2 Dale Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930 | 978-281-9763
At this time of year, many of us are looking for a gift idea or just some fun reading to release some of the stress of the season. Books with interesting concepts, lots of pictures to browse, or that off-centered topic can fit the bill.
Here are a few favorites:
Other People’s Rejection Letters edited by Bill Shapiro
A collection of notes, letters, emails and texts from the sweet (a little girl’s note saying she’s running away – and glad of it!) to the bitter (a woman informing her mother that she’s expecting a baby but doesn’t want contact with her.) It is like a car wreck — you know you shouldn’t look, but just can’t stop rubbernecking. The only question is how Shapiro unearthed all of these gems!
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow
From the Baby Boom generation onward, Little Golden Books have been a part of children’s literary lives. Muldrow, a longtime editorial director at Golden Books, has written an engaging guide to life using the illustrations from many of the Little Golden Books produced over the years. You will find yourself reminiscing about the original stories, as well as marveling over the endearing illustrations that the books are so well-known for. A very charming book for young and old!
Records of Our National Life : American History at the National Archives
Established in the early 1930s, the National Archives has preserved the rich heritage of America with the retention of documents, maps, letters, photographs, diagrams, telegrams, and all sorts of items that tell our incredible history with humanity and grace. Covering the time period from 1762 to 2009 the items pictured in this book give glimpses into the past – from the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, to the images of confederate money, to the first federal income tax form, to World War II posters, to the moving transcript of Lady Bird Johnson’s audio diary on the day Kennedy was assassinated – that inform our present.
What Makes a Masterpiece : Artists, Writers and Curators on the World’s Greatest Works of Art
This survey of art highlights the greatest artistic achievements from all cultures throughout human history. From the cave paintings in France to Vilhelm Hammertoe’s Dust Motes Dancing in Sunbeams painted in 1900, great works are examined by knowledgeable contributors. Beautiful color illustrations, including enlarged sections, allow you to do a world art sightseeing tour with your fingertips. This book will increase your ability to view any art piece with fuller understanding and appreciation.
Someday, Someday Maybe : a novel by Lauren Graham
Graham, of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame, has written a witty and funny novel of an actress in 1990’s New York, trying her best to beat the odds. Struggling to keep her head about water, while coming close to her self-imposed three year deadline to become a “serious” actress, Franny Banks is in turns pessimistic and hopeful, and always amusing. As she tries try to give her best performance for an upcoming showcase, as well as not make a fool over herself with a fellow actor in her class, keep her waitressing job and her agent, and be supportive of her roommates, we get a rollercoaster ride of a read.
What if? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Remember being a kid and asking those near impossible questions to your parents — Why is the sky blue? Why can’t people fly? Do fish sleep? This book is the grown up version of those unanswerable questions. Munroe, a former NASA roboticist, takes the most popular questions from his blog and gives thoughtful technical answers. With stick figures, drawings and a wry style, this book will satisfy any armchair scientist.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
Having lived on Cape Ann my entire life, I have been particularly interested in reading about my hometown or areas on the North Shore of Boston. It’s always fun to see local references while in the middle of a great book.
Here are some of my favorites:
The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and “witches.” Among the inhabitants of this hamlet are Black Ruth, who dresses as a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of his aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself against all imaginable odds.
The Good House by Ann Leary
Hildy Good has reached that dangerous time in a woman’s life – middle-aged and divorced, she is an oddity in her small but privileged town. But Hildy isn’t one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir. When her two earnest grown-up children stage ‘an intervention’ and pack Hildy off to an addiction centre, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn’t Hildy enjoy a drink now and then?
But as the story progresses, we start to see another side to Hildy Good, and to her life’s greatest passion – the lies and self deceptions needed to support her drinking, and the damage she causes to those she loves. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behaviour of one threatens to expose the other, with devastating consequences.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”
When it struck in October, 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace.
