August 7, 2014 by Reader's Connection
I was moved at the Natatorium, last summer, watching an evening of National Championship swimming. A woman in an outer lane, the lane closest to me, was so far behind the others. I don’t often attend this sort of meet, and I felt bad for her.
The woman with the fastest time after preliminary heats occupies lane four. Second-fastest is in lane five, third in lane three. The rest, in descending order, are in lanes six, two, seven, one, and finally, eight. This placement accounts for the inverted-V formation that typically occurs during a race. A swimmer who leads from lane one, two, seven or eight is often called “outside smoke.”
So my swimmer at the Natatorium was part of a pattern, like a migrating goose. Do I feel better for her, or worse?
The explanation is from Leanne Shapton’s book Swimming Studies. Shapton herself was a competitive swimmer, a wonderful swimmer, but never quite good enough to make the Olympic team. The book is a memoir about her swimming years, a poignant study of a life that won’t go the way that a young person wants it to. You need to put aside any ideas you have of what a normal sports book should be.
Having failed to be an Olympian, Shapton has succeeded quite nicely as an artist, journalist, author and publisher, and the book is full of pictures: there are impressionistic watercolor paintings of swimmers, small paintings of odors, photographs of bathing suits–she owns a preposterous number of them–and other visuals. A chopped-up version of some of the suits is available on GoogleBooks –I like her comment on suit # 13–but you really need to look at the book.
Yes, I said small paintings of odors. “Fourteen Odors,” to be exact. Number 10 is Coach: Fresh laundry, windbreaker nylon, Mennon Speed Stick, Magic Marker and bologna. If you open this Mister Motley book review, you’ll see a shadowed photo of all fourteen. Coach is second from the top on the right. I don’t understand how that green can be the right color for that combination of odors, but this isn’t a great photo, and again, you need to look at the book yourself.
I’m about halfway through it. I love to swim laps, but have never been much good at it. Shapton takes me to a different universe of swimming, where teenagers are immersed in the sport for huge chunks of every week, where “most breaststrokers have knee problems, are advised to ice regularly and take eight aspirin a day.” This tale of a swimmer who didn’t quite make the cut is a look at her childhood, her family, at Canada (and travels elsewhere) and at how you might turn into another sort of person when you can’t be the one you expected to be.
August 4, 2014 by Reader's Connection
An inmate at the Marion County Jail once told me that he didn’t want any books by Agatha Christie. I don’t think we did much Christie business at the jail, but he must have spotted a paperback on my cart, and he complained that the Queen of Crime Fiction could go on forever just describing somebody’s nose. Around his own nose he made an impatient, hovering gesture.
If you’re like my inmate, and you want your tales of murder to rattle quickly toward their violent ends, don’t read The Infatuations by Javier Marías. His narrator, María Dolz, doesn’t dwell on noses, but she is fixated on one individual’s lips, and she makes observations at length about love and death and memory and the faultiness of human perception. I love her, she makes me laugh, but she’s not in a hurry.
Miguel Desvern is murdered horribly on the street in Madrid. María didn’t really know the man, but she liked eating breakfast in the same café where Miguel and his wife ate, and that thread of connection draws María into situations where she learns more about the murder than she wants to know. I’m not a detective, she tells us. What do I care about justice?
And she’s forever doubting the truth of what she has just learned.
Most Spanish writers are idiots–that’s according to María, who works in a Madrid publishing house and unloads on the subject whenever she can–but Javier Marías has written a mortality-obsessed tale that I love.
July 31, 2014 by Reader's Connection
These poems don’t appear in any book. “My poems are in the public domain,” says Charlie Differ. “They live in a park.”
If you’re interested in checking out a book, though, and I hope you are, Odanka Levonette tells me that Lanier Graham’s Goddesses in Art is the book she mentions in her poem. The Water and the Moon Kwan Yin is on the cover.
My thanks to Ralph, Odanka and Charlie.
