Friday Reads: The Magician’s Assistant

 

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

This blog written by Donna Burgess, Reference Librarian and co-leader of “Books on the Half-shell,”  the library’s monthly fiction book club.

 

Ann Patchett’s third novel, The Magician’s Assistant,  is a selection in the Falmouth Fiction book club, series, “Magic and Magicians.”

Set in Los Angeles, California and Alliance, Nebraska it is both a love story and an awakening. The magician’s assistant of the title is named Sabine. An assistant to the magician Parsifal for twenty years, Sabine was in love with him, even though he was gay, and as is announced in the opening sentences, “Parsifal is dead. That is the end of the story.”

Throughout their relationship Parsifal maintained that his family had all died in a car accident in Connecticut. So it came as a shock when Sabine learned that he had a family in Nebraska! His mother, Dot and her daughter, Bertie arrived in LA   through contact with Parsifal’s lawyer. They decided to meet Sabine.

Having spent too much time in bed grieving the loss of Parsifal, Sabine decides to give Dot and Bertie a tour of the LA, (“a city where there are no laws against pretending to be something you weren’t!”) She finally decides to accept Dot’s invitation to visit Alliance and learn about Parsifal’s past.  We learn that Parsifal’s given name is Guy, that there was a tragic event in his past that triggered his move away from Nebraska and his shutting out his past.

The contrast between the palm tree lined streets of L.A. and the windswept snow –clogged streets of Alliance heighten the contrast between the personalities of Dot’s family and Sabine.

Although there is little magic performed throughout the book, Sabine does manage to astonish Dot and her family by pulling an egg from her ear! Perhaps the magic is the relationships that develop between Sabine and Dot’s family.

The book sparked a lot of discussion in both the evening and morning book groups. One member stated at the beginning of the meeting she didn’t really care for the book. After listening to the discussion she realized how much there was to the story.

And that my readers, is what book clubs are all about.

 

 

 

 

Friday Reads: Magazines to Go!

 

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

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I am going to make a couple assumptions here and I would love it if someone would write back to tell me I am wrong … I assume that you don’t know the library has Skeptical Inquirer: the magazine for science and reason.  It is one of a large collection of magazines we offer covering a wide variety of interests, which brings me to my second assumption.  I also assume you don’t know back issues of magazines can be checked out.

Was there a recipe, craft project or knitting pattern you want to try or an interesting article you want to peruse while sitting in your favorite spot?  Go for it!  You can bring home past issues of magazines for two weeks, just like books.  The current issues, which we put in plastic covers, stay in the library until they are replaced with newer ones.  For most magazines we keep one year’s worth of back issues underneath the display shelf (or behind, depending upon your point of view).

Our magazine collection probably has several titles you haven’t heard of, for instance:

Art Margins
scholarly articles about contemporary art, media, architecture & critical theory

The Christian Centurythinking critically, living faithfully
applies Christian thought to contemporary topics of interest, such as gun-ownership

Film Comment
filmmaking in the U.S. and abroad, published by Film Society of Lincoln Center

Modern Farmer
for today’s cutting-edge food producers and consumers:  farmers, chefs, home-cooks

Hockey News:  the international hockey weekly
all about North American conference teams with special issues such as “Season Opener” and “Yearbook”

Z Magazine
an independent political monthly magazine from Hull, Massachusetts, in its 30th year

And here I will include Skeptical Inquirer: the magazine for science and reason, which “focuses on what the scientific community knows about claims of the paranormal as opposed to media sensationalism.  The journal promotes scientific research, critical thinking and science education.”  (Magazines for Libraries, 2014, p. 613)

We have all the star titles you would expect to find as well.  Look for your favorite filed alphabetically.   Or, if you have a topic of interest, anything from art to the zodiac, just ask a reference librarian and we’ll see what we can find for you.

 

 

Friday Reads: Just Mercy

 

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

 

This week the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed Just Mercy:  a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  It is the second book in our six-month series devoted to social justice.  Each month we will read about a different aspect of social justice.  In Just Mercy, the topic was criminal justice.  But let me quote the author for a more in-depth description:

 

This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America.  It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.  It’s also about a dramatic period in our recent history, a period that indelibly marked the lives of millions of Americans – of all races, ages and sexes – and the American psyche as a whole. (p.14)

 

Stevenson’s personal narrative describes his first 30 years after Harvard Law School when he started the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama – a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal counsel to prisoners wrongly accused of crimes.   Over that time the EJI grew from just two lawyers, Stevenson and a friend from Harvard, to over 40 attorneys who, together, tirelessly fight for racial justice and the fair treatment of children in prison, and against mass incarceration, and the death penalty.  Through his experiences we learn just how many ways minorities, the poor, the mentally ill and other vulnerable members of our society can be treated unfairly when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and members of the judicial system want a quick conviction.  The results can be catastrophic: innocent people being imprisoned, put in solitary confinement and on death row or even executed.  Many suffer physical and sexual abuse from wardens and other inmates.  Their families and communities acutely feel the injustice as well.

