Pick of the Week: "Transatlantic'' by Colum McCann
Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and Teddy Brown, and U.S. Senator George Mitchell play key roles in "TransAtlantic.''
With "TransAtlantic'', Colum McCann (National Book Club Winner for "Let the Great World Spin'') has created an artful, layered novel about how four generations of women intersect with four famous men destined to make history.
McCann brilliantly weaves the various stories together, starting with the men who make headlines when they cross the Atlantic to Ireland. In 1845-46, Frederick Douglass is a runaway slave who travels from the United States to Ireland to promote his autobiography and the cause of abolition in the states. In 1919, World War I pilots John Alcock and Teddy Brown are the first to fly across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland. And in 1998, U.S. Senator George Mitchell is tapped by President Bill Clinton to broker a peace agreement in divided Northern Ireland.
During his travels in Ireland, Frederick Douglass encounters a poor housemaid named Lily Duggan, who is inspired by the abolitionist to seek a better life in America. Her daughter Emily is a gifted journalist who settles in Newfoundland and writes about the flight of Alcott and Brown. Emily and her daughter Lottie eventually move to Northern Ireland, where Lottie meets Senator Mitchell while he is trying to negotiate a peace agreement. The story of Lottie's daughter, Hannah, wraps up the novel.
I especially enjoyed the chapter about the quiet, dignified George Mitchell, and wondered how he felt about being depicted in a novel. I read that McCann actually had Senator Mitchell and his wife read and approve parts of the book to authenticate the story and tone. “TransAtlantic’’ is a beautifully penned story that I will want to reread just to enjoy McCann’s craftsmanship as a writer.
There are lots of blockbuster franchise movies coming out this summer (Iron Man 3, Avengers 2), but the one I’m most excited about seeing isn’t really a “franchise” film at all. It’s Before Midnight, the third movie in director Richard Linklater’s set of films that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise. In this lyrical, romantic film, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play a couple destined for each other. They meet on a train to Vienna and spend one magical day and night together before going their separate ways, promising to meet again in six months. The beauty of the movie is that it’s completely real: there’s no artifice to the characters, and the film is just dialogue. No action scenes, no over-the-top drama. And it goes straight to my heart.
Much to my delight, in 2004, Linklater filmed a sequel to Before Sunrise, aptly named Before Sunset. Equally beautiful and romantic, the film catches up with the couple nine years later, when they meet and spend a day in Paris and discover the realities of adulthood conflict with their youthful ideals. While I didn’t think this film was as strong as the first, it was still wonderful to see Delpy and Hawke reunite and reignite their terrific on-screen chemistry.
So I’m really looking forward to seeing the next stage of the relationship in Before Midnight. The couple is now married and living in Paris, dealing with the realities of day-to-day life and parenting. Apparently the film no longer has the fairy-tale quality that defined the first two films, but maintains its ability to show the characters as they really are. Entertainment Weekly calls Before Midnight“enchanting entertainment that's also the most honest and moving film about love in years.”
If you want to check out either of the first two movies, go to our catalog:
Have Book, Will Travel: England
I have been fortunate to travel to England several times in the last two years to visit my daughter. Now that I’ve taken in the history, charm and beauty of London and the English countryside, I find I am drawn to books that bring me back to my fun adventures.
When you are in England, you can’t escape news about the royal family. The last time I was in London, Queen Elizabeth had come down with a stomach bug which required hospitalization. The television stations were beside themselves with hourly coverage about how yes, the Queen was STILL in the hospital. I’ve grown fond of the Queen over the years and find her determination and devotion inspiring. At 87 years old, she is still always on the go. I enjoyed two lovely books that show different sides of the Queen: An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn.
When Queen Elizabeth accidently visits a mobile library outside Buckingham Palace in An Uncommon Reader, her discovery triggers a love of reading. I read this charming novella in an afternoon, and especially love this quote, from the queen to her personal secretary (who hails from New Zealand), when he questions the queen's book obsession: “Pass the time?’’ said the Queen. “Books are not about passing time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.’’ The queen eventually thinks about writing her own book. Wouldn't that be marvelous?
In Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, the author imagines what happens when the Queen decides to take off on her own from Buckingham Palace to Scotland without telling anyone. Of course, pandemonium ensues at Buckingham Palace, with a loyal staff trying to keep the Queen’s disappearance a secret. The Queen ends up getting assistance of a female stable hand and a fellow who works in a cheese shop. Her interactions with the common folk on her train ride are priceless.
