For the Love of Reading

Touching Strangers

Anyone with the ability to get a stranger to pose for a camera while touching two or three other strangers in New York City must have both courage and amazing diplomatic skills. Enter photographer Richard Renaldi. Since 2007 Renaldi has been hauling his big, 8 by 10 inch view camera not just around New York, but around other cities and towns across America.  This cool involving book presents some of the amazing portraits he’s created.

The juxtapositions are captivating: ages, races, classes, sexes, outfits, jewelry, tattoos, and indoor and outdoor settings all present a panoply of portraits of 21st century Americans. In “Jesse and Michael,” a bearded middle-aged man in an orange sweatshirt and woolen cap clutches the hands of a very old woman wearing a wig, with her cane draped over her purse.  Atlantic Ocean waves break behind them.

“Pedro and Neal” touch in some kind of shop or factory.  Pedro sits, his body exuding confidence and authority, a radio attached to his shirt.  Neal in a blue cap has claimed a perch on Pedro’s desk and Neal places one hand on Pedro’s shoulder, another around his wrist.

“Michael and Sarah” look like they could be engaged. Sarah leans into Michael’s shoulder on the NYC subway during winter—both wear coats and hats; their opposite hands are clasped on Sarah’s left wrist.

All the Light We Cannot See

A blind French girl. A brilliant German boy.  A locksmith who works at a world-class museum. A French resistance worker who doubles as a housewife. An agoraphobic great uncle who has not left home since the close of the last war, WW1.  A Nazi army gem expert who prowls after a world-class jewel that he believes will cure his advanced cancer.

These are the main characters that people this fascinating WWII novel.  Tying them all together are radio signals and a blue diamond worth millions.

The novel alternates (mostly) between the points of view of Marie-Laure, a blind girl and Werner, an orphan who teaches himself advanced radio skills. Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six.  Just after the German occupation,  she and her locksmith father flee Paris, but soon after the Germans take and imprison her father.

A myth surrounds the blue diamond itself.  Marie-Laure learned about the diamond early in her life. The myth says that anyone who carries it will have bad luck befall them. Unfortunately, the museum director entrusts the locksmith with this diamond as the Germans enter Paris. He also ordered two other duplicates created to confuse anyone trying to track the diamond. None of the three employees trusted with the diamond know who has the real one.

Carnegie Award Winners Announced

Since 2012, the American Library Association has chosen a best book for adult readers in both fiction and nonfiction that were published in the U.S. in the previous year. Drumroll!! This year's winners are The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The Goldfinch by Donna Tart.

Both books have received excellent reviews. The Bully Pulpit focuses on the great friendship between Roosevelt and Taft that was severely tried when they ran against each other for president in 1912. It also vividly describes the muckraking era in American journalism, so far removed from our journalism today, but having left a great influence on it.

The Goldfinch, reviewed here previously, tells the story of a young boy's sense of loss after being bombed in a museum and losing his mother. In the craziness after the bombing, he grabs the small painting of the title--a 13 and 1/4 by 9 inch work by the Dutch artist, Carol Fabritius, that was painted in 1654. Theodore's life spins out of control and he keeps this painting for years. It's a novel about art, relationships, and how circumstances can change the course of a life in a single moment.

Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization

This book is not about nature as I’d first thought, except for the fact that it recommends running in those glove-like shoes on outdoor trails. It is a book about health, however—how to keep it, how to get it back in a tense, stress-filled world.

What I like best about it is how the two authors, one a doctor, the other a science journalist cull recent research for results on diets and life-techniques that really work include cutting back on carbs, sleeping eight hours, spending time moving outdoors and meditation.

One study confirmed that Japanese businessmen had a 40% increase in their immune response after just one walk in the woods.  Even more surprising is that this lasted for more than a month. The results in improved health and awareness for those that meditate were particularly powerful.  Even novice meditators had an increased immune response to a flu virus than others."

New U.S. Poet Laureate Announced

The Library of Congress just appointed Charles Wright from Virginia to be our new national poet laureate. Some ofour best contemporary poets have brought their energy and vision to promote this ancient, ever-changing art. Recent poets laureate have included: Billy Collins, Natasha Tretheway, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, Ted Kooser, and Kay Ryan.

Some of their projects live on. Ted Kooser created a free weekly newspaper column called American Life in Poetry that features work each week by a different poet.  Billy Collins started Poetry 180 a website that has spurned at least two books that have brought accessible poetry to high school students and the general public.  Natasha Tretheway started a series on PBS’s The News Hour called “Where Poetry Lives.” It includes segments of contemporary poets reading their own work and describing how it came to be.

And what, you might ask, will Charles Wright do?  In the New York Times announcement of his  post, Wright said that he and his wife spend two summer months each year in a remote corner of Montana. He will envision his new project there, something worthy of the tradition that earlier appointees have started. 

Dancing Fish and Amonites

Penelope Lively is one of my favorite British novelists. She has a talent for capturing the world in detail and a deep understanding of the social world and the dynamics of families. In this nonfiction collection, she looks back upon her life including her childhood as an expat in Egypt, her staid years at a British boarding school, and her coming of age in the wild London sixties. She also writes about her reading and writing life and the complicated state of old age.

Fitzgerald explores how different the world of her youth was from today. When she was a child, everyone dropped everything for formal afternoon tea, and the girl who took the last sandwich or bun earned a wish for either a handsome husband or 10,000 a year.  Everyone, Lively said, chose the handsome husband. Money be scorned!

Lively also tells of being part of the post-suffragist, pre-feminist generation. In those days, no one wondered why ten men attended university to every woman. Although Lively enjoyed those odds, she wonders why she never questioned whether men were actually smarter than women or had more of a right to be there.

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