Category Archives: book groups

The train has left the station

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One Island One Book, the Key West Library’s program now in its third year, is well underway. This year we’re reading “Last Train to Paradise,” Les Standiford’s book chronicling the construction of the Over-Sea Railroad, completed 100 years ago. The book also covers the railroad’s destruction in the harrowing Labor Day hurricane of 1935.

We’re in the final week of the online readalong on the One Island One Book blog– but you’re welcome to jump in at any point; the beauty of this is it can stay up there forever for anyone reading the book and we can continue the conversation as long as we want.

Next week things really pick up when the author himself, Les Standiford, arrives in town. He’ll be signing books at Key West Island Books, 513 Fleming St., at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Then at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, he’ll be at the Key West Library, 700 Fleming St., to talk about Last Train to Paradise. Later that day, at 6 p.m., he’ll be speaking at the Friends of the Library Lecture Series at The Studios of Key West, 600 White St. Both those events are free and open to all.

We’ve already had a couple great events — a presentation about how the old bridges went from rail to trail (many of them are now part of the Overseas Heritage Trail) and a guided tour of the Speedway to Sunshine exhibit at the Custom House. There’s another tour planned for 2 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 24 — the tour is free but you need to sign up; just stop by the library or call 305-292-3595.  And if that weren’t enough, the Art & Historical Society has generously offered free admission to the Custom House to anyone with a Monroe County Library card, until March 15.

Lots to do — and still plenty of time to read the book. They have them on sale at Key West Island Books and we have many, many copies in the library collection (still a couple available on the special exhibit shelf last time I checked). So please stop by, in person or online, and help make this really One Island One Book.

Most of the action, thus far, as taken place online in our first online readalong but the live events have started, wtih a presentation on how the original railroad bridges went from rail to trail (many of them are now part of a state park called the Overseas Heritage Trail) and a special guided tour of the Speedway to Sunshine exhibit at the Custom House (there’s another this Friday — you can still sign up by coming into the library or calling there at 305-292-3595).

About those images: One of the most fun parts of this year’s One Island One Book program, for me, has been spending time with our fabulous online archive of photographs. These are scanned, identified and uploaded by Monroe County Historian Tom Hambright and his team of dedicated volunteers. There are more than 11,000 images in the whole collection and 700 just related to the railroad. The slideshow above is a small sample of my favorites but I recommend checking this site out to anyone interested in Keys history. Another favorite from the same era I can’t resist revisiting: the waterfront passes that were required of workers in that area during World War I. The photographs are haunting and beautiful and the information provides a time capsule of Key West life in that era.

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The Over-Sea Railroad: You can no longer ridealong but you can still readalong

Exactly 100 years ago, Key West was in a tizzy, getting ready for the arrival of the First Train. On Jan. 22, 2012, the train would arrive bearing oil tycoon-turned-railroad magnate Henry Flagler and marking the completion of the Over-Sea Railroad.

These days, we’re in a bit of a tizzy ourselves, getting ready to commemorate the Centennial of that event — a major one by the standards of any small town and, you could argue, in the history of Florida and the nation. It was certainly a remarkable achievement, crossing mangrove swamps and open water. Crews endured hurricanes, mosquitos and the relentless humidity of the subtropics — without the modern comforts we take for granted now.

Lots of events are planned to mark the Centennial — more information is available at the official Centennial committee’s website. At the Key West Library, we’re celebrating with our One Island One Book program. This year we’re reading Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford, which tells the story of the construction of the Over-Sea Railroad — and its destruction, barely two decades later, when the Upper Keys were hit by one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the continental U.S.

Most of our One Island One Book events don’t start until mid-February — Standiford will be speaking at the Library on Monday, Feb. 27. But one event is starting in the next few days: our first every online readalong. What does that mean? It means  you read about 50 pages a week of the book (there’s a reading schedule on the blog), and comment about it at the blog. We’ll start things out with some comments and questions but this isn’t a class and our posts are not a syllabus — everyone is welcome to chime in on whatever aspect they like, from wherever they are. So if you’re curious about the railroad and feel like learning some more — and interacting with others who are doing the same, please join in.

Some of you, especially those familiar with the Keys, may have noticed that the image above does not show Key West. It’s Pigeon Key, the island in the bend of the Old Seven Mile Bridge (and one the best places these days to get a feel for how things were back in the railroad days). Even though it’s not Key West, this is one of my favorite images of the railroad, probably because of the human element introduced by the kids waving below. And it comes from the library’s spectacular collection of historic images that have been scanned and placed online for open public access — including a collection of 700 images about the Over-Sea Railroad. Many of the library’s images, incidentally, were used for a beautiful new Centennial edition of Last Train to Paradise, published by Books & Books and the Flagler Museum.

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Mostly local

Key West writers are in the news, folks. First of all, there’s James Gleick, the esteemed science writer who has recently published his book about information called The Information. And so far it’s getting boffo reviews, in Big Important Publications like The New York Times and the New York Review of Books and coverage on NPR’s All Things Considered. I only hope future generations of library and information science students get to read this book instead of the … stuff I’m having to read for my current course. But the less side about that on a public forum the better. Another interesting read is Gleick’s blog, Bits in the Ether. I’m told he’ll be doing a reading and signing at Voltaire Books some time this month; I’ll update here when I learn more.

