Monday, April 29, 2013

State Street: One Brick at a Time by Robert P. Ledermann

I always think of Michigan Avenue as the great street in Chicago. Downtown you find beautiful buildings on one side of the street and green Grant Park with the Art Institute of Chicago on the other. Follow it north over the Chicago River and you pass the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building into high end shopping. For author Robert P. Ledermann, however, State Street has always been the heart of the city, the street for Christmas parades and shopping in department stores. He recounts the past, some of which he has witnessed, in State Street: One Brick at a Time.

If your first thought about State Street is Marshall Field's Department Store, then you are in Mr. Ledermann's camp. Slightly over half of the book is about this famous department store which covered an entire Chicago city block. The author fully describes the building and recounts many stories about the introduction of new customer services by the innovative retailer. He includes an entire chapter on Christmas at Marshall Field's. In doing so, he carefully never says anything against Macy's, the New York company that killed the Marshall Field's name, but as a reader you can sense that he'd like to turn back the hands on the famous clocks. I'd help him.

After all the attention that the author gives Marshall Field's, I expected a bit more detail on the other well-known department stores that once lined the street - Carson Pire Scott & Company gets a chapter and all the others are lumped into one chapter. A consistent theme throughout these two chapters is that most of the store owners learned their trade working for Marshall Field and that their stores sat on land owned by Marshall Field.

State Street: One Brick at a Time is an entertaining read - you learn why not to decorate a Christmas tree with candy - but it is just an introduction to a street with much history told in other books. Still, all Chicago area public libraries should have it for its great collection of photographs.

Ledermann, Robert P. State Street: One Brick at a Time. History Press, 2011. 157p. ISBN 9781609492946.

Friday, April 26, 2013

38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg

With a growing interest in the history of the state of Minnesota and continuing interest in Abraham Lincoln, I chose naturally to read 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg, which tells the story of the Dakota Uprising of 1862. The events are known by a variety of names including Sioux Uprising, Dakota Conflict, and Little Crow's War. Little Crow was an aging chief in August 1862 when warriors of the Dakota nation killed several hundred white settlers in communities strung along the Minnesota river southwest of St. Paul, the capital the new state. Little Crow was reported to have argued against the uprising but stepped up to lead it once some younger men started the conflict. He became a central figure in a tragedy that seemed at the time inevitable.

The Dakota were living in western Minnesota after a series of treaties with the United States moved them off their traditional lands. Though the treaties promised them annual payments in gold for their sale of lands, the tribes had discovered by 1862 than much of each payment disappeared into the hands merchants, Indian agents, and government officials every year. In late summer 1862 the payments were already long overdue and many Dakota were near starving. There was also a report that the U.S. had no gold to deliver, thanks to the cost of the Civil War, and was bringing paper money instead. With whites constantly encroaching on their territory, some of the Dakota were ready to rise, hoping they could chase the whites out of Minnesota.

In 38 Nooses, Berg recounts the events leading up to and after the mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota of 38 participants in the uprising. I was a little surprised that the description of this central event itself is fairly brief. The cast of characters in the narrative is large, but certain names recur frequently, including Sarah Wakefield, a woman who was held hostage by the Dakota, and Episcopal minister Henry Benjamin Whipple who lobbied with President Lincoln for reform of the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs. Lincoln's role was that of ultimate judge, reducing the number of executions from over 300 to what was still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil.

Because 1862 represents a turning in the affairs of North American Indians, 38 Nooses is an valuable title for students of 19th century America.

Berg, Scott W. 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End. Pantheon Books, 2012. 364p. ISBN 9780307377241.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Appeal of Reading True Stories

I will be talking about nonfiction readers' advisory next week at the 2013 Reaching Forward Conference. One of the points that I want to make is that true stories have as much appeal as fiction, and like fiction, certain subgenres of true stories have different primary appeals. Story, character, setting, language , and mood are the categories identified by books in the Read On ... Series of books from Libraries Unlimited.

For the attendees of Reaching Forward and for readers who find their way to this page, here are some book suggestions according to appeal categories.


Historical episode

City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked the Nation by Deborah Davis
The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke
The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by Jon Margolis
The Day the Revolution Ended: 19 October 1781 by William H. Hallahan


The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story Of Rock and Roll's Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman
The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways by Earl Swift
Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World by Tom Zoellner
Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester



The President is a Sick Man by Matthew Algeo
Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin
The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon


The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele Norris
Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer


Foreign adventure

A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship by Julia Alvarez
Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti by Gerry Hadden
Instant City by Steve Inskeep
Burma Chronicles by Guy DeLisle
End of the Earth: Voyages to Antarctica by Peter Matthiessen


Nature discovery

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose
Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly
Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

Personal essays

Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen
Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, & Gatemouth's Gator by Michael Perry
Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays by William Styron
At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman


True crime

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal
The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry
A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

I have built a preview slideshow for the Reaching Forward Presentation. It shows a lot of true story books that I like.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior by Brandon Schrand

I reviewed this title for Booklist. Here are further thoughts.

