Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review Friday: Caleb's Crossing


     Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks is a novel about Native Americans and the first white settlers in New England.  The name is deceptive because Caleb's Crossing is really the story of Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a Puritan minister growing up in the first settlement on Martha's Vineyard in the 1660s.  On a solitary outing in the woods a young Bethia meets a Wampanoag Indian boy about her own age, his name is Cheeshahteaumauk.  She calls him Caleb.  He calls her Storm Eyes.  The two form an unlikely friendship and share much of their cultures and languages with each other as they continue to meet in secret.  Eventually Caleb embraces Christianity and becomes the first Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard.  Caleb's experiences serve as a backdrop for the story of Bethia's own life and her longing for education and learning. 
     I am torn because there are parts of this story I truly loved and parts I didn't love at all.  Brooks' narrative was at times compelling.  Bethia's experiences gave amazing insight into the lives of women in puritan New England.  The challenges that Caleb and Joel faced and overcame were incredible.  The course of study at Harvard University was frighteningly rigorous.  And the historical information about Martha's Vineyard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the beginnings of Harvard University was fascinating. 
     However, I have two complaints: First, Brooks' portrays almost all the whites (except the Mayfields) as arrogant bigots, and the native peoples as all uniformly portrayed as tall, handsome, and shiny.  These stereotypes are shallow and far from helpful.  And finally, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk and his classmate Joel Iacoomis were real people.  In her notes Ms. Brooks states that she used their names to honor their memories though she has no biographical facts and her story was purely fictional . I am uncertain that writing fiction about the life of a real person is an "honor."  In my opinion it would be better to write a story based on the facts, but change the names to protect the innocent and reflect the purely fictional nature of the work. 

      I listened to the audio version.  The reader, Jennifer Ehle, in trying to imitate the clipped speaking style of the Puritans sounded as if she were a foreign speaker sounding out English words syllable by syllable for the first time.  When the characters were speaking in an impassioned way Ehle lost the stilted affectation and I was able to lose myself in the story.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More Makerspace Ideas!!

More libraries are jumping on the makerspace bandwagon (huzzah!)  Check out this article at Library Journal to see what creative librarians are doing to help communities be creative.

Monday, May 20, 2013

All good things must come to an end

For lovers of series fiction there sometimes comes a point when you realize that the books have lost their allure.  If it's just one book that doesn't quite meet expectations, you wait for the next one and hope for the best.  But if it becomes a trend then what? Anyone who loves series fiction has probably come across a series that they slowly fall out of love with.  The stories may become flat or repetitive and even the main characters seem bored.  And the reader wonders if perhaps the author should have stopped one, two, or seven books ago.

Well, authors fall out of love with series, too or they have a particular story they want to tell and no intention of going on forever.  Sometimes an author can end their series beautifully, think Harry Potter.  In some cases they can't.  When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill of Sherlock Holmes there was such an outcry that he brought his sleuth back from the dead to satisfy his outraged fans.  Sometimes it's the publisher that pressures an author to keep on writing.  Sometimes, it's plain old financial common sense.  If  "Rex of the Mounties" is how you make your living and pay your bills, you might have to keep on writing if you want to keep on eating.

In the case of the Sookie Stackhouse series, author Charlaine Harris has opted to quit while she's ahead.  She admits to having run out of fresh ideas.  The series doesn't excite her anymore.  She's ready to move on.  Book #13 will be the last.  Her fans, to say the least, are not happy.  In the recent Wall Street Journal article "How to Kill a Vampire" author Alexandra Alter  interviewed Harris, her fans, and her publisher to explore the problem from all sides.

Except for the die hards who want to move in to the series and live there, everyone will eventually recover and move on.  We all survived the end of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hercule Poirot, and Sherlock Holmes, we'll survive this, too.  To soften the blow, it's up to librarians to offer up some great new titles to suffering fans.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review Friday: Sutton

A day late ... Friday was a perfect day for gardening...
     J. R. Moehringer is an accomplished author having written a biography, Agassi, and an autobiography, The Tender Bar.   Sutton is Moehringer's first novel.
    Sutton is a fictionalized account of the life of the famous bank robber, Willie "The Actor" Sutton.  At times funny, poignant, and tragic this is a character study of a troubled young man making bad choices and suffering the consequences.  The book is also an interesting study of the cyclical nature of hard times and recessions, and an indictment of the continuing greed and destructive nature of banks.  And ultimately a reminder of the truths and lies we tell ourselves to survive and the grey area in the middle where we spend our lives.  A really good story.
        I generally do not like fictionalized accounts of historical figures.  They tend to blend fact and fiction and leave distorted images in the minds of readers.  Moehringer sets this book up differently.  Telling the readers from the start that this is his wish for what Willie Sutton's life might have been like.  And it is a really good story.  Moehringer tells the story in flashbacks as an older Willie Sutton revisits places from his past and remembers his life story as he travels around New York City on Christmas day with a reporter and a photographer determined to get an exclusive.
    I listened to the audio version narrated by Dylan Baker.  His narration was excellent.  I absolutely fell into the story and fell in love with the gravelly Brooklyn accent Baker used for Willie.  I tried reading the print version but found it more difficult.  The jumps from past to present (print to italic) were sometimes jarring and Moehringer's choice to eschew quotation marks made following the dialogue difficult.  Having tried both I recommend the audio over the print version.  On the flip side, several members of the book discussion group I attended said that once they read the first few pages they had no problem with the lack of quotations.  So I guess the choice is up to you.
    A note for those with delicate sensibilities: If you have issues with foul language this is not the book for you ... the main characters of this story are gangsters, street thugs, Brooklyn boys, and journalists ... their language reflects that.

If you liked Sutton, you might also like:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
True Story of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Legs by William Kennedy
The Town by Chuck Hogan
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer
Crimes of New York edited by Clint Willis
Hard Times by Studs Terkel

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Review Friday: They Found Him Dead

Now I know why Georgette Heyer's books still circulate so well in the library system.  This was a classic country house who done it, complete with an atmospheric old mansion, quirky characters, and a quiet professional from Scotland Yard.  What made it great was the plot where everyone could have done it and the dialogue, which sometimes had me laughing out loud.  They Found Him Dead features the Kane family, gathered at Cliff House to celebrate Silas Kane's 60th birthday.  The celebration turns to shock when Silas is found dead at the bottom of the cliff the next day, but surely it was an accident.  Then another family member is struck down and it becomes clear that a murderer is in their midst.  But who could it be and who might be next?  If you've never read Heyer I suggest you give her a try.  I listened to the audio narrated by Clifford Norgate.  The narration added to the story as Norgate's interpretation was spot on with accents and timing.  An older book on cassette, but if you can find it, it's worth a listen.

Book Cover

Heyer wrote several mystery novels, but she is most well known for the her regency romances, many of which are available as eBooks, downloadable for free from the library.  

If you're looking for a mystery of similar time and feel reach for a classic Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers.

If you'd like to read about this prolific and lasting author, try Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Save the Libraries

This article at Huffington Post is well worth your time.  An impassioned plea by Christian Zabriskie to prevent library closings in New York City.