Betty MacDonald and “The Egg” that hatched her career

eggandiEnjoy this post from Joan as she writes about all things Betty MacDonald:

When Pacific Northwest writer Betty MacDonald’s first book, The Egg and I, was published in 1945 it was not just a hit, it was a phenomenon selling over a million copies within the first year of publication. That book, a funny little memoir about early married life trying to make a living chicken ranching and having run-ins with Olympic Peninsula locals, went on to be translated into twenty languages, and spawned several movies: The Egg and I starring Fred MacMurry and Claudette Colbert , and later, The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle.

lookingforbettyHow is it possible that such a book could take the book world by storm and land the author on the pages of Life magazine? And how could she still have a fan base so strong in Europe that there was a BBC radio documentary about her commemorating what would have been her 100th birthday in March of 2008 (she died at the age of 49 in 1958)? Seattle historian Paula Becker wondered about this as well, and tells us how she came to unravel Betty’s very complicated life in her book Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I.

Go ahead and add your name to the hold list for both Betty MacDonald’s memoirs and Paula Becker’s book about Betty. Then come to the Main Library to hear Paula talk about all things Betty MacDonald on Saturday, January 7 at 2PM.

Betty entertained her readers and gave them a good inside-out look at Seattle and the Pacific Northwest during the mid-part of the 20th century, political incorrectness and all. Much of how the rest of the country and the world imagined the Pacific Northwest was based at the time on Betty’s books. But Betty didn’t just entertain adult readers. While she was working on her three other memoirs, she also wrote the very popular Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series of books for children.

anybodyShe makes reference to drinking a lot of coffee, so maybe that explains where she got the energy to write so many books in such a short amount of time. While “Egg” was the blockbuster, her other memoirs are equally entertaining, whether about recovering from tuberculosis in a Seattle Sanatorium (The Plague and I), raising two teenage daughters on the edge of Vashon Island (Onions in the Stew), or how she and her family got through the depression (Anybody Can Do Anything), all written with her irreverence for life and her ability to poke fun at anything and everything.

Whether you’re looking for a good children’s book that has stood the test of time or a memoir where the northwest landscape figures as prominently as its colorful characters, Betty MacDonald’s books are still a good bet. Most of all, they’re just plain fun to read because she is first and foremost a really good writer. Read just one and you’ll see why Paula became a little obsessed with Betty’s story and why she needed to tell it.

Heartwood 7:1 – Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard

greene-on-capriThis blog post is prompted by the news that Shirley Hazzard died this past December at age 85.

It’s kind of funny to me that I read this book without ever having read Graham Greene (though he’s long been on my radar, and I’m a fan of the film The Third Man). Funnier still since I’d also not read anything by Shirley Hazzard (her Transit of Venus won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980, and The Great Fire won the National Book Award in 2003). But a few years ago, one of my book-talking buddies handed me this book and said I should read it. I must say I was quite taken by the cover, and seeing the book’s slim length, I decided to give it a try.

In the opening scene, Hazzard has run into Greene at a café on Capri where he is dining at a separate table with friends and reciting part of a Browning poem to them. Before leaving, Hazzard supplies him with the line he’s struggling to recall. This literary showiness rankled me enough that I put the book aside. But some weeks later, I picked it up again and found myself very much enjoying Hazzard’s stately prose, the descriptions of Greene’s home and the island of Capri (accent on the a, she tells us), and the friendship that develops between Greene, Hazzard and her husband, Francis Steegmuller.

Hazzard devotes much of the book to Greene, mostly during their shared time there in the 1960s and ’70s, but she also includes some interesting details about the history of the island. Her account of Tiberio, the island-top ruins, features some fine descriptive language, and we learn that a number of Russian writers visited the island in their day, such as Gorky, Turgenev, and Ivan Bunin.

For the most part, Hazzard writes admiringly of Greene, but not without particular criticisms, such as in the passage here:

Repeatedly singled out as a writer of his “era,” Graham, even so, long eluded literary chronology. His best work, with its disarming blend of wit, event, and lone fatality, has not staled; and he himself, always ready, with eager skepticism, for life’s next episode, did not seem to “date.”  However, in one respect – his attitudes to women – he remained rooted, as man and writer, in his early decades.

