Posted in Libraries, Short Stories

Why Am I Reading The Best American Short Stories 1951?

Because it was there. On the shelf. At my library.

I picked it up and started reading the introduction by editor Martha Foley and was just a little curious when I read the first sentences:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

Right off the bat, I wanted to let Martha know that we’re still here, seventy years later – I mean as a human race.

Does the possibility of getting blown up still exist?

Well – yes, yes it does.

I don’t know whether Martha was a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person.

And then this interesting little bit of opinion:

…they have been abetted by the practice of “reader surveys.” After the last presidential election fiasco, it seems incredible that the pollsters should still be with us.

I’m assuming Martha is referring to the presidential election of 1948 that resulted in this famous photograph:


Just in case anyone is wondering, Truman actually won.

And yes, Martha, the pollsters are still with us.

Then I was wonderstruck at the book itself. I don’t know if they ever reprint these collections but I’m guessing this one is an original – even with the pocket that held the card that would get stamped with the date of return back before the on-line age.


After the introduction, came the table of contents listing the short stories that Ms. Foley selected as the best of the year. One of them I happened to have recently read: Tennessee Williams’ “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin.”

Continuing to scan, several other stories have been included in my past reading – “In Greenwich There Are Many Gravelled Walks”by Hortense Calisher and “Death of a Favorite” by J. F. Powers.  Also included was Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People”, a story I’ve heard about frequently but have never read. And then the list included other new-to-me stories by authors I’ve read before such as John Cheever and Bernard Malamud.

By this time, I decided I had to check it out and read the whole thing. The librarian scanned it out because, after all, this really is the twenty-first century. But I was secretly hoping they would stamp a card and put it in the little pocket at the front of the book.

So look forward to a few more posts as I read through the rest of the stories in this collection.

And kudos to the Kenton County Public Library of Kentucky for letting me find this gem.




Posted in Books in General, Libraries

Book Sale!

Periodically, my public library, Boone County Public Library (that’s the Boone County in Northern Kentucky of the Greater Cincinnati area), has a book sale.  My guess is that the books that they sell are the ones that have gone through the reading cycle and now don’t have a huge demand.  Since my reading typically doesn’t depend on what’s currently popular, I almost always find something of interest to me when I check out the sales.

This past weekend, the Scheben branch held its sale.  Yesterday afternoon, I wandered over to see what I might find.  It’s interesting that the books for sale are not necessarily in any specific order as the other books in the library.  I think they had them grouped roughly by genre.  I thoroughly enjoy walking up and down the rows of books seeing what might catch my eye.  My two middle kids were with me.  They looked briefly at the teen section then went and sat in a corner with their iPods.  They knew Dad might be a while, but they’re used to it by now.

Here is a rundown of the books that I found:

– The Reef by Edith Wharton:  I have yet to read anything by this author; however, one of her short stories is on my Deal Me In list.  That particular card has not yet popped up in the deck, yet.  I don’t think this novel is as well-known as her novels Ethan Frome, House of Mirth, or Age of Innocence.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck:  I will probably read this very soon.  I’ve gotten a sudden interest in Steinbeck.

Nights At The Alexandra by William Trevor:  I’ve discovered Trevor’s short stories this year and have greatly enjoyed them.  This novella will probably get read in the near future, also.

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster:  Forster’s novel A Room With A View has been a favorite of mine for a long time; however, I’ve never read any of his other works.  This one and Howard’s End seem to be the other novels of his that pop up on my radar from time to time.  I think all of his novels have been made into Merchant/Ivory films.

Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash by John Carter Cash:  The fact that this book was written by Johnny and June’s son made it difficult to pass up- which reminds me that I have Johnny Cash’s autobiography on my shelf somewhere.  I need to read that, too!

Song Yet Sung by James McBride:  My wife just read McBride’s autobiography The Color of Water for a book group.  I’m not sure what she thought of it.  Something about this novel sounds intriguing even though I was a little disappointed with his World War II novel, Miracle at St. Anna.

– And finally, I found a short story compilation that I am sure will get used for my 2014 Deal Me In project.  Bernard Malamud, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Anton Chekhov, to name a few of the authors included.

The great thing about this book sale was that I got the above books for free!  Each summer, BCPL hosts an adult reading program where adults read books, listen to music and watch movies from the library for “Library Bucks”.  Over the past four summers, I have accumulated an entire drawer full of these.  I can use them at the book sales or to pay fines (which I admit I occasionally have).  It’s looking like I might not ever spend the Library Bucks as fast as I get them.  I only spent five of them for these books!

