A Book for the Times

Of all the great modern American novelists, including Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Steinbeck and Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis has always been my favorite. His works were required reading for my generation, and I read them eagerly – Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dosworth. In 1930 Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first American writer to be so honored.

Sinclair Lewis had a writing style that was considered radical for the time. His work was largely a satire of American culture, society, and behavior. In Main Street, he questioned the myth of the wholesomeness of small-town America, and exposed the underside of life in isolated and insular communities – the small mindedness, bigotry, jealousies and petty resentments. In Babbitt, Lewis created a character so richly drawn that the word “Babbitt”, referring to a materialistic, complacent, and conformist businessman, entered the English language. His novels satirized both American life and the characters within it. Readers loved it.

Sinclair’s writing has withstood the test of time, and is still considered some of the greatest literature of the twentieth century. It can be said that great literature is a story that captures the time period in which it was written while exploring universal themes of the human condition – alienation, conformity, isolation, suffering, good and evil, humanity or the lack of, power and the danger of unchecked ambition, among others. No matter how dated the setting or characters, great literature is able to connect with every generation and audience because it speaks to these universal truths.

Sinclair Lewis had a talent for holding up a mirror to American life. He had an amazing eye for society and an incredible ability to create characters that reflect the very best and the very worst of society. His characters include con artists, feminists, liberated women, hack politicians- both political populists and fear mongering isolationists, do-gooders and doubters.  He writes frankly about racism and about how politicians use fear and distrust for their own ends.  He discusses religion and religious scams.  His novels read as if they were written this morning rather than more than 80 years ago. Read his novels and nothing in contemporary American life will surprise you, not even the current political malaise in which we find ourselves.

In fact, it is the current political situation that has brought Sinclair Lewis to mind. One of his last great novels, It Can’t Happen Here, was published in 1935. It’s a cautionary tale about the fragility of American democracy. Americans of all political persuasions are likely to find It Can’t Happen Here, though firmly grounded in the politics of the 1930s, a fascinating if disturbing read this election season.

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Library Programs

survey_ImageLibraries are many things to their communities. They are learning labs for the very young – where the pre-literacy skills taught in storytime prepare children to read, listen and learn. They are repositories of wonderful, engaging ideas – in books, film and music – that entertain, enhance leisure time and stimulate imagination and creativity. They are a wellspring of the practical information people need to improve their quality of life and to increase individual options in a complex society—information about health, education, business, child care, technology, the environment, employment and much more. They offer homework resources to ensure that children succeed in school, and technology training to ensure everyone has the skills to succeed in the digital age. Libraries also provide opportunities for people of all ages to connect with ideas and with each other through programming.

Library programs give their communities the opportunity to explore, think about, talk about and exchange ideas about literature, history, art, music, film, current events, culture and a variety of other topics. They can be programs that teach, demonstrate, inform, entertain, inspire or encourage discussion. Library programs range from book talks to art exhibits, from topical workshops to hands-on craft projects. In past years, for example, we’ve offered programs as diverse as digital photography, apple pie making, cemeteries, nutrition, Irish history, local history, employment, genealogy, retirement, credit scores, iPads, smartphones and how to paint with watercolors. We’ve had dozens of authors talk about their books, and dozens of artists exhibit their works.

We’re now in the process of planning our programs for the coming year, and we’d like to hear from you. As we plan for library programs, it’s essential that we consider the community. Our programs should be a reflection of your interests, ideas and needs. This is where you can help.

We’ve designed a short, five question survey that we are asking everyone to complete. We’re asking that you share your thoughts and comments about what types of programs you’d be interested in. You can access the survey online at the library’s website, raynhampubliclibrary.org, or pick-up a printed copy at the library. We are open to your ideas. Let us hear from you.

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Looking at Statistics

The library’s fiscal year ended June 30, and I have been spending the month of July and August compiling our end of year statistical and financial reports to submit to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. These reports are part of the process of the library’s annual certification. Each year we must meet certain standards to qualify for state aid to public libraries.

The MBLC is a curious organization. By that, I mean curious as in inquisitive, not curious as in peculiar. This is an organization that wants to know everything – from the number of library parking spaces to the number of wireless sessions we provided during the year to the number of people who walked through our door. We are asked about the number of materials that we own – in all their different forms – print, video, audio, downloadable, electronic. We are asked about the use of each of these different forms by different ages -children, young adults, and adults. We are asked how many items we borrowed from other communities, and how many items we loaned to other communities. There are nine pages of questions that must be answered. And that’s just the statistical report; the financial report is another four pages. Every summer I have the pleasure to complete these reports; no wonder I groan at the thought of July. However, at the end of the process, something interesting emerges – a portrait of the library’s use and activity that is enlightening and informing.

