Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Societ
Rating: 4

Summary: If Cindy’s on a Teddy Roosevelt run of reading, then I’m on a WWII run... Cindy simply put this book on my desk with no comment, and with that, I knew I had to read it.

Set in the post–WWII Channel Islands of Great Britain, it is alternately funny and heartbreaking. The Islands were occupied by the Nazis and the book delves into the aftermath of their ordeal.

Juliet discovers a book club that began meeting during the war to evade the German soldiers and their curfew (a long story), and she begins writing to the members of the club (another story) hoping for an idea for her next book.

It took a while for me to figure out who everybody was, but once you do, the story unfolds through the letters. The characters are absolutely delightful, alternately funny and brave and cranky and fundamentalist and loving. The descriptions of their conversations during the book club meetings are hysterical. These are “salt–of–the–earth” farmers, carpenters and fishermen whose interpretations of the classics are priceless and refreshing. No academic elitism here!

The flashbacks to the horrors of the war are jarring, but add pathos to an otherwise sweet and somewhat predictable (near the end) love story.

Eventually Juliet visits and finds love on the island, wounds from the war begin to heal, and the twists and turns bring you to a happy ending. Or beginning.

Definitely recommended!

Author: Christopher Buckley
Title: Losing Mum and Pup
Rating: 4

Summary: Another new book picked up off the “Hot Mix” shelf – I knew the Buckley name and wanted to see if Christopher wrote with the same big words as his “Pup”, famous father and National Review founder and editor William F. Buckley. Christopher recounts his experience with losing both his parents within a year. Poignant and hilarious all in one.

Having also lost my second parent in the last year, I was also curious to see if this bit of literature does what good literature frequently does for me – a “you, too?!” experience. Once both are gone, you are officially an “orphan”...and “you're next”. “With the death of the second parent, one steps––or is not–so–gently nudged––across the threshold into the Green Room to the river Styx”. (I had to look up the river Styx reference)

Pretty quickly in I was horrified and a little perturbed at Christopher for telling so many secrets about his parents that put them in an unflattering light. They’re not around to defend themselves!

But he peppers it with enough admiration and love and resignation that I ended up begrudgingly letting him off the hook.

It’s a universal story, isn’t it. The ying–yang of parental–child love, the wanting to wring each other’s necks, yet knowing that they gave and sacrificed and loved you in spite of your teenage years and your bone-headed, scary, immature decisions along the way.

Then the roles reverse and you give and sacrifice and love in spite of their recalcitrance and difficult personalities, the stubbornness and the sheer weight of caregiving.

Buckley, as an only child, carried the burden of that last difficult year, and tried mightily to give his parents the gift of his presence. It was an exhausting, difficult time for him and them, and my admiration grew as he described his absences from his own family, and his father’s eccentricities as he knew he was dying.

Having parents that are not the “average Mom and Dad” also made for some great stories.

His mother had “demons that slipped their leash”. He sat at her hospital bedside and watched the monitor beeps slow and stop as he forgave her.

His description of the price gauging at the funeral home is hysterical. The difference between a cremation in suburban Connecticut and rural Maine? $6,007 versus $800.

When Buckley at last succumbed to emphysema, there was a whole new series of tasks to complete. Clean out the study. Find his army discharge papers (we had a similar problem!). Field dozens of phone calls from famous people, including his father’s good buddy, Henry Kissinger. Keep the house? Take the ashes somewhere against his father’s last wishes?

“Once they're both gone, your parents’ house instantly turns into a museum”.

What music to play for the funeral postlude? Of course, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, otherwise known as the theme to Firing Line.

Last great quote – “How did it turn out, Pup? Were you right after all? Is there a heaven? Is Mum there with you?...And if there is a heaven and you are in it, are you thinking, Poor Christo-he’s not going to make it. And is Mum saying, ’Bill, you have got to speak to that absurd creature at the Gates and tell him he’s got to admit Christopher. It’s too ridiculous for words.’ Even in my dreams, they’re looking after me. So perhaps one is never really an orphan after all.”

Author: Miep Gies

Title: Anne Frank Remembered: the Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family


Rating: ?

Summary: Ever wonder why the woman who hid Anne Frank’s Jewish family during WWII was not deported to a concentration camp? I have, and when I saw this book I thought now is the time to find out...

One of the most moving books I have read in a long time, it is filled with suspense and hardship, courage and heartache.

To quote Gies, “My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times.”