The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller, a stark and compelling journey into the dark heart of nature that leaves listeners with a breathless sense of what it feels like to be caught, helpless, in the grip of a force beyond understanding or control.
The Lone Voyager by Joseph E. Garland
Like countless Gloucester fishermen before and since, Howard Blackburn and Tom Welch were trawling for halibut on the Newfoundland banks in an open dory in 1883 when a sudden blizzard separated them from their mother ship. Alone on the empty North Atlantic, they battled towering waves and frozen spray to stay afloat. Welch soon succumbed to exposure, and Blackburn did the only thing he could: He rowed for shore. He rowed five days without food or water, with his hands frozen to the oars, to reach the coast of Newfoundland. Yet his tests had only begun.
So begins Joe Garland’s extraordinary account of the hero fisherman of Gloucester. Incredibly, though Blackburn lost his fingers to his icy misadventure, he went on to set a record for swiftest solo sailing voyage across the Atlantic that stood for decades. Lone Voyager is a Homeric saga of survival at sea and a thrilling portrait of the world’s most fabled fishing port in the age of sail.
WWII Army Nurse June Houghton Sullivan: A Life Story by Gunilla Caulfield
June Houghton Sullivan grew up during the Great Depression. Despite a semi-chaotic upbringing, she became a registered nurse and set out to serve as a wartime nurse. Serving at the 120th Station Hospital in Britain, June witnessed the horrors of war and the heavy price that many young men paid for their country. After returning from the war, she continued to work as a hospital nurse, as well as serve as outreach librarian at the Rockport Public Library. After over seventy years, she is still a nurse. A touching, dramatic, and inspiring true story, June’s tale of life, love and war will keep readers mesmerized from the very beginning.
Lisa Ryan is the Assistant Children’s Librarian. She has worked at the Sawyer Free Library for twelve years and is currently working on her MLS at Simmons College.
As a literary genre, a memoir is a subset of autobiography. Memoirs are more focused and more flexible than traditional autobiographies and can provide a powerful understanding of how the author views one defined aspect of their life.
Listed below are some of my favorite memoirs:
The color of water : a Black man’s tribute to his white mother by James McBride The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew who immigrated to America soon after birth. She met and married an African American man in Harlem and raised 12 amazing children. The book is a testament to one woman’s strong heart, solid values and indomitable will. She battled not only racism but also poverty. The book an inspiring tribute written by her son, National Book Award winner, James McBride (The Good Lord Bird).
Truth & beauty : a friendship by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett met her friend Lucy Grealy at the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1981 and began a friendship that would last the rest of their lives. In Grealy’s acclaimed memoir, Autobiography of a Face, she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. This memoir is not about Ann Patchett’s life or Lucy Grealey’s life but is about a twenty-year, committed, loving friendship. It is both a tender and brutal book about loving a person we cannot save but also being inspired by someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.
Into thin air : a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer
In May 1996, journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer joined a team to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. This expedition became one of the most deadly in the history of the mountain as a freak storm claimed five lives. Krakauer’s investigation into what went wrong is haunting and deeply personal.
I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
With the recent death of Maya Angelou, our country has lost a national treasure. In this memoir of her childhood, the author captures the longing of lonely children, the cruel insult of bigotry and the strength of the human spirit to survive. Author James Baldwin is correct when he describes the power of Angelou’s writing. He says she liberates the reader into life as she confronts her own life with “a moving wonder and a luminous dignity”.
Beautiful boy : a father’s journey through his son’s addiction by David Sheff Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help. Journalist David Sheff describes the wrenching experience of journeying with his son Nic through addiction to crystal meth. Before he became addicted, Nic was a charming boy, a varsity athlete and an honor student adored by his two younger siblings; after meth, he became a liar, a thief and a homeless wraith. This book is heart-breaking, beautiful and full of hard-earned wisdom.
Night by Elie Wiesel
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel has written about his experiences with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Although not technically a memoir because Night is narrated by Eliezer, a fictional Jewish teenager, Eliezer serves as Elie Wiesel’s representative and experiences all that he underwent. Much has been written about the Holocaust, but Night is able to reawaken the shock of seeing evil at its most absolute.
