Let’s talk about me, me, me. It’s about time, after all. All these books by famous authors, books by worthy unknowns, essential works uncovering our history, uncut gems awaiting discovery – pfuit.
I’m the one you want. So, to me, and to the good reads at hand!
And yet… incomprehensibly, the Lennoxville Library has zero books by Eleanor Brown. Not even the works of my namesake the library theoretician! She is the author of such classics as Modern Branch Libraries And Libraries In Systems (1970). The lapse is confusing, but one must accept that libraries do not have unlimited space. Choices must be made.
And so my quest must be broadened to Eleanors in general. (Sigh.)
Still, we Eleanors are an illustrious lot. Take Eleanor Estes, whose collected tales about The Moffats, originally published in 1941, are still in print today. The 60th anniversary edition (filed with an orange dot, ages 9 to 12, in children’s fiction) begins a series chronicling the adventures of Sylvie (at 15, the oldest child), Rufus, Jane, Joey (the youngest at five-and-a-half), Mama, and the family cat.
They are written against the backdrop of the Depression; Jane puts cardboard in her shoe to cover the hole in her heel.
But there are still shenanigans to be gotten into! Like Rufus sneaking out of his first day of kindergarten, and ducking into a freight train car. Or Jane being afraid of the chief of police, and ending up hiding in a wooden box – for hours — because someone was sitting on it. Or the story of the dancing dog. Or the day Joey was an usher… These are humorous moments of small-town life, and engaging.
Writer Eleanor Ayer also collects up stories. Her book, however, brings together the even more sobering tale of two Germans during World War Two. One was the Jewish Helen Waterford; the other, a member of the Hitler Youth, Alfons Heck.
Each wrote a memoir, and Ayer has pulled together essential elements of each, while adding in her own context. It’s not a defence — but an attempt at an explanation. Millions died in concentration camps. How could this have happened?
Alfons Heck describes Hitler’s charisma, and the initial belief that Heck was one of the chosen, Der Fuhrer’s Master Race.
Jews like Helen Waterford were offered up as scapegoats at a time of economic misery and instability. But it was impossible to believe that the end result would be mass murder in Europe in the mid-20th century: “Many Jews, my parents included, tried to wait it out.”
Waterford’s family eventually fled, but were arrested later as the Nazis continued to expand their power through Europe.
Parallel Journeys (2000) is filed in the Young Adult section.
My quest for me then moved to a more famous Eleanor, CBC Radio’s Wachtel, the long-time host of Writers & Company.
Random Illuminations: Conversations With Carol Shields (2007, filed in non-fiction at 813.54), is a mix of correspondence, reminiscences, and interview transcriptions with the much-acclaimed Canadian author. The journalist and the author were close friends.
Shields died in 2003 of breast cancer.
Joan Didion, in her memoir The Year Of Magical Thinking, which is about life after the death of her husband, wrote that “grief turns out to be a place none of us knows until we reach it.”
Wachtel attempted to cope with her friend’s impending death, and asked if Shields willed herself to stay alive for the people she loved. “No, you stay alive for yourself, but you might endure some extra medical treatment for the people you love.”
Readers of Carol Shields who are already familiar with her work (see the Adult Fiction shelves) will gain insight into the themes of her writing. But the first essay in the book is accessible to all; it showcases the moments that Wachtel considers essential to her friend’s personality and memory.
“I love how her mind worked,” writes Wachtel. This book is a fine memorial to that mind.
Finally, there are the Eleanors who are the stars of the show. Er, of the story. In New Arrivals, filed under Young Adult fiction, is author Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor And Park (2013).
Eleanor is the new girl in high school, and she’s chubby and dresses funny. Friends are not coming out of the woodwork. In turn, Park is a nerd, a fan of bands like XTC and Skinny Puppy, and a lover of the Xmen and the Watchmen. He needs to hold on to what street cred he has, or the bullies will go nuts on him.
Their courtship begins on the school bus, with a Swamp Thing comic book.
These are two fragile, insecure teens, working through what it means to be both strong and emotionally exposed to another. It ends with Park helping Eleanor escape from her home life, knowing he may never see her again. But it’s the right thing to do.
Discovering other Eleanors turned out to be much more than ego-surfing. I’ve met a fascinating collection of strangers.
– Eleanor Brown, Dec. 27, 2013