Happy Leap Day! (And Happy Birthday Christie who is 8 years old today!)

So, how did you do with the first month of the Reading Challenge? Did you discover a great new book? Or did the Journeys theme fall flat for you? Please let us know in the comments – tell us what you read and how you liked it!

I really enjoyed this months’ theme – in fact, as I was preparing book lists and setting out displays, I kept running across more titles I’d like to read! The idea of embarking on a journey, whether by physically traveling or through emotional growth, is a powerful one. Humans are blessed with great curiosity  – what’s around the bend in the trail, what are my limits and how can I move past them, how can I build a better mousetrap? It is one of our best characteristics, and following someone on their journey – and thinking about how we would have done – is one of the best ways to feed this curiosity. After all, I’m never going to climb Mt Everest – and have no desire to – but reading about someone’s trek is still eye-opening and mind-expanding.

road to little dribblingThis month I read The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. A treat for Anglophiles or fans of dry humor or anyone curious about England both past and present, will enjoy this book. Bryson is very funny, poking fun at silly conventions and laws (which England seems to have in abundance!), despairing at the of encroachment of modern “improvements”, liberally shot through with fondness and love for his adopted country.

This is not a straight line march from south to north and, in fact, Bryson doesn’t walk the entire way (although he loves tramping through the countryside and does so frequently); this is more of a meander, from Britain’s southernmost point to the far north. Bryson and Great Britain are well suited to each other – their love for and indulgence of the eccentric mesh nicely. Bryson is an expert at digging up interesting tidbits of history and trivia and making them fascinating. He is also very, very funny in a very dry, British way.

This is a great book to dip into to quickly read a chapter or two and easy to come back to later. It’s also great for adding many more places to visit when I travel to England! Highly recommended.

wildAs a (completely unnecessary) bonus, I also worked on reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is one of those books that I had started but hadn’t finished even though I liked it. As of this writing, I’m not quite done – I still have about a third of the book to go – but I am enjoying it a great deal.

This book is a very different kind of journey, involving both physical travel and emotional growth. After the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl finds herself floundering, repeatedly making poor choices (infidelity, heroin use, pushing away people she loves). Desperate to break out of this cycle, she latches onto the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, an arduous, long distance hike that would include desert heat, mountain snow, encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, food and water shortages and days and days without seeing another human.

Throughout the course of the book (and the hike), Cheryl thinks about her past and how it has shaped her, how the choices in her life have set her on this path (literal and metaphysical), how her grief has paralyzed her from moving forward with life. There are some cringe-worthy moments – the emotion is very real and very raw. She is also a complete hiking novice, making some terrible decisions (pack too heavy, shoes too small, the wrong fuel for her camp stove, etc etc) But the trail and the vast wilderness hone her skills; she becomes stronger with each step (both physically and emotionally), smarter and more confident. She grows into the person she is meant to be and she is eventually able to put the past aside and move on.

This all sounds very dreary and deep, but the book also has a lot of humor and light. Strayed comes to love the wilderness and describes it beautifully, she often pokes fun at herself and she meets many kind and helpful people in her journey. Her writing is fluid and natural and a joy to read. For anyone that has lost a loved one and wondered how to move on without them, this book will help make sense of that most difficult of journeys.

Those are my Journey books – what about yours? Please add a comment to this post and let us know!

Tomorrow we start with a new theme – Magical Realism! It’s going to be awesome – be sure to check back tomorrow for more information and reading suggestions.

ReadingChallengeBWHello Fellow Book Lovers!

Here we are at the mid-point of the first month of the Online Reading Challenge. How are you doing? Have you picked out a book to read yet? Have you started reading, or maybe you’re already finished – let us know in the comments!

As I mentioned before, I’m reading The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. It’s going well, although I do have a problem – it’s very difficult to read it in public since I am constantly chuckling, snorting, and laughing out loud. Bryson has not lost his edge, with many pointed, on-the-mark observations, but his humor has been softened (well, a bit) with time and is often aimed at himself. It is easy to tell that he truly loves his adopted country and, while he might sometimes despair, he also delights in it’s beauty and endless variety.

