Hastings District Libraries

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Books Change Lives

Recently we had a library customer tell us that while reading a memoir she realised that the author was an unknown relative.

Her decision to read that particular book and subsequent decision to contact the author has indeed been life changing.

"In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own." - Anna Quindlen.

A colleague of mine was kind enough to share how her love of reading began, at the age of eight, when a family friend dropped off a sack full of old books to her home. Classic children's stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Famous Five were read and re-read countless times. They opened up her world and imagination.

We see this everyday in our libraries too as young children rush in clutching their returns and race off to find their next book. These are children that are curious, questioning and excited to see, do and think.

"I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready." - Richard Peck.

I was also told how thrilled a friend's children were when writer Margaret Mahy answered their letters in her own hand and with illustrations! This is a memory and keepsake they will have for life.

For me, as a collector of books, their physical presence on my bookshelf (or should I say shelves) is important in itself. For each one reminds me of a person, place or a moment in time. When a loved one died a few years ago many books that were important to her became important to me. I shall be happy to be surrounded by these memories for many years to come and curse my collection only when I move house!

"To build up a library is to create a life. It's never just a random collection of books." - Carlos Maria Dominguez.

Books may profoundly affect us with their message, teach us a new skill, or simply let us escape to another world for a brief period of time. Whatever their impact, for us as readers, our relationship with books and their authors is significant and lasting.

Books really do change lives!

Posted by CP.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I picked up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes with trepidation, after reading a review online which claimed this to be the most ‘cried aloud’ over book ever. It didn’t take me long before I too was drawn in.

Me Before You centres around the relationship between caregiver Lou Clark and wheelchair bound William Traynor. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but actually it’s one of the most compelling love stories I’ve read for a long while. It’s a story about love, but not just romantic love – it’s about the complicated layers of love, and how much love counts (or indeed, is tested) in the face of adversity, and physical, emotional - and ultimately, existential - pain.

I was reminded of David Nicholls’ One Day when I read this, not just because they both create such relatable characters, and a vivid British setting, but because, although both write with a light touch, they are not afraid to delve into the deepest and most painful of human experience.

There were tears. Yes, I cried. A lot. And questioned some of my most deeply held beliefs. But often it's worth persevering with painful subjects because hopefully out of the other side of discomfort comes an increased empathy and understanding for the struggle of others. This book was well worth the journey – and the lessons have remained with me long after the tears dried up.

By the way, Jojo Moyes latest book The One Plus One is now available at Hastings District Libraries.

Posted by Bookish Betsy

Catalogue link: Me Before You

Catalogue link: The One Plus One

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

The slightly clunky title is my only problem with this book by Bauer who is shaping up to be one of my favourite crime/thriller authors. The Facts of Life and Death has a huge amount going for it:

Engrossing plot told partly from the point of view of Bauer’s disturbed murderer. Check. Engaging child narrator who sees much but understands little. Check. Bumbling yet likeable young copper trying to impress smart, good-looking female DCI. Check. Atmospheric seaside town where the weather is unpredictable and adds to the unease of the events as they unfold. Check. A slow escalation of violence building towards a gripping and utterly exhausting ending. Double check.

Bauer is also one of the more original writers of the genre. Here she describes a criminal with a particular axe to grind which he takes out on his young female victims. The women he abducts are forced to phone their mothers who must then listen to their daughters’ terrifying deaths. Not nice.

And she’s really good with her characters, who have faults as well as good points, plus a talent for not noticing what’s going on under their very noses. This build up of what your English teacher might have called ‘dramatic irony’ makes for a particularly nail-biting read, and I found myself flicking towards the back of the book for reassurance - which wasn’t particularly forthcoming. This is one of those books where the pleasure of the ending is partly due to the relief you feel that it is all over. Which I guess is what the thriller genre is all about.

Posted by JAM

Friday, February 13, 2015

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

‘Still Life with Bread Crumbs’ is the name of a much published photograph in Anna Quindlen’s similarly titled novel. It is a photograph that has earned protagonist Rebecca Winter a glowing reputation and ongoing royalties. But living in New York isn't cheap and Rebecca has rising expenses, including her mother’s nursing home to pay for. So at the age of fifty-nine, Rebecca up-stakes and heads for a cottage in the woods that she has leased off the Internet.

