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Book Discussions in June – including the beginning of the Adult Summer Reading Program

May 24, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Our June discussions will go a-roving. Not only is the Warren Branch’s discussion happening at the Irvington Branch, but there are two discussions at the Beech Grove Library (which will become an IndyPL branch on June 1) and, with the advent of the Adult Summer Reading Program, we have discussions at a museum and breweries and elsewhere.

The Warren Library‘s book discussion group will discuss Susan Crandall’s novel Whistling Past the Graveyard on Thursday, June 2nd at 10:30 a.m. — but the discussion will happen at the Irvington Library, do to the ongoing renovations at Warren.

Whistling Past the GraveyardThe South on the eve of the civil rights movement, as seen through the eyes of this novel’s plucky nine-year-old narrator. Starla Claudelle lives in Mississippi with her stern grandma. Her daddy is away working on an oil rig. Her mama has gone to Nashville to be a star, so Starla decides to head there when she gets herself in trouble one too many times. She’s offered a ride by a black woman named Eula, who has with her a white baby found abandoned on the steps of a church. Eula takes Starla and the baby home, but violence forces them back on the road with no money and a truck about to break down. During their long and sometimes perilous trip, Starla sees firsthand what it’s like to be the wrong color in a segregated society, and her keen sense of injustice and need for love help her create a bond with Eula that transcends any barriers . . . Readers will take to Starla and be caught up in her story. — Booklist

Whistling Past the Graveyard is also available as an eBook,an eAudiobook, and an audiobook on CD.

 

 

The Portrait of a Lady

 

On Fridays in June–the 3rd, 10th, 17th & 24th–the Shared Reading Group at the East 38th Street Library will continue to read and discuss The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

From 10:00 to 11:30, attendees will read aloud (if they wish to), sample refreshments (if they wish to), and discuss. A poem will be read.

 

 

 

 

 

Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder, a novel by Ann Patchett, will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, June 6th at 6:30 p.m.

State of WonderMarina Singh gave up a career as a doctor after botching an emergency delivery as an intern, opting instead for the more orderly world of research for a pharmaceutical company. When office colleague Anders Eckman, sent to the Amazon to check on the work of a field team, is reported dead, Marina is asked by her company’s CEO to complete Anders’ task and to locate his body. What Marina finds in the sweltering, insect-infested jungles of the Amazon shakes her to her core. For the team is headed by esteemed scientist Annick Swenson, the woman who oversaw Marina’s residency and who is now intent on keeping the team’s progress on a miracle drug completely under wraps. Marina’s jungle odyssey includes exotic encounters with cannibals and snakes, a knotty ethical dilemma about the basic tenets of scientific research, and joyous interactions with the exuberant people of the Lakashi tribe, who live on the compound. In fluid and remarkably atmospheric prose, Patchett captures not only the sights and sounds of the chaotic jungle environment but also the struggle and sacrifice of dedicated scientists. — Booklist

State of Wonder is also available as an eBook and an audiobook on CD.

 

 

The Glendale Library‘s Cooking Chats will meet on Monday, June 6th at 6:30 p.m. June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables month. Come share smoothie recipes and favorite farmer’s markets.

Featured cookbooks:

The Healthy Smoothie Bible

 

The Healthy Smoothie Bible by Farnoosh Brock

Ripe

 

Ripe by Cheryl Rule

 

Registration is required for this program. Please call 275-4412.

 

Central Library will host a discussion of Michael O. Tunnell’s Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” on Tuesday, June 7th at 6:00 p.m.

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's Chocolate raining from the sky is something many children would love, but for children living in blockaded post-World War II West Berlin, the delivery of chocolate via bomber plane meant more than just a treat. It began when American pilot Gail Halvorsen noticed a group of German children and gave them the two pieces of gum he had. When he saw how they passed the gum around “so everyone could breathe in the sweet, minty smell,” he began to deliver gum and candy, dropping them — attached to handkerchief parachutes — from his plane. Halvorsen persuaded his fellow servicemen to donate theirs, and eventually the candy drops became an institution. The copious photographs and the reproductions of the touching letters Halvorsen received bring the children and their gratitude to life. By beginning with these personal stories, Tunnell piques readers’ interest in learning more about the background of the conflict between the Soviets and the Germans, information he provides in later chapters. With its story of the ongoing relationship between the American serviceman and the German children that lasts to the present day, this is not just a glimpse into history but also a look at promoting understanding between former enemies. — Horn Book

