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Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain

ImageThe title of this book Lighting Out for the Territory by Roy Morris, jr. refers to the last paragraph in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck reckons that it's time "to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest", which is exactly what Clemens himself did in July 1861. Clemens had ridden as a guerilla maurader for the Missouri militia in a locally formed group in the very early days of the Civil War called the Marion Rangers. They never saw any real action, but his brief stint with them, plus the ever present chance he could be drafted by either side, Union or Confederate, to pilot a gun boat, made the mostly neutral West look inviting.

His brother Orion had been appointed as Secretary to the Territorial Governor of the newly created Nevada Territory. Orion invited Sam to go along to share expenses. From this happenstance beginning one of America's great writers was born.

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The Stone Carvers

Stone CarversThe Canadian National Vimy Memorial sits on a preserved battlefield in France where the Canadian Expeditionary Force took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge during World War I.  The huge marble monument took 11 years to build and has giant human sculptures representing sacrifice, mourning, and strength and includes over 11,000 names of Canadian soldiers missing in action.

In Jane Urquhart's novel The Stone Carvers, we meet three fictional people who wind up working on this magnificent monument. Their lives are transformed both by the beauty of art and the horrors of war. 

Klara and Tilman Becker grow up in rural Canada in a German immigrant community at the turn of the century.  Their grandfather is a wood carver with high hopes for Tilman to learn the master craft.  While Tilman has a natural carving ability, he is proves unable to stay on the farm.  Even as early as 12, Tilman must migrate. Nothing his family does can keep him on the farm, not even a chain. Read more »

How to Die in Paris

ImageThe title intrigued me, so I pulled this book off the new shelf.  How to Die in Paris is Thomas's first book, a memoir, about her trip of seven months to Italy and Paris. Like all good travel books, it's also autobiographical, not only detailing the author's present but also her past.

Like many twenty-somethings, Naturi's had a difficult time in the recession finding steady work in NY City. Periodically, she lists how many times she's moved in the past few years, and how many nights she has spent couch-surfing, or staying with friends.

Before setting off for Europe, a friend takes her to see a fortune teller.  Although Naturi pokes fun at the process, the fortune teller is adamant that the young woman will have an extremely tough time in Europe.  Naturi scoffs it off, but... Read more »

A History of the World in 100 Objects

ImageWhat a cool idea for a book. Telling the history of the world by looking at museum artifacts. To make it even more interesting, these descriptive reports of jewelry, mummies, pottery, coins, art, textiles, etc. were written by experts for radio.  Luckily, for us we get to view the pictures also, hundreds of them.

A History of the World in 100 Objects is no coffee table book but a book to be read end to end. The entries for each of the objects (that range in date from 2,000,000 B.C. to 2010 A.D.) describe not only the artifacts themselves but what they teach us about history and about humanity. For example of silver bowl full of coins from around the year 927--shows that already England was well on its way to becoming a monarchy. Inscribed on one coin is Athelstan Rex totius Britanniae or Athelstan, King of All Britain.  

Other items found in this same buried stash were arm bracelets from Ireland, Viking coins, and others from as far away as Afghanistan. A Viking stash of coins showed that they were becoming Christian--engraved on several was St. Peter's name (Petri), but also inscribed was the hammer from Thor, the old Norse god. Read more »

Arctic Obsession: the lure of the Far North

ImageOne of the earliest historical reports of a far northern, snow-covered place was by Pytheas who sailed out of what is now Marseilles in 325 B.C., and discovered a place he called Ultima Thule, a six day journey north of Britain. No one knows exactly where his ship landed but people believe that it may have been Iceland, Greenland, Norway or the Shetlands.  Pytheas described the remarkable midnight sun and reported that the sea surrounding Thule was "neither sea nor air but a mixture like a sea-lung that binds everything together."

In the following centuries the Romans and medieval scholars called the Far North "the kingdom of the dead" where the Cyclops lived "in a place of chaos, the abysmal chasm." In those days scholars also believed that the North Pole was a "gigantic metallic rock rising out of the ocean." Read more »

From Book to Best Picture

We are sThe Descendantstill a few weeks away from the Academy Awards, but the nominations were announced last week.  Out of the nine best picture nominees, six are based on books.  So while maybe watching the nominated movies is on your February list, it also proves an opportunity to add some new book titles as well.  The six books include:

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

"With beautiful and blunt prose, Hemmings explores the emotional terrain of grief, promising something far more fulfilling than paradise at its end."--San Francisco Chronicle


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a miracle, a daybreak, a man on the moon. It's so impeccably imagined, so courageously executed, so everlastingly moving and fine." --Baltimore Sun

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February's Books Plus Discussion

Your Blues Ain't Like MineAs the temperature switches almost daily between winter and spring, it's almost time to draw together to discuss an interesting book. In honor of Black History Month, February's  discussion will be on Bebe Moore Campbell's Your Blues Ain't Like Mine.

This novel is set in rural Mississippi in the 1950s and also in Chicago during more contemporary times. It's a novel about family, community, and civil rights.

Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays

See the full winter and spring schedule below. Read more »

New Poetry Books for the New Year

Come, ThiefHere are a couple more poetry books that I've been enjoying lately.

Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief is an inviting and intriguing book by one of our best poets. Her poems are on the small side with lots of white space but they are packed with so much insight and punch, that they more than satisfy. To her poems Hirshfield brings an eye for nature, wisdom for relationships and a Zen philosophy. Here's the beginning of "Fourth World."
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Winter Reading Program 2012!

WRP2012Adult, high school and middle school readers are encouraged to participate in our annual Winter Reading Program. It's easy to enter - read a book, submit an entry. Every week, winning names will be drawn to receive prizes. At the end of the Winter Reading Program, we'll choose three lucky names from all the entries submitted to receive the grand prizes - new e-readers! The more books you read, the more chances you'll have to win.
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Night Circus Readalikes

Night CircusErin Morgenstern's The Night Circus tells the story of two competing magicians trying to outdo each other in the creation of an enchanted circus. Whether you've read it and want more of the gothic atmosphere, period charm, and dazzling detail, are on the holds list for it, or just enjoy a bit of whimsy and dark Victorianism, these books should be of interest.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a tale of the resurgence of English magic in the early 19th century, is just as dense and immersive as the equally thick Night Circus, and like that novel features a period writing style and a fully realized magical world-within-a-world.
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