The Librarian’s Shelf: A recommendation from a Librarian

Hello again friends!

We are over halfway through the year, which sometimes makes perfect sense and other times is shocking. The newest cohort of TMC students will descend on the campus in a matter of weeks, and the alumni will descend in a few day’s time (hence a post now rather than try to do something during alumni weekend). New Hampshire is, as ever, hot, humid, and green.

So here’s a riddle: when you are a librarian, and a solo librarian at that, who do you get your book recommendation from for this category? It may be cheaty, but I picked one from my overflowing TBR list, sort of a librarian recommendation to myself. For July, I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

You guys, I am loving this book. So much so that I technically haven’t finished it and I’m already recommending it. This should come as a surprise to no one, but I am an introvert myself, and outside the library I work in a very extroverted corporate environment. Its just as great as you’d expect. What I like about this book is that it ultimately provides a vocabulary for dealing with introverted vs. extroverted people, also touching on high sensitivity and a few other personalty traits that tend to go hand in hand with introversion.

I wish I’d had this book ten years ago, if I’m being honest. My college years were an introvert’s dream: lots of meaningful conversations, the ability to get recharge time alone whenever I needed it, and a trove of personalities that I could be friends with without feeling like I had to put on a mask. We used to call it the green world, this beautiful place where we could grow and flourish and think and leaves certain cares of the world behind for a time. Green worlds don’t last, though, not ever, and so coming back to Earth was interesting. And in a time and place where all those skills and modes of being that make the most sense to me are less plentiful, I would have liked to have a way to express them that would be taken seriously in the larger world.

This book isn’t a classic or part of the Western canon (obviously), but its well worth a read in my opinion. And just to add on top of it, here are some other books I love and think you should read!

  • Til We Have Faces, CS Lewis
  • The Blue Castle, Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson
  • The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
  • The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson
  • Aristophanes, any of his plays
  • The Once and Future King, TH White
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  • The Four Loves, CS Lewis

The Librarian’s Shelf: A work in translation

July around these parts has a tendency to be hot and humid and thoroughly uninviting. Its opposite from the winter but just as inhospitable if you aren’t used to it (spoiler: I am not). Fortunately, this afforded me enough time to get through my next book, a work in translation/over 500 pages. Yes, I know I wrote about a 500 page book earlier, but the truth of the matter is I’ll be getting through one part of Kristin Lavransdatter, not all 3, so there’s a bit of a category swap needed.

So what else is there that’s a work in translation and over 500? I mean aside from Tolstoy, which I did not read. I picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And yes, I am late to the Eco party but this happens in a world where there are so many books to read and so little time.

Now, if you pick up The Name of the Rose, don’t make the mistake I did and think this is a mystery. Yes, there is a mystery inside but I can’t really call it a full fledged member of the genre. I read mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny. Father Brown would make the list too, and I just finished every Phryne Fisher mystery I could get at the local public library. And if you’ve read any of those authors you’ll detect a theme: enjoyable mystery, solvable, but the characters make the piece. They stand out, they’re funny or witty or just good people, or more importantly, *interesting* people.

Eco was, first and foremost, a semiotician and a philosopher. And it shows. This book is long; it clocks in at 512 pages and they are dense pages. There are explorations of symbols, meaning, and a rather intricate look at the life of a medieval monastery. The chapters are even arranged around the liturgy of the hours, which was a nice touch. I did enjoy the book, but I enjoyed it a lot more once I decided it wasn’t a mystery. Think of it as historical fiction that will give you a window into a very rich medieval world and, oh yes, there are a few murders and mysteries and a labyrinth.

In terms of other works in translation, your best friend on campus is the Ballroom. This houses the collection of works in original languages, heavy on the Latin and Greek. This is also where you’ll find all literature that’s not American, with a smattering of English works that predate Shakespeare. The good Bard is our dividing line between the Ballroom and the Newman room, and you could safely argue that a number of those old English works are in translation.

The Librarian’s Shelf: A Book you can read in a Day

Happy summer to you all! And a very hearty congratulations to the class of 2018 who join me in the alumni ranks. I would say we have cookies, but, well, we probably don’t. But we have a reunion! So you should totally join us for that 🙂

Once again, I’ve run into the next month. I will confess, its particularly amusing for a book you can read in a day. Yet here we find ourselves. This month’s pick can be finished in a day, but you could also stretch it into 2 or 3 if you want to take more time with it, and it wouldn’t feel like it was dragging. This was originally a lecture delivered at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. Today we’re focused on The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “women’s work” by Kathleen Norris.

Funny enough, this book is probably a better fit for alums over current students, and alums who aren’t able to spend a lot of time reading or studying or simply thinking like they used to. Norris is focused on the everyday here:

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing, and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places– out of Galilee, as it were– and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet.