From the 1920s into the 1940s, Greene and several of his talented male contemporaries were working, in English fiction, related veins of anxiety and intelligence, anger and danger, sex and sensibility, and contrasting an ironic private humanity with the petty vanities and great harm of established power.  Their narrative frequently centered on the difficulty of being a moody, clever, thin-skinned – and occasionally alcoholic – literate man who commands the devotion of a comely, plucky, self-denying younger woman.

The book doesn’t have chapters as such, but in one section, on the importance of reading to Greene, she tells how Greene insisted his biographer, Norman Sherry, travel to every place Greene had been, as background to writing his biography. Remarkably, Sherry did this – but Hazzard notes:

Had Graham enjoined his biographer to read, rather, the countless thousands of books, celebrated or obscure, that fuelled his life, thought, and work, consoled and informed his passions, and caused him, as he said, “to want to write,” that request would have been absurd, unfeasible, and entirely apposite.

Literature was the longest and most consistent pleasure of Graham’s life. It was the element in which he best existed, providing him with the equilibrium of affinity and a lifeline to the rational as well as the fantastic. The tormented love affairs of adult years – and, supremely, the long passion for Lady Walston – brought him to the verge of insanity and suicide. It was in reading and writing that he enjoyed, from early childhood, a beneficent excitement and ground for development of his imagination and his gift… Our own best times with Graham usually arose from spontaneous shared pleasures of works and words – those of poets and novelists above all – that were central to his being and ours.

In its closing pages, Hazzard returns to the literary exchange that opens the book: in 1992 she received a letter from Michael Richey, one of those present when Hazzard supplied Greene with the words of the Browning poem at the restaurant all those decades before, and this letter, coming the year after Greene’s death, is what triggered her decision to write this book.

After finishing Greene on Capri, I looked for Capri on a map and discovered it is off the west coast of Italy, near the mainland city of Sorrento. And it strikes me that this would be the perfect book to take along to a “silent reading night” at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle. Or maybe one of Greene’s novels.

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

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The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

NaNoReMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Write-ins are happening all over the place, including the library. And some people even go a step further: they become published authors as a result of their hard work and dedication to the craft of writing. How cool is that? One year my husband and I decided that we would each write a novel during NaNoWriMo. While we would be writing vastly different stories and not exactly collaborating, we wrote side-by-side in the same room and bounced ideas and grammar conundrums off of each other. Neither one of us finished our novels, but we had a lot of fun and learned more about each other as a result. Which, let me tell you, after being together for almost half your lives is something special indeed!

But this isn’t a post about NaNoWriMo. This is about a new moniker I am giving November: NaNoReMo, which stands for National Novel Reading Month. Reading books out loud together is something my husband and I have done on multiple occasions. Sharing an experience with someone can definitely bring you closer together, and sharing the experience and enjoyment of a book together is one of my top things for us to do as a couple. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and can sometimes even be done while doing otherwise mundane or boring tasks. I’m going to share with you a few of our favorite books that we have read together, which will hopefully spark your own imagination and enthusiasm!

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The time we read to each other: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
One of the best things about reading a Jim Gaffigan book is when you can get your hands on an audio recording of it and hear him read it to you. As huge fans of Jimbo, we were tempted to go that route. But instead we decided it would be fun to try reading each other alternating chapters. You read chapter 1, I’ll read chapter 2. One of the best things about this method was sometimes one or the other of us would be sleepy and not be up for reading that night. That’s okay; the other person was ready with the bedtime story. I might be sharing too much of myself here, but there is nothing I love hearing more than the sound of my husband’s voice. When he would read to me, I could feel the stress of the day melt away and if I was awake enough I’d be laughing right along with him as he read. I don’t know if he feels the same way about my voice, but I definitely returned the favor. It was a great balance and the fact that the book’s content was about an experience we haven’t yet shared, parenthood, made the experience educational as well.

