Can It Happen Here?

Of all the great modern American novelists, including Fitzgerald, Hemingway, 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’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 captures the time period in which it was written while exploring universal themes of the human condition. 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, hack politicians, 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 almost a century ago. Read his novels and nothing in contemporary American life will surprise you, not even the current political mess 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, as waves of fascism were sweeping through Europe. The novel describes the ascent of  “Buzz” Windrip, a political populist who is elected President of the United States, after provoking fear and promising economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes authoritarian rule with the help of a paramilitary force. Democratic norms are eroded as he becomes increasingly paranoid and power-hungry. The plot is heavy with the dramatic. One of the most chilling moments is an attempt to flee to sanctuary in Canada. There’s a military coup, an assassination and a war with Mexico. It’s a cautionary tale about the fragility of American democracy that speaks to us today.

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. One is left with the lingering question, “Can it happen here?”

Posted in Readers

Raynham Reads 2020

Have you ever had the experience of not knowing what to say to someone? You probably have; we’ve all suffered through it. It’s that awkward interval after the initial greeting when you anxiously search your brain for the right conversation opener – should it be sports, the weather, the debt ceiling? I understand that it’s a common problem, but it doesn’t have to be if you join the One Book, One Community read. You need never be at a loss for words again!
Ever since Seattle’s Washington Center for the Book started the trend twenty years ago, the phenomenon of One Book, One Community reading programs has grown steadily across the country. There are now statewide, citywide, countywide, and even country-wide reading programs all over the world. You’ll find community reads from North Dakota to Tuscarawas County Ohio, from New Orleans, Louisiana to, well, say, Raynham, Massachusetts. This grassroots reading phenomena has become so popular because it brings people together by giving them a shared experience. When we all read the same book, we all have something in common to talk about. We become a community of readers who share ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes about the book we are reading.
Raynham begins its eleventh annual community read, Raynham Reads 2020, this February with the book Good Riddance, by Elinor Lipman. Lipman is a New York Times’ bestselling author of witty, wry romance, and in this book she doesn’t disappoint. The novel revolves around a discarded high school yearbook. Daphne doesn’t quite know what to make of the heavily annotated high school yearbook she inherits from her mother, who held on to this remnant of her teaching days. Daphne’s mother was the teacher to whom the class of ’68 had dedicated its yearbook, and in turn she went on to attend every reunion, scribbling notes and not always charitable observations of the class in the yearbook’s margins. In a fit of decluttering Daphne discards the yearbook. But when it’s found in the recycling bin by a neighbor and documentary filmmaker, Daphne finds herself entangled in a series of events both heartwarming and ridiculous. The book has been praised as “Effortlessly charming . . . inspires a very specific kind of modern joy.” (New York Times Book Review)
Highlighting this year’s community read will be the author’s visit in April. Although she now lives in New York, Elinor Lipman grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, graduated from Simmons and often uses New England as the setting for her novels. Friends of the Raynham Public Library invite you to read the book, join the discussion and meet the author. For more information on Raynham Reads 2020 and the events planned for March and April, visit the library’s website, raynhampubliclibrary.org or call the library at 508.823.1344. Raynham Reads 2020 is sponsored by the Friends of the Raynham Public Library, the Raynham Cultural Council and the Raynham Public Library.

Posted in Readers

New Year Resolutions

As the year comes to a close one can’t avoid the constant reminders that the New Year brings new opportunities. These reminders of new opportunities are mainly focused on methods to improve the old you. We are bombarded with ideas for self-improvement. It’s a New Year, a new you, right? – New body, new face, new interests, new friends, new everything. If only it were true. Sadly, most of us are stuck with the same old body, face, interests and friends. Not that we can’t change; not that we don’t want to change. It’s just so hard to break away from that comfort zone we all inhabit – no matter how resolute we are.

