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Books, Take Me Away!


When this article is published, I will have completed nearly 4  weeks of staying at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic, all while working and parenting full-time. This time hasn’t been easy for anyone. These rapid changes in the way we live, while necessary, have left so many of us anxious, lonely, and pretty claustrophobic. I think I truly understand the sentiment of that old commercial where the overwhelmed woman cries out, “Calgon, take me away!”

In addition to all the concerning news, so many of us have been transitioning to working from home. While the library is closed to the public, the staff are doing our best to provide virtual services and programs for Norwood residents. Reference librarians are currently answering questions via the new RefChat feature on our website. Located on the lower right corner of the library’s website, this new service allows our patrons to connect with librarians to ask questions virtually while the library is closed. RefChat is live Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. If you use RefChat during off-hours, don’t worry! An email will be sent to our librarians who will reply back to you.

Reading has been one of my main coping strategies during this time of upheaval. I’ve been using my Kindle and scouring the library’s Overdrive and Hoopla apps to find ebooks I can escape to before I go to bed, and audiobooks I can listen to while typing away on my home computer. Recently, the library has increased the number of items patrons may check out in Hoopla to 20 titles. Hoopla is a streaming service with ebooks, digital audiobooks, digital graphic novels, movies, and music available for Norwood residents with their Minuteman Library Network card, while Overdrive is a service that allows users to check out ebooks and audiobooks like regular books on our shelves.

For me, this is not the time for gritty realistic fiction or grim murder mysteries. This is a time for escapism. Fantasy and humorous writing are my preferred genres to transport myself somewhere else from the comfort (confinement?) of my home or transform my mood when I need a pick-me-up. I recently finished New York Times bestseller Sarah J. Maas’ House of Earth and Blood, a contemporary fantasy that incorporates magic, danger and hot romance into one rollicking read. Main character Bryce Quinlan is a half-human, half-Fae seller of rare antiques who gets drawn into the Crescent City’s underworld to solve the murder of her best friend. The plot races along and requires readers to suspend a lot of disbelief, but the magical setting and characters are so enjoyable that readers forgive some of the quirks of Maas’s writing style.

Vita Nostra, a Ukranian import by Marina and Sergei Dyachenko and recently translated into English, is often described as a dark, Russian version of Harry Potter. While this story does feature a young woman who attends a special school and discovers she has extraordinary abilities, the similarities end there. Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhenikov, the man in sunglasses who demands she perform strange tasks for gold coins. Sasha finds out she’s been accepted to the Institute of Special Technology, an unknown school in a backwater town where the lessons are obscure, the books can’t be read, and teachers punish students for the lack of effort by threatening their families with physical harm. Sasha figures out how to survive in this bizarre environment while excelling at her schoolwork. In the end, readers are left wondering if Sasha’s abilities are only magical or can actually re-shape the foundations of reality. This is fantasy for readers who need a change of pace from predictable genre tropes and are willing to power through Russian names and a complex, thoughtful plot.

If fantasy isn’t your thing and being stuck inside with family is starting to get to you, perhaps stories featuring dark humor will get you through staying at home. No one loves to poke fun at his family more than the irreverent David Sedaris and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a collection of hilarious stories featuring his dysfunctional siblings and parents. Nothing remarkable usually happens during the course of his stories but his observations about his family members’ charms and imperfections are always funny but painfully relatable. Even if you are not an audiobook person, listening to Sedaris read his own work is a treat that should not be missed.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple is a short, absurdist take on suburban upper middle class America and what happens to a woman when she gives up one dream for another. On the surface, Bernadette seems like a typical stay-at-home helicopter mom. She obsesses over her brilliant daughter, shuttles her from activity to activity and holds down the fort while her husband works for Microsoft. Except Bernadette has never recovered from tragedies in her past and is practically agoraphobic. She secretly loathes her life in suburban Seattle and eventually escapes after a PTA disaster. Her family has to follow her clues to find out what happened to Bernadette, past and present.

Books allow you to travel without leaving your home. If you would like to use the library’s online resources but don’t have a library card, you can fill out this application for an e-card and get instant access. The library is also facilitating the Together, Apart book group, an online book group where people can join a Zoom meeting to discuss the books they love and what they are reading. In a time when we must isolate ourselves to protect ourselves and others, we still can go beyond our four walls and connect with each other through books.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the April 9, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.


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