Happy 200th Birth Anniversary, Walt Whitman!

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Today, May 31, 2019,  marks the 200th (!) birth anniversary of the poetic genius Walt Whitman, who in many ways invented American poetry – which is another way of saying that, if one is writing poetry today, in America or elsewhere, Whitman is utterly inescapable, and seems to hover over any poem whatsoever as a guiding and tutelary spirit.  Whitman’s poetry, in its long rolling lines and cadences, its oceanic rhythms, its “plain” (I say “plain” in quotes because Whitman’s praised plainness is kind of deceiving; it’s really more subtle, even more hermetic, than “plain” suggests), and earthy and robust manner of addressing himself and the world – there was nothing like this before him, though afterwards and up until today his imitators (including this librarian) have been legion.  Read some poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson, another inventor of American thought and literature, and a great influence on Whitman – these poems might be moving and/or intelligent, subtle and/or intricate; you might find the rhymes or the spiritual insights surprising or interesting; but it (Emerson’s poems – his essays are another matter) really does not touch the achievement of Whitman, who was somehow able to embed within his poems the literary DNA of a large soul, a large person, Walt Whitman, one of the roughs, barbaric yawper, containing multitudes.

I wonder today, because of this birthday, how many people out there have actually read Whitman, as opposed to hearing of him, (or perhaps not even hearing of him, alas).  These particular persons might say or think, “Okay, you’ve got my attention.  Where do I start?  What should I read?”

I am not a Whitman scholar, but the best thing about Whitman is that he speaks to all of us, and one does not have to be a scholar of literature to read and appreciate Whitman.  Here is one of my favorite Whitman quotes, from “Song of Myself,” pertaining to this:

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

 

So, if I was asked what to read, I would suggest the 1855 “Song of Myself,” and the 1865 “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” both of which are utter masterpieces.  Here are links to both of them:

https://web.archive.org/web/20110213065239/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Whi55LG.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=1&division=div1

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45480/when-lilacs-last-in-the-dooryard-bloomd

One of my favorite parts of the Whitman mythos is the aura that surrounds his trip to New Orleans in 1848, seven years before he self-published (and we need to think about this as well – Whitman self-published (?!) the 1855 Leaves of Grass) the first edition of his great work in 1855.  Whitman left New York as “Walter Whitman,” a hack journalist, but when he came back from New Orleans, he was different, he was “Walt.”  What happened to Whitman in New Orleans?  Some scholars have speculated that he had a transformative love affair with a man; others have argued he had some kind of life-changing spiritual experience.  We’ll probably never know what happened exactly, but there is a clear and real qualitative difference between the articles and fiction he wrote earlier in his career (Whitman wrote a serialized novel that was a potboiler about temperance; he also wrote at least around 1200 articles for many different newspapers, many about social and political issues), and the later radical experimental poetry he would dedicate his life to.  One of the most fascinating and amazing products of Whitman scholarship is the digitized manuscript drafts of some parts of the poem, where we can actually see decisions and revisions Whitman made during the process of composition (the actual original manuscript for the 1855 Leaves of Grass is lost; Whitman claimed it had been mistakenly used for a fire and burned by his printer).  Take a look at his early notebooks:

http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/whitman/index.html

My other favorite aspect of Whitman’s biography is the fact that, once the Civil War started, Whitman spent three years tending to soldiers, really like some kind of saint.  Here is an excerpt from an article about Whitman’s life during the Civil War (link to whole article is below the excerpt):

“Whitman’s routine was to rest after his office work, bathe, dress in fresh clothes, eat a good meal, and put in four to five hours touring the hospitals. He would often pack a knapsack with fruit, tobacco, paper, envelopes, and the like for individual distribution to the soldiers—materials chiefly paid for with money raised from relatives and friends. He entered the hospitals well-rested, sweet-scented, and cheerful in appearance. Though he might often break down hours after a visit, he took care to steel himself to the agonies he witnessed for as long as he was in the presence of the soldiers, to keep his spirits high. He was not so much a “wound-dresser,” as his poem of that title suggests, as a healer of the spirit, an affectionate comrade or “uncle,” whose curative abilities were nonetheless deeply respected at a time when doctor’s interventions often did more harm than good. Whitman never read his poetry to the men—in fact, he apparently never told them he was a poet—but he would recite Shakespeare or passages from the Bible. He would also hold the men’s hands, kiss them, write letters for them. Some of Whitman’s most admirable prose can be found in letters informing parents, with exquisite tact, of the exact circumstances and manner of the death of a son.”

https://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_8.html

I once read a famous critic claim that Whitman’s service during the Civil War killed him as a poet.  While I am not in a position to evaluate this contention, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that Whitman’s service during that time took its toll.  But what does that even mean?  The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “ethics and aesthetics are one.”  When I think about Whitman, I think about this apothegm, and I feel that Walt Whitman, more than any American poet in our storied history, really embodied this truth in his work and his life.  Today, on his 200th birth anniversary, let’s remember this great poet’s contribution to our ongoing lives, to our democracy, to our ways of thinking and feeling and imagining, to our hope, to our literature, to our dreams, and to our future.

