The Book of Books

Did you watch the PBS series The Great American Read? It was wonderful. It was a booklover’s delight from beginning to end. The network began promoting it about 6 months before it aired so there was lots of time to get excited about it.

I know that library customers and staff enjoyed the series because I have been a part of some spirited conversations about it. Some of the people I follow online were so passionate about the books that they wished were included that their posts got quite heated. We watched some of it ‘live’ at our house and watched some if it taped but the good news is that all of the episodes are available online and the series’ creators have published a fabulous illustrated book as a companion that we have been flipping through with happiness at our house.

The Book of Books has a page or two dedicated to each of the novels that were featured in the PBS series. Within the entry for each book they include a summary of the book, some text dedicated to the author and interesting tidbits about the publishing history or how the book might have influenced other writing. It’s a meaty little coffee table book with great bonuses like a section of read-alikes and summaries of trends in the reading world. This is a book written for fans of books and authors with each page including something fascinating. On one page they included a photograph of a letter opener that was specially made for Charles Dickens (his book, Great Expectations, was #29 on the final list) out of the paw of his favourite cat “Bob”.

dogThey kicked off the series in May 2018 with a 2-hour special that began in the Library of Congress with host Meredith Vieira encouraging everyone to vote and share their feelings about their favourite books online, perhaps start a book club, maybe even read all 100 books (although she eventually admitted to Diana Gabaldon that she hadn’t read her fabulous series until she started working on this PBS show). I had a lot of fun following the voting and competition online throughout the summer. I loved seeing the shameless things bibliophiles would do to get people to vote for their book. The image above is a plea from someone to request that everyone vote for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (this book was recently defended by a last-minute stand-in at Waterloo Reads : the battle of the books, coincidentally).

The process for The Great American Read began with a national survey of about seven thousand people that narrowed the book choices down to the 100 that PBS used as their final list. The kick-off special featured people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, John Green, and Venus Williams sharing their own favourite books and encouraging people to read their book (or any book really) on the list. George R. R. Martin’s pitch for The Great Gatsby almost made me cry. I think that the next time we have a student in the library who isn’t pleased to have been assigned that F. Scott Fitzgerald classic I’ll call up this video and have them watch Martin speak about how the language in the novel has always moved him.

askfmlThis contest and the show they produced put libraries and literacy front and centre and it really felt wonderful to hear people – young and old – say that libraries meant so much to them. I remember loving my little library branch in Hamilton so much and still think that it was the best thing ever that I was never reprimanded for checking out a favourite book more than once. The freedom of the library shelves is such a perfect thing. The Freeport Memorial Library in Freeport, NY created the coolest social media campaign that I’ve seen in a long time with one of their library staffers taking photographs of coworkers, library visitors, and authors in poses that were inspired by their favourite books, adding quotes from the book, and then manipulating them. You really have to check out these inspirational moments on their twitter feed at @ASKFML They are amazing – this is one that they did for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Although the program was called The Great American Read, the final list of 100 books had only fifty-one books set in the U.S.A. and only sixty-four of the authors were American. Flipping through the gorgeous book that they created is a lovely trip through literature – for kids, adults and teens. You will start thinking about other books you might have wanted to include, you might consider re-reading favourites or picking one up that you haven’t read yet. I think that you will end up with a list – keep your pencil and paper handy.

The team at PBS did not limit their choices to literary classics. They included popular authors like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook was voted #51), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code made it to #33), and Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight series came in at respectable #73 beating out James Patterson who only made it to #81 for the Alex Cross series (although I’m quite sure he isn’t worried about his popularity). They have details about the original voting process and how the 100 books were determined on the website but we talked about the final list at our house often and I think they did a pretty good job of including a diverse section of books, authors and genres. I was disappointed to note that Madeleine L’Engle was not included in their choices but I think everyone has a pet author that likely didn’t make the cut and, in her introduction, the author notes that some of her favourites were missing from the final list as well. Culling a list to one hundred must have been painful for that team.

