Summer Sampler, Pt. 1

The readers in the staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library are a diverse lot. Ask us to bring a light, fun read to a summer meeting and you’ll get a gaggle of interpretations of “light” and “fun.”

Lisa from Technical Services had launched into The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the debut novel of Rachel Joyce. It’s about a retired man who upon receiving a letter from an old co-worker in hospice, leaves behind his mundane existence (and his wife and son) to walk 600 miles across England to see Queenie Hennessey one last time. He believes that as long as he walks, she will survive, and along the way he meets many strangers who unlock memories and yearnings that he had forgotten he possessed. It’s a very English look at a quixotic spiritual quest.

Laura is our newest participant, and if this month is typical, her sensibilities are going to add yet another dimension to a fascinating group. Her selection, Stuck Rubber Baby, shows just how much graphic novels have expanded beyond comic strips and superheroes. It’s a 1960s story about Toland Polk, the son of a poor white carpenter who becomes involved in a bohemian underground music scene in the little town of Clayfield where he has grown up. That association leads him to participate in the battle for civil rights, and through that struggle, identification with his own identity, particularly his homosexuality. With more text than the usual graphic novel, and a strong depiction of the power of group struggle on the individual, Howard Cruse’s graphic novel is a work into which book groups can sink their collective teeth.

Susan from Youth Services selected Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. It’s young adult chick-lit, but it has humor, heart, and a certain snarky sophistication. The story is about D.J. Schwenk, a Wisconsin farm girl who has quietly accepted the many burdens that circumstance have placed on her. A variety of family troubles have left her with most of the job of maintaining the family dairy farm. She reluctantly takes on help, and finds herself romantically interested in Brian, a guy out of her league who shows her how to communicate her needs more clearly. The plot culminates when she battles with him for a position on the high school football team. Murdock’s combination of humor, storytelling, and an unusual heroine with real pluck makes this trilogy starter a winning selection.

Barbara from Outreach services is one of our nonfiction fans, and she had two books. The first was Michael Capuzzo’s Close to Shore, a shark attack story from a time long before the annual onslaught of Shark Week, far prior to the first da-dums sounded to signal the arrival of Jaws. These attacks happened in New Jersey in 1916, a prosperous time when the last thing swimmers expected was the bump and bite of a finned behemoth. Mixing thrills with period detail and plenty of information about shark behavior, Capuzzo introduces readers to the individuals and families who would find their lives changed by the rogue shark.

But Barbara’s favorite read was Chris Ballard’s One Shot at Forever, one of those sports stories that’s really about the human spirit, not just sports. It’s a Hoosiers-like tale of a tiny town in Illinois where a hippie intellectual is hired in 1966 to teach English and coach baseball. Lynn Sweet’s unconventional methods would ultimately inspire his undersized team to new ways of thinking and an improbable run through a slew of rivals from much larger schools on their way to the state finals. Nostalgic but not maudlin, One Shot is a captivating and inspirational read that you don’t have to like baseball to love.

I’ll be back with more of the books from this diverse meeting in a few days.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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