I should be able to finish this book in a couple days; for (completely unrequired) extra credit, I think I will try to finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I actually bought a copy of this book (something that, as a librarian I don’t do all that often) to take on a trip, but only read a couple of chapters even though I was enjoying it. Does that ever happen to you? An interesting book comes to you, but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t get read. Sometimes I come across a “to read someday” book several times before it either drops off the list or I finally read it. This time I’m going to try Wild again and see if it sticks.

In other news, the promised Reading Challenge bookmarks are now available! They’re great for keeping your place in your book of course, but these also list the theme for each month with space for you to write in the title you read. A fun way to keep track of your progress! You can find the bookmarks at each of the Davenport Library buildings in the literature displays and with the Challenge book displays.

Finally, are you still looking for the perfect Journeys title? Here are a couple more ideas to consider.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel Follow along with Pi when finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Patchett is easily by favorite contemporary author, but I hesitated to read this when it first came out and it became one of those “someday” books. When I did finally read it, I found I could hardly put it down again. It has mystery, action, love stories, medical mysteries, the ties of family and a heroine in the darkest Amazon rain forest. Highly recommended.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. A modern classic of the ultimate American journey, follow along as Lewis and Clark open up the great American frontier, treking where no white man had ever been.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. I am a huge fan of the entire Master and Commander series (20 volumes) and as a result probably know a lot more about early 19th century British naval practice than one might expect from a 21st century American woman. If you like Jane Austin, adventure, action, humor, historical fiction, and interesting characters you’ll like this epic tale of the improbable friendship of Jack and Stephen, all taking place against the backdrop of  the beautiful tall ships of the Napoleonic era. It’s brilliant.

american-flagThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday, February 15 in observance of President’s Day. All of our buildings will reopen on Tuesday with their regularly scheduled business hours: Main and Eastern 9:00am to 5:30pm and Fairmount noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

ReadingChallengeBWHere we go folks! Welcome to the first month of the Davenport Library Online Reading Challenge!

This month’s theme is Journeys. How you define “journey” is entirely up to you. The most obvious interpretations are travel memoirs, but there are also journeys of the mind and spirit. The best books combine a bit of both – interesting locations and new awareness from the writer. The Merriam-Webster definition of journey is:

1 : an act or instance of traveling from one place to another : trip. 2 chiefly dialect : a day’s travel. 3 : something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another <the journey from youth to maturity> <a journey through time>

Journeys, big or small, long or short, have the potential to fundamentally change how you see the world and traveling alongside someone on their journey is the next best thing (plus, you get to do it from the comfort of your own chair!)

Here are a few titles to get you started. Remember, you don’t have to read any of these from the list – you are free to pick anything that fits the theme of Journey.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – Tramp along the Appalachian Trail with local boy Bill Bryson (he grew up in Des Moines) and his crazy friend Stephen Katz as they set out to conquer this classic American journey. This book is very, very funny, (although the chapter about bears might make you think twice about walking anywhere less settled than Eldridge), but it is also full of insights about the beauty of nature, the oddity of human beings and the rewards of perseverance. Bryson has written several books about travel, all excellent, but this is the best (so far)

Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage – This is the book that woke up the wanderlust in me. A young couple sell everything and spend two years bicycling around the world. Their adventures and mishaps make for can’t-put-down reading and their journey is a testament to how far dreams and determination can take you.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed – After the death of her mother and after making multiple poor life choices, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. What she learns about herself along the way – to trust yourself and your own strengths, to ask for help from others, to believe in the healing power of the outdoors, to put one foot in front of the other again and again, are both life lessons and travel memoir.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner – In search of the happiest place on Earth, Eric Weiner travels the globe. Each chapter focuses on a new location, with many witty insights into the culture of each place. Some psychology, a dash of science and lots of travel and humor make for an engaging read. And maybe a few ideas for your next travel destination!

This is just a tiny sample of the many books about journeys that are out there. I’ve picked fairly recently published titles; the motif of a journey in literature is nearly as old as storytelling (The Odyssey anyone?), and has been used many times – Huckleberry Finn, Travels with Charley, On the Road. The possibilities are nearly endless.

My choice for this month is The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson’s newest travel book. He is back in England, moving from south to north, exploring and observing as only he can. What about you? What will you be reading? Tell us in the comments!

Look for Online Reading Challenge bookmarks at each of the library buildings in a few days – they’re designed to be a handy way keep track of the books you’ve read as part of the 2016 Challenge. We’ll put them out as soon as they’re available.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to report on my progress and to check up on how you’re doing.  Have fun and Happy Reading!

Check here if you need to more information about the Online Reading Challenge.

 

 

stacks of booksGreat news! Starting next week, the Davenport Library will unveil our very own Online Reading Challenge!

Would you like some help finding a good book? Maybe a little structure to keep you on track reading and not spend so much time online? (that’s my problem!) Ready to break out of a reading rut? Book Clubs are great – you meet new people, eat some fancy desserts, get into some passionate discussions – but they can be difficult to squeeze into a busy schedule and, horror of horrors – what if you have to spend your precious, limited reading time on a book you hate? Enter the DPL Online Reading Challenge!

This will be a no-pressure, let’s-share-some-great-books kind of challenge – there are no finishing prizes but, on the other hand, the Library Police aren’t going to show up on December 31 and drag you off to Library Jail if you don’t finish all of your books! (Hint: there is no such thing as Library Police) The idea is to introduce you to some new books/genres/themes you might not have tried before, to have fun expanding your reading horizons and to read one book a month (more or less – totally up to you.)

So here’s how it’s going to work.

There will be a different theme each month. The themes will cover a wide range of subjects and areas of interest. You may already be a fan of some of the themes, but leery of others (Graphic Novels, I’m looking at you!) At the first of the month I’ll talk about that month’s theme and give you a list of 4-5 curated titles that I think are great starter books for that theme. I’ll also link to any online lists of recommendations if available and invite you to chime in with any titles you suggest.

I’m going to be right there with you, reading a book a month. Some of the themes are favorites of mine but several of them are completely new to me so I’ll be tapping the expertise of our resident librarians (in case you didn’t know this, we have a lot of passionate readers on staff!) I’ll check in with you sometime in the middle of the month to see how everyone is progressing and list more titles I might have come across. Then at the end of the month I’ll tell you how I did and, most importantly, ask you to update us on how you did. You’re encouraged to add comments and recommendations via the blog throughout the month.

The rules are pretty simple; basically, there are no rules. If the theme-of-the-month is abhorrent to you, skip it (although I would encourage you to give it a try at least). If you don’t finish, no problem. If you’re impossibly busy that month, try again the next month. You are not restricted to the titles I’ll be listing; they’re just a starting point. The book itself can come from any source – the library, a bookstore, your own bookshelves at home (in fact, this might be a great opportunity to read some of those books on your “to read” list that you never seem to get around to!) You can read paper or digital or listen to it (if available) but please, no Cliff notes or watching the movie instead! You don’t even have to belong to the Davenport Library – anyone is welcome to join us!

Here is the Theme Line-Up for 2016:

February – Journeys (travel)

March – Magical Realism

April – The Good War in Fiction (WWII)

May – Graphic Novels

June – Summer Reads

July – Time Travel

August – Games We Play

September – Books about Books

October – Young Adult

November – Other Lives (fictional biographies)

December – Happy Holidays

Like I said, there are no finishing prizes (except for a glowing sense of satisfaction), but I do plan to have a few little extras available for you. Bookmarks listing the monthly themes and with room to write in what you read will be available in a couple of weeks as well as a display at the Fairmount Library with pertinent titles. I’m also working on a downloadable Reading Log that you print out and use to keep track of all the books you’ve read (a fun and valuable exercise), which we hope to launch in a few months.

Any questions? Thoughts? Suggestions? Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at ahetzler@davenportlibrary.com! Hope to see you right back here on February 1st!

 

mlkdayThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday January 18 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr Day. All of our buildings will reopen on Tuesday January 19 at their regular scheduled time – Main and Eastern Ave at 9:00am and Fairmount at noon.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!

indestructibleNow that winter seems to have finally arrived, the Iowa gardener is forced indoors. How does the avid gardener get their quota of poking around in the dirt and watching green things grow? Houseplants of course! It may not be quite the same as a perennial border or a vegetable patch of edibles, but houseplants can get you through the darkest months and have their own charms and rewards any time of the year.

