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The Big House

August 28, 2014 by Reader's Connection

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer HomeSummer is winding down–or has totally vamoosed, if we’re talking school years–but I just finished reading George Howe Colt’s book The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, and I was so wrapped up in it that that I was moved by the Acknowledgments, for heaven’s sake, in which the author thanks, among others, members of his family.

His gratitude is appropriate. This story of a sprawling Cape Cod house is also a Bostonian family’s story.

I am only one of the many people who have thought of the Big House as home. It has been a gathering place for my family for five generations. The house has watched over five weddings, four divorces, three deaths, several nervous breakdowns, an untold number of conceptions, and countless birthdays, anniversaries and love affairs. My aunts, uncles and cousins have crisscrossed the country, moving from job to job and winter home to winter home, but they have always come back.

There are sailing stories, tennis stories, love-crush stories, stories of the aforementioned breakdowns, and the history not only of this particular house but of Cape Cod in general. I was delighted to learn that the future of Cape Cod as a resort was first predicted by Henry David Thoreau.

In 1849, the notion of voluntarily traveling to Cape Cod to see the ocean–without planning to fish, build a ship, go whaling, or scavenge a wreck–would not have occurred to anyone except, perhaps, a man who had spent two years gazing into a small, dark pond.

But the beloved Big House is endangered. The scattered family can no longer afford to keep it.

We were, as the caption for a recent William Hamilton cartoon put it, “Old Money without the money.” . . . In fact, it is not wealth so much as former wealth that defines Old Money families, and is most central to people’s perception of social class, according to Nelson Aldrich, himself a Rockefeller heir. “Once the wealth has been there, for perception, it needn’t go on being there,” he writes. “Indeed, it must not go on being there; it must retire discreetly behind the veil of time and disappear like the Cheshire cat, leaving a smile.”

Much of this book is spent on what the author believes will be his last visit, with his wife and their kids, to the Big House; and as I readied myself to say farewell to summer, this was the perfect read.

The Big House is also available in large print.


LibraryReads September 2014

August 25, 2014 by Reader's Connection

One of our own librarians reviewed a September title, but it would be unprofessional for me to get excited, so I’m not going to name the librarian or her branch.

Here’s my usual LibraryReads map, highlighting states that contributed this month’s reviews. Oh, wait . . . wait . . . what is happening here? . . .


I shouldn’t have tried to repress my excitement. An image has burst forth from my Deep Wayne-Unconscious and taken over the map.

Cathy Scheib at the Wayne Library wrote one of the reviews. Congrats to Cathy. (Click on the map for views of the dear departed Wayne fence mural, which still stands in my psyche.)

Here are this month’s reviews.


Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory


Part memoir, part exposé of the death industry, and part instruction manual for aspiring morticians. First-time author Doughty has written an attention-grabbing book that is sure to start some provocative discussions. Fans of Mary Roach’s Stiff and anyone who enjoys an honest, well-written autobiography will appreciate this quirky story. — Patty Falconer, Hampstead Public Library, Hampstead, NH




Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

An actor playing King Lear dies onstage just before a cataclysmic event changes the future of everyone on Earth. What will be valued and what will be discarded? Will art have a place in a world that has lost so much? What will make life worth living? These are just some of the issues explored in this beautifully written dystopian novel. Recommended for fans of David Mitchell, John Scalzi and Kate Atkinson. — Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC




The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place


French has broken my heart yet again with her fifth novel, which examines the ways in which teenagers and adults can be wily, calculating, and backstabbing, even with their friends. The tension-filled flashback narratives, relating to a murder investigation in suburban Dublin, will keep you turning pages late into the night. — Alison McCarty, Nassau County Public Library System, Callahan, FL





The Distance by Helen Giltrow

The Distance


Imagine a modern-day Robin Hood who deals not in money, but identity. Karla, the protagonist of The Distance, is a tech guru with a conscience, and the security of several nations dependent on her. This nuanced book kept me on the edge of my seat. I cannot wait until the next one comes out. — Cathy Scheib, Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, IN






Rooms by Lauren Oliver



A family comes to terms with their estranged father’s death in Oliver’s first novel for adults. Told from the perspective of two ghosts living in the old house, this unique story weaves characters and explores their various past connections. Great book! — Rachel Fewell, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO






The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children Act


Judge Fiona Maye is at a difficult point in her marriage. Taking refuge in addressing other people’s problems in family court, Fiona extends herself more than usual, meeting a boy whose future is in her hands. McEwan is a masterful observer of human distress. With a simple story and flawed, genuine characters, this novel is poignant and insightful. — Jennifer Alexander, St. Louis County Library, St. Louis, MO





The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests


You can almost bet that a situation with long-term guests–paying or not–is not going to turn out well. This novel by Waters, who many know from her earlier books Tipping the Velvet and The Little Stranger, will keep you turning the page to see just how tense things can get, and how far fear and passion can push someone. — Elizabeth Angelastro, Manlius Library, Manlius, NY





The Witch with No Name by Kim Harrison

The Witch with No Name


In this book, Harrison ends her long-running Hollows series, featuring witch Rachel Morgan, vampire Ivy, and pixy Jenks. Rachel’s come a long way; now, she and her friends attempt the impossible and face their toughest battle yet. Harrison skillfully wraps up many plot points, leaving readers sad that the series is over but satisfied by its ending. Fans will surely cheer Rachel on and shed a tear or two. — Ilene Lefkowitz, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ




Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Season of Storms

Once again, Kearsley introduces you to a cast of characters who will quickly hold a special place in your heart. Celia and Alex mirror lovers from decades past, sharing similar secrets and passions. Flashbacks are woven seamlessly into the storyline, and the strong family component is handled beautifully, with surprising twists and turns. — Marianne Colton, Lockport Public Library, Lockport, NY






Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix


You know how some horror movies would work better as novels? Horrorstör is that book, perfectly capturing everything that is terrific about the horror genre. In its catalog-style pages, you’ll find a hefty dose of satire, as a Scandinavian furniture store is transformed overnight into a prison. With characters that you’re rooting for and terror that creeps up on you, Horrorstör will keep you up all night in the best possible way. — Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH



Librarians anywhere who want to contribute to LibraryReads can click here to learn more.


Book Discussions at the Library September 2014

August 21, 2014 by Reader's Connection

A memoir by an African-American scholar, another by a stroke victim, another by a wanderer on the Pacific Crest Trail; plus cookbooks, novels, short stories, poems, a biography of a 1930′s child star, and a book about how great librarians are. (I’m printing the whole lengthy Kirkus review of that one, sorry if it goes on too long for you.) And an author visit at Franklin Road.


Colored People: A Memoir by Henry Louis Gates, will be discussed at the Central Library on Tuesday, September 2nd at 6:00 p.m.

Colored People: A Memoir

The man touted as America’s most celebrated black scholar reminisces to his daughters about his boyhood in the polluted, dying Allegheny Mountains’ papermill town of Piedmont, West Virginia. Laying out the social and emotional topography of a world shifting from segregation to integration and from colored to Negro to black, Gates evokes a bygone time and place as he moves from his birth in 1949 to 1969, when he goes off to Yale University after a year at West Virginia’s Potomac State College. His pensive and sometimes wistful narrative brims with the mysteries and pangs and lifelong aches of growing up, from his encounters with sexuality, to the discovery of intellectual exhilaration as he is marked to excel in school, to his suffering a crippling injury to one of his legs and struggling frightfully for his father’s respect. There is much to recommend this book as a story of boyhood, family, segregation, the pre-Civil Rights era, and the era when Civil Rights filtered down from television to local reality. — Library Journal

Colored People is also available as a downloadable e-book.


Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, September 4th at 10:30 a.m.

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

A spirited exploration of libraries’ evolution from fusty brick-and-mortar institutions to fluid virtual environments. Former Redbook and Outside editor Johnson writes that a librarian attempts to create “order out of the confusion of the past, even as she enables us to blast into the future.” General readers will be surprised by most of her tidbits of information–e.g., about a third of all the profession’s U.S. graduate programs have dropped the word “library” from degree names, preferring cutting-edge locutions such as “information science.” Johnson provides worthwhile profiles of a variety of librarians/archivists, including a Catholic “cyber-missionary” who trains students from developing nations to fight injustice at home using the Internet; an archivist of boxing; and a children’s librarian known to her Facebook group as the “Tattooed Librarian.” These professionals stay ahead of trends, challenge the FBI for using the Patriot Act as a pretext to examine patron records, battle vigorously in the blogosphere and indulge their creativity and fantasies through digital avatars on sites such as Second Life. In her admirable desire to discard the Marian-the-Librarian stereotype, however, Johnson seems bent on creating another: the librarian as ironic, radical, sexy and, above all, edgy. Business and financial librarians, for instance, while every bit as tech-savvy as the public and academic librarians she profiles, are nowhere in evidence, perhaps because they are not engaged in “increasingly activist and visionary forms of library work.” For those curious about how librarians are coping amid budget crunches, Johnson gives insufficient attention to how well they are convincing taxpayers and lawmakers who mistakenly believe that users armed with Internet access don’t need gatekeepers to find information. In a time of unprecedented challenges, librarians will be delighted that someone values, even celebrates, their continued relevancy–but they may wish for a journalist who assesses their contributions with more cool than cheerleading. — Kirkus Reviews

