Archive for the ‘libraries’ Tag

Libraries and Adventures   Leave a comment

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Cloud Cuckoo Land may be the looniest book title I’ve heard of. Nonetheless, it’s Anthony Doerr’s most recent, aptly-named novel. This epic work traverses centuries and locales; it’s about five children, books and the importance of libraries in their lives and throughout time.

Anna is an orphan in Constantinople; Omeir is a village boy in the same era. Zeno and Seymour are from Idaho living in the 2000s; and Konstance lives on an interstellar ship. Some them converge, and they’re not the ones readers might expect.

Libraries could, collectively, be a sixth character. They serve as gathering places for four of the five to learn about their individual worlds. A Greek book ties everything together. It’s the namesake of this narrative and a story within the main story.

Each section expands on the ancient tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land wherein a man is turned into an ass. His efforts to regain his human self result in a far-fetched adventure with a potent moral.

At 600+pages, some might consider this to be a daunting undertaking. Yet, it’s worth reading every word. The characters age and not all for the better; the paths they pursue, often driven by information gleaned from their respective library visits or exposure to the Greek story, are ones easily imaginable despite the different settings.

Doerr has crafted a rich and vivid narrative through empathy, tension and curiosity. It’s a given the different eras and places will make sense. How it occurs is captivating.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Five Bookmarks

Scribner, 2021

626 pages

Checking Out Life’s Choices   Leave a comment

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The Midnight Library is a point between life and death rather than a repository for books. The premise of Matt Haig’s novel is based on life choices with all of its regrets and often overlooked joys. Some decisions are major and others less so, but all have an impact. This is not a duh discovery, though. Instead, Haig offers, through Nora Seed, the opportunity to experience parts of her unchosen lives until she finds the one she’s actually meant to live.

Depressed, alone and uninspired, Nora decides she’s better off dead.  Immediately following her suicide attempt, she finds herself at the Midnight Library which her high school librarian oversees. There are no other patrons and all of the shelves contain books about the different paths Nora might have taken based on her actual family, interests and relationships.

Thinking about the literal road not taken (yes, Frost’s poem is referenced) is engaging. There’s an element of mystery as Nora opens one book after another while trying to the find the right life. Although she considers many, time is running out. Nora needs to make a decision before her death becomes a point of no return.

Nora’s successes and pitfalls involve the usual: love, friends, family and career choices. With each book she opens, Nora learns more about herself and the world around her. There’s a sense of Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience here. Nora gets a wake-up call regarding her life, which, as it turns out, isn’t such a bad thing for anyone

 The Midnight Library

Four Bookmarks     

Viking, 2020

288 pages                                                                                                                          

Before Bookmobiles   Leave a comment

 The Giver of Stars is a primer for women’s rights and a celebration of librarians. Set in Depression era in the rugged mountains of rural Kentucky, Jojo Moyes creates a colorful portrait of a group of five women who come to be known as the Packhorse Librarians. Moyes takes a page from history when Eleanor Roosevelt championed the WPA’s (Work Progress Administration) efforts to distribute books in remote areas of Appalachia.

Alice Van Cleave is newly married and far from her family home in England. She has difficulty fitting in in the small, rural town where her husband and father-in-law own a nearby mining operation. An appeal for women to help distribute books leads Alice to become an unlikely participant. She’s mentored by Margery, a no-nonsense, independent woman. Three others join the pair.

The novel is as much about the strength of women as the role of the librarians who not only deliver reading material but offer companionship, comfort and news from town. As Alice’s friendship with Margery and the other librarians grows, she realizes her marriage is slowly disintegrating. Her father-in-law is a bully, and Alice’s husband is uninterested in pursuing a physical relationship with her.

The relationships among the librarians with their reading community evolve from mistrust to dependence. The descriptions of the rugged landscape are beautiful and harrowing.

The power of friendship and sharing the joy books offer are richly detailed. The precursor to bookmobiles, the packhorse librarians brought new worlds and ideas to areas previously overlooked.

The Giver of Stars
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Pamela Dorman Books
390 pages

Lost in a Land of Books   1 comment

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a cross between a fairy tale and a video game, with some magic thrown. This requires the ability to suspend one’s sense of disbelief.

Most chapters begin with the name of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student who finds a mysterious, uncatalogued book in his school library. It’s especially baffling since it’s about him. Alternating chapters relate to a particular story within the found book. Confused yet? I’ll back up. A land, beneath ours, contains an ancient library with guardians who protect the books and the stories they contain. Zachary’s efforts to uncover the book’s meaning take him on adventure where bees, cats, doors, books – lots of books – and swords are important symbols.

