Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Things Fall Apart

Finished August 20
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, read by Peter Francis James

This classic is one I have long meant to read, and so when I was looking for an audiobook last week, this caught my eye.
Originally published in 1958, this work portrays the life of an Igbo Nigerian village before contact with white men. We see the social structure, the annual cycle, the food grown, prepared and eaten, the religious ceremonies, and the way families interacted. The story centers around a warrior Okonkwo, a man who is self-made, working hard to overcome his lack of support from his father, supporting not only himself and the family he built, but also his parents and his sisters. He wants sons that will carry on in the same way that he has, but finds that his child that he connects the most strongly with is one of his daughters. We see the effect on the family when children don't thrive, and the superstitions that this tribe has around twins, around what their gods expect of them, and around the crop cycle that their lives are built around.
When an accidental death occurs, we see how the one who killed his clansman is punished, and how he makes amends for this sad event. There are rules that these people live by, a system of responsibility, and of community that guides their lives and a system of justice that ensures that people treat each other with appropriate respect.
And then, sadly, we see what happens when first the Christian missionaries come, and then the British colonizing government, those who come to "civilize" these people who already have their own civilization. The British seldom take the time to study and consider how things work in this community before imposing their own values and rules on people who don't understand and who are threatened by this immense change to their culture. The lack of respect these people show to the Africans made me feel angry as well as sad, and the arrogance was horrible to hear of. There are some good men, like the first Christian pastor who takes the time to ask questions about why people do what they do and has real conversations with the elders about their religion and customs. But the one who replaces him is not one who embodies true Christian values, and the way he and the District Commissioner talk as opposed to how they treat the people is almost horrifying.
This is sad reveal of the horrible things down in the name of religion and civilization, a sad story of history that is not that long past.

The Best American Essays 2013

Finished August 19
The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed, series editor Robert Atwan

This collection of essays has a great variety of topics, and writers from young to old. This year's selection was chosen by Cheryl Strayed from the selections given her by series editor Robert Atwan. The essays were previously published in a variety of literary magazines, both those well-known like The New Yorker, and those less heard of like River Teeth. So this selection highlights not only the writers, but also the magazines that first accepted the pieces included here. This volume includes a Foreword by the series editor, Atwan which tells of how he came to this, but also talks about the sources for the essays, and the selection process. Then we have an introduction by Strayed, which talks of her essay experiences and her selection process. A list of the long list that the twenty-six included here was whittled down from is included at the back of the book, for those who want to read more great essays.
The writers here run from those whose names are familiar, i.e. Alice Munro and Zadie Smith, to those lesser known like Michelle Mirsky and Jon Kerstetter. The topics range from experiences with landlords and fellow tenants to war triage to race to car accidents.
Besides being reflections of real experiences, the other things they all have in common is good writing. Really good writing. After reading a collection like this, I always think that I should read more essays as I enjoy them so much.

The Wood Queen

Finished August 18
The Wood Queen by Karen Mahoney

This is the only book I've read in this series, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd read the earlier book in the series. The main character here is Donna Underwood. Donna was deeply scarred, her father was killed, and her mother mentally disturbed after an early childhood encounter with the folk in the Ironwood. Recently Donna has had another encounter with the Wood Queen that has resulted in a hearing where her actions are being evaluated by an alchemist tribunal. This encounter saved the lives of Donna's best friend, a human boy her age, Navin, and Maker, the alchemist who fashioned the work on Donna's arms after her childhood encounter. It also resulted in a burgeoning relationship with Xan, a half-fey young man that the alchemists consider untrustworthy along with other faerie folk. Donna's mother seems to be getting worse, and Donna suspects that she may be under an elven curse.
Aliette, the Wood Queen approaches Donna with a proposition. Aliette will release Donna's mother from the curse, thus saving her life and restoring her mind if Donna will open the door to faerie so that the Wood Queen and her people can return home. Donna's arms seems to be coming awake, responding to her emotional state, and she seems to be developing new powers that she isn't sure how to control or what purpose they might have for her.
She has suspicions that all is not as it seems with the alchemists, and feels that her aunt Paige is not necessarily on her side in terms of what she sees as important. She is intrigued by Robert, the young alchemist from England, but isn't sure what his motives are either.She knows that she can't trust the Wood Queen, but is this trade something she is willing to risk for her mother's freedom from the curse? She isn't as sure of Xan as she was earlier due to his secretive behaviour. Donna has many questions and no real sense of who she can trust. She is guided by her sense of what it is right and by her feelings, but she is young in her powers and has been kept ignorant of the history of the people she lives among.
Donna's naivety and youth make her risk more than she knows, and as a reader I didn't connect with her as well as I would have wanted.

