2016 READING CHALLENGE: READ A BOOK UNDER 100 PAGES

Continuing with the Field Library’s Read Harder 2016 Challenge, I took the next easiest choice on the list and read a book under 100 pages.

Actually, that’s harder than you would think, especially if you’re looking at adult books and not children’s books.  There are many relatively short books, but finding one under 100 pages is a bit of a challenge.

little book of etiquette cover

The book I chose was The Little Book of Etiquette, by Rufus Cavendish, which is on the new nonfiction shelf (when it’s not checked out by someone else doing the challenge), and in many ways it’s the perfect quick read.  It’s dryly humorous but still accurate (describing the rules for things like writing thank you notes and other letters, for giving or attending a formal dinner party, for how to dress in response to different occasions), with modern details involving cell phones and emails, interspersed with information about how the rules used to be (no matter how bizarre and useless you think the rules for meeting people via dating websites are, trust me, the rules of bygone days when you had to leave calling cards before you could even visit a person you wanted to become friends with, let alone the secret ways a single lady could communicate with a gentleman, are so much more complicated and ridiculous).  If you don’t have time to read through a more complicated book of etiquette, or you’re doing the challenge with us, I recommend The Little Book of Etiquette as a splendid and entertaining way to launch into the topic and cross off a category on the list.

 

Enjoy!

 

IF YOU COULD CHANGE THE PAST: TIME TRAVEL BOOKS AT THE LIBRARY

If you had the ability to travel through time, what would you do?

I personally am a sucker for a well-told time travel story, and I don’t think I’m alone in that, judging by the number of time travel books that come out every year (not to mention the ongoing popularity of the Doctor Who television series).  I’ve already written about my love of the Felix Palma series, The Map of Time, The Map of Space, The Map of Chaos, in which time travel is a critical (and brilliantly handled) element, but there are other terrific time travel books available at or through the Field Library to blow your mind.

THE TIME MACHINE COVER

Let’s start with the classic: H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  This is another of those books whose story everybody knows because of the famous movie and all the other cultural references (including a clever reference in an episode of The Big Bang Theory), but it’s more than just a science fiction exploration of a fascinating concept; it’s also H.G. Wells’ critique of Victorian society and can be read both as an adventure story and as a satire.  Not to mention that reading this book will set you up well for The Map of Time, whose plot turns on Wells’ concept of the time machine.

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE COVER

A bestseller from a few years ago, which I recommend to anyone looking for a good read, is Audrey Niffinegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, though I have to add (as I do to everyone I recommend this book to) that it is VERY confusing at the beginning and you have to give yourself fifty pages or so before you get the rhythm of the book and are able to keep track of the characters and the different times in which the book is set. But once you get the hang of it, the interlocking stories of Henry, a librarian who involuntarily travels through time, and Claire, his wife, are both fascinating and deeply moving (have tissues on hand for the end of the book), and, as is always the case when a time travel book is done right, you have the pleasure of seeing how everything comes together and connects.

time and again cover

An intriguing mechanism of time travel is used in Jack Finney’s Time and Again: no machine but the human mind’s ability to erase the present and step out into the past.  This is both a time travel novel and a historical novel, bringing our protagonist, Si Morley, from twentieth century New York back to 1880’s New York, where he tries to solve a mystery and discovers where and when he belongs, and how to stay there.  Paradoxes included at no extra charge!

REPLAY COVER

For a different twist on the question of time travel, there’s always Replay by Ken Grimwood, which turns on the intriguing question of what you would do differently if you had it all to do over again, knowing what you know now.  The main character, Jeff Winston, dies of a heart attack at age 43 at the very beginning of the book — and then wakes up as himself, 18 years old, in his college dorm room, knowing everything that will happen in the next 25 years.  With a chance to change everything, Jeff (along with a fellow repeater, Pamela) takes many different avenues to relive his life and make things different, for him and for the world, and his efforts succeed and fail in unexpected ways, making for a fascinating book all around.

