Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No-fear book culling (or not)

I recently faced the distressing possibility that I might not live long enough to read all of my books. I imagine this happens to all book collectors eventually. That quick purchase, and the next, and the one after that, all gather on the shelves until ... another book case is needed. And then, another. And another.
I know I have too many, know it's a compulsion, like hoarding. But it is such a sweet, harmless sin. I'm too lazy to do a count, but I estimate in my rough Irish way that there are a thousand books or so settled on the shelves, waiting for the books I borrow from the library, those I receive for reviews and others purchased for my book club—the aptly named Off-Track Bookies.
That's a lot of reading. My life/death estimate is predicated on the fact that I don't skim books; I read them slowly, deliciously. I study the style and savor the words until I near the end, when it's no-holds-barred race to the finish line (if it's a good book). At my current pace, I will have to live—and be able to read—until something like 100 years old. Given the rate at which my eyes are deteriorating, that's not looking too likely. That, and the fact that I plan to take up risque living at age 90.
I'm not too thrilled; my kids—who will have to dispose of all my books someday—aren't too thrilled either. I will accept that I bear some responsibility for thinning out the shelves before that time (though it's tempting to just let them suffer). But since I love books, I want to see them off to a better place.
Getting rid of your old friends is hard. I tell myself lies: Of course I'll read them all! I'll even reread them. I'll pass them on to dear friends and give some to the library. I'll be buried with them. Imagine: a coffin made of books. I like that.
But back to the living. When you, like me, are ready to accept that some culling of the herd is necessary for your psychological health, other readers have some advice for you, as do I:
1. Keep a "give away" and a "sell" box near the book case. Once a month, remove and dispose of the books that simply occupy space. You won't read them; your kids don't take time to read, and your grandchildren won't use them for reference one day, since they have the internet.
2. Go shelf by shelf. Pick up each book, thumb through it and consider whether you will read it. Be honest. If you've been hoarding it for years, the answer is probably no. If it's from college years; throw it in one of the bags.
3. Offer them to the library, since libraries earn precious operational funds from book sales, and they have a built-in audience.
4. Sell them. Try Shipping is a nuisance, but maybe you won't mind. If you know of a second-hand shop with bookshelves, bring them best-sellers (which you probably don't want to keep anyway) no more than 5-6 years old. You won't make much, but they'll be gone. Quality special topic books also sell well (cookbooks, travel, photography). Some used book stores will buy your books up front and offer you either a pittance or a book credit for them—which won't solve the inventory problem.
5. Bring a few good reads to places where you see friends—book club, coffee shops, places that have exchanges (my hair salon loves them). Senior centers. Waiting rooms. You get the idea. If they seem unwilling, drop the books and run.
6. Don't forget the Prison Book Program out of Quincy, Mass. ( which collects, organizes and ships books to prisoners. This is a good outfit, and your help in any form is appreciated.
7. Keep only what you truly intend to read. You won't miss the others, some say, (though I sincerely doubt it and would never do that myself; sorry, kids).
8. Do nothing. They're not hurting anyone until you go. Then it's not your problem.
Robyn Devine, author of "She Makes Hats", suggests:  "I dedicated a shelf to “need to read” books, and noted the date. Any books that started out on that shelf on that date but were still there six months later I purged – I had discovered I truly had no desire to read them!" (This is not an absolute: I've found wonderful books that I owned for years before reading).
Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn says: "Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club inspired me to get rid of the vast majority of my books a little over a year ago: 'The things you own end up owning you.' 'It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.' ... I read those quotes several times and within a week sold or donated 98 percent of my books. I purchased a Kindle and kept one shelf of my favorite physical books." (OK, Millburn, you're nuts. Then again, if you like Kindles, go for it. Seems like an expensive way to replace a library.)