World War II
Reminders of the Second World War and its devastation are abundant when you visit London, from the many excellent museums to the HMS Belfast docked on the Thames. Two books helped me capture those grueling times for the English: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
Life After Life is filled with great insights about what it was like to live in England before and during World War II. Atkinson really gave me a feeling for what Brits lived through during the horrific bombing blitz by the Germans. But this is much more than historical fiction. Atkinson makes us wonder what it would be like to have a complete do-over with our lives, not just once, but many times. What an original, thoughtful book that shows how our lives can go so many different ways, depending on chance and the choices we make.
I love historical fiction, especially books about feisty young women who are forced to handle difficult circumstances. Code Name Verity is such a book. Elizabeth Wein tells the story of two young women who are best friends during the height of World War II. Julie works as an undercover agent and Maddie is a young pilot. When their British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, their lives are forever changed. The narration of the book at first can be confusing, but don’t let that put you off. Hang in there, and it will all make sense. Just remember that the person narrating the first part of the book is the voice of Julie, or “Verity.’’ Code Name Verity is cataloged as Young Adult, but I think this book belongs in the adult fiction section. So if you enjoy historical fiction, give this book a go.
The Last Detective'' is the first book in the Peter Diamond mystery series. I had so much fun recognizing the places in the story, but you don't have to be familiar with the delights of Bath to enjoy the book. I also appreciated how the author threw in references to Jane Austen, who lived in Bath for several years. The mystery series generally is located in Bath, but the second book, Diamond Solitaire, is set in London, with the opening scene at Harrods Department Store.
Persuasion was the last novel Jane Austen wrote before she died. Anne Elliot, at the age of 27, is Austen's most grown-up heroine. When Anne walks away from the love of her life because her family and friends don’t think he is good enough for her, she is filled with remorse. Her long-lost love comes back into her life eight years later as a successful naval captain, constantly reminding Anne of her painful choices. I had so much fun imagining Jane Austen and her characters walking the streets of cosmopolitan Bath, where the smart set liked to be seen at the Pump Room and live in the Royal Crescent.
I still have many books I want to tackle. Next on the list is Hillary Mantel’s award-winning novels about Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. After visiting Henry’s Hampton Court Palace and walking around the Tower of London, these books are must reads for me.
What British books have you enjoyed?
May Displays at the Library
Come and check out the new displays we have up at the library!
At Cook Park:
It's almost Mother's Day, so we're offering books and movies about all kinds of moms.
May is Latino Books Month. Come find a terrific book that reflects Latino culture and heritage.
On our lower level, we've put out some beautiful blooming romances just in time for spring.
Here are some jaw-dropping non-fiction tales.
At Aspen Drive, find books that were so good they got made into movies. Check out the movies too!
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Where Are You Going to Read About Today?
In my two previous entries, I’ve talked about two of Readers’ Advisor guru Nancy Pearl’s Doorways into fiction, Story and Character. Pearl believes that readers will often seek out books according to their preferred Doorway. Those who prefer story often look for fast-paced stories or books they just cannot put down. Readers who are drawn to character as their Doorway like well-drawn characters who they feel as if they get to know them as they read the book.
Pearl’s third Doorway is setting. Readers who seek out books in which setting is dominant often enjoy reading about the daily activities of their characters or details about the places where the books takes place. Readers of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction like to get lost in worlds and times that are completey foreign to them. Readers whose main doorway is Setting enjoy the feeling of traveling to new places from the comfort of their own armchair. Patrons who are about to travel to a new place often come to the FMM desk for help finding fiction set in that country. Recently, a patron asked us to help find her books about Turkey, in advance of her trip to that country because she wanted to know more about the place than she could learn from reading travel books and maps. I have a friend who is reading everything she can find about England during WWI---she’s also a big fan of Downton Abbey. Another patron always comes to our desk for help finding books set in the American South because she grew up there and reading about it seems to assuage her homesickness a bit. I love reading books about small towns because I grew up in one and can identify with many of the issues that face those living in this sort of community. If you like to read books that take place in a specific place or time-frame, your preferred Doorway is setting.
Here are some authors for whom setting is an important part of their novels:
1. Carl Hiaasen (Florida)
2. Pat Conroy (South Carolina)
3. James Michener (varies by book)
4. Louise Penny (Quebec and environs)
5. Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana and Scotland)
6. Sara Paretsky and Jim Butcher (Chicago)
7. Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
8. Charles Dickens (19th century London)
9. Kent Haruf (Colorado)
10. Louise Erdrich (North Dakota)
11. Tana French and Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
12. Ron Rash (North Carolina)
13. Barbara Kingsolver (Appalachia region)
14. Nevada Barr (American national parks)
15. Jacqueline Winspear (WWI, London)
16. Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus, fantasy world)
17. David Wroblewski (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Wisconsin)
18. Pete Hamill (Manhattan)
19. Stieg Larsson (Sweden)
20. Fannie Flagg (American South)
Come see us at the FMM desk!