Author Archive

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

July 6, 2018

[Lesley] First, let’s just say that this is the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. That’s a pretty good recommendation! At first, I was surprised that this book one though. By the end, I had no doubt that it deserved it.

Disarmingly charming. Arthur Less is a bit like a Shakespeare character who stumbled off the stage before the first rehearsal began. The book is an accumulation that ultimately coheres and seems like truth. It’s a hard book to describe: the plot isn’t especially exciting or fast-moving, the main character is underwhelming, and no matter where the action is taking place (France! Germany! Morocco! India!) the situations Less finds himself in are the most pedestrian. Yet, there is humor, nostalgia, outrage, reflection, and a journey that ends somewhere very, very different than expected. It is some kind of genius that can take all of these things that seem one way (underwhelming, sheltered, hapless) and reveal them to be illuminating and essential. I couldn’t see the world in quite the same way after reading this book.

Here’s a more complete review (which I totally agree with!) from the Kenyon Review:


The Power, by Naomi Alderman

June 11, 2018


[Lesley] Perfect story within a story — It’s as if the story inside the book that is inside the book is describing a society that is in the author’s (the fictional author!) imagination, or his theory. Then, once his book has ended and we return to the correspondence between him & Naomi, his reader, we are shifted yet again. The parts of the book that Naomi finds unrealistic or unbelievable or unsupported by facts, are just the ones that we accept without question. [and – wow – the uses of the name “Naomi” in this book is genius.]

In places this seems like a somewhat simple allegory for our times. When women have the power (literal and figurative) they mirror the men who have always been seen as corrupted by it. Violence, anger, and revenge are not the sole purview of males; an eye for an eye seems inevitable once power for one side is absolute. Parts of the book read like a critique of violent cultures and the misuse of weapons. There are plenty of characters who make this “allegory” less straightforward though. Tunde, frightened out of his teenage existence by an early experience with a young woman who has the power, becomes an embedded recorder of events — we think (and he thinks) his dispatches are enlightening the wider society. Jocelyn, daughter of the mayor-turned-governor, has inexplicable variability in her power – a weakness that her mother tries to hide. Then there are Allie and Roxy – two women, strong in both the same and different ways, who weave and create the story as two sides of the same coin.

The illustrations of “archaeological” (fictional) figures and relics add an interesting layer of theoretical support for the story that unfolds. Is it all proof that this story, this power, is real? Or is it proof that society has not always been this way? History is told by the victors – what if the culture we are in was completely opposite once upon a time?

Check Library Catalog for availability

Macbeth, by Jo Nesbo

May 29, 2018

[Lesley]  I haven’t read any Jo Nesbo books before; not really my genre. I *had* to read this one though as an installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Loved it. Now that I have read it, I can’t imagine a better modernization of Macbeth. Nesbo is clearly a master of gritty, politically-charged, psychological thrillers. The relentless hurtling to the inevitable end is very much what I remember from the Shakespeare play; you just want the characters to stop making choices that are going to end in more pain and death but they don’t. And the brew. Evil, but only in that it amplifies the cruelty, greed, and violence already inside people. We see that those who aren’t addicted also are cruel, selfish, and violent, they may just be more inhibited or circumspect than those who are.

Other titles in the Hogarth Shakespeare project:

About Hogarth Shakespeare: The Hogarth Shakespeare project sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today.


Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

May 17, 2018

[Lesley]  Bookshelf: Amazing. I first heard about this book on NPR and it sounded intriguing – I never could have expected its complexity and utter originality. Multiple personalities – sort of; Coming of age – sort of; Immigrant experience – sort of. It was so far beyond any of those categories. Somehow in so much strangeness and extremity, there is a powerful story that is accessible and emotionally resonant. I know many people who would be turned off by the violence (there is some) and especially the way sex is used, but not a single thing is gratuitous or there for shock value. This is a shocking book, but not in the way I think that is usually meant.freshwater

Check the library catalog for availability

Circe, by Madeline Miller

April 22, 2018

[Lesley] Circe. The witch who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs. That’s about all most of us think of when we hear the name. I love how Madeline Miller uses the staging of Greek mythology and hero lore to tell an old story from a new perspective. I liked Circe even more than the Song of Achilles and I think some of that had to do with the female voice. I like that our biases and our complacency with the old stories are exposed when we read this re-interpretation. We are usually so busy looking at Odysseus that we miss Circe andTelemachus. We are so sure that naiads and nymphs are beautiful and good that we miss the complexities of being even less than a demigod. We see Prometheus alone, bound to that rock and never think of a girl who might have tried to offer him comfort. As Miller (and Circe) shine a light onto this, we also see how Circe overlooks the stories behind the stories and comes to suffer for it. She straddles the strange line between god and mortal and ultimately uses witchery (actually the power of Kronos, but who would know how to collect or use it but a witch?) to choose where she will land. Choice after a near-eternity of living out someone else’s intentions for her.



Check the library catalog for availability:

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin

February 16, 2018

[Lesley] Yes, this is a book written for elementary-aged children, but before you think it’s not for you, think again. This book is a wonderful read for children and adults who are interested in art and especially artists from New England whose work is iconic. I have been taken with work by the three Wyeths (N. C., Andrew, and Jamie) since I was in 6th grade. My mother took me to an exhibit of Andrew’s Helga paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The exhibit also included some other pieces and I remember distinctly Christina’s World. Part of my fascination probably came from my mother’s clear admiration and love of these paintings, but I had my own attraction to them as well. More recently, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester had an exhibit of watercolors by Andrew Wyeth. Jamie takes a blend of his grandfather’s and father’s styles and creates one wholly his own. I love his portrayals of Monhegan Island and the coast of Maine along with his surprising portraits of animals and people, including one of Andy Warhol.

