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I have managed to get some reading done in between watching episodes of a particular TV show I was hooked on… here are the books I’ve been looking at lately:

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hidden america

Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Ms. Laskas is a journalist and author – she’s written six other books, was a regular columnist at the Washington Post, a feature writer for GQ, and a contributing editor at Esquire. She’s been around for a while, but I’d never heard of her. She first came to my attention when a certain JM sent me a link to an article she’d written about Air Traffic Controllers, going ‘behind the scenes’ and writing about their world, their lives. It turns out, that essay was collected into this book. Hidden America is all about people who you don’t really think about, but whose jobs are an essential part of making our daily lives not just better, but basically liveable.

She spends time with American coal miners, blueberry pickers, oil drillers, long-haul truck drivers, garbage dump workers, and more. It’s a fascinating account of lives and industries you interact with, depend on, need… without knowing, without thinking about. Definitely worth checking out!

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inpersuasionnation

After reading a NY Times review about George Saunders, I decided to check out some of his works. In the article, he speaks lovingly of Raymond Carver, whose short stories I am a huge fan of. I got a copy of his In Persuasion Nation and read about half of it. He’s a good writer, and combines science fiction-ish ideas with human absurdity in interesting ways…  but much of it is disturbing. He likes to show people how messed up they are by picking and picking at an idea, and then digging his fingers into it.

The story I finally put the book down at was about a TV family – in this story, the characters know they are characters in a TV show, but that’s all they are – they are not actors, they ARE the characters – they disappear into a gray fog when they’re written out of the script. And this show’s ratings are bad, so their lives (and physical layout of the backyard) are changing to try and suit the pleasures of the audience. It’s a strange tale, and I think it’s meant to push your buttons, to make you uncomfortable and force you to take a good, harsh look at your own life. I appreciate that, but only in small chunks. I’ll return the book, and will probably pick it up in the future, or one of his others… maybe. He’s one to take a little bit at a time.

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otherkingdoms

Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson. I saw the movie, “I Am Legend,” really liked it and so read the book. It was… different from the movie. Enough so that I didn’t even compare the two – I was able to enjoy them both separately, equally. So when his latest novel, Other Kingdoms, came out in 2011, I was intrigued – I checked it out, but never got around to reading it. I saw it on the shelves the other day, checked it out again, and this time opened it up… I read the thing in one day. I was drawn into its world, I suspended disbelief (it’s about faeries. And a witch.). It’s a fairy tale for grownups. It’s really good, when you’re in the mood for that sort of thing. It’s told from the point of view of an old man telling his life story, a short time that he spent in WWI and then ended up in a village in England that was next to a woods that were filled with faeries. The introduction is from this made-up character, and there’s a bibliography that I think is made-up. I like that complete absorption into a different world. The Princess Bride, the  book, is like that. It jumps into this made-up world, adding layer upon layer, to really get you into the story. If you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, I’d definitely recommend this book. And if you like The Princess Bride, book or movie, this news story and related comments are for you.

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dreamlandA while back, I read Dreamland: adventures in the strange science of sleep, by David K. Randall. (wrote about it in a Tumblr post – was/am trying out that blogging site, too) Sleep for me is a huge thing – I never feel like I get enough of it. I feel like my daughter doesn’t get enough of it. And yet, I know it’s SOO important. This book gets into how and why it’s SOO important and but really how we know so little about what goes on while we’re sleeping. It’s a quick read, but highly informative and entertaining.

Ever had trouble sleeping? Wonder why it’s so important and what happens if you don’t get enough of it? What happens to people who commit crimes while sleepwalking? This book examines these questions and many others. It’s not a textbook on sleep disorders; it’s a personal adventure into the wide world of sleep science.  Highly recommended!

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This is definitely a mixed bag of books I’ve gone through… what have you been reading lately?

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I was looking back at the posts I’ve written over the past year, and came across one from almost exactly a year ago, written after Irene came through the area. THIS year brought Hurricane Sandy, and with her came much destruction to some areas.

For me, it meant being evacuated from the marshy area I live in (luckily, no house damage) and a loss of power for four days. In that time, I had a chance to test out my new iPhone 5 and a borrowed first-generation iPad. My i5 was really reliable in terms of connection and, ooh, the battery life! I was able to charge it in a short car drive, and then it’d last until the next day! That’s a far cry from my old HTC Evo. In between checking CL&P outage maps on my iPhone and playing with my daughter (no school for 5 days!!), I was also able to get some reading done… all on the iPad.

Just before the storm, I checked out a book from my library’s eBook download pageTimeline by Michael Crichton. I am a big Michael Crichton fan (Andromeda Strain is one of my all-time favorites). I charged the iPad up and kept it charged until Monday, when we lost power. From then until Thursday, the iPad retained enough of a charge for me to finish the entire book over the course of those powerless days.

Downloading ebooks and audiobooks to iPads and iPhones is really simple – browsing onscreen for books is a bit tricky, but if you know what you’re looking for and find it, checking out/downloading is a breeze.

I also recently read the whole of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie on my smartphone. The reward of downloading a book the moment I think of having it is huge – it’s a heady power we can enjoy at our fingertips!

I thought perhaps this long biography (625 pages!) would be too much for a phone. My plan was to start it on the phone, then find a print copy to do my ‘real reading.’ But …  the phone is so much lighter than the book.

I was able to turn out the lights, and read the book on my phone in bed, set for white text on a black background, and with little taps of my finger, turn the page as I read. It was so simple and so convenient, and actually really enjoyable.

