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Ask the Author: An Interview With Keija Parssinen

March 31, 2015

Book cover for The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija ParssinenKeija 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?

KP: See above! But also: I recently loved “Migratory Animals” by Mary Helen Specht, “Limestone Wall” by Marlene Lee, Alice Munro’s “Dear Life” and “Telex From Cuba” by Rachel Kushner.

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.

The post Ask the Author: An Interview With Keija Parssinen appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

What to Read While You Wait for All the Light We Cannot See

March 30, 2015

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot SeeBestseller “All the Light We cannot See” by Anthony Doerr has a long waiting list at the library. This is a tale of two young people – blind Marie-Laure, living with her father in France, and Werner, a teenage orphan who as a child in Germany had great tenacity to learn all he could about radios and transmitting. Their paths cross when he, now a soldier in the the Nazi army, intercepts Marie-Laure’s innocent (but forbidden) reading of Jules Verne over the radio. If you find yourself on the waiting list for this work of historical fiction, here are a few other choices you might find enjoyable.

Book cover for Jacob's Oath by Martin FletcherJacob’s Oath” by Martin Fletcher

World War II has come to an end. Europe’s roads are clogged with homeless holocaust survivors. One survivor, Jacob, is consumed with hatred for the concentration camp guard nicknamed “The Rat” for killing his brother as well as many others. He meets Sarah on his journey home and falls in love. Now, he must choose to avenge the past or let it go and build a new life with Sarah.

Book cover for In the Wolf's Mouth by Adam FouldsIn the Wolf’s Mouth” by Adam Foulds

In this work of literary fiction set in Sicily at the end of World War II, as the allies chase the Nazis out into the Italian mainland, two parallel stories unfold. One focuses on two service men – Will Walker, English field security officer, and Ray Marifione, an Italian-American infantry man. The second story explores the presence of the mafia through the eyes of a young shepherd named Angilu and Ciro Albanese, a local Mafioso. The war is portrayed as just a temporary distraction from what is really going on in Sicily.

The Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer

In 1937 Budapest three brothers leave home to find their calling. Andras-Levi, architectural student, heads to Paris with a letter he promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern, with whom he ends up having a complicated relationship. His older brother heads to Modena to medical school as his younger brother leaves school for the stage. At the end of Andras’ second year in Paris, the Germans occupy the city, thrusting the brothers into the erupting war.

The post What to Read While You Wait for All the Light We Cannot See appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The April 2015 List

March 27, 2015

Library Reads LogoSpring has sprung! And with spring arrives a new crop of LibraryReads books, the top ten titles publishing in April and recommended by librarians across the country. With new books from old favorites like Sara Gruen and Elizabeth Berg, this month’s list contains nothing but novels and is heavy on the historical fiction. A little romance and some twisty thrillers round out the list. Enjoy!

Book cover for At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen
“Set in Loch Ness, right in the middle of WWII, a foolish group of rich Americans arrive in search of the famous monster. Narrator Maddie must make sense of the circumstances that have brought her to this wild locale. Only then can she discover the strength she needs to make her own decisions. Enjoy a delightfully intriguing cast of characters and the engaging style of storytelling that has made Gruen so popular.” – Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI

Book cover for A Desperate FortuneA Desperate Fortune” by Susanna Kearsley
“While transcribing an old manuscript of a young girl’s diary, Sara decodes an account of Jacobite spies. Long before, Mary Dundas gets involved in a mission which makes her confidante to the King of Scotland in exile. And along the way, both women fall for men they know little about. Kearsley is a master at seamlessly blending stories from two time periods. Readers who enjoy a little puzzle solving with their historical fiction will be rewarded.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book cover for The Dream Lover by Elizabeth BergThe Dream Lover” by Elizabeth Berg
“George Sand leaves her estranged husband and children to embark on a life of art in bohemian Paris. A talented writer who finds monetary and critical success, Sand adopts a man’s name, often dresses as a gentleman and smokes cigars. Through her writing, politics, sexual complexities and views on feminism, Sand is always seeking love. This novel has spurred me to learn more about George Sand, a woman truly ahead of her time.” – Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

And here is the rest of the list with links to our catalog so you can place holds on these forthcoming books.

