Book Reviews: Massachusetts Troublemakers by Paul Della Vale

Author: Paul Della Valle
Title: Massachusetts Troublemakers: Rebels, Reformers, and Radicals from the Bay State
Publication Info: Globe Pequot (2009)
ISBN: 0762748508


This book was an award given to guides at the end of the 2009 Boston By Foot tour season and made for a fun, interesting read.  The title is a bit misleading as almost every figure mentioned in this book worked for the betterment of society but  as they all veered in some way from societal norms, they were seen as “trouble”.  There are some familiar names in this book such as Samuel Adams, Henry David Thoreau and Robert Gould Shaw.  I also enjoyed learning more about characters familiar to BBF guides if not the general public such as Anne Hutchinson, Isaiah Thomas, and James Michael Curley.  But it was most fascinating to read about people I’d never heard of before such as:

  • Thomas Morton, an early settler who was not at all Puritanical – drinking, carousing and (worst of all) trading with the Indians
  • Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolution
  • Joseph Palmer, who wore a beard at a time when men were clean-shaven, was persecuted for it, and ended up involved in the transcendentalist and abolitionist movements
  • Margaret Fuller, an extremely talented journalist, activist, and feminist.

The short biographies don’t do justice to these fascinating figures of Bay State history, so fortunately there’s a great list of further reading at the back of the book.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Author: Nicole Krauss
Title: The History of Love
Publication Info: W.W. Norton & Co. (2006)
ISBN: 0316013684


This book tells the interweaving stories of two people.  One an elderly Holocaust survivor Leo Gursky who escaped too late to find that his true love has married another man and is also raising his son. The other is a teenage girl who tries to find meaning in the book her mother is translating which contains the character Alma for whom she is named.  I always fall in the trap of summarizing books when I review them, but I shant do that here.  Frankly I’m not even quite sure what happened in this book.  But I do know that it has some lovely writing with many amazing passages.  If the narrative is complex and disjointed the novel goes straight to the heart at exploring love, loneliness, grief, and the need to connect.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Author: Sherman Alexie
Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Publication Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2007)


This young adult book tells the coming of age story of Junior, a Spokane Indian growing up on an Indian reservation in Washington.  Growing up  with medical problems and general all-around geekiness he is already an outsider in his community.  Shocked by the limitations for Indians to learn and advance on the reservation, Junior decides to attend high school in a white community nearby.  Junior finds himself becoming an invisible man – hated on the reservation for being an “apple” (red on the outside, white on the inside) and a curiosity among the white teens at his high school.

Junior is a great character and his quick wit as narrator makes this a funny novel.  It’s also heartbreaking as many tragedies – most of them alcohol-related – occur during the short time of the narrative.  It’s surprising to me how harsh Alexie through Junior is in criticizing the Spokane for alcohol abuse and general lack of achievement as well as writing approvingly of white people.  On the other hand, this book does not shy away from the historical and institutional truths that create the reservation and crush hope.   Junior also writes often about his love for Indian culture and his family.  So it’s a nuanced approach paired with the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence.

This is a funny, heartbreaking, eye-opening and well-written novel.  I suspect it’s a good read for teens, but it’s also good for adults.

Recommended books: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Sweden

Author: Henning Mankell
Title: Faceless Killers
Publication Info:  New York : New Press, c1997.
ISBN: 156584341X


An elderly couple are brutally murdered in their farmhouse near a provincial Swedish town.  It’s detective Kurt Wallender’s job to solve this crime, but shocking as the murders are, they are secondary (maybe tertiary) to this novel.  The woman’s dying word “foreigner” stirs up the local community against refugees who are pouring into nearby camps.  Violence against the refugees and ultimately another murder make Sweden’s refugee policy (circa 1990) central to this novel as well as providing more crimes for Wallender to solve.

This novel is also a psychological portrait of Wallender.  He’s aging, conservative, his wife has left him, he eats poorly, he drinks too much and he’s somewhat lecherous.  The only thing he’s good at is being a detective and even there he fails to heed the advice of one of his colleagues in the police department.  In short he’s every cliche of a police detective, and yet he comes across as a full-fleshed, complex, and sympathetic character.  He’s reminiscent of a less-whimsical Inspector Morse.

I’m not sure if it’s Mankell or his translator but the writing is very spare and artless.  It is evocative of the cold, open landscape of rural Sweden.  This book is interesting in that through my American eyes I’ve always seen Sweden is very progressive so the controversy and racism regarding refugees was something I was completely unaware of.

I learned of this book from The Hieroglyphic Streets which contains links to other reviews.

Recommended books: Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels.
Rating: ***1/2

Return of A Day In a Life of a Librarian

Back in July, I participated in a web-wide librarian event entitled Library Day in the Life.  This event was created by the terrific librarian-blogger Bobbi Newman to allow people who work in libraries to share the great variety of work we do with students, patrons, and fellow librarians.  For more on what I do, check out my post from July.