Candy Bomber is also available as an eBook

 

 

Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Tuesday, June 7th at 6:30 p.m.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the LegendIn this exceptional book, Orlean portrays the magical bond, which led to lasting international fame, between a special puppy found on a World War I battlefield and Lee Duncan, the man who rescued him. She spent ten years researching and writing their story, a richly textured narrative filled with personal accounts, astute cultural and social backdrops, behind-the-scenes details on film and television, and an informed look at the historical roles of dogs in war, on-screen, and in the home. Orlean describes Rin Tin Tin’s career from the early days in film through the popular 1950s television series. His heroic persona transformed into immortal legend, as subsequent dogs sustained both his name and the noble qualities he symbolized. Duncan and others who were a part of Rinty’s story are honestly yet compassionately portrayed. — Library Journal

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is also available as an audiobook on CD and in large print.

 

 

Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, June 9th at 1:30 p.m.

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your LifeWhen he set out to visit all of the planet’s countries by age thirty-five, compulsive goal seeker Chris Guillebeau never imagined that his journey’s biggest revelation would be how many people like himself exist – each pursuing a challenging quest. And, interestingly, these quests aren’t just travel-oriented. On the contrary, they’re as diverse as humanity itself. Some involve exploration; others the pursuit of athletic or artistic excellence; still others a battle against injustice or poverty or threats to the environment. The more Chris spoke with these strivers, the more he began to appreciate the direct link between questing and long-term happiness — how going after something in a methodical way enriches our lives — and he was compelled to complete a comprehensive study of the phenomenon and extract the best advice. In The Happiness of Pursuit he draws on interviews with hundreds of questers, revealing their secret motivations . . . Publisher’s note

The Happiness of Pursuit is also available as an eBook.

 

 

Gabrielle Zevin’s novel The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, June 9th at 1:30 p.m.

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe only thing that’s “storied” in the life of A.J. Fikry, a curmudgeonly independent bookseller, in this funny, sad novel from Zevin, is his obvious love of literature–particularly short stories. Fikry runs Island Books, located on Alice Island, a fictional version of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a “persnickety little bookstore,” in the words of Amelia Loman, the new sales rep for Knightley Press. Her first meeting with Fikry does not go well. He’s disgruntled by the state of publishing, and bereft because his beloved wife, Nic, recently died in a car accident. Soon after the meeting, he suffers another loss: a rare first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Tamerlane (Fikry’s primary retirement asset) goes missing. But then Fikry finds an abandoned toddler in his bookstore with a note saying, “This is Maya. She is twenty-five months old.” Somewhat unbelievably, Maya ends up in his care and, predictably enough, opens the irascible bookseller’s heart. The surprisingly expansive story includes a romance between Fikry and Amelia, and follows Maya to the age of 18 before arriving at a bittersweet denouement. Zevin is a deft writer, clever and witty, and her affection for the book business is obvious. — Publishers Weekly

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is also available as an eBook.

 

 

The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play
The Poetry & Lyric Discussion Group at the Beech Grove Library (which will be joining us as an IndyPL branch on June 1st) will meet on Monday, June 13th at 6:30 p.m.
They meet each month to discuss one poem and one song.

TapestryTheir poem in June will be “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, and their song will be “Tapestry” by Carole King.

 

 

 

arcimboldo_summer_1573_summer

 

Don’t let this picture scare you. It’s not some sort of mummy thing.

 

This is Summer (1573), by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and this jolly (if initially alarming) figure is here to help us celebrate our Indiana-related Adult Summer Reading Program.

 

 

 

 

The

Other programs connected with the Adult SRP are taking place, but the first full-fledged discussion will take place at the Eiteljorg Museum on Wednesday, June 15th at 6:00 p.m.

Stewart Rafert’s
The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654-1994 will be discussed.

I want to tell you. Lacrosse used to be even more violent than it is today. Wait until you read about how the Miamis and other Indians played it.

 

 

And on Monday, June 20th at 5:30 p.m., at the Sun King Brewery, Maria’s Journey by Ramón & Trisha Arredondo will be discussed.

TITLEBorn into the Mexican Revolution, Maria Perez entered an arranged marriage at age fourteen to Miguel Arredondo. The couple and their tiny daughter immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, living in a boxcar while Miguel worked for a Texas railroad and eventually settling in East Chicago, Indiana, where Miguel worked for Inland Steel. Their story includes much of early-twentieth-century America: the rise of unions, the plunge into the Great Depression, the patriotism of World War II, and the starkness of McCarthyism. It is flavored by delivery men hawking fruit and ice, street sports, and Saturday matinees that began with newsreels. Immigration status colors every scene, adding to their story deportation and citizenship, generational problems unique to new immigrants, and a miraculous message of hope. — Publisher’s note

Maria’s Journey is also available as an eBook.