This Book Is Overdue! is also available as a downloadable audiobook and an audiobook on CD.



The Scarlet Letter


The Shared Reading Group at Spades Park Library will continue to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter on all September Fridays: the 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th–from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

Anja Petrakopoulos will facilitate the reading and discussion. The refreshments will be generous and varied.






All Indianapolis Public Library locations with be closed on Sunday, August 31 and Monday, September 1 in observance of Labor Day, except for the InfoZone which will be open each day from 10am – 5pm.

I’m pasting that announcement in here to explain why the Wayne Library‘s First Monday Book Club will be meeting on the second Monday this month. On September 8th, at 6:30, their featured title will be Mirage, by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul.


In this rousing ninth Oregon Files adventure (after 2011′s The Jungle) from bestseller Cussler and Du Brul, series hero Juan Cabrillo’s attempt to rescue old pal Yuri Borodin from a super-max Siberian prison goes bad. Yuri dies after uttering “Tesla,” a reference to Nikola Tesla, the mysterious Serb who invented alternating-current electricity and who is alleged to have developed a number of secret weapons, including a death ray, an earthquake machine, and an invisibility field. Russian fleet admiral Pytor Kenin, “perhaps the second-most corrupt man on the planet,” has formed a private army and is using Tesla’s secret technology for nefarious purposes. A subplot involves an effort to secure a legendary shipping container with a billion dollars leftover from the second invasion of Iraq, but soon everyone is back to the main mission–trying to thwart Kenin. — Publishers Weekly

Mirage is also available as a downloadable e-book, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.


Grandmothers Incorporated, a novel by L. Barnett Evans and C. V. Rhodes, will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, September 8th at 6:30 p.m.

Grandmothers Incorporated

A delightful, quirky, clever, murder mystery — P. Morrison, Washington Times- Herald

A new mystery with three sixty-something widows as the detectives by choice will offer some delightful reading for just about anyone who enjoys fiction. — Dee Ann Ray – Clinton Daily News

These three sassy grandmothers turned Matlock incarnate broke the stereotype I had about “old people” Hilariously funny and witty, I would recommend this novel to anyone. Grandmothers, Inc. proves that age is truly nothing but a number. — Joy Farrington, Nubian Sistas Book Club


The Fountain Square Library will host a discussion of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima on Thursday, September 11th at 1:30 p.m.

Bless Me, Ultima

Stories filled with wonder and the haunting beauty of his culture have helped make Rudolfo Anaya the father of Chicano literature in English, and his tales fairly shimmer with the lyric richness of his prose. Acclaimed in both Spanish and English, Anaya is perhaps best loved for his classic bestseller … Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will test the bonds that tie him to his people, and discover himself in the pagan past, in his father’s wisdom, and in his mother’s Catholicism. And at each life turn there is Ultima, who delivered Tony into the world-and will nurture the birth of his soul. — Publisher’s note.

Bless Me, Ultima is also available as a downloadable e-book and an audiobook on CD.


On Thursday, September 11th at 1:30 p.m., four short stories will be discussed at the Irvington Library. Librarian Steve Bridge will serve as “guest discussion leader,” as he’s retiring in August. He’s going out with a discussion of stories that have meant a lot to him.

A Sound of Thunder and Other StoriesThree of them are by Ray Bradbury: “R Is for Rocket,” “The End of the Beginning,” and “The Sound of Summer Running.” They’re available in A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories, but they also appear in The Golden Apples of the Sun and Other Stories, which is also available as a downloadable audiobook and an audiobook on CD

Tales from the Perilous Realm


The fourth story to be discussed is J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Smith of Wootton Major,” which can be found in his Poems and Stories and in Tales from the Perilous Realm.



