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What if all of Carlisle read and discussed one book? A committee of readers has narrowed down your suggestions to four options, and we need your help NOW to choose what Carlisle will read in January 2015. If you have suggestions for future titles or programs, or if you'd be interested in helping to plan Carlisle Reads, please email Martha at or ask at the Library any time.

Carlisle Reads is sponsored by the Friends of the Gleason Public Library. Would you like to receive updates on library events? Click here to subscribe to our monthly enewsletter.

2015 PICK

Life after Life cover

The votes are in, and the Carlisle Reads title for January 2015 will be Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. We're excited to plan programs and welcome suggestions for potential speakers, topics, or activities. The committee is always especially interested in Carlisle residents with expertise or interesting personal perspectives on topics related to the book. Potential themes include WWII in England and Germany; 1920s-1930s; reincarnation; fate; second chances; family sagas in literature.

If you have suggestions for future titles or programs, or if you'd be interested in helping to plan Carlisle Reads, please email Martha at or ask at the Library any time.


Life after Life cover

Request copy a clever, deeply humane, experimentally constructed gem of a novel that asks the reader to believe in the possibility of second chances and open their minds to both what could be and what might have been. Richly layered and spanning the two World Wars, its heroine, Ursula Todd, is born again and again and leads many varied lives; some are of more historical significance than others but all are peopled with richly drawn secondary characters. Each life (and death) is a masterfully drawn time capsule as Europe marches irrevocably towards its destiny and Ursula faces the question of whether if you could change history, would you?

Atkinson won the the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum in 1995 and is the author of the best selling Jackson Brodie series of novels beginning with Case Studies .

Community programming might include any number of events around WW1 and WW2, such as the Blitz, this being especially apt as this is the 100th anniversary if the beginning of WW1 and the 70th anniversary of D-Day. We could also consider the themes of fate and déjà vu, the family saga as biography, and the concept of second chances in life - our own and those of well known people.

-Susannah Vazehgoo

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According to the World Wildlife Fund, a billion Monarch Butterflies used to blanket 45 acres of the forests near Angangueo, Mexico. The coverage is now down to 1.65 acres. The Mexican stop is a critical piece of a four-generation migratory pattern that has now been interrupted by deforestation, herbicides, and global warming. It is just a matter of years before the last Monarchs are seen in New England.

Against this backdrop, Kingsolver imagines that the Monarchs have begun wintering in Appalachia, attracting tourists and changing the life of Dellarobia, the young mother who discovers them. In a boring marriage, too poor to often leave the house where she raises her two young kids, lacking any control over her life circumstances, Dellarobia finds an intellectual outlet when a famous lepidopterist, Ovid, comes to study the butterfly phenomenon. Will she recognize her own abilities and take charge of her life? Other themes of the book include the media and its tendency to sensationalize, the image of Appalachian people to the rest of America, the shortcomings of science education. Kingsolver uses conversations between the two protagonists to ask, "How do you communicate scientific information to an uncaring public?"

This would be a good Community Read because it is well-written, involving, and has many themes that would be useful for programming, including the fate of the Monarchs, science education, the media, understanding Appalachian people. Kingsolver herself is worthy of study. She grew up in Kentucky, trained as a biologist, and travelled the world before settling again in Appalachia. Her books have been translated into twenty languages and she has earned major literary awards at home and abroad, including nomination for a Pulitzer for The Poisonwood Bible. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our nation's highest honor for service through the arts.

-Cecile Sandwen

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I hope you will choose to read, and vote for, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I found to be more surprising, more complex and mature than her earlier work.

Briefly, two brothers grow up in postwar Calcutta, very close in age and emotionally, but nearly opposite in how they think and behave. Subhash, the older, measured, loyal and dutiful to his parents and brother, is a cautious observer of his own and others’ lives, and of the natural world. He spends much of his childhood watching out for his imaginative, impulsive brother Udayan. In his 20s, the younger brother moves even further from traditional constraints to a single-minded dedication to social justice. This passion warps the family’s present and future, acting like a magnetic force that distorts the course of their relationships and development for the rest of their lives.

As always, Lahiri’s writing is graceful and easy to read, and themes echo her earlier works. There are upheavals and loss as the brothers move from the rooted security of their tradition-bound neighborhood to modern subcultures - New England academia for Subhash, a radical communist cell for Udayan . Characters are isolated or withdrawn, within marriage and the family. Memories and regrets echo and shift, across decades and generations. I found The Lowland to be unexpected and profound, and I hope you will as well.

-Nancy Pierce

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Published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It also engendered a good deal of controversy, as Oklahomans and Californians criticized the portrayal of their people, others criticized the book for its "socialism," and still others took up its cause of championing working people. The novel was influential enough not only to spotlight the plight of migrant workers, but also to stimulate restorative action on the part of the federal government. Today it is called a "classic," and remains an important specimen in the canon of American literature.

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family on its desperate journey from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl, where the family farm was lost to the ravages of drought and the Great Depression, to California, where work and survival in the Promised Land is far more elusive than they imagine. Classified as a novel of realism, Steinbeck’s writing style is relentlessly faithful to a plot that he, famously, said tries to "rip a reader’s nerves to rags," while sentimentally creating empathy with his archetypal characters. Today, the book will kindle a lively discussion of many issues that remain compelling in all times, some of which are: human behavior, the causes of economic recession and depression and their effects on individuals as well as on nations, the nature and influence of corporate agribusiness, the place of small business in our economic fabric, and fiction’s unique ability to comment on and even to influence change in the human condition.

-Priscilla Stevens


American Nations dinner
Last year's American Nations dinner


Winner of the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Non-fiction

"[C]ompelling and informative." — The Washington Post

"[American Nations] sets itself apart by delving deep into history to trace our current divides to ethno-cultural differences that emerged during the country’s earliest settlement." — The New Republic, Editors’ Picks: Best Books of 2011

"Fascinating...Engrossing...In the end...[American Nations] is a smart read that feels particularly timely now, when so many would claim a mythically unified ’founding Fathers’ as their political ancestors." — The Boston Globe

"In American Nations, [Colin Woodard] persuasively reshapes our understanding of how the American political entity came to be...[A] fascinating new take on history." — The Christian Science Monitor


Click here for further reading suggestions, including Mr. Woodard’s other works, and other titles related to the history of American regional cultures and related topics.


Past community reads have included:

  • 2014: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard
  • 2013: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard
  • 2012: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
  • 2011: Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
  • 2010: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin
  • 2009: The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria

The One City, One Book concept began in Seattle in 1998, when librarian Nancy Pearl asked what would happen if the whole city read the same book. The idea caught on nationwide and has become popular in the Boston area as a way to promote reading, build community, and provoke discussion. Carlisle’s program was established in 2009.