2-ready-player-oneThe time we listened to an audiobook instead of watching TV: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When Ready Player One first came out it didn’t even become a tiny blip on my radar. It’s the worst-kept secret that I detest dystopian novels, and this promised to fit the bill. But then the library acquired the audiobook and I saw that it was read by Wil Wheaton. After a quick fangirl dance of joy I promptly checked it out. On the drive home from work that night I listened to the beginning of the story, and over the next couple of weeks I finished the first few discs on my commute. It was a great way to pass the time while fighting rush hour traffic, but I had a better idea. I knew this story would appeal to my husband, so that night I brought the whole set into the house, set up some equipment, and started from the beginning. We were both riveted, and over the next several days we skipped the usual evening television programming in favor of listening to Wesley Crusher relate the story of Wade Watts and his journey into the OASIS system in search of James Halliday’s three keys and, hopefully, his ticket out of poverty.

3-the-martianThe time we read the same book back-to-back: The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another not-on-my-radar book that I almost missed. A few months before the Matt Damon movie was to be released in theaters, my husband read a story about the movie and knew he wanted to see the movie but read the book first. He devoured the book. I mean, he’s a quick reader anyway compared to my reading speed, but in this case he actually lost sleep in favor of finding out if astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for several years, ever made it back to Earth or not. He then began his campaign to get me to read it, too. Our reading tastes don’t often overlap so we aren’t in the habit of pestering each other to read a book we enjoyed. But this was different. He warned me about some technical jargon and heavy use of math (what does that say about me, that I need a math trigger warning?) but said the humor and writing style would win me over, and the suspense would keep me up as well. While I admit that I started reading the book in a thinly-veiled attempt to shut him up, the joke was on me. I absolutely loved it, and consider myself fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Through no real effort my brain read the book in Matt Damon‘s voice.

4-romeo-and-or-julietThe time we will take turns choosing how the book goes: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
So I don’t know about you, but my Octobers are always super-busy, very stressful, and as a result I always get sick. This year was no exception. It was such a struggle to get through the month that November has so far been a kind of recuperation period. That’s all ending this Veterans Day when both my husband and I will finally have some quality time together. We’ve planned to read this book by Ryan North, aka one of the funniest guys in comics today, aka the crazy mad awesome genius behind The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel. He has reworked Shakespeare so that the reader gets to choose the ending. That’s right; it’s a choose your own adventure for adults, and it has been sitting on our shelf at home for months collecting dust, waiting for its turn in the TBR. Our plan is for one of us to read while the other one drives; that is to say if I’m reading, he’s telling me which choice he wants as we go along. I really can’t wait for this one, as it’s another new type of book that is sure to help rejuvenate our spirits before we plan to travel back home for the holidays (stress x 1000).

So there you have it. Whether you’ve been married for decades or just swiped right, I urge you to file this one away in your relationship database. Let’s make America read again!

Reading Trendy: Collected Biographies of Women

Hypercolor T-shirts. Scrunchies. Slap bracelets. Spandex bodysuits. Mood rings. Tight-rolled acid-wash jeans. Trends come and go, and not just in the fashion world. The literary world has its fair share of trends as well. Right now we’re experiencing one I can only call wondrous, as collected biographies of trailblazing women are gracing our shelves and checking out at the speed of light. Without further ado I am pleased to introduce you to some rad women.

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Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
Even if it might not have seemed like it at the time, these women have helped repave the path for women in the world, whether they be gay, straight, political, artistic, or the first woman in space (looking at you, Sally Ride). Each biography contains the basics, like birth/death years and a brief overview of her life. But we get to dive in even deeper with personal quotes, notes on each woman’s legacy, and illustrations. This book is aimed at teens, which is great so that kids today have some positive role models outside the Kardashian family. I would have loved a book like this when I was growing up. But don’t let the targeted age group sway you: this book is still entertaining and empowering enough for adults too.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World by Rachel Swaby
This was the book that started it all. I’d owned a copy for nearly a year before I finally started reading it this summer. Friends, I tell you I learned more useful information reading Headstrong than I think I did in all of high school. Sorry Mrs. Klaus, it’s true! You’ve probably heard that silver screen legend Hedy Lamarr was an inventor whose radio guidance system helped lay the groundwork for wifi and Bluetooth. But have you heard of Lise Meitner (nuclear fission), Marie Tharp (created the first scientific map of the ocean floor), or Marguerite Perey (discovered the element francium)? What about Alice Ball? She was from Seattle and developed a groundbreaking treatment for leprosy. This book is designed so that you could read one chapter each week and end up with a year of scientific geniuses dancing through your subconscious.

