Friday, July 25, 2014

Five of a Kind: All-of-a-Kind Family

Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family (1951; Dell Yearling, 1989)

Sydney Tayor family story
I don't know why I never read All-of-a-Kind Family when growing up, but I was reminded that I needed to thanks to The Midnight Garden's Classic MG/YA Readalong. I was very glad to finally get to know this beloved account of five girls growing up in a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early twentieth century.

Often compared to other period family stories like Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, All-of-a-Kind Family has far less conflict than either. The girls get scarlet fever, but nobody dies; there are no wolves, panthers or bears to menace their cozy home. Each chapter is a small domestic drama centering around incidents that may seem trivial to an adult -- a lost library book, a trip to the beach, a search for a birthday present for Papa -- yet are exactly the kinds of events that loom large in the life of a sheltered child. With her loving descriptions of festivals such as Purim and Passover, and of settings from street markets to Coney Island, Taylor brings us into the heart of a Jewish family with sensitivity and grace, and evokes a vanished way of life that was full of poverty and hardship but also rich in warmth and human connection.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Life in Libraries

After doing this post about My Life in Bookstores, I realized that I've surely spent much more of my life in libraries, and that they should be given their due. Here are some that had personal significance for me. For more library love, you can browse this page of Library Visits from Wildmoo Books. (What a great idea! If anybody else is posting about libraries, please let me know.)

The one I grew up in: Mercer Island Library (Mercer Island, WA)
Besides visiting frequently from ages 8 to 18 and on visits home after that, I had my first job here in high school, solidifying my alphabetization skills and packing books to send to patrons by mail. I liked shelving books because I could browse as I went, but the dreaded "shelf reading" (making sure shelves were in the correct Dewey Decimal order) bored me silly.

The library was completely
...and now
transformed by a remodel after I left home, so the place of my childhood memories is gone. When looking for pictures for this post, I learned that another proposed remodel is causing controversy (as in, why fix what isn't broken?). Libraries come and go, but Mercer Island politics are eternal.

The one I wish was still around the corner: Forbes Library (Northampton, MA)
I only lived in Northampton for a year, but it remains my ideal town. Not least among its attractions is this wonderful castle-like building with an arched interior and glass balconies, which houses a splendid book collection and tons of atmosphere. I used to live just around the corner, and I wish I still did. I haven't been back since a remodel, and I hope it remains as distinctive as I remember it. Some architectural history

The ugly duckling: Finkelstein Memorial Library (Spring Valley, NY)
For 17 years this was my home library. In spite of its uninspiring architecture, grumpy librarians, and noisy clientele, it had a pretty decent book collection which was quite excellent when combined with easy access to the extended county library system. Alas, a couple of years ago they decided to secede from that system, forming one more reason for me not to regret moving away from the area. When researching this post, I was startled (but not entirely surprised) to learn that just last month an SUV rammed through the front entrance, injuring six people and causing extensive damage! What a terrible shock for patrons and staff. I hope everyone recovers soon.

The glamour queen: New York Public Library (New York, NY)
I didn't actually use this library as a patron, but I always enjoyed stopping by when I was in Manhattan. The majestic architecture really gives reading the importance it deserves. There are also frequent free exhibitions; one is described in this post from Wildmoo Books, which also has lots of excellent photos. If you're in New York, you should definitely visit.

The dream: Bodleian Library, Oxford, England
Perhaps the ultimate attraction for English lovers, the Bodleian encompasses beautiful historic buildings as well as important and ancient books. I visited as a teenager but haven't been back since, and I don't know if I'll ever manage to return, but I can dream. I wrote here about a recent exhibition I would love to have visited; Reno of Falling Letters wrote here about how she actually did. Jealous!

