The Imperfections of Memory: Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending  
submitted by Rob

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.” - Tony Webster, The Sense of an Ending

History. For many, this word conjures images of ancient civilizations, dead kings, or even likeable, quirky professors who consider a discussion of Seven Pillars of Wisdom to be appropriate entertainment for a Friday evening. But in the realm of the mundane, history is something that each individual creates for him- or herself through the simple acts of living and breathing. And as difficult as world history is to accurately record due to individual and subjective preferences, prejudices, and pressures, personal history can be just as challenging to relate and even properly remember.

Personal history forms the crux of the novel The Sense of an Ending, written by Julian Barnes and published in 2011. The reader follows the narration of the primary character, Tony Webster, as he recollects his memories surrounding his close group of friends during those years leading up to and during their time at university.

On the surface and at the outset, these reminiscences bring some level of warm nostalgia to Tony. As the story progresses the façade begins to crack and peel, revealing a harsher, colder environment within which those past events took place, thus bringing forth a revised understanding of his past and the ramifications of choices made.

As a young person, I thought the oft-quoted phrase “know thyself” to be laughable. How could one not be fully cognizant of one’s own thoughts and feelings?

Lately it has become clear to me that developing self-knowledge most certainly can be a challenge, not only for the individual, but also for organizations and even entire nations. And, it is necessary in order to fully understand their history and, thus, themselves. Through this amazing tale, Mr. Barnes explores one man’s self-examination of his past and its results, which serves as an effective demonstration and warning of the power of self-delusion. In the words of Tony:
“History isn’t the lies of the victors…I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

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Night Soldiers by Alan Furst 
submitted by Luke

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst begins in Bulgaria in 1934. There Khristo Stoianev, the novel’s protagonist, witnesses his brother’s death at the hands of the local fascist thugs for poking fun at their uniforms. Khristo escapes his hometown and turns to communism as a way to avenge his brother’s death.

Eventually, he is recruited by the NKVD (the Soviet Union’s espionage bureau) and sent to Moscow for training. Following his training, Khristo is sent to Spain in the last years of the Spanish Civil War. After the fall of Madrid in 1939 and his disillusionment with the Soviet Union, Khristo flees to Paris. There he seeks to escape from his past while agents of the NKVD doggedly pursue him. In order to survive, Khristo must reach out to old comrades and classmates from his training days, even as the clouds of war start to build over Europe.

This is the first of eleven books in a series. Some other titles in the series are The Polish Officer, Blood of Victory, Red Gold, The Foreign Correspondent, and Spies of the Balkans. The series is marked by well-paced storylines that are backed by strong research and characterization. The books do not follow one theme and feature repeating characters and settings. Throughout, the reader is provided a view of inter-war Europe that is seldom discussed in this country.

Editor’s note: Please use the “add a comment” button below to leave any response you may have about the book or the review.

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Up in the Air  
submitted by Alex

Up in the Air, based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, is director Jason Reitman’s 2009 follow-up to his 2007 breakout film Juno.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a veteran employee of a corporate downsizing company. Bingham flies from city to city, firing corporate employees while simultaneously encouraging them to take their termination as a gift, and to follow their dreams. Bingham contends that his company provides a human element to corporate downsizing, and that this experience even improves peoples’ lives. Additionally, Bingham conducts motivational speeches encouraging his audience to live life with a minimum of attachments, both material and emotional.

Bingham meets Alex Goran (played by Vera Farmiga), another corporate traveler, with whom he begins an ideal (for him), casual relationship, meeting up with Alex whenever their paths cross. Soon, however, Bingham is called back to company headquarters where he meets Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick), a new employee just out of school, who introduces a plan to cut company costs by firing people via videoconferencing. Alex and Natalie will come to have a profound effect on Bingham.

I approached this movie with some initial skepticism, expecting a light romantic comedy. I mean, it’s George Clooney! And just look at the DVD cover, with Clooney and Farmiga smiling at each other over some wine. This movie looked like it had been released many, many times before, and more than once starring Clooney. But reviewers I trust really liked it, so I hoped I would too, and I did. I really did.

