Skype with Author Event: Frans de Waal

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Join us next Tuesday, February 24, at 7 p.m. at the Main Library at Goodwood for a speage-of-empathycial meeting of the RENEW Book Club. Formerly called the Compassionate Book Club, our new name is the RENEW Book Club, which stands for Reading Engaging Nonfiction to Expand our Worldview and this month’s title, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by renowned scientist Frans de Waal, does just that. Dr. de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and ethnologist, currently serving as the C. H. Handler professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, and he will be joining us for a Skype Q&A session during the book club meeting! We hope to see you next Tuesday for this special event.

Book Review: My Salinger Year

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My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

Joanna Rakoff’s nonfiction debut chronicles her year spent as the assistant to the head of a literary agency in Manhattan in the late 1990s. The agency’s most important client? J. D. Salinger, hence the title. A bright and eager twentysomething, the bookish Rakoff is thrilled at landing a job at the prestigious Agency, as the never-named company is referred to throughout the book. Imagine her surprise when she arrives in the dimly lit office to find a dusty old Selectric typewriter and a stack of tapes waiting for her to listen to on a Dictaphone (remember those? I didn’t think so.) This, in 1996. The office is so old-fashioned that by the end of Rakoff’s time with the agency, her boss’s one concession to the encroaching digital age is the addition of a sole computer for the entire office to share.

Far from what she’d thought would be the glamorous world of publishing, Rakoff spends her days transcribing her boss’s dictated letters and sorting through the Agency’s most important client’s fan mail. When she started working there, Rakoff had yet to read any of Salinger’s work so she’s at first surprised by the dozens of letters that arrive each week for him. Once she reads the heartfelt messages from frustrated teenagers à la Holden Caulfield to aging veterans like Salinger himself, she realizes the profound effect novels such as The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey had on his readers. She decides to write personalized replies to some – utterly ignoring Agency protocol of sending form letters to fans – which leads to interesting consequences.

Rakoff also touches on the post-graduate ennui she and some of her friends experienced and details her life outside of work, living in Brooklyn – before it was cool – with a tiresome man. Luckily she finally realizes what a nightmare their relationship is (jealous “writer” boyfriend with socialist leanings and an absurdly healthy ego, need I say more?) and strikes out on her own.

A highlight of the book is when Rakoff settles in to read all of Salinger’s novels one lonely weekend. She captures perfectly the transformative experience of reading Salinger for the first time, discovering that his novels are not just for angst-filled teenagers like his beloved Holden: “Salinger was not cutesy. His work was not nostalgic. These were not fairy tales about child geniuses traipsing the streets of Old New York. Salinger was nothing like I’d thought. Nothing. Salinger was brutal. Brutal and funny and precise. I loved him. I loved it all.”

Far from a gimmicky tell-all about her brush with literary fame – although her retelling of the phone calls she received from the famously reclusive Salinger and their one meeting in the flesh are exciting to read about – My Salinger Year is a lovely ode to books, reading, and New York. It’s also an engrossing read about a young woman finding her way in the world and at a mere 249 pages, I found it woefully short. This is by far my top pick of 2014.

*An abridged version of this review first appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 1/25/15.

National Readathon Day

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Visit the Main Library at Goodwood this Saturday, January 24, to celebrate National Readathon_square_220x250Readathon Day! It’s a marathon reading session from noon to 4 p.m. Join readers across America in making time to read that afternoon. Four straight hours is a lot of reading so this could be your opportunity to finally tackle that challenging longer book that’s been sitting on your newsstand. Or maybe you want to bring a whole pile of books, and read a bit from each. We will have loads of books on hand for you to read here too — we are the library after all! Refreshments will be served.

The focus of the event is to celebrate reading and literacy and to raise money for the National Book Foundation (a 501c3 nonprofit). All donations will support the National Book Foundation’s nonprofit work to promote literature and reading in America. *Donations are not required to participate in this Library event though.

Khaled Hosseini plans to read The Children Act by Ian McEwan, novelist Emma Straub plans to read Evelyn Waugh as well as some Babar, and the National Book Foundation’s Executive Director Harold Augenbraum plans to read the Lemony Snicket series. Share your photos and experiences during the Readathon and tell us what you’re reading on social media using the hashtags #timetoread and #ebrpl. See you Saturday!

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Book Review: And the Dark Sacred Night

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And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

Kit Noonan is going through a midlife crisis.  An academic who’s been out of work for two years, he is floundering, haunted by his lifelong wish to uncover the identity of his biological father, a secret his mother and stepfather Jasper kept from him.  Kit’s wife, out of patience with his sad sack ways, encourages him to revisit his childhood home in search of answers.  The narrative alternates between Kit’s trip back to the gruff but lovable Jasper’s house and flashbacks to his mother’s youth and his own childhood.

If you read Glass’s debut, the National Book Award winner Three Junes, you’ll likely remember Lucinda, Fenno, and Malachy, all of whom play important roles in this novel as well. Glass is a master at portraying different truths of the human condition, in this case, our ineffable need to know where we come from and to feel a connection to our past.  Her characters’ back stories combine seamlessly to lead Kit – and the reader – on his journey of discovery.  I highly recommend this beautifully written, touching novel about family, regret, memory, and, above all, love. The title tells it all: taken from the lyrics “the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night” of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, it reminds us how magical the world really is.