Many of us think about writing memoirs these days, regardless of whether there has been any drama in our lives. It may be that the talent of the writer and the life of the mind are more important than events, but many of us do not have the goods to deliver to a wide audience. One who does is Brandon R. Schrand, who has found a very clever way to present his unlikely life in Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior.

Schrand is a reader, though he came to serious literary books rather late compared with many others now in literary professions. He wanted to be a rock musician and neglected most of his studies in public school. With very suspect grades, he enrolled in college to avoid working in the mines of Idaho and because college was a place to find women, booze, and drugs. That he would end up an English professor and writer is an unlikely end.

I did not spoil the ending of Works Cited just now, for Schrand himself lets you know the outcome early in the process. Nothing about his book is chronological. Instead, he has written 27 essays about books that have altered the course of his life, and as the title states, the essays are placed in alphabetical order by author. So readers jump back and forth in time learning about Schrand as he remembers reading Edward Abbey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Hornby, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. Each essay provides some of the pieces to the puzzle that is Schrand, and all pieces are necessary.

It is amazing how much forgiveness Schrand has needed and received. Some readers may become exasperated, but others may see a bit of themselves or people they know. This is why we read as well as think about writing memoirs.

Schrand, Brandon. Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior. University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780803243378.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Matthew at Thomas Ford has been restocking our genre collections with classics and rare finds. Among the latter is a book by A. A. Milne. Who now would guess that Milne was a great mystery fan? Most of us associate the once famous humorist with Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. But Milne wasn't thinking of writing children's stories all the time. According to his introduction, he was reading mysteries, which he compared to beers. He rarely found one he did not like, and he wanted one with his own signature. So he wrote The Red House Mystery in 1922.

Milne did not try to reinvent the genre on his first try. Instead, he introduced Antony Gillingham, a bright young man who in The Red House Mystery happens upon a crime and thinks that solving it before the police would be smashing fun. Of course, the murder occurs at a country estate where Bill Beverly, one of Antony's close friends, has been a guest. They begin calling each other Holmes and Watson and start looking for clues. It is all great fun.

There are lots of classic mystery elements: a missing suspect, a case that seems open-and-shut to the police, maids to interview, a secret passage, missing keys, disguises, and pretty girls to impress. Milne introduces these pretty girls but then keeps them off-stage, perhaps available for sequels that did not follow. With insight and a bit of luck, Antony and Bill solve the crime and suggest they will be setting up shop to solve further mysteries. Alas, for the reader, they never did. The Red House Mystery is treat that leaves you wishing for more.

Milne, A. A. The Red House Mystery. Vintage Books, 2009. 211p. ISBN 9780099521273.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History by William K. Klingman and Nicholas P. Klingman

Snow in July in New Hampshire. Hard frost in Virginia every month of the year. Constant rain and flooding all summer in Switzerland. 1816 was a very strange year, and no one knew why at the time. Amateur astronomers noticed unusual sunspot activity early in the year, but it did not persist. With no global communication technology other than letters carried by sailing ships, no one in North America or Europe knew about a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia that scientists now agree was responsible for crop failures and famine worldwide. Instead, some evangelists claimed that it was the beginnings of the apocalypse.

The story of 1816 is hard to tell even now, as there are no documents from official weather bureaus or professional meteorologists to consult. In order to write The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History, authors William K. Klingman and Nicholas P. Klingman had to piece together archived newspaper accounts with comments from letters and diaries of people as diverse as authors Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, farmer David Thomas of western Pennsylvania, and diplomat John Quincy Adams. They also used the gardening records of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The result is a story woven from many threads, perhaps too many for some readers tastes.

With few accounts available from outside North America and Europe, The Year Without Summer is geographically unbalanced. Readers learn about terrible suffering in the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, and Switzerland, but very little about India, China, or Japan. Still, a dedicated history reader will glean historical nuggets from the story, especially regarding human migrations. Many people left New England for the Midwest or the South as their crops failed and they sold off their properties to buy food at highly inflated prices. Irish peasants left for North America, and desperate Germans headed for southern Russia. Lawmakers tried to prevent the exporting of grains from hard-hit regions, but that hardly constituted assistance for the poor. Readers may notice how many nineteenth century officials in America and Europe agreed that charity was not the role of government.

