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.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

New Exhibits Showcased at the Library


Throughout December, Ashe Library is hosting two special interest exhibits.  On the library’s main floor discover NC Digs, an exhibit borrowed from the Office of State Archaeology (OSA).  NC Digs highlights five different types of archaeological sites - Native American, battlefield, plantation, trash pit, and industrial - that are found across the State. The exhibit includes interpretive panels explaining each site type and techniques and methods used for excavating and analyzing materials from these different types of sites. There are artifacts on display as well as various tools used by archaeologists.   There is also a “mini” dig site set up for hands-on exploration, as well as a variety of books on the topic of archaeology that can be checked out for further study.
North Carolina contains many thousands of prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, including thousands of shipwrecks in our coastal and inland waters.  OSA works to protect the state’s legacy of Native American villages, colonial towns, farmsteads, and historic shipwrecks through application of state and federal archaeology laws and regulations, and by maintaining inventories of site data and artifact collections. Appreciation of our state’s cultural heritage enhances the social, educational, cultural and economic future of North Carolina.

In the library’s Ida C. Marsh Gallery, on the upper level, The Faces of Resistance: Women in Camps, an exhibit borrowed from NC Council on the Holocaust, will highlight forms of resistance taken by women in concentration and death camps during the Holocaust.  The North Carolina Council on the Holocaust is a state agency in the NC Department of Public instruction, established in 1981 by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., and authorized in 1985 by the General Assembly.  It is composed of twenty-four members, of whom six are Holocaust survivors or first generation lineal descendants of survivors.  All members are volunteers appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, or the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; six are appointed at large.

Along with this exhibit, local artist Stephen Shoemaker will display his newest painting of Czestawa Kwoka, a teenage girl who was prisoner at Auschwitz.  The library’s focus on the Holocaust was planned to offer extended resources for students at Ashe High School who will be studying this as part of their curriculum in 2019.  The community is invited to attend a special presentation by Dr. Walter Ziffer about his experience as a “Witness to the Holocaust” on January24, 2019.
Dates to remember in December:
The library will be closed on December 24 - 26 for Christmas.
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. 
  • The Illustrator Book Club, for grades 3 – 6, meets at 4:00 p.m. on December 13. Observe an artistic style and attempt to re-create it.  December’s featured book is One Night Two Moons, by Joe Miller.

Teen Programs
  • Help pack Winter Care Kits for people in Ashe County who are experiencing homelessness during this coldest season at 4:00 p.m. on December 4.  Also, enjoy hot chocolate and music from the library’s literary Spotify playlist.
  • Board Game Café is open at 4:00 p.m. on December 11.  Come and make some friends! Play a variety of board games and enjoy coffee and sweet treats.
  • Compete to create the ultimate ice cream sundae with Snow Days Sundae Wars at 4:00 p.m. on December 18.  Prizes will be awarded.

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.

All Ages
  • A Reading Challenge Focus Group is meeting at 5:30 p.m. on December 13.  Your librarians have been hard at work planning 50 new challenges for the 2019 Reading Challenge, and now we want to hear from you!  What do you want the challenge to look like?  What do you enjoy most?  What do you not enjoy?  What could be improved? 
  • SAVE THE DATE: The 2018 Reading Challenge Wrap-up and 2019 Reading Challenge Kickoff Party takes place at 5:00 p.m. on January 3, 2019.  Participants in the 2018 Reading Challenge are eligible to win prizes!
  • Read & Craft meets at 10 a.m. on December 15. Travel the world with a hook in one hand and a ball of yarn in the other. This month, go to Russia.  Instruction available for beginners and project materials are provided.
  • The Community Drum Circle meets at 5:30 p.m. on December 13 and 27.  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 December 1 and 15 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 Holiday Events
  • The Grinch is coming to steal Christmas at 3:30 p.m. on December 5!  Don’t miss the chance to meet him (and his dog, Max) as they bring Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas to life in their own special, silly way.  Make sure to stick around afterward for photos and fun during our exclusive Meet-and-Greet.  We promise your heart will grow three sizes.  Caleb Sigmon, as the Grinch, will astound you!
  • Take a break from the holiday hustle!  We invite you to enjoy a leisurely cup of tea, a little something sweet, a lovely chat, holiday music, and more.  This event is our gift to the community for your support throughout the year.  Please join us and bring your friends!
  • All ages are invited to join us in celebrating a Superhero Holiday at 4:00 p.m. on December 20. This event is a fun mixture of superhero activities that includes games and special superhero Christmas ornaments.  Wear a costume or just come as you are!



