opulence. And many, many more!
Tom Rachman also uses the bounce-around-in-time trick to keep the mystery and intrigue thick in his second outstanding novel, “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.” You’ll want to have a taste for quirky characters, the sort that wear mismatched shoes intentionally, own bookshops and engage in some half-hearted scamming. Tooly Zylberberg’s past is mysterious, to the reader and herself, and it’s tremendous fun to unravel it via a structure that jumps chapter by chapter from her adulthood, to her young adulthood, to her childhood. Read all about it!
I’ve read that “every day is Earth Day.” I believe I read it off a bumper sticker on a vehicle burning fossil fuels in its engine and releasing CO2 through its exhaust. Love the Earth, man. Don’t worry — in reality Earth Day is just one day a year. The other 364 days a year we aren’t required to acknowledge that we live on Earth. We can pretend this is all a magnificent dream (or terrible dream, depending on how your day is going), claim we’re on Mars or try to start snowball fights on the Senate floor. I see that Columbia’s Earth Day celebration is on April 19. In Jefferson City, the Missouri Department of Conservation sponsored celebration will be on April 24. So maybe we have to maintain awareness of our home planet for approximately a week. That’s doable.
Perhaps you’d like to pass the time reading a book or two during that week? Environmental issues have proven inspiring subject matter for excellent works of both fiction and nonfiction. If all this Earth hugging talk is a little too crunchy for you, you can take solace in the fact that these books have been printed on the flesh of dead trees.
OK, strap into your strappiest sandals and check out these books:
The possibility of the world as we know it being dramatically upended or gradually changed to something unrecognizable to us is a common trope in speculative fiction. The threat of environmental catastrophe has provided new possible worlds and cautionary tales for writers. Margaret Atwood, a longtime fan of science fiction, wrote the classic work of speculative fiction, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She went back to that genre for her Maddaddam Trilogy, which the New York Times called “an epic not only of an imagined future but of our own past.” The story unfolds both forwards and backwards in the first book, “Oryx And Crake.” The disoriented narrator wanders through a bizarre wasteland populated by bioengineered animals while sorting through his memories of how the world got this way. While the subject matter is dire, Atwood handles it with wit, dark humor and love for the genre in which she’s writing.
Brian Wood’s comic book series “The Massive,” now up to volume four in the collected editions, asks “What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world has already ended?” The story follows crew members of The Kapital, half of the fleet for Ninth Wave, an activist group that seems to be modeled after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They are searching for their sister ship, The Massive, with which they lost contact after the world fell into chaos. An environmental disaster and the wars that have followed draw into question the mission of Ninth Wave. It’s part seafaring adventure, part post apocalyptic survival story, and an examination of the world we live in.
T.C. Boyle’s novel “A Friend of the Earth” similarly follows a hard-line environmentalist coping after the disaster he fought to avoid has come to pass. The biosphere has collapsed. Overpopulation and deforestation have taken their toll. Yet the human race continues on, if in a highly degraded state. Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater, former member of Earth Forever! and convicted ecoterrorist, now manages a sad collection of endangered animals owned by a rock star. Tyrone unintentionally endangered his family through his Earth Forever! activities and lost them. Now, as he is just trying to survive in a dying world, his ex-wife contacts him after 20 years.
Earth Forever! is T.C. Boyle’s fictional creation based on the radical environmental group Earth First! One of the Inspirations for their formation was “The Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey. An ex-Green Beret returns to the United States and is outraged to find his native southwest overrun by developers. He eventually teams up with an eclectic group of activists that becomes known as The Monkey Wrench Gang. They engage in exploits that are anarchic, righteous and at times misguided. The result is a book that acts as a call to arms, cautionary tale and raucous comedy.
For “Encounters With the Archdruid,” master of narrative nonfiction John McPhee followed environmentalist David Brower as he engaged in fights over conservation in three areas of the country. The title comes from real estate developer Charles Fraser who refers to environmentalists as druids. He and Brower come into conflict over development on Cumberland Island in Georgia. Brower also battles with a mineral engineer over Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington, and with the commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation over flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam (a great source of anger for the aforementioned Monkey Wrench Gang). McPhee’s style puts you there as the events unfold, and the description of each participant is clear-eyed and nuanced.
Just the size of “Wilderness Warrior” is a testament to the importance the natural world played for President Theodore Roosevelt. That a biography focused on that aspect of Roosevelt’s life and career could add up to such a doorstopper says something about the man’s priorities. Roosevelt preserved approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency. In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglas Brinkley doesn’t just describe Roosevelt’s well known hobbies in nature. He describes his serious dedication as a naturalist (he trained in Darwinian biology at Harvard) and the political efforts he made to preserve so much land.
