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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Jane Austen and word choice

Jane Austen and word choice

This article has been making the rounds in Libraryland, and I’m sure some of you may have come across it as well. If not, take a peek!

For me, what’s interesting is the way that folks try to explain “Why Austen.” I’ve never been hugely influenced by Austen– I’ve read 3 of her novels, certainly seen more then a few cinematic adaptations, and even read a few Austen inspired pieces– but she was never a go to for me. To borrow a concept from The Little Paris Bookshop, Austen was never a medicine or tonic that squared with my life (mental, emotional, spiritual), and she’s not in my reading apothecary. At the same time, Lucy Maud Montgomery is, and I think there’s a development in English language novels following Austen, and LMM follows on. So I can’t hate on Austen, to be sure. I think Austen is also easier to appreciate the older you get, because you realize how insightfully she can write about humanity, and you have to see a certain amount of it before you can really get that.

 

 

Its almost camp time!

Its almost camp time!

Not summer camp (or summer program, if you’re coming to the College), but Camp NaNo! I’m ready to go– new laptop, got my writing program, got a vague idea. For those unfamiliar, Camp NaNo is an extension of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in which you commit to writing a 50,000 word novel. It can be done (I’ve managed it only twice, granted, but twice! Its not nothing!).

For anyone who’s thought about doing NaNoWriMo in November, think of camp as a good introduction. NaNoWriMo has some fairly strict rules– you’re can write any type of fiction, but you’re writing a novel when all’s said and done and up until the last few years it had to be a completely new work. They now allow you to work on a previous project, but only new words count toward the goal. Camp, on the other hand, can be used for any type of writing or even revising. You set your word goal, but you have a bit of flexibility there.

It’s fun, and you get email reminders as well as pep talks, plus you know you’re not the only crazy out there trying to do this. They also run word sprints on Twitter, and you can engage with your fellow campers on social media. If you’ve been trying to make yourself write, why not give it a shot? Camp starts July 1. Happy writing!

(Writing) Camp time!

Happy July to you all! The summer here in New England is probably just as it ought to be: warm verging on hot, humid beyond reason, and green, green, green. Being not a fan of humidity, I find myself able to stand the great outdoors for less time than I would like, and since one can’t spend all day at the library (I mean, you could but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing).

For those among us who enjoy writing, I turn your attention to two points of interesting. First, Camp NaNoWriMo starts today! For those familiar with National Novel Writing Month, Camp is a less intense version. You have more flexibility in the type of project and the word goal — its mainly a fun way to hold yourself accountable to your writing goals. After all, if you let yourself slide, you’ll go months and months without putting a word on the page or Word document or whatever your method may be– not that I would know anything about that… ahem… moving on!

Second, 2016 is really a great year for literary anniversaries. Last week we touched on the 500th anniversary of the publication of Utopia. Today, I will draw your attention to the 200th anniversary of the composition of Frankenstein. The general origins of the story are fairly well known: during the summer of 1816 (also known as “The Year without a Summer”), Mary Wollstonecroft not-yet-Shelley wrote Frankenstein on a dare. Since we’ve reached the 200th anniversary, Arizona State University has a number of resources available under the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project. As part of this, ASU is sponsoring The Frankenstein Dare, a contest to write a short story exploring the relationship between monsters and their creators. Check it out!