Blogging for a Good Book
Having farm animals is fun. They are cute and fun to watch, but (to put it as delicately as possible) they, um, poo a lot. Managing Manure may be about an impolite topic, but to those of us who live in the long-polluted Chesapeake Bay watershed it is an important one.
Apart from the obvious problems involving shoes, manure is, as author Mark Kopecky puts it, “Brown Gold”. From Managing Manure I learned that much of the nutrients a farm animal eats are excreted. For example, an average of 70 to 80 percent of the nitrogen goes right through, so manure is vital for recycling nutrients.
Based on solid research from many universities, Managing Manure is filled with practical information aimed at small farmers and gardeners. It does have some mild humor, such as a chapter sub heading of “Number One or Number Two?” but generally takes its important subject very seriously. It is a small book of a hundred pages with instructions on things like how to store, compost and use your Brown Gold. It includes line drawings throughout and a useful glossary, resource list and index.
Managing Manure is from Storey, the well-regarded publisher of farm and country lore which produces go-to books for all gardening and small scale livestock enterprises. This is the very newest of their books owned by Williamsburg Regional Library. Other books in our collection to look out for include titles such as Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health, by Richard E. Bonney and Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier.
Managing Manure is a great book for readers interested in gardening as naturally as possible, such as people who enjoyed Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. It will also appeal to readers interested in raising livestock who pored over Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals, by John P. Hunter. You will learn much scintillating information such as the consistency of cow manure will depend on the quality of the food the cow eats.
Check the WRL catalog for Managing Manure.
Anyone coming from Winnipeg is well aware that the most famous of all bears, Winnie-the-Pooh, was named after that Canadian city. Many people know that the real Christopher Robin visited the real Winnie Bear at London Zoo, but London is thousands of miles away from Winnipeg, so the connection back to Canada is not well-known, even to fans of the Bear of Little Brain. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh sets out to change this grave lack!
For the youngest of readers as well as for the staunchest of fans the book does a wonderful job of capturing the amazing details of Winnie Bear’s life. It all started during World War I when a Canadian solider, Harry Colebourn, impulsively bought an orphaned bear cub when his troop train stopped briefly in Ontario. Despite the astonishment and doubts of his officers he promised to look after their new, small, brown mascot, named Winnipeg after their regiment’s home city. Harry was a veterinarian and his job was looking after the army’s horses and to his surprise Winnie fitted in well with the normally skittish horses. Harry’s regiment took Winnie along with them on their troop ship to England, but thought France would be too dangerous for the small bear, so Winnie lived out his days at London Zoo, as a bear so friendly that children were allowed to ride on his back.
Warmly illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss, this short book is a must-read for Winnie-the-Pooh fans of all ages. It is great for the whole family to share as older readers will enjoy the author’s note and pore over the historic photographs of the real bear and his real people. Very young Winnie-the-Pooh fans will be fascinated by the connection between their bear who is a toy and a real wild animal.
Check the WRL catalog for Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.
With just a few words per page Coming Home captures the excitement and the anxiety, but mostly the joy, of a military homecoming. An elementary-school-aged boy is waiting at the airport with many other families, all smiling, but with tension showing in their body language. When the plane full of military personnel lands, all the waiting families run out to the runway, and then the hugs and happiness start. As the pages turn the boy witnesses many happy reunions but he gets more anxious as he searches for and fails to find his own loved one.
The warm earth tones of Coming Home’s expressive full-page spreads contrast with the action of the boy’s red shirt. The angles of view highlight his emotions, from the close up of the anxiety on his face to his isolation as he searches through the crowd, to his joy as he finally hugs his loved one.
Coming Home is spare and hopeful in its focus on the short period of the homecoming rather than the long wait. A much darker picture book about a child’s view of military deployment is Year of the Jungle, by The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. Coming Home is a great book to be shared with any lap-sized child, either a small military child or any child who has ever waited for anything and finally got their heart’s desire.
If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look at my website Books for Military Children.
Check the WRL catalog for Coming Home.
Six-year-old Jamie Morton is playing in his front yard on a hot summer day when he meets Reverend Charles Jacobs for the first time. Jacobs has come to the small town of Harlow, Maine to preside over the local church, and Jamie is immediately intrigued by the enigmatic young preacher. After all, the Reverend is passionate about electricity and creates cool gadgets like a miniature landscape with a walking Jesus figurine. Reverend Jacobs peppers his sermons and youth group lectures with stories and metaphors drawn from electricity’s mysterious properties.