TIME AND TIME AGAIN COVER

If you had the ability to travel through time and change one thing, which one thing would you change?  For Hugh Stanton, the protagonist of Ben Elton’s new book, Time and Time Again, the one thing that will change everything, hopefully for the better, is preventing World War I.  He believes the entire history of the twentieth century will be different if World War I never happened, and since the war began with a single shot (that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand), he’s going to try to prevent it with a single shot, even if that means that everything he knew and loved in his life will no longer exist, or will no longer exist the way he remembers it.  

Once you’ve been bitten by the time travel bug, rest assured there are plenty of ways you can satisfy the craving — just come in and ask!

READ A BOOK ALOUD: THE 2016 READING CHALLENGE BEGINS!

The 2016 Read Harder Challenge begins as soon as you sign up at the Circulation Desk, and, in an effort to encourage people to join in and have fun with us, I’ll be posting when I cross off an item on the list (for those of you who have forgotten, or who didn’t see the earlier post, it’s here.

The first item I’ve checked off is “Read a book out loud to someone else,” and the book I read was A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, which I read to my (26 year old) daughter.  This is a terrific read-aloud; Dickens was writing in an era when people often read books out loud (no television, no internet), and he knew what he was doing. Even if you’re familiar with the story (and who isn’t, after all the movies, live action and animated, over the years, not to mention the takeoffs on the basic plot), the book contains a lot more than any of the movies, and the language is so rich and full of life it’s a pleasure to experience it.  As a read-aloud, A Christmas Carol gives you a real workout: not only are there all sorts of different characters (to whom you can give different voices, and you probably will), but the emotional range of the book is huge, from bitterness and meanness through joy, sorrow, fear and just about any other emotion you can imagine.  I have to confess, it’s been a tradition in our family to read this book aloud for years, so choosing this as a check-off almost felt like cheating (it’s not cheating, but it almost felt that way), since this was something I was going to do in any event.

You don’t have to take on a book as long and as emotional as A Christmas Carol for your read-aloud, and it might be a good idea to start with something shorter and lighter.  The New York Public Library has an excellent list of possible reads in the different categories, and you’ll notice the selections in the read aloud area are children’s books and poetry, but don’t feel limited by their selections, either.  Humor is always great to read aloud (try Dave Barry or Woody Allen), and people usually enjoy hearing humor, too (a consideration when you’re reading aloud to someone else, though if that someone is a dog or cat or even a child, you can probably get away with reading just about anything).

One down, twenty-three to go!  Join the fun!

Added on January 4, 2016:  More information about the charms and delights of reading aloud can be found here.

 

 

THE GHOST MAP: A MEDICAL MYSTERY, A HISTORICAL VIEW AND THE NEXT READ FOR THE BOOK CLUB

If you want to read something that will take you completely out of the present world and its problems, let me recommend The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, which happens to be the book the Field Notes Book Group will be reading on January 16 from 11 to 12:30 at the library.the ghost map cover

The Ghost Map is about cholera, a disease that ravaged the Victorian world and, in some of its more deadly outbreaks, killed dozens of people in a single day, wiping out whole buildings’ worth of inhabitants in weeks. Victorian medicine was hardly worthy of the name, and it was terrifying to face a disease that seemed to spread through the very air and to pick and choose who would live and who would die.  That it was an excruciatingly painful disease, even if sufferers didn’t last long, made the matter worse.

But this is more than just a book about a horrifying disease that, while not usually found in the industrialized western nations, still haunts other parts of the world (Haiti, since the earthquake of 2010, continues to suffer from a cholera outbreak).  It’s also a medical detective story, a study in how one brilliant scientist, Jon Snow, managed to buck the prevailing scientific wisdom and discover how cholera spread, and how to prevent its spread.  

Well-written with a wealth of details, The Ghost Map brings history to life and raises questions of how so many intelligent people could be so wrong about something that now seems so obvious.  As a historical read, as a scientific study and as an absorbing look at human progress and the interrelationships between industrialization, disease and evolution, it is a fascinating read, and I look forward to the discussions it will inspire in our book group on January 16.

Oh, and by the way, for anyone who’s joining our Read Deeper, Read Wider, Read Harder 2016 challenge, this book would definitely qualify as a book about science, one of the categories in the challenge.  

 

READ DEEPER, READ WIDER, READ HARDER 2016

Are you having trouble finding new and interesting books to read?  Are you the kind of reader who pays attention to a couple of authors and rushes to the library (or bookstore, if you’re that type) when one of those authors has a new book out but doesn’t know what to do in between the new books by those authors?  Do you sometimes have the vague feeling that there’s a whole world of books and knowledge at the library that’s just outside the limits of your sight but you don’t even know where to start?  Would you like to stretch your reading boundaries and find new things to read?

Boy, do we have an offer for you! And just at the time when everybody’s thinking about the new year and making resolutions to better themselves, too!

Book Riot every year offers a challenge for readers.  It’s called the Read Harder Challenge, and this year the Field Library is going to join in the fun and sponsor the challenge for all adults (and teenagers) who want to expand their reading horizons and have a great time in the process.

The rules of the challenge are here:

http://bookriot.com/2015/12/15/2016-book-riot-read-harder-challenge/.

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist-1

All you have to do is read books that fit these categories, and then you get to check off the category.  If you complete all the books, we’ll give you a certificate, and you’ll be invited to a party at a local restaurant to celebrate your wonderful reading (and even if you just get 80% of the categories checked off, you’ll still get an invitation to the party!).  There may also be stickers and prizes for reading certain of the books or reaching certain levels of participation — stay tuned for details.

Of course, we’re all about self-improvement and naturally nobody would enter a challenge like this in a competitive spirit BUT we are going to keep track of how the teens do and how the adults do, and if it turns out that more adults succeed at the challenge than teenagers, we the adults will get a certain amount of bragging rights.  This may not motivate everybody, but some of us (and here I’m including myself in the group) find a little competition makes things more interesting.

How do you get started?  Come to the Circulation Desk and sign up!  We’ll set up a sign up sheet for you, and whenever you read a book that covers one of the categories (horror book, nonfiction book about science, a book published in the decade when you were born, etc.), you come by and tell us and we add it to your sheet.  We’ll have information available to help you find books in some of the more unusual categories, and we’ll cheer you on as you go.  And who knows?  Maybe in 2016 you’ll find some new authors you love, some new genres that fascinate you, or just a wider sense of the world available to you in the library.

I’m in!  Join me!

 

SHAKESPEARE REVISITED: BEATRICE AND BENEDICK, AND LICENCE TO QUILL

Sometimes an author can take a new look at something we know and love and bring a whole new perspective to the characters and plot, or fill in the back story of a more famous story, and not only do you get to see the original work in a new and brilliant light, but the new work itself can be fun to read on its own.  There’s practically a cottage industry reworking and filling in the background of the Sherlock Holmes canon (most recent example of that is Mycroft Holmes, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but there are also some excellent books by Anthony Horowitz), and Jane Austen’s work has attracted a lot of this kind of fiction as well (even P.D. James, the late great mystery writer, tried her hand at a post Pride and Prejudice world in Death Comes to Pemberly).  This month, it’s Shakespeare’s turn, and in some ways this is more fitting than it would be for other authors, because so many of Shakespeare’s greatest works were derived from previous works by others.

beatrice and benedick cover

Anyone who’s seen a version of Much Ado About Nothing, whether it’s the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s recent production, the older movie starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, or the more recent movie directed by Joss Whedon, will remember the witty pair of battling enemies-turned-lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, whose courtship runs through the play.  However, it’s clear from the play that these two have a history which is only hinted at, a history in which they were much closer than they are at the start of Much Ado About Nothing.  Those of us who have wondered what happened the first time around can now enjoy an entertaining imagining of the characters’ past, in the aptly named Beatrice and Benedick, by Marina Fiorato.  Placing the characters in the real history of Elizabethan society, Benedick finds himself on the ill-fated Spanish Armada in the service of a Spanish prince, and Beatrice is engaged to a man she doesn’t want to marry, and each must fight against his or her fate.  Their break up is due (of course) to a misunderstanding, and we get to see the characters a little younger and not quite so cynical, with all the knowledge of what lies ahead for both of them.  If you’re a fan of Much Ado About Nothing (and it is a fun play with wonderful snark centuries before the term was invented), or even if you’re just curious about the world in which Shakespeare lived and wrote, give Beatrice and Benedick a try.

license to quill cover

Or, if you’re more adventurous, why not take a look at Will Shakespeare himself?  So little is known about his private life that it’s easy (and fun) to imagine what might have been going on around his writing of and performing in those famous plays.  Some years ago, the movie Shakespeare in Love swept the Academy Awards with just such an imagining.  Now, in a slightly different key, we have the new book, License to Quill, by Jacopo Della Quercia, which starts with the premise that Shakespeare was acting as a spy for the Crown (so the James Bond reference in the title is entirely intentional) during the heady days of the Gunpowder Plot and the post-Reformation cold war.  The concept isn’t that far fetched, considering that Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, was working as a spy as well as a playwright, and in this book, Marlowe is one of Shakespeare’s fellow spies.  If you enjoy intrigue and plots and counter plots, and if you’re interested in the possible origins of Macbeth, this is a book to enjoy.

WORLDS OF WONDER: NEW SCIENCE FICTION AT THE FIELD

Interested in trying out new worlds, new views of how our world works?  Check out our new science fiction books at the Field and give yourself the treat of expanding your horizons.

the mechanical cover        the rising cover

Let’s start with robots and a world in which they’re powered by alchemy and acting as servants to the powers that run the world. Sounds like classic science fiction, right?  And of course you can imagine what happens next, especially when I mention that the books are being narrated by one of the robots.  OF COURSE there will be a rebellion, but what kind of rebellion it is, and how it goes and what new problems arise when the robots take matters into their own (mechanical) hands: that’s what makes a series interesting.  The series in question is called The Alchemy Wars, by Ian Tregellis.  The first volume, which came out in March of this year, is called The Mechanical, and presents a world in which the Netherlands became a superpower in the 17th century by virtue of the invention of mechanical men, called Clakkers, an army of which destroyed or defeated the other armies of the time, with the exception of the French, who fight for the equality of all men, living and mechanical.  Jax, a Clakker, was designed to obey his masters but still feels the urge for freedom and takes action that shakes the foundations of the carefully built world around him.  The newest book, The Rising, picks up where the first book left off, with Jax reborn and facing the dangers of freedom, the former head of the French spy guild captured by the Clockmakers’ Guild, her mortal enemies, and the leader of the Free French in North America prepares to defend his country against the Dutch hegemony and its armies of clockwork soldiers.  If you like steampunk, alternative history and lots of action, this series is for you!

the prison in antares cover

The Prison in Antares, by the excellent writer Mike Resnick (winner of five Hugo awards), takes us to a different future, where a transgalactic coalition has achieved dominance due to a terrible weapon, the Q bomb.  The Democracies have finally come up with a defense against the bomb, though most of the people involved in creating that defense were killed in the process.  The one survivor, Edgar Nmumba, has been kidnapped by the Coalition, and it’s up to a group of Dead Enders to try to rescue him from the most closely guarded prison in the Coalition.  Action and adventure in the best classic science fiction tradition await!

 

TRIPS THROUGH TIME AT THE FIELD

There’s nothing like a well-written historical novel to take you out of the present world and give you a new perspective on life in the 21st century, and we have a number of new and fascinating historical novels for you to check out at the Field Library.

coal river cover

Let’s start with the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 19th century, in the riveting book, Coal River, by Ellen Marie Wiseman.  The main character is Emma Malloy, born in the town of Coal River, Pennsylvania, who left the town hoping never to have to return.  Orphaned and penniless at 19, she returns and finds work in the company store, an abusive arm of the coal company, and there she starts becoming aware of the breaker boys, young children who toil endlessly in the mines for pittances, and the poverty of their families.  Determined to make a difference, she comes into conflict with the mine owners and with the police of the town, but she finds unexpected allies in her fight for justice for the mineworkers, and takes on a corrupt system for the good of her people.  

medicis daughter

Go farther back to France in the 16th century with Medici’s Daughter, by Sophie Perinot, and dive into the intrigue and double-crossing of France just after devastating religious wars.  Margot, the protagonist, is the daughter of Queen Catherine de Medicis, known throughout Europe as Madame La Serpente, and Queen Catherine has plans for her daughter, which may or may not coincide with Margot’s own plans for her life and her future, however much Margot wants to be an obedient daughter and to help her family. Nothing in the French Court is as it seems and no one, not Margot’s mother or her brothers or the man she’s engaged to marry, can be trusted very far.  When Margot’s intended wedding turns into the horrors of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, she is forced to choose between her family and her conscience, in a thrilling example of the best kind of historical fiction.

the relic master cover.jpg

But not all historical fiction has to be dark and depressing.  Take Christopher Buckley’s new book, The Relic Master, for a counter-example. Set in the 16th century, it follows the adventures of one Dismas, a relic hunter, whose job is to procure “authentic” religious relics for nobles who can afford his services, and sometimes, with the help of his friend Albrecht Durer, to create relics that appear to be authentic.  When the two of them create the Shroud of Turin and get caught faking it, they end up in the custody of some loutish mercenaries who are setting out to steal the Shroud of Chambery with their help.  Of course, it’s much more complicated than that and along the way they run into quite a collection of odd and venal people, all with their own interests and designs on the shroud and on our characters.  Fun and informative at the same time, The Relic Master is an excellent diversion.

2015 GOODREADS BEST FICTION — AT THE LIBRARY

Every year the readers on Goodreads.com vote for the best books published in the preceding year, and every year in December, they announce the readers’ choices.  The complete list can be found at https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2015, and a number of the Readers’ Choice Best Books of 2015 can be found right here at the Field Library.

GO SET A WATCHMAN cover

The number one book in fiction, to nobody’s surprise, is Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.  This book, a sequel to the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird, was THE book everybody was talking about this summer: a return to the characters we loved in Mockingbird, facing the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, as Scout comes to terms with the changes in her father, Atticus.

girl on the train cover

The top mystery/thriller book, again, isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s been looking at the best-seller list or waiting to get their hands on a copy.  It’s The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, which will soon be made into a movie.  The plot, for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, turns on the observations of a somewhat unreliable woman who’s been taking the same commuter train for months and who’s made up histories of all the people she sees living their lives as she rides past.  When one of the people she’s been watching disappears, was it murder? Was she imagining things?  A twisty ride that’s kept people turning pages all year.

the nightingale cover

The Goodreads readers voted overwhelmingly for The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah as the best historical novel of the year (by a better than two to one margin over the second best historical novel).  The book, extensively researched and exquisitely written, centers on the lives of two sisters living in Paris under the Nazi occupation in World War II.  One sister is forced to share her home with the enemy, and she and her child are under constant watch.  The other joins the French Resistance after being betrayed by a partisan she loved, and she plunges into the dangers of undercover action.  A different look at the war, not from the perspective of soldiers doing the fighting, but of the women left behind to face their own horrors of war.

trigger warnings cover

We also have on our shelves the winner of the Goodreads best fantasy of the year, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman called Trigger Warnings.  Anyone who has read Neil Gaiman’s work knows what to expect from his work: beautiful writing, disturbing plots with characters touching on universal archetypes, and a sly sense of humor underpinning it all.  Here you’ll find short stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes, by social media, by his own wonderful book The Ocean at the End of the Lane and by his award-winning American Gods.

saint odd cover

The most popular horror book in the Goodreads world is the final book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz, Saint Odd.  After two years of adventures and encounters with the dead and with evil, Odd Thomas is finally coming home to save the people he loves, and maybe the whole world, from a terrifying evil which it is his destiny to confront and, hopefully, to defeat.  Wiser and stronger in his powers than he was when he first started, with friends and allies he’s made along the way on his journey, Odd Thomas is ready to bring the saga to an end, and maybe, he desperately hopes, to reunite with his lost love.  Not the book to start with, but if you’ve been reading Koontz’ Odd Thomas books over the years, this is the capstone and the triumph of the series.