Morgenstern creates a literary world unlike any other. It’s dependent on imagination and an appreciation of the different realms books take us to when we read. The writing is rich in visual detail, even if, at times, it doesn’t always make sense. This is similar to what Zachary experiences. He encounters multiple choices in his quest; almost as many subplots presented to the reader trying to fit all the pieces together.

Pirates, a sea of honey, searches for lost loves, artists, friends and mysterious passageways also inhabit the novel. The deeper Zachary goes into what is ultimately a search for the starless sea, the less engaging the narrative becomes. Yes, I wanted to know what was going to happen, but at almost 500 pages, it took too long to find out.

The Starless Sea
Three-and-three-quarter bookmarks
Doubleday, 2019
494 pages

Checking Out a Library Book   Leave a comment

The Library Book

The Library Book might be better titled The Los Angeles Central Library Book. Author Susan Orlean provides an exhaustive history of the downtown LA library. The 1986 fire that destroyed four-hundred- thousand books and other materials including periodical, numerous collections and caused extensive damage to the building is the starting point for her overview.

The fire, how it started and efforts to rebuild are the most engaging aspects. While the Central Library isn’t exactly a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s close. Arson is suspected and one suspect, since deceased, is profiled in great detail. Harry Peak is a charismatic wanna-be actor. He was also a chronic liar. He lied to friends, family, arson investigators and attorneys.

Orlean incorporates a fun, clever approach to each chapter citing four references that provide context for what will follow. For example, it’s clear from the sources cited that Chapter 11 will be about fund raising.

Where the narrative bogs down is in the history of the library’s various directors. Granted, some were more colorful, more resourceful, less interesting, less impactful than others. These chapters were on the dry side.

The most fascinating aspects, in addition to the learning about the fire itself, were learning about the librarians, their specific job descriptions and their commitments to the library and its patrons.

It’s clear Orlean has a deep respect for the roles libraries serve, but there was too much in her book that is the stuff of trivia competitions, something that doesn’t appeal to me.

The Library Book
3 Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2018
319 pages (including notes)

Lost and Found   Leave a comment

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I lost my library card.

It’s one of my most important forms of identification. I’ve held in my hand far more often than my driver’s license or my passport.

I knew the card was easily replaceable, but I’ve had this particular card for 27 years. Before that I had the one issued to me when I was in high school, but I had to relinquish it when I changed my last name. I was attached to the card as much for the length of time it’s been in my possession as for the access it’s provided to feed my imagination and my intellect.

I’d removed the card from my wallet just before a trip out of the country; I knew I wouldn’t be checking out any books in a Mexico City library because I suspected it wouldn’t be accepted anyway. One of my first stops upon returning home was to my local branch. Fortunately, my license was accepted as alternative ID for the book I wanted. Yet, I worried. I couldn’t remember where I’d placed the card.

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I went through my wallet multiple times; I ransacked my purse – just in case. I searched drawers, underneath piles of papers and books. I ended up organizing the clutter around my computer.

I wondered if I’d left in it the car. I hadn’t. I rearranged more untidiness. I opened one more drawer.

The next best thing to finding something that’s been lost is that sometimes it results in a little bit of cleanup.

library card

A Book Blind Date   Leave a comment

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As I was leaving my neighborhood library, the Old Colorado City Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District, two shelves with books wrapped in newspaper caught my eye. They were near the backdoor in what seemed an out of the way location for a holiday display, although I realized it’s far too early to be in that mindset. Then I saw the sign: “Blind Date With A Book.”

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The concept is to check out a wrapped book without knowing its title. I was intrigued. I picked up a couple of books/packages in much the same way I’d consider which gift to open first on my birthday or Christmas. Did I really want to commit to something I knew absolutely nothing about? What if it was one I’d already read?  Yet, in a way, starting a book is very similar to a blind date anyway; there’s always a sense of the unknown, of possibilities and disappointments.

I considered another blind date. It’s how I met my husband, and that’s turned out very well. So, I decided to take my chances.  I was paired with Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read anything by Bradbury since my high school days, but this book contains two previously unpublished novellas: Somewhere a Band is Playing and Leviathian ’99.

I laughed when I opened book. It was dedicated to two women, which didn’t strike me as a very auspicious way to begin a date.

I’ll review the date, I mean, the novellas in a separate post.