 

 

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, June 20th at 6:30 p.m.

Everything I Never Told YouA teenage girl goes missing and is later found to have drowned in a nearby lake, and suddenly a once tight-knit family unravels in unexpected ways. As the daughter of a college professor and his stay-at-home wife in a small Ohio town in the 1970s, Lydia Lee is already unwittingly part of the greater societal changes going on all around her. But Lydia suffers from pressure that has nothing to do with tuning out and turning on. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting. Her mother is white, and their interracial marriage raises eyebrows and some intrusive charges of miscegenation. More troubling, however, is her mother’s frustration at having given up medical school for motherhood, and how she blindly and selfishly insists that Lydia follow her road not taken. The cracks in Lydia’s perfect-daughter foundation grow slowly but erupt suddenly and tragically, and her death threatens to destroy her parents and deeply scar her siblings. Tantalizingly thrilling, Ng’s emotionally complex debut novel captures the tension between cultures and generations with the deft touch of a seasoned writer. Ng will be one to watch. — Booklist

Everything I Never Told You is also available as an eBook, an eAudiobook, and in large print.

 

 

Andy Weir’s blockbuster novel The Martian will be discussed at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, June 21st at 10:15 a.m.

The Martian

Weir combines the heart-stopping with the humorous in this brilliant debut novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars. When its mission is scrubbed as a result of a powerful windstorm, the team of Ares 3 move from their habitat to the ascent vehicle. In transit, Mark Watney’s spacesuit is punctured by debris, knocking him unconscious and disabling the suit’s biosign monitor so that he appears to be dead. When he regains consciousness, Mark realizes that his crew has left him: “I’m pretty much fucked.” Now all he has to do is survive, reestablish communications, find a source of food, and last until the next mission to Mars. Like TV’s MacGyver, Mark does have a few potatoes, lots of duct tape, and plenty of resourcefulness. If only Mars would stop trying to kill him and the crew had left behind something other than disco music and 1970s sitcoms for entertainment. VERDICT By placing a nail-biting life-and-death situation on Mars and adding a snarky and wise-cracking nerdy hero, Weir has created the perfect mix of action and space adventure. Mark is hilarious, which makes the terror of marooned death on Mars not just bearable but downright fun. — Library Journal

The Martian is also available as an eBook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.

 

 

If Someone Says “You Complete Me,” Run!: Whoopi’s Big Book of Relationships will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Wednesday, June 22nd at 6:00 p.m.

If Someone Says Goldberg, performer and cohost of the talk show The View, shares her wisdom on love and relationships in this no-nonsense guide to personal fulfillment. She denounces the false expectations engendered by popular music, films, fairy tales, and even Viagra commercials that depict an unachievable romantic ideal, imploring readers to “get your heads out of your butts.” The title, originally a line from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, refers to Goldberg’s recommendation to have a full life and a complete identity that’s wholly your own, for as Goldberg notes sagely, “If they complete you, they can deconstruct you as well.” A chapter on “red flags” advises readers on bad behaviors to watch out for, issued along with the all-important and easily forgettable proclamation that “you can’t change him.” Goldberg’s views on sex in and outside of relationships, particularly for older people, are progressive, sensitive, and spot-on . . . This is a funny, conversational (at times rambling), and occasionally profane take on modern romance from a legendary humorist, and is an entertaining if not entirely necessary addition to the canon. — Publishers Weekly

If Someone Says “You Complete Me,” Run! is also available as an audiobook on CD and in large print.

 

 

The Adult Summer Reading Program continues as Kate Alcott’s A Touch of Stardust is discussed at the Arts Council of Indianapolis on Wednesday, June 22nd at 6:00 p.m.