The final episode of the show had Meredith Viera and nominated authors, librarians, celebrities and readers on stage talking about the five semi-finalists and counting down from 100 the list of books that had been featured in the previous shows with a little bit of extra time spent on the ‘big five’. I cheered aloud when I learned that there is a convention for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, was thrilled to hear that actor Wil Wheaton feels his wife fills the role of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings in his life and felt that inviting a Harry Potter superfan onto the stage to talk about the series was spot on – fans have always been loyal to J.K. Rowling and the voting showed this.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird received special attention as they were able to invite the cast and playwright for the Broadway adaptation to discuss the themes of the book and how they are using them to inform their performances. The final book in the top five was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had an accompanying video filled with people holding copies of the novel, some dressed in period costume, and one enthusiastic fan wearing a shirt that read “I ❤ Mr. Darcy”.  I’m going to look into getting one for myself, to wear here at the library, on casual day.

So, which book took away the big prize? I don’t mind typing it here in this post (spoiler alert!) because it was on so many websites the next day that it was impossible to miss – you can go to their website for the final reveal, if you like – but I’m pretty sure that many of you will have a strong guess of which of those top five would make it to number one. The book with the most votes was Harper Lee’s classic novel from 1960. It led the voting from the first day they opened the polls and never dropped below first place. It was a clear winner in the eyes of people who were participating in the PBS contest and is always a favourite book here at WPL.

I don’t know if I could choose. I always find it very difficult to choose one favourite book. We receive boxes and boxes of new ones here at the library each week and I find something wonderful in those shipments almost every week. I have several that I return to almost every year – some by John Irving (his interview in the PBS series was fabulous!). I have re-read The Stand (#24) more times than I can count and Charlotte’s Web (#7) never fails to cheer me, especially when I hear the recorded book in E.B. White’s own voice.

I think the most enjoyable part of this series was learning how books and libraries impacted individual people. Hearing Margaret Atwood read aloud from Anne of Green Gables (#11) and knowing that she was having difficulty with the emotion behind the words that she was saying as she quoted Marilla felt so special. Only a television show about books could bring this kind of magic alive. I encourage you to pick up this wonderful book, go online and click on a few inspiring snippets of video from PBS, and start a conversation about a book that meant something to you – if you need someone to talk to about that book we’ll be here, at the library.

— Penny M.

Hold It!

If WPL customers were going to pick one book that they most want to read right now (let’s assume that the book with the highest number of holds is that book) then The President is Missing  written by a former U.S. president and the world’s best-selling author is a good choice.

It’s a safe bet that many readers would be able to find something interesting about a thriller that has espionage, a killer computer virus, gripping suspense and the guarantee that it will have behind-the-scene information that we have not seen before.  Truly excellent details.

When Bill Clinton is the co-writer on a novel and the character is sneaking away from his Secret Service minders you think he has either successfully done this before or knows exactly how it could be done when necessary.  All of the elements have come together in this book for a great beach read – it’s like they manufactured this book to satisfy as many people as possible and waited until the right time to get it on the shelves.  Clever.  Their publishers must be happy with the success of this book as it has outsold much of the competition in the busy summer season and reports say that they have sold the TV rights for their book. TV shows set in the White House do tend to be popular and with the added weight of Bill Clinton behind it – whoa.  I know that I’ll be watching.

So, what should you read once you have finished the Clinton-Patterson team up?  It’s a quick read because you can’t wait to find out how it ends so you will need to have a second book at the ready.  James Patterson is a successful author because he knows how to craft a plot and deliver a surprise at the end – teaming up with Bill Clinton did not change that pattern in the least – this book will go by quickly.  Despite them coming up with 513 pages of White House-related suspense I would suggest that you take a second book with you to the cottage or download something else because you will finish this one and be ready for another faster than you think.  Here are a few suggestions of what you could read next.