When a horrific tragedy befalls minister Charles Jacobs, Jacobs delivers a shocking sermon that leads to his banishment from Harlow. And, as Jamie gets on with the business of growing up, Jamie’s memory of his former minister fades. After discovering a talent for guitar-playing at the age of thirteen, Jamie eventually goes on to lead a nomadic life playing gigs across the country with a succession of rock and roll bands. Unexpectedly, Jamie meets up with Charles Jacobs again; this time Jamie is in his mid-thirties and drugged out, abandoned, and desperate. Jamie’s acceptance of Jacobs’ help, based on the former minister’s now full-blown obsession with electricity, sets both of them on a course with terrifying consequences for Jamie. The two will meet once more, but it is unclear whether Jamie will make it out alive this time.
Like so many of King’s works, this book has heart. It is just as much a story about growing up and growing old as it is a story about the consequences of one man’s dangerous obsession. The horrifying events that unfold really just serve as a backdrop for greater contemplations about the course of life. Coming of age, sex, romance, addiction, loss, faith–all of these facets of life make an appearance in Revival, and they often had me thinking about my own life’s journey. Score this book another home run for Stephen King.
I also highly recommend the audiobook, as David Morse does an excellent job of bringing the book’s characters to life.
Check the WRL catalog for Revival
Or try Revival as an audiobook on CD
Well, I had the book I was going to write about all picked out but then I read A Murder of Magpies and knew that I had to change my book. A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders is a page-turning, fun and funny mystery set in the publishing world of present-day London.
The heroine of the story is Samantha “Sam” Clair, a single, “middle-aged, middling-ly successful” book editor at the publishing house of Timmins & Ross. The story begins when Sam arrives for work and several strange things happen during her day. The first strange event is when police Inspector Jake Field shows up to speak with her to see if she was expecting a delivery of a package. A bike courier was killed in a hit-and-run accident and his deliveries were missing. Sam’s name was on the courier’s delivery list. Unfortunately Sam has no idea what the missing package could have contained. After a busy day at work, which included playing phone tag with Kit Lovell, one of her authors, the second strange event happens when she arrives home to find out from her neighbors that some workmen tried to access her apartment—workmen Sam didn’t order.
Sam finally gets in contact with Kit Lovell that night. Kit is a gossipy fashion writer whose newest book is an exposé on the death of Spanish fashion designer Rodrigo Alemán and his relationship with the fashion house Vernet. Sam finds out that Kit’s typist might have sent a copy of his manuscript to Sam via the courier who was killed that morning. Kit also discloses that his apartment had been broken into and searched. Kit feels that he is being targeted by someone who wants to stop publication of his book.
The next day, Sam becomes worried when Kit doesn’t show up for a lunch meeting and she grows increasingly frustrated and worried by not being able to get hold of him through the rest of the afternoon. When she still can’t get in touch with him the next day, Sam calls Inspector Field and fills him in on the book, the break-in, and her missing author. When Inspector Field doesn’t seem very interested in finding her author, Sam decides to do some looking on her own.
It’s all in a day’s work as Sam discovers money laundering schemes, gets pushed down the stairs by someone who broke into her apartment, goes to Paris for a fashion show, and deals with her most successful author’s new book, which seems to need some work in order for it to be another bestseller. Sam gets help in her search for Kit from her glamorous mother, a London tax attorney, Sam’s Goth assistant, Miranda, and even Sam’s reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. Also as the investigation goes on, Sam and the Inspector discover that there is definitely romantic chemistry between them. The investigation, though, takes a serious and urgent turn when an unidentified body is pulled from the Thames and until the DNA analysis comes in, the assumption is that the body might be Kit’s.
Sam is comfortable with herself, her job and her life. She’s protective of her friends and while she might be new to the detection business, she’s determined and smart. Fortunately she seems to keep her sense of humor throughout the story and I enjoyed her wise-cracks which she keeps to herself–mostly. I don’t know if there will be more Sam Clair mysteries, but I hope so!
Check the WRL catalog for A Murder of Magpies
Also available in Large Print format
Floral design was on my bucket list. Flower arrangements? Why? I love making things—working with my hands keeps me from talking too much. I would spend hours making paper and silk flowers—only to have my flower arrangements look awful. I just could not get my arrangements to look resplendent, dazzling, or gorgeous.
