Monday, October 25, 2010

Staff Pick: Anthony Doerr's Short Stories

If you are looking for highly inventive, finely executed writing,  give Anthony Doerr's books a try.  Doerr's first publication was a set of short stories, The Shell Collector, which came out to positive reviews in 2002.  Subsequent to that, he published the nonfiction work, Four Seasons in Rome, and a novel, About Grace. He continues to write for such magazines as McSweeney's, Orion, and Zoetrope: All-Story. and has just published a second collection of short fiction entitled Memory Wall: stories.  His writing has received numerous awards including the O. Henry Prize, the Rome Prize, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.

Both The Shell Collector and Memory Wall: stories contain imaginative stories with characters whose foibles, talents, and travails are brought to life in unusual, but convincing ways.  For instance, "The Hunter's Wife, " in The Shell Collector, describes a marriage falling apart as a wife discovers her very special ability to feel the blissful life experiences of those recently deceased.  She does this with animals and later with several people. This diviner of the dead forces her husband to touch her hand as she holds the leg of a doe he has just killed, creating a connection to the doe's receding life force. "Already the doe's vision was surging through her (wife's) body - fifty deer wading a sparkling brook, their bellies in the current, craning their necks to pull leaves from overhanging alders, light pouring around their bodies, a buck raising its antlered head like a king. A silver bead of water hung from its muzzle, caught the sun, and fell."

In Memory Wall: stories characters contend with their memories and what it means to lose memory or self-identification.  This theme is symbolized in the story, "Village 113," by the Chinese town whose inhabitants are forced to give up their homes, community, and way of life so that the area can be submerged for a dam.  The first story in the collection, "Memory Wall," uses science fiction to tell the wonderful human interest story of a young South African boy, Luvo, whose brain has been adapted to "read" the memories of an elderly woman with dementia. Luvo is as much a victim of memory loss as the woman.  "Luvo believes he is somewhere around fifteen years old.  He has very few memories of his own: none of his parents, no sense of who might have installed four ports in his skull and set him adrift among the ten thousand orphans of Cape Town. No memories of how or why."  But Luvo still has intelligence and free will, and what he chooses to do with them makes for a powerful and beautiful story.

Review by Evelyn Fischel

Thursday, October 14, 2010

She Would Have Preferred A Letter

Diana Athill starts Instead of a Letter with a reflection on her elderly grandmother's death, noting that this woman had created a family, "a world for us," but what of herself, asks the author, "a woman who had never had the chance, or had missed the chance, to create something like that?" So begins the author's memoir which was first published in 1962 and reissued in 2010.

Instead of a Letter recounts Diana Athill's youth, family life in the British countryside, and an ill-fated love affair begun at the age of 15 with an Oxford student and RAF member.  This passionate union was something momentous for young Diana. Apparently her lover felt otherwise because he left her with no explanation, marrying someone else before he died overseas.   Athill was unable to work through this tragedy, or at least to confront him about it. She writes, "The times when the pain was nearest to the physical - to that of a finger crushed in a door, or a tooth under a drill - were not those in which I thought 'He no longer loves me' but those in which I thought  'He will not even write to tell me that he no longer loves me.'

Memoirs and Coffee, a Bernardsville Public Library book group, will discuss this memoir on Tuesday, October 26th, at 10:30 a.m. The book group is open to new members and is facilitated by Pat Kennedy-Grant.  Please feel welcome to attend.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bernardsville is a 5 Star-Rated Library

Bernardsville Public Library has just been accorded a Five Star rating by Library Journal .  Please refer to the Library Journal article for specifics about this rating and to see the very short list of  libraries nationwide that  earned five stars in our expenditure category, $400,000 to $999,999.  These ratings are based on data gathered in 2008 after the recession had started.  Bernardsville Public Library director, Karen Brodsky, is quoted in the article as noting that high usage levels were "partly because numerous people were using the library to find employment and to hone computer skills toward that effort."  The library's electronic databases, Career Center, free computer classes, and the many programs dedicated to helping job seekers all contributed to attracting a large number of visitors. In addition, we are fortunate to have a loyal community of library users who make a visit to Bernardsville Library part of their daily routine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Interpreter of Maladies To Be Discussed

Bernardsville Library's book discussion group, Saturday Samplers, will meet Saturday, October 2 at 3:30 pm to discuss Interpreter of Maladies: Stories (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This debut collection of short stories published in 1999 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000 as well as the PEN/Hemingway Award and several other writing prizes.  Jhumpa Lahiri has continued to make a literary name for herself with subsequent publications of The Namesake (2003) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008.) Read more about Jhumpa Lahiri on the Saturday Samplers blog.

Led by Readers’ Services Assistant, Evelyn Fischel, Saturday Samplers is a book discussion group dedicated to sampling various kinds of literature, including short stories, nonfiction, new and old novels, and even teen fiction. Its goal is to search out interesting, noteworthy, and sometimes overlooked books. Readers can find information about the group and authors at No sign-up is needed to join the discussion.