Remarkable Minds: 17 More Pioneering Women in Science & Medicine by Pendred E. Noyce
Sad but true: this book looks like a textbook and that could let it slip under your radar. But what it lacks in outward appearance it makes up for in substance. Each chapter focuses on a different woman, but it goes deep into her life providing photos (or paintings, if our lady lived pre-photography), diagrams relating to her field of work, and a timeline of major world events alongside her personal achievements to give everything context. Out of all the books mentioned here, this is by far the most detailed.

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Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
This book is beyond gorgeous. It’s truly a work of art and author/illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky clearly has immense talent. We all judge books by their covers even if we try not to. There’s something so appealing about a colorful, intricately decorated book that makes me sit up and take notice and I know I’m not the only one. So if your goal is to get kids interested in a book about women scientists, this is absolutely the way to do it. Even the endpapers are breathtaking! Since it’s aimed at children the passages are brief and more of a general overview of each woman, but wow, what design! Definitely don’t miss this one.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs
The beloved (at least by me!) author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is back with something completely different. Here Sam Maggs introduces us to the rad ladies of science that history sometimes has a tendency to overlook. I can’t say too much about this since it’s a book we still have on order. It was originally set to publish mid-October but the publishers have since moved it up to…this past Tuesday! Once our copies are in you can believe they will be flying off the shelves faster than you can say STEM!

It’s reassuring to realize that when you check out one of these books you’re only going to have to read one book, but you’ll read dozens of biographies of some truly incredible women. This is one trend I hope never ends.

We Remember: September 11, 2001

World Trade Center September 11, 2001

Photo by Kate Larsen.

This Sunday marks 15 years since the horrific September 11th attacks back in 2001. Four coordinated attacks killed nearly three thousand people and injured twice as many. I had the realization the other day that there is a whole new generation of kids and teens out there who didn’t live through that terrible time, who didn’t know a life before. At least in my mind, there’s definitely a Before and an After. So I wanted to get people to talk about where they were and what happened.

I lived in central Illinois at the time. I had saved up and taken a year off from regular life to go live in sin with my husband Chris, who was my fiance in those days. Chris was at the bank with one of our roommates, paying the rent. This was the one week in my life I worked retail. I was scheduled to start training on the cash register that day, and as I was getting dressed I had the TV on. I remember seeing the footage of the first plane hit, and then the second. I was glued to my TV for as long as I could manage before I knew I had to get in the car and drive to work. I don’t remember anything about that day at work. The numbness set in the longer I thought about the magnitude of what I had witnessed. After I got home from work I heard that the police showed up at one of the research institutions on campus, checking things out because they thought it could be a potential target as well. You could see the building, just three blocks away, outside my bedroom window on the 4th floor. The rest of the year I slept uneasily thinking that we could be next.

I know a lot of people have a similar story: I was getting ready for work and I learned what had happened. But I knew there would be variations, and entirely different stories altogether. So I gathered some EPL staffers together and asked them to share the stories of where they were that fateful day. I would love it if you would consider sharing your story in the comments. We remember. We will always remember.

Linda
It began like any other day…. I got up and got my two kids off to school. My big goal of the day was canning my pickled garlic, and I had all my supplies ready – the brine, the jars, my canner, etc.  It is an all day job boiling each small batch of jars. About 10:30 I turned on the TV, just for some back ground noise in between batches, and I remember turning it on and the first image was a replay of the plane flying into the tower! My first thought was it was some kind of a weird disaster show… but then I realized it was real! My mind couldn’t register that it had happened! I think I was in shock along with the rest of the world for days.

