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.
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.
A restless night spent worrying about my first public overnight outing proved needless as the two-day excursion with The Directors was as fun filled as expected. As the last member of the group to travel so far as to necessitate a motel room, I was also the last to indulge in restaurant dining. While I did make that first brave step on tax day, this trip required my second restaurant experience. My friends were exceedingly gentle as I ventured (still somewhat timidly) into our formerly masked, now vaccinated world. As we wove through the green farmland of east central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, there were stops along the way for wine tasting and shopping, and while this later activity is usually not a high priority for me the company made the day enjoyable.
I attribute my lack of shopping enthusiasm to a career move to Georgia just after grad school. My next door neighbor was also a northern transplant, a cataloging librarian from Michigan, and she loved to shop. Faced with unexpected resistance to implementing what I considered standard library operations like offering storytimes for the public rather than only by appointment, I took solace from workplace challenges by joining her at the mall. (Remember when window-shopping under one roof in a temperature control environment was a new, novel experience?) When we moved after 18 months on the job, she to Augusta and me to Peoria, I had two maxed out credit cards. And, while that debt was paid off years ago, there is still a residual caution when considering what I want versus what I need. Although, on this trip, I was less hesitant at the bookstore and the two wineries as evidenced by the assorted vintages and the stack of new books that filled the boot.
Also on this trip, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) initiated a new but to-be-repeated practice of secret book gifting. We each brought 1-2 recently read titles, wrapped to hide any clue as to content other than to know we were exchanging books. After tours of the Shades of Green Garden and delicious home-prepared meals our hostess initiated a quick game of “I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100…” and we picked our surprises. Each book will guarantee good reading for the weeks ahead, as well as a promise to exchange these gently used reads next time we meet.
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.
Depending on the day and the conference, visiting library vendor exhibits might be hard work with promises for future negotiations or a simple pleasure. Some days I could afford the time to stand in line to purchase a signed copy of a much loved book. There were also those serendipitous moments when I discovered the unlikely opportunity to nab a quick gift for Richard in a nearly empty booth; when the entire encounter from handing the cash to the publishing house rep, to a brief conversation with a favorite writer, to carefully stashing the prized conference loot all occurred within just minutes. Such was my very brief encounter with Eric Carle one ALA conference day.
The world is blessed to have had this genius of children’s literature whose many stories and brillant textured art evoked rich reading opportunities and colorful playfulness.
Libraries have always adapted to the changing world by expanding resources and services, even more so in these Covid times. Celebrate National Library Week, April 4 – 10! Visit your library online or in person (if allowed) to learn how you can check out books, technology, multimedia content, educational programs and so much more to help you be your best self.
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 Cluband 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.
Like pulling weeds from one’s garden, weeding a collection is often done to make space. But unlike the in-the-dirt activity, weeding books is tough. When you pull that volume off the shelf you are not simply ridding the lettuce patch of all those pesky maple whirly-birds that seem to have taken root over night. Weeding books severs a tactile connection between the written word that once transported the reader to an imaginary realm or conveyed clear instruction or the creative content of any genre in between. There is something special about the art of book collecting. Removing titles is tough. So difficult that librarians will procrastinate for years until bulging shelves, with no room for new purchases, demand attention. So difficult that we dub the work, de-selection, since it requires as much (maybe more) discrimination then demonstrated at the time of acquisition.
I have a small but growing collection of knitting books, a mix of instructional titles and pattern collections authored by well-respected designers. For a number of years, they were stashed on the floor under a Hutton Sculpture bench in our TV room. Not the best location but handy until the quantity outgrew the space available – but where to move them? Our first thought was to buy more shelving but space is at a premium in our 96-year old house with less than 1,000 square feet which generated today’s task – weeding books.
We each contributed to the newly freed shelf space. Gone are eight management titles that I will not re-read in retirement and nine, four-ring Porsche binders. We sold our white 1987 Porsche 944S in 2003 but kept the repair manuals as a visual reminder of the time spent at driver education events when we focused on corner apexes, acceleration points, and tach readings. Photos, trophies and the infrequent scent of brake dust will have to suffice. We even created enough space for new acquisitions as the inches of items weeded exceeded the number of inches needed. Happy reading!
I am old enough that while working my first library job librarians were still debating the efficacy of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. At the time, there were two distinct camps: Those that felt children should only read “quality” literature and those that believed that any reading was good. This dichotomy played out in library selection meetings and at library conferences around the country as the debate waged over spending precious tax dollars for what, by some, were deemed titles just slightly above pulp fiction. (Note: The distinction that books by Carolyn Keene were not pulp was based solely on the hard covers of this series versus the paperbacks of such authors as Philip K. Dick or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Remember – At the time, a similar debate waged over the merits of paperbacks, perceived as ephemeral and not worthy of being in a library collection, regardless of the author!)
I definitely fell into the latter category; after all, I had loved Nancy Drew mysteries. My childhood friend, Julie B., introduced me to this strong female heroine and her two best friends and ever faithful sleuthing partners, Beth and George, when she lent me her copy of The Hidden Staircase. I thought Julie was immensely lucky as she owned a wonderful collection of 10-13 titles which she began lending to me. Her collection consisted of early titles in the series, so, with my allowance and every birthday and Christmas, I acquired the later books in the series. Our goal was to own every Nancy Drew title, that by combining her early titles and my later ones, our collection would meet in the middle.
There are those avid readers who pride themselves on never re-reading a title and those that re-visit well loved books time and again. On this topic I fall in the middle as I generally don’t re-read books simply because, in the words of Frank Zappa, “So many books, so little time.” But I do remember the first book I ever re-read. It was a sunny day during summer vacation and I readThe Clue in the Old Stagecoach three times, cover-to-cover. The magic of the words transported me into Nancy’s search for hidden treasure. Having just re-read The Bookseller for The Directors’ Book Club, my list of re-read titles (not inlcuding library storytime favorites) is now a dozen plus a few:
The Booksellerby Mark Pryor
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Clue in the Old Stagecoach by Carolyn Keene (Three times in one day!)
Dune by Frank Herbert
Harry Potter, #1-7 by J.K. Rowling (First as the titles were released & re-read before each movie premiere.)
His Dark Materials, #1-3 by Philip Pullman (For the summer science fiction book club.)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Just because what is not to love about a time travel romance between Claire and Jamie aka Sam Heughan with his own blend of whisky.)
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.
Usually Earth Day arrives, as it does every April 22, and catches me unaware. I go oops I should have [fill in the blank – read or investigated or donated or something] before now. So this year, still living in these Covid times, I am starting early and Gum Trees and Galaxies provided just the right incentive. The blog’s co-authors, who self describe as “…a couple of Australian empty nesters (not grey nomads, at least not yet), exploring, experimenting and recording life,” invite their readers to a nature reading challenge. Yes, I am still exploring reading challenges for 2021. They even provide a downloadable Gaia Book Bingo card to enhance your Gaia/Nature reading adventure.
Join me in reading and celebrating Earth Day 2021! You can start early too. Reduce. Recycle. Reuse.