Barb's Picks

Barbara Haynes
Barb is our ‘resident good writing reader’, perhaps a carry over from her English major. Barb is an avid reader who likes good fiction, and nonfiction about people and places. She’s a tenacious traveler (most recently New Zealand) and once did a solo trek in Nepal. If Barb could invite anyone to dinner, she’d have Colette. Of course-a celebrated French novelist with pluck, just like Barb. Fit and athletic, Barb is a great hiker, former jazzercise instructor, a track coach and athletic director at Sisters Middle School. Need some advice on a good local trail? Search out Barb!

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Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101911921
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 28th, 2016

This is Kent Haruf's final novel, written after he was given less than six months to live. Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, as was his previous trilogy of Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, Souls introduces us to Addie Moore and Louis Waters. In their seventies, both are widowed and alone, though friends for many years as people can be in small towns, living just one block apart. One evening Addie comes to Louis with a proposition. She says: "...we're both alone. We've been by ourselves for too long. For years. I'm lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk." And so it begins. Though initially awkward, the two settle into a comfortable routine, trying to ignore the gossip that inevitably goes with small town life, but not really caring. With their new adventure comes a fragile happiness and newfound joy. As with all Haruf's books, this is a quiet story about ordinary people, attempting to live meaningful and honest lives. As always, his prose is plain and with not one misplaced word. From a man whose days are numbered comes this last look at human frailty and need and the beauty of connection.  

The Hearts of Men: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062469687
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - March 7th, 2017

I was already a fan of Butler's after reading his excellent Shotgun Lovesongs, and his latest book, Hearts
of Men, continues with his deep, compassionate but not uncritical exploration of the moral compasses
that rule the men in his books. We begin in 1962, at Camp Chippewa Boy Scout Camp. Here we meet 13
year-old Nelson Doughty: earnest, overachiever, friendless. Though he surpasses all the other boys in
merit badge accumulation and rises before dawn to bugle reveille, Nelson has no friends and is the butt
of every bullying joke. He is befriended by an older scout, Jonathon, who is all Nelson is not; popular,
athletic, yet sympathetic, and who comes to respect the younger boy for his moral conviction and
courage. Part two begins at the Stardust Supper Club & Lounge in 1996, where an older, dissipated
Jonathon is taking his 16 year old son, Trevor, to Camp Chippewa. Much has changed; Jonathon is a
successful businessman, but much less successful as a father. He drinks heavily, and shocks Trevor with
the introduction of his girlfriend while urging of his naive son to indulge at a strip club. Joining them is
an older Nelson, bearing scars both physical and psychological from his years as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and
now the scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa. While Jonathon has slipped from his moral track, Nelson now
mentors his young scouts with compassion and his continued love of the dictum of scouting: be
courteous, helpful, friendly, kind and cheerful. Jonathon thinks Trevor is too tender, mocks his virtuous
love for his girlfriend Rachel, and frets that he is an innocent in a mean world. In Part three, we are
introduced to Rachel and her 16 year old son Thomas, Jonathon's grandson, who chafes under the
burden of Eagle Scout expectations, finds scouting juvenile, and would rather spend his time on his
phone and tablet. It is Nelson's last year as camp head, and he is dismayed but pragmatic about the
seemingly anachronistic scouting code of conduct. Here, with Jonathon's widowed daughter-in- law and
grandson in attendance, a terrible event takes place, and brings into the light the depth of Nelson's
character and courage. Trust me, this book is far more nuanced than I can convey. Butler's characters
are flawed but likable, and grapple with the challenge of morality amid a world of distractions and
diversions. And read Shotgun Lovesongs, too. It is a winner.