We make our New Year’s resolutions with good intentions and great sincerity, but it’s easy to lose enthusiasm as daily life chugs on. Resolutions begin to fade quietly away within a few weeks. However, if you are determined to hold fast to your resolutions, make the commitment and push through to ultimate success, the library can help. Publishers know that the New Year brings an itch for change and release a multitude of books to motivate, inspire and transform us into our ideal selves. If you are determined to turn over a new leaf in 2020 – lose those pounds, exercise more, be kinder to your family and work colleagues, be more confident, spend less, save more, be happier, get organized –  there’s a book for that, and you can find it at the library. There are hundreds of self-help books in our collection to guide, support and motivate you toward whatever personal transformation you hope to achieve.

Want to shed weight, improve your looks and increase your self-esteem? Choose from an array of diet and exercise books. You’ll find advice on how to shed pounds, have sustained weight loss and feel great all year long. Want to unlock your brain’s healing potential to overcome negativity, anxiety, anger, stress and trauma? Dr. Daniel Amen tells you how in his book, Feel Better Fast and Make it Last. Looking for ways to simplify your life, reduce stress and rid yourself of the clutter? A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Tidy Mind, by Shoukei Matsumoto, offers advice on organizing your home and simplifying your life. For the ultimate guide to discovering your life’s direction and purpose check out Oprah Winfrey’s book, The Path Made Clear. In it she shares what she sees as a guide for activating the deepest vision of you, offering the framework for creating not just a life of success, but one of significance.

No matter what your resolutions for the New Year, January is the ideal time for a fresh start and a time to embrace change. You need only a library card to begin the journey to a new you. Don’t have a library card? That’s the resolution that should be at the top of your list. And it’s the one you’ll be most likely to keep.

Posted in Readers

Relax This Holiday Season

It’s that most wonderful time of the year – the world is full of glittering holiday lights, and the joyful sounds of holiday music. We look forward with eager anticipation to sharing evenings with family and friends, and to watching their delight and surprise as they open holiday gifts. But as December days fly by, a rising sense of panic begins to take hold. If only we had more time for the gift buying, baking, decorating, sending of cards and mailing of packages. Our lovely feelings of holiday cheer begin to morph into feelings of anxiety and stress. In fact, according to a recent poll, more than 80% of us find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful. If you’re beginning to feel more stress than cheer, here are some suggestions that may get you back in the holiday spirit.

Take a breather and curl-up with a good book. Reading is a great way to unwind and forget the stress that often accompanies the holidays.  Research tells us that reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds. And it works better and faster than other relaxation methods, such as taking a walk or drinking a hot cup of tea. Reading clears your mind, slows your breathing and helps to restore inner calm. Pick a book that is light and entertaining or a good escape; or take time to catch up on a favorite author or series. It’s a sure way to take your mind off that holiday to-do list.

Read to a child. We all have a special memory of being read a holiday favorite. Everyone loves the contemporary classic, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg or the charming traditional classic, Twas the Night before Christmas, by Clement Moore. There are dozens of other enchanting holiday books in the library’s collection. Take time to browse and find that special book to share.  A quiet moment reading with a child will remind you why the holidays are a special time for you and your family.

Listen to music. The soothing power of music is well known. Listening to music you enjoy can relax and calm you.  Borrow one of the library’s holiday CDs, or listen to the latest pop album with our streaming service, Hoopla. Singing along with your holiday favorite can also help to release tension and reduce stress.

Come-in to the quiet and take a holiday from the holiday. Get out of the house and all that reminds you of what remains to be done. The library offers a peaceful space to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the season. Browse our shelves, pick-up a book, get comfy in a chair and read. You’ll soon find yourself transported away from any anxiety the season may bring. Enjoy the season and include reading in your holiday plans this year!

Posted in Readers, Services

Food, Glorious Food

Is it the approach of Thanksgiving with its traditional foods and festivities celebrating the fall harvest that turns the mind to food, or is it nature’s way of encouraging us to prepare for the approach of winter and the long, dark sense of hibernation it brings? Whatever the reason, this is the season we tend to fixate on food.

