Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1963, an up and coming British band with one previous hit (“Love Me Do”), found its new single “Please, Please Me” in the U.K.s #1 records chart spot where it remained in the Top 10, for about 7 months. Less than one month later, their next single release “From Me, To You” opened at #1. Five months later, “She Loves You” made #1, and in November, after 13 weeks in the Top Ten, it had sold over 1 million copies in the U.K. Before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released, it had already sold 950,000 in advance orders, and it too, shot to #1. Beatlemania was about to explode on the international scene, where mobs of screaming teenagers met (and eventually terrified) the musical foursome everywhere they appeared.
I was a Beatlemaniac, although not of the shrieking mob variety. I was in the 6th grade when the Beatles hit the American music scene. I was besotted with their music. I had photos of the Fab Four taped to my bedroom walls and listened to their recordings incessantly. I moved the stacking release bar on my record player to the right, so that as soon as the record was over, the tone arm would be tricked into thinking another record had fallen onto the turntable, and the recording began all over again. When my parents would finally demand mercy, I would simply turn the record to the B-side and do the same thing all over again. I read the fan mags and learned all the puff about them that was put out in the press (“Paul’s favorite color is green,” “John’s favorite food is steak and chips,” “Ringo Starr isn’t his real name.”) But I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about these four people, their lives, their careers, their ideas and aspirations - and if pressed at the time, I probably could not have explained what was so special about their music, except that they sounded different from everyone else, and besides, they were the Beatles. I mean, THE BEATLES, people!
But who were these four “WWII babies”, raised in bombed out areas of England’s tough Liverpool neighborhoods who (except for middle class John Lennon) came from poor working class backgrounds, grew up in government subsidized housing, and who, by their early teens, were teaching themselves to play American rock tunes on pathetically inferior instruments? And how, with absolutely no connections to the music business, did they manage to breathe life into the anemic British pop rock scene, redefine it for an international audience, and become the most popular rock band in the world? What were the truths behind the myths that swirled around these young men? Why, after just a few short years of success, did they stop performing live and become a studio band? And how did mere rock musicians manage to ride atop the crest of change, and in many cases influence the tastes and ideas of a generation poised for major social, political and cultural shifts?
Get the answers by reading The Beatles – the Biography by Bob Spitz. This is not a new book, it was published in 2005, but it is very comprehensive. And don’t be afraid of the size (it’s got over 900 pages if you include footnotes.) You can read it in spurts, but if you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time putting it down.
Be sure to add to your reading list Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel Flight Behavior, which draws from the author’s experience with Southern Appalachian life and her abiding concern with environmental issues.
We meet twenty-something Dellarobia, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage, with two small children, scraping out a living from a failing farmland, in a small, unforgiving Appalachian town. Mistakenly thinking that an extramarital fling will give her respite from the suffocating boredom of her daily life, Dellarobia trudges up the rugged mountains behind their farmland (comically, in her blistering 2nd hand red-hot cowgirl boots) to meet her intended paramour in the hunting blind. Her plan is upended when she reaches the mountaintop and is gobsmacked by the sight of millions of fiery orange Monarch butterflies, displaced from their normal migration habitats because of deforestation and over-development.
As word spreads through the community, the phenomenon is interpreted by some as a religious miracle, and by others, who meant to begin cutting trees on that very land, an evil curse. When the media pounces on the story and it goes national, Dellarobia’s farm and the mountaintop are beset by students and scientists, who encamp for months studying the potential for extinction of this fascinating insect, and unwittingly give Dellarobia’s life new purpose and direction.
In this second “Austenland” novel, author Shannon Hale takes us on a return journey to an English fantasy camp situated in a lovely 19th century estate called Pembroke Park, where we meet mostly a new set of characters comprised of the Pembroke staff, including actors portraying Austenesque characters and guests who, upon arrival, are given a suitable new identity, a wardrobe of period costume, and a crash course in Regency manners and practices.
Our main character is Charlotte Kinder, a thirty-something recent divorcee, who has decided to celebrate her newfound freedom by having a fling in Pembroke Park. One evening, while playing a parlor game called “Bloody Murder”, Charlotte thinks she’s discovered a real murder and begins an investigation.
