School Supplies and Summer Reading

The crisp opening and binding crack of a never before read book reminds me of biting into a juicy piece of fruit. It’s absolutely delicious.  It is why I haven’t transitioned all my reading to an E-Reader.  I would miss that smell of the paper too much.   I have to say, I was a complete booknerd and had the same feeling about a school textbook…but only when I received the brand new textbook, because it had so much possibility!  No one else had smudged their dirty fingers on the pages or written their name on the inside cover. It was all mine, even if I didn’t really enjoy the content inside.

There is a great quote from one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail” in which Tom Hanks is writing an email to his then unknown love, Meg Ryan about the start of fall in New York City.  He says, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”  Yes!  I love school supplies!  I want to buy that newly sharpened bouquet of pencils every time the end of summer comes around.  It reminds me of those brand new books I can’t wait to read.  It also reminds me of the books I didn’t get around to reading that were on the summer reading list.

Working in youth services at a public library means there are tons of requests for books on the summer reading list.  I love to scour these different lists to check off what I’ve read and to also see what unusual titles make the lists.  The best this year I found was The Crucible by Arthur Miller on a junior high/middle school list.  Yes, you heard right, a college level book usually found in American Literature classes Freshman year was found on a middle school list.  I have a BA degree in English and I didn’t read Arthur Miller until college.  I was very surprised.

I also thought it would be fun to take an informal poll amongst friends to find out what books they enjoyed most that were on their summer reading lists.  Have you read all of these books?  Did any of these books stick with you even today as an adult? Perhaps there was one you dredged through but ended up appreciating later on?

I have two books that make my all-time favorites and strangely, I was assigned to read them sophomore year in high school English;  The Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea.  I love the wit and dry humor of The Catcher in the Rye and I think Salinger is one of the great American authors in modern times.  It’s definitely a character driven novel, and I love how he captures this young boy’s whining, his torments, and his anguish.  The Old Man and the Sea introduced me to the greatness of Hemingway.  Such a simple tale told in such carefully crafted simple prose, makes this a truly remarkable book.  Interestingly, both are male authors telling the story of one male figure, which is not a typical story I would be able to relate to.  However, when you look deeper at the symbolism and depth of human nature written about, it makes sense why I would love these books.

I did some digging to find the most assigned summer reading books and came up with so many choices, there could have been a list of 100 books.  I thought this was an interesting list from the Illinois State Library’s Read for a Lifetime program which appears to cover mostly contemporary literature.  Although now a bit old, this list from the Washington Post is a great mix of classics and contemporary authors.

Here are my top choices for summer reading catch-up ideas (aside from Salinger and Hemingway, which yes, you MUST read!).  I also included a list of the books that came about from the poll I took.  What would be your top books?

If you must give someone Charles Dickens, then give them A Tale of Two Cities.  War, love, Paris, nothing but the essentials of a great novel. One of my favorites of all time and a great book for British Lit lovers. Learn more about Dickens at Victorian Web.  Another fantastic family and semi-suedo-historical saga is East of Eden by John Steinbeck which has great scandal and family squabbles.  If I ever make it to Monterey Bay area, I will definitely put the National Steinbeck Center on my tour.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, or Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  You can also try The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins  or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Even if you are not a science fiction/fantasy fan, read one of these fantastic books and you will be transformed. They will make you think more about the world in which we live and how we as humans react and interact.  Check out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s of America website for even more ideas.

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse will provide a beautiful read into the lives of women in literature.  Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is another great insight into women’s literature.  While these are not necessarily happy-ending books, they will definitely have you think about and explore how emotions and struggles were once experiences and shared.  For more interesting women writers and topics try the National Archives.

Read a memoir or biography, even if it’s fiction.  A book like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is one example of a fictional story told from the perspective of a young boy who lost his father on September 11th.  Even though it’s not true, you are instantly in this boy’s world.  You realize his story could be anyone’s in search of understanding an influential person in life.  Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos is a great read along with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, all three a bit of coming of age combined with overcoming struggles stories with a bit of a fictional twist thrown in there. All are highly engrossing and entertaining.  For more biographies and memories, try this page on the Barnes and Noble website.

Other popular books that made the “Favorite High School Required Reading” from my informal pool were:

  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Jungle by John Updike

I hope these ideas have brought back some great reading memories or inspired a new interest in your reading tastes!  If you have more ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments.

