Still Time for the Summer Challenge

The JMRL Summer Challenge ends on August 31, so you still have time to turn in your challenge sheets (and be entered to win the grand prize!).

There will be grand prizes at each of the branches. The grand prize for children will be a gift card to Barnes and Noble (or another local bookstore- check with your local branch). The grand prize for teen will be an Amazon gift card, and the adult grand prize will be a Kindle. The drawings will be held after the program ends on August 31.

One of the challenges for Sheet 3 (also available in Spanish) is to download an eBook or audiobook. JMRL has several digital collections located in the eLibrary, one of the most popular is OverDrive.

To get started using OverDrive you’ll need to set up an account using your library card number. If you want to read or listen to a book on your tablet or phone, it’s best if you download the Libby app from OverDrive through the app store or play store. There are also videos and tutorials linked on the eLibrary page that can take you through the process. If you’re going to read or listen to a book on your computer, you’ll just need to go to the OverDrive website and login to your account.

There are thousands of titles available, both fiction and nonfiction, for all ages. There are bestsellers, classics, test prep books and travel guides- something for every reader!

Follow these steps to use the Libby app:     libby

STEP 1
Install the Libby app from your device’s app store.

STEP 2
In Libby, follow the prompts to find your library and sign in with a valid library card (we are part of the Southwest Virginia Public Libraries).

STEP 3
Browse JMRL’s collection and borrow a title.

STEP 4
Borrowed titles appear on your Shelf and download to the app automatically when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, so you can read them when you’re offline.

From your Shelf, you can:
Tap Open Book, Open Audiobook, or Open Magazine to start reading or listening to a title. Tap Manage Loan to see options like Renew, Return, or Send to Device to send a book to Kindle

If you have questions, you can always call the Central Reference department at 434-979-7151 ext. 4 or email us. You can also stop by any library with your device and ask for help with downloading (some branches require an appointment- so call ahead)!

“The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject.”

dept of speculation coverBooks on Tap read Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill at Champion Brewery on August 2. The novel, short on plot but long on introspection, follows a writer who hopes to be an “art monster” as she marries, has a daughter, teaches writing in college and negotiates her marriage after her husband’s infidelity. Told in short bursts, it has been likened to an x-ray, drawing on the author’s experimentation with poetry during a bout of writer’s block. It starts in close first person, switches to third person after the cheating is discovered and then back to first as the husband and wife reconcile.

We all liked this witty rumination on growing older, knowing oneself and making compromises. Two of us listened to the audiobook and missed all the formatting (and thought we had missed entire chapters!). We didn’t think that the characters were particularly sympathetic but the narrator’s emotions resonated. Her desire not to lose her identity and drive after childbirth and her questioning of priorities accurately reflects life in middle age. However, the point of view is so narrow, it only serves to confirm that you can never truly know what happens in another couple’s relationship. The book contains all aspects of a full life: family, career, loneliness, romance, anger. Its format also mirrors how we communicate now, inward-turning short bursts with (inaccurate?) quotations of famous people. While the ending wasn’t particularly happy, it was happier and happy enough.

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“The reading and writing of fiction both requires and instills empathy.”

dearBooks on Tap read Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher for the July 5 discussion at Champion Brewery. Not only is it an epistolary novel, it is comprised solely of letters of recommendation from English professor Jason Fitger. Fitger, battling the college’s administration, construction crews, his colleagues, peers and students. Rarely are the letters positive and even more rarely are they effective. However, they are always funny.

Fitger had early success with a roman a clef about his time in high-pressure graduate writing program (The Group) but his later novels were met with poor sales and even poorer reviews. His ex-wife and girlfriend both work on campus and have aligned against him. The English department is a toxic hazard zone due to building construction and has next to no funding, meaning his one promising student may never finish his stunning revision of Bartleby the Scrivener set in a Las Vegas bordello. Against this backdrop of strife, Fitger emerges as a cynical, egotistical man who nonetheless defends the humanities and his best students with all the institutional power he has left.

We were surprised that the book, while gimmicky, was grounded and that Schumacher cleverly developed Fitger’s character and motivation. We all came up with a clear mental image of Fitger or his office and college. She also nailed the intra-department rivalries in academia. She also highlights the ways that liberal arts are losing funding and focus to STEM programs. Fitger defends a brilliant Slavic scholar who has lost his funding by asking “Where else can he go?”. While he rails against the ways that his college, and academia in general, doesn’t support the English department, he doesn’t offer quite enough support to the younger adjuncts who have to string together a career with multiple low-paying postings at multiple colleges.

The novel questions the role of mentorship. Fitger was the favorite of the charismatic leader of The Group and it was under his auspices that Fitger’s first novel was shaped and published. However, this favoritism and the way Fitger portrayed his fellow students in print alienated him from his peers. This alienation has consequences decades later. The women in the group refuse to support Fitger and the most talented member of their cohort cannot get published after retreating from writing due to personal tragedy. Fitger’s own mentorship of his students his suspect, as well. He’ll write almost any one a letter of recommendation, but often these are not actually helpful. Darren, the student he most wants to succeed, seems more like a reflection of Fitger himself.  Darren’s suicide was a plot point we agreed didn’t resonate. Due to its format, the book can only develop Fitger’s character, which meant that this cathartic moment fell flat.

Finally, we discussed aging. Fitger’s self-confidence seems to mask his feeling of failure. His later books were flops and we thought that he doesn’t have another one in him, which did make  his mentorship of Darren bittersweet. His love life doesn’t look like it can recover from its latest self-inflicted wound and has alienated many of his colleagues. In the end, it’s his tenured job and love of humanities that keeps him fighting the good fight via all those letters of recommendation.   

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