Sherlock on horseback

Holmes on the Range is available at the library in hardcover

“Holmes on the Range” by Steve Hockensmith is available at the library in hardcover.

Jen HindererHolmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith is the first of a series of mysteries set in the Old West featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers Old Red and Big Red (aka Gustav and Otto).

The brothers aren’t big drinkers or card players but Big Red is lucky enough to know how to read and tell a great story, and whenever they can find  an issue of Harper’s Weekly, Otto reads the Sherlock Holmes stories out loud for his brother.

The famous detective’s adventures inspire Old Red to do some serious sleuthing of his own.

Their first case starts with a death that appears to be caused by a stampede but is really a murder case involving the wealthy and well-connected British family that own the Bar VR ranch in Montana. As the story unfolds the brothers get in a heap of trouble and make some dangerous enemies.

A distinct lack of law and order
If you’ve read my previous reviews you already know that I love novels set in the old American West. I love to read the stories of hardy and hard-working people making a life in rough circumstances while facing the challenges of the landscape (and frequently a distinct lack of law and order).

Hockensmith’s book incorporates all of those features and then adds in the trappings of a great detective novel. Suspense and intrigue abound as Old Red hunts for clues and follows leads to solve what turn out to be several murders on the Bar VR. Through it all Big Red is a hilarious narrator and assistant, keeping up a steady stream of witty commentary on their circumstances.

There are now five novels featuring the Amlingmeyers, and I’ve read three of them. (See the full list on Goodreads.) Big Red becomes something of a Dr. John Watson to his brother’s Sherlock: putting their adventures in writing and sending their stories to magazines for publication. There are train robberies, mysterious women, and gunfights in every story, and through all of it the brothers remain steadfastly loyal to each other. Each book is just as good as the first, and they are easily read out of order if you must, so don’t worry if you have to skip ahead to On the Wrong Track or The Black Dove.

About Jen Hinderer

Jen Hinderer is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

Local author roundup

Carol Luers EymanLorrie Thomson, who did a reading here last fall from Equilibrium, her book about a man with bipolar disorder, has just published another novel.

"What's Left Behind" by Lorrie Thomson

“What’s Left Behind” by Lorrie Thomson is available from the library in paperback.

I have not yet read What’s Left Behind, but Lorrie was kind enough to send her husband by with an advance copy. This book is about Abby Stone, who throws herself into running a bed and breakfast on the Maine Coast after the death of her 18-year-old son. Abby plans a backyard labyrinth as a memorial to him, which should be of interest to Nashua readers, since our Rotary Common Park on Main Street is the home of the first permanent Chartres Labyrinth in New Hampshire.

Another book that came across my desk is Troubadours and Troublemakers: The Evolution of American Protest Music. The author, Kevin Comtois, teaches at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts. Since the speakers we had this summer from NECC (one talked about chocolate, one about old wives’ tales) were both super, I decided to ask Kevin to speak here, on February 12. His topic will be the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan.

"Angel Play" by Roy Goodman is available from the library in paperback.

“Angel Play” by Roy Goodman is available from the library in paperback.

Nashuan Roy Goodman’s novel, Angel Play, came out as an e-book several months back and is now available in paperback, too. Set in Boston and northern New Hampshire, Angel Play is the story of  17-year-old Angela Dawes, kidnapped by a Vietnam vet when he commandeers a cab and picks her up after her shift at a Brigham’s ice cream shop.

As in most kidnappings, the motivations of the criminal, while stated, are inscrutable to the law-abiding public. The story shifts among the points of view of Angie, her father, and various detectives. Angie was abandoned by her mother as a six-year-old and is beginning to come to terms with that through poetry and conversations with her elderly neighbor. She is the most believable and sympathetic of the characters in the novel. If you’ve lived or gone to school in Boston and you’re a fan of police procedurals, give this first-time local novelist a try.

Speaking of Roy Goodman, he and Penny Baert Zywusko will be reading their poetry at the Nashua Public Library this Saturday, October 18, at 4 pm as part of Art Walk Nashua. It’s open mike, so if you’d like to participate, come sign up between 3:30 pm and 4 pm.