We pour over cookbooks, gazing with lip-smacking anticipation at the glossy photos of perfectly prepared foods. We craft and re-craft menus for holiday dinners. We scour the Internet seeking the perfect recipe that combines just the right ingredients with the least amount of preparation time. We fret over choices of side dishes. Should we prepare Aunt Helen’s Broccoli Cauliflower Cheesy Delight as enjoyed by generations of family members or venture into unknown territory with a new recipe from Rachel Ray?  Food is constantly in our thoughts.

Preparing and eating food is a fundamental human activity, an activity that is both necessary for our survival and inextricably connected with our social and emotional well-being. It’s a universal experience that connects all of us, so it’s not surprising to find food in literature. Themes related to food are common among all types of writing from novels and plays to poetry and prose. It’s often used as a literary device for both visual and emotional impact. Think of Scrooge’s miserable dinner of gruel in A Christmas Carol as a symbol of both his miserliness and emotional emptiness.

Food is often so well described in fiction that your mouth will start to water. Ernest Hemingway’s classic description of eating oysters in A Moveable Feast will have you dashing to the nearest seafood restaurant for an order on the half shell. Fannie Flagg will inspire you to whip-up a batch of fried tomatoes after reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, although you may not be in a rush to scramble Green Eggs and Ham. Food in literature delights and inspires us.

We’re featuring Food in Fiction this month at the library. Browse the display for a mouth-watering read. Here are a few of the selections: Peaches for Father Francis, by Joanne Harris, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquirrel, The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais, Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, and The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.

Posted in Readers

Benefits of Book Sales

Fall is well and truly here. The sights and sounds of the season are all around us. Trees stand bare against the sky while the soft drone of leaf blowers fills the air. The days are crisp and the nights are cool; we’ve turned up the thermostats and slipped into sweaters. We now have more time to enjoy the comforts of home and hearth since our evenings arrive earlier with the end of daylight savings time. Our calendars are full of fall events – football games, church suppers, school happenings and county fairs. The eager among us have even started planning those holiday dinners. But wait! Before we plunge headlong into the holidays, there’s one more event that marks the season – the Friends of the Library Annual Fall Book Sale.

Library book sales can be the stuff of dreams for both library supporters and book lovers. For book lovers, each sale offers an instant expansion of that home collection of cookbooks, mystery novels, or gardening guides and for only a few dollars. Paperbacks might cost only 50 cents and hardcover a dollar or so. By the end of the sale, when books are sold by the bag, things get even better for the buyers.

Library supporters love book sales because they are an important source of income for the library. Libraries depend on book sales to help defray expenses. We are fortunate that our Friends of the Library sponsor two sales each year – one in the fall and the other in the spring. Both events are important sources of income for the library. Funds are used to purchase museum and zoo passes and support our children’s summer reading program. Our Friends work long and hard to organize, sort and sell hundreds of items for each sale.

Here are a few more reasons to shop book sales. Book sales are a bargain. Library book sales make ownership of books affordable to everyone. You can spend a lot or spend a little and still go home with a bag full of books. Book sales promote recycling – much better for someone else to read the book than to discard it completely. Book sales promote a sense of community. By donating your items, you become part of the larger effort to support library service. Book sales are fun. Everyone loves to browse through tables loaded with books. Book sales raise money for the library in a satisfying way.

You never know what you’ll find – a new bestseller, an old favorite from your childhood, a book long out of print. The oft-told saying that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is never truer than at a book sale. Discover your treasure at the Raynham Public Library’s Fall Book Sale on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday November 8, 9 and 10. Doors open at 10:00 am on Friday and Saturday, and 12 Noon on Sunday.

Posted in Services

Horror Fiction

One can’t miss the signs – pumpkins perch on doorsteps, zombies stalk front yards, witches fly from porches and faceless ghosts dangle from trees. In my neighborhood, an eight foot purple ghoul with glowing green eyes hunches menacingly over a field of cardboard gravestones.  Halloween is approaching.

