Between the Lines Book Club: Gilead and Transcendentalism

between the lines book club logoOur October book club selection is Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on October 29, 2016.

Gilead is the story of Reverend Ames, his father, and his grandfather, and their approaches to war and civil rights. The book is profoundly influenced by transcendentalism.

Transcendentalism is a philosophical school of thought that developed in the late 1820s. It was made famous by, among other people, author Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other followers included Louisa May Alcott and her family, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.

Transcendentalism was a movement that was influenced by Romanticism, as well as by Indian religions. Transcendentalists believed that all people are inherently good, that nature is inherently good, and that the more self-reliant people are, the better they are. The movement was notable as being American in origin, and most of its followers were Americans. It was also notable for sparking a literary movement that mirrored its philopophical aims. Emerson’s magazine, The Dial, was a home to many new essays and stories by American writers.

In an article for The New Inquiry titled “The New Transcendentalist” Susan Salter Reynolds says,

I like to think of Robinson as a member of a merry band I call the New Transcendentalists, a group that builds on the luminous work of Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Melville, and others. The New Transcendentalists include, besides Robinson,  Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Mary Oliver, Rebecca Solnit, and others. I am sure that I have left names from both categories, New and Old, but the message is the same: belief in the human spirit and its capacity for community, generosity, and stewardship; in what Whitman called “radical uniqueness,” and in the vital connection to nature as a source of creativity and innovation. The effect is also the same: elevation, followed by freedom.

By tying her work, both consciously (Robinson is a big Emerson fan) and unconsciously to Transcendentalism, Robinson is able to explore the healing power of nature, the pros and cons of communities, and the role of faith in matters and large and small. She also gives her work a distinctly American feel by tying it to a rich legacy of American thought and American fiction.

Water as Muse: My Latest Gig With Sacramento Public Library

mcclatchy_library_500x323_img_0605Sacramento peeps, I will be speaking at McClatchy Library this Sunday (October 23, 2016) at 1PM on the topic of water and Californian Literature. I’m excited to be part of a series sponsored by the library: Sacramento 95H20. Here’s a full list of speakers and dates:

Sacramento 95H2O: 

A Series on Water and What it Means to Sacramentans


Water as Muse: 


Sunday, October 23 at 1:00 pm. Writer Carrie Sessarego presents “Flowing over Golden Pages: The Role of Water in California Literature.” McClatchy Library.


Water as Life:


Sunday, November 13 at 1:00 pm. Julian Fulton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Sacramento State University presents “The Future of California Water: The Quest for Sustainability in an Age of Climate Change.” Central Library.


Water as Energy:


Sunday, November 20 at 1:00 pm. Environmental historian Scott Sault presents “Sacramento and Hydro-Electric Power: How the Lights went on in the River City.” Central Library.


Water as Dialogue:


Sunday, December 4 at 3:00 pm. Keith Coolidge of the Delta Stewardship Council presents “The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta: Its History, its Problems, what’s Currently Going on and Why, and Ideas for Fixing it.” Central Library.


Water as History:


Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 at p.m. Social historian and geographer Andrew McLeod presents “Confluence: The Natural History of Where the Sacramento and American Rivers Meet.” McClatchy Library.


Between the Lines Book club: Gilead

between the lines book club logoTime to announce our October book club selection, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on October 29, 2016 for an in-person discussion of this lyrical book.

Gilead, which was published in 2004, is Robinson’s second book. It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for best fiction. Her first novel, Housekeeping, told the stories of three women. In Gilead, the story focuses on men – Reverend John Ames, his father, and hid grandfather. Ames is writing a series of letters to his son about the history of his family. The story deals with faith, conscience, mortality, and forgiveness.

Gilead is the first in what is known as “The Gilead Trilogy” although all three books in the trilogy work as stand-alone novels. It is followed by Home, which follows the struggles of Ames’ neighbors, and Lila, which tells the story of Ames’ wife. All three books pay tribute to the philosophies and writing styles of transcendental writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Emily Dickenson by using simple yet lyrical language to describe not only the dramatic events of life but the beauty of simple, everyday moments.


We hope you enjoy this selection! You can participate in book club in person or by leaving comments here.



Sacramento Public Library Presents: To Kill a Mockingbird

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird (1)I’m so excited to be part of Sacramento Public Library’s presentation on To Kill a Mockingbird. This presentation will include live music, performances, and a panel discussion with Sacramento Theater Company Director Buddy Butler. The presentation is happening at Central Library at 1PM on Sunday September 18.

You can find more information about the event here.

And for more information about Sacramento Theater Company’s adaptation of the novel, look here!

Wednesday Videos: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy

WednesdayVideoAnd now for something completely different…a video that includes me!  I gave this presentation, “The War that Launched a Genre: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy” at Sacramento Public Library.  I had a great time, and you can tell that I thought the topic was “really interesting” because I seem to have said so about once every five minutes. The presentation includes discussion of “The Battle of Dorking”, H.G. Wells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, modernism, C.S. Lewis, and, of course, Tolkien.

Warning: it’s long, and if you take a drink every time I say “really interesting” you’ll be unconscious in the first thirty minutes.

An Evening With Diana Gabaldon

Photo of Diana GabaldonLast weekend I was thrilled to get to attend An Evening With Diana Gabaldon, hosted by the Sacramento Public Library.  Over 700 people attended to hear Diana’s on stage interview with librarian Stephenee Borelli, who had put together a whole series of events around Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  If you ever have a chance to hear Diana speak in person, don’t miss it – she’s funny, engaging, and entertaining.  She’s also very polished and poised when it comes to promoting her work.  She can name-drop an award or slip in mention of how many books she’s sold in a casual way while also talking about the appeal of kilts.

