Sunday, October 25, 2015

'The little O, the earth' blends travel essays, poetry in harmony

"The little O, the earth" is a thoughtful, introspective travel journal, harmoniously compiled as a blend of writing, art and experience into an enjoyable exploration of the world and its great art collections.
Judith Ferrara's book, titled from Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," describes various flights of imagination through art, essay and poetry. The Worcester-based writer/artist will read from her book at 2 p.m., Nov. 8, in the Princeton Art Society, 18 Boylston Ave., Princeton, and at 7 p.m., Nov. 12, at The Street Beat, 1 Ekman St., Worcester.

The well-designed, square book she envisioned when she started succeeds in capturing the intellectual liveliness of a watchful visitor, seeking to absorb and learn from the best of the world's cultural richness. Ferrara's thoughts about art and the many places she has visited over more than a decade are candid and affecting. Readers are in Barcelona, Reykjavik and Amsterdam, Cote d'Azur, Florence and Rome, St. Petersburg, London and cities across the United States, through the eyes and mind of a woman whose goal—to visit the world's famed museums—may seem too ambitious, but seems to be well within her reach.

Don't expect a dull or overwritten collection of essays. These excerpts from her journals are rich with detail but spare in content. In them, she preserves her best sense of a place and person. There are tidbits of knowledge—like Rembrandt's bankruptcy list being used to restore his house for posterity, the misleading "two tuns of yellow" paint used in Monet's home at Giverny, and Renoir challenging himself to do better after heartbreaking exposure to the works of Titian, Veronese and Raphael—presented between her drawings, inspired by the museums and lands she saw. She briefly considers the music she relies upon as a backdrop for creative juices, the life of an artist, the love she developed for Goya's art after observing his work at The Prado in Madrid.

She writes about Worcester-born poet Elizabeth Bishop, and poet Stanley Kunitz's Worcester home, where she spent several years as a docent. She speaks of the training that goes into being a museum guide, or docent, and relates her joy at hearing a child, after staring at one of her works, solemnly pronounce, "Wow."

The book is filled with such moments, carefully folded together and crafted into a beautiful homage to art.
Her poetry relates to travels, recollecting thoughts about Van Gogh and Michelangelo alongside the realities of life for an artist, mother and writer. The assembled poems are warm, personal, and lovely; I won't single any out, because they are touching and unique. Oh, alright, I will: "No Apologies," which seems to marry the day-to-day life of mother and wife with the dreams and frustrations of creation.

Audio Journal an alternative

Speaking Volumes, a book club for those with visual impairments, holds frequent radio meetings, and the group's schedule is available at This is a terrific way to connect a friend or parent with vision issues to a book discussion group they can enjoy. Books are available, recorded on digital cartridge by the Library of Congress, through Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library and the Worcester Talking Book Library.
Volunteers discuss the book in the studio, and listeners may call in to comment and be part of the group. Selections are made at least four months in advance, allowing listeners time to reserve copies. The number to call to take part in the program is 508-752-0557. It is also possible to listen online, at the website. For more details, the show maintains a Facebook page—simply look up Speaking Volumes. 

Speaking Volumes is broadcast the first Tuesday of each month from 8 to 9 p.m. Discussions are archived on the website for a year. The selection for Nov. 3 is "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. The schedule into 2016 includes: Dec. 2, "The Round House," by Louise Erdrich; Feb. 2, "Lawrence in Arabia," Scott Anderson; March 1, "Life After Life," Kate Atkinson.

Classic Book recommendations
This month, Betsey Johnson of Holden reports book club members who meet at the Congregational Church there often prefer to read 19th century English writers Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, the Brontes and George Eliot, as well as American writers Willa Cather, Henry James, Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. "Can't go wrong with any of these authors," she writes. Wharton's "Summer" and James' "Washington Square" are both short and readable.