Monday, October 29, 2018

Honoring All Veterans

Everyone knows family and/or friends who have served our country.  I myself am a proud Army mom, and understand how hard it is to be separated from loved ones, especially in times of war.  But this year Veterans Day means so much more to me, having been involved in Ashe Public Library’s Veteran History Project.   During the past year Ashe Library has worked with volunteers to collect and document stories of military memories and experiences.  These stories were compiled into a keepsake magazine that will help us all better understand the concept of serving one’s country.  Soldiers in active service as well as our veterans carry the armed service’s core values of courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty, and selfless commitment with them every day.   All who serve our country, whether in war or times of peace, deserve our respect and recognition.



The library is especially looking forward to sharing copies of this magazine with our local veterans and their families.  Ashe County Veterans Service Office is organizing a special 1:00 p.m. ceremony, with plans to distribute copies of the magazine, at the courthouse on November 11, Veterans Day.  Leading up to Veterans Day the library will be providing supplies to make cards for our military servicemen and women.  Drop in the library anytime between November 3 – 8 to create a card for a veteran you know, or a card to share at this special event.

Ashe Library’s Story walk in West Jefferson’s Town Park will be featuring a special story during the month of November to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in war.  Take a walk around the park’s trail and read about Moina Michael, also known as “The Poppy Lady.”   Find out how the tradition started and what the red poppy symbolizes.  Today, millions of red crepe paper poppies – their petals bound together as a part of therapeutic rehabilitation – have been distributed in exchange for donations that support the welfare of veterans, active military personnel and their families.
I would like to thank the partners, organizations, and volunteers listed here who helped make the library’s Veteran History Project possible.  Ashe County High School JROTC Students and their commanders; Lt. Colonel David Hollis and Master Sgt. Chalk Wetmore, Museum of Ashe County History, Ashe County Veterans Service Office under direction of Veteran Services Officer SSG. Darryl Vaughn, Ret., Ashe County Service Organizations: Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign War, American Legion, Marine Corps League, Joshua Knapp, Troy Brooks, and Anna Blackburn. 

Funding for this project is made possible by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (IMLS grant number LS-00-18-0034-18).

Our inspiration for this project and programming associated with it comes from Ms. Ida C. Marsh, Ashe County WWII Veteran.  First Lieutenant Ida Marsh was one of the few women from Ashe County to serve in the U.S. Army, as an operating room nurse in field hospitals from 1942-1946.  Ida Marsh had a love of books and art.  She will forever be remembered through her generous gift to the Ashe County Public Library.

Dates to remember in November:

The library will be closed on November 12 for Veterans Day, and for Thanksgiving on November 22-24.   The library will also open late, at 1:00 p.m. on November 30.
 
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. 
  • The Illustrator Book Club, for grades 3 – 6, meets at 4:00 p.m. on November 8. Observe an artistic style and attempt to re-create it.
  • The Lego Club meets on November 20 at 4:00 p.m. for grades K-5. Build, Create, and make new friends.

Tween Programs
  • Learn about coding colors and make your own Minecraft Creeper head at 4:00 p.m. on November 15.
  • Sign up for the library’s Spring Drama Club, for grades 3-7, during the months of November and December.
Teen Programs
·   T for Teen – Gamers Unite! Meet-up at 4:00 p.m. on November 6. Xbox360 and laptops available for teen gaming.
·      Board Game Café is open at 4:00 p.m. on November 13.  Come and make some friends! Play a variety of board games and enjoy coffee and sweet treats.
·   The Teen Creative Corner meets at 4:00 p.m. on November 20. Join us for a wide range of creative crafts and projects.
·      TLC (Teen Listening Council) is a safe place for teens to talk openly about any subject. Drop in at 4:00 p.m. on November 27.

