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Showing posts from 2017

Thursday Night Book Club -- December, 2017

The library's Thursday Night Book Club always meets on the third Thursday of the month. In December of 2017, the third Thursday fell four days before Christmas, on the winter solstice. So it was on a very dark and cold first night of winter that the Thursday Night Book Club met to discuss Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan.

Last Night at the Lobster takes place on December 20th, 2005, at a Red Lobster located at the far side of the fictional Willow Brook Mall in New Britain, Connecticut. As the title suggests, this particular Red Lobster will close at the end of the evening, a fact that is a secret from its patrons but about which its employees are all too keenly aware. The restaurant's manager, Manny DeLeon, along with four members of his staff, will start work at a nearby Olive Garden once the restaurant closes, but the rest of the staff have been laid off. Over the course of a long day and evening, Manny contends with a shortage of workers for the lunch shift, a…

Best Books of 2017

It's December. Every year, in December, the annual parade of "best of" lists begins. These lists come in every category: best movies, best shows, best restaurants, best trends, best places to visit, best memes, you name it. Naturally, of particular interest to me and other book lovers out there are the annual "best books" lists.

I watch for these lists every year, and I read them for several reasons. First, I want to see how many of my favorite books of the year made the cut. Second, I check to see if there are books on the lists that I missed hearing about when the books were first released. Third, I'm curious to see if there are books that show up consistently (rarely is there a book that appears on every list). And of course, as I've mentioned in this space before, I really like book lists.

As of this writing, 2017 best book lists are available from Amazon, BookPage, the New York Times (which also offers up a more generous list of 100 notables), the…

Thursday Night Book Club -- November, 2017

After reading The Year of Magical Thinking, and after having a candid but painful and raw conversation about the book during our October meeting, I promised the Thursday Night Book Club that our November book would be an antidote to Joan Didon's award-winning memoir. On Thursday, November 16th, the book club met to discuss Helen Simonson's novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Set in East Sussex, England, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is the story of Major (retired) Ernest Pettigrew, who lives in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary and, as the novel opens, has just learned that his brother has died. The news inadvertently causes Major Pettigrew to form a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani owner of the village shop. As their friendship develops into something more, the Major and Mrs. Ali must contend with the disapproval of their families and the discomfort of their neighbors. The many charms of the novel lie in its optimism and in its faith in the transformativ…

The 2017 National Book Awards

Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the best of American literature. Awards are given out each year in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature. In order to be eligible, a book must have been written by an American citizen and published by an American publishing house between December 1st of the prior year and November 30th of the current year.

In 2017, publishers submitted 1,529 books for consideration: 394 in fiction, 553 in nonfiction, 245 in poetry and 337 in young people's literature.  Over the summer, 20 different judges (5 per genre) read each book nominated in their respective categories. A long list of 10 books per category was announced in mid-September, and a short list of 5 books per category was announced in mid-October. 

The winners were announced on November 15th in a ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in …

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Now that we've turned the clocks back and the weather appears to have settled into something resembling autumn, I feel compelled to admit that this is my favorite time of the year. The leaves are past peak, but I think they are beautiful, and the colors of the overcast sky are rich and evocative. Snow does not feel that far away. The "fall back" of the clocks means that evening arrives suddenly, in the late afternoon, changing the tenor and tempo of the day. This is the calendar tilt towards the cold and the ushering in of the holiday season. By January, when it's been freezing for awhile and the holidays are long gone, winter will feel long and endless. But in early November, there is joy in the first fire, the extra blanket, the long-forgotten thick and cozy sweater. And there is the run up to Thanksgiving, a holiday I love.

Numerous novels use Thanksgiving, that quintessentially American holiday, as a focal point. There is, after all, rich material in the story o…

Thursday Night Book Club -- October, 2017

Traditionally, WPL's Thursday Night Book Club reads one non fiction book each year. This year is no exception, and the book club gathered on Thursday, October 19th to discuss The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The Year of Magical Thinking is Didion's account of the year that followed the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne from a heart attack he suffered at home while eating dinner at the very end of December, 2003. Didion's book describes her efforts to understand what had happened, and to begin to learn how to cope in a world without Dunne. Didion also spent a portion of that year grappling with the serious illness of her only child, Quintana, who spent several months at the end of 2003 and during 2004 in hospitals in both New York and California, and she describes those hospital stays in detail.  The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for non fiction in 2005.