Our large group had a thoughtful and moving discussion about Just Mercy.  Some of us found it very difficult to read because of all the unfairness and corruption Stevenson uncovers, but we all were glad that we read such an important account from one with a reliable and even voice.  Just Mercy is read in high school and college English classes across the country, including here at Falmouth High School.  You can learn more about the author and the book at eji.org.

Join us next month for Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen, a memoir about racism and religious oppression in Tibet.

Friday Reads: Fun with Reference Books

 

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

 

If you think reference books by definition are dry, academic type tomes with small print and fat bindings, give me a couple minutes here.  I’ll show you some fun ones.

We have the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations and in it I found these quotes: “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” Can you believe Abraham Lincoln said that?  And “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I can believe Mae West said that.  This little book is full of amusing quotes organized by subject, just the thing if you want to lighten up a presentation or impress your friends.

In Book Lust to Go:  Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers, librarian Nancy Pearl recommends great armchair travel books, both fiction and non-fiction.   Many times, patrons have asked me to recommend books to read before they go on vacation, to help get them in the mood.   Going to Niagara Falls this fall?  Nancy has several suggestions, including The Falls, a novel by Joyce Carol Oates.

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “Seven Wonders of the World,” but fess up, can you actually name them?  If you hesitated, I recommend flipping through, What Are the Seven Wonders of the World? And 100 Other Great Cultural Lists Full Explicated.  Then you can ace trivia night at Liam Maguire’s this winter.

If you are the type to toss salt over your shoulder to ward of bad luck, you may be interested in Witches: an encyclopedia of paganism and magic.  In there, you’ll discover Alomancy is the term for your salty ways and that the term’s first meaning is an ancient practice of divination.  So, toss the salt to be safe this Halloween, then read the pattern of sprinkled grains to see what your future holds.

You have probably seen tattoos frequently, ranging from a single small flower to ones covering much of the body.   People from most cultures around the world have tattoos and they are popular in advertising in the U.S. now.  But, have you seen eyelids tattooed with open eyes or a balding person with a tattoo of a lawn mower at the hairline?  Read all about the many varieties of joke tattoos in Inked: Tattoos and Body Art Around the World.  Maybe it is just the inspiration you need to get a moustache tattooed to your index finger, so you can hold it under your nose when you’re feeling jaunty.

Are you a political junkie?  You may want to consult Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:  the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang to expand your vocabulary with some fun terms such as: bafflegab (confusing or unintelligible speech), Foggy Bottom (the U.S. Dept. of State, because it is located in the district by that name) or dope story (speculative or false information planted or leaked).   Each entry tells you where and when the terms were first used.  Dope Story, for example, was first used by the New York Times on January 3, 1929 when former governor Alfred E. Smith said, “When you get these reports that I’m going to take all kinds of jobs; that I’m going to be a baseball player on the Giants; why, I wish you wouldn’t come running up here to ask me about them because you’ll know there’s nothing to all these dope stories.”

I could go on, but hopefully you now know there is more variety to reference books than you may have first thought.  Yes, we have lots of encyclopedias, directories, gazetteers, catalogues and bibliographies.  Most of them will make you say, “Now that’s interesting!”  and some of them will even make you laugh.

Friday Reads: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

 

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

 

We had a full house at the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club meeting this week, with some new or long absent faces mingling in with the full-timers.  Kicking off our new 6-month theme of Social Justice, we discussed Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

Evicted follows the lives of eight families in Milwaukee who subsist in squalid apartments, trailer parks, homeless shelters or on friends’ couches and struggle to buy enough food and medicine to sustain themselves.  Facing eviction several times over for not being able to pay the rent, these families are caught in a vicious cycle of homelessness and joblessness, compounded by mental and physical illnesses, low education, drug abuse, sexual abuse or other tough issues.   Thoroughly researched, brilliantly written, compelling and important, Evicted presents the view of both landlords and tenants in an unbiased manner.

It is a more statistic-filled and emotionally wrenching book than our usual fare, but being primarily narrative, it was an excellent book for us to learn from and discuss the many contributors to and ramifications of eviction and poverty.  Despite some hesitancy from some members to start the book, the group got deeply involved in it and brought great comments and questions to the table.   It is a wonderful book for discussing with others as it challenges preconceived notions and introduces details most of us not in poverty probably would not be aware of.