Image result for 1855 leaves of grassWhitman’s name weirdly and mysteriously did not appear on the title page of the self-published first edition.

 

 

 

 

 

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Award Winning Books

Trying to fill that one Winter Bingo Square with an Award-Winning book? Look no further! There are so many to choose from, in so many genres, I’ll just mention a few titles and then give you links to lists, so many lists!

I’ll start with local award winners: The Anisfield Book Awards. I have attended the ceremony for the past couple of years and find it inspiring and a source of incredible reading material. Here are a couple of books honored there:

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Then there’s the National Book Awards, a source of a fantastic array of titles, such as the following:

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Love a mystery? Check out the Edgar Awards and a couple of titles they’ve chosen to honor:

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And there’s also The Hugo Awards, for works of science fiction and fantasy, the RITA Awards for romance, the Eisner Awards for graphic novels and so many more. If you need help choosing a title, stop by the Reference Desk – we’ll be glad to help!

~ Dori

 

 

Winter Reading BINGO: Spotlight on Books Set in Another Country

book-mapDo you need a suggestion for reading a book set in another country or written by an author from another country? Well you are in luck – there are a wide range of books, both fiction and nonfiction, short and long. Here are just a few:

First I’ll list a few authors with a variety of titles:

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare
Chilean author Isabel Allende
Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa
Canadian author Margaret Atwood

And here are a few individual titles:

First They Killed My Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea (Cuba)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Sweden)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Ethiopia)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (France)
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (India)
The Diary of Anne Frank (Netherlands)
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (North Korea)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (South Africa)
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Hungary)

and three classics:
Beowulf (Denmark)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (England)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

You could also read and Irish author; there’s The Dubliners by James Joyce or Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. How about a poetry book such as The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (Lebanon) or Shanghai Girls by Lisa See? So many possibilities! If you don’t see something you’re interested in, feel free to stop by the Reference Desk for a suggestion – we’d be glad to help.

~ Dori

 

What We’re Reading Now…

Here’s a look at some of the books the Adult Services department is reading now:

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

 

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Hapless Jackson begins his foray into crime by investing every penny he has in a sure-fire scheme to turn legitimate ten-dollar bills into counterfeit one-hundred dollar bills. It is only after Jackson loses all his money, and some of his bosses, that he turns to his streetwise brother Goldie for help. Goldie, who dresses as a Sister of Mercy and collects alms for ‘charity,’ works the seedier side of Harlem in aid of not only Jackson but Goldie’s own pocketbook. Written and set in 1950s Harlem this is a grippy and taut classic crime caper.  Trent

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John Ashbery: Collected Poems

I’ve been re-reading John Ashbery’s Collected Poems, 1956-1987, published by the Library of America.  Ashbery passed away last week, and there have been some wonderful tributes written about him online.  His poems are so wonderful, mysterious, and enigmatic – they feel like adventures of the mind, where you don’t know where you’ll end up, but the process can be exhilarating.  For readers who enjoy experimentation with language, Ashbery is one of the greatest.  Andrew

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 Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a mystery within a mystery. Susan Ryeland is the editor of popular, but difficult, author Alan Conway’s books. When he suddenly dies of a suspicious suicide after turning in his most recent manuscript, Susan begins some detective work of her own, beginning with investigating the contents of the manuscript. Will it reveal Conway’s killer? Dori

Cover image for In the Great Green Room

 

In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary

In the Great Green Room is a fascinating window into the life of Margaret Wise Brown, the children’s author who famously penned Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and over 100 others. The book begins in Margaret’s childhood: a whirlwind of boarding schools in Switzerland and Massachusetts, shoulder-rubbing with members of elite United States families, and family vacations in island homes off the coast of New York–all the while, Margaret’s mind was constantly turning out whimsy. Later in her adult life, she had a playfulness that drew a stream of friends, associates, editors, and lovers to her house. She spent her first royalty check on a cartful of flowers; she lead a group called the Bird Brain Society where any member could declare a day Christmas and the other members would come over and celebrate it; the line between play and life was never entirely clear to her. Just when, at 42, she was engaged to be married and began settling into a more stable life, she died suddenly. This biography is a wonderful read for those interested in bold, brilliant women who made a mark on the world in unconventional ways. Lyndsey