Check out the website here of a great public library!

Posted in Libraries

A Heartfelt Thanks…

As April 14 – 20 is National Library Week, I wanted to once again give my heartfelt thanks to the Boone County Public Library of Northern Kentucky.

Thanks for the great selection of books both new and old.

Thanks for the friendliness and willingness to help that characterize all of the library staff with whom I interact.

Thanks for the programs conducted by BCPL such as Money Matter Meals (the meals are free!), the Friday Night Concert Series, the tons of programs for kids of all ages (my kids especially enjoyed “Dr. Who” night),  movie nights.

Thanks for bringing local authors to my attention through discussions with the authors, book signings and the One Book One Community of Northern Kentucky.

And last but not least, thanks for all the great bookmarks!

Check out the website of a wonderful public library right here!

Posted in Books in General, Libraries

Hearing John Green…

The last time I attended a literary event with Daughter, The Eldest, was in the summer of 2007 when she was eleven and we went to Barnes and Noble at midnight to get  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.  She’s now almost 17 and last night we went to hear “rock star” YA novelist John Green speak at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the beginning of Teen Reading Awareness Week.

I read Green’s The Fault In Our Stars earlier this fall and consider it one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.  I’ve heard great things about his novels all over the blogosphere but did not realize exactly how popular he is.  He spoke for about an hour and then at 8:00 pm signed books.  He graciously said he would stay until all books were signed.  They called people by letters of the alphabet.  My daughter had M and it was just after 10:30 pm when she got her book signed.

The crowd intrigued me.  The majority of the audience consisted of teenagers with a few parents (who seemed to also be fans) scattered throughout.  I would definitely describe the teenagers as “bookish” and being bookish myself, I only say this with the best of compliments.  Green mentioned that today’s teenagers read more than past teen generations.  I would probably agree with him after last night.  After he spoke, and everyone was waiting for their letters to be called, the teenagers mingled about, formed groups, socialized – and pulled out books and read!  And it was absolutely socially acceptable!  Where were these kids when I was in high school?

Green was incredibly charasmatic and funny.  One of his topics dealt with why do people read books.  He commented that human beings are really bad at putting themselves in other people’s shoes.  Books give a glimpse into the lives of other people, give insights into how other people think, and put readers into other times and other worlds.  One idea he brought up that I’ve been mulling over ever since is his thought that the reader is just as much a part of the creative process as the author.  The way a reader’s brain processes what they read brings them into something that is bigger than themselves.  As an avid reader, I’ve had similar thoughts over the years, but have never quite been able to put them into words the way Green did.

When asked with what author would he like to collaborate, he first replied with the question “Can he be dead”?  When the audience gave him a collective “yes”, he blurted out Toni Morrison.  He quickly clarified that she was neither dead nor a “he”.

If there was a book that he would read three times in row, it would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  He mentioned Fitzgerald and Gatsby several times.  He indicated he was not good at writing fantasy or science fiction, even though he has tried.  When asked if he would write screenplays for his novels, he replied that was something at which he was not very adept, either, unlike Steven Chbosky, whose The Perks of Being a Wallflower Green complimented as a “very good book and a very good film”.

While not getting into the nitty-gritty of politics, he stressed the need for everyone to vote if they were old enough.  I was most glad for my daughter to hear his message of teenagers thinking through their life and world and figuring out how to best be a part of it.  The most political statement he made was that he didn’t like Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged or he at least did not like her conclusions to the questions she poses in her novel.  At the same time, he gave kudos to kids he knows who have read this thousand-page novel and thought through the philosophical ideas contained in it.  I haven’t read this novel, myself, but it’s on my Classics Club list.  Ultimately, Green gave a considerable amount of credit, and rightly so from my experience with my daughter and some of her friends, to the ability of teenagers today to be informed, think through problems, and come to their own conclusions.  I’m reminded of the lyrics sung by David Bowie (to whom my kids would say “who”?) in his song Changes:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Posted in Fiction, Libraries

Writ of Mandamus

Northern Kentucky One Book One Community selected local author Rick Robinson’s political thriller Writ of Mandamus as this year’s “one book”.  The libraries of Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties provide copies of the book and sponsor book related events, including discussions with the author, for interested book-lovers in and around Northern Kentucky.