The reality: Keene Public Library, Keene, NH
My new town library is adorable but tiny -- I probably own almost as many fiction titles as they do. For only $50, though, I was able to gain access to the collections of both this spacious, recently modernized public library and Keene State College. It's 45 minutes away, but online reservations and renewals make it all easy. Hooray for technology!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Reader's Journey: My Life in Middlemarch

Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch (Crown, 2014)

criticism biography literature
Why aren't there more books like this? Rebecca Mead takes us on a deeply personal, yet wide-ranging tour of one of her life's touchstones, Middlemarch by George Eliot. In the process we learn about Eliot's own life and times, gaining insights into the origins of the book's characters and themes, and into how a great book can transform and teach us.

Mead does not erase herself from the book, unlike literary critics or biographers who try to achieve "objectivity" (impossible, yet expected) in their works. She tells us what aspects of the book had significance for her and how those changed through her life; she takes us along with her as she visits Eliot-related sites and people, giving us not only facts but her emotional response to the experience of trying to connect with the past. Yet she does not turn the book into a narcissistic exercise, a "this book is really all about me" kind of narrative. The focus remains firmly on Middlemarch, throwing more light upon this great novel so that in turn it can illuminate our own lives even more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Library Loot: July 16

Library book meme linky
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire of The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share books they've checked out from the library. If you'd like to participate, check out those blogs on Wednesdays to link up your post.

Here's my loot for this week:

Gardam Alain-Fournier Wodehouse

Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat, Last Friends - Jane Gardam
Now that Jane Gardam's trilogy is complete, I want to read it all together.

Le Grand Meaulnes - Alain-Fournier
I came across this French classic when collecting titles for my Classics Club list. I'm trying to read more literature from other countries.

Leave It to Psmith - P.G. Wodehouse
I love Jeeves, but some say Psmith is even better, so for my "Classics of Comedy" category this was a natural choice.

Stewart Shepard Taylor
The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
After enjoying some of Stewart's romantic suspense books, I decided to finally tackle her Arthurian saga, which somehow escaped me at the time when I was reading all the Arthurian books I could get my hands on.

Drawn from Memory - Ernest Shepard
The Captive Reader made me aware of the existence of this Edwardian-era childhood memoir by the accomplished illustrator. It looks lovely.

All of a Kind Family - Sidney Taylor
The Midnight Garden's next Classic Readalong book is finally one that I have actually never read. I'm looking forward to discovering this well-loved series.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Delighting in Absurdities: Barchester Towers

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857; Modern Library, 1950)


Barsetshire novels classic Trollope
For me, the key to Barchester Towers was found near the end, in this passage:
The sorrows of our heroes and heroines, they are your delight, oh public! Their sorrows, or their sins, or their absurdities; not their virtues, good sense, and consequent rewards. 
Indeed, Trollope's gift lies in creating errant and uncongenial characters who nevertheless delight us, making us laugh in recognition of follies and foibles that persist to this day -- in our neighbors, at least, if we be not honest enough to see them in ourselves.

I don't necessarily agree that virtue and good sense can never be interesting in fiction, but it's certainly true that the sympathetic and right-minded characters in this novel -- noble Mr. Arabin, poor misunderstood Eleanor Bold, humble Mr. Harding -- form only a rather drab background against which the others -- slimy social-climbing clergyman Mr. Slope, crippled femme fatale Signora Neroni, the spineless Bishop Proudie, and the immortal, indomitable Mrs. Proudie, to name but a few -- play out their comedy composed of "sorrows, sins, and absurdities."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Brought to you by the letter O

This is a meme started by Simon of Stuck in a Book. He picked his favorite book, author, song, film and object starting with a randomly-chosen letter, and said he would assign a letter to anybody responding in the comments who wanted to do the same.

I responded, and got assigned...Z. Ouch. He took pity on me and assigned me O as a second choice. Also not so common! However, I was surprised that it wasn't too difficult for me to find good options.

If you'd like to participate, leave a comment indicating your interest and I'll assign you a random letter --  or if you've already got one, leave a link to your post.

Oz book cover

Book: Ozma of Oz
Since I'm currently reading this to my son, I didn't seek any further. (Plus, it has O and Z in it!) One of the best of the Oz books, exciting, funny, and without too many puns.

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