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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, May 20, 2001

Library's Summer Reading Program Isn't Just for Kids

When I was a boy, summers in Evansville meant no school, swimming at Audubon State Park, mowing lawns and riding my bicycle to Harper School to participate in the public library's summer reading program. Audubon is closed for swimming now and my son mows the lawn, but summer reading at the library has remained a constant. Even as an adult, I can participate in a summer reading program.

The theme of the program this summer is "Evansville Reads." When you join, you get a brochure with suggested titles of books in categories associated with local landmarks. Schmitt Photo is this year's sponsor. Read one book in each of the five categories and you can enter a drawing for a 35mm camera, scrapbooks and other prizes.

Descriptions of six of the recommended books follow..

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Picador, 1998).

What sets this biblical novel based on the life of Jacob apart is its emphasis on the female characters of the story. In fact, the "red tent" is where the women go when they have to give birth or when they are ill. This is where they share their stories. Jacob's story is told from the viewpoint of his daughter Dinah. Diamant takes a brief Biblical reference that Dinah was raped and expands it into an adventurous and heartbreaking tale of a strong and beautiful woman.

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III (Norton, 1999).

One house trying to be possessed by two cultures is the centerpiece of Dubus's novel, which was a recent Oprah selection. Behrani, an Iranian refugee from the late Shah's regime, represents the "Sand" element. A California woman, Kathy Nicolo, and her redneck boyfriend personify the "fog". Behrani tries to take possession of Kathy's house when Kathy loses it because of delinquent taxes, but Kathy and her boyfriend do not give it up easily. Behrani, a devout Moslem, finds out that following all the rules may not count for much when confronted with people who flout them openly.

Faded Coat of Blue by Owen Parry (Avon, 1999).

Abel Jones is a Scottish immigrant who finds himself a detective in the Union Army under General McClellan. He is asked to solve a murder in Philadelphia that may have a connection to the Abolitionist movement and so requires sensitive handling. Parry uses a Scot character to allow us to see the idealism that motivated Americans during the Civil War, when men were willing to lay down their lives for an ideal.

Waiting by Ha Jin (Pantheon, 1999).

Ha Jin was born in China but lives now in the United States and writes in English. He won the National Book Award for this unusual love story. Set in communist China, it is about a Chinese doctor and military officer who falls in love with an army nurse and tries for eighteen years to get a divorce from his wife. Each year he journeys from his military hospital to his native village to ask his wife unsuccessfully for his freedom. He finds out that arranged marriages are not so easy to get out of in communist China.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (Bantam, 1998).

In this sequel to Last of the Mohicans, the father of Elizabeth Middleton persuades the spinster schoolteacher to immigrate to upstate New York form England in the 1790s. He promises her a teaching job, but his real reason for having her come is to arrange a marriage with a well-connected local physician, Richard Todd. Todd is only interested in her land, however, and Elizabeth is soon drawn to Nathaniel Bonner, the son of "Hawkeye," hero of the James Fenimore Cooper classic.

Old-fashioned storytelling and great characters make for compulsive reading from the first page. Fans of Diana Gabaldon will be interested to know that one of her characters makes a surprise appearance here.

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb (Scribner, 1992).

This is one of McCrumb's "Ballad" series of novels. They are a combination of mystery, legend, rural lore, and folklore, and are set in Appalachia, where the author's ancestors settled from Scotland. The mystery this time involves the slaughter of several members of a family new to the area. The sheriff calls on Laura Bruce, the wife of the local Baptist minister, to help console the family, and she soon finds herself involved in solving the case.

McCrumb will be at McCollough Library on June 12. Tickets are available at your local library branch.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.