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Read Around Central: Marcus Aurelius

March 16, 2015 by Reader's Connection


Librarian Sherry Utterback makes the third stop on her tour of the authors whose names are engraved at Central Library: Marcus Aurelius 

The Meditations“Live each day as if it was your last.”
If this sound familiar, then you know the next author on our list, Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius (April 20, 121 – March 17, 180) is a study in contrasts. He is known to history as the last of the “five good emperors”, and at the same time, he is considered to be one of the most important Stoic philosophers. If you are unfamiliar with Stoicism, Webster defines it as: accepting what happens without complaint or showing emotion. Gee, isn’t it nice that he could live in a fancy palace, eat the best food, and wield incredible power without complaining?

Marcus Aurelius came from a prominent Roman family; prominent as in his paternal grandfather had been a Senator. With this heritage, Marcus wa expected to enter politics, and his upbringing groomed him for this life. As Marcus did enter politics, he was conflicted about it, as he really wanted to be a Stoic philosopher. He did make peace with the office, convinced that he could embrace both the role of emperor and the beliefs of Stoicism. In this he was correct, and during his rule (161-180), he wrote The Meditations, which is still considered a masterpiece of Stoic philosophy. In the spirit of overachieving, he wrote Meditations while on campaign…in Greek! Don’t you hate show-offs?

The empire that Marcus Aurelius’ ruled was huge: Rome controlled an area from Britain in the west to the Saudi desert in the east. All land bordering the Mediterranean Sea was Roman, and the Romans called that body of water “our sea”. Marcus ruled between 70 and 80 million people, or one fifth of the world’s population. His reign came at the peak of the Roman Empire’s influence, and even with the Senate around, the Emperor had incredible power. With all of the power and prestige that was at his command, it is easy to understand why Marcus Aurelius wondered if he could be both Stoic and Emperor.

I chose to download the audiobook of The Meditations, narrated by Wanda Mc Caddon. While I found no credit for translation, the reading is shot full of thees, thous, goests, and hasts. Thanks to reading the King James Version of the Bible in my younger days, I’m bilingual, and managed the language pretty well. When I started the book, I was prepared to not care for it, in keeping with my view of philosophy in general. However, as a very nice surprise, I found that I really enjoyed the book. After I had turned off the recording, I continued to consider some of what I heard, which is the sign of a good book, at least for me. I think that the ideas are expressed and illustrated well, and the tone of the book is very down to earth. I was surprised to learn that Marcus Aurelius did not intend for his work to be published, but wrote it for himself. It is this fact that sets the tone of the book, Marcus talked to himself, reminding himself of what he considered important by recording his thoughts, the ideas that he used to guide his life.

What I found most attractive in the writing is that Marcus Aurelius starts the volume with a list of those he thanks for teaching him certain qualities or beliefs that made him the man he became: in other words, he thanks the ones who ultimately taught him humility.

Another unexpected nice touch is that Marcus found much to admire in the beauty of nature and the simplicity of the everyday. He mentions the beauty in the baking of bread and the way the top crust cracks, the furrowed brow of a lion, the flecks of foam on the snout of a boar. In my usual quirky way, I had to wonder how close he got to those last two to admire them.

In conclusion, I am very happy that I took the opportunity to read The Meditations. It is a very thought- provoking book, and one I will remember for a very long time.


IUPUI starts getting ready for Spirit & Place: Michelle Herman to appear April 2nd

March 15, 2015 by Reader's Connection

I don’t imagine that IUPUI really had Spirit & Place in mind when they invited Michelle Herman to appear as part of this spring’s Rufus and Louise Reiberg Reading Series. But S&P’s theme for 2015 is “Dream,” and that popped into my head when I was reading the review of Stories We Tell Ourselves.

Since publishing that book, she has published a guide for girls and a book of essays about music.


