Loving libraries

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

3 words: immersive, journalistic, investigative

You know how some books take you back to an earlier time in your life and they place you there so solidly, you can smell and taste and feel everything you experienced at the time?

This book did that for me. Because while this book ostensibly is about the terrible fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library, it’s really more of a deep dive into the life of a library, reported with affection and enthusiasm.

It put me right back in the heady days when I first worked in a public library — as an unpaid, 35-hour-per-week intern at a large-ish urban public library. That summer was magical — it felt like such a privilege to see how things worked behind the scenes and to be in the building before it opened and to spend time in each department. (It reminded me of that children’s book by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? Each department seemed like a serious possibility, and then I reached Reference, and done. I was home.)

I am grateful to this day for that experience, and to the library director who accepted a cold call from a college junior interested in a career in librarianship and seeking work experience in a public library. Her willingness to accept me into the fold after one phone call and one meeting — it’s one of those aspects of librarianship that makes me really love this field. The generosity of spirit is a grand and beautiful thing among library people.

And that’s what this book is all about.

I kept reading aloud to the Dear Man (often after recovering from verkpemptitude), because Orlean captured the library so perfectly.

“They formed a human chain, passing the books hand over hand from one person to the next, through the smoky building and out the door. It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.” (p. 37)

(This one gets me each time I read it.)

Orlean spends time with the current library staff, learning how the library operates today. And she also delves into its past, when simply being a woman was grounds for being fired so a man could take one’s job.

And she investigates the 1986 library fire, particularly the suspected arsonist, a down-on-his-luck, would-be actor who lied compulsively. And in the end… I won’t ruin the conclusion, but truly, the fire provides a framework for the story, but the real story is about the library and its people. And it’s beautiful.

“I looked around the room at the few people scattered here and there. Some were leaning into books, and a few were just resting, having a private moment in a public place, and I felt buoyed by being here. This is why I wanted to write this book, to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and how that feels marvelous and exceptional.”  (p. 310)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… a deep dive into the life of an organization, learning about a major event that’s virtually unknown, celebrating libraries and the work of librarians, unsolved crimes

 

My fellow readers… Have you ever read a book that put you into a happy past moment? Or an adoring book about a library? If so, I so wanna hear about it.

Nonfiction November: New to My TBR

In Week 5 of Nonfiction November, our host is Katie at Doing Dewey, who asks:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

This year’s Nonfiction November has been my richest TBR haul to date. Thank you, good bloggers!

In fact, the recommendations were flying in so fast that I developed a new way to track my TBR. Instead of simply adding the books to Goodreads as “Want to Read,” I started adding books to the Google Sheet that I use to track my reading — at the bottom of the list, where I place upcoming reads. The advantage is that it allowed me to group all the Nonfiction November suggestions and add my own notes in an easy way. I’m kinda excited about this system.

So what’s on the list? Here goes…

 

In response to my “Become the Expert” request for books about becoming a better human:

Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life by Jessica Nutik Zitter — recommended by Kazen at Always Doing

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

What If This Were Enough? Essays by Heather Havrilevsky — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life by Heather Havrilevsky — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations

 

The other books that grabbed my eye…

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood — recommended by Rennie of What’s Nonfiction

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein — recommended by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness and Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves and Tina at Tina Says

knitting books by Elizabeth Zimmermann — recommended by Lory at Emerald City Book Review

 

I’ve already begun reading one of the Heather Havrilevsky books (loving it) and can’t wait to find all these others on the shelves.

Thank you to all the wonderful book bloggers who make Nonfiction November such a fulfilling experience each year!

 

Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction

This week’s Nonfiction November topic — Reads Like Fiction — is hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

 

I love nearly all the nonfiction — even handbooks and manuals, if they have a sprightly tone. (Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is one of my all-time favorite books, and I have a serious love of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.)

And most of the self-improvement books I read (and there are lots of ’em) don’t follow a storyline, but I love them all the same. If there’s an engaging tone, I’m there.

So I don’t need a narrative drive to delight my nonfiction-loving heart.

That having been said… When you offer me something along the lines of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff or anything by Robert Kurson (I’m currently still in the afterglow of Rocket Men), I’m about as happy as I can be as a reader. Narrative nonfiction might well be the highest peak on my readerly mountain range.

In the past year, here are the narrative nonfiction books that most delighted me:

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

 

I can’t wait to see everyone else’s lists.

What’re the best narrative nonfiction books you’ve read this year?

Nonfiction November: Self-Improvement… Ask the Expert

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is brought to us by my talented friend Julie of JulzReads. (Hey, Julz!)

And here we have it…

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year I posted about self-improvement books, and guess what?

