Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Library Lovers Month and Day in the District!

During the month of February don’t forget to love your library!  This month libraries are nationally celebrated and recognized for their value in the community.  You may be familiar with the saying “it’s not a house, it’s a home…” Well, in comparison … “it’s not just a building that houses books, it’s the heart of the community!”  The library is more than just a place to enjoy great novels, or to discover amazing adventures and untold history. Yes, there is help with research papers and a quiet space to study, but there is so much more.  For preschoolers, there are story times and lots of hands-on activities that expose them to music, art, and their first friendships.  There are several meeting rooms and space for groups to gather for special programs and classes.  Ashe library not only lends books and DVDs, but unique items, such as ukuleles, alphabet activity backpacks, and playground equipment.  There are computers and librarians to assist with technology needs as well as one of the best reference-reading rooms in the state to help with research and genealogy.

In observation of Library Lovers Month, continue enjoying your library, but consider volunteering your time.  If you don’t have a library card, it’s never too late! Visit the library to get one and use #NationalLibraryLoversDay to share on social media.

On February 23 Ashe Library will celebrate Day in the District.  Local elected officials (mayors, town and county mangers, aldermen, commissioners, state representatives, along with the county sheriff) will be invited for a special open house event.  Visit during the day to meet these VIPs and let them know how much you appreciate the library and services it provides your community. Come out for an Adventurous Alphabet Affair and meet Arly the Library Fox between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served by the library board of trustees!

Dates to remember in February:

Children’s Programs

·         Baby Bounce meets every Friday at 10:30 a.m. for ages birth to 2 years. Enjoy stories, rhymes, bounces, and songs with a stay-and-play social time afterwards.

·         Tot Time takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for ages 2 and 3. Wiggle, giggle, laugh, sing, and create. A fun-filled time featuring stories, music, and a craft.

·         Storytime for ages 4 and 5 is at 10:30 a.m. every Thursday. Join us for ABC adventures with stories, art, and music.

Tween Programs

·         Join us for Minecraft Day at 4:00 p.m. on February 21.  Learn about coding colors and make your own Minecraft Creeper head!

Teen Programs (ages 12-18)

·         T for Teen – Gamers Unite! Meet-up at 4:00 p.m. on February 5. Xbox360 and laptops available for teen gaming.

·         Anti-Valentine’s Day Party with a Lemony Snicket theme will be held at 4:00 p.m. on February 12.

·         Board Game Café is open at 4:00 p.m. on February 19. Come and make some friends! Play a variety of board games and enjoy coffee and sweet treats.

·         TLC (Teen Listening Council) is a safe place for teens to talk openly about any subject. Drop in at 4:00 p.m. on February 26. This month A Safe Home for Everyone will host the gathering with conversation about healthy relationships. Come out for snacks, fun activities, and help in navigating those turbulent teenage years.

Adult Programs

·         Throughout 2019, VAYA Health is sponsoring a Public Presentation Series at the library.  Two topics will be highlighted, back-to-back, each month from 10:00 a.m. until noon.  Join us on February 7 for a session on PTSD and Traumatic Experiences at 10:00 a.m. and Commonly Misused Medications Among Older Adults at 11:00 a.m.

·         For all your tech troubles, book an appointment with our friendly reference librarians.  Call 336.846.2041 x227. 

·         Yoga Club meets in the library’s downstairs meeting room at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays.

·         Vickie’s Book Club meets at 1:00 p.m. on February 19 to discuss Commonwealth by, Ann Patchett.

·         The Artist's Way group, led by Rebecca Petruck, will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays, through February 21. Come out and discover or recover your artistic creativity!

·         Brouhaha Book Club meets at 5:30 p.m. on February 25 in Boondocks Restaurant for “Books, Beer and Bookworm Babble.”  Come and find out what everyone has been reading lately!

All Ages

·         Get Crafty meets at 10 a.m. on February 16.  Find out about the ongoing project “365 Days of Granny Squares,” bring along your current project, or join the group and start on a crafty project now!  All skill levels welcome, materials are provided.

·         The Community Drum Circle meets at 5:30 p.m. on February 14 and 28.  Join the celebration of drums, while exploring the soul and spirit of music!

·         Mountain Music Slow Jam will meet from 3:00-5:00 p.m. on February 2 and 16 in the downstairs meeting room. Songs are explained as to timing, breaks, etc… and played in slow time.  Designed for beginners, all skill levels are welcome.

Special Events

·         Valentines! Drop in and create cards for your special someone and to give residents of our local nursing homes on February 7.  We also encourage you to fill out a postcard telling us why you love your library.  We will share these with our elected officials on Day in the District to remind them why the library is essential to our community.

·         A special documentary will be featured at 12:00 p.m. – followed by discussion on February 16.  Join us for Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.  This documentary chronicles the possible effects of toxic stress on the bodies and brains of children and the dawn of a movement that is fighting back against this epidemic.  Registration is required as food will be served.  Visit https://bit.ly/2sudnNs to register.  Sponsored by Innovative Approaches.

·         Drop in for Day in the District on February 23.  Meet elected officials and bring the children for an Adventurous Alphabet Affair from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

·         Friends of Ashe County Library will be hosting a Red Cross Blood Drive from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on February 23.  Give the gift of life and donate today. 

·         A Community Discussion Series begins at 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. on February 25. Bring your sandwich and join us for coffee and snacks.  Each of these sessions will create an opportunity to discuss proven methods for preparing each of us with increasing the strength of our community. In this session we will discuss concepts from Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging.  The author will join us via Skype for the latter part of the session.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Literary Birthday Book Reviews for January

The year 2019 highlights books by an old favorite and a new author. I remembered J.D. Salinger with a reread of Catcher in the Rye, while ringing in the New Year. Salinger would have been one hundred years old, born on January 1, 1919. I also discovered Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a new author with three titles on my reading list “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” Ngugi celebrated his 81st birthday on January 5 (born the same year as my father, 1938).

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, previously known as James Ngugi is a Kenyan author in exile from East Africa, his native country. He grew up in a large peasant family, son of his father's third wife. His father 's polygamist marriage consisted of four wives and Ngugi recalls the familial bond of having twenty-seven siblings along with multiple mothers. During the day, women and children worked the land, but at nightfall they would gather around a fire to hear stories. This was Ngugi's favorite time and he couldn't wait until dark for the stories. When he was old enough to attend school, where Shakespeare was a daily subject of study, Ngugi was glad that stories didn't have to wait until dark. He compares imagination to a time machine, “you can travel through time and space with your imagination.”

During years of the Mau Mau rebellion Ngugi vividly remembers returning home to his village after being away at school for several months and finding everything burned … no one was there. Everyone had fled to safety when fighting broke out. It is this memory that seems to be a part of all his novels. A scene in which one returns to find some unexpected happenings.

In his novel Matigari, Ngugi tells the story of a legendary patriot whose name means, “one who survived the bullets.” This story takes place in Kenya, following liberation from British rule. Matigari has returned from fighting in the mountains and is resolved to reclaim his land peaceably. Instead Matigari finds more resistance and trouble from the children of his oppressors. One phrase repeated throughout the story is “too much fear breeds misery in the land.” People are afraid to speak up for fear of being imprisoned. Police brutality threatens and the rich rule over those in extreme poverty. At one point, Matigari is detained in jail and later mysteriously escapes. His notoriety can be compared to the Messiah and soon he has many followers that view him as their hero. There are several biblical references throughout, camouflaged by historical fiction of African struggles. For example, when Matigari starts out he has buried his weapons under a fig tree and wrapped himself with a belt of fig bark to symbolize peace. Throughout the Bible the fig tree is referred to as a sign of peace and prosperity. When Matigari comes to the defense of Guthera, a prostitute, I was reminded of a Jesus and his protection of prostitutes on whom he had compassion because they were trapped in sin. Comparisons can also be made to ‘fake news’ when the Voice of Truth and His Excellency Ole Excellency, are heard daily on radios and loudspeakers making announcements that discourage listeners from voicing their own opinions. Judiciary members of the government are referred to as parrots. This symbolism illustrates the blind acceptance of leaders and the mechanical mimicking (parroting) of corrupt propaganda. The character Matigari became so famous among Ngugi’s readers that Kenyan officials believed Matigari to be a real person and a threat. The fictional character was on a list of most wanted throughout East Africa, and later when it was learned that Matigari was not a real person, the book was ordered removed from public circulation and banned.