This is an exceptional film, a moving examination of life and “living.” Clooney perfectly depicts Bingham’s easy-going charm that nevertheless betrays vulnerability and insecurity--subtly at first, but then more clearly. Farmiga and Kendrick are both winning as Bingham’s love interest and sidekick, respectively. This story has been told before, many times, but it is told expertly here, with some wrinkles I did not expect. I strongly encourage anyone to check out this DVD or the book from our library.

Our guest reviewer, Alex Goodman, has worked for LFPL for nine years, and for the past three at the Middletown branch. He has been a film buff for much longer than that.

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submitted by Debbe

On road trips my husband and I always listen to audio books to pass the time. My husband enjoys non-fiction, so I make selections attempting to entertain us both. I’m usually successful and some of our favorites have made long trips seem much shorter. We both like U.S. social history and some of our favorites are:

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough tells the tragic story of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. The history behind the creation of the dam and its subsequent failure is typical of the excellence we have come to expect from McCullough. His research is comprehensive and his ability to tell a clear and coherent story is without equal.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan is another favorite. The book tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt and forester, Gifford Pinchot’s drive to create the National Parks Service. It vividly recreates the largest ever forest fire in the U.S. that destroyed and built on the groundwork they set.

On a trip with our then, 15 year old daughter in the back seat, we listened to The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Thirteen years later she still recounts this as when we tried to bore her to death and performs a comedic routine reciting the OED definitions that head each chapter. Her dad and I enjoyed the book and don’t feel bad at all about listening to it. After all, she had her Walkman and her earphones.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson is the tale of the Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer that blended into the excitement. Although this is true crime story the fascination lies in the work of the architects that designed the “White City.”

Three books we’ve listened to are laugh out loud funny:

I think most of us have wondered if we could ever hike the Appalachian Trail. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson almost convinces you it is not only doable but really not that hard. Lest I forget to mention, his companion on this hike is former college friend, Stephen Katz, who is clearly out of shape. Actually maybe it was harder than it seemed.

Have you ever been on a multi-generational road trip in an RV? If so you will want to listen to The Ride of Our Lives: Roadside Lessons of an American Family by Mike Leonard. The initial chapter’s description of the RV in the gas station hooked us immediately. As the family travels the U.S., their interactions and adventures greatly entertained us.

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan is funnier on audio than the movie. If you have ever been around a dog with no manners but thought he was great anyway, you will love this book.

The library’s collection of fiction on CD, non-fiction on CD, Playaways, and downloadable Audio Books can help you enjoy getting to and from your destination.

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Come on Rain by Karen Hess and Jon J. Muth 
submitted by Natalie

During the cooler months, there’s the summer that lives nostalgic in our minds. Thoughts of plump strawberries and wading pools swim about. Idealizing lazy days tending garden and nights of front porch sitting circle around a few times too.

At first when it comes, the summer is all that we’d hoped for. Strolling through parks with sandal covered feet we pass through May and then June comes too. The solstice is marked and July strikes. Now we’re pointed straight towards the sun whose heat feels like it's here to stay. The grasses turn from vibrant true greens into a crunchy yellowish brown as the air conditioner struggles to keep up. It’s just one ozone action day after the next.

If you are looking for a sympathy for having lost your spot in the shade and want to pick up a little hope you might check out a copy of Come on Rain by Karen Hesse and Jon J. Muth.

The prose captures the oppression of midsummer while singing one girl’s refrain for reprieve so well it makes you sweat as you read. You reach out for a glass of iced tea as an involuntary response to Jon Muth’s water colored pictures.

Mama lifts a listless vine and sighs.

Cats pant, heat wavers off tar patches in the broiling alleyway.

A creeper of hope circles ‘round my bones. “Come on rain!” I whisper.

Well, this is more like it.

If you find that you hear the sound of thunder when there isn't any as you carry a sloshing can of water towards your drooping plants or even wonder if it would be indecent to wear a swimsuit on your commute, you might share this with a child as you both cry out for rain.

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