• By Michael Ackerman
  • Posted Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Books We Like

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor Truth be told, I’ve only read a couple of the stories in this compilation—A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge—but based on the strength of those two, I feel like I can vouch for the book as a whole. A Good Man is about a family taking a road trip to Florida. The grandma is reluctant to go. She’d rather visit some friends in East Tennessee, and besides, there’s a deranged serial killer named The Misfit on the loose in Florida. All of that information is contained in the first paragraph of the story and already you know this trip will not end well. A sense of dread, of inevitable disaster permeates this tale. It’s quite chilling.

I read it because it’s going to be our featured selection at the inaugural meeting of The Short Story Society, FCPL’s newest club. We’re getting together at the Clemmons Branch Library on Thursday, January 14th at 4 pm to discuss Ms. O’Connor’s work and A Good Man in particular. Thereafter we’ll meet on the second Thursday of each month at 4 pm to discuss a new short story. All readers aged 15 and up are welcome. Light refreshments will be served. Call 703-3054 or email Michael Ackerman for more info or to reserve a copy of the current story. Hope to see you there! (Shameless programming plug accomplished!)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (Audiobook) If you’ve lingered long enough at the Clemmons Branch, you’ve probably overheard me raving about Louise Penny and, by extension, the long-time narrator of her audiobooks, Ralph Cosham. Penny’s mystery series is set in Quebec, for the most part in the fictional village of Three Pines. Three Pines is similar in nature to Cabot Cove, Maine, home of Murder, She Wrote. It’s idyllic, populated by a colorful cast of townspeople, and it has a disproportionate homicide rate per capita. Yikes! No worries though, because Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his trustworthy second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir are on the case! And don’t fret your sensitive stomach either. The murders are never that grisly.

The relationships between the characters are the true focus, especially the mentor/pupil, father/son relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir.

These characters are exquisitely crafted and they grow over the course of the series, so I insist you read or listen to the books in order. I’m serious. I’m not going to tell you anything at all about The Long Way Home, the tenth book in line, apart from the fact that it’s just as brilliant, just as moving as the previous nine. It was a bittersweet experience listening to the audiobook version, knowing that this was Cosham’s last time narrating a Penny novel before his death in September 2014. I may have to read the print versions of her books from now on and just imagine Cosham’s warm, gravelly tone in my ear, because for me, he’ll forever be the voice of Gamache.

Matilda by Roald Dahl This was one of my favorites growing up. Matilda is a little girl with an extraordinary mind. Her dreadful parents want nothing to do with her, so she teaches herself to read by using whatever newspapers and magazines she can get her hands on. Her parents refuse to give her any books, so she walks by herself to the library every day, where kindly Mrs. Phelps (Hooray for positive representations of librarians!) introduces her to the classics by Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Hardy, the Brontë sisters, Kipling, and more. By the time she enters the first grade, she’s already better read than most full-grown adults. We also discover that Matilda has a genius-level aptitude for mathematics and possibly even (How cool is this?!) psychokinetic powers (Very!), which she uses to do battle with the tyrannical headmistress of her school, Miss Trunchbull.

I feel a little silly admitting this, but I used to believe that the books were responsible for Matilda’s supernatural ability. That if you read enough books, you could access the untapped potential of your brain and move objects by thought alone. Just imagine the possibilities! I could spook the hell out of my brother and sister! Well, after a lot of books (and a fair amount of time spent trying to tip water glasses and levitate chalk), I can tell you that it’s not possible. Probably not. But by then I’d fallen deeply in love with the act of reading. Of losing myself in a fantastic tale. Which is why I’ve been a reader ever since and why I give this author partial credit for my becoming a librarian. Thank you most sincerely for the wonderful stories, Mr. Dahl.

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