If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s account of her parent’s illnesses and deaths, is refreshing in its candor and will resonate with anyone who has gone through something similar. She’s candid, too, about her family.

Plum grew up in Singapore, Virginia, and finally Canada – which was a compromise for her British father and American mother. Her parents spent the ends of their lives in the family home on Lake Ontario. Her mother was from Virginia – her ancestors and cousins were attorney generals and ambassadors. While her mother was exuberant, eccentric, and a writer of letters and a copywriter in her youth, her father was British, reserved, and quite eccentric, as well. Their relationship endured but was volatile and complicated.

Plum and her three brothers all have skills, roles and competencies related to caregiving. Some are hands-on and some help at a distance with financial, legal and real estate matters. Sibling Suppers are mostly supportive and cooperative, but, as she is the oldest, divorced, single, and the daughter, Plum is most directly involved in her parents’ care and the settling of the estate.

Plum sometimes compares her life at 63 with her mother’s relative freedom at the same age.  She details the steps and the incredible energy and patience it takes to do routine tasks – like going to the mall. Just reading the description is exhausting.  “It feels as though the last twenty years have leached out my patience, my empathy, my compassion – the best parts of me- until I feel unrecognizable, a person I don’t like very much.” “Nineteen years, one month, and twenty-six days of eldercare have brought me to my knees.”

The house is as much a character in this book, as her various family members. Plum loves the house and it’s setting by the water, and it’s through the house that she comes to terms with the contradictory feelings she had toward her parents. She is overwhelmed by her parent’s house and it’s contents, but she doesn’t succumb to the temptation to discard and give away their belongings immediately and without thought. She ultimately decides that those items are a curse, but they are also a blessing. “This house I am now slicing apart is theirs – the place that we’d taken for granted would always be here as a backdrop to our lives.” Later, she says, “Now I believe this clearing out is a valuable process – best left to our children. It’s the only way they’ll ever truly come to know us…”

In the end, she acknowledges the truth of what funeral guests tell her: “When your mother dies, you’ll wish you’d asked her some questions.” When it’s too late, she realizes, “Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.”

 

 

Now Departing for: Kenya

Welcome to the May edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for Kenya!

When I think of Kenya (a country I’ve never visited) I think of large expanses of open savannah grasslands, wide skies and lots of wildlife. I’m afraid I know very little of the people who live there or much about it’s history – but that’s what this year’s Reading Challenge is all about, isn’t it? Exploring new places!

You have a variety of titles to choose from. Try The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre, about the dark side of capitalism and the long-reaching effects of corruption and political intrigue (and it’s also a movie) Suzanne Arruda has written mysteries set in 1920s Kenya including The Leopard’s Prey and Treasure of the Golden Cheetah.  Love, Life and Elephants: an African Love Story is a memoir by Daphne Sheldrick about her lifelong work with the elephants and wildlife of Kenya. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain follows the remarkable story of an independent woman, Beryl Markam (author of West with the Night)

For movies you can’t beat Out of Africa, an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s time spent in Africa trying to establish a plantation. Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, it is both sweeping and intimate and incredibly beautiful. Or search out The Flame Trees of Thika, a gorgeous, heartbreaking story of an English girl growing up in Kenya and starring Hayley Mills.

Unfortunately, the number of books and movies that we have available that are set in Kenya is pretty slim, and the majority of them view the country through the eyes of white settlers. Because of this, I think it’s fine to read a book set in another African country this month if you’d prefer (remember, no Library Police!) It is a disservice and rude to imply that all of Africa is the same when in fact it is made up of a diverse range of nations and cultures with unique (often ancient) histories.  But if you’re having difficulty finding a book set in Kenya that interests you, feel free to explore a different African country.

I am planning to read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. It’s fiction, not an actual bird guide and reviews describe it as “charming” in the same vein as Alexander McCall Smith’s books. “Charming” is always a good idea.

What about you – what are you going to read this month?

 

Now Arriving from: Paris

So, how was your April in Paris? Nothing can compare with the real thing, but I hope it was good!

Shockingly, my month did not go as planned and I didn’t manage to finish any books set in Paris. However, books about Paris are always on my list and I will always be reading about the loveliest city, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Also, there are no Library Police.

I did squeeze in a movie though – Coco before Chanel  (yes, it’s in French!) starring Audrey Tautou. It’s about Coco Chanel’s early life and the experiences that helped shaped both her artistic vision and her life choices. As shown in the movie (and I believe it is accurate), Coco was not an easy person. She was opinionated and bold (at a time when women were encouraged to be quiet and decorative), and demanded her own way – which sometimes seemed to shift without warning. She is also largely responsible for cutting women out of restrictive corsets and creating clothes that are elegant, timeless and comfortable with clean lines and little fuss. In addition, she created and directed her own company in a world run by men and she set her own course unapologetically.

