Tom Harry runs Medicine Lodge, the best watering hole in Gros Venture, Montana. He doesn’t have a wife and doesn’t need a wife. He doesn’t even need his son, Rusty, though they get along well enough…until 1960. That’s when Proxy and Francine show up. Proxy is a taxi dancer from Tom’s past. Francine is her beatnik daughter. Old passions attempt to reignite in Tom, while Rusty discovers the world for the first time. Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale is a slow burn, character-driven novel on coming of age and the currents of small towns. Doig is a master at showing the fullness of everyday living in the wide open west.
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When you are ready to expand your horizons, why not start with stories that are celebrated by other authors? The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America have announced the winners of the Nebula Awards, and it is an earth-shaking year for the imagination:
Best Novel: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Finalists: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, Ironskin by Tina Connolly, The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
Best Novella: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress
Best Novellette: “Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan, soon to appear in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection
Best Short Story: “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard, available online via Clarkesworld
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation: Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin
Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization about the 10-year search for Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. Maya is a young CIA officer who refuses to give up the search even when it involves torture. Maya and Seal Team 6’s efforts ultimately secure bin Laden in this engrossing film.
Out-of-work graphic designer Clay Jannon stumbles on an unusual bookshop and impulsively asks for work. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore seems innocuous enough, but soon it becomes apparent that there is a strange plot that can’t be contained by the towering shelves of unusual tomes. It will take a love of books, complex data visualization, connections at both Google and Industrial Light & Magic, and a motley crew of friends with unusual skills to complete this quest, and even then the victory may not be theirs. Author Robin Sloan crafts a modern lit-tech adventure, and reader Ari Fliakos brings it to life, honoring the wit, geekery, and enthusiasm that make decoding the secret of immortality hard to resist. The glow-in-the-dark cover helps, too.
Click here for some of the best Canadian TV shows the Library has to offer.
Paul Du Chaillu wanted to be a famous explorer and naturalist. In actuality, Du Chaillu was a good marksman willing to go to West Africa to search for a dangerous, possibly mythical beast – the gorilla. In 1859, Du Chaillu came out of his exploration with skins and stuffed specimens which he lectured upon at exhibitions. These exhibitions drew Du Chaillu into Darwin’s new evolution debate, as the beast he brought back was so similar in shape to human beings. Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debate, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm studies race, religion, and a world growing smaller through the adventures of a man searching for scientific legitimacy and wealth.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Let the Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
Page Count: 349
Tone: Intricate, Moving, Lyrical
1. What event(s) are at the center of the story?
2. Which character(s) did you find yourself hoping would appear again? About which character(s) did you want to know more? Did you have a favorite?
3. Were there any episodes or characters that you didn’t feel were well-integrated?
4. Though Corrigan is one of the core characters, he doesn’t speak. His story is narrated by his brother. Why do you think this is? How did you respond to him as a character? Who else is portrayed through others rather than through his/her own voice?
5. Do any of the characters fall into stereotype? Claire? Tillie?
6. Why does Tillie contemplate suicide?
7. Are any of the characters more tragic than others?
8. How did you react to Adelita’s story? Did you enjoy hearing about her first from Ciaran and then later hearing her voice? Did your opinion of her change?
9. One question that haunts Adelita is whether Corrigan, if he had lived, would have chosen to be with her or if he would have decided to be faithful to his religious vows. She even worries “…if that is what he was doing all along – trying to wound his faith in order to test it.” What do you think? Did Corrigan love Adelita? What would he have chosen to do?
10. Describe what happened between Gloria and Claire – both initially and then later in the story. Was this believable?
11. Did you agree with Gloria’s decision to lie and take the Jazzlyn’s daughters?
12. Gloria teaches the girls that there is “…no such thing as shame, that life was about a refusal to be shamed.” In which of the characters is this evident?
13. How is Lara different from the other characters? In what ways is she important to the story?
14. A common criticism is that the multiple stories make the book feel disjointed. Do you agree? Did your experience change as the story progressed?
15. Did you have any difficulty keeping track of the characters? Did it matter? Did this affect your enjoyment of the book?
16. McCann wanted to talk about “the more anonymous corners of the city.” Why? In his Author’s Note, he claims, “Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.” Do you agree?
