Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mr. Chef & Ms. Librarian - by Melissa Yi

Can a white-bread librarian on the rebound find true love with a Pakistani chef who promised his parents he'd find himself a nice Muslim girl?

Ivy Appleford is new to her job as a public librarian, as well as new in town and has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She signs up for some cooking classes and falls for the sexy chef/instructor, Tariq, who is equally taken with her. It doesn't take long for the two to become swept up in a hot, and spicy romance. True to romance novel genre there are some ups and downs in the relationship, but all is well in the end.

The author played around a bit with some librarian stereotypes and fantasies. Even as Ivy notes that being a librarian no one ever expected her to be "a wild party" readers see someone who finds it thrilling to have sex outside, where anyone could have come by, and when Ivy surprises Tariq by deftly opening a condom and sliding it down on him she simply shrugs and says "I should be good at this stuff. I'm a librarian." Neither does she hesitate when her swarthy lover suggests that they have sex on the circulation desk. When Tariq shows up unannounced at Ivy's house late one night and sees her in red flannel pajamas for the first time, his mind, of course, goes right to the uptight librarian fantasy.
He grinned. "You look adorable." To his surprise, he meant it. The tortoiseshell glasses reminded him of a cat. Or, better yet, the Tina Fey, take off your glasses and let down your hair, buttoned-up sexiness."
Ivy's ex-boyfriend, Stephen, is a professor, and apparently she was not completely at ease with him because of it. With Tariq
She didn't have to prove that librarians were as smart as academics. She didn't have to pretend to like his friends. She could just hang out.
I thought about this passage a lot, not so much because I think I need to prove anything to my professor husband (he knows how smart I am, after all) but more because I am an academic librarian. I suppose that I sometimes feel that I have to prove that I'm as smart as my colleagues. This can be especially frustrating when I'm dealing with faculty members (or administrators) who may not, in fact, be as smart as I am! Librarians do know everything, after all.

Early in their relationship, when Ivy isn't so sure she should be getting involved with anyone, she tells Tariq that what she needs is more of a friend "an avuncular type". She specifically suggests that my favorite fictitious librarian - Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be a good person for her "someone who won't take advantage of me - or tempt me." Really, Giles wouldn't tempt her? Has she not seen the show, especially the episode called "Band Candy"?!

I must say that Ivy is as much of a multi-dimensional character as one can expect in a romance novel. She has a variety of interests, and cares about her community, plus she is smart, sexy, and witty. This was a fun read for Read-a-Romance month.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cavedweller - by Dorothy Allison

When 10-year-old Cissy Byrd's father dies her mother, Delia, packs up Cissy in her Datsun  and drives from their home in southern California to Cayro, Georgia. Cissy loves to read, which is a good thing because it is one of the few things that helps to keep her from going crazy as she meets her half-sisters for the first time, and watches as her mother cares for their dying father, a man who once abused Delia. Cissy reads a lot and  finds reading material from a variety of sources including

  •  "pilfering" paperback romances from the mean-spirited twin daughters of her mother's friend M.T. and trading them in for science fiction at Crane's (a downtown book exchange)
  • the public library (natch)
  • borrowing from Nolan, the young man who is lovesick for her sister Dede, and who "meticulously" sorts and shelves his collection

Nolan also introduces Cissy to spelunking, which she discovers she loves perhaps more than reading. The book's most poetic (and sensuous) mention of libraries (which had little to do with books or reading) comes in a description of Cissy's dream about flowstone "the slowly moving rock beneath the dirt" that "comes in shades from pure white to calcium yellow to mottled red"
In her dreams flowstone was not hard but thick and soft as stale meringue. That white paste found in grade school libraries, dense and cloying and slowly stiffening against the skin, that was the flowstone of Cissy's dreams. She lay back into it and it took on the shape of her body, the warmth of her skin. It settled beneath her, gently crept between her fingers and toes, and rose to cradle her hips. Compressed, Viscous. Alive. Growing slowly, but growing. Flowstone made a white noise in Cissy's head, intimate and safe. She waited for it to wrap her around, slowly encase her body, and by that motion season her soul.
Like Cissy I like reading, too,  of course, but I do not share her interest in caving. I tried exploring a cave once and I am really not interested in doing it again. I will, however, occasionally find my way to a cavern tour, the kind in which there are perky guides, lots of colorful lights and other gimmicks, and no belly slithering.