Mrs. Gies was the secretary/assistant to the spice company in Amsterdam managed by Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank. With increasing anxiety, they watched Hitler’s armies progress through Europe. On May 14, 1940, the Nazis invaded Holland.

Gies describes in heart-rending detail the gradual erosion of freedom for Jews – curfews, then registration at the “aliens office”, books removed from libraries and bookshops, German films in the movie theatres, BBC news banned, Jewish civil servants ordered to resign, Jewish children removed from regular schools and ordered to attend Jewish schools, Jewish businesses “registered”, “razias” or roundups of Jews who dared to complain, a large “J” added to identity cards, bicycles confiscated (few things worse for a Dutch person), bank deposits frozen, no inter–marriage, no riding on streetcars, the yellow star affixed to clothing.

The Franks went underground and lived in the back storerooms of the office building. A large bookcase hid the staircase.

For almost two years, Gies scrimped and scrounged for food and necessary items for the eight people in hiding, knowingly putting her own life at risk and living in constant fear. During the last “Hunger Winter”, she sometimes rode for hours on her bicycle to forage for food from neighboring farms. Her husband Jan worked for the Underground.

Almost every day she visited the desperate and anxious families and brought news of the outside world, celebrating birthdays and holidays with small homemade gifts, flowers, cakes made from carefully saved butter and sugar.

Then, on August 4, 1944, someone betrayed them and they were all sent to concentration camps. Despite several investigations post-war, the traitor was never uncovered. Only Otto Frank survived.

I learned some details about the war that I had not known before. Every time a Jewish family was deported, a moving company named Puls came and removed all furniture and other items from the house or apartment. Others would soon move in.

The first person account of that horrible time really puts you in their shoes. For Miep Gies, “not a day goes by that I do not grieve for them”. Why she was not deported? I'm not a spoiler, read the book!

Miep is still living, now 100 years old, no longer answering letters or giving interviews, but has her own website at! Author: Schonhaus, Cioma
Title: The Forger
Rating: 4

Summary: I’ve picked up a couple of WWII memoirs off the new book shelf recently. This book tells the story of Cioma Schonhaus, a German Jew living in Berlin at the outbreak of the war. He was seventeen, the same age as my parents living in occupied Holland at the time. Because of his job in the arms industry, he was spared deportation. He lost his entire family.

After a period of sabotaging machine gun barrels in the armaments factory where he worked, he had to go underground. His story of survival is amazing, even miraculous. Anti-Nazi Germans helped him along the way.

Because of his graphic arts training, he became an expert forger of travel documents for Jews, saving literally hundreds of lives. Germans would "lose" their identity papers in the church offering plate! Schonhaus would then alter these to be used by fleeing Jews.

When the Gestapo caught wind of his activities, he made a dramatic escape to Switzerland by bicycle. His cleverness, wits, and courage, combined with some incredible luck are amazing. It’s a page-turner just to see how he gets out of the next dangerous situation.

The memoir is not polished, it feels very immediate and reads like a diary, hastily written and translated. I find that immediacy a plus. Real and raw. Just like WWII.

Author: Anne Lamott
Title: Traveling Mercies
Rating: 4

Summary: While helping a student at the reference desk, I saw this book title on a student’s syllabus, and that was enough to make me take a second look - so I’m more in sync with this generation and student assignments, it will help me with my job here at the library, I’ve heard of this title before, and it must be interesting if a professor assigned it, right?

Too right! This my first Anne Lamott book, and I would definitely be open to another.

Every evening, I looked forward to picking it up again, just to see what poignant story came next. She is quite a writer, evocative, funny, real and raw. No aspect of her life as a 70’s child of San Francisco was left untouched. Abortion, drugs, alcohol, bulimia, family dysfunction - she’s experienced it all. And she keeps going, coping, healing, loving and living with it all. Her love of the beach resonated with me, as did her descriptions of processing grief and loss.

I didn’t get a lot of new spiritual insights, mostly reaffirmation of current ones (not a bad thing!), and it’s always interesting to read of another’s spiritual journey, looking for more insight or something that boosts your own journey - just a vague sense of disappointment there. She definitely lives a “quirky walk of faith.”

And yet, the sweet, spiritual moments are there. She can hit you with a deep spiritual lesson in a story.

Her description of her “crossing over” to belief in a God...

“I felt changed, and a little crazy. But though I was still like a stained and slightly buckled jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing, now there were at least a few border pieces in place.”

On heavy decision-making about children...

