This past weekend, I attended my 45th high school reunion and I’ve been reading memoirs lately.  I seem to be having a nostalgic summer and it’s been lovely!   The books recommended this week are interesting, enlightening, well written and very different from each other.  Hopefully, you’ll find something to suit your mood.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me  by Sherman Alexie

Award-winning author Alexie has long been one of my favorites.  An honest voice for modern-day life on American Indian reservations, many of his poems, stories and novels have had bits of autobiography in them.  Recounting the complicated relationship he had with his mother, this full-fledged memoir could not have been written until after his mother had passed away.  She was a quilter and was 78 years old when she died in 2015.  Alexie has constructed this book as a quilt, built of 78 poems and 78 essays.  It’s a difficult story, because life on the rez is difficult and because their relationship was difficult, too.  As usual, though, Alexie tells it all with openness, heartbreak, and humor.

On the Move: a Life  by Oliver Sacks

Neurologist and accomplished author, Sacks is well known for his collections of case studies such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars and Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf.  His bestseller, Awakenings, was made into a feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.  This final autobiography (he died in 2015 at the age of 82) recounts a life well lived and shares intimate details which had not been made public before.  At once extremely shy and quite daring, he moved from his native Britain to California and eventually to New York City, collecting a wealth of  friendships and adventures along the way.  And yes, that is him on the cover of the book.  He had always had a love of motorbikes and spent the early ’60’s on Venice Beach (CA) as a body builder!  Listening to the audio, I found it easy to absorb the medical terms and phrases.

Here If You Need Me: a True Story  by Kate Braestrup

The first in her series of memoirs was published in 2007 and after having read it, I wanted to be her when I grew up!  (Never mind that I’m probably ten years older than she is.)  In Here If You Need Me, Braestrup recounts how her husband, and the father of their four children, was killed in the line of duty as a Maine State Trooper. To help deal with her tremendous grief, she chose to pursue his dream – to become a minister. Enrolling in divinity school, caring for her grieving family, and trying to keep the day-to-day together, Braestrup persevered and became a Unitarian Universalist minister. She then found her calling as the first chaplain for the search-and-rescue teams across the state of Maine. It’s a moving, inspirational story that reminds us that it’s the small miracles that happen every day.  An accomplished writer, Braestrup continued to relate her journey with two more books: Marriage and Other Acts of Charity in 2010 and the most recent, Anchor and Flares: a Memoir of Motherhood, Hope and Service, in which she faces her eldest son’s choice to join the military.  Beautifully done.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana  by Haven Kimmel

Born in 1965  in quintessential small-town America, Kimmel was nicknamed Zippy for the way she raced around the house.  Growing up in the tiny hamlet of Mooreland – where neighbors helped neighbors, people went to church on Sundays,  and everyone knew everyone else – Kimmel shares glimpses of life in a gentler time.  Laced with humor and wonderful 3rd-grade insights, A Girl named Zippy is a love letter to Kimmel’s home town.





Many of us have just spent the Fourth of July cooking burgers, drinking beer, and watching fireworks.   Some of us may have been at Monticello witnessing the swearing-in of new U.S. citizens; some of us may be those new citizens.  Some of us may have been at cemeteries placing flags on the graves of loved ones.  Some of us may have been working because our jobs don’t accommodate many holidays; some of us may have been working because the work we do to serve others doesn’t ever take a holiday.  Some of us may have been talking with our children about what freedom means.  Some of us may have been arguing with our friends and relatives about the state of our country today.  All of us are Americans.

Patriotism takes many forms: some quiet and some bold, some gentle and some heroic, mostly it’s just regular folks living their lives.  Today’s suggestions may help broaden our definition.

Hidden America : from Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work  by Jeanne Marie Laskas

An award-winning journalist, Laskas does her usual in-depth research to introduce us to some of the folks who make our lives run smoothly every day.  Starting in the coal mines of Ohio, she then goes on to an Alaskan oil rig, a migrant labor camp in Maine, the air traffic control center at LaGuardia Airport in New York, a beef ranch in Texas, a landfill in California, a long-haul trucker in Iowa, a gun shop in Arizona, and the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders.   Eminently readable, Laskas’ stories not only reveal the world of work that supports our society, but also open up the worlds of the individuals who do that work.  Comparisons have been made, rightly, to the writings of Studs Terkel.