Alan
I was in transition, moving from Boston to Chicago, but between homes, couch surfing with a variety of friends in states throughout the Midwest. When I woke that morning, after a particularly bad night’s sleep – no couch this time, just hardwood floor – I was in Bloomington, Indiana and I know this is cliché, but I thought I was still dreaming. Since that was my main concern, I was dreaming about the road trip, its ins and outs, adventures to come, and so forth. After I found out my brother, who lives in Brooklyn, and worked in Wall Street at that time was OK, I spent the next day, wandering the streets of this lovely college town as depressed and devastated as everyone else. It was only later I got word from friends and family back East that for example, Brian, a boy I remember coloring with in upstate New York had lost his life in one of the towers. There isn’t a day I don’t think about 9/11.

Tyler
I was in 4th grade on September 11th, and the teacher was reading us our daily chapter from whichever book we were working through that month.  I remember being really into the story and was very annoyed when the school principal came in, pulled our teacher aside and whispered something to her.  After the principal left, our teacher turned to the class and told us something to the effect of “the Twin Towers have been attacked”, even though to a class of fourth graders the significance was likely lost.  I remember thinking that I didn’t know what that was and that we should get back to reading the story.  It wasn’t until I got home and my mother had the news story on and I saw the repeated footage of people crying, the smoke, and the collapsing towers that it really sunk in what had happened that day and how serious it was.

Kim
A personal memory for me regarding September 11, 2001 actually happened two months later. A family friend passed away and in explaining to my nephew who had recently turned four that this person had died he asked “Did a plane hit her house?” It brought home to me how even the youngest children realized something devastating had happened to the country and now fear was part of their lives.

Emily
The morning of Sept 11, 2001, I had a late start time at work.  I kept hitting my snooze alarm, which was tuned to an NPR station. I heard fragments of news, “plane crash….,” “…..Pentagon,” “…..terrorism.”  I didn’t put all the bits together until my husband called from his office to ask if I could tell him what was going on. Rumors at his workplace were flying but no one seemed to have the full picture.

I headed to the TV room and turned on the news, and was shocked to see not one, but three buildings had been hit by hijacked planes; a suspected act of terrorism. I called my husband back: “It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.”  I took the quickest shower I could, threw on some clothes and hurried to my job at the Lake City Branch Library.

When I arrived, library staff were halfheartedly preparing to open the library, sniffling and clutching wads of Kleenex. By then, we’d learned about the fourth plane. We formed a circle, held hands, hugged, and talked for a bit, holding each other up. I encouraged staff to take turns stepping away from the library for a little while, to visit their church or place of worship, or simply go hug their families. Whatever their conscience was urging them to do.

Later, one of my co-workers made a tiny, black heart sticker to wear on my Seattle Public Library nametag. She thanked me for “being a sweetheart” on that tragic morning. I no longer work at the Seattle Public Library, but I still have that nametag with the black heart; it’s my souvenir from 9-11.

World Trade Center September 11, 2001

Photo by Kate Larsen.

Richard
I was working at the Columbus branch of the New York Public Library that day and we were getting things ready to open. The daily newspapers hadn’t been delivered (again!), so I went to the corner bodega to pick them up and soon realized something was very wrong. Everyone in the shop was intently listening to the radio and wondering aloud how a pilot could have possibly run into the World Trade Center on such a clear day. When I got back to the branch we began listening to the radio as well, we didn’t have a television, and that is how we learned of the horrible events as they unfolded.

While there was definitely a feeling of shock, confusion and horror at what was happening, the dominant concern at the time was oddly practical and personal for most of us listening: Where were the people we cared about and how the heck were we going to get home with the subway and most of the buses not running? I was technically in charge at the branch, due to a staff illness, so I had to confirm that the library would be closed that day, which took a surprisingly long time to do, and close up the branch so staff could find their loved ones and try to get home safely.

