Category Archives: Library Columns from the Valley Reporter

Regularly scheduled library column mostly written by the librarians at the Warren Public Library in Warren, VT

Library Column – July 3, 2008

This week’s column includes a guest review by Fran Plewak, two historical biographies, two novels on audio cassette and one novel on paper (how quaint and old fashioned).


Exit Ghost by Philip Roth. Roth brings back Nathan Zuckerman in a story about literature, memory, the indignities of old age, hopeless passion, death, the nature of the creative imagination and the distortions inherent in biography writing. Playful and desperate at the same time, this book takes us inside the mind of a brilliant writer who is afraid that he is losing his mind along with his virility.


Copernicus’ Secret: How the Scientific Revolution Began by Jack Repcheck. The fascinating story of how and why Copernicus recalculated and reconsidered the shape of the universe is well told by the author. I was disappointed by the author’s limited exploration of the nature of the old belief system and how and why it fit together as it did. Although Copernicus overthrew the geocentric concept, he did not replace with a mechanical view of the cosmos. For Copernicus, the universe was still a manifestation of the perfect mind of the creator.


Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (audio cassettes in paperback collection, book in regular collection). Ms Gabaldon took a minor character from her Outlander series and created a mystery novel set in 18th century London. Lord John wanders upstairs and down, through back alleys and brothels, in search of some stolen papers and the truth about his cousin’s fiancé.


Guest review: Fran Plewak–Audio book – Home to Holly Springs, by Jan Karan


If you’ve ever read one of Jan Karan’s heartwarming books about small town life, you’ve probably fallen in love with Father Tim Kavanagh, and all the endearing characters who live in Mitford, North Carolina.  Yes, the plots are always full of unrealistic coincidences, and are a bit sentimental, but they make you feel so good, you’re willing to put up with it! 


The first of a new series about Father Tim, Home to Holly Springs has the retired Episcopal priest returning after thirty-eight years to the Mississippi town where he was born and raised.  We learn about his childhood for the first time, as he searches for answers for unresolved issues.   Not only does he find them, but some of his discoveries turn out to be life altering, and themes of acceptance and forgiveness are prominent throughout. 


The reader, Scott Sowers, does an excellent job, and I tend to be very picky about who I want to listen to for over eleven hours.  I was sorry to see (hear?) this one end.


Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (audio cassettes available until September 1 and book). Summer in Appalachia—three clusters of human beings search for their place in the world: a wildlife biologist guarding a park, a young woman suddenly faced with running a farm and two elderly landowners debating religion and herbicides. Kingsolver slides into a teacherly tone every now and again, but I still found myself caught by the story and the people.


Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer. Ann Hathaway has gotten some seriously negative press over the last 400 years and Greer sets out to bring some balance to the story of the famous playwright’s spouse. Greer dug through a huge mass of contemporary records to find out how women lived, how they worked, what they ate, where they slept, how they gave birth and how marriages were arranged. Many of the assumptions made about Ms. Hathaway rest on a misreading of the cultural mores of her time and place. A bit dense in spots, but entertaining, overall.


See you at the library!



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Library Column, June 12, 2008

We are gearing up for summer. I’ll be ordering books soon, let me know if there is something you really want to read and I’ll find it for you.


Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth. The first book in a new mystery series set in the late 1800s in England. Most of the characters are based on real people: Oscar Wilde, of course; Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame; Robert Sherard and others. Wilde was writing the The Picture of Dorian Gray at the time of the fictional events and Arthur Conan Doyle had only recently launched his career as the author of mysteries. Entertaining, complicated and especially appealing to lovers of British Lit.


The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. Ms. Weir has been writing historical non-fiction for many years. This is her second historical novel set in mid 16th century England. Superb writing combined with impeccable historical accuracy makes for a great reading experience.


A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. (available as book or on CD) A tragic and triumphant story of two women surviving in Afghanistan through war, civil war, brutal oppression and despair. Intense and beautiful.


Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism by Jenny McCarthy. A personal account of a mother and child dealing with the behavioral challenges of autism and the physical challenges of a boy with epilepsy and other chronic conditions. Intense.


In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story by Jerry Apps. A bittersweet novel set in 1955 in rural Wisconsin. Changes are sweeping through a tiny rural town—the local pickle factory is closing, the local cheese plant won’t take milk cans anymore, and the local school is going to close. Plus the local preacher is having an affair with the pickle factory bookkeeper…rural Wisconsin and rural Vermont have a lot in common…well, not the pickle factory!


Disappearances (DVD). Based on the book by Howard Frank Mosher. Beautifully filmed, with an amazing performance by Kris Kristofferson as the main character, Quebec Bill.


