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2 religious books, only one with a Hoosier connection. And the connection is feeble.

November 28, 2016 by Reader's Connection

The reading of a religious book is one of the requirements for this year’s reading challenge. I’m also observing our state’s bicentennial year by looking for Indiana-related material, but haven’t done well in this blog post.

The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages is an anthology edited by Andrew Blauner. I’m sure that some of the authors gathered here have flown over Indiana sometime in their lives.
The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages

The subtitle is misleading. Not all the contributors have favorite Bible passages. Robert Coover hates the whole thing, Genesis to Revelation, and calls his piece “The Bad Book.”

Humorist-essayist Ian Frazier grew up in Ohio, which is right next to Indiana. His essay moved me the most, so let’s cut to that. It’s called “This Saying,” and has to do with an incident described in the gospels of Matthew and Mark.


Frazier says that after he moved from Ohio to New York, a thrilling part of his part of his life was sitting around with acquaintances, trying to make the cleverest comment.


I should say that my favorite passage in the Gospels is Christ’s agony in the garden, because Jesus, who is said to be completely human and completely divine, is allowed to really be human for a little while. We hear at Catholic mass that his death was “a death He freely accepted,” but in Matthew, for example, Jesus asks three times if there’s any way he could avoid his coming death and burial. He tries to be a good boy and say, Thy will be done; but then he asks again, Can we please not go through with this? 

Part of what made Frazier’s essay so moving for me was his idea that Jesus is oscillating between being human and being divine. “A similar idea in physics is the uncertainty principle, which says you cannot know both the position and the speed of a particle at the same time. Jesus was God and man oscillating back and forth–either and both, both or either, simultaneously.”
When he first encounters the Syrophoenician woman, “Jesus is just a man. He is tired, he wants to get away and rest, and he identifies by his human membership in the tribe of Israel.” The woman is not a Jew, so Jesus tries to brush her off. But her reply catches him up, and he swings back toward being God. The fact that her remark makes Jesus pay attention to the woman, and realize that her daughter is as worthy of life as the child of any Jew, makes this a key moment for Frazier: “The short interaction between this Gentile woman and Jesus at the beginning of the Gospels is a signpost that shows where the entire New Testament is going.”




Before I came across Blauner’s anthology, I was going to pass off the Rolfe Humphries translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a Hoosier title, because it’s published by Indiana University Press.

That may sound weak, but my idea that it’s religious book could be even flimsier. Unlike predecessors such as Hesiod, Ovid didn’t believe a word of what he was writing.



And this really ticked Edith Hamilton off. In the introduction to her classic compilation Mythology, she expresses her contempt.



When I Was a Child I Read Books



Idle? There’s a lot going on in these stories, and a reader can still get caught up in these tales of women turning into trees and water bodies to avoid being raped by gods. I let the cat out of the bag when reviewing The Good Book above–I’m a Eucharist addict–but I still believe in Ovid’s changes.

In her collection of essays When I Was a Child I Read Books, author Marilynne Robinson, a devout Christian, mentions Zeus. I don’t remember the name of the essay, and I can’t look it up because that sly god Hermes has made off with the book.


That’s the world where I live. I don’t worship Zeus at an altar in my house, but metamorphoses are going on all around me all the time. Some people get depressed at this time of the year, so I won’t dwell on the story of Ceres and Proserpina (those are their Roman names, the ones that Ovid uses), and how it came to be that we have changing seasons. If you know the story, though, you might enjoy looking forward to springtime with a poem by Alicia Ostriker, who uses the names of the Greek goddesses: Demeter to Persephone. (If the poem makes no sense to you, you can click that link about Ceres and Proserpina. Same story.) When Ostriker read this poem at Butler a few years ago, she talked about how the dilemmas of these mythological characters can be related to the raising of a daughter

I myself am going through a metamorphosis by retiring at the end of November, and–I’m writing this the day before Thanksgiving–am filled with gratitude toward all of you who use the library and all my colleagues through the years.

Best wishes to everyone for all your coming seasons.

Glenn Halberstadt


The Public Collection: Some of these little libraries are moving, and at least one new one is coming next year.