This is a comic romp, a mystery, a romance, with a series of fun filled twists and turns, and even a happy ending! This is an enjoyable light read guaranteed to provide a cozy little distraction from the hubbub of daily life.
Among the Mad is the 5th in Jacqueline Winspear’s wonderful series of Masie Dobb’s books, which began during WWI in England. Masie was a nurse, who became interested in mental health and psychology while treating patients during the war, those who remained injured in their minds long after any physical wounds had healed. It is now 1931, and Masie now uses her knowledge of psychology in her work as a private investigator. She has been called in to Scotland Yard to help work on a case in which anonymous letters has been received from a person with knowledge of chemical weapons is threatening to use them on government officials and even the civilian population if Parliament doesn’t do something to support the forgotten men whose lives, bodies, and minds were broken by the War. The perpetrator has already struck, killing first innocent animals, and then a junior minister from the Home office. They don’t know who might be next, the Prime Minister or even the public at large. Either way, time is running out.
The story is shows great empathy toward the victims of war and experiment, and lets us inside Masie’s personal life. But it is first and foremost a study in detective work – one in which the reader gets some insight to the difference between the work private investigator whose knowledge and instincts can lead in very different directions as a huge bureaucratic police investigations team.
A House at Tynefordby Natasha Solomons begins on the eve of WWII where we meet Elise Landau, a 19 year old whose life of relative luxury is coming to abrupt end as Jews are no longer safe in Vienna. Her parents, because of their prominence – her mother is an opera singer and her father is a novelist - believe they will be able to obtain visas and escape to the States, but Elise has no marketable skills. So, as a stop gap, they send her to safety in England on a domestic service visa.
She is sent to an estate in Tyneford, a tightly knit, sleepy little rural seaside village. The Lord of the manor is the 40ish Mr. Rivers. He’s a kindly man, but he maintains old world reserve and draws a clear line between the family and the staff. So, Elise who had her own servants in Vienna doesn’t fit in with the servants or the family. She’s lonely, she’s had no word from her parents and she’s terrified for them, war has broken out, and Elise is crestfallen. That is, until Mr. River’s son, Kit, returns home from school at Oxford. He and Elise become fast friends, and even fall in love.
Meanwhile, the village is changing quickly. The local lads are going off to war, Mr. Rivers has to work the fields himself to help keep the estate running. The distinction between “upstairs” and “downstairs” begins to melt away as people pull together to soothe the sorrows that war brings to the home front.
This lovely novel explores family relationships, the remnants of the dying household service system, class snobbery that brushes both ways, disappearing village life. It’s both sad and sweet and has a satisfying ending. I think it would make a great selection for book discussion groups.l
I do it all the time, whether browsing in a library, book store, or online. The New York Times recently published their favorite book covers of 2012 in a slideshow of 19 images. There are some great book covers among this selection but one that really caught my eye was in slide number 12, from Penguin’s Drop Caps series of 26 classics with covers filled with fanciful illustrations, surrounding the enlarged first letter of the author’s last name. The designs are a collaboration between Jessica Hische and Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley. Personally, I think these book covers are gorgeous, but I’ll let you be the judge.
P.S. This illustration is an example of drop caps from the Book of Kells.
In Jennifer Egan's novel – if it can even be called a novel - is more like a collection of stories, or better yet a collection of characters, is one that I find very challenging to describe, so I’m glad that you read it, and want to talk about it, too. Bennie the former punk rocker, now a successful record executive. Sasha a troubled young woman who works for Bennie. Scotty, now a middle aged musician on the skids. There are thirteen chapters in all, each told by one of the protagonists. We first meet several of these characters as teenagers in the 1970s, and the stories span a period of about 40 years into the future 2020, and take the reader back and forth in time. As far as setting is concerned, we wander from the therapy couch, to punk clubs of San Francisco, to a plush Park Avenue office, to New York’s polluted East River, to an African safari, to the streets of Naples, to an airfield in a Banana Republic. Some of the characters are very sleazy, some are very vulnerable, some a little off-kilter. The author sometimes deals with her characters harshly, and at other times, sympathetically.
One of the characters in the book says, “Time is a goon squad, right?” A good squad being something that bullies and punishes people. And indeed time messes with everyone in this book – as time brings with it disappointments and loss and sorrow that haunt the past, present, and future. And yet the book is not without humor.