“Here are the two best prayers I know: ’Help me, help me, help me,’ and ’Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ A woman I know says, for her morning prayer, ’Whatever,’ and then for the evening, ’Oh, well,’ but has conceded that these prayers are more palatable for people without children.

On church...

“When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home - that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They let me in. They even said, ’you come back now.’”

On life...

“…when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

On makeup!...

“Maybe the key is simply a wry fondness for the thing you’re slapping this stuff onto, instead of a desire to disguise; so it’s not that you’re wearing a coast of paint, but a mantilla.”

Her most profound spiritual truth...

“…that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds...”

Anne Lamott is someone I’d like to meet, preferably during a long walk on the beach together...

Author: Bill Hayes
Title: The Anatomist: a True Story of Gray’s Anatomy
Rating: 4

Summary: Is there anyone who has not heard of the medical reference book Gray’s Anatomy? It’s like Plato’s Republic, Solzhynitzen’s Gulag Archipelago, Melville’s Moby Dick. Classic titles in most people’s consciousness, probably not touched for years, if ever... (Brings to mind that marvelous Mark Twain quote - “A classic - something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”)

I picked up this slim volume about the creation of Gray’s Anatomy from the new book shelf, expecting to put it down soon after a quick perusal. Instead, I found myself quickly sucked in. Bill Hayes, the author, perusing his battered second-hand copy of Anatomy, wanted to answer the question “Who wrote this thing?”. He found very little information on Henry Gray, and began a fascinating search to find more.

Of necessity he had to do a lot of research with primary sources to find information about Gray, a mid-nineteenth century London physician who taught anatomy. From a librarian’s point of view, the hunt for information was interesting - lots of trips to dusty archives, unexpected discoveries, tangential information gleaned from other people’s letters, diaries, anatomy manuals, notes.

The author also participates in a modern day anatomy course at UCSF to get a better feel for Gray’s world. The book transitions back and forth between this class and Henry Gray’s life and medical career in the 1850’s - I find that style of writing distracting, but persevered for the gems to be found.

Some of the best vignettes are in the descriptions of the modern day students’ emotional reactions to the cadavers (this one has a tattoo, this one nail polish!), the wonder of the human body, the teaching process, the current transition from utilizing cadavers to computers as a teaching tool instead...

Gray died of smallpox (apparently a quick, horrible, virulent death for him after nursing a nephew with the diease) at the age of 34, and the author surmises that most of his personal effects were simply burned - the Victorian way of preventing cross infection.

Gray began his classic text in the mid-1850’s, a physician prodigy at 20. The discovery and use of chloroform, rendering patients unconscious and still, enabled surgeons to spend more time exploring “heretofore unreachable areas of the body”. The need for an encyclopedic volume of anatomy was great. He collaborated with a student and friend, Henry Vandyke Carter, who created the nearly four hundred signature anatomical drawings, and who often does not receive full credit for his phenomenal skill and artistry.

The book was a hit, and four generations of Grays have benefited from the royalties. 2008 marked the 150th anniversary of the monumental classic, now in its 39th edition in the UK, 37th in the US. It has never been out of print.

Author: Vicki Myron
Title: Dewey, the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Rating: 4

Summary: This book would almost be worth the read just for the evocative descriptions of small town Iowa. It’s not just a fly-over state to those who love it! Who knew!

A tiny kitten was discovered, almost frozen to death, in the library book drop box one winter morning in 1988. Rescued and loved, he survives and thrives and lives in the Spencer Public Library for nineteen years. His full name was Dewey Readmore Books.

Dewey “owned” the library and its staff and patrons. By the end of his life, he was visited by fans worldwide. His picture showed up in cat lovers’ magazines. Dewey rode the book cart, slept on top of the tax forms, in the tissue box, in the card catalog, the ceiling lights, a patron’s open briefcase. He disrupted the children’s story hour so effectively that he was banned from attending. He visited board members during their meetings, and settled in any lap he chose to.

As animals often seem to do, Dewey sensed when someone needed extra love and attention - the child in a wheelchair, the staffer with personal problems, the lonely widower, the latch-key kids who hang around the library after school.

The author’s autobiography is a considerable part of the book, and is a good “perseverance through adversity” human interest story.

Her description of the mission of the public library is moving and articulate. It’s not just cataloging and stamping books. It’s demographics, psychology, budgeting and business analysis, information processing methodology, community analysis and how to fulfill those needs. “A great library provides. It is enmeshed in the life of a community in a way that makes it indispensable.” Exactly how those of us who work here feel!

I’m campaigning for a library cat at LSU, to no avail. Any ideas for names?