My wife was working in Midtown, in the shadow of the Empire State Building which made us both very nervous that day, and thankfully we were able to find each other and join the large stream of people for the long walk home together. We were lucky, in a way, since we didn’t have to cross any of the bridges to get home, but we did have to walk all the way to 188th street in Washington Heights, a distance of seven miles, where we were living at the time. Once home, with my mother-in-law who was on her first visit to New York no less, we were finally able to get out of survival mode and slowly take in the events of the day.

Kate
I had just moved from the East Village in Manhattan to Greenpoint, Brooklyn when 9/11 happened. I’d lived in New York for just over a year, and on Monday, September 10, had just come back into the City from a long weekend in the Catskills. I remember commenting on the drive back as we passed the World Trade Center that I hadn’t made it there yet (save for the subway stop) and that I probably should make a point to go to the viewing platform.

I’d also taken Tuesday, September 11th off of work to do some errands so I was not at my library in Manhattan that day – but if things had gone as planned I would’ve been only 12 blocks from the World Trade Center, or worse, on the subway running underneath it around the time the first plane hit. However, I was running late.

My husband went out to walk our dog and he rushed back in saying, “You have to come see this. This is crazy!” From the roof of our apartment building in Brooklyn we had a perfect view of downtown New York, so we went up; a few people from our building were already there. At that point both buildings were still standing. (I had my point-and-shoot film camera and snapped a few photos.)

I’ll never forget a French woman who was on the roof with us, cynically commenting about how stupid it was that not one, but two planes had somehow managed to fly into a building – “how could the pilots be so stupid?” she said. It was at that moment that I realized it had to be terrorism.

Both my husband and I were able to call our families and tell them we were okay before the phone lines went out. Then we sat down in front of the TV, and within moments of sitting down we watched first tower fall. We stayed in that same spot, stunned, all day and late into the night. The phone lines and cable quickly went out. You have to understand, this event wiped out services miles away from the World Trade Center site. Of course, in lower Manhattan things were much worse.

The cable company was able to reroute service back through the Empire State Building (where it’d been before the WTC was built), so thankfully we were able to get exactly one TV channel: NY1, the local 24-hour news station. And that was the only channel we had for a very long time – it may have even been months, I can’t remember now – not that having only one channel was important. It took a long time before we would’ve felt okay about changing the channel, or really doing anything other than watching the local news when we weren’t working. Things were very subdued.

On September 12th most of the NYPL branches were closed because transportation became difficult and staff just couldn’t get to them. But, the Library was justifiably proud to be able to open some branches, offering refuge and a place for people to just gather and be together and try to process what happened, and what was going to happen. Libraries have always supported their communities in important ways, but this was an event that showed the true power of libraries. Public libraries in New York became critical lifelines.

In the months that followed we watched as the City changed around us. Too many things happened to list them here– like the regular presence of armed National Guard soldiers at subway stops (imagine if armed guards were at every major intersection you drive through) to the peculiar odor that remained for months in lower Manhattan – but daily life changed drastically, and remained changed for years.

Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 2

Greetings, intrepid readers! In my last post I talked about all the amazing things happening for bookworms on social media. I highlighted three different platforms (Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy) and detailed the top 5 types of conversations you’re likely to have among fellow readers on those apps. Today I’m going to review some of the stellar books I’ve read as a result of these conversations with strangers. All of these books were outside of my typical fluffy/frivolous reading repertoire and I never would have picked them up had I not seen in-depth reviews and quotes from readers on bookish social media. I should add these are listed in the order I read them. And some of these were partially reviewed in my post last month about the 24 in 48 Readathon.

rupi kaur milk and honey by carol on litsy
Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
It seemed like everyone who hadn’t read this book when it came out late last year was picking it up for the first time in April for National Poetry Month. I typically don’t read much poetry but I made an exception for this title. In her first book of poetry, Rupi Kaur takes us deep into her life with extremely personal poems about her childhood, past boyfriends, and learning to heal after trauma and breakups. It’s a quick read, but one that is extremely frank and open about what she’s gone through in her life. Even with all of the personal details, most women will find themselves somewhere in this book. I do love how it ends on an uplifting note, as if to say this too shall pass and I am stronger now for having gone through all of this. I also like the “everywoman” appeal of the poems as they invite each woman to look back on her relationships, her period, how she got through extremely trying times and came through stronger, though hurting.