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Why I Love Libraries: Celebrate National Library Week

It’s National Library Week!  As a librarian, of course I am going to encourage everyone to visit their library this week and share the love with friends and family.   The American Library Association is also recognizing several other areas of librarianship during the week with special events:

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Join the conversation on Facebook with atyourlibrary.org

Aside from loving books, reading, stories, the written word, and being a librarian, etc., I would not be able to call myself a bibliophile without being a library patron.  Many would argue I’m a bibliomaniac, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as someone with an extreme preoccupation of collecting or admiring books. Yep, that sounds like me.

When I tell people I am a librarian and I went to graduate school to become a librarian, I often get that inquisitive look back with the question, “what did you learn?” or “I don’t read” or “I haven’t been the library in years.”

If you haven’t been to a library in years, months, weeks, days, hours, go and take a 30 minute visit this week!  Not only are you positively supporting your city services and seeing your tax dollars be used for great use, you are telling the world that libraries matter!  It is more than just a building with books.  You say you don’t read but do you watch movies?  Check out a DVD for free.  Are you doing genealogy research about your family?   Talk to the reference librarian for better resources than just Google and learn how to effectively use Ancestry.com.  Many libraries even have subscriptions to sites like Ancestry.com that you can access with your library card.  Do you have children and want to help them make friends or find activities other than homework?  Bring them to storytimes, playtimes, craft sessions, video gaming programs and more for free.

The library is also a place that is no longer managed by the stuffy, old, grumpy lady with her hair in a bun and ugly shoes and glasses.  That’s quite a bit of negative adjectives to describe such a person, and it’s unfortunate so many people still associate the library with this image.  Most likely, it’s because of a bad experience they had while in school and so never went back to the place.  So you say, you don’t read and haven’t been to a library in years.  Could it be because you were one of these kids?  Hopefully most of the libraries in your area have moved to a friendlier, warmer, and more inviting atmosphere with librarians who know their ‘stuff’ and have a passion for helping people embrace their inner bibliophile.  It probably wouldn’t hurt if they have really cool glasses and trendy shoes.

Why do I love libraries?  I love to read. I love to explore.  For bibliophiles like myself, I love going to the library and just wander through the non-fiction stacks looking at the titles.   Dewey Decimal is a great invention because it organizes subjects according to interest.  Yes, libraries still use Dewey Decimal, mostly for non-fiction, and I hope they continue with this grand tradition because it works!  If I had a dog, I would probably name him Dewey.  I absolutely love the wander, it helps me dig deeper into topics I may have thought about but never really explored.  In fiction, the wander is a little tougher for me because I want to read everything on the shelves so I tend to get lost.

Why do I love libraries?  I love to bring my laptop and surf the internet, perhaps do some writing or reading in a completely different environment than the coffee shop or my living room.  It’s quiet, but not annoyingly silent, with just enough distractions.  People are usually friendly and I have unofficially joined the ‘reading room newspaper’ club at my local library.

Why do I love libraries?  I love that such a simple concept became such a unique place in our world where you are granted permission based on the honor system to borrow books, movies, music, and the internet.

Why do I love libraries?  I love that my local library is a place only 5-10 minutes from my house.  I love that I can ride my bike there or drive.  I love that it is the best way I can ‘go local’ in every sense of the word.

Why do I love libraries?  Somehow it became trendy, popular, and cool to be a nerd.  I love libraries because I can embrace my inner nerd.  I can admit to reading the encyclopedia at home when I was a kid because I had read everything else we owned.  I think we are all nerds at some point in our lives and the library is the best place where we can all just be ourselves with no judgements and no apologies for what we enjoy.

Check out this site for even more information on why people around the country love libraries. 

Embrace your inner bibliophile.  Embrace your inner nerd.  Embrace what makes you YOU and check out your local library this week.   Help celebrate National Library Week with one small visit, and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  I would love to hear why you love libraries in the comments!

Literary Loves

I was following a really great discussion on the YALSA listserv around Valentine’s Day where the topic was “Who Was Your First Literary Love?”  It got me thinking about all the fantastic children’s and young adults writers whose books like Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Charlotte’s Web made in my life as a young reader.  There were great authors I knew and loved that many people shouted out, and there were also many I have yet to discover.  Yet, what held me off from writing about this discussion was thinking about all the wonderful books and authors I’ve read as an adult in college, graduate school and throughout my own choosing from bookstore and library adventures.

Stack of Books Found on Flickr

Studying to become a librarian, being an English major in undergrad and actually enjoying most of my English classes in high school, I have had many first literary loves and they all hold special places in my list of great novels.  Books like Catcher in the Rye, The Awakening, Old Man and the Sea, and Invisible Man are novels that truly made me stop, think, and never want to put it down.  It’s hard for me to pick one!

