Like Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, this book is a story about teenage abuse, and while reading 350 pages on this topic may seem daunting (it's graphic and disturbing), debut author Kate Elizabeth Russell’s language is so engrossing and approachable that you may think that My Dark Vanessa is just another coming of age story. Clearly it is not.
Vanessa’s character is determined to defend her abuse. The ways and the reasons she bears her violation are compelling even if they are upsetting. Vanessa is not a character you want to spend a whole lot of time with, but like a bad car wreck, you can’t look away. In the age of #MeToo, and because you feel compassion, you want to stay with her until she finally acknowledges that she was wronged. You want to feel her vindication, experience her healing.
In both Trust Exercise and My Dark Vanessa, the topic of teen violation is examined in retrospect and there is resolution albeit it's sad and disconcerting. In My Dark Vanessa, the story of abuse stubbornly holds on until the end—showing us that all victimhood is unique. It is not ours to judge or interpret in its recovery.
My Dark Vanessa and Trust Exercise can both be checked out as an e-book or audiobook on OverDrive.
Social distancing is tough and we miss seeing our wonderful library patrons, but we have a suspicion that these guys are pretty happy to have us working from home...
We can't wait until we are able to reopen to the public. In the meantime, we hope that you're staying healthy, reading great books, and enjoying time with your loved ones and furry friends.
Selected for multiple “best of” book lists, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century is a true-life crime story that is at once riveting and revolting. Anyone with a pair of binoculars who spends even five minutes a week checking out their neighborhood birds might find it difficult to read about the decimation of storied, feathered specimens, some of which were collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin.
Author Kirk Wallace Johnson presents as a righter of wrongs. The story begins as he finds his humanitarian work expediting Iraqi refugees to the United States stymied by bureaucratic paperwork and diplomacy. Finding release knee-deep in western mountain streams, he becomes obsessed with the fly-tying ‘underground’ and the 2009 burglary of the ornithological collection at the British Natural History Museum at Tring. Obsessed to the point of spending the next six years delving into all things feathers.
At times travelogue, history lesson, fly fishing guide, and biography, the mystery surrounding the Tring feather caper is captivating in its straightforwardness. The crime is already solved when Johnson embarks on his effort to recover the missing collection, yet he persists in following leads and creating hypotheses as to the why of the whole thing. With many threads running throughout the book, his conclusions are much more esoteric than expected. Not surprising, given the obscure and bizarre world into which he has plunged.
- Cathy Click
Announcing our new online book discussion group: Basalt Book Banter!
The Feather Thief is the March selection for Basalt Book Banter, an online book discussion offered in collaboration with Bookbinders Basalt. To join the discussion, visit the Basalt Regional Library Facebook page and join our Basalt Book Banter group. The Feather Thief is available to check out on Overdrive as an ebook or audiobook. We also recommend listening to this interview podcast with Kirk Wallace Johnson on This American Life. We hope you read The Feather Thief and join the discussion!
NB: Kirk Wallace Johnson’s visit to the Roaring Fork Valley, coordinated by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, is postponed. We look forward to hosting him at the Basalt Regional Library in the future.
Hello and Good Health to you wherever you are in this time of great confusion. Once long ago on an episode of The Simpsons I learned that the Chinese have the same word for crisis as they do opportunity. We have a great "crisitunity" ahead of us and it's always excellent to use times like this to catch up on some media we might have missed over the years. Whether you are all alone, spending the next few weeks with family, or stuck in a strange place full of strangers the Library website might just be the place to park it.
One of the best things about the Library is browsing- finding stuff you might never have thought about before and falling in love with it. While scientists and their highly detailed computer simulations are saying that you better not be goin nowhere, you can still browse through some awesome collections on the Innernette.
While the Library is currently closed and you can't browse our physical DVD collection, you can still access movies through Kanopy, an awesome free streaming service that is available to Basalt Regional Library patrons with just your library card and an email address.
Kanopy has a ridiculous amount of content—film both old and new as well as hundreds of college courses, called The Great Courses, available immediately. While there is a limit of 12 films a month, The Great Courses are all available in an unlimited quantity. So don’t binge watch—take some time to really enjoy some true classics both old and new.
Recommended Great Courses:
If you have ever missed being in a college classroom, The Great Courses are for you. A guided presentation through some dense topics as well as some really fun stuff too is all available in unlimited quantities from Kanopy. Here are two that I am really enjoying right now:
Are you ready to get started with Kanopy? Visit basaltlibrary.org/digital-media-library for more information about how to use your library card number to create an account and start watching films.
As the weeks go on I’ll be blogging and putting out recommendations and new online collections for you to check out in our new 12 Monkeys style world. If you have any questions or comments or just want to talk feel free to send me an email here at email@example.com any time and I'll do whatever I can.
