Category Archives: Non fiction

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor

the-true-tails-of-baker-and-taylor

Title:  The True Tails of Baker and Taylor
Author:  Jan Louch
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-250-08107-0

Book Summary:
In the early 1980’s, a new library was built in Douglas County, Nevada.  As is often with new construction, there were mice.  Unpleasant in any place, mice present a more dangerous problem in a library.  Attracted the glue, mice will eat through books and the taxpayer’s investment.  So, librarians and cat lovers Jan and Yvonne decide the best solution would be to get a cat.  With the library board’s approval, a purebred Scottish Fold named Baker joined the staff.  Such begins the true tale of two amazing cats and the people who loved them.

Baker quickly became a fixture of the library; his presence seemed to deter mice and so his job expanded to Official Greeter.  Patrons young and old would scratch him behind the ears as they were checking books out, and when he wasn’t at the circulation desk, they would seek him out in the sunniest spot they could find.

Jan and Yvonne purchased Baker and paid for all this needs – food, toys, litter, vet visits – out of their own personal salaries.  As much as they wanted a companion for Baker, time was need for more funds to be saved.

Baker & Taylor is a worldwide distributor of books; Bill Hartman, the sales and marketing director for the western division of the company, stopped in the library every few months to talk about books.  A few days after a visit, Jan and Yvonne received a surprising call from Bill.  Baker & Taylor wanted to buy “Taylor” for the library.  In exchange, the company wanted to take some pictures of the two cats to use in their marketing campaign.  Taylor arrives at the library and after a week or so of adjustment, the library was more relaxed and happier because of Baker and Taylor.

The story goes on to tell of the impact that these two cats made on the lives of these librarians and the library patrons.  As the ad campaign became successful, Baker and Taylor were known throughout the world.  Children would write letters to the cats and tourists would stop to see them on their travels.

Through changing economics, new technology, and diverse populations, Baker and Taylor remained a fixture for what makes a library so magical.  A room full of books, a warm sunbeam, and a cozy cat curled up next to you.  Heaven.

Book Commentary:
I laughed and I cried when I read this book.  It is a beautiful tribute to two incredible felines and the woman who cared for them.  It is also a reminder of enjoying the simple things in life.  The reader gets a feel that the library patrons who filtered in and out of the library over years were touched and enlightened by the presence of these two cats.

As a college student, I spent a few summers working at Robin’s Bookshop in Geneva, Illinois.  It was truly the most perfect job I have ever had, surrounded daily by books, and it is one of the places that my love of mysteries developed.  One of my favorite jobs at the store was to unpack and catalogue the new books that arrived.  Every morning, a pile of Baker & Taylor boxes sat on the doorstep and my anticipation would heighten; what magic might those boxes contain.

Growing up, we always had a menagerie of animals – cats, dogs, a ferret, a guinea pig, a turtle, fish, and even a snake . . . although not while I was living at home.  I enjoyed the animals but never felt a compelling reason to have any of my own.  Fast forward to my oldest daughter whose first words I think were “I want a cat;” we finally caved almost seven years ago, and are the proud servants (because yes, you are, when you have cats) of Merlin and Arthur.  I couldn’t imagine life without them now and as my children get older, they have truly become my other children.  And according to my kids, more spoiled!

img_1495

Who might like this book:, 
If you like cats or books or libraries or a really, up-lifting good story, check this book out.  The author has a very engaging and straightforward prose that is a delight to read.  The subtitle of the book, The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town . . . and the World, truly says it all.

 

84, Charing Cross Road

Title:  84 Charing Cross Road
Author:  Helene Hanff
Publisher:  Avon Books
Publication Date:  1970
ISBN:  0-380-00122-5

Book Summary:
Helene Hanff is a sarcastic New Yorker; a self-described “poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books.”  A chance discovery of an advertisement of a bookseller in England who specializes in out-of-print books sparks a 25-year transatlantic correspondence with prim and proper English bookseller, Frank Doel.  Helene writes perky and sometime impertinent letters requesting a variety of books and Frank responds with stoic charm and tact.  Over the years, the customer relationship evolves into true friendship, and during the course of the letters, Helene is introduced to Frank’s wife and children, the other employees at Marks & Co. Booksellers, and even Frank’s Irish neighbor.  Helene is sends eggs, meats, and nylons and other items unavailable during the war to her friends.  They in turn send her distinctive books to add to her library. The true story is one of friendship, a love of books, and old-fashioned kindness.