Next month, we will discuss Just Mercy:  a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  If you would like to join us, pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and come to the discussion on Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 10 AM in the Hermann Foundation Meeting Room.  All comments and opinions are welcome.

 

Friday Reads: McTeague: a story of San Francisco by Frank Norris

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

 

Way back when, before I was a librarian, when I lived in San Francisco, I read the novel, McTeague: a story of San Francisco by Frank Norris, published in 1902.  I just picked it up on a whim at a used book store because it was set in my town in the early 1900s and that was enough to interest me.  It was a slim thing with a painting of a slim, disheveled man on the cover.   I remember now that once I got to reading it, I was quickly hooked.  The characters were full and flawed, the setting so vivid I was there on that same street one hundred years ago, and the plot lead me where I least expected.  When asked to name my favorite book, McTeague was it for many years.   Now I have read so many great books, I can no longer answer that question.

But, I had forgotten about McTeague in recent years, … until today.  Today, I saw on our new nonfiction book shelf 100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read by Karl Bridges.   I scanned the table of contents to quiz myself.  How many had I read?  Uh-oh, how many had I even heard of?!  Please let me remind you here, I read a lot more nonfiction than fiction.  But when I saw McTeague on the list, I was thrilled.  It is a great American novel.  No doubt about it.  And if you haven’t read it, Karl Bridges and I recommend that you do.  Bridges describes Norris’ novel as being similar to Émile Zola’s realistic tone and style, but “distinctive in its American voice”.  Here’s his synopsis from the book:

“McTeague is a dentist of questionable background operating a small practice in San Francisco.  He has friends, a reasonable number of patients satisfied with his work, and generally, good prospects in the world.  He seems to prosper, both in his practice and in his marriage to the attractive Trina, who brings a reasonable dowry to the marriage.  As time goes on, however, the marriage and the practice collapse, victim to McTeague’s increasing alcoholism and lack of attention to his marriage, which reveal the horrible character flaws that the has been hiding.  Ultimately, his increasing desperation leads him to murder and to his pursuit by a relentless adversary across California and into the high Sierras, where events come to a thrilling and surprising conclusion.”

McTeague is one novel in the Library of America anthology, Novels and Essays by Frank Norris that I just put on the Staff Picks shelf.  Look carefully, it is that plain little clothbound book that resembles a red brick.  You can find “100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably ) Never Read” by Karl Bridges on the new nonfiction shelf with the call number 028.9 BRI.  Take a look and see how many novels you’ve read.

Friday Reads: The Psychopath Test

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

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This week I am digging back into past posts to share one of my favorite books, The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.  The Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed it in January, 2014.  Below is a re-posting of most of that initial blog, just in case you missed it the first time around.

In The Psychopath Test, we learned from this often humorous account, that the madness industry is comprised of several different types of people and organizations.  There are of course the obvious: patients, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, treatment facilities, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.  But then the author points out less obvious groups that we may not have considered, such as lawyers and teachers who work with patients; journalists who write about the subject, and even, CEOs of companies.

Wait, what?  How did that last one get on the list, you may ask?  Ronson learns how to use a 30-point checklist, created to determine if someone is a psychopath (also called a sociopath).  He discovers that many traits that define a psychopath, such as a lack of empathy for others, a grandiose sense of self, and the need to be in control, are also traits that make a successful CEO.  He explores the connection by interviewing several people, some who are incarcerated for psychopathy and others who are not, and giving them the test.  In addition he visits institutions in England and the United States and meets with several psychiatrists to get a varied picture of the madness industry.  The journey is illuminating, informative, entertaining and just a little bit scary.

We had a great discussion about diagnosing and treating psychiatric patients, from children with ADD to psychopaths.  We also examined the effect of approaching this serious topic with the author’s trademark self-deprecating humor.  Many reviews were written about this book when it came out in 2011 and we had a great time comparing our reactions to those of professional reviewers.

The Psychopath Test is on our lovely new Staff Picks shelf now located near the self check-out machine.  Check them both out – the new shelf and the old book!

 

 

Friday Reads: Hidden Figures

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

We had a big group this week at the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club.  We were all primed to discuss Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.  You may recognize the title from the 2016 Oscar nominated film by the same name, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

The cover of the Hidden Figures explains, “During World War II, America’s fledgling aeronautics industry hired black female mathematicians to fill a labor shortage.  These ‘human computers’ stayed on to work for NASA and made sure America won the Space Race.  They fought for their country’s future, and for their share of the American dream.  This is their untold story.”

