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Engaging Methuen Readers


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Bookish Confessions: summer and dystopian fiction

I don’t know if it’s the summer scorchers when the grass is dry and crunchy and all the vegetation looks desiccated — or the heavy humidity which leads to languidness, violent thunderstorms,  and sudden heavy downpours — but it all  drives me to read futuristic dystopian books featuring cataclysmic climate changes.  The heat waves that break all existing records, and the super storms in unlikely places, make these books with their dysfunctional world settings seem quite palpable.

As I sat down to read Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, this summer’s post-apocalyptic book about a destroyed and drought-ridden South California, I reflected on other books with similar themes I’ve read over the last few summers.  Last year I read Emily St. John Mandel’s beautifully constructed Station Eleven, involving a flu pandemic and a unique theater troupe.  This book had gotten rave reviews from both the public and the review journals, even winning some awards along the way, but I was never interested in it…until the following summer, filled with crazy weather, when anything seemed possible!  Other post-apocalyptic summer reads have included California by Edan Lepucki, World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler,  The Water Knife, Ship Breaker, Windup Girl, all by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Happy summer reading (even about disasters)!

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Bookish Confessions: My Ideal Bookshelf

Cover image for My ideal bookshelfBeing a book nerd, I couldn’t help checking out the delightful book My Ideal Bookshelf edited by Thessaly La Force, with art by Jane Mount.   In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than one hundred leading cultural figures (writers, musicians, chefs, designers and other creative types), share the books that made an impact on their lives.  Not only am I a self-professed book nerd, but I am a curious one at that, so I absolutely delight in seeing what people are reading and what books they have on their shelves.  I find that one’s personal book collection can be revealing and say a lot about their owner. Jane Mount’s colorful paintings of the book spines, occasional objets d’art  and arrangements of the books are not only delightful, but can be very telling as well.

Perusing this book and checking out what inspired writers that I admire, I started to think about the books that have contributed to my life so far.  When I look back on my book journals, I can tell where  I was in my life at that point.  (I wasn’t surprised when I saw that a former job I was struggling with corresponded with reading a slew of books about women who decided ‘enough was enough’, gave up their jobs and took off across the globe to figure out what they really wanted out of life.)

After some contemplation, these are some books I have compiled, so far, for my ideal bookshelf :

 

Cover image for Italian folktalesCover image for The chronicles of NarniaCover image for One hundred years of solitudeCover image for The Autobiography of Malcolm XCover image for Without reservations : the travels of an independent womanCover image for Animal, Vegetable, MiracleCover image for The clutter cure : three steps to letting go of stuff, organizing your space, & creating the home of your dreams

Huh…I’m primarily a fiction reader, but I just listed several non-fiction titles as my treasured reads.  Time to see what my books are telling me!

What titles do you have in your ‘ideal bookshelf’?

 


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One Minute Book Review: The Winter Fortress by Neal Bascomb

Cover image for The winter fortress : the epic mission to sabotage Hitler's atomic bombThe Winter Fortress:  the epic mission to sabotage Hitler’s atomic bomb

by Neal Bascomb   c. 2016  Non-Fiction

At the outbreak of World War II, both the Allies and Axis powers were involved in building an atomic weapon.  Bascomb, a WWII historian and former journalist, thrillingly recounts the commando effort to destroy the Norwegian Vemork hydroelectric plant that was the source of heavy water, a necessary requirement for the Nazi Germany’s atomic bomb program.

Bascomb focuses on the efforts of the Norwegian commandos and resistance fighters, who braved the threat of Gestapo torture and execution while showcasing the skiing and wilderness skills that helped them survive and operate in the arctic conditions of Norwegian winter.

This is a really well-told, suspenseful account of an aspect of WWII that is not commonly known.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to those interested in history, (WWII in particular), adventure/survival accounts, and to new non-fiction readers (like myself!).


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One Minute Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

 One Minute Book Review:   84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  (Non-fiction) c. 1970  

Image of itemHelene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City and searching for rare classics, strikes up a correspondence with a used book dealer in London during the 1950’s.  What results is an utterly charming and hilarious correspondence, lasting over two decades and spanning two countries.  Even though Helene and bookseller Frank Doel never meet in person, their exchanges create an enduring friendship based on their mutual love of books — one that soon blossoms out to other members of the bookshop and their extended families.

Hanff is a what I would call a real “fire cracker”; she’s a colorful character — brash, kind and teasing — and it all comes out in her letters to the more staid, unfailingly polite Englishman, Doel. Their banter is fun and warm-hearted, making the reader wish to be part of their delightful round robin.

Peeping through the upbeat correspondence, we get a glimpse of how London in the 1950’s was struggling to regain its footing after the horrendous bombings of WWII.  I was surprised to learn that many years after the end of the war, Londoners still had strict rations for food and other items.   I wonder if the family-like atmosphere at the Marks & Co. book dealership was in part due to the collective ‘stick-togetherness’ of war’s aftermath?

If you need a little kindness in your life, or revere the lost art of letter writing, or simply remember the joy of mailing/receiving a personal letter, this little gem of a book may just be what you were waiting for…

There’s even a follow-up book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, in which Helene is finally able to travel to England!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Cloudy with a chance of soup…

As I write this blog post, our weather forecast in Methuen calls for rain/snow showers and wind today with continuing clouds on the horizon for the next few days.  Snow, wind chill factors, overcast –Ah, New England winters!  What’s one to do when you can’t hide under a blanket and hibernate for the season?

Give yourself a warm hug all over with a steaming bowl of soup.  Or how about an easy crock pot stew that makes itself during the day and greets you at the door with an alluring warm aroma?  Hello Crock, I’m home!Image of item

Try recipes from the following cookbooks to combat the Winter Blahs.  As the Campbell Soup commercials say, it’s “Mmm, mmm good!”

Superfood soups : 100 delicious, energizing & plant-based recipes by Julie Morris

Damn Delicious:  100 super easy, super fast recipes by Chunga Rhee

Editor’s Note:  I’ve made a soup, a one-pot meal and a slow-cooker recipe from this book this winter and they were all as the book proclaims:  easy, fast and delicious!

The New Slow Cooker:  comfort classics reinvented by Brigit Binnsmac-cheese

Old-School Comfort Food:  the way I learned to cook by Alex Guarnaschelli

The mac + cheese cookbook: 50 simple recipes from homeroom, America’s favorite mac and cheese restaurant by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

Bowl: vegetarian recipes for ramen, pho, bibimbap, dumplings, and other one-dish meals by Lukas Volger

Now, if you will excuse me, a grilled-cheese sandwich and a bowl of hot tomato soup are calling my name!


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Bookish Confessions: my year of reading challenges

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but it wasn’t until this year, that I put myself to the test and signed up for several reading challenges.  For the past decade or so, I’ve been keeping track of the books I read with the title, author, and basic plot description in various book journals.  Thank goodness I did that because I am now, prematurely I think, at the stage where I have to go back through the journals to see if I already read a book that looks somewhat familiar.  How many of you have read 3/4ths of the way through a book before realizing that you already read it?  Sheesh!

This year I decided to put the pedal to the metal and get competitive with myself and see exactly how many books I can read in a year.    In an effort to educate myself, a couple Image result for booksof years ago I started to read classic books that I missed out on in high school.   How could I have gotten through 10 years of higher education and not read George Orwell?  Aren’t all librarians required to read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”?  When my colleague introduced me to the Classics Club and their reading challenge, it was a match made in heaven — reading classics for my own erudition and getting external credit and praise for it!  Thus, my first challenge is a doozy — reading 50 classics within a five year period.  This year, my first, I have read 5 classics, so I have to step up the pace in the remaining 4 years of this challenge.  I do feel smarter, though!

Next up, the GoodReads challenge.  As I write this post, I have read 97 out of 100 and I am on track to finish by the end of the month.  I have also combined efforts with our Nevins team on GoodReads, so you can check out what your librarians are reading.

Since it sounded fun and I thought it would bring my reading in new directions, I printed out the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge and chose to follow it privately.  Even though it had interesting parameters to meet like reading a book with a blue cover, a book based on a fairy tale, a romance set in the future, I still read what I wanted to read and let fate decide what “fit in” with this challenge.  The final result:  25 out of 40 book categories read.  I didn’t really challenge myself with this.  Maybe it was because I already had to read books I wasn’t comfortable with for the book groups I belong to?

Finally, since I was curious and place setting appeals to me, I recorded what states and countries my reading led me to.  In the United States, my reading took me on a cross-country trip through 26 of the 50 states.  Louisiana garnered the most titles, 5, most probably because I visited New Orleans in March and it is such a colorful, dynamic place to read about.  Internationally, good old literary England won out with 9 titles, although there was a good showing from the African countries (6 titles). Over all, 16 countries, not including America, were represented in the final tally.  Going outside my comfort zone, I read 6 titles that largely took place in outer space, and even one book that took place far beneath the sea — 20, 000 leagues under, in fact.

All in all, this has been a good experiment and one I am willing to embrace again for next year.  Where will your reading take you in 2017?

Happy New Year of Reading!

 

 


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Moody British Mysteries for the Telly

Image of itemImage of itemImage of item

At this time of year, when the weather starts to get chilly and blustery and the daylight gets shorter, I love to watch a good, brooding, British mystery on the “telly”.  I especially love those BBC TV mysteries that are set in the  English countryside, equal parts bucolic and sinister, or the craggy, atmospheric sea-side.  Throw in the English country dialect or a Scottish brogue and I’m in heaven!

Three gripping series that I have watched lately that complement each other well are Broadchurch (with David Tenant and Olivia Coleman, British version), the Vera series* (Brenda Blethlyn and David Leon) and Shetland* (Douglas Henshall).  All three series are set in small coastal towns with atmospheric land/seascapes and feature tough, quirky detectives.  Think a horrible crime committed in a close-knit community where everyone knows each others’ business and relationships are intricate and complicated, including those of the detectives.  Add beautiful and spare landscapes, cable-knit sweaters, blustery weather, and cozy but rustic cottages.   Complete with a haunting soundtrack — both the music and the accents, teasing and taut.

Now, pet, if you will excuse me, I have a hot cuppa and a blanket ready with more watching to do!

 

* Based on the novels by award-winnning author Ann Cleeves