lindy west shrill by carol on litsy
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I am apparently the only person who had not heard of Lindy West before this book, and even so I got to it too late to see her at a reading in Seattle as she was traveling around the country on her book tour this spring. I regret not having her on my radar until now, but I have been forever changed by reading her book Shrill. Not only does Lindy tackle major topics like feminism, abortion, and rape culture, she is the number one poster child for squashing fat-shaming and having positive body acceptance. During her book I found myself questioning my own attitude towards my body, and asking myself why I let others’ opinions of what they think I should wear and what they think is appropriate or not for my body type affect what I purchase and what I wear. The day after finishing Shrill I wore a dressy pair of shorts to work. People saw my knees and I didn’t die!

roxane gay bad feminist by carol on litsy
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Reading Roxane Gay is a lot like talking with your most level-headed friend. Even if the subject matter is one that evokes strong feelings, she keeps her cool and tries to discuss these important things with you in a calm, clear manner. In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay manages to cover everything from pop culture to rape to feminism to a career in academia. She doesn’t talk down to us, but rather goes out of her way to lay out the inequalities, the injustices, the annoyances, and the facts in a matter-of-fact and yet empathetic way. There is a definite juxtaposition of mixing very serious topics with lighter ones. I was extremely fascinated reading about her time as a competitive Scrabble player. First of all, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. But I realize that to do anything competitively there is a suggestion that your skills stand above the average person. To play Scrabble competitively implies an intellect and strength of character that few posses. Such is the case with Roxane Gay. She is smart. She is funny. She is working on a book called Hunger that I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I get the feeling I will always react with grabby hands when someone mentions a new release by her.

claudia rankine citzen an american lyric by carol on litsy
Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Every time something horrible, unjust, and tragic happens in this world, the bookish social media clusters swarm together in shared empathy, seeking understanding  to try and make sense of the senseless. Such was the case with Citizen. I want to live in a world where this book isn’t necessary–but the sad and disgusting truth is this book is very much-needed. There are many put-yourself-in-this-situation passages that are written in the second person. The use of the second person is clever and intentional in a book that tries to expose life in a racist country. Because as much as we would like to think we have evolved past racism, bigotry, and inequality, we have not. As a country, we still have so far to go it’s heartbreaking. But that’s why books like this are here for you, and why I recommend everyone read it. Everyone. Bookish social media declared this required reading for every American citizen and I wholeheartedly agree.

rebecca solnit men explain things to me by carol on litsy
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Once again my bookish social media connections raved about a book, calling it necessary reading, and once again I picked up the gauntlet. And while this book isn’t just about mansplaining–a term the author has mixed feelings about–it definitely is about the disenfranchised and the cultural missteps that need to be corrected if we are ever going to improve our communities.The passages that really stood out to me involved having a voice and being heard. Historically it has been disgustingly easy for the group in power to silence anyone else whose opinions, thoughts, feelings, or civil liberties would infringe upon the leading group’s power. But the more that people band together to share one voice–civil rights, women’s suffrage, feminism, exposing racism in one’s community–the harder it is to ignore the message.

These relatively short books packed a mighty literary punch. While I wouldn’t have sought them out on my own, I am so glad my bookish comrades urged me on. Not only was I reading out of my fluffy comfort zone, I was seeing the world through some very different perspectives. You’ll notice these books were strong on themes of racism and sexism, feminist to the core. I’m currently falling down a rabbit hole of such, with book recommendations based on these books spiraling out from my TBR pile.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with race and racism include Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with sexism and feminism include Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slug and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know also by Jessica Valenti.

Hopefully you’ve not only gained some new titles to add to your TBR pile but also seen what good can come from social media. I’ve rarely encountered a troll on Goodreads, Litsy, or the #bookstagram portion of Instagram. It’s kind of like a book nerd’s utopia. We’re definitely living in the golden age of reading. Seize the day and your smartphone and join the reading revolution!