There’s no better place to celebrate Halloween than in New England. The region has a long and extensive history of the mysterious and unexplained, reaching as far back as the 1692 witch trials in Salem. New England is full of crumbling cemeteries, haunted inns, ghost ships, abandoned settlements and haunted bridges. Authors of horror stories such as H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King most certainly have taken inspiration from their New England backgrounds to create tales of the macabre and fantastical.

The horror fiction that has been so popularized by Lovecraft and King has ancient origins with roots in folklore and religious traditions that stretch back to pre-Roman times. Stories that focus on death, the afterlife, evil and the demonic have been common for centuries in many countries and cultures. The vampire, for example, can be traced all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, while some scholars believe the werewolf made its debut in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known work of written literature.

Horror fiction blossomed in the nineteenth century with the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Edgar Allan Poe contributed to the genre with short stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum. Horror fiction continues to flourish and thrive today with writers such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Peter Straub and many others.

What makes horror stories so enduring and so appealing? The simple answer would be that people enjoy it for the thrill of being scared. H.P. Lovecraft explained it best, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest fear is fear of the unknown.”  Reading horror fiction is like a roller coaster ride with all its thrills, chills and heart-stopping moments. It offers plot twists, cliff hangers, false leads and glimpses into an eerie world of the unknown and unexplained. Horror fiction reminds us that the world may not always be as safe as it seems. It forces us to confront ideas and images we’d rather not think about. And, just as we experience exhilarating relief as we step off the roller coaster, as we close the pages of the horror story, we revel in the realization that we, as least, are still alive and unharmed.

Horror fiction is on display this month at the library. Browse the collection, make a selection and prepare yourself for an electrifying experience. Just remember to read with the lights on.

Posted in Readers

October is “Jumping!”

Whenever I see friends, I am invariably asked, “What’s going on at the library?” It’s a casual and expected question to which I usually give a casual and expected response. Not long ago, I was asked the question, and I responded that the library was “really jumping.” Thereupon my friends burst out laughing. The idea of a library “jumping” was just too much for them. Their picture of a library was of a quiet, staid place where nothing much happened but the settling of dust on library shelves. I had the pleasure of telling them that things have changed in libraries; they’ve changed a lot.

As an example of how libraries have changed and become the hub of activity, take a look at our October calendar. You’ll find the traditional morning story times, preschool children’s programs and afternoon book clubs, but you’ll also find crafts, cooking, art instruction, STEM workshops, technology updates and exhibits. Yes, we have books, but we also have opportunities for you to engage in active learning and to connect with others who share your ideas and interests. Here is a closer look at this month’s happenings.

The month begins with our new Men’s Only Book Club, one of four book clubs the library sponsors each month.  A discussion of the college application process is the topic of the Teen Advisory Group meeting later in the month. We get crafty with a hands-on workshop for those who enjoy crafts. This month the group is learning the technique of reverse glass painting, a traditional folk art. The Cooking Club meets the first Monday night of each month. It’s like a book club only instead of a novel, members meet to discuss recipes, and enjoy each other’s company. Each month they share a potluck meal prepared from the recipes they’ve chosen. This month they are using recipes from family traditions.

If you’re thinking of canceling your cable service and moving to streaming, join us for Cutting the Cord, a workshop to learn the pros and cons of this new technology. Want to learn how to paint like the masters? Then, our Sunday afternoon art instruction workshop might interest you.

In October we begin a new series of book discussions for children and adults, Read to Together, and host a Pokemon Club for kids on Sunday afternoon. Everyone can build a vibrabot with Coyle Cassidy engineering students at a STEM workshop on a Saturday morning.

As you can see, the library offers something for every age and interest. It really is “jumping!’ For more information about these programs and other activities at the library during October, call the library at 508-823-1344, visit the library’s webpage, raynhampubliclibrary.org, or drop-by the library and pick-up a monthly calendar. The library is open Monday through Wednesday, 10:00 to 8:00, Thursday 10:00 to 2:00, Friday, 10:00 to 5:00, Saturday, 10:00 – 2:00 and Sundays 12 noon to 4:00 October through May.

