For the Love of Reading

The Boys in the Boat

Even if you seldom follow sports, this story of the 1936 Olympic rowers will excite you and touch your heart. Eight young men—most tall and scraggly, nearly all from poor, working-class backgrounds—beat the elite British, the powerhouse Germans, and the determined Italians to win gold as Nazi hysteria took over Berlin. But even though we know who wins the 1936 Olympics from the beginning, Brown ups the ante with dramatic descriptions of the racing with a filmmaker’s eye for visual details, practical rowing crew experience, and extensive interviews and research.

The book brims with history: personal, cultural and factual. It begins with the author’s neighbor, Judy, inviting the author to meet her father, Joe Rantz, one of the Olympic winners who, with only a few months to live, is in hospice. Over many interviews, he shares his story, but insists that Brown also write about all the men on his crew who, working as one, bring home the gold against impossible odds.

The Women in the Castle

War, it is said, tears families apart and brings strangers together. In this compelling WWII novel, two German widows of Nazi-resisters and a third woman, a refugee from the East, move in together, along with their children. They help each other with child-rearing and preparing meals, despite the privations of rationing. Most importantly, they give each other deep emotional support, as good families do.

The novel opens on a grand harvest party in a castle, ramshackle and falling apart, near a small town in Bavaria. Marianne, the main character, plays host for its ailing owner, Countess von Lingenfels, her husband Albrecht's aunt. Marianne brings to hosting the skills of someone who has an eye for beauty and taste—and particularly the complicated dynamics of relationships between people. She greets, cajoles, and introduces strangers with the flair and manners of a great lady.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

On November 17, author Jamie Ford speaks at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington for the NEA Big Read and the library’s biennial Power of Words program. Tickets are free, and can be picked up at the Main Library (at the Friends of the Library Bookstore or the Friends office) or ordered online.

As he often does, Jamie Ford writes about the clashing and melding of different cultures in his three historical novels: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Songs of Willow Frost, and Love and Other Consolation Prizes.  

Picture Books: Extraordinary Art, Conveniently Portable

Picture books are often children's first exposure to art. As galleries of artists' work—all within the pages of books—they reflect the vast variety of art mediums we find in museums. Some artists create with real-world materials like paint and pencils; others make collage or etchings. Some even work in virtual media like computer graphics, and, of course, some use a combination of tools and methods.

When my children were younger, I would check out piles of picture books to read with them—and for the pleasure of viewing the artwork. And even though my children have moved beyond picture books, I still enjoy opening these miniature exhibitions, browsing through old favorites or finding new artists.

In honor of National Picture Book Month this November, I recommend these resources: