Engaging Methuen Readers

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A Valentine for President Lincoln

Lincoln:  a photobiography by Russell Freedman Cover image for Lincoln : a photobiography

Many years ago when I was a student pursuing my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I was introduced to Russell Freedman’s stellar non-fiction and biographical accounts for young people.  One of Freedman’s books that made a lasting impression on  me was his Newbery award-winning photobiography of President Lincoln.  Freedman presents a well-rounded portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the very real and complicated man, not just the legends and myths previously spun for children’s literature.  Lincoln was a man of great contrasts:  he had a rollicking wit and sense of humor as well as terrible bouts of depression; he had little formal “eddication” but became an eloquent public speaker and a great writer whose words continue to live on; even though he is venerated and honored today as a hero, he was vilified during the war years.

With clear prose and with photographs and other primary documents, Freedman takes the reader through Lincoln’s tumultuous life from his humble beginnings,  to his presidential ambitions, the complex issues surrounding the Civil War, and finally, to his assassination.  One touching part among many shows four portraits taken of Lincoln during the war years.  You can see how the pressure and anxieties of that terrible time become etched into his craggy visage.  Freeman concludes with a “Lincoln Sampler” of quotations and letter excerpts, a listing of historic sites, a bibliography and an index.

Although published 20 years ago, this title still remains a very relevant, well-organized, and thoughtful biography that both children and adults may enjoy.



Clutter – the new four letter word

On a recent snow day when our library was closed, I had a chance to get back to de-cluttering my house.  In the fall I had started to seriously think about how my clutter was affecting my life.  Does physical clutter make for mental clutter?  Would I be able to clear my head and focus more if my house looked like a clean, bright magazine spread?  Being a librarian I immediately looked for a book on the subject to read.  Clutterers tend to procrastinate so maybe this was a stall before actually doing the dirty deed of getting rid of stuff?… At any rate, I became fascinated with the psychology of hoarding and found the below two books most instructive on the reasons why one clutters and how to address the underlying issues of it to guard against the accumulation of more stuff while clearing the present detritus.

For a more personal account on dealing with the mess in our lives, I started reading Barry Yourgrau’s account of his struggle.  Uh, oh! I, too, have a bag (or two) of plastic bags I acquired from trips abroad that I am quite sentimental over…
In his memoir, Yourgrau refers to Randy Frost’s book for the science and psychology of hoarding. The Frost book is in our library stacks, so now that’s on my “to be read list”.
Well, since I already have a “to be read” list, there’s no harm in adding one more title to the collection… That’s not “hoarding” talk, is it???

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Bookish Confessions: Reading Resolutions

Ah, the start of a new year and traditionally, a time of reflection.  So, where am I at in my reading goals and trends?  Last year I participated in three reading challenges and this is how it stood at the close of 2017:

Classics Club 50 Book Challenge in 5 years — year 3 out of 5; 6 additional titles read this year for a grand total of 11 out of 50.  Have to step up the pace!

Pop Sugar 2017 Reading Challenge — 26 out of 40 categories read.  I didn’t really look at the list during the year, so not bad…

GoodReads 2017 Challenge — set at 100 books, with 108 read.  Yippee!

Although I continued to use my handwritten book journal citing the title, author, genre, and summary of the books I read, I did not track the place setting (state, country) like I did in 2016.

My reading goals for 2018 are to:

  • read 9 more classics this year (I really have to up the ante this year in order to reach the 50 book challenge by 2020.  Right now I am listening to Dickens’ David Copperfield which is 27 CD’s long (!), so it’s a good thing I find it humorous and am enjoying it.  
  • read more diversely and keep track of such things as setting, genre, author and characters’ nationality, ethnicity, gender, etc.   Rachel Manwell from Bookriot created a comprehensive reading log that I may use to track this data.
  • read 100 books in the year
  • keep PopSugar’s 2018 Reading Challenge book prompts in mind just for fun!

What are some of your reading goals for 2018?


Bookish Confessions: No awkward pauses between books!

I noticed recently that my husband is nearing the end of a book he’s been enjoying.  Watching closely as the unread pages quickly dwindled down, I anxiously asked him what book was next in line to read.  He didn’t know.  “BUT, but, you have to have a book ready and waiting for you,” I exclaimed!  “What would you DO during that awful, dreadful, awkward pause between books?”  Wanting to save him from that fearful state, I explained my simple but effective way of always having a book at hand.

First, since I work at a library, books, book reviews, and book lists come across my hands often.  I quickly add all those titles that catch my eye onto my  “suspended holds” list on my library card account.  With a constant count of over 80 items, I have a book on the list for every mood!  So, that is my backup reading list.  My reading schedule works like this:  I have a book for  quick 15-minute break times, usually a YA/teen read, or a book that is broken down into short chapters.  For lunch, I have another book that I can read at a more leisurely pace.  On the way home from work, I listen to an audio book. The audio book alternates between being a classic and a more contemporary, soothing pick.    When I am home, I want to leave work behind, so of course I need a new fresh book that stays at home and can be read while curled up on the couch with a dog on my lap.  That brings us to bedtime… No dark, pessimistic book can enter this peaceful domain, so I go for children’s middle grade books that may have serious themes, but always with a ray of hope for the future.  That’s it–no problems, no awkward pauses between books!

Hmmm, after explaining my wonderful book schedule to him, my husband is looking at me with concern, pity and a little fear.  Oh well, I guess this system isn’t for everyone…

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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!).