These statistics help us understand how people use the library, when they use the library and what kinds of materials and services they prefer. This information helps us be responsive to the community’s needs and interests, and informs our decisions about future programming, staffing and materials.

As much as I complain, I love these statistics; because I love knowing that what we do at the library makes a difference in the lives of people we serve. We love to be busy, to answer questions about the collection, to find that special book, CD or DVD, to give assistance with the e-catalog or to introduce a user to a new service or program. Everyone who comes through the door wants or needs something. We are only too happy to help.

We’ll spend a good many hours analyzing, evaluating and comparing these figures, looking for trends to guide our decisions about how to best serve you in the year to come.

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You might also like…


We answer all kinds of questions at the library, from how to get a credit report and print airline tickets to questions about downloading e-content, placing holds and reserving zoo passes. Questions come at us all day long. Some are easy to answer and some present a challenge. It’s the unpredictability of the day’s questions that makes our job interesting and enjoyable. We never know just what questions we’ll be asked.

There is one question, however, that we know we’ll be asked. It’s a question that’s often asked. It’s a simple enough question, and it’s always asked with an eager smile, “Can you recommend something to read?”

Why is this simple question so difficult to answer? Reading is a very selective, highly individual choice. Unless we know you well, we may not make a recommendation that you’ll enjoy, and we don’t want to disappoint you. That is why we are so pleased to offer a new resource to help you find that next good read. It is NoveList Plus. NoveList Plus is an online readers’ advisory service designed to answer the question, “What should I read next?”

The NoveList Plus database connects you to your next book by making recommendations based on categories that you select. One of its most popular features is read-alikes. This feature suggests titles that are ‘just like’ other titles. If you’ve just finished a great book, log into NoveList Plus, enter the title of the book and find other read-alikes – books similar in subject, style, tone and readability. NoveList Plus provides up to nine read-alike recommendations for each book, author and series. You can also search for reading suggestions by genre, locations, characters, subjects, appeal, recommended reading lists and popularity. It is also helpful for reading books in series.

Consider NoveList Plus your one-stop guide to great reading. It contains lists of recommended reads and award-winning books. It covers both fiction and nonfiction titles for all ages from the youngest readers to adults. It has extra content like reviews (both professional reviews and reader reviews), book discussion guides, curriculum guides, and other book-oriented articles. Book groups and teachers will find these resources especially helpful.

You can access NoveList Plus in the Books & More section on our website, raynhampubliclibrary.org. You’ll also find this new feature in the SAILS catalog. As you select a book in the catalog, you’ll get recommendations for similar titles and authors.

The library’s shelves are full of good books just waiting to be read. The choice is yours with a little help from NoveList Plus.


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Be Adventurous This Summer

Summer is the best time for a good old fashion adventure. There are great adventures all around us, and summer is the ideal time to pursue them. What adventure are you planning for the summer? Hiking through the mountains of Vermont? Sailing off the coast of Maine? Camping in the highlands of New Hampshire? Even if you’re not able to get away on an actual vacation, adventures still await you at the library. You’ll find no better summer escape than a true life adventure story. It’s by far the best way to get away from it all. Check out some of the recent titles in this excellent genre.

Explorer Levison Wood recounts his journey through the treacherous foothills of the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, in his book, Walking the Himalayas. Over the course of six months, Wood and his trusted guides trek 1,700 grueling miles across the roof of the world. He describes the beauty and danger he found along the Silk Road route of Afghanistan, the disputed territories of Kashmir and earthquake ravaged Nepal. It’s a revealing look at this part of the world and the people who live there.

438 Days, by Jonathan Franklin is the miraculous account of the man who survived alone and adrift at sea longer than anyone in recorded history. For Salvador Alvarenga a weekend fishing trip off the coast of Mexico turned into a nightmarish fourteen months drifting across the Pacific Ocean. His survival at sea, final rescue and recovery make an amazing story.

