Connect to Books!

I have been noticing interesting connections with some of the books I’ve been reading lately. It made me think of a hyperlinking in websites that would take you to somewhere else for more information. Here are some of my recent connections:

boys in the boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown is the story of the 1938 USA Olympic 8-man crew that won in Berlin. The story is actually exciting, even though you know how it will end. (In fact, it led me to try the rowing machine at the Y.) In the early sections when the book tells about the boys’ earlier lives, it reminded me of Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927. The main character Joe in Brown’s book lives part of the time in Squim, Washington, which was a destination in The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook which we read for book discussion. The descriptions of what was happening in Berlin leading up to the Olympics reminded me of the book Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. At one point, Joe works on the Grand Cooley Dam. One of my favorite authors, Ivan Doig, has some books set at Montana’s Fort Peck Dam.  The information I had learned from each of these other books gave The Boys in the Boat an extra depth.

perfume collector

Another book I really enjoyed was The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro. This book jumps around in time as we learn more about a mysterious woman who leaves a legacy to Grace Munroe. Some of the book is set in New York in 1927 (see Bryson book above!) and deals with life in a hotel in New York. That reminded me of The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, a suspenseful book about a couple of typists in New York during Prohibition. (The narrator in that book is definitely unreliable.) Grace, however, is a newlywed in London just after WWII — shades of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer When she travels to Paris to get her legacy, she discovers how the Nazis are involved with the perfume collector. This part reminded me of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.

All in all, I encourage everyone to sample both nonfiction and fiction books that intersect with each other. The result is richer in all ways.

What books have you found that intersect well with each other?

Rewriting History

Rewriting History

In 1984 the main character Winston Smith has the job of rewriting history every time that the government changes its position. When a citizen falls out of favor with the government, anything positive about the person needs to be expurgated from the newspapers, files and histories.  While the United States probably hasn’t been going to this extreme, we still live in a society that does rewrite history, depending on ideology, political correctness, regionalism and new research.

When I was in school, Betsy Ross was still the woman who designed the American Flag and George Washington had wooden teeth. Neither is true and most textbooks reflect this now. Pluto used to be a planet, but recently lost that title.

As you discuss the two books for the Community-Wide read, think about the history that has been rewritten for these two societies. If we were a plebe in 1984, what would we think about our past? If we had lived on a reservation in Brave New World, what would we tell ourselves about the outside world? In The Giver, one person is given the true history that is denied the rest of the people. Do you rewrite your own history every time you tell a story? Why do no two people in a family remember things the same way?

In the King and I musical the King ponders life in the song, A Puzzlement: “When I was a boy; World was better spot. What was so was so, What was not was not. Now I am a man; World have changed a lot. Some things nearly so, Others nearly not.”  Maybe most of history is just “nearly so.”

Dystopias in the Technological Age


The two books chosen for the Community-Wide Read – Brave New World and 1984 – are both part of a literary genre called Dystopia. The key factor here is a frightening world, usually set in the future, where society had gone terribly wrong. The children’s classic, The Giver by Lois Lowry, reveals a future where life is rigidly controlled and there is no color or emotion. Recent young adult novels – the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth – have been popular as books as well as movies.

A new novel in this genre is Dave Eggers’ The Circle. This is set in the near future at a conglomerate company – think Google-Amazon-Facebook-Twitter combined – whose motto is that “All this happens must be known.” The main character Mae goes on a journey that takes this concept to the extreme. Everyone’s heartbeats, thoughts and movements are recorded and broadcast by the end of the book – and, if you choose not to “share,” you are shunned in increasingly violent ways. Much of the technology Eggers discusses is possible now, such as gps chips inserted into people to monitor where they are.

Our program “Who’s Tracking You Online?” on Thursday, March 20, at 7 pm at the library will discuss some of current incursions into the “Big Data Revolution.” Presenter Greg Page says, “Every mouse click, every keystroke, and every tablet or smart phone selection that we make helps data collectors paint a picture about who we are. The digital footprints that individuals quietly and slowly create with this data trail can be useful to everyone from retailers to health care professionals to the government.” Learn more about this and also how to minimize your online footprint. Register at the library, 508-699-0122.

Thank You to Kade Crockford and Peter Ubertaccio

The program Thursday at the High School on the NSA and Privacy was fascinating. Kade Crockford had a wealth of information to share about the workings of the Executive Branch, in particular the career people involved in the security agencies. These people are there regardless of who is president, which may explain why policies seem to stay the same from administration to administration. Peter Ubertaccio explained that while we have often put aside our rights during war time, the war on terror has no end. Rights we lose now are not coming back unless we make a stand.

Some of the current action on reining in the government’s collection of our private information has come down to the states proposing laws that bring us up-to-date with the digital age. In Massachusetts there are proposals to stop the police from saving the license plate information indefinitely, to stop the use of drones without a warrant, and more. There is also a proposed law that would make eavesdropping on digital devices even easier for law enforcement. Check out the ACLU website for more information.

The two speakers were asked to recommend books to read. Crockford suggested The Burglary about the 1971 break-in of the FBI office in Pennsylvania and Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Ubertaccio recommended the Constitution and the Federalist/Anti-Federalist papers. We don’t always know or understand what rights the Constitution created and the Anti-Federalists were worried about many of the things that have come to pass.

Thank you to both speakers for the thought-provoking evening.

Entertainment: Who’s in charge

Today’s Entertainment

It’s not totally dating myself to fondly remember playing hopscotch. Even when I was teaching we drew hopscotch boards in the playgrounds. Granted the kids preferred soccer, 4-square, and later Pokemon and Magic The Gathering, but we could play games that didn’t need any purchased equipment or material.

One of the most chilling aspects of Brave New World is the way that the populace is controlled by entertainment and what used to be called “free love.” It’s not a stretch to see the parallels with our fascination with online gaming, reality television shows, sexy music, and streaming video. David Hinckley of the NY Daily News wrote on Feb. 2 about the Super Bowl that it is now the country’s second-largest food consumption day, after Thanksgiving and that many people buy a new television to watch the game.

The Game Day at the YMCA Teen Center is a chance to return to a time when consumption wasn’t the point of games. There will be card games (non-collectible) and board games and games that just use your wits. It will be on Tuesday, March 18, at 6 pm. Please register at the Teen Center – 585 East Washington St. – or the library if you would like to attend.

How Can We Tell?

In 1984 the protagonist Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth where he was one of many who would rewrite history to match the current government position. In State of Deception by Ryan Lizza (The New Yorker, Dec. 16, 2013) we hear that the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, lied in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (March 2013) when asked about whether N.S.A. was collecting any type of data on millions of Americans. Edward Snowden’s subsequent revelations showed us what was behind this curtain.

The problem is — and was for the people of Oceania in 1984 — how do we know when the government is keeping secrets for our protection and whether it is necessary to keep those secrets? Certainly we’ve all been horrified by accounts of kids turning in their parents for treasonous talk to the Nazis during the times leading up to WWII. Will the government use computers to sift through our email, posts, and tweets for “treasonous” messages or contacts?

Join us on March 6, at 7 pm, at the High School Media Center for a discussion of what is happening. See the One Book Page for more information.