DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Mar 28 2014

The Multi-layered Life

by Rebekah B

Reincarnation and the life of the  mind/soul beyond the body are concepts that interest me.  Really, the nature of life and reality – why things are the way they are…these philosophical questions intrigue me deeply.

Two novels I recently read have opened up glimpses of possibility about the nature of the soul through time. One is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and the other is The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose.


In Life After Life, the main character, Ursula Todd (called Little Bear by her father), lives out countless episodes of life, dying successively and repeatedly from various causes.  The entire book takes place during the first half of the twentieth century; no other centuries are revisited, and Ursula remains “herself” in various situations, relationships, and professions throughout the book.  She tries to rewrite her own fate and that of her family and friends, as some essence of memory, often obscure, remains in her psyche from one life to the next.  She feels a terrible responsibility for the fates of others, but it would seem that she is the only character in the story plagued with this syndrome.  And yet, each family member or friend who appears in the story reappears in each sequence, leading the reader to assume that they too are living successive lives and deaths.  We are simply not privy to their inner thoughts.

It is explained at one point late in the novel that the nature of time is a palimpsest, in which each set of circumstances lived does not precede or follow another.  Like in an oil painting, the images and events of each life are layered over the previous sequences, forming a new image or layer.

What if all of these lives were lived simultaneously, and there were no past, no future, just pure experience in all of its forms and permutations? What especially delighted me about Life After Life was the wonderful writing, which contained a fluidity and special magic.  The continuous deaths and rebirths never seemed unrealistic, abrupt, or undesirable.  The novel is extremely readable and incredibly real, with an amazing flow and vividness of description.


The suspense novel The Reincarnationist follows a more traditional view of history, both personal and collective, as well as of rebirth.  The quality of writing is solid, but definitely of a lesser literary quality than Life After Life.  More plot driven, the characters are less dimensional, but the descriptions and historical scenes are quite evocative.  Nonetheless, it is an excellent thriller.  The main character, Josh, after a nearly deadly encounter with a terrorist suicide bombing in Israel, becomes prey to successive PTSD-like “attacks” of what are revealed to be past life memories resurfacing.  Three different lifetimes intertwine themselves into the fabric of the story: the present Josh Ryder, a journalistic photographer, Percy Talmage, poisoned by his uncle in the 1880’s in an intrigue involving a set of ancient memory stones and, Julius, in ancient Rome during the violent transition between the traditional pagan rites and the imposition of Christianity in 4th century Rome by Emperor Theodosius (if I remember correctly). Julius experienced a forbidden intimate relationship with Sabina, a vestal virgin during the last years of the cult. Pregnant, Sabina’s fate was death by suffocation – she would be buried alive after the birth of the child. Various themes run through the book involving art, history, antiquities, archeology (the burial vault of Sabina is found, containing ancient Egyptian “memory stones” coveted by various nefarious characters through the successive histories throughout the story).

The nature of time in The Reincarnationist is summed up by a quote by Victor Hugo cited by the author: The tomb is not a blind alley: it is a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight. It opens on the dawn.

In this philosophy as reflected in this novel of suspense, each life lived is connected to the next, and karma plays a central role.  The nature of time is not quite linear, because the past continues to live in the present, and perhaps the future as well, but the future is not referenced or mentioned in this novel.  Harm that is done in the past, or hurt that is experienced can be redeemed if, with the opportunities of a new life in a new body, a person chooses to make different choices with different outcomes.  From one life to the next, certain individuals maintain relationships with one another in different forms.  Free will is maintained throughout.


It is interesting to contemplate the nature of the continuity of the life of the soul and the mind beyond the confines of time, beyond the limits of the physical body. Suddenly, this shift in perception lends us more time to learn and evolve, and, depending on how we conceptualize the nature of time, energy, and life, the possibilities for our growth and the opportunity to love and to grow are indeed endless. The nature of life, of self, is a great mystery, and yet so often we live our lives submerged in a sea of banality. Deep beneath the surface of the conventions we have invented to get through our days lies an incredibly complex tapestry that ties all of our personal potentialities into a unity of purpose and intention that is always in flux. The literary format of the novel allows us to gaze deeper into the possibilities of our own realities and into the conventions that we collectively accept as the foundations of our lives.


Feb 9 2011

Foodie Fiction

by Dea Anne M

I was among the stacks the other day and a title caught my eye – American Cookery: A Novel by Laura Kalpakian. Readers of this blog may know by now how enamoured I am of all matters cuisine oriented, and fiction that uses food and cooking as a theme is a favorite. American Cookery does not disappoint on any level. A rich, sprawling saga set in Southern California during the early and middle 20th century, it features strong characters, beautifully observed detail, and a guiding motif that illustrates the centrality of food and cooking in family life.

…the good cook wastes nothing, uses everything – and not just everything in the kitchen, but here and here.” Afton touched the top of her head and her heart.
— from American Cookery: A Novel by Laura Kalpakian.

Here are some other of my favorite titles in which cooking and food play a major role.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is a delicious novel that has to be on many lists of irresistible food oriented fiction.