Cover image for Girls made of snow and glass

 

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass  is a new YA retelling of Snow White. Mina, the daughter of a magician, has a heart of glass. When she and her father move to Whitespring Castle Mina devises a plan to win the king’s favor so that she can be the queen and finally know love. When she finally succeeds at her plan, she becomes a stepmother to the princess Lynet. Lynet is the spitting image of her dead mother, who by all accounts was beautiful and delicate. Lynet is headstrong and fierce and hates living the the shadow of a mother she never knew. When King Nicholas declares his intention make Lynet the Queen of the South instead of Mina, he creates a rivalry between the two women. Is Mina capable of destroying the one person who loves her? Can Lynet save the only mother she has even known? Megan

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I recently revisited this personal favorite of mine after watching the TV adaptation produced this past summer. Gaiman is a master story teller that produces accessible, yet still challenging, novels. To enter the world of American Gods is to enter a place where every deity ever worshiped on American soil is given a corporeal presence. Recently released from prison Shadow Moon is greeted with devastating news that sets him on a fantastical journey which reveals the gods living among us. These deities who live on attention and worship are far from their heyday and are showing the signs of the neglect. It doesn’t help that their worshipers have shifted their attention to new gods created through our culture’s adoration of technology, media, and the world economy. A book that seamless combines the world and troubles of the everyday with the fantastical. I would recommend this to readers who are new to Gaiman and get a full picture of his style and world building. Greg

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The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis is about the research that two men did 40 years ago about the way we make decisions. This is a very biographical, anecdotal depiction of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. If you go into this book wanting to know about the men who created the field of behavioral economics, you’ll enjoy this one. Beth

 

 

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Nutshell by Ian McEwan

A tale told by a baby-to-be or not-to-be? This story unfolds by a talking fetus who bears witness to an affair between his mother, Trudy, and his uncle, Claude. The adulterous pair are scheming to kill the baby’s father, John. Will the narrator be able to prevent such a crime, and possibly pursue revenge?Many twists and turns as to what will become of our villains, victims and beloved narrator.  McEwan has stuffed this tale with Shakespearean throwbacks and extensive dialogue filled with weighty vocabulary – have your dictionary handy! Mary

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My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

This is the first book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, a story of a woman who has spent the last 20 years questioning the circumstances around the death of her sister, Sarah and the murder trial that followed. When  Sarah’s body is finally found, her sister Tracy, now a homicide detective is determined to find out what happened all those years ago, and why people she loved and trusted lied to her.  An exciting, well-written thriller with twists and turns that surprise, but don’t push the bounds of belief.  I’m a little late to the Crosswhite series with the author soon to publish Book #5, but I’m looking forward to getting to know Tracy better as I keep reading! Sara

 

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On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen

Lady Georgiana (Georgie) Rannoch wants to marry her Catholic fiancée Darcy but first needs permission from Queen Mary and parliament. By marrying Darcy she would give up her place in line as 35th in line to the British throne. The Queen asks a favor of Georgie first. There is a party that the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson will be attending. The queen wants Georgie to go to the party and make sure the Prince and Mrs. Simpson don’t marry. Two guests are murdered at the house party and Georgie gets involved in solving the mysteries almost becoming a victim herself. Emma

National Poetry Month

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You are invited to join in the celebration by writing and submitting a poem about the Library or the community. Poem submissions must be entered by email to rrpladultreference@gmail.com between April 1st-22nd with a limit of 500 words. The winner will receive a poetry memento and the poem will be published on the RRPL website. Winner will be announced Friday, April 29th. (Ages 18 and older.)

Good Luck!

~Emma

Top Ten 2015

I hope you enjoy(ed) these as much as I did. Merry Christmas!

 

The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

See How Small by Scott Blackwood

Erratic Facts by Kay Ryan

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Peter M. Wayne, PhD with Mark L. Fuerst

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015 edited by Rebecca Skloot

Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt

 

I was there! -at The 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

It’s true! I was one of the lucky attendees at this year’s Anisfield-Wolf award ceremony -and it was incredible. The opener? A young man in the fifth grade read his winning, original poem “Am I Invisible” with such energy and style; he was rewarded with a standing ovation! And of course, the adult winners brought their A game as well -both Jericho Brown and Marilyn Chin performed their poetry, Marlon James read from his fictional story, and Richard S. Dunn talked about history of two plantations. David Brion Davis wasn’t at the awards in person but accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award in a recorded message. Library Journal’s coverage of the event pretty much says it all… in style!

enjoy!
Stacey