He Was America 
submitted by Tommy

I first got into Carl Sandburg when reading a Bob Dylan bio years ago. A 22 year old Dylan paid an unannounced visit to the great poet in early 1964. Dylan brought the 86 year old poet a copy of his new The Times They are A-Changin’ album and they talked a while on the front porch.

I decided to visit that same Sandburg house October before last. It has been a National Monument since 1967, when Sandburg died. If you are ever passing through Flat Rock, NC (about 30 miles south of Asheville), I highly recommend it.

In school, I had read the poems Fog and Chicago, and somewhere along the way, Grass. Those are the three poems that are usually anthologized. After visiting his house, I decided to read all of his Chicago Poems (1916).

In them, I discovered the real Carl Sandburg. He was an anarchist. These poems have a bite to them that I had not seen in any modern poet, except maybe a few like Woody Guthrie, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Bukowski, or Bob Dylan. Sandburg’s poems tell the working person’s side of the story. The poem Masses captures this best. Ready to Kill is my second favorite. You can access the entire book without leaving your desk by clicking here.

Recently, LFPL ordered The Day Carl Sandburg Died (DVD), and it is wonderful. If you like documentaries, I promise that you’ll like this one. He is better known for his biography of Lincoln, and lesser known for his Folk singing, but this man did it all!

Sandburg thought his greatest poem was contained in one book: The People, Yes (1936). So I decided it was time to see if I agree. There are so many gems in Chicago Poems that it would be hard to top it. The People, Yes has 107 numbered poems, each like a portrait or still life of post-depression America. Sandburg was in his late 50’s when this book was written, but there is no mellowing here. For me, Sandburg is just a continuation of what Whitman started in American poetry. L.B.J. thought so too.

I like Chicago Poems better, but both books are vital to American Poetry.

Here are a few of the poems/lines that I liked best from The People, Yes:

#9: This is my favorite poem. It concerns a father preparing a son for manhood and all the paths ahead.

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”

“Get off this estate.
What for?
Because it is mine.
Where did you get it?
From my father.
Where did he get it?
From his father.
And where did he get it?
He fought for it.
Well, I’ll fight you for it.”

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Julia Child 
submitted by Debbe

With the plethora of cookbooks and cooking shows today it is hard to imagine a time when one woman alone was the face of cooking on American television. The host of the public television show, The French Chef, which initially aired from 1963-1973, Julia Child, became an American cooking icon. In 1961, Child and her friends and associates Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, both of France, had co-authored a cookbook of traditional French recipes adapted for Americans. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was an immediate success and Child, the American author, was sought after for book signings and interviews.

I became interested in Julia Child after I saw the movie Julie and Julia. The movie is based on Child’s memoir My Life in France, coauthored with her nephew Alex Prud’homme, and Julie Powell’s memoir Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. Powell’s book is focused on her blog The Julie/Julia Project detailing her efforts to cook all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Last year on the centenary of Child’s birth Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz was published. I recently listened to the audiobook, read by Kimberly Farr, who did an excellent job bringing the story of Julia Child to life. Spitz recounts Julia McWilliams’ childhood in Pasadena, her collegiate life at Smith College, her aimless early years of adulthood and her work for the OSS in Asia during World War II. It was during this time that she met Paul Child whom she married in 1946. It was her husband’s assignment to Paris with the Foreign Services that opened up the world of French cooking to Child, an avocation that led to her career as author and television personality. Many other books and television appearances followed.

I cannot think of a biography that I have enjoyed more than Dearie. Julia Child truly had a “Remarkable Life.” I highly recommend. “Bon Appétit.”

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Midnighters Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld 
submitted by Tony

The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld, author of the popular Uglies series, is composed of three works. They are The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon.

The trilogy begins with high school student Jessica Day moving to Bixby, a small town in Oklahoma, because her mother has landed a job with a local aerospace company. Jessica soon is befriended by four other teens with which she shares two special attributes. They were all born at the stroke of midnight and are able to move around the world during the mysterious “blue time,” a secret hour which exists between the stroke of midnight and the first second of every new day. Each Midnighter also has a special talent that is individual to them.

Throughout the series, the five struggle against ancient shape-shifting monsters (called “darklings”) that live in the blue time. The darklings quickly target Jessica as her talent threatens their ultimate goal - to escape the secret hour in order to hunt humanity for food. Jessica and her friends also have to face down a fifty year old conspiracy by humans in the area who have been working with the darklings over the years.

Like the Uglies series, these books straddle the line between the science fiction and young adult genres. Two big differences are that Midnighters is set in the present rather than in an imagined future and the central conflict is against an ancient evil rather than the policies of a dystopian government. The feel of the tale falls much more strongly on young adult side in the first book and tilts to the science fiction side by the third.

