January Online Reading Challenge – Paris

Ernest Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast”. Audrey Hepburn advised us that “Paris is always a good idea”. Humphrey Bogart promised us in Casablanca that “we’ll always have Paris”. Victor Hugo claimed that “Paris nourishes the soul”. Paris, it seems, has a hold on us, even if we’ve never been.

Paris is far from perfect, struggling with many common urban problems, but it seems to rise above with its beauty, sophistication and effortless elegance. Rich in history and long known as the center for art and fashion, what exactly is it about this city that makes so many love it?

Hello and welcome to the first month of the 2023 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re traveling to Paris. Our main title is Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. This fascinating book combines the stories of a contemporary teenager and a young woman living during the French Revolution. From the publisher:

Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And her father has determined that accompanying him to Paris for winter break is the solution for everything.

 But Paris is a city of ghosts for Andi. And when she finds a centuries-old diary, the ghosts begin to walk off the page. Alexandrine, the owner of the journal, lived during the French Revolution. She’s angry too. It’s the same fire that consumes Andi, and Andi finds comfort in it—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs, words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes terrifyingly present.

Revolution artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart. 

You can find copies of this title plus many more set in Paris (and there are lots!) on displays at each of our locations.

Online Reading Challenge – December Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your December Challenge reading go? Did you find something that might have opened your eyes to the issue of mental illness and the stigma around it? Did you see yourself or someone you know with some of the same mental health battles?

I read the main title this month, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.  This is a seriously funny memoir of Lawson’s continuing battle with depression and anxiety. She has chosen to embrace  the flawed as well as the beautiful parts of life, unabashedly insisting on being “furiously happy” whenever possible.

This outlook on life has led to some crazy (and frankly, puzzling) situations, like a trip to Australia where she insists on dressing in a koala costume while holding a koala  (she didn’t actually get to hold a koala but she did wear her costume when visiting koalas at a wildlife refuge), or keeping a taxidermized racoon with a bizarre expression (see picture on the front of the book) with her whenever possible (she actually has two taxidermized racoons).

While many of these stories are odd, they are undoubtedly funny and Lawson’s joyful embracing of whatever happens is infectious. There is a serious side to the funny too – Lawson is perfectly aware that each day is a struggle and that her anxiety and depression, while managed, are never far away.

That wraps up the 2022 Online Reading Challenge. I hope you were able to find some excellent, thoughtful books this year with the help of the Challenge! The 2023 Challenge begins in just a few days on January 2nd. Watch the blog for an introduction to our first location.

 

Coming Soon! Online Reading Challenge 2023!

Hello Challenge Readers (and anyone who’d like to join!)

The Online Reading Challenge for this year is close to wrapping up, but never fear – the Challenge will continue in 2023!

For anyone who doesn’t know (or remember!) the Online Reading Challenge is run through the Info Cafe blog. Each month we read books centered around a theme. Each year is a little different, but the unchanging main principle of this book club is: No Pressure! There is no sign-up,  no meetings to attend (although you’re welcome to add any comments to the blog posts),  no shame in not finishing a book, or skipping a month (or two). You can read one of the suggested titles or something different or none at all! Read at your own pace, read what interests you, try something out of your usual reading zone or stick with what you like best. In other words, create a personalized book club with a bit of encouragement from the Reading Challenge!

The theme for 2023 is Location! Location! Location!

Have you ever read a book where the location of the story is almost a character itself? That it is so integral to the book that it couldn’t possibly be set in any other place? Think of the high desert American Southwest of the Tony Hillerman mysteries, or the wild and windswept moors of Wuthering Heights. Location adds ambiance but also greatly impacts the people and the story itself.

We’ll transport ourselves (via armchair!) to places around the world, in the past and in the future. As always, we’ll have an introductory blog post at the beginning of the month, and a wrap-up at the end. The journey begins January 2nd!

We Are the Light by Matthew Quick

A terrible tragedy has struck Majestic, Pennsylvania, a quiet suburb that had once seemed safe from random horror. The residents of the town struggle to pick up the pieces and move past that terrible night in We Are the Light by Matthew Quick.

Lucas Goodgame, a resident of Majestic, is struggling. Everyone in Majestic sees him as a hero, but Lucas emphatically does not. He writes to his former analyst Karl, begging him to take him back on as a client even though Karl is no longer practicing. Lucas persists, as he feels Karl is the only one that will understand and be able to help him as grief threatens to consume him.

Through Lucas’ letters – heartfelt and funny – we learn that Lucas believes he is visited by his deceased wife Darcy every night in the form of an angel.  Although he tried to return to his job as a high school counsellor after the tragedy, he got no further than the parking lot before he had to turn around and go home. Lucas retreats further and further from daily life, waiting each night for Darcy to appear.

Things begin to change when Eli, an eighteen-year-old young man whom the community has ostracized, begins camping out in Lucas’s backyard. Lucas and Eli strike up an unlikely friendship and together they hatch a project to heal the community – and themselves.

Told with humor and optimism despite the terrible circumstances, We Are the Light offers insight into Lucas’ mental health and it’s deterioration. The reader learns about what exactly happened in bits and pieces and the extent of what Lucas saw and experienced isn’t fully revealed until toward the end. That he manages, somehow, to pull himself out of a spiral (with lots of help from friends and neighbors and the community itself) makes this a hopeful, fascinating read.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our December theme of coping with mental health issues.