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson became a runaway bestseller in 1962, and its publication was a watershed moment in the history of environmentalism in this country. The book alerted the public to the dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides for both human beings and the environment at large. It provoked a ruthless assault from the chemical industry and spurred changes in laws regulating our air, land, and water. It is a true classic and testament to the potential influence a book can have.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes From A Catastrophe” manages to take the complicated system of our climate and describe the changes happening to it in just over 200 pages. The concise nature of the book doesn’t come at the expense of the subject but is due to Kolbert’s skill as a writer. Through a series of reports around the globe from the “frontlines of global warming,” she gathers up evidence of climate change and creates a vivid picture of the dangers in clear language. This often abstract subject and the potential human costs are made palpable.
One highly sought-after title this spring is Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread.” This realistic tale chronicles three generations of the Whitshank family of Baltimore.
Things have changed in the Whitshank household. Abby and Red are getting older. Abby is getting forgetful, Red’s health is declining and the adult children have returned to the estate with all their long festering resentments, drama and family secrets to help their aging parents make decisions about their care, as well as the fate of the home Red’s father built decades ago. If you are currently on the list for this book or are looking for something similar to read about families, relationships and aging, you might try one of these titles to get you by.
“After This” by Alice McDermott
It is the end of World War II in New York. Mary, an Irish Catholic girl leaving church, takes shelter in a diner away from the gusting winds. Little does she realize that the fellow she sits down beside at the counter will someday be her husband. This tale is about Mary and John who live and raise four children during the 1960s. They experience the social changes and events of the decade, from the sexual revolution and abortion to racial segregation and the Vietnam War.
“Tapestry of Fortunes” by Elizabeth Berg
Cecilia Ross is a burned out, procrastinating national motivational speaker who won’t follow her own advice “to live your own truth.” She receives a postcard from an old love she never got over, which gets her thinking about her future. So, she consults several fortune telling devices and decides to sell her house and take a break from her career. She moves into a Victorian home with three other restless women at loose ends themselves. The ladies and their dog go on a road trip, each searching for something: Cecilia seeks her lost lover; Renie, the advice columnist, is looking for the daughter she gave up for adoption; Lisa, a family physician, is hunting for her ex-husband; and chef Joni is in search of culinary inspiration.
“Deaf Sentence” by David Lodge
Desmond Bates is going deaf. His hearing aids are helpful yet cause him frustration and embarrassment. Recently retired from the university as a linguistics professor, he finds himself bored, just when his wife’s career is beginning to take off. To top things off he is trying to convince his aging father that assisted living might be a worthy option for him, and his daughter is about to give birth. Out of habit and to keep things somewhat normal, he continues to use the university’s library and his former department’s common room. Soon, his routine is upset by an attractive PhD candidate named Alex who uses flattery to draw Desmond closer to her. Alex turns out to be a liar and a plagiarist who tries to use suggestive acts on Desmond to persuade him to help her with her dissertation!
The post What to Read While You Wait for A Spool of Blue Thread appeared first on DBRL Next.
“The Maze Runner” by James Dashner
After two months of nail-biting competition, central Missouri teens have selected their March Madness Teen Book Tournament Champion. We began with a list of 32 finalists which included bestsellers such as “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins, and many Gateway and Truman Award nominees. Many thanks to the teachers and school librarians who have supported this program, and to all the teens who have participated! And now, our 2015 champion is….
Stay tuned to teens.dbrl.org for our sneak peek at this year’s teen summer reading challenge, “Every Hero Has a Story.” Through this program, the library challenges young adults to read for 20 hours, share three book reviews, and do seven of our suggested activities. Complete the challenge, and you will be eligible to win some pretty awesome prizes like a black & white Amazon Kindle. Stay informed by subscribing to our email updates!
Originally published at 2015 Teen Book Champion Is Chosen!.
Let’s play literary Jeopardy. The clue is: Making its first appearance in April 1915, this book of poems spoke of life in a fictional Midwestern town and has been the inspiration for numerous theatrical productions, musical compositions in multiple genres and at least one computer game. If you said “What is ‘Spoon River Anthology’ by Edgar Lee Masters?” you won this round.
Masters was a practicing attorney who dabbled in literature on the side. He’d published a few pieces previous to 1915, but “Spoon River Anthology” brought him a level of success that allowed him to quit his law practice and follow his dream of writing full-time.
The fictional village of Spoon River was based on Masters’ hometown of Lewiston, Illinois. Each poem in the book, with the exception of the introductory one, is narrated from the grave by a different deceased town resident. Since there are no consequences to be suffered, the characters can speak with honesty, showing realities of small town life not often acknowledged at the time. People discuss extra-marital affairs, domestic violence, greed, swindling and all manner of pettiness with surprising frankness.