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

Why Literature Matters

Loren RossonLibrary Director Jen Hinderer recently gave Toni Morrison’s Home a glowing review, which not only inspired me to read it, but to reflect on what made me try her novels in the first place.

"Why Literature Matters" is available from the library in hardcover.

“Why Literature Matters” by Glenn Arbery is available from the library in hardcover.

Morrison’s genre isn’t usually my thing, but a strong case has been made for her novels being on par with classic literature. Glenn Arbery makes that argument in Why Literature Matters (2001), a book that wrestles with the question of transcendence and enduring value. It assesses modern authors whose works have been compared to literary giants and finds that while some authors deserve the praise, others do not.

Tom Wolfe
An example of the latter would be Tom Wolfe. Back in the 1990s A Man in Full was ranked alongside Honoré de Balzac, but Arbery finds the novel banal and journalistic.

I particularly like his observation that Wolfe’s fiction engages one’s attention in the same way that cocaine arouses pleasure, “using up the brain’s natural chemicals to such an extent, that, without the drug, the addict is left like the knight in John Keats’ poem, ‘all haggard and woe-begone'”; and that it’s impossible to quote from Wolfe “without feeling that he used plastic and neon for his sentences instead of more expensive materials.” And I would have to agree that Wolfe’s literary achievements are overrated.

Toni Morrison
On the other hand, Arbery believes that Toni Morrison’s novels–especially Beloved and Paradise–stand as first-rate examples of modern literature. Against her critics, he argues that her literary honors owe not from favor with modern liberalism, but rather the inherent achievements of her fiction:

“Impatient with ‘race’ as a supposed ontology, powerfully intelligent, Morrison does not promote the ‘black experience’ so much as she questions its meaning and locates it thoughtfully within an American literary tradition that prominently includes Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor . . . Morrison finds universal qualities with her subjects, because she chooses, not Us-vs-Them, but Us-vs-Us situations.”

Morrison doesn’t angrily demand social justice; she engages social drama and “tests dominant ideas by showing what happens when they unfold in plausible human action.” In this sense, Morrison achieves in her work what a writer like (say) Alice Walker does not.

Homer
Arbery takes on the ancients too. His final chapter on The Iliad (which he believes “the measure” of all western literature) is my favorite, being a visceral analysis of translations. He suggests that certain attempts to tame Homer’s ambiguities do the poem violence, ironically reducing it at the price of our clearer understanding.

None of this is to suggest that highbrow literature is the only thing worth reading, only that we should be careful about what we praise as such. Arbery’s book is a decent guide to making such assessments, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the enduring value of ancient and modern literature.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

One Hundred Names For Love

Inga Dellea-MessnerAfter I reviewed My Stroke of Insight a few months ago, a colleague suggested that I read Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love.

The book is a biography, written by his wife, about accomplished author Paul West, who suffered a severe stroke in the linguistic left hemisphere. Diane is a famous author as well, so much of their love was adorned with linguistic puns and “word-cuddling.”

One Hundred Names for Love

“One Hundred Names for Love” by Diane Ackerman is available from the library in hardcover, large print, and audiobook on CD and MP3 CD.

Aphasia is one of the worst things that could have happened, not only to Paul but to his decades-old marriage. The book illustrates (perhaps in excess) their struggle to preserve the relationship, love’s durability, and the many unorthodox recovery methods Diane tried.

I admit that I found the first half of this book tedious. Ackerman somehow fills over 150 pages with one basic message: “I’m miserable, he’s miserable. I pity him, I pity myself.” However, I will say she does this masterfully. Her vocabulary is robust and inspiring; but it is overwhelming.

Outsmarting the speech therapists
That being said, I was enthralled by Part Two. The language guru in me went wild! Here, Diane finds that while Paul cannot access words like ”chair” or “checkbook” from his once-staggering lexicon, he is outsmarting his own speech therapists. Even though his simple childhood language is hopelessly mangled, much of his complex adult vocabulary is still there.