On Monday, September 15th, at Nora Library, readers from the Jordan YMCA will join library readers at 6:00 p.m. to discuss cooking basics.Chef Brad Nehrt, Culinary Arts Instructor at the J. Everett Light Career Center, will be the special guest.Pick one (or more) of the four cookbooks listed below, try a couple of the recipes, and bring a sample of your favorite one.

Please call 275-4470 to register for this event.

How to Cook Everything: The Basics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food by Mark Bittman

How to Cook Everything: The Basics is also available as a downloadable e-book.


The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen

The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby.



How to Cook Without a Book


How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson



The No Recipe Cookbook: A Beginner's Guide to the Art of Cooking


The No Recipe Cookbook: A Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Cooking by Susan Crowther


When You Come Home: The True Love Story of a Soldier's Heroism and His Wife's Sacrifice

Author Nancy Cavin Pitts will take part in the discussion of her book When You Come Home: The True Love Story of a Soldier’s Heroism and His Wife’s Sacrifice at the Franklin Road Library on Monday, September 15th at 6:30 p.m.

Daphne Cavin’s poignant story of love, loss and sacrifice was one of the most memorable I encountered in writing The Greatest Generation. Her daughter now completes the story with this very heartfelt book. – Tom Brokaw




On Monday, September 15th at 6:30 p.m., Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail will be discussed at the Pike Library .

Wild : From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Unsentimental memoir of the author’s three-month solo hike from California to Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail. Following the death of her mother, Strayed’s life quickly disintegrated. Family ties melted away; she divorced her husband and slipped into drug use. For the next four years life was a series of disappointments . . . While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became a vague apparition, then a goal. Woefully underprepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge (“the Bridge of the Gods”) crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed’s writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking. Along the way she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was “powerful and fundamental” and “truly hard and glorious.” Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her. Most of the hikers she met along the way were helpful, and she also encountered instances of trail magic, “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail.” A candid, inspiring narrative of the author’s brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self. — Kirkus Reviews

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.



The Lawrence Library is hosting a discussion of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey on Tuesday, September 16th at 10:15 a.m.

My Stroke of InsightOn the morning of December 10, 1996 Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain. A neuroanatomist by profession, she observed her own mind completely deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life, all within the space of four brief hours. As the damaged left side of her brain–the rational, grounded, detail and time-oriented side–swung in and out of function, Taylor alternated between two distinct and opposite realties: the euphoric nirvana of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace; and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized Jill was having a stroke, and enabled her to seek help before she was lost completely . . . Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. — Publisher’s note

My Stroke of Insight is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and an audiobook on CD.



John F. Kasson’s The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Wednesday, September 24th at 6:00 p.m.

The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America

Her image appeared in periodicals and advertisements roughly twenty times daily; she rivaled FDR and Edward VIII as the most photographed person in the world. Her portrait brightened the homes of countless admirers: from a black laborer’s cabin in South Carolina and young Andy Warhol’s house in Pittsburgh to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s recreation room in Washington, DC, and gangster “Bumpy” Johnson’s Harlem apartment. A few years later her smile cheered the secret bedchamber of Anne Frank in Amsterdam as young Anne hid from the Nazis.For four consecutive years Shirley Temple was the world’s box-office champion, a record never equaled . . . Distinguished cultural historian John F. Kasson shows how the most famous, adored, imitated, and commodified child in the world astonished movie goers, created a new international culture of celebrity, and revolutionized the role of children as consumers. — Publisher’s note

The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression is also available in large print.









Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, September 28th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

The theme for September is “451 Degrees.” This is all about fiction and science fiction works that have been banned or challenged.



David Baldacci’s novel One Summer will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, September 29th at 6:30 p.m.

One Summer

It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie’s death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie’s childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more. — Author’s website

One Summer is also available as a downloadable e-book and a a downloadable audiobook.



Hoops: Poems


The Spades Park Poetry Club meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 30th has been cancelled.








Butler Visiting Authors Series Fall 2014

August 18, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Jonathan Franzen and Kaui Hart Hemmings (author of The Descendants, on which the movie was based) and other prize-winning authors will be part of Butler University’s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series this fall.