Online Reading Challenge – December

Greetings Challenge Readers!

Welcome to the final month of our 2022 Online Reading Challenge. This month we’re reading books that talk about coping with mental illness and the isolation and stigma that surrounds it.

Our main title this month is Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. In this book, the author explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best. It’s about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are – the beautiful and the flawed – and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways.

Our alternate titles are: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. This is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Beautiful and gifted, with a bright future, Esther Greenwood descends into depression, suicidal thoughts, and madness while interning at a New York City magazine.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living.

Be sure to check the displays at each of our buildings for copies of these titles and many more!

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something to read that fits in this month’s theme of the lives of contemporary Native Americans? If so, what did you think about what (if anything) the book showed you?

I read our main title, There, There by Tommy Orange although I admit that I struggled to finish. It is, in short, devastating. Relentless prejudice, addiction and crushing poverty haunt the characters in this book as they struggle to find a balance between the history of their people and the present day. The recounting of the past, told from the point-of-view of Native people tells a very different story from the whitewashed stories of colonists and pioneers that invaded their land. It is both eye-opening and horrifying.

From the publisher:

“Here is a story of several people, each of whom has private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honour his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.”

A difficult book that is well worth reading.

If you are interested in learning more about the Native American people and their stories, check out the following links.

Learn about the Land You’re Living On.  Find out what Native peoples lived here.

What We Say Matters: the Power of Words in American and Indigenous Histories. This was also explored in There, There.

Native Hope. This blog “exists to address the injustice done to Native Americans. We dismantle barriers through storytelling and impactful programs to bring healing and inspire hope.” Lots of interesting posts of current issues.

Project 562 is “a multi-year national photography project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized Tribes, urban Native communities, Tribes fighting for federal recognition and Indigenous role models in what is currently-known-as the United States.” Stunning photography and stories.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own in This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.

Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. Through perseverance, courage and luck, the four make their way to St Louis where Odie and Albert believe their aunt lives. What the four of them experience along their journey shapes and changes them in profound ways, as well as providing us with a glimpse of Depression era America.

The cruelty and oppression that the children faced at the Indian school is heartbreaking although the true depth of the corruption is revealed in bits and pieces. The narrow escapes and unexpected lucky breaks make this an exciting and absorbing book, all overlaid with the tension of whether Odie and Albert will be able to find their aunt.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our November theme of issues facing contemporary Native Americans.

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

Welcome to the next installment of the Online Reading Challenge. This month our Book Flight looks at modern Native Americans and some of the many challenges they face.

This month’s main titles is There There by Tommy Orange. Here is a story of several people, each of whom has private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honour his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

Alternate titles include: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. Based on the extraordinary life of Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows the great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell us in their own words of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them demoralized and defeated. A unique and disturbing narrative told with force and clarity, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed forever our vision of how the West was really won.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Minnesota, 1932. The Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.

Look for these and many more titles available at displays at each of our three buildings.

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your reading challenge go this month? Did you read something amazing that dealt with weather and/or climate change? Let us know in the comments!

This month’s main title was Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. This thought-provoking, complex novel explores not just the effects of climate change, but also the pervasive poverty of Appalachia and of a young woman trapped in a broken marriage.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a
shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome.

As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Weather is a constant in our lives however much we think we can outsmart it. No amount of technological advances, or shaping the land to our whims will defeat the weather. We’ve seen this very recently with Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, with the massive wildfires in the west and the drought in the southwest. And we’ve experienced here in the Midwest with tornadoes and derechos.

What did your weather or climate-change related book show you this month? What did people do to prepare for extreme weather or were they caught unawares? How did the characters survive or perish? What were some of the long-lasting effects of a terrible storm or prolonged weather event have on individuals, families, communities and even history?

Be sure to share your thoughts about this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

January 12, 1888 dawned unseasonably warm in the Dakota Territory. Happy to escape the unrelenting winter cold, people shed their heavy coats and boots and sent their children to school in light jackets. But the weather takes a sudden and deadly turn and by lunchtime a massive blizzard has arrived, causing temperatures to plummet, winds to howl and heavy snow erasing visibility. Anyone caught outside – or in an isolated schoolhouse – was in trouble as shown in Melanie Benjamin’s The Children’s Blizzard.

The Dakota Territories were sparsely populated, and many of the settlers were recent immigrants who had been lured to the area by unrealistic descriptions of a bountiful land. They were ill-equipped to face the unrelenting heat and drought of the summer, and the cold and snow of the winter. Many left, returning to their home country as soon as they could scrape together the money for a train ticket, but some stayed and struggled to create a community. They built homes and farms and then school houses. These schools were usually isolated in the country, poorly insulated and hastily built plus most of the teachers were very young, just 16 or 17 years old.

The storm arrived with no warning and with shocking suddenness. It seemed as if it went from balmy springtime weather to life-threatening snow and cold in a matter of minutes. Against these terrible odds and with no way to communicate with the nearest farms or town, the teachers had to make an impossible decision. Stay in the un-insulated school house with little to no fuel for the woodstove? Or send the children home, most without winter clothing, into a storm that swallowed them up as soon as they stepped out the door?

The Children’s Blizzard is based on real events when 235 people died, many of them children (it’s also called the Schoolhouse Blizzard). Benjamin has based her book on historical records and on the stories of survivors. She readily captures the fear and uncertainty and the blinding grief of parents and community.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our October theme of extreme weather and climate change.