THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN + Book of the Month

I was very honored that Book of the Month posted one of my pictures today on their social media. It was a photo of this fantastic book about J.P. Morgan’s assistant, Belle da Costa Greene, who helped build the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City in the early 1900’s.

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN is a celebration of art and ancient book manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles. I actually stopped midway through the book to re-watch The Monuments Men, which took place during a different time period but always gives me the same debt of gratitude for those who have gone to great lengths to preserve and uphold the honor in art.

You will stop and Google dates and names and it will spark an even deeper appreciation of the importance of the fine arts. This book will certainly be one of my top favorite books this year. Authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, went to great lengths to research this novel. Each author’s note in the back of the book were fascinating to read in order to see how they went about collecting Belle’s story as well as information about the beginnings and early days of the library.

Extraordinary. Extravagant. Empowering. Thought-provoking. This would make an excellent book club read and discussion. I highly recommend this book about a section of our history you may not know much about. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

Thank you, Book of the Month, for using my picture but mostly for bringing to the forefront a life story that needed to be told.

Sidenote: I have been a BOTM member for five years and have very fond memories of the catalogs that used to come in the mail to my parents each month. I read the book descriptions in awe and thought that BOTM must be the most grown up thing you could possibly do. What a dream to have books sent to you in the mail, I imagined! I’m so glad I get to enjoy them now. Each month is a new adventure that begins with an exciting blue box waiting for me at my front door.

Another sidenote: the decadently delicious waffles were a new recipe that my DEAR husband was trying out. It very quickly went into the MUST MAKE AGAIN section of our recipe file: whole wheat waffles with bananas and walnuts baked inside. (They’re practically health food.)

The French Open

I am ALWAYS thrilled when I receive a book to be reviewed before it’s released to the public. I feel like I’ve received a huge gift every time and I am immensely grateful.

But sometimes the publishers do it up extra. Such was the case with this book. Opening this package was a Parisian delight…

Honestly, while opening this special package I realized all the Corona stress was just under the surface for me because I immediately teared up at the special care and beauty the publisher took to promote this book. Thank you, Atria Books. It was a wonderful relief to see beauty in the midst of so much uncertainty.

The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, (releases in June 2020) is one of my favorite themes: a book about the love of books. During World War II in Paris, librarians joined the Resistance armed with the best weapons they had: the truth found nestled in the pages of a book.

The main character, Odile, is a librarian at the American Library in Paris in 1939 as the Nazis march in. Risking her life and her library, she makes difficult decisions that will redirect her life.

Years later, in 1983, she befriends a lonely teenager in small-town Montana over their shared love of language and a dark secret that connects them both.

Atria Books included macarons from Epicerie Boulud in New York City. What a lovely touch.

I am excited to learn more about this significant battle being waged within World War II and the heroic librarians who paved the way.

Thank you, again, Atria Books, for bringing delight to your readers and an extra-needed moment of clarity to me, during an uneasy time in the world.

Ode to the DNF

As readers, we’ve all experienced the mental pros and cons list we automatically go to when facing a potential DNF (Do No Finish.) It took me quite a few years into adulthood before I would actually NOT finish a book. Finally I reached the point when I realized my time and comfort level was worth more than my commitment to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying or was about topics that made me uneasy. Even still, it takes quite a bit for me to lay a book aside. Many times it’s the pure curiosity of wondering how it ends that keeps my plowing through. 

This book is a Potential DNF as I haven’t 100% made up my mind yet about it. You can see where my book tab is. I’m not quite halfway through. I’ve enjoyed the topic (although a little overdone in the past few years, it feels like. Girl spy during one of the early wars.) I liked this character and it’s based on a real person. 

But it came to a dramatic stop recently when an event in the book was more than I could swallow. It was rough. At the very least, I needed to step away from the book for a bit. I’ve read two light-hearted books since putting a pause on this one. Maybe those lighter reads will buoy me enough to step back into the dark world that this book is currently in. 

The book jumps from present to past so I’m wondering if I just skip to the next section (Part Three), if I’ll be able to catch up on the things I skipped over. The looming question, however, is will I become engrossed in it again only to have another zinger of a plot twist creep up as gross and disturbing as the one I just read??

I’ve been hesitant to use the word ‘triggering’ because I’m not sure the exact definition of it. Does it apply only if it has actually happened to you? As a mom, I am VERY sensitive to things happening to children, even mental anguish. I definitely didn’t used to be that way. I loved reading crazy, scary books as a teen. But I watched the movie Sophie’s Choice when my firstborn was 9 months old and I spent the rest of the evening sitting by his crib and crying. Seriously!, it broke me. So children being hurt – mentally or physically – is a real trigger for me. And that’s where I am in this book. I’m sure many of you have read this and it was no big deal. (The book comes out at the end of month.) But that’s the deal, right? What is triggering for one person is totally fine for another. (And if you have read this book, I’m sure you can probably guess what event stopped me dead in my tracks…)

It’s raining this week in California. Like, a lot. The days are dreary and overcast and that’s to say nothing of the whole Covid-19 situation overtaking our thoughts and moods. So for now, I’m going to stick with other books and hope I don’t forget too much of what I’ve read so far in this book. Maybe I’ll come back to it later (because it really WAS an interesting book.) Just not right now.