When remembering the history of the Civil Rights Movement I thought about how this movement is global. While Dr. Martin Luther King was leading non-violent demonstrations in America, a violent revolution was going on in Africa. Similarly, though not simultaneously, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was jailed for writing material deemed a threat to the ruling elite. He had decided to write only in Gikuyu, his native tongue, and to drop his European name. This decision was criticized by dictatorial government leaders and contributed to reasons for his incarceration. The readers he wanted to write for did not consider English as a primary language and he began to feel that writing in English was essentially cultural treason. While in jail he wrote his next book on toilet paper, to be smuggled out and prepared for publication. After a year of imprisonment, Amnesty International secured Ngugi’s release and he left Africa to reside in America. He is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of California, Irvine and has been a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize.

My book club enjoyed discussing Ngugi’s book while sampling Kenyan foods. Roast chicken was favored over ugali, a boiled (tasteless) cornmeal mush, and of course black tea was served. Tea is a major cash crop in Kenya. We also listened to authentic Kenyan music, discovered on a Folkways Smithsonian website. The conversation surrounding Ngugi’s book led us in exploring issue-oriented themes related to class and race. It was noted that progress isn’t linear and with every step forward there may seem to be two steps back. Still we must lurch on towards higher callings and higher ground. Matigari is a book that inspires thought for overcoming barriers. Other books by Ngugi wa Thiong’o on the list of books we “must read” include Petals of Blood and The River Between.

J D Salinger's initials stand for Jerome David, not juvenile delinquent as one might refer to when describing his famous Catcher in the Rye character Holden Caulfield. Salinger has admitted that this novel is “sort of” autobiographical. The idea for his novel began as a short story for The New Yorker, but before it was published bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor, fully immersing America in war. Editors of The New Yorker withdrew their plans to publish Salinger's submission, claiming it was too frivolous at such a serious time.

Soon Salinger was drafted into the Army and became involved in heavy combat serving in five war campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge. After Germany's defeat, he was assigned to a counter-intelligence unit where he worked interrogating prisoners of war. During the war years, he credits Holden Caulfield with keeping him alive. Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine, encouraged him to turn Holden’s story into a novel. Salinger says he “lived” Holden Caulfield’s life in his mind as an escape from daily horrors of war.

Catcher in the Rye is included on many ‘must-read’ lists, and as one that ‘should be read before growing up’ it is recommended for the 12+ age range (making it also a part of the list ‘to read before you die’). It is a classic coming-of-age story, frequently taught in high school literature classes and ironically the most censored book across the nation. Salinger portrays teen angst and frustration through Holden’s inner monologue and creates a unique style of writing that expounds on the character’s exact thought processes.

To summarize Catcher in the Rye’s plot may ruin things for those wanting to experience Holden firsthand, but I will provide my theory behind the title of Salinger’s book and some character personality quirks. In the book, Holden makes reference to a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (Comin’ Thro’ the Rye) mistaking the poem’s title as ‘Catcher in the Rye.’

Holden recalling a dream he had: “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.”

In preparation for this review I not only reread Catcher in the Rye, but I watched a film (Rebel in the Rye) starring Nichols Hoult as J D Salinger. Other research also contributed to my analysis of the author/character. I believe since Salinger saw the worst of mankind during war times he uses Holden, though jaded, to emphasize the loss of innocence. Holden wants to protect his younger sister, Phoebe.
He believes he needs to shield the children at Phoebe's school from vulgar graffiti and tries to erase it from walls in the stairwell. Innocence is something that doesn't last forever, but in Holden's eyes he can't see Phoebe as being anything but innocent.

Salinger’s personal relationships all involved much younger women. He practiced meditation and lived a reclusive lifestyle in the rural town of Cornish, New Hampshire. He was an extremely private person and once his novel Catcher in the Rye became an enormous success, he no longer cared if his writings were published. Salinger wrote for himself and it is rumored that there is manuscript that tells the story of Holden sixty years later. JD Salinger was 91 years old when he died of natural causes in 2010, and left behind stipulations about his work. There were to be no films made of Catcher in the Rye and nothing else to be published until his current work was part of public domain.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Learning, Inspiration, Fellowship, and Enrichment = LIFE in the Library!

Lifelong Learning is one of the library’s service priorities, and this isn’t just a lifetime supply of books to read. There are many other things going on at the library to spark an interest and become involved in. The best thing is that, library programs are FREE! As the year begins, there are some new offerings and updates with library programs.