A Touch of StardustClark Gable and Carole Lombard’s passionate romance, fragile Vivien Leigh, and complicated and creative Margaret Mitchell come to life in this captivating novel set during the filming of Gone with the Wind. Alcott (The Dressmaker; The Daring Ladies of Lowell) knows how to write historical fiction, and she has an almost embarrassingly extensive wealth of subject matter here: the glamour, the backbiting, the gossip fed by columnists such as Louella Parsons, and daily crises on the set owing to controlling producer David O. Selznick. Alcott doesn’t neglect the uglier side of this period: Gable is recruited by the film’s African American cast members to protest the segregated bathrooms on the set (which he did by threatening to quit if it wasn’t changed); anti-Semitism is rampant, and the protagonist, Julie Crawford from Fort Crawford, IN, endures blatant sexism in her quest to become a screenwriter. Her romance with handsome Jewish assistant producer Andy Weinstein, who is concerned about his relatives’ safety in Europe, brings impending World War II into the picture. — Library Journal

A Touch of Stardust is also available as an eBook, an eAudiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.

 

 

starsofindiana

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site will host a discussion of Michael S. Maurer’s books 19 Stars of Indiana : Exceptional Hoosier Women and 19 Stars of Indiana : Exceptional Hoosier Men on Saturday, June 25th at 2:00 p.m.

 

 

Author Francesca Zappia will join in a discussion of her book Made You Up on Monday, June 27th at 6:30 p.m. at the Beech Grove Branch.

Made You Up

Nothing is what it seems in Zappia’s debut novel. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic at age 14, Alexandra Ridgemont, a senior entering a new high school after an infamous graffiti episode, meets Miles, a boy she believes she conjured in childhood. Her uncertainty and the pressures of a new school create an unraveling of the barriers between imagination and reality. Told from Alex’s perspective, Zappia’s story submerges readers into a world where they, too, are left unsure of what to trust. As the stakes get higher for Alex–with obstacles that include a principal who fanatically worships a scoreboard, a fellow student buckling under family pressure, and her mother’s threats of hospitalizing her–the truth continues to blur. Despite support from Miles, who comes to her aid even as he struggles with an abusive father and alexithymia, Alex must push past increasingly frightening hallucinations to uncover a surprising secret . . . Alex’s sardonic voice and the rapid, Heathers-like dialogue will hold readers’ interest. — Publisher’s Weekly

Made You Up is also available as an eBook.

 

 

The final Adult Summer Reading discussion for June will transpire at Books and Brews on Tuesday, June 28th at 6:00 p.m. Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River will be discussed.

So Cold the RiverEric Shaw’s promising career as a Hollywood cinematographer crashed and burned. Now he’s back in Chicago, making “video life portraits” of recently deceased people. One of these portraits brings a new commission: Eric is to travel to tiny West Baden, Indiana, and document the early years of Campbell Bradford, a wealthy, about-to-die Chicago businessman who was born in West Baden but has never spoken about his childhood. Within hours of his arrival, Eric experiences a vivid and portentous vision and hallucinations that seem related to the town’s mineral springs. Signs and portents of a resident evil bombard him as he researches his project, and eventually the evil becomes manifest. After successes with noirish mysteries, Koryta has ventured into genre-bending, successfully melding thriller elements to a horror story that recalls Stephen King. His tight, clear prose makes West Baden as creepy as Transylvania, and Eric is a compellingly flawed protagonist. Legions of King and Peter Straub devotees will be delighted by this change of direction; Koryta’s hard-boiled fans may feel a bit nonplussed at first, but they, too, will fall under the spell of this very strange Indiana town. — Booklist

So Cold the River is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

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Omar Tyree will be at East 38th Street’s Local Author Fair

May 19, 2016 by Reader's Connection

 

There’s a Summer Reading Program party at the East 38th Street Branch on Saturday, June 4th from 10:00 to 3:30. Hot dogs and entertainment will be provided.

 

Capital City

 

That same day, from 10:00 to 4:00, the branch will host their third Annual Local Author Fair. Local authors will take part in panel discussions at 12:45 and 3:00 pm.

 

Flyy Girl

 

At 2:00 pm, bestselling author Omar Tyree will speak. He’ll promote a new movie based on his novel Flyy Girl, and he’ll lead a discussion.

 

Welcome to Dubai

 

Come and enjoy the fun and food and discussion.

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LibraryReads for June

May 16, 2016 by Reader's Connection

libraryreads_2016_6
Here are ten books due to be released in June, reviewed by librarians around the country. I’m sorry about this month’s map. The United States map on the blacktop in the Holy Cross Central Catholic School parking lot is a marvel of scale and inclusion. I have twisted everything and lopped out several states, Indiana included.

The Church of the Holy Cross saw its last Sunday Mass yesterday, May 15th–I’m blaming my map distortion on Eucharist withdrawal–but the school, one of IndyPL’s Shared System members, will carry on.