It is very easy, in the grind of the every day, to lose sight of, as Norris puts it, the “sacramental possibility in all things.” After all, to borrow a Saint’s phrasing “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.” It was so easy, when I was young, to imagine I would always feel the greatness of things, to realize the importance of life’s work. It is so hard, when I am less young, to feel those same things when the dishes need washing and the floors vacuuming and there’s work outside the home to be done and a school project to oversee for my son and a hundred and one little nagging duties to be attended to. If you are fortunate enough not to feel those things, good on you! But if there are days you are weary or you can’t see the forest for the trees crashing down, I found Norris’s little book to be a helpful reminder.

It is also a really good, gentle way to get back into reading if you haven’t been for a while. She touches on a lot of important themes and connects them with the everyday, and there is value in that (I think).

Recommendations are hard this month, because what one person can read in a day, another will read in a week. Some potential options, though, would be:

  • an encyclical or apostolic exhortation. Those are generally short but full of goodness
  • A childhood classic. Like a truly good childhood book– Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, Little Women all come to mind (although let’s be honest, Little Women is likely not getting read in a day.) Any children’s book that really stuck with you is probably worth revisiting in adulthood, to see if things look different from this point of view.
  • Would it be cheating to say short stories? Flannery O’Connor is always a favorite around these parts, and I feel like PG Wodehouse is probably a good summer pick

The Librarian’s Shelf: Memoir

The Librarian’s Shelf: Memoir

Happy Spring everyone! The good weather that finally emerged at the end of April ran away with me and here we find ourselves in May! Commencement is this Saturday, so a very hearty congratulations to all the seniors. As for me, I will continue my book schlepping well into the summer, as is tradition.

April’s pick was a book I read slightly before April, but the springyness of the book struck me as a good fit for an April highlight. The category is memoir or creative nonfiction. I originally was going to read Erik Larsen’s Dead Wake, which has been in the pile for a few years and which I had started but had to return to the library before I could finish it. I had all the good intentions– and then Four Seasons in Rome went on sale.

The premise is nothing short of dream fuel: a writer is suddenly handed a one year writing fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, expenses paid. He is not required to turn in anything at the end, not forced into certain writing roles. All he has to do is live in Rome and write. Would that I were good enough to throw my hat in that ring. Alas, I’m not likely to win the Pulitzer anytime soon, as Anthony Doerr did for the book that ultimately came out of the experience. The full title is Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. You can likely place the year just from the title, the funeral being that of St. John Paul II.

What I loved about this book was the way that Doerr could evoke Rome, and my memories of Rome. It wasn’t just the way he captured the light (which is different in Rome than elsewhere), and it wasn’t just the way he captured the dirt and grittiness that exists in the streets, and it wasn’t just the way I could practically taste the food as he wrote his way through the seasonal variety. There is something about Rome, as most TMC students are well aware, that seeps into your bones and nourishes your soul and strips you bare and turns you on end. There is a certain level of wonder and awe and disgust and hominess that worms its way in and never does leave.

A word of forewarning, Doerr has a signature style. His prose is not purple, but he does love a good description. I do too, so this never bothered me. I brought the book to a book club and another participant told me All the Light We Cannot See made her long to red pen whole chapters, which was never something I felt the need for. His style for me is consistent with LM Montgomery and Madeline L’engle; lovely and descriptive and occasionally prone to a tangent about loveliness or an observation of the world. So keep your own tastes in mind 🙂

Other options for memoir or creative nonfiction:

Well, to be frank, a whole lot of our collection is nonfiction being, you know, a college. That said, creative nonfiction and memoir aren’t really in our wheelhouse though we do have biographies:

  • I’ve always liked the historical works of Joseph Ellis, including Founding Brothers, Passionate Sage, and American Sphinx. We have most of his work down in the stacks.
  • For those not yet over Hamilton, we do have Ron Chernow’s biography in the stacks as well.
  • We’re coming up on the centenary of the end of World War I in November.  We have several works of nonfiction and biography right at the entrance to the stacks, including Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, General Pershing’s My Experience in the World War, and E.E. Cummings’ autobiography The Enormous Room.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that the Helm room is positively brimming with biographies of the Saints and spiritual memoirs. And don’t forget, Augustine’s Confessions would count for this category!

The Librarian’s Shelf: A Classic You’ve Been Meaning to Read

This wasn’t the book I intended to read for February, but it was the book I picked up at the end of January. The reader’s heart does what it does. I tend to be known as someone who enjoys English novels, someone who has been meaning to read more Catholic authors, and someone who just enjoys reading period. And yet I have had never read anything by Evelyn Waugh. Yeah, I know, it makes almost as little sense as the fact that I first read Chesterton last year (I’m excluding Ballad of the White Horse, which I read my junior year of high school and disliked every moment).

So what made me pick up Brideshead Revisited? Well, aside from having been told by multiple people that it was a good read (not a comforting read, not an easy read, but a good one) I had always put it off to someday because I didn’t have a copy. And then I picked up a copy at Toadstool back in the fall for a few bucks, and I was so certain it would be read in October. But then life happened so I pushed it off. It felt like it just slotted right into the ‘meaning to read’ category with a vengeance.

