Reading

Book Club: Four Winds

Even as The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – have begun carefully venturing out into our Covid plagued environment, we continue our online book discussions.  Our most recent title was Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.

Our intrepid discussion leader prepared 26 questions, each with such perceptive depth that responding to any one of them could easily have filled a college exam blue book.  With our limited time, we focused on the millenia of challenges women have endured and those specifically presented by the author through the lens of the protagonist Elsa Martinelli.

book cover of four winds by kristen hannah

We wondered how so much strife could affect one person but coalesced around the knowledge that there are those whose lives seemed blighted by every bad thing that can happen – whether as a result of misguided decisions or circumstances beyond their control or an unlucky combination.  And, indeed, we each realized that there was someone we knew who could be identified as Elsa-like.

Of all of Hannah’s descriptions of her charcter’s hard life, (Dust-Bowl storms which my mother remembers, a deadly flash flood, and hours of bloody, back-breaking labor picking cotton which my father did for only one day) I connected most closely with the unending debt created at the company store.  When I was small, maybe around five while visiting Alabama, I walked to the store with my Granddaddy. I had a nickel (a large amount to a child in the 1950s) to buy whatever I wanted.  But I could not spend my precious five cents.  I remember being both elated and disappointed.  Excited that the penny candy was free (or so I thought) and deflated that I could not make the cash transaction like a big girl.  Years later, long after the company store had became just a corner grocery did I realize that even a child’s treat went “on account” against Granddaddy’s next payday.  Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic song, I Owe My Soul to the Company Store was a truism for thousands of workers including the tragic heroine of Four Winds.

Reading

The Midnight Library

Whether it is because of a career immersed in libraries or just that libraries provide intriguing settings for the storyteller, I am always drawn to stories (even badly written ones) where the library becomes its own character integral to the plot. For instance:

  • The Star Trek episode from the 60s set in a dying planet’s library;
  • When David Tennant, as the tenth Doctor, takes Donna (personally not my favorite of The Doctor’s companions despite her importance in saving all of humanity) to a planet-sized library holding every book every written where they meet River Song (definitely among my most favorite of the Whovian characters);
  • To Joss Wheadon’s setting for Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the school library is the gateway to magical powers, as well as the entry point for the terrifying beings that only Buffy can defeat;
  • And the list goes on…leading me to The Midnight Library and the most recent The Directors’ book discussion.

Chosen Best Book of 2020 in the general fiction category by nearly 74,000 Goodreads’ members, The Midnight Library introduces the reader to Nora Seed, a young woman so wracked by regrets she attempts suicide.  But in that in-between time – between life and death – she enters the Midnight Library with its infinite collection of green covered books all of which enumerate the stories of her life, each different depending on the subtle or dramatic decisions she made.

Unlike Buckaroo Banzai in one of my favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, where Buckaroo is simultaneously a rock star, neurosurgeon, brilliant scientist, and a test pilot who just happens to save the world from evil alien invaders, Nora experiences one-by-one what might have been as Olympic swimmer, rock star, mother, or glaciologist.  Some lives are deeply unsatisfying while others are almost, but not quite, comfortable as she is suddenly inserted into these parallel realities.

Despite an abundance of book challenges, expertly curated title lists and even a fun assortment of book bingos to choose from, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) elected to reverse engineer its own reading challenge.  We read a book recommended by one of us and then assign our 2021 reading challenge nomenclature with The Midnight Library dubbed magical realism fantasy.

Happy reading!

Other items of interest · Reading

Another Minnesota Shooting

The news that a Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon haunts my thoughts this week.  There is a shocking dissonance in this spring time, this vaccination time, when we should be focusing on new beginnings as the sun shines longer, crocuses offer a burst of color and vaccinations rates are increasing, that we are once again facing the ugly underbelly of an unjust society.

Last summer, I was appalled by the sinful video footage showing George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street.  After the death of so many black men and, as we know from the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home, the shooting of black women, I wondered, how can this happen?  With those first thoughts of outrage I wanted to place responsibility for what we as a society were becoming on the rhetoric of the past four years.  But life is not that simple.  I knew we did not simply become a racist society with the results of one election.  I recognized that it was only as the hateful rhetoric went viral and the incidents of violence against People of Color went virtual that I became increasingly aware of what is and what has always been a dramatic difference between my safe white environment and threatening world faced daily by People of Color.