To be honest, I had not heard of Robinson or his novels until the selection announcement had been made.  I don’t read many political thrillers, although occasionally I will enjoy one.  And enjoy this one, I did!

Since the plot contains the usual twists of this genre, I won’t give away any of the details; however, I will include some of the aspects of the novel that I thought put it a notch above some of the other political and legal mysteries I’ve read.

First, more than one hero weaves themselves through the plot:  Jane Kline, the no-nonsense CIA Director; Richard Thompson, US Congressman from the Fourth Congressional District of Kentucky; Sean Sullivan, an eccentric inner-city attorney with an office located in a laundromat in Covington, KY; Tiana Bolton, an up and coming young Kentucky lawyer.

Second, unlike the stereotypical politician, Richard Thompson maintains a strong marriage with his wife, Ann.  While the marriage has its share of struggles and imperfections, reading a story that involves two people realistically working at their relationship is refreshingly satisfying.

Third, the story’s setting jumps around between Ireland, Washington, D. C., and, yes, Northern Kentucky!  While a story of intrigue that takes place in Northern Kentucky may only seem special to those who live here, Robinson fascinated me with the manner in which his story pulls Kentucky into world politics.  As with The Fault In Our Stars by Indianapolis author John Green, which I recently read, its fun to read a story that takes place somewhere in which you live or used to live.  When Green references Broad Ripple or when Robinson references Main Strasse and Chez Nora, it’s exciting to think “I’ve been there”!  And, in true Kentucky fashion, racehorses and bourbon make some appearances.

Finally, Congressman Richard Thompson, professes a fondness for folk music.  This came as a pleasant surprise and gave him a characteristic unique to many politicians in this genre.  While it may have been a minor scene, for me it became a turning point in the novel and my relationship to the characters when Thompson climbed up on stage to play The Pogues’ Dirty Old Town on the mandolin with an Irish folk band in a Dublin pub.  And when I think about it, it’s not as though folk music and politics have never crossed paths in real life!

Robinson has written three other novels that I believe may include some of the same characters as Writ of Mandamus.  During this novel, several of the characters briefly refer to events that took place in Romania – and one of his other novels, would be my guess.

Robinson is making appearances at each of the four Northern Kentucky libraries at the end of October.  I’m going to try to make it to one of them.  If I do, look for a post about it.


Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Boone County Public Library of Northern Kentucky

As this is the current library I visit and utilize, I don’t know whether the word “memories” is appropriate as it implies something in the past; however, my experience at BCPL over the last few years is what has prompted me to recollect the libraries that have had an impact on me both as a child and an adult.

As the most recent recession hit my family and others rather hard, I’ve come to fully realize and appreciate that the vast education and entertainment resources available at BCPL (and many other libraries) are FREE!  That may seem to be stating the obvious but it can be easy, especially when such a top notch library like BCPL is available, to sometimes forget that fact.

In addition to all the books I’ve read from BCPL (still the first and foremost reason I utilize the library), the movies, music and games continue to attract me and my family.  I’ve come to enjoy the live concerts that they sponsor (usually on Friday nights).  Various kinds of music and, many times, local artists headline the concert series each season.  One of the more memorable concerts for myself has been Jeffrey Foucault, a folk singer I had not heard of before seeing him on the BCPL concert schedule.  He’s now one of my favorites.  I also saw the Louisville band The Muckrakers along with Brigid Kaelin (who has played the musical saw while performing with Elvis Costello).  I’ll mention one more time – all of these concerts are FREE!

(Brigid Kaelin)

The Main Branch of the library in Burlington, Kentucky had just started construction when I moved to the area.    At the entrance, patrons are greeted by a statue of Mary Draper Ingles, best known (at least by me) as the heroine in James Alexander Thom’s novel Follow The River.  I believe the river in the title references the Ohio River – only a few miles away from BCPL.  While I haven’t read this novel yet, I’ve read Thom’s novel Sign-Talker recently.

BCPL main branch

(Main Branch view from Highway 18)

MDI statue

(Mary Draper Ingles statue at entrance of Main Branch)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the small but mighty Lents Branch here.  This is the branch that I visit most.  The friendliness of the staff continues to make it a pleasure to walk into every few days (that’s about how often I visit).  If an item is at another branch, I can request it online to be sent to Lents and it will be there usually within 24 hours, saving me a trip.