I really loved the look at the way the twenties devolved into the forties. Waugh apparently was a Bright Young Thing himself, but he’s writing it from a few decades remove and you can tell. There is a nostalgia, and the relief of having lived through The Great War, and the manic frenetic energy of the twenties as you would expect, but there is an overlay of regret that can only come with the remove of time. If you haven’t read it, I really think you should.

When it comes to classics you should read, there are any number of lists to consult, and they’ll have overlap and points of divergence. Given how this library is put together, you should be able to find the classic you’re looking for in either the Ballroom or the Newman Room. A random selection of classics that I have enjoyed for your perusal:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Iliad and the Odyssey
  • Edgar Allen Poe. Honestly you could pick anything
  • CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. And yeah, pretty much pick your work for these guys.

 

The Librarian’s Shelf: Poetry

The Librarian’s Shelf: Poetry

We’re wrapping up January, so time to reveal my first book pick of the year. I decided to start with the poetry book (reminder: the list of 12 categories we’ll see this year is in this post). Now, a few caveats to this: I was a politics major, not a lit major, so while I read great gobs of poetry, I didn’t immerse myself in it the same way that a lit major would. I can’t in all honesty say that I have a favorite poet, or a favorite type of poetry. I know I’m rather fond of the Romantics, but that’s the extent of it. I’m comfortable admitting that my strengths lie elsewhere. However, I do enjoy poetry, at least in small doses.

The question, then, was what to pick. There is, well, a staggering amount of poetry within the library, and a decent amount of poetry in my home. So what to pick, and how, and why? In the end, serendipity won out. I was going through our returns at the end of the semester when this little volume peaked my interest. It’s an anthology rather than a collection of poems by a single author. The poems are organized around the seasons, as well as a special section for New Years, which I decided to read on New Years Eve.

I did enjoy a decent number of the poems in this volume. I particularly liked that these were not poems that were word for word about a season. They were more evocative of things one might associate with a season. I will say, for me, a whole book of poetry is sort of like a whole box of dark chocolate truffles– nice in small pieces, but really hard to work through in any short or medium amount of time. I would have liked to spend more time with this one to see if I could get more out of it, but the month rolls on and there we are.

I also found the themes assigned to each season to be intriguing, though I didn’t necessarily feel like all of them were on the nose. Spring is focused on Pan, Diana, Courtship, and the Road. Summer is about birthdays, hunting, madness, nonsense, and music. Fall is for outlaws, soldiers, the sea, evening, elegies and farewells. Winter is the time of snowstorm, separations, hauntings, the night, witches and spells, and drinking songs. The New Year gets renamed “Beyond Winter” and covers love, the muses, and earthly paradise.

I get putting hauntings in to winter– there is an old tradition of ghost stories for Christmas, after all. Summer does feel perfectly suited. Fall is a bit harder,  because I’m still in that mental space where fall means changing, leaving the long lazy days of summer and moving back to the rigid world of both school and work (as opposed to “just work”). All in all, an interesting volume but I wouldn’t suggest it for those who are not used to reading poetry– start with something a little thinner, a little more straightforward; if one can ever describe poetry that way.

Other volumes in the collection to explore for your poetry volume:

  • First, you can find the poetry in the Newman Room, as all the call numbers are in that range of call numbers. You can try the serendipity approach easily; almost ever shelf in that room has some work of poetry on it!
  • The College has always had a certain affinity for Richard Wilbur, and you can find him in the Newman Room– we have several collections
  • I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brooks and Warren’s Understanding Poetry, which was a staple of writing workshop for me as a Freshman.
  • Probably the only book of poetry I sought out in my underclassman years was the complete works of Henry Vaughan, which we have. For the Madeline L’Engle fans out there, he wrote “The World” (I saw Eternity the other night/ Like a great ring of pure and endless light)

A Year of Reading

A Year of Reading

Hello friends! The year is winding down, and I know I’m starting to turn toward the New Year, as I’m sure you are as well. There will be another post reflecting on how the year went for the library, but of course reading goes hand in hand with the library and so that’s what we’re looking at here.

Even your friendly neighborhood librarian has not read *all the things*, and the to be read list is an ever growing, lovely, maddening problem. One of the podcasts I usually listen to while shelving is “What Should I read next?” which is a delight. The host, Anne, puts together a reading challenge every year and I’ve decided to take it on to allow for a bit more structure to reading for me. You can find the details here, but here are the 12 categories we’re trying to fill:

  • A classic you’ve been meaning to read
  • A book recommended by someone with great taste
  • A book in translation
  • A book nominated for an award in 2018
  • A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection
  • A book you can read in a day
  • A book that’s more than 500 pages
  • A book by a favorite author
  • A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller
  • A banned book
  • A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction
  • A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own

Essentially, this is a way for me to identify those books on the shelves that have sat in my to be read pile. So my plan is to read one of these a month and post about it here, along with some other recommendations for the category based on our library’s collection. Should be fun! I’ll be back mid January with the first pick.