Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Staff Recommendation: Read One, Then The Other

I recently read two fascinating books which delve into the mysterious history of the Cape Ann settlement of Dogtown, now a part of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The books are Dogtown: death and enchantment in a New England ghost town by Elyssa East and The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant.  Anita Diamant's  fictional account of the decline of this  impoverished settlement in the early 1800's uses historical characters in an imaginative and compelling way.  Elyssa East approaches the history of the same forlorn region from a modern departure point - the shocking murder there of a local woman in 1984.

East's 2009 narrative nonfiction book combines an investigation of this murder with parallel storylines involving art history detection and local intrigue.  The author initially intended to find the sources of inspiration for some of American artist Marsden Hartley's 1930's watercolors which featured the unusual topography of Dogtown, known for its boulders and strange rocky formations.  Thinking she might be able to see the actual locations which Hartley painted, she travelled to Gloucester, bought a map of Dogtown, and promptly got lost in its disorienting woods.  The area had long ago acquired a reputation for eerie happenings, a reputation  which was further  tarnished  by the savage and pointless murder of a young woman in these very woods.  Dogtown: death and enchantment in a New England ghost town will keep you engaged throughout, but it is regrettable that the author did not provide any prints of Hartley's Dogtown landscapes or any photos of the area.

Diamant's 2005 historical fiction book, The Last Days of Dogtown, fleshes together an interesting tale about the last survivors of the isolated and failing Dogtown Settlement at the beginning of the nineteenth century.   Only fragmentary records and oral histories remain of Dogtown's demise and of the people who inhabited this remote area of Cape Ann.  Many of  Dogtown's  inhabitants were shunned by Gloucester folk because they  clung to old ways and refused to move into town.  Some were suspected of  practicing witchcraft and prostitution.  Diamant expands the few historical vignettes about these people into a satisfying story of marginalized individuals living a desperate existence in a dying settlement. Some of these individuals are briefly mentioned in Elyssa East's book as well, but I was glad that Anita Diamant had given them fuller, though fictional  lives.  I do recommend both of these books.
 Review by Evelyn Fischel

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Patrons Have Been Reading...

Here's a sampling of some of the books our patrons have been reading this summer.  Among the contributors are several members of the library's 50 Book Challenge.

Adrienne writes: "I've tortured myself reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  It's part philosophical, part political (about the effect the events of 1968 had on people), and part emotional - a love story.  The first 100 pages were tough, but I kept going and actually wound up liking the book."  On a lighter note, Adrienne also reports, "I'm reading a very interesting book by Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires, about her early days as food critic for the NY Times.  Reichl disguises herself, and falls into character, to avoid recognition by the restaurant owners so she can enjoy a meal and write a review about the food and service as an ordinary person.  Her characters will make you laugh and her dining experiences will make you hungry."

Tish listened to Sherman Alexie's YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and writes:  "I highly recommend the recording.  Alexie reads it himself, and his sing-songy Indian-accent delivery is like performance art.  Hilarious and heartbreaking.  I have also listened to two funny books on CD that I can recommend: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, and Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog by Lisa Scottoline.  Both are collections of short essays, and both had me weeping with laughter."

Carol relates that she has listened to An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon which was narrated by Davina Porter.  Carol says "Ms. Porter has narrated the entire Outlander Series of which this is the seventh book.  With her British accent and Scottish brogue Davina creates the perfect atmosphere for a love story which takes place in two different centuries.  I have truly enjoyed this series and was disappointed to hear I will not see the next book until 2013!!!"

Finally, Ronald shared a link to comments he made regarding Richard A. Clarke's new book, Cyber War.