Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker (Blue Rider Press, 2013).
I only knew Nicholson Baker as the author of non-fiction works like Double Fold, but it turns out he is a novelist, and a pretty good one. This most recent novel, Traveling Sprinkler, is actually a sequel to The Anthologist, which I will have to hunt down and read. The main character, a poet (whose works are being put in anthologies for students to read) is faintly reminiscent of Robert Frost. He lives in rural New Hampshire and attends Quaker meeting to try to cope with the present day and all its dysfunctional news. An intelligent, artistic middle-aged man, he hopes to write the love song which will persuade his ex-girlfriend to take him back. As a poet and former professional musician he is actually fairly well qualified for the task – all he needs is a crash course in modern electronic recording techniques.
Public libraries and resilient cities edited by Michael Dudley (American Library Association, 2013).
This book explores “the roles that public libraries can play in the promotion of ecologically, economically, and socially resilient communities in challenging times.” Each chapter tells the story of a public library in the U.S. or Canada which went beyond providing access to books and information to addressing an unmet community need. These needs ranged from childcare for government workers after a hurricane and a summer feeding program for poor children, to targeted literacy and technology training programs, to public gardens and programming for the homeless and socially excluded. This book also demonstrates that even without any specific programs, the public library provides a public place for democracy to flourish in an increasingly privatized world, and can model ways to build or renovate using environmentally friendly practices. Michael Dudley, a librarian and urban planner, makes a great case for public libraries to be active participants in the Transition Town movement which promotes local resiliency in the face of climate change and peak oil.
The signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin Audio, 2013)
After investing 22 hours listening to this novel on CD, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Let’s start with the facts: it’s the story of a fictional woman botanist whose career spans most of the 19th century. She was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family but ended her days as Curator of Mosses in her mother’s family’s botanical garden back in Holland. While her career was unusual for a women of that time, she probably accomplished as much research and publication as she would have in the 21st century. Her brief marriage gave her an opportunity to sail around the world and see places that only men of that time typically saw. She never met Darwin, but she did meet his associate Wallace. Overall this novel paints a very complete picture of what life would have been like for a woman naturalist in the 19th century.