“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars.”

Books on Tap met Thursday, May 5 at Champion Brewing Company to discuss The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. This is a beautiful, compelling family story of love, sacrifice, and incredible pain. The Vietnam War traumatizes, wounds, and kills members of this family, but the intricacies of war are kept off the page, and are only discussed between characters after conversations that swing between gentle coaxing and frustrated demands. Where Quế Mai really rests her focus is on the internal war existing inside one very strong woman – Trần Diệu Lan, a mother who is narrowly able to escape her home during the Vietnam Land Reform, her six children in tow – for a time. The decisions she must make for those children as they journey were a heavy crux of our discussion. Which character elicited the most sympathy as this young family scrambled to survive? What is the mark of a mother, and is that mark indelible, or not? As we read about Trần Diệu Lan, we were reminded of the theme of motherhood found within Beloved

We learned a lot from this book. Many shared stories of friends, and in one case, a beloved husband who later passed away from Agent Orange exposure, who served in Vietnam and came home reticent, not wanting to share those stories or experiences. Some of the book was brutal: we gritted our teeth through a gruesome decapitation in broad daylight in the middle of the road and trembled as we read through the opening scene of the book: 

“Attention citizens! Attention citizens! American bombers are approaching Hà Nội. Sixty kilometers away. Armed forces get ready to fight back.” The female voice becomes more urgent. The sirens are deafening.

Shelter after shelter is full. People dart in front of us like birds with broken wings, abandoning bicycles, carts, shoulder bags. A small girl stands alone, screaming for her parents.

“Attention citizens! Attention citizens! American bombers are approaching Hà Nội. Thirty kilometers away.”

Clumsy with fear, I trip and fall.

Our readers were appreciative of what Quế Mai gifted to us because she chose to write in English: voice to the trauma and PTSD that exists in Vietnam as a result of the war and associated societal upheaval. What does history look like when written from everyday people’s memories? In this case, it includes stunning Vietnamese proverbs that many readers recalled as some of the most poignant lines from the novel. 

In conclusion, our readers would recommend this book. It was well-written and interesting, deftly moving between two different time periods, keeping us on our toes and paying attention – simply a good book. As one reader noted, “if you want to write a good novel, make it as hard as hell to read!” 

Other Books Mentioned: 

Wild Swans: three daughters of China by Jung Chang         

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien 

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain 

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway 

Books on Tap will meet again on Thursday, June 2 at 7 pm to discuss The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. Our remaining summer titles include: 

July 7: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

August 4: Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Come to the How-To Festival!

The How-To Festival is BACK for its 4th annual library takeover event this Saturday, May 14th, from 10-1. Join us at Central Library in downtown Charlottesville (201 E Market St, Charlottesville, VA 22902) for a fun, free, fast-paced learning event. You do not need to sign up or register to attend; stop by for one presentation, or hang out for all three hours! There will be a variety of demos, workshops, and presentations happening every half hour. If you have any questions about the event, please email reference@jmrl.org.

SCHEDULE

KEY: HOW-TO PRESENTATION / Presenting Group: Location

ALL DAY:

3D PRINT, MEET YOUR LIBRARY, DOWNLOADABLES, BOOKFACE/ JMRL: 3rd Floor elevator lobby

