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Check out a new way to discover books at OBPL. What do your neighbors think is an awesome read? Check out one example below, and stop in to discover many more!
HOLLY’S DOXOLOGIES* of Fave Books Read This Month
*I had to look it up too – a doxology means ‘I praise of’
For a whacking long time writers were timid about setting their stories in the late Sixties. They were especially punctilious about avoiding the hot zones: Greenwich Village, Haight-Ashbury, Laurel Canyon, Woodstock. In the direct aftermath, that whole period seemed so hokey and over-blown. Love beads? Leather fringe? Stoners drooling into cups of peyote tea as they listened to Led Zepelin, every so often wheezing, “grooo-vy”?
But finally enough eons have passed, and when we return to the scene of our cultural crimes – those of us who were there, or at least partially there — we may feel the fuzzy edges of nostalgia. So it is with Walter Mosley’s LITTLE GREEN (Doubleday) which brings irreverent and remorseless detective Easy Rawlins to the LSD-soaked Sunset Strip of 1967. Once again under Mosley’s vision we grasp the hideous constraints of being African-American on streets outside the narrow jurisdiction of Easy’s ‘hood in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Things have loosened up a bit, but not much, and far from enough.
Little Green marks Mosley’s most philosophically profound novel to date. In the run up to the current story, Blonde Faith, Easy Rawlins has crashed off a cliff in Pacific Palisades. He’s left for dead much as Sherlock Holmes was killed off and stayed killed for the remainder of Mr. Conan Doyle’s career. So . . . a modern readership must ask: was Mr. Mosley fed up and finished with his anti-hero?
Apparently not. Turns out Easy’s loyal and homicidal side-kick Mouse has located him far below his crashed car, exhumed him, and hoisted him over his back to get him to hospital. Two full months of coma later, restored to a demi-world of hazy recollection, the detective, while hardly able to prepare a cup of coffee, has a new case thrust upon him by his savior / psycho / buddy. Enter Voo Doo queen Mama Jo and her elixir “gator blood” to get him up and at ‘em. Easy takes off after a missing girl, while at the same time, as per usual, encountering an array of unsavory characters.
Through the arc of Little Green, Easy moves in a state of what the Buddhists call the bardo, the phantasmagorical afterlife before arrangements are made for the soul’s next iteration. As a result of his banged-up brain mixed with gator blood, he’s half-obliterated, half liberated, and all the while pondering the Mystery as if he himself were dictating a modern version of the Tibetan Book of The Dead. But setting aside all these engrossing metaphysics or, more accurately, in addition to them, Little Green is, to use a high-falutin’ literary term, un-put-down-able!
* * * I’ve read three out of the five of Russell Shorto’s non-fiction books, including the new one, AMSTERDAM (Doubleday), and all three take pride of place in my home library. Saints and Sinners explores that question dogging all spiritual seekers: How is it that St. Francis’s running dialogue with God is any less loopy than the man on Broadway and 23rd holding up his sign about Armageddon? Descartes Bones takes us on a journey beginning with the great philosopher’s sudden death in January in Denmark, a cold dark place where he most emphatically prefers not to spend his last hours, had he not been summoned by the king himself for a tutorial on Cartesian thought. The narrative follows the amazing trail of Descarte’s bones, picked apart and carried far a-field because it doesn’t pay to be a living legend when, once you’re dead, dodgy people scramble for your relics.
In Amsterdam, Shorto describes the city’s inception in Medieval times when common folk banded together to form polders of soil and intricate canals to keep the sea in its place, thus fostering, from the get-go, the spirit of community. This resulted in a precocious progressiveness until, with input from outlier philosopher / rationalist Spinoza, the Enlightenment was hatched, yes, right there in Amsterdam, leading at last to “the world’s most liberal city” (Shorto’s subtitle); its gaudiest examples: legal emporia of prostitutes, hashish cafes and, on a more upbeat note, a safety net without the social stigmata that shows up in places such as the, er, USA.
