A fascinating aspect of literature is its capacity to change over time. Intuitively, one may think that the message a book conveys, the experience the tale imparts, the revelry a novel causes remains somewhat static and consistent, a belief that I completely disagree with. By this, I mean that the state of the reader, influenced by such dynamic factors as age, relationship status, type of socialization experienced, among others, significantly affects, and perhaps ultimately determines, oneís reaction to a story.
Kim , Rudyard Kiplingís famous novel published in 1901, is for me a prime demonstration of this idea of how oneís feelings towards a story can change. I first read Kim as a sixth grader and found the story of the orphaned Kimball OíHara, otherwise known as Kim, gripping Ė a young guy, a bit older than I was at the time, was leading an adventurous life on the streets of Lahore, India, free of the pressures of school and family, and while he was poor and did lead a somewhat harsh existence, his complete independence seemed so appealing. And his life only becomes more incredible as he joins a Tibetan lama on his spiritual journey and is eventually recruited by the British secret service for important work, which they refer to as the great game, on the northern border of India involving Russian agents, turncoat allies, and danger Ė almost a young James Bond.
Now, letís skip quite a few years ahead, the young sixth grader is now an adult, and I find myself looking at a copy of Kim and remembering the first time I read it. Succumbing to nostalgia, I cracked that paperback open and began reading. I was taken quite by surprise. Being an enormous fan of several modern writers hailing from India, I have developed a particular picture of post-Raj India, one in which India, despite the challenges that pluralist societies face, is filled with beauty, culture, and, above all, magic; something that modern life can oftentimes lack or lose altogether, particularly as one grows older.
Although Mr. Kipling included wonderful descriptions of the geography and lively city life of India, it was made perfectly clear that Mr. Kipling considered Indian independence something akin to madness, for in his mind how could the country thrive and progress without the leadership of the British? In the words of Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, complete ďtommy-rottĒ, I thought.
Despite the imperialistic overtones that overshadow Kim , I must say that it still is a good adventure and coming-of-age story that can be easier to digest when the time and context in which it was written is taken into account. In fact, it is the various layers of the story that can keep it fresh and new through subsequent readings.
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In this book, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford , the year is 1855. Thirteen year old scullery maid Abigail works a grueling job doing the household jobs that no one else wants to do; Greave Hall is the only home Abi has ever known. She grew up here with her mother, a nursemaid, and with nowhere else to go, has remained after her motherís death a year before.
Life at Greave Hall is changing. Lord Greave, the master of the house, is aging and increasingly disoriented and confused; his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cotton, is the housekeeper and Abiís personal tormentor. The return of Sam, Abiís childhood playmate and the son of the house, seems to indicate a return of brighter days, but Samís return is overshadowed by his injuries sustained in the Crimean War as well as a deeper mystery at work in Greave Hall.
Unexplainable things are happening and Abi seems to be the only one noticing..handprints where there should be none, things being moved with no explanation, and specters in the night. Is someone trying to communicate with Abi from beyond the grave? What really happened to Abiís mother; was it Cholera or something distinctly more sinister?
This is young adult novelist, Michael Fordís fourth book. I found it to be a fast paced, suspenseful read; I was able to finish it in one day and greatly appreciated the chilly, gothic atmosphere that Ford created; perfect for October. The mystery of Abiís motherís death is well developed, with just enough foreshadowing to keep the reader moving. Being suspenseful, sensational, and relatively short, this would be a great read for any reluctant readers you might have hanging around in your library, or in your home.
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In Marstal, Denmark, the men of the town have always gone to sea. The sea is in their blood and it calls to the fathers and sons of the town constantly, even as it leaves their bones on the floors of all seven seas. The sea dominates everything in town, much as the sea dominates other great maritime stories. Set over the span of a century, We, the Drown follows the lives of the town folk: the boys who fight amongst themselves, while also fighting with their school teachers and dreaming of the day they can go to sea; the men who go to war, who sail the four corners of the world to discover that the folly of human existence is as strong right in Marstal as it is in illegal trades in the South Pacific; the strong women left behind in Marstal to raise the children, live their lives, and be left to wonder why a ship fails to return to port. It follows the rise and fall of the town and how its citizens shaped this history. This book, a best seller in Europe and Carsten Jensenís debut novel, is the story of love, loss, warfare, sorrow, and joys, a well-rounded look at what happens in life.
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In September the library is encouraging reading groups and all readers across Louisville to explore books with roots in different countries and cultures with its Read Your Way Around the World program. Check out the library's Read Your Way Around the World Book List ! Titles from this list will be chosen for the Mayor's Book Club. Join us for the first meeting, Wednesday September 21 from 12-1 at the Main Library. We will be reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.
I was one of many library employees that offered input as the reading list was developed. As I found books to suggest it was fun to go back and remember how such books have contributed to my understanding of many different cultures. Several of the most interesting books I have ever read are on the list:
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang is a particular favorite. Changís multi generational history, tells us the story of her grandmother, who as a young girl lived in a society that was still binding the feet of its young girls; her mother and father who were Maoist revolutionaries and their subsequent experiences during the Cultural Revolution; and her own story as a young girl who briefly joined The Red Guard, before leaving it due to its extreme violence. Her stories introduced me in a very real way to Twentieth Century China and the effects of its policies on its people.
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat is a memoir that gave not only insight into life in the authorís birth country of Haiti, but also insight into the life of those who leave in search of a better life in the United States. Danticat tells the story of her father who, along with her mother, immigrates to New York when Danticat is four years old. Unable to bring her with them, she remained in Haiti, until the age of 12, living with her fatherís brother Joseph, a pastor in Port au Prince. I learned much about the upheaval in the late 20th Century in Haiti while reading an engrossing story of family love.
I hope you will use the list to expand your knowledge of the world and its people. Talking to others at the library about their recommendations has increased by at least a dozen my list of books I want to read.
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Sometimes I feel funny about liking a book solely for the illustrations. My dilemma is possibly the inverse of ďnever judge a book by itís coverĒ. Lucky for you, Iíve decided to eschew that way of thinking and share a recently published work for young children simply because of its beautiful pictures.
Could a book designed entirely using computer software still be organic and elegant? Surprisingly, yes!
You may recognize the work of graphic designer Frank Viva who occasionally does covers for The New Yorker. If not, meet Along a Long Road whose title does nothing to mislead.
Inside, one seamless (pre-binding, 35 foot long!) scene is divided for readers into a panoramic glimpse of a two wheeled journey. A striking yellow bike trail courses throughout right alongside a lovely blue body of water. Both are accompanied by simple encouraging text. We meet towns and cities, pass through tunnels and go up hills, from day to shimmering moonlit night. We hit a bump in the road and fall off our bikes. Kids will see that itís easy to get back on and continue your adventure.
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