If the author’s name is a live link here, it will take you to a list of their works available at IndyPL.


Tracy K. Smith
September 17, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

Life on Mars: Poems (2011)

Life on Mars: Poems

Hypnotic and brimming with irony, the poems in Smith’s latest [Pulitzer Prize-winning] volume aren’t so much about outer space as the interior life and the search for the divine. The first poem sets the direction, asking, “Is God being or pure force? The wind/ Or what commands it?” and there are strong religious overtones throughout. Poems bear titles like “The Savior Machine,” “Sacrament,” and “The Soul,” and whether the poet is alluding to Arthur C. Clark’s 2001 or memorializing her father, the whole feels reminiscent of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Smith, a Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner for The Body’s Question, works mostly in free verse, with a few terza rima and several sonnets mixed in, and her poems are grounded in everyday experiences like eating or walking on a street or in the woods. This soon leads to dreamlike states of consciousness in which the dead communicate with the living. Smith channels the voice of her deceased father, her unborn child, or people in the news who send postcards to those who killed them. VERDICT The spiritual motif running through these poems adds a stunning dimension that will please many readers. — Library Journal


Kaui Hart Hemmings
September 30, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

The Possibilities (2014)

The Possibilities

Three months after her 21-year-old son, Cully, is killed in an avalanche, Sarah St. John decides to go back to work. But her job as cohost of Fresh Tracks, a program that is piped into the hotel rooms of Breckenridge, Colorado, now seems inane. Added to that, when Sarah and her best friend, Suzanne, clean out Cully’s room, they find evidence that he was selling pot. More surprises about Cully come to light when a girl named Kit appears on Sarah’s doorstep. Soon it is revealed that Cully and Kit had a relationship, and Sarah and her father, Lyle, with whom she shares her house, are drawn to Kit because she seems to make Cully more reachable. The whole of what Sarah calls her “tribe”–Sarah, Lyle, Suzanne, and Kit, along with Cully’s dad, Billy, whom Sarah never married–go on a road trip to Colorado Springs to attend a memorial service for Cully, and the trip helps them find a way to move forward and achieve a measure of peace. As she did in The Descendants (2007), Hemmings deftly deploys her idyllic setting, leavens tragedy with humor, avoids sentimentality, and offers characters whom readers will find very appealing. — Booklist


Carl Phillips
October 7, 7:30 p.m.
Robertson Hall, Johnson Board Room

Double Shadow (2011)

Double Shadow

This 11th collection continues Phillips’s assays into the connections between sex, attachment, and love, and the ways that, despite ecstatic moments, adult life means reconciling oneself to one’s collective inadequacy. Phillips’s peculiar fusion of classical figures, biblical imagery, and contemporary alienation is in full flower in poems like “Ransom,” to startling effect: “come/ clean again, from a thicket all thorns…. And how the stars/ swelled the dark, guiding the man whose whip made the mules go faster, though they would have/ run, I think, even had there been no whip, being mules, and/ broken long ago, and with no more belief than disbelief in rescue.” The poems repeatedly delve into intrarelationship incarnations of big moral quandaries. “Sacrifice Is a Different Animal Altogether” ends: “One of us is going to have to say it first”; in “Master and Slave,” a partner offers a tender admonition: “If you can’t love everything, he said/ Try to love what, in the end, will matter.” But on the whole, the collection works, carefully and deliberately, to affirm the rhetorical question of “Sky Coming Forward”: “What if, between this one and the one/ we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own/ slow, dreamlike hold, even now–blooming, in spite of us.” — Publishers Weekly


David Levien and Brian Koppelman are screenwriters and film producers & directors, and Levien is a novelist.
October 21, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

13 Million Dollar Pop (2011)

13 Million Dollar Pop

In Levien’s latest, fallout from the Great Recession is affecting almost everyone. Indianapolis’ first “racino,” a combination horse-race track and casino, is going under; Frank Behr, soon to be a father, has very reluctantly left his lone-wolf PI work for a corporate security agency. And even the contract killer who tries to kill the business tycoon Behr is guarding has scrimped, working solo in order to cut costs. Investigation of the unsuccessful attack is squelched, and Behr goes off the corporate reservation to learn why, leading him toward a confrontation with a skilled and vicious ex-mercenary determined to secure his retirement with one more big payday . . . The financial desperation that fuels the characters is vivid and plausible. The plot is appropriately convoluted. The body count is respectable, and the result is a ripping-good thriller. — Booklist


