The Impetuosity of Youth (or Youthful Thinking): A Review of Arcadia by Lauren Groff 
submitted by Rob

There are myriad behaviors shared among all humankind that tie each person to the next. Over time, these behaviors form recognizable and predictable trends. Among these is the seemingly innate desire by some to organize society or select groups in the attempt to maximize happiness and achieve some level of worldly perfection. From the Essenes of Ancient Judea to the Transcendentalists of Nineteenth Century America, people have endeavored for thousands of years to build a utopia.

Earlier this year, Lauren Groff published her second novel entitled Arcadia. It follows a fictional group of Americans in the 1970s which forms a commune sequestered in rural New York on the land surrounding an old, decaying house known as the Arcadia House. There they wish to live what is - in their minds - a righteous life of free love, strict vegetarianism, shared work, and the prohibition of the keeping of pets (considered by them to be animal slavery).

With the narration being a mixture of omniscient voice and the internal musings of the son of one of the founding couples, Ridley Sorrel Stone (but referred to almost exclusively as Bit), the reader follows this ragtag band of merry pranksters in their journey from traveling caravan to Arcadia and beyond. As a spectrum of characters is introduced throughout, the reader is constantly engaged with their personal quirks and life stories.

Despite the best efforts by many, the fruit that results from these idealistic labors is bittersweet, and through it all, Bit remains a steadfast observer. He witnesses the happenings and consequences of the wishful dreams of gentle people who wanted nothing more than to live in peace and harmony. However, the realities of modern life cannot be avoided forever, and the world that was being eschewed nevertheless came to Arcadia, sans invitation.

Framing the story is Ms. Groff’s wonderful writing. Her descriptions of nature, people, and events bring the reader directly to that Arcadia. The reader feels surrounded by the characters, sharing in their everyday joys, sorrows, hopes, and triumphs.
“But this morning, Bit wakes alone, heart racing. The icicles in the window are shot with such red light of dawn that Bit goes barefoot over the snow to pull one with his hand. Inside again, he licks it down to nothing, eating winter itself, the captured woodsmoke and sleepy hush and aching cleanness of ice.”

Ms. Groff is also the author of the novel The Monsters of Templeton (2008) and a collection of short stories, Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories (2009).

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Computing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi 
submitted by Tony

Computing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, is part of the M.I.T. Essential Knowledge series. The series started a little over a year ago but topics covered already span the gamut from ocean waves to corporations.

Computing is a short work, barely 200 pages long (and the pages are only 5” X 7”). While a regular user of computers, I admit that my understanding of the actual mechanical aspect of them is a bit sketchy. Even so, Computing is easy to read, leaving almost all jargon aside. When necessary, terms are quickly and clearly explained in such a way as to not impede the story being told.

The story begins with the creation of modern computers in the 1930’s and 1940’s (only deviating briefly to mention earlier systems that influenced modern computers). From there, Ceruzzi traces developments in the field up to the social networking era of the past few years. He focuses on four key themes:

1) Use of binary code to operate machines
2) Convergence of different machine systems
3) Use of solid-state electronics
4) Means of communication between people and computers

This big picture approach makes computing seem much like a social movement - as a complicated and evolving set of events that conflict and complement each other.

If you like this work and are so inclined to delve deeper, there are several interesting histories of computing that LFPL carries. The most current (just released this March) is George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. For a list of some titles available at the library, click here.

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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt 
submitted by Caren

If you at all enjoy history and the play of ideas across centuries, you will enjoy The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which was a National Book Award winner. The author, Stephen Greenblatt focuses on an ancient poem (De Rerum Natura by Lucretius) nearly lost in the "teeth of time" (as he so colorfully puts it). The poem was plucked from its obscurity in a German monastery library by an early fifteenth century Italian book hunter, Poggio Bracciolini.

I have read the criticism that the subtitle, "How the World Became Modern", is a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps, but the author is using this specific example as representative of the people and thoughts that shimmered across the centuries. In my mind, I could visualize a pebble tossed out into time, with concentric circles of influence spreading further and further. It is the way in which the author follows these silvery trails that is engrossing. I thought it was interesting that these humanist scholars were so well-versed in the existing ancient literature that they could follow clues about works that had once been widely read, but had disappeared from known literature.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries were the repositories for literature. Their books were copied by hand and stored. A person searching these libraries, though, had to have some idea of what he was seeing. He also had to have some hunch about the best places to search across Europe. The fact that this particular poem, with its subversive ideas, was found by this particular person is just amazing.

