Masks, Smiles & Beach Reads…It’s a COVID Summer

There is an art to communicating well while wearing a mask.  It’s essential to speak clearly and ensure that your eyes and body language match your emotions perfectly because the person receiving your message is missing some of the content they would normally have with a more complete facial expression.

In the weeks that we’ve been running our WPL To Go curbside service, despite the masks covering part of faces, we can see that our library customers are expressing happiness, relief that the library is “open”, and absolute joy.  Some are nervous due to our current circumstance but many walk up to the library with open, eager body language and we can see that their eyes are sparkling with the recognition that they are in a place where they are welcomed.

As we place bags of library materials onto the pickup table or into their car trunks, we have heard the most incredible words of appreciation and we are sending it right back.  In those early COVID crisis weeks that we were working to make the library ready to curbside it was so lonely with just those silent shelves for company.

Providing check outs at a safe distance and returns through quarantined bins is certainly not anything WPL staff could ever have expected to be doing but at least the library conversations remain the same at the “curb”.  At curbside, we still have a chance to catch up, talk about books or movies, and learn about someone’s day.  As our meetings happen outdoors we have had the opportunity to meet people on bicycles, admire casual, summer clothes, meet many wonderful dogs and see happy children in strollers.

As people wait for their library material, we have seen socially distanced conversations start with two strangers and become a shared discussion with an entire line up, talking about the day’s news or the beauty of someone’s gorgeous newborn “COVID baby”.  A young customer was patiently waiting for her favourite Ladybug Girl books and told another customer all about the stories while they stood together.

Very early in our WPL To Go curbside days a family confided that their child had placed all of the holds independently so the materials were going to be a surprise to them . When the order was placed on the pickup table, it was opened right there, and we all saw the contents displayed with enormous pride by the young customer. Five wonderful chapter books fit perfectly into the paper bag and caused a smile so large we could see it grow behind a small, blue and grey mask.

One of my favourite conversations was with a customer who walked towards Dupont Street with a cheerful spring in her step as she opened her bag.  She called out “it’s a beach read!” and waved back to us before she crossed the street.

We might not have much time on the beach right now but we still have the chance to indulge in those ‘beach reads’ and I’ve been reading absolutely absorbing stuff lately.  I suggest you pour yourself a drink that makes you feel as summery as possible, slather on some sunscreen (to fool yourself into thinking you are going to the beach – it smells so good), grab your sandals and then prop your feet up in the backyard, on your couch or balcony.  Let a fabulous book give you a little time “away”.

Taking a trip to another place is perfect for summer reading and Kwana Jackson takes us to a Harlem storefront in her contemporary romance Real Men Knit. It begins with main character, Kerry Fuller, tidying up a yarn store after the death of her long-time friend and employer, Mama Joy Strong.  As the story progresses, we meet Mama Joy’s four adopted sons, among them a NY firefighter, a stockbroker and a professional dancer.  This is a love story so we have a good idea that Kerry is going to fall for one of these guys.  We know that there will be some sort of misunderstanding, a reconciliation, a happy ending, but oh, the setting in this book was all- encompassing, welcoming and relaxing.  I hope she either sells it as a screenplay or writes three more books which tell the stories of the remaining brothers because I want to go back and see those people again and sit in those same stores, restaurants and community centre.  It’s a gem of a book, a treat for anyone who might enjoy a heartwarming story with bonus crafting references.

Bestselling author Phaedra Patrick has written a cozy little story that begins on a bridge in the UK – Love Story Bridge – with city maintenance worker Mitchell Fischer assigned the job of cutting off the padlocks that hundreds of couples have attached.  The quirky bits that Patrick adds to what could have been a predictable story are what made this book worth a read for me.  It’s half mystery, half romance, with a little bit of a ‘coming of age’ for the main character who is learning to let go of his past.  Mitchell is a single father of an absolutely charming daughter, Poppy, and is certain that charts and careful planning will help their life stay on track so, of course, life starts to fall apart.  After he makes the out of character decision to save a mysterious stranger when she falls into the river, his meticulous plans are in an absolute disarray.  Poor Mitchell (and poor Poppy, who has no idea why her father is late to pick her up from school that day) begins to regret jumping into that river until he discovers that the woman he saved is actually the sister of Poppy’s eccentric music teacher.  It didn’t take more than two chapters for me to start to care about Mitchell and Poppy, and just a few more to wonder what was going on with that woman from the bridge.  And of course you just have find out what happens to all of those padlocks on the bridge.

If you would prefer to be distracted by the total opposite of a love story in a picturesque British town, how about a gory horror story that takes place in an early 90s southern Charleston?  Not every day horror but one that features a fiendishly clever vampire who makes friends with the kids, comes over for dessert, and starts investing in real estate with all of the husbands in town? In The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, written by a superfan of the genre, Grady Hendrix, the slowly escalating list of ‘incidents’ that the women in the book club just can’t ignore makes the pages go by so quickly.  Even the darkest, most slithering horror goes by at a rapid pace because you just can’t imagine what he will imagine next.  At first, the women think their steady diet of dark reading might be causing them to link the neighbourhood crimes together, suspecting a newcomer who avoids the daylight and won’t enter their homes unless invited.  When befriending their children turns to threatening them, this book club knows how work together to take a vampire out!  The book was really too much fun to stop reading.  It’s a celebration of the loyalty of friends, sharp knives, and excellent cleaning skills – all useful in taking down a vampire.

Good knife skills were a part of a recently published memoir.  Fanny Singer‘s Always Home felt like a conversation with a friend who just loved talking about her childhood, if it is possible to set aside the thought that this friend’s childhood involved being the only daughter of the woman who pioneered the sustainable food movement and owns Chez Panisse.  The short chapters in this book are filled with little stories told by someone who wants to celebrate her mother and the way that she was raised, and each one is accompanied by a wonderful recipe – some simple and others more challenging.

Singer was born in 1983 so the memoir isn’t of someone who has lived a long life, but definitely a full one, traveling with her mother, father and their friends, and experiencing a life that is a pleasure to read about.  Some of the vignettes relate to her unusual childhood, like being a character in a children’s book and going to book signings, but others are of being a young adult or finding a life outside her mother’s shadow.  Each one is filled with gratitude and love for the way she was raised and paint a picture of the kitchen, hotel room or schoolyard she is referring to – the book was a trip into another person’s experience.  Both Fanny and her mother share an appreciation for useful things that happen to be beautiful and as you read you might find yourself feeling admiration for your own bowls, spoons or tea towels.  You will certainly think more about colour, flowers, fresh ingredients, and the value of family and friends.  It’s a wonderful way to spend an hour or two (the photographs they include are absolutely gorgeous).

‘Beach read’ means something different to everyone.  Maybe for you it’s a Kate Murphy’s new book You’re Not Listening, about interpersonal communications (I’m looking forward to reading this one when it pops up on my holds list) or perhaps it’s going to be something you’ve read before and want to fall right back into again, like Half-blood Blues.  If you are having some trouble finding relaxation in a book right now please ask us here at the library – we love to talk about our favourites.  And, we hope that we’ll see you soon, curbside.

— Penny M.