Ocean Vuong, who emigrated from Ho Chi Min City to Hartford, Connecticut as a child, sprang into mainstream literary consciousness in 2016 with Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a remarkable collection of poems on immigration, intergenerational trauma, and queerness. The work is one of the highest regarded contemporary collections on the market; Vuong’s honors include a Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize.
His first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, also speaks of multi-generational PTSD, charting the fate of a Vietnamese-American family struggling to settle into working class life in 1990’s New England. Vuong frames his novel as a letter from Little Dog, a young gay writer in his late twenties, to his illiterate mother Rose. Vuong published a version of the first chapter of the book in the New Yorker in 2017 for Mother’s Day.
Little Dog writes of his love for his mother and his grandmother, both of whom are reeling from the traumas of war, immigration, loss of language, and Alzheimers. And he recalls how the violence of the Vietnam War transmutes itself into the frequent physical attacks rained down on Little Dog by his mother. "I didn't know," Little Dog writes to her, "that the war was still inside you ... [and] that once it enters you it never leaves - but merely echoes, a sound forming the face of your own son."
Those readers familiar with Vuong’s poetry will recognize the same calibrated orality; he turns beautiful phrases which lend his pronouncements the timeless quality of deeply-earned wisdom. “Freedom is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.” And his writing contains the line-by-line density of poetry: the rush of a joint makes Little Dog, feel ‘skull-less;’ a heart ripples in an emaciated body ‘like a trapped fish;’ a piano ‘drips its little notes, like rain dreaming itself whole.’ Given that a novel in verse ended up on last year’s Booker shortlist, to redress the balance I’d be happy to see this up for the T S Eliot Prize.
There is a new avant-garde afoot, and Vuong claims his own form, making the kind of grand gestures few writers would dare. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes pretentious, sometimes both at once. And as compelled as a reader might be by the gorgeous language, or the political force and wisdom of Vuong’s insights, the novel lacks a compelling structure and sometimes loses its voltage through repetition, with many of the better observations dulled by the presence of so many similar ones throughout. This is a work worthy of attention for its exploration of class, race, sexuality and generational trauma. The committed reader will find much of value, but others may give up before they reach the end.
For me, this novel comes at a time when I am examining my own past. It comes at a time when Eugene Lee Yang releases an artistic articulation of a similar journey. To read books like these in a turbulent and confusing time can be a miraculous way to see one’s place in the universe as intentional. On earth we are not always gorgeous; and neither are the events in this novel. But there is a certain awe that comes in the wake of our worst moments, right alongside the best ones.
~ Ann Scott
Published Jun. 28, 2019 in Aspen Daily News
After last summer in the Roaring Fork Valley, the last way one would want a story to begin is, “They had been smelling smoke for two days.” However, it is still a powerful opening, makes for a fantastic, slow-burn of an adventure story and immediately sets the ominous mood in Peter Heller’s latest novel, “The River.”
“The River” is set in the deep north woods of Canada on the fictional river running into the Hudson Bay. Two friends, Jack and Wynn, are on a paddling expedition and escaping their collegiate rigors at Dartmouth by getting out to the wilderness — one of their shared loves that solidified their friendship. The two feel like they came out of a western novel: Jack, the tough-spirited ranch kid from Colorado who runs on intuition and instinct, is almost a perfect opposite of Wynn, the taller gentler one with “all freckles and unruly curls and earnestness … (and) looked like a kid who had never had a mean thought in his life.”
They also feel like a portrayal of a younger Heller. The boys are drawn together by a mutual respect — “guys who seemed to be able to more than handle himself in the woods” — and a literary way of looking at the world. During their first meeting, they talk books and share an affinity for Louis L’Amour, Henry David Thoreau, poetry and the classics. You can imagine the author connecting with people through those two litmus tests: Wilderness and literature.
You can also sense Heller’s personal love of wild places; he writes about them in perfect lyrical descriptions of nature: “The cold, clean scent” of moving water and “earth smells of falling leaves slick with rain.” Paddling a river, “They loved how the darkness amplified the sounds – the gulp of the dipping paddles, the knock of the wood shaft against the gunwale. The long desolate cry of a loon. The loons especially. How they hollowed out the night with longing.”
Despite this tranquil setting, the novel builds an uneasy atmosphere early on, not only with the sighting of a large wildfire someplace far in the distance, but also a run-in with some seemingly unsavory characters, Jack’s recalling of a tale by Edgar Allen Poe and his general sense that something doesn’t feel right. The two also have a rifle with them, which is normal for a canoe trip in northern Canada, though its appearance makes you think of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s advice to writers: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”
Early on, the boys come across a couple arguing at a fog-shrouded campsite on the river bank, and through Wynn’s moral judgement, return to try to warn them about the fire, but they have disappeared. When they later come across the man paddling alone down river, the suspense is fully set, and the pace of the story builds momentum, as though the tumultuous river were pulling you without a choice. Through the boys’ viewpoint, the reader is left wondering whose perception to trust, as the fire roars beyond the horizon with “low hisses, a ticking and chirping, a simmering crackle like a million crickets, hellfire crickets, singing of apocalypse and char.”
