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Another Notable–Olive Kitteridge

So far, “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout may be my favorite from this year’s Notable Books List.  It also won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is a character in each of these short stories, set in a small town in Maine during the late twentieth century.  Olive stars in some of the stories, but barely walks through other ones.  She’s a teacher, and so in a position to know many people.  Strout describes her as physically large and awkward.  Socially, she often says the wrong thing and finds herself stoking her own resentment when people disappoint her.

Strout makes the most of the short story.  Each one seems to answer a “what if” question.  What if the mother of the groom hears the bride laughing at her?  What if a man on his way to commit suicide is called on to save a drowning woman?  What if a little girl must keep her older sister’s secret about running away?  She turns a sharp eye to social interactions, not looking away when cruelty enters where kindness would help.  And yet, people figure out how to connect with each other and get on with life.  In some ways, Strout reminds me here of my favorite short story writer, Alice Munro.

I read this book more like a novel, straight through.  I usually find, though, that I enjoy short stories more when I take some time to savor one before moving on to the next.

To whom would I recommend this?  To people who like short stories, and to some who say that they don’t.  To people who find small town life interesting, and to people who love everyday life described well.

Have you read this?  What did you think?

Inspired by Each Other

At a recent management team meeting, we began by sharing stories about something that had inspired us at the library.  I was struck by the number of times that people mentioned internal interactons.  Being treated well by a colleague made a difference.  In many cases, not only did it provide great service to a customer, it made someone’s day.

In addition to pointing out how library colleagues provided gracious support, the staff from our facilities management company, Grubb & Ellis, and our laision at the City Law deparment, also received recognition.

Our libraries have been working with fewer staff, but higher circulation, for some time.  I’m pretty sure that our consideration of each other deserves partial credit for making that possible.  It keeps spirits up, and expresses authentic respect.

I encourage staff to acknowledge others when their good internal service makes a difference.  People deserve credit for work that is well-done, especially when it inspires someone else.

I’ll continue to say often that public library work is fundamentally good work.  When we perform our work in ways that support each other, our work is transformed into something that is gracious and meaningful.  That’s great for library employees, and it translates into rewarding service for our public.

It’s Notable–A Voyage Long and Strange

A Voyage Long and Strange” by Tony Horwitz was one of the first books I chose from this year’s Notable Books List.

Horwitz takes a personal journey through the parts of North America where Europeans made contact between the landing of Columbus in 1492 and the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.  His inspiration was a trip to Plymouth rock where he overheard conversations among the visitors, most of them indicating basic ignorance of the historical facts.  Many referred to the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landing there.

Horwitz tells his story of exploring the journeys of the Europeans who discovered, made conquests, and finally, settled in America.  Along the way, he comments on restaurants, amusement sites, and the overall popular culture of each area he visits.

I learned a lot from this story, and found two points reinforced.   One is that while I consider myself reasonably informed, there’s plenty for me to learn about the history of the United States.  Another is a theme that is repeated in another Notable Book, “The Hemingses of Monticello,” that is, a place’s accepted history typically excludes crucial aspects.

I’d recommend “A Voyage Long and Strange” to people who enjoy history, or who savor travel books, especially when those are told by a quirky but curious author.

Reading Notable Books

Beginning in the early 1990s, I began an annual project of reading most of the books on the American Library Association Notable Books List.

It all started when I was the supervisor of South Branch Library. Lois, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, bopped in to return some books.  As we chatted, she mentioned that she organized a “Booklovers” group at the church.  They used to have an annual presentation on the ALA Notable Books list, but the previous presenter no longer lived in Lincoln.  Lois wondered if I’d be willing to do that.

And I did.  I’ve been doing so ever since, even though “Booklovers” is now a thing of the past.

Each year, I read all of most of the 25 or so books on the list, and read at last some of all of them.  Since I do this reading on my own time, I give myself permission not to finish the ones that just don’t grab me.  I do give all books at least two tries.

I encourage people to take on a discipline like this, whether the Pulitzer Prize winners, the National Book Awards winners, the Newbery books for youth, or whatever.  It has certainly gotten me out of my reading groove (which is sometimes a rut) and reading some fabulous books that I’d not know about otherwise.  I’m also reading much more nonfiction as a result, another Good Thing.

As I read each book on the 2009 list, I’ll keep you posted.