November 23, 2016 by Reader's Connection

I love the Public Collection. Zipping around from collection to collection, dropping books off and picking some up, I feel like a bee spreading pollen around Indy.



If you haven’t heard about the Public Collection, it is are a series of artworks/libraries around Indianapolis–“a public art and literacy project consisting of artist-designed book share stations, developed to increase access to books and art. ” You can take books out (no library card required) and return them when you can–to a different Public Collection location, if you like.

When I blogged about them in August, I had visited five of them; and now I’ve buzzed around eight out of the nine.

The address given for the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center is 1920 West Morris Street. And it’s there, just west of the library’s West Indianapolis Branch. But don’t be dismayed when you can’t get in the front door.


The public entrance is off the parking lot west of the building.1998_long
The address over that door is 1998.1998close_up_yeah

Once inside, as advertised, is Phil O’Malley’s The Answer Is in the Question.

Or not exactly as advertised. In earlier photographs, there used to be two question marks in the lobby. But when I asked at the Public Collection website, they assured me that the other question mark had been relocated within the Mary Rigg Center to accommodate their programming needs. So I should have puttered around some more in the building.

nov2016-front-cover-360Having pollinated and picked up some pollen, I hit the road. Waiting on South Belmont Avenue for a train to pass, I read three poems by Kaveh Akbar, from the November issue of Poetry Magazine. They helped with my levitation and all-around attitude. My stinger never scraped the blacktop, and I didn’t scare the guy on his bike.

My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare


Despite My Efforts Even My Prayers Have Turned into Threats

Words to live by:



I had never visited the Eskanazi Health Center (720 Eskenazi Avenue) before, and I wandered a bit before finding Katie Hudnall’s Nautilus. The women who worked at Eskanazi and who gave me directions could not have been kinder. A sign in one hallway asked Do you need an interpreter? and for me the answer is always Yes.

I think Katie’s sea-going artwork with its cargo of books is on the first floor of the Fifth Third Bank Building–which is part of Eskenazi–though I’ve read that it’s in another building. If you really need compass bearings, it’s across the hall from a Starbucks.

I was amused by the afuntional button (1) on Nautilus, but I see now that there’s (2) a light bulb in there, and maybe when I pushed the button, I was too obtuse to see the light going on. I clearly needed a cup of something from Starbucks.


Having pollinated, I buzzed on to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Tom Torluemke’s Cool Books, Food for Thought and LaShawnda Crowe Storm’s Play Station, which had been at the IMA, had disappeared from the Public Collection website; and I was distressed to see that they had indeed been removed.

pc_play2BUT when I asked at the Public Collection website, I learned that these two installations have been relocated. PlayStation will now reside at the Marion County Juvenile Court, and Cool Books, Food for Thought will now reside at the Hawthorne Community Center. (Tom Torluemke is back on the website.)




In fact, if I look again at the map at the top of this page, I see there’s a star for the Hawthorne Community Center, at 2440 West Ohio Street.




My last stop on this flight was at the corner of Market & Alabama, the southeast corner of the City Market. I didn’t do any pollinating at Brose Partington’s Harvesting Knowledge; but even I, incapable of appreciating the light bulb in Katie Hudnall’s Nautilus, got a kick out of the way the book shelves roll around in Partington’s artwork. That orange gear-handle thing really works.

I SHALL CLOSE WITH AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: According to letter that went out in August, a new collection will appear at Tarkington Park (45 West 40th Street) sometime in 2017.


Hey, there’s going to be a new café and a water park and all kinds of stuff that isn’t in this picture of Tarkington Park. Click the bold-type “Tarkington Park” above to learn more about what’s coming.

I love it. Tarkington Park is only a few blocks from where I live. I’m retiring at the end of November, and I’m sure I’ll be spending time at my neighborhood library, the College Avenue Branch; but I can buzz over to Tarkington Park now and then to check out the new collection–the artwork and the books–and grab a bite at the coming café.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The cover art on the November issue of Poetry is by Jessie Mott: “Pegasus.” The winged horse, in various forms, has graced many covers of the magazine.


Book Discussions in December

November 19, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Our book discussion groups  will soon be gathering for the last time in 2016. They’ll come prancing across our rooftops, shaking their antlers and ringing their bells.

No, that’s not right. I’m retiring in a couple of weeks, and I’m feeling giddy. Best wishes to all for the holidays.

The Portrait of a Lady
The Shared Reading Group at the Spades Park Branch will read aloud from Henry James’s novel The Portrait of a Lady.

Unless holiday-related changes occur, they will meet on every Friday in December–the 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th–at 10:00 a.m. A poem will also be read on each of these days.

There are always refreshments served, and that practice won’t falter during the holidays.




The film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is playing in theaters currently.

As part of the Nora Branch‘s  “Before the Movie, Read the Book” discussion series, Ben Fountain’s novel, on which the movie is based, will be discussed on Saturday, December 3rd at 10:30 a.m.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBilly Lynn is a member of Bravo Company, which acquitted itself heroically in a deadly confrontation early in the Iraq War. An embedded reporter captured the battle on widely broadcast video. Now, on the last day of a victory tour, an insane PR event put on by the army, the company is at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game. Native Texan Billy has been deeply affected by the death of squad leader Shroom, who gave him books to read and challenged him to think about what he was doing with his life. During a brief stop at home, Billy’s sister urges him to refuse to return to Iraq. Billy also meets one of the fabled Cowboys cheerleaders, with whom he improbably forms an immediate and passionate connection, something that has opened a door to the possibility of a new, more hopeful life. But though Billy has had his eyes opened, in many ways he and his company are happier and feel more purposive as soldiers. Employing intricate detail and feverish cinematography, Fountain’s vividly written novel is an allegorical hero’s journey, a descent into madness, and a mirror held up to this society’s high-definition TV reality. Tragically unhinged, it also rings completely, hilariously true. — Library Journal

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is also available as an eAudiobook and in large print.



Peter Lion’s American St. Nick: A True Story will be discussed at the Franklin Road Branch on Monday, December 5th at 6:30 p.m.

American St. Nick: A True Story
When American GIs Richard Brookins and Harry Stutz decided to bring Christmas to war-weary Wiltz, Luxembourg, they had no idea their simple act of kindness would change the town forever. Discover this fascinating true story of heroism and hope that stretched across enemy lines to create a Christmas that Wiltz has never forgotten. — Publisher’s note






The Wayne Branch will host a discussion of Priya Parmar’s novel Vanessa and Her Sister on Monday, December 5th at 6:30 p.m.

Vanessa and Her SisterParmar’s excellent sophomore effort (after Exit the Actress) contends mostly with the complicated relationship between the four Stephen sisters (including Vanessa, later known as Vanessa Bell, the painter, and Virginia, later known as Virginia Woolf). After a happy upbringing, the sisters are separated in their 20s by the death of their brother, Thoby, and Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell, Thoby’s college pal. Parmar does a stellar job conveying Virginia’s complicated, almost incestuous feelings for Vanessa, which are exacerbated by Virginia’s manic depression and need to be the center of attention. Distracted by the birth of her first child, Vanessa all but ignores Clive, who falls prey to Virginia’s efforts to insinuate herself into the marriage. Vanessa is torn by her love for her sister and an understanding of how her illness colors everything, as well as her own desire to have a life of her own. The author also deftly brings to life the various artists and writers who formed the nascent Bloomsbury group, heralding the arrival of Leonard Woolf–who eventually comes home to England and saves Virginia from spinsterhood. Structured primarily as Vanessa’s diary, with fictional letters from characters like Woolf and the journalist Lytton Strachey included, Parmar’s narrative is riveting and successfully takes on the task of turning larger-than-life figures into real people. Readers who aren’t familiar with the Bloomsbury group might be overwhelmed at first by the sheer number of characters in the book, but Parmar weaves their stories together so effortlessly that nothing seems out of place. — Publishers Weekly

Vanessa and Her Sister is also available as an eBook, an eAudiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.



While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent Into Madness by Eli Sanders will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, December 6th at 6:00 p.m.