Shorto also asks the painful question: how did it come about that this shining city on a hill (or more accurately in a soggy lowland), with its noble tradition of tolerance, was so easily flipped by the Nazis at the start of World War II? The painful irony is that, throughout the Netherlands, the Gestapo culled the highest number of Jews; 87% to be exact, including the internationally beloved Anne Frank. (Hint: It wasn’t Dutch perfidy. The speedy round-up was the result of Dutch bureaucracy; city governments had long before issued identity cards with citizens organized by “pillars”. Jews fell under the socialist pillar. “Like everyone else, they were catalogued,” writes Shorto, “their addresses were on file. All of this made the Nazis’ work easier.”
A dark chapter, to be sure, but there is so much of which Amsterdamers can be proud, starting with Willem of Orange’s fight against King Phillip of Spain, the Inquisition, and the dreaded Duke of Alba. There was the city’s Golden Age kicked off by the comically inept voyage of a Capt. De Houtman who did indeed, despite his bungling, ‘discover’ a parcel of real estate in the East Indies. There’s the stunningly engineered canal system, an aberrantly benign brand of Calvinism, and towering artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. In the modern age, a triumph of the eco variety is Amsterdam’s bicycle usage which amounts to 40% of city transportation.
For all non-fictionados, Amsterdam is a must-read about a role model of a present-day town. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the library to track down Shorto’s two other books that have somehow eluded me: The Island At The Center of the World and Gospel Truth.
Send you own favorite reads to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the author’s name or else your aged, doddering, drooling reviewer will need to look it up.
Below are some of the favorite reads sent to Holly by her readers:
HOLLY’S DOXOLOGIES* of Books Read This Month
*Yes, I had to look it up, too: A doxology means “in praise of”, usually in a church, but I think we can carry that sacred awe over to a library.
Readers are a promiscuous bunch. We’ll hang out with all kinds of books: classy, middleweight, and outright motley. Some we’ll set aside if they don’t quite meet our unspecified standards, but the point is we keep on reading. We’re floozies when it comes to the printed word, certainly, but don’t we love it when a book comes along that lifts us out of our one-night stands into a love-sweet-love, reminding us of why we sustain this passion? So it was for me this month when I opened David Rosenfeld’s Dogtripping (new release), and was swept away in a whirlwind romance.
Some of you might have come to Rosenfeld via his Andy Carpenter mysteries, starring the New Jersey lawyer and his Golden Retriever with a superior work ethic. It just so happens (not surprisingly) that author Rosenfeld is a dog lover of staggering proportions. He and wife Debbie ran their own dog rescue operation in Southern California. Among those orphans humanely housed in a veterinarian’s kennel, they’d adopted their own family pooches. And while careful not to let the canine roll call creep over forty, sometimes they exceeded the mark.
“Debbie and I agree,” writes Rosenfeld, “that to go over forty dogs is lunacy.”
Are you kidding me?! Over three is lunacy!
At some point in the recent past, Dave and Debbie decided to move from a house in the San Diego boonies to a house in the Maine boonies (as only in the boonies, on an isolated tract of land, can anybody get away with owning that many barking dogs).
The sheer logistics of transporting the then-relatively meager operation of twenty-five dogs cross country is astounding, involving eleven humans, three RVs, food and water for an army, and portable fencing by the bale. The massive amount of planning and materiel puts you in mind of the invasion of Normandy, the difference being the Allies had General Eisenhower. Deb & Dave’s dog caravan is headed up by Rosenfeld, a worrier of Woody Allen proportions, who also has Woody’s gift of making it all endearing and funny (and scary.)
. . . Well, we all have our own opinion about who is the best mystery writer living or dead and, for my two-cents, I have to plump for Lawrence Block. When you consider the perfectly crafted New York noir of Matthew Scudder (recovering alcoholic), his hilarious romps with Bernie Rhodenbarr (burglar by night, bookseller by day), and the Nick and Nora wit of the Keller and Dot “hit” sagas (assassin and lady police dispatcher, respectively), well, who else has ever produced so eclectically satisfying a canon? Now Block’s talents are on display in a collection of short stories, Catch & Release (new release).