FIRE TRUCK TOURS/ Charlottesville Fire Department: Outside

FRIENDS OF JMRL MINI BOOK SALE: Outside

10:00

CELLO, VIOLIN + DRUM/ Cville Symphony: Jefferson

MEND CLOTHES/ Cville Timebank: Swanson

SUPPORT SURVIVORS + SELF CARE/ SARA: Swanson

YARN FROM PLASTIC BAGS/ Nealand Farm: Swanson

BORROW TOOLS FOR FREE/ Cville Tool Library: Outside

USE NATIVE PLANTS/ RMN: Outside

10:30

CELLO, VIOLIN + DRUM/ Cville Symphony: Jefferson

COSPLAY MAKEUP/ JMRL: Swanson

CANNABIS 101/ Albemarle Cannabis Co: Swanson

QIGONG/ Mindful Tai Ji: Outside

IDENTIFY GARDEN PESTS/ RMN: Outside

AFRICAN DRUMMING/ Cville Drum Choir: Outside

11:00

CELLO, VIOLIN + DRUM/ Cville Symphony: Jefferson

PRINT ON SMALL PRESSES/ VA Humanities: Swanson

HAPPY HOUSEPLANTS/ JMRL: Swanson

FOSTER POSITIVE IDENTITY/ CAFF: Swanson

COOK W/ WATER/ Culinary Concepts AB: Swanson

TUNE A GUITAR + MUSIC THEORY/ R. Dennis: Swanson

CHAIR YOGA/ SimplyYOGA: Main Floor Fiction Stacks

COMPOST/ Black Bear Composting: Outside

LITERACY TUTOR/ Literacy Volunteers: Outside

BOOKMOBILE TOURS: Outside

11:30

CELLO, VIOLIN + DRUM/ Cville Symphony: Jefferson

PRINT ON SMALL PRESSES/ VA Humanities: Swanson

REDUCE CARBON FTPRINT/ C3: Swanson

PERSONAL BOUNDARIES/ SHE: Swanson

HOME DNA TESTS/ Watershed DNA: Swanson

SELF-DEFENSE/ Cville Sheriff’s Office: Outside

WOODWORKING/ Judy Cahill: Outside

BOOKMOBILE TOURS: Outside

12:00

PRINT ON SMALL PRESSES/ VA Humanities: Swanson

SPANISH RESOURCES FOR ABUSE/ SHE: Swanson

ESSENTIAL OILS/ Flourish Essential Oils: Swanson

MAKE A FAMILY MEDIA PLAN/ ACPS: Swanson

WOODWORKING/ Judy Cahill: Outside

ELECTRIC BIKES HOW + WHY: Outside

BOOKMOBILE TOURS: Outside

12:30

FIND COMMON GROUND/ One Small Step: Swanson

SELF MASSAGE FOR HANDS, ARMS + FEET/ Exhortation Therapeutic Touch: Swanson

FLAMENCO DANCE/ Maria Flamenco: Swanson

VIRTUAL REALITY/ ACPS: Swanson

WOODWORKING/ Judy Cahill: Outside

ELECTRIC BIKES HOW + WHY: Outside

BOOKMOBILE TOURS: Outside

Many Thanks to the 2022 Presenters!

Albemarle Cannabis Company

Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS)

Black Bear Composting

Judy Cahill

Joshua Carp

Center for the Book, Virginia Humanities

Charlottesville Fire Department

Charlottesville Sheriff’s Office

Charlottesville Symphony

Community Attention Foster Families (CAFF)

Community Climate Collaborative (C3)

Culinary Concepts AB

Cville Drum Choir

Cville Timebank/Repair Cafe

Cville Tool Library

Ryan Dennis

Exhortation Therapeutic Touch

Flourish Essential Oils

Friends of JMRL

JMRL Bookmobile

Literacy Volunteers

Maria Flamenco

Mindful Tai Ji

Nealand Farm

One Small Step @ UVA

Rivanna Master Naturalists (RMN)

Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA)

Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE)

Simply YOGA

Watershed DNA

“Before the one percent, there was the four hundred…”

Brown Baggers met in person on Thursday, April 21 to discuss The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan. The book is a work of nonfiction about the Biltmore mansion located in Asheville, North Carolina – “the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.” Having recently read The Yellow House and The Dutch House, our group was ready to dive into more house-centric reading.

Similar to our other house stories, the palace takes on its own character. Our members’ initial reaction was a bit of shock, even disdain or disgust, at the opulence of the Biltmore and its people. Kiernan was critiqued within our group for writing extensively on the details about gowns and meals, but less substantially on most of the actual people living in the house. Others noted that the genealogy writing was tedious and there were far too many peripheral characters. The “name dropping” didn’t add to the story, similar to how including every single little bit of researched information didn’t contribute much, aside from legitimizing the subtitle: “the epic story…” Yes, this is an epic tale all right, and told in epic proportions. 

What we did enjoy was learning about the extensive planning needed to transform 125,000 acres of wilderness into a proper European-style estate, complete with its own chateau: the forestry, the landscape architecture. There is also the general intrigue that comes with reading a work of nonfiction. No matter how much you already know about a topic, there always seems to be more to learn. So while sometimes the facts and figures dragged, some stories were more captivating! One favorite example was the story of storing art at the Biltmore during WWII to ensure its safety during wartime. 

This was also a redemption story, with Edith at its center. We loved Edith, as she was the strong, forward-thinking woman, the one with all the brains, and the intelligent maneuvering to boot. In the end, Biltmore had a positive impact on Asheville, although it’s probably fairer and more accurate to say that Edith had a positive impact on Asheville. From promoting Asheville while traveling, to being a part of the wider community, and finding ways to stay true to her roots (she didn’t come from money). It was a happy ending to read about the good that came from the Biltmore, in the end.  

A few readers mentioned that the real treasure was reading this book before visiting the Biltmore. Perhaps a book club field trip is in order? Krista would be an amazing guide! 

Brown Baggers will meet to discuss Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez on Thursday, May 19. Please email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

Other books mentioned: 

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe 

American Duchess: a novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt by Karen Harper 

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Fowler 

The Gilded Age by Mark Twain An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl