Items tagged with Book news

Literary Holidays

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Jul 8, 2009 - 4:07 PM

novel destinations.jpgSchool’s out and vacation time is here. “Staycations” (vacations spent at home or close by) are in fashion for many of us this summer. For lots of reasons an exotic vacation to far off places may be out of the question this year. Last spring when I was able to get away to Key West, legendary adopted home of Ernest Hemingway, I came across an interesting book from our collection entitled Novel Destinations. This is a fun travel guide that is filled with great suggestions for a literary vacation, many of them inexpensive and not too far from Westport. Written by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, these travel writers combined a passion for travel with a love of reading and, as a result, their book has filled a niche for all book lovers who would like to see and experience a little more about their favorite authors and the places that inspired them.

The Monte Cristo Cottage in New London is close enough for a daytrip. It was the childhood home of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center nearby has a great selection of programs and plays to enjoy throughout the summer. If you head up north to Hartford, there are several literary landmarks. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the last home of the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ms. Stowe’s best selling novel is credited with arousing public opinion against slavery. Nearby of course, is the Mark Twain House. Twain lived here from 1874 to 1891 and there’s always a lot going on here including activities for children as well as adults.

Children and adults alike will also love Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown, NY, a short drive away in Westchester County. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will come alive as you tour the house and surrounding gardens. If you can manage an overnight trip, then I highly recommend a drive to Concord, Massachusetts. There are numerous literary destinations there that will capture your interest. Home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne, my favorite place of all is Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. This is the home where she was inspired to write her semi-autobiographical novel and a visit here is a must if you’re a fan.

These are just a few of the many destinations highlighted in the highly entertaining Novel Destinations. The authors also cover many places in Europe and in addition, they have a great blog that they often update. If you’ve been to any literary places recently, I’d love to hear about them. I’m always planning ahead for my next trip – any suggestions?

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El Dorado

Posted by on Wednesday, Jul 1, 2009 - 12:48 PM

Do you savor a good adventure/quest yarn? Full of danger, secrets, unfriendly natives, natural predators and mystery? Imagine a middle-aged New Yorker, laptop in hand, plunked down in the Amazon jungle looking for the legendary El Dorado. That New Yorker is David Grann, who wrote about his adventure in The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

It’s the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who ventured into the Amazon in 1925 determined to find the ancient civilization, rumors of which have inspired so many novels, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Fawcett, his son and his entire party vanished. Grann says, “I had to remind myself that everything in this story is true: a movie star really was abducted by Indians; there were cannibals, ruins, secret maps and spies, explorers died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals and poisonous arrows….” Other expeditions followed Fawcett’s and many attempts to repeat his path have failed. Legend, biography, travel/adventure and history blend in this tale of obsession based on Fawcett’s diaries. Grann’s polished writing makes it a compelling read.

Westport native David Grann will speak at the Library on Monday July 13 at 7:30 pm. His talk will include photographs. Don’t miss it!

(The Lost City of Z is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.)

Book news

A Short History of Women

Posted by SusanM on Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 - 4:00 PM

short history.jpgIn case you missed it, last Sunday’s NY Times book review cover article was a glowing review of Kate Walbert’s new book, A Short History of Women. Just out last week and already generating a lengthy wait list at the library, this one is sure to be a favorite with book clubs this summer and well into the fall. Ms. Walbert was a National Book Award finalist in 2004 for Our Kind, and the winner of the Connecticut Book Award in 2002 for The Gardens of Kyoto. In addition to her novels, Ms. Walbert is a playwright and a writing teacher at Yale. I am so excited that Kate Walbert will be here at the Westport Library on September 30th at noon to speak about her new book. This will be a discussion not to miss.

A Short History of Women follows the ‘history’ of women as seen through the story of the Townsend family. It begins in England in 1914 as Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette, dies as a result of a hunger strike for women’s rights. The story then follows five generations of Dorothy’s ancestors, both in Europe and in the United States, as they struggle with turbulent times and complicated lives. By following the conflicted Townsend family through the 20th century, Walbert has given us a very personal view of history and the way the lives of our ancestors continue to influence us.