Have you ever noticed the table out in the hall on the way to the library? The one which is always piled high with free literature? There are some real goodie available on this table if you are willing to dig a little. For one thing, we discard the older copies of Cooking Light and Bon Appetit. Nab them and cut out some great recipes for your collection. Other items worth picking up include free magazines which turn up, unsolicited, at the library. Two examples of material which you can find there:

Nextbook Reader: A Semi-annual Sampler of Stories from—some great reviews and commentary on Jewish literature.

Best of Burlington: Life and Culture in the Champlain Valley –good articles about Burlington and about life in Vermont.


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Library Column – June 26, 2008

The library is suddenly very busy as our summer folk return. Welcome back to the Valley! We have new books coming in very soon, plus downloadable audio, the Summer Reading Program for the children and a great book discussion series for the grown-ups. Stop in and we’ll tell you everything. Meanwhile, here are a few reviews, two from a guest and five from me.


Guest reviews by Jane Goodwin: One culture drinks fermented mare’s milk and the other drinks yak-butter tea. Two great books to give you a respite from our own present floods and world disasters. Read how people in remote areas have coped for generations. It is hard to believe that we are all on the same planet.

Leaving Mother Lake is the story of Yang Erche Namu told by Christeine Mathieu. The locale is southwestern China, near Tibet. Namu makes it out of there and travels all the way to Shanghai where she becomes a famous singer of the  Moso folksongs. Moso has some different sexual mores. Namu goes through her “Skirt ceremony” as she becomes a woman and then has her own room with a door to open to her lovers. Then she can decide on a mate.


The other book is Apples from Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins. After you have sorted out all the “istans” you find this state is enormous and is the original home of the first wild apples. The author goes to check on this rumor and becomes fascinated with the local culture and with the beauty of the mountains and the steppes of this remote and little known nation.  Both these books are good “get-aways”.

Main-Course Vegetarian Pleasures: 125 Delicious Meatless Entrees by Jeanne Lemlin. A few days ago I realized I needed to cook something. Generally I plan my cooking ahead of time and shop for a week’s worth of meals at one time, but I’d messed up and needed to create a meal at short notice. Moments like that demonstrate the benefit of working in a library. I went to the shelf, pulled off this cookbook and found an excellent recipe. Then I headed over to a local store, bought some local ingredients to combine with a couple of items already sitting at home and had a yummy, easy dinner. Personally, I’m not a vegetarian, but I do like cooking and eating vegetarian meals. I find that recipes in “purely” vegetarian cookbooks are usually better than the occasional meatless recipe in a regular cookbook. Perhaps it is the enthusiasm of the author?


Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates. Short stories about five great American authors: Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry James and Ernest Hemingway. The delightful thing about this book is that you don’t have to be a literary expert to enjoy these oddball little pieces. Just about everyone has read at least one piece by these authors (remember your English classes?) and that enough context to enjoy Ms. Oates wild explorations of their writing styles and their lives.


One Skein: 30 Quick Projects to Knit and Crochet by Leigh Radford. This small book is useful in several ways. Do you have bits of left-over yarn from other projects? Lots of ideas on how to use it up. Do you love to make stuff, but can’t afford to spend a lot on your projects? Most of the projects in this book are cheap to make. Do you need to create a gift in just a day or two? Check out this book. Are you looking for attractive projects which don’t require advanced skills? Here are several to choose from.


The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (available in our regular collection, the paperback collection, as audio CD and, until September, as audio cassette). A total break from his usual thrillers, this novel tells the complex and amazing story of the building of an English cathedral in the 1100s. The book includes a fascinating mix of characters, masons, churchmen, monks, earls, merchants and outlaws. Through the midst of war, famine and oppression hundreds of people sacrifice to build a soaring building which will represent their dreams and lives to the future. An excellent read.


The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein. A novel based on the life of a real Chinese woman painter, literally sold into a brothel by her uncle, who struggled through incredible difficulties to become a successful painter. Tragic and inspiring.


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Library Column – May 29, 2008

Do you still listen to books on audio cassette? Warren Public Library has done an exchange with Ilsley Library in Middlebury. We have 30 sets of their books and they have 30 of ours. These audiobooks will be available until September 1st. I’m planning to continue doing exchanges with other libraries and I’ll be building a list of preferred authors and genres for the next exchange, so tell me what you like, thanks! Just came in—another 16 books on audio cassette—a gift from the Jeudevine library–I’ve added them to the paperback collection out in the hall. Like the rest of the paperback collection, they’ll have no due date.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Volume 2 (audio cassettes) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Performed by a delightful cast under the auspices of the BBC, complete with sound-effects. Recommended for fans of Sherlock Holmes and fans of old-fashioned radio drama.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Someone ordered this book on interlibrary loan and I decided to read it. A great book, told from the point of view of a man who is totally helpless due to a massive stroke. So, the question is—should I buy a copy for the Warren Public Library?


Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde. A fluffy, entertaining romance between a woman, two men, a cottage and a rescued greyhound. The setting is a charming little English village where a listed cottage is being rebuilt by a  young woman who designs interiors (where to put the bathroom, not where to put the cushions). Should she fall for the charming professor or the not so charming building inspector? Stay tuned.


Homo Politicus: The Strange and Barbaric Tribes of the Beltway by Dana Milbank. A tongue in cheek anthropological survey of the behavior of the residents of Potomac Land complete with chapters on Status, Kinship, Hunting and Gathering, Mythology and Folklore, Norms And Deviancy, Shamanism, Aggression, Taboo, Festivals and Social Rituals, Human Sacrifice, Fertility Rites and Mating Behaviors (a very entertaining chapter) and finally, the Chorus (also known as the journalists). I learned a lot. Mr. Milbank is an equal opportunity critic, bashing both of the tribes with great enthusiasm.


Amazing Grace (DVD). This movie was donated to the library by a generous patron. It tells the remarkable story of William Wilberforce and his long and frustrating campaign to end the British trade in African slaves. The trade was extremely lucrative and vigorously defended by the ship-owners, the port cities that depended on the trade, the sugar industry and plantation owners. The movie focuses on the politics (Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament) and on the character of the protagonist. The title, of course, connects with the well-known hymn, which was written by John Newton, one of Wilberforce’s mentors. Serious, but with moments of humor, and beautifully filmed.


Wandering Ghost by Martin Limon.  Military police procedural, set in Korea in the early 70s. A woman MP has disappeared from a base up in the DMZ. Is she dead? Kidnapped? As the investigators dig into the case the local military hierarchy tries to block the investigation. Are they trying to cover up a murder? Black-market activities? Dark, sometimes funny mystery with a twisty plot.


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Library Column – May 15, 2008

Spring is really here. I love the tender green on trees and bushes, the masses of  daffodils and other spring flowers and the rich scents as the Vermont soil emerges from winter.


Some of the library resources are well hidden. Available online (go to the bottom of our web page for links) are Heritage Quest Online for your ancestor search, the Vermont Online Library for just about anything, the Department of Libraries Catalog for your book searches and the Listen Up! Vermont site for downloadable audiobooks. All resources require passwords or special log-in information, phone or drop in to get the goods that will allow you to access these goodies.


More hidden resources: children’s magazines—Baby Bug and Ladybug (on the top of the toy collection); 400 movies on VHS (down in the basement); non-fiction and biography on audio CD (top two shelves of the audio cassette collection); short stories (below the mysteries); science fiction (below the short stories); older kid’s audiobooks (front of circulation desk); little kid’s audio/book combo’s (hanging rack in the corner of the children’s department); children’s music collection (in a box on the floor);  board games (on top of the shelves housing the juvenile fiction). I’m looking forward to our expanded library, which I’m hoping will have a rational layout instead of our current puzzles within puzzles.


Does everyone know that our magazine collection can be checked out? Consumer Reports is one exception, but you can find their articles in the Vermont Online Library at no charge. Toys, games, puzzles and puppets can all be checked out, too. Very handy when grandchildren come to visit!


Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Hurrah, I made it all the way through my first downloadable audio book on one of our new MP3 players. Please forgive me for my crowing, but I’m a member of the older generation and figuring out how to listen to an audio book on one of those little gadgets was a challenge. I’ll admit they aren’t ideal for books (no bookmarks) but once I got the hang of it I really enjoyed the portability. I could go for a walk, listen in bed, move around and take care of this and that. Oh well, I guess I need to review the book, too. The story is about a teenager whose parents are from India. The main character was born and raised in New Jersey, but is still strongly connected to her parent’s culture and also rebelling against it. Definitely a young adult book, but I found it entertaining, nevertheless, and I learned a lot about the Indian diaspora. There are over 300 downloadable audiobooks in the Listen Up! Vermont collection with more to come. Call the library or come in to find out how to access this new library resource.


The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. A novel about homelessness, literature, photography, crime, survival, mental illness, friendship and the line between truth and fiction. I enjoyed the book and found it frustrating, too. A novel, is, by definition, a work of fiction. Can the characters in a novel reasonably denounce another character for believing that the characters in another novel are real people? Everyone is fictional…


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Library Column – May 1, 2008

Have you tried out the downloadable audiobook service? Just go to , click on audio books and then click on downloadable audio. This will take you to the ListenUp! Vermont web-site. Check out the hundreds of audiobooks available to Warren and Waitsfield residents. You do need to get your library card number expanded to 14 digits in order to use the service, so stop in or call the library for help. As an adjunct to this service, we have 4 MP3 players available for loan. These handy gadgets can be checked out for two weeks at a time and I’ll be happy to show you how to download your first book and transfer it to the player. Starting in June the site will work for Mac users and the files will be I-pod compatible. Any questions? Just call us or send an e-mail to


The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis. Highly recommended! A dense, challenging read, but a real wake-up call on where the real “junk” science is coming from. The entire plot can be seen in wonderful Herblock cartoon (1977) reproduced on page 198. A scientist is being badgered by a man labeled Gov’t: “Could you hurry and find a cure for cancer? That would be so much easier than prevention.” Behind him are some rather large men carrying portfolios labeled Asbestos industry; Chemical and pesticide industries; Food and drug industries; Polluting industries and Tobacco interests.


