It’s the Beatles for Helen

The following is the second in the series in which I conduct flash interviews with members of the Topsham Public Library staff

When I was a teenager, I often heard my mother call up the stairs, “Jen, come set the table.” I think my mother hated telling me to do it as much as I hated doing it. See, my mother pays attention to detail, and I do not. I would plop the plates around the table, scatter some silverware, place napkins on the plates (this was probably the worst of my infractions in my mother’s eye) and call it good. My mother would check my work, and we would do it over again. Fork on the left, knife on the right, little spoon to the right of the knife, and napkins folded and placed under the fork. (I’ll not mention the ordeal when setting the table for the after-church dinners on Sunday and the additional silverware necessary for that.) I don’t worry about the details – I’m a big picture person. Thankfully, there are people out there, like my mom, who pay attention to detail, and Helen is one of them.


Helen is a New Jersey girl and, as it is with many of our Topsham residents, it was the Navy that brought her family to Maine. She has been with the Topsham Public Library for 19 years! It is all her fault that Cyndi, Lynne, Linda, and Julie work here, too. (And we are thankful for that!) Helen used to be the volunteer coordinator, and in that capacity, she brought the aforementioned on board, and eventually, they were each hired on as a member of the staff.

Helen’s responsibilities have changed since then, and now she is, what we call, a cataloger. I’m not sure of all the ins and outs of what she does, but I do know it is meticulous work and if Helen did not pay attention to the details, we would not be able to find the books, movies, cds, and/or all the other items we want in the card catalogue and Minerva sites.

Reading has always been a love of Helen’s. Her first favorite books that she can remember are the gothic romance novels by Phyllis Whitney. Bookstores weren’t around when she was young, so Helen had to go to the local drug store and search “the spinning things” for new books. Now, she loves horror, and Stephen King is her favorite author. (I asked her about Dean Koontz because I know she liked him at one time, but he has since fallen out of favor with her.)

Helen can scream! No, I have not heard her scream, but I know she can scream because in 1964 Helen went to a Beatles concert when they played at the Atlantic City Convention Hall! (I’m a bit envious myself.) We know a whole lotta screamin’ went on there. She promises me she did not faint, though.

If you were to hang out with the staff at the library, you would discover we talk about food a lot: “What’s that you’re having for lunch?” “What are you having for supper tonight?” “Have you tried insert name of restaurant here, yet?” “Did you see this new cookbook we just got in?” And on and on it goes. So, of course, I had to ask the important food questions. Helen prefers ketchup to mustard, and coleslaw instead of fries (personally, I never say no to fries). She will take her eggs scrambled, soup instead of salad, and Italian before Chinese food. No lobster dinner for Helen – she’ll take the steak.

There is one question I ask myself on a regular basis, and I asked Helen this question, too. “Helen,” I said, “If money were no object and you could do anything you want, what would you do?” She looked at me like I asked her what color the green grass was and said, “I would buy a house on the beach, so I could read a book.” Sounds good to me.



I Do Not Have a Green Thumb

imagesThis past Friday, in the drizzling morning rain, I found myself cleaning out my garden. I am the first one to admit that I am terrible at keeping any plant alive, and my family will tell you the same thing. Every spring my children shake their heads and look at me with panic stricken eyes. They say things like, “Mom, really, you don’t have to do this. There are plenty of farmers and farmers’ markets around here where you can buy fruits and vegetables. The farmers NEED your business. You can even go to Hannaford. They have a whole produce department.”  But I do like to grow things. I like to put a seed in the ground and water it and talk to it and care for it – well until about mid-July when I find that I have forgotten to check my garden for the past week or two, and you all know that when I do finally check it, the @#!?** weeds have taken over.

Well, this year I decided to add sugar pumpkins and squash to my garden and of course I planted the ever over-abundant producing zucchini plant. They all came up beautifully! The leaves were a luscious green and the buds were numerous on all of them. It was like Ta-Da! Everything came together. Well, I went out one day to check on their progress when I noticed something wrong with the roots. The plants still looked great, but the roots had turned to mush and gradually the mush worked its way up the stems and the plants stopped producing.

So, this past Friday I was pulling out my dashed hopes and carting them off to the compost heap. Even on this sad occasion, I enjoyed being in my garden and my thoughts carried me to a passage in Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White that is one of my all time favorites. It reads as follows:

     The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”

     The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

     Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed. Lurvy, at work building a crate for Wilbur, heard the song and knew it was time to dig potatoes.

Fall, my most favorite time of year, is quickly approaching, and though there is a melancholy to the passage from Charlotte’s Web, I find it beautiful. And I thought about Fall and apples and bonfires and this passage as I worked in my garden.