Michelle Herman
Thursday, April 2, 7:30 p.m.
University Library Lilly Auditorium
755 West Michigan Street


Stories We Tell Ourselves: “Dream Life” and “Seeing Things” (2013)

Stories We Tell Ourselves: This slim volume includes two extended essays, incisive and conversational, that have plenty of connections between them. Both “Dream Life” and “Seeing Things” were previously published in different form, but they complement each other as if they were two sides of the coin of the unconscious, the former focusing on dreams and how they work and what they mean, the latter illuminating a rare (or is it?) perception disorder that serves as a more general metaphor . . . her opinions are often revelatory and help her overcome the challenge that is central to the first and longer essay, that “nobody wants to hear anybody else’s dreams; everyone wants to tell his dreams to somebody.” So even as readers are threatened with drowning in details about the author’s dream of her grandmother, such specifics lead to the universal understanding that “understanding one’s dreams is more like reading Wallace Stevens—or looking at a painting of Mark Rothko’s—than it is like the one-to-one correlation…of translation. To make ‘sense’ of our dreams, we don’t interpret them so much as we feel our way through them.” The second essay proceeds from the way her daughter occasionally sees things (and her mother in particular) as much smaller or larger than they really are. What initially seems rare, even unique, turns out to be surprisingly common, as so many with whom they share this experience say that they, too, have had it and thought they were the only one. It even has a name: “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.” Eventually, the author realizes that there are “no experts when it comes to the way our minds work. It turns out that your guess really is as good as mine—or as good as a neurobiologist’s.” An engaging companion offers a spirit of shared humanity. — Kirkus Reviews


A Girl’s Guide to Life (2014)

A Girl's Guide to LifeThis life guide and memoir from Herman (Stories We Tell Ourselves, 2013, etc.) aims a set of life-rules at 7- to 11-year-old girls, along with stories that show these values in action. The author originally wrote the guide at the request of her then-8-year-old daughter, Grace, who wanted a book of advice like the ones that Marmee gives the March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. Years later, Herman’s daughter rediscovered the guide, which served as the basis of this book . . . Herman’s advice becomes more nuanced as the chapters progress, beginning with a section that distills the golden rule’s fundamental requirement: empathy. A later section illustrates the importance of expressing all types of feelings, even if they aren’t positive ones. Herman allows room for girls to experience a range of emotions, rather than confining them to “good and happy” feelings. In other chapters, the author depicts situations that girls may find tough to navigate, using honest phrasing that shows compassion and restraint (“If people are angry with you…for saying “no” to something that’s bad for you, then these are people you will not enjoy having in your life”). She pairs the tidbits of advice with black-and-white illustrations, drawn by her husband, which show women of all ages at work, play and home, in both solitude and sisterhood. The book closes with some prescient tips on finding love, aimed at girls who are likely still in the awkward, crush phase of adolescence, yet on the cusp of dating. It provides young women with an adult perspective, even if, at times, it feels oversimplified. Overall, however, Herman’s book may help to ease readers into their teenage years, at a time when they want to be both independent and nurtured. — Kirkus Reviews


Like a Song


Like a Song (2015)

LIKE A SONG presents six essays by Michelle Herman, each connected through music and ranging from community choruses and musical theater to the science of singing, as well as subjects Michelle is well-known for: friendship, family and home. – Publisher’s note




All readings in this series are free and open to the public. Visitor parking is available in the North Street Garage, 819 W. North St. and the Vermont Street Garage, 1004 W. Vermont Street. For parking information on the IUPUI campus, visit For more information about the series, contact Terry Kirts at (317) 274-8929 or


Khaled Hosseini interviewed

March 13, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Prior to delivering the 38th Marion McFadden Lecture on March 6th, which was a interview moderated by Matthew Tully, author Khaled Hosseini was interviewed by IndyPL’s Jon Barnes.

Click on Hosseini’s picture to hear the interview.


The Big Read: The book discussions, the author visit, the documentary, the lunches.

March 11, 2015 by Reader's Connection

What is The Big Read?