By Any Means
by Ralph Petropollo
By all means tell your doctor
that you tried to go swimming,
tried to go all cardiovascular,
but missed seeing the string of plastic pennants
missing from the pool’s south end.
Finishing your last & first backstroke lap,
your eyes ever up in the fluorescent canal,
no blue-white pennants tut-tutting slow down,
you whacked your head.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaNot a word of concern
from the Gwen Stefani-engorged lifeguard.
By all means tell your doctor that.
Tell him how you cursed your way up the stairs.
How you sulked and shampooed
while a few stalls down
a Chinese guy talked on his conferencing phone
and you heard a woman answer.
Christ Almighty, a phone in the shower.
But you need to tell your doctor, too,
that whatever the guy said next was funny
and the woman’s laughter poured into your stall
through the Chinese guy’s falling water and yours.
by Odanka Levonette
Cold air above the Rockies, just the place
to meet The Water and the Moon Kwan Yin.
The flight attendant wants to make a face:
This book of goddesses I’m buried in.
From Andy Warhol’s re-do’s back through dawn
they scare you, or console, or point the way.
Kwan Yin is eight feet tall, ten centuries on.
Her faded paints find eye-homes every day.
I missed my flight.
I’m stuck in LAX.
That woman at the counter made a joke.
Kwan Yin can be a male who changes sex.
I need to morph, myself, or have a stroke.
We travel separately, and faces change.
Each flight’s compassion cargo strikes me strange.
Through the Seasons with Dog Crap
by Charlie Differ
You would think that the steam
rising from crap-gnomes in the cool early spring
would help me find them.
On occasion it does.
In summer there are instant flies
to guide my plastic pickup bag.
The dog has barely finished her business
when pilgrims from the ether
surround the crap and chant.
God bless the gnomes, they try to lay low.
Autumn is their happy season.
Black and brown soggy leaves
make a sighting impossible.
I slip, sometimes fall,
and I know they’re amused.
“When winter comes,” I yell,
“and snow fills the schoolyard,
you’ll be as easy to find
as the spots on dice.”
There is always a gnome who can’t resist.
“Oh, foolish mammal-born,”
he always sounds like a kid on helium,
“your quite hilarious arthritis
has climbed to your skull.
You forget the words
of the wise Herakleitos:
Nobody picks up the same crap twice.”
And then when they all shake with laughter
I grab them.
July 28, 2014 by Reader's Connection
There will also be writing workshops and beer sampling and meditation this month. Our Adult Summer Reading Program, with pop-ups around town, continues into August.
Following the shared reading, a poem will be read. Refreshments will be eaten throughout the morning.
Anja Petrakopoulos, as always, will be your facilitator.
One of America’s most popular historians and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, McCullough has hit the historical jackpot. Travelers before the telephone era loved to write letters and journals, and McCullough has turned this avalanche of material into an entertaining chronicle of several dozen 19th-century Americans who went to Paris, an immense, supremely civilized city flowing with ideas, the arts, and elegance, where no one spit tobacco juice or defaced public property. They discovered beautiful clothing, delicious food, the art of dining (“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” wrote John Sanderson). Paris had not only pleasures but professional attractions as well. Artists such as Samuel F.B. Morse, Whistler, Sargent, and Cassatt came to train. At a time when American medical education was fairly primitive, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and other prospective physicians studied at the Sorbonne’s vast hospitals and lecture halls–with tuition free to foreigners. Authors from Cooper to Stowe, Twain, and James sometimes took up residence. McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris. — Publishers Weekly
And not only that: In keeping with the novel’s Indian setting, bring your yoga mat and participate in an invigorating 30-minute meditation. Sun King beer samples will be provided during the book talk and a writing workshop led by the Indiana Writers Center.
