Laura Hand will present the Muriel Koretz Award on 10-29-13
The Friends of Onondaga County Libraries(FOCL), sponsors of the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series, presented the Muriel Koretz Award 2012 to well known Central New York resident, Laura Hand. This award honors a community individual who has made a positive impact on the literacy of CNY young people.
Laura Hand has been invited to present the Muriel Koretz award on stage to our newest award recipient during the 1st program of the 2013-2014 season on Tuesday, October 29, 2013.
The first award was presented in 2001 to Muriel Koretz who guided parents and teachers to the best books for children for over thirty years through her children’s book review column in the Syracuse Post Standard. The award was named in her honor in recognition of her dedication to children’s literature.
Laura Hand was nominated by colleagues who lauded the work she has done to foster a love of reading in children. Hand has coordinated Book Breaks, a summertime reading program throughout the libraries in Onondaga County. “The People We see on TV” visit between 15 and 20 libraries each July and August reading to children and fostering a love of reading. The program emphasizes reading skills for children during summer vacation. As a guest reader in local classrooms, Ms. Hand encourages students and their families to read.
$40,000 Donation to OCPL
On March 4, 2013, Friends of the Central Library presented a check for $40,000 to the Onondaga County Public Library prior to Jacqueline Woodson's lecture at the Civic Center in Syracuse.
Virginia G. Biesiada graciously accepted the donation on behalf of the OCPL Board of Trustees. Since 1997, FOCL has given $437,000 to OCPL to support programming and the purchase of books and library materials.
Pictured are Deborah Hole, Interim FOCL Director, Virginia G. Biesiada, President of the OCPL Board of Trustees, and Edward Kochain, President of FOCL.
Meltzer Reviews Summer 2013
Dear Fellow Readers,
The summer is upon us and I regret that I haven’t read as much as usual, as my Red Sox are in first place (at least at the time of this posting) and I have borrowed much of my reading time to watch the games. Still I have a few offerings for your consideration.
The first book is Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell. If you like murder mysteries set in Victorian London, you will enjoy this book. Morrell spent two years researching London in 1854, from the gas lit, cobbled streets to the squalor of shantytown. The first chapter sets the stage, with a withering description of a horrific murder of a shop owner, his assistant, his wife and worst of all, his two young children, one, an infant. The primary suspect is Thomas DeQuincey, an author, lecturer and amateur psychologist, who actually lived during this period and who was famous for his memoir, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Morrell draws from history, the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, which link DeQuincey to the crime. Along with his beautiful and independent daughter and two Scotland Yard agents, DeQuincey sets out to prove his innocence and find the real killer. This book mixes historical fiction with murder in a nineteenth century setting that brings to mind Jack the Ripper, Charles Dickens and Caleb Carr (The Alienist). It is well written and if you like this genre; jarring, seamy and a little creepy, you will appreciate Murder as a Fine Art.
A friend recommended Forever, A Novel, by Pete Hamill. Having had the privilege of dining with Mr. Hamill, I try to read as many of his books as I can get to. I enjoyed him so much as a person, that I can’t help but relate his writing to that experience. As usual, this book leads us to New York City, but first we start in Ireland in the 1700’s. Cormac O’Conner is a young boy who watches his mother die at the hands of a rich Earl. His father, a blacksmith, teaches him the ancient Celtic mysticism and is then murdered for his horse by the same man who killed his wife. Cormac is sworn by oath to exact revenge, which means following the Earl to New York City and killing him and any surviving progeny. When he arrives he befriends an African slave who bestows on him immortality. The one condition is that he can never leave the island of Manhattan or he will die. (Stay with me now.) Obviously there is the necessity to suspend belief, but as you follow Cormac through the years, it is like watching Dorian Gray, never growing old and never being able to make a commitment to anyone. Woven into the plot is the rich history of New York, where we meet the famous and the infamous, from George Washington to Boss Tweed. It is apparent that Hamill wanted to trace New York City’s long and fascinating story through the eyes of one man. Is it fantasy? Sure. But his love for the city and its history shines through, and Cormac is a man you won’t quickly forget.
