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Librarians

2014 Pulitzer Prizes Announced

Cover art for The GoldfinchThe winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize were announced this afternoon. In addition to the awards for journalism, prizes are also given in the area of Letters, Drama, and Music. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch took this year’s prize for Fiction. The judges said that The Goldfinch is "a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart." A favorite in the category, The Goldfinch was featured on many lists of the best books of 2013 and has been very popular with BCPL readers.

 

Other winners include Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall for Biography, 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri for Poetry, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin for General Nonfiction, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor for History and The Flick by Annie Baker for Drama.

 

For a list of all the winners, click here.
 

Beth

 
 

A Second Act

A Second Act

posted by:
April 10, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Widow's Guide to Sex and DatingWriter and reality TV star Carole Radziwill’s debut novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating, is a smart, funny story about a woman dealing with grief and finding herself. When her husband, Charlie, is killed by a falling statue, 34-year-old Claire Byrne’s world stops. She is devastated. Claire, who gave up her career when she married her much older husband, finds herself starting over in every facet of her life. Over the next year, she embarks on a journey to find herself, seeking help from therapists, a psychic, a “botanomanist” and a griot. She even begins dating again and tries to find love. Claire eventually understands that losing Charlie has also given her a chance to change her life and pursue her passions. This quick, fun read will appeal to readers who enjoy novels by Madeleine Wickham, Gigi Levangie Grazer and Helen Fielding.

 

The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating isn’t the only thing that Radziwill is getting attention for right now. Her writing career recently became the center of a conflict on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. Radziwill was discussing writing with her co-star Aviva Drescher, who was writing her first book, Leggy Blonde: A Memoir. Drescher insinuated that Radziwill used a ghostwriter for her bestselling 2005 memoir What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love. Radziwill immediately fired back, denying the accusation and defending her career as a writer. Their feud has become one of the biggest on the show this season, with Bravo dubbing it "#BookGate."

Beth

 
 

Following the Dream

The Distance Between UsAn inspiring coming-of-age story about the pursuit of a better life in the United States is the 2014 One Maryland One Book selection. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande describes her perilous journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood. Read the entire Between the Covers blog review here.

 

Upon learning of her selection, the Mexican-born author and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist said, “I'm humbled that my immigrant story was chosen to be the springboard for lively conversations on what the American Dream means today.”  The Los Angeles Times called her book “the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”

 

Now in its seventh year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people from diverse communities together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels, attracted thousands of readers to Maryland’s statewide book club.  The 2014 theme is “the American Dream.”

Cynthia

 
 

Culture Clash

Culture Clash

posted by:
March 26, 2014 - 8:00am

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America“Give me your tired, your poor…” beckons the Statue of Liberty, its words a siren call to immigrants with an implied promise of the American Dream. The idea is that, in the United States, anyone can succeed through hard work regardless of the circumstances of their birth and background. But is the deck stacked? Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, analyze this notion in their new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

 

Chua and Rubenfeld are not looking at what makes individuals succeed but rather the overall success of cultural groups defined by religion, ethnicity or country of origin. Chua is no stranger to evaluating success; her previous book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, examines the child-rearing customs of Asian immigrants, which are at great odds with western notions of parenting but often result in astoundingly high-achieving children. In The Triple Package, the authors review at least eight distinct and seemingly disparate groups that have attained great and disproportionate financial success. Successful groups studied include Mormons, Nigerians, Persians and Cubans. The three traits shared by all the groups are a collective belief in their own group superiority, a contradictory feeling of insecurity resulting in the need to prove oneself and a well-regulated impulse control. Group members influenced by this trait trifecta are well equipped to run – and win – in the rat race.

 

Chua’s Tiger Mother attracted critics appalled by Chua’s mothering techniques, and The Triple Package is drawing controversy for what some readers see as the espousal of alarmingly elitist social theory. Chua and Rubenfeld do acknowledge a darker side to the package that can feature anxiety, depression and bigotry. The Triple Package provides an alternative slant on achievement in America.

Lori

 
 

Leo Bretholz, 1921-2014

Leo Bretholz, 1921-2014

posted by:
March 10, 2014 - 2:32pm

Cover art for Leap into DarknessHolocaust survivor and author Leo Bretholz passed away Saturday at his home in Pikesville at the age of 93. Bretholz was imprisoned numerous times as he sought to escape Nazi-occupied Europe for seven years. Bretholz escaped seven times during his harrowing ordeal, including a 1942 jump from a train headed for Auschwitz.

 

Bretholz immigrated to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in Baltimore. Upon receipt of the death notifications of his mother and sisters in 1962, Bretholz began publicly sharing his story. In 1998, his gripping memoir of his experiences during this time, Leap into Darkness, was published and remains a riveting documentary of survival. Until his death, Bretholz remained dedicated to ensuring that new generations of school children were aware of his story and the history of the Holocaust and was tireless in his work as an advocate.

Maureen

 
 

Keys to the Castle

Outrageous  Fortune by Anthony RussellA dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.

 

For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.

 

The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.

 

Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.