My tomatoes are still doing well, and I will stew them in my kitchen while enjoying the sun shining through my windows and feeling the crispness in the almost fall air.





The Book Sale is Coming! The Book Sale is Coming!

2014-09-27 11.36.20Do you like music? Do you know every year, the Topsham Public Library hosts Music in March – a series of FREE concerts that range from a capella, to bluegrass, to barbershop quartet, to folk, and even flute ensembles?

Do you like the discounted museum passes that the Topsham Public Library offers its patrons? Places like Portland Museum of Art, The Children’s Museum, The Maine Maritime Museum, and of course Maine Wildlife Park are wonderful places for exploration, fun, and thoughtfulness.

Do you like Big Truck Day? Summer reading programs? The annual fishing derby? All of these events and opportunities would not be possible if it were not for The Friends of the Topsham Public Library. This group of dedicated volunteers sponsors every one of these programs.

One way they fund these programs is through the annual book sale. AND IT’S ALMOST HERE!!!! I go to the book sale every year, and this year won’t be any different. I get so excited! Not only do I get to support The Friends of the Topsham Public Library through my purchases, but I get great books, cds, movies, and audio-books as well! Over time, I have collected the complete Harry Potter series in hardcover. And these books look just like new – no one would know I bought them used. (That is a HUGE savings compared to any other book seller!) I also have found a delightful collection of English ghost stories. And last year, I left the sale with a beautiful over-sized book titled Folk Tales of the Amur. I never would have seen that book anywhere else. There is always something unexpected and unique at the book sale. Have you found something unexpected at the book sale?

Enough of my gabbing – you want to know the details. If you are a member of The Friends of the Topsham Public Library, the book sale begins on Friday, September 25 at 5pm until 7pm. (If you want to become a member, click here. Also, memberships will be available at the door.) The book sale is open to the general public on Saturday, September 26, 9am-4pm and Sunday, September 27, 10am-2pm. Sunday is the $3 bargain bag sale!

We are still taking donations for the book sale, too! There is no better time to clean off your bookshelves than now. You may drop them off at the front desk next time you come to the Topsham Public Library.

Please note: The Topsham Public Library will not be open for normal business during the book sale hours.

We hope to see you there!!

Joy of the Pen

JOPThere once was a writer from Nantucket
who ran around town with a bucket,
and when asked, “why do you carry that thing?”
she just shook her head and said, “Do you not have any imagination?”

It’s just my first draft. I know, I have a lot of work to do. I only have until October 10, to polish my piece. What am I talking about? Well, on September 1, 2015, the Topsham Public Library began accepting submissions for the Third Annual Joy of the Pen Writing Competition.

We are fortunate to live in a community, and in a state, where writers of all levels abound, and we celebrate that here. Joy of the Pen is open to year-round Maine residents, and the categories are: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. There is also a category for teen-aged writers, and new for this year – Maine-related non-fiction.

Not only do we live in a community of writers, we live in a community that supports and encourages writers. We want to thank our sponsors: The Cryer sponsors the Verdi L Tripp Award for fiction, the Margaret F. Tripp Award for Poetry, and the Richard F. Snow Award for Nonfiction; Just Write Books sponsors the Maine-Related Nonfiction Award; the TPL Teen Room sponsors the TPL Teen Scene Award, and the Friends of the Topsham Public Library sponsors the Honorable Mention Awards in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Joy of the Pen would not be possible without the support of our sponsors. Please, check them out – see what they are about and thank them for their support.

Well, I need to go sharpen my pencil and get back to work. If you would like to submit your work, you can do so here.



Here are the answers to last week’s quiz – I know you all have been holding your breath-

1. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

6. Watership Down by Richard Adams

7. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

8. The Crow Road by Iain Banks

9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

10. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

11. The Once and Future King by T.H. White

12. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

14. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

15. The Gunslinger by Stephen King

And if you identified The Crow Road as containing Emma’s favorite first line, you get 10 bonus points!

Pop Quiz!

pop quizThe countdown is on – only five more days until school begins on August 31! The first day of school is always a bitter-sweet moment for us at the Topsham Public Library because that means summer reading will soon be over and lazy summer days are quickly coming to an end. So, to help get our heads back in the game, I thought it would be appropriate to give you all a quiz. Don’t worry, and put your calculators away – no math is involved.

Below you will find a list of first lines from books. Some are from new books, some are from old books, some are from books I read for English class and some are from books I read instead of reading books for English class. You can earn 10 bonus points if you tell me which one is Emma’s favorite first line. (If you don’t know who Emma is, read last week’s post.) The answers will be available in next week’s blog.

