Between the Lines Book Club: More by Joshua Hammer

between the lines book club logoJoshua Hammer is the author of this month’s book club pic, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. He is also a prolific reporter who has written for magazings such as The New Yorker and Newsweek. If you liked The Bad-Ass Librarians  here are some other pieces you might enjoy.


A Season in Bethlehem

Publisher’s description: Newsweek’s Jerusalem bureau chief Joshua Hammer arrived in the West Bank in October 2000 — just after Ariel Sharon made his inflammatory visit to the Haram al-Sharif, otherwise known as the Temple Mount. Sharon’s trip ignited the worst violence the Middle East had seen in decades…A Season in Bethlehem is the story of one West Bank town’s two-year disintegration, as witnessed by a reporter who was there from the beginning. Woven together from Hammer’s own firsthand reportage plus hundreds of interviews, it follows a dozen characters whose lives collided on the streets of this biblical city.

Yokahama Burning

A description of the 1923 earthquake that struck Yokahama, and how the resulting devestation paved the way for Japan’s involvment in WWII.

Chosen by God: A Brother’s Journey

Hammer’s brother is a convert to an ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism. In this book, Hammer discusses why his brother converted, what each brother’s lives are like, and the changes in their relationships to each other as well as to other family members.

Campare and Contrast: Magazine Articles

Hammer has written dozens of magazine articles, but I found it interesting to compare the ones he wrote for Smithsonian with the ones he wrote fo GQ.

This link takes you to a list of articles that Hammer wrote for

This link takes you to articles published in GQHammer’s articles for the Smithsonian have a scholarly bent wheras the ones for GQ involve disasters and true crime. You can see the writer using the same techniques to convey suspense that he uses in Librarians.


Seqouia National Park: Our Family Home

white harebell (flower)My June blog entries will be short this month because of travel and work commitments and the extreme necessity of watching every episode of Killing Eve in one day. I’m especially excited about an upcoming trip to show my daughter Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and the tiny town of Three Rivers for the first time.

My great-great grandparents and their siblings had a ranch/farm/orange orchard near Three Rivers, California, starting from will before the Gold Rush. My great-grandfather, Homer, was the maintenance supervisor for Grant Grove (in Kings Canyon National Park). He and my Grand-Uncle were involved in carving the stairs up Moro Rock. My grandmother was a waitress at the same restaurant where I worked as a dishwasher decades later (the one in Grant Grove).

Moro Rock, showing the stairs

The twisty roads around the park and the town of Three Rivers were the sites of comedy, tragedy, and survival against great odds. A car crash involving teenagers killed a boy and almost killed my grand-aunt Linnie, who was burned when her car caught fire and she couldn’t get out. Another boy rescued her, risking his own life. Because of her burns, she only had one fingernail for the rest of her life and she kept it perfectly manicured. My grandmother stuck her head out of a bus window and it smacked into a pole and she spent months in the hospital recovering. I know why she was looking out the window. She told me. But I’m sworn to secrecy and I’ll never tell.

The next generation didn’t work at the park because my grandfather managed a racetrack in West Sacramento and he needed the kids to help him there during the summers. However, as young kids,they spent some summers visiting Nana, who was a switchboard operator, and Grampy (Homer) near the park and swimming in the Kaweah river. My mother says they got hot every day so they’d hike to the river to cool off but then they had to hike uphill to get home after swimming and would get hot again. Such is life.

the river curving through trees

On the other side of the family, my Dad put in a summer as a cook at nearby Yosemite National Park. I spent a memorable summer in Grant Grove washing dishes. Coincidentally, my husband spent a summer in Yosemite as a housekeeper. As far as I can tell, that’s a much better job than dishwashing. This adds up to a lot of relatives who got accustomed to meeting one of these guys on the way back to bed after a shift:

Black Bear, fat and happy


Many of our family members are buried in the Three Rivers cemetary. You can read my article here:

Death’s Garden: Never Let Your Feet Get Cold

I eagerly await the onslaught of aunties who will comment with corrections and addendum. If I’m very lucky, maybe there will be pictures! Where are you going this summer?

Between the Lines Book Club: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

between the lines book club logoSummer is here, and this month Between the Lines book club is off to Mali with The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. This book describes the efforts of Abdel Kader Haidara to save priceless ancient manuscripts from jihadists. It’s a tale of scholarship, politics, war, and many, many bribes. We will be discussing the book at Arden Dimick Library on June 23 at 10:30AM.


Here’s a review fom the New York Times

National Geographic posted this interview, which includes photos

NPR posted an interview with Joshua Hammer here. Here’s a quote from the interview:

One of the things that I think is important to draw from it is to realize that there is this whole strain of Islam that is moderate, that celebrates intellectuality, that celebrates culture, that celebrates diversity, secular ideas, poetry, love, human beauty. I think that is lost in this debate that’s going on. We tend to really kind of turn against Islam because of the actions of this particularly violent group.