Shelved with science books in many libraries, The Year Without Summer, is a bit light on science and stronger on history. I think the authors might have more fully developed their conclusions. As it is, the story seems unfinished. I want to know more.

Klingman, William K. and Nicholas P. Klingman. The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History. St. Martin's Press, 2013. 338p. ISBN 9780312676452.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren

Hank Greenberg did not set out to be an icon for his faith. Not devout and very private, he said little about being Jewish, but being 6' 4" and named Greenberg, he could not help being noticed at a time when there were very few Jewish baseball players. The 1930s were also a time of heightened anti-Semitism. While only a few Americans openly supported Adolf Hitler's suppression of German Jews, dislike and distrust of American Jews was widespread. In Greenberg's early years with the Detroit Tigers, some of his teammates were cold, and many opposing players were vicious. When he debated sitting out games on Jewish holidays, some newspaper columnists denounced him.

Only with quiet, steady play and delivering winning hits did Greenberg earn fans. In Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, author John Rosengren recounts how the tall first baseman became the key player of the Tigers in 1934, when he hit 63 doubles and drove in 139 runs in only his second full season with the team. In 1938 he challenged Babe Ruth's season record by hitting 58 home runs. In 12 seasons with the Tigers, he led them to the World Series four times. He spent one final year with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Greenberg's career was shortened by the U.S. involvement in World War II. He was one of the first players drafted into military service, inducted in spring 1941 long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He rose in rank from private to captain and was the commanding officer for the 58th Bombardment Wing's base in China. He missed over four season's worth of games at peak of his career, having led the American League in doubles, home runs, and RBIs in the season before his military service began.

After retiring as a player, Greenberg became a baseball executive. According to Rosengren, he was just as tough in negotiations of players' salaries as management as he had been a player. He was in some ways, however, still sympathetic to players and was an early advocate for ridding baseball of the reserve clause that bound players to teams. He also helped the Cleveland Indians add their first black players.

Rosengren's biography of Greenberg is a traditional birth to death account, admiring but frank about some of the player's shortcomings. The bulk of the text covers Greenberg's years as a player, satisfying the interest of the sports fan, but it is not a game-by-game account. Rosengren highlights Greenberg's life and takes much effort to place him in the context of his community and culture. You do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy this biography.

Rosengren, John. Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. New American Library, 2013. 392p. ISBN 9780451235763.

In his final years, Greenberg recorded the contents of what became Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life, were edited by veteran sports writer Ira Berkow. John Rosengren praises the book for its candor and feeling but warns that it includes numerous factual errors.

If you enjoyed Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, here are books that you might enjoy:

Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy - Koufax was a high profile Jewish player in the 1950s and 1960s. Like Greenberg, he sat out some games on Jewish holidays, including an important World Series game. He retired in his prime, walking away from what was at the time a large contract, to protect the health of his arm.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Brandt - Aaron played and lived baseball much the way Greenberg did, never relaxing, carry his teams through success and failure. Like Greenberg, Aaron received death threats when he chased a Babe Ruth home run record.

Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball - And America by Robert Cottrell - When Greenberg and Robinson collided at first base on a play in 1947, the former made sure the latter knew it was not intentional. Both withstood prejudicial abuse to become star players.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World by Alistair Lawrence with a forward by Sir George Martin

Say that you have a talented young band and you want to sound like the Beatles. What could help more than to record at Abbey Road Studio in Studio 2 using some of the same microphones? It is possible. Abbey Road Studio may now be rented, and the studio has kept much of the recording equipment it has used since its opening in 1931, including a vast array of microphones. You can learn more in the big, beautiful photohistory Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World by Alistair Lawrence with a forward by Sir George Martin.

Abbey Road Studios may be best known for rock recordings now, including Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, but it began and continues to be a center for classical recording. The first official recording made in the studio featured Sir Edward Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in his own "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, Opus 39." Sir Thomas Beecham, Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Andres Segovia, and Pablo Casals recorded at Abbey Road in its early days. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin was associated with the studios for nearly 70 years. In the 1960s, cellist Jacqueline du Pre and her husband pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim recorded there.

Since the 1980s, Studio 1 has been busy with recording soundtracks for blockbuster movies, including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Braveheart, Evita, Apollo 13, and all of the Harry Potter films. Pages 212-215 show work on various Lord of the Rings movies. The studio provided historic microphones for use in The King's Speech.

Throughout the book, the author features the employees of the studio, including engineers, producers, artistic directors, and even tea ladies, and shows vintage and cutting edge equipment, making the book a sort of introduction to recording science. The engineers at Abbey Road developed and patented many audio innovations.

