Author: Abigail

Up to Code: ‘Code Girls’ by Liza Mundy

code girlsThe Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1945. The United States was caught virtually unawares,  in a nearly two decade season of disarmament. The U.S. military had sparse forces, and few spies abroad. There was an immediate and urgent need for code breakers to decipher enemy message systems.

The U.S. Navy and Army began to send out secret letters to universities, seeking high achieving young women to be taught training courses in code breaking. The women were summoned to secret meetings, and sworn to secrecy. They came from all different backgrounds, but all bright, hardworking, and eager to serve their country.

Liza Mundy in Code Girls highlights the contributions of such experts in the field as William and Elizabeth Friedman and Agnes Driscoll, as well as those of the many women that labored day to day to recreate enemy enciphering machines.

Wars, by those who fight them, say they should never occur. They hold atrocities that can be too much for the human soul to bear. Yet, in the ugliest and most terrifying of times, unrecognized human potential can be found. The code breakers of World War II fought in classified rooms, instead of the battlefield, but they fought with everything they had, and discovered previously unknown strengths and abilities. They served quietly and humbly, virtually unappreciated to this day. They were great American Women, they were the Code Girls.

Author Liza Mundy will be at Lemuria Books today, Friday, December 8, at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from Code Girls.

Alligator Roadtrips: “Carrying Albert Home” by Homer Hickam

JacketWell folks, I just finished my favorite literary adventure of 2015 with Homer Hickam, Jr.’s new novel, Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator. Hickam is the New York Times bestselling author of Rocket Boys which was made into the film “October Sky”. I read Rocket Boys when I was attending community college in Western Kentucky and thoroughly enjoyed it; so when I realized that the new novel with the cute alligator on the cover was by the same author, I knew it was for me. Part old school Clark Gable-esque romance and part Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy’s frolicking adventure, it is everything I love (that doesn’t actually exist in reality). (My mother recently referred to me as her hopeless “romanticist,” and she knows me well.)

Carrying Albert Home is written as a prequel to Rocket Boys. Hickam tells of the grim living conditions for his parents, Elsie and Homer Hickam, Sr. in a coalfield town of West Virginia where his father was content and his mother was not; because as the story goes, she’d been to Florida. (As a born and raised Floridian, I understand her discontentment completely). Upon Homer and Elsie’s marriage, Elsie is given an alligator named Albert as a wedding present from an old celebrity fling in Florida, whom she doesn’t seem to exactly be over. The alligator is an object of tension until one day Albert disposes of Homer’s pants while he is doing his business in the bathroom. Elsie is given an ultimatum: Albert, or….her husband. So begins the adventure of carrying Albert Home to Florida.

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The adventures of Homer, Elsie, Albert, and a rooster (of unknown origin and significance) encompass a run-in with communist radicals, (who might actually only be Democrat Progressive Socialists) meeting John Steinbeck, and Elsie riding the “Thunder Road” as an illegal booze transporter. In addition, Homer becomes a professional baseball player and Elsie a nurse, and Homer and Albert become sailors in need of rescue by smugglers and then forced under duress to join the Coast Guard… The tales go on and on, including a visit to Key West where they meet Ernest Hemingway, but the stories signify so much more, which I leave for you to discover in your own reading of this incredibly enjoyable adventure book.

Gifting the Perfect Book: Seekers of Timeless Wisdom

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choice-less as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh has left us one of the greatest gifts in A Gift from the Seaher meditations on life while on vacation by the sea. Each page is awash in intelligence and beauty from the depths of her individual and societal contemplation. Mrs. Lindbergh has left us the greatest gift that can be left to those who will come after us: knowledge. Knowledge is like a pearl of the sea, hard, strong, and incredibly precious. Lindbergh leaves us not only this precious gem, but the priceless record of a life well lived.

Her book was recommended to me by a co-worker who claimed I would love it. She was more than correct, as I now claim it as the most beautiful book I have read to date. The book’s beauty transcends it’s 1955 copyright date, as she writes so simply on our humanity.