My book club, which likes to read about history, took on a new member and he picked The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes. The impetus for picking this book was the oft-repeated claim that the United States is a Christian country, founded by religious men, who were influenced by their Christian faith. Thus when issues of faith are brought up, the canard that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Adams were true believers, is used to support the view that our country should follow that same direction. This book explores the true beliefs of these men, as well as their wives, and the truth is not what many have been led to believe. Most of the men of the revolution were deists, that is, they believed in a deity, but not in formal religion and many of them disavowed the Trinity and the supernatural stuff. This was, of course not true of everyone; Sam Adams and Martha Washington are examples of orthodox Christians. Nonetheless, many of the most influential founders were Freemasons or believed that there was room for many beliefs in the new country. There is a fine history of American religion and a comparison of the founders’ beliefs with those of more recent presidents. This book is for anyone looking for a historical perspective of the role of religion during the period of the founding of our nation.
The next book is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This book is a significant departure from her previous ones, especially the Jackson Brodie novels. It is the story, or should I say stories, of the life of Ursula Todd. Ursula was born in England in 1910 and died during childbirth. Or did she? In the next chapter she is born again, and this time lives to tell her tale over and over, life after different life. Each time a slightly changed decision leads down another path. A war is started, a war is prevented. She is killed in a London blitz, she saves lives in the same blitz. Some reviewers have compared this book to the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray wakes up at the same time every day and is free to do anything he chooses, drawing from each of his previous experiences. Like the great book Replay by Ken Grimwald, he remembers his previous lives and learns from them. Life After Life is not like that. Although Ursula has memories, they appear as déjà vu, only a vague feeling that she has been there before. Her different lives are really parallel stories of what might have happened if one thing or another had changed in her life. Certainly, she had no control over dying in childbirth or surviving the next time. Yet we, as readers, have a chance to glimpse at alternative universes in Ursula’s life. It is complex and sometimes confusing. I understand why some readers disliked it. Still, it shows what Kate Atkinson is becoming, an author willing to step out of a comfort zone and take a chance. A little like Ursula, Kate Atkinson will have another chance to do it again. Read this book.
It’s amazing how the Gifford Lecture series has changed my reading habits. I would never have read Olive Kitteridge if Elizabeth Strout had not been selected to speak here. For me her lecture ranks as one of the top five in my almost twenty years of attending. I therefore had no trepidation in reading The Burgess Boys: A Novel, her latest offering. Jim and Bob Burgess grew up in Shirley Falls, Maine and both became lawyers. Haunted by the horrific accident that killed their father, both brothers move to New York City to escape their memories. Bob, the younger, is kind of a sad sack, who couldn’t make it as a private attorney and went to work for Legal Aid. Jim is high-powered and self-aggrandizing, having become famous and wealthy for his defense of a high profile murderer. The brothers have little to do with one another until they get a call from their other sibling, Susan, who still lives in Maine. She is a single mother whose son, Zach, has been accused of a hate crime when, for no understood reason, he throws a pig’s head into a Somali Muslim mosque. The two brothers return to Maine to help their sister and her son. The end of this book is not important, nor is the plot particularly compelling. But the characters and their interplay is amazing. Like those in Olive Kitteridge, they are highly flawed in their own way. And years of stewing over old hurts bring out some of the most uncomfortable exchanges that siblings can have. Every word of this book is believable. The adage that we hurt the one’s we love most was never truer than in this book. I found myself physically upset by some of them. Even Olive couldn’t approach the cruelty of some of their confrontations. Yet, this book is exquisitely written and although there are moments of comic irony, this book is as gut wrenching as a family in turmoil can get. This is sibling Angst with a capital A. Read it.
Finally, I come to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I have been told that Gaiman is a star and wanted to get at least one book under my belt before he came to lecture. I asked a big fan what to read and she told me Neverwhere, so here it is. Gaiman is considered one of the preeminent fantasy writers of his time. Here is a book about Richard Mayhew, a very ordinary man who is engaged to be married and become, well, ordinary. Instead he is confronted with a decision when he and his fiancé come across a young girl who has been badly beaten and is lying in the street bleeding to death. His fiancé wants him to call the cops and leave her so that they won’t miss the dinner they are late for. Instead he picks her up and carries her, at her instructions, to a mystical world beneath the surface of London. “London Below” is unknown to and unseen by “London Above”. It is filled with weird and frightening characters. The girl, named Door, is running for her life from a pair of killers Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar (whose stylized dialogue bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, the villains from James Bond’s Diamonds are Forever.) They get their kicks from stabbing people and biting off the heads of rats. Pretty grisly for a young adult novel. Still, the trip through London Below is a wondrous one and conjures up the Wizard of Oz and other fantasy travelogues. Will Door be saved? Of course she will. Will Richard find his way home and find happiness? I’ll never tell. I really look forward to hearing Neil Gaiman. Read him and you will see why.