Format aside, this book was SOO good. Catherine the Great was a really interesting person who led a remarkable life. How she came to power and how she led reads in this book like a well-researched, well-written soap opera.

Despite all the digital reading I’m doing lately, I still love my paper books, and just finished a 545 page historical novel about Marie Antoinette (Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund). It’s another long book (despite her short life), but it must be – it covers the time from when Marie Antoinette was preparing to marry Louis XVI, and goes right up to her unfortunate end. This book is engaging and seems as well-researched as a work of fiction can be.

The novel’s voice of Marie feels real when compared with the actual letters she wrote (the letters, to her mother, are a regular feature of the novel). It could easily have been a frivolous novel, to match the lightweight charm of the subject, but takes Marie and her concerns seriously. The time in which Marie lived was amazing. The world revolted, discovered, changed, all while Marie Antoinette was growing into a woman. This fascinating story is told through her eyes, with clarity and sympathy.

However you’re into getting your reading done – online or digital device or in print, go for it. The library has stepped up to give you more of what you want, when you want it.

And we librarians can help you with the downloading ebooks and audiobooks to your reading device – be it an Apple device, an Kindle, a Nook, or even your computer. We’ve created handouts with simple step-by-step directions for a variety of devices. They’re accessible online or at the library, and we’re happy to help too. You can call us with questions or if you’re stuck on any of the steps. If you don’t have a device of your own, we lend Kindles and Nooks that are preloaded with book titles. You can play around with it, read a book, see how you like the feel, etc. Enjoy!

Not too long ago, a patron requested a book she had to read for her book group – it had something to do with “mud.” That’s most of what she could remember…”mud” was in the title (maybe), and it may have won an award – it could be newish, and maybe had a female author, but she wasn’t sure.

…  …

I actually found the book she was looking for! Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

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Well, she was pretty sure that was the book. I was proud of myself for coming up with that, at any rate.

It fit all the criteria – published recently (2008), woman author, has “mud” in the title, and it was the winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction (2006), NAIBA Book of the Year – Fiction (2008), ALA Alex Award (2009). I had never heard of the Bellwether Prize, and so I started researching that.

It’s a prize that was started by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000. It’s given for “socially engaged fiction.” Now, I had heard of Barbara Kingsolver, and have thought her books sounded pretty interesting, I’ve just never been intrigued enough to actually read one. But maybe now I will.

Barbara Kingsolver, herself, seems like an interesting person. According to her website, she was named one the most “important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. Critical acclaim for her books includes multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among many others”. And she is known for her fiction as well as her non-fiction works – I’ve heard people rave about both.  I love the idea of her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.

It reminds me of some other books about city folk uprooting themselves and going on adventures in the country, on the farm. That seems to be a big thing these days, the transplants planting crops. But it’s a good thing – raising awareness about the food we eat can only help us and our environments.

Other city-to-farm stories:

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball
Read more about the author and her farm at http://www.kristinkimball.com.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels
by Ree Drummond
See more here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/

Righteous Porkchop : finding a life and good food beyond factory farms
by Nicolette Hahn Niman
More information at http://www.righteousporkchop.com/

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And if you just can’t wrap your head around the idea of being inspired to move to a farm, plant a vegetable garden, or raise your own chickens, then just buy one of these hen footstools and call it a day.

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Working on your novel?

 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Founded by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.

Beginning in 2012, the $25,000 prize will be awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner will also receive a publishing contract with Algonquin Books, which will be the participating publisher for at least the next two awards cycles. The first PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2012.

After reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt, I wanted to learn more about early American politics – my civic knowledge is sorely lacking. A book crossed my path that looked really good – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. It was written by Walter Isaacson, the same guy who wrote the recently published Steve Jobs biography. Benjamin Franklin is a BIG, intimidating book, but I thought I’d give it a shot and am sooo glad I did! I have a new-found admiration for the complex person that Benjamin Franklin was.

This very large, potentially very dry and boring book covered Franklin’s entire life, but did so in a way that was far from dry and boring. Franklin himself was not dry, was not boring – this bio paints him in such a way as to highlight his charm, his curiosity, and his intelligence, without glossing over his less endearing personality quirks.

When I read John Adams by David McCullough (a wonderfully well-written book about our cantankerous but endearingly earnest second president), Franklin’s exploits were touched on, and in this book, the reverse is true. Adams and Franklin had a sort of love-hate relationship, and it’s interesting to read about it from both sides.

Franklin led a full, full life – this book covers all of it. After reading this book, I’ve gotten to know better the man behind the myth. Franklin was full of nuance and depth. It seems that what we need now, in this world, is another Franklin. Someone who has a curious, practical mind, who embodies the American dream, who is a champion of the middle class and who believes in the community supporting each other. He was against “big government” but believed in fair taxes, and felt that wealthy people should give back to their communities – of their own volition, without any government regulation. He was a stickler for clear rules and regulations, but didn’t mind playing a part during a negotiation, bending the truth or leaving details out to benefit the newly forming America. He was shrewd, yet had a charming naiveté.

This book helped me understand more about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War, and brought Benjamin Franklin to life – it was interesting, and very much a page-turner (which is huge – I almost never finish non-fiction works; they just fade out at the end into ‘blah’. This was a far cry from blah).

It definitely has made me want to read more about the founding fathers, the beginning of our nation, the Civil War, our presidents…. There’s so much to know, and I’m looking forward to finding other well-written books to help learn it.