The Arraignment by Steve Martini (audio cassettes or book). Lawyer Paul Madriani gets sucked into something that looks like the drug trade, involving Mexican partners, cross-border money laundering and sudden murder. But the real story is a bit more complicated.


New Views of the Solar System from Compton’s by Britannica. The latest science on the nature, composition and organization of our local bit of the cosmos, illustrated and nicely organized. A good companion to our new set of DVDs, The Planets, a four volume exploration on the same topic.


A Guide to Fiction Set in Vermont for Children & Young Adults by Ann McKinstry Micou. Do your children like to read books about Vermont? This wonderful guide will help you track down hundreds of exciting books for children of all ages.


Trouble the Water by Nicole Seitz. A tragic and joyous story set on an island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Two sisters, divided by secrets, learn to face their despair and open up to life. An older woman who has given up on life struggles back from the brink and a Gullah community offers open-hearted help to three outsiders.


Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre (biographies). A great story for anyone who likes spy novels or World War II novels. This is non-fiction, but the story is totally amazing, the personalities bizarre and fascinating, and the central character, Eddie Chapman, is alternately puzzling, irritating and amusing. Includes some interesting bits about the British Double Cross System and details describing how the Enigma intelligence was actually employed against the Germans.


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Library Column – April 17, 2008

Looks like we made it through slush season. Next comes mud season, right? And then, perhaps, spring? As usual, I’ve been reading a lot, listening a bit and watching a little. Two craft books, one movie, four novels (one on CD), and a book of answers (yes, literally, an entire book of answers). Come on in for an inexpensive escape from the rain and mud!


200 Braids to Twist, Knot, Loop, or Weave by Jacqui Carey (Regional Library). A super neat book for anyone who enjoys playing with string or yarn or cord. Beautifully illustrated with clear step-by-step directions for all the basic techniques and detailed guidance for recreating each of the 200 braids featured in the second half of the book.


Man in the Moon (DVD). A poignant coming of age story, set in 1950s Louisiana. Dani is 14 years old and has her first crush on the boy next door. Unfortunately the boy next door finds her older sister a lot more appealing. Disaster splits the sisters apart…will they find a way to reconnect? Well acted and with a touch of dry humor in spots.


Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith is a series maven. This particular series was originally published as daily pieces in The Scotsman Newspaper and has an interesting flavor as a result. If you missed it, the first novel in the set is entitled: 44 Scotland Street. The story follows the residents of a single apartment building in Edinburgh as they go about their daily lives. Bertie is a bright six year old with an over-dedicated mum, Bruce loves himself more than anyone else in the world but the rest of the world seems to have some doubts about his character, Domenica, an anthropologist observes the world and wonders who to study next, Pat is searching for love and working in an art gallery, which is owned by Matthew who is worried that his father is in love with a blond gold-digger.


Creative Weaving: Beautiful Fabrics with a Simple Loom by Sarah Howard and Elisabeth Kendrick. Weaving is difficult and complicated and requires a lot of expensive equipment, right? Wrong. This charming book introduces simple looms and exciting projects to make hand weaving an accessible craft for people on a budget (time, money or space).


What Would Socrates Say? Philosophers Answer Your Questions about Love, Nothingness, and Everything Else edited by Alexander George (Midstate Regional Library). Exactly what it sounds like: a collection of questions answered by professional philosophers. Surprisingly fun to read and entertaining. Have you ever wondered, for example, “What happens to a moment of time after it occurs?” See page 58 for an answer.


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (audio CD or book). A very long book about magic, set in an alternative version of early 19th century England, complete with a wicked fairy and a wonderful library filled with books on magic (as opposed to books about magic). Incorporates a wild collection of characters (some historical, some not) and some delightfully weird adventures.


Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. I read this as part of our Winter Book Discussion series and found it a fascinating and unusual mystery. The main character, Sonchai, is a Buddhist and a police detective. Some of his investigative techniques are a bit unusual and the story has many twists and turns, plus a bit of magical mysticism. The first in a series of mysteries set in Bangkok.


The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James. I am a very serious fan of Jane Austen and I read this book very critically. My honest opinion? Quite good. Not as good as the real thing, of course, but well worth the time of those who enjoy historical novels. This one is carefully researched and the writing is lively and appealing.


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