Monday, March 31, 2014

ANNA QUINDLEN THINKING OUT LOUD



Anna Quindlen first came to our attention as a journalist whose New York Times columns called Public and Private won a Pulitzer Prize. She wrote about everything—the political and the personal—and she did it with well-chosen words, common sense, humor and the ability to get into our heads and make us think. 

Her first book Thinking Out Loud is a collection of columns. That book and 12 others, both fiction and non-fiction, followed and be found on the shelves and in the CD section of the Monrovia Public Library.  The habit of being a newspaper columnist who always needed new ideas seemed to bless Quindlen with the ability to be prolific even when she gave up being a journalist and became a full time author.

Quindlen’s novels show a particular empathy for their flawed characters. The One True Thing is about a writer who returns to the small town where she grew up in order to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. Family dynamics, especially between mother and daughter, are at the center of this moving story. A caretaker, the matriarch of a well-to-do family and an abandoned baby are the essential ingredients of Blessings, a novel about how the discovery of a baby left on the grounds of an estate changes lives, brings out unexpected qualities and recalls secrets from the past. Anna Quindlen’s just published novel is Still Life with Breadcrumbs, a book about second chances and unexpected romance.  When a middle-aged woman experiencing economic hardships gives up her Manhattan apartment for a cabin in the woods she embraces life in new ways. 



When you are done reading Quindlen’s fiction, read her memoir, Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake.  Readers of a certain age will particularly identify with the author as she reflects on career, family and friends. Wit and wisdom from a wonderful writer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WILLA CATHER: WRITING FROM THE HEARTLAND



 
Author Willa Cather, born in 1873, was forever changed when her family moved to Nebraska. There the plains, the tumultuous weather and the immigrant families who farmed the vast stretches of land influenced her thinking. After having her first essay published in college, she changed her major from science to English and went on to write short stories for magazines. The novels she wrote would become American classics. Her stories of the Midwest throw open a window on a time and place little known and her characters enter the hearts of readers. Cather’s books can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

Her Prairie Trilogy, written from 1913-1918, is among her best known work and includes O Pioneers, Song of the Lark and My Antonia. Each of these simple stories set at the turn of the twentieth century recalls the pioneers’ hard work, optimism and disappointments. My Antonia is considered Cather’s masterpiece and is the most read of her novels. It’s the story of a Bohemian (Czech) young woman whose zest for life, dreams and determination are colored by the limitations of being a young and poor woman.  All three books will appeal to individual readers and book groups.
 
Cather later visited the west and was inspired to write Death Comes for the Archbishop. Loosely based on history, it’s the story of a Catholic bishop and priest who came to the new U.S. territory of New Mexico to set up a church in an area entrenched in Mexican, Spanish and Native American culture.

A more recent look at Willa Cather, not found in her books but in her correspondence, can be found in the Selected Letters of Willa Cather. She destroyed her letters and forbade the publication of them, but her friends held on to their copies from her.  Here her correspondence with celebrities and friends gives a vivid picture of a woman and author involved with the world around her.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CLANDESTINE CAPERS: SPIES AND WORLD WAR II



Spies. Secret Agents. Espionage. The words pique our appetite for real-life thrillers. In the last few years there have been some terrific books on Allied spies during WW II and some of these great titles can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library. So curl up for suspense with masters of deception and cunning. 

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story. Two eccentric British intelligence officers fool the Nazis about where the Allies will invade Europe by dropping a corpse into the ocean, knowing it will wash ashore with misleading information attached. Wonderfully well written, fun to read and with an incredible cast of characters, this winning book makes history come to life.

 

Did you know England spied on the United States leading up to World War II?  Roald Dahl (yes, that Roald Dahl who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is just one of the secret agents in The Irregulars:  Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant. It's the story of a group of English citizens living in our nation’s capital whose job it was to influence the powers-that-be to stop being isolationists and go to war, thus helping the Brits. 



A hot new book on the bestseller list is Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobsen. It's not about WWII, but about what occurred afterward when the Cold War was starting. Because American intelligence knew that German scientists loyal to the Third Reich (some accused of war crimes) were responsible for advances in rocketry and biology, knowledge the U.S. needed, the scientists and their families were secretly invited to live here and work for our government. The book about this odd and morally questionable spy program prompts readers to ask if the ends justify the means. The author did an incredible job researching this little known chapter in American history. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Water Conservation and Food Gardens Program Follow-up

A big thanks to everyone that came to our Water Conservation and Food Gardens Program and an even bigger thanks to Frank McDonough for sharing his knowledge on this topic.

If you missed our program, you can visit Frank's blog. It provides links to some useful resources.

Visit his blog at: http://arboretumplantinfo.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

REMINDER: The Monrovia Public library will be hosting a gardening program this Thursday, March 20, 2:30-3:30 in the Library Community Room. We hope you can join us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

HURRICANE KATRINA: STILL ON OUR MIND



Last week the National Book Critics Circle prizes were announced and the winner for non-fiction was Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. The author, a doctor, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, interviewed more than 500 people to write this intense story of a New Orleans hospital during hurricane Katrina. Surrounded by flood waters, without electricity and its sick and elderly patrons tended by a few staff members, this is a tragedy about lack of planning before the disaster struck and bad decisions made by those in charge. A cautionary tale about what not to do in an emergency, the book encourages readers to put themselves in the situation and think about how they would handle it. 



 Five Days at Memorial is on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library, along with other thought-provoking non-fiction works about Katrina. 

One of the most intriguing is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a house painter in New Orleans. A Syrian immigrant, he is living the American dream with a wife, family and good business. Before Katrina comes he sends his family to safety, but stays in the ravaged city. Paddling his canoe down the flooded streets, he tries to rescue and help people. One day he is stopped by the police and jailed because they suspect him of being a terrorist. What follows is a nightmare of a true story.


Historian Douglas Brinkley begins The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by highlighting a local animal shelter that is evacuating its dogs and cats before Katrina hits. It turns out that the animals are in better shape than the local population and the land itself, which endure a one, two, three punch of a hurricane, a storm surge with floods and the lack of foresight and will of those in charge to address the many issues.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ACADEMY AWARDS—SEE THE MOVIE, BUT READ THE BOOK



The Academy Awards are over, gowns and tuxedos discussed, and winners and losers examined in detail (and then forgotten). The nominations for Best Adapted Screenplays, which are movies based on books, should be remembered. The Library has three of the books, all of them true stories, from which the nominees were adapted.
 
Twelve Years a Slave is the memoir written by Solomon Northrup and published in 1853. Northrup tells the story of how he was born a free man in New York and was kidnapped into slavery when he went for a job. Taken to New Orleans and subjected to brutality by both the system of enslavement and the cruelty of the people who bought him, Solomon is finally freed by New York abolitionists who traveled to Louisiana to rescue him. The movie, which won Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and the book make for difficult viewing and reading, but the history they impart is invaluable.

A rescue of a different kind is highlighted in the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Philips. The movie version is Captain Philips. It tells the 2009 story of an American cargo ship highjacked by Somali pirates. The pirates are surprised by a Captain who offers himself, instead of his crew, as a hostage. A decent and diplomatic man, the Captain fears for his own life, but shows respect for his captors.  The ordeal comes to an end when the Navy enters the scene. No spoiler alerts beyond this point.

Jordan Belfort remembers the high-flying 1980s, the vast sums he made on Wall Street and the hard living and risky behavior that came from too much money and not enough common sense. His memoir is The Wolf of Wall Street, a wild ride of a read with some doubt about what is truth and what is fiction. It is also a cautionary tale.