I conquered floral design when I accepted the task of making flower arrangements, corsages, and boutonnieres for a banquet. “Since you make such beautiful flowers, this is the perfect job for you,” the banquet committee members said. However, they did not know floral arrangement was extremely challenging for me.
Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design by Michael Gaffney was the solution to my dilemma. In this book, Gaffney demystified the art of arranging flowers. He states: “Putting flowers together in a beautiful way is much like working a Rubik’s Cube; it is a formula to be followed more than an artistic creation.”
This book has easy to understand instructions and formulas that anyone may use to make flawless floral designs. Gaffney teaches the rules of design and gives tricks and tips to make each piece unique. The “6-5-1”, wiring and taping, boutonnieres, corsages, and the triangle design lessons were lifesavers. These lessons allowed me to create everything with ease. If you want to make beautiful floral arrangements, read Gaffney’s book. This book has something for everyone from the novice to the professional florist.
Check the WRL catalog for Design Star
At the end of the Second World War there were many Australian war brides waiting to be reunited with their new British husbands. JoJo Moyes’s newest book, The Ship of Brides, chronicles the fictionalized journey. Based on the HMS Victoria’s 1946 passage from Sydney, Australia to Plymouth, England, the 650 female passengers, expecting transport via more luxurious accommodations, find themselves aboard a naval aircraft carrier, complete with planes, arms, and naval officers, heading towards their new life.
The four central characters of the story could not be more different: Jean, a teenager; Avice, a socialite; Frances, a former war nurse; and Margaret, a pregnant farm girl. This foursome, assigned to the same berth, is suddenly thrust together in intimate living quarters and faces the long, six-week voyage to their new lives. Add all-male officers and ship crew to the mix, along with a small group of WSO (Women’s Ship Officers) sent to chaperone the War Brides, and you have an interesting setting to explore the trials and tribulations faced by the temporary residents aboard the HMS Victoria. As with all groups of strangers, each individual brings his or her past, gradually revealed as their time together elapses.
Excerpts from newspaper articles, journal entries, ship’s logs, and other documents provide historical grounding for this fictionalized account of a true event. I recommend The Ship of Brides as a book group selection. The story provides a glimpse into the war brides’ anticipatory journey, filled with the hopes, dreams, and fears in a world yet unknown to them.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ship of Brides
“The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” Isaiah 9:10
Although Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger is a work of fiction, it has real life connections. From 9/11 to the leading up of The Great Recession the author shows a connection between ancient Israel to a present day warning of coming destruction to America. The author stresses that before God judges a nation, He will send a warning. However, just like ancient Israel, America has not responded with repentance, but defiance which is the focus of the scripture that man has taken out of context (Isaiah 9:10)
In Cahn’s tale, a mysterious stranger who I can only assume is an angel gives a man nine harbingers. These are the same harbingers or warnings that were given to ancient Israel before its final destruction by the Assyrians and makes a parallel between each and the events of 9/11. At some point you will put this book down and open the bible, visit your library or search the internet for more information. I still remember the first time I had to step away from this book for a day or two, when I saw numerous videos of our past and current politicians quoting a scripture with no understanding of its true meaning. After the attacks of 9/11 the politicians said, “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.” Fiction mirrors reality, forcing us to think about the possibility of Cahn’s story coming to pass.
Check the WRL catalog for The Harbinger
I’m not sure why I picked up this book to read. I like historical fiction but I was never very interested in the Puritan era. The subtitle “A Novel of Early America” and the fact that the story was loosely based on a captive narrative written by Mary Rowlandson did catch my attention.
Mary Rowlandson, a Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan, was captured by a local Native American tribe during King Philip’s War. As a slave, her story intersects with James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who was raised in the Puritan culture, and apprenticed as a printer. James Printer belonged to a group of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity and were known as “Praying Indians.”
I found the story mesmerizing and along with the author’s note and reader’s guide at the end, I learned more about the Puritans, Native Americans and life in Colonial America. Without giving any more of the storyline away, this fast paced and compelling book made learning about a sad and difficult period of Native American and colonial history interesting. I would recommend this book to people who like to learn about other cultures and ways of life, as well as people interested in history. I think it would make an interesting book group choice as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Flight of the Sparrow
The O’Briens are an ordinary Boston family. Catholics of Irish descent, they have Sunday supper together every week, and the four early-twenties children still live in their parents’ house. The father, Joe, is a life-long, dedicated Boston cop while mother Rosie raised the children and now works part-time. Into this steady but satisfying existence is thrown deadly, hereditary, debilitating, degenerative Huntington’s Disease.