Then, I was listening to a favorite podcast during one of my typical hour long drives called Book Lust moderated by Nancy Pearl, master librarian.  She was interviewing Charles Johnson, author of the National Book Award winning book, Middle Passage.  During the interview, she asked what he was reading and did he have any favorite books.  His paraphrased reply was that he found books most rewarding when they impacted him in a way that made him think about the world and people around him.

This had me thinking about why I can’t really choose only one literary love.

I am almost always impacted in some way by the books I read.  Some stories haunt me with the choices and decisions made by the characters.  Some books cause me to question my life and what I’ve done throughout.  Others intrigue me and impact me in a way to want to do research to find out more about a particular topic.

So now I ask, as a ‘grown-up’ reader, what or who is your literary love? Did you discover new tastes as an adult or do you find those similar patterns you enjoyed as a child carry over in your adult reading?

Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The holiday season is upon us, which means endless parties with family and friends, tons of delicious food, and mounds of piles of presents to wrap.  Hopefully, amongst the busyness of the season, you are able to find some downtime to relax and enjoy, and perhaps even read a book (or two) for fun.

I’ve created a booklist of holiday stories, many are classics, some you can share with the young children in your life, and some you’ll want to keep just for yourself.  Several of these stories began as movies, or have become movies, and I find it interesting to compare how the two relate or differ from one another.   I’ve tried to include a variety of books for all interests and tastes, as the appeal is for a wide audience of readers.  However, if you really enjoy a specific genre such as romances, or mysteries, or children’s picture books and want some holiday suggestions, let me know! I’ve also included links to Google Books so you can check out the books from your library or find out where to purchase them.

I hope you’ll find a new favorite in the list, rediscover an old or once loved story, and perhaps even begin making some new traditions this holiday season with a good book.


Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The movie White Christmas is a classic holiday movie filled with song, dance, and 1950’s flair.  Originally created as a song by Irving Berlin, and made famous by Bing Crosby in 1941, it has been the best known Christmas song in history.  This picture book by Michael Hague called, White Christmas, uses beautifully drawn, and colorful renderings to depict the magic of snow that brings us a White Christmas.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the movie as there is even sheet music of the song included so you can sing along.

The 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street depicts a classic holiday tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is also for many, the official start of the holiday season.  This adaptation by Valentine Davies, who also wrote the original screenplay, includes stills from the movie.  This particular edition of the book even won an award for Best Design from the American Institute of Graphic Artists.

The story for the more recent film called, Christmas with the Kranks, was taken from the original book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.  In this novel, a couple decides to skip the craziness of the holiday season and take a vacation.  However, when their daughter surprises them with a visit, the hilarity of the season takes off.  A quick and casual read for those looking for a nice break.

A Christmas Story written by Jean Shepherd introduces the world to a little boy named Ralphie.  Now in regular rotation around the holiday season, the 1983 movie brings to life this humorous tale from the point of view of a kid who just wants a BB gun for Christmas.  Shepherd tells his autobiographical story with wit and charm and captures the essence of what it means to be a kid at Christmastime.

No matter which holiday you celebrate (or wish to forget), the book Scenes From a Holiday by Laurie Graff, Caren Lissner and Melanie Murray will bring some humor and delight to your days.  Three stories by three different authors follow three different women along their journey to survive the holiday season.

Those looking for a story that will warm your heart, you’ll want to read the tearjerker called, The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere.  It’s a story about a little boy in search of a gift for his dying mother and is the first in a series of books by VanLiere.  This book will have you believing in not only miracles, but also the magic and goodness of people around you.  This book was also made into a 2002 film, and adapted into a song in 2000.

Another story about hope and faith is the first in a series by Debbie Macomber named, Angels Everywhere.  This book was also the inspiration for the TV series, Touched by an Angel.  The story is about the adventures of three angels named Shirley, Goodness and Mercy as they make their way through New York City helping those whose hearts needs a little help.

Those looking for some mystery will want to read Decked by Carol Higgins Clark, which is also the first in the Regan Reilly Mystery series.  Regan, a private detective, just wants to enjoy her class reunion, but ends up investigating her roommate’s murder.  This novel is full of suspense and anticipation that has made this a bestselling series.

Classic enthusiasts will enjoy the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published in 1843.  Although retold in many forms, this is the original.  There are many versions of the story including films, plays, and even graphic novels.  This edition from Signet Classics takes on the novel in its original form and includes additional Christmas stories by Dickens.