The Patience of the Spider

Finished August 17
The Patience of the Spider by Andrea Camilleri

This continues the series featuring Inspector Montalbano in Sicily. Here, Montalbano is still recovering from his gunshot wound when the kidnapping of a young woman has him called back in to assist. He is not in charge of the case, and so can avoid some of the aspects he doesn't enjoy, like press conferences, but he has the run of things and takes a close look at the evidence, both physical and behavioural, that is exhibited here. His girlfriend Livia has taken a leave from her work to stay with him for this early part of his recovery, and their relationship shows the strain of the togetherness they have now that disrupts their comfortable routine. The case is not straightforward, but I found it easier to figure out that his earlier books, maybe I'm just getting used to his style.
We see the usual characters in Montalbano's fellow police, and also a nice sideline in food, another of Montalbano's passions. Montalbano is even more introspective than usual here, perhaps because he isn't totally back to work yet and has more time on his own.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Crash Course in Dealing with Difficult Library Customers

Finished August 15
Crash Course in Dealing with Difficult Library Customers by Shelley E Mosley, Dennis C Tucker and Sandra Van Winkle
This book covers a variety of situations that one can encounter in a library environment. It begins with an overview of general guidelines when dealing with customer-related problems at the library.
The book is then divided into sections grouping different types of problem customers. Each type within the grouping is described well, and strategies are given for dealing with them, followed by a brief summary. Some of these didn't meet my library's normal procedure, seeming too restrictive or aimed at a smaller library with less resources than mine. Most strategies suggested were helpful and simple to understand though.
The first grouping is disruptive behaviours. This includes those who abuse privileges, those whose behaviour is disruptive to other library users, and those who take up more staff time than their information need should require due to their behaviour.
The second grouping are those who believe that their needs are more important than others. This includes aggressive customers, those who want to censor material, the name-droppers and self-important, and the ones who just like to be difficult.
The next grouping was of parental issues and included a range from permissive to abusive, as well as those who just drop their kids to fend for themselves.
The fourth group was those with social service needs from the job seekers to homeless and mentally ill. Information on other helpful organizations for those in the U.S. are also given in this section.
The fifth group was those who break the law, in terms of property or information. So this includes vandalism, theft and computer crime.
The last group is those who are dangerous or potentially dangerous and covers those with substance abuse issues, sex crimes, and stalkers among others.
There is also a helpful appendix that includes examples of policies, forms, and procedures.
A very good resource that will be helpful to most libraries.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Spring Fever

Finished August 15
Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews, read by Katherine McInerney

This enjoyable romance is set in the small town of Passcoe, North Carolina, the home of the Quixie Cherry Soda company. Mason, the eldest son of the family who owns the company, the Bayless' family, is getting remarried to Celia, an attractive and ambitious young woman who was brought in as a consultant to help turn the company around in a tight economic environment. Mason's first wife Annajane is in attendance at the big do, mostly to please Mason's young daughter Sophie, who is flower girl.
Annajane works in marketing at Quixie, but will be leaving both the company and the town soon for a new job at the ad agency that Quixie has been a longstanding client of. Her best friend is Pokey (Pauline) Bayliss, Mason's sister. As she and Pokey watch Sophie slowly make her way up the aisle, followed shortly thereafter by a resplendent Celia, Annajane catches Mason's eyes and reads his body language, realizing that he is feeling trapped. As she begins to think that this may mean she has a second chance, Sophie collapses in pain, and the wedding comes to a halt.
In the ensuing action, as Sophie's sickness increases and Annajane urges for an ambulance, Celia is pushed to the background of the action, and Annajane finds herself alone with Mason for the first time in a long time, and they begin to talk in earnest.
As the following week unfolds, actions by Annajane and Mason in response to actions by Celia and Mason's brother Davis, result in a three steps forward, two steps back movement in their unfolding relationship.
There are good characters here, and Celia is a delightful character to hate while Annajane is easy to love. Twists and turns that keep the plot unfolding in interesting ways.
A thoroughly enjoyable example of chicklit.

Shotgun Lovesongs

Finished August 12
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

This novel is set around the small Wisconsin town of Little Wing. The story is told in the voices of four friends: Henry, Leland, Kip and Ronny, and Henry's wife Beth.
The story begins as Kip is getting married. Kip is retired from his work as a commodities broker in Chicago where he was very successful and has come back to revitalize the town, and maybe to show off his success a bit. Henry stayed in Little Wing, working the family farm, raising dairy cattle and corn. Ronny made a career in the rodeo world, until a drunken fall caused brain damage that changed him forever. Leland (Lee) persisted in his music, eventually becoming famous around the world and with the money that came with that. Lee is seldom in Little Wing, but always makes it home for big events, and has made sure that Ronny is looked after. This time, Kip has asked him to sing at the wedding, something he didn't do for Henry and Beth, and Lee has agreed. But the way that Kip has handled this breaks the friends apart for some time, and as we see their lives unfold, we also see what came before as they all emerged into their adult years.
This is a story of friendship, of small towns, of love, and of hope.
I loved the characters here, how the complexity of them is drawn out over the story as they all speak of their experiences. You also get a great feel for the setting in small town Wisconsin, the sense of community and the ties to the land. A great read.