"And in the end" (Beatles quote), readers will open their phonograph cabinets or run to You-Tube to revisit the music. Abbey Road is a big book worth lifting.

Lawrence, Alistair. Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World. Bloomsbury, 2012. 303p. ISBN 9781608199990.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Days Are Gods by Liz Stephens

I reviewed this book positively for Booklist and want to continue my thoughts here.

No matter whether we should or not, we judge
books by covers. When I first saw The Days Are Gods by Liz Stephens, with its somber picture of horses walking in the snow, I thought it would be good. I had never heard of the author, but the muted gray and white of the illustration and title in script spoke to me of serious introspection. It also helped that I saw "AMERICAN LIVES SERIES | Tobias Wolff, editor" at the bottom of the cover. I have read other titles in this series from the University of Nebraska Press with great pleasure. I was in no way disappointed.

Stephen spent ten years "below the line" in the production of television commercials. Her job was catering snacks and refreshments to actors and production crews. Longing to write and eager to do something more honest than advertising, she entered graduate school in northern Utah. She and her long time soulmate Christopher married and moved into an old house outside of Wellsville, Utah. Through their windows, they saw the changing colors of the mountains and the scattered houses of their neighbors, whose children might drop by at any time asking to use their bathroom or to take their horses into Stephen's pasture for a ride. The neighbors, mostly Mormons, were gracious and tolerant, not bent on converting her as she had feared. Wanting not to feel an outsider, she tried to fit in, dressing plainly, hiding her tattoo, and participating in the life of the community. Still, any local could pick her out as not one of them.

Her surprising feeling of belonging in her new setting led Stephens to document her present, examine her past, and contemplate her future. Was there a seed in her upbringing that made her long for the countryside? She recalled stories of her parents move from rural Oklahoma to suburban Chicago. She traveled to Oklahoma to see family landmarks, returning to Utah uncertain about committing to the state. Would her nearly pristine valley be spoiled by the increasing migration of disenchanted urbanites? Should she leave the place she loves?

In her first book, Stephens has intimately described a situation faced by others seeking a place to find a wholesome lifestyle. She also reveals much about her own soul. Memoir readers will really enjoy The Days Are Gods.

Stephens, Liz. The Days Are Gods. University of Nebraska Press, 2013. ISBN 9780803243545.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Read On … Speculative Fiction for Teens: Reading Lists for Every Taste by Jamie Kallio

One of my pleasures during the last year has been seeing my latest book promoted with Jamie Kallio's Read On … Speculative Fiction for Teens: Reading Lists for Every Taste, first on a poster at the Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia when Jamie's book was a forthcoming title and recently in Libraries Unlimited catalogs that list it for sale. Both are titles in the Read On Series edited by Barry Trott. I am pleased because Jamie was working with us at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library when she started her book, and I like to think that by virtue of our working at a medium-small library and getting published nationally we have made a positive statement to the profession about the work at every size of libraries. She now works for the larger Orland Park Public Library.

Books written for teen readers are hot, especially in the science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal genres, which Jamie addresses in her readers' advisory book. Teens are not the only people reading these books, however. Many adults will recognize some of authors included in her book - Neil Gaiman, Isabel Allende, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Ursala K. LeGuin, and J. K. Rowling. The great service of her book is that she goes beyond the familiar to introduce us to other talented authors, their memorable characters, and worlds we can hardly imagine.

Like all Read On Series books, Read On … Speculative Fiction for Teens is divided into five chapters, each of which contains between 11 and 20 lists of books related by reading appeal factors. Chapters focus on story, character, setting, mood, and language. Lists have clever titles which indicate their themes, such as "Look, Ma, I Can Fly! … and Other Experiments," "Falling for You: Immortal Beings," "You're Such a Witch," and "Stranger with My Face: Possession." If you want books with zombies, dragons, robots, vampires, or strong women, you can find them in Jamie's book. You can also find audiobooks, graphic novels, and award winning titles among the entries.

I especially like that Jamie dedicates the book to two of our library's former teen employees, readers with whom Jamie discussed books. How fitting.

Kallio, Jamie. Read On … Speculative Fiction for Teens: Reading Lists for Every Taste. Libraries Unlimited, 2012. 126p.ISBN 9781598846539.

Friday, April 05, 2013

"Who is Paul Auster?" I asked myself when I saw his memoir Winter Journal on so many of the 2012 best book lists. Perhaps I would know if I were a devoted fiction reader, as he has written over a dozen novels. The book jacket indicates that he is a bestselling author and has won lots of important awards for his books and screenplays. He has also written essays, poetry, and other memoirs. No bells, however, rang in my librarian's head. There is a reason I need library catalogs and reference books. There is far too much to remember.

