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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books I Haven't Finished. (Yet)

Maybe you're like me and were a little too ambitious with your summer to-read list. And you put far more books on hold than you actually have time to read.

Confession: I didn’t get through any of these books. But the first chapters were all intriguing; I can guarantee you! I’ve already placed them on hold again and am looking forward to their return.

The North Water – A dark thriller set aboard a 19th century whaleship. I have to pick this up again to find out what happens to the evil character introduced in chapter one.

Dead Letters –A clever debut novel and suspenseful mystery involving twin sisters and family secrets that one critic called a “literary scavenger hunt that you never want to end.”

The Idiot – Another debut novel. The humor in this book caught me by surprise. Selim is beginning her freshman year at Harvard in 1995. I can’t wait to see what the year holds for her.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Monday, July 10, 2017

Forgotten Classic - Ethan Frome

In the bleak mid-winter,
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone…”

Thus Christina Rossetti‘s poem of the late 19th century begins, and she could have been channeling Edith Wharton’s future Ethan Frome. This slim, little book contains a truly desolate tale, but its heart spans the universe.

Set in the early 20th century in rural Massachusetts, when economic conditions boomed for those on the cutting edge of invention and shriveled for those hard-scrabble folk who worked the land in remote places, we are introduced to one Ethan Frome. He appears tall, with a careless power, “in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain.” He is gaunt, remote, and silent. A visiting engineer observes him and wonders what caused his striking appearance. Bit by gleaming bit of information from various neighbors the tale tumbles together revealing a stunning portrait of a life gone horribly awry.

It is an old story, worn at the edges, blurred by tears. Ethan, a man of principled duty, left his first love - studying for an engineering degree- to return to the family farm after the death of his father. Once there, he attempted to save the business while attending to his grieving mother as she gradually lost touch with reality. Zeena is hired to help with the nursing, and he is dazzled by her efficiency. When his mother dies, rather than face the specter of the long harsh winter alone, he marries Zeena. And while there were now two bodies to face the cold winter, they remain isolated in spirit. Zeena, in her disillusionment, begins imagining all kinds of ailments and gains notoriety for pursuit of their cures. Ethan grows more and more silent in the face of her querulous complaints, setting the stage for a life of quiet, inevitable desperation.

Enter Mattie, a young cousin of Zeena’s whose family disintegrated. She has nowhere to go but to the Frome household as a companion and helper to Zeena. Gradually, Mattie emerges from her sorrow and being fresh, nubile, rosy- cheeked, and dreamy, she brings springtime to Ethan’s heart. And where there had been deep unhappiness, now there was promise - sudden sunshine pierced his darkest days.

What follows is timeless – tamped desire, the unwinding spool of jealousy, unshakeable puritanical standards of conduct, and consequences -this time in the form of a sled ride. Whether Wharton was being moralistic or cynical about illicit love being the only true love, she penned an exquisitely mirrored tale of a bleak winter’s discontent, paralyzing inaction and a shining moment of ecstasy shattered by an elm tree. And the jerk of the chain reaches down through the decades.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Celebrate Civil Rights Milestones

Summer offers a chance to reflect on key anniversaries of the Civil Rights Movement. July 2 is the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, August 2 marks the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and August 28 marks the anniversary of the March on Washington, the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Discover more about the inspiring figures behind the Movement in the highly engaging March trilogy by Congressman John Lewis with co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell. The March trilogy is also an excellent introduction to the graphic memoir format.


March: Book One starts with Congressman John Lewis preparing to attend Obama's Inauguration and then flashes back to his boyhood growing up on a farm in Alabama where it was his job to tend the chickens. He took this responsibility so seriously he was unable to eat his own chickens because he knew them so well. As Lewis grew, his ambition to become a pastor eventually merged into an awareness about the need to advocate for civil rights. This book ends with his first forays into activism as a college student in the movement to desegregate lunch counters.

March: Book Two continues John Lewis' story from his involvement with the Freedom Riders to the March on Washington. Many famous men make cameos, including President Kennedy, Malcolm X and MLK. The reader begins to realize the Civil Rights Movement was meticulously crafted; little happened by chance or momentary inspiration. It's an inspiring example of how visionaries and regular people with courage banded together to create change.

March: Book Three begins with the church bombing in Selma, Alabama, that killed four young girls and ends with the famous March from Selma to Montgomery. President Johnson, MLK and Malcolm X make appearances, as well as Fannie Lou Hamer and some other key figures who were instrumental to the movement but are less widely recognized. Artist Nate Powell brings majestic scope to the imagery, belying the scale of the page.

The March trilogy is a compelling read for anyone over the age of twelve, and even some mature tweens may be ready for its message. Like the best graphic novels, this trilogy combines visual and textual storytelling in a manner that is uniquely moving and engrossing.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, City of Fairfax Library