The clever Mitra brothers are inseparable even though Subhash is serious, cautious, and reliable, while Udayan is brash, impassioned, and rebellious. Both excel in their studies even though, thanks to Udayan, they get into mischief in their quiet, middle-class Calcutta enclave with its two adjacent ponds and water hyacinth-laced lowland, a gorgeously rendered landscape Lahiri uses to profound effect. In college, Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics, but while Subhash prepares to go to America to earn his PhD, Udayan experiences a life-altering political awakening. It’s the late 1960s, a time of international protest, and Udayan joins the Mao-inspired Naxalite movement, which demands justice for the poor. He also secretly marries self-reliant, scholarly Gauri. Subhash’s indoctrination into American life and Rhode Island’s seasons and seashore is bracing and mind-expanding, while Udayan’s descent into the Naxalite underground puts him in grave danger. — Booklist
In general terms, the novel is a staggering visit to a time and place when a monumental health crisis dominated the way people led their day-to-day lives. Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940s (a common setting for this author) experienced, as the war in Europe was looking better for the Allies, a scare as deadly as warfare. The city has been hit by an epidemic of polio. Of course, at that time, how the disease spread and its cure were unknown. The city is in a panic, with residents so suspicious of other individuals and ethnic groups that emotions quickly escalate into hostility and even rage. Our hero, and he proves truly heroic, is Bucky Canter, playground director in the Jewish neighborhood of Newark. As the summer progresses, Bucky sees more and more of his teenage charges succumb to the disease. When an opportunity presents itself to leave the city for work in a Catskills summer camp, Bucky is torn between personal safety and personal duty. What happens is heartbreaking, but the joy of having met Bucky redeems any residual sadness. — Booklist
Daemon is a trained fighter dog and is a favorite of the crowds who come to the Roman amphitheater to witness the bloody fights. He puts fear into every creature he meets until one day he turns against his handlers. After escaping his own upcoming execution, Daemon lives free and trails a man called “Jesus” until he finally meets him alone. – Publisher’s note
When Miriam’s fireman husband, Chauncey, dies while rescuing students from a school fire, Miriam feels like her life is over. How is she going to raise her three children all by herself? How will she survive without the love of her life? Luckily, Miriam’s sister-friend Emily and Emily’s husband, Jamal, are there to comfort her. Jamal and Chauncey grew up together and were best friends; Jamal and Emily know they will do all they can to support Miriam through her grief. Jamal steps in and helps Miriam with the funeral arrangements and with her children, plus he gives her hope that she has a future. But all the time that they spend together—grieving, sharing, and reminiscing—brings the two closer in ways they never planned. — Author’s website
This will be happening at New Day Craft (1102 Prospect Street).
Here’s a Library Journal review of the novel, written by IndyPL’s own Susanne Wells:
As a native Haitian, Danticat (Brother, I’m Dying) is known for taking an innate cultural understanding and mixing it with a spare, striking writing style, always with marvelous results. The setting for her latest is Ville Rose, a small coastal town in Haiti, where baby Claire is born as her mother dies in childbirth. The novel begins on Claire’s seventh birthday and then flows back in time, revisiting previous birthdays and their parallel events. In the village, life and death coexist in heartrending fashion, and the people live with the understanding that any one of them may be instantly and forever altered by natural forces, irrational acts, or simple circumstances. As Claire’s father, a poor fisherman, makes a difficult decision, personal histories converge and the village comes together both to mourn a death and to save a life. Throughout, everything seems to be driven by the mystical power of the sea, for which Claire is named. VERDICT A new offering from National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Danticat is always cause for celebration. She has the ability to conjure up the rarified air of Haiti as she manages to pull tightly at one’s heartstrings; this novel is no exception. Highly recommended. — Susanne Wells, Indianapolis
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart, a book by Carol Wall, will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, August 14th, at 1:30 p.m.
