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The ALL IN Irvington Pleasant Run FLOW, and a related book discussion.

July 13, 2015 by Reader's Connection

ell9On Sunday, August 9, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., there will be an event at the Irvington Pleasant Run Trail, Pleasant Run Parkway and Ellenberger Park.

It’s called the ALL IN Irvington Pleasant Run FLOW, and its purpose is to raise awareness of Pleasant Run waterway, celebrate the Pennsy Trail, and encourage community interconnection, cooperation and collaboration. Click here for more details.

And on Monday, August 3rd, at 6:30 p.m., in anticipation of the FLOW, the Irvington Library will host of discussion Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, which is a 2012 update of a 2002 book.

The Rise of the Creative Class, RevisitedAuthor Florida brings his book up to date to reflect recent trends in the growth of a new economic class made up of architects and engineers as well as writers, artists, musicians, educators, and innovators in business and law. Data and statistics demonstrate that rather than being driven by corporations or technology, economic growth occurs most in places that are tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity, because these are places where creative people of all types want to live for quality of life reasons. This edition integrates insights from the 2008 recession and the Occupy Movement and offers new chapters on the global spread of the creative class, the geography of inequality in the US, and the continuing influence of class as a force shaping the economy, politics, and health. A new final chapter presents six key principles for creating new institutions to rebuild our economy and society. — Book News Reviews

From an announcement about these programs: “FLOW is an example of creative placemaking, a collaborative effort to improve the quality, character or experience of a place.  Examples include festivals, community gardens, farmer’s markets, block parties and public art.”

And the announcement includes links to sites about creative placemaking:

If you were wondering, Irvington Library’s regular book discussion will take place on August 13th, and will feature Ellen Straub’s The Vacationers. It will be included when I do my blog post of August book discussions.


Has Glenn Betrayed His Family? A Detective Story.

July 9, 2015 by Reader's Connection

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Whoever you are, you fit into one of 4 categories:

1. You have read Lawrence Block’s novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, but you haven’t seen the movie.

2. You have seen the movie, A Walk Among the Tombstones, but you haven’t read the book.

3. You have done both. Book & movie. My personal category.

4. You have done neither. My blog post is addressed chiefly to those in this fourth category, and my message, of course, is Read the book first.

A personal story: Over the 4th of July weekend, at a family gathering, I saw a stack of DVDs that someone had rented. A Walk Among the Tombstones was on top of the stack, which made me go Wooo hooo.

I hadn’t seen the film in a theater last autumn, but I’d rented it from a Redbox earlier this year. The changed ending didn’t make me happy (detective Matthew Scudder is more of an action hero than he is in the book), and I had mixed feelings about the story’s being told partly from a point of view of other than Matt’s, which allows the filmmakers to dwell on unsavory elements. Members of categories 2 & 3 will know what I mean.

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse But I was glad the film had been made.

As revealed in at least one earlier blog post, I’m a Scudder fanatic. It’s true that while reading A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, an incredibly violent Scudder novel, I have thought to myself I wouldn’t want to watch a movie of this. But the attempt to film Tombstones was worth the effort. Liam Neeson is a fine Matthew Scudder. Dan Stevens, whom you may or may not recognize as the fellow who played another Matthew on Downton Abbey, is a interesting surprise as a New York drug trafficker who hires Scudder to find his wife’s kidnappers.


Eight Million Ways to DieI like it that the movie is set in New York, and–if IMDb is correctat least some of its exteriors were shot there. A movie was once made of the Scudder novel Eight Million Ways to Die, but they moved the story to Los Angeles, which was preposterous. Sorry to complain about that again.

Back to my 4th of July story. I did not tell my brothers and sisters “You’re all going to love this.” I did not say it was a great movie. I just said that I loved the books, and would be glad to watch the movie again. I warned them, at least twice, that the movie (like the book) was “nasty.”

My family nevertheless freaked out. After the first horrific moment and its subsequent groans and gasps, I said, “Hey, we should watch something else!” But it was too late. They were locked in to being freaked out, and voted against switching to Paddington, which we watched the next night.

So is my family partly to blame, since they chose to press on? It doesn’t matter. I felt guilty, and still do. I love these people, and I helped to lead them down a dark road for which they weren’t prepared with flashlights or flares. So to those of you in Category 4–whom I might love, too, if I knew you–I say again: Read the book first. Then, if you feel like it, check out the DVD.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is also available as an audiobook on CD.

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.

Although Eight Million Ways to Die is not available at the library as a DVD (Good riddance! Los Angeles? Hah!) it is available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.

Hey, wait. I posted this, yesterday, but I want to add a complaint about the movie. Not enough side characters. I like Brian “Astro” Bradley, who plays TJ, but where is Elaine Mardell, the prostitute who has become Matt’s girl friend? Jim Faber, Matt’s AA sponsor? Joe Durkin, the cop?


The Read Harder Challenge: Mid-Year Report

July 6, 2015 by Reader's Connection

• I am reading my way through Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge, as created by Rachel Manwill. I doubled the requirement, so the goal for the year is 48 books.
• 28 down, 20 to go.
• With the doubling, I’ve decided to change a rule: Rereads are to be avoided, but they’re allowed on my chart if the reading is compulsive, and as long as one of the books in each category is a first time read.


The Red Window, by Adrian Stasiak

  • Whenever I’ve read the required 2 books for any category, I am stamping that slot withThe Red Window.

• Another change: If I have 3 first-time reads in one category (as I will in translated books) I can get away with just one in another category. (Maybe self-help?)

A book written by someone when he or she was under the age of 25
A book written by someone when he or she was over the age of 65 John Barth’s novel Every Third Thought. I may not blog about it, though. Didn’t enjoy it much.
A collection of short stories Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link
A book published by an indie press Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen, published by Graywolf Press Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner, published by Tupelo Press redwindow_thumb
A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín James Merrill, Life and Art by Langdon Hammer redwindow_thumb
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto A compulsive re-read. In the Freud Archives, by Janet Malcolm Another compulsive re-read. redwindow_thumb
A book that takes place in Asia The Kite Runner & And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Yes, I know, the characters move around, not everything happens in Afghanistan. But I say: these characters all take Afghanistan with them. redwindow_thumb
A book by an author from Africa The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu.
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture Forty Days Without Shadow, by Olivier Truc, about the Sami of Sápmi
A microhistory Stay : A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It Microhistories don’t have to be about little things like salt and pepper shakers.
A YA novel The Hybrid Chronicles, by Kat Zhang I had read the first of the trilogy, What’s Left of Me, a few years ago, and I knew I wanted to read the rest to meet the challenge. redwindow_thumb
An SF novel Frederik Pohl’s Gateway and Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, the first two books in his Heechee saga redwindow_thumb
A romance novel New Uses for Old Boyfriends, by Beth Kendrick Smoke and Fire, by Julie Cannon redwindow_thumb
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
A book that is a retelling of a classic story
An audiobook–but I’m unable to listen to audiobooks safely, so I’ve invented a new category: Read a magazine, cover to cover. The May 2015 issue of Poetry And then the June issue redwindow_thumb
A collection of poetry Who Said, by Jennifer Michael Hecht
A book that someone else has recommended to you Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton, recommended (more or less) in a poem by Ostriker’s wife.
A book that was originally published in another language Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, trans. from the Italian by William Weaver
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, or a collection of comics of any kind Justice League 3000. Volume 1, Yesterday Lives
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book Felt guilty because I didn’t think I’d get a blog post out of it. Eventually blogged about it, but the guilt was while I was reading.
A book published before 1850
A book published this year
A self-improvement book I had left this one out, and Chris kindly commented, and I shamefacedly responded.

The Red Window appears, as always, courtesy of Adrian Stasiak.


What have Meryl an’ Tom an’ James Merrill in common?

July 2, 2015 by Reader's Connection

tommymermerThat’s a poem, see?

What have Meryl
an’ Tom an’
James Merrill
in common?

It’s also the worst title I’ve ever invented for a blog post, but I was afraid to call it, “Here’s a wonderful 800-page biography of a poet I like. Listen up.”

So what do Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Merrill have in common?


Hope Springs


Stonington Borough, Connecticut, that’s what.

Many of the outdoor shots for the film Hope Springs, in which Streep and Jones appear–and which were supposedly set in the Maine town of that name, to which they go for marriage counseling–were  actually filmed in Stonington.

Local newspapers were interested in what was filmed where.





107 Water Street, Stonington, August 2013.

And it was in this house on Water Street in Stonington that James Merrill (1926-1995) and his companion David Jackson lived off-and-on from 1955 to the ends of their lives. It was here that they began consulting their “familiar spirit” Ephraim on a Ouija board, a consultation which resulted in some of the 20th century’s weirdest poetry.