Peter Heller sums it up perfectly in his thoughts of writing: “Narrative can be like a river. You follow it around a corner, and you never know what’s going to be there. Before you know it, the story comes into something I’d been really concerned about for a long time.”
~ Nathan Child
Published Jun. 7, 2019 in Aspen Daily News
Many of us know the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which tells of how the people came to be scattered to the ends of the earth and given unique languages, after attempting to build a tower to reach heaven. Imagine, though, if when God scattered the Babylonians across the globe, he also scattered pieces of the tower, making those regions more bountiful and giving a number of their citizens the ability to manipulate the elements. And imagine that powerful families, known as The Order of Babel, were entrusted with safeguarding the locations of these fragments.
The year is 1889. France is coming off the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. It’s been 100 years since they stormed the Bastille, and Paris is hosting the world’s fair, the Exposition Universelle, to showcase how far humanity has come and the potential of the future. This is the backdrop for Roshani Chokshi’s new book “The Gilded Wolves,” and no one is more aware of overcoming circumstances and having greatness just within reach than the main character, wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie.
Montagnet-Alarie was raised believing he, too, would one day be inducted into The Order. But on the day of his induction ceremony, he’s told he isn’t the true heir of his house, and the only life he’s ever known is ripped out from under him. It is well known throughout The Order, though, that he is denied his inheritance due to his mixed race. In order to win back what is rightfully his and restore his family’s name, he agrees to help another member of The Order track down an ancient artifact that will reveal the locations of the Babel fragments. He assembles a team of his most trusted associates: a Filipino historian of mixed heritage with something to prove, a Jewish girl from Poland with the ability to manipulate fire, a brother in arms with the ability to manipulate the earth and a dancer from India with her own dark secret. They all stand to gain something if they succeed, but will restoring his reputation be worth risking the lives of those Séverin holds most dear?
Chokshi fantastically blends historical and biblical fiction with action, adventure and a little bit of romance in her new Gilded Wolves trilogy. It highlights the difficulties of overcoming racism, even when one is highly educated or born into wealth, and warns against striving for power for the sake of power alone. I can’t wait to see where the next chapter in Séverin’s story takes us.
~ Jay Austin
Published Apr. 26, 2019 in Aspen Daily News
Not everyone gets as worked up as I do about the topic of Seed Saving, but they should. It’s a radical, kick-ass skill that has value far beyond that of just providing gardeners with free seed year after year for their gardens. It is also a political statement, an act of self-reliance, and an activity that connects one deeply with nature and the cycle of life.
"The trick is to let the pot boil slowly. ... Let them think you're just average or ‘good for a girl’ and then slowly, slowly, slowly begin to let your true self shine. That's the only way to avoid feeling the jealous, embarrassed rage of a dude who's been beat."
“The Falconer” presents a refreshingly worthy protagonist: Lucy Adler, a champion 17-year-old Jewish-Italian basketball player coming of age in New York in the mid ’90s and secretly in love with a boy who’s been her best friend since preschool.
Lucy is street-smart, vulnerable, cynical, thoughtful – a multi-layered outcast who is destined to get her heart broken. “Mostly I like talking to him. Because the world rains arrows and honey whenever he’s near me. Painful and sweet.” Lucy’s pain is palpable but not overdone. Bad things happen, but some good things happen too. And Lucy takes it all in stride. She’s a girl to love.
Percy, the object of her crush, remains oblivious to the feelings of young women, outwardly resistant to the entitlements of his wealthy family but destined to lead a life of convention. Lucy, on the other hand, grapples with what kind of young woman she wants to be. Luckily she is surrounded by some compelling examples in her mother, her friends and her cousin Violet. Violet, a struggling painter, lives in a loft with an avant-garde feminist artist and supplies Lucy with books that seem to come with perfect timing, such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “Second Sex.”
Lucy yearns more than anything to play ball and to be free like the boy falconer in the city statue she admires. But she can’t escape wanting to also be the kind of girl that attracts Percy, a more obvious beauty or even “the kind that infiltrates the mind and heart gradually ... the kind of beauty that doesn’t register at first, but then you find it lingering in your senses.”
She moves past the hurt of his inevitable rejection, receiving good advice from her friend Alexis, another square peg, “You’ve got añoranza, Loose. Now that the reality of who he is has been revealed to you, from now on, when you miss him, you’ll only be missing the dream of him. I don’t know a word for that in any language.”
Czapnik’s background as a sports journalist serves her well in this debut novel. She not only captures an era and a city with beautiful, vivid detail, her descriptions of bodies and movement on and off court are true art.
Published April 5, 2019 in Aspen Daily News
Adult News & reviews
Library news, info about upcoming events, reviews of books and films, and a look at the topics that affect us as a library.