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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 …

A London Bookshop Crawl

When my younger daughter decided to spend the fall semester of her junior year of college studying abroad in London, as I did an unmentionable number of years ago, I instinctively planned to fly across the pond with her to help settle her in. But it turned out that she mostly wanted to do some shopping and neighborhood exploring and have help carrying her luggage up to her top floor flat in South Kensington. Once we had accomplished those key tasks, she gave me a fierce hug and sent me on my way.

What should a bookish Anglophile do with a free afternoon in London? Why, she should visit bookstores, of course! Armed with a list of books I wanted to purchase, carefully chosen only to include books that would not be released in the US this year, I set off to visit four different bookshops, accompanied by my close college friend Melissa, who lives outside of London and tolerates my crazy ideas with cheer and good humor (I think she is secretly planning a tell-all). Here is how it went:

Th…

Why I Read Books

Every year, on a Friday in late June, the library closes for its annual Staff Development Day. The entire staff of the Wallingford Public Library spends the day participating in workshops, lectures and other collaborative events. We share information about our annual summer reading programs for children, teens and adults. We have lunch together. And we laugh a lot. It's a fun, useful and engaging day, and the time always passes quickly.

As part of the planning for this year's Staff Development Day, we were asked to complete the Compliment Project by complimenting one another. Each of us wrote a sentence or a phrase or a set of words that we felt captured the strengths and positive qualities of our co-workers. Jenn Nash, the library's wonderful Teen Librarian, compiled the responses, and as we broke for lunch on Staff Development Day, we received envelopes containing the compliments that our colleagues had given us. Some of us opened the envelopes right away. Others waited…

Thursday Night Book Club -- August, 2018

Traditionally, the Thursday Night Book Club takes the month of August off, the better to accommodate summer vacations and the "big book" that we read each September. Late last year, we decided to do away with tradition and meet once a month, every month of the year. To usher in the first August meeting of the Thursday Night Book Club, a record number of members gathered in the library on Thursday, August 16th to discuss Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift.

In the United Kingdom, Mothering Sunday was originally a religious event. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, people returned home to their "mother church" for services. Over time, this pilgrimage became a holiday, and servants were given the day off to visit their own families, as well as to attend church. Graham Swift's 177-page novel contains the reflections of 98-year-old Jane Fairchild, noted author, about an unseasonably warm Mothering Sunday in March of 1924. Jane, an orphan, was placed "in service" …

Dear Mrs. Bird

I've been reading a lot of non fiction this summer. While typically I spend the hot weather months reading lighter fare with some big (Man Booker) books thrown in for those very lazy afternoons when it's just too warm to be outside, this summer I've been immersed in facts, research and intellectual thought. Some standouts among the 15 or so non-fiction titles I've read since Memorial Day include Squeezed, about the struggle of America's middle class to afford to live here, the quietly unnerving 1947: Where Now Begins, about one year in the post World War II era and Factfulness, a fascinating study of how our instincts about global trends are frequently wrong. Most recently, I spent an afternoon reading Nathaniel Rich's extraordinary article "Losing Earth," which filled the entire August 5th issue of the New York Times Magazine and could easily have been an engrossing and quietly devastating book.

All of this non-fiction reading has been stimulating a…

The 2018 Man Booker Prize Longlist

One of the nice things about being someone who is interested in the British literary scene but who lives five hours behind and an ocean apart from the United Kingdom is that when something noteworthy happens in Britain in the middle of the night, you find out about it while you're eating dinner. And so it happened that when the Man Booker Prize 2018 longlist was released at just after midnight UK time on Tuesday, July 24th, it was early evening on Monday, July 23rd in Wallingford CT, and I had several hours before bedtime to study the list with excitement and, as it turns out, a fair bit of surprise.

Unlike last year, when I had read seven of the 13 books on the list before the longlist was released (and had heard of all but two of the books), as of this writing, I have only read one book on the 2018 Man Booker longlist, and I have heard of a handful of the others. To make matters more complicated, only five of the books on the longlist have already been published in the United St…

Thursday Night Book Club -- July, 2018

The Thursday Night Book Club filled the library's Board Room to slightly over capacity on Thursday, July 19th to discuss A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Nicknamed "King Lear in a cornfield," A Thousand Acres takes place in 1979 in fictional Zebulon County, Iowa. The book is narrated by 36-year-old Ginny Cook Smith, the oldest of three daughters of prosperous widower farmer Larry Cook. Due primarily to his neighbors' failures, Larry has amassed a farm of a thousand acres, one of the largest in the county. The Cook farm stands as an emblem of Larry's single-minded shrewdness: "What is a farmer? A farmer is a man who feeds the world. What is a farmer's first duty? To grow more food. What is a farmer's second duty? To buy more land. What are the signs of a good farm? Clean fields, neatly painted buildings, breakfast at six, no debts, no standing water. How will you know a good farmer when you meet him? He will not ask you for any favors."

At a par…

The Golden Man Booker Prize

I am an unabashed sucker for book lists. I am particularly fond of the long and short lists which precede the announcement of the winners of the big literary prizes of the year, especially the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. The longlist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize will be released on July 24th, a date I've had circled in my desk calendar for a while now (I'm in full book nerd mode here). But while I wait for that great day to arrive, the good people involved with the Man Booker decided to give me a gift. They announced a special, one-off award, called the Golden Man Booker, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the existence of the Man Booker Prize. The Golden Man Booker is awarded to the book deemed to be the best work of fiction of all of the previous winners of the Man Booker Prize over the past five decades.

Be still my nerdy heart...

In order to determine the winner, a panel of five judges read all the former winners of the prize, with each assigned a dec…

Visualizing the Beatles by John Pring and Rob Thomas

I am just a bit too young to have followed the Beatles in the 1960s. I was five and only just starting to understand the allure of pop music and rock and roll when the group split up in 1970. But my parents owned the albums, of course, and I remember pulling them off the shelf and studying them (the sleek White Album, the surreal colors of Yellow Submarine and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the funky clothing they wore on Abbey Road). We listened to the music at home sometimes, and I liked it, a lot. I watched video footage of the group's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1965, which gave me a small taste of some of the hysteria that followed them wherever they went. But all of it felt a bit after the fact, and I sometimes had the sense that I had missed something important and vital.

Many years later, when my own children were in elementary school, my husband and I bought the CD compilation of Beatles #1 hits, aptly titled 1, and we played it on car trips f…