Sadly, there is very little about Paris in the movie until the end (Coco grew up in the French countryside, left in an orphanage by her father along with her sister after their mother died) and only a little is shown about her growing business and fashion influence. I would have like to seen more about that and also seen something about her life in Paris during World War II – she took a German lover during the Occupation and there has been speculation that she collaborated with the Nazis. She is a complex, enigmatic figure (French history seems to have lots of them!) and I’d like to learn more about her.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read/watch/listen to this month and what did you think of it?

 

Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love

If you enjoy perusing images of eclectic home furnishings used in creative ways, have I got a book to recommend to you!  Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love by Emily Henson is filled with a wealth of full-color photos sharing the unique ideas of homeowners from varying parts of the world.

I like it because it left me with a feeling of validation of what I have always believed at the core: a home need not be a polished display of swanky décor to be great. It can be so much more gratifying to make your space uniquely your own, conforming to your way of being rather than try to live up to a magazine perfect ideal. After all, shouldn’t a home tell a story about the personality and life experiences of its residents?

Another thing I like about this book is that you don’t need an overabundance of time or money to borrow ideas from it and modify or incorporate them into your current living space. True, some of the homes pictured in the book are owned by buyers for textile or furnishings companies. I’m sure that definitely helps them gain access to the goods. But I think you will find that whatever your profession or station in life, there is a spark of an idea waiting inside this book somewhere for you.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a fan of libraries and books. Let me share two ideas that will delight the book lovers. The first (pictured on the left) is featured in a warehouse-turned-residence in London. The owner has archive shelves (much like the kind used in our very own Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department.) Here, they are used to divide the bedroom and the kitchen. They store everything from clothing to kitchen crockery and everything in between. You can see from the photo that the metal panels on the side are employed to display lots of pictures and artwork. Feel free to fall in love with this idea like I did,  just don’t ask me how to get rolling archive shelves into your home!

The second idea for book lovers is the vertical shelf featured in a bedroom (below). It looks like a floor-to-ceiling stack of books, but there are shelves in the middle of it all keeping it (hopefully) stable. This idea could be done relatively easily and cheaply in a variety of ways. Your imagination (and ceiling) would be the limit.

Happy home decorating! I’ll leave you with this quote: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

Photo Essay: Spring at Fairmount

As you may know, the Davenport Library at Fairmount is bordered by the Davenport bike path on one side and backs up to the woods that line the path. With a wall of windows along the back wall of the library you are treated to a particularly beautiful backdrop no matter what the season. Right now the redbud and crabapple trees are in full bloom, everything is fresh and bright green and the birds are singing in full chorus. It’s really the best time of year. Come join us for a brief photo stroll of Spring at Fairmount.

All photos by Ann Hetzler. Taken April 22, 2017.

Question: Is the Movie Ever Better Than the Book?

Here’s the question – Have you ever thought that a movie was better than the book it was based on?

This question is a little unfair – comparing books and movies is like comparing apples and oranges. They are very different media with very different user experiences; a 2-3 hour movie cannot possible capture the nuance of emotion or inner dialogue that a book can. Nor can a book show you sweeping vistas in full color (especially if it’s a landscape you’ve never experienced)

Most people would claim, strongly, that the book was better and for the most part, I agree. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy many of the movies based on books – movies have their own kind of magic and can often enhance the overall experience.

But there are some exceptions. A quick internet search brings up several articles with “better than the book” lists including these from Buzzfeed,  Bustle,  Hollywood.com,  and Purewow

It’s interesting to note that while there are some differences, most of the lists tend to agree on several titles including Forrest Gump, The Godfather, The Notebook, Jaws, The Princess Bride, Fight Club and Jurassic Park. This is often due to the creativity and vision of the director, or to careful editing of the original source material. It’s also enlightening to note that most of the books that these movies were based on were not hugely popular successes on their own, but considered fair to middling.

As for movies that enhance the book without insulting it, I would include movies such as the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings movies and Master and Commander. And as much as I love to read Jane Austen, some of the Jane Austen adaptations are some of my favorite movies of all (I especially love the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility and the PBS version of Emma) In all of these cases, the beautiful settings, costumes and music contribute to and expand well-loved stories. (Although I still prefer the book!)

What about you – have you ever thought the movie was better than the book? Or thought that the movie caught the spirit of the book especially well? Tell us what you think!