Pam and James crawl out of Breathing cave Bath County, Va. c 1986

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks her way through Great Books - by Cara Nicoletti

This lovely memoir brings together my two favorite hobbies: reading and cooking. Nicoletti is not only an avid reader, she is also a chef. In each of these self-contained chapters the author reflects on a book and what it meant to her, and also provides an appropriate recipe. The work is divided into three sections: Childhood; Adolescence and College Years; and Adulthood so there are chapters about well-known children's favorites as well as darker adult-themed books. I read this one aloud to my husband. We very much enjoyed it and liked that the chapters were short enough that we could read two or three at a time and not be tired afterwards. I read many of the books she writes about which made this even more fun for me. The recipes run the gamut of fairly easy (Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg from Jane Austen's Emma) to rather complex (Chocolate Éclairs from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dolloway). Many of the recipes (including the éclairs) called for mixing something in an electric mixer using a paddle (or some other kind of) attachment. Much as we love to cook, we are not prepared to invest in some of the equipment needed to make some of these recipes, although we will be trying some of them out, which we will most certainly post on our Nueva Receta blog. Stay tuned.

Of course no book memoir would be complete without at least a few libraries sprinkled in. One of Nicoletti's early library memories is of watching the 1978 movie Puff the Magic Dragon in her school library in first grade each time it rained too hard for the children to have recess outside. She really hated this movie
Not only did the entire premise of it terrify me, but it gave me the saddest most anxious feeling deep in my gut...with those dulled psychedelic colors and Peter, Paul, and Mary's eerie crooning creeping into my nightmares.
After many viewings of the film her intense dislike for it finally caused her to ask her teacher, Miss Walker, if she might perhaps read a book in the library instead of screening the movie yet again. To which Miss Walker replied "Pick a book and you can read quietly until the movie is over." Nicoletti reports that this memory is "one of the happiest of [her] childhood-not only because [she] escaped Puff, but because of Miss Walker's infinite and quiet understanding, and her gift...of thirty minutes surrounded by books." The book she chose "that day, and for many many days afterward was the first installment of the Boxcar Children series..."

I never read any of the Boxcar Children myself. And honestly, much as I love books I imagine given the choice, I would have watched "Puff" for the umteenth time over reading a book as many times as I could as a child. I really love Peter, Paul, and Mary. And I truly dig that '70s animation. Although I must say, this film fails the Bechdel test horribly. There aren't even two women in the film, much less two that have a conversation.

The author also makes note of the fact that the Boxcar Children series "caused quite a stir at first. Parents objected to the children's happy, adult-free world and the tragic backdrop of their story-all very real, scary stuff". She also points out that perennial children's favorite Charlotte's Web has had its share of censors as well.
...it's been banned in Kansas for including talking animals, which some educators deemed 'unnatural', and avoided by others who think the themes of death and sacrifice are too heavy for its young audience. It has also been challenged in England by teachers worried that the discussion of eating pork would be offensive to Muslims.
Nicoletti has a few other places in which she specifically mentions getting books from the library. She biked to the library in fourth grade to find out about Sylvia Plath, and "spent hours on the floor of the library that day, trying to make sense of just one line of Plath's poetry, but...left with only a vague sense of dread that [she] would never be happy again once [she] turned ten.

In her discussion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice she makes note of the library within the book itself, as well she discusses the fact that she found the book's "lack of food description excruciating" (emphasis in original). She was particularly frustrated by the fact that there is no information about what, exactly, white soup was. So much so that that "one scene...had [her] searching for Regency-era cookbooks whenever [she] went to the library."

And, finally she describes sobbing "ugly, messy cries in [her college] library" following the break-up with her long-time boyfriend while translating The Aeneid for Latin class.