A Day in the Life of an Information Lifecycle Management Assistant

  • wake up late after a rough night due to my son having frequent coughing fits.
  • once out of bed though, he seems alert and energetic so now it’s time to chase him down to get him to school.
  • my wife drives my son and I to the school.  He goes to the childrens’ center, I go to the library.
  • sort through my email and catch up on social media sites.
  • scan a few articles from Peter Kurilecz’s Records & Archives in the News (RAIN) update, but none of them seem worth in-depth reading today.
  • spend some time planning out tasks for the work week to come.
  • worked on a project to calculate the amount each administrative office at the school would pay for records storage (costs currently absorbed by the library).
  • lunch break:  the students are back so there are nearly no seats left in the cafeteria.  I’m able to sneak into a dark corner to eat my salad and write in my journal.
  • for one hour I’m on-call to page materials to the reading room from the stacks, but I’m not needed.
  • read articles from professional literature and blogs related to libraries, archives, records management and general news.  Tag some articles on Delicious.
  • place an order to retrieve a box of student records from offsite storage.
  • get a call from the Childrens Center that my son didn’t nap well due to coughing fits, and he’s a little warm but not feverish.
  • work on accessioning five boxes of videos which includes making a preliminary inventory, labeling & barcoding the boxes and preparing accession forms.
  • talk to wife on phone about coming to pick up me & our sick son on a miserable, rainy night.
  • close out day & head to the Childrens Center.
  • my “sick” son is cheerfully jumping up & down and playing with his friends.  As usual, he doesn’t want to go home.
  • supper, tubby time, bedtime for the boy & chores for me, and that was the day that was.

I think a lot of people are doing “A Week in the Life…” but for me I will end it there unless there’s some popular demand in the comments for more.

Beer Review: Harpoon Chocolate Stout

Beer: Harpoon Chocolate Stout
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.4 of 10)

Comments: Boston’s own Harpoon Brewery released this limited edition Chocolate Stout which in flavor is very true to it’s name.  Other chocolate stouts I’ve tried have a burnt or mocha flavor, but Harpoon’s is pure chocolate sweetness, but not overly sweet.  The beer has a nice black velvet effervescence with a milk chocolate head.  Harpoon Chocolate Stout feels a bit heavy in the mouth and is definitely not an everyday beer, but I like it as a nice dessert beer.

Related Beers:

Retropost: Epiphany

The sixth day of January is the Feast of Epiphany- also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, and Little Christmas.  The lyrically odd but wonderful “Cherry Tree Carol” contends that it is Jesus’ birthday, a belief shared by some early Christians and Eastern Churches.  It is also the beginning of the Carnival season building up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Garrison Keillor dedicates most of today’s Writer’s Almanac to the feast.  I wrote about Epiphany more extensively three years ago, but it’s worth revisiting that old post today.

2009 Year in Review: Ten Favorite Songs

Trying something new this year, I’ve made an attempt to make a top ten list of my favorite songs of the past year.  To diversify things I limited the list to one song per artist.  So, in alphabetical order by title with music videos or streaming mp3’s when available, here is my list:

  • “People Got a Lot of Nerve” – Neko Case
  • “Sabali” – Amadou & Mariam
  • “Stillness is the Move” – The Dirty Projectors

What were your favorite songs of 2009?

2009 Year in Review: Movies

Listed below are all the movies I’ve watched in the past year.  Just like 2007 & 2008, I’ve rated all the movies on a five star scale. Five stars is an all-time classic, three stars is the baseline for an enjoyable film end-to-end, one star is a bad movie with perhaps one good sequence or performance. A film with no stars has no redeeming characteristics at all.

Movie Round Up

2009 was not a big movie watching year for me.  Here are the last four films I watched (over a period of four months!).

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007)

This documentary aptly covers the life and career of folk singer/activist Pete Seeger.  It’s a good overview, like a visual version of The Protest Singer and I especially appreciate the ample commentary from Seeger’s family members.

Follow That Bird (1985)

Sesame Street hits the silver screen in a movie that paradoxically has too much going on in terms of multiple plots yet often feels dreadfully slow.  All my favorite Muppets – Cookie Monster, Bert & Ernie, The Count, et al – are able to liven up the screen with some humorous bits, but overall this movie feels too melancholy and at times creepy (especially when a blue-dyed Big Bird sings a sad song from a cage).

Rushmore (1998)

I couldn’t get into this film about a nerdy but arrogant boy who makes extracurricular activities at an elite boarding school (while failing all his courses) his goal in life.  I found it hard to suspend disbelief that Max would be the center of all the activity depicted in the film, especially since he seemed like an asshole.  Some good quirky film-making from Wes Anderson, but not a good coherent whole.

Gosford Park (2001)

A comedy of manners set during a shooting party in 1930’s England where the lives of the (already fading) aristocracy are compared with the lives of the servants working below stairs.  Throw in a murder and you end up with a case of moral ambiguity not too dissimilar to The Player by the same director.  Like many Robert Altman films there are a lot of characters and a lot going on and this film would reward repeat viewings.