It's April 1st, book lovers, and the beginning of a month devoted to celebrating one of our favorite places on the planet: libraries! First off, April is School Library Month, and then there's National Library Week (April 13 through 19), National Library Workers Day (on April 15) and National Bookmobile Day (on April 16). Phew—that's a lot of celebrating!
All of this library love got us thinking about our favorite books about libraries and librarians, and so we decided to put together a list of them. Featuring cats, bookmobiles, archivists, time travelers, even Dracula—these 15 books will inspire a renewed appreciation for a place that is, in the words of Jamie Ford in his novel The Songs of Willow Frost, "like a candy store where everything is free."
Henry is a 28-year-old librarian who has a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time involuntarily. Stacking books on the shelves in the library's inner sanctum, he'll suddenly vanish, leaving behind a pile of clothes, only to materialize in some unknown past or future moment, naked and nauseated. Often he travels to a certain Michigan meadow and visits a little girl, Clare, who sneaks him food and clothes. (Read more)
The Ice Queen is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best. When the unnamed narrator is 8 years old and her brother, Ned, 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother would disappear—and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. Years later, Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida, while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died. (Read more)
This Book Is Overdue!
By Marilyn Johnson
As Marilyn Johnson postulates in the gloriously geeky This Book Is Overdue!, librarians are no longer ladies in cardigans hovering over the card catalog. The new librarians are bloggers, information junkies and protectors of freedom and privacy in the Patriot Act era. Says Johnson, “The most visible change to librarianship in the past generation is maybe the simplest: Librarians have left the building.” (Read more)
The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys (which include stops at several libraries) eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. (Read more)
By Martha Cooley
At its surface, The Archivist is the tale of its narrator, Matt Lane, a 60-ish librarian at a private university near New York. Matt has been entrusted with the care of certain personal correspondence between the poet T.S. Eliot and his friend Emily Hale, letters that are supposed to remain sealed until the year 2020. But the archivist's attempt to preserve the privacy of those letters is a metaphor for larger concerns. (Read more)
The Geographer's Library
By Jon Fasman
Reading The Geographer's Library is like stepping into a sepia-toned daguerreotype: The past here holds all the clues. The novel's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young, sometimes painfully naive cub reporter coasting along at a weekly newspaper in a sleepy New England town. When a professor at his alma mater dies in mysterious circumstances, the reporter's research for a routine obituary leads him into an unimaginably poisonous labyrinth. (Read more)
By Rebecca Makkai
What do you get when you pair a children’s librarian—whose father may be connected to the Russian mafia—with a curious 10-year-old boy whose dubious sexuality has caused his evangelical parents to enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material? What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands. (Read more)
On a cold winter night in a small town in Iowa, the director of the Spencer Public Library, Vicki Myron, was shocked to discover a tiny, weeks-old orange ball of fluff deposited in the returned book slot. For the next 19 years, the sweet and magical cat known as Dewey Readmore Books lived in the library, touching countless lives, offering hope and pride to a struggling community, and gaining worldwide adoration along the way. (Read more)
A thriller about a librarian? Have no fear, best-selling author Brad Meltzer soon gets you hooked. After a somewhat slow start, The Inner Circle quickly becomes a fast, fun thriller. Once the twists start coming, Meltzer proves his prowess with the Washington, D.C., political thriller, and soon it’s impossible to resist the lure of the next page. Meltzer cleverly disguises who’s telling the truth, making readers question if there’s anyone they can trust. (Read more)
Bartholomew Neil is a uniquely likable protagonist who at nearly 40 has lived with his mother his entire life. After her death, Bartholomew sets a few life goals, like having a beer in a bar with an age-appropriate friend and pursuing Girlbrarian, the lovely but withdrawn woman who shelves books at his local library. “Her long brown hair . . . covers her face like a waterfall can cover the entrance to a mysterious cave,” Bartholomew writes. (Read more)
Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. (Read more)
This literary mystery begins in a marvelous place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a repository for literary works no longer remembered by anyone. A 10-year-old boy named Daniel is taken there by his bookseller father to assuage the lingering pain of his mother's death. The old caretaker tells Daniel to choose one book from the labyrinthian stacks, take it away and make sure it never disappears. (Read more)
The Camel Bookmobile
By Masha Hamilton
Masha Hamilton's compelling third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, leaves no room for doubt: Books are essential. Cookbooks, novels, parenting books—they all matter to Fiona "Fi" Sweeney, a librarian from Brooklyn searching for fulfillment atop a book-laden camel in the arid and dangerous bush of Kenya. Tiny, far-flung villages populated by nomadic tribes, largely forgotten and neglected by the greater population of a more modern Africa, welcome the bookmobile and Fi with a combination of curiosity and wary distrust of Westerners' belief that the rest of the world needs guidance. (Read more)
Running the Books
By Avi Steinberg
Avi Steinberg was meant for greater things. If not a doctor or lawyer (per his family’s expectations), his time in yeshiva should at least have turned out a decent rabbi. But no; he left yeshiva for Harvard, then stalled out as a freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. In search of a new direction, and the security of a job with benefits, Steinberg answered an ad on Craigslist and began life anew as a librarian in a Boston prison. Running the Books chronicles Steinberg’s years on the job, introducing a cast of inmates with whom his involvement went beyond mere book recommendations. (Read more)
Library: An Unquiet History
By Matthew Battles
Our Well Read columnist writes: "If you are a regular reader of BookPage (or even an occasional one), chances are you are also someone who has spent a fair amount of time in a library. Like me, you probably remember the monumental day when you got your first library card and, since reaching that milestone of childhood, have spent perhaps a little too much time roaming the stacks. Until I read Matthew Battles' engaging book, Library: An Unquiet History, though, I had not given much thought to the colorful past of those buildings-full-of-books that so many of us love." (Read more)
What do you think, fellow library lovers? Help us expand the list by adding your recommendations below!
Walter Kirn's chilling new memoir, Blood Will Out, details his fascinating, 15-year friendship with Clark Rockefeller, the man who claimed to be of the well-known aristocratic family but who ended up being not only an imposter but also a murderer. The book, which our reviewer calls "equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical," is our Top Pick in nonfiction for March. (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Kirn has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
By David Shields
As people migrate into virtual worlds housed inside their electronic devices, a corresponding pull is building up that tugs us toward the actual, the palpable. Because life feels increasingly fictional, that is, we need not go to books for yet more make believe. This singular essay on our current predicament as authors and readers (and that means everyone) reveals the new possibilities of world building in serious literature. It shows us how the mind and spirit clothes itself in excerpts and quotations, samplings and borrowings, in its struggle to find definition and significance in an elusive age of flux.
How to Sell
By Clancy Martin
This novel of the retail jewelry industry and a Biblical contest for love between two brothers is a masterpiece of contemporary noir. Vanity and chicanery rule the day, and no one and nothing can be trusted, least of all the value of the bright baubles that drive the main characters' dodgy family business. Darwin was a romantic about life compared to Martin in this book, but his pessimism is strangely bracing, like a walk down a long street of shadows in the cold.
The Red Book
By Carl Jung
This is a mysterious, poetic and sometimes incomprehensible diary of the great psychoanalyst’s dream life. I like to read it before bed. It opens doors into my unconscious mind, and its presence lingers through the night. Jung reminds us that we’re all heroes on the inside, and that our insides are vast and bottomless. He gives us access to our mythical selves and challenges us to explore them and stay brave.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Blood Will Out—or any of Kirn's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo © Beowulf Sheehan)
Love is in the air . . . love of romance books, that is. This week, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced the finalists for the 2014 RITA and Golden Heart Awards. A big congratulations goes to our very own romance columnist, Christie Ridgway, whose Beach House No. 9 is up for a Best Contemporary Romance RITA! Check out our interview with Christie about the book.
Other RITA finalists include veterans Jill Shalvis (nominated twice, for It Had to Be You and Rumor Has It), Nora Roberts (for Whiskey Beach), Elizabeth Hoyt (for Duke of Midnight), along with relative newcomers Sarah MacLean (for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished) and Bella Andre (for The Way You Look Tonight).
The Golden Heart Awards recognize excellence in novels or novellas that have not yet been published, with finalists in eight categories chosen from more than 1,000 manuscript entries each year.
Check out the complete list of finalists here. Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala at the RWA annual conference in San Antonio on July 26. Which books are you rooting for?
• Voting is officially open for the 2014 Children's Choice Book Awards! Be sure to vote for your favorite books before the deadline of May 12, and then tune into the live video webcast of the awards ceremony on May 14. Which books do you want to win?
• The assignation of a sentence as one of the "best" is subjective, of course, but because there are so many of them in the world of literature, it's always fun when folks round some up, as in these 10 gems selected by the editors of the American Scholar. Do you have a favorite literary line? (The one most fresh in my mind is from War and Peace: “From the study, like pistol shots, came the repeated sound of the old Prince furiously blowing his nose.” The perpetually cranky prince has just said a stoic goodbye to his son, who's heading off to war. I love Tolstoy's indirect revelation that a tender-hearted sentimentality lies beneath the prince's gruff exterior.)
• Check out this HuffPost list of 21 female literary characters—from Elizabeth Bennet to Daenerys Targaryen—and what it says about you if you have a crush on one—or more!—of them.
• Speaking of which, Mental Floss compiled a list of 10 infamous literary characters who were actually based on real people.
