Do you have a favorite author? This is a question librarians are frequently asked. I always found it hard to answer, as I eagerly await the latest title from many authors. Some are mystery writers, as I am anxious to reconnect with some of my favorite fictional crime solvers. Others I anticipate because I have enjoyed all of the books they have written. I could never pick just one.
However, now I find it easy to deliver a name when I’m asked this question. I answer Geraldine Brooks. She has only written four novels but she is a master of historical fiction. Her attention to the known past, while weaving remarkable narratives of hope, often amongst terror, leads to my enjoyment of her work.
When I read her first novel Year of Wonders, based on the 17th century English village Eyam, I was amazed by how adeptly she portrayed an English village caught in the deadly throes of plague. Her captivating story depicted both the bright and dark side of humanity as villagers struggled with feelings of fear, resentment and despair.
Her second novel March is based on the father from the novel Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Brook’s research included the diaries and journals of Alcott’s father Bronson. She created a character that is tested on many levels by the horrors of the Civil War. In 2006 this novel earned for Brooks the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
Two years later Brooks published People of the Book, based on the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, which is housed in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She creates a history of this illuminated book to chronicle anti-Semitism in Europe from the middle ages to modern times, while showing us how the goodness and courage of ordinary human beings can sometimes overcome barbarity.
In May her latest book Caleb’s Crossing was released. Set in the late 17th century, this tale is loosely based on the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. It recounts the lives of English settlers and Native Americans as they try to gain mastery over each other, while depicting the plight of women and men who triumph over their stereotypical gender roles. Geraldine Brooks again triumphs in weaving together an intriguing story with little known details from the past.
A former journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Brooks reported on the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. She has written two works of non-fiction, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World or Islamic Women and a memoir, Foreign Correspondence.
If you read one of her books, I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!
You can click here to reserve a copy of one of Brooks' titles.
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Trainsong is the second book by the only offspring of Jack Kerouac. And like Jack, Jan had many travels and many adventures. She has interesting encounters with Richard Brautigan, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, but the heart of the book is in her relationships with her family, friends, and many lovers.
The person who looms largest in the book was both a famous writer and family member, her father Jack. They only met each other twice in their short lives (Jack died at 47, Jan at 44), but at every turn of her life she is controlled by his spirit. His spirit as a writer, man, and deadbeat dad follows her everywhere. Jack may travel deeper into the soul, but Jan goes deeper into the mind. Although she had every right to feel a deep anger for her dad, she understood him psychologically. He was a writer and that always came first.
In her life as a writer she often felt that same need or emotion. She gave birth to a stillborn child as a teenager and she realized that had the child lived her life as a writer and freedom as a woman would have been compromised. She would have had to make the same decision her father did. Although Jack’s spirit was with her at all times, she had her own spirit too. That spirit fills this book with both joy and sadness.
This book will appeal to anyone who is deeply interested in the Beats or interested in what it was like to be a free spirited woman about a quarter of a century ago.
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“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway – in my experience, the mere mention of his name brings forth gnashing of the teeth or near euphoria; there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to old Papa Hemingway. And perhaps this is a quality that is to be admired and sought, for is it better to be detested or loved rather than overlooked altogether? In any case and whatever one’s personal opinion of Hemingway, it would be difficult indeed to deny his importance or place in the Twentieth Century literary firmament.
Setting aside Hemingway’s epic novels and short stories, there is one piece of his writing, published posthumously in 1964, that provides the reader with a unique glimpse into American expatriate life of 1920s Paris, during the heyday of the Lost Generation. A Moveable Feast is comprised of twenty short sections, for a total of around two-hundred pages, providing an idea of what life with Hemingway was like at this time and at the start of his ascendancy from an unknown journalist for the Toronto Star to international fame as acclaimed author.
The reader is treated to personal encounters with all-too familiar names and personalities: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and it is through these conversations that we are provided with a feeling of proximity to personages who, to most, seem unreachable – but no longer! Hemingway’s dedication to writing is also chronicled, allowing aspiring writers an idea of the sort of disciplined routine that good writing requires – the booze comes only after a prescribed amount of daily writing.
