2015-11-02 15:51:27 helen
staff picks fall

The surreal world of Haruki Murakami

Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He is masterful in blending surreal, dreamlike events and characters into lives of mundane, often lonely young men and women. His writing makes you look at the world differently, and can make you look out for the spectacular in the everyday.

IQ84 – Murakami’s most grand work, it weighs in at over 1000 pages and was originally released as three volumes in Japan. IQ84 is a story about a cult, supernatural “little people”, an assassin, a math teacher / ghostwriter, a teenage girl / best-selling author and an eerie parallel universe with two moons. This book takes everything that makes Murakami great, and just gives the reader more of it.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami’s most current novel is also his most realistic, mature, and probably my favorite. It tells the story of 36 year old Tazaki (whose surname roughly means “to build”) in Tokyo who designs train stations and a group of friends (who all have colorful last names) that suddenly cut him off during college for reasons he can’t imagine. Like most Murakami characters he lives a solitary, simple life; deeply wounded by this until he is spurn into action, and he travels back to his hometown and around the world tying up loose ends with his old group along the way uncovering some shocking secrets and realizing that no matter what you do, sometimes people can grow apart. It is a magnificent coming of age tale that doesn’t hold your hand or answer all your questions.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche – A departure from his usual work, this book has Murakami writing nonfiction, exploring the circumstances around a deadly terrorist attack in Japan in which a cult released sarin gas in the subway at rush hour. Murakami interviewed people on all sides, cult members, victims, first responders and family members in an effort to go beyond what he viewed as sensationalist media coverage. Common themes of isolation and disconnectedness from society emerge from both the victims and the cult members. Underground is an interesting look at an important event in modern Japanese history, as well as a look into the Japanese mindset.

Kafka on the Shore – Arranged in the form of two seemingly unrelated plots that eventually find each other, Kafka on the shore is the story of a teenage runaway, a mentally handicapped man who can speak with cats, a transgender librarian, and a truck driver who was kicked out of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. Like most Murakami books it deals with the shadow of the legacy of World War 2 in Japan, the power of music, and lots of cats. The characters are an interesting departure from his usual young men.

Norwegian Wood – Titled after the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood is a tale of lost love against the backdrop of the social upheaval of 1960s Japan. The characters of the book deal with death, loss and accepting the consequences of their often poorly made decisions. This was the book that catapulted Murakami to celebrity status in Japan, and was a smashing success amongst adults and teenagers. The book was also adapted into a film released in 2010.

Lewis Parsons

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

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2015-09-30 22:23:49 helen
staff picks fall

You Must Remember This

I love movies, especially older movies. Whether it’s during a Saturday date night, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, feeling blue and looking to be cheered up or being restless and looking for that comfy time, a good movie is always welcome. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen it, I am ready to step into the world of film — with or without popcorn!

Here are some of my favorites:

Casablanca – The ultimate movie — it has everything: romance, adventure, and comic moments. No matter how many times you have seen it, there is always the intrigue of the letters of transit, whether Isla will throw over Victor for Rick, and will Captain Renault determine the wind blows towards or away from the Third Reich. The cinematography is terrific and so are many of the bit actors that give the movie its robust shine. But most of all, what makes the movie sublime is the great writing that has given us iconic quotes like:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”
“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”
“Round up the usual suspects.”
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
… and, of course
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

My Man Godfrey – One of the best screwball comedies of all time, My Man Godfrey stars William Powell as the disillusioned rich man mistaken for a tramp by ditzy party girl, Irene (Carole Lombard), during a society scavenger hunt. She takes him home, and he becomes the butler for the dysfunctional family. Irene falls for him, and all sorts of mayhem ensues. My favorite scene — when Godfrey catches Irene faking illness to get his attention. A fun romp of a film with plenty of gem performances!

The African Queen– Set at the beginning of World War I, the missionary spinster and the hard drinking riverboat captain find a cause and love while traveling down the difficult Ulanga River. Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) is forced to flee from the German troops by hitching a ride on the supply boat captained by the rough Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). After a fight that causes Rose to dump all of Charlie’s gin overboard, she convinces him to follow the river to the lake and use the African Queen to blow up the German warship patrolling the waters. Facing troubles like rapids and a German fort, Rose and Charlie grow to love and admire each other, despite of — and maybe because of — each other’s totally opposite personalities. Hepburn shines as the prim and proper missionary who slowly softens towards Charlie. Bogart brings realistic heart to his Oscar-winning performance.