The pilgrimage across the Pyrenees to the Spanish shrine of St. James is known as the Camino de Santiago. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. Hape Kerkeling, a popular European comedian, is an unlikely candidate to make the arduous journey, but he has done so in his own unique style. I’m Off Then, Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago is full of unforgettable characters, stunning landscapes and the author’s self-depreciating humor. It’s a funny and inspiring read.

Bill Bryson, a very amusing guy and well known travel writer, has previously documented his escapades in England,  Australia, and along the Appalachian Trail. In his latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, he travels England once again and shares with us his acute, perceptive and humorous insights into today’s Britain. You’ll be wildly entertained.

Experience amazing adventures and travel far and wide this summer. Read!

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Summer Reads

Ah, summer at last. The warm, long, languid days are finally here, and we couldn’t be happier. Summer is a time to slow down and relax; it’s a time to take things a little easier, whether it’s lounging by the pool, lazing in the hammock or sunning at the beach. It’s also a time for catching-up on your reading.

Publishers work overtime to get their books in print before the summer demand peeks, so our shelves are full of newly published titles – from literary debuts to new works from favorite authors. Looking for summer reading ideas? Here are few of our suggestions.

Fiction: Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, is the fourth title in the Hogarth Press series of Shakespeare-inspired novels by contemporary writers. Tyler offers a witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, The Taming of the Shrew. It’s a funny, bittersweet story you are sure to enjoy.

Suspense: The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware, is a suspenseful and haunting mystery reminiscent of the works of Agatha Christie. There are surprising twists and turns as the heroine attempts to solve the puzzle of a missing passenger aboard a luxury cruise.

Romance: The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner, is a sweeping saga about four generations of a family who live and love on an enchanting island off the coast of Italy. This is as good as a trip to Italy this summer.

Beach Read: Here’s to Us, by Elin Hilderbrand. Bestselling author Hilderbrand has written an emotional, heartwarming story about a grieving family that finds solace where they least expect it. The story brings together three sets of ex-wives and children of a man who committed suicide on Nantucket. Secrets are revealed and confidences are shared as this unlikely gathering says goodbye to the man they loved.

Non-Fiction: Pulitzer Prize winning author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, provides a history of genetic research, as well the genetic history of the his family, including mental illness, in his newly published work, The Gene: an Intimate History. Don’t be put off by the number of pages. The book is brilliantly written – weaving science, social history, and personal narrative – to tell the story of one of the most important breakthroughs of modern science.

History: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick. The National Book Award-winning author of In the Heart of the Sea presents an account of the complicated middle years of the American Revolution that offers lesser-known insights into the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.

Whatever your interests, you’ll find something to entertain you this summer at the library.


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Open House – Saturday, June 25

Do you know the feeling you get when you are bursting to share a piece of exciting news? When something good is happening to you and you can’t wait to tell someone about it? How your pulse quickens and your heart beats a little faster? Well, that’s how we feel at the library about our Saturday Children’s Room Open House.

We’re hosting the Open House to celebrate the completion of the renovation project begun in April. We are so very pleased with the results. We’ve created one space dedicated to preschoolers with colorful picture books displayed in beautifully redesigned shelves. We’re reorganized the picture book collection by theme – growing-up, nature, favorites, things that go, celebrations, and concepts – to make it easier to locate books of interest. In addition to picture books, CD kits fill one range of shelving, while puppets peep from a puppet stage in another part. Puzzles, toys and games fill yet another shelf. The children’s board book collection is displayed in a child’s size mobile cart within easy reach of eager little hands. Backpacks of learning kits hang from a post, and an interactive wall puzzle awaits on a near wall. An early literacy computer workstation greets children as they enter the space. It’s a warm, welcoming and colorful room that invites children to discover, explore and learn.

The children’s nonfiction books that once filled the preschool space have been moved into the larger room and placed in three rows of new shelving. Children now have greater access to the collection and can browse through it easily. Fiction and chapter books for children grades 2 through 5 are arranged alphabetically around the walls with colorful callouts indicating popular series and authors. Computer workstations and an interactive learning station line one wall of the room. New tables, bright colored chairs and bean bags offer comfortable seating for children to relax or study.

We invite you to help us celebrate this wonderfully redesigned space on Saturday, June 25, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. While exploring the new room, children can also register for the summer reading program, On You Mark, Get Set…READ!, pick-up a summer reading kit, receive a registration prize and register for weekly activities and special events. Summer presents the perfect time to discover the library. Get your children involved with reading at the library. Visit the library often and enjoy all it has to offer.

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