Ms. Walbert’s book is beautifully written, intelligent, and sure to be a hit with book clubs. In anticipation of her visit, the library has ordered a number of copies of A Short History of Women so that you can come to her talk prepared to have a real dialogue with the author. Her publisher has also provided an excellent discussion guide and interview with Ms. Walbert. Also, be sure to listen to the podcast with the author in the NY Times review. Mark your calendar now and make arrangements to be at the library on September 30th. You won’t be disappointed.

Book news

Brotherly Love

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009 - 12:50 PM

even-gonetomorrow.jpgLast week Lee Child’s latest book, Gone Tomorrow, entered the NY Times bestseller list in the number one position. The most recent in the Jack Reacher series of thrillers will not disappoint Child’s fans. Lee Child is known for his intelligent, plot filled suspense stories. Jack Reacher is a former US army military policeman and Child has made him the centerpiece of thirteen action packed novels. The creator of this very American character was born and raised in England, but is currently living in New York and married to an American. But did you know that Child has a younger brother, Andrew Grant, who has just published his own first novel, Even?

Lee (his real name is Jim Grant) and baby brother Andrew have been showing up together recently at book signings and other appearances across the country. The brothers are separated by fourteen years and as a result grew up apart from each other. But there seems to be a tremendous similarity in their writing styles. Even follows Royal Navy intelligence officer David Trevellyan in a fast paced thriller which also takes place in New York City. Some have compared Trevellyan to Reacher, but Jim Grant has created a character that is intelligent, witty and intriguing, similar to the English spy James Bond, although some reviewers have likened him to the American character Jason Bourne. Although both books are set in New York, Jack Reacher is comfortable and knowledgeable in his surroundings, while Trevallyan acts more like a tourist. Grant claims that when he decided he wanted to be a writer he stopped reading his brother’s work because he didn’t want to be influenced by his style. But the brothers acknowledge that they have done similar things in their lives and as a result you may notice parallels in their work. They both wrote their first books after having been laid off from their corporate jobs.

So if you’re a fan of Lee Child, put your name on the hold list for Gone Tomorrow. But while you’re waiting, try Even, the wait list is a lot shorter, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The many fans of sophisticated thrillers will be anxiously awaiting the next books from both these siblings, and for those of you new to Mr. Child, try one of the earlier Jack Reacher novels - The Hard Way or The Enemy, and you'll be hooked.

Book news

Report from Book Expo

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009 - 4:46 PM

bookexpo.jpgNew York City was the host for BookExpo again this year and I was fortunate to be able to spend a day there. This huge trade show brings together publishers, authors, booksellers, librarians and educators to meet, talk, connect and celebrate the book industry. It’s always fun to meet authors and hear them talk about their latest books, but in addition, there are always some great programs available for attendees. One of my favorite programs this year was Book Club Facilitators Sound Off. This was an excellent panel discussion led by Carol Fitzgerald of The book club facilitators represented book clubs from all over the country and they shared their thoughts about what works for book clubs, including types of books, discussion guides and group dynamics. One of the panel members was Marsha Toy Engstrom – the Book Club Cheerleader. Her web site is a good resource for bookclubs and her own book club – Readers in the Hood has its’ own website as well. It’s filled with lots of useful information, including a list of book recommendations.

Another terrific panel was Librarians Shout and Share. Eight librarians from across the country shared what they thought would be the books that everyone will be talking about very soon. Joyce Maynard has written a beautiful coming of age story, Labor Day that will be available at the end of July. Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle is a selection of short stories about women and love sure to be a popular choice for book clubs. Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, has written a new book, Half-Broke Horses: a True Life Novel, based on the story of her grandmother’s life. Although it won’t be available until the fall, there should be lots of interest in this one. Another favorite of book clubs, Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus, has written a new historical novel, Sacred Hearts. Set in a convent during the Renaissance, this is a story about the power of friendship.