A therapist shows him a picture of two cherubs, looking for the word “angels,” and Paul says, ”cherubim.” A few days later, he uses a geometry term, “tesseract,”  to describe a telephone. But his therapists, unfamiliar with these linguistic gems, dismiss them as nonsense.

Once she realizes this, Diane completely revamps his therapy, and language once again becomes an outlet for Paul’s innate brilliance and creativity. Language we never even imagined is easier for him than simple associations like drawing a line from the word “fruit” to an apple, so how could he not need an individualized plan?

The resilience and the resourceful, out-of-the-box thinking employed by these people reinforced much of what I learned in basic linguistics, but in ways I’d never imagined. I found it to be, overall, a brilliant, evocative feast for the heart and mind. I sincerely hope you will give it a go.

A word about Paul
Sadly, as I was reading this book and preparing to write this review, our library’s network administrator, Paul Lacroix, was struck by his second, and eventually fatal, stroke. While reading, I paused for a moment of silence his wife had requested that everyone take one day during his ordeal. It was difficult but enlightening to be reading about the very struggle my own colleague had endured in his poststroke years, and I consider myself blessed for the regrettably few encounters I had with him. This book has helped me sympathize more deeply for his wife and family. He is and always will be cherished by all who knew him.

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).

Mrs. Somebody Somebody

Carol Luers EymanIf you’re lucky you have a friend like Judy H. Whenever she and I get together, the conversation quickly turns to books we’ve loved and hated lately. And 90 percent of the time, we agree.

"Mrs Somebody Somebody" by Tracy Winn is available at the library in hardcover.

“Mrs Somebody Somebody” by Tracy Winn is available at the library in hardcover.

So when she offered to loan me a copy of Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn during a visit this summer, I jumped on it.

Structured as a series of related short stories, the book is about life in Lowell, Mass., from 1947, when the bustling downtown mills were prospering, to 2005, when the mills that remain are museums.

In the first story we meet Stella, a “man-crazy” knitter at Hub Hosiery Mill. “My dream was to marry a good-looking man with enough money to set me up in my own shop,” she says, to become “Mrs. Somebody Somebody.”

In the last, we find out how that turned out for her.

In between the author paints a stark picture of the lives of other residents of Lowell, some known to Stella, some past her time; some struggling, some privileged.

When thugs beat a man to death for the crime of setting up a union-information table, we remember why we enacted labor laws. When once-cute little Frankie, grandson of the mill owner, grows up to break into his parents’ home and raid the liquor cabinet, we aren’t all that sympathetic. When a Brazilian immigrant’s son—feared dead in a roadside attack in Iraq—turns out to have “only” lost a hand, we are relieved.

If you liked Richard Russo’s Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs, or Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, try Mrs. Somebody Somebody. And then pass it on to a friend.

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

A man named Money

“Home” by Toni Morrison is available from the library in hardcover, large print, audio, and e-book.

Jen HindererIn her slim but powerful novel, Home, Toni Morrison explores not only racism but the trauma suffered by those who served in the Korean War, the suffocating nature of small town life in 1950s Georgia, and the lives of black women in the rural south in the middle of the 20th century.

The main character, Frank Money, is a soldier just returned from a tour in Korea, carrying with him the memory of the friends who will never come home.

The fact that he survived when his friends did not fuels his desire to rescue his sister Cee from her suffering at the hands of the doctor she works for, Dr. Beauregarde Scott.

An unwitting research subject
Dr. Scott  is a scientist, interested more in researching eugenics than treating patients, and Cee is his current research subject. Cee went to work for the doctor believing she would be assisting him in his practice but ended up drugged most of the time, an unknowing participant in his research. When Frank gets her letter begging him to rescue her, he leaves his latest girlfriend behind and heads to Georgia.

In between chapters about Frank’s journey to find Cee, Morrison tells the story of their growing up and eventual (inevitable) parting as teenagers. Even more poignant are chapters in which Frank reflects on his time in war, the things he saw and did alongside his comrades.

Throughout the book I was caught by Morrison’s elegant language and phrasing, how she could summarize the reality of racism in just one short sentence spoken by a character:

“Custom is just as real as law, and can be just as dangerous.”