Authors visit Worcester:

Two popular writers will appear at a Women's Authors event to benefit the Worcester YWCA's Daybreak program. Hank Phillippi Ryan and Elin Hilderbrand will speak at a 5 to 7 p.m., May 21, gathering in Alden Hall, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 100 Institute Road.
Hilderbrand is the author of "The Matchmaker" (2014) (which debuted at no. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list and earned praise from Publishers Weekly), as well as 11 previous novels, including "Beautiful Day." She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has lived on Nantucket for 20 years. Her latest, "The Rumor," will be released this summer.
Journalist and writer Hank Phillippi Ryan has won multiple awards for crime fiction, including the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award for "The Other Woman." National reviews have called her a "master at crafting suspenseful mysteries" and "a superb and gifted storyteller." Her newest book, "Truth Be Told," is a Library Journal Best Book of 2014. Her next novel, "What You See," will debut this fall. 

Amy Belding Brown at Lancaster
Thayer Memorial Library hosts the author of a novel based on the life of noted Lancastrian Mary Rowlandson (1637-1711) , wife of Rev. Joseph Rowlandson, the first minister of Lancaster’s First Church, who was captured by Native Americans during King Phillip's War. Her memoir, “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson” was published in 1682. 
Amy Belding  Brown wrote "Flight of the Sparrow," imagining the time and situation, and did so skillfully. She will be at the library at 1 p.m., May 2, to discuss the writing of that novel.

Book Group meetings:
NOW Book Group meets May 11 at Barnes & Noble, 541 Franklin St., Worcester, to discuss Mark Twain's "Diaries of Adam and Eve," a light take on the war between the sexes.

Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster hosts these meetings: Tuesday (April 28), Katherine Boo's non-fictional "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," and May 26, Celeste Ng's novel, "Everything I Never Told You." The group meets at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room area. To reserve a copy, contact the library.

Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month at 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at  Next up is Marilynne Robinson's "The Gilead," on May 5. For details see:

Members of the Westborough Public Library's 10:30 a.m. Thursday group will meet May 21 to discuss "The Hare With Amber Eyes" by Edmund DeWaal. The Monday evening group meets at 7 p.m. May 4 to discuss Garth Stein's "A Sudden Light."

Northborough readers will discuss Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" at 10 a.m., May 8 in the library.

Heywood Library's group will review "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done," by Atul Gawande at its 4:30 p.m., May 27 meeting.

In Dudley, Crawford Public Library's book group will meet at 6 p.m., May 7, to discuss Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night."

At Gale Free Library, Holden, Contemporary Book Group will discuss "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 5. The Classics Book Group meets May 28 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath.

At Haston Free Library in N. Brookfield, members will meet at 7 p.m., May 26, to discuss a work by Charles Dickens. Call for details.

Members of the Douglas Library Book Group will discuss "The Emerald Mile" by Kevin Fedarko, a nonfiction recounting of the fastest boat ride in history, on a hand-built dory, along the Grand Canyon's Colorado River. Meeting is at 6:30 p.m., May 12.

Ann Connery Frantz is a Lancaster writer-editor, co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. To send questions or ideas write

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April events for readers and poets

There is much going on this month.
Here are some that didn't make the newspaper, thanks to my own error!

Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative invites readers to observe National Poetry Month with several events at Thayer Memorial Library this month. Poets may read from their work at a Poetry Open Mike at 6:30 p.m., April 14, in the library's downstairs Dexter meeting room. There is a five-minute maximum reading period for each participant. 
Also, poet Michael Fisher, author of "The Wolf Spider" and "Libretto for the Exhausted World" will lead a workshop on the Language of Poetry from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 on Saturday, April 18, in the Dexter Room.

Holden Free Library is also welcoming fans of poetry at a poet-led writing workshop, Monday, April 13, 10:30 a.m. to Noon. Jennifer Freed will lead the workshop, one of several poetry and writing sessions offered during April at Gale, (508) 210-5569.

Northboro Public Library's Friday Morning Book Group will discuss Debra Dean's "The Madonnas of Leningrad" at a meeting planned for April 10. The novel is based on the World War II seige of Leningrad. Call the library, (508) 393-6889, for information from Marie Nieber, leader.