What items make you set down a book and not come back? What makes you say, ‘Nope!’? I’d really love to hear your experiences and what trends you see in your own reading life that make you stop and walk away.

 

Sidenote: I have purposefully not mentioned the name of the book or the author’s name, even though you can plainly see it in the picture. I don’t want any search engines to find the title and it get a bad review. I’m not giving it a bad review. Just because something bothers me, doesn’t mean it’s not a good book for anyone. In fact, it’s been an interesting and engaging book. I just need a little space from it for now. Or until it becomes a DNF.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

Books celebrating books. Authors paying homage to readers. This enticing concoction of book-celebrating is an intoxicating elixir when it occurs in a storyline and The Giver of Stars is no exception.

This book is based on a true story in American history.

Historical reference: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration created librarians – primarily made up of women – to ride horses into rural areas and high in the mountains, bringing books to those who otherwise would have no access to books at all. The purpose of this New Deal program was to expand the minds of those that knew very little of a world outside their own immediate family.

Pack-Horse-Eleanor

These women were often referred to as ‘book ladies’ or ‘packsaddle librarians’. Riding through snow, rain, and very difficult terrain, these traveling librarians dropped off books (and picked up returning books) to the outskirts of society. It is estimated that 63% of the state of Kentucky were without access to public libraries and around 30% of rural Kentuckians were illiterate. Roosevelt understood that education was the foundation of change and a path out of poverty and that the education gained from borrowing donated books could have a lasting effect.

Pack-Horse-1

This program also created jobs for women during the Great Depression. ‘Book ladies’ made around $28 a month (the equivalent of about $500 a month today), delivering books to homes and schoolhouses between 1935 and 1943. In 1943 the service lost its funding leaving many Appalachian communities without books for decades until bookmobiles were introduced in the late 1950’s.

The Giver of Stars is a harrowing story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, to bring books to those who had no access.

Alice Wright, born and raised in England, marries wealthy businessman, Bennett Van Cleave, an American from Kentucky. After settling into their new home in rural Appalachia, Alice soon discovers small-town living in Baileyville, Kentucky can feel very claustrophobic. When she learns of the packhorse book project, she eagerly signs up. ‘She covered her own anxiety with activity.’ The five heroic women who eventually form the book distribution team, soon learn to rely on each other as a means of support against familial and community outrage. Many townsmen (led by Alice’s wealthy father-in-law) were indignant that a woman would be capable of such a daunting task.

In any other town, such misdemeanors might eventually be forgotten, but in Baileyville a grudge could last a century and still nurture a head of steam. The people of Baileyville were descended from Celts, from Scots and Irish families, who could hold on to resentment until it was dried out like beef jerky, and bearing no resemblance to its original self.

Alice begins to gain confidence and independence through the difficult work of the packhorse library, traveling hours by herself in the beauty of Kentucky mountains and wide open skies, meeting the warm-hearted people of the rural country, while learning to trust and lean on her fellow librarians.

She had built a new Alice over the frame of one with whom she had never felt entirely comfortable.

I highly recommend this beautifully written book. At times it seems certain they cannot recover from many of their adventures and Moyes leaves you hanging until the last minute. Loss and love and renewal and commitment weave themselves through each adventure. Getting to know each of these remarkable women was a literary privilege for me as well as delving deeper into the historical facts surrounding this amazing chapter in American history.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

I’m excited to dive into my Book of the Month selection for November. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes looks like one of those burrowed-into-the-couch, throw-blankets-on, what-time-is-it-anyway, just-one-more-chapter type of read.⠀

Here’s a brief overview:⠀

Alice Wright marries in order to leave her life in England and moves to Kentucky during the American depression era. She quickly realizes this small town was much too claustrophobic for her liking so she jumps at the chance to join a new traveling library team of women, established by Eleanor Roosevelt. A personality potpourri of five women soon learn their own strength and independence as well as their dependence on each other as they confront gender restrictions and relationship difficulties. They are committed to the task at hand: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts and ideas that will forever change their lives.⠀

Team of women – library books – Eleanor Roosevelt – traveling the countryside – female friendships ⠀

*breaks into song* – ‘…these are a few of my favorite things!’

The best part is that it is based on a true story. The description hooked me and I can’t wait to dig right in. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres so I know we’ll get along just grand. ⠀

Have you read this book or are you reading it now? Is it on your TBR list? Tell me your thoughts below. Let’s discover this epic story together.⠀