August 8, 2020

“The Library Book” by Susan Orlean

If you like books and libraries, “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean is highly recommended. Her journey starts with her son fulfilling a school assignment to interview a city worker. He chooses a librarian. Orleans starts to reminiscence about happy childhood times with her mother as they regularly visited their local library.

The 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library starts as Orlean’s point of departure, but she quickly branches out to include how the LA library system began, thumbnail sketches of notable past library directors, and then segues farther afield to consider the history of books and libraries. Fascinating sections deal with Andrew Carnegie’s library building boom, book-mobiles and book burning.

Each chapter begins with a handful of seemingly random book titles that cleverly appear in the subsequent writing. Throughout the work, running questions include: Who or what started the fire? Will the Goodhue library building be salvaged or torn down? Will libraries stay relevant as we enter ever more deeply into internet culture?

Some of my favorite sections of the book illustrate what libraries, worldwide, are doing to keep libraries as not only repositories of information, but as community meeting places for people of all ages and needs. You can see a concert, take a yoga class, get tax help or sign up for free computer time at many libraries.

Orlean, a staff writer for “The New Yorker Magazine,” also counts 
“The Orchid Thief” and “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend” as some of her previous books.

One final note. My lovely hardcover library copy of “The Library Book” is a brilliant red with gold lettering; the trompe l’oeil check out card inside the back cover shows none other than Ray Bradbury and Susan Orlean as having both checked out the same book. Long live libraries!

Library apps: Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby

Libraries have two strikes against them during this Covid-19 outbreak. They are not considered essential services and they risk attracting numbers of people who may catch or spread the disease. I understand the rationale, but if ever we needed the comfort of books, it is now.

Library apps to the rescue. If you have a library card number, you have access to a wealth of downloadable material on at least three different apps. Overdrive lets you download e-books, audiobooks and magazines like Oprah, Newsweek, Prevention, House Beautiful and Forbes, among others.

https://www.overdrive.com/explore

Hoopla not only carries ebooks and audiobooks, but movies, comics, an impressive catalogue of recorded music and a treasure trove of television shows both old and new. The library card holder is limited to six selections per month however.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/my/hoopla

Libby, an off-shoot of Overdrive, specializes in audiobooks and ebooks. The user is able to set preferences like genre, language and availability. One can explore new releases with the ability to put holds on the most popular titles. Libby estimates how many weeks one will have to wait for a title. I always have one or two books downloaded from this easy-to-use app.

https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/

If you have the money, please order a book from your local bookstore. If, however, you are pinching pennies, you can be grateful Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby apps are free. We have our public library system to thank for this. Books, to my mind, are essential.

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

http://www.gnod.com/

Early Voting in Chicago (and in states that allow it)

usflagI strongly recommend casting your vote early if you live in a state that allows it. My wait was only 20 minutes at 4:30 pm on a weekday. Chicago has early voting up until the day before the election. With multiple voting locations and convenient hours, you have no reason to miss doing your civic duty this November.

To find your local Chicago voting venues:

http://www.chicagoelections.com/en/early-voting.html

If you live in the 48th Ward in Chicago, one of your voting options is:
Edgewater Library, 6000 N Broadway
Monday, Oct. 31 to Friday, Nov. 4: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, November 6: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday, November 7: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For other states:
https://www.vote.org/early-voting-calendar/

The Good Lord Bird by author James McBride

I had only a vague recollection of abolitionist John Brown and his attack on Harpers Ferry before the Civil War, but James McBride’s historical fiction account,  The Good Lord Bird, makes this time period burst to life. The main character is Henry, a young slave who is mistaken for a girl and spends the majority of the book in a bonnet and dress in the orbit of “Captain Brown” who dubs her “Onion.” Not since Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has there been such an endearing and infuriating young character.

Brown with Onion at his side fights battles against slave owners in Kansas and Missouri, visits Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY and Harriet Tubman in Canada and finally prepares for a grand battle at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Both black and white  people, sometimes reluctantly, join Brown’s rag tag group to further the cause of slavery abolition in the United States. Brown’s campaign was seen as a great failure at the time, but history shows him to be the harbinger of the Civil War to come which finally dealt a fatal blow to slavery.

James McBride who won the 2013 National Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird,” is the son of an African-American preacher and a Polish Jewish mother. His memoir “The Color of Water” is now read in high schools and universities across America.”The Good Lord Bird” is sure to find its way onto academic reading lists as well.

I listened to this work in audio book form using the  Chicago Public Library’s Overdrive app, masterfully narrated by actor Michael Boatman who brought out the comedy as well as pathos in McBride’s writing.