Pat Conroy’s new novel, South of Broad, will be available this summer. His fans are sure to enjoy this epic novel about lifelong friendships set in Charleston NC. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo has a new book due out this summer also. That Old Cape Magic is set in Cape Cod and is a story of marriage and family that is both funny and sad.

So put your requests in now for one of these books which are starting to generate buzz. They are all on order at the library and you’ll be one of the first to read them. With all the tips and information from BookExpo I look forward to what promises to be a great year for book clubs and their members.

Book news

Times Square as mood ring.

Posted by on Friday, May 29, 2009 - 3:15 PM

“No other part of New York has had such a melodramatic, mood-ring sensitivity to the changes in the city’s history, with an image for every decade.” That’s Adam Gopnik writing in a 2004 New Yorker about Times Square.

Whether in New York or Paris, the place and our relation to it become the touchstones for identity in Gopnik’s observations. Born in Canada and famously French for many years, Gopnik has lived in New York for twenty years and has written the article on American culture for the last two editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Gopnik writes about his daily experiences with family, neighborhood, art, restaurants, transportation and at the conclusion, it occurs to you that you have just learned something new about contemporary life and culture from a careful and astute observer.

The range of his essays is remarkable and each is a gem...or a performance. Gopnik compares essayists to performers who “…like to do the thing and feel that the people are reacting.” He cites Calvin Trillin, James Thurber and Montaigne as influences for their personal comic essays. And he connects essay to journalism as a social art form. He brings a journalist’s eye to contemporary culture and serves it up in meticulous and graceful prose. His columns and book reviews have appeared in the New Yorker since 1986 starting with a piece connecting baseball, childhood and Renaissance art. He has written for four editors at the magazine.

On June 7th the Library will present Adam Gopnik with the 11th Annual Booked for the Evening Award. This annual gala fund raising event awards an honoree whose work reflects the purpose of the Westport Public Library.

Reserve books by Adam Gopnik or pick up a recent copy of the New Yorker to enjoy his excellent writing.

Book news


Posted by on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 3:34 PM

A prolific profiler of middle-class American life, A.R. Gurney has garnered many awards with his popular plays. The Westport Country Playhouse is presenting Gurney’s play Children, which takes place on one day of a Fourth of July weekend. Two adult children replay family dramas as they find out that their mother is going to remarry and that they are about to inherit the house. Their younger brother is a strong off stage presence. Rituals of the upper middle class – divorce, search for self-esteem, family secrets, social graces & gaffes- are their concerns.

Children opens May 26 at Westport Country Playhouse and runs through June 13.

Children is based on a short story by John Cheever. In Goodbye My Brother, Cheever provides a metaphorical struggle between two brothers played out mostly in the ruminations of one brother whose ideas go from lyrical celebration to gloomy dissection of his family’s life. In his usual fashion, Cheever chips away at the certainties of what the character knows, examining the modern, shifting, disrespectful world and then returning to the reassuring stability of the “right way.”

John Cheever never graduated from high school. After failing out of school, he attended Thayer Academy until spring of his junior year when he was expelled. His response was to write a story about the experience. He mailed Expelled to the New Republic; it was accepted and his literary career was launched. Short story fans have a seemingly endless supply of Cheever to read. Critic Dan Schneider says “To not read or not understand these tales is to be as void of the American character as ignoring Dickens is to the English character or Chekhov is to the Russian…”

A new biography Cheever: a life by Blake Bailey is a comprehensive telling of Cheever’s complicated life and serves as a fascinating re-introduction to the man and his works.

Book news

It Only Takes a Moment…

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - 5:20 PM

A few days ago a news article reminded me about a story that I have always found very haunting. It is a true story that happened thirty years ago – the disappearance of Etan Patz. Etan Patz was a six year old boy on his way to the school bus stop in New York City when he disappeared. It was the first time his mother had let him walk alone. He has never been found, and his disappearance led to a change in our social consciousness, completely revising the way missing children cases are handled, and the day of his disappearance is now National Missing Children’s Day.