Local author Rebecca Petruck, nationally recognized for her middle-grade novels, will lead a weekly group inspired by Julia Cameron’s self-help book The Artist’s Way. These sessions will help participants tap into their creativity with exercises and conversations to regain the self-confidence needed to harness their innate talents. Attendance is come-as-you-can at 5:30 on Thursdays. Email rebecca_petruck@yahoo.com to access the group calendar, get exercises, and read inspiries!

Get Crafty is a knitters and crochet’s group that meets on the third Saturday of each month from 10:00 – 12:00. The group is designed for all skill levels, one-on-one help is available and beginners are welcome. Each year there is an emphasis on a themed project, and this year instruction will be given on various Granny Square patterns (365 Days of Granny Squares). Materials are provided and attendees do not need to be grandmothers to make Granny Squares! Plans are to make unique beautifully designed squares throughout the year that can be assembled into a warm afghan to snuggle with next winter.

Library teens meet every month for a little TLC (Teen Listening Council). In 2019 the TLC group will be hosted by A Safe Home for Everyone. Sessions will provide fellowship and conversation on different topics that matter to teens. This month’s discussion provides information on how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. This group meets at 4:00 on January 29.

The 2018-19 Reading Challenge Wrap-up / Kick-off Party takes place at 5:00 p.m. on January 3. It is exciting to see all the books read by our patrons and a special thank you to all our community sponsors! If you are looking for something good to read, the 2019 Reading Challenge will provide suggestions for new books and you will be entered to win prizes for every completed challenge. Join us for refreshments and fun & games.

Lastly, a seasonal reminder that VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) begins on January 28. Call the library's appointment phone line to reserve your time for consultation. (336-977-5829).
Be sure to save-the-dates and stop by the library to experience LIFE!
Dates to remember in January:
The library will close at 5:00 p.m. on December 31 for New Year’s Eve, and remain closed for January 1, 2019 for New Year’s Day. The library is also closed on January 21 for observance of Martin Luther King Day.  
Children’s Programs
  • Baby Bounce meets every Friday at 10:30 a.m. for ages birth to 2 years. Enjoy stories, rhymes, bounces, and songs with a stay-and-play social time afterwards.
  • Tot Time takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for ages 2 and 3. Wiggle, giggle, laugh, sing, and create. A fun-filled time featuring stories, music, and a craft.
  • Storytime for ages 4 and 5 is at 10:30 a.m. every Thursday. Join us for ABC adventures with stories, art, and music.
  • Kid Inventors Day takes place at 4:00 p.m. for ages 8 – 12. Tweens are invited to a “Flying Machine Challenge” in celebration of Kid Inventors Day! Kids will make their best contraption out of recycled materials and test them against their peers.
  • National Hot Chocolate Day is a great reason to come to the library in your PAJAMAS! Join us for a cup of yummy hot coca and a Special Pajama Family StoryTime at 4:00 p.m. on January 31. Bring the whole family for an assortment of funny stories! (Blankies and stuffed animals are also welcome.)

Teen Programs
  • T for Teen – Gamers Unite! Meet-up at 4:00 p.m. on January 8. Xbox360 and laptops available for teen gaming.
  • Board Game Café is open at 4:00 p.m. on January 15. Come and make some friends! Play a variety of board games and enjoy coffee and sweet treats.
  • Teen Yoga to be held at 4:00 p.m. on January 22. Laura Price, certified yoga teacher with 10+ years of experience, leads this laid-back class for beginners.
  • TLC (Teen Listening Council) is a safe place for teens to talk openly about any subject. Drop in at 4:00 p.m. on January 29. This month A Safe Home for Everyone will host the gathering with conversation about healthy relationships. Come out for snacks, fun activities, and help in navigating those turbulent teenage years.
Adult Programs
  • For all your tech troubles, book and appointment with our friendly reference librarians.  Call 336.846.2041 x227. 
  • Yoga Club meets in the library’s downstairs meeting room at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays.
  • Vickie’s Book Club meets at 1:00 p.m. on January 15 to discuss I Will Always Write Back by, Caitlin Alifrenka
  • The Artist's Way group, lead by Rebecca Petruck, will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Come out and discover or recover your artistic creativity!
  • Brouhaha Book Club meets at 5:30 p.m. on January 28 in Boondocks Restaurant for “Books, Beer and Bookworm Babble.”  Come and find out what everyone has been reading lately!
All Ages
  • Get Crafty meets at 10 a.m. on January 19 to launch a new year-long project 365 Days of Granny Squares.
  • The Community Drum Circle meets at 5:30 p.m. on January 10 and 24.  Join the celebration of drums, while exploring the soul and spirit of music!
  • Mountain Music Slow Jam will meet from 3:00-5:00 p.m. on January 5 and 19 in the downstairs meeting room. Songs are explained as to timing, breaks, etc… and played in slow time.  Designed for beginners, all skill levels are welcome.
Special Events
  • A special presentation: Witness to the Holocaust, will be held at 5:30 on January 24 by Dr. Walter Ziffer. In this very personal program, Dr. Ziffer informs his audience about the difficulties of surviving the German genocide known as the Holocaust and the importance of maintaining vigilance so as to prevent a repeat of this atrocity. Complimenting Dr. Ziffer's visit, is a month-long exhibit, Faces of Resistance: Everyday Life in the Ghettos. This exhibit highlights forms of resistance taken by women in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Local artist, Stephen Shoemaker is also debuting his latest work, a portrait of Czestawa Kwoka, a teenage girl who was a prisoner at Auschwitz.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Literary Birthday Book Reviews for December

