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April 21, 2014
The Beautiful Mystery
by Penny, Louise
Having just finished another of Louise Penny’s novels, I find myself pondering why I can’t seem to get enough of this particular author’s work. Perhaps it’s the deft way she interweaves plots, or perhaps it is because characters are always the driving, central force of her novels. But then again, it could be that I am intrigued by a detective who occasionally spouts poetry. Indeed Armand Gamache, the chief inspector of homicide for Quebec Province, appears in all Penny’s novels.
The Beautiful Mystery, my favorite of her mysteries so far, involves a murder in a monastery known for its Gregorian Chants. Bits and pieces of the history of musical notation figure into this mystery—are actually a part of the mystery. Neumes, monks passionate about music, historical intrigue, and an order of monks retreating into the backwaters of Canadian wilderness for safety makes this novel intriguing from the first page to the last.
--Recommended by Jan Swan, Glendale Library
April 14, 2014
by Dubus, Andre III
B Dubus, Andre DUB
House of Sand and Fog is Andre Dubus III’s most famous work, but his memoir, Townie, is a glittering gem worthy of your time.
Dubus tells of his growing up in a world of street violence, drugs and poverty while his famous writer father lived a starkly different life as a college professor just across the river.
Dubus grew up in small mill towns along the Merrimack River north of Boston, living in various rented houses on run down streets where bullies “roamed the neighborhood like dogs.” Frequently the new kid, he spends his early school years trying to fit in, but often just gets slapped, kicked, and pushed around. His three siblings, meanwhile, mostly keep to their bedrooms. Suzanne attracts a steady stream of unsavory characters to the house for after school parties. Nicole studies obsessively. Brother Jeb holes up in his room, teaching himself classical guitar and doing artwork, his amorous middle school art teacher often in there with him.
Dubus recounts his mother’s efforts to stay afloat, working long days and then coming home, opening a few cans for dinner and falling asleep in front of the TV. As a teenager he decides to get strong and starts lifting weights. He joins his high school track team and learns how to fight at a boxing club. As a muscle man he takes on anyone who looks at him funny. Every fight “was a test and the more tests I passed the further I permanently moved myself from the boy I’d been.”
His ultimate test, it seems, was coming to terms with his father, who left the family when Dubus was 10 years old. His dad would pick up him and his siblings every Sunday for dinner and maybe a movie. But he maintained a distance, both physical and emotional, that seemed to fuel Dubus’s drive to be somebody his father would take notice of. It is a deeply searching young man who turns to writing to try to make sense of his world. Townie is a bittersweet reflection, told in unsentimental detail, with fascinating little stories on every page.
Recommended by Coral Mackenzie-Danforth, Lawrence Library
April 7, 2014
Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay
by Oliver, Mary
I’ll confess up front to being a dog lover and a long-time fan of the poet Mary Oliver. Her latest collection pairs thirty five songs, or poems, with illustrations (by John Burgoyne) of the dogs in her life. I looked forward to this book eagerly and it did not disappoint. From the wanderings of Benjamin the hound to the exuberance of Percy the terrier to the burial of the German shepherd Luke, the poet gives voice to all the stages of dog life.
Oliver has written many collections of poetry and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. Nature, wildness and spirituality are themes she is always returning to as she does here. This book concludes with an essay called Dog Talk, and I’ll quote from it: “But I want to extol not the sweetness nor the placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot step entirely, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also all the good attachments to that origin that we can keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world.”
If you have loved one dog or many you know that your journey together will bring you joy and laughs but also tears and grief as the arc of the dog’s life is much shorter than our own. Reading Oliver’s odes to her familiars in this collection brings it all back in her concrete images and lyrical words.
Recommended by Sue Kennedy, Irvington Library
March 31, 2014
The Days of Abandonment
by Ferrante, Elena
Elena Ferrante is a very private, illusive writer--one of Italy's finest. One of her finest novels is The Days of Abandonment which was translated into English by Ann Goldstein. Some say that Elena Ferrante is a pen name for Domenico Starnone, a male novelist. No matter the gender of the writer--in this novel the translator fluidly transports the reader into a realm of a woman's mind....the mind of Olga. Olga tells about her deep emotional responses and experiences during the days following abandonment by her husband. Olga has two children and and a dog to care for in a small Italian village while she tries to find her footing following the initial shock. It is a visceral description of the initial several days with her discomfort at times unbearable, at times comical.
"The hardest day of the ordeal of my abandonment was about to begin, but I didn't know it yet." Hint: insecticide poisoning, child with burning fever, day spent in nightgown, August heat, lock on door not working properly.....think "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka! Don't let the impending anxiety overwhelm you --you, too, at times have felt the uncomfortable heat of these human emotions. Elena Ferrante gently guides us through the stages of the abyss, she (he?) explores how to consciously cope with an ordeal. The story has a solid, stable conclusion. Olga and her children survive. She has changed, having a more realistic world view of love and parenting, and much stronger having faced the abandonment.
Recommended by Sharon McKittrick, Lawrence Library
March 24, 2014
A Flowershop in Baghdad
by Banzet, Michael
This book is the story of the greatest force for good the world has ever known: the extraordinary, ordinary men and women of the United States military.
U.S. Air Force pilot Michael Banzet tells the funny, tragic, deeply moving story of the year he was grounded in Baghdad working with British and Iraqi forces to build a modern Iraqi air force. Banzet gives eloquent, irreverent voice to one of the “invisible stories” – those never investigated or reported by the media because they are true, because they are profoundly inspiring, and because they undermine the narrative of the “ugly American” so in vogue with the sophisticated set.
In 2007 – 2008, two very different cultures were working together, learning from each other, and quite literally risking their lives to build the foundation for a modern Iraq: dedicated, desperately courageous, ordinary Iraqis, Brits, and Americans – unsung heroes all. It turned out to be the most important year of Banzet’s professional life: “I’ve never seen the might and thunder, along with the tenderness and patience, of a military organization focused on a people before. And I got to see it from their perspective. I was truly blessed to be among those that have been at the epicenter of history in the making.”
Banzet continues “… the ones who have chosen this type of service are the best this society has to offer. They may not be the smartest, best looking, richest, or best connected, but you’d be surprised by the silent quality of these people … The lowest-ranking deployed E-1 has a greater impact than all the ambassadors at all the swell parties with all the swell people.”
“This book was written to share with you how I came to the startling conclusion that I am indeed a superhero … The truly amazing thing about me is that, as a product of this amazing country, I am completely ordinary. However, once I leave the borders of these United States, I start to grow in power and influence until I become someone who can do anything …”
Which he did. Which our servicemen and women do every day. This book will make you proud to be an American.
Recommended by Deborah Jones, Franklin Road Library