Yes, this is one of those ‘sea change’ novels and you can’t imagine a more striking change for Rebecca than forsaking the fashionable arty set of New York, to rub shoulders with the folk near her new home. First there’s Sarah, who never stops talking as she serves Rebecca breakfast at the Tea for Two café – the only place Rebecca can receive a phone and Internet connection.

Then there’s Jim the roofer who solves Rebecca’s raccoon problem. He’s strikingly good looking, though a bit young for Rebecca, yet the two become friends over a bird conservation programme. This could easily be a simple sort of ‘new life; new love’ story, but things get more complex when Rebecca discovers some unusual woodland shrines and decides to photograph them.

When a blizzard strikes, you realise how isolated you can be in a cabin in the woods and when the fragile infrastructure that keeps you connected to the world breaks down. Overall this a touchy-feely kind of story, but the writing is just witty enough to make this a fairly smart read, and the characters are interesting and diverse. A nice book to unwind with that will leave you in a happy place.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sand by Hugh Howey

Sand describes another dystopian future created by the author who brought you Wool. This however is a completely different world - a world, not surprisingly, covered in sand. The story revolves around the sand-divers who dive for salvage - a concept Howey has made both interesting and believable.

The characters at the heart of Sand are a dysfunctional family whose father has deserted them before the story begins. He had been a powerful man in the community and his disappearance has thrown the family into chaos. His children are left to carry on the sand-diver tradition and to hunt for the mythical city of Danver, a quest that has the power to transform their lives.

Sand is very readable and relatively uncomplicated. Although the story came to a tidy ending I suspect there may be another book to fill in some more of the background of the how this world came to be. If you enjoyed the Wool trilogy, Sand is definitely a book you won’t want to miss.

Posted by R Meyers

Catalogue link: Sand

Friday, January 30, 2015

How We Learn and Fluent Forever

I read two very interesting books recently. One was How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens, by Benedict Carey. It was a fascinating investigation into how our brain absorbs and retains information. I had wanted to read it because I would like to have a go at language learning in a way that enables me to retain what I learn. One of the techniques described in the book was spaced repetition, and the research that has gone on to find the ideal spacing between periods of

The very next book I read was Fluent forever : how to learn any language fast and never forget it, by Gabriel Wyner. To my delight I found that the language learning method he promotes is spaced repetition. He introduces the reader to a free software programme that does the spacing for you. With the instruction in the book and videos on his website, he makes the whole language learning experience manageable and fun.

Posted by Jessie

Catalogue link: How we learn

Catalogue link: Fluent forever

Monday, January 26, 2015

Talking to Terrorists: How to end armed conflicts by Jonathan Powell

Terrorism has ripped at the heart of western countries like Australia and France, in recent months, provoking many different opinions on how to respond. Jonathan Powell is a political negotiator who believes that governments must engage in talks with terrorists. His is not a politically popular position, but as he explains, history bears witness to the fact that governments usually sit down and talk in the end.

But are these new terrorists in the same mould as previous groups, or, do we have to respond differently? As a veteran practitioner of political negotiation on behalf of the British government with the IRA, Powell has been party to many occasions when ideology has had to bend in order to secure practical solutions to peace. He sets out the various arguments that he has come across by those who believe governments should never talk to terrorists and looks at whether groups such as ISIL are similar in nature to previous groups. He argues that they are and that, finally, the West should learn the lessons from the past instead of engaging in useless rhetoric for political purposes.

This book is largely a detailed description of past political negotiations with a number of terrorist groups such as the Farc of Colombia, Tamil Tigers, IRA, ETA, and PLO. In the last chapter, Powell responds to claims that groups like ISIL aren’t like their predecessors, in that they don’t have specific political goals and concrete demands. He reiterates his position as an experienced practitioner that it is impossible to quash terrorism with force alone. Governments must talk, but talk with the right people (hopefully the more moderate). Today's terrorists have often turned out to be tomorrow's leaders (think Nelson Mandela suggests Powell). Starting a conversation is by no means appeasement and usually provides both sides with an insight into each other's viewpoint. Being able to step into the other side's shoes is usually the first step toward peace.

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link: Talking to Terrorists