The month prior, we read The Rise of the Rocket Girls:  the women who propelled us from missiles to the moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt, which made for a rich comparison this week.  The two books are about the same thing (female computers) working for the same purpose (to send missiles, rockets and then men into space for NASA) at the same time (1940s through 1960s), but on different coasts and with contrasting groups of women.  Hidden Figures takes place at Langley Research Center in Virginia and focuses on a group of black women, whereas The Rise of the Rocket Girls takes place at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California where most women were white.  There were one black and a few Asian “rocket girls,” but race does not factor into the narrative by Holt. One group member commented that the titles of the two books good easily be swapped and they would still make sense.

Interestingly, they were published 5 months apart (Holt’s was first in April, 2016) and both authors got the idea for their book in 2010 when each of them accidentally learned about a woman working for NASA.  In Shetterly’s case, her Sunday school teacher and another woman she knew from childhood were both computers at Langley, but she didn’t know about their professional lives until her father casually mentioned it when she was an adult.  To her, they were just part of the fabric of her neighborhood.  Holt was googling baby name ideas for the impending birth of her daughter and learned that an Eleanor Frances, a name she was considering, worked at the JPL in the 1960s, and won an award.  Surprised that women worked for NASA, both writers set out to learn more and both found compelling stories, simultaneously, but independently.

Many of us were a little hard pressed to follow the math and science in detail, but all of us were eager to learn about the women and their struggles, how they balanced their home and professional lives, how they fought for equality in the workplace and were respected for their great achievements.  Both of these books are great for a book club because there are so many issues to explore you can only benefit from hearing a variety of perspectives.

Join us next month when we discuss Evicted:  poverty and profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.   Focusing on poverty and classism, this book is the first in our new 6-month series about social justice.   Each month we will read about a different aspect of social justice from a narrative, not a scholarly, voice.   Pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and come share your thoughts with us on Thursday, October 5 at 10 AM in the Hermann Foundation Meeting room.

Friday Reads: Nolo Guides

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

 

Do you feel the chill in the air?  Autumn isn’t far away.  Kids are heading back to school.  It is a good time to turn your attention to those serious matters that you put on hold for the summer, like planning your retirement, long-term healthcare, your estate or will, or on a happier note, getting a patent or starting a new business.

The library has a collection of books published by Nolo, which has been publishing do-it-yourself legal guides, since 1971. Their website, Nolo.com, states: “Consumers and small business owners can handle many legal matters themselves with Nolo’s do-it-yourself products, which range from online forms and software to books and eGuides. All are written in plain English, with step-by-step instructions that help you get the job done.”   Their mission is “to help consumers and small businesses find answers to their everyday legal and business questions.”

With that in mind, I want to show you all of the titles that we have purchased in the last several months.   I hope you can make good use of them and take care of those legal issues with confidence.

101 Law Forms for Personal Use

8 Ways to Avoid Probate

Becoming a U.S. Citizen:  a guide to the law, exam and interview

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: repay your debts

Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits

The Employer’s Legal Handbook

Estate Planning Basics

Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court

Every Landlord’s Guide to Finding Great Tenants

Get it Together:  organize your records so your family won’t have to

How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation

How to Write a Business Plan

Incorporate Your Business

IRAs , 401 (k)s  & Other Retirement Plans:  taking your money out

A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples

Long-Term Care:  how to plan & pay for it

Make Your Own Living Trust

Making it Legal:  a guide to same-sex marriage, domestic partnership & civil unions

Neighbor Law:  fences, trees, boundaries and noise

Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce

Nolo’s Guide to Social Security Disability

Patent it Yourself

Plan Your Estate

The Public Domain:  how to find copyright-free writings, music, art & more

The Quick & Legal Will Book

Represent Yourself in Court

Finding Your Center with Dr. Sang H. Kim, PhD

Nationally renowned author and mindfulness expert Sang H. Kim, PhD will lead a workshop at the Falmouth Public Library on Wednesday, October 4, at 6:30 pm.  The workshop, “Finding Your Center,” aims to help participants discover and experience inner calm through movement, meditation, and breathing. In this two-hour workshop, participants will learn practical strategies for centering themselves as a means of stress buffering and building stress resilience, and practice with Dr. Kim the essential components of inner balancing.

Dr. Kim has published over 20 books on motivation, mindfulness, fitness and martial arts. Over the past thirty years, his work has focused on the development of self-care strategies which he has used in a federally funded program at the University of New Mexico Medical Center in finding the curative effects of mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing on PTSD. For the past four years, he has taught his system of mindfulness and meditation to over 40,000 individuals in the United States, Europe, South America and Asia. “The goal,” says Dr. Kim, “is to help participants create inner harmony and balance, develop gentleness and strength, and explore the inner wisdom and spirit of mind and body through movement and stillness, mindfulness and openness.”

The event is free and open to the public. Space is limited and preregistration is required. To register, please call the Reference Dept. at Falmouth Public Library, 508-457-2555 x 6, register online, or stop by the reference desk.