Cicely Isabel Fairfield, born on December 21, 1892, grew up to use the pseudonym Rebecca West as her pen name. West lived a captivating life, as an activist in the women's suffrage movement, a reporter for the Nuremberg Trials, and mistress to novelist H.G. Wells. Her affair with Wells produced a son, Anthony West, who became a celebrated writer in his own time. In 1959 she was made DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire), cited as writer and literary critic. She is noted as the most accomplished English writer in the Anglo-Saxon world. A British author and journalist, she has worked as a literary critic, a travel writer, and published several novels in various genres. West was a staunch liberal feminist and considered to be a one of the 20th century's most important public intellectuals.

December's recommended read is West's novel Harriet Hume: A London Fantasy, published in 1929.
This is a strange story about a woman who is able to read her lover's mind, and knowing his thoughts is in the end what saves her life. Harriet is a concert pianist who lives in a Kensington House apartment. Arnold Condorex is a man whose ambitions lead him to corrupt politics in a quest for power. Together this couple is made of polar opposites and at the same time seem drawn together by magnets. Harriet's apartment has a beautiful courtyard where she tends the trees and lilacs with care. While strolling there with Arnold after a midday rendezvous, she shares with him fairytales and revelations about his inner thoughts. This is unsettling to Arnold, whose thoughts are not the purest. He can't face himself in the mirror, so to say. Arnold realizes he has to leave Harriet in order to reach his aspirations in life. She reminded me of Jiminy Cricket … supplying a conscience for Arnold that he doesn't want. He knows that ruthlessness will get him where he wants to be and doesn't need Harriet's judgement to slow him down. The story stops and starts as the couple reunites every few years. While they are apart, Arnold achieves his goals, yet sacrifices his morals along the way. With each reunion, I think Harriet hopes he has changed, or hopes she can change him. Instead her intuitive powers prove Arnold's thoughts are still self-serving and not always flattering to her. Along with burgling Arnold's mind, she can also predict his actions. As the story progresses, his actions become more erratic and Arnold tries to make sense of his fatal attraction to Harriet, “You yourself once explained that there was a mystical confusion of substance in us.”

While researching Rebecca West, I discovered a 1968 interview with her on YouTube, conducted by William F. Buckley Jr., where she talked about the subject of treason. It was an interesting talk about the Cambridge Five and their involvement in passing on information to the Soviet Union as double agents. In listening to her views about spies, traitors, McCarthyism, communism and the John Birch Society, I wondered what she would say about today's politics. One of her noted published works was The Meaning of Treason, where she dissects the moral struggles of those involved in spy rings and conspiracies. This interview also helped me make some connections to what motivated Arnold Condorex in his affair with Harriet Hume. He was obviously attracted to Harriet, although he spoke in flippant terms when professing his love, but the underlying problem he had in other areas of his life prevented him from being the sort of chivalrous lover I wished he could have been. I think West illustrated the human weakness of Arnold’s worldly desires and the difficulty he had with ethics splendidly.

Throughout the novel, West's vocabulary may seem archaic for modern readers, but as stated by William Shawn, editor of the New Yorker, in response to an announcement of her death (March 15, 1983). No one in this century wrote more dazzling prose, or had more wit, or looked at the intricacies of human character and the ways of the world more intelligently."