A pause here to ask ourselves why most of us resist short stories. Stephen King posed this very question in the introduction to his cinder-block-sized anthology Nightmares And Dreamscapes (2002). King, in his introduction, urges us to embrace short stories, extolling their brevity in an age where we’re all so ADD-riddled that they might as well pump Ritalin into our drinking water (my idea, not King’s.) So why not bite-sized lit literary treats?
Here’s my theory about why short stories make us groan: With any narrative of any length, we’re required to gear up mentally, as if for an exam. We scope out new territory, steep ourselves in unknown atmospheres, and make the acquaintance of characters of varying degrees of trustfulness and likeability. As reading goes, it’s heavy lifting. Once we’ve done the intake, we can relax and enjoy, as we do for a good novel or for a TV series we’ve come to love. If it’s short, we too are brought up short; we’re forced to summon fresh reserves for the next one. And the next. And the next.
In Block’s collection, you may scratch your head and wonder why, say, you’re being treated to an over-wrought account of a poker game. But this is the time to fasten your seat-belt, as Block will deliver a teeth-grinding ride. Some of the tales stray towards the dark side, way dark, dark as in sociopathic-noir is the new black. Just so you’re warned.
Finally, in the Worth Mentioning column, if you’ve ever wondered what monastic life is really like (and it’s not your grandmother’s convent, or Ophelia’s either), pick up Jane Christmas’s new book And Then There Were Nuns (new release.) This memoir chronicles the author’s monastery-hopping in the UK (and did I mention she was at the same time engaged to a nice English chap?) Also, I’ve just been gifted with the first book by Oak Bluffs’s Amy Reece (she teaches at the Charter School), a work of young adult fiction entitled Regarding Jeffrey. The story revolves around plucky but lonely Linda in a new schoolyard in the 1960s. As the dust-jacket blurb describes it: “Her class is practicing nuclear bomb drills, her mother is listening to the Beatles and has stopped wearing a bra, and her brother is about to be drafted.” I’m in!
Due to current weather conditions, the Oak Bluffs Public Library will open at 11 am today, Wednesday, February 5th. Storytime is cancelled.
The Oak Bluffs Public Library is publishing a new quarterly newsletter. Copies of the first issue of Books & Beyond are available at the library’s checkout desk or “be green” and view it online at January 2009 Newsletter.
Learn about the latest library programs, resources, services, staff recommendations and much more by reading our new publication.
Read the first issue of Books & Beyond today!
The Oak Bluffs Public Library and the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative (MVDC) announce a $1,000 donation from the MVDC to the Library for the purchase of materials in the field of Non-Profit Organizational Management and Finance. The donation is part of the MVDC’s ongoing effort to support Vineyard non-profits, many of which can’t afford these important resources on their own.
The Library is acquiring subscriptions to the Foundation Directory Online – Plus database, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Nonprofit Quarterly; as well as books on a broad range of topics including Grant Writing, Fundraising, Budgeting, Capital Campaigns and Management for Non-Profit Organizations. The Foundation Directory Online – Plus database gives Vineyard non-profits access to information on 10,000 Foundations and 500,000 grants. A complete list of these materials follows and is also available on the MVDC website http://mvdonors.org/obbooks, as well as in print at the Oak Bluffs Public Library. Materials are now being received and processed by the library and they will be made available on the library’s shelves and through its online catalog (at www.oakbluffslibrary.org ) as they arrive.
Come to the library at any time to enjoy a stimulating game of chess with a friend.
We are also encouraging people to come to the library on Thursday evenings from 6pm-8pm, with their personal chess boards, to meet others who enjoy playing the game!
The Oak Bluffs Public Library has purchased a complete set of the second edition Oxford English Dictionary. You can find this unique and informative dictionary on the shelves in the Reference area of the library.