Long Branch Free Public Library, My favorite fiction

By Janet Birckhead, Adult Services Librarian

In a previous article, I described my experiences with children’s books. Now I want to recommend some of my favorite books for adults. I have worked in the Library’s Adult Services Department since 1999.

Lisa Kelly photo Librarian Janet Birckhead with some of her favorite fiction.

Reading a lot of nonfiction and ordering new nonfiction books is a big part of my job.

C.S. Lewis has been a great influence on my life since I was in my twenties. My favorites are The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce (which is about heaven and hell, not divorce), Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. The last three make up a series informally referred to as Lewis’ space trilogy. I’ve read the aforementioned works at least six times each. I never tire of reading Lewis because he is such a perceptive observer of human nature and writes so beautifully. He points out common human flaws in ways that stick with the reader forever. The library has a book entitled The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, which contains The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters, plus many of his other nonfiction works. The Chronicles of Narnia is available in the Children’s Department. You can borrow the three books that make up the “space series” on interlibrary loan.

Since I serve as moderator for the Nonfiction Book Club, which runs from September through June, I do most of my fiction reading during the summer months. I found Emma Donoghue’s “Room: A Novel” and Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk about Kevin” unforgettable.

Donoghue’s novel is about a young woman who was kidnapped and held hostage and had a child by her abuser. When the novel opens, the child is five years old. Donoghue creates an absolutely believable voice for this child who is very bright but utterly unfamiliar with things other kids his age take for granted.

Shriver’s narrator is a woman addressing her husband after their son has been convicted of a horrible crime. This narrator is likewise utterly believable. I stand in awe.

I mentioned Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in my previous article. In this time-travel fantasy, the “peculiar children” are children with special abilities, such as the ability to control fire. Ransom Riggs’ tale is illustrated with amazing old-fashioned photos, showing children levitating or with bees emanating from them. Although undoubtedly photo-shopped, the pictures are riveting and believable and help readers suspend their disbelief as they open the book. There are three sequels in the series.

I’ve found listening to audiobooks while driving to work an enjoyable way to read more books. A few years ago I enjoyed the recording of Shriver’s “A Perfectly Good Family.” Like We Need to Talk about Kevin, it showcases her ability to bring a dysfunctional family to life.

Mark Haddon, who reads the audiobook, demonstrates Donoghue’s and Shriver’s ability to create a pitch-perfect voice for the narrator. In “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” the autistic narrator Christopher becomes obsessed with finding out who killed his neighbor’s dog.

Hearing it on audiobook added to the experience. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” a wrenching tale of friendship destroyed by a horrific act and a friend’s cowardice, set in a land most of us have never seen, is another favorite book I experienced via audiobook.

What draws me to books, whether fiction or nonfiction, is writing that makes the subject clear or the story come alive. Writing that is lyrical, incisive, or poignant. Writing that makes a character live in my mind. I’ll tend to put aside a book with long, winding sentences, poor grammar or awkward phrasing before I’ve finished it, even if I agree with the point the author is making.

I recommend Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus: A Novel” because her lyrical writing made me want to see that circus with my own eyes. The professional and romantic tension between the central characters kept me reading. Morgenstern’s novel is the Elberon Book Club’s selection for their Feb. 6 meeting which starts at 6:30 pm at the Elberon Branch Library.

The library’s Winter Reading Challenge is another opportunity to read some good books. Participants pledge to read a certain number of books between January 1 and March 31. All book formats are acceptable, including children’s picture books, graphic novels and audiobooks. Pledge cards will be displayed throughout the library.

Participants will be entered into a raffle to win two Long Branch beach passes for the summer of 2019. Sign up at the Circulation Desk at the Main Library and start reading today!