James Merrill: Life and ArtLangdon Hammer’s new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art, does a wonderful job of telling the poet’s story. We learn, or learn in more detail, that:

• Merrill was the son of Charles Merrill, the co-founder of Merrill Lynch. The poet’s wealth allowed him to travel, to live here and there—in Athens and Key West, as well as Stonington and NYC—and to take his time working toward the kind of poetry he wanted to write.

• His parents divorced when he was just getting into his teens, and it messed him up for life.

• He didn’t have much use for the “confessional” poetry that was becoming popular as he was beginning his career, or for “beat” poets like Allen Ginsberg; and he felt that T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound had been too “impersonal, oracular.”

• Some of Merrill’s early work was attacked as being too elegant, and lacking an emotional, real-world base. The charge of being an overly elegant rich boy never quite went away, but he learned to fuse his emotions and perceptions with an incredible range of styles–to use what he thought of as a poetic human voice.

Of course you readers already know
Your blogger’s brow is terribly low.
I didn’t pay Merrill much attention
‘Til his poems entered the Ouija dimension.

Divine Comedies

There wasn’t any particular reason for me to buy a copy of Merrill’s 1976 collection Divine Comedies. I don’t think I knew about the Ouija board carry-on.

But I was enthralled by the book’s longest poem, “The Book of Ephraim,” in which that familiar spirit tells JM and DJ how the world works. We are all representatives of disincarnate patrons. We have been incarnated many times. There are different levels of incarnation.

And so on. Such a description doesn’t let let you know how the different sections of the poem work together, or why Harold Bloom would have called the poem an “occult splendor.” After reading it a few times, I went back and read some earlier Merrill; and I’m thankful to Langdon Hammer for leading me to some poems,early and late, that I hadn’t read.



The Changing Light at Sandover

In addition to reading and enjoying earlier Merrill poems, I also–for better or worse–bought a copy of The Changing Light at Sandover. This book brings “The Book of Ephraim” together with two Ouija-inspired poems that are much longer and were books in themselves: Mirabell: Books of Number and Scripts for the Pageant. Ephraim takes a back seat in these books, while invisible bat-like spirits rattle on about the lost city of Atlantis and a cosmic eugenics program. These longer books have their moments, but I don’t think I’ll ever reread them, the way I reread “The Book of Ephraim.”

Langdon Hammer gives a wonderful account of their composition, though; and I was glad that he highlighted the wallpaper talk at the beginning of Mirabell, which always makes smile when I think of it.

Gay Liberation was the necessary condition for this convincing description of [Merrill and Jackson’s] “gay marriage.” Whatever else it might be, Mirabell is a document from the post-Stonewall era in the struggle for gay rights . . .
The openness of Mirabell has less to do with gay sex, however, than with gay talk. The language of the bats is so weird and arresting, we might overlook another stylistic innovation in the poem: the explosion in verse of the camp idiom Merrill used with gay friends . . . Camp had been a poetic resource for Merrill for years. But he’d never before given such free reign to languour, gossip, and hilarity, and this in the context of his most elevated, manifestly serious work. The long poem begins by turning the solemn conventions of epic beginning inside out: “O very well, then. Let us broach the matter/Of the new wallpaper in Stonington.” Putting interior decoration in the first lines of the poem in a breezy parody of the fey homosexual’s supposedly trivial concerns, Merrill honors another gay male writer by subtle allusion to the opening of E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End (“One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.”) The epic drama of Mirabell begins in a gay couple’s parlor, where the serious is felt as frivolous and only the frivolous can be taken seriously–the first rule of camp.


James Merrill: Selected Poems
The library’s copy of Merrill’s Collected Poems seems to have been reincarnated on another level, but if Langdon Hammer inspires you to read more Merrill, we do own James Merrill: Selected Poems. We also have his Collected Prose.







From the First Nine: Poems, 1946-1976



Hammer sometimes mentions a poem that isn’t included in Selected Poems. When that happens, have a look at an earlier collection, From the First Nine: Poems, 1946-1976.

The library also has a CD of Merrill reading his poems, in the Voice of the Poet series, and I love it.





A Different PersonIf you’re encountering Merrill for the first time, if you’re thinking of reading this biography, do you require a warning about Merrill’s sex life?

I was thinking of passing the buck and saying that author Frederick Buechner, Merrill’s friend from school days, was appalled when he read Merrill’s memoir A Different Person (1993). I read only a part of that memoir when it came out, and may not have reached the appalling parts.

