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Holiday Reading

Time for a confession: I have a soft spot for books that take place over the holidays. They may be just a tad formulaic, but many of these novels do such a good job of conjuring up the best aspects of the holiday season (snow, cold weather that hasn't gotten annoying yet, wrapping presents, hot chocolate and mulled cider and eggnog, holiday cookies, thick, warm sweaters, fireplaces, good will towards man and so on) that I forgive them their predictability. Reading one of these books is like pulling on your favorite cozy socks and curling up on the couch under your favorite soft blanket. You know that you'll feel warm and fuzzy when you've finished.

Some authors, like Debbie Macomber, Fern Michaels, Richard Paul Evans, Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallory and Anne Perry, just to name a few, reliably churn out a holiday book every year or so. These novels tend to be the book version of a Hallmark made-for-TV movie. There is the inevitable romance, which often starts off very poorly,…

The 2018 National Book Awards

Established in 1950, the National Book Award has become America's premier literary prize. In 2018, publishers submitted 1,637 books for consideration to the panels of literary experts judging this year's awards: 368 in fiction, 546 in Nonfiction, 256 in poetry, 142 in translated literature (a revitalized category that last appeared in 1983) and 325 in young people's literature. A longlist of ten books per category was announced in the middle of September, and a shortlist of five books per category was announced on October 10th. The winners were announced on Wednesday, November 14th during a black-tie ceremony hosted by actor and author Nick Offerman at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The award for nonfiction went to The New Negro: The Life of Alan Locke by Jeffrey Stewart. The poetry award was won by Justin Phillip Reed for Indecency. The award for translated literature went to The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. Elizabeth Acevado receive…

Thursday Night Book Club -- November, 2018

The plan had been that the Thursday Night Book Club would gather one week before Thanksgiving to discuss Anne Tyler's 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist. But Winter Storm Avery had other plans for us last Thursday night. The snow and the wind from the storm made driving conditions hazardous, and the library closed at 7 pm. As a result, the Thursday Night Book Club missed the opportunity to gather together to talk about Anne Tyler's wonderful novel.
Winner of the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and made into a movie starring William Hurt, Gina Davis and Kathleen Turner, The Accidental Tourist is the story of Macon Leary, a travel writer who hates to travel and who writes guidebooks that make the traveler feel as if he had never left home. "Other travelers hoped to discover distinctive local wines; Macon's readers searched for pasteurized and homogenized milk." After an unsettled early childhood, Macon and …

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Over the past few months, I have spent a significant percentage of my free time reading the literary fiction titles published this fall that have generated the most pre-publication buzz. That has made for a fair amount of good reading, some disappointing reading and a little bit of truly great reading. Of the many works of fiction I've read since Labor Day, my current favorite (subject to change because I've just started Tana French's The Witch Elm, and it's GOOD) is Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel Unsheltered.


Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955 and was raised in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona and has been a full-time writer since 1985.  Kingsolver is the author of 15 works of fiction and nonfiction. She published her first novel, The Bean Trees, in 1988. The Poisonwood Bible was an Oprah Book Club pick, won the National Book Award of South Africa and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The …

The 2018 Man Booker Prize

I know, I know, this post is two weeks overdue. The winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize was announced at just before 10 pm UK time on Tuesday, October 16th. And I should have submitted something about this significant 2018 literary event to the blog later that week (at the latest). But I was busy with the Thursday Night Book Club, and then with the finale of The Great American Read, which is to say that other great literary things were happening that took some precedence. So it only now that I am getting around to telling you (in case you don't already know) that the winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize is Milkman by Anna Burns.

Anna Burns was born in Belfast in 1962.  She grew up as one of seven siblings in a working-class, Catholic family. Because of their cramped living quarters, Burns lived with an unmarried aunt on the other side of the street. "I had the rowdiness of home and then I could withdraw to my aunt's quiet house. I liked that mix," Burns said in a rec…

America's Best Loved Novel

As you may well know by now, on April 20th PBS released a list of 100 of "America's best-loved novels." Generated through a nationwide survey conducted by YouGov, with the results assessed (and augmented) by a committee of literary and industry professionals, the diverse and eclectic list prompted discussion and debate long after it was made public. As part of PBS' Great American Read summer-long, nationwide reading program, Americans were asked to read the books on the list and vote for their favorites.