From March 11th through April 30th, you are encouraged to read Dinaw Mengestu’s novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. There will be discussions of the book, led by expert discussion guides from the Indiana Writers Center, throughout March and April at libraries and other pop-up locations.

Click on the above (incomplete) conglomeration of discussion sites for a schedule of discussions.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts. Book discussion kits will be available for pick-up from library locations for book groups who want to read and discuss The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

Where are readers supposed to get the book?

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Free copies became available at all library branches beginning Wednesday, March 11th. And more library copies, books you can check out, are on order.

You can click on the picture of incoming copies to make a request.

Where did Mengestu get his title?

InfernoThe title comes from near the end of Dante”s Inferno. Dante and his guide Virgil are leaving Hell, and he tells us that “Through a round aperture I saw appear some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears, where we came forth and once more saw the stars.”

Sepha Stephanos, the narrator of The Beautiful Things, survived the hell of the Red Terror (1977-1978) in Ethiopia. He has come to the United States, and lives in Washington, D.C. but a glimpse of beautiful things is all that is afforded Sepha and his immigrant friends.

Why doesn’t Sepha try harder with his store?

That’s an excellent discussion question. Sepha operates a run-down little market on Logan Circle in D.C., an area which, as the story is being told, is beginning to undergo gentrification.

(Click on the statue of General Logan for a word from the Big Read website about that gentrification, which has continued.)

The novel hops back and forth between the recent past–when Sepha began a relationship with Judith, a white woman who had moved into the neighborhood, and Naomi, her biracial daughter–and the present, after Judith and Naomi have left, and Sepha has the blues. Even when he is at his happiest, though, when he is delightedly reading a book with Naomi in the store, he doesn’t take good care of his customers. Has he ever really tried to make a go of the store?

Revolution, immigration, gentrification, the different ways that the past holds on to the present. All of these and more in The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, which is also available as a downloadable e-book and an audiobook on CD.

What was that about an author visit and a documentary and lunches?


Click on the flag of Ethiopia for a list of Big Read activities.

Does the library own any other Big Reads introductions to books?


It does. Click on the Big Read poster for my earlier blog post about The Big Read in general.

The picture of the General Logan statue is from Wikimedia Commons.


Let’s double the Read Harder Challenge!

March 9, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Back in January, I accepted the Read Harder Challenge that had been issued by Rachel Manwill at Book Riot. (Click on their graphic to read about that.) I’ve decided now (and I already know it’s a terrible decision) to double the challenge. There are only 24 categories, here, so I really ought to try to read two books in each category, for a total of 48 reads in 2015.


The Red Window, by Adrian StasiakWhenever I’ve read the required 2 books for any category, that slot will be stamped with The Red Window. I need to hustle.
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 I may just lie with this one. If an author was up in her/his fifties, I may go with it. Lots of authors don’t write their best stuff in their later years. (Forget I said that. Found a book.)
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 I’m making changes in my reading life, to help me deal with the challenge. I had picked another novel by Tóibín, but opted for this one because it was 85 pages long. A wonderful book, though.
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss
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
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
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 I already know that I’m going to twist this one.
An audiobook Hello? Doesn’t everyone understand that listening to a book while driving is just as dangerous as texting while driving? I don’t have hard data to back that up, just personal near-accident experience. I’ll listen to my audiobooks while washing dishes.
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
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 I can’t stop reading Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book, by Sonu Shamdasani and the late James Hillman, even though I’m afraid I won’t get a blog post out of it. Reading something unbloggable is totally against my work ethic. Janet Malcolm’s In the Freud Archives was just as compulsive a reading experience. I think I might work it into a blog post, but I had read it before, a long time ago, so it doesn’t belong on this challenge list at all. Mea culpa. redwindow_thumb
A book published before 1850
A book published this year Phooey. Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline, which I’m reading, is copyrighted 2014. Thought it was 2015. Back into the request queue with that one.
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.