You know you should get off of Facebook and go read a book. But what book? A person can get lost forever in the stacks. Well, you no longer have any excuses: On Monday, Facebook will spend two hours giving you book suggestions in real time. Not Facebook as in Mark Zuckerman (does he even read?), but Facebook as in three friendly librarians from the St. Paul Public Library, who will be standing by with thousands of book titles at the ready.
Every so often--the last time, I think, was last fall--the St. Paul librarians monitor a live chat on Facebook, answering your questions and offering suggestions for your next great read. All you have to do is leave a comment on the page (which is here), and within seconds a librarian will answer you. This is no automated Amazon-type "Readers who bought this book often bought this other book," algorithm. This is real librarians, all with tidy gray buns, glasses, and multiple cats, digging around in their card catalogs and brains, just for you.
OK, I'm kidding about the buns and glasses cliche. (That wasn't even true in 1975, when I worked in a public library.) The St. Paul Public Library has a pretty fun Facebook page, actually, with pictures of jazz musicians and Asian dancers and little kids building birdhouses, and, for some reason, pictures of people doing yoga, as well as far too many alerts as to bookmobile cancellations due to snow, but don’t get distracted! Stay on task!
Leave a comment on Monday between 4 and 6 p.m. telling them what books you’ve liked, or what you’re interested in reading about (yoga! birdhouses! jazz! snow!) and the librarians will consult their Magic 8 ball (that is, other librarians) and respond. After that, of course, it's up to you.
When Amy Tan was a girl, her mother warned her to stay away from boys. “She said, Don’t let a boy kiss you because maybe you can’t stop. And then you’re gonna have a baby.” Her mother went on to enumerate all of the terrible things that happen to a girl when she has a baby, ending with, “You want to kiss a boy? You might as well just kill yourself right now!”
“And I thought, What was so good about it that you couldn’t stop?” Tan said.
It was a funny story, but one tinged with darkness, as were so many of the stories that Tan told on Wednesday night at Talk of the Stacks at the Central Library in Minneapolis. “When she told me this, I didn’t know that had had a first husband,” Tan said. “I didn’t know that she had three daughters living in China.”
Self-deprecating, elegant and fascinating, Tan mesmerized the crowd with her stories of family drama. And it was a true crowd, for sure--Pohlad Auditorium was filled, and guests packed into two overflow rooms, where they watched her on movie screens, and a handful more stood out in the atrium, listening to her on the speakers. Nearly 450 people showed up, one of the biggest crowds yet for the library’s popular program.
Tan read only briefly from her new book, “The Valley of Amazement,” and instead told stories about her mother and her grandmother--familiar figures to anyone who has read her novels. Her new book travels from China to the United States, following the lives of a courtesan and her daughter in the first half of the 20th century
While writing “Valley,” Tan kept two photographs on her desk: One of her mother, and one of her grandmother. Her mother left Shanghai in 1942 on a student visa, leaving behind an abusive husband and their three daughters. Tan never knew if her mother meant to abandon her children, but she was not allowed to return to China for 30 years. “My mother was impetuous, and passionate, and suicidal,” Tan said. “She taught me that I must always be independent.”
Tan’s grandmother was, she said, “a tragic figure. Spoiled. She married late, at 24, and her husband died in the 1919 Pandemic.” According to Chinese culture, she was supposed to remain a widow the rest of her life, but one night, when visiting a friend, she awoke to find a man in her bed. “There are two versions to the story,” Tan said. In one version, the man holds a knife to her grandmother’s throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill you.” In the other version, he holds a knife to his own throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill myself.”
Tan’s grandmother married him and worked out a deal: If she bore him a son, he would buy her a house in Shanghai. She bore him a son, he reneged on his part of the bargain, and she killed herself, leaving behind Tan’s mother, who was then 9 years old.
When writing “Valley,” Tan said, she entered the world of her grandmother, but the book is not about her grandmother. “It does have a lot to do with the themes in my family--betrayal, abandonment, passionate women, suicidal women, impetuous women, and love, love, love.”
“Valley” is her first novel in eight years, and Tan joked that “the best thing about finishing it is people no longer ask when’s your book going to come out. The worst thing is they ask why it took so long.”
When last we blogged, Cambridge, Mass., writer Katherine A. Powers had tried to donate a copy of her new book, "Suitable Accommodations," to her hometown library and had been refused. Why do we care? Because her book is a collection of letters written by her father, Minnesota writer (and National Book Award winner) J.F. Powers.
Powers had noticed that the library system she had patronized for 40 years didn't own a copy--other Massachusetts library systems had the book in their collections, including Boston, but not Cambridge. So she brought a copy down to the library and offered it to them.
And they said no.
The reason, they said, was that they only accept donations of books that are on the New York Times best-seller list, and while the Powers book had been published by FSG and had been widely reviewed, it was not a best-seller.
The library director was out of town when all of this happened, and Monday was a holiday, and it wasn't until yesterday that the whole thing was resolved--more or less.
Powers and the director met, the director said that refusing the book had been a mistake, and that the staff member who had rejected the book had made a mistake. (But the library policy apparently says otherwise.)