I did take some hope that we may have reached a tipping point last summer as people across the world spontaneously marched.  White celebrities sat down with Emmanuel Acho for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black ManLewis Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on the starting grid and on the winner’s podium even as racers sprayed champagne.  And, Formula 1 cars now carry a #WeRaceAsOne logo as a visible display of a new “initiative aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”

Over the past seven months, our Common Read at church delved into the hard and realistic truth that the injustice playing on our screens again this week is not new but is as old as the country itself.  As we read, we were reminded with each well crafted paragraph, each page we turned that injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  That violence happens every day.  We need only look to other April days to recall shocking events: 

  • April 1873 – A white mob massacred an estimated 150 Black voters over the results of a hotly contested gubernatorial election;
  • April 1956 – Four white men attacked signer Nat King Cole while he was on stage performing for a white audience;
  • April 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Earlier, I blogged about one of our Common Read titles, a powerful anthology, A Good Time for the Truth:  Race in Minnesota.  It is an eye-opening collection of personal stories shared by 16 Minnesota authors of Color that sheds light on life in our state and in our time.  In the book’s introduction, poet Sun Yung Shin, who edited A Good Time for the Truth, offers both a challenge and words to help guide us.

Good people need to take action continuously, and I would say daily, until [racism] is dismantled.  Because lives are at stake, every day; on sidewalks, in doctor’s offices, in the waiting room of the bank, and, most importantly, in classrooms.

I believe we can do it.  I know I am not alone in this conviction.

People of color and Indigenous people know with a specific, agonizing intimacy that racism was constructed and upheld by white society (in spaces such as the police precinct, the courtroom, school board meetings, newsrooms, Hollywood studios, mortgage loan offices, and everywhere power has resided in America) in order to confer unearned advantages on white people.  It is as simple as that.  It’s not a law of nature.  It’s culture.  It’s something we made, invented, maintained.  Since it was made, like a vast machine, it can be unmade, and it must. ...

Change is necessary.
Reading

My Book Clubs – Number Growing

four open books stacked on one another with pages of top book fanned in the light
Photo from Pexels-pixabay

I promised myself retirement would be like my favorite summer, 1976, filled with lots of reading and time with friends.  That was the only summer after high school where I was not taking college classes or working or both.  Nearly four years into this relaxed life, my plan is working although Covid has put the nix (at least for now) on face-to-face time with friends but I am exceeding my reading goals, albeit mostly easy titles that don’t require deep contemplation.  Aiding me in the task of diversifying my reading pleasure have been three book clubs and One Book One Minnesota.

The Directors’ – My library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends who, in pre-Covid times enjoyed an outing every 2-3 months but now gather every two weeks via Zoom, decided 2021 was the right time for a book club.  While our first two titles have been mysteries with earlier posts, The Thursday Murder Club and The Bookseller, we are switching genres. Next up – Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am.

Knit Camp Reads Club – A new venture for Knit Camp knitters who want to read (or listen) together.  The first selection is fiber related, Casting Off by Nicole R. Dickson, a nice tie in with the Knit Camp January workshop and group knit, Fiadh.

UU Common Read – With a focus on justice, the October through April titles have included An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (although I admit I opted for the young people edition); Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson with a movie by the same name; and A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota – a powerful anthology written by 17 Minnesota authors of color that I blogged about in December.

Reading

Book Club with Hugo Marston & The Bookseller

balck and white book cover with Paris elaborate bridge over the Seine in the foreground and Eifel Tower in the background

A well written mystery, with a story that evolves from an interest in antique books, to the kidnapping of a bouquiniste (a bookseller with a stall along the Seine), plus historic WWII intrigue, and, of course, murder.  There is even a little love interest scribed by Mark Pryor in The Bookseller, the first title in the Hugo Marston series.

After enjoying our first book club title, The Directors – a library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – moved literary settings from the English countryside to Paris for our second book club choice.  The Bookseller introduced us to Hugo Marston, a former FBI profiler now head of embassy security in Paris.  The tall Texan, who is fluent in French, loves well brewed coffee and walking Paris streets, possesses a strong sense of justice but will diplomatically step out of the limelight and let the French police claim the glory after catching the bad guys.  The Directors all agreed we will be exploring the other titles in Pryor’s Hugo Marston series.

Happy reading!

Knitting · Reading

Knitting in the City

Knitting in the City © Penny Reid

When launched as a Covid coping tool, Knit+ Librarian was intended to highlight my current reading without being too book-reportish.  However, a quick review of recent posts reveals a dearth of titles and lest you think this librarian has given up on books – not to worry.  I have simply opted not to report each book title-by-title.  My Goodreads account is a finely-tuned tool that provides titles, dates and ratings on a five-star scale, as well as a list of what I am reading and an ever-growing want-to-read list. At the moment I have six titles open:

  • Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare – a YA paranormal fantasy audio book for multitasking while I knit
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and A Good Time for the Truth, an anthology edited by Sun Yung Shin – for upcoming book discussions I am leading at church (reported on earlier)
  • The Bookseller by Mark Pryor – the first in the Hugo Marston murder series for the upcoming The Directors’ bookclub
  • The Art of the Wasted Day by St. Paul author Patricia Hampl – a recent gift from a friend
  • Knitlandia by Clara Parkes – another gift from a friend that I come back to chapter by chapter.