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 November 20 to discuss The Great Alone by, Kristin Hannah
  • Brouhaha Book Club meets at 5:30 p.m. on November 26 in Boondocks Restaurant for “Books, Beer and Bookworm Babble.”  Come and find out what everyone has been reading lately!
All Ages
  • Read & Craft meets at 10 a.m. on November 17. Travel the world with a hook in one hand and a ball of yarn in the other. This month, go to Russia.  Instruction available for beginners and project materials are provided.
  • The Community Drum Circle meets at 5:30 p.m. on November 8.  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 November 3 and 17 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

  • FOOD FOR FINES WEEK – During the week of November 5 – 10, take advantage of the chance to pay off late fees by donating non-perishable food. Each item of undamaged, in-date, non-perishable food is equal to $1.  Items donated do not count toward damaged or lost items.
  • A special exhibit will be on display through the month of November. NC Digs will highlight five types of archaeological sites – Native American, battlefield, plantation, trash pit, and industrial- - that are found across the State.  The exhibit includes interpretive panels explaining each site type and techniques and methods for excavating and analyzing materials form these different types of sites.  There are artifacts on display as well as various tools used by archaeologists.  This exhibit comes to us from the NC Office of State Archaeology.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

October Literary Birthday Book Reviews


Recommended “to-reads” in recognition of their October birthdays are prolific authors Eleanor Spence (b. October 21, 1924) and Graham Greene (b. October 12, 1904). 

Eleanor Spence, a former children's librarian, writes realistic family-type stories for older children and youth.  A native Australian, her stories reflect the country's history and culture, and usually portray a character who is looking for self-worth.  The circumstances that surround each story create a springboard for struggle and growth in self-understanding.  



Spence's book, The October Child, seems to have an appropriate title for this time of year … knowing her birthday.  But, it is not about the author, as one might suspect.  The October Child is a deeply moving novel which shows the impact of Autism upon an entire family. Spence won an Australian Book of the Year Award for this book, and in 1977 was shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal.

As the story begins, Carl is the youngest member of the Mariner family and awareness of his problems aren't immediately realized.  Readers pick up on a great anticipation of Carl's birth from Douglas, the family's middle-child.  Douglas feels that his older brother Kenneth favors his mother and Adrienne his younger sister looks like his father.  Feeling different and left out, he hopes the new baby will have something special in common with him. 

During Carl's first years of life his family begins to notice that there is something wrong with his development.  He throws enormous tantrums screaming all the time, destroys everything, and isn't learning to talk.  Kenneth deals with the change in family life by staying away as much as possible and Adrienne tunes everything out with television.  The whole family's life is turned upside down when they move from their home on Australia's coast into the city of Sydney so that Carl can attend a special school.  Although the word Autism is never mentioned, it can be understood that this is Carl's problem.  Spence writes authentically from the perspective of family members, especially Douglas, illustrating reactions and emotions well.  She worked many years as a volunteer for the New South Wales Centre for Autistic Children, in Sydney Australia.  I was even in tune with Carl and his feelings, imagining how difficult it would be not having the verbal skills to communicate with others.  Since it was published in 1977, the story is dated in some ways.  It was during the 1970s that awareness of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) increased with developments in research and public conversations. 

Douglas is resentful of Carl for all the trouble he brings, but at the same time he loves his little brother and feels guilty for feeling bitter.  It seems that Douglas is the only sibling who really tries to communicate with Carl. His parents are always exhausted and he is often called on to help Carl calm down.  When Douglas sings to his little brother, magically the screaming stops and Carl sometimes even responds with efforts to verbalize in a tuneful way.  Music is the best therapy and helps build trust between the brothers, but there are times when Douglas's frustration reaches a peak.