Just as in life, some speak with bitterness and others with contentment. This is true not only of their lives, but also their deaths and graves. A couple of cemetery dwellers quarrel with what’s written on their tombstones. But the town drunk is happy enough with his lot in death, enjoying the prestige of finding himself — through sheer happenstance — the next-door neighbor of a prominent citizen.
Some names come up again and again. The bank president, for instance, affected many lives. By allowing the characters to tell not only their own stories, but also share their memories of family and neighbors, Masters gives readers a more complete view of the life of the town. For instance, the village pharmacist muses on a married couple who have each already had a say about their relationship:
There were Benjamin Pantier and his wife,
Good in themselves, but evil toward each other:
He oxygen, she hydrogen,
Their son, a devastating fire.
Read the book and get to know the late residents of Spoon River. Your life will be richer for it. 100 years later, their voices still resonate.
Keija Parssinen, director of the local Quarry Heights Writers’ Workshop and author of the 2013 One Read book, “The Ruins of Us,” just published her second novel, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis.” Kirkus Reviews described the book as “a modern Southern gothic with a feminist edge and the tense pacing of a thriller.” In anticipation of her talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday, Parssinen kindly agreed to be interviewed as part of DBRL Next’s Ask the Author series.
DBRL: Many of our patrons are familiar with your last novel, “The Ruins of Us,” which was the library’s One Read selection in 2013. That book told the story of a wealthy American-Saudi Arabian family living in Saudi Arabia. “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis” focuses on the stories of younger women and is set in a fictional oil refinery town in southern Texas. Can you discuss some of the differences between these books?
KP: While “The Ruins of Us” unfolds slowly, culminating in a violent act that undoes the Baylani family, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis” opens with a bang — the discovery of a deceased fetus in a dumpster — and hurtles the reader forward, headlong, into the story. It is also narrated by two teenage girls, so it has a slightly narrower scope than Ruins, though I think both the narrators of Mercy are wise and astute in their own way. The books share more in common than appears at surface level, though — both novels are character-driven, with plot used as a device through which to examine individuals and their broader community. Character psychology, or what makes people act the way they do, is the most interesting thing about fiction, to me, so developing complex, fully dimensional characters in both books was important to me.
DBRL: What were some books or events that inspired “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis”?
KP: The spark of the idea came from an article by Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine, titled “What Happened to the Girls in LeRoy,” about a curious case of uncontrollable physical and verbal tics among a group of high school girls in upstate New York. The article immediately made me think of the Salem Witch Trials and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which is one of my favorite plays. Many of the characters’ names in Mercy Louis are borrowed from Salem, including Mercy’s. Some reviewers have also compared Mercy to “The Scarlet Letter,” which I had in mind, peripherally, while I was writing.
DBRL: The story is told partially from the protagonist, Mercy’s, point of view, and partially from Illa’s, an acquaintance at her school. Why did you choose to tell the story this way?
KP: Mercy is in some ways the classic Gothic heroine, naive to a fault. While she’s tough and strong and smart, she’s not very worldly. Illa is far more shrewd and can give the reader insight into Mercy’s world, and the town of Port Sabine, which Mercy herself can’t give. Plus I’m always drawn to narratives of obsession, and wallflower Illa’s obsession with superstar Mercy is a big plot driver in the novel.
DBRL: This book has been described as a coming-of-age story. Do you think that there is a lack of these types of books, at least ones that are told from the female perspective? Are there some particularly good ones that you’ve read?
KP: One reviewer very kindly compared Mercy to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” that classic Southern bildungsroman. I was very flattered by that comparison. Harper Lee aside, there does seem to be a dearth of classic coming-of-age stories from the female perspective, perhaps because until recently, society hasn’t been able to look honestly at what happens as a girl transitions into womanhood — it’s perhaps too messy, or too sexual, or too ugly. Only boys can make mistakes and then afford to write about them; girls had to hide them away like blemishes, I suppose. Lately, I’ve been devouring Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan novels, which offer a blazingly brave tale of coming of age in 1960s/70s Naples. In fact, they present the most astonishing, raw, sincere portrait of girlhood, sex, motherhood, marriage and friendship that I’ve ever read! I can’t say enough good things about these books. They have meant so much to me, as a woman and a writer.
DBRL: Have you read any other good books lately that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Don’t miss Keija Parssinen’s author talk this Thursday, April 2nd at 7 p.m. in the Friend’s Room of the Columbia Public Library! Copies of the book will be available for purchase or signing. Also, check out her website to find more events or to learn more about the book.