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Last month I whined about not getting to go on all my planned trips this year (the Pollyanna in me thinks: HEY! When this is all over, I have MONDO e-credits with Delta and AirBnB! YIPPEE!)
I also asked YOU: while you’ve been semi- or fully-quarantined, what have you been reading? Where have you been going in your “book time”?
I invited you to submit your own mini-reviews of books you’ve read (for Learning Ally OR for pleasure)...and here are some that I’ve received since then.
If you’d like your book recommendations/reviews/pans to be posted next month, please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:
Redhead by the Side of the Road
submitted by volunteer Caren Snook
I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road. If you're thinkin' that's a person, you'll be surprised! The story revolves around the adult life of the youngest child, and only son, of a haphazard family. For some reason, he just doesn't quite fit in.
Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital
Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter
I had already started Bellevue before the COVID-19 pandemic started. I chose it because Bellevue Hospital’s roots pre-date the American Revolution. The story of this public hospital presents US history through the lens of public health, sanitation, and medicine. As the extended title hints, there are plenty of personalities, politics, and prejudice; not just the challenges like distinguishing medical care from butchery and quackery, treating mental illness, training women as nurses, and that all people, not just the wealthy, should have access to good medical care.
Since Bellevue is a public hospital, it has been on the frontline of battles against everything from gruesome Civil War injuries, to addressing public health issues of Cholera and Typhoid, to the full spectrum of care for minorities and poor New Yorkers, as well as national epidemics including Spanish Flu, Polio, AIDS and SARS. The chapters addressing AIDS and SARS were haunting, as I adjusted to COVID 19 quarantine.
It’s a big book, but the pages fly by as the stories unfold. I found it very engaging and thought provoking.
Walk the Wire
I made myself plod through Walk the Wire, by David Baldacci, because the library had made it possible for me to put it on hold, download it, and read it on my tablet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Baldacci was at his best when he wrote the Camel Club series, but his new characters are not very interesting.
submitted by volunteer Brian Hill
I'm not ALL the way through it yet, but I can report that I'm enjoying it greatly. I became interested in translations a couple of years ago (never really thought of it before) when I happened upon Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. To be honest I think I find translations easier to read (mostly) than earlier time period British writers, probably mostly because they have been often translated by modern scholars.
What I find enjoyable about the Russian writers is their almost microscopic look at ordinary interactions and relationships. We're all aware of all of the detailed nuances of interpersonal relationships, but having them described in such original and really, eye opening ways has been a real joy for me.
I AM going to have to double back though, and I know I'll enjoy it even more the second time (get all the multiple names and perhaps backgrounds of peripheral characters straight). I was so friggin animated last night just reading a seemingly simple description of our hero being walked to the front door by one of the hosts (albeit a somewhat special one) and the conversation they had.along the way. I was laughing, whooping, re-reading and eventually read the whole few pages over again, to my great delight. The guy will bring to the top of your mind things you probably are subconsciously aware of, but haven't put into words. He puts it into words and so makes you more aware of...the human condition I guess.
Nothing 'Idiotic' about this book, and better than hearing 'social distance' (isn't that an oxymoron) fifty thousand times!
John Sandford's latest, Masked Prey, is a page turner, of course. Lucas Davenport is in Washington, DC this time. Unfortunately, the plot is entirely believable, which makes it worrisome.
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Kim Michele Richardson
I knew nothing about the depression-era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. It was a depression-era program that paid people, mostly women, to be traveling librarians, delivering free books and magazines to people in the isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
Richardson brings the program to life by creating an isolated mountain community and a “Blue” woman, Cussie May Carter, as her central character. Through Cussie and other traveling librarians, Richardson presents the dedication of the mule-riding librarians and the challenges they faced. She also introduces readers to the prejudices and real dangers faced by an overlooked minority, “Blues,” white people born with a genetic mutation that produces blue-tinged skin.
Richardson waits until the end of the book to address the realities of misguided medical attempts to “cure” Blues like Cussie of their skin color. It was easy to identify with Cussie’s passion for books and her determination to bring the world to her isolated neighbors through the books in her saddlebags.
If It Bleeds
Stephen King's latest, If It Bleeds, is a collection of short fiction. The title novella features PI Holly, who is a main character in several of King's recent books. My favorite was "The Life of Chuck", an amazing short story.
The Library Book
Submitted by staff member Stacie Court
On April 29, 1986, I was teaching French I and Introduction to Foreign Languages at two public middle schools in Newport News, Virginia. I came from a military family, I had met my husband in AFROTC, he was stationed at Langley AFB, and most of the children I taught were either Navy, Air Force, or Army dependents. Most of the stories focused on by area news stations and print outlets focused on military-related stories, so I rarely knew of much else going on across the country.