Let me recommend – – – For light reading with a knitting tie-in, author Penny Reid, provides the right combination of good things – character development, dialogue, humor, all set against a Chicago backdrop – in her Knitting in the City series.  I have finished Book 5:  Happily Ever Ninja and downloaded book 6 to my iPad.  These contemporary romances can be read as stand-alone titles but there is a nice flow between the books as we meet seven good friends who gather every Tuesday night to knit or crochet all the while enjoying adult beverages and offering great worldly advice.  As with every title within this genre, the expected occurs – girl meets boy, attraction, romance and love happen albeit with some challenges.  Unlike some series where the characters are so interchangeable so as to be cardboard cutouts from one title to the next, the women of Knitting in the City are as unique as any collection of your friends.  Reid uses knitting as a connecting thread week-to-week as the story and relationships develop sufficient to keep any fiber lover happy but without overwhelming the non-knitter.  Sometimes she even slips in references to Ravelry patterns.  And, for the really knit-nerdy, Reid offers a companion title that includes 27 patterns based on her characters’ knitting creations.

Happy reading!

Reading

Book Club: The Thursday Murder Club

When I started Knit+ Librarian, I thought I could simply resurrect my blogging skills and, violà, creativity would abound.  But I forgot that while the WYSIWYG environment is easy to navigate it also abounds in sophistication.  Depending on themes and choices, the options for style and design are wildly numerous.  So, as part of my 2021 self-improvement resolutions, I registered for WordPress Courses and, dear reader, you may see some different posts (not just knitting or baking) as I experiment with tools and techniques.  First up – learning new formatting options and inserting a YouTube video.


The Directors – a library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – just finished our first book club discussion, something new for the new year.  Our kickoff title was the charming debut mystery, The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman.  The septuagenarian and octogenarian characters are laugh-out-loud funny as they gather evidence, support the local constabulary, enjoy a cocktail and, of course as our heroes, solve the mystery.  We all agreed, later in life, we could easily conceive of living in such a retirement village as the one nestled in the hills of Kent, England.  Enjoy a book promoting interview with the author.

Reading

When life interests intersect …

Throughout my library career I advocated for the Minnesota Center for the Book and the Minnesota Book Awards.  I’ve booktalked Book Award nominated titles and represented Greater Minnesota on the Book Award Advisory Committee, as well as attended receptions at the Library of Congress to celebrate the work of Centers for the Book around the United States. 

So I was excited to learn about a new book club – One Book / One Minnesota.  Launched in the spring of 2020 as Minnesota went into Covid quarantine and libraries closed their doors to walk-in patrons, One Book encouraged Minnesotans to read together.  The three titles selected thus far feature award winning Minnesota authors:

  1. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  2. A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin
  3. A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich.

A blending of reading good books by Minnesota authors and retirement life came together last night as I led an online book discussion of A Good Time for the Truth.  This anthology contains 16 extremely well written chapters, each by a different Minnesota author, each a Person of Color living and working in our state.  Artfully edited by Sun Yung Shin.  The first lines of her introduction reads:

You hold in your hand a book of visions.  Memories.  True stories.  Shock.  Grief.  Dreams.  Activism.  Recognition. A call for us to listen and learn about one another’s real lives in Minnesota.

While the setting and many of the references are Minnesota specific, the stories are real whether they occur in Minneapolis or Minocqua, Rochester or Rockford or any city, USA.  Stories which reveal how those who look like me – white, middle-aged, educated, financially comfortable, that is to say privileged – take for granted our place in this white patriarchy.  Or, conversely as Sun Yung Shin states:

Most people of color in the United States have to think about race every day, multiple times a day.  We are constantly negotiating our bodies, our selves, our identities, in a racialized society.

These stories are so well written and revealing that I could only read one at a time before setting down the book and taking time and space to reflect, sometimes to cry, about the injustices and inequities to which I was blind.  This same sentiment was expressed by several participating in our church’s Common Read book discussion.

We are living the great American democratic experiment.  But for it to be truly successful, all the voices need to be heard.  Those Indigenous People with whom our government has repeatedly broken trust.  Those whose ancestors were brought here against their will chained in the holds of slave ships.  Those who came to this “land of opportunity” for a myriad of reasons and every day enrich the whole of our existence but whose contributions are minimized because they are different.  I encourage you to pick up a copy of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.  Read with an open heart the beauty of the language on the page and hear the stories of fellow Americans. After, give me a call or an email or a text so we can chat as we grow and learn together.

P.S. If you want to hear some of the authors in their own voices, check out this One Book / One Minnesota YouTube video with Sun Young Shin and six of the anthology’s authors.