But I have to say that while reading Hammer’s biography I was troubled by the ways that Merrill’s wealth allows him to maneuver in his relations with Greek guys of a different economic/educational/aspirational class. Hammer is sometimes troubled, too.

Enough of that. You’ve been warned. If you’re interested in Merrill at all, this is a glorious biography.

I was going to wrap this up with a poem that brought Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones and James Merrill and David Jackson back together in Stonington; but it didn’t work out. You can breathe easy.

The three images that aren’t cover art are all from Wikimedia Commons. Not sure if I’m supposed to add:
Meryl Streep: Andreas Tai.
Tommy Lee Jones: gdcgraphics.
The Water Street house: Creative Commons, which I think also applies to the other two.


LibraryReads July 2015

June 29, 2015 by Reader's Connection



Once again, this year, the colors on our LibraryReads map have nothing to do with red state/blue state designations. They are simply a Fourth-of-July way of saluting the librarians whose reviews of new books appear this month.

Have a wonderful Independence Day.


Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel


This novel is quirky and colorful. The story revolves around chef Eva Thorvald and the people who influence her life and her cooking. With well-drawn characters and mouthwatering descriptions of meals, Kitchens of the Great Midwest will appeal to readers who like vivid storytelling. Foodies will also enjoy this delicious tale. — Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ





Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

Those Girls


Those Girls follows the lives of the Campbell sisters. After running away from their alcoholic father, they find themselves caught in a worse situation when they are kidnapped. As events spiral out of control, they manage to escape and create new lives. This is a tale that will captivate readers and show just how strong the bond between family members can be. — Annice Sevett, Willmar Public Library, Willmar, MN





Kiss Me by Susan Mallery

Kiss Me


As always, Ms. Mallery has given us a fantastic read. As soon as I pick up her titles, I can’t put them down until I have finished them. They are feel-good, heartwarming — I need more synonyms. I love seeing all the previous characters, the friendships and families that have formed since Chasing Perfect came out five years ago. Thanks, Ms. Mallery, for another amazing read. — Jenelle Klavenga, Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, IA




Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis

Second Chance Summer


I loved this book, a perfect start to the newest series by Jill Shalvis. It contains the same humor, heart and heat that we’ve come to expect from this author. It should be on every romance reader’s summer reading list. — Carole Tossman, Howard County Library System, Columbia, MD







Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Speaking in Bones


This book lives up to the expectations we have for Kathy Reichs. A compelling and dangerous mystery, lots of medical details, and good characterization make this a title that will be easy to recommend! — Leslie Johnson, Jefferson County Public Library, Lakewood, CO







Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun


I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended. — Halle Eisenman, Beaufort County Library, Hilton Head, SC





Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Maybe in Another Life


Hannah Martin has just moved back to LA after ending a relationship. Her best friend, Gabby, takes her out to a bar on her first night home. Enter Ethan, the One Who Got Away, and suddenly, Hannah has to decide if she’ll leave with Ethan or Gabby. We follow Hannah after choosing both options, alternating chapters to explore the consequences of each. A must for anyone who loves a hankie with their books! — Tracy Babiasz, Chapel Hill Public Library, Chapel Hill, NC




Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart


Crooked Heart is a rewarding, addictive read. Orphaned ten-year-old bookworm Noel, sent away to rural St. Albans, finds himself under the reluctant guardianship of Vee, aka Mrs. Vera Sledge. Amidst a chaotic background of bombings and uncertain futures, Vee and Noel gradually form a powerful bond. I recommend this darkly humorous, honest, and complex story. It is book club heaven. — Janet Schneider, Oceanside Library, Oceanside, NY




Love Lies Beneath by Ellen Hopkins

Love Lies Beneath


An intriguing tale of sex, romance and deception. Tara is a brilliant, sexy forty-something. She’s enjoying being single until Cavin, a handsome doctor, enters her exam room. They have a hot and steamy romance but there is much, much more to this story. Ellen Hopkins commands each word on the page from her prose to verse. — Laura Hartwig, Meriden Public Library, Meriden, CT





Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day

Wow! This is a great looking book. Great for beginners with its details about ingredients and kitchen tools. Best of all, each recipe is made from ingredients that most everyone has; there were only two ingredients in the whole book that I don’t own. This book is just what my doctor ordered, literally. I am a basic cook and like simple and tasty. This book is OUTSTANDING! — Nancy Chalk, Charlton Public Library, Charlton, MA