I was recently sitting in a Starbucks in Huntsville, AL with a dear friend while visiting her family. We were both focused on individual projects; she was fine-tuning a graduate school paper and I was reading and contemplating Gift from the Sea. We were interrupted by a woman who couldn’t contain her joy at my reading Mrs. Lindbergh’s book. She had read it many years previously. There in the small bustling Starbucks, happiness was found as we discussed the various seasons of life, and the excruciatingly beautiful words of wisdom from Mrs. Lindbergh. The simplicity and meaning of this shared experience rang clear, all I must do now is patiently accept gifts from the sea.

Divorced Community

Whew folks, the struggle has been real in writing this blog. I recently finished reading both Kent Haruf’s national bestseller from 1999, Plainsong, as well as C.S. Lewis’ highly acclaimed The Great Divorce. The source of my struggle most likely stemmed from the diverse nature of these two works. Yet, I felt a connection that I was loathe to discard, even as I stared at my computer screen in frustration.

Jacket (5)I began with Plainsong, which had been on my reading list for quite a while. It was one of the first recommendations I was given by a co-worker upon beginning this grand adventure in the world of Lemuria. It took me a bit to get pulled in, about 100 pages, which surprised me a bit; but it was worth it. The prose is leisurely and unassuming, particularly at first, while sneaking in gut-punch worthy content. Haruf unfolds the interconnected lives of a pregnant high school girl cast out by her mother, a teacher shut out by his depressed wife and their two sons, and two irresistibly lovable old crusty bachelor farmers. Each chapter follows a different character, eventually interconnecting their lives.

Once I became invested in the characters lives, I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted, needed, to know what decisions they would make; would they each decide to embrace the loving, yet imperfect relationships in their community (granted some of the relationship decisions made are questionable in their moral health)?

Haruf displays the inherent need and beauty found in community. It is in community that needs can be known and met, and love can be extended to the lonely. While demonstrating the importance of community, Haruf also vividly displays the often excruciatingly painful nature of solitude. Plainsong can be a rough read in its vivid detailing of what the morally unchecked individual is capable of.

I enjoyed the read, but I struggled throughout with an overarching feeling of emptiness. The various troubles of the characters are mostly concluded by the end of the novel, or with as much resolution as can be found in this life. Resolution is arrived at through relationships in community, which resonates as a true thing, but there was an emptiness in the conclusion that left me feeling, well, empty.

Jacket (4)As soon as I closed Plainsong, I began to delve into C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce. The novel follows a writer as he travels between heaven and hell, all while in a dream. Upon reaching heaven, the narrator witnesses several interactions between the visiting ghosts [of which he is one], with the glowing spirits who dwell there. Each interaction consists of a spirit imploring a ghost to repent and release the things and ideas that they so desperately cling to, in order to remain in heaven. Almost unanimously, each ghost clings to their unique struggle with sin as well as their justifications in doing so, and returns to hell.

As a reader, it was frustrating to watch each ‘ghost’ hold onto their emptiness, anger, and justification and flee back to hell. It was frustrating, yet also convicting as I know I do the same on a daily basis. It was here that the emptiness of Plainsong resonated with meaning. Community on this earth is not the end. It falls far short of what community will be like in heaven. We are currently divorced from what community and this life were created to be by sin. We are only experiencing a shadow of what is to come. What comfort there is in that knowledge!

Clearly these are my undisguised personal beliefs and introspection from my reading; you may do with them as you wish. I can heartily recommend both novels to those of similar and varying opinions and beliefs as myself. And the beauty of our uniqueness as individuals is that each of you will find your own things to ruminate on as you go about your day.

 

Get to Know Abigail

IMG_2350How long have you worked at Lemuria? I ventured into the world of Lemuria a little over four months ago.

What do you do at Lemuria?  I am the resident special order queen at Lemuria. When you order books that we don’t carry in the  store currently, it’s my voice that you hear on the phone letting you know your books are in! I enjoy getting to know our customers better in this capacity, and having them share the stories behind the books they order. Many of them make their way onto my own reading list, or reside in that special place  known as Lemuria memories, that I know I will carry with me through the remainder of my life.