Tales from Shakespeare is a collection of the famous tragedies and comedies compiled for young readers by English writers Charles and Mary Lamb. My first thought was that Charles and Mary may have been husband and wife, but actually they were unmarried siblings. Mary Lamb whose birthday is on December 3, 1764, cannot be highlighted independently from her brother. They both suffered on and off with mental illness and were devoted to each other’s care throughout life. Mary’s illness was more severe and one day in a fit of anger she stabbed her mother to death. She was acquitted from willful murder on the verdict of lunacy, and on the condition that Charles remain her caretaker.

Their collaboration on Tales from Shakespeare was first published in 1807 and is still widely read and studied today. These tales are a perfect introduction to Shakespeare’s work, preserving the essence of his original language. Charles was responsible for summarizing the tragedies, while Mary rewrote the comedies. Still it was not until the seventh edition (1938) that her name appeared on the title page. The Lambs organized and led a literary and social circle that included poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Tales from Shakespeare came about when William Godwin, a member of this group (more commonly known as Mary Shelley’s father), encouraged the Lambs to write something for his Juvenile Library. There are many editions available of Lambs’ “retellings” but the first edition with illustrations by Irish painter, William Mulready and poet, William Blake is my favorite. For those who enjoy reading online, free access to the entire collection is available at www.readcentral.com. If you are a listener, there are several YouTube audio readers.

I don’t recall ever studying Shakespeare in depth and have only read a few of his tales; of course Romeo and Juliet, A Mid-summer’s Night Dream, and Hamlet. Lamb’s collaboration was my first time reading some of these classics and I discovered new favorites, such as The Winter’s Tale and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There are a total of twenty tales in this book and I spent the last several weeks reading a different one each night. It may be obvious to those who know Shakespeare’s work well, but there is a theme I picked up on in my readings. I seems like Shakespeare loved disguises and incorporated this into the strategies or motives of different storylines. Many plots unfolded to reveal trickery and surprise, as characters used false identities to reach the story's high point. I imagine the success of Shakespeare’s plays comes partly from costumes and extravagance in production.

My final thoughts about Mary, Charles, and Shakespeare are personal favorite quotes I discovered in research: From William Shakespeare, “There is no darkness but ignorance.” From Charles Lamb, “New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday.” And from Mary Lamb, “A child is fed with milk and praise.” I am not sure of the context these quotes were taken from, but all inspire deep thoughts and will be noted in my literary journal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Literary Birthday Book Reviews for November

This month I have been reading two very different books by authors with November birthdays.  As always, my reading selections are chosen by sorting a list of numbered titles with an online random number generator.  Since I have such long lists … 'books to read before you grow up' and 'books to read before you die,' the random sorting makes it easier for me to decide what to read next.  When you want to read everything, a decision like this is very hard to make!

Typically books listed as ones to read before growing up are suggested for children, but sometimes a book is so good it is recommended on both lists.  Louisa May Alcott's book Little Women is noted as “required reading” before growing up and strongly suggested as a “must read” before you die.  I accomplished the first requirement as a young girl of eight years old, with the help of my mother.  Each night she would read to me a chapter from Little Women before bed and once the lights were out I'd sneak to read it again with a flashlight under the covers.  Little Women is one of the few books that I consider to be “flashlight worthy.”  I have reread this book several times throughout my life, which is also a testament to its worthiness.  
Louisa May Alcott

This story is about four sisters and their mother, holding down the home-front during Civil War times, while their father is away.  In studying about Alcott, I learned that she worked as a nurse on the battlefield during this war and that her character Josephine March, affectionately known as Jo, is written as a semi-biographical comparison.  Alcott also created characters in Little Women that represent her own three sisters.  Each one has special personality traits and even though they are fictional, from another time period, they truly become your friends.  I was so enamored by these characters that all my dolls and kittens were named after them. 

Little Women is a story of family love and hope during the worst of times.  And while experiencing hardships, these sisters kept little journals inspired by the struggles of Christian from John Bunyan's book Pilgrim's Progress.  Though some of their burdens were heavy and hard to bear, they learned to find the 'sunnyside' and helped each other through dark hours.  I wouldn't have discovered Bunyan's book without reading about its influence on the March sisters.  Yes, I read that book too after my initial consumption of Little Women. I think the scene that left the most impression on me was the sad time when Beth died.  I cried for at least a week after this character left behind her beloved family for the celestial city.  I truly felt Jo's pain from the loss and now know that Alcott wrote from experience after losing a sister, Lizzie, to Scarlet Fever.