Area book clubs

Members of the "Greatest Book Club Ever" at Douglas' Simon Fairfield Public Library will discuss Stephen King's "The Shining" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5. Public welcome. Call to reserve a copy. The library's "Book Bunch" meets at 6 p.m., Nov. 19. Also at the library, at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 13, readers will discuss Michael Tougias's "The Finest Hours" about a Nor'easter off Cape Cod that destroyed two oil tankers, and the effort to rescue their crews. There are also two young people's book clubs at the library. For details, contact the library.
Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library Adult Book Group takes on Mark Haddon's unique and very readable novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at its 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 meeting. Check with the library to reserve a copy. The Thursday afternoon book club meets at 1 p.m., Nov. 12, to discuss "Pascali's Island" by Brian Unsworth.
Also in Lancaster, Off-Track Bookies will discuss Geraldine Brooks' "People of the Book" at a meeting Nov. 12.
"With Malice Toward None," a life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates, is the discussion focus for a 10 a.m., Nov 13 meeting of the Friday Morning Book Club, Northborough Library.
In Mendon, says Brenda Whitner, readers will discuss Jo Jo Moyes' "Me Before You," a novel about a caretaker assigned to a young man who intends to commit suicide after being paralyzed. Meeting is at 7 p.m., Nov. 3 in the town library.
Dudley book club members will meet Nov. 5, 6 p.m. in the Pearl L. Crawford Memorial Library to talk about Jeannette Walls' "Half-Broke Horses." For details, call 508-929-8021 or leave an email address at the library.
The Holden Gale Free Library's Book Club will consider "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin at a 10:30 a.m. meeting, Nov. 3, and, on Dec. 1, "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler. Copies are available through the library.
Bannister Book Group, Merrick Public Library, Brookfield, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 24, 7 to 8 p.m. to discuss "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, a novel about a modern black woman transported back in time to a slave plantation in the antebellum South. "Harrowing, haunting story," one reviewer said.
"The Other Wes Moore," by Wes Moore, will discussed at 6:30, Nov. 2, in the Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge.
The NOW Women's Issues Book Group, Worcester, will meet Nov. 9 to discuss "Euphoria" by Lily King. Meeting is at 7 p.m. in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St.
"The Remains of the Day," by Kazuo Ishiguro will be discussed at Haston Library in North Brookfield on Dec. 8. This is the combined November/December meeting
Brown Bag Book Club at Leominster Public Library has slated "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini for its Nov. 5 meeting at noon.
The Nov. 18 meeting at Fitchburg Public Library is about Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific West Trail." Discussions are at 1 and 6:30 pm.
"Orphan Train" by Christina Kline is the topic of a 4:30 p.m., Nov. 18 meeting in Heywood Library, Gardner.
Whately Library hosts an author visit and book discussion with Jeannine Atkins on Saturday, Nov. 14, starting at 11 a.m. Whately’s own Atkins will lead a discussion of her new book, "Little Woman in Blue."
Books will be available for purchase and signing. Library is at 202 Chestnut Plain Rd. Call 413-665-2170 for info.

Ann Connery Frantz is a freelance writer/editor who also writes fiction. Send information and ideas to

Friday, October 9, 2015

Don't miss Boston Book Fair -- it's a readers' nirvana!

Boston Book Festival organizers have announced the author lineup for the seventh annual festival, slated for Oct. 23-24 at Copley Square, Boston. Some 175 authors and presenters are expected, and events—beyond two ticketed events—are free. They are held in buildings surrounding the square and adjacent churches, with many sessions in the Boston Public Library. The largest groups meet in Trinity Church.
A large crowd attends, so arrive early for good seating. This is a chance to hear authors who have won some of the most prestigious writing awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, Caldecott and Newbery awards, and the Mann-Booker Award. Sessions include scientists, architects, historians and authors of multiple genres.
One special element—the city-wide "read" of a story—features Jennifer De Leon's "Home Movies" this year. It has been available throughout the Boston area, free (check libraries, book stores), in preparation for what may be the world's largest book discussion. For details, see the web site,
The few paid events generally are inexpensive, and proceeds support free events at the festival. At one, author Neil Gaiman will interview his wife, memoirist and singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, on Oct. 24. Her book is "The Art of Asking." Cost is $10.
The other paid event is exclusive to BBF supporters at the $150 level or higher: Margaret Atwood's kickoff keynote speech, Friday, Oct. 23. This is the festival's major fundraising event, hence the price. If you'd like to donate, see the web site (there's a $50 to $100 level as well as much higher possibilities).
Workshops, interviews and spirited discussions are offered all day each day, with the festival kicking off late Friday.
Among other major participants: Atul Gawande, Colum McCann, James Wood, Louis Sachar, and Libba Bray. A complete list is available online.