The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The April 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Let the Library Contribute to Your (March) Madness

March 20, 2015

If you’re like me, basketball is your favorite sport. You like the way they dribble up and down the court. Perhaps unlike me, you actually have skills on this court. My basketball career ended when I tried out for the team in the seventh grade and didn’t make the cut. What’s that? Oh, no, no — I just have something in my eye. . .

 The LifeYet I still play, and display mad skills, on the basketball courts of my mind! I’m the Michael Jordan of these imaginary courts. (Actually more of a Dr. J/Pistol Pete hybrid, but with the dominance of Jordan — I’ve put some thought into this.) See, long ago I was consumed by the madness — March Madness. I grew up in a relatively sports-free household, except for this strange time of year when my father, not much of a TV watcher, camped out in front of the TV for hours at a time. He was watching college basketball. Would a weekend of early spring weather get my father, a fan of the outdoors, to stop watching? No. He just opened one of the windows and propped the TV on the sill so he could watch from our back patio. Curious, I watched too. Inevitably the madness consumed my young mind. The transformation was complete in 1981 when I won a bet with my father that Indiana would beat North Carolina for the championship. It was a gentleman’s bet, bragging rights only. In your face, Dad!

Book cover for Players First by John CalipariSince then, every March has been a blur of clutch three-pointers, tragicomic brackets, Cinderellas and John Calipari. He’s inescapable. Sadly, the tournament games are only Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks. The Final Four play on a Saturday, and the Championship is on a Monday. That leaves a lot of basketball-less days when all your fevered mind will be thinking is, “swish, swish, swish!” (What are you going to do with that time? Bathe? Go to work?)

Never fear, the library has the fix to soothe you until the next round starts. You can feed your insatiable hunger with books and DVDs on the great sport of basketball. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Fittingly, we shall start on the playground.

Book cover for Heaven is a PlaygroundHeaven Is a Playground” was the first book on Urban Basketball. Photojournalist Rick Telander spent the summers of 1973 and 1974 with his subjects in Brooklyn, even sleeping on the apartment floor belonging to one of them. It’s about their lives and the hopes for better ones that they attach to the sport.

The DVD “Fathers of the Sport” follows the lineage of playground basketball to stars like Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain.

Gunnin for That #1 Spot” was filmed by the late, great Adam Yauch (MCA of The Beastie Boys). It covers the first annual Elite 24 Hoops Classic in Rucker Park where the top 24 high school basketball players in the nation compete.

Some people actually get picked for a team, unlike me (but I’m not bitter!), and end up playing in High School.

DVD Nimrod NationNimrod Nation” follows The Nimrods, a high school basketball team in a rural, basketball-obsessed town in Michigan.

One of the classic sports documentaries, “Hoop Dreams” followed two high school kids from inner-city Chicago for five years as they pursued their aspirations to make it into the NBA.

Of course the participants in March Madness are collegiate athletes. They have worked hard to graduate from high school basketball to college basketball.

Compared the huge sporting event it is today, the first NCAA tournament was considered a risky experiment. “March 1939” tells the story of the first tournament and the first champions against the backdrop of a looming world war.

 The Story of the NCAA Men's Basketball TournamentThere are so many good books about “The Big Dance.” You could go behind the scenes of the Final Four in “Last Dance,” learn about “How March Became Madness,” or “When March Went Mad.” That last book is written by Seth Davis, whom you will see a lot of on TV if you’re watching the tournament. It tells the story of the 1979 championship where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played against each other, raising the profile of the tournament to a whole new level and starting a rivalry that continued into the NBA.

The Fab 5” is about the five freshmen who started for Michigan in the early ‘90s. They were considered one of the greatest classes ever recruited and made it to the championship two years in a row, but controversy followed the team. The scene where Chris Webber talks about trying to collect enough change to buy a pizza and seeing his jersey for sale in a shop window speaks to the current controversy about the status of collegiate athletes today.

The Last Amateurs” is about John Feinstein’s search for basketball played away from the influence of the vast sums of money associated with “big conference” college basketball and the temptations of the NBA.

Sports and social issues often intersect, and basketball in no exception.

The Game of Change” is about a game in the 1963 NCAA tournament when the all-white Mississippi State Bulldogs played the Loyola Ramblers, who had four African-Americans starting for the team. The Bulldogs had been kept out of the tournament due to an unwritten Mississippi law prohibiting competition between white and non-white players. The book tells the story of the players in this game and puts it in context with the broader struggle for equality.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is about the 1966 NCAA championship when the all-white starting five of the Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the overtly racist Adolph Rupp, lost to Texas Western’s all African-American starting five. This game has been credited for having a profound social effect and delivered a major blow to segregated college sports.

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central” is about a high school basketball team that made history and drew unwanted attention from segregationist George Wallace with their all African-American starting lineup.

Full Court Press” uses a close look at the University of Oregon women’s basketball team as a way to explore what it means to be a female athlete in America.

The memoir “She’s Got Next” is about how Arkansas transplant Melissa King finds herself playing pickup basketball in inner-city Chicago.

Training Rules” follows Penn State basketball champ Jennifer Harris as she challenges the homophobia of coach Rene Portland and takes a look at how homophobia has hurt the careers of other athletes.

In 1904 the most prominent women’s basketball team was from an Indian boarding school in Montana. The girls from Fort Shaw played at the St. Louis World’s Fair to introduce the world to the sport and returned with a trophy declaring them world champions. “Full-court Quest” tells the story of this team and offers a look at American Indian life and the early days of women’s basketball.

If you’ve read Sherman Alexie’s great short story collection, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” you have an idea the passion for basketball that can be found on Indian Reservations. In “Counting Coup,” Larry Colton travels into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians. He follows a talented young basketball player who is a descendant of one of Custer’s Indian scouts. Colton uses basketball as a window into a part of our society long excluded from the American Dream.

If you’ve ever wondered about basketball above the Arctic Circle (who hasn’t?) “Eagle Blue” is the book for you. The population of basketball-crazed Fort Yukon is almost entirely composed of Athabascan Gwich’in Natives. It’s home to the Fort Yukon Eagles, winner of six regional championships in a row. This book follows the team through another Winter of near round-the-clock darkness and fifty-below-zero temperatures.

Going Pro?

When March Madness ends do you feel an emptiness that can’t be filled? Did this very long list of books just leave you hungry for more? Then let me point out that the NBA Finals will start April 18th. Perhaps “The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History” or Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball” will help you prepare for that.

The post Let the Library Contribute to Your (March) Madness appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Reading on the Road: Recommended Audiobooks

March 18, 2015

I’m not actually recommending that you read while driving. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. However, you can keep your ears occupied and make the time fly with an audiobook. If the approaching spring break (hooray!) means that a road trip is in your future, here are some audiobooks to keep you and your fellow passengers entertained.

Family friendly
These books are for a younger audience, but they are plenty entertaining for adults as well.

Book cover for The Mysterious Benedict SocietyThe Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart. Brainy orphans, an eccentric benefactor and a puzzle to solve – what’s not to love?

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall. While vacationing with their widowed father in the Berkshire Mountains, four lovable sisters share adventures with a local boy, much to the dismay of his snobbish mother, in this smart and funny story.

Book cover for Peter and the StarcatchersPeter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry. Young adventurers will love this Peter Pan prequel, and I can’t make an audiobook list without including something narrated by the fantastic Jim Dale, the voice artist who also read the Harry Potter series.

A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. The grown-ups in the car will enjoy revisiting this story from their childhoods, and young listeners will be transported by the tale of Meg and Charles Wallace travelling through space and time to find their father, a physicist working for the government in secret, who has disappeared.

Book cover for Wonder by R.J. PalacioWonder” by R.J. Palacio. Listeners will fall in love with Auggie, a 5th grader entering school for the first time.  Born with extreme facial abnormalities, he has been home-schooled his entire life, making starting middle school an even more daunting prospect. At its conclusion, don’t be surprised if you and your car-mates end up having a discussion about kindness, overcoming obstacles and the acceptance of difference.

Adult (but not too adult)
These books are written for adults, but they have elements older children will enjoy and little in the way of language/themes you don’t want little ears to hear.

Book cover for Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown. This 2014 One Read selection is a Cinderella story of sorts that describes the journey of nine working class young men from the University of Washington as they row their way out of obscurity and into the gold-medal race at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. This off-beat (and very British) work of science fiction follows Arthur Dent, the last surviving person from Earth, and tour-guide writer Ford Prefect on their intergalactic journeys and extraterrestrial encounters. This most recent audiobook version is narrated by the very talented, very funny Stephen Fry.

Grownups only
These are crowd-pleasing audiobooks because of good writing, engaging storytelling and – most of all – terrific narration.

Book cover for Yes PleaseYes Please” by Amy Poehler. The “Parks and Rec” star dispenses life advice, cautionary tales, and plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at her life on the improv stage and as a member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Guest appearances from Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett and even Poehler’s parents make listening to this book even more fun than reading it (which is already pretty fun). If our copies are all checked out, Tina Fey’s hilarious”Bossypants,” read by Fey herself, is a great second choice.

The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion. Narrator Dan O’Grady nails the voice of Australian Don Tillman, a socially challenged, possibly autistic, definitely brilliant geneticist as he uses logic to pursue love. A funny and smart romantic comedy.

Book cover for The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair” by Graham Greene. One online review said something like, “This is actor Colin Firth talking in your ear about love. Enough said.”

Any audiobooks you’ve enjoyed to make the miles fly? Let us know in the comments.

The post Reading on the Road: Recommended Audiobooks appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Sir Terry Pratchett

March 16, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett with two birds on his head - ImgurSir Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015. Prior to that he lived for 66 years. I’m not proud that it took his death to motivate me to recommend him. (It seems there is a clear formula to getting this gentleman’s recommendation: either author a book or three that I’ve read and loved in the last few months, or write dozens of books that I’ve loved at some point in my life and die.) Forgive me if I seem crass or irreverent, but the combination of grief and the tears it’s causing to ooze past my monocles and into my now watered-down brandy leave me shy of my customary humours. I think Sir Pratchett would have appreciated irreverence in the face of death.

I’ve been reading a lot of Sir Pratchett’s obituaries and tributes today, and I’m astounded each time at the reminder that he wrote over 70 books, both because that’s an astonishing amount of work from anyone that isn’t several centuries old (and even in that scenario involving some sort of immortal writing machine (or maybe a bookish vampire?) it would still be impressive) and because no one has specified the exact number. So, I scampered off to the Internet and counted, and if my counting hasn’t gotten too rusty, Sir Pratchett wrote 78 books. Only at snacking and lounging and referencing my fondness for snacking and lounging can I manage to be more prolific.

This era of constantly increasing celebrities brings about constantly increasing celebrity death, which causes the awkward situation of periodically grieving for someone you’ve never met. And while I can’t grieve Sir Pratchett the person, I can grieve the author and the absence of the 40 plus books he’d have written given a few more decades on earth, the man who combined hilarious/cutting/insightful satire, wordplay, remarkably imaginative world-building and immense compassion to create a stunning combo of quantity and quality fiction the likes of which I doubt the world, going forward, will ever see matched. Also, Sir Terry Pratchett was a knight, and while I’m sure there are others, I worry they won’t have the imagination needed to slay the more vicious dragons or keep the queen safe.

Sir Terry Pratchett taught me that you could write about wizards, dwarves, vampires, Igors, witches, zombies, politics, the grim reaper, war and the post office and be hilarious while having a great deal to say about ye old human condition. I wish I could apply the lesson half as well as it was taught.

I will close this post the way most of the articles about his death have closed: with a reprinting of the three tweets that came from his twitter account shortly after his death. It is helpful to know that among the hundreds of his characters was Death, who spoke in all caps and sometimes sarcastically, appears in nearly every book, is the star of a few, and occasionally takes a holiday from his grim duties.

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER”

“Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

“The End.”

The post The Gentleman Recommends: Sir Terry Pratchett appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz
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