BCPL is a fitting end to my library trip down memory lane.  As most libraries are, BCPL is a significant contributor to the culture and education of it’s community.

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

In 2006, I moved to Northern Kentucky of the Greater Cincinnati Area.  For a couple of years, I made the trek across the river via the Brent Spence bridge to work in downtown Cincinnati.  One of my first tasks outside of work was to find the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  A couple of blocks away, I was pleased to find it to be a large building that spanned two blocks with the magazine area crossing over 9th Street.  It reminded me of the Atrium at Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis.  While most libraries have a drive-up drop-off to return books, CPL also has a drive-up to pick up books.

A sculpture of giant books with a waterfall graces the entrance on Vine St.  Inside, the building has three floors.  Taking stairs or elevators to the second floor, crossing through the magazine area, then taking a spiral staircase back to the first floor brings you to the children’s section.  The second floor has a huge computer lab that is continuously utilized by thousands of patrons.

I discovered an interesting aspect of CPL when I was looking for a copy of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons for my book club (which was still in Indianapolis).  The on-line catalogue stated that CPL had the book and that it was in.  It also had a message that said to see the Information Desk.  This was the first of many times in which I requested an either out-of-print or obscure book from the Information Desk and they brought it up from what I imagined to be a dark and dusty basement.  I’m glad they were able to keep these books as opposed to throwing them away.  My imagination would sometimes get the better of me in wondering what kind of secret place these books were kept.

For a brief time, I worked in Blue Ash (north side of Cincy) and became a regular visitor of it’s branch.  While I was working here, a colleague of mine was listening to a group called The Little Willies.  After listening for a while, we figured out many of the lead vocals were by Norah Jones.  Not thinking I would be able to find this music on CD at the library, I looked it up any way.  Sure enough, there it was at the Blue Ash branch.  I picked it up at lunch and enjoyed listening to it for several weeks.

My favorite part of the downtown branch of CPL was the reading garden.  Set up with garden tables and chairs, trees and fountains, while the weather was warm (and sometimes when it wasn’t), I would spend several lunch hours a week there, getting away from the hectic grind.  What I liked best about the garden was the tall vine covered brick wall that surrounded it, keeping out the busyness of downtown.

I stopped working in downtown Cincy in 2009.  Since then, I haven’t been as frequent of visitor to CPL.  There are still a few out-of-print books that they have that I want to get.  Two of them are childrens books written by Chaim Potok:  The Tree of Here and The Sky of Now.  I’ve looked for these books for years and could never find them, then one day I looked on-line at CPL and there they were with the message “See Information Desk”.

Here’s one last picture:  Baseball and books – what could be better?

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Flash forward from Junior High to adulthood.  Sometime around the mid-90’s I discovered the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library.  The downtown branch on St. Clair was a nice lunch hour walk from the office.  I guess maybe I should fill in a little of the years in between, though.

During high school and college I utilized the school libraries which were all wonderful.  In fact, a specific memory of college just popped into my head that I might have to write about sometime.  It was also during this time that I bought a significant number of books.  Most are still on my shelf, now.  I don’t recall what made me wander down Pennsylvania St. the first time, but it was the beginning of a great “friendship”.  By this time, in addition to books, IMCPL (and most other libraries) had CD’s, movies (first VHS and then DVD).   IMCPL even had works of art that could be borrowed.  I had friends who shared an apartment.  They would check out different paintings each month to decorate their living room.

While books were first and foremost, I checked out music and movies quite frequently, too.    One of the fondest memories I have of when my kids were younger was watching all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show with them -which I checked out from IMCPL.  We laughed ourselves silly!

I recall an incident at the Wayne Branch on Girls School Road that was indicative of the changes in technology taking place at the time.  I was waiting in line at the check-out desk behind a gentleman who was rather upset at the steep fine he had incurred on his overdue videos.  As I recall the fines for overdue videos back then were significantly more than the fines for overdue books.  The very pleasant lady behind the desk showed him how to keep track of his account and how to renew books on-line.  After her friendly presentation, the gentleman stormed out of the branch saying that he had one problem with what she was telling him – he didn’t have a computer and he never wanted one, he didn’t “believe in them”.  As I stepped up to the counter,  she looked at me and said “I have a love/hate relationship with computers myself, but I think they’re here to stay.”