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin will set you on the path to a lifelong happy obsession with indoor plants. Martin lists dozens of tough, easy-to-grow houseplants by family, giving lots of tips and growing advice and pointers to the best varieties. Each plant family has a simple-to-consult growing basics charts, but the real value of this book is Martin’s charming, fun-to-read detailed descriptions. The acknowledged current leader in houseplant cultivation, Martin is not afraid to admit to failures or less-than-spectacular results (although I doubt those happen to her very often!)

The photographs in the book are spectacular and prove that “indestructible” is not synonymous with plain or boring. Most of the plants are grown strictly for their foliage (often very colorful foliage such as with the bromliads and begonias) but there are several flowering varieties – geraniums, kalanchoes, African violets – as well. Most of the plants are easy to find (check the local nurseries – we have several excellent ones in the area and winter is when they have the best variety of houseplants); some are common outdoor container plants (such as geraniums and ferns) that enjoy a summer vacation outdoors, decorating your porch in the summer and your living room in the winter (I’ve done this with geraniums and begonias for several years – it’s a great way to keep your favorites and also save a few dollars in the spring)

Martin finishes the book with good, practical advice on how to care for and display your houseplants. I love the variety of containers she uses – colanders, trays, cast off metal dishes, unique and beautiful pots – all of which enhance but do not overwhelm the plants. She even discusses how she trained her cat Einstein to stay away from plants (he shows up in several of the photos). This book is the best combination of eye-candy, inspiration and practical advice. Highly recommended!

 

happynewyearThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on December 31 and January 1 in observance of the New Years holiday. All three locations will re-open on Saturday January 2nd, from 9:00am to 5:30pm.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!

More favorite books of 2015!

small nightingaleAnn has two favorites that she read this year. “I loved Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale which is set in small boys in the boatFrance during World War II, following the two very different paths that two sisters take. One joins the Resistance while the other stays in the countryside at the family home. Both face unimaginable danger, great risk and terrible sacrifice. My other favorite was The Boys in the Boat, a non-fiction account of the 1936 US rowing team that went to the Olympics. Against almost impossible odds, a group of hard-scrabble individuals come together as a team, beating every obstacle and hardship in their path. Both books offer unique viewpoints, both are nearly impossible to put down and both stay with you long after you’ve finish reading.”

 

Here’s Stephanie’s favorite:

small cinderOne of my favorite books this year was Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This is the first book in her Lunar Chronicles series. I loved this book because it was a mix of fairy tales and dystopian fiction, two genres that are sure to capture and hold my interest. This first book tells the story of Cinder, a cyborg, who also is a gifted mechanic. Because she is a cyborg, she is treated as a second-hand citizen. Her stepmother hates her and blames her for her stepsister’s illness. Cinder meets Prince Kai very early in the book and we quickly see that in order for him to avoid war with the Lunars, he may have to marry the evil Queen Levana. This book has everything in it that I wanted and expected: fabulous world building like you find in dystopian fiction and really thorough character development that actually gives her stepsisters and stepmother full personalities and doesn’t just leave them as hateful people. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Cinder wasn’t the typical heroine! She was a mechanic and knew how to fix things, no matter what was wrong. Such a breath of fresh air when it comes to young adult fiction.

 

There you have it, some of best loved books of 2015 from our bloggers. What about you – what was your favorite book that you read in 2015? And what do you plan to read in 2016?

More favorites from our Blogging Librarians!

Rachel nominated two books as her favorites for 2015.

tamingHer first choice is The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory.  “This novel is based on the life of Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII of England.  I never really thought about how brave Catherine Parr was to be the sixth wife of a tyrant.  Literally unable to refuse his proposal, she had to live out the remainder of his life walking on egg shells making sure she did nothing to provoke his anger.  She had constant reminders of what happened to his previous wives when they disobeyed him.  Even so, Catherine Parr managed to reunite Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth and son Edward and to influence the religion of the King of England.​”

 

 

 

dogs giftRachel’s second choice is a non-fiction book,  A Dog’s Gift: The Inspirational Story of Veterans and Children Healed by Man’s Best Friend by Bob Drury.  “This book is about a father and daughter team that operate the group Paws4People.  This organization raises and trains puppies to be helper dogs for military veterans and children with disabilities. The dogs are trained in prisons by inmates which helps the inmates gain job skills.  One thing from this book that stuck with me is that the dogs choose their people; the dogs are not assigned to anyone by the organization.  This books is a great example of how an organization can help and touch so many people’s lives.​”