So, this book sounds like it might be a mess, right? Wrong! It is small miracle of craftsmanship, and it has a very uplifting conclusion.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”So begins Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudicepublished 200 years ago, January 28, 1813.
This tale is set in genteel rural England during an era in which marriage was of utmost importance to young women, and particularly so for the five Bennett sisters, whose family fortune was entailed away from the female line, leaving them with nothing else to attract prospective husbands but their beauty and wit – which the sisters possess in varying degrees. The story centers around the second eldest sister, the feisty and quick–witted Elizabeth, whose relationship with the haughty Mr. Darcy gets off on the wrong foot, leading to a series of misunderstandings.
Jane Austen’s clear-eyed understanding of a woman’s place in Regency society, her wise observations of people and manners, her sparkling dialogue, and ironic sense of humor make this story fresh and fun to read even at the ripe old age of 200 years.
Born this day, January 4, 228 years ago in Hasse-Kassel, Germany - Jacob Grimm who, with his brother Wilhelm, collected and published their first volume of fairy tales in 1812. Among them were such classics as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Bremen-Town Musicians, and The Frog Prince.
This week, the Library’s doing a brisk business with holiday-related books, music, and movies. We have two special displays in adult area, “Snow Stories” and “Holiday Foods”. In the children’s section there is a large array of books filled winter holiday stories, poems, traditions, and crafts. These items are practically flying off the shelves! So, I was surprised today to notice that, sitting all alone on the bottom shelf of one of the displays was my all-time favorite holiday story: A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. This is actually a prose poem and a brilliant, charming, and often amusing look at Christmas traditions enjoyed by the author during his own Welsh childhood. I certainly hope someone spots it and takes it home to read, because it’s too delightful to miss!
Do you have a favorite holiday book, film, song, or poem?
This is a memoir of a man who intertwines the stories of Jane Austen with his own life and the wonderful lessons and wisdom to be found in the Austen novels. As a graduate student studying English literature, he dreaded the idea of having to read the 19thCentury British “women” – like the Brontes and particularly Jane Austen. As he tells his own story as he progresses through life from graduate student to teacher to married man, he goes through the Austen novels one by one and discusses what they reveal to him about his own life. A book that blows to smithereens the notion that men don’t like Jane Austen and a “must read” for Jane Austen fans!
Clover Hobart is a 50-something wife and mother living in suburban Ohio. She was once a reporter, but now writes a gardening column once a month for the local paper. Her husband has a busy pediatric practice and her children are grown – one still in college and the other a college grad boomeranged back home because of the bad economy and poor job market.
One morning Clover wakes up and discovers that she is invisible. The thing is that nobody seems to notice. They see her bathrobe or clothes walking around, doing the cooking and household chores, walking the dog. She wears dark glasses, a hat and gloves so that she can out, but nobody notices that she’s actually invisible. At first she thinks she’s lost her mind until she discovers that there are a lot of other women just like her, and they get together and meet weekly. One thing they have in common is that they are surrounded by busy people who take them for granted.
Once Clover gets used to the condition, she finds it useful. She is able to thwart a bank robbery, intervene in a case of domestic violence, and prevents her son and his friend from getting an ill-advised tattoo. She also was able to turn in an eyewitness article on the bank robbery which has her editor taking her seriously again as a journalist. Then the invisible women discover that they are all taking the same medications: a hormone replacement, a bone thinning preventative, and a mild depressant – all made by the same pharmaceutical company, and they decide to take on the corporate giant.
The author of Callling Invisible Women, Jeanne Ray, is a great writer of domestic and romantic fiction whose main characters who are middle-aged and older. She writes with compassion and humor. This is a fun fantasy with a great message for aging women and the people who dare to overlook them.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a memoir by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Anna Quindlen, who has enjoyed a long and successful career commenting on women’s lives as a columnist for the NewYork Times, as a best-selling novelist.
In this memoir, Quindlen reflects on her life as she turns 60 years old. She writes with humor, clarity of mind, deep respect, and good sense on such topics as marriage, children, faith, aging, friendships, possessions, finding pleasure in ordinary things, discovering the wisdom of her own voice, and feeling liberated to act on her own authority.