Well, the Sox are winning and I am settling in for a summer of baseball and fun reads. Let me know what you think. Happy reading.
Dear Fellow Readers,
It’s been a great summer and with the nice weather and golf, my reading suffered a bit. Still I did get in some interesting and different books that are worthy of discussion. When I had the opportunity to have dinner with Dennis Lehane, he told our table that he was very interested in assisting new writers and was looking into a way of helping them get published. He has, indeed done just that and I thought I would read a couple of those new writers who are publishing under Lehane’s imprint. I really liked one of them and the other was pretty good.
The first is a visit to Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. The story is about section of Brooklyn called Red Hook. It is a cross section of race, class, intellect, good and evil. Red Hook is also the star of this novel. It starts out as two white, fifteen year old girls, burning from boredom and the summer heat, decide to take a flimsy raft out for a midnight ride in the Hudson River. One disappears and the other is found under a bridge alive and unhurt. The death of a child sends reverberations around the neighborhoods and the hunt is on to find out what happened. The author wants us to feel the diversity of the town and creates characters to fit her need. There is Val, the survivor, full of guilt and remorse, searching for a way out. Cree, the black kid who tried to save the girls but couldn’t. He now watches Val from afar, and the police are watching him. Then there is Johnathan Sprouse, a former Julliard student and now Val’s high school music teacher who spends most of his spare time at a bar getting wasted. And Fadi, who owns a bodega and is trying to support Red Hook and expand his business. And last but certainly not least, there is Ren, a mystery boy with a shady past who starts to perform anonymous acts of goodness. This book is supposed to be a mystery but it is so filled with back stories that I lost the point. The author can write, but this book tries to do more than it should. Still, it’s as good as half the books on the best seller list.
The second Lehane imprint is The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. Caren Grey has come back to Louisiana to run an old plantation Belle Vie, which is now used for weddings and tours. Caren is the decendant of a slave who died mysteriously there more than 150 years ago. Her mother worked there as a cook, and Caren, stinging from a divorce has moved with her daughter, Morgan, back to her roots. She now works for the Clancys, the same family for whom her mother worked. Besides living there and running affairs for Belle Vie, Caren also manages a group of actors who put on two shows a day, depicting the history of the plantation and the people who lived there. The history is totally untrue, with a definite Southern slant, but Caren continues to do her job. Then the body of a young migrant worker is found on the property and the mystery begins. Who was she? Why was she killed? And who killed her? There are several suspects but the police focus on Donavan, an actor who was on the property illegally the night of the murder. Caren is certain that he did not do it and sets out to find who did. The characters in the book are not as important as the story of a modern day black woman, who is living in the make believe world of the antebellum south. There are two mysteries that need solving here, who killed the girl and who killed her great-great-great- grandfather. I have a third. Why would an educated African-American woman, work here promoting the old south? Still, I found this book to be a pleasant read and a good story. Worth the effort.
The next book I really liked. It is The Center of the World by Thomas Van Essen. I read a review of this book and since it is about art I fell for it. Henry Leiden is a bored and tired man who buys a summer home in Rhinebeck and discovers a J M W Turner painting hidden in a secret compartment. Henry is completely transfixed by the painting, which depicts Helen of Troy in an extraordinarily sensuous way. He needs the money and is tempted to sell it, but simply can’t part with it. Meanwhile, others are looking for this long, lost Turner and are closing in. Next, it is 1856, and JMW Turner is working at the behest of Lord Egremont at his palatial estate Petworth Park. He and his mistress, Elizabeth Spencer are art collectors and patrons. Spencer becomes Turner’s muse and the model for his Helen. Our story travels back and forth between the centuries, some of it telling the story of Turner and his relationship with the Egremonts and others trace the modern search for the painting. I learned a lot about Turner, and what happens to the fictional painting, so tantalizingly described by the author. If you like books about art and famous artists, you will like this one. A good read.