Talk to us what you’re reading right now. If you have been anywhere near me recently, all I talk about is The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. It has been an international bestseller and recently translated and published stateside. It’s such a good one, folks! It hits that sweet endearing spot without being cheesy. C’mon into the store so I can tell you more about it, I might even act some of it out for you in my animation of it’s beauty, as some of my co-workers have already witnessed.

What’s currently on your bedside table (book purgatory)? Ahh. Unfortunately bedside purgatory is a very real thing in my life. I recently strategically redistributed  the stacks around my house to recede my stress level. The ones remaining on nightstand consists of  Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, The Story of Land and Sea by Jackson’s own Katy Simpson Smith, Flying Shoes, by Square Books’ own Lisa Howorth, and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

How many books do you usually read at a time? I have a bad habit of reading by mood, which equals several books at a time. I progress more slowly  than I would like this way, but there is something so satisfying in being able to pick up exactly what you  are in the mood for at any given time. I generally like to read both fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

Favorite authors? I will always have such a love for Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and L.M. Montgomery. These amazing women have brought loveliness into my life for twenty-four years now. Nina George is my current rockstar at the moment, and I think Katy Simpson Smith might be in the running when I eventually get back to that book….

Any particular genre that you’re especially in love with? I love history as it has always resonated as so important to me, and therefore historical fiction. If you throw in a little politics and economics at any given point, I’m all over it.

What did you do before you worked at Lemuria? The last job I held before working at Lemuria was as a medical office assistant for an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson. Talk about grass roots knowledge of  healthcare by immersion. It was intense, man, and such a mess. I was so thankful to walk away from the world of screwed up insurance, inefficient government programs, and uneducated patients. I know that sounds harsh, but that field is so rough, and only getting progressively worse (pun intended).

If you could share lasagna with any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you ask them? Mario Puzo, hands down. I just want to hear what kind of offer he would make me…

Why do you like working at Lemuria? I love working at Lemuria because of the knowledge to be gained from the books on the walls as well as from my co-workers. We are a pretty diverse crew, and I love the ways I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone in the four short months that I’ve worked here.

If Lemuria could have ANY pet (mythical or real), what do you think it should be? I have the perfect idea for a store pet, and it would be incredibly useful! A magical food transporting carrier pigeon, that brings nourishment to us Lemurians that are always ALWAYS hungry throughout the day. Hannah can verify. Except for that one day, I’m always hungry. 😉

 

THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS, by Mordecai Gerstein

I was sitting in my little cubby behind the fiction desk at the beginning of the month when it hit me. Yet another anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. How can yet another year have flown by distancing us from the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil? The emotions, man. AND IT’S BEEN 14 YEARS. How can so many years have passed already, when I can remember September 11 of 2001 so clearly? In that moment of realization I just sat and let the painful memories wash over me. Each year I seemingly transport seamlessly back to my 10 year old self, where the magnitude of the atrocity is new and fresh. I fully expected to continue in this mindset as we approached and then passed this anniversary, in similar manner to the previous 13 I have experienced. Something happened though that reshaped my mindset of the historic twin towers that I couldn’t have imagined; my miracle appeared in book form.

JacketI received my daily stack of customer special orders that needed their owners’ notification of their arrival. As I generally do, I skimmed each title as I progressed through the stack. I may occasionally read an inside cover as well if I find it particularly interesting (this is how my own reading list becomes so spectacularly lengthy.) There was one book on this day that stopped my progress in its tracks. The title of the book was The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, a Caldecott Medal award winning children’s picture book by Mordecai Gerstein. I didn’t fully know what I was looking at; just a children’s book on the twin towers. Immediately my curiosity was piqued. I halted my work; I knew this was a book I needed to read at that moment.