 

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl

The newest entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare series brings The Taming of the Shrew into the modern world. Kate is stuck in a life taking care of her absent minded professor father and her sister, Bunny. When her father suggests a marriage of convenience in order to secure a green card for his lab assistant Pyotr, Kate is shocked. This is a sweet and humorous story about two people, who don’t quite fit in, finding each other. Tyler’s wonderful writing updates and improves on the original. — Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

 

 

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library

Directed by powerful librarians, agents roam alternate realities searching out special volumes for their mysterious library’s collections. Irene is a spy for the library but something is a little off about her current mission; there’s something strange about her new assistant that she can’t quite put her finger on and worse, the requested volume has already been stolen. Cogman’s engaging characters and a most intriguing imagined world are sure to delight readers, especially bibliophiles. — Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

 

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Under the Harrow

Nora leaves London to visit her sister, Rachel, in the countryside often. But this trip is different – a silent house, a dead dog hanging from the railing and so much blood. Nora stays, trying to help the police solve the case. She thinks it might have something to do with the unsolved attack on Rachel when she was just a teen but it could be someone new. This story is thrilling and quietly gripping. We become as obsessed as Nora in finding her sister’s killer and what if he strikes again? — Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

 

 

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

With courageous curiosity, journalistic persistence, and a wry empathetic sense of humor, Roach once again delves into a fascinating topic few of us would openly explore. She writes about the issues confronting the military in its attempt to protect and enable combat troops. Roach brings to our attention the amazing efforts of science to tackle all the challenges of modern warfare. Grunt is another triumph of sometimes uncomfortable but fascinating revelation. — Darren Nelson, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA

 

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

An engaging family saga following two half-sisters – one who marries into privilege and one sold into slavery – and their descendants as they navigate the politics of their separate countries and their heritage. Each is directly affected in some way by the choices of the past, and finding the parallels in the triumphs and heartbreak makes for an engrossing read. — Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA

 

 

 

 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed

This is a thoughtful police procedural about a missing person case and the secrets that come to the surface when a feisty detective becomes relentless in finding the truth. Edith is a successful college student from a well-known family, but all is not what it seems. Detective Manon Bradshaw is feeling the pressure to quickly resolve the case. What sets this apart from other detective stories is how the lead character is brought to life; she exposes her melancholy and it adds a satisfying mix to the thrills. Recommended for fans of Tana French. — Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

 

Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Stiletto

In the long-awaited sequel to The Rook, negotiations between two highly secret organizations, one based on science and reason and the other on the supernatural, are continuing. Odette and Pawn both come to the forefront of the story as we get more of the history of the groups and why mortal enemies would want to join forces. With its blend of intricate world-building and fantastical situations, Stiletto both surprised me and made me laugh. — Mary Bell, Wilbraham Public Library, Wilbraham, MA

 

 

 

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

We Could Be Beautiful

Wealthy art collector Catherine spends her time fussing over her tiny boutique card shoppe so that she can feel like a productive member of society. She meets the handsome and refined William Stockton, yet something seems just a little too good to be true. The plot thickens as long hidden family secrets emerge. Huntley certainly knows how to build up the suspense. This debut novel includes some nice plot twists and Catherine’s character evolves favorably. Recommended for fans of psychological fiction. — Mary Vernau, Tyler Public Library, Tyler, TX

 

 

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus

Rowley has lovingly captured what it is like to be totally invested in caring for another life, another heart. This book is a true gift for anyone who has experienced the loss of a dog, but especially for those of us who have nursed a beloved dog through an illness even though you both knew it was going to be a losing battle. A special bond is formed there, and the story of Lily and Ted illustrates it so perfectly. — Mary Coe, Fairfield Woods Branch Library, Fairfield, CT

 

 

 

Widowmaker by Paul Doiron

Widowmaker

Doiron delivers a novel of intensifying suspense. The brooding and flawed Bowditch deals with a newly revealed family secret that sets him off on a search for the truth. His personal mission leads him into danger as he chases a vigilante through the wintry Maine woods. Doiron perfects his storytelling with a richly detailed setting and admirable sense of timing. You’ll want to go back to the previous Bowditch adventures while awaiting the next installment. Highly recommended for fans of Nevada Barr and C.J. Box. — Mamie Ney, Auburn Public Library, Auburn, ME

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As part of the welcome to our new Beech Grove members, BGHS yearbooks have been added to Digital Indy.