Lisa Genova’s many fans will be thrilled to learn that she is back with another dramatic and wrenching tale of a family battling a disease. Like Genova’s first book, Still Alice, with its portrait of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, the disease portrayed here is entirely inherited. Children have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the genes from a gene-positive parent, but gene-positive people will always develop the disease. It is a cruel disease that some people don’t know they have until they get symptoms in their forties.
Huntington’s Disease drives the plot of Inside the O’Briens, but the deeper story is the love, strength and resilience of the O’Brien family. Keep the tissues handy for scenes when Joe is painfully aware of his own disintegration, such as when he stops being able to hug his wife because his chorea (involuntary movements) mean that he might hurt her.
Check the WRL catalog for Inside the O’Briens.
Big social histories can seem forbidding with their blocks of print, lots of footnotes, and, too often, turgid writing style. In the hands of Jenny Uglow, though, history is anything but pedantic. I have been a fan of Uglow’s history writing since I read The Lunar Men, a collective biography of five men who, as Uglow posits, were “the inventors of the modern world, 1730-1810.” Here, Uglow brings her fluid writing style and attention to detail to the lives of the inhabitants of the Great Britain at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.
In many ways, these times do not seem so far removed from our own, as social unrest, sectarian violence, fear of war and invasion, and income inequality set the tone. Napoleon’s military successes on the European continent led to his increasing power in France and heightened fears that his next target would be the English coast. Uprisings in Ireland only exacerbated these fears. Food shortages across England left many starving and taxation to pay for the war proved unpopular, leading to civil unrest that in light of the recent deposition and execution of Louis XVI left King George concerned not only for his crown but for his neck.
In telling these stories, Uglow moves easily and with mastery from the general to the specific. She makes exceptional use of diaries, letters, and journal entries to indicate how individuals responded to circumstances and then puts those reactions into the broader picture.
With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo coming in June, anyone interested in the Napoleonic period will find something to enjoy here.
Check the WRL catalog for In These Times.
This is a mystery which will appeal to fans of Charles Todd’s detective Ian Rutledge. Like Rutledge, the main character, John Madden, is a Scotland Yard detective struggling with shell shock in the aftermath of World War I. He is called to a small village in Surrey where an entire family has been murdered.
As he works with local police, he is bothered by the meticulous planning that appears to have gone into the massacre and starts to suspect that this is not the killer’s first murder. With help from the local police constable, the comely female village doctor, and an Austrian psychologist, Madden slowly develops a portrait of the suspect: a former soldier and psychopath who is escalating at an alarming rate. He has his next victim picked out, and Madden’s challenge is to find out who and where before it’s too late.
Although comparisons to Rutledge will probably draw Charles Todd’s readers to this title, there are major differences. Madden’s demons are a little more straightforward than Rutledge’s, and the overall atmosphere is more optimistic. Airth allows healing and happiness to dangle within his protagonist’s reach, whereas Rutledge’s fans often wonder when his creator is going to give him a break already.
The psychological aspects will also appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.
Check the WRL catalog for River of Darkness.
Flora Belle Buckman, the comic-reading cynic, rescues a squirrel after an accident in the neighbor’s backyard involving a seemingly possessed super-suction, multi-terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner. The altercation leaves the squirrel, later named Ulysses, with astonishing powers of strength, flight, and a poetic awakening. The story tells of the summer adventures had by these two in attempting to prove the special powers of Ulysses, while also touching on such topics as divorce, step-parent relations, and children’s fears of abandonment.
I found this type of fantasy to have an interesting approach to how a young girl deals with the strange and sometimes difficult circumstances of her life, in particular those dictated by the adults around her. This fantasy tale includes a typewriting superhero squirrel, a nerdy and needy neighbor kid named William Spiver, and a young girl who in times of trouble seeks guidance from her one source of truth and justice, the comic book The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!
This book was a fun read. There are sections where the narrative goes into comic book style, with the verbiage sounding much like a superhero adventure story. It includes terms such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences!” and, ever so popular with both Flora and her father, “Holy bagumba!” The illustrations support this comic style by including some pages with comic book block storyline sequences and inner monologues of the squirrel in “super hero” mode. Flora makes many references to the Incandesto comic book, in particular the answer to all dilemmas section, TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. I found it interesting how the main character, Flora, being the cynic she was, was able to rationalize the events of the moment by comparing them to the adventures of Incandesto, and thus her actions made perfect sense—at least to her.
