2016-09-06 15:28:36 helen
staff picks fall

Icelandic Literature

In Iceland, one out of ten people will publish a book. An astonishing 93% of the population read a book every year (roughly 75% of Americans will.) They have the most bookstores per person, and for its size imports and translate more literature than any other nation. Its mark on literature is indelible.

The Sagas of the Icelanders by various authors – The Sagas tell the stories of the early Icelanders that came from across the Norse world, from Norway to Sweden to Ireland. The sagas are generally realistic, with some fantastical embellishment, and tell of feuds, romances, and voyages into unknown lands. Eiríks Saga Rauða tells the story of the first European discovery and settlement in North America. The word “Saga” today still is used to describe epic literature.

Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson – The most complete accounting of European pre-Christian religion comes from these medieval writings from Icelandic poet, politician, and historian Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda tells us of Thor, Odin, and Freyja, and Snorri’s other writings were also instrumental in later centuries for establishing Norwegian and later Icelandic national identity as they struggled for independence from Denmark.

Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Born Halldór Guðjónsson) – Halldór won a Noble Prize for literature in 1955, and picking just one of his works is a tall task. Independent People is a tale of the desperate poverty many Icelanders lived in during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The book tells the tale of a sheep farmer, destitute and struggling, but still proud and resilient.

Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason – Part of the popular Detective Erlendur series, Arnaldur is perhaps the most well-known contemporary Icelandic author today outside of Iceland. He writes compelling crime fiction, mostly taking settings from the Icelandic landscape. His novels often examine issues of racism, sexism, environmental issues and the underworld of Icelandic society.

Lewis Parsons

Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-08-01 05:39:59 helen
staff picks summer

Fiction Addiction

I can vividly remember the quiet tears after my seventh birthday party. It was a wonderful party with my favorite spice cake with brown butter frosting and lots of good toys. But no one gave me a book. And not having a new adventure in reading waiting for me on my bookshelf brought on unexpected seven- year- old melancholy. I feel the same way whenever I leave for a plane or crawl into bed and don’t have a book in hand. I love the assurance that a good book is waiting for me. Here are a few newer titles that have recently helped feed my fiction addition.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – This is the story of a grumpy curmudgeon. He likes routine and order. He doesn’t smile and give compliments but he’s an honest man and a man with integrity. As the story opens Ove is fifty-nine years old, forcefully retired, bitter, alone and unsure how to fill his days. But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. One November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door. Thus begins an unexpected friendship and a transformation that shakes Ove and his entire neighborhood to its foundations. Backman’s style succeeds in being life-affirming yet not sentimental. A wonderful read.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – ‘A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Those who have read and loved Atkinson’s Life after Life will recognize Teddy, the protagonist of her new novel. Teddy is Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother who flew for the RAF. During the perils of his bombing career, he never expected to have a future. Living into that future turned out to be his biggest challenge. In Life after Life the author plays with time and creates several possible narratives for Ursula, the book’s protagonist. A God in Ruins is more straightforward but the chapters still move back and forth in time. This is not a chronological narrative of Teddy’s life but rather a collection of memories. Like all lives, Teddy’s has had its ups and downs. People’s lives are often defined by tragedy. Many of those people strive to make the best of their lives despite tragedy. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully and explores the familiar themes of the fragility of life, the certainty of death and the redemptive power of love in her singularly elegant, thoughtful and somewhat quirky way.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – Louise Erdrich is a literary icon. She won the National Book Award with The Round House and her newest book is just as beautiful as her previous award-winners. Set in a Native American reservation in North Dakota, this story unfolds when a man accidentally shoots his neighbor’s young son and gives his own son, LaRose, to the grieving family. Pushed forward by the deep and complex emotions that surround grief and inheritance, this novel will take you on a phenomenal ride.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Stephanie Danler’s first novel is one of the breakout bestseller surprises of the year. Tess is a 22-year-old waitress in a Union Square restaurant. She’s new to the Big Apple and has a huge, infection appetite for life. She soon finds herself attached to two servers: Jake, a quiet, handsome bartender, and Simone, an older woman who takes her under her wing. As the year unfolds, Tess learns that finding yourself often involves learning some hard lessons.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – The legendary star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialite Babe Paley lies at the core of this work of historical fiction. Babe’s husband was CBS titan Bill Paley and Capote soon became the couple’s favorite weekend guest at their home in the Hamptons. Capote could always be counted on for both gossip and a sympathetic ear. Over their twenty year friendship, Capote became Babe’s most trusted friend as well as analyst. Their friendship ended in a tragic betrayal inaugurated by a Vanity Fair article Capote published. All of these facts are well-documented in NYC’s social history. Benjamin explores the inner workings the friendship between Capote and Babe, her loveless marriage to Paley, and a brief time in New York City when a small caderie of socialites — “the swans of Fifth Avenue” – reigned over the social scene.


Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-07-01 05:20:05 helen
staff picks summer

Mind-Bending Reading

In light of the summer reading theme of “Exercise Your Mind”, I am presenting some novels that look at the world from odd angles, portray unusual viewpoints, and explore thought-provoking stories.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – What happens when the underpinnings of how life works starts to unravel? In The Age of Miracles Earth’s rotation is slowing and with it twelve-year-old Julia’s world starts to distort. The world’s governments decide to keep society on a twenty-four hour “clock-time” schedule, but some cannot or will not change, and the “real-time” people become more isolated and eventually shunned. Others, including Julia’s mother, have physical side effects. This novel looks at how fragile our civilization is, through the eyes of a young girl coming of age.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – This dystopian novel with a feminist viewpoint is a haunting, perverse portrait of male domination of women. In the near future, a war-torn United States is now the land of Gilead, where the strict theocratic government rules and nuclear waste is rendering large swaths of the population sterile. Women are reduced to three limited roles: wives of commanders, considered moral and who have limited power; “Martha”s who do the domestic work; and handmaidens, still fertile women forced to breed for the ruling class or be banished to hard labor. Offred (“of Fred”, the commander to whom she “belongs”) tells of her life as a handmaiden, and shares her memories of being a wife and a mother before the war. Written in 1985, the theme is never more relevant than in today’s world of religious extremism.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – What if you are privy to the intimate emotional life of someone without them knowing? That is the gift and the burden that faces Rose Edelstein. Biting into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake for her ninth birthday she discovers she has a magical insight to her mother’s hidden despair. Soon she has awareness of the secret emotional existence of her father and brother. Eating develops into an exercise in trying to avoid emotional mine fields, and her life becomes a world of seeing what she doesn’t want to know or knows how to deal with. This is a novel that stays with you long after you have read the final chapter.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – Time travel is notoriously difficult to write about – there are logistical holes to cover and difficulty in maintaining emotional investment in the story. Niffenegger does a fairly adept job at both. Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder, causing him to travel to different time periods of his life without warning. His future wife Clare first meets him when she is six and he is thirty-six; Henry meets Clare for the first time when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight. Weaving around the paradoxes and disconnects is a story of love and faith in each other.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Space travel is always fertile ground for enlarging the scope of the imagination. When a novel introduces an alien planet and mixes it with real-life science, it’s a formula for a mind expanding adventure. Mark Watney, left for dead on the Martian surface, has to find a way to survive until he can be rescued. The problem? Well, you can start with the fact that he has no way to communicate to Earth that he is still alive. Then he has to find a way to feed himself for the years it might take for him to be rescued. Clever, resourceful, and really humorous, Mark’s diary entries show the true nature of human existence in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Helen Freeman

Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

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2016-06-01 05:00:06 helen
staff picks summer

This year’s summer reading theme for adults is “Exercise Your Mind”. Since the overall summer reading theme is exercise and wellness, I combined exercising your body and exercising your brain.