The other item of local interest which I cannot resist posting is this video of our own Meg Cabot, promoting her forthcoming young adult novel Abandon, a modern take on the myth of Hades and Persephone. I like this because it’s shot in one of my favorite places in our tiny town, the Cemetery — which, by the way, is now open to access at the Frances Street gate again. Thank you, City Commission!

Finally, on the subject of local authors, please keep in mind that this week is the final week of One Island One Book, which will wrap up on Thursday morning with the library’s Cafe Con Libros program — featuring a talk by Alison Lurie herself about her novel set in Key West, The Last Resort.

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One Island One Book, Volume 2

Last year at the Key West Library we held our first One Island One Book program — and if I do say so, as a member of the staff, it was a great success. We chose Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, a novel set in Key West in the 1930s, and had lots of rousing discussions, presentations, a screening of the film (even though its plot bore almost no resemblance to that of the novel) and, as a capper, the designation of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West as a National Literary Landmark.

This year, we’ve decided to do it all over again — with a different book, of course. We’ve chosen another novel set in Key West, this one more contemporary and with an author who is still alive, still in Key West — and who will appear at the Library for our Cafe Con Libros group to discuss the novel as the progam’s finale. Our choice is The Last Resort by Alison Lurie.

Lurie is a longtime Key Wester and this is actually her second novel set here — the first was The Truth About Lorin Jones and when people ask me for a Key West novel, that’s always the first one I recommend. The Last Resort is more recent and tells the story of a woman married to a much older, successful man who has basically made serving him her life’s work. Until he gets depressed and withdrawn one winter, and she suggests they repair to Key West and … well, you should read the book to find out what happens.

To find out more about Lurie, check her website — which, I was extremely touched to see, suggests finding her books at your local library, even before it suggests purchase, which is an extremely generous and civic-minded gesture on the part of a writer.

We have lots of copies of The Last Resort in the Library’s collection — as of this writing most if not all are checked out but it’s a quick read so if you request a copy, you shouldn’t have to wait long. I have it on good authority, too, that they have a good supply of them at a good price at Key West Island Books, so that’s another option.

The program starts March 9 with a discussion of the book by Cynthia Crossen, who writes the Dear Book Lover column for the Wall Street Journal, lives in Key West and is vice president of our own Friends of the Library. We are blessed indeed with our literary community on this little island. For more information on events, keep an eye on the Library website’s Key West page or check the One Island One Book blog. You do not need to have a Monroe County Library card to attend events at the Library.

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The girl who finally got around to reading Stieg Larsson

It’s taken me years to get around to reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the international bestseller by the late Stieg Larsson. There are a few reasons for this. For one, it’s a pretty big book. For another, it was reputed to be an addictive page-turner and I’m wary of taking those on without a good chunk of free time ahead of me. Third, I’m always wary of massively hyped bestselling books, especially genre thrillers. I’m still getting over having read Angels & Demons and I still want those four hours of my life back. And finally, I knew the tragic backstory — that Larsson died of a heart attack, at 50, before the books were published — and without a will, leading to a so-far-unresolved conflict between his father and brother, who inherited his unexpectedly valuable estate, and his longtime partner, with whom he lived for decades. Ugh.

BUT. I do like Swedish crime novels — my favorite so far is Kjell Eriksson’s “Princess of Burundi” — and these had gotten well reviewed enough that I thought it was safe to give them a try. Plus, Larsson is the subject of our Book Bites book club at the library this month. And I had a couple days of post-Fantasy Fest downtime. So I figured now was the time.

I actually had started this book once or twice before. It was one of the first that I bought when my husband got me a Kindle. But I had bounced off the beginning section and figured it wasn’t the right time. This time, I stuck it out and by 30 pages in (a guesstimate, actually, since the Kindle doesn’t give you a page number) I was hooked. The writing is nothing spectacular and I suspect the translation was clumsy at times — either too literal or veering between British and American English — but the plot and characters are so strong that it didn’t matter.

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Don’t worry I’m not writing about ebooks

I’m sick to death of reading about ebooks and digital publishing because it all seems to come from the poles — either we’re looking at the Glorious Future or the Terrible End of literature. Plus there’s so much being written and published, both online and in print, by self-obsessed media types, that you couldn’t possibly follow it all. Plus as a wise person once said about Hollywood, nobody knows anything. So why kill myself trying to figure it out when really smart people who are paid to do so obviously can’t?

I chose this image because I recently completed two online book club reads — in both cases, ahead of the official schedule. The first was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the inaugural One Book One Twitter. The second was Justin Cronin’s Passage for the inaugural Salon Book Club.

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Recent reading roundup

I’m currently immersed in one of this summer’s Hot Books — The Passage by Justin Cronin — which I’m attempting to read with Salon’s Reading Club (look for a future post contrasting that with the One Book One Twitter experience reading American Gods — the short version is that I like the Salon experience better, at least so far). And there are a couple other titles I’ve read in the last month between everything else — though now we’ve got the cable with the World Cup on and the Tour de France right around the corner so my reading rate could slow right down. (There are three copies of The Passage in the Monroe County Library system, by the way, with two requests pending so if you want this one you should get on the list.) But here’s a report on a couple of recent reads before they get too far into the rearview mirror.