In any case, the director agreed to now accept the donation of the book, but it was too late; Powers had already donated the book to a more willing library, the one in nearby Maiden, Mass.
So will the Cambridge library now pay to add a copy to its collection? Stay tuned for a possible Chapter Three...
Oh, gosh, it is brown out there. (But at least it's no longer white.) (Sorry, Owatonna.) But this weekend marks Gustavus Adolphus Library Associate's annual Books in Bloom exhibit at the college in St. Peter, Minn., which features 30 floral arrangements designed to compliment 30 books.
The exhibit will be open all weekend (hours: Friday, 3-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) with a book signing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. (Not all writers will be at the book signing. For example, Victor Hugo almost certainly will not make it.)
Some of the titles, such as Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," or Faith Sullivan's "Gardenias," seem as though they would lend themselves to fabulous and exotic displays. Not easy, but maybe a bit less of a challenge than, say, "Philosophical Investigations" by Ludwig Wittgenstein, or ""The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West," by Patricia Nelson Limerick. Go, florists!
Here are this year's featured titles:
"Minnesota's Outdoor Wonders," by Jim Gilbert
"Little Wolves," by Thomas Maltman
"The Night Birds," by Thomas Maltman
"Because of Winn Dixie," by Kate DiCamillo
"On Three Continents" and "Mimbo Ma Ki Kriso," by Ruth Nelson Johnson
"Les Miserables," by Victor Hugo
"The Disappearing Spoon," by Sam Kean
"The Hunger Games Trilogy," by Suzanne Collins
"Sophie's Choice," by William Styron
"The Hobbit," by J.R.R. Tolkien
"The Lighthouse Road," by Peter Geye
"Planting a Rainbow," by Lois Ehlert
"Black and Bold," by Bruce Gray
"Elizabeth the Queen," by Sally Bedell Smith
"On His Watch," by Dennis Johnson
"The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake," by Aimee Bender
"Downton Abbey," by Julian Fellowes
"The Round House," by Louise Erdrich
"Wicked," by Gregory Maguire
"Yes, Chef," by Marcus Samuelsson
"Team of Rivals," by Doris Kearns Goodwin
"The Night Circus," by Erin Morgenstern
"Olivia," by Ian Falconer
"The Legacy of Conquest," by Patricia Nelson Limerick
"Gardenias," by Faith Sullivan
"Philosophical Investigations," by Ludwig Wittgenstein
"Travels with Charley," by John Steinbeck
"The Boy in the Suitcase," by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
"Supper with the Savior," by Barbara Sartorius-Bjelland
"The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters," by Elizabeth Robinson.
This year's Books in Bloom, which is at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, is dedicated to the memory of Marlys Johnson, one of the event's founders, who died last month after a short illness.
We probably don't call attention often enough to the outstanding lineup of writers the public libraries bring in. Sometimes you have to look at the whole list at once to be impressed.
So let's get impressed:
Club Book will bring fiction writer and memoirist Pam Houston ("Cowboys Are My Weakness" "Waltzing the Cat") to Maplewood tomorrow. She'll read from her new book, "Contents May Have Shifted," at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Maplewood Library, 3025 Southlawn Drive.
Later in February, local favorite Lorna Landvik ("Patty Jane's House of Curls") will be in Prior Lake. She'll make a return performance in April at the Chanhassen Library. (Dates are: 7 p.m. Feb. 28, Prior Lake Library, 16210 Eagle Creek Av., and 2 p.m. April 21, Chanhassen Library, 7711 Kerber Blvd.)
Landvik, the author of nine novels, many of them best-sellers, is trying something new with her latest book: She self-published "The Mayor of the Universe."
The Club Book lineup continues through the spring with Arthur Phillips (whose parents still live in the Cities), Cheryl Strayed, John Sandford, Brenda Langton, Benjamin Percy (now teaching in Minnesota), and poet Li-Young Lee.
Meanwhile, the Pen Pals lecture series--the only library series that carries a ticket charge--is bringing in cartoonist Roz Chast, writer Dennis Lehane, and Armistead Maupin. And Talk of the Stacks--held at the downtown Minneapolis library--is bringing in the Smitten Kitchen writer, Deb Perelman; best-selling memoirist ("Look Me In the Eye") John Robison (and watch for a Q&A with him in an upcoming Variety section of your Strib); and New Orleans-by-way-of-Romania poet Andrei Codrescu.
Shall we go on? Because we can.
Chris Niskanen (today, at the Osseo Library); Connie Brockway (Feb. 11, Edina Library); Larry Millet, Feb. 16, Nokomis Library; cookbook authors Phyllis Louise Harris and Raghavan Iyer, Feb. 16, Maple Grove Library); Mary DesJarlais, March 9, Rogers Library; Atina Diffley, March 16, Nokomis Library; Peter Geye, March 18, Ridgedale Library; Erin Hart, March 26, St. Anthony Library; and Brian Leehan, March 26, Brookdale Library.
Impressed yet? I am. Our tax dollars at work.
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