Peter Stark has an affinity for adventure—whether it's writing about it or engaging in it himself. His latest book, Astoria, chronicles John Jacob Astor's early 19th-century attempt to settle the frontier of the Pacific Northwest by financing two expeditions—one by land, the other by sea—to the remote region. A couple of the adjectives featured in our review of the book are "sweeping" and "spellbinding." Check out the full review right here.
We were curious about the books Stark has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
In the course of doing research for a book like Astoria, which my agent has called “historical adventure,” I find myself reading bits and pieces of all sorts of works of nonfiction, as well as explorers’ journals and memoirs, history, anthropology and many other eclectic subjects.
But here are a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read (or am in the course of reading), and enjoyed recently, that weren’t directly related to research:
FORGET ME NOT
By Jennifer Lowe-Anker
The author was married to one of the world’s best-known mountain climbers, American Alex Lowe, and is a passionate artist as well as outdoorswoman in her own right. The couple climbed together; they traveled together; and they had a family of three boys together. While Jennifer took on the role of mother, Alex continued to travel around the world for long stretches, pursuing his passion for climbing, out of which he had made a career. In 1999, he was killed in an avalanche while climbing in Tibet, leaving behind Jennifer and their three young sons in Montana. One of his closest friends, and climbing partners, Conrad Anker, survived the avalanche. Their shared grief over Alex’s death brought Conrad and Jennifer closer together, and eventually they married, with Conrad helping to raise the three boys.
As a writer of adventure and exploration, and adventurer in my own right, as well as a father, I was attracted to Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s story. It offers a deeply personal insight into the risks and rewards of pursuing a life of adventure in the outdoors.
THE FOOTLOOSE AMERICAN: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America
By Brian Kevin
Kevin takes to the road in the footsteps of Thompson’s yearlong, 1963 journey through South America, in which Thompson sent some of his first dispatches back to publications in the U.S. There’s a certain eerieness in witnessing the young Thompson’s observations and experiences abroad, knowing, as we do, the role he would have in shaping the “new journalism” over the next several decades and what he branded “gonzo journalism.” It seems odd to call the young Thompson “innocent,” but there are glimmers of it in some of his dispatches and letters, as well as the beginnings of the provocative, confrontational stance he would adopt in print in subsequent years. Kevin also provides an intriguing modern-day travelogue to the places that Thompson visited, places where I haven’t been, but have wondered about.
By Ted Tally
This is actually a play, not a book. I’ve been interested in the dramatic possibilities of explorers’ stories, and an actor friend, Jeremy Sher, recommended I read this play. Based in part on letters and journals, it follows the Scott party in the early 1900s in its valiant British attempt to reach the South Pole before a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, and especially focuses on the fatal return journey where the Antarctic winter caught Scott and his deteriorating men. I’ve been curious to see how dialogue and flashbacks can capture the spirit and the context of one of the great adventure stories of our time.
AMERICAN SPHINX: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
By Joseph J. Ellis
I’ve read a good deal of Jefferson biography, and I read this one specifically while researching Astoria. While it doesn’t cover in any depth the expeditions Jefferson launched to the West, which has been my focus, American Sphinx gives a multidimensional character portrait of the man who shaped so much of the North American political geography. I also love the title, which, for Jefferson, is utterly appropriate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astoria—or any of Stark's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Amy Ragsdale)
April's right around the corner, and even if it traditionally means lots of showers in the forecast, at least we'll have plenty of great books to cozy up with. The April LibraryReads list, which features ten of next month's newly published books that librarians across the country are most excited about sharing with their patrons, features something for readers of all tastes.
At the top of the list is Gabrielle Zevin's irresistible novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which graces the cover of our April issue. Don't miss our insightful interview with Zevin about the list-topper.
See all ten of their selections right here. Are there any that you'll be adding to your TBR list?
• These adorably clever book brooches by London-based House of Ismay make the perfect (non-bank-breaking) gift for your biliophile friends!
• If you are able to forgive the glaring inaccuracy in #2, BuzzFeed's list of 23 signs your Jane Austen addiction is getting out of hand is pretty hilarious.
• Did you read our guest blog post by author David Menasche about his recent (and moving) memoir The Priority List? If so, you might be interested in the news that the film rights have been acquired, with Steve Carell on board to play Menasche (and produce the movie).
• Even some of the 20th century's most iconic authors received bad reviews, like these entertaining gems rounded up by the folks at Mental Floss.
Jean Hanff Korelitz's You Should Have Known is so full of smoldering suspense that I devoured all 450 pages of it in two sittings. Grace Reinhart Sachs has the perfect life: a thriving career as a psychologist; her first book—a relationship-focused, self-help book called, you guessed it, You Should Have Known—on the verge of publication with lots of pre-pub buzz; Henry, her sweet, intelligent 12-year-old son, who attends an exclusive Manhattan prep school, her own alma mater; a comfortable "classic six" on the Upper East Side, the very apartment she grew up in; and Jonathan, her saintly, charming, pediatric oncologist husband of 18 years.