Roman Holiday – This movie makes you feel lucky to be ordinary. Audrey Hepburn is Princess Ann, whose life is fully regimented. Drugged by her doctor after having an hysterical episode, she runs away and is taken in by American reporter, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). At first Joe doesn’t know who she is, but in short order, not only does he realize it, but also how to exploit her predicament into a lucrative expose. Princess Ann unknowingly exposes herself as she tries to enjoy her day of freedom — getting a haircut, enjoying an ice cream in the midday sun, seeing the sights with Joe as her guide. As the two spend time together they fall for each other. Inevitably reality intrudes, and the princess goes back to her royal life and Joe decides he cannot file his story. Hepburn give just the right balance of formality, naivete and delight while Peck is perfect as the jaded reporter charmed right out of his weary outlook.

Notorious – In Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of suspense, Ingrid Berman is Alicia Huberman, an American daughter of a man convicted of treason. She is recruited to infiltrate a German chemical cartel composed of some of her father’s old associates. Her handler, T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant), at first sees her as the drunken playgirl that she has become to hide her pain. Alicia changes under Devlin’s influence, and they fall in love. But the assignment calls for Alicia to seduce, then marry, Alex Sebastian, an old lover who is part of the cartel. Jealousy and mistrust taint Alicia and Devlin’s relationship. When Sebastian realizes he has been duped, Alicia is in danger. Hitchcock’s brilliant cinematography is fully on display with subtle visual clues and amazing camera angles that distorts the viewer’s perception and ratchets up the tension. Both Bergman and Grant skate the fine line between love and hate, desire and duty.

To Kill a Mockingbird – The quintessential story of moral courage in the face of racial prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird is an unforgettable trip into a world that is bygone, yet still with us today. Told from the viewpoint of six year-old Scout and her brother, ten year-old Jem, the world of the 1930’s southern life in Maycomb, Alabama is filled with the small ordinary things of childhood — make believe games, school fights, and the neighborhood bogeyman appropriately nicknamed Boo. But things turn dark when their attorney father Atticus (Gregory Peck) agrees to represent a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Scout sees her father being disrespected by some in the white community, while being revered by the blacks. My favorite scene is when Atticus, after being defeated, leaves the courtroom, the blacks in the balcony stand to show respect as he passes. The black reverend nudges Scout (who has been watching the trial in the balcony section) and says:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father’s passin’.”

Bringing a beloved novel to film is not easy, and adding to its luster and enjoyment is a total movie lover’s delight.

Helen Freeman

Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

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2015-09-01 05:37:43 helen
staff picks fall

School Days

Back in July, beach chairs gave way to backpacks on store shelves since many students start school in mid-August, bringing summer “learning loss” to a halt. Here is an array of books for students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens. Topics range from first-day jitters to trenchant analyses of, and prescriptions for, improving how students learn in this country.

Creative schools : the grassroots revolution that’s transforming education by Ken Robinson – This book is a revolutionary reappraisal of how to educate our children and young people by Ken Robinson, the New York Times bestselling author of The Element and Finding Your Element. Robinson is one of the world’s most influential voices in education, and his 2006 TED Talk on the subject is the most viewed in the organization’s history. Now, the internationally recognized leader on creativity and human potential focuses on one of the most critical issues of our time: how to transform the nation’s troubled educational system. At a time when standardized testing businesses are raking in huge profits, when many schools are struggling, and students and educators everywhere are suffering under the strain, Robinson points the way forward. He argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century. Filled with anecdotes, observations and recommendations from professionals on the front line of transformative education, case histories, and groundbreaking research—and written with Robinson’s trademark wit and engaging style, Creative Schools will inspire teachers, parents, and policy makers alike to rethink the real nature and purpose of education.

The smartest kids in the world : and how they got that way by Amanda Ripley – How do other countries create “smarter” kids? In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they’ve never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy. What is it like to be a child in the world’s new education superpowers? In a global quest to find answers for our own children, the author, a Time Magazine journalist, follows three American teenagers who chose to spend one school year living in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Kim, fifteen, raised $10,000 so she could move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, eighteen, exchanged a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, seventeen, left a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland. Here the author recounts how attitudes, parenting, and rigorous teaching have revolutionized these countries’ education results. Through these young informants, the author meets battle-scarred reformers, sleep-deprived zombie students, and a teacher who earns $4 million a year. Their stories, along with research into learning in other cultures, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these countries had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. Things had changed. Teaching had become more rigorous; parents had focused on things that mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education. This is a book about building resilience in a new world, as told by the young Americans who have the most at stake.

How we learn : the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens by Benedict Carey – In How we learn, award-winning science reporter Benedict Carey sifts through decades of education research and landmark studies to uncover the truth about how our brains absorb and retain information. What he discovers is that, from the moment we are born, we are all learning quickly, efficiently, and automatically; but in our zeal to systematize the process we have ignored valuable, naturally enjoyable learning tools like forgetting, sleeping, and daydreaming. Is a dedicated desk in a quiet room really the best way to study? Can altering your routine improve your recall? Are there times when distraction is good? Is repetition necessary? Carey’s search for answers to these questions yields a wealth of strategies that make learning more a part of our everyday lives – and less of a chore.