Cynthia

 
 

An Interview with Baltimore's Native Son

Cover art for Tales from the Holy LandBaltimore author Rafael Alvarez discusses his new book, Tales from the Holy Land, on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and writer for The Wire recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his latest collection of short stories on the magic of old Baltimore.

 

Q. Your new collection of short stories, Tales from the Holy Land, comes out this month. If you had to choose one story that epitomizes the gritty resolve of your hometown, what would it be?

A. "Junie Bug," in which a man spends his life digging in Leakin Park for the body of his father; and "The Sacred Heart of Ruthie," in which an orphan raised by the Oblate Sisters of Providence grows up to be a heart surgeon.

 

Q. This is your third collection of short fiction. What makes you favor short stories as your literary medium? How did this latest book come about?

A. I write fiction every day – about a half hour to an hour a day – in between the journalism and screenwriting I have to do to make a living. When I have enough for a new book I string them together and because I always use the same cast of "Holy Land" characters – Basilio, Grandpop, Nieves, Orlo and Leini, Miss Bonnie – it reads more like a novelized "mural" than stand alone short stories. [As a] side note, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, works exclusively in the short story genre.

 

Q. As a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and former writer for the HBO cop drama, The Wire, you have witnessed a lot of Baltimore's heartbreak. How do you keep cynicism from overtaking your writing?

A. There are two, maybe three Baltimores within the city. I have lived in Baltimore for all of my 55 years – was educated here, raised my children here – and have never been the victim of a crime. I am thankful for that, but I'm not ignorant of how fortunate I am to have been born into the 1960s middle-class and not the entrenched underclass. I keep cynicism away from my art and my soul by means of hope, which I incorporate into both, by believing that the more you give away the more hopeful you become.

 

Q. Talk a little bit about your family background and its influence on your fiction writing.

A. The best answer to this question is found in the story The Fountain of Highlandtown, which won the 1994 Baltimore City Artscape fiction award and is included in Tales from the Holy Land.  The story was my first real success in the world of fiction and, in many ways, is the provenance for all of the stories to come.

Cynthia

 
 

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

Cover art for Mary Poppins, She WroteMary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Walt Disney: for most of us, the three are linked together with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, tea parties on the ceiling and Jane and Michael Banks of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The name P.L. Travers, however, is recognizable by only the most diehard of Poppins fans, as she is the author of the Mary Poppins children’s book series, as well as the subject of the biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson.

 

P.L. Travers was born in Australia and christened Helen Lyndon Goff; she later adopted Pamela Lyndon Travers as a pseudonym. Travers valued her privacy, and felt protective of the Mary Poppins characters and stories. Lawson explains that each contained elements of Travers’ own rather peripatetic and often difficult life. Initially, Walt Disney encountered resistance from Travers when he approached her about adapting her Poppins books to a film version. The “real” nanny is sharp-tongued, mysterious, controlling and a bit vain. Travers felt Disney would “replace truth with false sentimentality” and called Disney’s movie-making “vulgar.” In the end, Disney’s coffers trumped Travers’ misgivings, and the Julie Andrews version of Mary triumphed on the silver screen.

 

Expect to hear more about P.L. Travers after the  December release of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which follows Disney as he woos Travers for the film rights to the now-classic movie Mary Poppins.   
 

Lori

 
 

Dutch Invasion

Dutch Invasion

posted by:
November 14, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Girl With a Pearl EarringCover art for The GoldfinchLiterary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.  

 

Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.

 

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.

 

Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
 

Cynthia

 
 

To Turn a Blind Eye

To Turn a Blind Eye

posted by:
November 4, 2013 - 7:00am

Witnesses. Accomplices. Killers. One thing is clear from Wendy Lower’s chilling new book Hitler’Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fieldss Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Regardless of the prism through which German women viewed the Third Reich’s maddening quest for racial purity few escape Lower’s dogged search for the answer to “why?”  Why did this “darkest side of female activism” rear its head and consume a generation of women that found themselves thrust into a war they did not want but nonetheless embraced for their own selfishness and ambition.

 

For the thousands of women coming of age in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the dividing line between home front and battlefront was practically nonexistent.  While most women found ways to distance themselves from the violence of the war, a third of the female population was actively engaged in a Nazi Party organization. Many volunteered to be sent to the Eastern Front where some of the worst atrocities against Jews were documented. Clerical, teaching and nursing jobs became the sinister underpinnings of the Nazi machine, where new career tracks beckoned young women seeking a steady paycheck. How these women, some barely out of their teens, others young mothers, evolved into indifferent bystanders or cold-blooded killers, is the thrust of Lower's dramatic account.

 

Lower sorts her 13 "main characters" into three categories: witnesses, accomplices and killers. It is the latter perpetrators of genocide that evoke the most study. Women like Johanna Altvater, a secretary  who lures Jewish children with candy only to shoot them, or Liesel Willhaus, wife of an SS commander who shoots Jewish slave workers from her balcony with her child in tow, are impossible to fathom. Lower, who is a Holocaust historian, explores shocking behaviors like these in this 68-year-old story of one of the most disturbing puzzles of women's behavior. Hitler's Furies has recently been named a finalist for the National Book Award.

Cynthia