One of the trends that I both celebrate and fear is the publishing of more memoirs by people that our readers and we do not recognize. Some of my best reading experiences have been with autobiographical books by unfamiliar authors. There is so much for a reader to discover in such books - if written well. But there are so many of these books now, and our book budgets are inadequate. How do we pick memoirs that our readers will want? I read the reviews and still miss picking some of the books that readers later request.

So, who is Paul Auster, besides being an author? Turns out he is an aging guy just a little older than me, with a family he loves, with the clock ticking away. Many of his concerns are also mine, but, unlike me, he lives the literary life - books, travel, interviews with editors and publishers, making ends meet, overcoming writer's block, etc. In Winter Journal, it is not a glamorous life. I am happy not to be Auster.

Looking at the cover, I notice how the author's name is much bigger than the book title. It is as if the author is the title, which would be appropriate as he is the subject. The book is described as a memoir of his body, but I am not so sure that I would agree. There are so many tangents and so much detail. Much of the narrative did not seem to be about his body.

Auster sometimes overwhelms the reader with lists within paragraphs. Several times I just skipped to the next page to find where the narrative continued. I debated whether to drop the book, but I did finish. I enjoyed most of his stories and can imagine that he is a talented novelist. I suspect this memoir appeals mostly to his fiction readers and people who give prizes. I am glad to have discovered him and am enjoying thinking about all the places I have lived. (Auster tells readers about every place he has lived.)

Auster, Paul. Winter Journal. Henry Holt, 2012. 230p. ISBN 9780805095531.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Here by Wislawa Szymborska

Reading books leads to reading more books. Along the path down which an author leads readers are signposts to paths blazed by other authors. In reading a collection of newspaper columns by Mary Schmich, I noted her quoting the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. Liking the quote, I emailed Bonnie who borrowed for me Here, a collection of poems in Polish with English translations on facing pages. At only 84 pages of text with a lot of white space, of which I read only the English half, it was a attractive choice, a short path that may lead to wider roads.

Even 42 pages of poetry can be hard going if the reader can not discern the topic or the meaning. I had no worries with this collection by Szymborska. Most of the poems chronicle daily life or describe tangible ideas of art or science. I was particularly struck by "Hard Life with Memory." Of an age when there is more to look back on than to look forward to, it tells about a struggle to balance one's attention in the present. "She" refers to Memory in this verse:

She thrusts old letters, snapshots at me eagerly,
stirs up events both important and un-,
turns my eyes to overlooked views,
peoples them with my dead. 

With some poems I identify, see myself. In others I am introduced to others and their views. Here is a mixture of emotions and high ideals, familiar and the strange, new and old. Szymborska's poems are never dull.

Szymborska, Wislawa. Here. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. 85p. ISBN 9780547364612.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe

The late Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Chinua Achebe is most known for his novel Things Fall Apart, set in the 1890s when British colonization disturbed the balance of tribal societies across Africa. Not only did Achebe write several sequels to the story, he also wrote poetry, essays, and children's books. The first of the children's stories, Chike and the River, first published in 1966, has recently been reissued with bright new  illustrations by Edel Rodriguez.

Chike is a young Nigerian boy of eleven living in rural Umuofia with his widowed mother as the story begins, but he is soon sent to stay with his uncle in Onitsha, where he attends school and learns about city life. He is an innocent who sometimes falls prey to the deceptions of city boys.While he misses village life, he is ready for adventures that the city offers, particularly riding a ferry across the Niger River. His mother has warned him never to go close to the River, so you can easily imagine what he wants to do.

Written for children, Chike and the River is somewhat light and optimistic and has been criticized as not up to Achebe's standards for realistic fiction. Being just a big kid, I enjoyed it for the story and sense of place.

I read a digital library copy of Chike and the River (88 pages in print but unspecified as an ebook) using Overdrive Read, a new ebook reader that works on Internet browsers, saving the borrower from downloading any files. I started in Firefox on a PC running Window XP, switched to Safari on my iPhone, and finish in Chrome on an iMac. Overdrive claims that my place will be kept each time I switch devices, but that did not happen. Each time I logged in, I started at the beginning. Luckily, the table of contents made it easy to navigate, and it was helpful not having to download the files.

Achebe, Chinua. Chike and the River. Anchor Books, 1966. Illustrations, 2011. 88p. ISBN 9780307473868. eISBN 9780307742070.