This is a short book, but it is chock full of thoughtful insights into life of a woman. This is highly recommended as a selection for women’s book discussion groups.
Tales from a Free Range Childhoodis a short collection of stories by storyteller Donald Davis recollect his childhood, growing up in the western Appalachian Mountain town of Waynesville, in a community where his family of Scots-Welsh ancestors had lived since the 1780s – before America had a Constitution. These stories are rich with childhood mischief and the simple joys of growing up a bit away from the pressures and artificiality of the big, modern city. These stories are all based on real people, real situations, viewed through the eyes of a child. The stories are at once innocent and wise, and many of them absolutely hilarious.
Donald Davis isn’t a writer by profession. He is a storyteller. And he is marvelous! He travels over 300 days a year to festivals, colleges, concert halls, and conferences telling stories. He tells in venues where the audience might be comprised of hundreds of people – maybe even a thousand. He is among the best and most successful storytellers in America, and here’s the great thing – for twenty five of the twenty six years that the Library has been presenting an adult storytelling series, he has come to Monterey to tell stories in our Library Community Room!
For a short and sweet read, I recommend Tales from a Free Range Childhood by Donald Davis, but if you want to hear a master storyteller, be sure to come to hear him next time he’s in town. Mark your calendars: Tuesday, July 23, 2013. Tickets are required, so check our Web site in June 2013 for advance for ticket information.
If you haven't yet read Anne Tyler's latest novel,The Beginner's Goodbye, put in on your list for a time when you're ready for a quick and quirky read. In this short tale, the marriage of Aaron and Dorothy, two hopelessly mis-matched people, ends abruptly when a tree falls on the house and Dorothy is killed. (This is not a spoiler - it happens in the first few pages.)
What follows is the story of how Aaron processes his grief by conducting a post-mortem on what was a less than blissful marriage, with Dorothy's ghost. Their visits help move Aaron move from his sense of loss to a place that allows him to be the person that he was always meant to be.
Anne Tyler ranks very highly among the royalty of domestic fiction. Here, she uses her genius to explore the endelessly imaginative ways in which married couples manage to both endear themselves to one another and drive one another nuts. She is, as always, wise and witty, and I especially recommend this book to reading groups.
When Irish author David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlaswas released in 2004, it won rave reviews and a number of awards for fiction. Readers in book groups across America were alternately puzzled and dazzled by it. Cloud Atlas didn’t make the New York Times best seller list when it came out, because it was competing with the likes of The Da Vinci Code and other blockbusters. But now that it will open a major motion picture in late-October, reading Cloud Atlas is all the rage, and the eight-year-old book is now on the New York Times’ list best selling paperbacks.
At the Library, we enjoy making book vs. movie comparisons, so if you have read Cloud Atlas and go to see the movie when it opens, please let us know which you enjoyed more. And if you haven’t read the book, there’s still time!
Harry Potter was born on July 31, 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in the UK, and released fourteen months later in the U.S., as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.July 31 also happens to be the birthday of author J.K. Rowling, who first dreamed up the boy wizard while on train to London in 1990. By 2007, Rowling’s idea had blossomed into a seven-book fantasy series about a boy wizard and a magical world where the battle against evil is fought not only with spells and potions and charms, but with friendship and love.
The Harry Potter series is a landmark work of children’s literature that continues to be popular with readers of all ages. It is superb fantasy, a great coming of age story, gripping, fun and filled with richly drawn characters – some endearing, others loathsome. Collectively the series has sold over 450 million copies and has been translated into more than 63 languages. The Potter franchise, which includes books, movies, and merchandise, has earned $6 billion worldwide, and has made J.K. Rowling, who was a single mother on welfare when she received the 2,500 British pound advance for the first book, a billionaire.
Happy birthday to J.K. Rowling and to you, Harry Potter.
The Art of Fieldingby Chad Harbach is contemporary novel, set in a small liberal arts college in the American Midwest, where we meet Henry and Mike, both at Westish on athletic scholarships. Henry is not just a ball player, he is an artist on the field, and is hoping for a career in the Big Leagues. Mike’s knees aren’t healthy enough for professional sports, so his plan is to get into an Ivy League school and study law. Owen, Henry’s roommate, the Headmaster, and the Headmaster’s daughter, Pella, round out the cast of characters. One day, a freak accident on the baseball field sets the plot into motion and the lives of each of the characters lives spin out of control. Meanwhile, a lot of baseball is played. This is superb storytelling – “a must read” and a great selection for a book discussion group.