All in all, A Moveable Feast transports the reader to a particularly narrow time period between the First and Second World Wars in which myriad factors found throughout the world at that time produced writers, artists, and, alas, aspiring politicians, whose ideas and labors continue to affect the world today. With a new edition released in 2009 and revised by Sean Hemingway, Hemingway’s grandson from his second marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer (the first edition being edited by Mary Hemingway, Mr. Hemingway’s fourth and final wife), A Moveable Feast continues to stir controversy and delight the reader with tales from a bygone era.
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I read the most wonderful picture book by Alice McLerran that shows something refreshing in an age where some kids hardly go outdoors, or rarely detach themselves from their gaming systems and personal computers.
Roxaboxen shows children using their imaginations! I was curious about it just from the unusual title so I gave it a look see and highly recommend that you do, too.
Roxaboxen is based on a true story about a little patch of land in Yuma, Arizona that a group of children claimed with their own imaginations. The illustrations depict a simple town lovingly outlined with bits of rock and pottery.
Over many years of repeated visits to their beloved retreat, the inhabitants of Roxaboxen developed a currency, built homes out of discarded materials, had a cactus-filled jail for traffic violators, elected a mayor, sold ice cream and bread, had horses, played cars, and war.
Can you imagine? Children playing unsupervised with broken glass, and no one perished, except for the iguana for which they built a cemetery complete with a grave marker and flowers.
This book made me so nostalgic for the hours of imaginary outdoor play I put in as a girl. I am definitely buying a personal copy of this one to inspire my child to create such a rich place in our own backyard.
And speaking of imagination, the Library’s Summer Reading program is in full swing. This year our theme is Myth, Magic, and Imagination. To learn more about summer reading at the library watch this video.
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David Eagleman, who is scheduled to speak at the Main location of the Louisville Free Public Library on July 19th , is quite an interesting man. As an undergrad at Rice University, he studied British and American literature and thought of becoming a writer. After his sophomore year, he took a sabbatical from his education and volunteered in the Israeli army. Afterwards, he spent a semester at Oxford studying political science and literature, and then moved to Los Angeles to work as a screen writer and standup comedian. Eventually, he earned a PhD in neuroscience and now directs a lab at Baylor College of Medicine.
I have been thinking about Incognito for days after having finished it. There are so many fascinating ideas to ponder. He begins by saying that your consciousness makes up only a tiny part of your brain. Most of your brain functions on autopilot and you are unaware of what is going on in there. How you function, who you are really, is dependent on many factors entirely outside of your control. He notes that psychologists think of the brain as having dual controls: reason and emotion. The ancient Greeks also held this opinion, saying that you are a charioteer, trying to stay centered, in a vehicle pulled by the white horse of reason and the black horse of passion. Eagleman posits that there are probably many more than two systems of control. He says the brain is a “team of rivals”.
Eagleman’s fascination with the brain began early. When he was eight years old, he fell from the roof of a house being built in his neighborhood. He still remembers that time seemed to slow down as he fell, to the point that he even remembers the thought coming to him as he fell, that this is how Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole. He has since spent a lot of time studying the brain’s perception of time. He says that, when your life is threatened, your amygdala becomes very active, recording every detail, which makes time seem to slow down. The more detail the brain records, the longer the moment seems to last. This is also an explanation for the way in which time seems to speed up to the aged, while time seems to move slowly to a child. An older person has so much experience with the world, he no longer needs to note and record the number of details about life that a child does. All of this is to say that time, along with many other of our perceptions, is largely a construct of our own minds.
Read this book and marvel at the intricate interplay of cells, hormones, chemicals, and impulses that make up you. And one last note: while you’re at it, pick up David Eagleman’s highly acclaimed piece of fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, which consists of a series of thought experiments about different possibilities that could await us at the end of this life.
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