17. What did you think of Solomon (Claire’s husband, the judge)? What is his role in the story?
18. Discuss the epilogue with Jaslyn. Was this an effective way to end the book?
19. The New York Times Book Review called Let the Great World Spin “…a heartbreaking book, but not a depressing one.” How did the author keep this from being too heavy a story? What were some moments of lightness?
20. There are many “balancing acts” throughout the story. Describe some examples. Was this an effective motif?
21. What did you think of the women’s support group? Why do you think the author chose to have the ladies linked through tragedies of the Vietnam War?
22. Did you like that the tightrope walker himself was given chapters? If this is a story primarily about the crowd, should the perspectives have been limited only to them? What do the sections on the walker himself add to the story as a whole?
23. Originally, the author planned to “mess with history” and have the tightrope walker fall. Would you have liked to read that version?
24. McCann also wrote a number of other stories that were ultimately not included, including a hot-dog vendor, a Muslim shopkeeper, and an elevator man. Would these have enriched the novel? Do you agree with his choices?
25. In one interview, Colum McCann states that the novel “tries to uncover joy and hope and a small glimmer of grace” and goes on to “argue that sort of sentiment [is] necessary these days.” What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree? Was he successful in portraying this?
26. McCann also observes, “You also want it to be a rollicking good story. You want it to break hearts. You want people to finish the story and then immediately want to begin it again.” How did this compare to your experience with the book?
27. How is the setting of 1970s Manhattan brought alive?
28. Much has been made of how Let the Great World Spin is the first great 9/11 novel, and McCann admits it was intended as a 9/11 allegory. How so? Did this interest you more or less in reading the book?
29. Jaslyn keeps a photo of the tightrope walker because she is struck by the idea of such beauty occurring on the same day her mother died. It also joins two other events:
“A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories.”
How is this theme of these connections an important element in Let the Great World Spin?
30. Just as the tightrope walk in 1974 stops time and draws people together, so does the fall of the Towers in 2001. What does this say about “we people on the pavement” (a line from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory”), both as individuals and as a community?
31. Would you consider Let the Great World Spin to be a political novel? A social novel? How would you describe the book to others?
32. What did you think of the writing – both the story structure and the prose itself? Did either make an impression?
33. Did you notice the chapter headings at all? “This is the House that Horse Built,” for example, is Tillie’s story, and it can refer either to the nursery rhyme or to an Aretha Franklin song popular at that time. “Tag” is the section with the photographer hoping to become famous by documenting graffiti artists’ work. Do these provide insight into the stories?
34. The chapters are also grouped into “books.” What did the stories in each book have in common?
35. The title comes from a Tennyson poem (“Locksley Hall”). How does this illuminate the novel’s themes? What does this book have to say to its readers?
36. In his interview for the National Book Award, McCann observes, “I suppose the novel itself is a contemplation of what it means for life to be unfinished. Things spin. We are made by what we have been, and at the same time we become what we desire. This past and present is braided together with a beauty and an uncertainty.” Did you see traces of this as you read? Does it have relevance for our lives?
37. Would this make a good movie?
Colum McCann’s website
Oprah book discussion questions
Book discussion talking points from Hiking Out blog
Esquire book review
NPR book review
Colum McCann interview with Oprah
Colum McCann interview with Believer Magazine
Idaho Public TV interviews Colum McCann
1974 news footage of Philippe Petit
Man on Wire documentary
Josef Horkai wakes up paralyzed after being frozen for 30 years and has no memories of his past or the “kollaps” that destroyed the world. Immobility by Brian Evenson is a postapocalyptic thriller about how to trust the motives of others when you can’t trust your own mind.
Curiosity about television star Lauren Graham’s debut novel might be the reason to pick up Someday, Someday, Maybe, but you’ll soon find yourself enjoying it on its own merits. It is 1990s New York, and days are ticking away on the time limit Franny Banks has set for herself to make it as an actress. She struggles with day jobs, agents, auditions, and back-up plans, but she can’t give up her dream without a fight. Her friendships and family keep her both sane and entertained, and her witty sense of humor proves a saving grace many times over. Perfect for light summer reading, Someday, Someday, Maybe is a quirky treat for those who can appreciate the anticipation, elation, and expectations of life both on-stage and off.
When was the last time you tried a non-U.S. author? Latin American literature spans the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to the lush, character-driven style of Isabel Allende, to the intricate, gritty plots of Roberto Bolano.
Click here to explore Latin American literature.