Posted in Children, Readers, Services

Reflect and Connect

Although we celebrate new beginnings in January each year, September has always felt more like beginning anew to me. Summer has ended, children are back in school, days are getting visibly shorter and daily life takes on a new rhythm. The easy going attitude of summer is replaced with more focused resolve. With a shift in the seasons, comes a shift in outlook. We’re eager to take on new challenges, explore new interests and pursue new pastimes. It’s no different at the library. September brings a new schedule of programs and special events, none more special that our book discussion groups.

Book discussion groups or book clubs are more popular than ever. By some estimates, more than five million people in this country sit down together every few weeks to discuss what they’ve been reading. They gather in living rooms, local libraries, community centers, church basements, bookstores and bars in communities large and small from Boston to Seattle.

There are discussion groups for every gender, interest and age. There are book clubs for women, men, couples, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren, teens and tweens. There are single-author groups – think Jane Austen – and single genre groups, such as of history, romance, science fiction, or mystery. There are book clubs you don’t even have to leave the house to join. For those who prefer online clubs, you’ll find dozens of online books clubs on GoodReads, including groups for baseball, science fiction and the paranormal. Whatever your inclination, there will be a like-minded group of people somewhere who share your enthusiasm. We have to ask, what is the appeal?

The appeal of the book discussion group can be described in two words, reflection and connection. You hear different points of view that either challenge or confirm your own thinking, helping to create layers of understanding that might otherwise be missed. Before voicing your opinion, you must take time to reflect on your understanding of the author’s characters and plot. Part of that reflection is connecting your own experiences to the story – to validate or reject the story’s authenticity.

Through discussion we not only connect to the story, but to each other. Book clubs are wonderful places to meet new friends. It’s a place where honesty and ideas are valued. It’s a place for self-expression and sharing. It’s a place for friendship, caring, laughter and fun. If this sounds appealing, consider joining one of the book discussion groups that the library sponsors. Groups meet on the first and second Wednesdays of each month at 1:00 or the second Tuesday at 6:30. A Men’s Only Book Club meets on the first Tuesday evening and a Read Together Book Group for children, ages 8 to 12 meets on the second Sunday afternoon. For more information, contact the library at 508-823-1344.

Posted in Readers, Services

Summer at the Library

Summer has officially arrived, and at the public library, we couldn’t be happier. Summer is a special time at the library, a time when children fill the building with excited voices and sounds of laughter. The Children’s Room overflows with youthful energy and enthusiasm. Children love to read; they love to come to the library, and we love that they come.

Some may wonder about the importance of reading for children today. After all, so much of learning and entertainment involves looking at a screen, it is tempting to think that reading doesn’t matter as much as it used to. It seems so much easier to watch the movie than to read the book. There are actually a number of good reasons why children – and all of us – should read. Here are just a few for you to consider.

Reading exercises our brains. It’s a complex mental task that involves strengthening and building brain connections. Reading gives us insight into the world around us – about people, places and events outside our own experience, and helps to build background knowledge. Reading develops our imagination, helps to develop empathy, improves our ability to concentrate and enriches our vocabulary. Reading also relaxes the body and calms the mind, but, most importantly, reading is simply fun.

Summer reading programs in public libraries provide quality learning activities that are not only fun, but also encourage some of the best techniques identified by research as being important to the reading process. Research shows that free, voluntary reading is essential to helping kids become better readers, writers, and spellers. Children read more when they can choose materials based on their own interests. Self-selection of reading materials is an extremely important factor in motivating struggling readers, and is a key component of our summer library program.

This summer we’re putting lots of fun into reading for both kids and adults. Our Universe of Stories program offers reading incentives, weekly activities, movies, special events and tickets to our annual ice cream social. We’ll explore the night sky with the Museum of Science traveling planetarium, learn to play the ukulele, be amazed by floating beach balls with Mad Science, and laugh along with ventriloquist Kevin Driscoll and his dummies. Celebrate the summer with us. Register for reading at the Raynham Public Library. For more information, visit our Summer at the Library page on our website raynhampubliclibrary.org, or visit the library.

Posted in Children, Readers, Services