If presidential stories have caught your fancy and you are willing to try something new you really should try this one from Quirk Book’s Andrew Shaffer.  He has set Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the roles of Holmes and Watson in what I really hope will be a successful series.  The story of Hope Never Dies begins with our lonely hero Amtrak Joe learning that one of his favourite train conductors has been killed in a train accident.  In fact, Barack comes to tell him the news and Joe is relieved to see him again.  Joe has been feeling a bit left out lately.  After years of spending time together he has watched and wondered about where their friendship is going post-White House and too many nights looking at Barack’s photos online with famous actors and politicians have left him a bit melancholy.  As Joe digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding his conductor friend’s death some of the details look fishy so he turns to Barack for assistance and their bromance heats up again.  This fabulous story allows them to put on their shades, get back in the saddle, and drive a car for themselves instead of having the Secret Service do it for them.  This isn’t a hard-boiled crime novel at all so if that is what you are hoping for you should probably take a pass on Joe and Barack but there is a solid mystery to be solved and a chance to laugh a bit as you wonder if this version of their personalities is at all like the one we imagine them to have.  It’s not all sharing ice cream cones and going to basketball games you know, there are car chases, they wear disguises and Barack carries a weapon when they storm into a warehouse.  It sounds pretty good, right?

Joe and Barack were once powerful men with the full force of the White House behind them when they are trying to solve their mystery but Michael Tanner is just an average guy on the way home from a business trip when he makes the mistake of picking up the wrong briefcase and stepping into a mess that is almost too terrifying to contemplate.  I love the idea of mixed up briefcases.  It sounds like something that might happen in a Disney movie but in this book it all turns dark so very quickly. In The Switch he picks up a case belonging to a U.S. senator who has top secret information on her laptop.  Once she knows he has, there is a target on his back and the clock is ticking to get the contents back from Michael.  He strongly believes they want him dead to hide the evidence which just adds to the feeling of desperation.  The narrative goes back and forth between Michael’s story and that of the Senator’s Chief of Staff who will do anything to solve this problem for his boss.  It’s a gripping tale and has the added bonus of being written by a journalist who specializes in covering espionage and international affairs for the New York Times and The Washington Post.  The terrifying authenticity in books like this will make you think twice when you pick up your personal items from the security line at any airport.

Really, any of these thriller/suspense/murder-mystery type stories can be so much fun to read but you don’t want them to happen to anyone in the real world.  A mystery about the President of the United States is safely set far from your own experience but when you read something like The Switch it is much more personal.  This is exactly the case with the novels of Clare Mackintosh.  Her debut novel, I Let You Go, about a hit and run accident involving a 5-year old boy caught readers by the throat, partially for her beautiful writing, and partially because it seemed like something that could happen to any one of us.

With Let Me Lie the main character is a young mother coping with the double suicide of her mother and father when she receives a note that causes her to rethink the circumstances of their deaths.  She convinces a local retired detective to help her in her investigation and then starts receiving threats on her life and that of her child.  There are plot twists that will cause you to gasp out loud while you read this book, you might even say things to the characters – questioning their decisions – but it’s a book that keeps you turning pages long into the afternoon or evening.  There are no spies and not a single member of the Secret Service but this is a truly satisfying thriller.  If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy her two previous novels, oh, so much good reading is ahead for you.

Thrillers are the perfect choice for late summer reading, whether they are written by a man who Forbes once said is second only to J. K. Rowling in total earnings or one who is known for writing a guide to surviving a sharknado – there really is so much time for a great book.

— Penny M.

 

Need To Know

Have you ever been watching a TV show or film when suddenly the scene depicted becomes so tense you feel like you just can’t bear to watch and want to hide until it’s over? I have but not while reading a book…until now.

In Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Vivian Miller is a busy wife and mother of four children, one of which has special medical needs. She is also a CIA counterintelligence analyst. Vivian develops an algorithm to root out Russian agents hiding in the United States, but what she discovers will turn her whole world upside down. She is forced to choose what is more important, the security of her country, or the lives of her family.

Need to Know is a nail-biter from beginning to end. I found Vivian’s character very real and believable, and felt as if I were struggling right along with her, trying to decide what I would do. The twists and turns in plot keep the story moving at a fast pace, and I found that I was still thinking about the ending days after finishing the book.

I first heard about Need to Know from the author Louise Penny, who highly recommended it in her monthly newsletter. Other best-selling authors, such as John Grisham, Lee Child, and Patricia Cornwell all have high praise for this book as well.

The author, Karen Cleveland, was a former CIA analyst herself, so the subject matter is obviously very familiar to her. It is hard to believe that Need to Know is Cleveland’s first novel. I only hope, for the sake of everyone who enjoys reading it as much as I did, that it won’t be her last.

— Sandy Wilmering