Thayer Memorial Library's Adult Book Group will meet at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 31, to discuss "People of the Book: A Novel" by Geraldine Brooks. This is the fact-inspired story of a rare illuminated manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah, through centuries of exile and war. For more information, contact Assistant Director Karen Silverthorn at 978-368-8928 or

Actress-singer Debbie Reynolds' "Unsinkable: A Memoir," is the topic of Heywood Library's book group for April 29.

Gale Free Library's Contemporary Book Group in Holden will meet at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 7 to discuss "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion" by Fannie Flagg. Its Classics Book Group will meet on Thursday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss "The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton.

At Haston Library, North Brookfield, members will discuss "Common Threads Poetry," at 7 p.m., April 28.

Members of Lancaster's "Off-Track Bookies" will meet on April 9 to discuss Ann Leary's "The Good Wife."

On April 13, the NOW Women's Issues Book Group will discuss "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," by Mary Roach. "Great science writing, and very engaging, says Joan Killough-Miller. "But don't try to read this over lunch!" Meets at 7 p.m. inside Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester.

Top of Form

Reading for pleasure, for knowledge, for life

Although lately much occupied with books about how to keep your dog from renting the drapes, chewing the doorways and destroying the doors, I have found time to read books recommended by friends, solicited for reviews or books that are just plain fun.
Louise Erdrich's novels about contemporary Native Americans bring me back to western South Dakota, where I lived during the 1972 flood and the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation—both tense and difficult times for Native Americans. Sherman Alexie does it for me too.
The people of the Midwest and West come alive again, enduringly and soulfully, within the works of Ivan Doig, Annie Proulx, Charles Frazier, Ken Haruf and David Guterson.
T.C. Boyle's short fiction opens my imagination to new ways of expressing ideas, as well as crafting imaginative stories. The same holds for Ray Bradbury, Proulx, John Updike, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Flannery O'Connor and Jhumpa Lahiri. They have written memorable stories.
I'm a fan of books about men, women and families during World War II, so I routinely pick them up both fiction and nonfiction from that era. Among the best: "The Diary of Anne Frank," Kristen Hannah's "Winter Garden" and, more recently, "The Nightengale," Chris Bohjalian's "Skeletons at the Feast," Elie Wiesel's "Night," Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," Thomas Kennealy's "Schindler's List," William Styron's "Sophie's Choice," Jenna Blum's "Those Who Save Us," Victor Klemperer's "I Will Bear Witness," Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," Corrie Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place," Leon Uris' "Mila 18" and "Exodus," and so, so many other books dealing with this era that have enriched my knowledge and thoughts.
This is why we read. We read to expand our lives and hearts, to learn about what we need to understand, to live in ways we cannot live.
I hope that your book club does that for you.
Area book groups:
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will focus on Garth Stein’s "The Art of Racing in the Rain." Meeting is Tuesday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. Call the library, (508) 476-2695, for a copy of the book. New members welcome.
The Friday Morning Book Club at Northborough Library will meet at 10 a.m., April 10, to discuss "The Madonnas of Leningrad" by Debra Dean, a novel based on the siege of Leningrad during World War II.
Actress-singer Debbie Reynolds' memoir, "Unsinkable" will be the topic of a 4:30 p.m., April 29 meeting at Heywood Library in Gardner.
Gale Free Library in Holden has slated two meetings. The Contemporary Book Group will meet at 10:30 a.m., April 7, to discuss Fannie Flagg's "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Its Classics Book Group will meet at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 30, to discuss "The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton.
Off Track Bookies in Lancaster will meet at 7 p.m., April 9, to discuss Ann Leary's "The Good House."
North Brookfield Book Group, observing National Poetry Month, has slated "Common Threads Poetry" for its 7 p.m., April 28 meeting at Haston Library.