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For  by David McCullough

This latest offering from renowned historian David McCullough is a collection of speeches he has given over the past quarter century.   McCullough, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as numerous other awards, has spoken before Congress, universities, historical societies, and the White House.  In this collection, he reminds us of the core values and principles which are particularly American with themes such as “What’s Essential is Invisible,” “History, Lost and Found,” ” The Love of Learning” and “The Summons to Serve.”

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team  by Steve Sheinkin

What could be more American than football?  Yet, the early days of the game were a far cry from the professional endeavor it is today.  This latest book by young adult historian Sheinkin traces it back to the start, when burly college men punched each other on the field and the aim was to pile on as many bodies as possible regardless of broken bones.  Then the legendary combination that would change the whole game came together at the Carlisle Indian School: the visionary coach Pop Warner and the invincible athlete Jim Thorpe.  This is a great book for fans and non-fans alike and, as so often is the case in history, there’s so much more to the story.  Sheinkin also tells of the deplorable treatment of the Indian children torn from their families and forced into a world that was completely foreign to them.  This attitude and behavior was reflected in the treatment of the Carlisle football team (and its star player) even as they were transforming the sport.  A well balanced look at a shameful part of our past which still has repercussions today.

A Patriot’s Handbook : Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love  selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy

The more than 200 selections, spanning centuries, presented in this anthology were chosen by Kennedy herself and include her personal commentaries.   This hefty volume includes excerpts of Supreme Court decisions, the Gettysburg Address, Woody Guthrie’s songs, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Walt Whitman poetry, presidential inaugural addresses, and the complete texts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  You’ll also find works by Alice Walker and Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and H.L. Mencken.  As Kennedy says in her introduction “I realized that I want my own children to know more about the ideals upon which this country was founded and the sacrifices that have been made to pass them on to us. This book is intended to help families explore the foundations of our freedom and to celebrate our heritage.”



Tales from the Road

bookmobile general 3

Life on the bookmobile is a bit different from the other JMRL branches. We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad, but there are some situations one only encounters out on the road.

Yes, the new bookmobile is here!  We’re still going through our adjustment phase, the new bus and I.  It has that new car smell and drives like a dream.  And there’s air conditioning, even if I haven’t quite figured out where to point the vents so that I don’t blow my patrons away.  There are shelves to browse and folks can step inside and feel like they’re in a library again.  When they ask me if I love it, though, my reply has been “I’ll get there.”

You may remember that the vehicle stayed at the City Yard for two full weeks before I got to bring it ‘home.’   On the day it was delivered from Ohio, I sat in the Yard with the Farber rep while he went over all the buttons and switches on the dashboard – and it all made perfect sense.  Two and a half weeks later, when I took it out on the road for the first time,  it took me 20 minutes at my first stop to remember how to turn on the interior lights.  And it was three stops before I could get the air conditioning going.  It felt the same as when someone shows me something new on the computer.  “Click here, then drag this over, then save it and you’re done!”  It all seems reasonable at the moment, but when I try to repeat the process by myself later, somehow it doesn’t work quite as well.

The ‘check engine’ light has been on twice already and I’ve had to swing by the Yard.  One time, it was a hose that had come loose and was easily fixable.  The other time, though, was more curious.  Billy (the Wonder Mechanic) plugged in the tablet to get a reading of the problem and the machine said something about fumes escaping.  It took us forever but he finally realized that the cap for the fuel tank needs to be turned a bit beyond the click.  (I almost entitled this piece “Beyond the Click!”)  Yes, after we fill the tank and have turned the cap until it clicks, we have to continue turning just a smidge more – not even a quarter turn – so that the seal is tight.  As they say, it’s all in the details.

I have been out on the road, following my regular schedule, and everyone is very happy!  One of my patrons brought cookies to share as a celebration!  I stopped at one of the preschools and pulled up along the curb as usual.  These kids had not ever seen the old bookmobile, they only knew me in the minivan.  I heard them talking out on the playground.  “What’s that RV doing there?”  “How come that RV came to our school?”  I poked my head out to say hello and they wanted to know what I had in “that RV.”  They were thrilled to come inside to find stacks of books!

I continue to adjust shelves and rearrange materials.  It’s still white, although we did get some magnetic strips for identification.  The most often asked question has been “Aren’t you going to decorate it?” and I explain that it’s in the works.  It’s been two weeks now, so I’m beginning to feel the regular routine – switch this on, hold this button, check that toggle, don’t forget to turn this one off when I get back.  Folks from some of the branches have been by to see it; I stopped at the Friends of the Library meeting to show it off (they had been very generous in their support!)  Next week, the Library Board will visit during their regular meeting upstairs.  So we’re getting there.  And yes, I do love it!