Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Howdy Readers! How’s your Westward Expansion reading experience going this month?

I am working away at reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage which recounts the journey of Lewis and Clark. It has been a bit of a slog so far – interesting but maybe too detailed – but I haven’t gotten to the actual journey yet. Things should pick up then.

If you’re still searching for a book to read be sure to stop by any of the Davenport Library locations and check our displays which have a variety of interesting titles. Or reach for a DVD – we have a wide range to choose from. You can go classic/nostalgic and check out a television Western which used to be so popular – Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza or The Virginian. We also have a huge collection of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns.

If you’d like to look beyond the stereotypes, there are some excellent documentaries that are well worth watching. Lewis and Clark: the Journey of the Corps of Discovery and The West, both produced by Ken Burns, are beautifully done.

For a modern, often violent look at the Old West try There Will Be Blood or The Revenant or the remake of True Grit.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Hey Folks! It’s time for a new month of reading with our Online Reading Challenge! What will you read this month?

The theme for July is Westward Expansion. Most of us probably immediately think of cowboys and Native Americans and the “wild west” and while there are several very good Westward Expansion books with exactly this setting, you don’t have to limit yourself to that era. In reality the “wild west” only lasted a few decades, no matter that it holds such a vivid place in our imagination. Westward expansion¬† started with the arrival of colonists on the East coast of the continent, continuing through US history as the population pushed westward, including into Alaska.

Unfortunately, Westward Expansion also encompasses some of the worst of American history, the treatment of Native Americans which ranged from poor to horrific. This might be the time to read more about their history. Try the modern classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown or The Earth is Weeping: the Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens for insights into the story of these proud people.

There are a lot of great books to read in this category, including some American classics. Try My Antonia by Willa Cather for an evocative, breathtaking view of life on the prairies. Two of my personal favorites are Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – a chunk of a book that nevertheless ends too soon – and News of the World by Paulette Jiles – a slim volume packed with heartfelt emotion. Both of these titles recall a time when the West was still raw and life was difficult. They depict a time that is, at first look, similar to traditional stories of the West, but in fact both show great depth and the complexity of the time.

Now might be the time to try a classic Western – Max Brand, Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. For a woman’s view of the West, take a look at the novel The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas or the non-fiction Frontier Grit: the Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women by Marianne Monson.

I’m setting my sights on Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the journey of Lewis and Clark. It’s been on my list for a long time and I’m looking forward to following their epic adventure.

As always, there will be displays with these titles and lots more at each of our library locations. And let us know what you plan to read!

 

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Everyone!

How was your reading in the month of June? Did you find something new and wonderful, or did you revisit a childhood favorite? It was a month full of possibility with the potential for a lot of fun. Let us know how it went for you!

This month I went with a children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963 (the Newbery is awarded each year to the best children’s book in writing), this is a dramatic adventure story filled with alien creatures, distant planets and fantastical imagery. It’s also a story on a more intimate level – the value of friends and family, loyalty, accepting others as they are, being courageous and, most of all, the power of love.

Meg’s father has been missing for many months and she feels his absence keenly. She doesn’t know what has happened to him, only that he was working on something called a tesseract and no on can explain where he’s gone. When her little brother Charles Wallace introduces her to three strange women living in the woods behind their house, it sets them, along with their friend Calvin, on an incredible journey.

While I enjoyed this book – there’s quite a lot of action and even some scary bits where you just want to know what happens – I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it when I was a kid. Maybe my imagination is too “stuck” now to let go with the flights of fancy described here, or maybe I’m just not scientifically inclined (this book really celebrates math and the sciences). I did love Meg and how brave she was, even when she didn’t feel brave. She’s a young teen, at that awkward and unsure stage, but she’s smart and she’s strong. A role model for anyone.

What did you read this month? What did you think of your choice? Let us know in the comments!

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello All!

Are you enjoying the June Reading Challenge? Have you found something fun to read? Or are you still looking for the right title?

I’ve started reading my book (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle). I’m still trying to keep all the “mrs’s” straight, but I’m quickly getting caught up in the story. What I’ve found interesting is how other people react when I ask if they’ve read this book. I heard a lot of enthusiastic yeses; everyone seemed to love it. Best response, though, was from a co-worker who told me that A Wrinkle in Time was the book made her a library patron. When the teacher at school that was reading it to her class wasn’t reading fast enough for Shelley, she asked her Mom to take her to the library so that she could check out a copy. Thus began a lifelong love affair with reading (and, I hope, libraries!)