Gertrudis got on her horse and rose away. She wasn’t riding alone – she carried her childhood beside her, in the cream fritters she had enclosed in a jar in her saddlebag.
— from Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

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Jan 22 2010

Time Travel Fiction

by Jesse M

time-machine DCPLive imageIn this week’s post, I will discuss one of the most interesting and variable of genres, time travel fiction. For our purposes, time travel simply means either going forward or backward in time (for a more detailed explanation of time travel, go here). Time travel fiction can generally be divided into two distinct catagories, time travel fantasy vs. time travel science fiction. Generally, the categorization is made based upon the method of time travel; stories involving time travel devices and technologies are considered part of the science fiction genre, whereas stories that involve time travel through supernatural, magical, or unexplained means are considered part of the fantasy genre. Additionally, time travel science fiction is more likely to concern itself with the possible consequences of time travel, such as the Grandfather Paradox.

While time travel fiction has been around for centuries (many different cultures possess ancient myths and folktales in which the characters engage in something akin to forward time travel; examples include the Hindu account of King Kakudmi and the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro), it was in the 1800s that the genre came into its own. One of the earliest examples of time travel in fiction takes place in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the ghosts of Christmas past and future serve as the medium by which the travel occurs, putting this into the time travel fantasy category). The latter part of the century saw the publication of the seminal time travel novel, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which the protagonist builds a device which carries him to the far future, and eventually back again. The book marked the first appearance of a “time machine”, a term coined by Wells, and as such can be considered the first time travel science fiction novel (this is not entirely accurate, actually The Time Machine was his second published work involving the concept of time travel, the first being a short story titled The Chronic Argonauts, however The Time Machine was more successful and is responsible for popularizing the genre). Other novels published in the 1800s involving time travel include A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (which is an excellent example of time travel fantasy, as no explanation for the time travel is ever provided, and despite the protagonist’s introduction of ideas and technology well in advance of the time period, there is no examination of the potential consequences of this) by Mark Twain, and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, the third largest best-seller of its time, which features a young American male who falls into a hypnotic sleep and wakes over 100 years in the future.

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I have to thank DCPLive’s own Jimmy for blogging about National Novel Writing Month last year because now the portmanteau “NaNoWriMo” is forever lodged into my brain. I ran out of time last year before I could reach the 50,000 word count (the number of words necessary to claim novel-writing success on the official website). Also, I just really couldn’t resist the urge to chuck the ideas that I grew frustrated with while racing the NaNoWriMo clock, thus completely missing the point of this particular exercise in freewriting and perseverance. So I’m going to give it another shot this year (though I’m now down by four days). So…thanks, Jimmy!

There are several books in DCPL to help you along the path to creating and finessing the novel of your dreams. Here are two that I like so far:

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life by Noah Lukeman: After you hammer out your NaNoWriMo novella, you may be wondering how to make it readable (and perhaps even enjoyable) to the masses. This is a great little book full of helpful hints and practical exercises for developing characters and plot.

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J.Cook: Now that you’ve drafted a winning manuscript, take a look at this book. I really like the fact that it provides in-depth guides to conquering the more administrative aspects of authorship such as searching for an agent and submitting query letters. But first things first…let’s just make it through Novel Writing November and think about this other stuff later.

Happy Writing, ya’ll!

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Oct 30 2008

NaNoWriMo: Ready? Set? Write!

by Jimmy L

November is National Novel Writing Month (often abbreviated as NaNoWriMo). If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t have the courage to do it, here is your chance! Here’s the basics: throughout November, people sign up on the NaNoWriMo webpage to accept this challenge. Then from Nov 1 through Nov 30, their goal is to write a 175 page (50,000 word) novel. This is a national effort, so nobody’s alone.  The NaNoWriMo website acts as a support network, connecting writers through forums, resources, and peptalks (given by acclaimed writers like Philip Pullman!).

One of the main ideas behind the project is this: don’t worry about quality, focus on quantity (the revision and tune-up process comes later, maybe in December?). Their webpage states “The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

This year they’ve added a Young Writers Program component to their usual challenge: “our Young Writers Program allows participants who are 17 years old and younger to set reasonable, yet challenging, word-count goals.”

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Sep 29 2008

Celebrating the Freedom to Read

by Nolan R

What do Their Eyes were Watching God, As I Lay Dying, A Farewell to Arms, The Bluest Eye, Slaughterhouse Five, Invisible Man, The Color Purple, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Call of the Wild all have in common? They’re all on a list of classic literature?  Best novels of the 20th century?  Books you struggled to finish in English class?  Possibly.  But one thing they do have in common is the fact that they have all been challenged or even banned from some libraries and schools.

This week is Banned Books Week, and we’d like to take some time to explain the history of Banned Books Week, give a few examples, and talk about some of our favorite “banned” books.

Why celebrate it?  Banned Books Week, first recognized in 1982, is observed during the last week of September. According to the American Library Association website, “Banned Books Week emphasizes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”

Have books really been banned?  Most “banned” books are actually “challenged” books, which means that someone made a complaint about them.  A challenge is a request to remove a book from a library or school; a banned book is a book that is actually removed due to a challenge.  Generally, most challenged books are not ultimately banned.

Who challenges books?  Lots of people, for lots of reasons, although parents are generally listed as the top challengers.  Those challenging books have good intentions–they usually want to protect someone from something that conflicts with their beliefs.

Want to learn more?  Check out the BBW or ALA, or befriend BBW on Facebook or MySpace.  Don’t forget to check back here throughout the week for more information on banned and challenged books.

What’s my favorite banned book?  There are a lot of good titles on the lists, but one of my favorites is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.