And later expressing the penetrating grief of being a survivor, the impossibility of being alive when your best friends are not:

“He was far too alive to stand before Mike’s folks . . . his easy breath and unscathed self would be an insult . . . “

Normally I wouldn’t even pick up a book as short as Home but this time I am glad I did: Morrison’s talent for language and expression allows her to tell a powerful story in only 145 pages.

About Jen Hinderer

Jen Hinderer is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

Reaping the whirlwind

Loren RossonI’m still winding down from Whirlwind. With everything going on in the Middle East, it hits close to home.

It’s about the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and, like all of James Clavell’s epics, based on true events in a “clash of cultures.”

"Whirlwind" by James Clavell is available from the library in hardcover.

“Whirlwind” by James Clavell is available from the library in hardcover.

Everyone knows Shogun, and Whirlwind has the similar theme of Western people struggling to stay alive in a culture they can barely make sense of. Instead of a sea pilot visiting Japan, it’s now helicopter pilots working for Iran Oil, and the story is their escape from a nation suddenly taken over by strict Islam.

Not your usual Clavell
What strikes me rereading the book today (it was published in the 1980s) is the different thrust it carries from Clavell’s other novels. He was known for building bridges between East and West, but he seems to have been more intent on burning bridges when it came to the Middle East.

Shogun and Tai-Pan, for instance, are about cross-cultural fusion: the Western protagonists remain in Japan or Hong Kong, meshing their Western outlook with revelations in the East. They take the good and discard the bad from both, and it’s about a 50/50 wash. If the West emerges superior for its democracy and free trade, the East scores for progressive medicine, cleanliness, liberal sexuality, healthy diet, and wiser philosophy.

Whirlwind advances a much different impression, that there can be no optimistic marriage with Islamic states like Iran. The caliphate that was declared in Iraq and Syria two months ago (ISIS) certainly copies that impression.

Capturing an alien mentality
Critics have noted how the novel sticks out. Gina MacDonald, for instance, writes that in Whirlwind Clavell does his typically excellent job in “capturing an alien mentality, but he does not help readers appreciate it” (James Clavell: A Critical Companion, p 145).

But that’s not a fault. There’s just not much to appreciate in a culture possessed by religious supremacists, kangaroo courts that execute the innocent, and patriarchs who silence women and force them to wear the chador.

Whirlwind is less humbling and more cathartic. It makes a Western reader feel good about being Western–something rare in Clavell. It’s not Islamophobic by any means, but its realism doesn’t leave much hope for regions under Sharia law.

And while it’s fiction, it’s based on the real evacuation of Bristow Helicopters. I was sweating as those pilots fled across the Persian Gulf. Imagining the face of James Foley on every one.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

Must We All Be Wonder Women?

Inga Dellea-Messner In the 1900’s, all women wanted was open doors. We fought hard for our right to vote, our place in the working world, control over our reproductive abilities. And we won!

Wonder Women

“Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Question for Perfection” by Debora L. Spar is available at the library in hardcover.

However, in her book Wonder Women : Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar explains some of the unforeseen outcomes of this noble fight.

We daughters of the women who fought grew up to a frequent, fervent chorus. “You can do it!” mothers said to the extra credit assignments. “You can do it!” they said to the soccer, the cross country, academic decathlons, and AP classes. And even, when we reach puberty, “You can do it!” they say of sex. “But you better not mess up!”

Anything, not everything
And so now, we’ve been promised we can have it all. We can pursue fulfilling careers; tend to babies and husbands; keep our bodies fit, minds informed, and houses sparkling clean. Feminism opened up all these doors for us.

What we failed to understand, though, is that although we can do anything, anything is not everything, all at once.

This is the topic of Spar’s book. From schools, to the home and (especially) in the working world, women are trying to manage “having it all” not by picking and choosing things to focus on but instead trying to juggle a million ambitions.

And we are simply burning out. And the emotional repercussions are dire. From body issues and eating disorders in our teenage years to obsessive micromanagement of everything else we can control (including our own children), girls are just going crazy!

So why haven’t we figured out that we’ll just have to ask men for help? If I pick all the darned socks off the floor and sweep, can’t he maybe put them through the wash and chop some veggies for dinner when I get home?