The site features a large contingent of booths set up by booksellers, publishers and other book-related enterprises, plus free music and lots of food stands. The entire day is relaxing and cheerful, as participants are surrounded by others who love books!
Recommendations for classic favorites
This month, the Northboro Friday Morning Book Group recommends these classics for clubs to consider—"which we feel are highly discussable.  We consider a classic as being published in the 1960s, and previously and we've read four classics a year for the past 14 or 15 years."
1)  "Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain
2)  "A Man for All Seasons"  (the play)
3)  "Middlemarch, George Eliot"
4)  "Two Years Before The Mast," Richard Dana, Jr.

Book groups/selections for October
The Athol Public Library's "Booked for Lunch" club will discuss "Delicious!" by Ruth Reichl  when the group starts its season tomorrow (Monday). "Our group varies in size from 12 to 24. Membership is not required and participation varies based on the selection (and often time of year!). We encourage new folks to join us," said Robin Brzozowski. "Throughout the year we read popular fiction, a few non-fiction selections and an occasional classic. Everyone is given the opportunity to share their thoughts."
NOW Women's Issues Book Group will discuss "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.” This hefty title is by Anne-Marie O’Connor, and it concerns the real-life story of Adele’s Jewish family, their ordeal in Nazi-occupied Vienna, and the fight to reclaim the famous painting, stolen by Nazi officers. A movie version (called the “Woman in Gold”) starred Helen Mirren. The group meets at 7 p.m., Oct. 12 in Barnes & Noble, 541 Shrewsbury St., Worcester.
Off-Track Bookies in Lancaster has slated Sue Monk Kidd's "The Intervention of Wings" for its Oct. 8 meeting. "Wings" is based on the life of Sarah Grimk√©, an abolitionist and early proponent of women’s rights. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah—daughter of a wealthy plantation family—is presented with her own slave, which horrifies her. Hetty is the slave. The two defy traditional slavery.
At Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library, book club members will talk about Kathleen Norris's "The Cloister Walk," a memoir of her time as an oblate (and Presbyterian minister) who examines her faith while staying with Benedictine monks. Meeting is Oct. 27.
At 7 p.m., Oct. 27, Merrick Public Library in Brookfield, members will read Rachel Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry," a novel about an anti-hero seeking himself, and respect, in his travels.
The Contemporary Book Club at Gale Free Library, Holden, will discuss "Black River" by E.M. Hulse at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6. Check the library for a book loan.
Mendon Public Library's group will discuss "A Snicker of Magic" by Natalie Lloyd (a 2014 Newbery Award nominee) on Monday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. Call librarian Brenda Whitner for details.
At Simon Fairfield Public Library in Douglas, book club members will discuss Derek B. Miller's "Norwegian by Night" at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 13. The N.Y. Times described this book as having "the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller." Call 508-476-2695 to reserve a copy.
Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath" will be the focus of a 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 meeting at Gardner's Heywood Memorial Library.
Haston Public Library, North Brookfield, chose books for the new season at an August cookout. The group has slated "A History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel for its Oct. 27 meeting.
Erik Larson's "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" is the topic for Crawford Library's book group, meeting at 6 p.m., Oct. 1 in Dudley.
"The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan will be discussed at Leominster Public Library's Brown Bag meeting on Oct. 1.
Fitchburg Public Library's book club will discuss Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" on Oct. 14 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
In Southbridge, group members will discuss Michael Ponsor's "The Hanging Judge" at 6:30 p.m. in Jacob Edwards Library.
Jhumpa Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth," eight stories exploring family life in India, Thailand and the United States, will be discussed at the 10 a.m., Oct. 9 meeting of Northboro Public Library's Friday Morning Book Club.

Ann Connery Frantz writes about authors and book clubs for the Telegram & Gazette. Contact her at