Another great story came from a Challenge reader that commented she is going to read a book written in 1898 that had been a childhood favorite of her mother. I love this idea! It shows how books are a bridge – to the past, to the future, to knowledge, to entertainment and that they can also be a connection to the people in our lives. Books (stories) are magic.

Let us know what you’re reading and, maybe, why you chose what you did!

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans of Reading!

How was your May reading? Did you find something incredible that was set in Ancient times? Or was this month a pass for you?

May was almost a pass for me – I rarely read anything set in this time period. I wasn’t coming across anything that grabbed my attention until I picked up the new book by Madeline Miller and just like that, May turned into another winner for me! (so far I’m five out of five this year!)

Circe is about the Greek goddess of sorcery. She is often depicted as cruel and evil, turning people who displease her into animals or monsters. But Circe is told from her point-of-view and, while she isn’t exactly a kind and gentle spirit, there is a lot more to her story than pure evil.

Born to the sun god Helios, Circe grows up in her father’s vast palace and wants for nothing. However, she is different than the nymphs and naiads of her family and is treated with derision. When she defies the gods once too often (turning a nymph she is jealous of into a monster) her father exiles her to a remote island. Here she must live alone and it is here that she hones her skills as a witch.

Although she is in exile, the world comes to her again and again. We see her encounters with Prometheus, with Daedelus and Icarus, with Odysseus and Penelope and her confrontation with Scylla (the monster she created). Circe grows and changes with her exile, regrets past mistakes and tries to atone for them. She is complicated and multi-layered, neither entirely good or bad, much like us mere mortals.

This book is incredibly well written. There is lots of beautiful imagery, but this does not drag down or slow the flow of the story. The stories of the gods themselves, as it has been for centuries, are compelling. Miller’s twist, to see it from Circe’s point-of-view, creates lots of new insights into these beings – they are selfish, egotistical, dysfunctional, vain and cruel (many of the mortal heroes are no better, especially Odysseus). That Circe has her eyes opened to these faults and tries to rise above them makes her unique and interesting. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in May?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in!

Hello All!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something set in the Ancient world to read, or are you taking a pass? I am about halfway through reading Circe by Madeline Miller which I am enjoying a lot. I’ll tell you more about it and have my final review at the end of the month.

If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to check the comment from Lin on the May 1 blog post – they have given us a nice list of favorites from this time period!

If you’re running short on time, try a movie or documentary! Here are a few suggestions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello Readers! Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, May edition! This month we’re going to explore books set in Ancient Times.

This is another fairly broad time period. “Ancient times” is roughly described as prehistoric/dawn of civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s a lot of history people! Let’s break it down into a few categories.Of course, this isn’t official and there’s a fair amount of overlap but remember – there are no Library Police! Read what you’d like!

Prehistoric/Early Civilization – The go-to authors for this time period are Jean Auel and Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear was a huge sensation when it came out and was very popular for many months. Be prepared for a thick, immersive read! The Gear’s, a husband and wife team, have written, together and separately, dozens of books about prehistoric North America, focusing on the Native American peoples, starting with People of the Wolf.

Egyptian – Delve into one of the earliest civilizations with Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End. A departure from her usual setting, this book is nevertheless a mystery masterpiece.

Roman – There is no shortage of books set during ancient Roman times. Check out Robert Harris for thrilling and action-packed titles including Pompeii and Imperium. A nice bridge between Egypt and Rome, Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran is the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s children, left to the Roman conquerors after their parents committed suicide.

As for myself, this is not a time period that I’m particularly interested in and I’m still considering what to read. Anyone have any favorites they’d like to recommend?

Be sure to stop by any of the Davenport library locations for our Online Reading Challenge display – there will be lots of titles at each for you to browse through!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello All!

How is your month of 1800s era reading going? Have you found anything particularly wonderful? Please share what you’re reading!

I, sadly, am not faring too well. I’ve tried a couple Victorian-times mysteries and could not get caught up in either one. Admittedly, I usually don’t read mysteries, so it’s not a big surprise that they didn’t work for me. I’m still searching, but I may decide to simply indulge myself a bit and re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movie adaptations. It sounds lovely (to me!).

If you’re still looking, here are a couple more suggestions for the 1800s.

A new book, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Fitzharris Lindsey should be creepily fascinating. Medicine was still pretty primitive in the 1800s. It’s thanks to the efforts of John Lister that many, many more people didn’t die and that medicine advanced to much safer measures. Lister introduced anesthesia for use during surgery, pasteurization and a greater understanding of bacteria and infection. A fascinating, gory look at the history of medicine!

If you are having trouble untangling the manners and customs of Austen and Dickens and the Victorians of England, be sure to pick up a copy of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Danial Pool. This book is great fun, easy to dip in and out of or read cover to cover. All kinds of subjects are covered including society, fashion and the home. There’s also a handy glossary at the back to explain the more obscure (to us) terms like quadrille (a card game) or camel leopard (a giraffe). This book really helped me to understand primogeniture, a law which prevented the Bennet and Dashwood sisters from inheriting from their father. It also helped explain the restrictions and limitations put on women.

And now over to you – what are you reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – April

Hurrah! It’s April which means flowers and birdsong and springtime! And, it means it’s time for the next installment of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re traveling to the 1800s!

“Whoa!” I can hear you say. “1800s?! Isn’t that kind of a broad time period?! Like, everything happened in the 1800s!” OK, not everything happened in the 1800s, but I admit, a lot did happen. Which just means you have even more great books (and movies) to choose from. To make it a little easier, I’ve divided some suggestions by event/era.

Regency. This is the time period of Jane Austen, which enough said. If you haven’t read Jane Austen, here’s your chance. My favorite is Persuasion, but I love the others of the “big four” (Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility) We could (well, I could) spend an entire reading year discussing these books and debating the merits of the many movies that have been made from them (by far, my favorite movie is Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson although I also dearly love the BBC’s production of Emma.)

If Jane Austen isn’t your thing (which I can’t even fathom), I highly recommend the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian. Set in the world of tall ships, when the British Navy ruled supreme, this is a series (20 volumes!) full of adventure, intrigue, heartbreak and humor. Highly recommended.

Civil War. There are a lot of books set during the Civil War and for good reason. It’s a time that defined the American character in many ways and it was a sharp divide between the past and the future. Look for authors Jeff and Michael Shaara and Shelby Foote. Or go classic with Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.¬† Another excellent option is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

Victorian. Ah, so many books. Lots and lots of mysteries in this category including Sherlock Holmes. I really liked the mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander – strong women characters and charming settings. Light and fun.

Some random recommendations include Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier about the discovery of fossils by ordinary women, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

You’ll notice that there aren’t any titles about the “Wild West” – we’ll be reading about Westward Expansion in a few months, so I’m keeping those titles for that time period.

I’m going to read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry about a young widow who moves from London to the country and finds herself drawn into a mystery. Sounds intriguing!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – be sure to stop by one of our Davenport locations for displays with lots more titles to consider. And don’t forget to tell us what you pick!

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How was your month? What fabulous book or movie did you discover in March? Or was it an “off” month for you? Tell us about your experience!

This month I read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and it was a winner! I really enjoyed this book – thoughtful, complex, sometimes terrifying and ultimately hopeful. Brilliant.

Station Eleven takes place in the near future after a flu epidemic has wiped out 99% of the population and civilization as we know it has collapsed. No electricity, no running water, no food production, no (gasp!) Internet. Survivors are scattered and isolated, suspicious and wary of anyone they may come across.

In the midst of this landscape of the struggle to survive, the Traveling Symphony moves from one tiny settlement to another, along a circular route through what was once Michigan, bringing a reminder of life before the epidemic by performing Shakespeare and classical music to small but appreciative groups.

However, not everyone is welcoming. A radical group forms, headed by the mysterious Prophet, who proclaims that the Flu was divine intervention. Anyone unfortunate enough to run across him and disagree is ruthlessly hunted down. The Traveling Symphony at first manages to escape, but the Prophet isn’t far behind.

The book moves back and forth through time, showing life before the Flu and life after. There are connections between several characters, from “before” to “after”, which are fascinating to watch unfold and the origin of the title of the book is unexpected, devastating and fitting.

There are a lot of themes and emotions in Station Eleven. Fear, sometimes overwhelming, is often present. Grief, for the world that no longer exists and the loved ones that didn’t survive, is never far away. The grim, constant battle for survival is wearing. And yet, as the years after the Flu pass, people are drawn together, to create families and communities, to share resources and stories. The Traveling Symphony’s motto (taken from an episode of Star Trek) is “survival is not enough”. Humans need stories and history and art and connection. Even in the worst of times, humans will strive for something more.

Yes, this book depicts a dystopian world that is devastated and life is hard, but it also argues that humanity manages to rise above. (It helps that humans only destroyed themselves; Earth and nature have not been laid to waste). Yes, at times it is scary difficult to read – a devastating flu epidemic is not beyond imagination. But ultimately the feeling I came away with after reading this book was of hope and possibility. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?