As I discovered, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers recounts the French aerialist Philipe Petit’s acrobatics in the early morning hours of an August day in 1974. Petit, with assistance from cohorts, stretched a wire between the towers in an attempt to cross between the two as the sun rose. I became enthralled with the story as I was pulled into that hour that Petit entertained passers by a quarter of a mile up in the sky as depicted with the captivating illustrations within.

Something happened as I read this story. I was no longer only filled with pain and sadness when I thought of the twin towers, I was now also filled with the wonder, amusement, and even joy of this story. I was hit with a realization that filled me with a surpassing hope in this painful anniversary. Terrorists may have taken almost 3,000 lives on that September day, but they could not take everything. They can never take away the joyful moments that took place in and on the twin towers; I’m sure this incredible story is just one of many that could be told. This is the one that I know though, and I want to share it with you all. This is a book for all ages, but I think it can be especially important for children. It is important for them to know and remember the atrocities of 9/11, but also to know that there is always more that can never be taken away by evil.

A sincere thank you each and ever year to the first responders of 9/11. And my deepest sympathies to the family members of the victims. #neverforget

*On September 30th, a movie on this story will be released titled ‘The Walk.’

 

For the Love of Lovely Books

I have just finished a season of reading that can only be termed lovely. I must confess to having a not-so-secret adoration for lovely things, particularly books. Eudora Welty provides an apt description of her own love of books in One Writer’s Beginnings. “I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them — with the books themselves, covers and bindings and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.”
JacketThis last season of my reading has been filled with two icons of southern literature; Harper Lee and Eudora Welty. My venture first began with a rereading of Ms. Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird in preparations for the release of Go Set A Watchman. I knew I could not have completely grasped its depth when I originally read it at a much younger age, and I knew my move to the South must have also granted additional insight. I so enjoyed and appreciated Mockingbird and heartily recommend a rereading or first reading to those that may have held out all these years. It really is that good.
JacketMockingbird is enjoyable, insightful, and convicting. There are gems within that gave me chills the second go-round. As an adult, and therefore having lived more of life, there was a  relational aspect I missed with the first reading. Post-read, I am left with such thoughts courtesy of the famous fictional character Atticus Finch, such as, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” . . . But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Much ado has been made of the release of Go Set A Watchman. I don’t feel the need to expound greatly on the text except to state that I enjoyed the read. It is an an pleasurable read different from Mockingbird, as should be expected from a first draft. More than anything I enjoyed the character development of an older Jean Louise [Scout.] I was forced to set the relatively easy read aside as her character hit a little too close to home; her sometimes senseless independence, and the heartbreak and anguish felt when she began to really know her family. I encourage everyone to put aside the controversy and pict it up yourself. Harper Lee gave us a great American Classic. Should I really have to say more?
25593I finished up this season with Ms. Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. I so enjoyed the simple account of Eudora Welty’s development into the woman and writer she became. She recounts her love of books, her father’s love of knowledge, and the significance of our life events. “The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”
Both she and Harper Lee have left an incredible legacy that we will hold as American gems for generations to come. I have given much thought on what a legacy is in this stage of my life; what I want mine to look like, and whether or not social media detracts and distracts from this generation’s ability for a tangible legacy. Thoughts for another blog. :)
My immersion in Southern literature has drawn to a close for now. There are other books and topics that must be looked into, but I will return. I have a better understanding of the sometimes intangible “southern culture” by having a better understanding of its modern history. I heartily recommend To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, and One Writer’s Beginnings, if you are looking for lovely summer reads.

Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay

Post-read, the title now seems so profound, that it could stand alone without the need of a blog post written by myself. My perception of Moria McStay’s debut young adult novel has been greatly transformed since Clara (think the lovely girl who works in Oz) recommended it to me shortly after I started working at Lemuria. I am a relatively new Lemurian, as I started working here a month+ ago. The world of Lemuria has been a wondrous place, where my narrow mindedness has already been exponentially expanded in a relatively short period of time. I have a reputation for being rather persnickety in regards to which books, movies, and music I listen to. Part of my desire in working for the store is to pull my head out of the sand where it’s been buried for so long (as a friend lovingly informed me not too long ago). All that being said, I was prepared to enjoy McStay’s novel, but not to for it to be a tool in a season of self-analysis. It was not the first time I have assumed incorrectly.
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McStay engagingly weaves back and forth between two characters, who happen to be the same person. Fiona Doyle suffered a childhood accident that left half of her face horribly scarred, and has greatly impacted who she is. Fi Doyle appears to be everything that Fiona is not, she is a popular high school athlete who seems to have no visible limitations. McStay, with quite simple prose delves into topics that hit on nerves I was unprepared to visit. Both girls struggle with fear to pursue what they love; to be vulnerable enough to pursue their dreams. They share the same dynamics with their mother, neither ever feels like they are enough for her (none of us can relate to that, I’m sure).  And of course, there is a little drama to be found in their relationships and interactions with their crushes and boyfriends. They share many commonalities, but they are different people as a result of their different stories. My curiosity was insatiable to the end to see which life decisions they would make, and how similar or dissimilar they would be. You will have to read the book to find out the answer for yourself!
It is only recently that I have had time to self-analyze, and liberally bemoan prior mistakes. There is much that I wish I could go back and change, or dynamics in my past that I wish were, well, different. But do I really want to the past to be different? McStay sums it up aptly, “There’s no way to know what I’m missing, or who I’d be otherwise. Stuff happens every day that sets us in on direction or another.” Do I really want to be different than who I am? I think for the most part we all answer, “No”. Everything that we have gone through has made us into who we are; the more scars we bear, the more diverse and hopefully empathetic we are to the foibles of others.
All in all, whether you are young, or a bit older like myself, you will enjoy this book; maybe a little or a lot more than you expect.

A Boundary-less Life: From Brokenness to Healing    

There is no denying that books have the power to change our lives. The extent to which their contents affects us may vary, but there is not a one that has not gifted me with additional insight, understanding, and knowledge. I have come to realize that books are like people; you learn something from even the worst of them.

 

While viewing all books as an opportunity for personal enrichment, I must also distinguish those that have affected my life more deeply than others. The book, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend is one that not only impacted me deeply, but changed my life. I read it after graduating from college the summer of 2014. I walked away from Boundaries a different person, a much healthier person. My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner; that it wasn’t recommended to me sooner. I have spent the last year shouting its merit from every available rooftop, and I am thrilled to be able to share its impact on me with those that walk through the door at Lemuria.

 

Jacket (12)The book claims that it tells you “when to say yes, how to say no, to take control of your life.” The claim is not made falsely. In reading its pages, I found both healing and empowerment for the broken person I had become. With the best of intentions, I had drained my personal resources to a scary number well below zero. With a naturally empathetic heart, I had taken on my shoulders the responsibility for those around me. They needed my help. They needed to be shown what it looked like to be loved and cared for, because I truly loved and cared for them. Most importantly in my mind, and also the most draining and difficult: I needed to be what they needed me to be for them. These were all lovely ideas, that ended badly for me. They were unsustainable, as all unhealthiness generally is. I ran into the foundational principle of economics, in that we are faced with scarce resources; and I realized first hand that that principle not only applies to the market place, but to my personal life as well. I am so thankful for the brokenness in my life that led a dear friend to loan me her copy of Boundaries.

 

I hope that everyone discovers their own personal boundaries sooner than I did, via this book or from another source. I also do know that there are some people out there that do not struggle with boundaries as much I did, but I still recommend this book to you. I firmly believe that there is something valuable in its contents to be gleaned for everyone. For those that do struggle like I did (and do), I hope that the knowledge of personal boundaries and their necessity for healthy relationships can be understood sooner and in a more pretty fashion than mine were. I recommend the contents of Boundaries to both the young and old. I cannot think of a season in life where boundaries are not important. I particularly challenge you to consider buying this book for the young people in your lives, that are just embarking on their path in life. You never know, you might gift them with something incredible; you might change their life.

 

 

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