Recommended for readers ages 8-12.
Check the WRL catalog for Flora and Ulysses.
Strange that on a fine afternoon I’m thinking of death. Especially the death that killed whatever hope remained of a free Roman Republic—not that much hope existed. Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubicon, civil war wracked Rome, and the provinces were restive under the thumbs of local governors bent on earning glory on the backs of the locals. Caesar’s hollow gestures gave the discontented Senate little public reason to oppose him. He had the power to elevate or destroy the ambitious, he controlled both the public purse and a private fortune, and he was insulated by the support of his troops.
And so, over the course of a few weeks, senators conspired (I love that word—it literally means breathed together, conjuring up images of whispering figures close enough to smell each other’s breath) to test the waters and find the like-minded who believed Caesar had to go in order for the Republic—that is, the already-powerful—to rule. And on the Ides of March, gathered in the Theatre of Pompey, the conspirators struck.
Shakespeare’s famous scene compresses events that actually took place over a period of weeks as ordinary Romans tried to figure out which faction was either in the right or stood the best chance of winning the civil war everyone saw coming. Gladiators served as bodyguards for the conspirators, while army veterans swarmed into the city to ensure their land and pensions weren’t at risk. Both sides sculpted their public events to create drama and win support, but in the end it came down to money. Who could both fulfill Caesar’s will and pay the troops who would fight the actual battles?
Strauss pulls out of the wings a number of characters who are not featured in Shakespeare’s version. One of the most interesting is named Decimus, whom Shakespeare cast in a minor role as Decius Brutus. In fact, he was one of a trio—Marc Antony and Octavian being the other two—honored in one of Caesar’s triumphs, and was widely considered a rising star. It was Decimus, not Brutus, whose betrayal was more likely to have shocked Caesar, and Decimus whose post-assassination indecisiveness cost the conspirators their opportunities. Strauss also introduces us to the politically powerful women who pushed, pulled, financed, and slept their way to positions of influence. Far from the passive skirt-clutching simps that popular imagination consigns pre-Friedan women to, these were tough, astute players who had a vision of Rome’s future and who did all but carry swords into the battle.
Shakespeare can take credit for making this the most famous assassination in history, and his drama explores deeper themes than are found in the history. But the history is fascinating, and Strauss makes it read as a drama just as wonderful as Shakespeare’s.
Check the WRL catalog for The Death of Caesar.
If you’ve already read the Williamsburg series, you can have a good laugh at this cover, which has a very noir, “Philip Marlowe in Colonial Williamsburg” feel that is completely unlike the actual novels. (Let me take a moment to picture Humphrey Bogart in a tricorn hat… OK, moving on.)
Elswyth Thane’s old-fashioned family saga begins in our own home town of Williamsburg in 1771. Julian Day, a schoolmaster newly arrived from England, is a staunch defender of King George, but befriends St. John Sprague despite his views on colonial independence. As revolution approaches, Day’s loyalties conflict with his friendships, including one with Tabitha “Tibby” Mawes, a young girl he helps to raise from poverty to gentility. That’s right: they are enemies “even in love!”
May-December romances are a recurring theme of this series, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Tibby and Julian become the matriarch and patriarch of a family which the novels follow for generations. Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years” trilogy seem to be leading a return of great, multigenerational sagas, those books with family trees on the endpapers to help you remember the cast of characters. Elswyth Thane was there first, and her seven-volume series follows the entangled Day, Sprague, Murray, and Campion families on both sides of the Atlantic, from the American Revolution to the early days of WWII. (At the time Thane was writing, this was recent history.)
Genteel, involving stories, these novels are gentle reads: there is love and war, but not sex or violence. Their age (or mine) shows in places; the Civil War-era episodes have a Margaret Mitchell-like nostalgia for Southern plantation life that is not concerned with the system of slavery on which it was based. My favorite, Ever After, takes place during the Spanish American War and covers every highlight of romance and melodrama that one might wish: War! Journalism! Malaria! A locket hiding a portrait of a forbidden love! When I picked it up after a decades-long gap, I expected to find it less readable, but hours later I was still sitting in the same armchair, caught up all over again in doomed romance and tearful deathbed goodbyes.