How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald – This book explains the latest theory of how the brain regulates endurance performance, which is called the Psycho Biological model. It describes how conscious self-regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behavior can have a dramatic influence on endurance performance. In other words, the mind and body are distinctly connected. How Bad Do You Want It? reveals new psychobiological findings

* Mental toughness determines how close you can get to your physical limit.
* Bracing yourself for a tough race or workout can boost performance by 15% or more.
* Champions have learned how to give more of what they have.
* An important way to improve performance is by altering how you perceive effort.
* Choking under pressure is a form of self-consciousness.
* Your attitude in daily life is the same one you bring to sports.
* There’s no such thing as going as fast as you can―only going faster than before.
* The fastest racecourse is the one with the loudest spectators.
* Faith in your training is as important as the training itself.

The greatest athletic performances spring from the mind, not the body. Elite athletes have known this for decades and now science is learning why it’s true.

Trivia Quiz: The Best Family Quiz book Ever! – Trivia competitions are a fun way to exercise your mind and help keep it sharp! This book has over 4000 trivia questions. The questions cover a wide range of subjects to test the general knowledge of the most seasoned quiz fans. There are over 4,000 quiz questions on a wide variety of subjects that will appeal to all quiz fans. The book also includes an introductory section on how to run a quiz night. It has many helpful tips and ideas.

How To Think Like Einstein by Scott Thorpe – This book expands on critical thinking. It presents an appealing way to look at everyday challenges in the home and office. This book will help you challenge old ways of thinking and to improve your creative and problem solving skills. Innovator and author Scott Thorpe guides you step-by-step through the process of freeing yourself from your “rule ruts” so you can dream up amazing (and doable) solutions to the seemingly impossible. I like the steps showing how to identify and break the usual thinking patterns we automatically use, and how to come up with innovative and viable solutions by using a different point of view. With brand-new material for today’s readers, this new edition will reveal how you can solve problems in astonishing ways, including:

      • thinking like a bug
      • organizing a party
      • learning the game of poker
      • pretending you’re James Bond
      • acting like a millionaire
      • and more!

Brain power : improve your mind as you age by Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell – Virtually everyone fears mental deterioration as they age. But in the past thirty years neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is actually designed to improve throughout life. How can you encourage this improvement? Brain Power shares practical, state-of-the-evidence answers in this inspiring, fun-to-read plan for action. The authors have interviewed physicians, gerontologists, and neuroscientists; studied the habits of men and women who epitomize healthy aging; and applied what they describe in their own lives. The resulting guidance can help you activate unused brain areas, tone mental muscles, and enliven every faculty.

Brain fitness : anti-aging strategies for achieving super mind power by Robert M. Goldman – As a cofounder and director of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Dr. Robert Goldman has at his fingertips all of the latest scientific research on what each of us can do not only to retain all our mental powers as long as we live but also to actually strengthen and improve our mind-power as we age. Now he shares that information, in a layperson’s terms, with numerous self-tests, information charts, and quizzes, so that we all can improve memory, sharpen concentration, reduce stress, learn to sleep better, and–above all–ward off the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. Goldman discusses the many nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, and medications that have been proved to enhance mental fitness, providing specific doses and regimens. But beyond that, he also describes particular exercises and lifestyle techniques designed to sharpen mental acuity.


            Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

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2016-05-05 14:33:46 helen
staff picks spring


The Holocaust, a horrific and nightmarish period of world history has been a popular and powerful theme for novels over the years. While the realities of our past will always remain unchanged, the following stories are poignant and heartfelt narratives that detail hope, horror, love, and despair. They are brilliantly written and extraordinarily moving.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy — Pat Conroy, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, scarred by tragedy and betrayal. His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart. Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory. It is another masterpiece in Pat Conroy’s legendary list of beloved novels.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — A contemporary classic, this story is powerful and lasting. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay — In the summer of 1942, the French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them outside of Paris before shipping them off to Auschwitz. On the 60th anniversary of the roundups, an expatriate American journalist covering the atrocities discovers a personal connection—her apartment was formerly occupied by one such family. She resolves to find out what happened to Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, who was the only family member to survive. Poignant and powerful, this novel captivates the reader until the very end.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry — As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink — Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.


Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.

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