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.
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.
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.
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.
After decades of librarianship and managing countless summer reading programs for children and winter reading programs for adults – all encouraging the pure enjoyment of reading (whatever form: paper page or tablet or headphones), I have discovered the phenomenon of reading challenges. While I have participated in any number of knitting challenges: 52 hats in one year, 12 shawls, themed cowls, etc., I never thought about reading challenges other than to set an annual Goodreads goal along with 2.6 million other Goodreads participants. But trust me they abound! I’ve listed a few resources I found inspiring but, if these are not to your liking, a simple Google search will yield 700 million more. Thanks to Swedish school librarian, Elin, for my introduction to 2021 reading challenges.