Check the WRL catalog for Dawn’s Early Light.
Whether you’re new to job hunting, or you have been searching a while, you will definitely need a resume. That much is well-known; the next step may not be so easy, but we can help! Williamsburg Regional Library has an extensive collection of books and instructional DVDs to help get you started on your resume or polish up your existing document. General purpose books like Resume Empower: Shattering the Paper Ceiling cover lots of standard advice like having multiple resumes prepared for the multiple jobs that you apply for. Others are geared towards specific careers such as Expert Resumes for Teachers and Educators, by Wendy S. Enelow or specific situations such as McGraw-Hill’s Resumes for the 50+ Job Hunter.
On April 21, 2015 Ed Joyner from Colonial Williamsburg is coming to the Williamsburg Library Theatre to tell the public about the hiring process from a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Recruiter’s perspective, sign up early for this extremely useful and entertaining event. We have several other financial literacy events next week for Money Smart Week, including investing and applying for financial aid.
Searching and applying for jobs can be a daunting and lonely task, but remember Williamsburg Regional Library is here to help!
Check the WRL catalog for Resume Empower.
Check the WRL catalog for Expert Resumes for Teachers and Educators.
Check the WRL catalog for Resumes for the 50+ Job Hunter.
Check the WRL catalog for an instructional DVD about job hunting Effective Resumes and Job Applications.
To ask about these or if you have any questions call us on 259-4050 or stop by the Adult Services desk.
Gordon “Rank” Rankin, Jr., is incensed when he starts to read a novel by a college friend, Adam Grix, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, and finds himself unmistakably but very imperfectly portrayed in the novel. He sits down at his computer and fires off email after angry email to his old friend, over a three month period, trying to set the record straight, trying to put into words the events of his life that led to the fateful night in their second year of college when Rank left their circle of friends and never went back.
Rank is particularly incensed that Adam mentions, in the early part of his novel, that the character’s mother had died. “It did nothing,” Rank writes to Adam. “[i]t was just a thing that had happened to this guy – his mom died, by the way. Background information. It’s mentioned once and never again.” Rank is furious that his mother’s death could be portrayed as no big deal.
Rank was always big. His size led those around him to see him more as an intimidating physical presence than as a deeply thinking, caring soul. When he was young, everyone perceived him to be older. Inside the body of a man, his teenage self hadn’t matured into someone who could stand up to those who wanted to use his bulk for their own purposes. His “tiny screaming lunatic” father, hopping around and complaining about the “punks” who frequented his Icy Dream ice cream parlor, got Rank to intimidate older classmates who would, simply by being teenagers, scare off family type clientele.
One of Rank’s punches in the Icy Dream parking lot, when Rank was fifteen, resulted in brain damage to a “smart-ass town punk” he’d known all his life. That moment, when Rank heard the sound of Mike Croft’s head crack against the pavement, was the beginning, he realized later, when the gods started messing with him. His life became like the board game from the seventies, Mouse Trap, where a “series of random plastic doodads” were “set up to interact with one another in frankly stupid and unlikely ways (the boot kicks the bucket, out of which falls the ball, which rolls down the ramp), and at the end of this rickety and dubious process, down comes the mousetrap.”
Rank’s emails to Adam are at times hilarious, but often, and in the long run, downright heart-breaking. Rank can’t escape his body and can’t escape how people react to his bulk. He gets a hockey scholarship to college – based on his bulk and on a letter from his high school coach and social worker, Owen Findlay, the social worker assigned to him after he busted Mike Croft’s head – and still his life seems scripted by uncaring gods playing around to see what he would do. He feels forced to give up that scholarship when he’s asked to butt heads with the opposing team; he will not relive the experience with Croft. He falls in with a group of friends — geeky, frail Adam in particular — with whom he shares stories from his life. He tells Adam about Mike Croft, about his mean little father, about his mother and about her death. He now writes to Adam: “I pulled off hank after bloody hank of flesh and just handed them over and you were so coy, you averted your eyes and pretended to be embarrassed like the rest of them when really you were squirreling away all those hanks and secretly stitching them together and building Frankenstein’s monster.”
We never read what Adam writes back to Rank, but we know he stops replying soon after Rank starts. It’s okay, though. We let Rank write his life’s story to his once-friend, and read the “bloody hanks of flesh” that make up his life. Rank gets it all out, all the anger, all the history. It’s tempered with love, but you don’t notice it until you’re finished and you sit there stunned and almost in tears.