Originally this book was called “The Devil’s Hole” a place referring to a treacherous ravine that Douglas was out exploring in the beginning of the novel.  Because he worried his mother by being late coming home he feels that he caused her to go into premature labor, and therefore inadvertently blames himself for Carl’s condition.  This story is full of realistic scenarios and in spite of emotionally-intense situations, gives readers hope that life in the Mariner family will improve.
                                                                                                                                                                   
Graham Greene, of British nationality, is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the 20th century.  He is often referred to as a Roman Catholic novelist.  He preferred to be known as a novelist who happens to be Catholic, but many of his books are written from a Catholic perspective, exploring political and moral issues.

 In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.
~ Graham Greene
Greene gave the literary world volumes of written work: novels, travel books, an autobiography, plays, story collections, and short stories.  Twelve of his novels have been made into films!  Many followers today, still celebrate Greene’s legacy.  There is even a Graham Greene International Festival that takes place in the writer’s hometown of Berkhamsted (about 35 miles northwest of London).  This annual four-day event is organized to promote interest in and study of the works of Graham Greene.  When I found out about this festival, attending it immediately went on my bucket list!

As mentioned, Greene used his pen to highlight and influence readers, world-wide, of his political views.  In his opinion, “Conservatism and Catholicism should be … impossible bedfellows.”  There was even invented The Graham Greene Cocktail in his honor.

When my personal book club, 1001 Reading Adventures, discussed Greene’s novella, The Third Man, we discovered that it was written as practice for a screenplay and ultimately made into a film after running as a BBC Radio Show.  In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man as the greatest British film of all time.  Of course our group had to see the film after reading the book and enjoyed watching it on the big screen at West Jefferson’s Blue Ridge Movie Lounge for an exclusive showing.  

The Third Man is a wonderful mystery thriller, set in post-war Vienna.  Following WWII, Rollo Martins, a paperback writer of wild-west novels, is invited abroad to visit his friend Harry Lime.  As soon as he arrives Martins discovers that he is just in time for Harry’s funeral.  His friend it seems was a hit-and-run victim, but Martins begins to feel that Harry’s death is suspicious and begins his own investigation into what really happened.  Harry is described by detectives as “the worst racketeer that ever made a living in this dirty city.”  Greene’s story takes readers on a tour of the city, even to the city’s underground sewer, while tracking Harry who is discovered to still be alive.  He is wanted for black market involvement with sales of poisoned penicillin. Harry’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt becomes a suspect in harboring him until he can make an escape.  Meanwhile Rollo begins to fall for Anna, adding a touch of romance to the thriller.  I can’t give away too much and spoil the mystery, so I’ll just say … this is a story about friendship and its betrayal.  Greene explores a fascination with evil and the fragility of human values, giving readers a pulse-pounding, high-octane experience! If you prefer to watch the movie, there is a blu-ray copy of this black and white classic available for checkout at the library.  The film stars Orson Wells, as Harry Lime and Joseph Cotton, as Rollo Martins (referred to as Holly Martins in film version).   I loved the soundtrack of this film, featuring Anton Karas on the zither, and I highly recommend checking out this great music, if nothing else! 

A favorite scene from the movie was an encounter between Harry and Holly (Rollo) on the WienerRiesenrad (German for Vienna Giant Wheel).  This 212 ft tall Ferris wheel, constructed in 1897 has fifteen gondolas and is still in operation. In the entrance of the Giant Ferris Wheel, eight cabins offer insights into 2,000 years of Viennese history.  Individual cabins can additionally be booked for exclusive dinners, cocktail receptions and weddings.  Another tourist attraction and must-see for fans of Greene’s Third Man is a tour of Vienna’sunderground sewer system.  When discussing the movie, we were all amazed by the intricate labyrinth of the “underground city.”  Both the Ferris wheel and sewer tour were also added to my list of things to do.  Reading about this place, like other places in other books, is one affordable way to “travel through the pages of a story.” 

In closing thoughts, Greene’s writing is full of elaborative descriptions that illustrate using expressive language.  I am including a quote here as an example, but also because this graveyard portrayal will set the mood for Halloween and hopefully inspire your own reading of a Graham Greene novel. 

“So back they drove, through the heart of a forest where the graves lay like wolves under the trees, winking white eyes under the gloom of the evergreen.”
The Third Man
~ Graham Greene