Surprising Choices

The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse and Their Last-chance Journey Across America by Elizabeth Letts—If you know me and many of you do, you know animals and pets are not my “thing”. So when this book was chosen for my book club (thanks Kathy) it was not my first choice. But being a loyal book member, I gave it a chance. Here’s the story: Annie Wilkins a 63-year-old farm owner from Maine, decided because of her failing farm, and failing health, she was not going to live the rest of her life in the county home. She had always wanted to see California and the Pacific Ocean. So she bought a horse with the little money she had and took her dachshund and set out in the middle of winter and headed to California. The year was 1955 and she had no idea how to do it…but she did and guess what… it was an unexpectedly charming book.

Letts shows how different America was then. Taking on a geographical and historical journey from Maine to California. Annie had to contend with the weather, rely literally on the kindness of strangers, making sure she and her “boys” remained healthy, and they didn’t run away, and balancing the fact that she had little money, with her overwhelming desire to not take advantage of anyone. And people were there for her, for the most part, willing to have her stay with them. Whole towns feted her, and although the weather didn’t always cooperate, humanity mostly did. Like I said, I didn’t expect to like it, but there were tears in these hardened eyes as I followed Annie Wilkins across the country. And this is why book clubs are important.

Normal Family: On Truth Love and How I Met My 35 Siblings by Chrysta Bilton—Talk about dysfunctional families…Deborah was a woman who never let the impossible get in her way. As a lesbian in the 1980s, she saw that conceiving a child was going to be a problem, so when she walked into her hairdresser’s and saw Jeff, a tall blue-eyed handsome young man, she knew that he was going to be her child’s father. They decided on a price, and he gave her his sperm. When Chrysta was born, Deborah then decided for another price, Jeff would show up occasionally and play daddy. And that’s the beginning of Normal Family. Through incredible wealth and abject poverty, through drugs and get rich schemes, Deborah loved her daughters…yes Caitlin was born to Jeff as well…and decided that nothing was too good for them, even if there was no money for it. Chrysta sometimes became the de facto mother, as her real mother could never face reality for too long. And then there was Jeff, who decided the money was too good in the sperm donor biz to pass up more donations. When Chrysta learned of her 35 half siblings that actually formed a Facebook group, that became another decision in her life. This was not a literary masterpiece, but it certainly was a fascinating insight into what can make a family, normal or not.

All Things Aside: Absolutely Correct Opinions by Iliza Shlesinger—Another book that I shouldn’t like but ended up liking…Shlesinger is a standup comedian. As a 39-year-old millennial, her memories are much different than mine, and I kept thinking as I listened to her that my daughters would certainly identify with this book more than I did. But her language was captivating and her straight out strong opinions about women, pregnancy, child raising and all manner of life problems during and after the pandemic, made me keep listening and laughing and groaning and identifying, no matter what my age.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson—One of my favorite authors, she has captivated me from Scenes from a Museum to Life After Life, along with her Jackson Brodie detective series. Her latest, an actual roman a clef, which takes place in the seedy side of London in 1926. Nellie Coker, a ruthless woman, owns several night clubs, most of them shady, all run more or less, by her somewhat competent adult children. Chief Inspector Frobisher, apparently one of the only honest members of the police force, has his eye on Nellie, ready to arrest her for any number of crimes. And he also has his eye on Gwendolyn Keeling, a former librarian, who he employs as a spy in one of Nellie’s clubs. But she is also on the lookout for 2 run-aways, 14 year old girls who want to become famous. Through these characters we are ensconced in the nightlife of 1926 London.  As in all of Atkinson’s novels, we need to read carefully, very carefully to truly understand what happens.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson–Bryson began his career as a journalist but went on to write books about nearly everything: Shakespeare, science, history and travel. His most famous is A Walk in the Woods. But this book takes us to Iowa where he grew up in the 1950’s and it is as much about Iowa and the 50’s as it is about his life, especially the early years. He is funny, he is intelligent and sometimes he’s very serious. I have enjoyed many of his books, but I think this one the most. If you grew up in the 1950’s as many of my readers did, including me, then you will identify with the total optimism of that decade. Post-war US was much different than post-war Europe. We had all the groceries, the sparkling new appliances, especially television, and baseball. But Bryson had more than that. After finding a very old sweater with a thunderbolt on it, he realized that he was from another planet and could actually zap irritating people and see through whoever he wanted. And that is the Thunderbolt Kid. I’d advise listening to it because of his wonderful soothing voice.

And now, something completely different:

I attended a lovely retirement party the other night where the new retiree made a heartfelt speech about her journey in our library system. And I realized that although my retirement party was a never to be forgotten experience, I didn’t get the chance to actually put into words my feelings after working for 35 years. And it came to me that I have a platform to do this now…my blog! So here it is after a year and a half of retirement, for those that attended my party and even for those that didn’t.

Being a librarian was like being in a marriage. We had our own language, our own way of thinking and communicating. It began for me on the bookmobile where we considered ourselves the MASH unit of the system, forming relationships with our customers, being literally on the road, dealing with broken down machines and learning what it was like to help people choose books to read. It was where I became a Readers Advisor. Moving on to actual libraries, I learned to fit into the community because each library had its own culture.  And each of my accomplished managers over the years had something to teach me, but the most important was that we were a community unto ourselves.

But my very smart, very caring coworkers were the best teachers. We listened to each other, we advised, we laughed and cried, and of course sang, and we never let each other forget that we were all important. Yes, I miss my customers, I miss the readers advisory part of my life (I’m actually still doing that) but I do miss that day-to-day contact, and the language only we understand.  Thank you.

And thanks for reading.

13 thoughts on “Surprising Choices”

  1. This is a delight. You are expanding my literary horizons, and I have found that I am pretty resistant to that expansion, being perfectly content to reread an old favorites.
    Thanks for doing this.
    You’re not Poor Lisa, ex librarian. You a have merely emerged from your chrysalis and entered a new way of being.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike you’ve made my day. And now you should emerge and write…I’ve always found your writing irresistible. Maybe that’s where I got it from.


  2. What a beautiful reflection on library service, Lisa! I’m so glad you posted it since I was unable to attend your retirement party. Can’t wait to see you in the spring!


  3. Congratulations on your retirement!! I love your speech! I’m sure you miss so many aspects of your work. Especially the connection & bond with co-workers.
    As an amazing librarian & well known maybe you should write a book!

    I personally am grateful for your blog and perspectives of all the books you’ve read. I keep a list and read most of them.

    Thank you for all you’ve done and yet to do!


  4. You make me want to read every one of these, Lisa. My next-door neighbor’s favorite book is Bryson’s “… Thunderbolt Kid.” It might be the perfect gift for certain no-longer-young folks. Your retirement speech would have choked up the whole raucous crowd at your party had you given it there. Thanks for this blog entry!


    1. Oh thanks so much Mimi! You are the best…I’m rereading “Thunderbolt Kid” for my book club (I’m presenting it) and sometimes
      I just burst into laughter. Love that guy! It only took a year and a half for me to write my speech, so it’s probably better now than if I had spoken then.


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