This fun book is based on Nicoletti's Yummy Books blog.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - by J.K. Rowling

It's that time of year again - Harry Potter's birthday! This was my third go round for the sixth book in the series. I still love the stories as much as I ever did, and I still hold steadfast in my opinion that the first book is the best one.  I find the later books, like The Half-Blood Prince, are more scary than magical. Which is not to say I did not enjoy reading this one again. This was my first time reading it looking specifically for library references. The first of which appears almost halfway through the book: Harry and Hermione speak in whispers about Ron and Lavender Brown, love potions, Harry's marked-up copy of Advanced Potion-Making, and how anyone could have snuck Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes into Hogwarts. Meanwhile librarian Madam Pince "prowled the shelves behind them". She apparently prowls until closing time when she "appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying." At which point she notices Harry's copy of Advanced Potion-Making and deems him a "depraved boy." And, as it turned out Madam Pince was not the only one lurking. We discover near the end of the book that Draco Malfoy also overheard the conversation about sneaking in potions, providing him with an idea about how to get a bottle of poisoned Mead into the Hogwarts castle.

Even in the wizarding world the library is a good excuse when one needs a get-away plan. Harry gets tired of telling everyone how it feels to Apparate and is "forced to lie and say that he needed to return a book to the library." Likewise Harry lies to Snape when asked where he found out about the Sectumsempra curse. He says it was in a library book, when of course, it was really found in his annotated edition of Advanced Potion-Making.

Super-smart Hermione has always made tracks to the library when she needed information but in this devastating volume "the Hogwarts library...failed Hermione for the first time in living memory. She was so shocked, she even forgot that she was annoyed at Harry for his trick with the bezoar." The library does come through for her, though when she finds a "whole collection of old Prophets up there" one of which contains information about one Eileen Prince. Could the Half-Blood Prince have been a girl?

Librarian Madam Pince makes a final appearance at the end of the book during Dumbledore's funeral "standing beside Filch, she in a black veil that fell to her knees, he in an ancient black suit and tie reeking of mothballs." Well, this certainly gives one pause, doesn't it. Could Pince and Filch be an item? We know Filch is a squib, which may be to blame for his sour personality. I'm beginning to think that Madam Pince is a squib as well, and perhaps that is to what we owe her nastiness. But really, there is no reason for any librarian to feel that way. One doesn't need to work at Hogwarts to know that all libraries are magical places, after all.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

This is Where You Belong - by Melody Warnick

This title piqued my interest because I have steadily lost love for my current town over the past decade. When we first bought our house in 2002 I told my husband that I felt like we lived in a poem. We could both walk to work and to the center of town; had a big backyard; and could hear the train whistle, the church bells, and the chimes from the college. A few years later a loudspeaker system was put in at the sports field across the street and things became a lot less charming. Social media also had a role. I had to get off both the town groups I was on because I found the complaining and negativity to be too much of a downer. Last year we bought a weekend getaway in another town where we retreat to be away from the sports noise in the fall. It is easy to love a second home. There are no work, church, PTA, or other committee obligations there, and in our case it is also near a beach. Learning to love my primary home again, where I do spend most of my time is something I'd been wondering how to do. Warnick, who has made several interstate moves, always looking for the greener grass, sets out to learn to love Blacksburg, Virginia. There were some suggestions in this book that I wish I could do more of here - one was to buy local. For a college town Bridgewater really is lacking in funky, independent shops. Warnick mentions specifically a gift shop where she takes her daughters to buy presents. I remember when we first moved here there was an  independent educational toy shop nearby. Whenever my daughter was invited to a birthday party we would walk over an pick out a puzzle or kit. It has since closed, replaced by a Walgreen's (which I have never been in). The author also mentions an independent bookstore and explains how more dollars are put back into the local economy when one shops local, and then confesses that sometimes rather than buying books at the local bookstore she "made mental notes of titles to check out later from the library". She is a bit ashamed of this, but I see no reason why she should be. The public library is a resource to be used by the community. Getting a book there that you are only going to read once is a good way to be sustainable.

Warnick has a few other things to say about libraries. She does appreciate them and one day while performing random acts of kindness she brings donuts to the thrilled librarians at her public library. She also takes a civics education class at the public library in order to learn more about her town and how to get involved in it. And some years before she began her quest to love Blackburg she was a member of the Ames, Iowa library board. She laments about leaving that city. "As a board member I was a necessary, voting part of the organization and by extension, the city. I mattered, and feeling like you matter makes you feel like you belong. No wonder Ames was the town I left most regretfully." She also suggests reading about your town's history at the local public library, and gives a shout out to one of my favorite things: The Little Free Library

Reading this book does have me thinking about what I can do for my town, and make an effort to appreciate what is here. I will start tonight and attend a free concert at our town's new outdoor music venue: Music Alley. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Maine - by J. Courtney Sullivan

A beach read about a beach house that I read at my beach house. This story brings together four women from across three generations, each with a different relationship to the family beach house in Maine. Alice, the matriarch; Kathleen, her daughter; Maggie, her granddaughter; and Ann Marie, her daughter-in-law all end up at the beach house for the same two-week period. The relationships between and among the women are explored, and memories are surfaced. The characters are multi-dimensional, each with some things to like and some to dislike. One thing all had in common though was that they used the library.

To get to Alice's beach house you go "past the stone library and the Baptist church and a row of grand hotels..." When cleaning out her beach house after decades of use Alice donates her grandson's "collection of thrillers and political biographies" to this same library. It is also clear that she used the library regularly over the years to check out reading material, and sheet music.

Alice's dream was to become a famous painter. She was fascinated by Isabella Stewart Gardner "a great patroness of the arts...[whose] home was turned into a museum and named in her honor. She had been painted by John Singer Sargent, and she threw the most elaborate dinners full of great thinkers and artists. She traveled the world and studied in Paris." Alice checked out the only biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner from the library "which she had already read twice". Then "used her brother Timmy's card to get another book, which she had no intention of ever returning. It contained black-and-white photographs of Paris. Alice ripped them out and stuck them to the wall behind her bed." (As I said, there is something to like, and dislike about each woman).

Alice's granddaughter, Maggie, has a loser of a boyfriend, Gabe (although he is good in bed). A writer, Gabe at first is just an idea to Maggie, the former tenant of her New York apartment who is still receiving mail from Simon & Schuster. Could this mythic Gabe be such a great writer that a major publisher is looking for him, and he can just ignore it? "The thought of him helped her write, helped her keep going, and she'd joke about it to friends, how the literary power of her neighborhood's former tenants-Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, Carson McCullers and Gabe Warner, whose book she could never locate at the library-acted as her muse." Maggie does eventually write and publish her own book of short stories which Alice found "quite polished" and "bragged about it to the librarians at her local branch."

Alice's daughter Kathleen used her public library to do research on cancer after her father is diagnosed.

Ann Marie, Alice's ever reliable daughter-in-law, in making a list of everything she needed to do before heading to the beach house includes returning her library books among the many details to which she must attend.

The tensions between these women ebb and flow throughout the course of their lives. There is no grand resolution, however. One gets the idea that things will continue on, much as they do in real life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - by Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry receives a letter from a former co-worker (Queenie Hennessey) letting him know that she is dying, and wanted to say good-bye, Harold writes a short note in response and sets out to the mailbox, but instead of posting the letter he decides he will go visit Queenie - 600 miles away - on foot. Without going back to his house to prepare for the trip, or tell his wife (Maureen) he just starts walking, still wearing his tie and his yachting shoes. His voyage takes about three months, during which time he has a lot of time to think, remember, and reflect. People join him and turn the trip into something different than he expected, and ultimately the quest becomes more than just about seeing Queenie.

Two early memories of Maureen involve the library. He has pleasant memories of their early marriage of how she took care of their home life
...she grew vegetables in the garden,...and waited for Harold every evening on the corner...They would walk home, sometimes taking the seafront, or stopping at the quay to watch the boats. She make curtains out of mattress ticking and, with the remnants, a shift dress for herself. She took to looking up new recipes from the library. There were casseroles, curries, pasta, beans.
Even earlier memories, of their courtship, also surface
Even in those days he had begun saving for their future. He had taken an early-morning job on the rubbish trucks, followed by a part-time afternoon job as a bus conductor. Twice a week he did an all-night shift at the hospital, and on Saturdays he worked at the library. Sometimes he was so exhausted he crawled under the bookshelves and fell asleep...[Maureen] took to nipping into the library and thumbing through cookery books, and he watched her from the main desk, his head reeling with desire and the need to sleep.
The warm memories help him to reconnect with her, just one of the unlikely and unexpected aspects of his journey.