A group discussion of this book by the Literary Circle will take place in the Library on Monday, August 27, at 7 p.m.
There’s something about the beginning of the Summer Reading Program at the Library that brings back a flood of childhood memories. When I was in elementary school, my friends and I liked to join the local library’s Summer Reading “Club” (as it was called back in the day). Summer Reading Clubs at my local library were essentially competitions to see who could read the most books over the summer. There was always some kind of large game board tacked up on the wall in the Children’s Room. When you joined the club, you received a game piece made of heavy construction paper or cardboard, cut into the shape of some object that related to the summer reading theme. You put your name on it and you got to move your game piece forward one step toward the finish line for each book you read. (For example your game piece might be a fish and the goal would be to reach the pond.) I was not “bookish”, but I was a good reader, and I usually made the finish line in just a few weeks. By then, I was ready to move on to other summer fun – swimming, riding bikes, kiddie matinees, softball, and “let’s pretend” games with the neighborhood kids.
But my summer reading didn’t stop after I was finished with the Summer Reading Club, because I had the great good fortune to be a child during what has become known as “The Silver Age of the Comic Book”. Most comic books included three or four illustrated stories, usually featuring one main character along with their circle of chums: Little Lulu, Little Audrey, Little Lotta, Baby Huey, Richie Rich, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Archie and Friends, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Tubby, and Dot. Then there were the super heroes: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Green Hornet, and Wonder Woman, which were apparently scrubbed-up remnants of “The Golden Age of the Comic Book”. Those weren’t my favorites, but I read them anyway. They were all marvelously silly - the junk food of children’s literature, and l loved them!
My library did not carry comic books, possibly because of their flimsy construction, but I suspect there might have been more to it. I never asked. We knew that teachers did not consider comics to be suitable material for book reports, and no explanation as to why was necessary. Comic books only cost a dime, and could be found at any newsstand, drug store or grocery market. New ones seemed to come out every week. By the end of the summer, I usually managed to amass a good assortment of them. Comics were perfect for kiddie commerce because parents did not care in the least if you swapped three dollar’s worth of comic books for two cent’s worth of marbles. They didn’t even care if you just gave your old comics away or put them in the trash. Comic books were just off the parental radar. They were, in a word, wonderful.
For better or for worse, comic books, as I knew them in “The Silver Age”, are not a part of today’s childhood experience. But thinking about them makes me feel nostalgic for the benignly unsupervised, wasteful reading experiences of my own childhood summers. How I emerged a grown- up person who numbers “reading for pleasure” among her favorite pastimes is a mystery. Or is it?
Have you ever wondered about the relationship between poetry, literature, and Hip-Hop music? Or have you ever wondered how young people can find relevancy of 19th century literature in today's world? View this 17-1/2 minute documentary about the studies and experiences of musical artist MC Lars, and you'll come away with a fresh new look at these questions.
James Joyce’s Ulysses (published in 1922), captures a day in the life of fictional Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, hour by (some critics might add “by excruciating”) hour, as he wends his way through the Irish city on June 16, 1904. Whether or not you’re a fan of this book, it’s a modern classic, and well worth a try. Joyce’s idea was “…to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book." Fortunately, Dublin is still with us.
If the stream of consciousness style of Ulysses is not your cup of Guinness, you might try Joyce’s Dubliners, a collection of short stories that shed light on working class life Dublin in the early 20th century. This book has a more straightforward narrative and is an enjoyable read, although its literary importance has been eclipsed by Joyce’s master works, including Ulysses.
Bloomsday, named in honor of the character Leopold Bloom, has become an annual celebration in Dublin. Now it’s being celebrated right here on the Monterey Peninsula, on Friday, June 16, from 3 – 10 p.m. at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts. The festivities will include films, lectures, readings from Ulysses, live music and Irish fare. It sounds like fun!
You can find copies of works by James Joyce at the library anytime during the year for now,have a Happy Bloomsday!