I had no idea that while I was teaching seventh and eighth graders to conjugate verbs, the Central Library in Los Angeles, California, was burning...and so many lives were changing.
Susan Orlean’s book is not only a real eye-opener about the event, but it is very interesting to read during this time rampant with so many things seemingly beyond our control. Orlean talks about everything--EVERYTHING--she can think of related to the burning and its aftermath. At one point she even describes her own experience of burning a book while researching this event: she felt compelled to experience the burning of a book, but couldn’t bring herself to burn any that she thought of--the idea was total anathema. Then, she found the perfect book, and burned it.
This is a story of many details, many books, and many people, but Orlean is able to weave it into an easy narrative, bringing us into the heartbreak and desolation experienced by the Los Angeles librarians (and the mourning of librarians the world over), as well as the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the library back to life. She also helps us feel just a little bit of that debt we all owe to libraries and their patrons everywhere (including Athens, Georgia, where I borrowed this book from the public library).
What do you do at Learning Ally? I lead the Foreign Language Community, supervising the recording of all foreign language textbooks, and I lead the TOC Community, a group of organized, computer-savvy volunteers who help set up the textbooks so they are ready for the other volunteers to work on. In non-COVID times, I also handle a lot of engagement and outreach initiatives in Georgia, mostly with the Lions Clubs and University of Georgia faculty and students.
How long have you worked at Learning Ally? I became a volunteer almost as soon as I heard of it, in July 2007, and by the next summer I was on staff.
What made you want to work at Learning Ally? I can't imagine NOT wanting to work here. Each day is different, so I don't have time to be bored, and all day, everyday, everything I am doing is helping someone in need.
What's something most people at LA don't know about you? What do you do during your free time? I grew up in a military family and have trouble sitting still. I'm 55, and have moved 32 times in my life, living in places as scattered as Maine and Florida, and California and Guam. I love to travel, and am never happier than when I can get my husband and/or one of my children to go adventuring with me. We are all hoping to go together to Norway for my 60th birthday, so I am (slowly, in my free time), studying Norwegian.
What is your favorite book? I don't really have a favorite but the two that probably had the most impact on my life were the unabridged versions of Johanna Spyri's Heidi and Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates which I received for my seventh birthday. They were the first "real" books I read, and at seven they were a bit of a challenge. But, I read them, and I loved wrapping my head and tongue around the foreign words and cultural differences. I sometimes wonder if I joined the German folkdancing group at my high school so I could dress in a dirndl like Heidi and Gretel--?
If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would you be and why? H.G. Wells in the TV show Warehouse 13: she's absolutely brilliant, a good person deep down, and at about 140 years old she still looks stunning.
If you could write a book about your life, what would the title be and why? Say Yes to Adventure! I love a good adventure, and they usually happen when I take a chance and say yes.
WOW! Learning Ally staff members are so great! What is it that makes us so terrific?
Maybe it’s our WOWs: Ways of Working. A set of guidelines for positive action, we refer to them and incorporate them into all our personal and organizational goals. By following the WOWs, we all work together to make Learning Ally a great place to work and volunteer.
Maybe you’d like to consider adding some or all of our WOWs to your own toolbox? Here they are for you to ponder:
a. Focus on customer needs as we embrace continuous change.
b. Project ahead to find and deliver on the changes that need to be made.
c. Find the meaning in the data.
d. Make fact-based decisions and remain aligned with those decisions until a new case is made and a new decision is reached.
e. Ask how we can do it better, consistently and often.
f. Display bravery and be comfortable standing up and taking an unpopular view on issues.
g. Assume positive intent.
h. Communicate truthfully, candidly, and constructively.
i. Demonstrate concern for all functions and see the organization as one.
j. Acknowledge and celebrate team efforts and wins.
k. Address issues with each other directly before taking them up with others.
l. Set clear expectations and define everyone’s role (ownership) for achievement.
m. Ensure the right people are in the room when making decisions.
n. Regularly ask for and give feedback.
o. Openly acknowledge mistakes, seek solutions, and not blame.
Some of these WOWs seem so obvious, but others maybe not so much depending on your personal background and the experiences you’ve had. Confession time: I grew up in a very negative household. A few years ago, when a member of our Senior Leadership Team told me, “Assume positive intent”, it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was stunned. At that moment, I realized all my life I had assumed negative intent, and it had colored so many of my experiences as an adult. I have been grateful to that person ever since then for taking the time to tell me that, and am pleased to see it as a part of our WOWs. Just that one WOW has had such an impact on me personally; imagine how incorporating ALL of them can create positive, dynamic change in all of us?
Pick a WOW and try it on for size. I bet you’ll like it.