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One of the best books I read this year and a truly important reading experience is The Public Library, a photographic essay by Robert Dawson. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, this is a gorgeously designed book of photos and essays on American public libraries, which I could not stop paging through.

Right now, you are probably thinking you know what the book is and agree with me that it's important and yet you likely have no interest in paging through it. A book like this is a good thing, but you already value libraries, right? You think you don't need this one.

Allow me to convince you otherwise.

I know public libraries matter on many levels. My hometown library had a huge influence on my life and I know that sentiment is the same for a lot of other people. So I approached The Public Library expecting an appreciation and I certainly was not disappointed on that score. But there is a lot more going on in this book, in the essays (by Bill Moyers, Ann Patchett, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver and more) and the photos.

Dawson shows libraries in a variety of situations: urban and rural, small communities and large, in remote locations and city centers. The design differences are amazing and the closed facilities are heartbreaking but what really got to me was seeing how really useful the libraries are in unexpected ways. Also, the issue of homeless patrons came up several times and the essayists were pretty blunt on that subject.

While I was reading The Public Library and pouring over the photos, what struck me time and again was that open, free libraries are not a gift for a community, but a necessity. They are an equalizing force between the rich and poor and as significant as schools and the right to vote. They can make the difference for so much that might be missing in your life and be a game-changer in so many ways.

The best case scenario would find all of our elected officials sitting down and reading this book. It's the type of title that makes you think and inspires action. (I feel like I'm getting almost silly about libraries right now but I can't help it; just looking at these pictures touched my heart.)

The Public Library--obvious choice for book lovers but an even more important one for folks who just don't get it yet and need to be persuaded.

Listen to an interview with Robert Dawson at NPR.

[Post pics from the book.]

We are often asked why we have chosen to stay with Ballou Senior High School for our annual book fair. Prior to Ballou, Guys Lit Wire worked with a group serving juvenile offenders in Los Angeles and two schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. While we certainly were happy to help those folks and felt that our book fairs did a lot of good and were appreciated, when we first teamed up with Ballou we quickly realized we had found a special situation.

Melissa Jackson, the Library Media Specialist, loves her job and her enthusiasm is quite infectious. A look at the library's facebook page shows the many events she plans there from poetry slams to club meetings to author readings and tons of visiting speakers. Melissa works tirelessly to get students excited about reading and has been key to the past success of the book fairs. She cares so much about the kids at Ballou and has shown us just how much one dedicated librarian can accomplish for a whole school. Melissa is a powerhouse whose dedication can not be denied. We are thus delighted to work with her, and help her, through the current book fair.

If you want to know how the world can be changed, then Melissa is a shining example of what a force for good looks like. Guys Lit Wire organizes these book fairs each year through her direct coordination and support; Melissa is the one who gets all these books you purchase off the list into the hands of teenagers eager to read them. Please know how much you making her job easier with every title you send to Washington DC and every effort you make to spread the word.

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School continues. Please check out the details and shop the Powells wish list.

[Post pic of Melissa Jackson with the Ballou mascot, the "Golden Knight".]

Cross posted from Guys Lit Wire.

Cherie Priest takes on an infamous American crime with Maplecroft, the first in the new Borden Dispatches series. She plants the reader in Falls Church, Massachusetts as Lizzie and her sister Emma stubbornly remain, living down the infamy of Lizzie's trial following the murder of their father and stepmother. Lizzie still has her axe, everybody thinks she did it and an air of mystery surrounds the comings and goings of the two women in Maplecroft, their impressive home.

Then a whole bunch of monster killing happens and readers realize that whatever Lizzie Borden did or didn't do in real life is nothing compared to what Cherie Priest has decided to do with her in fiction.

Maplecroft keeps to many of the facts about Lizzie Borden's life: her father & stepmother were murdered by an axe, Lizzie was tried for the crimes and acquitted, no one ever found out what happened. Emma Borden was Lizzie's older sister and they both did remain in Falls River and moved into a house named Maplecroft after the trial. Also, the actress Nance O'Neil, who had a close (although never as clearly defined) relationship with Lizzie as portrayed in the novel, was also a real person.

Priest presents all of their stories from their perspectives, alternating the point-of-view throughout the narrative. Lizzie's commands most of the story, along with Nance and the fictional character of Dr. Owen Seabury, based on the real family doctor (who testified at Lizzie's trial), Dr. Seabury Bowen. Each of them inches closer to the startling truth of the horrors in Falls Church on their own as the the suspense builds and the characters find themselves in the most dreadful of circumstances.

Fictional Lizzie still has her axe and in this case is not afraid to use it (and for good reason). Her sister Emma is portrayed in the author's hands as a talented marine biologist, publishing her findings (as the times required) under a man's name. There is a sickness in Falls Church, a madness both of the mind and body, and the sisters approach it from two different directions: science and legend. Dr. Seabury seeks out his own answers through keen observation of the afflicted and his medical texts. Thrown together as the tension builds, they embark on a mad dash to find answers, all the while pursued by the stuff of nightmares.

Thank goodness Lizzie can swing that axe!

Maplecroft is great fun--it draws readers in with an almost Victorian pace at the beginning and then builds and builds as the heroes find themselves increasingly threatened. The characters are deeply written, full of flaws, tortured by their own inner doubts and achingly human. It is especially fun to read about Lizzie Borden and see her interacting with her sister and lover while struggling to be the hero that circumstance demands she must be.

This is a perfect autumn read; it will keep you on the edge of your seat, slight freak you out and totally conjure up images of "something wicked this way comes"!

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