While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent Into Madness

Sanders won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the rapes and murder that took place in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle in 2009. This book covers not just the horrendous summer night and subsequent trial but the entire lives of both victims and perpetrator with depth and clarity. Sanders follows the failure of multiple systems that left Isaiah Kalebu and his family without the help they needed and asked for, describing the terrible consequences of the loss of social safety nets. The stories of the victims, Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, illuminate this specific tragedy, making Hopper’s grace and forgiveness during the trial even more astonishing. This book is valuable, often difficult reading. Pair with Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside for powerful, if upsetting, analysis of the failures of our criminal justice system. For readers interested in social justice, mental health care, and well-written narrative nonfiction. — Library Journal

While the City Slept is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.



Max Lucado’s The Christmas Candle will be discussed at the Irvington Branch on Thursday, Decmeber 8th at 1:30 p.m.

The Christmas CandleEvery 25 years, an angel appears in the little English village of Gladstone, where he touches one special candle in the home of the Haddingtons, the local candle makers who in turn give that candle to someone in need. Whoever receives this gift experiences a miracle. This supernatural occurrence began in 1664, but most of the action takes place in 1864, the year everyone expects the angel to visit again. When a new minister arrives in town, he refuses to honor the local tradition of discussing this miracle during his sermons, for he has lost his faith. The angel does reappear, but Edward accidentally knocks over all the candles and cannot tell which one the angel touched. Lucado, better known for his nonfiction books, serves up a charming holiday story that can easily be read in one sitting. Perfect for adults and children, it is destined to become a classic. — Library Journal

The Christmas Candle is also available as an eBook.



Zane’s novel Vengeance will be discussed at the Flanner House Branch on Monday, December 12th at 6:30 p.m.

 VengeanceThe opening scene in an Atlanta male strip club sets the tone of this tale of affluence, a dark past, and a burning desire for revenge. Enjoying the dancing talents of the Minister of Seduction at the Black Screw are Ladonna Sterling and her best friend/mentor/savior Hannah. Ladonna, on her way to becoming a recording superstar known as Wicket, has returned to Atlanta intent on inflicting payback on those who almost destroyed her when she was a teenager named Caprice Tatum. Having suffered emotional and psychological abuse from her psychopathic mother, among other traumas, including rape, Caprice has relied on Hannah, a transgender female with a sketchy past of her own. How does present-day multimillionaire Wicket/Ladonna/Caprice cope with her painful history? She gets off by playing the role of the domineering figure in several BDSM settings. In this story of dealing with emotional pain and letting go of the past, Zane concocts her successful formula of outlandish wealth, diva attitudes, and jaw-dropping sex acts. — Library Journal

Vengeance is also available as an eBook, an eAudiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.



Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction & Fantasy Discussion Group, is moving to the 3rd Sunday this month, because Christmas falls on their usual 4th Sunday.

On Sunday, December 18th at 1:00 p.m., at the Glendale Branch, their theme will be The Unseen: Invisible beings, from Norse mythology through H. G. Wells and beyond!



The Lawrence Branch will host a discussion of Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove on Tuesday, December 20th at 10:15 a.m.

A Man Called OveIn this Swedish bestseller, Ove is a lovably miserable neighborhood curmudgeon who spends his days inspecting his community and criticizing others, judging each by how closely he follows rules and his choice of automobile (Ove cannot reason with BMW drivers). After his handicapped wife dies and he is forced to retire from his job, Ove decides he’s ready to leave the world behind. But every time he tries to off himself, he’s interrupted–first by his new neighbor, the pregnant Parvaneh; then by Parvaneh’s clumsy husband, Patrick; Anita, the wife of Ove’s former best friend; Jimmy, Ove’s overweight neighbor; Adrian, the neighborhood mailman; and finally a mangy feline Ove calls “Cat Annoyance.” Ove continuously pushes his demise from one day to the next, and, as time passes, these characters slowly weave themselves into his life, offering Ove a chance at rebirth. The debut novel from journalist Backman is a fuzzy crowd-pleaser that serves up laughs to accompany a thoughtful reflection on loss and love. — Publisher’s Weekly

A Man Called Ove is also available as an eBook,
an eAudiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.