But I think in fact that the Islam represented by those in Timbuktu and the badass librarians is in fact more representative of what Islam is. And these people [who] were the real victims of extremism in this part of the world are fellow Muslims. They were the ones who really suffered. They were the ones who had their hands and feet chopped off, who had to live through the horror of daily occupation.

For the most part, we see this from afar, but these people are on the front lines and they are living through the horror of radicalism every day and every minute.

See you at book club!

Summer Night, Riverside, by Sara Teasdale

In the wild soft summer darkness 
How many and many a night we two together 
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson 
Wearing her lights like golden spangles 
Glinting on black satin. 
The rail along the curving pathway 
Was low in a happy place to let us cross, 
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom 
Sheltered us, 
While your kisses and the flowers, 
Falling, falling, 
Tangled in my hair.... 

The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky. 

And now, far off 
In the fragrant darkness 
The tree is tremulous again with bloom 
For June comes back. 

To-night what girl 
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair 
This year’s blossoms, clinging to its coils?

Sara Teasdale

Five Weird Facts About the 1918 Flu

shield-374x400This coming Sunday, June 3, from 1PM – 2:30PM. I’ll be at Central Library talking about WWI and the Flu of 1918. I hope you can join me!

The Spanish Flu of 1918 was no ordinary flu. It targeted young, healthy adults. It spread all over the world – to the villages of Alaska and of Africa, to China and Japan and South America, to the cities and towns of the United States. It infected about one-third of the people in the world, and it killed more Americans than the battlefields of WWI. Here are five weird facts about that weird and horrible epidemic:

1. Because no one knew how to treat the flu, people tried everything hey could think of. One man insisted that the way to avoid the flu was to drink 14 gins in a row. He survived both the gin and the flu. To treat the infected, people used onion or mustard poultices (onion did seem to have success), hot water immersion, cold water immersion, surgically draining the lungs, making the infected person breathe tobacco smoke, keeping them in hot rooms, and keeping them outside. Nothing worked consistently, although patients did better outside than in as long as they were kept warm and dry.

2. If you want to avoid contagion, wear a mask, tie a piece of raw potato to your leg, or wear asafoetida around your neck (asafoetida is a herb with a terrible smell when raw).

3. Many people who survived the crisis stage of the flu fell into a depressed state and committed suicide, sometimes by jumping from hospital windows without warning.

4. The flu struck people so suddenly that they could be symptom-free in the morning and dead by nightfall.

5. Flu survivors included Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Katherine Mansfield, and Walt Disney.

Join me on Monday for tragedy, gore, science, and history. And for heaven’s sake, wash your hands!

Five Facts About Mary Shelley

wV7j4W7q_400x400I’ll be at Baycon this weekend speaking about Mary Shelley. Here’s five facts you might not know about the author of Frankenstein and The Last Man:



1. Mary eloped with Percy Shelley when she was only seventeen. She was a widow by the age of twenty-four.

2. When her husband died, he was cremated. Because Percy Shelley had calcification of the heart, his heart did not burn, and Mary Shelley kept it in her desk.

3. Mary helped an abused woman escape from an abusive husband and flee England with the woman she loved. She concocted a scheme that involved one of the women dressing as a man, and them living in France for many years under false names.

4. Mary was close to many people who died young – her half-sister Fanny (suicide), Percy Shelley (sailing accident), Edward Williams (the same sailing accident), John Polidori (suicide), Harriet Shelley (suicide), Byron (illness), and Keats (illness). She had five pregnancies but only one child lived to adulthood.

5. The heroine of Mary’s novel Valperga is named Euthanasia. Other unusual names in her books include Idris (The Last Man),and  Perkin (The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck),

Hope to see you at BayCon!

Between the Lines Book Club: Far From the Madding Crowd on Film

between the lines book club logoOur Between the Lines Book Club choice for May is Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy. We will be discussing this book on May 19, 2018 at 10:30AM, at Arden Dimick Library, as well as in the comments below.

Far From the Madding Crowd has been made into a movie four times: in 1915, 1967, 1998, and 2015. The most famous adaptation is probably the one from 1967, which starred Julie Christie. In his review, Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars and made the following comment:

Thomas Hardy’s novel told of a 19th Century rural England in which class distinctions and unyielding social codes surrounded his characters. They were far from the madding crowd whether they liked it or not, and got tangled in each other’s problems because there was nowhere else to turn. It’s not simply that Bathsheba (Julie Christie) was courted by the three men in her life, but that she was courted by ALL three men in her life.



In 2015 a new movie adaptation, starring Carey Mulligan,was released. Here’s my review. The movie makes some abrupt jumps to keep the run time down, but benefits from strong performances and amazing chemistry between Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Gabriel.


The 2015 version, which I adore, is available on iTunes, Amazon, and at the library. It’s fairly faithful to the book so if you feel bogged down, I encourage you to try the movie out.