At the time Etan disappeared I was a new mother myself and the thought of losing my child in such a way was almost too much to bear. I have always wondered how his parents could go on. A few years after Etan vanished, Beth Gutcheon wrote a novel, Still Missing, based on his disappearance. In her book, which later became the movie Without a Trace, Ms. Gutcheon captures the mania that surrounds such an event, yet also poignantly conveys the relationship of the parents as they dealt with this unimaginable tragedy. While dealing with the loss of her child every day, the mother, amazingly to me, still manages to maintain the hope and faith that someday he will be found alive.

The novel, The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond also deals with the mysterious disappearance of a child. Abby Mason, a photographer, is walking on the beach with her fiancé’s daughter. As she stops to take a picture the little girl lets go of her hand and within a few seconds vanishes. Ms. Richmond explores the different ways that Abby and her fiancé Jake deal with this tragedy. Jake focuses on the practical details involved in finding his daughter while Abby explores the tricks the mind can play and the nature of time. This beautifully written book is both suspenseful and haunting. A good choice for book clubs.

Stewart O’Nan, one of my favorite authors, has also written a novel about a missing child, Songs for the Missing. Kim Larsen is 18 years old and set to leave for college when she suddenly disappears. O’Nan’s story is less about Kim and more about what happens to the rest of the family when a loved one vanishes. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different member of the Larsen family. The day to day reality of how such an event can affect the lives of the family and close friends is convincingly portrayed. Mr. O’Nan has created a story and characters that you won’t forget.

In each of these novels about the loss of a child the author has shown how life can change in an instant. Each author has chosen to portray this tragedy in a different way but to me the central question remains the same: how do you move forward and live with the unknown? Book clubs will find lots to discuss with any of these selections. Let smadeo [at] westportlibrary [dot] org (me) know if you would like to reserve one of these titles. read more

Book news

Community Organizer & Arsonist ?

Posted by on Friday, May 1, 2009 - 11:07 AM

Remember Debby Applegate’s excellent biography of Henry Ward Beecher? In that book, The Most Famous Man in America, Henry David Thoreau had a few cameos. He is the main subject of The Thoreau You Don’t Know : What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant by Robert Sullivan. (You might remember Sullivan’s recent book on Rats.)

Listen to Applegate's talk at the Library.

Sullivan posits a different personality from the solitary & idealistic naturalist we usually think of as Thoreau. He finds an activist, an organizer, an adventurer and a guy who set the woods afire while camping with his friends. Sullivan finds similarities between Thoreau’s time and ours and believes Thoreau was looking to improve society, not escape it.

Incidentally, about that fire that Thoreau started, we have on order a new novel (starred review) Woodsburner by John Pipkin. It’s about “An inglorious episode in the life of 19th-century author and environmental saint Henry David Thoreau….” It follows three different characters affected by the conflagration which destroyed 300 acres of forest and farmland. Kirkus Reviews calls Pipkin's book "Pulitzer Prize material."

Book news

The most inspirational book of all time is….

Posted by on Wednesday, Apr 15, 2009 - 4:57 PM

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee!

Recently, found the 1960 classic at the top of the list with The Bible placing second. Made into an Oscar winning movie in 1962, Mockingbird has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. The Bible which has been translated into 2233 languages has sold an estimated 2.5 billion copies since 1815.

Third place? The 2001 top seller A Child Called It by Dave Peltzer. It’s the true story of a young boy neglected by his unstable, alcoholic mother.

Here is the complete list:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
2. The Bible
3. A Child Called It by Dave Peltzer (2001)
4. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray (1993)
5. Diary of Anne Frank (1947)
6. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
7. A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (2002)
8. The Beach by Alex Garland (1994)
9. Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2005)
10. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1961)

This list surprised me and made me wonder if an American list would be different. ( is a UK online marketing research company.) How about it?

What titles are on your Most Inspirational list?

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