In this moving memoir chronicling the many lasting rewards garnered from an unexpected friendship, writer Wall enlists a neighbor’s gardener, a man from Kenya, to help her maintain her garden. What begins as a purely professional relationship, with Wall hoping to learn more about gardening, blossoms into an intimate friendship. Wall, a breast cancer patient, admits that, before she met Giles Owita, her outlook on life was less than sunny. Always an introvert and prone to social gaffes, Wall was dealing at the time with her parent’s decline. Slowly, over three years, Owita, a quiet and unassuming man, transforms Wall’s unkempt lawn into a living masterpiece, showing Wall the beauty inherent in everyday life . . . This tender narrative gently probes the complicated terrain of American race relations, dealing with serious illness and facing the death of loved ones. — Publishers Weekly
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is also available as a downloadable audiobook.
Author visit: At the Irvington Library on Thursday, August 14th, at 1:30 p.m., the Irvington Afternoon Book Discussion Group will join the American Villages Book Club to discuss the book, Affectionately Yours: The Civil War Home-Front: Letters Of The Ovid Butler Family by Barbara Butler Davis. The author will visit to share letters, photographs and family history, while also discussing the home front in Indianapolis through the lens of the Butlers.
This program is presented by Indiana Humanities and the ALA Making Sense of the Civil War, and is funded by a grant from Indiana Humanities.
Historical mystery buffs and Jane Austen fans alike will welcome this homage to the author of Pride and Prejudice from MWA Grand Master James, best known for her Adam Dalgliesh detective series. In the autumn of 1803, six years after the events that closed Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Darcy, the happily married mistress of Pemberley House, is preparing for Lady Anne’s annual ball, “regarded by the county as the most important social event of the year.” Alas, the evening before the ball, Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, who married the feckless Wickham, bursts into the house to announce that Captain Denny, a militia officer, has shot her husband dead in the woodland on the estate. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who purists may note behaves inconsistently with Austen’s original, head out in a chaise to investigate. Attentive readers will eagerly seek out clues to the delightfully complex mystery, which involves many hidden motives and dark secrets, not least of them in the august Darcy family. In contrast to Pride and Prejudice, where emotion is typically conveyed through indirect speech, characters are much more open about their feelings, giving a contemporary ring to James’s pleasing and agreeable sequel. — Publishers Weekly
On May 21, 1927, when Charles Lindbergh set off to be the first man to cross the Atlantic alone in an airplane, he profoundly changed the culture and commerce of America and its image abroad. Add to that Babe Ruth’s efforts to break the home-run record he set, Henry Ford’s retooling of the Model T into the Model A, the execution of accused anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, and Al Jolson appearing in the first talkie, and 1927 became the pivot point when the U.S. began to dominate the world in virtually everything–military, culture, commerce, and technology. Bryson’s inimitable wit and exuberance are on full display in this wide-ranging look at the major events in an exciting summer in America . . . Among the other events in a frenzied summer: record flooding of the Mississippi River and the ominous beginnings of the Great Depression. Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known. A glorious look at one summer in America. — Booklist
Following the discussion, participate in a writing activity led by the Indiana Writers Center and browse the IMA’s vast Asian Collection.
A detailed, grim portrait of daily life under the repressive North Korean dictatorship, where schoolchildren are taught to sing anthems in praise of their leader asserting that they “have nothing to envy in this world.`Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Demick bases her account on seven years of interviews with North Koreans who escaped to South Korea. She focuses on individuals whose stories began in the 1990s and continue to the present, including Mi-ran, a lower-class girl who became a teacher; Jun-sang, a university student who eventually got a glimpse of outside life through books, radio and television; Mrs. Song, a middle-aged true believer, and her defiant daughter Oak-hee; Dr. Kim, an idealistic female physician; and Kim Hyuck, an orphan boy surviving alone on the streets. Along with their personal stories, Demick includes background information on the Korean War and the dictatorships of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il . . . In one unforgettable scene, Dr. Kim, having crossed a river into China, sees that dogs in China eat better than human beings in North Korea . . . Demick shows the state of mind of each of her subjects, what their daily life was like, how they coped and eventually how each escaped. — Kirkus Reviews
Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, August 24th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
The theme for August is “Global” – It’s true that our Adult Summer Reading Program has been quite global, with titles reflecting life from all over the world. But the Portal global discussion will relate to science fiction and fantasy.