The winners of the 2016 National Book Awards have been announced!

November 16, 2016 by Reader's Connection

On Wednesday evening, November 16th in New York City, the 2016 National Book Awards were presented.


Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

When author Colson Whitehead first heard about the Underground Railroad as a child he imagined a subway beneath the earth that escaped slaves could ride to freedom . . . when he found out that it was not a literal train, he felt “a bit upset.” Now, in his new novel, The Underground Railroad, Whitehead returns to his childhood vision of an actual locomotive that carries escaped slaves through tunnels. The book follows a 15-year-old slave named Cora who has escaped from a Georgia plantation and must make her way north to freedom. Along the way, the train stops in different states, each of which represent a different response to slavery. “Sort of like Gulliver’s Travels, the book is rebooting every time the person goes through a different state,” Whitehead says. Whitehead first conceived of the book 16 years ago. He began reading through slave narratives from the 18th and 19th centuries to get a feel for what life might have been like for Cora and others like her. “I found a real opportunity to present … a hopefully accurate presentation of plantation life in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Whitehead says. “It felt gratifying as an artist to find a corner that hadn’t been explored in this exact different way.” — National Public Radio

The Underground Railroad is also available as an eBook, an eAudiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.




Ibram X. Kendi Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Anyone who thought that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama marked the emergence of post-racial America has been sorely disillusioned in the subsequent years with seemingly daily reminders of the schism wrought by racism and white supremacy. And yet anyone with even a cursory understanding of this country’s tortured history with race should have known better. In this tour de force, Kendi explores the history of racist ideas—and their connection with racist practices—across American history. The author uses five main individuals as “tour guides” to investigate the development of racist ideas throughout the history of the U.S.: the preacher and intellectual Cotton Mather, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, ardent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, and activist Angela Davis. Kendi also poses three broad schools of thought regarding racial matters throughout American history: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. Although this trio can be reductionist, it provides a solid framework for understanding the interplay between racist ideas, anti-racism, and the attempts to synthesize them—“assimilationism,” which the author ultimately identifies as simply another form of racism, even when advocated by African-Americans . . . Racism is the enduring scar on the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how deep that scar cuts and why it endures, its barely subcutaneous pain still able to flare. — Kirkus Reviews

Stamped from the Beginning is also available as an eBook.




Daniel Borzutsky The Performance of Becoming Human

The Performance of Becoming HumanDaniel Borzutzky returns to confront the various ways nation-states and their bureaucracies absorb and destroy communities and economies. In The Performance of Becoming Human, the bay of Valparaiso merges into the western shore of Lake Michigan, where Borzutzky continues his poetic investigation into the political and economic violence shared by Chicago and Chile, two places integral to his personal formation. To become human is to navigate borders, including the fuzzy borders of institutions, the economies of privatization, overdevelopment, and underdevelopment, under which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses in cities, villages, deserts. Borzutzky, whose writing Eileen Myles has described as “violent, perverse, and tender” in its portrayal of a “kaleidoscopic journey of American horror and global horror,” adds another chapter to a growing and important compendium of work that asks what it means to a be both a unitedstatesian and a globalized subject whose body is “shared between the earth, the state, and the bank.” — Brooklyn Arts Press



Young People’s Literature

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Artist) March: Book Three

March: Book Three

Lewis has a unique perspective from which to recall these events [of the civil rights movement], and he does so with intimate familiarity and bracing honesty… Powell’s kinetic, fluid black-and-white illustrations create a relentless cascade of words and images that assaults the senses and underscores the brutality of the period. From Maus to Persepolis, graphic-novel memoirs have accounted for a large share of critical acclaim for the comics format, and now that this trilogy is complete, it can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of them. — The Horn Book




Q & A with Kwame Alexander

November 14, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander visited Central Library on Saturday, November 12th, as part of the annual Fall Fest program.

After speaking, Kwame fielded some questions. Click the pictures to hear his answers.




What is Kwame reading?




What book first inspired Kwame as a young man?



What does Kwame think of self-publishing?