1. Two households, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,/From ancient grudge break                 to new mutiny,/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

2. The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.

3. 1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with.

4. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

5. Call me Ishmael.

6. The primroses were over.

7. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

8. It was the day my grandmother exploded.

9. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

10. My mother’s name was Mercy Stone Goodwill.

11. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition, and Astrology.

12. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

13. Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

14. You better not never tell nobody but God.

15. The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

God Save the Queen!

batman_logo_finalDon’t worry! Don’t worry! We have not been invaded! Periodically throughout the next couple of months, I am going to highlight a member of the Topsham Public Library staff. We see so many different faces every day, I thought it would be nice to introduce ourselves and help you get to know us a little better. So, let’s get started.

For those of you who don’t know, our Adult Services Librarian, Emma Gibbon hails from Yorkshire, England. Emma joined the library staff in 2011 and earned her Masters in Library Science in 2014. Enough of the boring stuff – let’s get to the good stuff.

Emma and I met together so I could conduct what I call a flash interview – I asked Emma a series of either/or questions, and she had only seconds to respond. This is the result.

Though she enjoys fiction more than non-fiction, Emma’s first favorite book was a children’s non-fiction book about dinosaurs released by Penguin Books. Now, I don’t mean to stir up any controversy, but Emma shuns ereaders for the hold it in your hand and flip the pages the old fashioned way honest to goodness book. But, make no mistake, Emma is no luddite; she is a master of Facebook and Twitter (but if she had to go without one of them, she would rather sacrifice Twitter than Facebook) and stays on top of the goings on in the tangled world of technology with her PC and not a Mac (little warning here – don’t get her started on Google).

Emma prefers the short story, but she is an avid reader of graphic novels especially the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Now, there is one thing that is vital for you to understand when it comes to Emma, and that is that she believes with her whole heart that Neil Gaiman is practically perfect in every way, (the only fault she finds in him is his short story) so, it must be made very clear that it was only under duress that she answered my question when I asked her which she preferred – American Gods or Sandman. It took her time and periods of great anguish before I received a civil reply.

After she composed herself, we were able to carry on and I inquired about her hero preferences. DC comes in first for Emma, and that is due to the Caped Crusader – Batman. And if she could have her own super power, she would prefer to read minds than be invisible.

Of course, since Emma is from England, I had to ask – tea or coffee and yes, tea won. She prefers fried eggs to scrambled, salad to soup, and chocolate to vanilla. When Emma is not at the library, you can find her reading, writing, knitting, x-stitching, and avoiding housework. Oh – and she enjoys playing video games badly.

Stop by and say hi next time you’re in.

You’re letting the flies eat the trees? On Purpose!?

Photo Aug 13, 1 05 46 PMaThat’s right! We’re just letting them…but for a very good reason.

Last week, one of our garden fairies (volunteers) pointed out that we have dogwood sawflies munching on the dogwoods in the birdsong garden. Her research indicated that, if tolerable, it’s not a bad idea to let the sawflies be because they are a great food source for early migrating birds. The damage to the dogwood from these “pests” usually occurs late enough in the season so that the plant is not overly harmed. Many of us try to plant gardens that are friendly to birds, pollinators & butterflies, but then we are upset when the plants are “damaged.” What a great reminder of how an ecosystem actually works!

What to Read Next?

Photo Aug 01, 10 52 49 AMDo you ever find yourself in need of a book suggestion? Of course you do, we all do. Sometimes it’s hard knowing what book to try next. I find it especially hard after finishing a good book – nothing else quite matches up.

At the library, we are often asked for book suggestions, and we love to talk shop so please keep asking, but there are also some other resources available to you to help you find your next read.

One of the fun resources here at the Topsham Public Library is our Art Collab. Across from the circulation desk is a wall covered in suggestions from our patrons. Next time you come in, take a look and find a suggestion or two for your next read (and add one of your own suggestions). All age groups are represented on the wall. A few of the book ideas on the wall right now are: Bag of Bones by Stephen King, Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton, and Give and Take by Adam Grant. Some of the suggestions for children include the Magic Tree House books, always favorites, but the Gregor the Overlander Series by Suzanne Collins (yes, she has written more than The Hunger Games) also has a growing number of supporters, and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, is a timeless recommendation.

If you don’t find anything on our wall, there is a cart with staff picks in it, and it is full (well, we try to keep it full) of suggestions from the library staff. Also, the library has a display table with books which center around a theme that changes monthly that you could choose from (this month’s theme is Real Life Heroes).