Greenblatt sets the stage by introducing Poggio and telling us his situation, so we see how he came to be nosing around monastic libraries in Germany. He then goes on to tell how this poem, itself influenced by the ideas of Epicurus, left its imprint on the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and beyond, even to our own Thomas Jefferson. The controversial ideas contained in the poem are outlined on pages 185-199.

For anyone who enjoys this book, I would also recommend How to Live – or – A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. Montaigne, too, was a link, carrying the Epicurean ideas of Lucretius forward. I love these words from page 247-8:
"There are moments, rare and powerful, in which a writer, long vanished from the face of the earth, seems to stand in your presence and speak to you directly, as if he bore a message meant for you above all others. Montaigne seems to have felt this intimate link with Lucretius..."

Lastly, if you are a bookaholic, as I am, certainly you can empathize with Petrarch, quoted on page 119:
"Gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomed estates, pious paintings, caparisoned steeds, and other things of this kind offer a mutable and superficial pleasure; books give delight to the very marrow of one's bones. They speak to us, consult with us, and join with us in a living and intense intimacy."

The Swerve invites us to join the conversation, to commune with minds across the ages. Who could resist?

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One Way or Another by Rhonda Bowen 
submitted by Damera

Toni Shields is a hard-nosed reporter who will go to great lengths for a story. This is how we find her at the beginning of One Way or Another. Toni and her best friend, Afrika, are caught snooping on the mayor of Atlanta and they are arrested and taken to jail.

It is here that she runs into Adam Bayne. Adam is the director of a youth halfway house called Jacob’s House. Although they don’t exchange words, there is electricity between the two of them that can’t be denied.

When Toni is reassigned to the journalist pool at work, having almost caused the paper a lawsuit, she still finds a way to get front page stories using a pseudonym. Her big story revolves around a young man’s incarceration, Jacob’s House, and Adam Bayne. Adam appears to have a dislike for Toni, who he learns is the sister of his best friend, Trey. Toni also appears to not take to Adam as well but, as they see more of each other and begin to know each other better, their feelings begin to change.

Adam has hidden a secret for years from everyone including his best friend. When this secret is revealed, it causes a rift between Adam and the boys at the youth center, and also between Toni and himself. How will Toni handle this betrayal? And how can Adam rectify his image, which has now been damaged?

I felt that the author, Rhonda Bowen, captured the essence of her characters throughout this book. Toni was a no holds barred type of woman, but that was just her outer shell. On the inside, Toni was deeply fragile and still unable to cope with the tragedies of her past. Adam, on the other hand, seemed to be level headed and in control, but he too had things in his past that he needed to deal with in order to be complete.

This book is a Christian Fiction novel. Readers can feel refreshed with its content and the message that it portrays, which is to face your past, deal with the consequences, and learn to live your life. Ms. Bowen has another novel, Man Enough for Me, which is also a page turner.

I think that people will truly enjoy One Way or Another and look forward to hearing others' thoughts.

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Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley and America’s Greatest Marathon by John Brant 
submitted by Tommy

If you’re a runner, you’ll love Duel in the Sun by John Brant. If you’re not a runner, it’s still a really good book. It’s the story of two men driven to insanity. It is high drama at its best.

Alberto Salazar was the young, cocky, super talented, two time winner of the NYC marathon. Dick Beardsley was a farm boy and virtually unknown as a marathoner. Beardsley wasn’t known for his speed, but had improved in each of his marathons. Both runners had extreme endurance and confidence and that may be all they had in common. Both had a common opponent…the HEAT .

The style of the book reminds me of distance running itself. Chapters are not chronological. They move in time just like a runner’s mind will move during a long run. You may run a few miles and realize that you haven’t used your mind at all. Then you may flash back and see years of your past in the next few minutes of your run.

In general, as Bill Rodgers once said, “The Marathon can humble you.” In specific, the Boston Marathon can break you. Boston has Heartbreak Hill at the 20 mile mark. And it is about the 20 mile mark that all humans “hit the wall” in any marathon (when glycogen levels are depleted). This race in 1982 broke both of these men. They finished in first and second place, having dueled the entire race that Salazar won by two seconds. I remember seeing this race as an 18 year old. Salazar was all the rage and a new idol of mine. And then he fell off the map a few years later. I had always wondered what happened. This book explains it.

Both men had demons. Some of these demons were from childhood, some came from this race. Both men would become broken physically and mentally. Beardsley became addicted to drugs; Salazar became obsessed with becoming the dominant runner he was before the Duel in the Sun. The details of their decline are frightening. The fight back for both men is inspiring.

I’m not usually taken by “inspirational books.” This one is different, it has moved me deeply. You can reserve it here.

The Library also has Alberto Salazar’s new book, 14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life, which also I plan to read.

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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