Staff Picks: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars, Hillbillys and Quilters

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If you are looking for a good book to enjoy this fall, here are a few recommendations from library staff.

American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars and One Great Building by Claudia Roth Pierpont

To call America’s cultural landscape a tapestry may be a cliché, but it is certainly accurate. The twentieth century in particular saw a flourishing of creative output from Americans in literature, theater, music and art. A thorough examination of the men and women whose work shaped American culture could fill shelves upon shelves of biographies and history books, but for those who just want an introductory sampler, Claudia Roth Pierpont’s book of essays is an excellent choice. Taking its title from the original name proposed by George Gershwin for his famous Rhapsody in Blue, American Rhapsody offers a distinguished selection of American profiles—Gershwin himself being one.

Amongst Pierpont’s other remarkable American subjects are authors (Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, James Baldwin), performers (Bert Williams, Stepin Fetchit, Katherine Hepburn, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Nina Simone), one art collector (Peggy Guggenheim) and, the collections’ sole inanimate subject, the Chrysler Building.

Each essay is just a glimpse, a brief extolling of the subject’s life and work and impact, but taken together they form a bigger picture of American culture—a tapestry. These individuals who were shaping our cultural identity came from diverse backgrounds—including marginalized groups such as Black and Jewish Americans whose works were beginning to find wider audiences—but together their voices represented the complex and multifaceted nature of the developing American identity.

∼ Elizabeth T., Cataloger, Warrenton central library

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance


Hillbilly Elegy bottom line, is a great book.  First time author, J. D. Vance, recounts his life growing up in a poor Rust Belt town in a family that has deep roots in rural Appalachia and how he was able to overcome the obstacles and became a Yale Law school graduate.  He talks about his family, good & bad, with directness,  honesty, and love.  He examines why he was one of the lucky ones to escape and move upward on the economic ladder and the struggles that go along with that as well.  This book made me laugh and made me cry.  What I found most fascinating is that I too have roots in rural Appalachia , and I was able to relate to the culture and the struggles of growing up there.  Even if you don’t have ties to Rural Appalachia, you will be drawn to this well written, very moving book, about a region that is largely overlooked in today’s’ society.

∼ Deborah M., Technical Services, Warrenton central library

The Elm Creek Quilts Series by Jennifer Chiaverini

Although I do not quilt, I so enjoyed the stand-alone novel Christmas Bells by Chiaverini that I decided to try her earlier works in the Elm Creek Quilts Series, the first of  which is  The Quilter’s Apprentice. Recently married Sarah McClure and her husband Matt are struggling to establish their careers. When Matt lands a job away from their secure college environs, Sarah leaves her dismal accounting job to go with him to Waterford, PA,  in hopes of finding something more interesting. Through Matt’s landscaping work, she meets the commanding and mysterious Sylvia (Bergstrom) Compson, sole heir to the historic Elm Creek Manor who wants help to get the neglected estate ready to sell. In this old manor are many secrets. As Sylvia begins to share her knowledge of quilting with Sarah in exchange for her labors,  the story of the Bergstrom family (at least, part of it) is slowly revealed.

Like a quilt pattern, each book in the series adds more to the overall design of the family history.  Stories go back in the past before the Civil War, involving slavery and its impact even in northern Pennsylvania, as well as forward to WWI and WWII eras. Relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and friends evolve and expand as Sarah helps Sylvia bring Elm Creek Manor back to life, to share with quilters who come from throughout the country to attend Quilting Camp each year. Chiaverini is up to number 20 in the series, and I’ve only read about half of them.  I look forward to reading many more of her books in this series, as well as her recent historical novels based on real people, such as Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker ; The Spymistress about Virginia’s Elizabeth Van Lew, Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, among others.

∼ Fran, Manager, Collection Services, Warrenton central library

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