Of course, we all know that things aren't always what they seem from the outside, but sometimes they aren't what they seem from the inside, either . . . as Grace soon finds out. A violent death sends her community reeling, but the shocking crime is only a prelude to the gut-wrenching, gob-smacking truths about to be exposed in this supremely entertaining page-turner. In this excerpt from the beginning of the book—to whet your appetite—Grace is being photographed for a Vogue article about her forthcoming book:
Grace leaned forward. The lens seemed so close, only inches away. She wondered if she could look through it and see his eye on the other side; she peered deep into it, but there was only the glassy dark surface and the thunderous clicking noise; no one was in there. Then she wondered if she would feel the same if it were Jonathan holding the camera, but she actually couldn't remember a single time when Jonathan had held a camera, Click, let alone a camera this close to her face. She was the default photographer in her family, though with none of the bells and whistles currently on display in her little office, and with none of Ron's evident skill, and with no passion at all for the form. She was the one who took the birthday pictures and the camp visiting-weekend pictures, Click, the photo of Henry asleep in his Beethoven costume, and Click, the photo of him playing chess with his grandfather, Click, her own favorite picture of Jonathan, minues after finishing a Memorial Day road race up at the lake, with a cup of water thrown over his face and an expression of unmistakable pride and just distinguishable lust. Or was it only in retrospect, Grace thought, Click, that she had always seen lust in that picture, because later, running the numbers, she had realized that Henry was about to be conceived, just hours after it was taken. After Jonathan had eaten a bit and stood for a long time under a hot shower, after he had taken her to her own childhood bed and, Click, saying her name again and again, and she remembered feeling so happy, and, Click, so utterly lucky, and not because they were in the act of making the child she wanted so badly, but because at that specific moment even the possibility of that did not matter to her, nothing but him and, Click, them and this, and now the memory of this, rushing up to the surface: the eye and the other eye through the lense that must be looking back.
"That's nice," Ron said, lowering the camera. Now she could see his eye again: brown, after all, and utterly unremarkable. Grace nearly laughed in embarrassment. "No, it was good," he said, misunderstanding. "And you're done."
Done, indeed. Will you be checking out You Should Have Known? What are you reading this week?
After his much-acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Blake Bailey reflects on his own family's difficult story in The Splendid Things We Planned, which our reviewer calls "an unforgettable look at a family doing its best in the most trying of circumstances, those where no good outcome exists." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Bailey has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
MS. HEMPEL CHRONICLES
By Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
I was a school teacher for several years, and if someone were to ask me what was the least likely book I'd ever want to read, my answer would be (in effect) a collection of thematically linked stories about a quirky but lovable seventh-grade teacher. Unless, that is, such a book were written by a genius, as in this case. Ms. Hempel is, I think, one of the most enduring creations in American literature: tolerant, obliging to a fault, a little feckless, gifted in her own right but overwhelmed by the sheer endearing quiddity of each and every one of her students. It's not a book about teaching, really, so much as a study in human endurance, and yet I think it's the best thing ever written about teaching: the joys, sorrows and downright horrors of giving up the best years of one's life so that other (potentially less deserving) souls may thrive.
THE PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS
by Edward St Aubyn
There are five Patrick Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk and At Last. How I wish there were 50; how I wish I could depend on reading them for the rest of my life—the way I read Wodehouse's novels, say, whenever (blessedly) I don't have anything else to read. And indeed there's something of Wodehouse in St Aubyn, I think, if Wodehouse were inclined to write about sociopathic child-molesting fathers, heroin addicts, a whole gruesome family blighted by narcissism of every sort. But of course Wodehouse would never write about such people, so I'm all the more grateful for St Aubyn, who proves that one can be funny without losing a whit of gravitas where gravitas counts. Along with his humor and almost peerless elegance of style, St Aubyn is an Olympian judge of character: He puts us into the heads of monsters, and manages to make them comprehensible and even—almost—sympathetic. Proust is something like that, though not nearly as funny.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Splendid Things We Planned or any of Bailey's recommended books? By the way, see which other author recommended the Patrick Melrose novels.
(Author photo © Mary Brinkmeyer)
• What's the most downloaded ebook in your state?
• Anne Rice isn't letting the vampire phenomenon go down without a fight. She's bringing back her infamous "Brat Prince" (her words!) Lestat in a new Vampire Chronicles book. Prince Lestat will hit stores on October 28 of this year, just in time for Halloween.
• The longlist of finalists in contention for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction have been revealed. Among them are Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie for Americanah, Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries and Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch. Look for the shortlist of six books to be announced on April 7, the winner revealed in June. Which book will you be rooting for?