May 12, 2016 by Reader's Connection

As I’ve announced previously and will again, the Beech Grove Public Library will merge with the Indianapolis Public Library on June 1st.

 

As part of our celebration, a set of yearbooks from Beech Grove High School has joined the host of digitized yearbooks on Digital Indy. Most of the years from 1947 to the early 2000s are captured here.
Click on the cover of the 1958 Hornet to be taken to the new collection.

 

hornet_seniors
You can scroll from page to page in any given year book.

Or you can search all the Beech Grove yearbooks with certain words and names . . .

. . . and see what you find.

ferkins_hooway

 

And by all means, have a look at other collections on Digital Indy. Since I’m doing a blog post about DI, I’ll use it as an excuse to once again raid the Indianapolis Postcard Collection.

For the record, this glorious brick building is not the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church that stands a block from where I live. It has to have been Tab at one of its earlier addresses downtown.

But back to my main theme, here: Welcome to the collection, Beech Grove.

 

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What does the Shared Reading Group at East 38th really think of Henry James?

May 9, 2016 by Reader's Connection

james@e38I take great pleasure every month in posting a list of book discussions that are scheduled for the following month.

The books for most branches change every month, so I can include new titles and cover art and reviews; but the Shared Reading Group at East 38th Street reads the same book for months at a time, so my write-ups lack pizazz. THEY WILL MEET EACH FRIDAY AT 10:00, AND READ SOME MORE OF THE BOOK, AND THEY’LL DISCUSS WHAT THEY READ, AND THEN THEY’LL READ A POEM.

Not much imagination on my part. But Patrick Dugan, a staff member at East 38th and member of the group, has been so kind as to allow me to reprint a few of the emails that he sends out after each weekly read. The group is currently reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

4/22/2016
It was a blessedly warm day in the Community Room of East 38th St.! We read in Chapter VII that both Isabel and Ralph live in both literally and metaphorically closed-off worlds. They each sense the facades the other is hiding behind, but while Isabel feels sorry for Ralph, he is intrigued by Isabel and wishes to, ahem, “stand under her roof,” as it were. The sexual tension was thick this week, what with Lord Warburton’s eagerness to light Isabel’s candle around midnight. The Group seems suspect regarding James’s reputation for psychological astuteness, largely due to his glibness regarding death, dying, and suffering.

4/29/2016
We were late to start this week due to prolonged political discussions. In Chapter VIII, Isabel thinks herself in admiration of Lord Warburton’s “radical” politics, while both Ralph and Mr. Touchett are unconvinced of his dedication to them. The Group was heatedly split over whether Lord Warburton’s sisters, the Misses Molyneux, are politically naive or merely shocked about Isabel’s poor manners. Accusations of sexism, capitalist pigheadedness, and benevolent slaveholder attitudes were thrown around the room. I’m sure we all agree that one of the most powerful aspects of Shared Reading is being able to interpret texts differently, and having a clean, well-lit place to discuss and disagree. Again, much of the divisiveness may be the result of James’s lack of clarity on what it is his characters are thinking and feeling.

The Portrait of a LadyI’m editing these snippets, but didn’t want to trim anything from last Friday’s write-up.

5/6/2016
It was a productive day in Shared Reading, full of good vibes. This week, the Group seemed to unanimously agree that (1) James’s characters are like stick figures and (2) he regards the influence of modernity as impure and pernicious, particularly for ladies. The reaction of Isabel to her suitors is unbelievable, while the portrayals of Isabel, Mrs. Touchett, and Miss Stackpole – their naiveté, independence, and selfishness – are unflattering, to say the least. It was also discussed how James is unconcerned with writing about relationships between classes, at least in this novel, and is focused solely on the high-brow cultural differences between England and America. This focus may make for bad, even immoral, literature.

Jerry presented a revealing, astute question: “When you’re done reading, do you feel better, or do you feel worse?” Few were able to answer in the affirmative, but, paradoxically, none of us want to stop reading James.

The Sun Also RisesRegarding James’s testicular injury: this is a historical mystery that many scholars and authors have spilt ink over (Hemingway even modelled a character in The Sun Also Rises based on the rumor). James wrote at length and eloquently of an “intimate injury” suffered in youth, but like much his prose, what he’s actually talking about is elusive. In short, we may never know, but many think it likely given his supposed lifelong celibacy (this, too, is controversial – it’s rumored, for instance, that he slept with Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others).

On a more buoyant note, Bunchie the dog (the only character I like) was finally mentioned again.

Thank you, Patrick, and best wishes to the group!

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