This year: more self-improvement!

 

Only this year, I’m asking the experts. (That’s you-all!)

Now that my life is a much happier thing overall, and now that I have some additional margin due to that much shorter commute, I find myself stretching in some new ways.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got the time management and efficiency pieces pretty much under control. I’ve upped my decluttering game.

And this can only mean one thing… we’re getting into serious Brene Brown be-brave territory. And also some facing of the Enneagram dark side issues.

We’re talking: becoming a better human.

So here’s my question to all of you good people:

What book made you a better person?

I’m looking for some books that’ll take me into the tough territory of really looking at the areas that have been neglected in favor of the easier tasks of getting more done in an efficient way. I’m talking: addressing one’s full humanity. It’s gettin’ real around here.

Nonfiction November: Nonfiction / Fiction Pairing

This week’s episode of Nonfiction November is hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves.

 

And this week’s topic is…

Pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

 

Knowing that I was going to read Beryl Markham’s memoir West with the Night for an upcoming book discussion, I first dove in to Circling the Sun by Paula McLain–an historical novel about Markham’s life.

 

And while both are lyrical in style, with vivid descriptions of Markham’s free-spirited, adventurous life, Circling the Sun delves into the complicated relationships of Markham’s life. If you read only West with the Night, you’d have no idea of the messy love triangle among Markham, Denys Finch Hatton, and Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen). The fictionalized account, based closely on the facts, takes a good, long look at the underbelly.

 

It’s a bit like reading an autobiography and a biography of the same person, and getting the glossy version from the person’s own pen, while the outside account lays it all bare. Only when the outside account is a novel, there’s also some judicious editing that creates a better story arc. And I’m OK with that.

 

I found the reading of West with the Night all the richer for having spent time with the fictionalized Markham in the pages of the novel. And I was struck again by the remarkable ways in which fiction, too, can speak truth.

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction So Far

It’s Nonfiction November, and that always makes me get all wiggly with excitement.

Plus: the streets around me look like this…

…so what’s not to like about this time of year?

We’re starting the month with a question from Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, one of my favorite bloggers. This week, she poses this series of questions…

Your Year in Nonfiction So Far
Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite of the Year

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Every time I think of this book, I smile. It’s one of those. A definite comfort read, and especially lovely when times are good.

 

Topic

Memoirs! Oh my goodness… this year, the memoirs. I’ve been vicariously living lots of other people’s lives this year and it’s been a year of personal expansion in all kinds of ways. And reading about people experiencing terrific and terrible things has expanded my worldview. It’s one of many factors that make me feel like I’m becoming my better self.

Here are some of the life stories that have inspired me…

Most Recommended

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

It’s short, it’s clever, it’s succinct, it’s personal. It’s quite perfect. If you like tiny snippets of story, memoir in bite-sized pieces, poetic and perfect writing, and humor… this one’s for you.

 

Hopes for Nonfiction November

More great nonfiction recommendations by other bloggers. I can’t wait. Based on last year’s Nonfiction November, I read and enjoyed Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake (recommended at Books Are My Favourite and Best) and Michael Strahan’s Wake Up Happy (recommended by Kristilyn at Reading in Winter). I’m excited to learn about great nonfiction books that made other bloggers’ favorites lists.

Literary life advice

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

3 words: philosophical, quotable, introspective

 

Well, I did kind of a dumb thing when reading this book. I tore right through it.

And while this is a sign that I’m loving a book, it’s also a sign that I’m going to be left with a wispy but happy recall of a reading experience. And that’s definitely the case with this one.

My faint recall (already) is this:

Letters to a Young Poet is a lyrical, thoughtful, and encouraging treatise on the creative life.

And while I’m not living The Creative Life, I love reading about people who do. And this book gives insight into the parts that are horrible and wondrous. And it especially addresses the loneliness that can result from that life.

I found it most consoling.

And I kept marking passages I adored.

Like this…

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” (p. 34)

For a person who’s always leaning toward the future, this is some tough and wise advice.

 

And for a person in the midst of a house search when reading this book, this line struck me: “…this circumstance, along with other practical difficulties in finding a place to live, helped make the restlessness around us seem as if it would never end, and the unfamiliarity lay upon us with the weight of homelessness.” (p. 46)

Overly dramatic for my situation? Definitely. But that helped nonetheless.

 

And this wisdom, which I find more true the more I live:

“If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outerworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadness with greater trust than we have in our joys.” (pp. 82-83)

And then he goes on to explain how sadness transforms us, and it’s one of the loveliest and most moving things I’ve ever read.

And I’m pretty sure I’m going to go along my merry way and forget it.

 

So: this blog post is my reminder to not do that. Future Self, re-read those pages. Heck, re-read the whole book — it’s only 109 pages, and I promise you, dear darling Future Me, that you’ll be glad of it.

I read the Stephen Mitchell translation, because word on the street is that it’s the one. I was well pleased.

Give this book a whirl if you like… pondering creativity and solitude, lovely writing, life advice

 

Readers… what’s the book you want to remind yourself to re-read?

Nonfiction Shelfies: Aviation, Presidents, Adventure

The home library tour rages on!

Last week we toured my fiction shelves.

Today’s bookshelf tour brings us to the right side of the Glamour Wall…


…which houses Nonfiction!

Actually, it houses a few specific categories of nonfiction, because my nonfiction collection is by far the largest component of my home library — and that means it’s spread throughout the house.  [small shiver of joy]

The living room holds some of my perennial favorite categories of nonfiction: aviation, presidential history, and true adventure.

 

On the top shelf: Aviation (because it seemed suitable to place it nearest the sky)

 

Aviation Favorites

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins

Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

The only thing missing is my pilot logbook (that’s in next week’s installment).

 

Then we segue into Presidential History. (Here I fudge a little and include general political history, too.) This area is heavy on biography and autobiography.

 

Presidential History Favorites

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Death of a President by William Manchester

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

 

 

And that brings us to True Adventure. I actually placed these books in the living room simply because I want them near to me. I just like looking at them and knowing such books exist in the world. And while I don’t think I ever conceptualized this section as True Adventure in so many words, the term more or less fits.

 

True Adventure Favorites

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

 

All of the favorites I’ve listed are books I’d be completely delighted to re-read. (Some of them I’ve already re-read more than twice.) In this world, which never spares enough reading time, it’s significant to feel compelled to do the re-read. And this area of the shelves is full of them.

 

My fellow readers… What books do you feel most compelled to re-read?

The Woman’s Hour: I vote yes

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss

3 words: stirring, detailed, political

Anyone else look at the pictures in nonfiction books before starting to read? (I always, always do.)

I knew I’d love this book when I got completely verklempt looking at the photos while standing in line at the Apple Store. The heroism and the teamwork and the long, long wait for success… it got to me. And this was before I’d read a word of the book. And then the feeling got stronger.

Looking at the final battle in the fight to win the vote for women, it’s astonishing to consider how long these women had been doing this work. I mean, they were already in the second generation!

The opening to this book is downright riveting: women from across the country are boarding trains to converge on Nashville, and they know they’re heading into a serious political battle. It made me goose-bumpy.

When we were in Nashville last year, we saw some of the important suffrage sites: the state capitol and the hotel where the key players stayed and lobbied. It’s pretty amazing to be in the room where it happened.

 

This is one of the rooms!

 

And we visited the recent statue to honor the strong women who helped give half of us Americans the right to vote. (I dearly love to vote.)

 

 

What surprised me about the story: learning just how difficult it was for women to win the right to vote, and learning how racism was a key factor in granting women the right to vote. There was a contingent that opposed enfranchising women because it would meant women of all races could vote. It’s appalling. And it makes it all the more significant that women were granted suffrage, because it was a win in more than one way.

If you enjoy reading about political movements and learning the behind-the-scenes maneuvers, this book is for you. And especially if you like books where the good gals win… pick this one up.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like…women’s history, the complexity of social movements, strong women, history writing that puts you in the moment, heroic women

 

What book got you all stirred up about politics?

Essays on the reading life

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

3 words: literary, conversational, amiable

 

I didn’t think I was in the mood for bookish essays, but the good Citizen Reader announced an Essay Project, beginning with Nick Hornby, and I can’t resist a reading-related Project.

Then I got a few pages in and started praising Hornby and Citizen for the delightful reading experience. Turns out I was in the mood for bookish essays (at least Hornby-style bookish essays) after all.

It’s weird: I wasn’t particularly interested in the books Hornby writes about, but his comments on the reading life were quite perfect.

I kept marking lines that made me smile, and before I returned the book to the library, I captured my three favorites. Here they are:

  • “A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I’d forgotten pretty much everything I’ve ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am now cheered by the realization that if I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever read then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.” (p. 43)

 

  • “Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else.” (p. 58)

 

  • “Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path.” (p. 63)

(that last one!!!!)

 

My fellow readers, he’s one of us. (Except he also writes the kinds of novels that lots of people love, but never mind that)  He’s our readerly kin.

Thanks, Citizen, for the reading suggestion. This stuff’s worth quoting.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… literary essays, a self-deprecating tone, reading about books and the reading life, a touch of humor

 

Anyone else a fan of Hornby?