The next two books are truly exceptional. The first is Thomas Keneally’s latest effort, The Daughters of Mars, A Novel. If you have read Shindler’s List, you know Keneally can write. If you have read any of his other books, you know he is Australian and writes extensively about his native land. This book is about the Durance sisters who grew up on a farm in eastern Australia just prior to World War I. They both become nurses, and when war breaks out, they join the service. Both women are sent to the Western front and both are sharing a terrible secret. Naomi is pretty and popular and Sally, more selfless and shy. They survive the sinking of their hospital ship, The Archimedes, as well as the dogmatic and often brutal demands of those ranked above them. The war which was supposed to end in months goes on and they both reenlist. Naomi works in a hospital supported by Lady Tarlton, the eccentric wife of the former English minister in Australia, and Sally works at clearing stations near the front lines. Both see carnage that is harrowing and both meet strong and kind men with whom they fall in love. The women bond in friendship here, under these terrible circumstances, far beyond what they had when growing up. The question is, will they and their lovers survive? Perhaps no other subject has had more books written about it than war. This book looks at the horror of war and the bonding of those who fight in it, from a new perspective. Through the eyes of these Australian nurses, you can feel the heat of burning flesh, hear the sounds of low flying planes and see the suffering of those who are charged with saving lives under almost impossible conditions. This is wonderful storytelling. It is funny, sad, disturbing and informative. Please read this book.
Finally, there is A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. This book got five stars from the New York Times and the Washington Post. It totaled four and a half stars from BookMarks and is long-listed for the National Book Award. I warn you, this is not an easy read. It is the story of two doctors, who come together during the two wars in Chechnya. It takes place during a five day period which will change their lives forever. Akhmad, is a not-so-great doctor in a small village in Chechnya. He had slept through a lot of med school and basically treated rural people for minor problems. He watches as the Chechnyan rebels invade his village and take away his neighbor, whose eight year old daughter escapes into the woods. For reasons he doesn’t quite understand, Akhmad finds the girl, Haava and flees the village and takes her to the only hospital within reach. There he meets Sonya Ribina, the only doctor left in the place. He volunteers to help out, although Sonya holds him in contempt for being such a terrible physician. He convinces her to save Haava and becomes, for a few days a real doc. In light of the Boston Marathon bombing, which involved two Chechnyan brothers, this book is both informative and current. It is beautifully written and it is hard to believe that this is a first novel. I know the title is weird and difficult to remember. And the book is about a place you never think of. Still, give it a try. It is well worth it.
The last book has a little interesting back story. My sister has a friend who is in the publishing business and often gets unedited pre-released books. She gave my sister this book in a paperback, typewritten copy and she passed it on to me. So I read this book before it came out. The version I got was 760 pages. The actual published novel is 602 pages. I thought the book was too long and at times verbose. Therefore, I will accept responsibility for telepathically sending my thoughts to the editor, who obviously agreed with me. The book is Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Stanislas Cordova is an almost mystical filmmaker, a cult figure who has become a hermit, working only with people he knows and trusts and only at his mountain compound. He has been constantly pursued by Cordovites, looking to discover the "real" Cordova. One of them was reporter, Scott McGrath, who wrote a piece which backfired and ruined his career. When Cordova's daughter dies of an apparent suicide, Scott joins forces with two young misfits to find the truth. Naturally, our hero is divorced and still in love with his ex-wife and drinks way too much. Cordova has been compared with Stanley Kubrick, having established himself as an ethereal figure that no one can wrap their arms around. As this thriller plays out, the bond between our amateur sleuths grows stronger. I was also fascinated by the dead girl Ashley, who was a musical prodigy, who escaped from a mental hospital, only to meet her demise. Against the background of New York City, this thriller makes finding the elusive shadow of Stanilas Cordova as much of an obsession for the reader as is it for our detectives. Carefully written, this novel is a cut above the usual summer fodder. If you like literary mysteries, you will like Night Film.
That’s it for a while. My book club just took in a new member, and he picked Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Enjoy the autumn. It’s a great time to read.