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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Librarians' Home Bookshelves Liable to Have It All

People who say that you can tell much about a person by the books on their shelves probably don't know any librarians. We tend to be eclectic in our tastes, exposure to a huge variety of reading material being a pleasant occupational hazard. So, casting about for ways to introduce myself to you, I hit upon the idea of reviewing some of the books that I care about enough to own. Draw conclusions about my interests and personality if you must, but keep in mind that space limitations prevent offering a truly representative sampling of my personal library.

Forever by Pete Hamill (Little, Brown, 2003).

The magical saga of Cormac O'Connor, "Irish, and a Jew," begins in Ireland in 1740. Secretly raised in the old Gaelic ways under English Protestant rule, the boy sees his parents murdered by the uncaring Earl of Warren. When the Earl leaves impoverished Ireland for a better life in New York City, a vengeful Cormac follows him. Shot while saving a friend, he encounters an African priestess and is granted eternal life and youth on the condition that he never leaves the island of Manhattan. The story then becomes a tale of New York City as Cormac fights in the American Revolution, dines with Boss Tweed, and watches the city grow into a metropolis as his friends grow old and die one after another. The reviews of this book didn't appeal to me, but I loved the author's Snow in August, so I gave it a try, and now it's on my all-time top-10 list.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) Jill by Conner Browne (Three Rivers Press, 2003).

Be careful about reading this book in a public place. You could draw a crowd as you weep with laughter at The Twelve Steps of Getting Old and Fat, Family Vacations and Other Atrocities, and financial tips like this one: "Plastic surgery is no place to skimp." Then there are the actual recipes—That Pumpkin Stuff That Dorothy Makes (it's great; I've tried it), Corn and Peppers with Enhanced Fat Content—well, you get the picture. I love the audio version of this one, too. You really need to hear the author read her work to get that Delta accent in your head.

Due North by Mitchell Smith (Simon & Schuster, 1992).

Sara is the fiercely independent daughter of a conventional family. She and her husband Alan have, for years, made a living fur trapping in the mountains of the Arctic. The simplicity and stark beauty of their lives is shattered when a raging grizzly bear attacks and kills Alan while Sara watches, paralyzed by fear. Almost relieved when the local Indian tribe orders her from her remote homestead, she sets out by dogsled to return to civilization. Once there—in Seattle—she finds herself something of a savage. She must now deal with a different wilderness, where central heating and wall-to-wall carpeting define her environment. Eventually, Sara finds the courage to return to the wild, and to face the bear again. This book haunts me; you'll have to read all the way to the last two pages to see why.

Provinces of Night by William Gay (Doubleday, 2000).

William Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and his semi-autobiographical Southern Gothic style is echoed here. Fleming Bloodworth is an aspiring author, hoping to avoid the family tendency toward violence and self-destruction. His grandfather, a legendary bluesman, has come home after 30 years of wandering to find his three sons addled or gone away. Fleming grows attached to him and his music, and through them finds Raven Lee Halfacre and a glimpse at another way of life. In the background, the Tennessee Valley Authority is about to flood their valley to "bring in the electricity." The characters are drawn with a crystalline precision that provides a perfect contrast to the slow meandering of the story. Gay's prose is like poetry.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.