Before Sex and the City, Hollywood Wives and Desperate Housewives, there was Valley of the Dolls. First published in 1966, the tale of three young women who fight their way to fame and fortune while fighting their addiction to “dolls”—a euphemism for pills and drugs—Valley of the Dolls cemented Jacqueline Susann’s place in publishing and pop-culture history. Valley of the Dolls has sold more than 30 million copies, been turned into a feature film and been published in over 20 languages. Our three heroines—innocent Anne, sultry Jennifer and firecracker Neely find themselves in a bi-coastal saga of friendship and betrayal, ambition and rivalry, sex and drugs. It’s not too long before they discover the true price of fame. Sound familiar? With Hollywood’s young stars burning out before they even get a chance to start, Valley is more relevant today than ever before. Valley was the original. — jacquelinesusann.com
The month began with Nathaniel Hawthorne at Spades Park and will finish with Anne Sexton and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi at Spades Park.
The Spades Park Poetry Club will be meeting on Tuesday, August 26th, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., and poems by Sexton will be read and discussed.
Patrick Dugan, as always, will be your facilitator.
Ifemelu, the Nigerian expat and Princeton lecturer at the heart of this novel, writes biting, dead-on blog posts taking aim at the cultural schism between non-African blacks, Africans, and everyone else. She also observes her Auntie Uju turning herself inside out to attract a man as Ifemelu’s nephew silently accepts his mother’s aspirations. Whether Ifemelu is writing a treatise on how to care for black hair or a scathing take on American students earning extra credit for bombast, her opinions bring her money and acknowledgment. But one day, as she is complimented on her nurtured American accent, Ifemelu senses that she has lost her way. A parallel plotline follows Obinze, the man Ifemelu left behind in Lagos, who emigrated to London and longs for a life in America with her. Witty, wry, and observant, Adichie is a marvelous storyteller who writes passionately about the difficulty of assimilation and the love that binds a man, a woman, and their homeland. — Library Journal
July 24, 2014 by Reader's Connection
I finished reading Lauren Owen’s novel The Quick last night, and am scanning the first 100 pages, seeking clues about the events that come later. James Norbury, raised in the English countryside in the 19th century, moves to London, makes a friend named Christopher Paige, tries to write poetry, then a play.
And that’s all I can tell you about the story, right now. The notes on the dust jacket (and in our catalog) give some details about what goes on, but are in some ways secretive. And Lucy Lockley, a librarian in Missouri, was discreet when recommending the book on LibraryReads.
I think that’s great. I hate it when too much is revealed.
Why do you suppose blood is spelled the way it is? Shouldn’t it be spelled blud? Or, spelled the way it is, shouldn’t it be pronounced blued?
Don’t know why I brought that up. Sorry.
Siblings, and the forms that their love can take, are central to the novel. James has a sister Charlotte, who comes to London searching for him after they’ve lost contact. Christopher has a brother Eustace, who doesn’t want James around Christopher, and even threatens James. Two other important brothers, Edmund and Michael Bier, are members of the mysterious Aegolius Club. Their relationship is strained. I’ll leave it at that.
The Quick is also available as a downloadable audiobook, and I imagine that listening to this thing would be . . . excuse me, there’s blood coming out of my ear.
Ms. Lockley in Missouri persuaded me to request the book, but it was the cover blurbs that made me sure I wanted to read it. Novelist Hilary Mantel, for example, thinks that The Quick is “a sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre . . . As soon as you have breathed with relief, much worse horrors begin.”
I need some brandy. Enjoy the book.