The truth is, as a “modern woman” myself, I believe that we are learning this. While Spar’s assessment of her own era is accurate, what I see when I get home from a long day at work is a clean apartment. And it’s not me who cleaned it. It’s my boyfriend. And a coworker and my sister say the same.

Has he accidentally flooded the kitchen floor twice, the most recent time putting dish soap in the dishwasher? Yes. But he’s trying.

My point is, just maybe, men can learn.

What’s it like for you?
So here’s my call to action: Read this book, then tell me what you think.

Ladies: Do you feel like you’re juggling too much? Does your husband take the kids to their appointments or cook when you work late? Do you think that the times are changing?

And men: Do you see yourself, or at least your sons, starting to adapt more to a world of stressed-out gals?

I hope you’ll respond. After all, actions speak louder than words, but words just might inspire them.

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).

Dodging bullets for their daily bread

Carol Luers EymanIn the US, most of us have it easy. We don’t risk our lives obtaining food and water.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

“The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway is available from the library in hardcover and paperback.

Not so in Sarajevo in the early 1990s. The once magnificent city, site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, was besieged by the Bosnian Serbs, bombarded by over 300 shells a day for nearly four years. Ten thousand people were killed and 87 percent of the city’s buildings were bombed.

Canadian author Steven Galloway personalizes this tragedy in The Cellist of Sarajevo, a slim novel that delves into the war-torn minds of four of its victims.

Kenan, the father of young children, considers himself a coward. Yet every few days he walks several miles to fill six containers of water for his family, dodging shells and sniper fire. He even finds it in himself to fill two extra containers for an elderly, ungrateful neighbor downstairs.

Dragan no longer receives a paycheck from his job at a large bakery but with the promise of some bread for himself and his relatives, continues to brave city streets on his walk to work.

A cellist vows to sit in a city square, risking sniper fire, and play a poignant adagio every day for 22 days. He wants to honor the 22 people who were killed in a bombing at the same spot, waiting in line for a bit of bread.

Arrow, who before the war excelled on her college’s target-shooting team, is ordered by the army to help defend the city from the snipers in the hills–and to protect the cellist as he plays.

The plot of The Cellist of Sarajevo is easy to follow, but the ethical questions are profound. You owe it to millions of innocent people, in Gaza, in Iraq, in Syria, who are living the lives of Galloway’s characters, to spend a few hours pondering them. After all, you don’t have to risk anything to get your hands on this book.

 

 

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

Minnesota twins, separated at birth

Jen HindererI don’t think I’ve ever read a Civil War-era novel set in Minnesota before; generally those books take place in the South and feature bloody battles and the suffering of slaves and young soldiers.

Instead, Nicole Heglet has set her novel, Stillwater, in a Minnesota town that serves as a stop on the Underground Railroad but is still a pioneer town, populated by trappers and loggers and outlaws as well as abolitionists helping escaped slaves make it to freedom.

"Stillwater" by Nicole Helget is available at the library in hardcover.

“Stillwater” by Nicole Helget is available at the library in hardcover.

Angel and Clement grow up here not knowing that they are really twins, but with the certain knowledge that they share a special connection, mystical but very real.

The story of their birth and their childhood is wound through the larger story of Stillwater itself and the struggles of the people who live there. Chapters about the nuns helping runaway slaves alternate with haunting chapters like “Angel’s Doll,”  where the reader meets her truly evil mother and Angel finds a beautiful doll in a box underground.

Some of my favorite chapters feature Mother St. John and Big Waters at the orphanage where Clement is growing up. Heglet uses these characters to illustrate the clash between the missionaries and the Native Americans in the region, as the nuns try to “save” orphans by getting them adopted by white families.

If you like Stillwater
Here Heglet’s novel reminds me of many I’ve read by one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, who writes about the Ojibwe in North Dakota.  Once you’ve finished Stillwater and want to try a book by Erdrich I recommend starting with one of her earlier works like The Beet Queen or Tracks.

About Jen Hinderer

Jen Hinderer is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.