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera — historical fiction set during the Civil War about a midwife who longs to become a surgeon, with lots of family drama going on. For some reason, this one just didn’t grab me though I did finish it. It struck me as one of those “look how much research I did into the time period” historical novels. That stuff needs to come through not quite so obviously. We do have it in the Monroe County Library collection, just not at the Key West Library. I’ll give it 3 stars.

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More than 140 characters on recent reading

First of all, I did finish Elif Batuman’s The Possessed and I intend to review it for Solares Hill so no review type copy here except to say that I liked it very very much and give it an A. Or four out of five stars if that’s the system I wind up going to, which I might. Maybe even four and a half.

After finishing that I started on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods … and started following the One Book One Twitter experiment on Twitter. I’m not going to go into the reasons I resisted then finally caved to Twitter — David Carr does that far better than I in this piece from the New York Times. I don’t think it will supersede Facebook in my online life — most of my friends and family are on Facebook; I hardly know anyone who Twitters. I signed up for a bunch of book-related feeds and will use it for local stuff. (Hey Key West Citizen — it’s great you guys have a Twitter feed and all, but I think the point of Twitter is that you post to it occasionally — as of this writing the most recent post is 11 days old — that’s not very, um, newsy.) I am starting to get the protocols, with feeds and hashmarks etc. though I still feel like a blundering ignoramus in danger of making an online fool of myself. But I can see its appeal and think it might even be a good exercise for someone like me, who has a tendency to think I must be up on all things all the time. That’s impossible on Twitter and good thing, too — so you just check in, see what others are saying and maybe follow a couple interesting links.

As far as a reading/literary experience goes … well, it’s not a coherent conversation of any kind, that’s for sure. More like dropping into a big cocktail party where you don’t know anyone but everyone’s pretty friendly, and eavesdropping and engaging in a couple quick exchanges. Is that edifying? I’m not sure. It’s kind of fun. I can’t say I’ve gotten any big insights into the book from any of the posts that I’ve read. But I’m grateful to the people who made this happen because 1) they finally got me to read American Gods and 2) now I finally have a rudimentary understanding of Twitter.

I can see that for others, including Neil Gaiman, Twitter is an important part of their lives. I don’t know that it will ever become an important part of mine. And I really would like to resist Yet Another Online Timewaster. But it’s been an interesting introduction.

The bird pictured here, in case anyone was wondering and didn’t already know, is a Northern Mockingbird, Florida’s state bird and the primary twitterer of local environs. Recently, many people I know have been complaining about this bird twittering outside their windows early in the morning. Personally I don’t mind that but don’t like it when they divebomb you because they think you’re too close to their nests.

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Book Bites doubleheader

If you’ve ever thought about re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterwork, The Great Gatsby — or if for some reason you never had to read it multiple times in high school and college, like I did — now is a very good time, at least if you’re in Key West. The Great Gatsby is one of the twin foci of the May Book Bites Book Club at the Key West Library. And on Wednesday, May 5, at 5:30 p.m. we’ll be showing the movie version starring Robert Redford (as Gatsby, natch) and Mia Farrow (as Daisy Buchanan).

Typically, Book Bites discusses anything by or about an author but this time Circulation Librarian Kris Neihouse is trying something a little different and the book discussion, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, will focus solely on Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s work — and on a much more recent novel, The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. Why The Double Bind? Here’s an excerpt from Jodi Picoult’s guest review on Amazon:

“Fact and fiction become indistinguishable in The Double Bind: The story centers on Laurel Estabrook, a young social worker and survivor of a near-rape, who stumbles across photographs taken by a formerly homeless client and tries to understand how a man who’d taken snapshots of celebrities in the 50s and 60s might have wound up on the streets. However, an author’s note tells us that Bohjalian conceived this book after being shown a batch of old photographs taken by a once-homeless man; and the actual photos of Bob “Soupy” Campbell are peppered throughout the text. In another neat twist, Bohjalian’s resurrects details from The Great Gatsby, which become “real” in the context of his own novel–Laurel lives in West Egg; part of her hunt for her photographer’s past involves meeting with the descendants of Daisy and Tom Buchanan.”

Pretty cool, huh? Gatsby itself is a pretty slim volume and the Bohjalian title, while I haven’t read it, strikes me as the kind of book that once you enter, you have a hard time leaving until you’re through. There’s still time to read one or both. Questions? Stop by the library or call Kris at 292-3595.

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But wait … there’s more!

More from Kris on book clubs at the Key West library: “The All for One Book Club at the Key West Library will discusses Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto next week.  The group will meet Wednesday afternoon March 19  at 4:00–bring your afternoon coffee, tea and snacks to the discussion!
Here is a link for a reading guide for the novel:
Books for discussion are not chosen ahead of time.  When we finish discussing Bel Canto the group will decide what to read for next month’s meeting.
Hope to see you at the library!”

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