Monday, February 25, 2019

Light on Snow - by Anita Shreve

A motherless twelve-year old girl (Nicky) and her father take a walk in the woods behind their house on a snowy December afternoon. They hear what they believe to be a cat's cry, but soon recognize it as human. Following the noise they discover a newborn infant abandoned in the snow, and race to the hospital in order to save her. A police investigation follows. Two days before Christmas a young woman shows up at Nicky's house to thank her and her father for saving her baby. A snow storm prevents the stranger from leaving and over the course of her stay they learn her story. Part of the story is that the only pre-natal care the nineteen-year old received was what she learned from reading library books about pregnancy and childbirth.

She also used the local public library to read newspaper accounts of the baby's rescue, and the name of the man who saved her.

Meanwhile, Nicky begins to wonder about all the what-ifs that led to the discovery of the infant, who otherwise likely would have been found as a tiny skeleton in the spring. What if she and her father had decided not to take a walk that day? What if her mother and baby sister had not died in a car crash - she and her father would never have moved to New Hampshire in the first place. And
What if my father had not, as my mother once told me, walked into the university library one spring morning to read about the Yankees-Orioles game the night before and seen my mother at the circulation desk, studying for a chemistry exam while putting in her work-study hours, and asked her, on the spur of the moment, how he might get permission to look at a series of rare Jefferson drawings kept in the vault.
Like the title character in Judy Blume's classic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret this book ends with the narrator getting her first period. However, Shreve's work is most definitely a bit darker than Blume's.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Every Day (the movie)

This is a love story between Rhiannon, a teenage girl, and A, a soul who wakes up in a new body every day. A never knows what gender, race, ethnicity, or abilities they will have from one day to the next. Neither does A have any control over whose body they will inhabit on any particular day. They only know it will not be the same one as the day before, and that it will be someone about the same age as they were the day before. 

On the day that A wakes up in the body of George they find themselves in an "old school situation". George's mother picks out his clothes, and only agrees to let him out of the house to go to the library to study. A contacts Rhiannon and tells her that they have about an hour to meet before George's mother picks him up. Rhiannon and A get "shushed" at least three times before Mom arrives and goes ballistic when she finds Rhiannon kissing her son between the stacks and chases her out of the building.

This very non-binary tale, based on the book by David Levithan, is thought provoking well executed.

Friday, February 15, 2019

We Are Water - by Wally Lamb

In this work Lamb re-imagines the town of Norfolk, Connecticut and artist Ellis Ruley as the fictitious Three Rivers, Connecticut and Josephus Jones respectively. It tells the story of the Oh family: Annie, an artist who is about to marry her same-sex partner; Orion, her psychologist ex-husband; and her children Ariane, Andrew, and Marissa. Each chapter focuses on a different character.

Annie's early life is shaped by a flood that killed her mother and baby sister. The disaster is something she rarely discusses, so her children must research it at the public library, reading the old newspaper accounts on microfiche. 

Annie is also the subject of an internet search on a public library computer, many years later. A search performed by someone who, as a condition of his parole, was to stay off the internet. Nevertheless, the parolee (Annie's long lost cousin Kent) "walked from the halfway house to the library downtown [and found] an open computer station, far enough from the front desk for anyone to see..."

As a young woman Annie searched for a job using the Want Ads found in the local paper at the public library. She had been primed from a young age to use the library, as her mother had taken her to story hour as a child. Belinda, whose father was buried the same day as Annie's mother and sister, remembered Annie from her days working at the library. Belinda once even used her job there as a cover to her parents when she goes to meet a boy at the movie theater - telling them she was called in to work to fill in for someone who was sick. 

Although not an especially library-centric book, this one does demonstrate a myriad of different ways that libraries are used. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Unsheltered - by Barbara Kingsolver

In 21st century Vineland, New Jersey Willa Knox, her husband, father-in-law, two grown children, and one grandchild move to a dilapidated house on Plum Street after having to leave their home in Virginia following a job loss.

On the same Plum Street lot in 19th century Vineland, Thatcher Greenwood, his wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law also live a house that may very well fall apart around them.

Is there a historic significance to Willa's house that could save it? Only good research will tell!

On her maiden voyage to the Vineland Historical Society, Willa discovers that the town was designed as a Utopian community in 1861 by Charles Landis, and that
within the first decade Vineland had eighteen public schools...Three seminaries, fourteen churches, Masonic and Odd Fellows Societies, a public library, and a hall built on Plum Street to host one of the country's most exciting public lecture series.
Well, after all, what kind of a utopia would it be if it had no public library?

And, in fact Thatcher Greenwood and his friend Mary Treat made good use of said library (as well as the Harvard Library and the Boston Public Library) in their day. Willa, on the other hand, is more of an archives person, making use of the files (with the help of curator Christopher Hawk) at the Historical Society. Hawk's connections at the National Agricultural Library land Willa with a trove of letters written by Mary Treat, and thus, the book comes full circle.