I listened to this book as an audiobook download. The narrator, Macleod Andrews, is a perfect reader for the book. The book itself lacks some of the normal punctuation one would normally expect in a novel, but this is a series of emails – relatively well-punctuated and correctly-spelled emails — but still emails where the tense and voice may change depending on the tone. On second listening, and in skimming the text, I have to say this has become one of my favorite books of all time. It’s probably one of the most entertaining and raw portrayals of a character I’ve ever encountered.
This is a powerful history. It is a story of survival, loss, atrocity, renewal, guilt, luck, sadness, and hope. Three Minutes in Poland is a painstakingly-researched book that grew out of a home movie made by David Kurtz, the author’s grandfather. In 2009, Glenn Kurtz happened upon the movie in a family closet. Having emigrated to the United States years before, David, his wife, and friends toured Europe in 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II. David Kurtz, with his 16 mm movie camera, sporadically recorded the excursion, including three minutes documenting a small Polish town from which the family had come.
The significance of those three minutes in 1938 was immediately clear to the author. Within a year the Holocaust had started. By 1942 most of the 3000 Jews from the town had been murdered. This short record offered a rare pre-war snapshot of the Jews of Poland, happy and thriving. With unrelenting determination, Glenn Kurtz undertook a project to identify the faces captured in his grandfather’s home movie. He wanted to learn more about the small town, what it meant to his grandfather, his extended family, and the Jews who lived there. Kurtz’s book not only chronicles that research, it brings to life again some of the lost souls who died during the Holocaust.
In writing this book Kurtz traveled around the globe. He followed leads throughout North America and made friends and discoveries in Israel, Poland, and England. Despite how few people survived, Kurtz assembled an extensive network to identify and interview individuals with first-hand knowledge of the town and its people. He focused on the survivors to reconstruct this town documented in his grandfather’s home movie. In particular, the author spent many hours talking with Morry Chandler (whose granddaughter identified him as one of the waving children in the home movie).
Three Minutes in Poland is an intimate portrait of how many Jewish families were devastated, and yet some managed to survive. Throughout his well-crafted book, Kurtz weaves a story of past, present, and future that engages the reader. The personal element of reconstructing his heritage notwithstanding, much of Three Minutes in Poland also is a reminder to never forget the victims of the Holocaust. Through intelligence, perseverance, and skill, Kurtz presents a compassionate history that will move and inspire almost any reader.
Check the WRL catalog for Three Minutes in Poland.
The Graveyard Book was originally published as a novel in 2008 to a flurry of well-deserved praise, eventually earning the Newbery Medal, Carnegie Medal, and Hugo award. The story follows a boy named Nobody Owens, nicknamed Bod, who, as a very young child, flees to a graveyard after his parents are murdered by a man named Jack. The ghosts, after a heated discussion, extend to Bod the Freedom of the Graveyard, which protects him and allows him to interact freely with the dead. Of course, there is a limit to what a ghost can do, so Bod is assigned a Guardian, named Silas, who is neither living nor dead, and who can go out into the world of the living and procure the supplies that the boy needs. He begins his new life amongst the stones and tombs, protected from harm as Jack continues to search for his missing victim.
The story is wistful and haunting. The reader feels the great loss that Bod has experienced, yet he is himself too young to understand it fully. It’s not that the ghosts make bad parents; it’s just that a bit of emptiness haunts the margins of the book: the reader’s knowledge of the family life and friends that this little boy has been denied by virtue of his situation. This sense of longing can’t easily be shrugged off. Even leaving the graveyard puts him in serious risk, as the killer Jack can reach him if he wanders outside the gates.
The novel has been adapted by P. Craig Russell, who has won Harvey and Eisner awards for other projects, and who also created a exceptional graphic adaptation of a previous Gaiman book, Coraline. In this instance, the adaptation was done by Russell, but he only drew one of the chapters himself. Each chapter is done by a different artist, seven in all, and the illustrations are stunning. Sometimes having multiple artists can adversely affect the continuity of the visual storytelling, rending it difficult to recognize a character from one section to the next, but not in this case. Each section is unique, but all of the artists do a remarkable job of capturing the atmosphere of the book.
Recommended for readers of science fiction, horror, and graphic novels. Although the book is marketed as being for young teens, it is appropriate for adult readers as well.
Check the WRL catalog for The Graveyard Book, Volume 1