The entire novel is written as the series of letters between New York and 84, Charing Cross Road, London.  A 1987 film of the book stars Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Book Commentary
You know those books you have on your shelf and just pick back up randomly and reread over and over?  This is one of mine.  This is a rare case where I saw the film first – I know, gasp!  I loved the story, found the book, and it is one of my all-time favorites.  It is a beautiful love story – a love affair with books and a love affair with England, two of my own loves!  The story of Frank and Helene is not a romantic one but one of deep affection and just a bit of consternation.

At less than 100 pages, it is a quick read and one I highly recommend.  If you need a smile or pick-me-up, find a cozy chair, a cup of tea, and spend an afternoon with two people who love books.

Who might like this book:
Love England?  Love books?  Love letter writing . . . with real paper?  Love humor and warmth and friendship?  This book is for you!  It is perfect for all ages; I gave this book to my then 92-year-old grandmother and she loved it, but it is perfect for young adults as well.  It is nostalgic of a bygone era and time when although the world was complex, life was a little simpler.

Popular — A Memoir

Title: Popular: A Memoir
Author: Maya Van Wagenen
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-0-14-751254-3

Book Summary:
Maya, an eighth grader in Brownsville, Texas, lives with her mom, her professor father, her younger brother Brodie, and her younger sister Natalia, and her current goal is to survive middle school. Maya considers herself as a Social Outcast at the very bottom of the school social ladder, well below the volleyball players, the football players, and the Ignored (aka sixth graders), and just above the teachers. Resigned to accept her position, Maya discovers a book purchased by her father years before at a thrift store titled Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, written in 1951. Encouraged by her mother, Maya endeavors to follow Betty Cornell’s advice and guidance for the duration of her eighth grade year in an effort to rise up the social ladder and become “popular.”

Month by month, Maya strives to work on her hair, figure problems, clothing and fashion, and skin care to achieve her definition of “popular.” As she begins her transformation, Maya’s definition of popular is “. . . not sitting alone, or being made fun of. It’s not feeling ashamed of how you look and constantly wanting to hide in corners, wishing you could disappear. It’s not what I feel right now.” Although much of the guide focuses on physical changes, Maya soon learns that the physical is only the surface of what can happen emotionally and mentally. As her journey progresses, her self-esteem and social standing, as well as her definition of popularity, transform and grow.

From wearing long skirts, hats, and gloves, to purchasing a girdle, to sitting and talking to the kids at the Goth table at lunch, Maya’s experiences are heart-warming, hilarious, and at times painful. However, anyone who has ever experienced middle school will be drawn to her poignant observations and honest self-discovery. Her observations as a 16-year-old writer are wise and insightful well beyond her years.

Book Commentary:
This books was absolutely delightful. For one whose own middle school experiences was painful and let’s be honest, whose wasn’t, this book was touching and truthful in so many ways. I was most impressed that a 16-year-old wrote this book; not only was her writing fluid and engaging, but her observations and reflections were honest, mature, and sometimes surprising.

In our society, there is a constant call for acceptance and understanding of others. This book could have taken a preachy turn but rather was truly a story of self-discovery. As an adult, I was impressed with Maya’s growth and wisdom; truths and perspectives that she observed and learned are often not achieved until a much older age. At the same time, as a mother of three, my heart warmed as she gained knowledge and experiences that all parents hope for their own children.

Adding to the hilarity and poignancy is the fact that her guiding influence is a popularity guide from the 1950’s, and although some items – like gloves, girdles, and Vaseline on the eyelids – seem out-of-date, the core values of kindness, cleanliness, and self-respect are universal truths for any age. In addition to following the popularity guide and surviving eighth grade, Maya’s experiences also include an unrequited crush, the departure of a well-loved teacher, real-life fear of gang warfare, a special needs sister, and family financial concerns. All of these aspects blend into a truly magical and realistic coming of age story.

Who might like this book:
This would be a great book for book clubs; if just to have a fun evening rehashing the humor and horrors of everyone’s own middle school experiences. As a former teacher, I would love to be able to have my students have read a book like this. The knowledge that someone their own age could pen a story combined with the understanding that they are not the only ones with struggles and fears and failures would provide some great dialogue and hopefully a little more acceptance and patience with others.

I have given the book to both my 15-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old daughter. Both girls enjoyed the book immensely and could relate to Maya’s experiences. My older daughter, who has survived middle school and is now facing high school, commented that Maya’s depiction of school life, societal pressures, and community attitudes was very accurate. Both girls found the story to be relatable and tangible. We enjoyed laughing at Maya’s humor and situations, but we also noted what makes an individual unique and special. This would be a perfect book for a mother-daughter book club as well.