My one major quibble with the series is more a quibble with how many books of genre fiction are being marketed these days - in multiple volumes. Many will stretch a story out to achieve a certain number of titles, most often a trilogy. In order to pump up the page count, unnecessary fluff at the start of subsequent books is inserted to catch the reader up on the story.

In some authors’ hands, this technique can feel awkward and even kill a reader’s interest. To his credit, Westerfeld does keep the recap to a minimum. As the characters are consistent, the time frame covered is reasonably short, and the story as a whole is well-paced, these three works could have easily have been published as one book.

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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey 
submitted by Rob

“Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail…the snail kept my spirit from evaporating. Between the two of us, we were a society all our own, and that kept isolation at bay.” - Elisabeth Tova Bailey

When Elisabeth Tova Bailey was struck with an illness of uncertain origin, her life dramatically changed, as she was left almost completely incapacitated, and all those daily motions that we take for granted, from rising in the morning to brushing one’s teeth, became, in all practicality, impossible. As a result, Ms. Bailey was forced to leave the familiar surroundings of her home for a studio apartment that was easily serviced by a professional care provider.

As one can imagine, this situation left Ms. Bailey significantly challenged and overwhelmingly distraught, but then one day, a friend of Ms. Bailey’s dropped by for a visit with a peculiar gift – a pot of violets taken from the local woods that included a wild snail, and it is from this deceptively simple present that Ms. Bailey experiences a sublime sense of renewal in her life as a convalescent.

Through close observation afforded by her confinement, Ms. Bailey comes to admire her new roommate and to realize that once one takes the time, whether by choice or force, to examine life from a different perspective, that of a snail’s in this case, modern life for the human being begins to seem entirely too fast in its pace, and that, just perhaps, it might be warranted to ponder why it is we all run about in such a frenzy.

And peppered throughout Ms. Bailey’s frank prose concerning a single year of her illness and the ruminations sparked by a single snail, were scientific sections about the snail as an animal, based on the extensive research that Ms. Bailey conducted, and I must admit that I had no real idea how truly amazing the snail is, regardless which of the roughly forty thousand types is being referenced. In the words of Ms. Bailey in a letter she wrote to her doctor:
“I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year – a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think that I would have made it otherwise.”

With so many demands on our time and attention, it would be wise to remember the myriad details of life that are so easily missed, lest we forget the wonder that surrounds us always.

You can reserve a copy of her memoir, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by clicking here.

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid 
submitted by Caren

I had read a bit of buzz about this book so I picked it up, not really knowing what to expect. I absolutely couldn't put it down and read through it in one day. It begins as what appears to be a parody of a self-help book, in an unnamed country (but probably the author's native Pakistan), about an unnamed village boy addressed in the second-person as "you".

The story opens with the boy living in the family compound in a rural area. Each chapter heading is a piece of advice for how to get “filthy rich”. The first is: “Move to the City”. The boy’s father has been working in a big city and has finally saved enough money to bring his wife and three children to live with him.

The boy describes the strange feeling of being just five people now. He says,
“…you embody one of the great changes of your time. Where once your clan was innumerable, not infinite but of a large number not readily known, now there are five of you. Five. The fingers on one hand, the toes on one foot, a miniscule aggregation when compared with shoals of fish or flocks of birds or indeed tribes of humans.” (p. 14)

Each chapter takes us further along this boy’s odyssey. The early bits of advice are fairly basic: ‘Get an education’, ‘Don’t fall in love’, ‘Avoid idealists’, ‘Learn from a master’, and ‘Work for yourself.

The boy notes that some aspects of his life have made him fortunate just by chance. He is not a girl, so he won’t be sent back to the village at a young age to marry; he has an older brother who will be expected to get a job before he himself will, meaning there will be time for him to go to school. As he matures and enters the business world, the advice becomes more troubling: ‘Be prepared to use violence’, ‘Befriend a bureaucrat’, ‘Patronize the artists of war’, and ‘Dance with debt.’

Approaching the end of his story and of his life, the protagonist seems to change the focus of his advice: ‘Focus on the fundamentals.’ The ‘fundamentals’ no longer seem to be about getting “filthy rich”. They are a beautiful musing about the meaning of the life he has led. Really, even though this story takes place in a Third World country, it speaks to our modern striving wherever we are, and it is, at its heart, a love story.

The unnamed "you" is in love, all his life, with the also unnamed "pretty girl", even though one of the early injunctions as a requisite for becoming "filthy rich" was not to fall in love. Both the protagonist and the pretty girl do become rich but find it is ephemeral and that what really remains is their attraction for each other, formed in their youth.

Reading the last chapter, I found myself catching my breath at the exquisite way the author captured what it means to be human:
“We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.” (p.219-220).

Not so many books can capture the essence of humanity the way this book does. It is deeply felt, yet unsentimental which is a rare achievement.

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