Beth Pocock is a library assistant at the Sawyer Free Library.
The graphic novel format has produced some of the most compelling fiction and nonfiction of the last thirty years. Many think of superheroes when they think of these works, but there are a number of excellent more “down to earth” graphic novels.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Showa 1926-1939 : A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki
The first in a three part series tells the important tale of Japan slipped from a rapidly modernizing constitutional monarchy into a militaristic society that viewed all of Asia as it’s natural territory. The second and third parts are equally compelling, detailing the destruction of the war and how the Japanese national identity changed after the war to what it is today.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Perhaps the most well known “real world” GN is this autobiographical account of Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi writes about growing up as an upper class girl during the Iranian revolution and its aftermath. Her simple high-contrast art-style show her growth from a young girl living during the horrific war with Iraq and its aftershocks, to her teenage years in Austria, and finally to her return to her homeland of Iran as an adult.
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn
Vaughn’s tale takes a real event, the escape of a lion pride from the Baghdad zoo after the breakdown of society during the toppling of Saadam Hussein in 2003, and anthropomorphizes the newly freed lions into an analysis of various viewpoints on the Iraq war, its after-effects and the nature of being “free”.
Palestine by Joe Sacco & Edward Said
A premiere piece of “graphic journalism” Sacco spent months living with and interviewing Palestinian Muslims and Christians, as well as Israeli Jews in order to create a picture that before could only be captured by a photojournalist or a documentary crew.
Waltz With Bashir by Ari Folman
A book adaptation of the Academy Award Nominated film of the same name, Waltz With Bashir tells a powerful tale of an IDF soldier searching his memories for his role in the 1982 Lebanese war. Waltz with Bashir explores PTSD, the faults of memory and carries a powerful anti-war message.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Three stories interwoven around the life of Jin Wang, a lonely middle schooler explore what it means to be proud of who you are, no matter how others might perceive you. Humorous, thought provoking, and an important message for teens and adults.
Lewis Parsons is a library assistant at the Sawyer Free Library.
I love visiting New York City. There is hustle and bustle, but also beautiful parks in which to slow down and enjoy nature. Some of the novels I chose are historical fiction. I learned about some events that shaped Manhattan and ultimately the country as a whole. Others are set in present time, where I could enjoy imagining myself in the locations mentioned.
Go for a stroll down city streets with these titles:
New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd
The intertwining fates of characters rich and poor, black and white, native born and immigrant, brings to life the momentous events that shaped New York City and America: the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the near-demise of New York in the 1970s and its roaring rebirth in the ’90s, and the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Innocence by Dean Koontz
Addison lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen. Gwyneth dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found. But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives. Something more than chance — and nothing less than destiny — has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Accompanying a future famous actress from her Wichita home to New York, chaperone Cora Carlisle shares a life-changing five-week period with her ambitious teenage charge during which she discovers the promise of the 20th century and her own purpose in life.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld. (This book has been awarded the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.)
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Coralie, the daughter of a Coney Island boardwalk curiosities museum’s front man, pursues an impassioned love affair with a Russian immigrant photographer Eddie who, after fleeing his Lower East Side Orthodox community, has captured poignant images of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. In the tumultuous times that characterized life in New York between the world wars, Coralie and Eddie’s lives come crashing together.
Tinderbox by Lisa Gornick
Myra is a Manhattan psychotherapist. A quick study and an excellent judge of character, she thinks she knows what she’s getting when she hires a nanny–it’s her job, after all, to analyze people. Her phobia-addled son has just moved back in with his wife and child, and the new nanny, Eva, seems like a perfect addition: she cleans like a demon and irons like a dream, and she forms an immediate bond with Myra’s grandson. But as Eva, a Peruvian immigrant, reveals more of herself, what seemed a felicitous arrangement turns ominous.
Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.