The Main Branch of IMCPL moved temporarily to the former Indiana State Museum building (ISM had moved to a new building) sometime around 2004/2005 – my dates are little foggy here.  This move was to accommodate the renovation, remodeling and expansion of the Main Branch on St. Clair.  I don’t know all the details, but I do recall that this expansion took much longer than anticipated.  I had already moved from Indianapolis when it was completed.  I have been back to the Main Branch since it’s been completed.  All I can say is that I could take a week-long vacation to this library now!  It’s huge!  See the pictures below!

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Champaign County – Urbana, Ohio

This month, I thought I would post about several public libraries that have been vital to my reading life.  Until I started thinking about it, I hadn’t realized how many memories I have of libraries in various places among the tri-state area (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky) that has been home to me for the majority of my life.

I’m starting with the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio.  I obtained the historical information below from their website . Check it out for some pictures.  While this was not the first library I had ever been to, it was the first one in which I realized how rich of a resource a library could be.  During my years in Urbana, I was in upper gradeschool and junior high which puts this part of my life somewhere in the late 1970’s.  This was prior to computerized systems and on-line catalogs.  Back then, it was the card-catalog with literal “cards”.  I could still look up information based on title, author or subject.  How this was manually put together kind of boggles my mind.  To find out when a book was due back at the library I couldn’t look my account up on-line, I had to look at the last date on the check-out card in the back of the book.  I always found it intriguing to see how far the dates went back on the card.

Urbana is a small enough town that I could ride my bike all over the place.  Many of these bike trips would end up at the Champaign County Library on Market St.  If I was riding from my home it was a quick trek down Water St., across Main St. at the Urbana Twin Cinema, to Market St. and the library building.

I was at an age when I still went to the “childrens” area but was increasingly finding myself in the adult section.  Many of the books that I read fell into the science fiction and fantasy genre, in addition to reading both previous winners and the latest Newbery Medal winner.  Katherine Paterson’s Bridge To Teribithia and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game were two books that I specifically remember finding, checking out and reading.  I have copies of both of these books (not the copies that I read back then!) on my shelf, now, and have enjoyed seeing my kids read them.  Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, an older Newberry Medal winner (even back then) was another favorite that I might have to re-read sometime in the future.  I still don’t mind reading a good children’s book.  If it’s good, it’s good, no matter how old you are.

I remember one of the librarians telling me that she loved fantasy and science fiction and didn’t like anything realistic.  At the time, I thought that was absolutely cool!  I had moved away from Urbana when I discovered Ernest Hemingway the summer before tenth grade.  I never got to go back and tell her that I now liked realistic books.  And since high school, my tastes in reading have pretty much crossed over all genres.

After 64 years at the Market St. location, the Champaign County Library moved to a former grocery store on the other side of town (which still isn’t that far away) in 1996.  In spite of the fact that family still live in the Urbana, Ohio area and I have made numerous visits back there, I’ve never been inside the new library.  Next time I am there, I need to make a point to check it out.  They also have another branch in North Lewisburg (a town even smaller than Urbana), now.  It’s in a building that used to be a Friends Church.  The church donated their building to the City of North Lewisburg.  As I have a few friends who are Friends, and they all love books, I have a feeling this congregation wasn’t disappointed that their former building is now a library.

Posted in Libraries

Here’s to the Boone County Public Library of Northern Kentucky!

In honor of National Library Week (April 8 -14, 2012), I wanted to give a shout out to the Boone County Public Library of Northern Kentucky.  This library more than holds its own when compared to some other larger libraries.  I’m able to get almost any book I’m looking for in addition to movies and music.  Occasionally, they may not have a book I’m looking for, but they can get it for me through interlibrary loans.  Last year, they got a book for me from a Florida library within two weeks.

They also have a concert schedule that I would recommend to anyone interested in live performances of various types of music – free!  I saw folk singer Jeffrey Foucault about a year ago.  It wasn’t just one of the best free concerts I’ve ever seen.  It was flat out one of the best concerts I’ve seen, period.

In the age of eReaders, they haven’t fallen by the wayside, by any means.  eReaders can be borrowed and many eBooks are in their collection, instantly ready to download to your own eReader.

They have numerous activities and programs for both kids and adults.  In connection with The Hunger Games movie, they provided several activities for teenagers with the movie as a theme.  They also conducted a class to teach people how to plan a Disney vacation.  Anyone who needs to brush up on their Microsoft Office skills, they periodically hold classes on Excel, Word, Access, etc.

I thank BCPL for being such a vital part of the life of my family!