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!
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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.

New Hampshire poetry Festival

I know there’s been a bit of silence in this area of cyber space. Preparations for the new semester are underway, and an update on the catalog conversion will be forthcoming. In the meantime, check out the NH Book Blog for details on the Poetry festival coming up in September! 

2nd Annual NH Poetry Festival — September 24 http://nhbookcenter.blogspot.com/2016/08/2nd-annual-nh-poetry-festival-september.html

NH Poet Laureate hosting reading at Robert Frost Farm

NH Poet Laureate hosting reading at Robert Frost Farm

From The Book Notes NH Blog:

DERRY, NH, July 6, 2016 – The Robert Frost Farm’s 2016 Hyla Brook Reading Series features New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel on Thursday, July 14, 2016, 6:30-8:30pm. Hyla Brook Poet Sara Backer will also read.

The series, held in the Frost Farm located at 122 Rockingham Rd (Rt 28), is free and open to the public. An Open Mic follows the readings and all audience members are invited to share their work.
Read more here. Note the reading is this Thursday, so coming up quick. Confession time: I’ve never been to the Frost Farm. I’ve known scads of folks who have gone and all have had only good things to say, so the venture would be worth your time. If you’re looking to check out the Robert Frost Farm in general, the Robert Frost Farm poetry website is here.

The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme

Today marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, considered one of the deadliest battles in human history. The Battle began on July 1, 1916 and did not conclude until November 18. During that time, the British and French saw a combined 794,238 casualties. The Germans saw 537,918 casualties. Those numbers are simply staggering — 1.3 million men dead or wounded in a single (albeit protracted) battle.

British and French forces were able to gain 6 miles during this time. That was with the introduction of the tank and air support. The Battle of the Somme was the second deadliest battle in World War I by casualties, and only two campaigns in World War II were more deadly.

I remember my history classes talking about the deadliest conflicts in American history– Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Appomattox. And those were battles that obviously included American casualties, the Somme did not. For comparison purposes? 310,486 men died in the Battle of the Somme. 204,000 died in the American Civil War. These are deaths, not included casualties, prisoners of war, or those who died in prison. Just take a moment to consider that. 1 battle lasting 4 months saw more death than a war that lasted 4 years.

At the same time that men were losing their lives, limbs, and minds in record numbers, there was a huge volume of poetry produced. The Poetry of World War I generally comes from the British side of things, the doughboys who found ways to record the horror that was unfolding in front of them night and day in trenches that were hardly conducive to, well, anything other than disease.

The Poetry Foundation has a collection of Poetry from the time, organized by year with the major battles noted. The selection includes works from Thomas Hardy, Robert Stevens, Edith Wharton, William Butler Yeats, Siegfried Sasson, Wilfred Owen, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, and GK Chesterton. Some served, some watched from home, so there are a variety of view points represented.

Oxford has a Digital Archive of poetry from the First World War. Among the various artifacts that have been made available, I was struck by the revisions of Dulce et Decorum Est. While I’ve linked to one there are several. Wilfred Owen did not survive the war — he died at the age of 25, one week before the Armistice was signed.

There are any number of poems that were written during the War and in the aftermath of the War; written by those at home and on the front. The following have been recommended to me: In Flanders Field by John McCrae, The Shield of Achilles by WH Auden, Prayer of a Solider in France by Joyce Kilmer, The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, and the aforementioned Dulce et Decorum Est.

I know there are a number of JRR Tolkien fans out there, so it bears reminding that Tolkien was in the trenches at the Somme. In interviews later in his life, Tolkien would recall writing first drafts that would become Middle Earth in the trenches of France under shell fire. The New York Times has a good article on the connection between the great evils and battles of Middle Earth and the Somme.

For those who favor historical records, the British National Archives have digitized the British Army War Diaries from 1914 to 1922, covering the entirety of the war. They also have a crowdsourcing project for those interested; Operation War Diary allows anyone to help comb through the 1.5 million pages of unit war diaries from World War 1 and help note and annotate them, pulling out details as you can.

Finally, for those who prefer novels from the time, there are certainly scads of them out there. I highly recommend Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Most will know the author from her Anne of Green Gables books and Emily of New Moon books. Rilla of Ingleside is actually the 8th Anne of Green Gables book, telling the story of Anne and Gilbert’s children — all of them in their teens and 20s at the onset of the War. Montgomery’s novel is World War 1 from the home front, and in fact is the only Canadian novel written about World War 1 by a woman and told from a woman’s perspective. Rilla is also an example of uncomfortable history — the novel had several thousand words trimmed from it, not because they were inaccurate but because of heavy anti-German sentiment. That was the only version available until about 6 years ago, so be on the look out for the edited and unedited versions.