Many people only think of The Nutcracker as a beautiful ballet to see around the Christmas season.  Yet, it was originally a tale from 1816 written by E.T.A. Hoffman and again adapted in 1845 by Alexandre Dumas.  It wasn’t until 1892 that the story became globally known when the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned the story into the famous ballet we know today.  Even then, it wasn’t popular until the 1950’s in America.  Rediscover the many lands visited by Clara (or Marie as she is originally written) and the magic of the story this season.


In my family, the holidays are always filled with traditions and celebration and so below this first list, I’ve included a few additional selections that I find to be favorites.  Growing up in an Italian-American household meant we celebrated Christmas Eve with going to mass, placing baby Jesus in the manger crafted by my Papa, ate tons of fresh fish, and opened presents!  The books I’ve chosen below represent a taste of what I most fondly love about the Christmas season.  I’d love to hear your family traditions so please do share them in the comments!

In my family, food is one of the main topics of conversation.  When we are eating breakfast, we are talking about dinner.  Celebrations are no different, and always meant wonderful cookies and desserts!   This cookbook, Mangia, Little Italy by Francesa Romina, is one of my favorites for hard-to-find recipes for Italian treats.

Strega Nona is one of my favorite characters in children’s literature and was created by the master writer and illustrator, Tomie dePaolaMerry Christmas, Strega Nona will not disappoint as he uses his hand-drawn and colorful illustrations to depict the story of Strega Nona, Bambolona and of course, Big Anthony preparing for the big Christmas celebration.

Living and growing up in Chicago meant we always visited Marshall Fields, especially to see the windows at Christmastime.  This book from the Images of America series called, Christmas on State Street, has wonderful photos of this most beloved store including those great green clocks, the corner that you saw when approaching the store and so much more.  While it doesn’t replace actually visiting, it brings back great memories.


Enjoy reading and have a very wonderful holiday season full of delight, magic and surprise!

Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon Cover From Google BooksSong of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Author: Toni Morrison
Title: Song of Solomon
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 1977
Number of Pages: 337
Geographical Setting: Detroit, MI
Time Period: 1910’s to 1960’s

Plot Summary: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, is the story of the Dead family led by local Detroit businessman, Macon Dead together with his wife Ruth Foster Dead and their three children, First Corinthians, Magdalena (Lena), and Macon, Jr.  Told in third person from the perspective of Macon Dead and Macon, Jr. we are pulled into the current life of Macon, Jr. as a child and as he grows up through the 1950’s and 60’s.  Macon Dead, the father, serves as the history teller bringing us back to the past through his stories as he remembers his life and what brought him to present day.  Morrison uses eccentric secondary characters such as Empire State, to tell us even more about the secrets of Macon family, their complicated lives and societal roles both within the family and as African-Americans, throughout the novel.  Song of Solomon is thought-provoking, introspective, and imaginative in its storytelling both for the characters and the reader.

Subject Headings: Fiction & Biography; African Americans; Fathers and sons; Family relationships; Family histories; Heritage; Racial identity; Self-discovery; Social classes; Michigan Midwest (U.S.); 20th century; Literary; Domestic; Generational; Sociological; Married Father; Businessman

Appeal: engrossing, thought-provoking, imaginative, introspective, historical, African-American, eccentric, urban, rural, race relations, civil rights movement, morality, familial roles and life, ancestral, changes, award-winning, National Book Critics Circle Award, lyrical writing, melancholy

3 terms that best describe this book: engrossing, African-American literature, thought-provoking

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

  • The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Weincek tells the historical story of the Hairston family and their inspiring rise from lives of repressive slavery to middle-class America in WWII.
  • Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South is a compiliation of real-life interviews and stories of segregation in the south in the 1950’s and 1960’s and how families and people overcame their struggles to create a sense of normalcy in their lives.  The book was compiled by the Behind the Veil Project at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
  • In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past by Henry Louis Gates is companion volume to the landmark PBS documentary African American Lives.  The book follows these 19 families as they trace their roots and learn about not only their ancestry and culture, but also themselves through introspective realizations.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston is the poignant and moving story of an African-American woman in the 1930’s searching for her ancestry while learning about herself throughout the journey.  Hurston tells the story with rhythmic language through a series of formats in one volume.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison tells the rich story of Sethe, a former slave, now freed, who is haunted by the ghosts of her past of not only her troubled life but also the mysterious nature of her baby’s death.  This is written in Morrison’s unique style of lyrical complexity
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker is the classic African American story of two sisters from the poor, rural south and their journey through 30 years of life starting in the 1900’s and taking us through the 1940’s.  Walker delivers the story as a novel told through the letters these sisters write to each other.

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Find Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison in your local library at WorldCat

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