Part and parcel of The Great American Read was an eight-episode television series on PBS hosted by Meredith Viera that was "designed to get the country reading and passionately talking about books." After a 2-hour premiere on May 22nd, the show went on hiatus for the summer while using social media to encourage readers across the country to vote for their favorite books. In early September, the series returned with weekly hour-long episodes featuring autho…

Thursday Night Book Club -- October, 2018

With only a few months to go until the end of the year, the Thursday Night Book Club took a break from literary fiction in October to tackle its sole non-fiction title of 2018, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is Bryson's charming and very funny memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s. Combining nostalgia with wit and just a touch of hyperbole, the book describes Bryson's generally happy childhood. Both his parents worked for the Des Moines Register, his father as a sportswriter and his mother as a "home furnishings" reporter. Bryson writes fondly of visits to Younkers, the stately downtown department store, to the Iowa State Fair, where he tries desperately to gain access to the stripers' tent, and to Saturday matinees at the local movie theater, where kids flung candy and popcorn with wild abandon. Along the way, Bryson introduces us to the friends of his youth, including the geni…

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

When you ask a random assortment of people if they've heard of J.K. Rowling, it's quite likely that they have. But ask that same random assortment of people if they've heard of Robert Galbraith, and chances are that most of them will shrug or look confused. This is their loss, because Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym under which J.K. Rowling writes her gritty, slightly sordid murder mystery novels starring the private detective Cormoran Strike. And if you haven't been reading these books, now is the time to begin. Each one is a playful, almost giddy romp through the world of detective fiction, and Lethal White, the fourth book in the series, which published last month, may be the best one yet.

The book that introduced us to Cormoran Strike, The Cuckoo's Calling, was published in 2013. It received good reviews but did not sell particularly well, until an anonymous tip revealed that Robert Galbraith was a pen name for J.K. Rowling. The author released a statement a…

Staff Picks Take Two

At roughly the same time that I posted the first entry on this North Main Book Notes reading and book-loving blog, the library officially opened the North Main Book Nook, a reading and book-loving space located directly across from the Circulation Desk that offers a wide range of reading suggestions and serves as a gateway to the breadth and depth of the library's collection of books, DVDs and CDs. The Nook contains a table piled with books for book clubs and another table piled with books that have been very popular with our patrons and have recently shifted out of "New" status. Other rotating displays include #Trending (currently housing books on the Supreme Court and its Justices) and Featured Author (Joyce Carol Oates in October).

The most centrally-located display in the North Main Book Nook is the Staff Picks display. Since the Nook opened for business in the spring of 2017, four members of the library's staff have filled the display with their favorite books,…

The 2018 Man Booker Shortlist

As I have previously admitted freely and without shame, I had read only one of the 13 books on the 2018 Man Booker longlist when the list was announced in late July.  Since then, I have done my best to read as many of the remaining 12 books on the longlist as I could get my hands on, a difficult task given how few of the books have been released in the US, made somewhat easier by my conveniently-scheduled trip to London in late August.

By the time the shortlist was released on September 20th, I had read 11 of the 13 books on the longlist. Michael Ondaatje's wonderful and haunting Warlight is my clear favorite, followed fairly closely by Sally Rooney's Normal People, a book I bought in London during my book shop crawl and read immediately and which will not be published in the US until next April. Rooney's debut novel, Conversations with Friends, was well-received when it was published in July of 2017, although I thought it was just ok. Normal People received excellent rev…

Thursday Night Book Club -- September, 2018

The Thursday Night Book Club traditionally tackles a "big" book every September. The lazy end of August and the long Labor Day Weekend seem made for long bouts of storytelling. And because John Irving only writes big books, it seemed fitting to choose one of his sprawling novels to read this month. On Thursday, September 20th, the Thursday Night Book Club gathered to discuss Irving's ninth novel, A Widow for One Year.

"One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking--it was coming from her parents' bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with a stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her mother was throwing up." So begins A Widow for One Year, a novel about a woman named Ruth Cole during three pivotal phases of her life. The book begins in 1958 when Ruth is a four-year-old girl living in Sagaponack, New York with …

The 2018 National Book Award Fiction Longlist

Ah, the joys of book award season. With only a few days to go until the release of the 2018 Man Booker Prize shortlist (watch this space), over on this side of the pond, we have the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction longlist. The National Book Award is an American literary prize that was established in 1950 and is administered by the National Book Foundation. Prizes are awarded for fiction, non fiction, poetry, young people's literature and (new this year) translated literature. In all but the translated literature category, the authors of the longlisted books must be US citizens. In the translated literature category, neither the author nor the translator need be a US citizen, but the novel must have been translated into English and published in the United States. For all categories, books are eligible for the 2018 award if they were published in the United States between December 1, 2017 and November 30, 2018.


Here are the ten books on the longlist, listed alphabetically by …