There are also some online tools to help with book suggestions. If you are a mystery reader, Stop, You’re Killing Me is a wonderful resource. It offers book reviews as well as lists of mystery series that you can find either by author or by character. Another great place to find ideas is Novelist and Novelist K-8 (for children) found on Marvel, an online resource accessible on the Topsham Public Library’s website under Resources & Materials. (once on the Marvel site, you will notice the alphabet across the top. Click “N” and a list of databases that begin with N will come up. Click Novelist or Novelist K-8.) Some of you are already avid Pinterest fans, and if you haven’t used Pinterest you should think about it because the Topsham Public Library has a Book Lists board which has a plethora of lists from 10 Nonfiction Books That Will Define the Conversation in 2015 to Happy Ever After: 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances and everything in between. Have you checked out the library catalog ( lately? It has some brand new features! If you scroll down on any book record you will find books in the same series, other books and authors you may like, appeal terms and reader’s reviews and ratings! Have a look at the record for our copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, scroll down and see!

And please, keep your eyes and ears open, as we are always looking for ways to help you find your next read!


National Book Lovers Day

vidya-sury-inspiring-quotes-on-reading-books-8I learned something new today, and I wish I had known it sooner. Do you know there is a National Book Lovers Day? I did not know that! This Sunday, August 9, 2015 is National Book Lovers Day and I plan to celebrate.

First, I’m going to make sure I have piles and piles of books ready and waiting. Of course, I already do have piles and piles of books ready and waiting, but I will get a few more from the Topsham Public Library because there is no such thing as too many books, and I want to make sure I am prepared. (If you need to pick up a few more books to help celebrate your day, remember we aren’t open on Sundays so make sure you visit us before then.)

Secondly, I’m going to make sure my family knows that I won’t be cooking on National Book Lover’s Day. I don’t want to think about food, and I don’t want to talk about food. This is a personal preference and I’m sure many book lovers will cook on this great day. Perhaps they have a favorite cookbook from which they will make strawberry crepes or sticky buns or quiche or whatever their heart desires. But me, no cooking.

Then, I’m going to read. I will read inside, and I will read outside. I will read funny things, and I will read sad things. I will read to myself, and I will read to my children. I may read a poem or two to them like O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman (it brings tears to my eyes every time) or Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer or Psalm 23. And I will ask them to read to me. Then I will read quietly to myself something I have never read before, and I will read out loud passages from old favorites like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

That is how I will choose to celebrate National Book Lover’s Day, but there are many more ways one can celebrate it. Give a book to a friend. Give a book to yourself. Or, you could give a book to a stranger (at you can register a book and then leave it in a public place for someone to find). You could have book lover friends over, or go out together and talk books and read together. Discuss old books and new books and banned books and overlooked books.

Whatever you decide to do this Sunday, August 9, 2015, we hope you have a great National Book Lover’s Day!


Literary Day Trips

map-of-maine-citiesSummer is speeding on by and there is still so much to do! Are you aware of the literary adventures you can have in the State of Maine?

Naturally, your first literary adventures are right here in Topsham. Maine Fiberarts at 13 Main Street has a current exhibit running through September 30, 2015 titled Handmade Artists’ Books: One of a Kind that you will want to check out. Of course, here at the Topsham Public Library we have summer reading for all ages, a variety of programs, and a lovely garden where you can sit, contemplate and breathe deeply.

Each library has its own personality and you may want to consider visiting a few others. Head on up the coast and visit the Camden Public Library and Amphitheater as it was added to the National Historic Landmark registry in 2013. The Waterville Public Library is one of eighteen Carnegie public libraries in Maine or you could visit the Maine State Library in Augusta. Once you have finished there you could keep on traveling to Brewer, the birthplace and childhood home of Joshua Chamberlain who not only served during the Civil War but also wrote an account titled Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg as well as others.

If you have a few days in which you can play, you might think of traveling to Gotts Island which is off of Mount Desert Island. This was once the home of Ruth Moore whose book Spoonhandle, published in 1946, spent fourteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a movie titled Deep Waters. Or, you could drive to the northern most part of Maine to the little town of Allagash, home of author Cathie Pelletier, and have a little lunch at Two Rivers Restaurant.

There are some literary adventures that are great for children, too! The Children’s Museum of Maine has an exhibit featuring the children’s book Down to the Sea by Chris Van Dusen or you could enjoy a Shakespeare play adapted for children on August 1 or August 2. Or you could read Andre: the Famous Harbor Seal by Fran Hodgkins (for a more adult telling of Andre’s story read A Seal Called Andre by Harry Goodridge) and travel to Rockport where it all happened.

This is just a small sampling of the numerous literary adventures waiting for you in our great state. If you need more ideas, the Maine Sunday Telegram, in conjunction with various humanities groups, have an online literary map of Maine that will provide you with many more options for enjoying a literary Maine.