Jonathan Franzen
October 28, 7:30 p.m.
Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University

Farther Away: Essays (2012)

Farther Away: Essays

Franzen follows up his 2010 blockbuster novel, Freedom, with a collection of recent essays, speeches, and reviews, in which he lays out a view of literature in which storytelling and character development trump lyrical acrobatics, and unearths a few forgotten classics. Franzen’s easy dismissal of a few canonical works, such as Ulysses, may invite contention, but when in his native realm–books that revel in the frustrations, despairs, and near-blisses of human relationships–he is an undeniably perceptive reader. In other essays, he confronts an epidemic of songbird hunting in the Mediterranean, tracks a novelty golf club cover back to a Chinese factory to investigate that nation’s notoriously ambivalent stance toward environmental conservation, and withdraws to a remote South American island to meditate on Robinson Crusoe and the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace. He also weighs in on Facebook’s narcissistic death spiral and the way the “sexy” new gadgets that never seem to leave our fingertips get in the way of real life and relationships, as well as the uneasy subject of autobiographical fiction and the effect a failed marriage had on his early novels. This intimate read is packed with provocative questions about technology, love, and the state of the contemporary novel. — Publishers Weekly


Mary Szybist 
November 5, 7:30 p.m.
Robertson Hall, Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall

Incarnadine: Poems (2013)

Incarnadine: Poems

In this [National Book Award-winning] book . . . love poetry and poetry of religious faith blend and blur into one transcendent, humbled substance, in which a beloved is asked, “Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you/ until I’m far enough away you can/ believe in me?” Also blended and blurred are the biblical and the contemporary, the divine and the self, as in “Update on Mary,” a quiet pun on the author’s name and that of her namesake, in which “It is not uncommon to find Mary falling asleep on her yoga mat when she has barely begun to stretch.” “Annunciation” poems spread throughout the book discover god in all sorts of unlikely places, such as beneath the clothes of a cross-dressing man: “And when I learned that he was not a man–/ Bullwhip, horsewhip, unzip, I could have crawled/ Through thorn and bee.” Finally, though, whether or not readers are attuned to the religious content, these are gorgeous lyrics, in traditional and invented forms–one poem is a diagrammed sentence while another radiates from an empty space at the center of the page–which create close encounters with not-quite-paraphrasable truths. This is essential poetry. — Publishers Weekly


Zadie Smith
November 11, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

NW (2012)


In her first novel since On Beauty (2005), Smith draws on her deepening social and psychological acuity and her intimacy with North West London to portray a quartet of struggling men and women linked by blood, place, affinity, and chance. Of Jamaican descent, Keisha, who renames herself Natalie, is smart, disciplined, ambitious, and duplicitous. Anglo Leah is unconventional, fearful, compassionate, and devious. They were close growing up together in public housing but are now leading somewhat divergent lives. Natalie is a corporate lawyer with a wealthy husband, two children, and a big, flashy house. Leah works for a not-for-profit organization and is married to a sweet French African hairdresser. As girls, they had crushes on schoolmate Nathan; now he’s mired in drugs, violence, and rage. Noble and ambitious biracial Felix crosses their paths just as his radiant integrity and kindness become liabilities. With exceptional discernment, wit, empathy, and artistry, Smith creates a breathtakingly intricate mesh of audible and interior voices while parsing family relationships, class and racial divides, marriage, and friendship. In this quintessential twenty-first-century urban novel depicting a vibrant, volatile multicultural world, Smith calibrates the gravitational forces of need and desire, brutality and succor, randomness and design, dissonance and harmony, and illuminates both heartbreaking and affirming truths about the paradoxes of human complexity. — Booklist


A samurai and a goddess came in the mail yesterday.

August 16, 2014 by Reader's Connection

snowy_owlI might have thought that I’d heard enough about samurais or goddesses for one lifetime, but two poems from yesterday’s email have turned me around.

The Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day  (click there to sign up for those) was Robert Pinsky’s “Samurai Song”.

My Poem-a-Day (click to sign up) from the Academy of American Poets was Diane Wakoski’s “Snowy Owl Goddess”.

Sometimes I don’t open the emails for a week, and my inbox needs a sweeping. Other days, I open them and sink in.