While I have admired the artwork of all three Wyeths over the years, I never knew much about them as people or their development as artists. Everybody Paints! was a perfect entry into their worlds and their training/education. The book starts with N. C. Wyeth, his childhood, his drive to create art despite his father’s disappointment, and his mentoring by the tough and eccentric Howard Pyle. N. C. Wyeth was a very successful illustrator (for the Saturday Evening Post and eventually for Scribner’s – remember those classic illustrations in Treasure Island?) but always struggled with wanting to be known as a “real” artist. Andrew left traditional school early, just like his father, in order to study art seriously with his father (N. C.) who gave Andrew his first watercolor set at age 13. After Andrew “graduated,” his father encouraged him to go to Maine to paint. There, Andrew found his talent for depicting the sea and quickly had a sold out exhibition. The Helga paintings were perhaps his crowning achievement and were in tempera, dry brush, watercolor, and pencil – showcasing his mastery in many mediums. Jamie is an illustrator, a portraitist, a landscape artist and a draftsman using watercolor, oil, charcoal and often using his fingers, sticks, and pieces of cloth instead of brushes.

I appreciated how the book focused on each Wyeth in turn, but also integrated each one into the other two lives – as it usually is in families. Being able to see how they each influenced each other was interesting, and even more so that the influence didn’t just work in one direction; the sons inspired and taught their fathers as well as the other way around. The quote from Jamie Wyeth on the back of the book (and where the book gets its title) sums it up: “Everybody in my family paints, excluding possibly the dogs.” I learned so much from reading this book and it made me want to seek out even more of their work.

Visit an Art Museum!
The library has discount passes that you can reserve online and then pick up at the library before your visit. Reserve Passes Here.

Find Books (and more!) about Art and Artists at the library: See a List of Library Books on Art and Artists

  • Children’s, Teen, and Adult nonfiction – Check Dewey numbers 708 – 760
  • Artist Biographies (children’s, teen, and adult) – Look in biographies under the artist’s last name
  • DVDs – Nonfiction 708


No One Can Pronounce My Name

February 4, 2018

[Lesley] You can change your life and the lives of others. How? A cup of chai, listening, trying something new, being honest and kind. That all sounds pretty sappy, but it is what is at the heart of this book, surrounded by humor, misfits, gossip, and Cleveland.

This group of Indian immigrants and Americans meet each other in tangential ways and their lives become more intertwined even as they each are on their own path to discover who they are and how they fit into their families and surroundings.

Prashant breaks out of cultural expectations to follow his passion in college instead of in his father’s footsteps. Harit breaks free from grief and in the process also frees his mother. Teddy breaks free from what others think he *should* be and finds love. Cheryl breaks free from the monotony of Cleveland and her job to go on a Thelma and Louise-style road trip. Mohan breaks free of his shyness and routine to court his wife again. And, at the center of it all, Ranjana (mother to Prashant, wife to Mohan, co-worker of Cheryl, acquaintance of Teddy, and eventual confidant to Harit) breaks free of being “only” any of those things, writes paranormal romances, and decides that she can choose what lies ahead and what person to be.

Loved it. Just loved it.

Autumn, by Ali Smith

January 27, 2018

[Lesley] In some essential ways this novel made me think of Tinkers by Paul Harding. Nonlinear narrative that looks at time, humanity, and aging (and growing up) – beautiful language and deep quiet. I can’t wait to read the others in the quartet (Winter just came out in January!).

This is a tough sort of book to recommend though. There’s no way to think of this story as having a beginning, middle, and end – no way to feel like everything is resolved at the end. It’s hard to get a complete “read” on the characters; everyone is a bit out of focus in a dream-like way. We’re left with some mysteries, some things that may be true but might not be, and both Elisabeth and Daniel existing in that in-between state of growing older. It may not be the book for every reader, but it is one of the best I have read.

And, how could I not love that Daniel always asks Elisabeth, “What are you reading?”

Watership Down by Richard Adams

January 26, 2018


I came upon this classic in a roundabout way. While reading (again) Steven King’s great novel “The Stand” one of his main characters mentioned that although he wasn’t a strong reader, he picked up this book and could not put it down. Later in the story he uses a phrase “going tharn” from the novel.
As for the plot, it’s basically a tale about a group of rabbits ousted from their home by human development and desperately looking for a new place to live. The author gives the rabbits their own unique personalities and even their own culture, language and religion. This is a beautifully written novel about friendship and trust between this group of rabbits and I love it for the story of their exciting and sometimes terrible journey to find their new home. Definitely, a classic.

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

January 10, 2018

This is a beautifully written novel that follows several generations of a Palestinian family from the 1960s to the present. It focuses on the day-to-day impact of the huge historical events and struggles that surround this family as they move again and again from Palestine to Kuwait, Beirut, Paris, Boston, and more in search of a new and safer life. The challenges the different generations face to keep a sense of normalcy for their families, how much of their past to hold onto, and navigating new places as immigrants are heart-breaking at times, and will stay with you.