I didn’t record the interview (for one thing, I think it might have been illegal, or at the very least, tacky) but I did take copies noted in my immaculate handwriting:

my notes

Here’s a few highlights from the evening:

  • The Outlander Series which is about to air on Starz may or not be good – but it sure looks great.  We got to see a very short preview and I was impressed with the Scottish scenery (it’s shot on location) and the casting of the two leads.  Fingers crossed, people!
  • A quote from Diana: “I was not a tactful child”.
  • Diana said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the happiest day of her life was when her mom sent her to the library with a note for the head librarian that read “Let her read anything she wants”.
  • “I knew I was always meant to be a novelist, and when I was 35 I said to myself, “Mozart was dead at 36.  I better get cracking”.
  • Diana does her best writing between midnight at 4:30AM.
  • Her husband is the only person who sees what she’s working on while she’s working on it.  The funniest criticism she got was a note in the margins that read, “Nipples again?”.
  • One of the great joys of the series is seeing Claire and Jaime maintain a physically and emotionally romantic relationship into middle age.  Diana said that people said of Voyager, No one wants to read about people in their 40’s having sex” and she said, “Wanna bet?”
  • Each book has a different structure – for instance, the structure of Outlander is three overlapping triangles, showing a linear narrative with three climaxes.  Dragonfly is shaped like a dumbbell, with a framing device, two major conflicts, and a calm stay at Lallybroch in the middle.  Voyager is like a braid.
  • The books aren’t planned out ahead of time.  There will be at least one more book in the series, possibly more.  “I discover them every day.  If I knew what was going to happen it wouldn’t be fun”.
  • There will be a small book, release date unknown, titled, What Frank Knew.

poster for Starz Outlander series

Diana is a voracious reader and won’t list her favorite authors in general, but she does credit five authors for helping her learn the craft of writing:

  • Charles Dickens – for how to portray character
  • Robert Louis Stevenson – for how to spin a good yarn
  • Dorothy Lee sayers – for incorporating dialogue, dialect, and social class into a watertight plot
  • John D. MacDonald – for how to sustain a series
  • P.G. Wodehouse – for how to juggle language


The latest book in the series, Written in my Own Heart’s Blood, was released on June 10.   I am currently number 156 in line to check this book out from the library.  Can I wait that long?  I doubt it!  Thank you to Sacramento Public Library for hosting such a great event and to Diana Gabaldon for being so gracious and entertaining!

Wednesday Videos: 2 short Edgar Allan Poe movies

WednesdayVideoThe winner of the “Poe Project” film competition was the amazingly creepy Ligea, but there’s a special spot in my heart for Here, Puppy, Puppy”, which is loosely based on “The Black Cat”.  Incidentally, I got to meet the actress who plays Ligea, and she’s incredibly friendly and warm.  But I was very careful not to make her angry  –  just in case.

Happy National Library Week

Happy Monday, Geeks!  This week is National Library Week.  In honor of the occasion, here’s a list of ten free services and programs that you might not expect to find at the Sacramento Public Library (but you will).  I’m guessing that your library offers similar services – what’s your favorite?  What’s the most unexpected?

1.  Fitness classes:  Heavy Metal Yoga?  Punk Rock Aerobics?  Tae Kwon Do?  Yoga for Kids?  There’s an awful lot of activity happening in the stacks, these days.  Darn you, skinny people, keep it down, I’m trying to read!

2.  Ebooks, Ereaders, and laptops:  Not only can you check out eBooks now, you can check out an eReader to read your book on.  You can check out a laptop if you want one.  No fully functioning TARDIS’s available, though.

3.  CDs:  Thanks to the library, I haven’t bought a new CD in years.

4.  DVDs:  As long as you don’t crave instant access to new releases, the library is a great source for free TV shows, movies, and documentaries.  Recently I checked out Community Season 3 and Chronicle.  Unlike Redbox, I get to keep the DVD for three weeks – more, if no one is behind me in the hold line.

5.  Audiobooks on CD and Mp3 player:  You may notice that I’m very excited about free entertainment.  My daughter loves listening to audiobooks in the car and we go through a new one about once every other week.

6.  Advice on:  How to invest for retirement, how to speak Swahili, how to fix your car, how to fill out legal forms, what to ask your doctor, how to find out who your ancestors are…if you want to know about it, they probably have it here.

7.  Sensory storytimes for autistic children.  we all remember story time, right?  Well, they still have that – for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but now they’ve added special programs to meet special needs.

8.  Classes and Events:  Here’s some random titles of free classes and events held in various Sacramento Library branches recently: Bad Art Night, Magna Cafe, Knitting and Nattering, Family Movie Night, Classic Movie Night, Introduction to Excel, Teen Poetry Competition, eBook Help, One-on-One Job Coach Assistance, Persian Book Club, Lego Madness…now my fingers are tired.

9.  Adult Literacy:  A lot of people expect a library to have literacy programs, but you may not know that the Sacramento Public Library offers the only basic literacy program for adults in Sacramento.  There are several other Adult Education organizations in the area, but they tend to focus on things like helping people pass a high school equivalency exam.  If you want to learn to read from scratch, you’ll need the library’s help.  For more information about adult literacy programs in Sacramento, click here.

10.  Geeky Joy:  For example:  Zombie Scavenger Hunt, Haunted Stacks, Edgar Allen Poe Film Project, How to Write Using the Tengwar Alphabet, Mad Science, Science Fiction Book Club.  This is Geek Central. On top of all this, the library does a damn fine job of fulfilling its original purpose – loaning people books.   So, whether your librarian is handing you a free book to read today, teaching the aerobics, or fighting crime with a secret identity, tell them “Thank You” this week.