The teacher wars : a history of America’s most embattled profession by Dana Goldstein – In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been embattled for nearly two centuries. She uncovers the surprising roots of hot button issues, from teacher tenure to charter schools, and finds that recent popular ideas to improve schools — instituting merit pay, evaluating teachers by student test scores, ranking and firing veteran teachers, and recruiting “elite” graduates to teach — are all approaches that have been tried in the past without producing widespread change. The Teacher Wars upends the conversation about American education by bringing the lessons of history to bear on the dilemmas we confront today. By asking “How did we get here?” Dana Goldstein brilliantly illuminates the path forward.

That crumpled paper was due last week : helping disorganized and distracted boys master the skills they need for success in school and life by Ana Homayoun – Missed assignments. Lack of focus and enthusiasm. Falling grades. For too many boys and their frustrated parents, these are the facts of life. But they don’t have to be. Top academic couselor Ana Homayoun has helped turn even the most disorganized, scattered, and unfocused boys into successful young people who consistently meet their personal and academic challenges. She does this by getting back to basics- -starting with a simple fact: most boys needs to be taught how to get organized, how to study, and – most important – how to visualize, embrace and meet their own goals.


Beth Pocock is the Assistant Director.

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2015-08-04 19:03:02 helen
staff picks summer

Revisiting the Classics

As a student in my high school and college English classes, I often wondered why so much value was placed on classic literature. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to appreciate the timeless novels and beautifully written words as meaningful stories that can touch anyone at any time. Adding classics to my reading list has added a wonderful balance to contemporary literature. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Set in Puritan Boston, tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair with an unnamed man. Branded with a scarlet letter A and isolated in a strict conformist community intent on pushing her to the fringes of this wild and emerging country, Hester struggles to forge a new, dignified existence with her daughter. Then a mysterious individual arrives, intent on unmasking her companion. The Scarlet Letter‘s themes of hypocrisy, women’s role in society and the destructive power of guilt are as relevant as ever, making Hester Prynne a classic heroine with a great deal to say to the twenty-first-century reader.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – The novel is told through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier caught up in an unnamed Civil War battle who is motivated not by the unselfish heroism of conventional war stories, but by fear, cowardice, and finally, egotism. However, in his struggle to find reality amid the nightmarish chaos of war, the young soldier also discovers courage, humility, and perhaps, wisdom. Although Crane had never been in battle before writing The Red Badge of Courage, the book was widely praised by experienced soldiers for its uncanny re-creation of the sights, sounds, and sense of actual combat.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – In this story, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this a unique novel.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first, it seems as though it’s all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious & life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic & death. As ordinary standards of behavior collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket & homework & adventure stories—& another world is revealed beneath, primitive & terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was 1st published in 1954.


Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in the Reference Department.

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2015-07-01 05:32:08 helen
staff picks summer


Castles are beautiful and fascinating. The architecture, the feelings of walking through halls immersed in history, apprehension of spirits and excitement of romance all intertwined!

Here are some suggestions:

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater living in the Tower of London, who manages the Queen’s menagerie of exotic animals and lives among eccentric yet charming neighbors. A lot of the story takes place within the maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases. The characters are very much at home in this unusual setting which is fun to imagine.”>The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater living in the Tower of London, who manages the Queen’s menagerie of exotic animals and lives among eccentric yet charming neighbors. A lot of the story takes place within the maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases. The characters are very much at home in this unusual setting which is fun to imagine.

Murder at Hammond Castle

Murder at Hammond Castle – Rockport native Gunilla Caulfield’s second mystery takes place at Gloucester’s Hammond Castle. It mentions the “Moonie” cult and lots of Gloucester landmarks. Plus the protagonist is a librarian who solves the mystery – what more can you ask for?!

Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – In this novel, biographer Margaret Lea becomes immersed in the strange past of British novelist Vida Winter, who spent her childhood in a gothic castle-like estate. There are many twists, turns, and subplots, and maybe ghosts….

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – This is the second in The Tudor Series by Philippa Gregory, but it is my favorite! I enjoy historical fiction and learned so much about the Tudors, King Henry VIII and the politics of royal court life, especially from a different perspective, the “other” Boleyn sister.

Hammond Castle Cookbook

The Hammond Castle Cookbook by Corinne B. Witham: Besides tons of recipes, this book tells the history of the castle and lots of interesting facts about the Hammond family and their famous guests. Plus, how cool is it that Gloucester has a castle?!


            Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

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