 

Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

Hole in the Heart: Bringing Up Beth by Henny Beaumont

Henny Beaumont’s Hole in the Heart: Bringing Up Beth was immediately relatable and bold in how it approached the subject of raising a child with a disability. This work of Graphic Medicine happens to be my first and it most certainly will not be my last. The editorial page notes that “For healthcare practitioners, patients, families, and caregivers dealing with illness and disability, graphic narrative enlightens complicated or difficult experience”. The are other titles in the Graphic Medicine series that may also interest you. Try The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life and Times of Dr. Iwan James or My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s.

Having an interest in medicine, I was struck by the double-entendre in the title. “Hole in the Heart” works on a couple of different levels. Quite literally, a hole in the heart in this case refers to an Atrioventricular Septal Defect (AVSD). Imagine the pain of giving birth to your child to discover that she likely has genetic heart problems that will require surgery.  Figuratively, the initial sense of loss, pain, or despair you experience is akin to having a hole in your heart. Even the subtitle “Bringing Up Beth” works on a couple of different levels. First, “bringing up” refers to raising someone from childhood to adulthood. Yet Beaumont is also bringing up the difficult subject of raising a child with special needs.  How would you react if a doctor (with the bedside rapport of a chair) approached you while you were holding your daughter for the first time only to inform you of the likelihood that she has Down’s Syndrome? And why does having Down’s Syndrome have to signify the sky falling or the end of the world? It simply does not.

The beauty of this book, and like the experience of reading books in general, is that you will see Beth and other people with Down’s Syndrome through the eyes of Hen. Sympathy–perhaps even empathy–is one powerful way reading helps creating understanding between ourselves and others who are different than we are. In one particular scene, Hen is making small talk with acquaintances who tend to tip-toe around the subject (Beth), in order to avoid talking about her as though she’s some kind of secret. Beaumont brilliantly pulls us into the conversation and shows us that referring to someone’s “Down’s baby” is disrespectful and callous. The appropriate and respectful way to refer to people with Down’s is exactly that: people who just happen to have Down’s.

As Beth matures, her family must grapple with the challenges of inclusion and acceptance in the classroom and beyond. What does true inclusion look like? Beth’s sisters joke that a school will utilize a picture of a student with Down’s just to appear inclusive in promotional and marketing materials; but truly embracing acceptance and inclusion looks and sounds different.  In another scene, Hen looks forward to meeting with Beth’s teacher. Just as you think the teacher is about to compliment Beth on her own terms, she instead gloats about “how TOLERANT” Beth’s classmates are (as though its her ability to be tolerated that makes her noteworthy.) You see the problem here: defining a person in terms of how they can be useful or tolerable for others (rather than being innately worthy in and of themselves) is de-humanizing and plain wrong.

I was working at the reference desk when I began discussing books with a patron. The topic of graphic novels came up. I mentioned that Hole in the Heart: Bringing Up  Beth  was  moving and that I cried while reading the last page of the book. The accompanying image (likely charcoal or pencil?) is beautiful–something many people can relate to. The patron looked perplexed. “You cried? ” he asked. The picture and sentiment simply embodied love & acceptance. “I did”, I replied.

If you’re skeptical that Graphic Novels can be emotionally complex and deeply moving, please read this book!

Online Reading Challenge – “Comment allez-vous?”*

Bon jour! We’re halfway through the April Reading Challenge – have you found a good book set in Paris yet? There is no lack of excellent books (and movies) set in Paris, but if you’re still searching, here are a more couple of ideas.

For non-fiction lovers, try Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba which is about how the women of Paris survived the Nazi occupation during World War II. With few non-German men left in the city, it was the women who dealt with the Germans, making life or death decisions on a daily basis, just to survive. From collaborators to resistors, famous to ordinary, it’s a complex, fascinating story. Or try The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino who lives on Rue des Martyrs and shows you the charming, everyday world of Parisians away from the tourist sites.

Fiction readers should check out The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery just for the title alone but also because it’s a sharp look at the various lives of an elegant Parisian apartment building as observed by the concierge who is smarter and more sophisticated than anyone suspects. The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton is about three journalists who are following the American liberating forces in Normandy. If they can arrive in Paris before the Allies, they will have the scoop of their lives, but at what cost?

As for me, I’m finding the selection to be an embarrassment of riches – there are almost too many to choose from! However, my plan is to watch Coco Before Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) and to finish reading The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro but I’m also eyeing My Life in France by Julia Child. Obviously, I will be reading books about Paris long after April!

Now it’s your turn – what are you reading this month?

*”how are you?”

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