Joan Didion has almost cult status among writers in the United States.  She is …

The 2017 Man Booker Prize

Autumn is book award season, so it's not a coincidence that a blog post about the Nobel Prize for Literature would be followed by a blog post about the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize (sneak peek -- the National Book Award for Fiction will be announced on November 15th). When the 2017 Man Booker Prize Long List was released in late July, I wrote a blog post about it, and in the post I expressed the view that the Man Booker Prize is the heaviest of the literary prize heavy hitters. So in the world of fiction, it is of some moment to announce that the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas and raised in and around Chicago. He received a degree in geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines, then worked as a geophysicist in Indonesia. After returning to the United States and supporting himself in a series of odd jobs, he enrolled in an MFA program at Syracuse University. Saunders published his …

2017 Nobel Prize in Literature

On the 27th of November in 1895, Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, author and entrepreneur, the inventor of dynamite and the holder of 355 patents during his lifetime, signed his last will and testament. His largest bequest was to fund a series of prizes, now known as the Nobel Prizes. As described in the will, one segment of the bequest was dedicated to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in the ideal direction." The Nobel Prize in Literature is generally regarded as the world's most prestigious literary prize and is awarded not for one or two great novels but for the entire body of an author's work. At just after 7:00 am Wallingford time on Thursday, Kazuo Ishiguro was named the 114th individual to win the prize.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist, short story writer, screenwriter and songwriter. He was born in Japan in 1954 and moved with his family to England in 1960. He has published seven novels and one sho…

Book Buzz

In the middle of September, Wallingford Public Library introduced a new program called Book Buzz. The goal of Book Buzz is to share information on the books scheduled for publication in upcoming months that we think our patrons may want to read. The program took place at The Wallingford Victorian Inn, conveniently located across the street from the library. Before the discussion got underway, participants were able to snack on hors d'oeuvres in the inn's magnificent wood-paneled dining room. Then, glasses of wine in hand, we settled into the inn's beautiful double parlor to talk about the books scheduled for release this fall and early winter that have generated the most pre-publication buzz.

Although we had prepared handouts describing over 170 books across a wide range of genres, including literary and popular fiction, mysteries and thrillers, biography and memoir, history and politics, and other types of non fiction, it would have been impossible to discuss them all. I…

Thursday Night Book Club -- September, 2017

After taking the month of August off, the Thursday Night Book Club reconvened on the evening of September 21st to discuss Annie Barrow's The Truth According to Us. Set in the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia ("tucked up in a crook between the Potomac and the Shenandoah") in the summer of 1938, The Truth According to Us stars the quirky Romeyn clan and their summer border, Layla Beck, the daughter of a United States senator who arrives in town as an employee of the WPA's Federal Writers Project to write a history of Macedonia in honor of the town's sesquicentennial. As Layla starts to interview citizens of Macedonia, 12-year old Willa Romeyn decides to adopt the Macedonian virtues of "ferocity and devotion" and begins to investigate the members of her family, starting with her charming, dissolute father Felix and her beloved aunt Jottie. She does this despite her Uncle Emmett's advice not to "ask questions if you're not going to l…

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Much has been written about the importance of the opening sentence of a book. It's been described as the key, or the hook, to reel the reader in.  The purpose of the first sentence, frankly, is to get the reader to want to read the second sentence. Stephen King commented in a 2013 interview in The Atlantic that "an opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."

I mention this because last week I read what will surely soon take its place on the list of the best opening lines ever in a novel. I checked out John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies from the library at the end of my evening shift on Wednesday, and while I was waiting to leave for the night, I opened the book and started reading:

"Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoloeague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady…

The Fall Book Bonanza

"Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple." J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

If Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, then Labor Day is its counterpoint, the unofficial end of summer and the start of fall. In Wallingford, the kids are already back in school, and the weather has felt autumnal for more than a week, so the transition between summer and fall feels as though it has already happened. As vacations end and the weather stays cool, the lazy, easy pace of summer goes away, and in its place is a sense of newness, energy and purpose. Autumn brings a new school year, a new season of theatre and concerts and TV shows, the start of the release of Oscar-worthy movies, and the big fall book season.

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fall is the season when the mosthighlyanticipatedliteraryfictionreleases …