This book provided many real life comparisons to assure me that we are not alone in our struggles.  Like Amy I wanted to be well-liked and fit in with my peers at school. Like Meg I worried about my appearance to others.  Beth was a shining example of goodness who served as a role model for me.  And Jo, who I felt most in tune with, taught me that there may be obstacles in the way, but with perseverance you can overcome.

While male readers may be intimidated by the title, Little Women, this book provides boys (and men) an excellent view of how the opposite sex thinks and acts.  In a Literary Hub article, columnist Anne Boyd Rioux asks, “How can boys respect girls if they are never encouraged to see the world as girls do?”  Even though this book probably has the most feminine title of any published book, it remained in the top ten as number 8 out of a nominated list of 100 when competing for the recent accolade of Great American Read.

If you haven't read Little Women or maybe you're considering it as a re-read, I suggest this universal coming-of-age story in honor of Louisa May Alcott's birthday, November 29, 1832.  There are also several films made of this novel, and a 2018 PBS Masterpiece Theater version that will have you spellbound.

John Berger, cultural art critic and novelist was born on November 5, 1926.  His award-winning book G. was an interesting read, and somewhat controversial among my co-readers.  Several members of my book club abandoned the story after reading only a few chapters.  Though the title is a single letter – G. - the content cannot be described G-rated.  Berger does include some explicit scenes, but that is to be expected when you consider that the main character, Giovanni (known as G.), is a womanizer … a seducer.  

The story is set on the eve of WWI and has many historical references to European events, which I noticed were all documented by Berger in crowd scenes.  His descriptions are so vivid, I was inspired to dig deeper and look for background information by Googling some of the incidents surrounding his character (G.).  Following the story’s timeline, Berger takes readers to Naples, Italy as Garibaldi’s Army makes an entrance in 1860.  Then to riots in 1898 on the streets of Milan and again with the mixed crowds of Bosnian nationalists, Italian Irredentists, and Hapsburg soldiers in 1915 on the streets of Trieste. 

Berger’s character, G. (said to be a “modern Don Juan”) is rich, privileged and free to travel.  A product of an illicit affair, G. is heir to his father’s candied fruit business.  His first encounter with sex is rather warped, learning from a widowed aunt how to pleasure a woman.  The novel takes off here with meditations about sex and follows G. through relationships with a series of women.  The disturbing parts of this novel weren’t so much the graphic intimacies, but the manipulative mindset of this character.     

John Berger
Berger is well-known for his talks on art: Ways of Seeing, which were featured as a BBC television series and in print.  His art critiques were published in 1972, the same year his novel G. won a Booker Prize.   In accepting this award, Berger made an unforgettable statement that probably caused more controversy then the book itself.  At that time, the company who sponsored the Booker Award had a history of exploitive trading in the Caribbean.  In a radical show of support for this impoverished territory, John donated half of his prize money (£5,000) to the London Black Panther Party.  From Berger’s acceptance speech; “The London-based Black Panther movement has arisen out of the bones of what Bookers and other companies have created in the Caribbean; I want to share this prize with the Black Panther movement because they resist both as black people and workers the further exploitation of the oppressed.”  John kept the other half of his prize money to assist with research expenses on a book he was writing about immigrant workers.

Over the past few weeks, I listened to a variety of lectures and interviews to learn more about this author and understand the meaning of his story about G. One idea that is mentioned in both his art lectures and his novel is that men survey women before they relate to them and that women’s actions indicate the way they would like to be observed. I wonder if this theory is true in our world today. I can say that listening to Berger ruminate on what he thinks about and his reflections on how he writes “life on the page” is fascinating.  One example of his mind’s wanderings (quoted from G.): “Do you know the legend about cicadas?  They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to.”   

My favorite image from this novel was the last sentence.  I think it is a perfect way to close the novel … a scene, which I cannot describe for you without spoiling the story. “Uninterruptedly receding towards the sun, the transmission of its reflections becoming faster, the sea neither requires nor recognizes any limit.  The horizon is the straight bottom edge of a curtain arbitrarily and suddenly lowered upon a performance.”